A/N: To those that waited until this chapter due to my warning, welcome back! This chapter is a day early because I'll be on the road the whole day tomorrow. We're doing a family trip to 'in the middle of nowhere' so nothing but driving planned. As such, this week may be a bit spotty with releases. I've been told that the place we are going had wlan, so in theory I can upload normally and will have nothing else to do but write. That's the theory, but we'll see how things go in practice. Bottom line though? I'll get to write a lot this week, but might not get to post a lot. Anyway, enjoy the chapter!
First thing Dee noticed when slowly regaining her consciousness was the mother of all headaches. While she could shut out most pain, headaches were much harder. She theorized that it had something to do with how her ability to deal with pain worked. Tooth pain was another one of those that she had trouble dealing with. ‘Something about a closer connection to the brain maybe?’ She thought to herself idly.
She slowly let her senses run a check on the condition of her body. There was damage and the corrosion wasn’t completely gone. Luckily it didn’t seem like permanent damage; just something her regeneration had trouble dealing with, probably because the ability had been overburdened. It would take some time to get back to full strength, but it was hard to judge exactly how long. It’s not like she had knowledge on the subject beyond what she could reason out from experience.
She slowly opened her eyes, blinking rapidly as the bright light was hurting her eyes, and making her headache worse. ‘This doesn’t feel like the city of Night. Too bright.’ She thought. City of Night had a day-night cycle, but the nights were much longer and even during the day the light was not this bright. She could see the arched grey stone ceiling above her, so she was indoors, but this light seemed natural and not something generated by lights. City of Day then.
She tried turning her head to get a better look. Her bed had been partitioned off with white cloth screens, but she could see enough from between the gaps to determine she was in a rather sizeable room filled with beds similar to her own. A rather soft bed at that. In fact, she felt as if the bed was constantly emitting some kind of healing energy. ‘Who has magical beds in their infirmary?’ She thought in slight confusion. Well at least it was helping with her headache.
She was feeling rather hungry and needed to use the toilet. Since this seemed like a hospital or infirmary of sorts, maybe she should try calling out? That didn’t feel like a very comfortable option with the headache she currently had, but sometimes you had to make sacrifices for the greater benefit. Or in this case for the purpose of not soiling herself. That didn’t feel like a very attractive option either. As assassins the kids had been trained in holding it in, in case they had to lay in wait for a long time, but she guessed she had been unconscious for a while. She suddenly realized that she didn’t know how the bodily functions of an unconscious person worked. A curious gap in her knowledge considering it might be important in some cases. A topic for research at some other point in time.
Just as she was about to call out, the partition moved to the side and a dwarven girl in priestess clothing stood at the opening looking straight at her. “Ah, you’re finally awake. How are you feeling?” The priestess asked with a chipper voice, that sounded a little odd coming from a dwarf.
“Weak, headache, hungry, need a toilet. All in all pretty good, considering. I really could use the toilet though.” Dee replied trying to mimic the chipper tone, while emphasizing her urgent need.
After she managed to save some of her dignity and got something solid to eat, well solid by soup standards at least, the priestess started asking some questions about her condition. From what she managed to pick up reading between the lines, Dee now knew that she had been unconscious for three days. The healers had spent most of the first day breaking the compulsion and healing her to the best of their ability. They managed most of it, but her body was simply too taxed for a full recovery by magical means alone and required some time for nature to do its thing. They also couldn’t be fully certain that all of the compulsion was gone, though Dee knew that to be the case.
It wasn’t just the damage from the compulsion, but all the built up damage and stress from her time among the Zabaniya. Her body might have been able to regenerate after the experiments, but the stress had accumulated, and now she was paying the price. The priestess even cracked a joke about being as weak as a kitten while looking pointedly at Dee’s beastly features. She didn’t bother pointing out the difference between a fox and a cat. With the added touch from her wolfish heritage, she was closer to a dog actually. The priestess wasn’t a vet, so who cares?
“So where are we? I would guess city of Day from the light, but beyond that…” Dee finally managed to ask, and gave a small confused wave with her hand.
“Correct, we are at one of the joint facilities of Radiant Sun and the Holy Orders in the tenth circle of Day city.” The priestess told her openly.
“That seems like a rather long distance to move me. Is there a particular reason?” Dee asked, hiding her slight suspicion.
“As to that, I’ll let Captain Sarfina explain. She’s the one who brought you here, and I’m fairly sure you both have several questions for each other. I’ll let her know that you’re awake, assuming you feel like you’re up for it?” The last part was a genuine question. Dee had been through a lot, and it would not surprise the priestess if it was too soon to go into such things. Getting answers was the job of the templar, while taking care of the patients was her job.
