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Author's note: A bit of a learning chapter, what with being a school arc and all. It also seems Aneirin has some complex issues of her own.

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Neleh and Asheara were just finishing their morning workout. It hadn’t really pushed Neleh as much as she had wanted, because she had to teach Asheara the simpler routines first. And those simple routines didn’t really offer a challenge to her. Both Azrael and Kanako would have joined them, but it was pretty obvious that the celestial’s wings would have been a problem, while Kanako was a naga. Having no legs was kind of a problem. They had to devise their own form of exercise.

‘I really have to come up with a better name for this, than body sculpting art, now that I’m teaching it to other people.’ Neleh thought. She had given the previous name as a joke that was not supposed to be shared with others. However, it was clear to anyone that the exercise was a style of exercise in itself, and sooner or later someone was going to ask for a name. She had to have some answer ready.

“That was a nice workout!” Asheara said excited. A little sore, but excited. “Does it have a name or something?” And there it was, sooner than Neleh had anticipated.

“I might name it ‘whipping my mother into shape’-style.” Neleh shot back, bringing out a grimace from Asheara and a chuckle from Azrael who was watching.

“Jokes aside, there is one thing I want you to consider while I’m in class.” Neleh continued. “Soon I will start teaching you to use your weapons, and there are four main paths these lessons can take.”

“Alright, I’m listening.” Asheara answered, while Neleh took Asheara out of ear-shot of Azrael, and even made a ward against eavesdropping.

“There are hundreds upon hundreds of fighting styles in the countless other worlds. Some depend on your weapon, some on whether you want to focus on speed or strength and so on. We will get to those later, when we have a better grasp on your strengths and weaknesses as a warrior, after you’re done with your basic training. However, all of the fighting styles fall roughly under four main paths.” Neleh started explaining.

“The important point is that the road as a warrior is never complete, and you will not get very far if you try to spread yourself too thin. Depending on one’s talents, one can try to train in all four of the paths equally, but usually it is better to primarily focus on one path, and train in another as a secondary option. Do you understand so far?” Neleh asked seriously.

“Four paths, don’t’ spread too thin, check.” Asheara replied with a smile. She wasn’t stupid.

“Good because here is where it starts to get complicated. The first path is one where you focus on offense. Not that the path doesn’t teach defensive skills, but the end goal of this path is a single strike so fast that no one can stop it, and so strong that no defense can stand against it. Of course, there is no such thing, but that’s the goal anyway. The followers of this path think that the best defense is a good offense. Dead enemies don’t fight back.” Neleh said with a grin.

“The second path focuses on defense and the flow of movements. Their ideal is to let the enemy come to them, against their impenetrable defense, which then flows directly into a deadly counterattack. Whereas the first path focuses on speed and strength, the second path focuses on your dexterity and the ability to think ahead. “Neleh said more seriously.

“Where the first two paths are both focused on the use of a weapon, the third path is different in that it focuses on unarmed combat. The followers of the third path believe that all warriors should know how to fight bare-handed. It is the core and basic form of all combat while weapons are merely an extension or alteration of their combat style. Normally they find such extensions unnecessary, and when they do use a weapon, the weapons they choose reflect their barehanded style. Those that have bodies honed by a martial art emphasizing strength are ill-served using a weapon dependent on speed, such as daggers. Often the followers of this path simply view weapons as extra hassle.” Neleh finished.

“Are they right in their beliefs?” Asheara asked curious.

“Yes and no. They are correct in the sense that a weapon should feel like an extension of one’s body, seeing as that is one of the ideals of nearly all of the weapon styles. They are also not wrong in thinking that using a weapon comes with downsides. The main one of course is, what does a practitioner of a weapon style do when separated from her weapon? They are so-so on the necessity of weapons, since a true master of a weapon and a true master of bare-handed combat have a fairly equal chance when fighting each other, when you consider the large amount of internal power involved. The weapons however do come up with their own upsides. A powerful weapon can add much to a person’s strength, and the weapon also brings the strength of the materials used and enchantments cast on it to play. It is however true, that the third path is the deepest and most complex, but has the least benefits in the beginning. Pit a person with a month’s worth of training with a weapon against another with a month’s worth of training bare-handed, and the weapon user will win nine times out of ten. That however only holds true in the beginning.” Neleh said thoughtfully.

“You mentioned there were four paths, but you have only mentioned three.” Asheara suddenly pointed out.

“The fourth path is a little different. It refers to what you would call outer Ki attacks. In essence, the term refers to any attacks where you use your inner power to produce an attack or effect outside of your own body, and not directly delivered by your weapon or body to the enemy. Attacking by sending out blades of Ki is among the most common examples. Most of the other three paths include parts of the fourth path, and many of the strongest techniques performed by warriors are of the fourth path. However, very few styles focus on the fourth path. The fourth path is most commonly the secondary focus of most warriors, and not the primary one. For the record, if you ever put a sword in my hands and send me to a serious fight, I’ll most likely be using one of the styles that does focus on the fourth path. I believe the creators of the style called it Shinmei-ryú.” Neleh said with a nostalgic smile.

