Dee had to hand it to the trainers at the Radiant Sun headquarters. While the things they taught were almost exactly the same Faylen had taught her before, the trainers here managed to still make things interesting. While she had the ability to use all the holy spells taught here, the trainers showed little tricks that improved her mastery over the spells. They had a much more solid grasp on the theory behind the spells than Faylen, or at least they were better at explaining that theory. It was quite possible that Faylen simply didn’t excel as a teacher. The trainers here also showed several new and inventive ways to use those spells, some of which even Dee hadn’t thought about, and she was the blasphemer using purification spells to clean herself and her clothes.
Holy magic wasn’t the only thing taught of course. They attended lessons on strategy, practiced group tactics, learned general information useful for a paladin or a templar and sat through several boring lectures on history of tradition of the order. Strategy and group tactics especially were interesting for Dee. Faylen had taught her some of these things, but it was hard to practice group tactics without a group.
The recruits were shuffled into different groups every week and they then had to perform several tasks and exercises with the assigned group. The constant rotation of members helped you find your strengths and allowed you to find your most comfortable position and role in a group. It also helped you get along with people and taught you to quickly and efficiently summarize your strengths and preferences to new people. Once the recruits found their favored positions, the trainers became more efficient at making sure the groups were relatively balanced.
In the beginning Dee had tried to continue the habit of carrying her groups by herself. A habit she had picked up in basic training due to necessity. However, it quickly became obvious that it was no longer feasible. Not because she wasn’t strong enough, in fact in the combat exercises her groups were always victorious. The problem was that in other non-combat related exercises every member of the group had to carry their own weight. Dee’s scores were dependent on the performance of her group mates as well, because although she could cover for the weaknesses of her compatriots, she couldn’t be in several places at once.
This forced Dee to also find her niche, where she could best serve to help her group. Unsurprisingly she best served the group when gathering information and when performing quick strikes and infiltration. For example, when a certain person in a group of hostiles had to be taken alive, Dee could locate and strike straight for that person while the rest of her group distracted the other hostiles. Another example was her ability to map any dangers lurking around them ahead of time, so that her group could focus on the task at hand instead of worrying about distractions. This all only enhanced the impression that she would fit in well with the scouts, as the scouts of the order didn’t necessarily just mean scouts of an army, but also the information gathering specialists in a group of templar and paladins.
Now that the trainers were no longer trying to drive a wedge between the students, unlike in the first part of basic training, the other recruits were able to properly notice the benefits of having someone with Dee’s skills in their group. As the old saying goes, information was power and Dee’s groups always had the advantage in information. As such, she became rather popular when the recruits had the chance to pick their own groups.
Shunkaha especially sought her out rather persistently. It was somewhat overkill to have two information specialists in the same group, but Shunkaha was also a very competent and charismatic group leader and his expertise wasn’t just in scouting. It was also a fact that even though their skills somewhat overlapped, having Dee in the same group as him also denied her skills to the other groups that were often competing with them. For three weeks the two were also joined by Cynisca, the Lacademonian girl, and the trio crushed through all the exercises and other groups with such efficiency that the trainers had to separate the trio and make a rule stating that they were banned from grouping together during training.
Cynisca and Dee had become something like friendly rivals. At first the Lacademonian girl had been salty about her loss during the tests and Dee’s superiority during training, but she also noted that she could learn from Dee when they were in close proximity. Her competitive nature won out against her saltiness, and the two could be seen sparring fairly often. Dee could hone her skills with a live opponent that could at least somewhat keep up with her, and Cynisca learned from every defeat striving to improve with a rival like Dee driving her. It also helped that they were both rather sturdy, so they didn’t have to pull their punches as much as they would’ve had to against others. Even though Shunkaha was faster and stronger than Cynisca, the girl had more martial skill and could take more of a punch than the speed focused wolfman.
