As the final test drew to a close, the rankings of the applicants were finalized. Dee got some points docked for attacking one of the mages, but her performance had been so overwhelming that the lost points didn’t really matter. To say she had received the most points during all the tests by a wide margin was an understatement. This naturally caught the interest of the important members of Radiant Sun. This interest only intensified as they found out that she was previously someone used by Zabaniya, which placed her in a slightly odd position. The important people were interested, but weren’t really sure if it was appropriate to show that interest due to her past.
After the recruitment event was over, those accepted would take part in an intensive basic training for a period of six months. During this basic training, the recruits were pushed hard enough that over half of them would drop-out. None of them would be kicked out. They had been legitimately accepted after all, and that acceptance would not be taken away lightly. However, they would be pushed hard enough that over half of the recruits would choose to leave on their own volition.
The tests that had been done so far had shown those who had the potential to become templar or paladins in the order, while the basic training would weed out those who would not be able to live up to the potential that they had shown. It would make sure that only those that wanted to be here would remain. The basic training was meant to seek out those whose character didn’t suit the order, those that were weak of will, those that were fragile of mind, those that couldn’t follow orders and those that had their nature twisted by being too pampered before joining the order.
The basic training was also a great equalizer in many ways. Everyone went through it. Everyone who was in the order knew that every brother and sister who stood by them had gone through it. It did not matter if you were the son of a noble or an orphan, you had to go through the basic training. It also ensured a certain basic level of strength in the new recruits.
The gulf between Dee and the last person accepted was so wide that there was no real comparison. The basic training was filled with physical training, weapons training and stamina drills. Everything was designed to strengthen the recruits’ bodies. Even though ki, mana, holy power and psionic power could turn someone weak into a force to be reckoned with, those energies would do even more for those people who already had strong bodies. Dee wasn’t as strong as she was just because of her race and psionic power; she was that strong also because she was in perfect physical condition. After the basic training the other recruits might not be in perfect condition, but they would be much closer to it, narrowing the gap between people.
Due to the high drop-out rate the bigwigs of the order didn’t want to stake their claim with the new recruits quite yet, as their reputation would suffer if their chosen recruits quit during the basic training. However, there were certain exceptions to this. During all the years of the order, only twice had a person in the top ten of new recruits quit during the basic training. That made the top then recruits a desired commodity as not only were they the most promising recruits, but they were also safe bets as unlikely to ruing their reputation.
The other nine were quickly claimed by the various groups of the order, although their decisions were heavily influenced by the wishes of the applicants themselves. For instance, the two elven brothers Ascalon and Ilthuryn were both claimed by the chapter in charge of the east side of day city where the empire of Tuatha Dé Danann was located. This would allow the two to stay in the part of the Pantheon where their homes resided. The Lacademonian girl Cynisca was claimed by the chapter in charge of emergency deployments because she wanted to see heavy action and fighting. Shunkaha was pre-assigned to the scouts due to his talents in that area. He also wanted the elite training that the scouts offered. Amusingly the scouts didn’t claim him. They never claimed anyone before the basic training was over. Shunkaha simply expressed the desire to join the scouts and the other chapter masters provisionally approved it. It would be up to the scouts if he really got in. You didn’t choose the scouts, the scouts chose you.
Dee however presented a problem. Her background was problematic and made even more so by her obvious talent. It seemed highly likely that she had the potential to rise to a prominent position no matter where she was assigned. Could they allow her to get real authority in the order, considering the fact that she used to be a part of an enemy community? On one hand they were all eager to gain a new recruit with such great potential, but on the other hand they were afraid to express willingness to take her in despite the obvious risk.
The first to express their interest were unsurprisingly the twelfth chapter who were in charge of the shadier side of the order’s operations. She was already trained in assassination, so why not utilize her talents? They didn’t call it assassination of course, just removing potential threats. Besides, the twelfth chapter did plenty of other things even if Dee wanted away from that path. Other kids saved from Zabaniya had ended up with the twelfth chapter, although few in number. The chapters of Night city also expressed careful interest. She already had some experience dealing with the machinations of Night city, and perhaps the worst forms of it. Things ground to a halt when this finally allowed the others to express their interest as well.
The deadlock was broken when Razark showed up and informed them that the two people in charge of Dee’s training so far, Commander Wolfhart and Captain Sarfina, had arranged for him to take Dee as a personal disciple after the conclusion of both parts of the basic training, the second part being the time where the recruits were actually taught to become templar or paladins. The only people willing to pick a fight with one of the Blades were other Blades and the grandmaster, and Razark was already a special case among the Blades, so his claim went unchallenged. Besides, scouts didn’t do things like this, so it shocked the others quite a bit, although they could understand the interest.
