Neleh’s group had traveled to a location relatively close to the capital of the duchy. The location where they traveled to was the place where many of the major ley lines running through the duchy crossed. Despite the power she had gotten from the dragons, Neleh didn’t see any point in wasting it and instead chose to stick to her original plan of utilizing the power of the ley lines to create the Nexus. Normally when one drew mana from other beings, the part of the mana that went over the individual’s own mana capacity would slowly dissipate, essentially going to waste. That’s why mages usually didn’t walk around with extra mana siphoned from other people. It was much more common to use a well to store any excess mana, in preparation to spells one couldn’t cast with their standard mana pool.
Due to her knowledge from her previous life, Neleh was much more effective at storing excess mana, but even she would waste a portion of it. Luckily she had come prepared. It’s not that she was expecting to run into thirty dragons willing to share their mana, but it is not uncommon to run into situations where one has access to excess mana. In addition to the numerous small gems she used as wells, and was willing to show to people, she also had one enormously powerful well she used as an innocent looking necklace. Normally making small wells was fairly easy, even normal gems were able to store some mana. The problem was that the making of a well got exponentially harder the more power needed to be stored.
Making a well powerful enough to store the mana Neleh pilfered from the dragons should be theoretically impossible with the knowledge of this world, which is why Neleh kept it as a secret trump card to use in a case of emergency. Even for her it would’ve been too difficult to make such a powerful well using normal methods, but as usual there are ways around the problem. In short, Neleh simply cheated with the help of spatial magic inside the well. The downside was that if anyone was smart enough to strike at the spells within the well, the necklace would explode burning through all the power stored inside. In the case of the power she got from the dragons, the resulting explosion would be large enough to turn half of the duchy into a wasteland. Her original plan while creating the well had been to use the next ten or so years to squirrel away all the excess mana she had, also taking any chance to store away any excess mana she came across. The little event with the dragons had done most of the work for her. One of the good things about dragons was their stupendously excessive access to mana.
When they reached the location she wanted, Neleh had the others make camp for the night because it would take her most of the night to prepare and perform the ritual needed to create the Nexus. Even for her, creating large scale rituals took time.
“What are we doing here?” Azrael asked, trying to satisfy her curiosity. Neleh had been very secretive about the whole thing, and Azrael had already gotten one large surprise with the creation of the mountain.
“We are here to make history. I think you will like this one. It’s something the celestials can also utilize after you figure out the trick behind it.” Neleh replied with a smile.
“I’ll be looking forward to it then.” Azrael replied expectantly. She and Estelar’s men started to make camp, while Shiori and Asheara went through their training routine. The soldiers might have been tempted into complaining in their minds about the two slacking off, if they hadn’t seen their hard training several times already. Now they thought they themselves got off much easier. Then again, they were veteran soldiers so making camp was a piece of cake for them, having gone through the routine thousands of times.
Neleh went a bit away from the campsite, to the exact location of the ley lines crossing each other under a small meadow. She drew several magical formations surrounding the meadow, and anchored a glowing Ri Majon pattern above each of them. Each pattern held a small gem made into a well at the center. Azrael monitored Neleh performing the preparations, not even trying to hide her curiosity. She especially wondered about the glowing patterns in the air that Neleh had called Ri Majon, but refused to explain further.
The patterns were beautiful works of white glowing magic. When Neleh made them, one or more of her fingers started glowing, drawing a line that stayed in the air. Then she performed complex series of gestures with the hand, looking as if her fingers were dancing in the air. The resulting pattern was complex, compelling and absolutely foreign to Azrael. She could only guess at the purpose, but Neleh would not go through the trouble of making something so complex without a good reason.
Interestingly, there was one large difference with what Neleh was doing now, and with the other large rituals she had performed in the past. This time she wanted to keep the whole process a secret as much as possible. The same would have been true for the ritual she used to gain her Ignasia, but back then she didn’t have access to her magic and couldn’t’ use spells to hide her activities. This time there would be no large surge of power felt across half the continent. This time no one outside the meadow would know that something was going on.
