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A/N: All dem spirits! This is the first part of a two parter. The second part will come tomorrow most likely, since I already have it mapped in my mind. I could've put it all in one long chapter, but then it wouldn't have been finished today as it would've been almost double length. I also wanted to give you something to speculate and guess about. Also some slight suspense. Not quite a cliffhanger, but this house ain't built far from the edge either!

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Neleh and Estelar were at the Nan Yanoi docks to meet with the human skilled with spirit magic that the two princes had promised to send. The person had arrived in Bluepearl and the naga had sent them forward on a river ship towards Nan Yanoi. Bluepearl was built close to the Lucent-river, originally to facilitate trade along the river. Ironically the previous rulers of Jao’e’Tinukai had not utilized this opportunity properly, as only a couple of small towns were built along the river and most trade happened over land. To be fair to the old rulers, the city of Bluepearl was built after the major trade centers of the province had already formed.

The two of them watched as the river ship docked, the naga sailors expertly bringing the ship to rest against the soft objects stopping the ship from scraping against the stone docks. Another one of Neleh’s little additions. Every dock used something similar, but Nan Yanoi was the first place to use rubber for anything productive. They watched as a dark haired human man walked down to the dock. The man had a mix of recognition and confusion in his eyes while looking at Neleh, as he walked towards them.

The docks were full of hustle and bustle, and although the people working the docks were not badly dressed, as elves tended to keep clean appearances at all times, it was not hard to pick out Neleh and Estelar from the crowd. They had elected not to bring along guards, so as to not draw too much attention, but that plan failed miserably as Neleh tended to draw attention anywhere she went, no matter what she was doing. The human man extended a hand in greeting, as was customary among humans, which Estelar took in his own hand, even though the man’s handshake was quite clearly offered more towards Neleh. As often happens when men of some power shook hands, the handshake turned into a sort of battle between men. Neleh observed this with some amusement. This was one of the things she did not miss from her time as a male in her old life…

She decided to intervene before things got out of hand. “Pleasure to meet you. My name is Neleh Khalidor, the Chosen of Elune and the duchess of these lands. You are prince Alexis if I recall correctly.” Neleh decided to give a warrior’s greeting instead, with a fist above her heart. Both Alexis and Estelar noticed that this gesture highlighted interesting areas on her chest.

“You are correct; I am Prince Alexis de Wolfe of the Unified Human Empire. I have to say you look quite different from when I last saw you. I’m even having some slight trouble believing you are the same being.” Alexis replied with a slightly questioning tone.

“Less golden?” Estelar asked with a grunt.

“Also less on fire?” Neleh asked with a wide grin.

“Among other things. In any case, I promised you we would send a person well versed in spirit magic, and here I am. I also sent for one of our priests in case you need our services for a longer period of time. I hope you won’t mind that I’m also here in official capacity, to meet with the new empress of the elves, and to possibly negotiate a deal between our races?” Alexis inquired. One of the main reasons he was here instead of some mage or a priest was precisely because of those negotiations.

“I would assume nothing less. I don’t think the human empire is in the habit of sending their princes out for idle requests like mine. Especially since we have heard that you are one of the few generals actually having any success in the war against the beastmen.” Neleh replied. They were walking towards the white central tower of the city, while they were talking. Neleh wanted to give the prince a glimpse of the city as they traveled; hence she had elected to move by foot instead of carriage. She did have horses prepared as well, in case the person had turned out to be someone less inclined towards walking, as a result of age or infirmity.

“Well, luckily Sanguinius can handle our campaign in the beastmen lands for now, and negotiations like we have planned require the presence of someone with enough prestige and acumen to handle the negotiations.” Alexis replied.

“How does your campaign to open a second front fare? I do believe it is no longer a secret?” Neleh asked with some curiosity.

