Mazatl was blinking rapidly as she got over her surprise of seeing Dee’s other pair of hands. She had thought Dee simply as a kitsune demon, with maybe some werewolf ancestry. Captain Sarfina had not mentioned anything about any ancestry that had extra arms, and humanoid races with more than two arms were actually rather rare. Part of that was because it was rather difficult to learn to control multiple arms effectively, even if you did it since birth.
“Where have you been hiding that little surprise? Come to think of it, we never did discuss your race before. The good captain certainly didn’t mention anything about this either. Does she know?” Mazatl asked tilting her head in curiosity.
“Well, I wasn’t really hiding it, but I don’t like showing them around either. They give more of an advantage when they are a surprise.” Dee muttered half to herself, looking at the palms of her extra hands.
The assassins knew about them and had operated on them, but Dee still tried to keep them as a trump card and for actual assassinations. It had actually been one of her favorite methods of assassination to sneak behind someone, use her lower hands to take a hold of and immobilize the target’s hands while her upper hands either garroted the target or slit his throat. Dee knew she would be spending enough time with the Radiant Sun that hiding the arms would be pointless. She might as well openly train with them as well.
“As to whether Captain Sarfina knows about them, I’m not entirely sure. I haven’t told her, but she might have found through other means.” Dee had been unconscious for several days and during that time the captain could’ve run any kind of test to determine Dee’s race.
“Humm, judging by your looks, you should also have some Rakshasa Rani blood in you. That’s interesting. They make for great warriors, and I’m pretty sure Captain Sarfina will be happy to have such a promising pupil to train. I hear that she’s taking a personal interest in you.” Mazatl said with a small smile. She was the type who liked to gossip and Sarfina had been the focus of several rumors for several days now.
“Really? Care to share more details?” Dee asked curiously.
“Well I know only what the rumors say.” Mazatl leaned closer and spoke in a conspiratorial tone. “I heard that she’s had enough of running combat missions for a time and is instead taking an interest in personally training a particular child saved from the assassins. Once that child recovers from her wounds, that is. Know anyone that might fit that description?”
“Huh, well I’m sure she has her reasons.” Dee could imagine several things the captain could gain from such actions, though only future would tell which of those would turn out to be true.
The next day both Mazatl and Captain Sarfina came to get Dee with a wheelchair. Although Dee was capable of walking on her own at this point, long distances would still be problematic.
“Hello again Dee.” Captain Sarfina greeted her with a smile.
“Hello again captain. What brings the two of you here?” Dee asked. The elven captain was fully equipped and armed, clearly prepared to go outside.
“You asked Mazatl whether you could get your powers measured. It’s a bit problematic to have the freelancers sending their representatives to us to evaluate a single person, so we’re going to them instead. They have a guild house in this area as well, so it’s simply easier if we go to them. We can have a more thorough evaluation done at their facilities anyway. I’m coming along as an escort and because I’m curious.” Sarfina replied with a smile.
“I suspect it would also be problematic to have me roam around escorted by just Mazatl. Not that I could run very far, mind you.” Dee pointed out with a small laugh.
Sarfina gave a wry smile. “It’s all about appearances. Mazatl is more than strong enough to escort you, but it looks better to have me along as well.”
“Well I don’t mind the company in any case.” Dee reassured Sarfina.
As they moved out of the building, Dee got a much better view of the grounds and the training fields. The whole complex was surrounded by a grey stone wall, although she got the feeling that the wall was there more for privacy and separation than defense. The area covered by the complex seemed to be extremely large and Dee could only see a part of it. Just the building they had exited was large enough for thousands of people and she could see several other buildings for various purposes, ranging from warehouses to a corner of a fairly large temple peeking from behind another building. Most of the area was covered by several training grounds.
This complex was clearly designed for training, and Dee could see several large groups of people performing various training related activities. Some were doing stamina training running along the track laid along the outer wall, while many others were training in the use of various weapons either against each other or against training dummies. There were also several contraptions that looked a bit like obstacle courses designed to improve agility, awareness, footwork and many other similar attributes.