It did however raise a lot of questions and speculation.
To Dee the first part of basic training was a strange time. The constant physical training was much easier to her than it was to the others. It wasn’t easy to her either, but she was used to that. Long torturous runs in various terrains, midnight treks in the dark woods, obstacle courses run enough times to learn them by heart, unending calisthenics, days without sleep and always being cold, wet, muddy and miserable. The training was six months of constantly being harassed by fully trained and experienced templar and paladins, who sought to find the weak of mind and body and eliminate them from ever becoming members of the order.
But the training also sought to find those who can lead in an environment of constant stress, chaos, failure and hardship. It was basically a small lifetime of challenges crammed into six grueling months. While Dee did marvelously on the physical part of the training and had the strength of mind and quick thinking to avoid many of the mental challenges, the trainers always found buttons to push with everyone.
If a recruit had trouble with filth and mud and blood, they would be forced to swim though it during the training. Some recruits had strong instincts of modesty when it came to clothing and showing their skin to the opposite sex, but the training left little room for such notions, as you often had to spend time in barely any clothing that also clung to your body due to sweat and mud. You also had to change clothing quickly, and they weren’t exactly provided with changing rooms in the field. Those people had to learn that when push came to shove, such notions of modesty would only get in the way and in the end no one really cared about how they looked when there were more important things on the line.
Many recruits had trouble due to their pride. They were powerful sons and daughters of powerful people.. That pride was shattered and trodden upon during the basic training. They had to learn to take orders they did not understand and some that even seemed inane. They were ordered to complete tasks that many deemed beneath them, not worth their time. It was forced into their minds that if they couldn’t even do the little things right, then they’d never be trusted to do the big things right either. Their pride mattered little to the order and the pride of their parents even less.
There was also another sort of pride among the recruits. They were gifted, maybe even geniuses. Otherwise they wouldn’t have been accepted, right? They were so young and already so powerful. Surely they could do anything, right? The recruits were put in groups and forced to complete tasks where they had to work together. Everyone had to exert equal effort, or the task would fail. If someone pushed too hard, and the others couldn’t keep up, the group would fail. If someone slacked, the group would fail.
Several times a week, the instructors would line up everyone and do an equipment and clothing inspection. It was exceptionally thorough. Your clothing had to be in perfect condition and your equipment kept immaculate. It seemed however, that no matter how much effort you put into making your gear and clothes perfect, it just wasn’t good enough. The instructors would find something wrong. For failing the inspection, you had to run fully clothed and carrying your gear into the nearby lake, then wet from head to toe roll around on the beach until every part of your body was covered with sand. The effect was known as glazing. You stayed in those clothes for the rest of the day cold, wet and sandy. There were many recruits that just couldn’t accept the fact that all their efforts were in vain, that no matter how hard they tried to get their gear perfect, it went unappreciated. How could they, the great geniuses fail like this? Those recruits didn't make it through the training.
Those recruits failed to understand the purpose of the drill. You were never going to succeed. You were never going to have the perfect gear. The instructors weren’t going to allow it. Sometimes, no matter how hard you try, how well you prepared, sometimes you ended up failing. That was just the way life is sometimes. The point was to get over that fact, and just keep moving on. For some of the geniuses though, they couldn’t deal with that failure.
Every exercise from obstacle courses to weapons training to stamina drills and the long endless runs had certain standards to meet. A certain distance to travel, a certain time to do it in. If you failed to meet those standards, your name was posted on a list. At the end of the day, those on the list had to join the ‘circus’ while the others slept. The circus were two hours of additional exercise designed to wear you down and break your spirit and to force you to quit. No one wanted to join the circus. Not only did it mean less sleep, it meant that for that day you didn’t measure up. The circus meant both embarrassment and more fatigue. More fatigue meant the following day you were more miserable and that made you prone to more mistakes and that more circus were likely.
But at some time during the training, everyone made the circus list. Interesting thing was though, that those that were constantly on the list and didn’t quit were doing extra two hours of work every day, and they got stronger and stronger. The pain of the circus built both inner and outer strength and resiliency, and soon they were no longer appearing on the circus list. This let the people learn from their mistakes and become stronger. A lesson well learned for the future.
Dee’s troubles were not on the physical side of the training. She also had the mental strength required, the ability to learn from her mistakes, and her pride was based on her own abilities, not some image she had built of herself. While she didn’t understand stupid orders and punishment, she was used to following those orders and a whole lot worse, and at least she wasn’t getting beaten. She also had the brains to avoid obvious pitfalls, and could work with others, although she had trouble relying on them.
