Although Dee didn’t really need it, she had assumed that finishing early in the first test would have the added benefit of some rest while waiting for the others to finish. However, the testers had taken this into consideration and didn’t want those that were already ahead to have any additional advantages. Thus they were led to start the next test almost immediately after they finished.
The next test was an obstacle course mainly designed to test your agility and dexterity, as well as your footwork and balance. The obstacle course was once again timed, so one got points based on time spent as well as points deducted for any mistakes made. Many of the obstacles included balancing on various precarious platforms while avoiding any objects swinging back and forth trying to knock you off the platforms.
Dee especially liked one long obstacle where you were balancing on top of what looked like the walls to a maze where you had to plot your path very carefully and before you even started, or you would get knocked down by the logs swinging back and forth like pendulums. The obstacle was ingenious in that there were several routes you could take, but the faster routes were clearly harder than the slower ones, and the obviously fastest route was in fact a trap. It was impossible to avoid all the swinging logs due to their timing.
Here Dee had to say a silent thank you for her assassin training that had used similar traps and obstacles, although with the assassins the punishment for mistakes wasn’t lost points but brutal beatings. Balance, agility and avoidance of traps were all important for assassins that wanted to infiltrate places where you were not supposed to be in, and failure meant getting caught and interrogated, usually with torture. She had also learned to think outside the box with obstacles like these. She hadn’t been nicknamed the Wraith for nothing.
She boldly challenged the fastest route that was supposed to be a trap, but instead of avoiding the swinging logs, she used them as footholds instead. It was an unorthodox way to go past the obstacle, but Dee wasn’t the first one to have the idea. She also wouldn’t be the last. In fact the two elves that came twenty minutes later would use a similar method. That said, Dee still managed the obstacle course faster than others thanks to her quick thinking and genuinely impressive physique. The only problems she had came from the fact that she was stronger than what she was accustomed to, so she tended to overshoot a little.
The third test was a test of strength, which had very expected results. Dee was rather overwhelming, even though she ended holding back a bit, while Shunkaha came second due to his higher ranking with ki. That said the Lacademonian girl was close behind, as pure strength was her strong suit. Once again the two elves were close behind. To all the observers it seemed obvious that the five of them were pulling far ahead of the rest of the pack, and represented the best this batch of recruits had to offer.
Even though Dee was crushing the others, even the other four were showing results rarely seen in new recruits. The higher-ups that were observing them were already making plans and backroom deals about who would take them in once they finished the basic training. Of course the basic training itself was another test that would weed out some unsuitable recruits.
These tests were something that made sure that only the best applicants would be approved into the basic training period of the order. However, there was still some leeway with these tests. Many people who ended up getting recruited here showed promise but didn’t yet have the skills or strength that the best candidates had. The part that came straight after, the basic training, would make sure that only the really suitable candidates remained, as the basic training with the headquarters had over 50% drop-out rate.
That, however was still in the future, and it was very likely that those that did the best in these tests would also be able to make it through the basic training. Hence the backroom deals. The five of them already had enough points to get accepted even if they bombed the rest of the tests. The fourth test and the last test for the day was the psychological test.
Dee had been a little leery of the psychological tests, as there was a great deal of subjectivity involved in the testing. There were rarely completely right and completely wrong answers and context was everything. The people conducting the tests went even further and didn’t ask simple questions with obvious answers. Instead of asking what type of people they were, the applicants were given several complex scenarios and asked how they would solve them, how they would act and how they felt about them. That forced them to actually think, and the answer would still not be clear.
Dee did note that several of the scenarios were very similar, but once again context was everything. She assumed these were meant to test the strength of their tendencies. After taking the test she still had no idea how she did, which was purposeful on the part of those conducting the tests.
“Interesting results.” The man next to Commander Wolfhart said, as he was going through Dee’s personality test results. His tone of voice showed genuine interest and some amusement.
“Interesting?” Wolfhart asked.
“Yes. She is in many ways a very complex individual, but in some ways she is very simple. The time with the assassins has left its mark on her. She is much more suited to becoming a templar than a paladin, though that much you already told me. She prefers a speedy but thorough gathering of information followed by fast and decisive action. Preferably lethal action at that.
“She doesn’t like to stop to consider things for too long, believing that to be useless hesitation, she’s the type to completely ignore the possible political implications, and she generally doesn’t seem to have time or energy for how things may seem from the outside or how the situation may be influenced by outside parties. She acknowledges their existence, as well as the possible ramifications, she just doesn’t care. She’s also not prone to asking for advice.” The man gave a small laugh at that.
Wolfhart was quiet for a moment before commenting. “So, much like you?”
The man raised an eye-brow, before giving another chuckle. “In some ways perhaps. Much like the past me more like. However, she seems to prefer solitary action, while I would rely on my teammates and friends to help me. She asks neither for help, nor for advice. That is part of what I mean with her background. If what you told me about her is true, then she doesn’t have much reason to have faith in her team. For a scout that is both a good trait and a very bad one. We are often solitary and have to be able to make it on our own, but we have to have trust in our brothers. We don’t work in a vacuum, and we waste too much time if we try to do our brother’s work as well as our own. We have to be able to rely on them and their information, as they are quite literally watching our backs.”
The man’s face was still covered, but Wolfhart could sense his mood shift as the man continued. “Though maybe she is more correct in not trusting the rest of the order than I was at her age. While we have to have faith in our brothers in the scouts, sadly the rest of the order has shown that trusting them is too often the wrong choice.”
Wolfhart had defended the order when they were young, but later on in life he had become less sure of his position. Yet he felt compelled to do so again. “Razark, please. We’ve had this discussion before. There is more than one side to a situation. Things aren’t so black and white. I grieve for Lilly as well, but the order can’t help everyone. The resources we have are limited.”
