Sarfina gave in with another sigh. “We can go to the restaurant, but I still need to handle some official business before we can leave. Let’s see if we can find Mazatl to keep you company in the meantime. Unless you’d prefer to sit around waiting for few hours?”
Dee simply answered with a pointed look that made the message clear. Translation: “You’re not really dumb enough to ask that, right?”
“Yeah, I thought as much. I think we’ll find her at the temple.” Sarfina said and started walking towards the biggest building within the complex.
The temple itself was rather grandiose. It was surrounded by a fair bit of greenery, and the building was divided into two parts, connected by a long covered walkway. One half of the temple was a wide and tall grey stone structure that could be described as a cathedral. There were several tall towers, and the walls were dotted by several arched stained glass windows. The other half was an open circular structure made of white marble with several floors.
The sight confused Dee a bit until they got closer. Once she got a better look, she realized that it wasn’t actually a weird temple divided in two, but was actually a combination of three separate temples. The walkway ran through a large garden with several statues and shrines dedicated to various deities, so the garden itself was also a temple of sorts.
“Why three temples?” Dee asked a little confused.
“Two main reasons. First of all, the Holy Orders serve so many deities that they don’t fit under one roof. I don’t mean just space-wise, I mean some of the deities literally hate each other, so separating their shrines is somewhat mandatory. Beyond that, servants of certain deities prefer different types of shrines and temples. It would be a bit odd to fit some of the more outdoorsy deities like gods of nature indoors.” Sarfina replied.
“They’re serving so many deities that they don’t fit in one temple?” Dee had never realized there were so many deities out there.
Sarfina suddenly exploded in laughter. “You think this is much? We only have some of the most commonly worshipped deities’ shrines here and don’t even have any of the dark gods represented. There are several more temples nearby. You should see the grand temple complex of the Holy Orders. They have over a thousand temples all much bigger than these. Some of the biggest are larger than this entire training facility.”
“Eh? How many deities are there?” Dee asked stunned.
“Nobody knows. Every time one of us makes a connection with a new deity, a new shrine is built. As far as I can guess, there are new deities born every now and then, while some of the old ones fade away due to lack of worshippers. Makes counting a bit challenging.” Sarfina replied with a smile and a small shake of her head.
“No offense, but that seems rather silly.” Dee replied after thinking about it for a moment.
“It is what it is.” Sarfina replied simply. They had no control over such matters.
Sarfina seemed to know exactly where she was going, so Dee was content to follow along while looking around at the various shrines. They entered the large cathedral, and she could see several places of worship ranging from small shrines to large altars. Many were situated in the large main room, while others were within small alcoves or side rooms on the tucked behind doors. Almost all of them had one thing in common though. They all either had a statue or a symbol that represented the deity worshipped at that shrine. For some reason the size of these statues and symbols varied wildly, from a small palm sized statue to the grand symbol of a stylized golden sun held aloft by an even bigger giant statue of a beautiful woman displayed at the most prominent place within the temple.
“Why are the altars and statues so different in size?” Dee asked while staring at the large statue holding the sun. The woman’s features were beautiful, but it was impossible to ascribe a race to the deity as she was mostly covered in a hooded robe.
The answer came from Mazatl who stepped in through a door leading to another one of those alcoves. “The sizes represent the power and ranking of the deities. Just for the record, that isn’t something decided by us. The symbols and statues change shape and size according to the power of the deities themselves. Only thing we can do is move them were they fit.”
“Heya Mazatl. Mind looking after Dee for a while? I need to handle the paperwork for her living arrangements and enrollment. It would be a waste to have her watch me struggle with that, when she could be doing something useful like driving you insane with questions.” Sarfina greeted her friend.
“Sure, I don’t mind. We can have another lesson and tour the temples while you waste your time. Are you sure you don’t want her help though? I know paperwork isn’t your forte.” Mazatl jibed back with a friendly barb.
“That reminds me, how’s her skill with math, reading and writing? I never thought to ask, I just assumed it was something you would handle.” Sarfina suddenly realized.
“Thanks dear for leaving the raising of our child completely to me.” Mazatl replied sarcastically. “Don’t worry. I’m pretty sure she’s better at all of the basic subjects than you. All she lacks is basic information and someone to answer some questions. You forget that she’s a psion. Something like math is a child’s play for her. It took me a week to teach her things that takes other people years to learn.” Their lessons had included more than information on Pantheon, and Dee had known how to read before getting captured by the Zabaniya.
