As Asariel stepped through the final gateway to the world that was her destination, she was faced with the surprised stares of a large group of celestials. Unlike when Gabriel and Michael came through the gateway, they were no longer shocked by Asariel’s appearance, but they were still cautious. They did not react with hostility, but they did move close in case of trouble.
‘Oh right, Gabriel mentioned that there were indigenous celestials on this world.’ Asariel thought to herself. Gabriel had not divulged too many details about this world, aside from what was necessary to complete her mission. It’s not that the Executor wanted to cause trouble, but she thought it unnecessary to go into too much detail and was sure of Asariel’s ability to manage.
She frowned a little as she observed the celestials surrounding her. ‘Why do they feel the need to divide their wings? There’s no point in doing that.’ She thought, mirroring Michael’s thoughts when he had first arrived on this world. She could see a group of celestials approaching looking like a delegation of sorts. Unlike Michael and Gabriel though, she didn’t have any need for their help to find the person she was looking for.
She activated the eye in her mind and entered what was called the Mindscape. This void of darkness filled with lights emanating from people’s souls was the same view that was so familiar to Shiori. Just like Shiori, Asariel had no trouble noticing a pair of lights very different from the others. Before the delegation got close, Asariel took off flying in the direction of the two huge lights she had located. The other celestials might have tried stopping her, but the one known as Kadmiel was smart enough to wave everyone to stand down. He knew better than to piss off someone that came through the gateway.
Using the Mindscape could only give you the general direction of a particular light, and not their exact location. In addition, you had to know which light to aim for, as most of them looked almost identical, whith slight variance in size. However, the two lights Asariel was aiming for were very easy to recognize, and not just because of their size. She recognized these two lights. One of them belonged to a Destroyer and took the shape of a great bird of flame, a sight she had seen on her Mindscape before. This was the Destroyer that Gabriel had befriended long ago. He was one of the only people Gabriel had allowed close to her.
The presence of that particular soul explained why Gabriel had been so glad to get that message, and why it had brought such relief to the burdened Executor. It also explained the faint aura of a Destroyer that had been on the message, and identified that particular soul as the originator of that message. ‘I see. Little Flame due to the form of his soul.’ The code words finally made sense to her.
The other soul’s presence worried her. It was the soul of the missing ruler of Inferno, Khali. What was she doing here? Did Gabriel know of her presence here before sending Asariel on this mission? Suddenly she thought of the words she had heard through Gabriel’s door about making ‘the bitch’ suffer. It wasn’t hard to figure who she had been referring to with those words, when you considered the bad blood between the two. ‘Maybe the Destroyer has captured Khali and is now torturing her?’ Asariel wondered.
One question remained though. Gabriel had sent her here with the instructions to provide assistance to an elven woman by the name of Neleh and not the Destroyer. Where did she come in to the picture?
Neleh could sense the approach of the celestial as she entered the vicinity of Nan Yanoi. With a small smile she gave instructions to escort her here once she arrived. “I think it might be better if you made yourself scarce when she arrives. Strictly speaking she isn’t supposed to do anything to you, but she might ignore that rule and take the chance to cause you trouble.” She said to Khali, who had no choice but to comply despite her grumbling.
Once she was certain that the celestial was being escorted properly, Neleh once again masked her and Khali’s presence in the Mindscape. Once Shiori had told her about it, Neleh had been surprised that she had forgotten about that particular pesky ability. Any psion would be able to find her if she didn’t take steps against the ability. She had specifically allowed this particular psion to find her, but it would be a good idea to stop that in the future in case the Enemy had psionically gifted people in their ranks. For some odd reason Shiori had no trouble detecting her mind in the Mindscape even after she did take measures against it. A result of them being so close for years, perhaps?
As the celestial was escorted into the room, Neleh was amused to see the confusion on her face. She had met Asariel before in her old life, and the psion was familiar with her soul, so she would naturally be confused to see it in the body of an elven woman. The confusion didn’t last long though. The celestial had apparently figured things out.
“Destroyer.” Asariel greeted. “I was sent to meet with a person known as Neleh Khalidor. Would you perchance be able to point me in the right direction?” She asked with a slightly amused smile. The guards that had come to meet her had only told her that she had been expected, and that they would guide her.
