The utter loss of a fifth circle mage against a second circle mage, who didn’t even use offensive spells, brought a quite a bit of chaos to the academy. It’s not too rare to see a lower ranked mage defeating a higher ranked one. This could be due to many different factors like compatibility, luck and the skill of the individuals involved. Neleh wasn’t the only person ranked below the fifth circle participating in the qualifier with the intention of actually doing well; there were several fourth circle mages that were expected to give the fifth circle mages a stiff competition. There were even a couple of mages similar to Neleh in the fact that they simply had not had the chance to rank up yet. The mage’s rank signified skill and power, but was far from an absolute measure.
However, it was almost unheard of to see a second circle mage defeating someone who was supposed to be so much more powerful than her. Additionally, Lucian was considered to be one of the favorites in the qualifier, along with Aneirin and Micah. Several of the teachers were of the opinion that Lucian had the ability to rank up to sixth circle and graduate from the academy any time he wanted. He simply chose not to do it, because it would mean a return to the demon continent and participation in their internal struggles, and even worse the ongoing war with the faeries, a war in which the demons were currently doing badly.
So Neleh had in essence defeated someone who was four ranks above her, while having just finished her first semester in the academy. To say this threw a wrench into the proceedings would be an understatement. The other qualifiers were going on normally within the ‘Training room’, while the headmaster and some other teachers gathered to decide on what to do about Neleh’s continued participation. It didn’t take long until the representatives of the other academies that had come to scout things out wanted to also have a word with the headmaster. Soon after, Neleh was invited to the impromptu gathering.
The room had nine people in addition to Neleh in attendance, the headmaster of the Rhi’a’non academy Saelethil, Maylin who was known to be the teacher most familiar with Neleh, another male teacher from the academy who was in charge of the group that would eventually be sent to compete and the representatives of the six other academies. Incidentally the three elven clans all had an academy for mages and warriors separately.
The warrior training in the academies was specialized when compared to the training offered by the army. The resulting warriors were expected to be individually stronger, but without the same kind of group and tactics training that came as a part of a soldier’s tradecraft. Priestesses were trained by the temples, and only the grand temple of Rhi’a’non had any ties with an academy. The Rhi’a’non academy was the only academy that had students from more than one main path of power and it had students from all three, although the magic students were the vast majority.
“Lady Neleh, come on in.” Saelethil greeted Neleh with a smile, using the title to refer to Neleh’s status as the Chosen.
“My thanks, lord Saelethil.” She replied courteously, taking the seat left open at the end of the long table around which the others had gathered.
“That was quite a show you put on. Any particular reason you decided make it so flashy?” Saelethil asked with curiosity.
“Lucian has been bothering me with duel requests for a while now. I always told him that the only person that had something to lose was him, but he kept on insisting. I think he did it more as a joke at first, but the longer I kept turning him down, the more obsessed he became with the idea. This qualifier forced the issue, and I decided to make an example of him, to discourage such behavior in the future.” Neleh calmly replied.
“So the theatrics were just to make a point?” Maylin asked with a grin. She had known this would be the case, and had enjoyed the duel immensely. She had no pity for the delinquent Lucian who had caused her enough trouble with his antics.
“In essence, yes they were. I wanted to show I could do that, if I so choose. A tight competition with him, would have encouraged him to try for a rematch, and might have encouraged others to do the same. After all, it’s quite a thing to be able to brag about defeating the Chosen, even as young as I am. By utterly crushing him, I showed what awaits those foolish enough to challenge me in the future.” Neleh explained her reasoning.
“That brings us to the point of this meeting.” Saelethil replied smoothly. “If you can crush one of the best students of the highest ranked academy like that, what’s the point of you taking part in the competition? Or put another way, what’s the point of having the competition if the result is already known? What is it that you aim to gain from taking part in this competition?” He asked going straight to the point.
Neleh grimaced. “I have certain issues with the rewards for the competition.”
Saelethil furrowed his eyebrows. “You mean the wish? Why would you have issues with that?”
“Well, as you know the competition is sponsored by the empire. As such, it’s the empire that is responsible for the rewards. Empress Nimue is somewhat cranky at me at the moment, and I’m afraid she will be all too happy to accommodate if my name comes up in any of the wishes. I’d rather not be forced into defying the empress I just helped to get elected, as it might not be a big deal between friends, but it would set a bad precedent for the future. As such I need a wish of my own to gain immunity from all wishes the others might make.” Neleh finished with a sigh.
Unsurprisingly Maylin was laughing banging her fist on the table, while the other people gathered looked mortified. Saelethil gave a small chuckle. “I keep forgetting the empress was your mentor during your priestess training. What did you do to anger the old crone this time?”
“Eh, she still hasn’t quite forgiven me for getting her elected in the first place. I also had to ask her for a favor a while back.” Neleh said giving a shrug.
“Ah! I remember! There was a rumor at the time the new empress was elected that the Chosen had the whole thing orchestrated and even designed the changes to the system! Apparently the goddess was so pleased with her, that she appeared at the new year’s ceremony using her form!” Judging by his appearance, the representative that yelled this out was from the Sun Elf warrior academy.
