LOTF Chapter 2

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Chapter 2


A very proper looking gentleman was standing before a pair of ornamental doors. He spent a moment to gather his thoughts and wits, while combing his hand through his dark hair before announcing his presence with a soft knock. There was no answer but the door opened by itself, letting the man inside. The room was decorated with a lot of expensive and unique art, while most of the floors were covered in pillows used for sitting. Most of the furniture was intricately carved noble wood. After verifying the position of the master of the room, he went on one knee, with his eyes closed, waiting for his master to acknowledge his presence.

After few minutes his master’s deep voice could be heard. “Rise Asahim, and state your business.”

Asahim rose and took a look at his master Hassan-i-Sabbah. Master was playing a game of Qadesh, while on the other side of the game board was an opponent that could only be described as an indistinct gathering of air. Asahim wasn’t sure if the opponent was an air elemental, or if the opponent was simply using magic to keep his identity a secret. The latter one would be a useless effort against the master’s skill of course. Master was just about to take his turn and Asahim didn’t want to interrupt, but he couldn’t delay either.

“Master, Lord Malik has sent word. He has found someone that matches your specifications.” Asahim said in a quiet voice.

Asahim was shocked to see his master’s hand freeze in the air for a moment, giving an almost imperceptible shudder that could’ve been from excitement. Master finished placing his piece on the board, and gave a small wave with his hand, dismissing the indistinct form of his opponent. This again shocked Asahim. The news was important enough to make master interrupt his game?

“Have you confirmed this?” Master asked now looking straight at Asahim.

“To the best of my ability.” He replied, which caused a raised eye-brow from master, prompting him to continue.

“The specifications mentioned by master are all present, but there are…discrepancies.” He hurried to explain.

“Elaborate.” Master said simply.

“The individual in question is less than five years old, exceeding the boundaries set by master. She is a psion as specified and has high level regenerative abilities just as specified, due to her heritage as a Beowulf.” Asahim started listing things off.

“A Beowulf? Excellent, that will fit our purposes perfectly. Their regenerative abilities are among the best, losing only to trolls and elementals that have access to concentrated mass of their own element to repair themselves. The specific type of regeneration also makes the individual in question easier to work on. You mentioned discrepancies?” The master asked, prompting Asahim to continue.

“Indeed, this is where it gets a little weird. Despite being so young, the child seems to already have psionic power matching a class 2 psion. Someone has definitely trained her foundations well, as she seems to be able to regenerate her pool of power in a matter of hours, which makes her rank only barely below master on that front. Her heritage beyond being a Beowulf is unclear and I was unable to fully figure it out. Her base race seems to be a mix formed mostly of a Rakshasa Rani while she also has a strong influence of a kitsune. There also seem to be other things mixed in that are still dormant.” Asahim explained, his voice betraying some uncertainty.

Master Sabbah thought for a while, obviously trying to consider all possibilities. “So. We have found a project that someone else has already started. The training suggests a good master, who might or might not be looking for her. Luckily the one responsible for creating her is most likely not going to come looking after her.”

“Master?” Asahim inquired with slight confusion.

“The combination of races suggests a demonic origin, as all the races mentioned so far are ones that are counted among the demonic races. I think we have stumbled upon one of the abandoned projects of the now destroyed thirteen hells. The timing fits relatively well too. I think the purge might have set her loose, and her master picked her up somewhere and brought her here to keep her out of the hands of Paradisia. How they got separated again is a mystery, but I don’t think it will cause us problems. I assume Malik made sure no one knows that we have her?” The master asked an obvious question, and didn’t really expect an answer. Lord Malik was one of the smarter underlings they had.

The master continued. “Have Malik watch over her, and work as her handler. We’ll start working on her immediately. This might work even better than I had hoped for. Not only does she meet my specifications, she exceeds them and most likely by a lot.”

Asahim had rarely seen his master smile like this. The only times he’d seen that smile before was when one of masters enemies fell under his blade. “Master, can I ask a question?”

