Dee successfully deflected another blow from Sarfina with her shield and countered with a quick swing towards Sarfina’s ankle. Sarfina managed to pull her foot back in time, but was out of balance as a result of her quick movement. Dee didn’t miss this chance and rammed her shield straight into Sarfina’s chest. Sarfina managed to block with her own shield, but was thrown even further off-balance by the combination.
Dee feinted another attack towards Sarfina’s sword side, and the latter had to hastily try and block with her sword due to the position she was in. The result was a quick snap off Dee’s practice sword on Sarfina’s wrist as she showed the real aim behind her feint. Sarfina let go off her blade, and found Dee’s blade at her throat, signaling the end of the bout.
Sarfina wasn’t sure if she should be proud or aghast that Dee was already winning about three bouts out of ten against her. Three more ended in a stalemate, so Sarfina could only barely say that she was still winning more than losing. That was of course without Sarfina using her templar abilities. Then again Dee too was limited to using the sword and shield, and was supposed to use the sword style of the templar.
That last part happened only some of the time. The reason Dee was so successful was because she was so devious and unorthodox in her use of the style. She managed to learn the basics in the month they had been training, and was now stretching the limits of the style so much that it barely qualified as part of the style anymore. It was close enough to fit the purpose, but only barely.
Dee had this nasty habit of using her shield as a weapon and sneakily targeting the extremities of her opponent. Most decent shield users used their shield as a weapon, but sometimes it felt as if Dee was dual-wielding two weapons instead of using a sword and shield. The difference was, most templars were adept at bashing their enemy with the shield and using it as a ram, but it was disconcerting to have Dee slash the edge of the shield at your throat and eyes or have the sharp triangular bottom point of the shield rammed at your toes.
Another difference was Dee’s ability to predict your actions and her penchant for dodging instead of mostly blocking. Most sword and shield users relied on an age old one-two rhythm of blocking and then countering. That was not how Dee fought however. She only blocked if she had to, or if it was the superior option. Because she was able to roughly read her opponent’s actions, she usually dodged by as thin of a margin as possible while at the same time striking her sword at an overextended wrist or an ankle. Even when she did block, she would also attack at the same time, by contorting her body around the blow, which was one of the main reasons for the feeling of fighting someone dual-wielding.
Of course, all this wasn’t just her ability to learn at play. She wasn’t a stranger to using a weapon thanks to her training as an assassin. The use of a sword was not new to her either, even though she was used to a shorter sword than she was currently using. Even though she made an effort to learn the style of the templar, she clearly brought her own flavor as an assassin to the mix. Her fighting was much more mobile and fluid than a normal templar, who valued a more steadfast and unyielding disposition. Dee’s style was not wrong, better or worse, just different.
“That’s enough for today. I know you have other plans for the evening, and you should take this chance to wash off that sweat. It wouldn’t do to go meet the deities reeking of sweat.” Sarfina wasn’t exactly approving of Dee’s and Mazatl’s plan, as she thought it was too early for Dee.
Then again, nothing was normal with Dee and at least it would allow Sarfina to start Dee’s training with holy power and templar abilities. It was likely Mazatl wouldn’t be able to help herself and would start teaching Dee priest spells as well. Sarfina was rather curious what Dee would end up like with a training this varied and all-encompassing.
“How are you feeling about the ritual? Excited? Scared? Uneasy? Nervous?” Sarfina asked.
“Curious mostly. I have a hard time figuring out what kind of god I’ll end up with. Maybe a little nervous.” Dee replied with a faint smile.
“It’ll be fine. There’s very little that can go wrong. The worst thing is you get ignored and nothing changes.” Sarfina reassured Dee. The worst result would actually be getting caught, but that seemed unlikely all things considered.
“I know. It’s just that nothing so far has gone normally for me. It might be a good thing or a bad thing, but I feel there’s a reason I was told to go through with this as soon as possible.” Dee had told Sarfina about her visit to the Threads of Fate, though she had not explained all the details. it wasn’t that she didn’t trust Sarfina, she just didn’t like sharing things like that without a good reason. Two could keep a secret if one of them was dead, as the old saying goes.
“Eh, who knows? Maybe you’ll end up with a deity from the big ten.” Sarfina suggested.
“Big ten?” Dee asked. She had a guess, but wanted to make sure.
“The ten most powerful deities. The other rankings of the gods switch around and we aren’t even sure what their rankings are since they don’t tend to share. We need to speculate based on the size of their altars. The big ten have kept their positions for as long as there has been a ranking, at least to our knowledge. It also seems that the gap between the tenth place and the eleventh is rather significant. I think you already know one of them, since you saw her statue in the temple.” Sarfina pointed out.
“The goddess of light? I think her name was Lumen or something.” Dee knew damn well that the name was Lumen, but refused to show how important that name might be for her.
