A/N: Tries to think of something clever to say just to keep up the tradition, but finally decides agains it.
Dee slightly lifted her head and then banged it against the table. Listening to the voice of Mazatl, she repeated the motion a few more times. Her learning abilities were almost frightening, but she had finally met her match. Mazatl had not been kidding when she said that she would force her to learn all the necessary information before the Ritual of Choosing. For months now, the saurian had been filling every waking hour with lessons, except for those that Dee was spending in the tender care of Sarfina and all the physical training. At least that part was something Dee had become to love, if for no other reason than as a release from this tedium.
The problem was that all this knowledge was so bloody fragmented, illogical and even stupid. Much of it was information that would never be useful except in religious ceremonies and when dealing with various holy officials. Normally Dee was able to make inferences based on previous knowledge, but here those inferences often proved to be wrong. This was not something you should use your head with. Normally Dee loved to learn new things, but now she couldn’t care less. Her motivation was as low as it could go.
Mazatl noticed her banging, and had her recite back what she had just been taught. Despite Dee’s lack of motivation and interest, there was nothing wrong with her memory, so she managed the task although with a lot less flair than usual.
Mazatl closed her book with one hand, slapping it shut. “Good work. I know this is all very esoteric information, but you really had to learn it. I can’t believe you managed to survive through all that in such a short time. When I was learning this, I required years to learn all this, mostly because I kept falling asleep during the lessons. These are without a doubt the most boring lessons I’m teaching and the most tedious part of becoming a priestess.”
“No arguments from me.” Dee eagerly agreed at the boring part.
“Well, luckily for you, we’re done. We’re actually a month early. I never would’ve imagined. The good news is that the lessons after the ritual are mostly about learning to use your holy power. I think it’s something of a test if the young fledgling acolytes have the tenacity to sit through nothing but theory lessons for many years, until they actually get any power or lessons on how to use that power. Normal acolytes would also have practical training serving at a temple, but you’re going to be training as a templar, so I’ll give you a pass on that. They’ll torture you enough as is.” Mazatl said with some amusement.
“Wohoo.” Dee said with a distinct lack of energy and enthusiasm.
Next morning Dee was restlessly waiting for Sarfina in the training grounds, as the latter had promised that today was the day that their weapons training officially started. It was rather rare for Dee to be this excited, and Sarfina was enjoying watching her almost bouncing in place. It was rather surprising for both of them that Dee could still be so excited about weapons training after her experiences among the assassins, but there it was.
As she couldn’t delay any longer, Sarfina walked out to meet Dee “Relax, today we’ll be starting your training by taking a small trip.”
“A trip?” This was outside Dee’s expectations.
“Yes, you’ll need to make some decisions about your future and your training. I think it’s best to give you some examples and inspiration before you commit to anything.” Sarfina replied. She knew Dee could only follow in confusion. She knew what she was doing though. She hadn’t been a captain among the Radiant Sun for so long for nothing.
The duo traveled through the teleportation gates, and Dee knew by the signs that they were now on the east side of the Day city. Specifically, they were in the fifth circle, which was deeper into the city than Dee had ever been before. As she surveyed the surroundings, Dee noticed something peculiar. All the people seemed to be armed, excited and warlike. The most common represented races were blue saurian, beastmen of various types and humans, but there were several other races in the mix ranging from vampires and Fomorians to races Dee couldn’t even recognize.
“Where are we?” Dee asked in wonder.
“This area is more commonly known as Cauldron of Blood. This is where warriors come to prove themselves, and for thousands of kilomels in all directions you’ll find nothing but arenas, blacksmiths and infirmaries.” Sarfina explained with a slight tinge of both disdain and excitement in her voice.
Dee suddenly remembered one time when she had to kill a target who worked a prizefighter, and she had to perform the deed in the hubbub of a crowded arena. It had been one of her easier kills, with the throng of people masking her actions perfectly. “What do they fight for? Money?”
