A/N: So I'm changing jobs next week. I have no idea what effect if any this will have on my writing. The hours should be about the same, but my writing has never really been constrained by time, instead of being limited by my ability to imagine the scenes ready before sitting to write. The stress and excitement of a new job might tire me out and make it harder to write for the next few weeks, but it might not do anything. It might even inspire me to spend more time imagining the scenes if I get bored. Hard to say. We shall see, and you have been warned.
Neleh was accompanying Alexis towards the capital of the elves. She assumed Nimue would make contact with her in a few days anyway, so she might as well already start traveling. Since they didn’t want to reveal the existence of the doorways to Alexis, they decided to travel by carriage. The human prince had seen the arches active while staying in the duchy capital, and had most likely made some assumptions on what their function was. It was something a little different to reveal the existence of doorways that didn’t require the existence of pre-built stone arches, and were invisible to the normal eyes. The prince might view the doorways as a threat, instead of a convenience and a logistical tool.
Estelar was left in charge of matters in Nan Yanoi, while they took the large carriage along the enchanted roads of the duchy. Shiori and Asheara had naturally followed along. Asheara came because of her duty as the limiter and both of them came for their training. Shiori was also just a curious type, and wouldn’t miss something like this if given the choice. Shiori had grown more attached to Neleh as time passed, which was somewhat out of Neleh’s expectations. Of course the time they spent together would make people more familiar, but most of that time Neleh took the role of a strict teacher and trainer. That’s why she had asked Asheara to be a gentle mother figure for Shiori, but for some reason Shiori was much less interested in that.
It was after two days of travel that the expected communique from Nimue came. “Neleh, can you get to Rhi’a’non in a fairly timely fashion? We have some situations developing, and I think your input might be useful.” Nimue asked sending a magical message.
“On my way. I’m also bringing some baggage along. We should be there in few days.” Neleh replied with a small smile.
“Baggage? I’m not sure I like the sound of that. It’s not something troublesome is it?” Nimue asked suspiciously.
“Well, that depends. It might be something you really like as well. It’s all in how you utilize my present.” Neleh’s amusement could be heard through the magical message clearly enough. Nimue decided that it wasn’t worth the trouble to try to fish for more information and amuse Neleh even further. She wasn’t going to get any straight answers anyway.
The trip itself was fairly uneventful. Alexis was clearly attracted to Neleh, but was also feeling a little apprehensive now that he had a better picture of her power, and he also felt a little bad about the spirit ritual going wrong from his point of view. He didn’t know the real reason Neleh had taken so many days to wake up. Most of the trip was actually spent with Shiori teasing Alexis about whatever happened to catch her fancy, or her asking countless questions about the human continent. Shiori also finally found someone besides Neleh who could match her in the various games she liked to play. That said, Shiori was still winning more than she lost, to the chagrin of the prince.
Neleh spent most of the trip getting used to the changes in her body and mana. The mana part was easy, since she kept casting countless tiny spells with negligible effects, slowly getting the hang of the changes. She had spent quite a bit of time purifying her mana anyway, so it was only a case of something coming earlier than she expected. The purer a person’s mana was, the more effect she got for less expenditure. Training to control her strength within the confines of the carriage was more difficult, but after running a series of exercises, she had now gotten to the stage where she wasn’t breaking things accidentally anymore. She didn’t want to spar with anyone yet in case of an accident, but she had reached a functional point already.
So far she estimated that the effects from establishing a connection with Malassa had raised her strength roughly to the level where she would have been while fully utilizing the power of her Ignasia previously. It was a bit of an odd feeling to have as much strength as her previous maximum effort, except without any effort spent this time. She had the feeling that this was not the extent of the increase in strength; instead Malassa was easing her in. There would be more in the future. She assumed she was now about equal to Estelar in strength, while the expert Great Silver was fully utilizing his inner strength. Well, at least her power now matched her skill with a weapon. She hadn’t tried properly using her own inner power yet, and was somewhat interested in the changes there. One step at a time though. One visible change was that previously she had been able to fully hide it when she was using her inner power, aside from the glow of the Ignasia, but now there would be a telltale black and purple aura around her, which would show to anyone watching that she was utilizing the darkness element.
Shiori’s training had also reached an important crossroads. It was the last night within the Jao’e’Tinukai territory when Neleh decide to bring the subject up with her. Shiori and Asheara had been running through their normal training routine that evening, and Neleh had asked Asheara to give them some privacy after they had finished.
“As you might have noticed, your training so far has been mostly about developing your physical strength, your knowledge of the universe and the amount of psionic power you have. I haven’t really been teaching you how to utilize that power properly, aside from using it to strengthen your body.” Neleh started.
“I’ve noticed. Having good foundations and all that. Is that about to change?” Shiori asked eagerly.
“Yes, but before that you need to make some choices. As with training any other type of power, you can’t learn everything at once. You need to have a certain amount of focus in your training. It’s not like you won’t learn anything from the other paths and options, but it is often better to start out with a limited focus and then expand later. This is not something you have to decide immediately, but I want you to start thinking about it.” Neleh explained.