“Ok, now that the two of you are done talking about me as if I’m not here, Sarfina you can do what you need to do. I’m sure Mazatl can keep me busy, and we really should get to more important things, like food.” Dee said a little disgruntled for being ignored.
Sarfina left laughing at Dee’s gluttony. As she walked away, Mazatl turned to Dee with a curious look. “I get the feeling you have something to talk to me about that you don’t want her to hear.”
“You’re sharper than you should be sometimes.” Dee grunted a bit. “Before that though, which deity is that really big statue for? It’s so much bigger than the others that it got me curious.” She pointed at the giant statue she had been looking at earlier.
“Ah, that’s the shrine of Lumen the Goddess of Light. She’s among the top ten most powerful deities, and almost every temple not dedicated to the dark gods has her shrine. This is despite the fact that almost none of our clergy has her blessing aside from a minor one. She’s very picky with her servants, though she’s still one of the strongest and most influential deities. I assume most of her power comes from the fact that she is at least thought to be the goddess that created the angels. The angels also worship her almost exclusively.” Mazatl explained carefully, as she knew of Dee’s demonic heritage.
“Oh.” Dee replied simply in a dark voice.
“I should point out that Lumen most likely had nothing to do with the purge. That’s more within the territory of the God of Order, the only other deity worshipped by the angels. Though I say that, he might not have anything to do with it either. Angels are quite capable of making their own mistakes.” Mazatl tried to deflect some of the dark emotions Dee might have.
Dee was slightly lost in thought as she stared at the statue of Lumen. Whether or not the goddess had any part in the purge might turn out irrelevant. If Dee ever got strong enough to take revenge on the angels to at least some degree, it was likely that the goddess would become her enemy. She was seriously considering whether she could sneak into the temple one night to do something to the statue, but finally gave up on the thought. Mazatl might be right about the goddess’ involvement with the purge, and Dee certainly didn’t have the strength to make an enemy like that at the moment.
Something both Sarfina and Mazatl had said suddenly tugged at her thoughts. “You said something about a temple dedicated to the dark gods?”
“Yes. As there are temples dedicated to deities that are considered to represent the light side of things, there are also temples dedicated to deities that represent dark and chaos. Those are much more common in the city of Night, while the temples of light are more common in the city of Day.” Mazatl had a thoughtful expression for a while. She wasn’t sure how to best express her next thoughts.
“Many people confuse deities associated with light and order with good and the dark goods with evil. The world isn’t so black and white though. You should have realized that already, considering your background. People see what they want to see and what’s convenient.”
Dee gave the saurian a long look. “Am I correct in assuming that the deity you serve is one of the gods of light?” Mazatl had come out of one of the alcoves, and this was a temple of the light gods. There could be other reasons for a priestess to be there, but this was the most obvious reason, especially considering Sarfina had known where to look for the saurian.
“Not really no. I serve Samjir the God of Knowledge. He’s strenuously associated with the light deities, but mostly his shrine is here because the other temple is full.” Mazatl gave a small throaty chuckle. “There are a lot more neutral deities, but the light gods like to have grand surroundings for their shrines, so it would be bad if their temple was smaller. Since Samjir is lightly associated with the light gods, his shrine was moved here due to lack of space in the other temple.”
Dee couldn’t help but laugh at such mundane reason. “The God of Knowledge, eh? From what I’ve seen so far, that suits you.”
“I’ll take that as a compliment, thank you. Samjir is a middle ranked deity liked by most, so I’m fairly fortunate in that regard. Even the dark gods rarely have bad feelings towards him. Things like that often carry over to the servants of the deities and they sometimes clash. And yes before you ask, the blessing I got does help with my memory.” Mazatl added before Dee could ask, as she could see the question forming.
“Speaking of knowledge, I’m going to have to once again draw on yours to supplement my own.” Dee said finally approaching the real point.
“I thought as much. Ask away, I am your tutor after all.” Mazatl replied returning to her teacher mode.
