The next few hours included a lot of pretending to be cute and harmless on Dee’s part. The Jun girl Mina calmed down significantly after seeing Dee’s tiny form perched on Moirai’s head, and Moirai explained how Dee was capable of shapeshifting, having seen her do it. Dee knew it was hard to stay afraid of something as cute and harmless as she looked like currently, though she could notice how Mina was still slightly wary. The girl had not forgotten how Dee had looked just a short while ago. Mina realized that what she saw wasn’t a monster, which helped, but it didn’t mean Dee wasn’t dangerous if she chose to be. That was fair since Dee really was dangerous if she so chose.
Moirai finally made the official introductions, having Dee turn back into her original form. She introduced Dee officially as her new disciple, and she introduced Mina as one of the most promising young artisans of this sub-community. Her evaluation was slightly marred by the fact that she herself hadn’t spent that much time here, having only recently arrived from the third circle, so her evaluation was almost wholly based on what she had heard from others. A detail not lost on either Mina or Dee.
Mina was a beautiful Jun girl, only few years older than Dee. She had a long silky black hair that came down below her buttocks, and like almost every Jun had very refined, graceful and elegant features. She wasn’t quite as tall as Dee, though in a normal Jun fashion she was taller than most human and elf women. Her form was mostly slim and still growing in places, but she already exuded womanly charm. She also had little physical strength, as was common for the Jun.
“So what is it that you do here exactly?” Dee asked Mina.
“I’m both a chef and I also make musical instruments.” Mina replied with a shy smile.
”Ah, I got the pleasure of tasting some of your cooking just now. Are you as good at making instruments then?” Dee asked pointing at the breakfast Mina had been bringing her before she had been scared away.
“Well, that’s for you to judge later.” Mina replied gaining some of her confidence back, now that they were discussing something she was more secure in. “Some would say even better.”
“I’m afraid my ability to judge musical instruments is woefully lacking. The people who trained me in appraising items didn’t put much stock in judging items that were not used in combat. While I enjoy listening to music on the rare occasions I get the chance, I never learned to play any music either. That said, if you are willing to demonstrate, then I would be more than happy to listen and learn.” Dee had a slightly sad grimace on her face.
Dee wasn’t just being polite when she mentioned enjoying music. Although her experiences with it were limited to things she overheard with Sarfina, or while running missions for Zabaniya, she had always had this longing towards it. Music somehow became to represent all the things that had been deprived of her while held by Zabaniya. It became something of a symbol of things she didn’t get to enjoy as a child, and could only watch, or in this case listen, as those that were free enjoyed it. This gave Dee a sort of reverent feeling towards music.
“When we get the chance I will.” Mina promised gladly.
After Moirai and Dee left Mina’s room, Moirai couldn’t help but whisper. “You know, it really wouldn’t be that hard for you to learn to play music. Not to downplay the skill of musicians in any way, but you’re a psion as well as having a heritage that gives you great hearing and finger dexterity.”
Dee only gave a faint smile. Moirai wasn’t wrong but she was missing the point. Dee held reverence to listening to music, not so much to playing it. Some things were better when done yourself, but some things you just wanted to enjoy. ‘Still, maybe someday when I have the time and opportunity.’ She thought to herself.
Now though was time for Moirai to fulfill her part as a master and seriously start teaching Dee. The two walked for a while before arriving to a door leading underground. Dee curiously followed behind Moirai, as the latter led her down the stair into a wide room underground. The walls of the room were covered in weird black stone, and for some reason Dee suddenly felt cut off from the world.
Noticing Dee looking around with a confused frown, Moirai explained. “I see you noticed. The walls are covered in darkstone. It dampens our abilities and cuts off most senses from the outside world. We also don’t have to worry about being magically eavesdropped on. Most of our training will take place here. It makes easier to learn many things when isolated like this.”
Dee ran her hand along the cool and hard surface of the black stone. It looked smooth and slick and gave this impression of being almost translucent, almost like a crystal of sorts. “It’s a little disconcerting. I’m always aware of things around me, so to be cut off like this is…”
“That’s mostly why. No distractions. Now, we’ve already discussed that your knowledge of psionic power is woefully inadequate, and we’ll have to start with correcting that. Let’s start with the nature of psionic power itself. When compared to mana, ki and the power of the gods, psionic power is more raw and primal. This in turn results in many small differences and few very large ones. One of the major differences is that a psion will never have the range of abilities a mage or cleric might have. A well versed spell slinger could have hundreds of spells they can cast, thousands in case of some ancient beings with good memories.
Warriors tend to have a bit smaller range of abilities, but they focus on their weapons and not a wide repertoire of abilities. At least that usually the case. I’ve seen a few warriors that like to buck that trend, but I digress. Even warriors usually have a wider range of abilities than your average psion. They might not end up using them as often as mages, but they have those abilities nonetheless.
An average psion on the other hand rarely has more than a dozen or two dozen different abilities, but we tend to stretch our abilities to the max. A mage that can cast the spell ‘Fireball’ can cast that spell and maybe slight variations but the spell won’t suddenly morph into something completely unrelated to its origin. On the other hand, a psion that can control fire will be able to make that fire do almost anything. We aren’t constricted by the limits of the spells, only our imagination. Some really powerful mages can reach the same point, but that is much more rare and is usually confined to those immortals above rank 10 and those who have related Authorities.