“As good as we can expect I suppose. We managed to open a second front to draw some of the beastmen clans back to their own lands. They had extended far enough into our lands that the threat of us raiding their own homes forced them to react. We conducted some raids, and then fortified our foothold in their territory. Now we’ll simply stay there and look threatening so that the beastmen have to either keep enough manpower back to keep us penned in, or bring back enough forces to lay siege and drive us back into the sea. In the latter case their front lines will be weakened and we can get some lost ground back on that front. Sanguinius will most likely move back to the main front in a few weeks, since even a less skilled commander can handle the simple process of holding some territory and retreating when pushed too hard.” Alexis was surprisingly free with information, but then again he had told about their original plan before, and Neleh had kept that information a secret. The plan also didn’t rely on secrecy.

They continued to tour the city, and Alexis was curious about many things he had not seen before. Some things like the city layout Neleh talked openly about, while some things like the arches she kept a secret. The city was still under construction, a fact blindingly obvious to Alexis, which prompted him to inquire about the reason that led to constructing such a large city. Neleh gave him a truncated explanation about their trouble with the bandits, and Alexis was immediately able to guess there was more behind the attack than seemed obvious. Though Neleh would’ve have been worried if he wasn’t able to figure that part out, as it was fairly obvious that something was going on since bandits didn’t just suddenly gather in army strength for no reason.

As they reached the tower and were comfortably situated, Neleh gave Alexis a list detailing all her blessings with the accompanying messages from the gods, without actually mentioning where they came from. She had also left out the blessings from Satai, Loki and Aphrodite to mask things further, and to avoid revealing too much.

“What do you make of these?” Neleh asked handing him the sheet detailing the blessings.

“Where did these come from?” Alexis asked with furrowed eye-brows.

“I will explain more later. First I’d like your first impressions without any influence from us.” Neleh said with a cryptic smile.

”Well, some of these I have no idea about. Some of them seem to have a connection with spirits, as you have probably figured. Otherwise I wouldn’t be here. The blessing of Iarus especially. The wording is odd, but we sometimes get oddly worded blessings from Iarus connected to the spirits. The first part is beyond me, but if I were to make a guess about the latter part, I’d say the spirits were allowed to choose the spirit of the blessed person. Normally the spirit is determined at birth, partly by bloodlines, partly due to affinity and partly by luck. Some priests say that the strength of one’s soul also affects the outcome. I’ve heard of a couple of cases where the spirits got to choose their master when the contact was made at age ten.

Few of the blessings have a wording that hints at spirits, like “May water and ice serve you” and “May light serve you in all things”. The Blessing of Sinir “May fire serve its master” hints at a high level fire spirit. After I saw your fire magic skills, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a reference to you as well. I’m surprised to see this many blessings from the other gods that hint at spirits. Usually humans are the only ones that use spirit magic, and humans are rarely blessed by the other gods since Iarus is very possessive. I’d like to meet the people these blessings belong to.” Alexis said a bit wistfully.

“If these blessings hint at spirits, then why hasn’t the person possessing them manifested a spirit despite being older than ten?” Neleh asked curiously.

She used to be a spirit herself, and knew a lot about spirits, much beyond any mortal knowledge. That said, she didn’t really have any reason to summon other spirits, since she used to be one herself and resided on the elemental planes and she had never been summoned herself. Thus her knowledge about spirit summoning was limited. When she became a high ranking spirit, she even got a more direct access to other spirits so she had even less knowledge about traditional summoning techniques.

“Wait, the person? As in one singular person? These blessings all belong to one person?” Alexis asked incredulously.

Neleh did a little humorous whistle and pointed to herself with a rhythmic taping, as if keeping pace to a song.

“Seriously? Ah, I see. You’ve even removed the part about Elune to not influence my opinion.” Alexis gave a small nervous chuckle. He had known Neleh was powerful, now he thought he knew why. After giving a small thought he slapped his forehead as if he had missed something obvious. “You haven’t gone through the spirit ritual have you?”

“The what now?” Neleh asked confused.