“There are bets and prizes involved, but usually only at the higher level. No they fight for glory and ranking.” Sarfina pointed towards one of the large obelisks that dotted the landscape at every crossroad.
Dee moved closer and noticed that it was a ranking list. The names were carved into the white stone, but she sensed magic inside the obelisk and suspected the ranking updated automatically. There was a big name “The Steps of Glory” carved towards the top of the tall obelisk. There were tens of thousands of names on the large stone edifice.
“You can pan it like this.” Sarfina said from behind Dee, and waved her hand in front of the obelisk, making the list scroll. Apparently the whole obelisk was a piece of magitech.
“Are all the obelisks the same?” Dee asked while scrolling the list, looking at the names.
“The public ones are. This is a list for the normal fighters and holds millions of names that keep shifting up and down according to the results. The “Peak of Glory” holds the top one hundred names and changes extremely rarely. Ninety-five of the names on that list have been there for a hundred years. It’s a grand event when two people from that list fight each other for position, and it only happens once every few years. Usually some of the young bucks overestimate themselves and try to get on the list and fight against the spots between ninety and hundred. You can’t challenge those stronger than ninety before you’re on the list yourself.” Sarfina explained.
Dee was a little curious about the names on the other list. She wanted to know who were the people able to hold the top places in an environment like this. “Who’s the number one?” She couldn’t help asking.
Sarfina gave a small sigh. “My brother. He took a stab at the arenas after gaining an Authority and got the number one spot. No one has challenged him ever since. He has held the position for over two hundred years. This was before he became the grandmaster of Radiant Sun.”
As the two walked into one of the arenas in silence, Dee finally asked the obvious question. “So why did you bring me here? I doubt you want me to fight, as we both know that would end badly.”
Sarfina gave a small chuckle as she let go of her thoughts. “I want you to observe the fights. You’re not here to learn, though if you do pick up tips then all the better. No, you’re here to see the different fighting styles. It will help you in choosing a direction that fits for you.”
“I thought you were going to teach me the style used by the Radiant Sun?” Dee asked more than a little confused.
“I will. Every member of the order learns the same style of fighting with a sword and shield, as well as training in a ranged weapon of your choice. However, that style is designed to be used in a group. That’s why it’s taught to everyone, so we all know how our allies will react and move when working together. That said, our style is not designed to be your main style for use in one on one situations. Hence why we’re here.
It would be ideal if a person was to learn all styles of combat and used them when appropriate and even combined them, but that is something that is unobtainable without millennia of study. More realistically you will pick one direction and then slowly expand. The person usually also picks a weapon that complements his or her style. I wouldn’t recommend using a speed focused style with a large maul, or a power and oppression style with a dagger. All that said, you can choose to further master your use of longsword and shield, as I have. Another way to go is to try and master a certain weapon, but then you would be dependent on that weapon. I myself am ok with a two-handed sword, but I fight almost exclusively with a sword and board.” Sarfina explained while gesturing towards the arena, where some of those styles were being displayed in battle.
After a slight moment of thought Dee spoke again. “I’m guessing my style so far has been more focused on speed than anything.”
Sarfina frowned a little. “Yes and no. Speed is important for you from what I’ve seen so far, but that’s not the essence of what the assassins taught you. From what I can see, you’re like a serpent that weaves inside your opponent’s defence to strike a quick and deadly blow, and then quickly retreats to safety. I would recommend something that complements that, instead of going with something completely opposite. That way the things you have learned so far can still serve you. Now focus on observing. That’s why we’re here.”
They had come to one of the lower ranked arenas in the Cauldron of Blood. Higher ranked arenas of course had more skilled fighters, but Dee would have trouble following their actions at her current level. There was also the problem that the high ranked fights were more dependent on things aside from weapons skills. They often came to contests of the participants various powers. Those powers were most often derived from their skill and style as fighters but were also too much for Dee to understand and evaluate due to her lack of knowledge and skill.
