Dee stood with her eyes closed and with one of her toes barely touching the statue below her. The toe was not keeping her up; instead it was there simply to keep her in contact with the stone beneath her. Despite her being in her full angel form with her wings spread around her, it wasn’t the power of flight that kept her afloat. It was her telekinetic power which held both her and the eight mel tall statue below her toe in the air. The statue wasn’t touching the ground either and neither were the eighty other similar statues around her.
This was a training drill to improve her control over and strength of her telekinetic powers. Neither Dee nor the statue she was hovering above were that high in the air, but that wasn’t the main point of the exercise. The eighty other statues moved around in complex patterns that brought them into constant danger of crashing into each other. Dee had to maintain a constant vigilance over all of the large and extremely heavy statues to prevent them from crashing, while at the same time holding herself and the statue below her in a state of careful balance. If one looked carefully you could see that the statue below her might not have been touching the ground but it was touching the fragile shell of an egg below it instead. Even the slightest movement by the statue would crush the egg.
One of the hardest parts about telekinesis was moving yourself and objects you were in contact with. There were several reasons why that was the case but one of the main ones was that every time you moved something with telekinesis, you moved them in relation to yourself. It wasn’t something done consciously, simply something that happened without thinking. Moving yourself equaled moving the anchor point, which was much more difficult. As a result, if you made the slightest movement yourself, the object you were touching would move as well unless your control was perfect. With the multiple simultaneous tasks Dee was performing she also had to have the ability to focus on several things at once. All of the tasks were also the type that would fail with even the slightest loss of focus.
Razark had told Dee that an old friend would be waiting for her when they left for her current training place. She had been surprised when she had seen Moirai, but it made sense in retrospect. If Dee was supposed to be trained in using the advantages of her angel form, then of course they would need someone to help her with her psionics. Moirai was the logical choice since she was already Dee’s master in that field. Thus Razark had struck a deal with the Four Winds Alliance for the use of her expertise and time. The Four Winds were all too happy to comply since Dee was supposed to become a member in their community at some point anyway, so they were in effect getting paid to train one of their own.
Dee wasn’t entirely sure of the details of the deal, but Moirai had mentioned something about a dual membership in both the Radiant Sun and the Four Winds, so that whenever Dee wasn’t performing missions for the Radiant Sun, the Four Winds were free to utilize her services. That was a good deal for the Four Winds considering there was no firm end limit on Dee’s service as a Templar and she was something of a special case anyway since her membership in the order wasn’t entirely voluntary. Moirai had also spoken to the higher ups of her community, mentioning that it was highly likely that Dee would sooner or later join the ranks of the true elite of this world, the immortals.
Moirai was rather proudly watching over her disciple’s progress. Dee’s angel form really did make things so much easier. Before, Dee’s control over her powers had been rudimentary and forced at best, while now her control was nearing perfection. There was still work to be done in other areas but this made things much easier. Learning new techniques became much simpler when you didn’t have to wrestle with your own powers all the time. Dee also looked almost divine with her powers on full display and the large halo shining behind her head. The almost unnatural calmness Dee exhibited only enhanced the picture.
Calmness was one of the things Dee had gained during these last ten months. Dee had never been easily excited or a dramatic person prone to making a scene, but now there was a certain inner calm about her that had not been there before. One of the lessons the old man had given early on had been that Dee thought too much, both in battle and outside of it. She was always making plans and evaluating all possibilities. That wasn’t a bad quality, but it sometimes slowed her reactions especially in battle.
To quote the old man. “You can see the flow of power in people and know what they will do sometimes before even they themselves do it. This allows you to both predict their actions and move before they make them. However, you process all of this information on the spot. Even if you’re a psion, that’s not something that happens in an instant. Use that big brain of yours. Make the plans, consider all the scenarios and have your counters and reactions ready, but do it outside the battle. In battle you should already know your best available response for every move the enemy can make and just react accordingly.
“Normally this would take experience and countless battles, but you’re a psion. Run the battles as simulations in your head. Fight every battle in your mind a thousand, ten thousand or a million times to come up with the best responses. Do it until the responses are ingrained in you. That way you’ll do the thinking before the battle and the battle itself is just reacting appropriately by using the plans you’ve already made. Even if the enemy does something unexpected, have a response prepared so you don’t have to think of one on the spot. It might not be the optimal response every time, but an instantly executed mediocre response might bring about a better result than a perfect response executed too late.
This philosophy brought Dee inner peace outside of combat as well. When you had a plan prepared and a path mapped even in the case of unexpected, you spent less time worrying. Her developing skills and control also brought a new level of confidence. Even though she had not been under the command of the assassins for years, she was still suffering from a mentality of a follower instead of a leader. She would not admit this to others but she felt safer and more confident when following the commands of others. This was slowly changing as her power and confidence grew.
There was another change in her that was part of this developing change in attitude. Dee had always had trouble shaking the thinking of an assassin. One of the qualities of a proper assassin was the habit of holding back and avoiding attention. Now she was less prone to such action. Among the most visible signs of this was that she no longer hid her second pair of hands. She also no longer drew into the shadows and wasn’t always hiding her presence. She still didn’t feel like she wanted to draw attention to herself, but she didn’t feel the need to avoid it all the time anymore either.