“I see. I forgot that other races don’t even really know the basics of spirit magic. When humans turn ten years old they go through a spirit ritual. During the ritual the child’s soul enters the plane of his or her spirit. There the child and the spirit form a connection which allows the child to utilize the spirit’s powers going forward, and the spirit gets access to the material plane. I’m not sure on all the details of what the spirit gets out of the deal, but my understanding is that they become stronger due to the influence of the contract. After the connection is severed, they return to their plane more powerful than when they left.” He explained.

“You speak of a singular spirit. These blessings hint at multiple spirits though.” Neleh pointed out a problem with the explanation.

“Right. Spirit connections come in two varieties. Humans can have one spirit determined to them from birth. This is the spirit they form a connection with as a child. This is called their personal spirit. This spirit becomes a part of them and they gain many advantages depending on the nature of the spirit. They may become faster or stronger, gain high magical affinity in the spirit’s element or even have their mind enhanced. The downside of these spirits are that they are more difficult to manifest, because the process exhausts the one they are bound to, and should the spirit be defeated, it will take between weeks and years, depending on the spirits level and the person’s mana, until the spirit can regenerate. During the time the spirit is gone, the advantages are lost. This is why people rarely manifest their personal spirits.

Humans are however capable of forming connections with more than one spirit. This requires that the person enters the spirit’s plane again and can convince the lord of the plane to grant them a connection with another spirit, or that they impress a spirit sufficiently to entice them into a connection. These spirits are called secondary spirits. They don’t grant the same kind of advantages as the personal spirits, but they are much easier to manifest and use in battle. The higher level spirits can also grant a single ability to their master. This ability is usually something that defines the spirit. For example, an earth spirit called the Blade Demon can grant its master the ability to manifest a supremely sharp blade to use as a weapon.” Alexis actually kind of enjoyed the chance to lecture someone attentive on a subject he loves. It also didn’t hurt that the student was so easy on the eyes.

“Well that leaves the important question: can you help me perform the spirit ritual?” Neleh asked with a slightly evil smile. She was really looking forward to meeting some spirits again. The planes connected to this world wouldn’t by chance be the same ones that she was born in her old life? If that was the case, she might meet some old friends and enemies.

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As Neleh entered the spirit planes, she immediately noticed two things. Firstly she noticed that she was not in an elemental plane, but instead in the great void connecting the planes. She could see the great planes in the distance around her, as if stars shining in the night sky. Secondly she noticed that she was no longer in her form as Neleh the elf. She was truly only visiting with her soul and her soul had assumed the true form that it symbolized, as the great cosmic bird of fire. Apparently she wasn’t quite in her full size, as she was only the size of a large city. The white fire that she was made of shone with the heat of the sun, as usual. For some reason she felt that she could exercise her old powers while in this space. It felt a little refreshing, even if a little useless.

She could sense the indistinct shapes of spirits around her. They had only sent parts of themselves to meet with her. Were they afraid? No, it felt more likely that they were simply being careful. One of the indistinct shapes took a more solid form, taking the shape of a grand warrior of light. This was the spirit king of light, Neleh noticed from the presence.

“Welcome to the elemental planes Neleh Khalidor. Judging by your shape, this is not the first time you’ve been here. The gods of your world told us some of it, but they neglected to mention that the person they were sending was a former emperor of the elemental planes. No matter, it doesn’t change things. We were informed of your skills and personality in the material planes, and those are the only things that matter.

You may have noticed that this is not a normal spirit ritual, as those are usually between a person and their spirit. Then again, there are few things concerning you that are normal. You were brought here for two reasons. Firstly, we would like you to tone down your radiance before we proceed. Many of the planes would suffer greatly, if the power of the sun is suddenly brought in their midst. Secondly, you have some choices to make.” The spirit explained.

Neleh tuned herself down, taking the form she had now grown accustomed to, except as a slight joke she took the more mature form that Elune used. Two could play that game. “Do elaborate further. I like to be informed while making choices.” She gave a small smile.

