Regardless of her trying to push her flight speed, it took Neleh an hour and a half to reach the closest stable piece of land. Once she did, she created a doorway to Nexus right away. After that, it only took her scant seconds to reach the doorway closest to the city of Jao’e’Tinukai while still being outside of it. It might have become a problem if the city was already in enemy hands, and she had appeared right in the middle of them. While she could defend herself, she didn’t want to lose one of her only advantages, the element of surprise.
Luckily the doorway was close to the city and it took only couple of minutes to come close enough to the city to see it. It didn’t actually require more than a glimpse of the city to realize what was going on. Big parts of the city were in flames. There was no siege, or an army surrounding the city, so it became obvious that the bandits had entered the city already, and the fires were most likely the result of the actions of the looters. As she drew closer, Neleh could see more precisely and could tell that almost 70-percent of the city was either in flames or already burnt down.
It seemed that the bandits were focused on the richer parts of the city, and more specifically the ducal palace. Of course, those would be the most lucrative places to loot, so it was no wonder that the bandits would focus there. Most of the other parts of the city were quickly looted and torched. The bandits were clearly here to do more than loot and pillage. They were here to destroy. It seemed that there was more behind this like they had suspected. Luckily it looked like the evacuation was a success.
Neleh idly wondered how they managed to get the people to leave so easily. There were almost always some people too attached to their homes and pasts, which lead them to stick to their place even if it cost them their lives. Yet, the only bodies she could see belonged the bandits killed by the defending guards, and a few guardsman corpses that died during the defense. There could have been some dead people in the burnt houses, but Neleh felt that unlikely. There wasn’t even a hint of the negative energy produced by dead, and used by necromancers.
“I’m in position.” Neleh said, contacting Estelar.
“Same here. I brought some of my best men, and we’re standing by the doorway leading to the palace.” Estelar had also used the doorways, unfortunately he still didn’t have the ability the create the small doorways, and even though he was able to use those that Neleh had created, he had been lured to a part of the duchy where she had no visited since the creation of the Nexus. The bandits had no way to know about the doorways, they had simply gotten lucky.
“What’s the plan?” He asked.
Neleh had to think for a moment. She had spent quite a bit of mana flying around, and she had also fought a decent sized battle with the humans. She didn’t have the strength to fight a prolonged battle. She could go for something big, but that would most likely destroy what was left of the city.
“How did the evacuation go? Are you sure you got all the people out?” Neleh asked, just to make sure her guess was correct.
“They finished before the bandits entered the city. You’re planning something big aren’t you?” Estelar asked, not sounding surprised in the slightest.
“I don’t see any other way. It will take too long for the army to get here, and I’m already tired from one battle. I just don’t have the strength for a prolonged fight. The bandit magicians are too busy with looting, so if I hide my preparations by making it look natural, I can wipe most of them out. That will take out what’s left of the city, though.” Neleh said with a sigh.
Estelar’s chuckle seemed a little out of place. “What?” Neleh asked.
“It’s just funny it would come to this. The people that were leading the evacuation happened to be the guys that were with us as escorts when you made that mountain for the dragons. As it happens, one of the reasons they were able to get everyone to leave, was because they told everyone that you would make them a new city and new homes better than the current ones, should the city be destroyed. They told everyone you were capable of creating a new city with a wave of your hand.” Estelar finished with another chuckle.
Neleh cursed a little. “Well, we do need a new capital city after this. Even if we do nothing to damage the city, it’s already in a state where staring over is easier than repairs. Just don’t’ expect me to do it with a wave of my hand. We’ll have to build it little bit at a time over several weeks. They kind of forgot to mention the help of thirty dragons, and making a mountain is easier than making a city.” She could only hear Estelar laughing on the other end of the spell.
She gave her orders after finishing her plan. “The destruction seems to be more purposeful than simple banditry. I suspect someone is behind the bandits. I’ll start preparing my spell now, but I want you to apprehend some high ranking members of the bandits for questioning, and pull back into the Nexus. They seem to be gathered near the palace, so you should have no trouble getting to them. I’ll give you thirty minutes, so be gone by then.”
After getting a confirmation from Estelar, Neleh started to gather her power. Because of the mana she had already spent, she had to utilize the remaining power in the wells she was carrying. She would have to save the power she got from the dragons for making the new city. There was a natural storm front closing in from the north, so she decided to utilize that. Those mages among the bandits that had any skill with weather related magic wouldn’t find it strange to see the storm approaching, even though the clouds were gathering in the area much faster than normal.
