As they left the guild, Dee paid more attention to her surroundings than when they arrived. They were currently on the west side of the tenth circle, and the surrounding architecture looked a lot more unified than on the east side. Most of the buildings were made of stone or at least very solid wood with good craftsmanship. The area they were in seemed relatively wealthy. There were several large stores and businesses scattered everywhere, which hinted that they seemed to be within some sort of commercial district.
The wealth of the area also showed in the size of the houses and the lack of street vendors in comparison to stores with their own dedicated facilities. The clothes worn by people were of high quality, something between wealthy merchants and low nobility. The public order seemed to be on a high level, and might have something to do with the Radiant Sun and Holy Orders facility nearby. The inhabitants seemed to be mostly human, dwarf and beastmen of both major types. Notably the variety of races was much narrower than Dee had seen in other areas. The city stretched in all directions beyond her ability to see.
The trio entered a relatively normal looking restaurant that didn’t overtly advertise their specialties. The customers seemed happy with their dishes and relatively refined, so Dee had a suspicion that the store mostly got their customers by word of mouth instead of advertising. Once they had gotten their seats and ordered according to Sarfina’s recommendations, they finally got the chance to talk without being overheard.
“You seemed rather familiar with the people of the guild.” Dee pointed out.
Sarfina grunted while Mazatl laughed at her friend’s misery and answered the question. “The freelancers are much more complex than one would assume at first glance. They are one of the more problematic permanent organizations watching over the lesser circles. They are known as problem solvers, but don’t confuse them with a strictly beneficial organization. I’ve often worked with them, but I’ve also worked against them more often than I’d like to think. They might officially be called freelancers, but many also call them mercenaries.”
“So they aren’t too picky about their employers?” Dee asked.
“Well, they do have some rules in place but their members are varied and not bound together by any strong ideals. Their principles are wholly dependent on the particular people you’re dealing with, and they don’t say no to easy money without a good reason. They try not to tick off us or the other organizations, but that only goes so far. The world isn’t black and white after all.” Sarfina herself was a woman of principle, so the mercenary ways of the freelancers were not to her liking.
“On the other hand, their nature makes them easy to deal with most of the time. Once you know that their own benefit and profits are the driving force behind their actions, it’s rather easy to predict what they will do in a given situation. As long as you can pay them, they make for pretty decent allies. Those working for ideologies and honor can be unpredictable, and the people who swear by them can turn into cowards or lunatics when pressed. The mercs live and die by their promises, because if it gets out that their word can’t be trusted…” Mazatl gave a counterpoint from the other side of the table.
Mazatl considered herself more of a realist than her friend, although Sarfina’s ideologies had been tempered by time and the harsh reality. Sarfina’s family also played a part, causing the captain to come to terms with reality more easily. It was something she’d been forced to do since childhood after all.
“In any case, be watchful of them. Sometimes they are your ally, but sometimes they will be your enemy.” Sarfina highlighted the important point.
“That reminds me; they seemed to be mostly warriors of different types. Mazatl taught me much, but I’m still not clear on the distinction between warriors and templars and paladins and the rest of it. It seems fairly complex, and I’d rather not make mistakes due to making bad assumptions.” Dee suddenly remembered something that had been bothering her for a while. She had learned some of this among the assassins, but it would be better to get more accurate and less biased information.
“That’s something that is at both simple and complicated. Warrior as a term refers to people who train their bodies and use either weapons or unarmed combat as their main method of battle. The methods, details and sources of power vary, but the end result and goals are very similar. There are those who train in ki, those like me who use holy power, those like you who use psionic power and even some crazies that use mana and many, many others . However, we all try to become stronger and faster with the aid of our chosen method, and we try to master the use of our chosen weapons.
The most common method is the use of ki, because that is something that is available to almost everyone. The people who use ki claim that their method is the best, but that is up for debate. That’s why most people think of them when talking about warriors. However, as a psion you should be well aware that ki isn’t the only way to become stronger.
Templars like me use the holy power of the gods to make our bodies stronger, and train in the use of weapons just like the typical warriors. Only, we have several holy spells in our arsenal while those who use ki have their own techniques. The method is different, but the end result is very similar. Not exactly the same, as shown by our spells, but similar. They have their own specialties and we have ours.” Sarfina explained. This was a matter that often confused those that were just starting their path towards power.