“I have two questions actually. I know Sarfina is set on training me as a templar, and I don’t mind. That said, it’s become fairly obvious that I’ll need a mentor for my psionic abilities, but I have no idea where to look for one. I should add that while I’m not in a hurry to find one, I won’t settle for a mediocre teacher in a matter as important as this.” Dee kept her voice casual, as if the subject wasn’t that important to her.
“Well that’s a tough one. We can probably agree that the Illithid freelancer we met earlier is unsuitable for several reasons. Psions are really rare and most of them are too busy to take students. There’s fair bit of demand for the talents of a skilled psion. It’s even rarer to find someone willing to teach, and who is also skilled enough to meet the standards you seem to have.” Mazatl looked thoughtful for a while.
“I don’t know of anyone who would fit the bill, but I do know of a way to find one. There’s a group much like the Holy Orders and Radiant Sun. They are called Threads of Fate. They are a fairly mysterious bunch, but they can solve almost any problem of this sort. However, the problem is getting their help. They don’t lend their aid for free or without a good reason. Getting their aid for a matter this complex might be difficult.”
“Well that’s a starting point at least. Like I said, I’m not in too much of a hurry, since Sarfina will most likely keep me busy for a while.” Dee replied with a shrug. At least she had a plan now.
“You had another question?” Mazatl prompted. If the first question was like that, then what would the other one be like?
“This is a bit more personal. As you know, I’ll be living with Sarfina for a while. It didn’t take me long to figure out there’s something going on with her family. I’d appreciate it if you could tell me anything you can about them, so I can avoid certain sensitive areas.” Dee tried to appeal in a way that it seemed to be in Sarfina’s best interest as well.
“Well, even I’m not sure on all the details, but I can tell you about some of the things I’ve heard. Since this is not exactly private, I’m sure Sarfina wouldn’t mind.” Mazatl convinced herself. She was after all someone who enjoyed gossip, as according to her gossip was another source of knowledge. Not always reliable, but useful nonetheless.
“Sarfina’s family has an important position among one of the largest empires in Pantheon, which resides in the great forest in the seventh circle on the east side of Day city. They’re not quite royalty from what I heard, but the next best thing. They’re pretty big believers in the superiority of the elven race.” Mazatl explained ordering the information in her head.
“Oh I noted that. The servants at the house don’t seem to be too fond of me. I wasn’t sure if it was my race or what, but this clears it up a bit.” Dee pointed out.
“Ah yes, I’m sure they won’t make things easy for you. They’ve all been trained since childhood by the House Arazana, so the sense of superiority is pretty deep-rooted in them.” Mazatl took another look at Dee.
“That said, I think that’s partially because you look like a demi-human beastman with mixed blood. If they knew about the actual races in your background, they might be more receptive. Rakshasa Rani and kitsune are both rather high ranking races. Didn’t you also have werewolf blood in you? They are also rather highly regarded. The servants might not look down on you quite as much if they found out about that. They wouldn’t treat you warmly but…”
“I think I’ll have to deal with them another way. Anything else you can tell me? I got the sense that her brother is a touchy subject.” Dee replied. So far she hadn’t heard anything really new.
“Well, this is much more speculative. Did she already mention that her brother Lothar is the Grandmaster of the Radiant Sun? He also has one of the Authorities I taught you about. He’s much older than Sarfina, and someone who excels in most everything. I’m fairly sure Sarfina often heard praise of him as a child, and was constantly compared to him. Unfavorably I would assume. I think that is one of the factors that have made her so driven. She got a nickname as the iron lady, because she rarely does anything outside work and training. I guess you’re something like an excuse to take a break from all that. No offense.” Mazatl finished a little apologetically.
“None taken. We all have our reasons. If she gets something out of the deal, then all the better. I suppose growing up in the shadow of your sibling can be trying. Not that I have much experience.” Dee said thoughtfully. “Thanks Mazatl, this will make things easier.”
“No problem. As much as I joked about it earlier, I do kind of feel responsible for you as well. Unlike Sarfina, I don’t just see your admittedly horrendously sad past, but I can also see a potentially bright future. I’d like to see that come into reality.” She gave a small grin. “Not without my own selfish reasons mind you. I expect you to repay things when you grow up.”
“Yeah, yeah, I’m sure you’ll extract some nefarious price from me in the future.” Dee joked back.