Interestingly the two elves Ascalon and Ilthuryn were nowhere to be seen during the training. The rumor had it that there was some trouble in the empire of Tuatha Dé Danann, and the two were being especially trained by Grandmaster Sendar, who in addition to being Faylen’s brother also hailed from the same empire. The rumors didn’t specify what the trouble was, although dynastic struggles were the most prominent theory, and it was unclear why the two elves received special treatment. Combined with what Dee had heard from Fimul about future trouble, she could speculate that the trouble in the empire ran deep and might spill over. Otherwise it was possible that the grandmaster might be planning to use the order to take sides in whatever mess the elven and Sidhe courts were embroiled in.
Perhaps due to the impeding trouble, or because it truly was a normal part of the training, the most important and useful part of the training for Dee was the one preparing the recruits for battles between armies. Dee had some experience with small group engagements, but majority of her earlier training and lessons were dedicated to solo fights. Thus she had a lot to learn about battles between armies.
“The first thing you have to learn is the difference between an army and a rabble that works towards a similar goal.” The instructor lectured to the recruits arrayed in front of him. The recruits were in a formation and at parade rest.
“A rabble is a group of trained or untrained fighters that challenge their enemies together. Even if they work in a formation and even use group tactics, they can’t be called a proper army. If the lot of you were to take part in a battle, you would be nothing but a rabble. That’s not because your individual skills are lacking, although for the most of you they are, but because you haven’t trained to work as a unit. A rabble is a group of individuals fighting together.” The instructor hollered at them.
“An army is a single unit working in unison. A decent army will move as if controlled by a single mind. That takes discipline, trust, training and experience. You can focus on what is in front of you, because you can rely on those around you to watch your back, and you can rely on your commander to do the thinking for you and simply follow their commands. Well that sounds difficult you might say. If that’s a decent army, then what does it take to be a really good and even excellent army, you might ask.” The instructor surveyed their expressions, and was gratified to notice that many had thought of the question, but none of them was stupid to nod along or any other such action that showed lack of discipline.
“Well I’ll tell you. The smarter among you might have noticed but you’re all holy warriors. In small group and individual fights you use a lot of holy spells. It also stands to reason that warriors that use ki and mages that use mana also have their own tricks. But in a tightly packed army formation, using such spells can be troublesome aside from simple buffing and defensive spells. You don’t want to impede your allies that stand beside you. In such close proximity, your powers might interfere with each other, and the results can be devastating. That’s even assuming you can see the enemy from behind your allies.” The instructor paced in front of the recruits while his explanation continued.
“A decent army will have soldiers that use their powers willy-nilly and try to just throw their spells at the enemy in hopes of doing more damage to them than they do to you. A really good army is one that combines the powers of each soldier and uses them together. For mages this means gathering several mages together to combine their magic for one or two really big spells. As holy warriors, we of course have our own methods of combining our powers.” He stopped and looked over the recruits.
“The method we use is called Aegis. The Aegis can have various effects depending on who cast it and controls the spell, but it has a few things in common between all of us.” The instructor gestured towards a large group of older paladins standing behind him.
Dee had wondered why the older paladins were present. In total there were fifty of them, standing in a loose group ahead of the recruits and behind the instructor. Dee could now feel large amounts of holy power flowing from the paladins towards the instructor. This was new to Dee. She had heard something about people combining their powers, but she had very little experience with it herself.
A golden field spread out above the paladins and the instructor, covering them from above and the sides. The field wasn’t bright and was completely see-through, but it had a very solid feeling to it. “This is the very basic form of Aegis.” The instructor explained. “As I am only demonstrating it, it only has the very basic functions that are shared between all of us. It will protect those under it from any hostile projectile magic, arrows and ki attacks. In addition it increases the morale of everyone under the effect and infuses us with a sense of unity. As I am a paladin and we excel at defense, the Aegis I create will be able to take a lot of punishment from hostile attacks, even from combined spells of mages that I mentioned before.”
Dee used her special sight to read the spell and recognized the correctness of the instructor’s words. She also noted that the spell was sloppily made and had about a million ways for improvement. Maybe that was what the instructor meant with the spell reflecting the creator and controller? Each person made their own improvements, thus creating their own personal Aegis spell.
