Their carriage was traveling through Jao’e’Tinukai. Even with Neleh’s scanning ability, she couldn’t cover the whole duchy with one spell. As a result, they were forced into traveling around the duchy, and performing the spell at appropriate places. Neleh didn’t mind all that much, because it allowed her to see her future duchy. It had become clear that bandits had become a problem within the duchy, but Estelar’s measures had been successful in hunting those bandits down. The people of the duchy were also appreciative of their efforts, and had taken well the news about the Order being built by Estelar and Neleh. Having a proper military of their own, aside from the guards, seemed like a very good idea to the people of Jao’e’Tinukai, and the one good thing that came from the bandits was the renewed desire for said military.
As befit one of the richest areas in the empire, the duchy was flush with various resources. The duchy had several mining operations for several important minerals, and Neleh had found plenty of new places for mining in the future. Some of them were deep enough, that they would require some special arrangements, but nothing that a generous helping of earth magic could not fix. Although farming wasn’t one of the main sources of wealth in the duchy, the soil was rich enough to provide for the needs of the duchy thrice over, and would be even better with some of Neleh’s ideas.
Logging wasn’t a big thing in the duchy, since there wasn’t all that much in the way of forests, but there were several rare herbs growing in various places that Neleh found, which were not being properly utilized. This was either due to the lack of knowledge about the effects that could be produced, or simply because the herbs were in remote locations. The main draw of the duchy was that it lay in the crossroads of many important trade routes, and was the home of many merchants and skilled craftsmen. For example, although there was little in the way of logging in the duchy, many skilled craftsmen that worked with wood had made the duchy their home, because several neighboring duchies exported their more plentiful wood resources through Jao’e’Tinukai, so there was an easy access to most resources and the trade routes to sell their wares.
Another reason Neleh didn’t mind the trek through the countryside, was that it gave her a chance to think. Her father had agreed to her plans concerning him and the new duchy. He had agreed almost too easily, and Neleh suspected part of it was the chance to gain access to the unique skills Neleh had shown during the process of creating the new weapons. It had been clear that Elluin had not been able to create such items before, and he really wanted to be able to create more of such items in the future. Except he couldn’t do it without her help. She suspected that he would quite happily teach other people, but only if she helped him on occasion, in return. That wasn’t really a problem for her, since she had more items planned as well, but that was assuming she had the time.
Elluin had also been less than enthusiastic about Asheara’s apparent feelings towards Neleh. It had not taken long for the man to figure out, that the feelings Asheara had were more than those usually exhibited towards a daughter. Elluin had tried to make it seem like it was just the part about Neleh being the object of Asheara’s affection that worried him, and that if Asheara was to find a more standard object for those affections, he would not really object. He had not been able to fool Neleh though. He might claim that he didn’t mind Asheara finding a new love, because of his own unfaithfulness, but it clearly burnt him deep inside that Asheara was moving on. The fact that Neleh was the target of those affections was just the excuse he clung to.
It was a double standard, but one that was easy to understand. It is easy to consciously think that it’s ok for your estranged wife to do the same thing that you had done, fair is fair after all. It was a whole different matter to face the deep-seated emotions of jealousy and loss when you could actually see it happening in front of your eyes. It didn’t help matters that it was easy for Elluin to see the adoration in Asheara’s eyes when she looked at Neleh, because it was something that had been directed towards him in the past, and now he had to come to terms with the fact that he would never again be the object of that adoration. It didn’t really matter who the target was, as long as it wasn’t him.
The realization broke something inside him, in a way that the separation had not done before. He knew now, that his relationship with Asheara was over for good. They might be cordial with each other, but they would never again be lovers. It would’ve been easier to deal with, if he could hate the object of Asheara’s affections, but he couldn’t hate his own daughter, especially since he knew she was worthy of such affection. Whatever else might be said about a relationship between a mother and a daughter, between an adult and someone considered a child by the elven society, there wasn’t anything that he could say about Neleh’s worthiness as a romantic partner for Asheara.
There was one thing that made Elluin even more annoyed. Asheara’s affections were clear, but Neleh didn’t show the same kind of affection towards Asheara. He had asked Neleh about her plans concerning Asheara, but all she could answer was that she didn’t know yet. Even now she had not made a decision on how to deal with Asheara. And she suspected that the answer would elude her for a while still. It would be one thing, if she could claim to be in love with someone else, in which case Asheara would have to step back, but she clearly wasn’t and Asheara knew that too. It also wasn’t easy to try and find someone she could fall in love with. High standards could be a problem sometimes, and Neleh wasn’t someone who fell in love easily. She also had a hunch that it would lead to a disaster if she were to accept Asheara’s feelings and return them at this point. And her hunches always turned out to be true.