This reluctance was noticed by the trainers, who decided to attack her with the social aspect of training, since they couldn’t really force her to the edge in other ways. While the others often got yelled at, Dee’s performances got complimented. Not without reason to be fair, but it was purposely done in front of the others and rubbed in their faces. The others of course noticed the uneven treatment, and ignored the fact that Dee was in fact working and exercising much harder than everyone else. The others were forced to try and keep up with Dee’s pace, being told that if a girl like her could do it, why couldn’t the others. Planted in their minds was the thought that their suffering was Dee’s fault.
This of course built resentment in everyone else, and resulted in her being isolated. This further exasperated Dee’s problems with group efforts, and made it impossible for her to rely on her group mates. Those same group mates would happily fail a task if it meant that Dee got put on the circus list as well. To them, it was worth it.
The plan of the instructors was a good one, except for one problem. Dee was already used to working alone and wasn’t fazed in the least bit by the punishments. What was two extra hours of physical exercise to her? Just another fun little workout. She didn’t need that much sleep anyway, though she did enjoy it. She didn’t feel like a failure either because she knew why she was being punished. In addition, Dee was often able to carry her group to success despite their best efforts against her, unless the exercise was specifically something that required everyone to pace themselves together. This allowed her to simply power through many of the problems. Didn’t make her very popular though.
Not everyone was taken by the ploy of the instructors. Shunkaha in particular tried to seek her out many times, though she kept rebuffing him. The two elves Ascalon and Ilthuryn mostly just ignored her, while Cynisca was simply too competitive to do anything but her best. Dee also got along with the dwarf recruits thanks to her time with Fimul. She knew what made the dwarves tick, and she had their grudging respect and cooperation when necessary. She wasn’t friends with them exactly, but they didn’t get in her way either.
While Dee entered her basic training, Sarfina started her own project. She had missed Dee and had wanted to spend more time with her ‘little sister’, but things didn’t quite work out the way she had wanted. She knew Dee would get a vacation after the first part of the basic training was over, so it wasn’t too bad. That said, it was better if she found a way to distract herself.
An odd opportunity presented itself as an odd wave of deaths happened in the safe zone between the four headquarters. Now death in the area was not unusual as the area was still fairly dangerous despite being called a safe zone, but the numbers were definitely abnormal. In addition, two of the deaths had been one of the chapter masters and his heir. The chapter master had been old and not very well liked, so the order didn’t really grieve his loss or even make a big deal out of it. The body was burned with the normal rituals and that was it. The death had been judged as natural, and the heir’s death had a clear reason and motive. It seemed a little too coincidental though, especially when combined with the other death that had happened that night.
Sarfina herself didn’t have the authority to really make a full investigation as she wasn’t part of the headquarters, but the real investigators didn’t mind Sarfina taking an interest in things as they really couldn’t have cared less as the other dead people were the scum of the city. They were most likely killed by rival criminals, and the investigators didn’t mind the criminals killing each other as long as there was no collateral damage.
As Sarfina looked into things though, several oddities jumped at her about the deaths. The people who had died seemed to have very little in common aside from their criminal activities. They were spread around the city, they were from different gangs and groups, they were different ranks both in strength and their authority in their respective organizations and they all died in different ways. They were all real dirtbags but that was just about the only commonality.
It seemed as if someone had just picked a dozen random criminals to kill, and then sent half a dozen assassins after them. That was the other odd part though. None of the deaths occurred all that close to each other timewise. It was theoretically possible that it was all done by couple of killers running around the city. It was almost impossible to be the work of a single person, considering many of the people died surrounded by their compatriots, so it would take some time to infiltrate their homes or bases.
It was pretty clear that the killers had been assassins though, as the deaths were all clean, methodical and no alarm was raised due to sounds of struggle or the killers being spotted. In fact, the dead people all seemed to have died with very little struggle. Couple of them had been garroted, and they had kicked around a little, but they had been held in place really well, so the assailant had caught them by surprise and had been significantly stronger than them. It seemed as if they had been stopped from flailing as well somehow. Multiple attackers perhaps? It took more than two hands to garrote someone and also to stop their hands from flailing. But infiltrating with more than one person seemed even less likely.
And it wasn’t as if the bases and homes of the criminals had been wholly without protective spells. They had either not worked, or they had been disabled somehow. This wasn’t Sarfina’s specialty, but she thought she saw some signs of deactivated defensive spells at one of the locations. Why did all this feel so familiar? She had heard about deaths very similar to these somewhere, but where was it?
Now that she thought about it, the way these people had died also felt very familiar. Weren’t they the standard killing methods of Zabaniya? Speaking of, didn’t the ghost-like assassin feel a little similar to the now dead assassin that used to be known as Wraith? This needed some more proper looking into…