On a separate note. After the end of this chapter untill the start of chapter 5, there is a bit darker section. I want to point out that this section will not be representative of the work's tone as a whole, and it gets lighter right after. That part is necessary for setting the scene though, and I like what I did with it. So those that dislike darker parts, I'd recommend storing a few chapters until then and then reading all of them at once. There is a reason this work is not tagged as tragedy.
After all that, I hope you'll enjoy and on with the show!
As Haydee appeared through the portal, all she could see were buildings and people. The platform for incoming portals was a raised dais on a little hill, so it afforded her a pretty decent view in all directions. Everywhere her sight landed all that could be seen were buildings and people of various races. Dee had read a tiny bit about architecture, and though her knowledge was limited the view seemed decidedly odd.
It was not that the buildings were weird, but that there was no uniformity among them. Graceful wooden and screen doored pagodas were built right next to rundown and ramshackle sandstone blocks that barely qualified as houses. On one side she could see what looked like the grounds of a temple surrounded by a park, and on the other was something that could only be described as a cathedral. Not a very big one, but the design was there.
As more and more people passed through the portals, Dee was gently but firmly pushed to the side by the wave of travelers. Both the travelers and the people in the city were a stunning array of various races. There were elves, faeries, humans, naga and even few demons in the mix. Just with a quick glance, Dee counted over a hundred races within the range she could see. Some Dee could sense were beings that had only taken a humanoid form, either to hide or because their real forms would be too large to navigate the streets without trouble. She was pretty sure she could sense the presence of a dragon coming from one person that had come through the portals and disappeared into the city.
The most numerous people in this area seemed to be from various beast races. They ran the full range from werebeasts that were basically human or elven but with beast-like features, such as ears and tails, to demi-humans like that looked much like Dee herself, where they were humanoid in shape but looked more like beasts standing on two legs instead of humans. Though in Dee’s case, she wasn’t actually a demi-human, she simply looked like one. The lines between the definitions of races had always been blurry, since two beings could look almost the same, but have nothing in common when it came to their ancestry or abilities. Dee herself was perhaps the most extreme example of this.
As she waited on the edge of the dais, Dee suddenly realized that mother had not given her very good instructions when it came to deciding what to do after stepping out of the portal. That was very typical of Selvaria. As long as she knew what was supposed to happen, she also assumed everybody else knew as well. Normally Dee would be able to figure things out after some thought, but this time things were not as simple. Selvaria had handled all the arrangements and never bothered to explain anything to her. She didn’t even know where she was. Not to mention the city, she didn’t even know which world this was.
The only thing she knew was that someone was supposed to pick her up, but she had no idea how she was supposed to identify the right person. Or more importantly, how that person was supposed to identify her. Was she waiting for a man or a woman? Or maybe something in between? Genders weren’t all that clear to some races. Speaking of races, which race was the person she was expecting? When were they supposed to arrive? What was she supposed to do in the meantime? Next time she met Selvaria she’d definitely slip something into one of her experiments and have it blow up as revenge!
Hours slipped by as Dee sat and waited. She expected night to fall as the sun was setting, but to her surprise a second sun rose up on the sky. ‘So a world with multiple suns?’ She thought to herself. There were guards monitoring the platform, and they had noticed Dee sitting around. Finally one of them approached.
“Hey little girl. Are you waiting for someone?” The female weretiger asked.
“I’m supposed to yes.” Dee answered politely. The people here seemed to use the same common language that Selvaria had taught her. Apparently it was the most commonly used language in the universe.
“Who are you waiting for? Maybe we can help?” The guard asked. They couldn’t have children loitering around the dais. Even though Dee wasn’t taking much space, there was the possibility of her being a pickpocket or something similar. It would ease the minds of the guards if they could get her to leave.
“I honestly don’t know. Mother sent me through the portal and told me to wait for someone, but she didn’t explain who. She can be a little scatterbrained sometimes.” She replied, still remaining polite. Dee could sense the suspicion in the guard, even if the offer of help was genuine.
“I see.” The face of the guard darkened. Another suspicion had arisen inside the guard. Sometimes parents who didn’t have the means to provide for their children abandoned them near the portal stations in the hopes of someone picking them up. There was also a sense of finality in the act, because once the child disappeared through the portals, he or she would be almost impossible to find. This particular Gate had incoming and outgoing portals from different worlds and wasn’t exactly the most common location for such things, but it wouldn’t be the first time. “I’m afraid we can’t have you stay here any longer. This is not a place for children to spend time in.” The guard continued.