“With news like this, how could I not share some of the happiness? Speak.” The master replied almost jovially.

“Why someone like her?” The Zabaniya were the most notorious and effective group of assassins in the entirety of Pantheon. They often trained and used child assassins, but master’s desire to find someone like the specimen they had now found went beyond that. He wasn’t interested in normal child operatives since their effectiveness was limited, but had spent a lot of time both searching and preparing for a specimen like this.

“I assume I don’t need to explain the psion part?” Master asked a little rhetorically.

“I can think of two obvious reasons. Firstly their ability to avoid detection and secondly their improved intelligence.” Asahim answered immediately.

“As usual, you are half correct but also half wrong. Not that I’m too surprised since the amount of proper psions is so small, so your mistake is understandable. Psions are great for avoiding detection, but that’s only part of it. What makes their powers so useful is their versatility. They can have the close combat prowess of warriors and can rain death from afar well enough to rival mages. Of course such versatility has its limits. Mages for example are able to do much more than just throw bigger and bigger fireballs. Mages can create things than can last for millennia, while you will not see a psion do anything like that. Of course, the psions have their own advantages, but I digress.

As for improved intelligence you’re not wrong but you’re missing something. The mind of a psion works faster than others and they have a better memory, but that’s only as useful as the person using that ability. That doesn’t mean they can make the right decisions. That is something that comes with experience, age and instinct. What makes them useful is their ability to learn quickly. It might take you years to absorb the necessary knowledge to make good decision, while it would take days or weeks for them.

But you’re not entirely wrong either. Their versatile toolkits and quick minds are what make them dangerous in our line of work, when combined with their ability avoid most detection. How about the part about regenerative abilities? Have you figured that part out yet?” Master asked, ending his little lecture. He could get a little heated at times something caught his attention. On the plus side, this also drove him into perfecting whatever caught his eye.

Asahim gave a small but nasty smile. “I’m guessing were going to rebuild her.”

“Almost right. We aren’t going to just rebuild her; we’re going to upgrade her. We’re going to forge her into our little masterpiece. We’re going to take up the work someone has already started and improve upon it, forging her into a blade we can point at enemies that we normally couldn’t touch. I am too obvious of a blade myself, so instead we’re going to forge a hidden weapon that we can pull out when necessary, and deny even having afterwards. And of course we wanted a child so we can start the forging process early.” Master replied.

Asahim was already considering all the plans he had seen master make, and could already see the direction this was going. His smile widened a little. He did not envy the future that little child had waiting for her.

———-

Haydee watched from her cell as another kid was taken out to be disposed of. This one was clearly still alive, but as often happened here, the child had given up. The child’s vacant eyes stared unfocused at the walls. It was clear that there was nothing going on behind those eyes anymore. Judging by the appearance, this one was a male human, but sometimes it was hard to tell in this place. It was often more dangerous to be female in this place, so some changed their looks and behavior to appear male.

On rare occasion there was a master or a guard that took a fancy to kids. It was not very common but it happened. It was hard to avoid completely in a facility like this, which was filled with children of various races in training. The place was also filled with people of dubious moral character. Girls were in more danger than boys, but not by much. There were sickos who diddled both boys and girls, as well as those who simply preferred boys. None of those types lasted very long though.

Oh, the other guards and masters wouldn’t do anything; they knew they didn’t have to. When you train children in the arts of dealing death, diddling them was bound to end badly sooner or later. That lead to the second way kids broke in this place. Someone pushed them too far and snap! A burst of rage ending in bloodshed. Even the strongest masters were vulnerable in situations like that, and the kids were taught to play dirty.

Interestingly, the masters and guards didn’t even punish the kids that managed to kill such people, provided that those kids didn’t go on a rampage afterwards. Dee’s theory on the thoughts of the other masters was that if a master got sloppy enough to be killed by one of the kids, then that master deserved to die and the other masters would simply enjoy it. It resulted in an instant promotion to everyone below that person and one potential threat gone for everyone above him.

