The pendant’s words had really given Dee something to think about. She had gotten used to the androgynous voice and persona, so her first thought was to keep the new personality the same. However, there was a worry that the androgynous voice would keep reminding her of the friend that was now gone. She might have trouble disassociating the new personality from the old one, and might have trouble with the new personality because she couldn’t let go. The new personality was not the same as her friend. It might become similar in the far future, but it might be unfair to try to recreate her old friend that was now gone, instead of just letting a new one personality and friendship develop. Maybe it was better to make a clean break and have the personality and voice change?
If so, then which would be better, a male or a female personality? Having a male perspective might be interesting, but Dee wasn’t sure she was comfortable with spending most of her time with a male personality. Even if the pendant wasn’t really the type of male that would care about Dee’s toilet habits, it was still somehow too much for the current Dee to handle. It might be interesting, but it was also risky. Having the pendant assume a female personality was the safest option.
“Let’s go with a female. Do you have any wishes for a name?” Dee asked, knowing that her naming sense was rather bad.
The pendant considered for a while. “I seem to recall that I was called Croestia once. That is something I could live with.”
“Croestia it is then. I’m ashamed to admit that my sense at naming is…deficient. I would’ve said something like Ruby or Tear something equally unimaginative.” Dee sighed with relief.
“Happy to make your acquaintance master, my name is Croestia.” The pendant said with a decidedly feminine voice that was slightly husky. The voice reminded Dee of a mature woman sure of herself. That certainly didn’t match her current personality. Croestia was already forming her individuality? Where did this come from? Or was it just the only female option and didn’t reflect her current personality? Time would tell.
“Pleasure to meet you.” Dee replied with a smile. Suddenly she got an idea. “That reminds me, I’ve only seen you as a pendant, but you’re talking to me even though you don’t have a proper form yet. Are there any rules about your form?”
“Well, I need to have a form in a way that I’m not invisible, but there are no other rules. I can even remain as a tattoo just like I am now. The only issue is that I will be able to see the surroundings better if I’m not under your fur or clothes. The form of a pendant isn’t exactly optimal, considering that I could get in the way if the chain is too long, and many people like to keep a pendant under their shirt, which would have the same problem as being under your fur.” Croestia replied. Dee’s fur was short and sleek enough in most of her body to almost be a second skin, but it did cover her real skin properly. Her head and tails were really the only exceptions, actually being quite fluffy.
Dee thought for a while, considering all the possibilities. “I kind of like the thought of you as a tattoo. Weird question, can you be in more than one place on my body?”
“Yes, though not without limit.” Croestia replied, her voice showing her curiosity about where this was going.
“I was just thinking that most of my body might get covered by armor at some point. The only two exceptions I can think of are my ears and my tails.” Dee pointed out.
Croestia gave that some consideration. “Those are both decent options. How would you feel like having black tips on your ears? Would give me a good amount of visibility. That’s not exactly a tattoo, but it would be something similar enough. Even if your ears get damaged, I will simply move somewhere else.”
“That sounds like a good enough option for now. There’s something unrelated I have to ask. Do you remember anything that happened during the time you were asleep?” Dee asked.
“No, but you can share your memories of the events with me if you want.” Croestia replied.
It took a little explaining to get it done, but Dee managed to share her memories since Selvaria picked her up. It took about an hour for Croestia to look through them. Dee continued to read her trashy novel while she was distracted. “Well. Shit. You haven’t had a very happy life so far, have you?” Croestia finally said.
“I suppose. Could be worse too, I think.” Dee replied, giving a small grimace.
“Not by much! Well, you’re alive and in relatively one piece I suppose. Not due to any lack of effort on behalf of others to change both.” Croestia said.
“That’s a start at least. Our new life starts from here. I just wanted you to be aware of what has happened.” Dee said half to herself. Sharing lifted some of the weight from her heart. Now there was someone who knew what had happened to her and would understand.
Slightly later Dee remembered something that had slipped her mind. “Croestia, did you finish doing inventory with the things stored inside you?”
“More or less. There are a few things I’m still trying to figure out. Apparently the old me left the new me instructions on the proper use of some things, as well as instructions on when I’m supposed to give some of the things to you.” The voice replied sounding a little distracted.
“I think I’ll need a bit better explanation than that.” Dee said furrowing her eyebrows.
“Well I think it’ll become more obvious as I tell you about the items. The biggest portion of all the items is made up of books and manuals. Most of them are instructions on psionic techniques and power cultivation methods. The cultivation methods have instructions telling me I should only give them to you at the level of power they will be most useful to you. Similarly many of the techniques also require a certain level of power before you can properly utilize them. Also there are instructions telling me that you should focus on mastering the techniques one or two at a time, and not try to develop several at once.