“I suppose you’re right. Besides, I’m getting hungry, and it seems whoever was supposed to be here couldn’t make it. Thank you for your patience.” Dee replied, and started moving off the dais.
She wasn’t lying when she said she was getting hungry. One of the problems with a growing body was the constant need for nutrition. Even if the guard did not come to shoo her off, she would have been forced to go and find some food quite soon anyway. The issue was, how was she going to find food? Mother might have packed some supplies inside the pendant, but as the pendant changed owners, it had turned dormant and become a tattoo invisible under the fur on her chest. Dee would not be able to access anything inside until the pendant came out of the dormant state, and who knew how long that would take.
She had gotten familiar with the concept of money, and realized the usefulness of such a thing to facilitate trade. However, she had never seen any and certainly didn’t have any either. As she walked the street, her observations told her that it was unlikely that any of the people selling food on various stalls along the street would simply give the products for free. She could try stealing some as her stealth skills would make that rather easy, but that seemed like a rather dangerous way to take her first steps in this new world. Making enemies on the first day seemed like a bad idea.
The next possibility was to either hunt, or to work for some food. The problem was that even though she might have the skills required to do some simple jobs, it was unlikely that anyone would believe her. Also, she needed the food now, not after she was done working. As she didn’t know anyone here, there was also the possibility of being taken advantage of. Dee was not naïve enough to think that people were above such things. That left hunting, but she had seen nothing but city around her from the dais. She had done some basic hunting in the pocket dimension mother had created to get used to her abilities, but there was no game inside the city.
Maybe she should try to find a higher place to see just how big this city was? The highest point she had seen from the dais was the pagoda in the nearby temple. She started to rapidly move towards the temple, darting around the people that barely even registered her passing. As she reached the park surrounding the temple, she noticed several monks going around tending to the plants. There was also a group of monks practicing some kind of movement on a large open ground between the buildings. Dee wasn’t sure if the movement was supposed to be some kind of synchronized dance or a form of unarmed combat. If it was the former, then it wasn’t all that pretty, and if it was the latter, then it wasn’t very effective. Maybe they were simply stretching and practicing balance? That seemed the most likely option.
As she got closer to the large pagoda, one of the monks spoke to her. “Greetings little sister. What brings you to our temple?” The monk said while giving a small polite bow.
Dee returned the bow before replying. “Greetings…brother? Would it be a problem if I took a look from the top of this building? I’m trying to find something.”
The monk gave a small smile. “As long as you don’t damage anything, then it is fine. Don’t enter any of the doors inside, as the people within don’t like being disturbed. Should I accompany you?”
“No need.” She hurriedly replied, and started scaling the outside of the pagoda, seemingly without any trouble.
“There are stairs inside.” The monk mumbled with a complicated look.
As she reached the very pinnacle of the pagoda, she started searching through her surroundings. The pagoda was not only tall, but also situated in an elevated place, so she had an unobstructed view all around her. And everywhere she looked, the only thing she could see was more city. Even while enhancing her eyes with her psionic power, the only thing different was a huge gray mass barely visible in the distance, in a direction she decided to call north for now. The mass could either be a mountain range growing straight out of the city, or it was the biggest wall she had ever even read about. She wasn’t exactly an expert, but were cities supposed to be this big?
She descended the pagoda even more confused than she had been before. As she landed next to the same monk as before, the monk could tell that Dee had not found what she was looking for. “Tell me about it little sister. Maybe I can help.”
“Well, I was looking for a way out of the city, but it seems this place is bigger than I thought.” Dee answered half in thought.
“A way out of…you’re a new arrival to the Pantheon aren’t you?” The monk asked in a sudden realization.
“What gave me a way?” Dee asked wryly.
“Well, if you had spent any real time here, you’d know there’s no way to see outside the city. We’re in the twelfth circle, rather close to the edge of the eleventh circle. If you started walking now, it would take you a thousand years to walk to the edge of the city. Though why you would want to exit the city is beyond me.” The monk explained with a smile.
“A thousand...how big is this place?!” Dee asked in shock.
“Well, I might as well tell you the basics since you’re a newcomer. The Pantheon of Heroes is a world as big as five normal stars. The world is divided into two cities, with one city covering a quarter of the planet’s surface, with a grand wilderness between the cities that are situated on the opposite sides of the world. You are now in the city of Day, while the other is the city of Night. Both cities are divided into thirteen circles, with the more powerful beings, societies, guilds and familia closer to the center.” The monk explained, giving Dee the basic rundown.
“So we’re rather close to the edge of the city, and it would still take me a thousand years to walk out?” Dee asked in shock. Now it started to dawn on her, why mother had said the angels wouldn’t be able to find her here.