Their final destination was close to a mountain range that bordered one of their neighboring duchies. The result of the scan made Neleh confused. There were several extremely rich veins of valuable minerals in the area. Some of them were of the rare magical varieties that required either special circumstances or large amounts of magic to form, including a decent sized vein of Heart of Winter. There were also several veins and deposits of gold, gems and elemental stones under the mountain range. All of these made this small area the richest area in all of the elven lands. These would last the province thousands of years, with several veins extending the entire length of the mountain range, and would make Jao’e’Tinukai undoubtedly the richest duchy in the elven empire, richer than the previous ten duchies combined.
It was almost too rich, bordering on a disaster. If the other duchies or even the other clans were to find out about all of this, they might even be tempted to try and conquer the province in order to gain access to the riches. This would be a danger despite the Chosen of Elune being the new duchess. But what confused Neleh was that much of this was close enough to the surface that they should have been found with normal methods already. Even a half decent earth mage should have been able to find them with a casual spell. They would not be able to discover everything Neleh was able to discover, but they should have been able to find some of it. Yet for some reason there was no sign of mining in the area. Why?
Now that Neleh thought about it, she wasn’t even sure that the mountain range was part of her duchy. The mountains were on the border between Jao’e’Tinukai and the neighboring Halamshiral duchy, and the maps were not clear on which duchy the mountains belonged to, as they formed a natural barrier between the provinces. To make matters worse, if Jao’e’Tinukai was to become the richest duchy, then Halamshiral would be the number two, so it was doubtful they would simply hand the mountain range over if Neleh asked politely. They were Jao’e’Tinukai’s main competitor, and geographically the largest duchy in the empire.
As for the lack of mining In the area, Neleh could think of two possible reasons. Either the mages had not made any scans in the area, or they had but they could not utilize the results. In either case there were very few reasons to prevent the empire from acting; the chief among them was the presence of dragons in the mountain range. Maybe she could take ownership of the mountains if she played her cards right, and claimed she could negotiate with the dragons? Something on the lines of ‘If I can convince the dragons living in the mountains, then I can claim ownership as well.’ Maybe this Chosen of Satai thing could be useful? Something worth thinking about. In any case, she would have to take action when returning to Rhi’a’non.
The trip also provided an opportunity to actively start Asheara’s training. As Neleh had feared, she wasn’t all that good at explaining many of the more complex concepts, but luckily Asheara was very good at grasping those concepts with merely a hint of two. She had not been Alduin’s student for nothing. Azrael turned out to be surprisingly useful in helping Asheara train. The celestial was a very good warrior after all, and was able to assist Asheara with many things that were not too specific to the style Neleh was teaching to Asheara, and she was also annoyingly good at explaining things. Well she wasn’t a teacher in the academy for nothing.
Inevitably Azrael came to Neleh with questions about Neleh’s odd knowledge. She had been patient until now, following the operation with Asheara’s Ki veins, but that patience was finally wearing thin.
“So, how do you know all of this?” Azrael finally asked shortly after they had visited the contested mountain range.
“How much did Anauel tell you?” Neleh asked in return.
“Not much.” Azrael replied.
“Well, I can’t tell you everything, but I can tell you that I have some sources of information not of this world.” Neleh said thoughtfully.
“The one called Gabriel?” Azrael asked, connecting the dots.
“She is part of it, yes. Apparently I was a rather powerful being in my previous life, and Gabriel came to find me to repay a debt. Part of what you’ve seen is some of my old powers and knowledge returning. I think the god Satai also has his part to play in some of that. He wants me to do something in the future, and wants me to be ready.” Neleh said carefully, not really lying, but not telling the truth either. Best lies were those that held the seed of truth.
“So that’s why you were picked as his Chosen. Do you know what it is that awaits you in the future?” Azrael asked.
“Some of it, I do know, but not the specifics. That’s also part of what I can’t tell you about. Not yet anyway.” Neleh answered forestalling further questions.
“That explains why you don’t feel like a normal elven child. You’re mature beyond your years, because you actually have more years than those you’ve lived as an elf. How much do you remember about you old life?” Azrael asked, curious.
“Hard to say. It’s fairly fragmented. Some things I remember with clarity, like some of what I’m teaching Asheara, but some I have almost no memory of. I can’t really tell you what I was like a person, or whether I had family. I think the information I am getting is carefully selected. I just get the useful bits, while my old life is left behind. Which is fair enough I suppose.” This time she did have to lie. Of course, Azrael had plenty more questions, and Neleh had to be very careful with her answers. She did however extract a promise from Azrael, that the celestial would not share the information with anyone, since it could affect the balance of things in the world, if a word got out about her memories.
They were traveling through sparsely populated plains on the edge of the duchy, when Neleh sensed something and ordered their coach to stop. She knew pretty well what she had sensed, but she still had to go and make sure. Azrael and Asheara followed her out and over a hill beside the road. There was a wide valley beyond the hill, mostly just grassland, with an occasional group of trees dotting the plains. Close to one of the small groups of trees were the remains of a caravan.