Most of the techniques require a certain level of mastery before they really become useful and apparently it’s easier to master them through focus and extended use. The first technique I’m supposed to give you is an interesting example. It’s a little above what I assume is your current power level, but it’s one of those techniques that you can only master if you use it a lot, and you’re supposed to start practicing it now, even though the real benefits will only show after you gain more power. You can start using it now and learn to squeeze the best out of the skill. When you have more power, what you’ve learned now will make it much more effective.” Croestia explained.
“That makes sense. Once you really master a single skill properly, not only does its use become more instinctive due to repeated use but you can learn to use it in a wider array of situations if you’re forced to make due with fewer skills. That teaches you flexibility and situational thinking. What else do you have stored?” Dee replied nodding a bit. There was something to be said about having a wide toolkit, but being able to adapt a more narrow kit to wider usage was an important skill as well.
“There are also manuals on alchemy, which are dependent on the level of equipment you have access to and your skill level. Some of the memories you shared seemed to indicate you had an interest in the subject, which I assume is the reason why the manuals are here.” Croestia pointed out.
“Well, it was one of the things mother enjoyed doing, and I seemed to have a knack for that. I always had this weird feel to alchemy, unlike with other things mother was interested in. It just felt very natural and logical. Sometimes I would simply feel that it would create a good effect when certain substances were mixed. It would just feel natural, you know?
It’s also one of the few crafting professions I could even do, since almost all the others require ability in magic, while alchemy just requires power to be infused into the materials. Anyway, it might be a good idea to give me the first books an all three subjects alchemy, psionic cultivation and techniques now, since I have time to go through them. I might as well make the most of that time even if I won’t be able to practice them.” Dee pointed out.
“Agreed. I need to get a more precise measure of your psionic level though, or I can’t give you the right manual. Your memories tell me that you have a rough idea yourself, but even you don’t know your current level of power exactly. I wonder if that saurian teacher of yours could have it measured for you?” Croestia suggested.
“I’ll ask her tomorrow. What else?” Dee prompted Croestia to continue.
“Right, so we have some materials for a wide variety of uses. There are alchemy ingredients as well as some metals and valuable gems. There are even some leathers, cloths and some miscellaneous goods. Some of them are apparently for your use when you get a little older, while some are for trading. Your mother couldn’t give you any currency as she didn’t have the currency of this world, but she gave you stuff you can sell. Also food, lots of food.” Croestia gave a small chuckle at the mountain of food stored within the dimensional storage.
“Oh good, I hate this hospital shite. Anything else?” Dee asked. She was actually quite fond of good food, but hadn’t seen much of that in the last few years. The missions she performed sometimes allowed a small snack, but that was about it.
“Well here we come to the reason why it has taken me so long. There are three doors inside the storage dimension. I know there is something important and powerful behind each door, but I can’t open them. There are apparently some conditions to opening them, but I have no idea what those conditions might be. The old me is the one who set those conditions, and I left some hints for the current me but so far I’ve had no luck figuring them out.” Croestia gave a deep sigh.
“Well it is what it is. We’ll figure it out eventually. Even if we don’t, I’m quite happy with the stuff you already mentioned. No use worrying about something we can’t change. Now give me those books and something decent to eat. I’m bored and I’m hungry. That priestess isn’t a big believer in solid foods.” Dee decided, putting the doors out of her mind for now.
The next day Mazatl once again returned to give Dee a lesson. She had returned every day for a week now, and she was impressed with the girl’s ability to absorb knowledge. Dee was a good student, and Mazatl enjoyed teaching her. The lessons didn’t really even feel like lessons, because Dee would ask smart questions and make good observations, which turned the lesson more into a dialogue and discussion instead of a lecture.
“Today I thought we should continue our talk about the nature of Pantheon itself and its history.” Mazatl started.
“Right, I remember hearing something about the world being made by refugees from the War in Heavens?” Dee asked.
“While that’s not wrong, I feel the word ‘refugees’ is a bit misleading. It is true that some of the inhabitants are refugees, but the beings that created this world in the first place were not running away from the war. They simply didn’t want to get mixed up in it anymore as it was a bother and annoyance. If you combined the strength within Pantheon, it could rival any of the three remaining factions still taking part in the war, so it might end up badly if you were to suggest that they were running away.” Mazatl explained with a thoughtful expression, trying to find the right words.