“By our very nature and training, the Aegis made by paladins is more protective and supportive. It strengthens us, improves the defense of each individual affected, as well as healing us and so on. Templars often have their Aegis with a more offensive tilt. They might weaken the enemies that fall under the effect, clad their weapons in holy flames, burn at undead enemies and so on. The more power provided and the more skilled the caster, the stronger and more varied the effects. Something else worthy of note. Those that serve light gods usually have very different Aegis from those that serve the dark gods. Those that serve the dark gods might have their Aegis even drain the lives of all the enemies that fall under the effect and other similar effects.” The instructor explained with a serious face.
The next two weeks were spent so that all the recruits learned to channel their power to the one controlling the Aegis. Dee found the process rather easy, mostly because she had enough holy power to throw around, whereas some of the others didn’t have much holy power yet and the Aegis was the most holy power demanding spell they had been taught. You could theoretically pump almost infinite amounts of holy power into the spell. It was one of the few spells where the amount of holy power at your disposal was more important than your skill at using said power. At least for those simply lending their power. The skill part became much more important for the one controlling the Aegis.
Once they all had gotten the hang of the skill of sharing their power, they were taught another important lesson. That lesson was about the downside of the Aegis and other combined spells. They all channeled their power into the spell, while suddenly the protective field was bombarded by a group of templar, who combined their strength into focused attacks. The attacks drained at their holy power reserves, and the recruits started collapsing in groups after each attack. The weakest fainted first and the stronger ones collapsed into quivering heaps slightly later. The Aegis drained at their power heavily, and the individuals could not pull their power out once the spell was formed. Once they ran out of power, the exhausted recruits collapsed as their connection to the barrier severed forcefully.
That’s when they ran into an unexpected problem that surprised even the instructors. Dee was just observing her sea of holy power, monitoring the drain with each attack. She noted that each attack drained a fair chunk of power, but not enough to really make a dent in her reserves. She had an entire ocean of power to draw upon after all. Usually that extra power was scant use, but apparently it was useful in this context. In her distraction she kind of missed all the other recruits collapsing around her.
Once she noticed something wrong, she was the only recruit left standing. This was supposed to be a lesson about the dangers of the spell to the recruits, and they were meant to all faint. Only thing was, the group of templar attacking them was running out of power. Another problem was that Dee wasn’t the one who had created the Aegis, in fact none of the recruits had cast the spell even once. The controller of the spell had been a paladin that had completed his training a couple of years prior. He had fainted a few attacks earlier. Dee’s power was still maintaining the spell, but she had no control over it and couldn’t withdraw her power from the spell either.
“Recruit Haydee, are you alright?” The instructor leading the lesson asked with a queer expression.
“I’m fine sir. Well, except that I can’t pull my power away from the spell, but aside from that…” Dee replied. She felt like shrugging, but such expressions of emotion were out of place during the lessons.
“Do you still have enough power to maintain the spell by yourself?” The instructor asked, the answer obvious. She had been the only person awake for the last three attacks, and the Aegis showed no signs of wavering.
“More than enough sir.” Dee replied, noticing that apparently this was not how the exercise was supposed to have gone.
The instructor grumbled to himself for a while. “Well, we’ll have to wait for the lazy bastard who made the spell to wake up before it can be undone. The slacker templar are too tired to break the spell forcefully. Bloody wimps losing to a lone girl.”
When the rest of the recruits finally awoke, some taking much longer than others, the instructor explained what happened. “This is the danger of such spells as Aegis. Once you’re part of the spell, you’re committed. It’s not very useful to have half of your army faint in the middle of battle, even in order to defend against attacks. Sometimes the defense can do more damage than the attack would’ve done. That’s a judgement call the controller of the spell has to make. In a normal battle this would not happen as the Aegis would be dropped before things got this far. This is the problem inherent to all combined strength techniques, except that in some extreme cases the loss of power can be severe enough to kill those involved, instead of just making them unconscious. That is especially the case among mages.”
