A/N: A wee bit shorter chapter, but a lot of things going on. Do mention if you want a continuation for the end part I could've added it into this chapter, but then it would've come out tomorrow instead.
Because they were in a hurry, Neleh and Shiori left the other sisters behind to finish their goodbyes and went deeper into the mansion. There Neleh had prepared her own place to deal with the bond being severed. Because they were in a bit of a hurry, all the preparations had been done beforehand. The room they finally entered was large, and covered in various magical formations. There were two distinct groups of spells in the room. The first group of spells was designed to keep any unwanted people out. Even Shiori could only come to the door of the room, and the spells were specially designed to allow her through.
The second group of spells was designed to keep Neleh in. There was no way to know how Neleh would react to the bond severing, and they were taking several measures to make sure the effects would not spill out too far. First of all, they were inside Nexus, which kept the duchy safe in case she went berserk. Second line of defense was the spells, which suppressed Neleh’s power within their area of effect, and also worked as a prison of sorts. She could break the spells, but only if she was calm and focused. The third thing, and perhaps the most important part, was that Neleh’s mind would not be in her body when the severing happened.
Neleh had made an agreement with Elune, to send her mind to the same space she had visited after the conflagration and the death of Selvaria. She would be powerless in that space, and hopefully the presence of the goddess would help her deal with the emotional fallout.
Neleh turned to look at Shiori. “I know I said I won’t need anyone watching over me while I’m unconscious, but I’m getting a bad feeling. I have the spells to protect me, but those will only slow down a determined assault. I’ll have to rely on you to prevent anyone from having the time to work through the spells.”
“Trust me. I will be vigilant. I won’t let anyone disturb us…err I mean you.” Shiori replied with a weird look on her face.
Neleh gave her a long look, but decided to trust her. “Take this. I have a feeling you will find more use for it than me.” Neleh said handing Shiori the dagger they had made with Elluin, together with the two swords Asheara had used. Neleh hadn’t really been using it, but Shiori was going through training suitable for an assassin, and a dagger able to ignore or cut magic would be useful for an assassin going after mage opponents. Especially if the assassin had the psionic power of telekinesis, and could move the dagger with their mind. Magic didn’t really work on the dagger, psionic powers however…
“Thank you! I’ll treasure this forever!” Shiori was already familiar with the weapon. She had seen it several times, and had heard the story about its making. While the two swords had been more Elluin’s work, the dagger was mostly Neleh’s, and that made it even more valuable to Shiori. An item made by Neleh! The weapon was even more anti-magic than the swords, trading away some of its ability to fight against warriors as compensation. A Dagger was a tool of surprise and assassination anyway. If you tried to fight a warrior of equal skill with a dagger, you were doing it wrong. So it was a tool for specific purpose. And it would see a lot of use in the future.
As Neleh entered the formation and floated into the air, Shiori whispered quietly. “Don’t worry, I will kill anyone who dares to disturb your rest."
“Welcome back.” Elune said as she brought Neleh’s mind into her protected space. “Although I had wished your next visit would be happier than this.”
Neleh gave a small smile. “Just because I always seem to visit you when something sad is happening, it doesn’t mean that this is a place of sadness. It’s actually the opposite. I’m here during the sad moments of my life, because the place gives me strength. Or not the place really, as it’s really you giving me strength to get through these events.” Neleh tilted her head in half-thought. “Though now that I think about it, a place of peace and quiet can be a source of strength as well.”
“Well, if I can be a source of strength for you, then I’m glad. I’m almost touched that you chose me to help you through this difficult time.” Elune said with a smile.
“Just to make sure, I won’t have any strength here, correct? I will be completely powerless and unable to hurt you?” Neleh asked, wanting to make sure.
“Correct. You have no strength here. You don’t have to worry about anything and can simply let go.” Elune replied. She was slightly amused and touched that Neleh was worried about her, though considering Neleh’s ability to destroy anything using her powers as a destroyer, her worry was most likely something that had built up for a good reason over a long period of time.
With a relieved sigh, Neleh sat on the ground in a meditative position. Elune sat behind her, wrapping her arms and legs around Neleh, hugging her from behind. The goddess was doing this for two reasons. The first one was to stop Neleh from moving, stopping her from using rage as an outlet for her emotions. The second reason was to let Neleh feel the warmth and closeness of another being in her moment of despair and loneliness.
With just minutes before the severing of the bond, Neleh spent the time reminiscing on the times shared with Asheara. This might be the last time she was able to think about her without sadness, so she decided to use that time well. They had spent a fair bit of time together, much more than would be normal for a mother and a daughter, especially considering Neleh’s activities. During this life Asheara had been the closest person to her, and that was about to change irrevocably.