Dee sneaked into the temple of light after nightfall. She had observed all the priests leave the place, and checked inside the temple just in case. Normally the temple would have priests even during the night, but with many of them gone the temple was eerily empty. Even during the night the temple was far from dark, as it was only natural for the temple of light to be filled with candles and flames that blazed eternally. Some of the symbols and artifacts also shined a golden light, dispersing any shadows that tried to creep in.
Dee had to do most of the ritual in the center of the temple and there would still be a patrolling priest going through the temple several times during the night. Luckily, once the ritual part was over and it became time for Dee to sit vigil, she could draw back into one of the alcoves so she would be out of sight. The patrolling priests were not expecting to find anything, and were mostly just making sure nothing weird happened. The whole area was guarded by the Radiant Sun anyway, so it was unlikely someone would be able to just wander in.
Of course Dee wasn’t just anyone. Sneaking into places was her specialty. With the priests so off-guard she could do her thing in peace and it would take stupidly bad luck for someone to notice her. Just in case, she had already selected her spot to hide in beforehand. One of the alcoves had nice and thick support beams near the ceiling, so she could climb on top of those and the only way to see her would be to also climb on top of them.
‘It seems I’m spending more and more time on support beams like that.’ Dee thought to herself, remembering her sleeping arrangements.
Luckily most of the ritual part was actually done before the tonight. Mazatl had made the preparations a long time ago. The central altar had several candlesticks in all major colors, symbolizing the different factions and facets of the deities. There were almost three dozen candlesticks, and Dee placed a glyph covered candle in each of them. The candles were an offering to draw the attention of the deities.
Dee waited for the right moment before lighting the candles. There was a reason the ritual could only be held on particular nights. As she had timed her entry well, Dee only had to wait a couple of minutes before the temple filled with the power of the deities. It was as if the temple had turned into a vortex of holy power gathering the energy from the surroundings.
The deities gained power from those they blessed, but they also gained power from the faithful. Unlike those they had a direct connection with though, the power from the faithful was gathered another way. The power of faith was stored in the temple and its surroundings, and was passed on to the gods in large waves on nights like this.
This was mostly a matter of efficiency, as boring as that reason was. Gathering slight trickles of power constantly from a multitude of sources wasted much of the power. This method was more efficient. The vortex of power was like a pyre of power shining in Dee’s eyes, but most people would not even notice anything. Even those that were able to utilize the power of the gods only felt a slight stirring in their surroundings.
The longer Dee lived, the more stupefied she became due to the blindness of everyone around her. How could people walk through life with such blinders on? To her the world and people were filled with streams of power. The streams were filled with information that just waited for you to notice and utilize. And the more she practiced, the sharper her senses became. She could already feel the flow of power without looking at it if she paid enough attention, and she could feel and see it from a greater distance.
As the vortex of power gain speed and strength, Dee hastily lit all the candles. While the candles were there to draw the attention of the deities, now she had to state her business. She started a fairly long chant that was largely ceremonial and superfluous. Dee felt that most of it was could be skipped, but Mazatl had told her that many deities were sticklers for ceremony and would view shortcuts as laziness. There was no point in antagonizing any deities at this point just for expediency.
The chant was long, but the gist of it was clear. Dee asked the deities to give their attention to this poor mortal. She requested them to grant their boons and threw herself at their mercy. She asked them to pick a suitable deity among them to grant her their blessing, and so on and so forth. Of course everything was dressed in flowery language and plenty of flattery. There was also a clear vibe of supplication, but Dee’s tone made it clear that any deity that actually expected supplication and groveling beyond this one chant could go and get stuffed.
Next part was another offering. The candles were the offering of the temples to help the new hopefuls, while now was time for the personal offering of the people actually taking part in the ritual. This was meant to show their sincerity as well as to clearly separate the people that wanted to take part. Of course Dee now had to give this offering by herself.
She slashed her palm open with a dagger and a generous amount of her blood flowed through the air to hover above the altar. Suddenly the blood split and flew into the flames of every candle, which then suddenly grew in size and were snuffed out. The candles all vanished in a puff of smoke. The smoke flowed towards the ceiling and then through the stone and entered the great vortex above the temple. The offering had been approved.
Dee gave a small bow of her head, and then drew back into the alcove she had prepared. All the traces of the ritual had vanished from the central altar. She agilely climbed to her hiding place, and took out the next required items for the ritual. She was now holding a flask filled with bright golden liquid and a small shot glass. This next part had seemed especially ridiculous to Dee.
She was supposed to sit vigil and stay awake for as long as possible. She was also supposed to take a shot of the golden liquid every hour as the liquid tried to put her to sleep. The liquid was heavy with holy power and was clearly enchanted. The purpose of the liquid was to connect the participant with the Pantheon of Gods and allow them to stay there to make a connection with their chosen deity.