“It seems that nearly all of the trainees seem to be significantly older than me.” Dee commented.
Sarfina glanced at the trainees before answering. “You’re right. Usually neither the Holy Orders nor the Radiant Sun take in trainees before they reach a certain level of physical maturity, which of course varies a bit between races. The Holy Orders start a bit earlier but even their training requires a certain level of mental maturity. As for the Radiant Sun trainees? Well, our recruits have to have certain foundational level in strength to even start the training, since we mostly train in the use of fairly heavy weapons and armor. Most races are unable to handle the weight until they reach a certain age.”
Mazatl also commented. “The training is very physically demanding, so those that haven’t at least gone through most of puberty are usually unable to do the training properly. In the rare cases where we start training kids younger than that, we try to mostly limit it to training their foundations like strength and stamina training, agility training and so on. That usually makes them well equipped to start the real weapons training. We would start the weapon training earlier, but you can develop bad habits to compensate for lacking strength. Even those with enough maturity usually go through long periods of physical training before the weapon training starts in earnest.” Mazatl spoke as if she was also a part of the Radiant Sun, mostly because her role as a teacher often took her across organization lines.
Sarfina finished a little sadly. “There’s also another factor. We would prefer that kids had the chance to spend their childhood being children. It is not possible for some as you well know, but we at least try to not be the ones to cut their childhood short.”
This put Dee in a bit of a melancholy mood as they moved through the gate and towards the freelancer’s guild. Even by the standards of psions, Dee had been forced to mature much earlier than others. She had spent a few years of relatively happy childhood with Selvaria and the pendant, but that had come to an end when Zabaniya got hold of her. Among the assassins you either grew up fast or you ended up dead. Her work as an assassin also sped up the process. You couldn’t face taking lives without being at least somewhat affected. In fact she was surprised that she had been able to retain so much of her sanity.
In a weird way, her current level of sanity was due to three things. Her ability to shut out most of the pain had been the most important factor. Pain was something that could drive anyone crazy, especially the sort of pain Dee had been subjected to. Many of the other kids had given up because of the pain combined with a lack of hope of anything better. Second thing was her nature as a psion. Aside from the important ability to ignore most pain, her nature as a psion had given her several other advantages. It had sped up her already faster than normal early maturity and her ability to adapt to new situations. It had also given her the ability to compartmentalize things.
There were several people who tried to cope with the cruelty of their training and the cruelty of their own actions and had failed. This had driven them insane. Dee had stumbled to the solution several other people had used in dire situation, which was to imagine as if all the cruel and bad things were happening to someone else. It wasn’t really her that was experimented on and killed all those people; it was as if they happened to another Dee in her stead. In extreme cases this could lead to something like multiple personalities, but in her case it was just an extreme case of compartmentalization. All of those things were put in an imaginary ‘box’ in her mind, and that box would only be opened when necessary. Was it healthy on the long run? Maybe not, but it was necessary to survive long enough to see the ‘long run’.
The third thing that helped her retain sanity was, oddly, the assassin organization itself. Only those with great mental fortitude were able to make it among the assassins, and many of the things done to them were designed to weed out those without the necessary fortitude. They tried to break the kids so that only the strong ones would remain. However, they were very good at what they were doing. They knew that even the strongest person had limits. The weak broke, but they pushed the strong only to the very edges of their limits and no further. They could have broken Dee as well, but they chose not to.
That wasn’t to say that there were no consequences of her time at the mercy of Zabaniya. She knew there were. Some were mental and some were physical. The exact effects of the mental consequences were murky, but Dee knew she had changed. She suspected that she would never have quite the same sense of mercy or morality as normal people, for instance. She would also be able kill people and not feel anything afterwards. That was both a good thing and a bad thing. It was a good thing because sometimes it was necessary to be ruthless. It was a bad thing because she just didn’t value life of others in the same way that normal people did. It was likely that there would be other effects, but they had not surfaced just yet.