After a moment she continued. “The war only included some races originally, but it spread over such a wide variety of worlds, and got so many other races and neutral worlds involved that some of them finally had enough. The most powerful beings came together to create Pantheon. Any beings could come to Pantheon to get away from the war, and the four factions were given very limited access to the planet. As the demons are no longer a faction in the war, they can now freely enter and seek refuge if they are able to get here.
The other three factions are banned from influencing matters here. They are allowed embassies and they are allowed to conduct trade here, but only a small amount of their number is allowed to come to Pantheon at the same time. If any of them are caught stirring things up, they face serious punishments, not the least of which is banishment from this world for thousands of years.”
“Not that I have anything against this world, but why would that stop the angels for example, if they wanted to come here and kill the remaining demons? I mean, how would the banishment deter them?” Dee asked a little confused.
“Well, it’s not just banishment, as anyone involved is summarily executed, but the main reasons are power and trade. I already told you about the Authorities, and while they tend to appear within Pantheon, that doesn’t mean they can’t be acquired by the three factions and taken elsewhere. However, the main point is that Pantheon could be called the center of the universe when it comes to anything worth trading for.
The best items are created here, the best materials can be found here and you can have access to almost any kind of information you could desire. If you can’t find something in Pantheon, then it isn’t worth finding. Losing access to Pantheon could be a major issue for any of the factions.” Mazatl’s voice carried a quite a bit of certainty. This was something that had been proven several times in the past. There were very few things that any of the three factions valued enough to risk relations with the Pantheon. In the worst case, the Pantheon might even retaliate directly to show their displeasure.
Dee didn’t seem entirely convinced, and Mazatl could understand that. It was likely the young demon had some experience with the so called ‘Holy Purge’ perpetrated by the angels, and she was most likely worried for her safety and whether the angels would be able to reach her here. Mazatl couldn’t really blame Dee for that worry, but she did feel like it was somewhat wasted.
“Oh I wanted to ask you something. Would it be possible to have my powers measured in some way? I’ve heard that there are official levels, but I have no idea what my level is and what the levels even are.” Dee changed the subject.
“It’s not impossible, but it is a little more complex than you might think at first. The rankings aren’t really a simple measure of power. They are usually a combination of the power you have and the number and level of techniques or spells you can use. Usually every ranking has a certain criteria they must meet to qualify to be counted at that particular rank. For mages it’s most often a certain minimum amount of mana, as well as the ability to cast a qualifying amount of spells of the rank you wish to be promoted to. For example, to be counted as a fifth rank mage, they must be able to cast ten fifth rank spells in a row without resting, and the spells have to be from a certain pre-determined list of spells. After they accomplish that, they gain the rank of Magus.
For warrior types, they must also be able to hold their own against an opponent of the rank they wish to qualify for, for a certain period of time. The warriors are less dependent on specific techniques and are measured by their combat abilities. This is mostly because ki isn’t the only power used by warrior types. Here you have the example of templar or paladins, who use holy power for similar purposes.
If you show your strength, you qualify for a higher rank. This has to be done in the presence of neutral observers to make sure their opponent isn’t making things easy in order to cheat. The warriors can’t be measured in other ways, because unlike mages warriors don’t have a unified set of abilities and much is dependent on individual abilities instead. Some races are strong simply due to their inherent abilities as members of their race.” Mazatl explained, trying to recall all the details.
“What about psions and clerics?” Dee prompted. Although knowing about warriors and mages was useful, she was a psion herself so that was the most important part for her.
“Well those two are both more simple and more complex. Do you know the difference between a cleric and a priest or a priestess? Or the difference between a cleric and a paladin or a templar?” Mazatl asked.
Dee frowned in a rather cute way. “Not exactly. I can make some guesses, but…”
“Well let’s start there then. A cleric is basically a priest that has received at least some martial training, as opposed to priests that only use their holy powers for spells. You can think of clerics as combat priests, and not be too far from the truth, however clerics are holy men and women first and fighters second. That martial training doesn’t need to be skill in weapons, as they can be trained in tactics and tradecraft related to martial training like survival skills. The difference between paladins or templars and clerics is that the first two rely on their force of arms first and holy powers second.
The difference between templars and paladins is that paladins use their holy powers mostly for healing and protection, while templars use their power mostly to enhance their martial prowess and offensive abilities. While paladins are protectors, templars are trained to seek out their enemies in the name of their deity. The two are also a perfect example why the warriors are not ranked by their ki, because both paladins and templars are also warriors. They are holy warriors that use the power of their gods to strengthen their bodies, but warriors nonetheless. A paladin or a templar might be ranked both as a warrior and a servant of the gods, but usually they display their holy rankings to the public instead of their warrior ranking as a tribute to their deity. There are exceptions, but they are generally looked down upon.