When people thought of mages fighting against armies or even large groups, they usually imagined something complex and flashy. That was of course one way of doing it, but more often than not, magic useful against armies was something that utilized simple spells or natural phenomenon, just taken to the extreme. If you wanted to destroy a coastal city, a tsunami was a good way to do it. If you wanted to destroy fortifications, an earthquake was very effective. Neleh was a big believer in a purge by fire, but that would be a little too obvious, and she didn’t want the enemy mages hampering her efforts until it was too late. Thus the element she reached for was air.
Her plan was to introduce the bandits to wind speeds high enough to shear the flesh from their bones. One of her most effective defensive spells was a field of wind rotating in such extreme speeds that nothing could get through. Her defensive field was capable of shredding anything, from stone to magical metals. She wouldn’t be able to make the storm that effective, but there was no need to go that far either. Once the storm formation reached the city, and the rain and thunder started, she started to gather the wind and make it rotate with increasing speed. She kept the wind at a fair distance from the city to avoid detection. Once she brought the wind into the city, it would be out of the bandit mages ability to stop.
Estelar was leading his men back towards the doorway when the wind started picking up within the city. The thunder and howl of the wind was almost deafening. They had managed to capture several prominent members of the bandits, including some nobles that had lost their position and a man that looked like the leader of the bandits. They had been looting the palace, albeit somewhat disappointed by the lack of valuables that had also been evacuated along with the people.
“Pick it up! The Lady is getting mighty angry, and I for one don’t intend to be here when she decides to show the full measure of her displeasure. Run faster if you value your lives!” He sent a magical message to all his subordinates.
The first tornadoes were touching down when they finally managed to reach the doorway. It was an eerie sight to see the lighting strikes mixed in with the extreme winds. The sudden flashes illuminated the speed at which the clouds were circling the city and getting closer. This city would be a bad place to be in withing few minutes.
“You cut it a bit close there.” Estelar complained to himself in a small voice, once he closed the doorway behind him.
Neleh would most likely be more effective when it came to questioning the prisoners, but she was going to be exhausted after everything, and most likely too busy with rebuilding. He had seen Neleh perform the magic to separate lies from truth, so he decided to save her the trouble of sorting through the prisoners. The least he could do was to figure out which prisoners actually had decent information and keep those. The rest would be meeting a swift end by his sword. Neleh would want to make sure of any important information by herself anyway, so they would keep those with information alive. She might even want to make a public spectacle of them. That’s just the kind of woman Neleh was. Careful and a flair for theatrics.
Neleh looked on satisfied as the winds hit the city. Even most parts of the wall were being ground to dust. The bandits had no way to escape the devastation, and met their end among the flying rubble and shredding wind. Most of the city was reduced to nothing but wasteland. She stoked the fires and kept them alive as the winds started spreading the fire everywhere. The storm-wind had turned into a firestorm. Not what she’d initially had in mind, but she could make use of what was available.
Once the storm finally died down eight hours later, there wasn’t even a single piece of the wall left intact. The dust in the air had combined with the fire to create dust explosions, so the wasteland was full of craters. Much of the area had turned to glass, as the heat from the fire had melted the dust and sand. Both the bandits and the city of Jao’e’Tinukai were gone.
The morning sun was starting to peek over the horizon.
Estelar exited through the doorway after making sure it was safe and surveyed the devastation. Neleh was standing close-by making sure to dissipate any remains of the storm that had raged here. “You sure don’t do things half-way.” Estelar said after taking a good look.
“I didn’t want the bandits taking refuge inside the buildings, so I had to make sure to destroy everything.” Neleh replied in a tired voice.
“We really fucked up this time.” He said regretfully. And by we, he meant himself mostly. Neleh had left the handling of the bandits to him and he had failed.
“Perhaps. We aren’t perfect; we can only try to do our best. However, make no mistake. We might have failed, but that doesn’t mean that they have gained a victory this day. The enemy forces are destroyed, and we will rise up stronger than before. What matters isn’t avoiding mistakes, but what happens after. You either learn, improve and become stronger, or you cower down in self-pity.” Neleh said with a sigh.
“True enough, I suppose.” He replied in a tired voice. “Well, at least we won’t have to worry about bandits for a while, so there’s that.´”
“No, instead we now have a city to build. What’s the situation with the evacuees?” She asked.
“Surprisingly good, actually. We’ve always highlighted the importance of food and supplies in the Order. They are going through hellish training, so the least we can do is keep them well fed and equipped. The stores at the Order sanctuaries will be enough for a while, and we’re already gathering more from various sources. Thanks to the short distance they had to travel, the evacuees also managed to take along surprisingly large amounts of necessities and wealth. They wouldn’t be left with nothing even if we didn’t supply them. It also helps that the city was focused on craftsmen and a big portion of them were already within the Order sanctuaries receiving the teachings from your father. They took most of their tools with them. The loss of the tools of the craftsmen would’ve been tragic.” Estelar explained.