“Alright, so what are my options?” Shiori asked.
“I think the easiest way to explain it, is to say there are two main axes your training can move on, and the ends of both axes are so different that they are somewhat mutually exclusive. The first choice is whether you want to go big, or go small. The first option is all about expanding the effect and reach of your abilities. You’ll train to have your powers effect as big of an area or as many people as possible, as well as reaching further and further away with your powers. By its nature this type of training will make you more effective when fighting or helping a large group of people. It’s also fairly flashy, and as such isn’t something you do secretly.
The second option is all about control and efficiency. When going big, there’s a certain element of letting your power go rampant to achieve maximum effect, whereas going small is all about exerting minute control over your power. It’s also about exerting control over smaller and smaller details of your power and its effects. This also leads to increased efficiency and making the most out of the power available to you. Unlike the other option, this method is more suited towards secrecy, and against lone enemies.
To give an example to illustrate the difference, you have developed some basic proficiency in the skill called telekinesis. When going big, you would train to move bigger objects or more objects at once, while going small you would train to control singular objects better. That might be about moving that one object faster or with precision. While someone going big might drop a house on people, someone going small might learn to move an object with enough precision to write using nothing but your powers. You could wield a sword as proficiently as any warrior without actually touching the sword.” Neleh carefully explained, trying to keep her voice neutral to not affect Shiori’s decision.
“And the second choice?” Shiori asked.
“The second choice is at the same time a lot simpler, but with perhaps more consequences. This choice is about whether you want to specialize in one or two things and master those, or do you want to train a wider repertoire of abilities for wider range of situations. Specializing will by necessity make you much better at the thing you want to master and that will allow you to make a wider use of that specialty even where it usually isn’t applicable. You will however sooner or later run into situations where that ability is of no use and where someone with a wider range of abilities will able to do something. Someone who doesn’t choose to specialize won’t be as powerful, but will be much more versatile.
To use the same power of telekinesis as an example, someone who specializes in the ability will be able to do amazing things with it, and will be able to use it in situations you normally would not be able to. When fighting against an opponent that can resist all your attempts to use that power on them, you could instead have the experience and knowledge to be able to realize that you can use your power on the opponent’s surroundings instead, and drop him off a cliff or something. On the other hand, no matter how you twist it, you can’t use telekinesis as a healing ability. You might try to stem blood flow or something similar, but that doesn’t make the wound go away. Someone who has a wider variety of abilities on the other hand has almost certainly trained in something that facilitates healing.” Neleh finished her explanation, leaving Shiori some time to think.
After a moment of silence, Shiori pointed out something. “Don’t some of the options from the first choice go better with certain options from the second choice? Like going small would go better with specializing.”
“You’re half correct. The one you pointed out is the biggest correlation. When you’re starting out on specializing, it helps if you’re also going small since that help you in mastering your ability, and it also helps you the other way. However, that only holds true in the beginning and should not bind certain choices together in the long run. I’d like to also emphasize again that specializing for example doesn’t mean that you will learn about one ability and nothing else. There will be some training on other abilities, but the focus will be on mastering one or two.” Neleh answered.
“Now would be a good time to give recommendations. I want to be able to defend myself and those I love, but I also want to be useful to you.” Shiori tried to apply subtle pressure.
“This is something you ultimately have to decide for yourself. I don’t think it’s healthy to try to define yourself by your usefulness to another person, but even if you do, the choice depends on what kind of use you want to be to me in the future. No matter what choice you make, it only becomes a matter of finding you a position suitable for your abilities. You’re a smart girl, you can adapt to almost anything given some time.” Neleh replied.
Shiori gave it more thought, before an amused grin suddenly crossed her face. Something about Neleh’s words had caught her attention. “I have decided. I want to go small and specialize.” She said with a voice that made it clear she had made her choice and would not budge.
“Do I dare to ask why?” Neleh asked, suddenly worried.
“Well, I considered that in the end no matter what I chose, you would most likely be better at it than me, and wouldn’t’ really need help with it. Except, there is one thing about what you said, that made me think of something you are pretty bad at. Secrecy. You can’t help but draw attention wherever you go. Stealth is just not your thing. However, as the saying goes: the brighter the shine, the deeper the shadows cast. You most certainly cast deep shadows, and I think you will need someone you can trust and who can work in those shadows. I will be the blade protecting your back, the knife cutting down your enemies in the dark, the ear within your opponent’s walls and the silent whisper in certain ears that you can deny knowing about.” Shiori’s eyes spoke of a course and destiny found. She had felt something just click inside her when she’d had the idea.
“That is a dark and thorny path you have chosen. I can see you mean to go through with it, so I won’t deny your will. However, if you want to be a blade in the dark, then I will make damn sure you’re the sharpest blade ever made. No more coddling. If you want to go through with it, then you need to familiarize yourself with the darker side of the society, and you will have to see things others will choose not to. One of the hardest things on the path you have chosen is seeing horrible things done to others, and not interfering.” Neleh said with a serious voice.