The ritual itself took less time than the preparations. Neleh once again elected to use song and dance to control the spell, simply because it was a great way to control large amounts of power and make the power behave exactly as you desired. As the morning was beginning to shine over the horizon, Neleh’s ritual had been finished, all the magical formations disappeared and the wells dropped to the ground empty. Azrael could feel that the ley lines had been taxed heavily, but that made her even more confused. It seemed like nothing at all had happened. What was the spell for?
“Ok, the ritual looked really impressive but what did you do? I can see no change, and can feel no spells in the surroundings.” Azrael asked.
Neleh gave a small smile. “Go and fetch Estelar, and I’ll show you. No need to show the soldiers yet, as we aren’t quite ready to show our hand yet. Just tell them that we might be gone for a while, but that they should be ready to leave when we return.”
“Return from where?” Azrael mumbled as she did as Neleh asked, leaving Shiori and Asheara waiting expectantly.
When Azrael returned with Estelar, Neleh finally got down to business. “Time to open the first door.” She said mysteriously. She drew her spear, thrust it forward and made a small twist with her hand. They could all see a normal looking sliding door and a doorframe appear out of the thin air. As Neleh twisted her spear, the spearhead forced the sliding doors to part, leaving the doorway open.
The others looked a little confused. Ok, so a doorway appeared from nowhere. That was nice and all, but that couldn’t be it. The doorway was standing between Neleh and the others, and the rest could simply see Neleh through the doorway. “Come around and look from the other side.” Neleh told them with a grin. She had placed the doorway between them on purpose, just for theatrical reasons.
Once the others walked around the doorframe, they could see that the view beyond the doorway was completely different. As they watched through the doorframe, the view was of a long corridor made of marble, with other similar doorways dotting the walls of the seemingly endless corridor. “Feel free to go through the door. I need to be the last to walk through.” Neleh said, urging them on.
As they walked through the door, they noticed that while there was an endless looking corridor reaching forward in front of them, they were standing in a smallish circular room with two fancy looking doorways on both sides. Once Neleh stepped through the door, the sliding doors closed behind her. Suddenly Shiori had a thought, and voiced something the others hadn’t thought of yet. “Wait, all those other doors look just like the one we just came through. Where do they all lead?” Shiori could vaguely guess the answer.
“Leaving aside the three doors in this room, the other doors lead anywhere and nowhere. If you wanted to return to the meadow we just left, you would have to go through the first door on the left within the corridor. The other doors within the corridor lead nowhere yet, but they can lead anywhere we want them to lead in the future, as long as it is a place we visit normally and anchor one of the doorways to. The anchoring is done like I just opened the first door at the meadow.” Neleh explained.
“So if we anchored a door in Solaris, and another in Rhi’a’non, I could simply walk from one city to another within seconds?” Estelar asked, already considering all the possible military applications.
“In theory yes. You’d have to visit both cities first to anchor a doorway, but after that the travel can be done freely.
“More importantly, could you have one doorway in each of the capitals on different continents?” Azrael asked suddenly worried. “Can anyone use these doors?”
“Yes to the first question, the answer to the second is a bit more complicated. There are two kinds of doorways. As you could imagine, it would be bothersome to have large numbers of people trudging through a small corridor like this, and that’s not the point of the corridor anyway. This corridor is only meant for me and anyone else I grant access. The doorway I created in the meadow didn’t disappear, but it can only be seen by me, and those I give access to create more doorways. The doorways created like this are permanent, but invisible to others. They can be removed, but that takes a lot more work than creating one. Even if I were to grant all of you access, I can still make some of these doorways just for my own use. When we talk about doorways anyone can use, we need to go through this door.” Neleh explained and pointed to one of the fancy doors on the side of the circular room.
As they went through the door, they came across a balcony with two sets of stairs overlooking a huge expanse of a courtyard. The courtyard was filled with stone arches large enough for a dragon to pass through. The arches were lined in two rows, with what looked like facilities suitable for checkpoints between them. It seemed like one row of arches was for arrivals, with the checkpoints allowing access to wide ramps leading to the other row of arches. Shiori and Estelar realized the ramps seemed to be something to facilitate traffic.