Currently the arena was the grounds for several battles. The arena was large enough to accommodate more than one battle, and just having one battle at a time would be wasteful. The fighters were using a good mix of weapons and styles. The styles also often lined with the races. Large beings such as Fomorians, Ogryn, saurian and large beastmen often used weapons that emphasized strength, such as two-handed swords and mauls. Quick races like elves and Archon often used dual-wielding and smaller weapons that emphasized speed.
The most interesting and varied were the races that fell in between the two extremes. Shorter races such as dwarves and faeries had to compensate for their shorter reach and often used shields and a style focused on counterattacks. Sarfina mentioned that she herself used this sort of style. Races like humans, smaller beastmen and naga ran the entire gamut of weapons and styles, but often used weapons with long reach such as spears and glaives to oppress their enemies from out of their reach.
Dee watched all of them with rapt attention and had to admit that even the worst fighters here would most likely beat her in a straight up fight. That was the point of assassins though, never to give a straight fight. She wasn’t all that confident even with that imagined advantage though. The might of fighters in the fifth circle was beyond her. That said, none of the styles quite felt right to her, even if they all had their strengths. They just felt a bit off to her.
She realized that her four hands would provide an advantage to her in whatever style she chose. It might be in using a larger weapon with a shield, due to being able to use two hands for a weapon even with a shield. It might also be as a surprise attack, making the other two hands appear only when she struck with a hidden blade.
It was an hour later that she finally felt something click. What caught her attention were two fighters that were both winning all theirs fights. The two were winning and to Dee it seemed rather effortlessly, but they were not drawing much attention. That was because the styles the two used were very subtle and avoided being flashy. Their opponents attacked almost the entire time, seemingly having the upper hand, but every time it seemed like they could do nothing against the two.
It was weird because the duo was so very different from each other. One was a dark haired and handsome Dark Elf that used a blood red pole weapon halfway between a spear and a glaive. The other was a vampire that used a long thin saber with a very slight curve to the blade. Both of them were very fast, but that wasn’t the main thing connecting the two and drawing Dee’s attention. The two seemed to have this weird flow to their movement.
All of their actions smoothly flowed from one to another, and it seemed as if they already knew what would happen long before they took action, and took the most efficient actions to reach their goals. They also seemed to use the most appropriate actions that required the least amount of movement and effort. That’s why they didn’t seem very flashy. Their movements were often very slight and extremely controlled.
It was also beautiful. It seemed as if the two danced with their weapon, leading their opponents on a merry chase, controlling the movements of their opponents by eliminating all the other avenues they could take. They controlled their enemy until that enemy fell into a trap, or the enemy no longer managed to keep up and were struck with an attack that didn’t seem to have any reason to get through their defences. An attack that seemed just like the hundred before that, except somehow the enemy was no longer able to get their defence in place fast enough. It was like their enemy was dancing on the palm of their hands the whole time.
As she watched, Dee felt a shudder go through her. There were so many things that appealed to her in the way the two fought. First was the lack of flair. If she learnt to fight like that, she could defeat her enemies without drawing too much attention, and without showing more of her power than was necessary. Even with her assassin career hopefully over, the need to avoid too much attention was ingrained in her. Besides, if she combined the style those two used with her own skill for a quick and deadly strikes…
What really gave her the shudder of pleasure though, was the thought of toying with her opponent like that. Having her enemy feel confident, then frustrated and then feeling despair before having Dee’s blade slide into their flesh without any way to stop it. The thought of having her enemy dance on the palm of her hand without even knowing it, appealed to her in many ways she didn’t want to admit.
‘I guess I have more of a sadist inside myself than I thought.’ She mused to herself.
