’I didn’t know we had people with psionic potential on this world.’ Neleh sent a thought to Elune, with a small tone of reproach.
“We don’t really. Every now and then a child is born without any magic or internal power as a result of different races mixing. It extremely rare and you can count on one hand those that survive to adulthood. The parents have no idea about psionic potential, and only assume the children are useless. Among elves that just means they live very ordinary lives, if rather short, while many of the other races have little patience for useless people. Demons and beastmen are especially bad with that, since they are so warlike and military focused. Children with no internal power or magic don’t tend to survive very long among them.” Elune replied a little regretfully.
‘Useless? Psionic potential is a great asset. I would think at least one of the gods would’ve put the word out by now. At least you could’ve mentioned that they exist on the planet. I have not taken any precautions against them, because I assumed there weren’t any on this world.’ Neleh replied feeling confused.
“They are useless because there’s no one on this world who can teach them. Even if a psionic child reaches adulthood, there’s no one here that can teach them to use their powers. There never has been. So how would we help in this if we have no idea on what to do? Why would I have to warn you against something that couldn’t hurt you?” Elune replied equally confused.
Neleh let out a string of curses that would make a sailor blush. ‘That’s the whole damn point with psionics. They don’t need proper training to use their power, although they might need help in cultivating their power. They don’t use their powers with complex spells or martial techniques. They simply gather their power and lash out. Preferably with strong emotions mixed in. They can use their powers for anything ranging from telekinesis to strengthening their bodies to creating massive storms of power. Of course it helps if they have enough control to do a variety of things, but that’s only a matter of training and experience. The only limits psionics really have are their imagination and their level of power. A powerful psionic can rip a mountain in two with his or her power.’
She let out a sigh. ‘Even a completely untrained psionic can cause real damage if she gets angry enough. You do realize that my method of detecting danger so far has relied on my extraordinarily sharp ability to detect mana and Ki? A psionic could’ve just walked up to me and jammed a knife in my throat, since they have neither. Now I’ll have to add a layer to detect souls too.’
“There’s little danger of that. There’s only three psionics on the whole continent, and none of them is older than twelve. If you get shanked by a child of that age, then you deserve what you get for being so careless. Aside from that, I already mentioned they don’t’ tend to live all that long. It’s not just their lack of usefulness that kills them, it’s the entire planet. You don’t realize it because you’ve felt it for your whole life, but the planet emits a very slight pressure on everyone’s body. This stimulates the growth of the children’s power, because they have to constantly use miniscule amounts of Ki to resist the pressure. Everyone does this unconsciously. The pressure isn’t dangerous for anyone with even the slightest dregs of Ki and the damage can easily be healed, but the pressure cumulatively gathers in the bodies of the psionics, and they tend to die at a very young age.” Elune explained.
‘Well, I’ll have to show our little friend here, how to counter such things. If she is willing, I would prefer to train her with her abilities. She could be a real asset. Almost all of the defenses of this world are designed to counter either magic or Ki. The biggest benefit of training her is that her powers are not either of those, and as such will by-pass most of those defenses.’ Neleh said with barely contained mirth. She had just discovered two potential trump cards in one day, unspeakable riches beneath the mountain range, and excellent weapon if trained properly in the little girl.
It took several hours before Asheara and Azrael returned. Neleh had already performed the Rites of Passing for the elven bodies, and was now in the process of committing the beastmen bodies to the fire. According to Elune, the beastmen simply burnt their dead, and gave a few words to their god while holding the ceremony. Although Neleh wasn’t a beastman, she still had a blessing of Sinir, the Protector God of Beastmen, and she was a priestess, although of a different faith. As such, she was still qualified for performing the small ceremony, before burning the bodies. The fire of the pyre had winked in a way to show that the god appreciated the gesture.
Asheara and Azrael had serious faces when they returned, showing that they had completed their duty.
“The girl is still asleep?” Azrael asked.
“Yes. Her body is exhausted, and her spirit is scarred. Although I healed the damage done to her body, I am unable to heal her spirit. Her body will require a few days to recover, but she will only wake when her spirit has also recovered enough. That may take a few days, or it may take years. She’s been through a lot.” Neleh replied a little sadly.
“What do you plan to do with her?” Asheara asked.
