Dee was more than a little apprehensive the next morning as she walked into the back garden and found Sarfina accompanied by Mazatl and two human men. The first one was a rather non-descript dark skinned man that fit the warrior-trainer stereotype in Dee’s mind. His appearance screamed all muscle and pain but no brain. Dee had learned not to trust such first impressions too deeply though. He was clearly a warrior type of some kind though, and Dee assumed that he was here to test her skills in weapons.
The second man left a much deeper impression on Dee. Part of it was because Dee could feel that the man was some type of High Human often seen on various worlds. They tended to be stronger than normal humans and would normally live longer. He seemed to be the man in charge, judging by the deferring looks on the other’s faces, as if they were talking to their boss. The man clearly had some age on him, but not enough to hamper him, and he also showed no clear signs of aging.
“Dee come here!” Sarfina gave a small wave of her hand, inviting Dee over. “Haydee, this is Commander Wolfhart. He is the one in charge of our training facility, as well as the commander of the Radiant Sun forces in this part of Day city. Commander this is Haydee.” She made the introductions.
“Greetings commander.” Dee made a small bow in greeting, wondering at his presence. ‘Why would the leader of this area come and see me get tested?’
“Greetings Haydee.” The commander replied with a small smile. “You’re in for a crummy day, but I hope you won’t mind me observing.” His words were implying that an answer was not needed nor wanted. “This muscle-brain here has a proper name, but we all call him Sarge. You will learn to know his ways when you enter the formal training part as a templar. Today he’s here to run you ragged as we test your current level.” He pointed at the other man beside him, who remained emotionless on the outside.
“Right, we best get started then. This will take a while anyway, so the sooner we start the better.” Sarfina said in a chipper voice. Schadenfreude no doubt.
She took them next to a fairly long track that had been fenced to go through the mansion garden in a relatively circular fashion. The track wasn’t there yesterday. At first look, it looked to be roughly 300 mels long. Sarge took over at this point. “The first test is to run along the track for as long as you can. This is a test of stamina, not speed. Keep a brisk pace, but don’t think you’re in a race.”
Dee tilted her head a bit before raising her hand in question.
“What is it?” Sarge asked.
“We’re going to be running several tests today, right? Wouldn’t it be problematic if I run out of stamina on the first test?” Dee asked in slight confusion.
“That’s why I’m here.” Mazatl interjected. “I’m fairly proficient at spells that can wipe away your fatigue and restore your stamina. That will only affect your physical body of course, so mental fatigue will accumulate. That’s part of the tests.”
“Anything else?” Sarge asked rather sharply.
Dee just shook her head and started running. She was physically fit and her various races contributed to a strong body. You couldn’t be an assassin if you were out of shape. That said, her training had been focused on explosive speed not stamina, and it started showing after a while. At best, assassins were trained for a slightly extended fight followed by an escape, not for a battle. She was fit, but she didn’t have the stamina of a soldier.
‘Do you want me to buff your stamina?’ Croestia asked her mentally as she was starting to huff.
‘Not this time, but thank you. This will determine my future training, and I’d rather it wasn’t based on cheating and was based on my actual condition.’ Dee replied, but did sneakily start to use her ability to ignore pain, to make things easier for herself. She forgot that the pain is there for a reason.
“She’s not bad. For someone her age that is.” Sarge said quietly to Sarfina and Wolfhart.
“Indeed. I expected her to give up several laps ago. Her speed is clearly falling, but not as much as I expected.” Wolfhart replied. “Maybe the assassins focused more on stamina training than we thought.”
“I think it might be just her stubbornness.” Sarfina said half in thought.
“Ah. She’s done.” Mazatl said in a surprised voice, as she suddenly saw Dee collapsing to the ground.
As they walked to her and let Mazatl delve her body, they were slightly surprised. Even as soldiers they rarely saw someone move until they fainted like Dee had. “How is she?” Sarfina asked, not really worried.
“Just totally spent. I’ll recharge her right now.” Mazatl replied in slight amusement.
“Well at least she has willpower.” Sarge grunted. He liked kids who didn’t give up easily. “Wake her up as well, we don’t have the whole day.”
The next few tests were for her footwork, balance, dexterity and hand-eye coordination. These tests were easy to Dee and she did extremely well on them. Those were all abilities and characteristics that had been beaten into her by the assassins, and were in fact on much higher level than was required from even adult fully trained templars and paladins. She was also naturally agile and had perfect control of her body due to her race.
The test of strength on the other hand wasn’t her forte. Although the assassins did train her strength, it was hard to accomplish that much with a child’s body. No amount of training would change the fact that she was young and hadn’t even hit puberty properly yet. Even the advantage of her race and the changes made to her body would only show themselves when she reached adulthood. She was pretty strong for her age, but nothing could change the fact that she was still a child.
“What weapons have you been trained to use?” Sarge asked, as they stood on the grounds selected for their fight tests.
