Aneirin watched with anticipation as Neleh entered the arena. She could hear the cheers of the ghostly spectators, even if she could not see them. The mood was quite jubilant among the audience. She had heard about Neleh’s annihilation of the winning team of the team competition, and understood that the audience thought Neleh’s victory was almost certain. Neleh had defeated five skilled magicians of the Solaris magic academy by herself, so how could Aneirin alone accomplish what the team of five could not? She was still confident though. Aneirin wasn’t the ace of the most prestigious academy in the elven lands for nothing. She had skills the others did not. She wasn’t called a genius for nothing.
And it seemed Neleh was not putting her full power into this fight. She had not brought the sword she used to defeat the Sun Elf team with her to this fight. Was she looking down on Aneirin?
“You didn’t take along that sword of yours? I don’t want to hear afterwards that I didn’t defeat you at your best.” Aneirin said while frowning.
“Well, for one that sword isn’t mine, although I helped in making it. It belongs to my mother. I only used it against the others because of their disdain towards warriors. You however are too smart to look down on warriors like that, so there’s no need to use a sword against you just to make a point. Besides, I have a feeling that you want to face me as a magician and not as a warrior. I’m not sure of the reason you seem so set on facing me, but it would be rather rude of me to not accommodate you.” Neleh explained.
The beautiful Chosen was right. Aneirin did want to face her as a mage, so her compliance with her wishes was good news for her, but the girl’s certainty in her own power irked her. Neleh was able to face her as just a mage because she thought her powers as a mage were enough to defeat Aneirin. Otherwise she would have used her full power, and also used her skills as a warrior to avoid the risk of losing in front of such a large audience. So either Neleh was unjustified in her confidence, and underestimated Aneirin’s abilities, or she was justified in her confidence, a thought that chilled Aneirin.
Aneirin herself was unable to fully explain the strong obsession she had for defeating Neleh. She felt that this was something she had to do. Part of it was an attempt to retain her pride as a senior student and an upperclassman, as someone older and supposedly more skilled than Neleh. Part of it was her diminishing faith in her own abilities. She had always been thought of as a genius, and she wasn’t someone to let that go to her and rest on her laurels. Instead she worked hard, and utilized every bit of her genius to hone her skills and had become one of the youngest fifth circle mages in the history of the Rhi’a’non academy. One of the youngest sixth circle mages as well, if she wanted to graduate, although she chose to stay in the academy, in part because of Delia and in part because there wasn’t anyone strong enough to take over her position as the head of the discipline squad.
Yet here was Neleh, someone who seemed to be beyond the word genius. The girl seemed to overtake all achievements with effortless ease, breaking all records almost without a second thought. For Elune’s sake, the girl wasn’t even at the age people usually had their Awakening ceremony yet! Aneirin wasn’t one to rest on her laurels, but she was someone with unshakable resolve in her own abilities. Unshakable, that is until Neleh came along. Neleh had destroyed her confidence in her own abilities. The only thing she still had confidence was her abilities as a mage, which is one of the reasons this fight meant so much to her.
And then there was Delia. Her feelings concerning Delia, herself and Neleh were too tangled to even start to unravel into coherent thoughts. She just felt the need to show her abilities to Delia, to show that she was superior to Neleh at least in some way. She didn’t know if that would actually fix anything, but she felt that she would not find peace until she did this.
“You seem to have a lot on your mind.” Neleh observed to her in a quiet voice. “That could prove to be problematic if you can’t focus at the task at hand.”
“Don’t worry about my focus. You just bring your best, and let me worry about the rest.” Aneirin snapped back.
That’s the other thing! The girl had such an annoying confidence in her abilities. One could think that she was being arrogant, but Aneirin knew there was a difference. Arrogance was born out of overestimating your own abilities, and projecting that outwards. What Neleh had, was certainty and confidence. When she did something like not taking the sword with her, it wasn’t because she was looking down on Aneirin. It felt like she had been in the same situation a hundred times, and knew exactly how it would end. Well Aneirin would show her! It was time for Neleh to taste the same uncertainty she had tasted because of the girl.
The judge made sure the two duelists were ready and gave the signal to start the fight. Aneirin struck with the same brutal efficiency she had used to get this far. She had been hiding her biggest trump card. A dozen orbs of black and yellow energy appeared around Aneirin and were launched towards Neleh. She had seen the farce of a duel between the girl and Lucian, and knew Neleh was skilled at unraveling spells. How she had acquired such skills was a mystery to Aneirin, but there were ways around it. There always was. Unraveling was a technique that required a high level of understanding, so it was not a surprise that the countermeasures were also something that required a lot of understanding.
If you constructed the spell in a way that covered its weaknesses, then it became much harder to unravel. Additionally the more powerful the spell was, the harder it was to unravel. Cutting a thread was easy, but cutting a rope was much harder. It could be done, but the effort was not worth it in most cases. Of course this came with the requirement that Aneirin knew how to inject extra power into the spell, to strengthen the spell itself without simply increasing its effect.