“For now? We’ll take her with us. I sent a word via magic to the neighboring towns about what happened. If she has family somewhere, then a word will get back to us eventually, and we can return her to her family. If not, then we’ll see. She has some interesting potential, and I would very much like to have her trained to serve the duchy in the future. That will be her choice though. If she isn’t interested, I’m fairly sure we can find someone to take care of her. In the worst case, we can try to look after her. I always did feel a little bad being the youngest sibling, and we now have another opening. I think she could use a new family, and we might be able to provide.” Neleh said with a sad smile, bringing a small choked whimper from Asheara.
“The bandits have been dealt with.” Azrael said, stating the obvious in an attempt to change the subject.
“How many?” Neleh asked, helping with the change.
“Forty. They weren’t all that skillful. At least three of them should’ve been old nobles from the imperial court, and the others were most likely their old retainers.” Azrael replied. She was a little curious on how Neleh would take the news that her actions might have indirectly brought about the destruction of the caravan.
“Good work. This will most likely not be the last time we hear about the old nobles. I’ll have Estelar redouble his efforts to weed out the bandits. There might be other groups in this area as well.” Neleh said without even a hint of guilt. She knew this wasn’t her fault, and would not carry guilt over the actions and decisions of others.
“So, we’re returning to the capital?” Azrael asked.
“I have business with the empress, so yes. Besides, we’ve been gone from the academy long enough. You aren’t making the best of impressions as a teacher, missing all these lessons.” Neleh replied with a small grin.
It didn’t take all that long for Neleh to gain an audience with Nimue. The rush of things needing her immediate attention after the coronation had finally started to abate. Now it was time to see how some of her plans and edicts bore fruit, and make changes and adjustments where necessary. Nimue met her in a fairly large office, with a large amount of documents and reference books scattered around.
“So, what can I do for my least favorite student? I thought I finally got rid of you, with you being a full-fledged priestess now and everything.” Nimue asked sarcastically. She hadn’t quite forgiven Neleh about having her appointed the empress, even if she was now getting used to the position.
“Oh come now, you would have gone mad with boredom if you spent the rest of your years looking after snot nosed acolytes, or worse would have gone completely soft with dementia if you had tried something silly like retirement. I could see how exited you got when training me, just because I wasn’t like the other acolytes. You were bored beyond belief. I wouldn’t be surprised if Elune recommended you just to keep you from setting the grand temple on fire out of boredom.” Neleh replied with a grin.
Nimue grunted. “I might have been bored, but snot nosed acolytes are much preferable company to these boot-licking excuses of nobles. There I at least helped form the future of the faith, but here I’m forced to deal with backstabbers and power hungry morons. At least an acolyte was genuinely glad while she smiled, whereas when these nobles smile, they’re most likely plotting the best way to kill me.”
“That’s how the great game of houses is played, everyone trying to jockey for position, while trying to undermine the power and authority of others. No one is a friend, simply someone who isn’t necessarily backstabbing you at the moment. That’s the fun part of it, isn’t it?” Neleh laughed.
“You might enjoy all the scheming and conniving, but I don’t. You didn’t answer my question. Why are you here? Not that you’re not easy on the eyes, but every time I see you lately, there’s another disaster looming.” Nimue grunted again.
“Well, speaking of schemes, I’m going to need your help with one.” Neleh got up from the chair she was sitting on, and spread out a map that showed the border between Jao’e’Tinukai and Halamshiral. “What’s the deal with these mountains? None of the maps I have seen shows which duchy they belong to. How am I supposed to govern a duchy when I don’t even know where the borders are?”
Nimue took a quick look. “What does it matter? They form a natural barrier between the two duchies, and it’s not like any of your legal subjects live there.”
Interesting choice of words, legal subjects Neleh noticed. “Oh come now, you know better than this. What if I want to build a fort there to secure my southern border with Halamshiral? What if there are bandits there, which duchy is responsible for clearing them out? What if I want to conduct some mining in the area? To which duchy should the proceeds go? It could also be a good place for a trade route, if we formed a proper pass through the mountains.”
Nimue grimaced. “To tell you the truth, that mountain range has for a long time been inhabited by dragons. It’s only a couple of years ago that another dragon moved to those mountains from the great forest in the south. No one can claim those mountains, or develop them in any way with all the dragons around.”
“So I can claim the mountains if I can reach an agreement with the dragons? Can I have that in writing, so that the people of Halamshiral won’t come whining about it later on? I don’t want to be forced into facing any competing claims later on when I’ve dealt with the dragons. And I will turn them to cinders if they try to take the area by force.” Neleh said ferociously.