“Assuming you kept up the pace and didn’t stop to sleep.” The monk smiled. “That said, I still have no idea why you would want to go into the wilderness.”
“I was thinking of hunting for food.” Dee mumbled still half in daze.
“Hunting? I wouldn’t recommend doing that in the grand wilderness. There are mostly just monsters of all sorts making their home in there. If you wanted to hunt, then I would recommend going to the southern section of the city. The southern section contains many forests and open areas with plentiful game animals. Our eastern section has something similar in the seventh circle, but I doubt you could kill anything there, as even the wild animals are rather powerful. There’s a chance to meet some game animals between the inhabited areas, but they are rather rarer than in other worlds.
Although I say that our city covers a quarter of the planet, my meaning of the word city might be a bit different to yours. Even though we call it a city, there are separate countries and even empires within the walls; mostly in places some race has claimed an area for their settlement. There’s even a large ocean in both cities. The reason you can’t see the edge of the inhabited area surrounding us is because the people crowd around the teleportation gates for obvious reasons. I suppose you could find some game if you get outside the inhabited area, but I doubt there is any in close proximity. Why do you want to go hunting though?” The monk asked in confusion.
“I’m hungry, and I have no money to buy food. Hunting is something I can do, so…” Dee’s voice trailed off.
“Oh right, I keep forgetting that you’re not from around here. Most stores take both money and power as payment. Even if you’re weak, you should be able to eke out enough power to not die of hunger.” The monk said as understanding dawned on him again.
“Power? How does that work as currency?” Dee asked, getting even more confused.
“Well, all work and items require either power or labor to produce. They require either physical work in the form of labor, or magical power to at least ease the work. Most crops are grown with the help of magic for example, and most items require power either to produce or to work better in the form of enchantments and so on. Even work that strictly speaking doesn’t require power is made easier by it. Many jobs are performed by magitech, and that requires power to run.
You can earn money with your work, or you can make your power do the work for you. A day’s worth of mana represents a day’s worth of work as well. As such, it can also work as a form of compensation. Nearly every store in Pantheon has ways to store power to be used later, so power can be used as currency. Most people prefer to use physical currency, but there are always people that would rather use power to pay instead.” The monk explained.
“Two questions. How is power as currency quantified? I mean people don’t have same amounts of power so there shouldn’t be a single amount for day’s worth of generated of mana. And what about people with no mana? I’m not a mage.” Dee asked, the explanation’s bringing even more questions.
“Power is power after it is stored, no matter the form. Mana, ki, I’ve even heard of priests using the power gained from their gods as currency. Once you send your mana or ki into the storage device, it transforms simply into power. As for quantifying it, there’s a standard measure in place. A normal human’s full amount of mana is valued equal to a day’s work. The storing devices themselves will announce the gold value of the deposited amount of power. As the production of those devices is heavily controlled and monitored by powers that be, the measures are the same.” The monk looked towards the funny moving monks in the yard and continued. “Now, I’d love to tell you more, but I have to get back to my training. Take care little sister.”
“Take care.” Dee mumbled back. There was something that confused her a bit about the explanation. The monk had mentioned something about taking a whole day to recharge their power, but wasn’t everyone’s ability to recover different? Dee herself only needed few hours to fully recharge even if her powers were completely drained. Would this not lead to a very unbalanced economy? Well, from everything she had read before, economy wasn’t something fair in the first place.
‘Time to find some food.’ She thought as she took a final look at the weird stretching exercise of the monks. It had started looking more aggressive now.
As Dee walked down the street while munching on a fruit, she considered the price of the food she had eaten. She had eaten her fill and then some, and while the price had not been cheap in currency, it would only take her about thirty minutes to regain the lost power. Was this world going to be ok, or was she herself just weird? She would later on discover that the reason the economy of this world worked just fine was because the more powerful beings usually resided in the inner circles where the prices were adjusted to the average power level of that area, and the consumption of said power was much higher as the goods and devices consumed more power to produce and use.
She had been a little worried that her psionic power would not serve as payment, as the monk had not mentioned anything about psions, but that worry had been wasted. Power was indeed power no matter the form. Now with her food secured, what she needed now was lodgings and information. She could probably pay for lodging in a way similar to how she had paid for the food, assuming they would rent a room to a young child like her. The real problem was information. She had to decide what to do now, but she couldn’t make any informed decisions without gathering enough information. Plans would be cruddy plans if you had no information to base them on.