“We might as well get started. I might not be good for much else at the moment, but talking is something I can do.” Dee replied with a slight smile.
She suddenly felt much more talkative than she remembered ever being. She was never much of a conversationalist, but she had spent months among the Zabaniya without uttering other sounds besides screams of pain. She hadn’t wanted to make friends, because those would end up dying sooner or later. The masters weren’t interested in conversation, just obedience, and she certainly wasn’t going to get close to any of them. Malik had been the only one to really discuss anything with her, Dee suddenly realized. Even with her reticent nature, such a dearth in meaningful conversation had left her more talkative than she used to be normally.
It had been a hectic three days for Sarfina. After saving the kitsune girl, she had to oversee the cleansing of the assassin base, destruction of any dangerous materials that they could not carry away for study, as well as reporting the events to their superiors. She also had to oversee the handling of the children they had rescued from the assassins. In hindsight rescue might not have been the right word.
Most of the kids were being held in the facilities of the Radiant Sun while the Mystic’s guild worked to remove the magical bonds that were holding them. It soon became obvious that many of the kids were too far gone even after most of those bonds were gone. They still tried to kill the people trying to help them, although without much success. That said, some of the bonds were too deep to remove completely. In some cases they had to rely on suppressing them, so that no new orders could be forced on them, while old orders still held some sway. Even so, every child they managed to save made all the effort worth it.
Not quite everyone saw it that way though. Despite their superiority in numbers and strength, attacking a nest of assassins was highly dangerous and they had lost good people. The group under Sarfina had actually been the best off, as everything she heard indicated that the other two raids had turned into bloodbaths on both sides. Pitched battle might not be their specialty, but the assassins were good at causing casualties, and the bases were full of traps. It wasn’t surprising then to see some of the people who had lost friends during the raids carry resentment, but it was unfortunate that some of that resentment was directed at the children.
If the kids had been grateful, had acted like normal children and had been rejoicing at their rescue, this would not have been the case. However, many of the kids tried to attack them even after all the effort they went through. This made many of the bitter people feel like they had lost their friends for nothing, even though their purpose during the raids had not been to rescue anyone, but to destroy the bases of Zabaniya. The resentment that was the result wasn’t exactly fair, but it was very natural.
Sarfina breathed a small sigh of frustration. She was hoping the next interview, or interrogation depending on point of view, at least would yield something more positive. She sat behind a table in a room with walls that were decorated rather gaudily. She disliked those decorations, but they were there for a reason. The decorations had been placed to hide the various magical formations set in place around the room. Among other things, those spells would reveal any lies told inside this room. All the kids that had survived and had not gone wild had been questioned in rooms like this, and all of them without exception had lied. Some because they had things to hide, some because that’s what they thought the people questioning them wanted to hear and some because they didn’t want to remember.
Sarfina really hoped that the one she was waiting for wouldn’t lie. There would be consequences for lies and she really hoped this one wouldn’t fall into that trap. She had seen something in the eyes of this girl as she lay on the floor writhing in pain. There was something different about this one. She just hoped that she was right about what that something was.
She looked up as the door opened and an acolyte pushed in a wheelchair with the seated girl she had been thinking about. “Thank you for the trouble. I’m aware that she is still weak so I’ll try to keep this short for now. I’ll let you know once we are finished.” Sarfina said rising from her chair.
“I’ll be monitoring you from the outside, and will stop this if I feel you are going too far.” The young dwarven acolyte said with a threatening voice.
“Fine, Fine.” Sarfina waved the acolyte away with a wry and amused smile. The healers were very protective of their charges, and the dwarven personnel especially took their responsibilities very seriously.
As she looked at the girl sitting in the wheelchair, she couldn’t help but sigh sadly. The girl looked so young and weak. Although the girl’s heritage was showing in her early spurt of growth, she was thin as a reed clearly lacking proper nourishment and the white fur and large eyes gave the impression of vulnerability. An impression that Sarfina knew to be at least partially false. She knew that thin frame held surprising strength and muscle. Despite all that the girl had gone through, she still managed to look rather cute, even though her status as a patient was obvious from the way she moved.
“So let’s start with the obvious. What should I call you?” Sarfina asked, trying to break the ice.
“My name is Haydee, but most people just call me Dee.” The girl replied with a small smile.
Sarfina could feel the girl’s senses spreading out, focusing on the ornamentation. The girl had felt the presence of the magical formations. Interesting. “Dee it is then. I’m Captain Faylen Sarfina. Can you tell me where you are from? You won’t be able to go home for a while, but we could let your parents know where you are. They could come see you.” Sarfina also smiled, as the girl’s smile was infectious.
The girl’s smile turned into a small grimace though. “I’m not from this world. I was sent here by my mother to meet someone whose identity I don’t know. I had only been here for a day, before I ran afoul of some of the people working with the assassins.”