Razark looked at Wolfhart in anger. “That’s just it, they could’ve helped Lilly, but they chose not to. They chose not to due to what she was and what she was becoming. They allowed an innocent girl die, just because they thought she might become an enemy one day. They had the means to save her, but chose not to. Some noble’s son got saved instead. That noble incidentally paid quite a bit of money for that privilege, although his bastard of a son was already suspected of being a rapist and a pederast! Later proven guilty and executed!”
“Razark, we both loved Lilly like a sister, but she was dangerous! You’re right that she had not acted on her impulses yet, but how long would that have lasted! I would’ve loved to see Lilly live longer, but we both know she was already struggling. If the order had saved her, we might’ve had to kill her ourselves! Could you have lived with that?!” Wolfhart demanded, raising his voice.
“I AM LIVING WITH THAT!” Razark yelled back, rising from his seat. “To this day I’m living with that guilt! You didn’t see her last days, the pain she was in! Finally it became too much for her to bear, and she asked me to end it.” His voice quieted down to almost a whisper as he slumped back.
“You killed Lilly? How could you do that?” Wolfhart almost felt like crying and yelling in anger at the same time.
Razark scoffed. “Here we go again. Your precious principles are more important than those you love. I didn’t kill her; the order did that with their decision. I only stopped her suffering. You have no right to lecture me, when you weren’t even there! That is something that I will have to carry with me for the rest of my life, but it is not regret for what I did that I carry. It’s the tears in her eyes while I did what I had to. Tears of gratitude that the pain would finally be over. Tears that she wouldn’t have been forced to shed in the first place if the order had acted.”
There was a long silence between the two as Razark was lost in memories while Wolfhart was digesting what he had just heard.
It was once again Razark that broke the silence. “Besides, even if I agreed with what happened with Lilly, I would never forgive the order for leaving my men to die.”
Wolfhart just sighed in resignation. This was something that he had to agree with Razark. “You know that if the order had saved them, we would’ve risked war with the freelancer’s guild.”
Razark shook his head. “Perhaps, perhaps not. There have been worse problems between us that have been swept under the rug. Even if it had come to the worst, it would’ve been the right thing to do. We don’t leave our own to die just because it can be inconvenient, not among the scouts.”
“The men knew the mission was dangerous before they took it.” Wolfhart countered. “They knew the situation was delicate to say the least, and they knew the implications.”
“They knew they might not be coming back. However, they didn’t know they were sent on a suicide mission that was supposed to end in their death.” Razark shot back, once again angry.
Wolfhart frowned. “What do you mean?” This was new information to him.
“Do you not find it the least bit coincidental that there were four other Blades in the room with me when the call for help came? None of them from the scouts I might add which might actually explain their presence. All four of whom prevented me from rushing to the aid of my men. I don’t think I’ve ever seen five Blades together in a room before or since then, except when all of us all called together to vote on something. They knew how the mission would end, and they knew how I would react.” Razark explained in a voice that made it seem he was explaining this to a child.
“Is there a chance that you are wrong?” Wolfhart asked, hoping for a positive answer with all his might.
“Hardly. This was a message. A message from them to me. Not the mission itself of course, it was too important, but their reaction and the choice to leave my men to die was meant as a message to me. A message I heard loud and clear, although it might not have had the result they hoped for.” Razark hissed between clenched teeth.
After a moment of thought, Wolfhart once again spoke. “Lothar wasn’t the grandmaster then. In fact, he was one of the people who took part in ousting the previous grandmaster, who would be the only one who had the authority to command the other Blades to stop you like that.”
“Quite true. His ascension to the position is one of the few reasons I’m still here. For all his faults Lothar Sendar at least appreciates the lives of our brothers. However, just because the author of the message is no longer around, that doesn’t mean that the message is no longer valid. That’s another reason why I still stay. I want to protect my brothers.” Razark gave a sigh. “Besides, it’s not like I have anywhere else to go. With Lilly gone, I no longer have anyone to return to back home.”
Dee and Sarfina had returned to their temporary accommodations for the evening. The final test would be tomorrow. The last test was scheduled for a separate day because of the time it would take. In fact it was expected that the final test would take several days to complete. Dee and Sarfina had rented rooms from a local inn due to it being cheaper and less bothersome than returning back to Sarfina’s mansion through the gateways.
The rooms were nice enough. Not exactly luxurious, but Dee was quite used to that. At least she was happy to have her own room. She still had some trouble sleeping properly if she was in a room with someone else, something she would have to get used to when she got into the order. Something the other applicants would have to get used to was her habit of sleeping in her fox-form, which was much more comfortable for her.
As she entered her room, she idly wondered how she would deal with her ever increasing size and the most likely tiny barracks beds. She’d probably have to shrink down her size again. Just as she cracked the door open, she sensed another presence in her room. The presence was clearly hiding, and very effectively at that because the ki flow in the man’s body was hidden from even her sight. Even she might have had trouble noticing him, if she hadn’t already been familiar with the methods used. Methods she herself had used successfully to kill several people.
The odd thing was, the presence was hidden in a place that was best for hiding his presence, but not best for killing Dee. “Well this was quick. I didn’t think someone would already hire Zabaniya to kill me. You got here pretty quick as well.” Dee said quietly, closing the door behind her.
A black clad man silently dropped from the ceiling several mel ahead of her. Dee was slightly impressed as the man’s feet didn’t make even the slightest tap when they hit the floor, despite the distance he had fallen.
“Good to see your senses haven’t dulled Wraith. Hassan-i-Sabbah sends his greetings.” The man said emotionlessly.