Her real trump card was her destruction element. Even more than fire, destruction element was not an element used for defense. It didn’t even have the utility that fire magic provided. Destruction was all about offense and was very good at it. One of the benefits of destruction magic was that it would destroy any magical shields used to defend against it, no matter how much power was supplied to the shield. So throwing several projectiles would both destroy the shield and hit the target even if one or two missed or were somehow unraveled. Destruction magic would also destroy any attempts at countering the spells with other offensive spells. As such, Aneirin was confident in her attack, because none of the traditional methods of defense would work against it.
Her smile froze a little when she saw the happy smile on Neleh’s face. The smile clearly said ‘Oh, you showed me something interesting that I didn’t expect’ and wasn’t worried at all. Neleh raised her right hand, and Aneirin saw small but thick hexagonal shields form in front of each projectile. Each projectile hit their respective shield, disappearing but also destroying the shields. ‘Right, if one shield doesn’t work, then let’s use six. Who does that?! And what’s with those itty bitty shields?’ Aneirin thought.
“Fine, if that doesn’t work, then how about something those tiny shields can’t stop?” Aneirin mumbled to herself.
She pointed a finger towards Neleh, and a large orb of the same black and yellow energy gathered in front of it. A beam of dark energy surged towards Neleh from the orb. To the shock of Aneirin, the beam bent in a weird way midflight and missed Neleh completely. Next to the place where the weird bend happened was a melon sized field of swirling energy. “What the heck?” Aneirin asked confused.
“Gravity storm.” Neleh calm voice replied. Aneirin looked at her confused. “That’s the name of the spell I used. It’s usually used as an offensive spell, but this is one way of using it as well. Destruction element is very effective because of its ability to penetrate most other elements, but it’s still affected by gravity. Now, I let you take your shot, and you’re the type that doesn’t save her best for the last, so I think it’s about time for my turn to attack.”
‘Gravity magic?! Really?! What are the odds of Neleh being able to use one of the rarest special elements? Even my derivative element of destruction is exceedingly rare. Next you’ll tell me she can also use the rarest of all derivative elements, death magic.’ Aneirin thought frustrated. Her skill with the destruction element was limited, because it was so difficult to find a proper teacher in the element, so how did Neleh learn to control gravity magic in such a precise fashion? Aneirin prepared to use her other elements, if her destruction magic was of limited use.
“Time to test your defensive abilities. ‘Gates of Tartarus’.” Neleh said with a wide grin.
Aneirin could feel an enormous amount of fire magic energy filling the whole arena. A wide burning red magical formation formed above the arena, covering it completely. ‘This will hurt.’ Aneirin thought with a panic and threw up the strongest shield against heat and fire she could manage.
Suddenly the whole arena was a sea of fire. The ground was turning into molten lava. Aneirin hastily used mana to construct a small platform to stand on. The bursts of flame assaulting her shield were bad enough, but the continuous strain of standing in lava would be too much. ‘Is she crazy? How can she use a wide area spell like this without chanting more than the keywords? Wouldn’t she herself be affected as well?’ Aneirin thought and looked at Neleh, who was calmly strolling through the inferno towards her, as if the fire and heat didn’t have the slightest effect on her.
“Wasn’t this overdoing it a bit?” Aneirin asked sarcastically, trying to mask her growing panic.
“I wanted to test your defenses, and didn’t want you to try avoiding the attack. Besides, me and fire have always gotten along well, so it isn’t much of a strain to use the spell.” Neleh replied with a grin.
Could Neleh have the fabled SSS affinity with fire? According to the legend, if you reached that level of affinity, you didn’t have to worry about your own spells of that element hurting you anymore. Or maybe a blessing of some sorts? It would be odd for the Chosen of Elune to have a blessing of another god though, and Elune didn’t have any particular affinity with fire. In any case, the flames didn’t show any sign of disappearing, so Aneirin needed to act fast or run out of mana due to continuous defense. It was time to show her abilities as the most offense orientated mage in the academy. If Neleh wanted to play with area spells, then she wasn’t the only one capable of doing it.
Aneirin gathered her powers and chanted a small spell. As an unofficial sixth circle mage, it would have been odd to be able to cast the seventh circle spell without chanting, even if it was Aneirin’s strongest element. The spell ‘Wrathful Skies’ gathered a bunch of dark clouds above the arena, and started raining down hundreds of bolts of lightning towards Neleh. Just because the area of effect of the spell was wide, that didn’t mean Aneirin was incapable of aiming the attacks, although some of them slipped her control a bit. The relentless shower of lighting concealed Neleh from sight, so Aneirin kept pouring power into the spell until the effects of the ‘Gates of Tartarus’ started to dissipate.
When the afterimages from the bright flashes disappeared from her eyes, Aneirin couldn’t avoid despairing at the sight. The point where Neleh had been standing was covered in a dome of golden light, and the girl was standing within the dome seemingly unharmed. ‘Oh right, she was the Chosen. Of course she can use the defensive powers of holy spells.’ Aneirin thought desperately.
