A/N: The plot thickens. On an unrelated note, I'm guessing it's not a great sign if you're having coughing fits so hard that literally everything hurts afterwards. Oh well, such is life.
Dim light of the evening shone on a stack of papers. The stack was only one of many like it, as the large table was covered with other stacks just like it. There didn’t seem to be any order among the chaos of that table, but the person sitting behind the table could reach in and pull out just the sheet he wanted without fail. At first glance you’d think the owner of the table was either swamped with work or very unorganized. The first assumption wasn’t that far from the truth, while the second couldn’t be more wrong.
Commander Wolfhart was a very organized man. His table had its current appearance on purpose. He wanted people to think he wasn’t too good with paperwork and administrative duties. He tried to foster initiative and the ability to think for themselves in his subordinates, and the desk was just one pawn in his plans. The desk made it look like he was having trouble handling his workload, and his loyal subordinates would rather handle things themselves than burdened him any further with work they could deal with on their own.
The commander really was rather busy, but not even close to as busy as his desk made people believe. He wanted his subordinates to take the initiative and do the minutiae themselves instead of checking everything with him. Just because he was good with all the administrative work didn’t mean he enjoyed it. He was a military man at heart and his second vocation was being a servant to his goddess. Clerical work he’d rather avoid when possible.
He was going through some plans for future operations when Sarge entered without knocking. The two were old friends and Sarge knew the commander would’ve locked the door if he didn’t want to be disturbed. In fact he liked interruptions because they might rouse his interest and save him from the more tedious tasks.
“This pile looks just as horrid as it usually does.” Sarge said with a shake of his head, referring to all the documents.
“You say that every time, yet most of the time you keep adding to it. Anything good this time?” Wolfhart inquired, noticing what looked like a list of some kind in Sarge’s hands.
“Well that’s for you to judge I suppose, but it roused my interest at least. This is the list you asked Captain Sarfina to make. It lays out the girl’s skills and abilities.” He handed the list attached to a clipboard over to Wolfhart.
“Hah, you say ‘the girl’ as if you didn’t memorize her name. It’s not everyday you get your ass handed to you by a little girl.” Wolfhart snorted a laugh. “Wait, this thing is five pages long. Doesn’t Sarfina know how to be succinct?” His laughter faded.
This time it was Sarge’s turn to huff a chuckle. “That is the succinct version. She’s been a busy little girl.”
“Poisons, unarmed combat, information gathering…these are normal for Zabaniya.” Wolfhart listed out loud. “Ability to hide in the crowd, ability to remain undetected unless someone looks for her specifically, alchemy, magical and mechanical trap detection? Ability to predict enemy movements by reading the flow of ki or mana? Ability to read mana to detect spells before they materialize? What?” The more he read the more impressed he got. And more confused. “Appraisal of items, specialty in weapons and armor?”
“This isn’t standard fare for Zabaniya.” Sarge had read the list earlier and was just as surprised. The list had more precise descriptions, and the commander was just reading the headlines. “Oh, and just in case you weren’t aware, she’s a psion.”
“Are we sure she isn’t Wraith?” Wolfhart asked as a joke.
“Yeah, she was subjected to an interrogation and didn’t lie to any of our questions. In fact she’s the one who provided the information that helped us determine that Wraith is dead.” Sarge replied. It would be obvious to suspect a psion like Dee of being the Wraith, but her age clouded everyone’s judgement. She had also already given answers to questions without lying, and in their excitement nobody thought to check if she had actually directly denied it. The line between truth and lie could be tricky sometimes.
“It seems they were grooming her for something.” Wolfhart voiced a theory he’d been brewing.
“Well, then it’s a good thing we got her out of there, because I don’t think their plans were very positive. For her or for anyone else.” Sarge replied. He was secretly glad Dee wasn’t their enemy. The fact remained that a small girl had defeated him three times, and she’d only get stronger as she grew and received more training.
A sudden thought occurred to Wolfhart. “Is it just me, or does she have the perfect skillset to become a scout? Get one of the rangers to teach her survival skills and the tradecraft necessary, and we’ll have a perfect scout on our hands.”