“Now these arches are meant for permanent passageways for people unable to use those special doors from before. These are also what will be used for moving trade caravans and armies from one place to another. As you can see, the arches on the left are for arrivals, in the middle are checkpoints that will be manned by members of the Order once we get things going. The checkpoints will also advice caravans on which arch to take to reach their desired destination, since the arches aren’t named. I couldn’t name them, since I don’t know the order in which we’ll be activating them. The arches will be activated successively from here towards the distance away from us. The arches on the other side are the exits. The ramps leading to them are there to facilitate traffic, since it would be a mess to have the paths of thousands of caravans crisscross all over the place.
These arches will require similar arches to be built in the various cities, starting with our province, and maybe later on expanding outside of it. These arches will be permanent structures in the various cities, but they can be built by any half decent earth mage. To actually connect the arch to this place, which I call Nexus, you’ll need either me or some other mage capable of casting a fairly complex spatial magic spell. After the arch is built and connected, any mage can use their power to activate the door. In the cities you’ll have caravans entering from one side and exiting from the other side of the arch.” Neleh finished her explanation.
“I see you’ve put some thought into this. How do we stop our enemies from using the doors? You said any mage can power them.” Estelar asked noticing a problem straight away.
“I can give authority to certain people, and those people are able to terminate a connection from a doorway immediately when they notice danger. That will leave any enemies that already entered the Nexus trapped inside with no way out. We’ll have enough members of the Order stand guard to take care of those trapped inside. In addition, if the enemy can sneak a large group of people through, we can bring any number of our own soldiers here, since I’m planning on having every friendly fortress, barracks and Order sanctuary connected via an arch. Only those I grant authority will be able to disconnect the doorways, and I can forcefully open any doorway closed by someone else, so we don’t need to worry about enemies shutting us out.” Neleh replied confidently. The plan still needed some work, but it was a start.
Shiori suddenly thought of something. “What about the other ornate door in the room we first entered? If this is what’s behind door number one, what’s behind door number two?”
Neleh gave a small grin. “Well, shall we go and see?”
As they walked back and went through ‘door number two’, they entered a luxurious looking mansion that looked more like a resort. Calling it a mansion might have been wrong as well, as the building was more like a combination of a tower and a castle, except without any of the look of battle that usually accompanied such structures. The whole thing was perched above a huge beach, with what looked like clear tropical water surrounding it. The building seemed to come with multiple baths and things that looked like sportsgrounds and training grounds. There was even a building that looked like a library, although currently empty.
“What is this?” Asheara asked with wide eyes.
“It’s something that I hope to build into our new home. We will have to abandon our mansion within the Rhi’a’non academy grounds when I graduate, and I have the feeling that we will be forced into moving several times in the future. I hope to build a home here instead, so that we can return to it wherever we are. I don’t really feel like sleeping in inns anymore either. Sleeping outside is one thing, but if I have access to a bed, then I might as well use my own bed. We can make a doorway in every inn we stop at to return here. In addition, we can make doorways for Delia, Selene and Elsaria, so that they can always come here too. This will be our new home away from home.” Neleh explained while looking a little nostalgic. She had used a similar arrangement in her old life, with great success. At least until the Enemy came, and it became too painful to return to her old home filled with memories.
“This is awesome.” Shiori said simply, getting a nod from Azrael as well.
“Oh this is great. Now that I can always reach you, I can finally push some of the work back on you, and you can stop shirking your duties.” Estelar said with a relieved sigh.
Neleh gave a small chuckle. “Sure, as long as you understand that I’m not a bureaucrat. I will delegate that stuff mercilessly to other people. If we have capable people, then there’s no need to seek my approval and opinion on everything. My policy is to let smart people do their thing, and then come smack them around if they make mistakes. If you try to bother me with pencil pushing and minor details, I’ll string you up by the beach from your toes. I’m sure we can find a sea monster or two to nibble on you when we visit the naga.”
The group reached the capitol of the duchy, imaginatively also named Jao’e’Tinukai. Neleh felt that it was such a shame to have the capital city carry the same name as the duchy, but she had to admit that it was probably clearer to people outside the duchy. Although now there was the trouble of knowing whether a person referred to the city or the duchy when they said the name. ‘I wonder how much trouble it would be to rename the city?’ She thought idly.