The warrior of light gave a small amused harrumph. “The gods of your world found it appropriate to help you on your mission with several spirits, and left the choice of spirits to us. Normally the strength of your soul alone would entitle you to connect with the kings and queens of the planes, but that would be problematic for several reasons. I also suspect that you would not appreciate that as their usability would be limited. You are already powerful, so simply adding more power on top of that would be less effective than simply connecting with spirits whose abilities complement yours. Only two spirits were specifically assigned to you by the gods, though they also volunteered after they studied your personality, and your affinity with them. The rest were selected by us. This is where your choice comes in.”

The warrior waved its hand and seven doors appeared before Neleh. Each door had a symbol signifying an element above them. “Before you are the doors that lead to your new spirits. Normally the first spirit one connects with is their personal spirit, but you were never assigned a personal spirit. Therefore you must choose one of the spirits as your personal spirit. However, the choice of a personal spirit is always blind to the mortal, and so shall it be this time as well. None of the spirits is below high class, so there’s no cause for worry on that front. We also want you to succeed in your fight against the Enemy. Unlike the gods of your world, we think that it is your destiny to once against face against the Enemy personally, so we also did our best.”

“So the first door I pick holds the spirit that will become my personal spirit?” Neleh asked just to make sure.

“That would make sense, however we too like to have our entertainment. So let’s make it so the last door you pick will have your personal spirit. This way you will see all the spirits you missed as a potential personal spirit, for good or ill.” The golden warrior gave a small chuckle. “Just remember, the power of the spirit is not dependent on your elemental affinities, but with your personality. So the most powerful spirit is behind the door that represents the element most suitable for your personality.”

The doors were from the elements of light, shadow, water, ice, fire, life and death. There was something tugging at her mind when Neleh looked at the doors in front of her. She had a mother of all hunches forming. The answer might not be as obvious as one would assume. “Let’s get the easy ones out of the way first.” Neleh murmured to herself, bringing out another chuckle from the golden warrior. “Alright, just to wipe that smirk off your face, I’m picking yours first.” Neleh said resolutely and went through the door with the symbol of light. She could faintly hear a mumble behind her. “First choice correct.”

Neleh found herself in a world bathed with light. As befit the plane of light, there wasn’t a single shadow anywhere, the light seeming omnipresent without a source. There was no land to stand on, yet there was no feeling of falling either. In front of her, Neleh could see a beautiful woman made of golden light. Her gold hair made of blazing light reached almost to her ankles. The woman was naked, except for golden patters of ever brighter light covering all the important places in spiral patters. A Blazing Glory!

These spirits were the absolute fastest beings of all spirits and elementals. Their defensive power wasn’t all that great, but the speed at which they could move made that almost irrelevant. Their offensive power was great, and there was little chance of avoiding their attacks, unless you also possessed great speed, and knew exactly where the attack would come. The Blazing Glories were a sort of exception to the rule that no movement between two points was actually instant, even though many martial artists on thousands of worlds called their skills instant movement. It wasn’t, it was simply moving very, very fast between points. The Blazing Glory could move close to the speed of light between two points, so it was as close to instant as things got.

“Great being, I wish to serve you. Although you do not possess the qualities of a Hero, you’re actions do bring great good into the world. Order is not your forte, but you don’t needlessly destroy the Order either. Your own sense of Order differs from others, but it is there and you defend it. Your personality is not that of light, but you do bring light to the lives of others. My speed is yours.” The spirit disappeared, and Neleh could feel the connection forming. She also got the knowledge that she had gained the skill of instant movement over short distances. This would make traveling to places without a doorway easier. Several small hops would be faster than flying. And the usefulness of such abilities in combat was obvious. Too bad she could only move in straight line with this ability. This would make it too predictable. Something to work on in the future.

“One down, six to go.” The golden warrior said as Neleh returned through the door. She promptly went through the door with the ice symbol. The frigid landscape inside reminded her of the pole regions of most worlds. There was light, but it was faint, as if dying out.

In front of her was a being that was eerily similar to the Blazing Glory earlier. Her skin was white, almost see-through. She was clad in deep blue silken clothes that could be described as ‘barely decent’. Neleh wondered if there was some symbolism in two of her first spirits being alluring, scantily clad females. This being radiated much more power than the Blazing Glory earlier. This was a named spirit, a yuki-onna that had become one of the ten strongest spirits on her plane and gained a name.