His outburst of course brought out a wild discussion among the other representatives. In the end they unanimously protested Neleh’s participation in the competition. This hardly surprised anyone, since the participation of the Chosen would have most likely caused enough protest even without Neleh’s earlier display.
Saelethil waved the others quiet. “Before any decision, I want your opinion. What are the odds of you winning the whole competition? I realize it might be a bit hard to judge without seeing all the participants but…” He was asking and got interrupted by Neleh.
“I don’t need to see the other participants. The chances of me winning are hundred percent. Lord Saelethil might be able to beat me, but unless the other academies have students at the Great Silver level, they don’t have a chance.” Neleh replied with certainty.
Saelethil frowned. “You seem very certain. Are you sure you’re not underestimating the power of Great Silvers?”
Neleh thought for a second. “You know the new light magic teacher that lives in the same accommodations with me? The celestial Azrael is a Great Silver level combatant and I defeated her. Technically that qualifies me as a Great Silver too, but since the duel was not official…” Neleh shrugged again.
“That’s certainly…” Saelethil hesitated for a moment. “I have to ask this. Are you sure it wasn’t just an extreme case of your elements countering hers?” He asked almost hopefully. If a second circle mage defeating Lucian was odd, then having a Great Silver level combatant as a second circle student was just ridiculous. He was developing a headache. Neleh had that effect on people.
“I’m pretty sure that’s not the case. Besides we didn’t fight as mages, we fought as Medjai. Azrael was a bit stronger as a warrior, while I was quite a bit stronger as a mage.” Neleh replied. She didn’t bother to mention that a big reason for her inferiority as a warrior was due to the fact that she was still growing. In a few months the result might be different.
“Well, we most certainly can’t have a Great Silver take part in a competition for students. I have an idea that I might run by the empress. You taking part in the competition might be too much, but it might be interesting to have a special event at the end, where the winners of both the individual and team competition have a change to challenge you for extra glory.” Saelethil said, getting approving nods from the other representatives. “Assuming you don’t mind fighting against a full team by yourself?”
“I think I can deal with that.” Neleh replied with a smile.
The teacher in charge of the competing team was a little unhappy that his chance for easy glory was stolen, and asked offhandedly. “By the way, I never actually heard what your elemental affinities were? It might be more interesting for everyone, if we I can try to coach our team for the fight against you.”
The mage representative of the Moon Elves scoffed. “You’re assuming you will win. Now that your little cheat has been prevented, we might have a much more serious competition on our hands. That said, you are right that it would be more interesting with a little coaching.” She looked curiously at Neleh.
Neleh grimaced, and looked meaningfully at Maylin. “Her affinities are SSS.” Maylin said without any pre-amble, knowing that the others would misunderstand.
“You mean she actually has an affinity of SSS? This is great news! At which element?” The Sun Elf mage representative asked excited.
Maylin replied with a cheshire smile. “You misunderstand me; I said her affinities are SSS. All of them.”
Now the Moon Elf mage representative gushed wildly. “You mean she has the maximum affinity in all her affinities? How is that possible? Quick, tell us which elements!”
Her wide smile turning slightly evil, Maylin corrected her. “You still misunderstand me. She has the SSS affinity in all the elements, not in just the normal few exhibited by most mages.” This brought a stunned silence.
“Now don’t exaggerate Maylin. My spirit magic affinity was just S.” Neleh interjected with a small smile.
“Yeah, and in return the test was unable to measure your fire affinity properly, so I think we can average that one out.” Maylin replied with a chuckle.
Unsurprisingly the resulting mess took them a while to sort through. Neleh hadn’t planned on revealing her affinities, but there wasn’t much point in hiding them anymore either. It would become obvious anyway when she started using magic from more than three elements where everyone could see. It was quite refreshing to finally let that out. On the other hand, it was doubtful the news of this would spread too far yet, since who would believe them?
Neleh’s little show, and the subsequent announcement of her being moved to the final events of the competition had a couple of unintended consequences that even she couldn’t have foreseen. The first one was that Neleh misjudged Lucian’s reaction to the events. She didn’t consider the fact that in the demon continent power was the only thing that really mattered. Among demons, might makes right, and great power is attractive. Demons can appreciate good looks, and Lucian had been somewhat interested in Neleh’s looks and personality before, but her show of power and especially the boundless killing intent she exhibited in the duel made her extremely attractive in the eyes of demons. If Lucian had been mildly interested before, now he was in love. When the word of her power and unrivaled killing intent would reach the demon, Lucian would not be the only one. Neleh had created a whole new interest among the demons, one that would play an important role later on.
The second unintended consequence was Aneirin’s attitude. She already had trouble with her issues connected to Neleh and Delia, and one of the few things holding those issues at bay was her belief in her superiority as a mage. Now those beliefs had taken a blow, and some of those issues were coming back to surface. To try an retain her peace of mind, she decided to go above and beyond to take the first place in the solo portion of the inter-academy competition, and challenge Neleh in the final event.