“Hadn’t thought of that, but now that you mention it…” Sarge frowned.
The Radiant Heart had their own personnel dedicated for scouting and information gathering. Because of their power, the order could hire the best trainers and they all recognized the value of information. As a result their scouts could rival the famed rangers of the elves and the Sidhe. The only thing was that the scouts were a rather exclusive group among the order and didn’t take in just anyone willing to join. Their exclusivity was partially based on their status as elites, and another part was because they spent most of their time in dangerous places, so they couldn’t afford to take students that couldn’t hack it.
“Let’s keep that thought in mind as well. Our little assassin seems to have several possible paths opening up before she even starts official training. Make sure Captain Sarfina knows we expect the girl to be ready to take on the world when she officially becomes one of our trainees. Both physically and mentally. I don’t think she will be making that many friends, seeing her background.” Wolfhart ordered.
“I’ll see to it. The girl will get the best and roughest training we can manage.” Since he got his ass handed to him, Sarge’s only hope was to make sure other would suffer the same fate. That would help him avoid embarrassment if word got out. When word got out. Word always gets out.
The next month and a half were filled with harsh training for Dee. Unsurprisingly the training focused mostly on improving her stamina, and improving her strength. As both could be done with swimming, she got used to spending most of her days in the pool. While the training was harsh and exhausting, it was nothing compared to the abuse of Zabaniya, so Dee rather enjoyed it. To her it was almost like a vacation, since she was no longer being beaten every other day.
While Sarfina was in charge of improving her body, Mazatl kept improving her mind. Since it was too early to start training with holy magic, the saurian opted to fill Dee’s head with other necessary information. The topics ranged from lessons taught to priest and cleric acolytes about the temples and deities, to military knowledge and even tactics. Sarfina often joined them on those lessons, since it wasn’t really Mazatl’s specialty.
Dee also learned about magic and its various applications. Even though she couldn’t cast spells, it was still useful to know about the various possibilities when she inevitably encountered them in the future. Her ability to read mana was of great help during these lessons, although Dee neglected to mention the specifics of this particular skill.
During the last two weeks an acquaintance of Sarfina’s had also joined the teaching group for reasons unknown to Dee. Taeral seemed to be a friend of Sarfina, and seemed to be a ranger near the area where Sarfina’s family lived. From what Dee could see the two went way back and had been acquainted for a long time. When talking about elves, a long time could be a very long time indeed.
The blue haired man seemed very affable, though Dee sensed explosive strength inside him, just waiting to be unleashed. Slightly worryingly she couldn’t determine how strong the man was. He was very skilled though. During their training it became obvious that he was perhaps the only person Dee couldn’t sneak up on. He always seemed to be aware where she was. During the week they only sparred once just so he could get a feel for how Dee moved, and she was defeated with embarrassing ease.
Dee didn’t know why Taeral was here, though what he taught her was interesting. She learned about nature, plants, animals and how to move among them without leaving a trace and noticing if anything was wrong with the flora or fauna. Taeral taught her survival skills, tracking and the tradecraft of a ranger. As this happened mostly in the vicinity of the mansion, their learning opportunities were limited. He promised to take her to one of the great forests to really learn soon enough.
Dee enjoyed those lessons, but she had no idea why she was learning this. It was all useful knowledge, but hardly something that was commonly taught to templar students. She didn’t mind learning this stuff; she just wanted to know the purpose. In general her curriculum seemed to be very broad. In fact, she learned rather little of anything that could be considered skills or knowledge common to a templar. The only things were the lessons Mazatl gave on the deities, since templar were holy men as well.
“Today you’ll have a day off. I think you’ve earned it, and goddess knows you’ve kept up well with the training so far. I almost wish you made a complaint, so I would know you would do that if we push you too hard.” Sarfina announced one morning while they were having breakfast. They had been driving Dee rather hard on Commander Wolfhart’s request, and she was getting a little worried.