The physical consequences were both much simpler and more mysterious. Her current weakness would pass, and was in fact already passing. That wasn’t the real form of the consequences though. The methods used by the assassins were very effective at strengthening them, but they didn’t come without downsides. One of the downsides was something the assassins caused on purpose. The female assassins were unable to have children due to the drugs used on them, which destroyed their ability to reproduce. This was something the assassins would do even if the drug didn’t make them stronger, because there were several problems with one of the assassins becoming pregnant.
A female assassin during the later stages of pregnancy was rather useless. They drew attention and were inhibited by their swelled belly. In addition, the motherly instincts were so strong that they could cause the assassin to try and rebel against Zabaniya or at least try to escape. Dee wasn’t sure if her ability to reproduce was completely removed, since her regenerative abilities did counter many of the downsides of other drugs. At this point of her life she also didn’t much care. She was too young in any case to even think about that. However, it was likely that it would be something that would be problematic for her in the future.
Another physical consequence came from the modifications done to her body. She didn’t really know the full extent of what had been done to her. She assumed most of it would be beneficial to her in the long run, but with Zabaniya it was hard to say for certain. She wouldn’t put it past them to leave some nasty surprise inside her body out of spite.
Both Mazatl and Sarfina somewhat correctly assumed that the wistful and lost expression on Dee’s face was due to her being sad about her own lost childhood. For a while they didn’t say anything, because they knew it was something Dee had to work through at some point anyway, and at least they could keep an eye on her at the moment. Thus the two kept their silence until they reached the freelancer’s guild. Even the hubbub on the streets didn’t disturb them, but the silence was forcefully broken once they reached the guild. Both of them were familiar sight at the guild after all.
“Faylen! Haven’t seen you here for a while. Did’ya run out of slavers and brothels to raid?” This loud question asked by one of the sitting warriors brought a gale of laughter from the gathered people.
“That’s Captain Sarfina to you, you useless slug! Also we never run out of brothels because useless people like you keep them in business!” Sarfina half-joked back at the guy who had been yelling to her.
“Speaking of, who’s the cutie?” The guy replied completely unfazed.
“Oh I thought you already knew Mazatl? And I know you’re talking about her, because you wouldn’t be stupid enough to talk like that about a child while I’m present now would you? I’d hate to be forced to cut your nuts off.” Sarfina replied, not joking at all at the end.
The man lifted his hands in surrender, knowing that he had gone out of line. The three of them proceeded through a series of doors towards the back of the building, where they met a weird looking being dressed in the official garb of the guild. The being was a member of one of the few races with inherent psionic abilities, an Illithid. The being had a roughly humanoid body shape with purple skin, but instead of a normal head, it looked like a beady eyed octopus on top of its neck. It had four tentacles around a lamprey-like mouth. Most Illithid were considered to be a thoroughly evil race, and not without good reason, but not all of them. And you needed a psion to evaluate the strength of another psion without specialized equipment. The Holy Orders had such equipment, but not at the lesser circles.
“So, is this girl the one you want to have evaluated?” The rather unpleasant and wet voice of the Illithid sounded.
“She is yes. Dee, meet X’Zoth, the vice-leader of this branch of the freelancer’s. X’Zoth, meet Haydee. We might as well run the full evaluation even though we already know most of the results.” Sarfina gave the introductions.
“Might as well.” X’Zoth grunted in agreement.
“Full evaluation?” Dee asked, tilting her head a bit in confusion.
“Full evaluation means we test your mana and ki as well as your affinity with the holy power. As psions, neither of us can use mana or ki, but holy power is a possibility. Although, if you haven’t been blessed by a deity yet the test is somewhat meaningless. Normally the test is done to evaluate the amount of holy power you possess. We can at least check if you can be blessed at all. There are some rare beings that are so forsaken by the deities that they can’t get blessed even if a deity does take interest. It doesn’t take much effort to check, so why not do that as well.” X’Zoth explained curtly.