In general the masters didn’t punish you for killing their own. This was a school for assassins after all and killing one of the masters showed your ability. They did however punish you for getting caught, mostly because that result would be the same on real jobs as well. Simply killing your target was not enough, it was perhaps even more important to get away without being discovered. Of course, all that didn’t do much for the kids that the bastard had diddled before one finally snapped.

Dee considered herself lucky in that respect. Masters and guards into kids were rare enough, but someone who was into females and whatever furry being Dee was supposed to be, at the same time? That’s like finding a needle in a very nasty pile of scum. There had been one that had tried to approach Dee, but that person changed his mind very fast after she showed a snout full of very sharp teeth and hands with claws that would make birds of prey jealous, as well as the willingness to use them.

That master had lasted only a week in this place. Apparently he had wide tastes, but wasn’t very good at discerning his targets. The kids weren’t the only ones that had a high death toll in this place. Only the strong would surface from this nest of vipers and became proper members of the assassin order. Even the masters of this place were considered to be acolytes. Good enough to teach and do missions in the lesser circles, but not good enough to deserve a full place in the order.

Despite her luck with the scum of this place, Dee’s luck was not as strong in other places. She had been in this hellhole for about five years now, and most of that time was spent in excruciating pain. The odd part was that none of the other kids went through quite the same treatment, though Dee knew the reason for that. At least one of the reasons. Unlike her, the others didn’t have her regenerative abilities. Still, someone really seemed to have a bone to pick with her.

The training was the easy part. She was already skilled with chemicals thanks to observing mother for so long, which mostly excused her from lessons involving alchemy, although she still learned some things. Unsurprisingly the alchemy lessons focused on poisons. She also knew better ways of cultivating her power, although her insistence on building her strength slowly and steadily earned her several beatings and even floggings. She was also skilled in stealth and camouflage. Surprisingly the masters didn’t have too many complaints on that department, mostly just being content at teaching some little tricks to blend in and to avoid certain mistakes that usually required experience to weed out.

The hardest part of the training, and what most often left her bruised and bleeding, was the weapons training and unarmed combat training. It wasn’t that she wasn’t a quick study, she could beat most of the masters at this point actually, it was that whenever she reached a level that they required of her, they raised the stakes and made things even harder. “Oh you can beat a master in unarmed combat? Well now you get to fight two, and still return bloody. Oh you can beat two with daggers? Well congratulations, now you get to fight four unarmed.” and so on. She had once considered not doing her best since she wound up beaten black and blue anyway, but the look on the master’s face had made it obvious that the result would be even worse.

The masters were big believers in beating the lessons into their students. They showed how to do something and then forced you to use it in a real combat situation. If you didn’t learn that parry or that method of deflecting with that precise angle immediately, you got hit by an attack that could have been parried or deflected with the move shown before. And then you got hit again, and again, and again. You either learned, or you got carried back to your bunk beaten black and blue. Or you did learn and got beaten anyway for being too slow.

Most kids couldn’t handle it and became apathetic like the kid that got carried away just now. Then they got discarded. It had occurred to Dee to also give up and just lie down and die, but that just wasn’t in her nature. Eventually there would be an opportunity to get out of all this. Also the beatings didn’t so much make her despair as they made her angry and vengeful. And she did get some small measure of revenge against some of the masters on occasion, when they underestimated her. She had killed her fair share of the masters, disguising them as training accidents.

Dee learned fast, but unlike the others, it wasn’t enough that she learned the move. She also had to be able to adapt the move into different situations, and come up with variations by herself to defend against new attacks. That was too much for her as well. But she did learn eventually, and next time she needed the extra variations, she had already figured them out while regenerating. Or she got pummeled again. Both happened just as often, but every time she did eventually get there, and she never made the same mistake twice. The masters may have been brutal but they were very effective.

The combat training wasn’t the worst part though. All the children got beaten bloody, although her case was even more intense. What made things really hard was the part that was reserved just for her alone. It seemed the scientists and researchers had set their eyes on Dee in particular. Almost immediately after she had been brought here, they had started making changes to her body, both surgically and magically or often at the same time. That wasn’t the bad part. Even Dee could tell that the changes were generally positive, although the exact extent of the changes was still a mystery to her. No, the problem was that she had to be awake and conscious during the process.