That wasn’t to say she had forsaken her old ways completely. Those abilities had served her well and were one of her strengths. She could still remain unseen and make others ignore her. In fact she had only grown better at it, since her control over the shadows had improved. Those abilities and that kind of thinking simply didn’t dominate her anymore. They were now one tool in her toolbox instead of being the one tool used in every situation. Of course her nature would not change completely in such a short time. She still preferred a stealthy approach, even if it wasn’t the default response in every situation.
Moirai looked around her as she noticed Dee setting the statues back on the ground. It was not yet time to end the exercise, so there had to be a reason why she was stopping early. Dee’s senses were better than Moirai’s so she guessed the reason was someone approaching them, which turned out to be the case. The old man was coming towards them, walking up the steps leading to the building shared by Dee and Moirai. The two were housed together as Dee could still use her mind while recuperating from the latest beating she had received.
Luckily the beatings had become a lot less common in the last month or so. It wasn’t that Dee and the old man were fighting less often, it was that Dee could now hold her own against him instead. She still lost every once in a while as the old man kept ramping up the difficulty, but it wasn’t a one sided slaughter anymore. The old man didn’t even have to say anything before Dee hopped over them both, gliding towards the practice grounds they always used for their fights. It was time for the two to face off again. The old man gave a slight grin due to the “eagerness” of his pupil.
She wasn’t so much eager as she was resigned and wanted to get to it. Dee positioned herself at her usual spot across from the old man, as he walked back the short distance down the stairs. There was no point in housing Dee too far from the practice field as most of her time was spent there anyway. The two didn’t even say anything before the fight started. Dee’s eyes flashed golden as the old man made the first move, and the world seemed to slow around her.
This had started happening during the first fights the two had fought against each other. The world seemed to slow down, and Dee’s thinking seemed to become faster. Not that she had time to waste on thinking, the old man might have slowed down in her eyes, but that didn’t mean he actually became slow, simply slow enough to be seen. ‘Just respond to what is thrown at you. The plan was already made a long ago.’
At first Dee had only been able to see slight blurs where the old man moved, but now she could observe even the minute movement of power inside his body to predict his moves. The more the two had fought the clearer his movements had become, and the better she was able to respond to them. At least in theory. At first it had done little to be able to see his movements, as she wasn’t moving any faster herself, so she still couldn’t stop the attacks. There was a difference though. Just knowing where the attacks were coming from allowed her to reduce the damage. So instead of being beaten and broken after their spars, she had only been beaten and battered. A small but important difference.
The realization that the slowing of her surroundings was the result of the blessing of Lumen activating had helped her tremendously. The high priestess that had read her blessings had mentioned that the blessing was related to speed. ‘Body and Mind of Light’ the priestess had called it. That certainly seemed to be the case. With the realization had come the basic idea on how to improve. Once she knew it was the result of a blessing she had become better at utilizing it. In the last two months her movements had started to become faster as well, to the point of being able to match the old man.
As with most things, this came with a catch. Once she moved utilizing the power of the blessing, her movements left behind small streams of light, and when the time seemed to slow down her eyes glowed a golden light. Body of Light indeed. That wasn’t a big problem assuming she wasn’t trying to hide, but if she was…well shining like a beacon didn’t exactly help. Luckily this went well with her reduced reliance on her stealth abilities, but it was still something to keep in mind.
The old man’s strike whizzed by as she dodged. The strength of the blow was such that just the air displaced by the fist shattered some of the stone flooring. Even if she had become faster the old man was still stronger than her by a stupidly large margin. She had however become an expert in deflecting and redirecting the power in those blows. She herself landed several attacks on his body, but the old man’s defense was nigh on impregnable as usual. Dee grunted in dissatisfaction. She had hoped that she could break that defense with just her fists by now, but no such luck.
Dee’s four hands were suddenly clad in black gauntlets with overlapping segments made of something that looked like solid darkness turned into metal. The segments had sharp edges and the fingers of the gauntlets were open enough to let her claws through. Even those claws were clad in what looked like dark energy. The dark saber she had used before was not the only weapon she could form thanks to Umbra’s blessing. The dark gauntlets looked extremely dangerous and were even more dangerous than they looked. Even the old man had to be a little careful and avoid taking direct blows from them.
He changed his style to avoiding and redirecting Dee’s attacks, similar to what she was doing to him. Similar to him her missed strikes cleaved large gashes into the stone as if the gauntlets were giving off some weird energy. In fact it wasn't really the gauntlets in this case, as Dee had learned to utilize her psionic power in her attacks, by trying to drive that power into her opponent’s body. The power would wreak havoc inside them even if the blow was blocked on the surface. This was one of her own inventions and had not been taught to her by Moirai.
The gauntlets were one of the two new weapons she had been learning to replace the saber. It allowed her physical strength to shine in a way much different to using the sharp edge of a sword. The gauntlets also fit her because of her extra hands. Her reach might have become shorter without a sword but that what her psionics were for. Besides, it was pretty hard to stop her from getting into range to use her fists when you considered her newfound speed.