“Ah, I should probably mention that the current training is rather pleasant compared to what the Zabaniya had me do, so don’t worry. I’m quite enjoying myself.” Dee replied in a chipper voice, oblivious to the implications.
Not sure if she should feel even more worried, or horrified at what the assassins had done, Sarfina was a little frazzled. “Yes, well, leaving aside any comparisons to that filthy group, I want you to tell me immediately if it gets too much. I don’t want to push you too hard.”
Dee didn’t want to draw too much attention to the fact that her physique was excellent at recovery due to her heritage, so she decided to change the subject. “Anyway, why the day off?”
“Mazatl is preparing for another Ritual of Choosing, Taeral had to go back for few days to handle some errands and I have to go to the training complex. I might have taken time off, but that doesn’t mean nothing there affects me. Hence you have a day off, and I think you’ve earned it.” Sarfina explained in a tired voice. She wasn’t looking forward to her visit to the order. She had been avoiding some things.
“Well, I don’t know if I need it, but I do have some errands to run so I don’t mind the day off. I need to buy a few things and I want to stop by Fimul’s forge.” That wasn’t actually Dee’s plan, but it was a good enough excuse, and she was testing her new boundaries. She wanted to know if she was allowed to move about on her own now.
“Sure, give him a tug on the beard from me.” Sarfina replied playfully.
“You’ve never tugged his beard, and I’m certainly not going to start.” Dee laughed back.
Dee found herself in front of a large and ornamental building best described as palatial. It had several minarets and the towers had roughly onion shaped roofs. There was a steady stream of people going in and out of the building. This was the local branch of the community known as Threads of Fate. They were a community that dealt mostly in trade, but not just any normal trade. They traded rare goods, expensive and rare materials, magical items and anything that was high in price and hard to find. Mostly though, they traded in information and hard to acquire services.
Dee was mostly here to find out what the community would want in exchange for the information Dee needed. She was sure she couldn’t afford the information at the moment, but she needed a goal to work towards. As she stepped through the doors, she was immediately met by a veiled woman wearing the symbol of the Threads of Fate, an insignia that pictured several branching paths all getting woven into a large tapestry.
“Follow me please.” The woman simply said abruptly but with a friendly tone.
Dee was extremely confused as she was being lead deep inside the building, along several winding paths. ‘Are they confusing me with someone else?’ She thought to herself.
Finally they entered a wide room full of cushions meant for sitting. Several parts of the room were separated by diaphanous curtains. In the center of the room was another veiled woman sipping on something that smelled like tea. The woman was clearly much older than the one that led Dee here, and radiated age, wisdom and gravitas.
“Welcome to Threads of Fate Haydee, or should I call you Wraith? We’ve been expecting you. You’re just in time.” The old woman said the smile clear in her voice.
“You knew I was coming?” Dee asked narrowing her eyes. Mazatl was the only one who knew Dee had any business here, and she certainly didn’t know Dee was coming here today. She certainly didn’t deign to confirm or deny the Wraith part.
“We know many things. Knowledge is our main commodity and strength after all.” The woman said immediately as if expecting Dee’s question.
Dee’s eyes narrowed and several pieces of information clicked into place. “You can see the future?” She said, not really asking.
The smile in the old woman’s voice was even clearer as she replied. “Indeed we can. The future and the past. At least to a point. The future is an ever-changing beast, and nothing is certain. Some people have stronger fates than others. The past on the other hand is often hidden on purpose by various parties, but we get glimpses.”
“By that I assume you mean me. Tell me then, why am I here?” Dee asked, more just to make sure.
“You’re here to find a teacher. Someone qualified to train you as a psion to be exact.” The reply was immediate and given without any hesitation.
“Well then, this makes things easier I suppose. If you know that much though, you should know that I can’t repay you currently.” Dee pointed out. The woman in front of her clearly had an agenda, best get it out straight away.
“The important word is currently. In the future however, you can repay us easily. Let’s just say that you’ll owe us one. We won’t ask anything that goes against your conscience, as we don’t want to become your enemy and the favor we give now is not that large.” The woman was negotiating.
“You seem very certain of my future.” Dee half asked.