One of the intentional side-effects was that the liquid put the target to sleep, though that was a necessary part of the ritual. Mazatl had mentioned that the more of the liquid one drank, the longer one could spend discussing with their deity. Some deities of course didn’t have much patience, so the person was tossed back as soon as the blessing was given, but some deities were up for sharing information. Naturally the night was only so long, but time worked differently within the land of the gods.
To Dee the whole thing felt a bit like something a person taking psychedelics would experience, but the ritual was what it was. It would be kind of funny if the whole thing was mostly a drug induced dream. As she threw back the first shot, Dee couldn’t really feel anything taking effect. “Did Mazatl make this right?” She asked mumbling to herself. “On the other hand, it might be worth it to see her embarrassed face if this didn’t work.”
As there wasn’t really anything else she could do, Dee settled down to meditate to pass the time. It’s not like she was in a hurry. It was after the third shot that she finally started to feel a slight effect from the liquid. She also noticed that it was her werewolf heritage that actually countered some of the effects that tried to put her to sleep. The liquid still filled her with holy power normally, and she could feel something tugging at her soul, but she only felt slightly groggy.
The matter finally came to head after the sixth shot, as morning would come in an hour. Dee still only felt somewhat sleepy, but decided to just give in to get it over with. It would be kind of bad if she never actually fell asleep. The night in question was long for Day city, but it would still be easier to sneak out when it was at least dim outside. So she willingly allowed sleep to take over.
Dee found herself in a world filled with grey fog. Strangely she didn’t feel any power in her surroundings, which made her kind of uncomfortable. Luckily she still knew where to go, as she felt a slight tugging feeling in a certain direction. As the world of fog seemed the same in all directions, she might as well follow the feeling.
She didn’t know how long she walked, but it couldn’t have been all that long when she started seeing a glow ahead of her. Judging from the way the glow seemed to move, the light came from a live flame. As she came closer she found an aged looking man sitting by a campfire. The area around the man was clear of fog, but there wasn’t much to see as the campsite was austere to say the least.
The man was dressed in a robe that was somewhat uncomfortable to look at. The robe seemed to be made of nothing but a void, and seemed to be shifting under her gaze. The man looked rather normal with a simple face and a grey beard and hair. Dee could feel that was just a façade he had chosen to present, as she felt the long and heavy years surrounding the man like a blanket. His aura was practically dripping with age and gave the feeling of eternally passing time. This man was ancient. Dee somehow got the feeling that he might be one of the oldest beings in existence.
The man was sitting on a log staring at the flame, taking a small glance at Dee every now and then. Dee sat on the other side of the fire on another log and stayed silent. There wasn’t any particular reason for her silence, she simply felt comfortable staying silent and simply sitting here. The man would speak if there was a need. For now, she simply enjoyed the calming silence.
There was something comfortable about the feeling of ages that flowed around the man. Dee could feel her mind calming and healing by the perspective she gained from the existence of something this old. Her own struggles and worries suddenly felt so insignificant in the grand scheme of things. There would be enough time to worry about things later. The worries of today would seem insignificant tomorrow.
The two of them both seemed content to simply stay silent and enjoy the moment, but of course it could last only so long. Dee was shaken from her thoughts by the sound of approaching footsteps. The mist parted as if scorched away by the golden light radiating from a beautiful woman that walked towards the campsite. Dee noticed a small twitch on the old man’s lips as the woman got closer, but didn’t have time to consider the implications because something else demanded her attention.
The woman didn’t just radiate golden light; she was literally made of light. It was as if her form was golden light made flesh. That in itself was enough to draw Dee’s attention, but there was something else. The woman looked familiar. In fact, she looked great deal like the huge statue occupying the most prominent place within the temple Dee’s body was currently sleeping in.
The golden light spoke. “Old man, what are you thinking intercepting a person that was clearly meant for me? If I didn’t know better, I would think that you were trying to steal one of my children. That isn’t very polite even with normal people, and you know this one is anything but normal.”
Dee didn’t know whether the man actually had a reply ready, because another female voice intruded in his stead. “Calling her one of your children is a bit rich dear sister.” Dee could see the shadows coalescing into the form of another woman possessing otherworldly beauty formed out of pure shadows. Interestingly, she looked really similar to the first woman. The word ‘sister’ was clearly accurate.
“Umbra. What are you doing here?” The first woman asked clearly displeased.
The shadow laughed. “Did you think her presence in a temple of light was enough to hide her? Don’t be absurd. Her fate lies with me, as do the fates of her kind. Of course I would find out as she entered our realm. And as you said, she is anything but normal. Did you think I would let a chance like this pass me by?”