She passed the necessary plans and spells required for creating the large arches to Estelar, and also gave him the power to open some of those smaller doorways. They could make the first arch in the city right now if they wanted, but they decided against it until they had the necessary people to secure the Nexus before opening it to the public. Estelar would have the first arches done within the Order sanctuaries for obvious reasons. One of the masters in charge of the training came to report on their progress. They were talking within the ducal palace, an ostentatious building constructed by the corrupt previous duke. Neleh felt that it might be nice symbolism to have the palace torn down, but she did need a visible seat of power when she took the position officially, and she couldn’t have all the people coming into their new home within the Nexus. She had to figure something out something else.
“So how is the training of our Order brothers and sisters? Estelar gave me some information, but I want to hear it in your own words.” Neleh asked the rough looking elf.
“Well enough.” He grunted. “The program you two put together really reforms a person. Combined with the elixirs and pills you provided us, their growth and strength is almost frightening. I would wager our more advanced students could take the soldiers of the army one against five at this point. One against ten if using groups, since you’ve had them focus on fighting as a group. It’s almost vicious how they all aim for efficient kills instead of just subduing the enemy. Normal warriors have some resistance against aiming to kill their opponent, but your training completely breaks that. They’re almost brutally effective. In a couple of years the first ones will be ready for anything. It’s almost a miracle how few of them drop out of the training. Even though we break them on a regular basis, I think they’d rather die than leave.” The old veteran had a wondering voice towards the end.
“That’s what happens when you supply people with a way out, a purpose and a family in the form of the Order. Their fellow students are their new brothers and sisters, and leaving would feel like abandoning their family.” Neleh explained.
“Makes sense I suppose. I’m guessing, you’ll eventually have some of the Order members become the trainers to replace us, when they have enough experience? I thought as much. Not that I mind, since you’re compensating us handsomely, and it’s quite wonderful to be part of making something this great. Anyway, the first students are starting to progress through the tests of the weapons. We’re still not quite sure what these ‘Test of Survival’ and the final ‘Test of Life and Death’ are.” The man asked, obviously curious.
“Estelar can explain the specifics, but suffice to say, that we’ve prepared something to test their survival skills in a place similar to the ‘Training room’ spell. They will have to apply their skills in survival and tracking, which they learned from the rangers and hunters. They will face hunger and extreme conditions. The test of Life and Death is a little different. Every member of the order will have to take a life before becoming a full brother or sister. We will put them on an arena with a criminal or a bandit, and only one of them walks out. To motivate the criminals, we will promise to let them go if they manage to kill their opponent.” Neleh explained in a cold voice.
“That’s a bit harsh, but I can see why. The members of the order must be able to kill. How are we going to get enough criminals though? I don’t think we have enough murderers and slavers once the bigger classes of students start to take the test. At least we won’t once the word gets out.” The man asked.
“First of all, we’re adding rapists and pirates to the list. Secondly, I’m planning on having the other provinces of the empire send their criminals to us. They are sentenced to death anyway, so we might as well make use of them. We will have a proper method of transportation when the time comes.” Neleh assured the man. She also thought that if push came to shove, they could fake it and have the students think they killed real people, while they actually just killed a shadow inside Nexus.
“Oh right. For some reason the students have started singing together. It’s odd how they all got the same idea in several locations at the same time. It’s eerie to listen to thirty thousand voices sing the same songs at the same time. I think it’s something they’re doing to both show their solidarity to each other and show that we can’t break them.” The man suddenly said.
“Good, encourage that. If you think thirty thousand voices is eerie, imagine a million voices doing that to you from the other side of the battlefield.” Neleh ordered with a wide grin. Besides, a gathered sound like that could be used as a weapon, both mental and physical.
Once the man had left, Neleh prepared to cast the third large spell within few days. They would not be able to have an arch in every town and village of the duchy, but they could still improve the logistics of the duchy with magical means. She knew of a spell called the ‘Golden Road’ that would be a large upgrade to the road systems within the affected area. It was a huge spell that would pave every road in the duchy with solid stone. In addition, anyone traveling one the roads would travel faster and would get a lot less fatigue than normal. The end result would be much easier and faster travel within the duchy.
She would need some maps of all the roads within the duchy. So much to do, so little time. They were supposed to leave towards the naga settlements on the coast in a few days. She wondered idly how the naga would react to the new roads that suddenly appeared…