Another major difference is that psions can do some things that mages and priests have trouble doing, because their method is just too complicated. For example, it takes mages incredible amount of effort and power to teleport any significant distances, hence the stationary teleportation gates. They also need to know where they are and exactly where they are going. A psion with an appropriate skill however can travel large distances and reach almost unknown destinations almost effortlessly. The downside being of course that only those psions with the appropriate ability can do it.” Moirai lectured on the basics. She actually had a pretty good voice for teaching.
“Why do we have so few abilities? I mean I learned one ability from a book, so why not just give me a stack of them, and get cracking?” Dee asked.
“Well let me ask you about the time you learnt the ability from that book. Was it immediately useful?” Moirai countered, as if expecting the question.
“No. It was almost useless in fact. Even though I knew the potential the ability had, it took me years to get it to a point where it actually became useful.” Dee answered thoughtfully. She could see where this was going.
“Right. That’s pretty much the same with all psionic abilities. Unlike mages and priests, where the spell they learn can be enhanced by mastery but are useful almost straight away after learning, our abilities are almost universally useless until we reach a certain level of mastery. If handed the same instructions two psions will often also start developing the skill in different directions. They will usually come to similar end points eventually after achieving full mastery, but for years and years they might have a completely different experience. They might never get to the same end point if their development differs greatly enough.
Also, as you can probably already tell from experience, we rarely have the chance to use all our time and efforts mastering our abilities. Unless you’re a hermit living on a mountain where food walks up to you and cooks itself, you will waste time on the various vagaries of life. Even with minds like ours, it takes time to master these abilities, time that we often don’t have.
There’s also another matter. I said full mastery earlier, but it’s rare to ever achieve a complete mastery of any ability. I’m still learning new things about my oldest abilities and figuring new ways to use them. I have met psions that have dedicated their entire lives to mastering a single ability to its utmost. They might not have a wide range of abilities, but by the goddess the things they can do with that one ability!” Moirai gave a small smile in admiration to the dedication of those psions.
“So is it better to try and master only one ability?” Dee asked.
“That slightly depends on the ability, but in general I would say no. Sooner or later you will run into something that your ability is useless against, and then you will be in trouble. That said, with the right ability it might become much more viable. Furthermore, even those that focus on a single ability have at some point tried other abilities, and that is also something you should do. You should try things out and then focus on those that you deem most suitable for your own use.
Returning to an earlier topic, the differences of psionic power also reach to how that power is cultivated. Those that use ki gather it in their Dantian while those that use mana have a mana core that both stores and regenerates their power. Priests have their fount of power as well, as you should be aware of. Psions are a little different in that we don’t have just one place we store power, instead all our cells store a little bit of power.
That power gathers within the cells, and helps the cell operate. That’s partially why our minds work faster. Your level of power is dependent on your cells’ ability to create and store that power. That’s why strong psions tend to have stronger bodies even without actively using that power to enhance ourselves and why those with strong bodies also tend to have more psionic power as those cells can store more power.”
“Wouldn’t that make large beings stronger as psionics?” Dee asked in confusion.
“Not really, because they in turn have to spend more power to achieve the same strengthening effect, and waste some power channeling it through their larger bodies. It actually balances out pretty much exactly. If I didn’t know better, I’d say someone designed it that way on purpose.” Moirai mumbled the last part to herself.
She continued after a moment. “In any case, this comes with certain implications. All psions reach a certain level of power just due to their race even if they don’t do anything to cultivate, very much unlike mages and warriors. This level completely depends on your race. On the downside, we all also have something called natural maximum level of power. Unlike the others, psions can cultivate only so far. This maximum also depends on your race.
It’s not very fair, but then again nothing else in life is. Some are born strong while some are born weak, some are born smart and others…not so much. Some are born rich, while some are born dirt poor. Life isn’t fair. However, this natural maximum doesn’t mean we can’t increase our strength after reaching that point. For instance, my natural maximum was class six psion, which is only one level away from where you are now. Yet now I’m class nine. Unlike others, we psions have to take this power from others, and use it to increase our own capacity.”
“Wait a moment. I’m fairly certain that I heard that the others can also steal power from their enemies. Something about an ability called Sengir?” Dee pointed out something she had heard long ago from Selvaria.
“Very good. You’ve heard about it. Yes, the others also have the ability to steal a small portion of their enemies’ power. However, us psions have to do it while they have the option to do it, while they also have the choice to just rely on their own ability. It would be slower for them, but the possibility exists. In return, we are better at taking power from others, as we do it a little different. We don’t really steal their power, but we…how should I put this…we devour their essence. Put crudely, we kind of eat our foes. Not literally through the mouth, but you get the picture.