“There’s also another lesson here. You did not get to see it, because you were too busy napping, but recruit Haydee here was strong enough to maintain the Aegis by herself even after our glorious templars, the bunch of slackers that they are, got too tired to continue attacking. Usually a single person will not have enough power to maintain Aegis but she did it anyway. This is something you should keep in mind. This is an example of what we are talking about when we say that high ranked people have the strength to match against entire armies. They have the power to single handedly protect against attacks made with the combined strength of armies and they have the power to break through the defenses set up by the combined power of entire armies. Recruit Haydee has that strength, albeit only that of a very small army like the recruits here, but an army nonetheless. Keep this in mind when you hear someone talk about high ranked people. That information might save your life.” The instructor’s voice was grave.
Truly powerful people who could match entire armies of trained soldiers were few and far between. Especially armies such as those commanded by the Radiant Sun where they truly knew how to combine their powers for a powerful defense. However, such individuals existed and should be watched out for. Of course the order had their own group of such individuals, the Blades the strongest among them, but they were the last resort, deployed only when necessary. It seemed they had at least one such budding individual among them.
‘Finally some use for the excess holy power I have.’ Dee thought to herself with a sigh.
The last two parts of the training were somewhat special. Before the recruits were divided between the chapters of the order, they had to get some practical experience with the training they had received so far. The chapters themselves would of course have their own training depending on their roles, but that wasn’t the problem of the headquarters. They only cared that the lessons they had taught were sufficiently learned.
Thus the recruits were once again divided into groups and sent on missions. They would be led by, evaluated by, observed by and protected by an individual templar or paladin of at least captain rank. Those captains would make sure that the recruits were relatively safe, but also that the missions actually succeeded. Just because the recruits were inexperienced, the order couldn’t afford them fucking up potentially important missions, even if the missions were relatively safe and easy.
The captains would assign their groups several jobs and assignments during the mission, and would evaluate their performance. After the missions were complete, the captains would hold a detailed discussion with the groups, detailing what they did well, what they could improve on and what they simply failed to do right. Then they would go on another mission, and this time they were expected to improve on the areas they had failed on previously.
Dee was more than slightly surprised once she saw her own group. The group consisted of the ten best performing recruits out this year’s batch, including Shunkaha and Cynisca. Something was weird here. It made more sense to divide the best performers into several groups to ensure the success of more missions. Dee got another surprise as their observer entered, and she noticed a commander’s insignia on the woman’s shoulder. This was really strange.
The elven woman with impressive stature marched to the front of the room they were all sitting in, waiting for their instructions. “Greetings recruits. I will be your leader and observer during this mission. I’m known as Commander Luthana. The smartest among you may have already noted that there’s something a little weird with the setup of your group. The reason for that is simple. Unlike the rest of the recruits who are doing missions that are of little importance, this mission carries quite a bit of potential consequence. That is why only the best have been chosen for this group.”
Shunkaha indicated that he had a question, and the commander gestured for him to ask his questions. “If it’s that important, why are we being sent?”
“A good question, and one we knew you would ask. The answer is rather simple. You are being used because you won’t draw attention. A group of recruits performing their first mission is less noteworthy than a full squad of skilled templar. The fact that we are going to a volatile area will also cover for the fact that you will be protected by a commander and not a captain in the eyes of those that are aware of our customs. As our customs have held true for so long, many know of them, hence deviations will be noticed.” The commander explained.
“Some of you might have heard rumors of trouble brewing in the empire of Tuatha Dé Danann. The trouble is much more serious than you might have imagined, and we are going to the nearby cities surrounding their great forest to gather information. Our trip might even take us inside the forest, so be prepared.” Commander Luthana clarified.
‘That also explains the presence of an elven commander.’ Dee thought to herself. ‘She’ll be much better at noticing if something is wrong.’
“Have any of you visited the great forest in the eastern seventh circle before?” The commander asked.
Both Shunkaha and Dee signaled that they had visited the forest. Dee still remembered her troubles in the mana heavy environment of the forest. Taeral, her scouting teacher, had taken her there for training and it seemed like a good thing he had.
“Good, both of our information specialists. That’s perfect. Let’s get moving. We have a long journey ahead of us and not a lot of time. I’ll explain details on the way.” Commander Luthana nodded pleased.