In all the cases, the way they rank the power that they gain from the gods is fairly complex. Because the holy spells are less dependent on the individual’s power, as most spells require more mastery of the spell than holy power, their ranking is more dependent on the variety of abilities and spells they can use, as well as the mastery they hold over those spells. Healing performed by a first ranked priest is entirely different when compared to one performed by rank nine priests. To make things worse, their ranking is also affected by the deity they receive their power from.” Mazatl explained.
“How does that work? And how can there be any real test for things like that?” Dee asked, now thoroughly confused.
“The ranking is determined by a council of three higher ranked priests, clerics, paladins or templars, as well as the deity the person serves. The deities are not equal and neither are the boons they grant to their servants. Usually the council determines the rank by evaluating the person’s skills, but the final say lies with the deity the person serves, as well as the level of the blessing given to the person. If you serve the wrong deity, you might never reach the highest rankings among the faithful as most of the deities aren’t able to grant the highest level of blessings.” Mazatl shook her head a bit at that. She herself was more of a scholar, but she had gotten lucky with the deity she served.
“Wouldn’t that just make every priest serve the most powerful deities?” Dee asked, pointing out the obvious flaw.
“Yes and no. It is not just the servant that chooses the deity; the deity must also choose the servant. Every person who desires to use the power of the deities goes through a Ritual of Choosing, where they send their souls to the Pantheon of the Gods, where they meet the deity or deities they are fated to serve. There’s also an element of luck involved. You can theoretically refuse if the deity you meet doesn’t meet your standard, but refusal carries consequences. The other deities don’t usually look positively on refusal, and pissing off a deity carries danger as they might decide to retaliate and curse you instead. In any case, one rarely meets with a deity that is not suitable for the person in question.” Mazatl finished with a sigh. There was a certain level of discrimination among the faith based orders according to one’s deity.
“Alright, it’s about time you get to the most important one for me. I think you’re teasing me on purpose.” Dee said, pouting a little.
Mazatl gave a toothy grin. “A little yes, but I wanted to tell you about the others first for context, so you can appreciate the oddity of psions. The psions are the only ones who get ranked purely by the raw amount of power they have. The psions have access to such a wide variety of powers and techniques that they are simply impossible to rank in power when compared to each other or the other rankings.
There’s also a lack of skills that are shared across all psions, beyond the simple strengthening of their bodies and even that isn’t available to all psions. So that can’t be used as a measuring stick either. As a result, the raw power is the only way to rank them, but that also makes their ranking the most unreliable one. With all the others, a higher ranked person will be more dangerous almost hundred percent of the time, but that isn’t necessarily the case with psions.”
“So what are the rankings? How many are there and can you have me measured? Since I am the only type that should be relatively easy to measure, even if it isn’t as reliable, that shouldn’t be too big of a problem, right?” Dee asked a little impatiently.
“To answer the last question first, yes we can have you measured, but it’ll take me a few days to get someone here from the freelancer’s guild that can perform the measurement. Psions are so rare that only the freelancers and the group known as Threads of Fate can do the measurement for you. All four groups share the commonly used thirteen ranks, though they all have their own names for them. There is some variance but as a general rule of thumb, similar ranked people are roughly on an even playing field when it comes to power.
The first nine ranks of power are simply a measure of one’s power and abilities. You’ll most likely learn the names at one point in the future, but that’s a topic for another time. Something you should know however, is that the tenth rank marks a wide gulf between the ranks. No matter what path you follow, reaching the tenth rank is special and among other things grants you immunity to the ravages of time. Even the immortal and long lived races are brought back to their prime and they become much harder to kill. Those ranked between ranks ten and twelve are beings that can shake the foundations of any other world and make a big difference here in Pantheon as well.” Mazatl explained, slipping back into her lecturing tone.
“You mentioned thirteen ranks. What of the thirteenth rank then?” Dee asked with some worry.
“The thirteenth rank is a catch-all ranking for beings that hold the power to either create or destroy worlds. Never get on the wrong side of them. That said, even Pantheon only has a handful of beings of that rank. You could count them with your fingers.” Mazatl gave Dee a small pat on the shoulder as she saw the girl’s concerned face.
Suddenly Dee got a slightly devious expression as she looked back at Mazatl. “Your fingers or mine?” She asked, as she made her extra two hands appear for the first time in a long time, showing all twenty fingers with their impressive claws out.