It’s not just other people either. We can devour the essence of monsters and even places filled with power. However, we are hungry beasts and the amount of power required to advance can be stupendous. There’s a reason why us psions are the beings most willing to go into the great wilderness between Night city and Day city. We go there to hunt for powerful beings to ‘eat’ and places of power to devour. My own advancement was largely thanks to an old ruin I found in the wilderness, which was filled with power of those that had once lived there but had since passed a long time ago.” A small shudder went through Moirai. Despite the benefits, the memory was not pleasant.
“Huh, I wonder if that natural maximum is the reason why my own growth seems to be slowing down.” Dee half asked half talked to herself.
“That is one possibility, though not the only one. It’s not even the most likely reason. I’m guessing your cultivation time has been limited by your templar training?” Moirai asked just to make sure, getting a simple nod as an answer.
“Well, to me it seems more likely that your natural growth is coming to an end. This usually lasts through puberty, though I haven’t seen anyone who reached quite your level mostly relying on their natural growth. Another possibility is that the method you are using to cultivate is losing efficacy. These methods are usually only effective for certain range of power, after which they lose most of their effect. The lower ranked methods are designed for bodies that can handle small amounts of power while high ranked ones are for those that can handle the burden better. If you’ve been using the same method all this time, then it’s no wonder if it’s losing its effect. It’s a small wonder it kept working this long.” Moirai was actually very curious about this method.
“Ah, actually my stepmother left me several manuals with techniques for each level of power. That said, I haven’t had anyone to ask about them, so I’m not sure if I’m using them right.” Dee replied a little bashfully.
“Really? You stepmother had that many techniques? Well, it would help to see you use one, just the latest one is fine.” Moirai was rather eager to see her curiosity sated.
Dee took a typical lotus position for meditation with her legs crossed and her hands resting on her knees, and she began to circulate her power. If she had kept her eyes open, she’d have seen Moirai’s face twist in a rather peculiar way, with several emotions warring for supremacy.
“You can stop. I don’t suppose you could show me the manual you learned this from?” Something about Moirai’s voice told Dee that this was important and she complied.
Dee seemed to pull a small manual out of thin air, as Croestia dropped the manual into her hand. Moirai’s face got more and more serious as she leafed through the manual. “Could I see the manuals you used before? This is rather important.” Moirai asked again.
Again Dee complied. It took Moirai about twenty minutes to go through them. She tapped her finger on the small pile of books lost in thought for a moment. “I sure would like to meet your stepmother. She’s both the smartest and dumbest person I’ve ever heard about.” Moirai finally said with a small sigh.
Shocked, Dee only managed a small strangled “Eh?” in reply. She didn’t really disagree, as she knew Selvaria could be a bit of an airhead, but it was shocking to hear someone else say it.
“First things first, I know why your growth is slowing down. These aren’t manuals for increasing your growth. Of course they won’t help you increase the amount of power available to you. I suspect you stepmother isn’t a psion herself, because otherwise she wouldn’t make a mistake like this. I’m pretty sure she just saw people using these methods and saw them work great. Which begs the question of what kind of monsters was she working with, but I digress.” Moirai seemed to be truly shocked by what she had read.
“If they’re not cultivation manuals then….?” Dee prompted.
“Oh they’re cultivation manuals alright, just not for increasing your growth. These might actually be the best cultivation manuals I’ve ever seen. They’re meant for refining your power instead of growing it though.” Moirai replied with a small chuckle.
“Refining?” Dee asked again.
“Yes. They don’t speed up your growth, in fact they might even slow it down a smidgen, but these increase the quality of your power greatly. You get more out of your power. Any power you use for a specific purpose will have a greater effect when compared to someone who hasn’t refined their power. You also need to use less power to achieve the same effect. That means that purely based on strength you should be able to overpower anyone equal to your level. Purely on strength, mind you. Someone more skilled will still run rings around you.
It’s not purely positive though. As with most things, there are tradeoffs. Power this refined is harder to control. Sometimes you want to use just the tiniest smidgen of power, to avoid detection for example, but power this refined can make that harder.” Moirai tried to consider the implications. “In general, having more refined power is better, otherwise why go through the trouble of refining, but you’ll have to work on minimizing the downsides.”
“So anything I can do to mitigate the downsides?” Dee asked, thinking that this might explain her initial difficulties with the psionic weapon technique that had taken her so much time to learn.
“Aside from lots of practice and focus on control? Not really. It’s like having very strong muscles. It’s what you have, so you just have to learn to work with it and learn to be careful. It might take some effort to control that strength at first, but when you do…” Moirai left the rest unsaid. Obviously if Dee learned control, then all that remained were the advantages.
“By your tone, I’m guessing techniques for refining one’s power aren’t all too common?” Dee asked, certain ideas suddenly coming to mind. Maybe she could use these techniques to trade. They could also make for a pretty good gift for the right person.
“Well, not this effective techniques no. We all refine our power a little. Even if no one teaches us a specific technique, we’re still psions. We can figure some of the basics out by ourselves.” Suddenly another thought occurred to Moirai. ‘Wait a moment. If all she’s been using are these refining techniques, then doesn’t that mean she has never even cultivated properly before? And she’s already rank five at her age? All that just by natural growth? How much stronger would she be if she had a proper cultivation technique and actually focused on that instead of templar training? Now there’s a thought worth considering…’