Her participation in the solo event had never been in real question, as her power as the leader of the disciplinary squad was earned by being the strongest elven student in the whole academy. If she didn’t have the power to put students like Lucian in their place, then she could hardly claim any authority as the squad leader. Additionally she became almost obsessed with training in the time between the matches, and in the time before the main event. In her obsession she even neglected to spend time with Delia, the real reason she was having these issues in the first place. One of the things she did manage to get out of Delia was that her silly guesses about Neleh’s elemental affinities were completely wrong.
As a result of being left alone, Delia begun to spend more of her time in the house used by Neleh and Asheara. She didn’t know what was wrong with Aneirin and why her loved one was pulling away from her. She blamed herself as people are wont to do in such situations, and wondered if she herself was inadequate. She sought the help of her mother for advice, though Asheara might not have been the best source of advice in this situation. Her husband Elluin had after all drawn away from her in a similar fashion and cheated on her. This had left a scar in her mind and it was the natural result that she assumed that Delia’s situation was similar to hers for the same reason.
A more positive result was that the time Delia spent at the house allowed her to spend more time with her new little sister. Shiori had been intolerably smug after the announcement, because she had said from the start that Neleh’s participation was a farce. The fact that Azrael and Asheara had ultimately agreed with her didn’t reduce her smugness in the least. Despite her intelligence and maturity beyond her years, she was still a child and wasn’t above rubbing her victory in other people’s noses. Luckily Delia had a suppressing effect on the girl. Delia was taking her feeling of being neglected out by using excessive skinship with Shiori. Shiori on the other hand wasn’t all that interested, because the sudden closeness weirded her out somewhat. As a result, much of Shiori’s time was spent trying to avoid Delia’s affections.
While Shiori was gloating about her victory, Kanako was wallowing in her defeat. She had planned on riding Neleh’s wave to the actual competition, but Neleh’s sudden withdrawal had forced her to fight with her own power, which had proved insufficient. She had lost in the third round of the qualifiers and had been mercilessly cut from the team. Her sorrowful mood was not helped by Shiori’s gloating, and Shiori was all too happy to put Kanako down even more, since she didn’t really trust the naga.
Since Neleh had suddenly gained a lot of unexpected free time, she decided to start Shiori’s training. When it came to psionics, there was an especially important synergistic effect between the person’s mind and body and their psionic powers. A strong body increased the psionic’s powers, while strong psionic powers strengthened the person’s body. A person with powerful psionics wouldn’t lose to a warrior’s internal power in terms of strengthening the body, although the two worked a little differently, and inner power had the benefit of the various techniques that utilized it.
A similar effect happened with the person’s mind. One of the most important things for a psionic was their imagination. Unlike with magic, psionic powers were by their very nature something that didn’t require spells or magical affinities to work. As such, the most important limiting factor in what a psionic was able to do was their imagination. You didn’t have too many limits in what you could do, but you had to be able to imagine the effects clearly in your mind. In return psionic powers tended to be less varied in their effects and less efficient when it came to the use of power. Both a psionic and a mage might be able to bring about lighting, but a similarly powerful mage could do it more times and didn’t have to understand the nature of lighting if she used the full aria spell.
Knowledge of the physical world was important to a psionic, which is why Neleh spent quite a bit of time teaching a whole lot of information to Shiori. A psionic might be able to burst her powers out even without knowledge if her emotions were heightened to the extreme, but the effect was magnified a thousand fold if the psionic knew which levers to pulls to achieve the desired effect. In addition, a powerful mind made a world of difference in a psionic’s powers, while powerful psionics tended to make the person smarter. This was the synergy of the mind.
It was interesting that it was much easier for Neleh to train Shiori than Asheara even though she had no psionic ability herself. The physical training for the two was similar, but teaching physics was much easier for Neleh than teaching the concepts behind the Shinmei-ryú swordplay, especially with Shiori’s intelligence. In addition to the physical training, Neleh started rebuilding the bodies of her two students with a combination of certain types of elixirs and using her acupuncture needles to force her own power to change the makeup of their muscles. Elves already had different kind of muscle cells compared to normal humans, but the new muscle cells of the duo were closer to those seen in dragons or Shinso vampires. You got more bang for the same muscle mass.
The two also spent a fair amount of time cultivating their respective powers with a combination of other tonics and specially designed meditation. Of course their methods were different since they used completely different types of power. Asheara’s cultivation methods were easy for Neleh since she herself used similar methods, simply fine-tuned for herself. Shiori’s cultivation was a bit more guesswork. Neleh wasn’t completely ignorant on the cultivation of psionics, and could figure out most on her own, but it wasn’t as fine-tuned as her own methods. Shiori would simply have to make improvements on her own, when she got more skillful.
On a related note, the elixirs and tonics used by the duo were similar to the ones given to the members of the Order, simply stronger since Neleh could monitor and control the effect herself. There was no way she had the time to go and do precise changes to every Order member, so they had to make do with the reduced effect. Still, when you combined the effect of those potions with the breaking training they went through, the Order members would hardly be normal elves when they were done.