“I would indeed. You’re talking to her right now. Good to see you again Asariel. I hope matters with the Celestial Host aren’t too dire yet?” Neleh had always gotten along with the prim and proper celestial. They weren’t friends, but they were at least friendly. The glassed on the celestial’s face were a new touch though.
“Well, Khali’s disappearance did kind of throw a wrench into our plans. If you’re holding her captive, then we would appreciate it if you could let her go once you’re done with her. No need to be too gentle though.” Asariel requested rather politely.
“I’m afraid it’s not that simple. She isn’t my prisoner, but my daughter. She was killed in a coup d’état and reborn here. She has every intention to return, but she doesn’t have the strength to do so at the moment.” Neleh had decided to pre-emptively explain things to avoid future trouble.
Asariel looked shocked. “Your daugh…are you serious? Does Gabriel know about this?” She knew Gabriel had a rather soft spot for this Destroyer, and this might be a little shocking to her.
“Does she know that Khali was reborn here? Yes, and she would most likely agree that this is a rather safe place for her at the moment. Does she know Khali was reborn as my daughter? No, and she will not find out. Am I making myself clear?” Neleh asked the celestial rather sternly.
“Crystal clear.” Asariel managed to croak out. This would be a problem if found out. She would have to make sure that no report mentioning this fact reached Gabriel’s desk.
She suddenly looked up in surprise. “Wait, your daughter? I’m noticing that you’re choosing to take the form of a woman, and the people of this world seem to know you as such. You actually gave birth to Khali?” She had no idea that the Destroyer swung that way! She had heard a rumor from Michael that the Destroyer liked to take the form of a female on occasion, but this was new! Now it made sense why Neleh had taken the form of a female elf again!
Neleh gave a small laugh, not quite realizing where the celestial’s mind had gone. “Not quite. Khali’s mother is one of the deities of this world. It would take too long for her to regain her powers if she had a normal elven body.”
The celestial gave a conspiratorial smile. “Don’t worry. I will make sure no word of this will reach Gabriel. I will also keep your other tendencies a secret from her. A girl needs her secrets, and Gabriel doesn’t need to know everything.”
‘Wait till Michael hears about this!’ Asariel thought a little excited.
“My tendencies…?” Neleh mumbled a little confused. She had a sinking feeling that some kind of misunderstanding had been formed. She also felt that it would be too bothersome to try and resolve that misunderstanding.
The two of them had entered Nexus and were observing Shiori’s training. “She is the student I would like you to teach. I know only so much about psionic training, and I’ve tried to keep what training I can give limited to the basics to build a good foundation and to not warp her training in the future.”
Asariel observed the way Shiori moved her power through her body. “You’ve done pretty well for someone who isn’t a psion herself. She’s using her power more like a warrior would use their Ki, but it’s not something that is too hard to correct. She seems to have quite a bit of talent and a good head on her shoulders.” Asariel was especially impressed how the girl was hiding her presence within the Mindscape in the shadow of the much greater blaze of Neleh. If she didn’t know exactly what to look for, Asariel would not have been able to find her except by pure luck.
After a bit of further observation she noticed something. “I don’t think her power is completely natural. Did you give something to her? Don’t get me wrong, it seems to have worked great.”
“I had a few acquaintances who were psions and they explained some of the consumables they used to cultivate their power. I copied those and used some acupuncture training o improve her pathways, so she can transfer her powers better.” Neleh handed the celestial a list of recipe’s she had used.
Asariel skimmed the list, stopping in surprise on some of the consumables. They were high quality even for her standards. “You’ve got good acquaintances.” She mumbled.
“Well there are some advantages to a scientific approach to improving a psion’s abilities. Combined that with magical materials and voila.” Neleh said with a certain amount of pride in her voice.
After some consideration Asariel nodded. “I can work with her. It will take time, but much less with the foundation you have helped her build. The path of a psion is always largely about self-discovery, so I can teach her only so much, but I can set her on the path. You helped with the beginning, I will help with the middle and the end is for her to discover herself. It will take some years though.”
“Good enough for me. Can you be away from you position for that long?” Neleh asked a little worried.
“Yes. Things move slower among the immortals as you well know, and my sister is covering for me.” Asariel replied with a small smile.
“Truer words never spoken.” Neleh indeed knew how slowly things could move when immortals were involved. On the other hand, millennia of peace and languid silence could be followed by an explosion of action when the interests of immortals came to head.