“Be a little careful when talking to Fimul. His smithy makes most of the weapons the templars in this area use. He can be either your biggest benefactor or one of your worst enemies. By now he is rich enough that he can choose his customers and charge whatever he wants. He’s also one of the most stubborn bastards I’ve ever met and carries a mean grudge, which is not uncommon for dwarves.” Sarfina warned Dee as the two walked towards a large smithy.
Just from the outside one could see that the smithy held several furnaces, and the telltale clanging let everyone know that several smiths were working inside at the same time. The two entered the storefront of the smithy, and were greeted by rows upon rows of equipment of various level and quality. Dee could see that the quality of the work shifted quite a bit according to who had made the items. From the looks of it, most of the readymade stuff was the handiwork of apprentices, while the real masters would custom make their work to suit the customer.
Being able to judge weapons and equipment at a glance was one of the skills taught to Dee by Zabaniya. The quality of one’s weapons and equipment was crucial for an assassin, and perhaps even more important was the ability to make a quick judgment of your enemies and target. Detection and observation had always been one of Dee’s fortes so she quickly became a master at judging equipment. Well quickly may have been a relative term among Zabaniya, since she still earned several beatings for making mistakes before learning.
“Fimul!” Sarfina greeted with a wide smile. Fimul was one of her friends after all.
“Faylen! What brings you here? Still playing at warrior? I still think all that armor is too heavy for a slip of a girl like you!” Fimul returned the greeting with a wide grin of his own.
The dwarf sported a bright red hair and a braided beard of similar color. Surprisingly he was wearing a symbol of a deity often used by clerics around his neck. In a typical dwarven fashion, he wasn’t what one might call very tall and he was also wearing the typical leather apron used by smiths over his clothes.
“Hah, did you finally grow too old to hold a smithing hammer? You really should stick to tending the storefront at your advanced age.” Sarfina fired back.
“One needs to take a break every now and then. Plus, this gives me the chance to tease overly serious elves like yourself. I repeat, what brings you here?” The dwarf replied in good humor. It was clear that he wasn’t that old. By dwarven standards he was actually rather middle aged.
“Fimul, I’d like you to meet Haydee, or as we call her Dee. Dee this is Fimul Stormgranite. If you want to have a proper weapon made, he’s your man.” Sarfina made the instructions.
“Mister Stormgranite, it’s a pleasure to meet you.” Dee made a small polite bow as a greeting.
“My, a polite one aren’t you? Just call me Fimul.” He eyed Dee up and down with curiosity.
“Fimul it is then, you can call me Dee.” She returned the pleasantries.
“So what’s this about Faylen? I can pretty much see she isn’t your daughter. So going by that, Dee here needs something made, and you brought her here.” Fimul still kept judging Dee with his eyes.
He noticed the calmness and bearing of Dee. She moved in a way that suggested extensive training, as her every movement had the grace and smooth flow only seen in dancers and those that dealt death for a living. The girl’s eyes made it clear that it was the latter. She also had perfect balance at all times, ready to answer to all surprises. Her eyes also scanned every nook and cranny for possible dangers and something else he couldn’t quite determine yet.
“Indeed. I need a set of throwing knives made. And I’d prefer not to use the ones you have on display.” Dee took over the conversation.
Fimul grinned eagerly. “Well then, I think it’s time for a little test.”
“Fimul!” Sarfina said in a warning tone. “She’s only about ten. Isn’t it a bit too early for one of your tests?”
“Faylen, be a good girl and stay out of this. If she’s old enough to judge quality, then she is old enough to be able to use the items to a degree where the quality matters. I won’t have one of my masterpieces in the hands of someone who can’t appreciate them.” Fimul retorted without looking at Sarfina.
He waved for them to follow. They walked through the store and beside the smithy to a backyard. There were several target dummies and archery targets set around the place. They were clearly meant for testing the products or, as was the case now, the customers. While they had been walking Fimul had given several signals to the others working in the smithy. Several grinning dwarves came out from the doors to the smithy. Apparently this was something that happened often, as everyone knew exactly what was going on. It also seemed to be great entertainment for them.
Some of the dwarves brought out a wide assortment of throwing knives of various qualities, shapes and sizes. They were placed on trays around a marked spot a fair distance from a wide array of target dummies. Some were fairly close, some very far, some were heavily armored from head to toes, while others were completely bare.