“Well, I got some training in most commonly seen weapons, although anything two handed was too heavy for me. That training was enough that I wouldn’t embarrass myself if I had to use a strange weapon. Mostly the training focused on light and easy to conceal weapons, ranging from thrown weapons and daggers to light swords. Nothing heavier than a saber though. We were also trained in the use of a crossbow, but I don’t think that one really counts. There was of course heavy emphasis in using improvised weapons and unarmed combat, but only enough for a quick kill.” Dee listed off her proficiencies.
It should be noted that her training was a fair bit more extensive as the other kids, due to her quick learning abilities. The others were suitably impressed, Wolfhart even gave a small whistle of appreciation. Usually training in a weapon took years at least. Dee had learned faster because of the brutal training, and because she could apply her earlier lessons for use with new weapons. If you handed her a weapon she had never even seen before, she wouldn’t be great with it, but she wouldn’t start from scratch either as many principles still applied, assuming you had enough skill and mental flexibility.
“Why crossbow and not a bow? Wouldn’t a longbow be more effective as a weapon?” Mazatl asked in slight confusion.
Dee gave a small smile while she explained. “For an assassin, if you have to take a second shot, you’ve already botched the attempt. For one shot only, a crossbow is better and also easier to use. Less training required.”
“Well then, we’ll see if you really have some skill or if that list is an empty boast.” Sarge said grimly. He couldn’t believe Dee would be able to learn to use that many weapons proficiently. Certainly she wouldn’t be able to master them. He was right in that assumption. Dee was hardly a weapons master. The assassins trained the kids in the style most useful for a quick kill.
Without needing prompting Mazatl placed herself within a weird magical formation, and suddenly a grey dome covered the grounds. Everything inside seemed to have muted colors.
“What’s this?” Dee asked.
“This will make it so any damage done to each other within will be canceled after the match ends. You’re still not supposed to hurt each other too badly, since pain works just like normal, but at least neither of you will be killed or crippled if you get too heated.” Sarfina explained from the side.
There was a rack of weapons prepared on the side, and Dee picked several throwing daggers, and a pair of normal daggers. Sarge stepped in with a shield and a longsword. Both of them were preparing for their little bout.
“So isn’t it time to tell me why you’re really here?” Sarfina asked in a quiet voice.
“Can’t I just be interested in a potential new trainee?” Wolfhart asked pretending innocence.
“No you can’t. You’re too busy to spend a day like this when you’re working, and you haven’t taken a day of vacation in five years.” Sarfina shot back.
“Fair enough. The Order has an interest in the kids that we saved, and so far your Haydee shows the most promise of the lot. Mostly because she seems the most stable, although her abilities seem promising too.” Wolfhart said slowly.
“What kind of interest?” Sarfina asked, getting worried.
“Nothing malicious I assure you. The assassins aren’t the only ones that sometimes need the skill to move in the shadows and remain undetected. There are often cases where we would need people who specialize in stealth and protection, two skills that don’t mix well. As a result, we’re short on stock of such individuals. Who better to learn how to protect people from the shadows and recognize possible threats than people who are already trained to take lives while unseen? They’ve been on the other side of the board, so they know the dangers they have to be aware of.” Wolfhart explained.
“I get the feeling that’s not all.” Sarfina said.
The commander was quiet for a while before answering. “We sometimes also have a need to get rid of certain people without being connected to it or going through the rigmarole of upholding justice. We can’t go to the assassins for obvious reasons, so we have some of our own people that handle such cases. It is rare, but it happens. You should already know about the more shadowy side of power.” He was alluding to Sarfina’s family.
There was anger and indignation on Sarfina’s face. “So we save them from the assassins, just to turn them into our own assassins?”
“Oh come now Sarfina, you know better than that. There’s a world of difference between an assassin for hire, and upholding justice in secret. Besides, we don’t force anyone to do it. If she has the skill, she will be given a choice do it or pass on it. You also can’t compare being trained and cared by us to the horrific conditions you found them in. They’re not our slaves, they are our hand in the shadows. Full brothers and sisters of the order. We already do this, and every member is a volunteer with the required skills. Skills that are hard to find I might add. The only question is, will the kids we saved from the assassins grow into that work as well?” Wolfhart said stoically. He knew the realities of this world.
“I know it’s not up to me, but I want to keep her from taking that path. She can still be saved. Even if what they do isn’t the same as Zabaniya, I think she would be destined for darkness if she fell back on that path.” She replied sadly.
“If that is how it happens, then that is how it happens. It depends on her skills and the choices she makes. To tell you the truth, it is harder to find those skilled in stealth and protection, and we might need them even more. If she has the ability…” Wolfhart left the rest unsaid.
Dee looked at her opponent while squatting on the ground. The training of the assassins had a fair chunk of it dedicated to fighting against people with shields. Shields were the bane of assassins if they got into combat. It wasn’t that they didn’t have ways around shields, but that an equally skilled opponent with a shield and focused on defense could drag the fight out. That usually gave time for reinforcements to arrive. As such, they were trained in several quick methods to bypass the shield, but it always remained a problem.