There was a dark and almost dangerous glint in Shiori’s eyes. “You forget that I have already seen some of that darkness. I had to watch helplessly as the bandits killed my parents, while they tortured me for fun. That is something I will carry with me forever.”
“Are you sure you can go through with it, considering you might have to do something similar?” Neleh asked, trying one time to dissuade her.
“That’s what makes me even more suited for it. They did it to me for fun. If I do it for you, I’ll be doing it for a reason. I have seen where that path might lead, and I know how to avoid it.” Shiori said with resolution.
“Alright then. We will begin your training with that in mind. Asheara’s not going to like this. She still held on the hope of seeing you become a normal and peaceful person, leaving this sort of life behind. I think she hoped you would settle down and start a family.” Neleh said with a small smile, scratching the side of her cheek.
“Alas, I don’t think that was ever in the cards for me. She’ll have to deal with yet another disappointment of a daughter. Seems like grandchildren are still out of the picture.” Shiori said, while grinning back.
The four of them entered Nimue’s study, as the tired looking empress looked towards the door. Nimue only gave a grunt and waved them deeper inside. “Took you long enough. Did you decide to dilly-dally on the way?” She suddenly noticed Alexis. “What this? Since when have you dragged a human around?” She had a nasty premonition.
Neleh thumbed towards Alexis. “This is the baggage I mentioned. Think of it as a present. Prince Alexis.” Neleh had a wide grin, and Nimue’s look suddenly sharpened at the mention of the title prince.
Alexis gave a small chuckle. He was getting used to Neleh’s personality, which in itself was a cause for worry. “Prince Alexis de Wolfe of the United Human Empire. Here on a wide range of diplomatic matters. I hope to get a proper audience with you when you have time, though I would prefer as soon as possible. There are matters we should discuss.”
“One of the twins, eh? You’re not often separated from what I hear. No matter, I’ll have to ask you to give us some privacy for official matters. I promise to make some time for you later on. I have a few hunches about your reason for being here.” Nimue said rather unceremoniously. She was also used to Neleh springing surprises like this on her.
After Alexis had left the room, escorted by a pair of guards, they finally got to the point of Neleh’s visit. “You’ve most likely already heard some rumors, but this is about the demon-fairy war.” Nimue said with a sigh.
“I heard something about how their war had ended, but despite my efforts I couldn’t find out any details. They made a peace finally?” Neleh guessed.
“Not quite. The Faeries were forced to surrender. The faerie continent is provisionally under demon control, although the demons haven’t really done anything about it yet.” Nimue said somewhat glad that her efforts to keep the information suppressed had been so successful.
“Surrender? The last I heard the faeries were winning! Not by a large margin mind you, but still winning. The presence of the great wyrms on the battlefield had given them the advantage.” Neleh wondered with surprise.
“That’s how the situation was until about a month ago. Then about a month ago a strange plague started spreading through the fairy ranks. They took measures to try and contain the disease, but their measures came too late. Now a majority of the faerie’s large cities have been infected. The queen of the faeries already caught the disease, the rest of their royal family has been quarantined to try and save them. Here’s the worst part: the demons withdrew from contact on all fronts just days before the disease started spreading, as if they knew what was about to happen. The faeries had no choice but to offer surrender. The demons accepted their surrender, and now seem to waiting for the disease to run its course before taking any measures.” Nimue explained with a sigh.
“A disease spread by the demons? That’s…both ingenious and utterly immoral. No wonder the celestials also seem to be in panic. They even withdrew Azrael.” Neleh mused.
“That’s not even half of it. You know how there were several celestials present to try and facilitate peace? Yeah, the demons didn’t give them a memo about the disease either. Now several prominent and high ranking celestials are also stricken by the disease. I even heard a rumor that one of the celestials carried the disease back into one of their flying cities. I have no idea whether that’s correct, but that would not surprise me. Elune, what a mess!” Nimue cursed.
“No. Nope. I’m out of here.” Neleh suddenly said getting up and walking towards the door.
“What?! Where are you going?” Nimue asked confused.
“I know where this is going. If you tell me more about the disease, I might figure a way to fight it, or even cure it. That would require me to make the trip to the continent of the faeries. I’ve got enough work with my own duchy. This is your problem to deal with.” Neleh said with a sigh.
“You might be able to cure it? Then you really need to help. We can’t have the disease spread! Not to mention having a large chunk of the faerie race die. Also having them and the celestials owe us one, and a favor this big would be priceless!” Nimue yelled in half panic.
“Khali dammit! Faeries are one thing, but I’m really not feeling like helping the celestials at the moment.” Neleh knew she was only making excuses. She knew that the changes she had made in her duchy required mainly time at the moment, not her presence. In addition, the Nexus would allow her to return home whenever she wanted or was needed.
“Also, you can’t leave; Yunalesca also needs to meet with you!” Nimue yelled after her.
“Khali dammit!” She cursed again. Maybe she could refuse to help the celestials. With any luck, Anauel would have also caught the disease…