Judging by the formation of the wagons, the caravan had pulled off the road to make camp for the night. When they got closer to the remains of the caravan, they could tell that the bodies had been killed recently. Some embers were still smoldering near a place where a wagon had caught fire, so this had most likely happened during the previous night. Judging by the wounds, and the wagons that had been ransacked, this was the work of someone with weapons, and not by monsters. Bandits to be more precise. There were at least thirty bodies strewn about the campsite, and some of them had experienced slow death.
Neleh had noted some curious differences between elven bandits of this world, and the bandits in other worlds. Because the empire offered more work opportunities than there were people, and the standard of living was high among all the jobs, banditry rarely appealed to elves, mostly because they were almost never forced to resort to banditry. Those that became bandits either had an inborn cruel streak that they could not live out in other ways, and thus became bandits willingly, or were already wanted criminals for other reasons. Such was the reason behind most of the bandits within Jao’e’Tinukai, as they were those who had managed to escape during the purge of the nobility.
This resulted in a lot lower number of bandits than in other worlds, or even among the other races of this world. On the other hand, the few bandits that did exist tended to be exceptionally vicious and brutal. Elves were good at holding on to their discipline and calmness, but as the civil war had shown, the elves were hiding more bloodlust and cruelty than one would assume from their calm demeanor. The bandits didn’t feel any compunction about exhibiting those parts of their nature. This was clearly shown by the dead people of this caravan.
Another peculiar difference between the elves, and bandits in other worlds, was that the elves showed no inclination towards rape. It was considered too dishonorable even among the bandits that had given into cruelty and bloodlust. Too dishonorable and too human. In fact, the only two races in this world that showed any inclination towards rape in this world were humans and some demons. Even among the demons, those guilty of rape were scorned worse than any other type of debauchery. Even among them, the only ones that fell victim were slaves. Beastmen liked to sometimes buy beautiful slaves as decorations, but even then rape was abhorrent to their sense of honor, and any found guilty wound be hunted down by their own family. Neleh was glad of this difference, because it had always been one of her pet peeves as well.
Neleh was just about to suggest a proper burial, when she sensed the presence of another soul. The presence was faint and fading, but there was someone alive among the carnage. She quickly rushed towards the group of trees, where she felt the presence, with Asheara and Azrael following closely behind.
“Oh my goddess!” Gasped Asheara faintly green faced.
There was a young girl stuck to one of the trees. It was hard to judge the girl’s age because of the damage, but she couldn’t have been more than ten or eleven judging by her size. The girl was stuck to the tree because of the numerous arrows piercing her, and she looked like a pincushion with about two dozen arrows stuck around all over her body. The girl had clearly been used for target practice, the arrows managing to avoid every vital spot and major artery. The girl had been left to suffer and slowly die on purpose. Her ears had been torn and there were numerous wound on her face, the mess of blood-matted hair suggesting a moon elf origin. The small bubble of blood by her mouth was the only hint of the faint breaths the girl was still taking.
Neleh stepped closer putting a finger on her forehead and asking the girl mentally. ‘Do you want me to save you, or end your suffering?’
The girl managed a small and faint gasp. “He…Help.”
“So shall it be.” Neleh replied with conviction, both magic and holy power filling her body.
She dulled the girl’s ability to feel pain and went to work. She had to continuously pump strength into the small girl’s body, to keep her alive while removed the arrows one at a time, and to help regenerate the lost blood. She almost had to rebuild the girl from ground up, with all the damage she had suffered. This was one of the cases where the generalist healing of the normal priestesses would have failed, because the repairs Neleh had to undertake required advanced knowledge of anatomy. There was also something odd about the girl, that Neleh wasn’t really able to put her finger on.
Finally she was done, exhausted and developing a head-ache. “Azrael and Asheara, would you be so kind as to find the people who did this? I’m afraid that I might get a bit out of hand if I go after them.”
“Consider it done. I’ll be more than glad to hunt down the bunch that did this. Though I can’t promise that I won’t get just as much out of hand.” Azrael answered angrily, combined with a savage nod from Asheara.
“Just do what you can. And don’t take any chances or offer something silly like a chance to surrender. Just blast them away with spells.” Neleh replied.
Once the two had gone, she finally realized what had bothered her about the girl. The girl didn’t seem to have any magic inside of her, which seemed impossible even if the girl was part beastman, as suggested by some of the corpses among the caravan. Elves were still magical being after all. Come to think of it, she had not felt any presence of internal power, which was even more surprising. All beings had some internal power, no matter how feeble and untrained. Unless…
She quickly put her hand on the girl’s chest, sending her senses inside the girl. She could not sense a Dantian, or mana inside the girl, but there was something…ah, there it was. Just as she suspected. So how did an elven girl in the middle of nowhere end up with one of the rarest and strangest gifts in the universe? Neleh hadn’t even known it was possible for the people of this world to be born with this gift. The gift could not exist in the same body with internal power or magic.
The girl was psionic.