Elune could tell the exact moment the bond was severed very easily. Every muscle in Neleh’s body tensed at once. The tendons within her neck stretched out, as she bit down before letting out a keening cry of absolute sadness and hopelessness. Tears were flowing from her eyes freely. Elune was also crying tears of sympathy, as she held on to Neleh, trying to radiate feelings of love and caring. The wail of Neleh carried on within the emptiness.
The moment was also obvious to Shiori watching over Neleh’s body. A sudden and heavy aura of sadness, strong enough to actually crack the floor, flooded out of the formation. It was making it difficult for Shiori to breathe, as the heavy pressure pressed her against the floor. Shiori suddenly realized they had forgotten something important. Neleh had a very powerful presence when she let it out. The problem was that Neleh was always around people too weak to handle her presence, so she always kept it contained. It had become so automatic to her, that they had not even considered it. Short bursts of her presence had leaked out on occasion, and in those cases the presence had been unconsciously channeled to something benign, such as the feeling of pure eroticism Nimue had felt once after a tryst between Neleh and Solana. Even the old priestess had been heavily affected by the presence.
Yet this was a person that could kill a weak person with killing intent alone, so naturally her presence would be extremely heavy when left unchecked. And the magical seals they had placed were not designed against such presence. That said, the presence was not something that could damage the seals when not specifically used for that purpose. That said, it did fight against the suppression of the seals, which resulted some of Neleh’s power going wild. The dome shaped magical shield around her was hit with burst of wild magic. Some of it didn’t even take a proper form, but the rest coalesced into bolts of lightning or lances of fire.
This could be a problem. The shield was holding on fine for now, but how long would it last? Neleh would run out of mana at some point, but would the bombardment restart when her mana regenerated, or would either the flow of mana or the heavy presence die down? How many days would the shield be able to hold? Maybe Shiori should try to have some of the more trustworthy mages come in to supply power to the shield? But that would reveal what was going on to some people, and would the mages even be able to come close enough to supply power? Unlike Shiori, they would not be able to approach the shield through the traps.
As the days went on, it seemed clear that the bombardment of mana only slowed until Neleh was able to regenerate her mana. The shield had held so far, but as shielding against attacks took much more power than forming those attacks, it was only a matter of time before the shield would buckle. It was doubtful Neleh would be too happy if the home she had built for her family was destroyed like this, and it might even have adverse effects on the Nexus. The mana was acting erratically, and might form into something that could damage the pocket dimension. As such, Shiori decided that the only way to go was to strengthen the shield.
But who could she use? Who was trustworthy enough? Delia was one, Maylin and Alduin Rhys could also be used. Maylin had expressed interest of leaving her position as a teacher in the Rhi’a’non academy and moving to Nan Yanoi. Alduin had also mumbled something about starting a new Hunter’s Guild office in the city, so that could be used as an excuse to get them into the city without drawing attention. The faerie queen owed them big time, so she and a couple of her most trusted mages were a possibility.
‘Who else?’ Shiori was running a tally in her head.
A week had passed since then, and Shiori had managed to form a rotation of mages to stabilize the shield. The mages were still fighting a losing battle, but at least the drain on the shield was slow and gradual. The inability of the mages to get close enough to supply the power was making them waste power. Shiori was not a mage, but she judged that the shield would be able to withstand for about a month with the current pace. That of course assumed that nothing changed, and that was always an unsafe assumption.
Some rumors had already started spreading, though most of them were simply about Neleh’s sudden absence. That in itself wasn’t too weird, as Neleh sometimes got too into her projects and withdrew from public, but this time she had been missing for a bit too long already. There had been more spies trying to gain access to Nan Yanoi in the last few days, and the fifth Order had been working overtime clearing out those suspicious people. So far Shiori hadn’t been forced to act herself, but it was obvious that some kind of word had gotten out. Maybe one of the faerie mages had mentioned something about helping their savior to his wife, and that wife had then bragged about it without realizing the implications. None of the rumors were specific enough for any real leak, but some of them got a bit too close for just a coincidence.
“Well, a secret stops being a secret when more than one person knows about it.” Shiori mumbled to herself.
“What was that?” Maylin asked as she was resting on a chair nearby. She had been the last person to supply power to the shield and was now resting, almost completely spent.
“Nothing important, just thinking out loud.” Shiori replied with a small smile. She quite liked the woman.