Sarfina was shocked. “Only a day? Then I should probably assume you know very little about this world?”
“That would be fair to say yes. I learned a little while under the tender care of the assassins, but you couldn’t really go around asking questions. Practical knowledge lessons weren’t very high on their list of priorities either. I picked up a few things from what I overheard, but without proper context…” Dee explained giving an expressive wave of her hand while looking somewhat ashamed of her ignorance.
“Well, that’s something we’ll have to rectify. Seeing as you’ll most likely be recovering for some time anyway, this might be a good use of your time. I’ll see if I can find someone to tutor you.” Sarfina said making plans in her head. This could work to her advantage. This girl really was different from the others, and it might be good for the resentful people to see her working earnestly. That sight might give them some balm for the wounds in their hearts. The girl’s appearance would also work in her favor. She could also monitor the girl in a more natural setting.
“Speaking of, what happens to me now? I don’t’ exactly have a place to go, nor do I know if I’m free to do so. The nice priestess waiting outside said that you’d tell me more.” Dee asked, tilting her head a bit in question.
“Well that depends a bit on what we discover during out little conversation. Assuming you aren’t going to start attacking us, you’re not a prisoner really, but we can’t really let you go freely either until we determine the effect this ordeal has had on you.” Before Sarfina had a chance to continue, Dee voiced her own thoughts, clearly thinking out loud.
“Yeah, the kids that were pushed too far tended to go crazy. Some turned apathetic and were gotten rid of, while some went more towards uncontrolled rage. The latter ones apparently still had some use, so I think some of them were still kept around. That was part of the process, to see how far they could push us.” The girl’s voice turned a little hollow towards the end. Sarfina could tell that the assassins had pushed her too, and that she still carried the scars for that.
‘That explains some of the stored bodies that seemed to have no wounds. They just gave up on life.’ Sarfina suddenly thought. She wasn’t sure if she wanted to know what had been done to Dee to push her. People’s mentality was often fragile, but it usually took a lot to push someone to complete apathy. Sarfina had seen the dead eyes of some slaves and brothel workers before, after they had simply given up on life. Usually people’s instinct to survive would kick in, but everyone had a limit.
She continued half lost in thought. “Anyway, some have proposed to have all of the rational kids trained to become either one of us, or a cleric of the Holy Orders. This would give us the chance to monitor you, and the effects of the ordeal you went through. You’d all end up with a beneficial training and I suppose it also offers a chance at redemption, to save lives instead of taking them. A penance of sorts, I suppose.”
Dee considered it for a moment before replying. “That sounds like an ok idea. I doubt it will work for everyone, but I don’t exactly have an alternative to offer either. I assume part of this discussion is to determine whether I’m suitable, or redeemable as it were?”
“That’s part of it yes.” Sarfina replied without trying to hide it. “We’re also trying to gather as much information as possible. As such, I’ll need to ask you some questions, and some of them will be uncomfortable. I know you most likely had to do things you rather wouldn’t admit by Zabaniya, but I implore you to be truthful. We’re not going to judge you for what you were forced to do, but we can’t completely let it go either. Lying about what you were forced to do would probably be worse than just admitting the truth.”
Dee gave a wry smile. “And I assume these spells around us will tell you if I don’t tell you the truth? Yes, I thought as much. Ask your questions. I can’t say I’ll answer everything, but I will not lie either.”
“Fair enough. We’ll get the hard part out of the way first. Did you kill anyone while you were held captive?” Sarfina had an apologetic smile while she asked. It was better to get right to the point that they both knew was coming.
“Of course. We all did.” Dee replied simply. Her eyes seemed to be asking if Sarfina was an idiot for asking such an obvious question.
“You all?” Sarfina asked a little confused. This question had caused most of the kids to lie, but Dee seemed all too willing to admit to it.
“Yes, I suspect every child you rescued has killed at least once. As the first kill is always the most difficult, one of the first things they did was weed out those that are unable to do it. They put two kids into an arena, and only one came out alive. If both refused to act, then they both were killed by the masters.” The girl’s voice was deathly calm.
Sarfina stared in horror. She had expected something like this, but something about the simplicity in the girl’s voice made it worse. She coughed before continuing. “And have you killed more than once?”
“Well you know the answer to that. I’m fairly sure that I recognize you from the time of the raid. You saw the aftermath of me killing my handler. Also, you have enough experience to know better than to ask the natural follow-up question.” Dee said calmly. Again with the look that seemed to question her intelligence for such silly questions.
Sarfina remembered the body of the black dressed man that had been bleeding on the floor as they had found Dee and some of the other kids. “I assume you mean the question, ‘more than twice?’”