They moved in front of series of crystal orbs used for testing. “Put your hand on the orb. It will test your magical potential.” X’Zoth told Dee.
Dee complied, and the crystal showed several figures she was unable to read. Dee could read the lettering used by most of the texts her mother had kept and the books Mazatl had provided for her, but apparently this magic used its own system of writing.
“Oh?” X’Zoth said with a little bit of new interest.
“What is it?” Sarfina asked a little worried.
“Well, as expected, she has zero mana, but she does have several affinities that would’ve been very useful to her had she possessed mana.” The Illithid gave Dee another glance. “I’m guessing this fire affinity is explained by your kitsune heritage?”
“I would guess so. I’ve never received any training, but my mother did mention that I might be able to control fire using my power as a psion as fuel instead of mana.” Dee replied trying to recall the details.
“Smart woman your mother. Anyway, she has a strong affinity with fire, but it’s hard to say how strong before she reaches maturity. The weird part isn’t that. It’s that the orb can’t measure her affinity with the other elements properly.” X’Zoth said.
“Can’t measure as in too much to measure or can’t measure as in no idea what the affinity is?” Mazatl asked interested.
“The latter, though that means the first one is also possible although very unlikely. It’s as if…her affinities aren’t somehow decided yet?” This was the first time X’Zoth had seen something like this, so he could only guess.
“Well, we won’t figure it out by standing around. Let’s move on.” Sarfina prompted after a moment of silence. She was curious as well, but what good were affinities with no mana? Fire as kitsune was one thing, but no race had access to multiple affinities like that. Rakshasa didn’t have special affinities like that and neither did werewolves.
Dee’s ki was also zilch as expected, and there were no surprises there. She was able to receive blessings though. According to X’Zoth, Dee had quite a bit of promise if she managed to get the notice of the right deity. However, it all depended on the deity, which made the test somewhat useless as the Illithid had said earlier. This test would be much more useful once Dee did have a deity to serve, but at least she wasn’t completely without potential. Sarfina mentioned that Dee too would undergo the Ritual of Choosing once her training reached the point where she could start using holy power.
The important part was the last test. X’Zoth tried to push a mental probe toward Dee’s mind and Dee had to try to resist to the best of her ability. It was a simple contest of strength and X’Zoth stopped immediately as he felt Dee’s power failing, as he had slowly increased the pressure. Trying to forcefully enter someone’s mind was usually a complex battle between two parties, but X’Zoth used a brute force method for testing purposes. There were other ways to perform the test but this was by far the easiest and happened to be one of his specialties.
“Hmm. It’s a bit on the border. She’s either a peak class two power-wise or a fresh class three. It’s not completely exact, but it would be fair to describe her as a class three psion. For her age that’s very good, almost phenomenal. Whoever gave her the training method she’s been using did a good job. She should also have much easier time raising her power at later levels since her power seems to be built solidly instead of relying on a gimmick. Many psions will run into trouble because their foundations aren’t sturdy enough, but she shouldn’t have problems like that.” X’Zoth finally said. He had felt that there was something odd about Dee’s powers, but he had trouble figuring out what it could be.
“Well that’s good news.” Sarfina said while she and Mazatl smiled. They were both familiar with the concept, because similar concepts existed with other powers as well. Shortcuts could give you a boost in power but usually carried consequences later on. They had also worried a little that Zabaniya would’ve forced Dee to use one of those shortcuts.
“Right, how about we go and grab something to eat to celebrate.” Mazatl suggested. “I’m sure you’ve had enough of the infirmary food, right?”
“You read my mind.” Dee replied with a wide smile, ignoring the obvious pun. Sneaking food from her storage was one thing, but now she could avoid the infirmary soup completely.