The reason they operated on her specifically, was because healing magic would return things back to how they were before, removing most of the work done by the researchers. The explanation for that was that you couldn’t really aim healing magic precisely enough, unless the healer was a real expert beyond the rejects found here. If healing magic was capable of fixing the person, it was usually a sort of an all or nothing deal. So if someone were to cut you open and carve magical runes on your ribs, the symbols would be considered an anomaly and be healed as well. Regeneration of her Beowulf heritage worked similar, except it was even more aggressive. However, it could be controlled to an extent. The only way to do that was when one consciously suppressed that portion of the regeneration, and you had to be fully aware and awake to do that.

After the first time an operation had failed, the man leading the whole effort, a guy the others called Lord Malik, had told Dee that they would simply repeat the process until it worked, so she better get it under control unless she wanted it to continue forever. The thought of going through such pain without anything to alleviate it was too much for Dee, and she had almost given up, driven insane by the pain. Even now the question of her sanity was open to some interpretation. She thought she was relatively sane, but then again so did every other person who lost their sanity, right?

Luckily, during the second operation she stumbled on a solution. Psions had the ability to separate their conscious mind from their bodies, leaving only the animal part behind. She didn’t really feel the pain, she was simply aware of it. It was like she only kept a toe of her consciousness within her body while the rest of her observed from the outside. The animal part of her still screamed and attempted to trash out of the restraints, but that was partially an act. She needed some of the pain to trigger the transformation to her werewolf form and thus boost her regeneration, because she couldn’t control the transformation herself. Thus she had to feel at least a small portion of the pain.

She also had to suffer a little of it because that was required to control the regeneration in order to avoid undoing the work the researchers and scientists did. The order was also big on causing pain to their acolytes. According to them, the acolytes had to learn to ignore all pain in case they were ever captured and interrogated. So the animal part of her screamed to keep up the act even if her conscious mind calmly observed the process On the plus side, that saved her from the training against interrogations since they were already causing her more pain than any interrogator would.

The operations went on for about four and a half years, though there were some significant stretches of time between operations as they let the previous changes settle in while they planned for the next one. It had become obvious to Dee that whoever was planning these operations was playing the long game. They exchanged immediate gains for the good of the long term result, as most of the changes were things that would only show their full effect with time, instead of a boost of power right now.

While the body of a psion could not gather mana or ki, that didn’t mean it couldn’t utilize either. Most of the bones in her body were now decorated with elaborate magical runes that absorbed minute traces of power from the surroundings and used it to strengthen those bones. The important words were minute amounts and used. If the power gathered was too much, then that gathering of power would make her ability to avoid spells that detect mana and magic useless.

For the same reason the power was used right away to strengthen her, instead of storing it. Stored mana could be detected, but bones that had been reinforced with the help of mana could not because they weren’t actually magical. They were still just bones, even if in time they would grow in sturdiness to rival dragons. In a similar fashion, those same runes gathered ki and used that to reinforce her organs and muscles.

An added benefit was that because her body stored neither of those energies, she could use her psionic powers to strengthen herself normally, as any psion could. That was one of the only abilities she had learned as a psion. This added effect was mostly thanks to the powers being complementary instead of trying to do the same thing. The changes made by the operations rebuilt her, while her psionic power empowered her. At least that was the theory. She might have a powerful body in a dozen to a hundred years, but for now she wasn’t that different from the other children.

The one operation she hated the most was the one done to improve her fur and skin. The bastards pretending to be scientists mixed the blood of various beings that had fur strong enough to rival darksteel and had her submerge in the combined fluid. One of the mages among them would use magic to make sure she wouldn’t drown in the liquid as she screamed. As for the reason for the screaming, to get the best effect out of the liquid, it had to be heated to a point of boiling.