Dee made a small gesture acknowledging Sarfina’s words. “All I can say is that I spent years held by the Zabaniya. As my mother found me as a baby, I don’t know how old I was when she picked me up. I think I might have been around four or five once the Zabaniya got a hold of me. I don’t actually know exactly how long they held me, but I reckon it was too long. You do the math.” Dee had a very sad look on her face as she spoke.
Sarfina almost felt like shedding a tear for the young girl and she also felt sick to her stomach. Judging by the girl’s appearance, she should be about ten years old now, so she spent about five years held by the assassins. Much longer than most of the kids they had talked to so far. The kids they had talked to before had mentioned that most children didn’t survive past two or three years and most of them were older than five when brought in. “How does that make you feel? Regretful? Horrified? Sad?”
“Sad certainly, but I wouldn’t call it regret exactly. As you can see, I’ve got a fair bit of demon in my heritage, that’s why my mother sent me here. The thought of taking a life isn’t so reprehensible to me, but I do feel as though I’ve lost something. You couldn’t make it as long as I did, if you were the type to get squeamish about death. Would I rather I didn’t have to take lives? Of course, but I also know that if it hadn’t been me, it would’ve been someone else.” Dee gave another sad smile and hugged herself a bit. “The things we do in order to survive. I’m not sorry to be alive.”
Sarfina was quiet for a while. She could understand some of what the girl was feeling. She herself had taken many lives in the service of the templars. She rationalized that those were evil people who deserved it, but she also knew the feeling of loss the girl talked about. It was a sort of loss of innocence in a way. It had to be done, but the doing changed you. You saw the world differently afterwards. You knew how fragile life really was and how quickly it could come to an end. It was hard to explain to someone who had not experienced the same. It was tragic that Dee had to face that while this young.
“How about Wraith?” Sarfina asked half to distract herself. Usually she wouldn’t have just blurted it out like that.
“What about Wraith?” The girl looked a little wary. She knew something.
“What can you tell me about the assassin known as the Wraith?” Sarfina asked paying more attention.
Dee tapped the side of her chair with a finger a few times. “Before I answer that, I have to ask why you want to know?”
This was getting interesting. “One of the main reasons we conducted the raids were to stop the activities of the assassin known as the Wraith. Why would you not want to talk about him?”
The girl seemed to be picking her words carefully. “I do know something about Wraith, but there is power in certain types of knowledge, so I’m judging how much I should tell you. This might end up affecting me as well. But you didn’t answer my question, why are you so focused on Wraith? If I were to make a guess from the rumors, he couldn’t have killed more than maybe a hundred to two hundred people. In a world like this, that’s a drop in the ocean. Some of those people must have also been people you aren’t too sad to see gone.”
“Ok, now I’m really interested in what you might know. I’ll do my best to protect you from any backlash.” Sarfina promised. “As for why we are interested in Wraith in particular, there are several reasons that are connected. The biggest problem with Wraith is that he could get to his targets undetected, and we don’t know how. He might have only been at the level of killing people of lower level currently, but what about in the future? He might have been able to take lives that belonged to communities with real power and authority and still remain undetected. Was his secret something that could be taught to others? So this was more about eliminating a future threat than a current one. He also became something of a symbol of Zabaniya’s disregard for rules and resistance against us and other communities trying to maintain order."
Dee thought for a while. “Some of what I’m about to say is a bit speculative, so don’t take it as solid fact.” Sarfina replied by nodding. “My handler seemed to have knowledge of Wraith, a lot of knowledge. He never said anything directly, but what I heard suggested to me that he knew Wraith well. Another interesting fact is that he was always absent from the base when Wraith was reputedly performing missions. Now the people at the base didn’t know exactly when the Wraith was active, but there were rumors and those rumors coincided with the times he was gone. I also know that he was a skilled fighter with some skill in magic.”
Sarfina leaned closer. “So you’re suggesting that he might have been Wraith?”
Dee gave a small shrug. “I can’t answer that and you know it. You know that pretty much all of the assassins are unable to reveal the identities behind the monikers. I only told you some details that I find to be suggestive, but you’ll have to make your own guesses based on them.”
Sarfina had a small victorious grin. Wraith really was gone! Killed by one of the kids no less. This would be news the higher-ups would be happy about. After being jubilant for a moment, she thought about Dee for a bit more. Maybe the higher-ups would also let her take care of the girl for the time being. She seemed to have some potential, and Sarfina at least could understand some of what the girl was going though. That might help Dee adapt to the new situation. Sarfina also wanted something else to work on for a while, because the events with the assassins had taken her taste for killing. Leading a unit on missions would not be a good idea in her current state of mind. This was the perfect excuse to take some time to do other things and decompress.