“I assume you can guess somewhat what happens next?” Fimul asked, still grinning widely.
“I’m guessing these throwing daggers will be in those targets very soon, and I’m the one who will put them there.” Dee said a little sarcastically.
The dwarves gave a small laugh. They appreciated the girl’s moxie. “Half right. Putting weapons into targets isn’t all that difficult. In addition, I want you to give me a proper judgement of every weapon you use. You’re free to target any of the dummies you feel appropriate for each weapon, just be aware that your performance will be judged by your accuracy, your assessment and your target selection.”
“I see.” Dee sucked in her lips a bit while in thought. Throwing identical daggers accurately was easy once you familiarized yourself with them. However, it was quite different to use a wide array of daggers that varied wildly from each other. Judging by the quality of some weapons, they were clearly not even meant to be thrown at the hardest targets. “Well then. I best get to it.”
She picked up the first dagger, gave it a small flourish to judge the balance and distribution of weight, and then threw a lightning fast throw straight into the ‘eye’ of one of the mid distance targets without a helmet. “That one has a shitty balance and it’s too heavy towards the handle. You have to throw it with a controlled spin, because it won’t fly straight. Hitting the further targets would be hopeless.”
There were a lot of raised eyebrows among the watching dwarves. They had not expected Dee to aim that far, and certainly not to hit the eye. Dee continued to meticulously throw and judge the daggers. Too light, too heavy, too wide to pierce through gaps in armor, not sharp enough to kill after penetrating leather or clothes, bad materials and so on. She judged each dagger to be defective in different ways, yet she always unerringly hit her target and always aimed at as far and as heavily armored targets as possible.
“I see she’s been trained as an assassin. I heard a rumor about you guys saving some kids from Zabaniya. I’m assuming she’s one of them.” Fimul wasn’t really asking, just making an observation.
Sarfina didn’t bother answering. She knew that the test was about more than just your ability to judge and use the weapons. Just as important was the way you judged them. Different people valued different qualities. The test was also to find out what qualities Dee found most important, so that if Fimul did create custom made for her, he would know what qualities were most important for her. There were no perfect throwing daggers, only perfect daggers for a certain purposes.
It was also very clear Dee judged and used the daggers as an assassin would. It was something that Dee didn’t even know she was doing as it was something that came instinctually. It was something that had been trained and beaten into her for years. She always aimed to hit places that would kill the target like through the eyes to the brain, the heart, the throat and so on. She also valued daggers that were easy to conceal and carry, so lightweight and small. She valued weapons that were easy to use against armored enemies, something that could be thrown at the gaps in heavy armor, or through light armor.
“She’s very good. Both with the weapons and judging them.” Fimul finally said after most of the daggers were gone. “She’s better at judging them than my apprentices, maybe even better than some of the masters. You were worried for nothing.”
“So it would seem.” Sarfina had known Dee would have some skill with weapons, otherwise she wouldn’t have survived that long among the assassins, but this surprised her as well.
Both of them paid more attention as Dee suddenly stopped. “What material is this made of? I can’t recognize it.” Dee was finally forced to ask. She was holding a very small dagger barely longer than her palm. The blade was as thin as paper, yet the whole dagger felt fair bit heavier than something this small should. It was made of some weird dark blue, almost black metal.
“Well, seeing as this is a test for your ability to judge them, it’s a bit weird for you to ask. Why are you asking?” Fimul returned a question with a sudden twinkle in his eyes. He was happy that Dee had enough skill to pay more attention to this particular dagger, as it was by far the best amongst the whole lot.
“Because it would be hard to judge its ability to stop blows without actually testing it in combat. The blade seems too flimsy to stop a blow even from a standard longsword, which would be a problem if someone closed on me. Yet, somehow I get the feeling that impression is very wrong.” Dee replied. It would be optimal if she didn’t have to use throwing daggers to block or deflect a blow, but that was sometimes unavoidable.
“Good you can stop. I’ve seen enough.” Fimul declared with his smile widening. Some of the other dwarves looked grumpy, while others looked pleased, as money changed hands. Apparently they had been making bets.
Dee flashed a satisfied grin and threw the dagger through a gap in the visor of the furthest target wearing a full helmet.