The best part was that it complimented her current skills well. She was already focused on speed, and the quick and deadly strikes of her current style would fit the style the duo was using perfectly. She was also a person that liked to be in control, and was very good at reading ahead. The last ability was enhanced by her nature as a psion as well. To top things off, she could read the movement of her enemies by the flow of their power, giving her the ability to predict their actions. The more she thought about, the more that style fit her, and her newfound sadistic streak.
“I found the style I want to learn.” Dee said to Sarfina, without taking her eyes off the two fighters. Every moment and every glance let her learn more. She engraved the fights of those two in her mind. She would study their movements later on, trying to learn as much as possible.
“I know.” Sarfina said simply. She had seen the girl’s disinterest before. That disinterest had suddenly turned into excitement and now there was this weird shine in Dee’s eyes. Sarfina had seen this before, when someone really found a style that was made for them. She wasn’t sure who and what the girl was looking at though. “Tell me which one.”
“The Dark Elf spearman on the third field and the Vampire using a saber on the seventh.” Dee pointed the two out.
‘Spear and a saber?’ Sarfina thought a bit surprised, and looked at the places Dee pointed out. It took her a moment to figure out what Dee was talking about, as the similarity between the two was subtle. Sarfina didn’t reach her position for nothing though, and suddenly realised what Dee was seeing. “I see it now. Control and flow.”
Sarfina gave it some thought. Dee’s choice was very good, and suited the girl and her old skillset well. However, it was not an easy path and would require a lot of effort and experience. To control your opponent and yourself like that required you to know what the opponent was able to do. That meant you had to learn the other weapons and their capabilities as well. At least that would be the case later on.
At first you had to be able to perfectly control your own body and weapon with perfect precision. Then you had to learn the flowing movement that appealed to Dee so much, and allowed you to move from one move to another with such efficiency. After that you had to be able to predict both your own future position and actions. Finally you had to learn to predict and control your opponent’s future position and actions.
It was a long path. It also suited Dee, who was such a quick study and quick mind. You could say she was naturally and perfectly suited for this style. It was not one she would’ve selected for Dee before the girl pointed it out, but now that she had…
“By the way, how do you know that guy is a vampire?” Sarfina asked half distractedly. There were many types of vampires, some more obvious than others. The vampire Dee had pointed out was of the type where his vampirism didn’t show in his appearance.
“You mean you can’t?” Dee asked half surprised. “I simply read the flow of power inside him. All races have different flow of power, and when I have seen one member of that race, I can recognize it thereafter.”
“Wait, what?” Sarfina asked raising her voice. “You mentioned before that you were able to read the movement of your opponent by the flow of their power, but your ability goes this far? I had no idea you could see that deep inside people!”
“Yeah, that’s what I said earlier didn’t I? I even mentioned it when you were making the list of skills I have for Commander Wolfhart.” Dee was getting a bit confused. Didn’t they already go over this?
“Don’t you understand?! This is huge! You are able to tell the race of beings trying to hide their nature. And with a casual glance from your reaction. Didn’t anyone tell you that this is something special?! There’s a million ways this ability could be invaluable! This would make you the perfect scout, spy or a guard. This makes it so much easier to learn the style you just selected.” By the end of her tirade, Sarfina was starting to mumble to herself, imagining all the possibilities.
“Ok, you’re getting weird. I’ve told you like a hundred times that detection is my specialty. Next you’ll tell me you didn’t pay attention when I told you about my ability to read mana either. I also have eyes and ears and I use them. Have you heard about the ability to see? Or the ability to hear? It's where you use those pointy ears of yours and listen to what other people are saying.” Dee’s words were dripping with sarcasm.
Sarfina had to just throw her hands up into the air in frustration. The damnable girl had no idea how important her ability could be! Now that she thought about it, she might have underestimated the girl’s ability to read mana as well. She had assigned the same amount of weight to it as she did to her words about reading the flow of power. Maybe her ability to detect and identify magic was similarly much more important than Sarfina or Commander Wolfhart had realized.
Where had the girl learned these kinds of abilities?