Nimue gave Neleh a sharp glance. “You found something on those mountains, didn’t you? I know you went to scout possible mining sites in your duchy recently. The word gets around, and you aren’t exactly inconspicuous.”
“Of course I found something. The area is pretty good for mining. But that’s not the only point. I can’t have flaky boundaries to work with. I’m going to be making some big changes, and I can’t have iffy areas like uncertain borders hampering me. I need to be able to say with certainty, if troops from Halamshiral will be moving into my duchy. And that mountain range really is a great place to start fortifying my border, with large area covered by mountains.” Neleh said half seriously, half trying to distract Nimue from the issue of mining. Neleh really did plan on fortifying the borders of the duchy, with several large fortresses, but that was further in the future.
“You’re not planning a civil war, are you?” Nimue asked sharply.
“Planning? No. Preparing for one? Yes, always. We already saw one, and I doubt the unrest will much abate in the future. We are heading for some difficult times, and I for one plan to be ready.” Neleh replied seriously.
“You know something I don’t.” Nimue narrowed her eyes, looking at Neleh.
“Dear Nimue, I always know something you don’t. Now how about an imperial decree of some sort concerning that mountain range?” Neleh replied with a small grin.
Once Neleh had managed to finagle the imperial decree from Nimue, she and her companions finally returned to the academy. They had already lost several weeks on their trip, and Neleh would be taking her first rank up test soon. Neleh decided to pay a visit to the dragons a little later, since the matter was hardly urgent. They wouldn’t be able to start mining until Neleh formally took the position of duchess anyway, and she wasn’t even sure if that should be among their first projects. She had after all managed to find several other mining sites, and she didn’t’ want a word to get out about the riches of the mountain range before they had the ability to defend those riches. Which meant that they had to have the Order up and running.
Neleh almost got bowled over by Kanako when they entered the mansion.
“Finally! I was afraid that you would miss the deadline! Come one, we have to get you registered right away” Kanako almost yelled in a rush, pulling Neleh towards the door.
“Registered for what? What deadline did I almost miss?” Neleh asked confused.
Kanako looked at her surprised. “The deadline for registering to the qualifiers of course.” Kanako said as if stating the obvious.
Neleh was getting dragged along towards the administrative building. “Qualifiers for what? What are you talking about?” She asked still confused.
“You forgot about the competition between different academies? Each academy sends representatives to the competition, and the results then determine the relative position of the academies when compared to each other. You picked the Rhi’a’non academy because it was the best academy in the elven lands, yes? How do you think they determine that?” Kanako replied with a raised eye-brow.
“Truth be told I didn’t pay attention to that part. Are you sure they let first circle mages participate? I mean they should be sending the best, right?” Neleh asked thoughtfully, finally starting to get a grasp on what was going on.
“We won’t be first circle mages then. The first rank up test will be next week, and the school’s internal qualifiers right after that. Don’t even try to tell me you’re worried about passing the rank up test. Besides, I’m pretty sure you’re among the best of this academy, and I fully intend to ride on your coattails to fame. Then I’ll have something to brag to my family about.” Kanako replied cheerfully.
They were finally reaching the administrative building. “So I get why the academies try to put their best forward, but why exactly should I care? I’m already famous enough, and I’m not exactly lacking in money department.” Neleh inquired somewhat reticently.
“You might want to care. The event is sponsored by the empire to promote new talent. The most standout performances and the winners are rewarded by the empire, and usually that reward takes the form of a wish that will be granted in moderate boundaries. I’m guessing your name might come up in quite a few wishes. They can’t ask anything too egregious since the empire can’t really force you, but you might get some wishes like for a date or a kiss that you might have more trouble turning down. I’d wager that you might want to get a wish of your own to counter all those wishes.” Kanako replied with a wide grin.
“Khali dammit, why are we moving so slowly?! Why didn’t you tell me this earlier?!” Neleh yelled suddenly very motivated, dragging Kanako along in a half run.
After they had managed to register for the qualifiers, they heard a familiar voice behind them. “Well, well. If it isn’t our resident Chosen. I think I finally have a way to force that duel on you.” They saw the grinning face of Lucian behind them.
If they had been paying attention, they might have also noticed Aneirin standing to the side with a complicated mix of emotions on her face.