“You implied you had another problem for me to solve?” Asariel asked a little curious, even more so when she saw the pained expression on Neleh’s face.
Asariel had spent days ever so slowly poking at the mind of Asheara, who was still in stasis. Once she had finished her inspection, her face was not bright while she approached Neleh. “Well, I got some good news and some bad news. You guys really did a number with that bond. It was made hastily and it has dug very deep into her psyche. I can see what she meant about losing all the colors in the world while it was transferred to Gabriel.”
Neleh had explained the circumstances surrounding the bond and the words Asheara had said. She gave Asariel a small wave to prompt her to continue. “The good news is that I can remove the remains of the bond in a way that it will leave no trace in her. It will be impossible to form a new bond, but I suspect you wouldn’t do so anyway once you hear the rest.” Asariel had a little apologetic grimace while she talked.
Neleh raised her hand to stop her from continuing on, and asked another question instead. “How long will it take you, and can you do it while she remains in stasis?” She had a hunch about the bad news. It was something she had suspected even before she had asked for help. It was that hunch which had prompted her to ask for outside help instead of having Shiori do it.
“It will take me about a week and yes I can do it while she is in stasis.” She replied simply. She knew Neleh was aware of what was coming, so she didn’t want to rush it until Neleh was ready.
“And the bad news?” Neleh asked finally.
Neleh was observing from a balcony while Asariel was putting the finishing touches on the work on Asheara’s mind. Shiori was standing next to Neleh on the balcony, while their sisters were eagerly waiting near Asheara for their mother to wake. Although they didn’t want to show it, they had missed their mother and had been extremely worried, because they had no idea how long she would be gone. Only Shiori could see the sad look on Neleh’s face as she was looking down at her family.
Neleh had been right about the bad news, and was glad she had decided to ask for Asariel’s help instead of pushing the burden on Shiori’s distant future. Shiori had enough on her plate without being forced to feel guilty about being the cause of what was happening. Neleh could see the exhausted Asariel give a small nod to signal that she was done. With a final sigh Neleh gave a small wave of her hand to dissolve the spell holding Asheara in stasis.
The two of them observed from the balcony as Asheara descended to the ground and came to life again. She didn’t have much time to get hear bearing until a tide of her daughters wiped her off her feet and collapsed crying on top of her. Asheara seemed a little confused, but seemed to slowly get her bearings as she recognized the people swarming her.
Shiori could see Neleh jaws tighten as she bit her teeth together with a sad face. A single tear was running down her face. “Why aren’t you there with them? I know you want to be there more than anyone.” Shiori asked, realizing there must be some reason behind Neleh’s obvious grief.
“I can’t.” Neleh managed to squeeze out.
“Why not?” Shiori asked, dread slowly creeping over her.
“I can’t, because she won’t even recognize me!” Neleh gasped in a heated whisper.
“What happened? What’s going on? What did that celestial do?” Shiori asked half desperate half angry.
“She removed all traces of what was left of the bond. All of them. She had to even remove all the memories Asheara had connected with the bond.” Neleh gasped almost breaking.
“You mean..?” Shiori suddenly realized all the implications.
“Yes. Since Asheara’s memories of the bond were so completely tied with her memories of me, those had to go. Everything since I was a small baby. All our interactions were colored by the bond.” Neleh gave a mirthless laugh.
“Even though Asheara might have lost some memories of my sisters, she still remembers most of it. She can remember them growing up, remembers the laughs and tears they shared, remembers the conversations they had and the secrets they shared. As for me, the only thing she can remember of me is from the time before I could even speak to her. If I went there now, she would have no idea who I am. In time, we will tell her. We can try to form new memories, but we are essentially strangers. It’s as if she had given me for adoption and saw me again for the first time after I grew up. It will never be the same” Neleh finally collapsed, her back against the balcony, crying openly.
Shiori quietly said what Neleh had left unsaid. “Your sisters got their mother back, but you lost her all over again and this time for good. The bond may be gone from her end, but the remains of the bond are still in your mind. The pain and loss will never be gone.”
Neleh managed to give a small sob. “She was supposed to be my home and safe haven. So much for that eternal love.”
Shiori couldn’t do much beyond holding her, as Neleh cried her grief and pain away, while the rest of the family was having a reunion beneath them.