The mess was also quite stunning afterwards as she flailed in desperation. It took Dee days to get all the blood out of her fur, despite the fact that one of the things the organization didn’t skimp on was cleanliness. Cleanliness kept your body odor under control, and stopped the spread of diseases. The masters had no problem beating the kids to death but losing them to disease was a waste of resources and everyone’s time. It might also have something to do with the fact that the masters had very sharp sense of smell, as that was important for an assassin.

The end results of the experiments on her fur were interesting though. The fur didn’t turn rough or coarse; in fact it was almost the opposite. Her fur had never been as soft and silky smooth as this, which would make many noble demi-humans and werebeasts jealous. The experiments weren’t for cosmetic effect though. The real effect came out as she infused her fur with her psionic power.

With the power consumption being a bit too much for her current level, it was more effective to only enhance the point of impact just before she got hit. That problem would lessen in the future because her powers would increase while the consumption would not. It wasn’t exactly an equal to plate armor, but that too would improve with time. As with many of the changes, it was something with great potential but wouldn’t do much if she didn’t utilize it correctly. So it would be up to her how useful the end result would actually be, as the effects grew along with her own powers.

They also worked on her claws and teeth, although the assumption would be that she would use either a weapon or poison in the future. You should always be prepared to fight unarmed, even though an assassin who was unarmed was a failed assassin. You always had something in store and hidden for surprising situations, or you used items in the surroundings as a weapon. A good assassin would be able to turn everyday items into weapons. A really good assassin wouldn’t need to. Dee’s claws and teeth were a good enough so that she would never truly be unarmed.

The easiest part of the whole process were the drugs and chemicals. The researchers liked to feed several kinds of rather powerful drugs to the kids to speed up their development and increase their power. Many of these drugs were rather dangerous, but they were effective. These weren’t the types of drugs that altered the users mind, but the type that increased growth and development or other such positive effects.

Of course they usually also had negative effects that damaged the user’s body, but Dee’s regenerative abilities countered those. As a result, the scientists could use even more dangerous pills and chemicals and those sometimes knocked her out for days, or left her foaming at the mouth. The good side was that she was left alone during those times. The downside was that much of the positive effects were countered as well because she couldn’t stop her regeneration from erasing the effects.

As she pondered about the past, Dee suddenly realized that it was about time Malik had another mission for her. Even before the operations had been finished, Malik had been assigning her on missions whenever she wasn’t too bloody and twitching in pain to move, or training with the various masters gathered here. For about the last six months, the operations had stopped and her training was winding down. At least the training given by other masters besides Malik. It was rather embarrassing for the masters to be trashed by a nine-year-old, and the masters besides Malik were getting trashed most of the time now.

Malik himself never fought Dee. Instead he brought her to the full members of Zabaniya, and had her fight them instead, offering advice and corrections from the side whenever she eventually got beaten to a pulp. The worst part was that it wasn’t that she didn’t have the skill. She was just too far behind physically when fighting against fully grown opponents that were stronger, faster and had more experience. The point though was to learn how to fight against opponents superior to herself. She was taught how to gain victory from the jaws of a hopeless situation, to use her head and to use clever strategy. Against more experienced foes however, that was easier said than done.

She spent much of her time on missions now, and the portion of the time spent on them was increasing. At first, this was another area where she had a lot to learn from Malik who worked her handler, but here she proved the extent of her devious mind. Soon Malik only asked for reports and provided alternatives that Dee might not have considered. Naturally as the organization was focused on assassinations, that was also the main focus of her missions. There were some instances of information gathering for other active members, but most of the time when she was sent out, someone ended up dead.

During her time being held by the Zabaniya, she had taken the life of over hundred targets. She had lost the exact count a long time ago, so it might be a closer to two hundred by now. Most of them were cases of assassinating a single person, but sometimes the targets were given in groups. At first the tally included some guards and the occasional family member, but nowadays Dee prided herself in her ability to take out her targets and no one else.