“Good. I already have a general idea about what to do with the new city, but start asking for input, and ideas from the people. Oh right, we had planned on holding on the banking reforms until later, but now’s a good time to get those started. The people will need cheap loans to get their lives back on track, and we can provide them. The people most likely lost anything they could use as collateral, so our plans are perfect to cover them. We will most likely get a lot of new recruits for the Order as well, since the people are most likely bitter and want to protect their lives in the future.” Neleh started listing a long to-do list, while they went back to the nexus. They had a lot of work ahead of them.
Before anything though, Neleh planned on sleeping the next few days. Let Estelar get things started and earn his non-existent pay. She would do the heavy lifting after some rest.
Azrael and the others reached Bluepearl three weeks later. The trip had been uneventful, aside from the reports they got from Neleh. Neleh had been fairly close mouthed about what had happened, and had only given them a short explanation. They were anxious to get back, and met Estelar at the docks at almost full run. He only grinned at their questions and took them to the inn they had used to store the doorway. They did notice that the door Estelar took them to within the Nexus was different from the standard door to Jao’e’Tinukai.
Once they exited the doorway, they found themselves on a cliff on the side of a small mountain. The cliff was overlooking a large and beautiful city. The area surrounded by the impossibly thick and high walls covered an area bigger than Rhi’a’non, although it was obvious that most of the area wasn’t in use yet. The city was nestled next to a lake that had a large river running through it. Azrael assumed that the river was the main river running through the Jao’e’Tinukai duchy, the Lucent. She had no idea what the city was though. She had never heard of a city like this in the elven continent.
The city itself was divided into sections by smaller walls and gateways. The roads were wide, and parks and greenery plentiful. The building was done in a way that removed back alleys and dark places. Every wide street was paved, and had elevated sidewalks with plenty of magical lights. The districts were divided in a way strange to Azrael, but clearly followed some pattern. The docks along the river were separated from the city proper by a security wall, but the docks were formed in a similar fashion to the one found in Bluepearl, except instead of the docks being separated by a chain, the whole river could be cut off from both directions with chains.
There was a sizeable island in the middle of the lake. There was a large bridge made of some odd material built from the city towards the island, and the island itself had the same type of walls as those surrounding the city. There was clearly a plan to build something on the island, but the construction had not yet started. Instead, the city itself was still under construction. Only about a quarter of the city had been constructed so far, and there were several buildings being made as they watched. It was clear from the way they were built that most of the buildings had been formed by magic. The architecture of the buildings was similar to Rhi’a’non, except not compulsory white. The buildings in this city were made more with practicality in mind. The most obvious thing within the city was a tall and thin pure white tower rising in the center. Each of the gates also had a tower built near them, though they gave the impression of landing platforms instead.
Estelar lead them down the cliff towards some horses, and they rode into the city. Azrael could see that the space between the outer wall, and the first separating wall was reserved for military use. The facilities within were still only in the first stages of construction, but the purpose of the buildings was obvious. There were also arches built near all the gates, ready to be connected to Nexus. The arch closest to them was already active, with a mining caravan exiting the arch towards a section of the city that looked to have several foundries and blacksmiths. Seen closer, the towers near the gates really were landing platforms for something that flies, though Azrael wasn’t sure what was supposed to land there. If they were just for celestials, then the towers were too exaggerated.
“Ah, now I get it.” Shiori suddenly said.
“What?” Azrael asked, turning to look at the girl.
“I wasn’t sure what the idea with the planning of the city was, but now it’s becoming obvious. Very clever. Everything is designed with efficiency in mind, with the idea of cutting down on needless travel. The city takes the flow of people and goods into consideration very well, and the empty space allows for expansion to all directions as the population of the city increases.” Shiori explained.
Now that the girl mentioned it, Azrael could see it too. Normal cities were built mostly to separate the social classes and expanded organically. Everyone built where there was space available and where it was cheap, instead of where things would be most efficient. In this city, things had a plan and an assigned place from the start. That’s what made it look odd to her. Where were they? She hadn’t heard of any new cities being built…
Estelar lead them towards the place where the construction was ongoing. Once they got close, they could see Neleh surrounded by several exhausted people, while Neleh herself was channeling power to a building clearly meant to become some kind of a huge forge. Neleh saw them approach, told the exhausted people to take a break and came to greet them with a smile.
“Good to see you again. It took you guys a while to get here.” She said giving a hug to Shiori, who ran towards her.
“Where is ‘here’ exactly?” Azrael asked with confusion.
“Oh, you didn’t tell them Estelar? You are now within the new capital of the Jao’e’Tinukai duchy. The old one had a little accident. Never mind that, I’ll explain better later. Welcome to Nan Yanoi!” She greeted them with a wide flourish.