“Welcome great empress of fire. I am Shiva and would be your servant. You are the very symbol of agelessness, a being that won’t be stopped even by death. Even though your passion towards those close to you burns brightly, you can maintain a dispassionate approach to others, even completely ignoring those that don’t rouse your interest. You have sympathy, but it is almost freezing cold in its calculated nature. You do not help others because of a heated feeling of righteousness, but coldly protect those beneath you because it insults your sense of honor and sense of propriety for what is correct behavior of those with power. You don’t ignore the suffering of others, but help because it is something that you think you should do. Deep down within you lies a cold and uncaring being just waiting to be let loose so you can just give up on the façade. Your personality and very existence are those of ice, colder than almost any other.” Shiva said coldly, as if pronouncing a judgement.

The spirit disappeared again, and Neleh felt the strong connection form. That had almost been a miscalculation. Her life of happiness and love with her family had allowed Neleh to forget her darker side. She could feel the agelessness of Shiva extend to her. She would reach adulthood, but not age further. She would remain forever young, as if just barely reaching the full bloom of womanhood. Not exactly a great difference for an elf, but certainly something more short lived ages would appreciate. Well she didn’t mind not growing old either. This spirit had been chosen for its combat abilities. Neleh could sense the power of Shiva within her. The spirit was strong enough to face armies.

As she returned through the door, she could again hear the voice of the golden warrior. “That was a close one. A blind spot towards your own nature, perhaps? No matter, two down five to go.” The warrior gave a small laugh again.

Neleh gave a small silent apology to Elune, and picked the door symbolizing life. She was faced with a jungle on one side and a long prairie on the other. The jungle gave the impression that it was teeming with life, while the prairie held the feeling of potential. Once she saw the being waiting for her, she couldn’t stop herself for laughing. Of course it would be that. What was the being that most often symbolized life, creation and rebirth? She was slightly surprised to see the bird of fire in a plane filled with things of highly flammable nature. Although this one was a more solid form of a large bird, rather than the being of pure fire that she herself was in her phoenix form.

The phoenix with red feathers and occasional flame greeted Neleh with a nod. “Greetings elder sister. It is my honor to call you master. You bring death, but you also bring life. You do not end lives without care, yet you are the great destroyer. Your actions are to the betterment of most lives, and you are planning on being the father to the return of an entire race. You have reverence for nature in its varied forms, yet are not chained to it. Your personality is not of a being of life, and you never will have such a personality. Yet you rise above you lot in life as a destroyer, and show the willingness to protect life and heal people despite that.”

Neleh thought that the spirits seemed to like picking parts of her nature that suited them. Some of their words were a little contradictory, but she was anything but a simple person. All in the point of view, she supposed. The ability gained from the phoenix was that of limited rebirth. She basically got a second life, only usable once and only if her body was not completely destroyed and she wasn’t attacked by certain abilities that prevented such rebirth. That might turn to be handy or entirely useless depending on circumstances.

“Three down, four to go.” The golden warrior said. “So far so good.”

Neleh entered the deep oceans for the water spirit. Her expectations for this one were not too high. Yet she was slightly surprised to see a humongous wyrm swim around her. “Great one. I am your servant Jormungandr. Water is the symbol of malleability, flexibility, healing and trouble. All traits that you have in spades. It also symbolizes purity, patience and caring, traits that you really don’t have. Your personality suits water ok. Not great, but not bad either.”

Jormungandr was an oddity among the spirits in that it didn’t come with an ability. It was a purely combative spirit. If it had been her personal spirit, it would have brought great strength and resilience, but the wyrm’s combat ability was so large that it did not matter to Neleh. The abilities so far had been an interesting mix, and the wyrm’s strength especially underwater would be a great boon.

The familiar voice of the golden warrior announced again. “Four down, three to go. This is where things get tricky, is it not?” He said with a wide grin. The remaining doors were those symbolizing death, darkness and fire.
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