Suddenly she could sense someone coming closer. ‘Was the next mage already coming here?’ Shiori wondered while she looked towards the door.
She was somewhat relieved, but also a little confused when she saw Kanako coming in. Delia probably let the girl in. They had become friends after Neleh had started spending less time in the academy. Delia and Aneirin had made friends with the naga girl, as they had already spent quite a bit of time together before. Kanako didn’t have access to the doorways, but it wasn’t too surprising for Delia to have allowed the girl to come to help. It was also likely Delia might have mentioned something about needing help to her friend. The mages knew they were fighting a losing battle after all.
It was likely, yet something about it felt wrong to Shiori. Something about Kanako felt wrong to be exact. The look on the naga girl’s face was too serious, and she had none of that bumbling air about her. Shiori decided to take some precautions, just in case. It was probably nothing, but…
“Oh, Kanako. Here to help as well?” Maylin asked with a smile. Kanako had become a promising student, having already become a fourth circle mage. She had even learned some things from Neleh.
“Something like that.” Kanako replied with a smile, walking closer towards were Shiori was watching over Neleh, just about as close as she could come without triggering the traps. “Just you and Maylin for now?” Kanako asked with an innocent voice, setting off alarm bells in Shiori’s mind.
Shiori immediately executed an evasive technique, going deeper among the traps, just in time to avoid the fire lances flying from Kanako towards her. Maylin jumped up and was about to yell something, before being assaulted by some kind of darkness magic Shiori didn’t recognize. Maylin dropped to the ground, either dead or unconscious. The torrent of fire spells was pushing Shiori back. She used the sword she had gotten from Asheara to destroy the spells coming towards her. She silently cursed the fire magic lessons Kanako had gotten from Neleh, as the spells were deadly and precise.
She avoided some of the spells by dodging sideways, and made a quick underhanded toss with the dagger Neleh had given her. The dagger missed Kanako by a meter at least, eliciting a laugh from the naga. “That was a lousy toss. Shouldn’t’ you be better as an assassin?” Kanako said mockingly, sending another blast of spells towards Shiori. She had Shiori suppressed, which was enough for her purposes. She drew a weird magical pendant from her sleeve, and a weird looking magical formation started forming in front of her.
Shiori had no idea what the formation would do, but there was a sense of wrongness about the magic and it was clearly aimed at Neleh. Shiori deflected three more spells before replying with an evil grin. “You’re right, I am better than that, and you should’ve known as much.” With a slight gesture, the dagger that had missed suddenly flew back, piercing and destroying both the magical formation and the pendant. The explosion and feedback of mana distracted Kanako long enough for Shiori to close the distance with lightning quick speed. She broke Kanako’s shield with the sword, and slapped her hand on Kanako’s face, covering her eyes. At this distance, Shiori could freely send her psionic power into Kanako’s mind, knocking her unconscious.
“As much as I’d like to, I’d better not kill her. Neleh will want to question her, and check her for any magical influence.” Shiori sighed while panting. She had suspected Kanako for a long time, but being proven right in such a direct way was both satisfying and disappointing.
She used a magical ring left to her by Neleh to contact Estelar. “Estelar, send Selene and Alduin to where I am with Neleh. Tell them to be ready for some healing. Maylin is hurt. We also have a prisoner we want to keep alive, so prepare one of those holding cells Neleh designed.” She had checked, and had noticed Maylin was still alive. Most likely Kanako still had some lingering affection for the woman, and with her powers spent Maylin wasn’t a threat.
Estelar of course asked questions, but Shiori wasn’t in the mood to explain.
Neleh’s cries were slowly dying down, and her muscles were relaxing. She was still almost gasping for breath, but the worst seemed to be over. It had taken almost three weeks for Neleh’s personality to resurface, but there was finally some life in her eyes again. Her eyes were a bit unfocused, but were clearly looking at Elune now. Once Neleh had stopped struggling, Elune had moved to the front and was now hugging Neleh straight up.
“Starting to get a handle on things?” Elune asked with a small teasing tone. She was somewhat surprised it had taken Neleh this long.
Unable to speak properly, Neleh simply nodded slightly.
“Alright, time to give you the final push. There’s one obvious way to help you with your feelings, and I’m slightly surprised you didn’t think of it. Or you did, but decided not to mention it.” Elune gave a small giggle.
Then she gave Neleh a passionate kiss. If there had been anyone there to see, it would have been a mesmerizing sight to see the two stunningly beautiful, but almost identical, women kissing passionately. One of the two started removing the clothes of her almost identical copy, and it would’ve been hard to tell which of them made that move, even for someone that knew them.