“Does the name have a meaning? It seems to be of a language I don’t understand. For that matter, do the four paths have names?” Asheara asked curious.

“The name roughly translates into ‘God’s Cry School’.” Neleh replied with a smile.

“I resent that name.” Elune whispered in Neleh’s mind, which Neleh pointedly ignored.

“As for the four paths, there is no official title. Many worlds call them in many different ways. I’ve heard them be named after the four cardinal directions, of East, West, North and South, as well as after the elements. The name hardly matters, but the most common way to refer to them was coined by the Celestial Host. The first path is named Furious Thunder, the second Thousand waves, the third Mother of War and the fourth Long Reaching Wind. Don’t ask me why they were named as such; I personally think they were drunk while naming them.” Neleh gave a small chuckle.

“I guess the next obvious question is, what path do you focus on? The first guess would be the first path, but I’m guessing that would be too simple.” Asheara asked.

“You’d think so, with my nature as a Destroyer and focus on fire magic, but no. It is in fact because my magic being so offense orientated, that I focus on the second path, with the fourth path being a close second. If I really want to go on offense, I’m better of chucking a fireball at them. In any case, this is not something you can, or even should decide tight now. I just wanted to get you started on thinking and planning. There are some styles that combine the different paths, but those are very difficult, and I would not recommend them for now.” Neleh replied smiling.

“Speaking of thinking, I’ve decided what to do with the soul of the man who killed who killed Selvaria.” Asheara said suddenly very grim.

“Go ahead then. I will abide by your decision.” Neleh knew what the decision would be.

“Let him go. As much as I want to rip him to shreds, I think that his soul deserves peace. We should not punish people after death.” Asheara said sadly.

Neleh was not surprised. She herself had no trouble doing things that many others would call evil, partly because she had seen too much suffering to have too many moral qualms left. Asheara was still more innocent. Maybe she needed someone like Asheara to balance her and keep her grounded. Although the peaceful life she had lived since her reincarnation had done good for her, she still worried that one day she would simply stop caring, and just allow the darker side of her nature run free.

Not that she couldn’t still ask for a favor from her friends in Inferno, so that the soul would be especially taken care of, should it end up there.

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The academy classes were fairly boring, and as a result Neleh spent most of her time making plans for future. Interestingly the other students thought Neleh was a very serious student, writing a lot of things down and drawing several schematics. This inspired the other students to be more serious about their studies as well, while Neleh remained oblivious to them. The only interesting lesson was again the one held by Maylin on the subject of magical items.

“Magical items come in five basic varieties. The two most common ones are enchanted items and magical consumables. Enchanted items cover everything from powerful weapons to everyday magical items. In the very basics enchanted items are items that someone has cast a magical spell on, that allows the item to perform a function better than usual, or perform a function that they would not otherwise be able to do. The best enchanted items don’t require any input of power from the user, and as such can be used by everyone. Most enchanted items require at least a small input of power, but on the positive side don’t require any magical skill from their user. Magical consumables are fairly self-explanatory. They are consumable items that are either made from magical ingredients, or have spells cast on them to have a better effect. Examples include most medicines and potions. The rarest consumables are those magical ingredients that can have permanent positive on those that consume them.” Maylin explained.

“The next two classes of magical items are only used by mages. Wells are containers of magical energy, where a mage can store their power for future use. Wells have many uses ranging from long battles that would exhaust most mages to large magical spells that a mage would normally not have enough power to cast without the help of a well. Wells are not rare, but they become exponentially harder to create the more power you want to store inside one. The next type of item is called catalyst. Catalysts basically enhance the effect of a magician’s spells. For example, a mage channeling a small fireball spell through a catalyst would end up with a medium sized fireball. Some catalysts only word with a certain type of spells, or certain element. There are some rare catalysts that work with all spells, but the effects of those are usually minimal. The strength of catalysts also varies wildly.”

“The final type of magical items isn’t actually strictly an item. I’m talking about magical formations. The use and variety of magical formations is endless. They range from the magical protections around cities, to small formations used for everyday tasks. In basic theory though, they require either an input of magical power or the fulfillment of certain special conditions for the formations to fulfill their functions. Magical formations are both the easiest and the hardest form of magical items to produce. The simplest formations can be made by any half decent mage, while the biggest and most complex formations might require the top mage of the continent to spend months to produce. Magical formations might also be used to enhance the effects of the other types of magical items, but using formations in that way requires the mage to be aware of how the other item is produced so the magic of the formation wont conflict with the magic originally used on the item.”

While Neleh knew the information presented, she quite enjoyed the way in which Maylin presented it. Maylin was a good teacher, able to make complex things sound simple because of her well-structured explanations. Neleh really thought of Maylin as a great teacher. Maybe she could get her to help with Asheara’s training. Maylin might be able to explain some concepts better than Neleh could.