Sometimes she felt that she had lost something important as she no longer felt sorrow while taking the life of another person, but at the same time she felt that there should be more to it. Some of it was because she could rationalize things to herself. Many of the targets, though not all, were not good people. Most of them deserved to die. You have to really earn the hatred of someone to force them to seek out the services of Zabaniya, which didn’t come cheap. This usually meant that you were a very bad person, but sometimes it also meant that you were a person of principle that made a stand against the wrong people. Dee also rationalized that if it wasn’t her, then it would simply mean that someone else would be sent, and that someone might not make it as painless and might target their family as well.

That was only a part of it though. Some of it must have been her nature as a demon. Despite years spent being raised by Selvaria, she was not at her very core a good person. Perhaps not an evil one, despite all that she had done in the order, but not a good one either. Demons weren’t all bad, and many races of demons were as normal as any other humanoids, a mix of good and bad. However, the races making up Dee’s heritage were not among those demons. Most members of the races that were used to create her had a penchant for violence and death. Not all of them of course, no race is entirely evil, but a majority of them.

There was also a certain numbing effect in seeing that much death and suffering. Not just those that she caused, but also the death and suffering of the other children in the order. The order also had their ways of encouraging this numbing. Only the strong ones would survive seeing their compatriots and friends die around them. They would pit the children against each other in a fight to the death. Usually the first time you killed someone was the hardest, but the order forced the issue when two kids entered the ring, and only one of them walked out, now having performed the first difficult kill. If the kids refused to do it, both of them were killed. As one could imagine, the order went through a lot of kids, but with a planet and a pair of cities this huge, there was no shortage of ‘products’.

For Dee, this first kill had actually been one of the easiest. She suspected that it wasn’t an accident that her opponent had been an Archon, a race of lesser wingless angels. Normally people would have trouble killing angels and their sub races, but for Dee it was all too easy. All she had to do was to remember the destroyed village where Selvaria had found her as a baby. The order usually also made sure that the first few mission targets were palatable. No innocents or children, just the scum of the Pantheon. Child assassins weren’t very good at taking out high value targets anyway. That would come later if they survived long enough.

Although she didn’t feel much when taking the life of another anymore, that didn’t mean she was emotionless. One of the worst parts of being among the Zabaniya was the loneliness. There was no point in making friends with the children because they would very soon either die or betray you. The masters were also out of the questions as they would take that as a sign of weakness. Spending five years without meaningful friendly contact was excruciatingly painful for Dee. On the nights she wasn’t either unconscious or in too much pain to think, she often silently cried herself to sleep while remembering the soft touch of Selvaria and the kind words of the pendant.

A telltale clack of shoes on the stone floor took Dee out of her thoughts again. It was easy to recognize the owner of these steps. The weight, pace and confident attitude matched Malik. No one else could be as carefree in this den of murderers, where even a child could take your life. The familiar form of the black dressed man appeared at the door. “Time to work Wraith. I think you’ll like this one.”

Oh right, the bastards had given her a new name. You left your old name and identity behind when coming to this place. You earned a new name with your actions. Wraith was the name given to her, due to her ability to slip into anywhere she chose, and only kill the designated target and no one else. An arbiter of death that no walls could stop.

They had tried Furball, but four dead trainers, two dead scientists and one dead full rank Zabaniya had convinced them to come up with something better. Malik had been rather amused when the enraged Dee had torn the Zabaniya to pieces with a surprise attack after their usual training session had ended and the man’s guard was down. Apparently her handler seeing the whole thing didn’t count as getting caught for the purposes of punishment.

The names were something that could not be revealed even under torture. As the enemies of Zabaniya would really like to get their hands on certain people to exact revenge, the order did something that Dee wasn’t able to recognize when the names were officially given. It had to be a spell of some kind, but Dee couldn’t tell any details. In any case, none of the members were able to reveal the person behind any of the names even if they wanted to. And they didn’t want to because they knew Zabaniya would hunt them down and kill them slowly if they did.

‘Time to reap another life.’ Dee thought glumly.


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person with opinions
6 months 1 day ago

This story feels like a really long summary.

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