“Like I said, nothing is ever certain. It is possible that you will die on your way home today due to some random freak accident. However, the odds are in the favor of one of the futures we have seen coming true. Few people have futures as strong or as volatile as yours. Hence why we want to make friends with you now.” The woman didn’t bother hiding their agenda at all. She was either very sneaky, or she was playing some game Dee wasn’t aware of. She could’ve been just nice, but that seemed unlikely. It didn’t hurt to be prepared in any case.
“Well then, I’ll accept your generosity.” Dee agreed after a moment of thought. She could always not repay that favor if they asked something she wasn’t willing to give. They didn’t ask her to sign any contracts or swear any oaths, and she wasn’t sure she’d much care about oaths anyway.
“You have three major possibilities as your future teacher. I will provide details once you’ve have a basic picture of your choices. The first one is available any time you choose, but he is also the worst option. He can teach you, but the price he requires is something you will not be willing to pay. He is however available straight away and will not turn you away should you seek his help.
The second option is the most powerful teacher. She is by far the most powerful and the most skilled of the three teachers available. However, her style doesn’t quite match your strengths. She would not be a bad teacher, and she is also someone you would get along with. Her abilities will be enough to match your standards. She won’t demand too high a price for her teaching, and you won’t have any trouble paying that price. You can make a contact with her after turning fourteen, and there’s no time limit on when you can make contact. You only need to be able to impress her enough to accept you as a disciple, which you are already capable of doing.
The third option would fit your strengths the best. His abilities match yours, and he is not too much weaker than the second option. Learning from him would almost certainly give you the training most suited to your skills, though how large that gap would be is not clear. You have three chances of making contact with him, and impressing him enough for him to take you as a disciple. The first opportunity is after your sixteenth birthday, the second after your eighteenth and the third after you celebrate your twentieth birthday.
Making that impression gets progressively easier as you grow. The first time is very difficult while the last opportunity is almost a certain success. I won’t say what it would require to make that impression; however, I can tell you that it will not be your fighting abilities or your talent as a psion. The rest is for you to figure out.
The last teacher would be the best for you, but he will also take the longest to appear. I should also warn you that you will face sadness and heartache if you choose the last option, more than you can currently imagine. The options have been given and the choice is yours.” The old woman finished.
Dee could sense that the woman clearly wanted her to choose the last option, just by the amount of time she spent on explaining that choice. Yet at the same time the old woman also didn’t want her to make that choice. “Well we both know I’m not picking that first option.”
“Of course. I just wanted to present it for the sake of completeness. I should mention that while some things in your future are more certain than others, the choice between the two remaining masters is something that is very uncertain. You don’t need to make that choice right now. I will provide the information for both.” The old woman said with a tinge of sympathy, while handing her two notebooks. She knew a decision this big should not be made on the spot.
“Well then, I’m very thankful.” Dee said rising up, preparing to leave.
“Before you go, I want to give you two freebies. Two pieces of information you didn’t even know to ask, but it is in both of our interests that you are aware of them.” The old woman stopped her by placing a hand on Dee’s wrist. Dee prompted the woman to continue with a raised eyebrow.
“The first piece of information is not as serious, but perhaps something you will value more. Tomorrow will be your tenth birthday. Starting now, your birthdays will carry a certain amount of special significance. You should arrange it so that you have nothing you can’t cancel planned for tomorrow.” The woman said, the smile returning to her voice. The tone made it clear that whatever happened tomorrow would not be too unpleasant.
“The second piece of information is more important but somewhat related. You need to hurry your participation in what the Holy Orders call the Ritual of Choosing. The sooner you take part the better, but at the very latest you should take part before your sixteenth birthday. That will make your life much easier in the future. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that this is more important than finding yourself a teacher as a psion.” The woman’s voice was grave and underlined the importance of what she said.
“I don’t suppose you’d be willing to tell me why?” Dee asked the obvious question.
“No, but after tomorrow you can make a pretty educated guess. Truth is, even I don’t know for certain. I just know it will make a huge difference.” The reply was not unexpected.