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Aneirin had a problem. Her girlfriend Delia had always been building up her genius little sister. Aneirin loved her dearly, but she had always thought Delia was a little goofy when it came to her youngest sister. Not that that was a problem in any way in itself, plenty of people idolized their siblings. Though usually they idolized older siblings, and at best thought their younger siblings were cute little angels that could do no wrong. Aneirin could have understood that easily, she had a younger sister herself although the girl was a real pain in the ass. But Delia considered Neleh to be superior to her in almost every way, even though she was eight years older.

While that was slightly odd, Aneirin was more worried about what that could do to Delia’s self-esteem.  Aneirin knew that one of the reasons her own little sister had such rotten character was because she was constantly compared unfavorably against the superior sister Aneirin. Delia didn’t really show any problems even though she idolized her little sister, but Aneirin was worried she was simply burying any bad feelings deep inside. Delia did get this odd look sometimes after her little sister was mentioned, that Aneirin was unable to understand.

That’s why Aneirin had decided to pay attention to the famed little sister after she found out the girl was going to attend the academy. She was actually somewhat glad that they got to go on the mission together, because that would give her more time to monitor Neleh, and try to discover her weaknesses. Aneirin didn’t want to discover the weaknesses due to any desire to exploit them, but more as a way of building up Delia’s confidence in herself by mentioning things she was better at that the supposed genius little sister.

The problem was, Neleh had very little in the way of weaknesses. She was really iffy at cooking, and had slightly twisted character, but that was just about it. She had been really shocked when she found out the girl was an Inquisitor already, and had to be impressed by the way the girl took charge and made bold decisions. She found herself following the girl’s words even when they were not worded as commands. The girl had this weird air about her that made one want to obey. She seemed…so certain of herself.

It wasn’t the sort of false confidence that you sometimes saw with idiots who didn’t know their limits. It was like someone that had faced similar situations hundreds of times before and had everything under control. She had this certain air of calmness that you rarely saw with anyone except really old people, who had learned to take the world as it was, instead of trying to change it. Then there was also the way the girl looked. That had not been an issue when the girl had covered her face earlier, even though her body was simply heavenly, but now that the girl was no longer hiding herself and seemed to radiate this odd sensual charisma, even Aneirin had some trouble.

Aneirin was deeply in love with Delia, but she still felt this stirring in her loins whenever she looked upon the girl. She had been shocked when she had seen her walk to her lessons the first day she was back at the academy. After that encounter, she had resolved to stay away from the young girl because she didn’t want to betray Delia even in her thoughts. And if Delia really did have a complex about her little sister, then imagine what would happen if she found out that Aneirin had feelings of lust towards the girl. These were thoughts and desires that Aneirin really disapproved of.

There was another problem. Aneirin also felt jealous towards the girl. Aneirin had always been the highest achiever, the smartest person in her age group, the person that had enough charisma to turn heads and make people follow her commands willingly. Yet there was Neleh, who was an Inquisitor, a Chosen, friends with the most influential people in the empire, and at what age? Fifteen? Intelligence was hard to compare, but she had most certainly only heard good things about the girl’s intelligence. Aneirin’s father, who was a noble, had told some stories about what had happened in the imperial court, and it seemed the girl had all but decided the direction of the empire. She had roped the other decision makers to her position, and taken the throne away from the obvious choice, and put the old priestess Nimue on the throne instead. Aneirin had not seen it happen, and stories had a habit of being blown out of proportion in telling, but if even a fraction of what her father had told her was true…

And then there was Delia. Aneirin had trouble reconciling with the ecstatic expression on Delia’s face when she had heard about all of Neleh’s exploits. Aneirin had never loved anyone like she had loved Delia, yet she could not recall a single time that Delia had made an expression like that about Aneirin. Could she feel that way about Aneirin? It was hard not to feel jealous about the joy Delia got from hearing things about her sister, or about the love the two shared. Could Aneirin ever be loved that much by Delia, or would she always be second in her heart? What if Aneirin was just someone Delia embraced, because she could not embrace her little sister? Was she just a replacement? Someone to tide things over for Delia, because Aneirin somehow reminded Delia of her sister? Maybe because Aneirin was the closest thing to another genius like Neleh Delia could find?

Yet, somehow Aneirin found it difficult to hate Neleh, even if all that was true. What had the girl done, except do her very best? The girl had risen to such heights at such a young age, that Aneirin could only admire her. And feel jealous of course. The more Aneirin thought about things, the more she was stuck in a vicious cycle, and she realized it. She had to do something, to break the situation. Talk to Delia? That could be a disaster. Talk to Neleh? And say what? ‘Excuse me, could you…I don’t know be less excellent? Also if you could ugly up a bit, that would be swell.’ That would not work. The only thing Aneirin could come up with was to improve herself, so that she could get her confidence back. Maybe she could beat Neleh at something? At the very least she was still better than the girl at magic. Neleh was just a first circle mage after all…
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Vihyungrang

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