“Begone! You are not needed here. You know one of my favored children was used in her creation, and she carries that blood in her veins. Our agreement is that only Fallen fall are under your purview.” The woman of light was not willing to budge from her position.
“That’s interesting, because she also carries the blood of one of my favored children. Those born to the Fallen also belong to me. Besides, she also carries the blood of many other dark races. Your claim is strenuous at best.” The woman made of shadow seemed to be just as stubborn.
The two continued to bicker and debate as Dee and the old man chose to stay out of it. The two sisters didn’t seem inclined to listen to their opinion anyway. The discussion was enlightening for Dee though. She learned many things about herself and the two goddesses, and could infer a lot more. The whole argument seemed a bit odd though. It seemed as if the two were fighting over the privilege of blessing her, but that made very little sense, especially considering their identity.
The old man finally opened his mouth when the arguments started to circle around and repeat, accomplishing nothing. “Here’s a thought: How about both of you bless her. She doesn’t seem the type to be very servile and supplicant anyway, as you both know, so she won’t really be a servant to either of you anyway. Instead of arguing which of you has a better claim on her, how about you give her your blessing no questions asked, and let her actions choose between you.”
The two goddesses went silent for a moment before the dark figure voiced a question. “How would that work in practice?”
“Well the two of you are diametrically opposed forces so it’s not that hard to tell which of you her actions benefit at any particular time. Just let her actions speak for themselves. The actions that benefit Lumen will bring her glory, while the same is true for Umbra. I think that deal is only fair considering her potential future.” The man suggested calmly.
Both of them looked ready to argue, but stayed silent as they noted the reaction of the other goddess. “What about the power usually gained from the servant?” The woman made of light asked. Her voice already seemed resigned to this course of action, and she was just making sure.
“The both of you have your plans for her future and stand to benefit greatly if things go as you hope. I think the both of you are gaining enough even without that bit of power.” The man said firmly. “Otherwise you can just make an even split.”
Finally the two nodded and voiced their agreement. Both of them pointed their palm towards Dee and a stream of power flew towards her forehead. The golden woman sent a stream of golden power and the woman made of pure darkness sent a stream of dark power. The two of them took one last look at each other and then disappeared.
Once they were gone, the old man grumbled to himself. “Daughters. The greatest gift a man could get, and the biggest pain in the ass one could imagine.”
Dee narrowed her eyes and looked at the man. “Old man, why do I get the feeling that you just created a heap of trouble for me, just for your own convenience?”
The man grinned at Dee. “You’re not entirely wrong. Don’t worry though, it’s not like you’re not benefitting from this. I assume you have questions about what just happened.”
Dee only nodded her agreement. If the man was willing to talk, let him. Maybe he’d slip and tell her something she didn’t even think to ask.
“To put things into perspective, there’s a reason why those two were so eager to leave their mark on you. They want you to do something in the future. You have an unbelievably important future ahead of you. In fact, I’d say you will shake the foundations of the old order even more than the destruction of the thirteen hells. Assuming you live that long that is. No future is certain, and death is always a distinct possibility.” The man looked thoughtful for a moment.
“It seems likely that my meddling has increased the odds of your death, so I better do something about it in return. I will also give you my blessing, and the purpose of that blessing will be to make sure you live long enough to stand a chance at fulfilling that future they so desire.” He gave a small grimace. “My blessing will grant you power beyond your time, but it comes at a cost. I will help you unleash a small piece of your future ahead of time, but you might end up hating me for my gift. That’s because until you learn to control that gift, you might think it is a curse. That is the price of such gifts.”
Dee wanted to ask the man to explain, but the man raised his hand to stop her. “Don’t ask. I will not tell you. The contents of the blessings are for the mortals to discover themselves. That is our rule. Now, something else that might have confused you about their argument. They both called you one of their children.”
“I’m guessing that’s a reference to one of the three major races that made up the armies of the thirteen hells, the Fallen Angels.” Dee pointed out her speculation.
“That’s half of it, and it should not come as a surprise that their power was used as a part of your heritage. More than that, you’ll have to find out yourself. The other half is that those that created you, wanted to turn their enemy’s power against them, so they also used normal angels as part of their experiments. I know this most likely isn’t something you want to hear, but there is also the blood of those that you hate within your veins.” The man had a slightly sympathetic look as he gazed at Dee.
Dee blew some air in a slight show of dissatisfaction. The news was not what she wanted to hear, but not something that really surprised her. If she had been creating something like herself, she would also use the blood of her enemies as a part of the mixture.
“And I see you’re taking it better than I thought, at least for now. Good. You’d probably like to know that once you wake up, it might be a good idea to hurry to a more private location. These blessings most likely activated something within you ahead of time. You know what I’m talking about.” The man had a slightly evil smile as he said this.
“Fuck.” Dee said simply. She knew exactly what the man was talking about, and wasn’t pleased.