The gauntlets themselves were mostly there to allow her to block attacks from other weapons without hurting herself. It was actually rather depressing trying to penetrate her defenses with four hands all capable of blocking attacks from a normal weapon. Of course her ability to use the gauntlets was largely dependent on her unarmed combat ability. She’d received training from the assassins, but they had always highlighted the ability to turn normal items into weapons instead. Unarmed assassin was a dead assassin.
Dee still shivered when she thought about how the old man had decided to improve her unarmed combat abilities. Even though most of them were usually not gathered, the temple had thousands of students representing hundreds of styles of unarmed combat. The old man had gathered all of them one day on the largest open square in front of the temple.
“So am I supposed to pick which style to learn?” Dee had asked once they all started demonstrating their styles.
“Of course not dummy disciple. You’re a psion. Learn them all.” He had commanded.
“What?!” Dee had asked shocked.
“For a psion you can be real slow sometimes. Well this is a test of sorts. I want to see what you can really do with that mind of yours. They will all show you the moves, stances, strikes and methods of their styles. Watch and memorize them.” The old man had ordered.
“How long do I have to do that?” Dee had asked with her eye twitching.
“Until they get tired or bored. If I were you, I’d get to it. Some of them are not known for their patience.” The old man had left with a laugh.
Dee had done her best to memorize everything she saw without giving any thought about performing the moves herself for now. As it happened, she had managed to memorize everything in the three day period before the others dispersed. The old man had known it would take some time to absorb what she had learned though, so he had set another job for her body while her mind worked.
She was told to start running down the steps at the side of the mountain while she was going through her new memories. As a carrot the old man had promised her a day off for rest and relaxation for every trip back and forth to the edge of the shield protecting the mountain that she managed to complete in the next week. Dee had thought it sounded too good to be true. The old man also said that if he saw Dee flying even a centimel, then he’d swat her down from the sky and she wouldn’t enjoy the process.
The edge of the shield had been at the bottom of the mountain, and it had taken Dee six days just to get down there, not to even mention the time it took to run back up the same way. She was told to repeat the process until she had finished absorbing the knowledge. It had taken her two months in total. The whole time was spent running up and down those accursed stairs. The only rest she got was every time she made it back up the mountain or when she collapsed from exhaustion during the run. By the end it took only two days for a full round trip utilizing her fox form. The increase in speed and stamina was obvious. She never did get any days off.
Afterwards, the old man had forced her to fight the masters of each style using their own style of unarmed fighting. That was done just to check she had really absorbed the teachings. Afterwards the old man, now promoted to the title of ‘the fucking old bastard’ in Dee’s mind, had sent Dee back running, this time with the assignment of combining the styles to form her own. She was supposed to take the best part of every style and discard the parts that were inefficient of overshadowed by the other styles.
This part Dee enjoyed as it was the proper type of challenge for her mind and she had always thought the styles she had seen others use had seemed to be inefficient. That process had only taken a bit over two weeks and nine trips up and down the stairs, after which she had to test herself against the masters again. This time she had been using her own style. It had been a proper test in real combat. There had been some small flaws in her new style but they had been fixed soon after. Of course the old man had noted those flaws as well and had doled out proper beatings as punishment for those mistakes.
She still couldn’t call herself a master of unarmed combat but she was getting there. Apparently the old man had decided she would have to fight against masters of every weapon next and see how her style faired against armed opponents. It was all good and fine to successfully fight other unarmed opponents but it would be useless if Dee’s new style didn’t work against armed opponents. Those fights would also help her in making plans against users of those weapons in the future.
Their current fight finally came to a head as Dee managed to sneak a full strength strike at the old man’s stomach. The main point wasn’t the damage from the strike however. Even with that strike she wouldn’t be able to defeat him. Instead, it bought her the opportunity to utilize her real plan. How do you defeat someone whose very skin is like an impenetrable suit of armor that dampens all strikes? Dee’s answer was grappling.
She twisted around the old man, using her own hands to bind the old man’s hands into a position that made it impossible to use any strength, while she herself had her knee against his spine as she pushed with all her strength and weight. The old man couldn’t use his legs either because he was on the ground with his face against the ground. It’s a wonder how little strength even the old man’s legs had if he was wholly unable to utilize his waist.
“Now how about that.” Dee said with a wide smirk, confident in her first victory.
The old man chuckled. “Not bad. In theory that is. You’re forgetting something.”
“Well don’t keep me in suspense.” Dee said, preparing to counter anything the old man threw at her.
“Just like you can use pure psionic power to attack, I can use my ki as well. Just because I haven’t done so thus far doesn’t mean I don’t have the ability. I just haven’t had the need to get serious before.” The man said, just as a huge burst of ki radiated from the man in all directions, forcing Dee to let go and retreat.
The old man flexed his shoulders a bit to make sure they functioned normally. Dee had twisted his hands quite hard. “Well then. Time to start the real training.”
Dee’s voice echoed around the temple, her inner peace once again broken. “Fuuuuuuuuuu-!”