As she walked towards what she assumed to be an inn of sorts, she came across a group that seemed to be gambling in a game of some kind involving cards. She observed the game from behind the backs of the people for a while before coming to some conclusions. First of all, two of the people present were clearly losing, and more than a little desperate. Secondly, the other people gathered were working together to fleece the two. They were clearly cheating, but since they never cheated for themselves, but instead for the benefit of their comrades, it was a little harder to detect. A little harder, but not really that difficult.
Dee harrumphed. “This is such a scam. Well, if you don’t have the perception and knowledge to avoid it, you can only blame yourself.” Her voice was rather quiet, not really meant to be heard by anyone else, alas that was not to be.
One of the people being scammed as well as one of the people doing the scamming came from races with particularly good hearing. “What did you just say?!” One of the people being scammed suddenly asked with a raised voice.
“Get ‘er! Get the girl!” The scammer who had heard her words yelled. The surrounding people were part of a rather large gang operating in the area and they were used to following such commands. Several of the gathered people started moving towards Dee.
Dee could see the situation deteriorating quickly, and decided to quickly leave the scene. Unfortunately for her, she didn’t know the area and didn’t have the necessary experience to know not to run into the back alleys. She would’ve been better off trying to find people and slipping into a crowd, but she was thinking only of trying to use her abilities at concealment combined with her speed to run away, and didn’t consider the possibility of running into a dead-end after taking only two turns.
“Well, well, well. What do we have here? A nosy brat meddling in things that aren’t her concern. Now what shall we do about this?” A man’s voice came from behind her.
Dee let out a growl. This would not end well. She had gotten a look at the people pursuing her, and there were quite a few of them. Even if she was able to defeat any single person thanks to her psionic power, beating them all seemed rather unlikely, especially considering the difference in size and strength.
A man with a human’s appearance dressed in black long coat and a rimmed black hat was returning from his business with the local gangs. His eyes were covered with round glasses that had such dark lenses that they could almost be called sunglasses. His forehead was covered in a frown as he cursed his bad luck. The business had been rather bad. The gangs were able to acquire many of the products that he required and didn’t dare to ask too high a price, but none of the products had been very high quality. They met the minimum specifications but only barely, and he didn’t have much hope for them.
His attention was drawn by a commotion coming from the back alleys, as he heard several screams of pain and some incoherent growls. Did the gangs corner some beast going berserk? Pure curiosity drew him towards the back alley, as he just wanted to get his mind off the business earlier and he also knew there was nothing in the twelfth circle that could hurt him. As he got a better look at what was going on, he could see that the walls of the alley were covered in blood and guts, and five gang members were pressing down something that looked like an adolescent Beowulf.
The Beowulf looked badly hurt, but was in much better condition than some of the gang members, whose blood and guts were now decorating the walls. That was about to change soon though. “Halt. Explain.” The man in black said in a calm voice that brook no resistance from the gang members.
The boss of this little group recognized the black clad man. “Lord Malik! This little bitch interfered in our business and we chased her to this alley to teach her a lesson about meddling. Who knew the little bitch would turn out to be a werewolf of all things. She used some strange power and managed to gut three of our brothers. We were about to return the favor. With her being able to regenerate and all, this might turn into a long and gruesome lesson.” The boss said grimly.
‘Weird power?’ Malik thought to himself and reached towards the wild creature with his mind. When he sensed psionic power, he immediately drew his mind back. ‘Can my luck really be this good?’ He thought happily.
“I will take her.” Malik said simply.
“Lord Malik, I know you buy children from us, but we have plenty of them gathered at the headquarters. I don’t know what you need them for, and frankly it’s better if we don’t, but you should not need this one. She killed three of our brothers and wounded others. We need to make an example of her.” The gang boss tried to convince Malik.
His attempts made it clear that the man was a low ranking boss at best; otherwise he wouldn’t be as foolish as try to argue with Malik. “You idiot. Quality is more important than quantity.” Malik waved his hand rendering the werewolf girl unconscious, and surrounding her with a magical shield that pushed the gang members away. “Not that it makes a difference.”
As he walked towards the mouth of the alley, with the magical cocoon surrounding the girl floating after him, the gang members were about to stop him until he spoke again. “Zabaniya. Kill everyone here, and everyone that might have seen, heard or detected any of what happened here. No one is to know of her existence.”
After he finished, several individuals covered in black clothes appeared seemingly from nowhere, and started their grim work.
As he walked away after stowing the cocoon in his dimensional bracelet, Malik gave a wide smile. ‘Master Sabbah should be pleased with my little gift. She’s exactly what master has been looking for.’