Sarge took a standard stance of standing a bit sideways, while positioning the shield in front of his body, covering his torso and waist. The shield was a medium sized triangular kite shield, so it left his legs open. He positioned his sword behind the shield, so it wasn’t visible to Dee. It was the standard way of fighting with sword and board, as shield was sometimes called, where you first block an attack and then make a counter of your own.
Dee observed his stances while she rose to a standing position. He knew how to use his equipment. This wouldn’t be easy, but then again it would be a surprise if a test like this was easy. She observed how the holy power moved inside his body. She had never fought against or learned to observe a person using holy power, so she was a bit worried.
Her skills were based on being able to read the flow of power in her opponent’s body to anticipate their moves before they even made them. This was a skill she learned from Selvaria and one that was honed in countless fights against the assassins. It was the only thing that allowed her to fight even remotely equally with fully trained assassins that Malik had liked pitting against her. Luckily it seemed the flow of holy power was not all that different to ki, so the same principles probably applied.
‘Time to get to it then.’ Dee though with a slight tinge of resignation.
The shield was incredibly useful in combat, but it did come with certain weaknesses. The first weakness was that the first instinct of anyone using a shield was not to dodge an attack but to block it instead. This was something ingrained and could be hard to control. Dee rushed forward closing the gap between the two, and suddenly threw two rocks she had picked from the ground towards Sarge’s eyes.
As expected, Sarge didn’t even try to avoid the fast moving objects, but raised his shield to block them instead, covering his vision of Dee. Once he heard the rocks impact on the shield, he quickly lowered the shield a bit to regain vision of his enemy, only to not see her. Suddenly he noticed something falling towards him and hastily raised his shield to defend.
Dee had leaped straight into the air while Sarge’s vision was blocked and now kicked with both feet against the raised shield. Shields diffused heavy impacts somewhat, but there were limits. Most of the impact would still travel to the arm you were using to hold up the shield. This wasn’t usually a problem as the user would deflect most of the strength of the attack away, instead of blocking straight on, but Dee didn’t give him an option.
Her weight wasn’t that much, but a full power kick with both feet and full strength while falling was still equal to a strike from a two handed weapon. The impact jarred Sarge’s shield hand, and made him stumble a bit, while Dee dove under the shield and swept his legs from under him. The end result was a dagger placed at his neck, and a prompt surrender.
It has to be said that the biggest reason for her success had been Sarge underestimating her abilities, and not being careful. Normally he wouldn’t have fallen for something that simple. “Again.” He said simply.
Without a word Dee dashed at him again, and once again threw rocks at his eyes. This time though, he wouldn’t fall for the same trap, and moved sideways towards his sword-hand side while blocking, so he could avoid the jump and move aside from any similar strike.
Dee wasn’t stupid enough to repeat what she had just done, and instead moved sideways to Sarge’s shield-hand side, with the shield again blocking the vision of her movement. That was the second weakness of a shield, becoming more prominent the larger a shield was, and would be even worse when wearing a helmet. You lost part of your vision even while not blocking, as the shield could create a blind spot. Dee circled around Sarge who quickly tried to follow but was too late, as the sharp edge of the dagger once again appeared at his throat.
On their third bout, Sarge was prepared to move his head away from any stones, but there were no flying stones this time. As Dee dashed towards him, he tried to bash her with the shield while moving forward, but Dee suddenly stopped and stepped back, causing him to slightly overbalance as he was braced for an impact. Dee used this chance to reveal her other pair of arms, as her two right arms took a hold on the edge of the shield, and prevented it from moving, and stopping Sarge from striking with his sword.
That was the third weakness of a shield. It blocked the path of your attacks, and could be used against you, if the edges of the shield were not sharp. Even with two hands, Dee didn’t have as much strength as Sarge, but she managed to hold the shield long enough to place her dagger at his armpit. As that was the place of a major artery, they both knew he had lost a third time.
Those were the only three times Dee gained victory during their sparring. She was used to fighting people stronger than her, but you could do only so much once the surprise factor wore off. Unsurprisingly she couldn’t gain any advantages once Sarge got used to her tricks. Most of the time Sarge had trouble catching up to her long enough to defeat her, but he did win more than three times, recovering his dignity a bit. Still it was rather shocking for all of them that Dee managed to put up as much of a fight as she had.
“She’s clearly skilled. She doesn’t fight like a templar, but that can be taught. More importantly she’s clever and has an instinct for battle.” Wolfhart commented.
“Yeah, she surprised me too. It’s quite interesting that she managed to keep up with Sarge. I don’t think many of our young templars or paladins can say the same.” Sarfina replied impressed.
“Train her well. Have her draw up a list of other skills and abilities she might possess. It’s already getting late, and she doesn’t have the focus to think of everything now. It’s better if she does it tomorrow.” Wolfhart ordered.
“I’ll see to it.” Sarfina replied simply.