“That was well done. You formed the attack so fast that I didn’t have enough time to use earth magic to draw away the lightning, and the attacks were too powerful to be effectively stopped by simple shields. I didn’t think I would be forced into using my holy magic, so you exceeded my expectations there.” Neleh said with a happy smile.
A wave of sadness and desperation washed over Aneirin. She was about to burst into tears. She had lost. The ‘Wrathful Skies’ had taken everything out of her, and Neleh didn’t even seem tired.
Neleh noticed the sudden change of mood in Aneirin. The girl was about to burst into tears in the middle of a high profile spectacle match in front of millions of spectators. She quickly formed a dome of dark energy around them, to block anyone from seeing what was about to happen. She was just in time, before Aneirin burst into uncontrollable tears. Some sort of dam had broken inside the girl, and now all the stored stress and emotion was pouring out in the form of tears.
Neleh thought about trying to console her, but she sensed that she was the wrong person to do it. Her trying to console Aneirin might just make things worse, so instead she chose to let the girl cry out her feelings. After a couple of minutes of tears, Aneirin started to stutter out her problems among frequent sobs. It was hard to follow, and Aneirin was having trouble actually putting her emotions into words, but the Neleh got the gist of it.
“You know what the root of your problems is?” Neleh asked, earning a glare from Aneirin who was on the ground hugging her knees. “You’re comparing yourself to a wrong person. You’re always going to find someone stronger and smarter than you, or someone prettier than you. That’s simply a fact of life. Unless you are the number one, then there are people above you, and no one can ever be the number one forever. It’s good that you learned this early on, because it is something that you will have to continue to deal with in the future. That said, it’s enough to compare yourself with your own kind, there’s no need to go searching for rivals beyond your level.”
Aneirin looked at her confused. “My own kind? What do you mean? Were both elves are we not?”
“Barely. Despite what people like to think, we aren’t all born equal, and I barely qualify as an elf in any case.” Neleh answered with a small smile.
Aneirin’s looked spoke volumes of her opinion about Neleh’s words. “Isn’t that a little conceited? I know you are highly skilled, but isn’t that a bit much?”
“Is it? You probably weren’t aware, but I’m not just the Chosen of Elune, but Satai as well. I also have greater blessings from all the other greater gods and two of the lesser gods. I also have a high affinity in all the magic elements. Look, I can’t explain the details, but there’s a reason for all this power being given to me. I know it sounds conceited, but it’s obvious that you would lose in comparison to me, because I was specifically born that way. It’s not bad to have rivals, but you really should find someone more normal.” Neleh explained. Despite her words, there was no arrogance in her voice. She was simply stating the facts.
Aneirin was confused, and managed to only squeeze out a semblance of a question. “What about Delia?”
“Well, what about Delia? I recognize that you feel jealous about the attention given to me by her, and it is true that we are closer than many other sisters. That said, have you bothered to ask her why we are so close? She has felt close to me ever since I was a baby, because she almost lost me twice. That tends to forge close bonds.” Neleh replied.
“So she isn’t…?” Aneirin asked more specifically, leaving the important part unsaid.
“What? In love with me? That’s not for me to say. Love takes many forms, and it is certain that she loves me as a sister at least. Is it more than that? Hard to say, but I doubt it. One type of love can turn into another without notice, but there is one thing you should remember.” Neleh said with conviction.
What?” Aneirin asked dreading the answer.
“She is dating you, not me. I don’t think she’s the type of girl to date one person while in love with another. She’s too honest and straightforward for that. Though like I said, love can change. Just like love can grow from one type to another, it can also wither. The way you’ve been treating her lately, I wouldn’t blame her for trying to find someone new. To my knowledge she hasn’t tried yet, but I wouldn’t take her for granted. You better get your act together before you lose her. She will always be my sister, but she might not always be your girlfriend, so make sure you’re worth her.” Neleh finished.
Aneirin looked up with both hope and sadness. Neleh was right, she had to do better. As she stood up, she noticed the dark dome surrounding them dissipating, and could hear the concerned noise of the audience that didn’t know what was going on.
“To finish things off, I think it might be prudent for me to get a bit serious and show you what happens if you hurt my sister further.” Neleh said in a clear voice that was carried to the audience, where Delia was face-palming with shame and a mix of other emotions.
Neleh gathered most of her remaining power for a big spell. It was good thing they were in the ‘Training room’ because otherwise this spell would do too much damage to the surroundings. “Absolute Zero.” Neleh whispered quietly. The arena was covered in ice and a chilling wind, the air was cracking as the water in the air was freezing and falling to the ground. The world around her had turned into a frozen wasteland of death. Neleh brought her hand forward in a graceful gesture and snapped her fingers. The ice that covered and infused everything shattered, destroying the whole arena in the process. Aneirin had long since lost the battle and moved into the observer mode due to freezing to death.