Mazatl picked up the explanation. “There are also other factors. Some races are simply stronger than others. For that reason they have a head start as warriors. A pureblood vampire that has reached adulthood will be counted as at least a sixth rank warrior due to their nature, because that is how strong they are even without any additional training. There are other things that can inflate a person’s strength. The most obvious example is Sarfina here. She has a blessing from a deity representing war, so the blessing also increases her strength beyond the holy power that is normally provided by the blessing. Other examples would be the Authorities we talked about before, certain magical weapons and equipment, and of course buff spells provided both by mages and clerics.”
Dee considered the information for a while. “Can someone train with multiple methods? For example, could Sarfina train with ki as well?”
“Yes and no. Some of the methods conflict with each other, while others work together just fine. I can’t train both with holy power and ki, because the effects overlap and would conflict. In some cases it’s also more beneficial to focus on one method because the benefits become larger as you grow stronger, so dividing your attention becomes counterproductive. If you can get a larger effect by focusing on one thing, without any of the downsides of possibly conflicting powers, why bother?
That said, it’s hard to say in many cases before you try. As a psion you know that you don’t have any mana or ki, and you can’t use either. So there’s no need to even consider those. I’m not yet certain if training your body with holy power would be beneficial for you, so that is something we need to find out. However, I do know that a blessing would be good for you, if you manage to attract the attention of a right deity.” Sarfina mused, trying to figure out the best methods for Dee.
“I should point out that most of the things I mentioned before like Authorities and buffs from spells and weapons all work just fine, as those just add to your current strength instead of changing your body. That’s why holy power and ki are not compatible, as both change the body of the user in ways that are similar but mutually exclusive.” Mazatl pointed out again.
Dee quietly wondered how the changes made by the Zabaniya would fit into all this. She was strangely confident that the changes were just beneficial, for several reasons. The assassins had some reason to make the changes, and while the reason still eluded her, the nature of the changes suggested that they were considering the long term benefit. That suggested that they would have considered possible conflict with her nature as a psion or it would make no sense if the changes conflicted with that nature. There were also some things she had managed to observe both of the changes as well as her own powers.
The changes made by the assassins changed her body on a fundamental level. It was as if she was gaining the body of a race much stronger than what she had originally. It was much like the example of a pureblood vampire used by Mazatl earlier. She would be stronger even while not considering other factors. However, whatever the assassins had done simply changed her, and didn’t empower her by filling her bones and muscles with mana or ki. That was what her psionic power would be for. There was also the added benefit where stronger one’s body was, the more psionic power one would have, which in turn made her even stronger physically. That all said, she never had a real teacher when it came to her powers as a psion, as Selvaria had not gone into such detail, so this was all speculation for now.
She was rather confident that the current things within her body were not in conflict. However, she was also pretty sure she would not be able to use Sarfina’s method of strengthening herself with holy power as that would be in conflict either with her powers as a psion or with the changes the assassins had made. Not much she could do about that now though. That wasn’t the only use of holy power, as it could also be used for spells ranging from attacks to buffs and to healing.
The more she thought about it, the better it seemed. The templars had several holy spells used for attack and defense. So if she were to train among them and receive a blessing, she would have access to many of those holy spells and she could save any holy power she had for those spells instead of using it to strengthen herself. On the downside of things, it seemed her future would be busy. She would have to try and develop both her holy power and her power as a psion. Assuming she ever got blessed by a deity that is. All this would be pretty academic if the deities just told her to fuck off.
“Oh right, you told me about the blessings and deities, but could you elaborate on that? I’m still not sure how it works. Why do the gods give their power to us mortals? What’s in it for them? How do the blessings work and how do the deities and their servants choose each other? What determines how much holy power someone has?” Dee was suddenly full of questions. These were some that she had come up with between lessons, and had not had the chance to ask Mazatl yet.
Mazatl looked at Sarfina for support due to the stream of questions. The captain nodded with a small laugh, slightly sympathizing with the saurian. ‘Does she always have this many questions?’ She asked silently with a raised eyebrow getting an affirmative nod as an answer. Dee might not be the most talkative person normally, but she was hungry for information.
“Let’s start with the deities themselves. Do you want the official answer or what I personally think is the correct answer?” Sarfina asked in amusement.
“You thoughts of course. I can guess that the official reply is some mumbo jumbo about goodness of their hearts and feeling pity towards us ‘lesser beings’ or some such nonsense.” Dee scoffed.
“That’s pretty accurate actually.” Mazatl mumbled in slight amusement at the girl’s cynicism.
“My thoughts then. There are several reasons why the deities share their power with us. The first reason is that the relationship is a symbiotic one. As they grant their power to us, the actions we perform in their name make them stronger. The flashier and more miraculous actions also draw attention and increase faith among the believers, which further increases their power. So they spend power to gain power. Powerful servants are much better sources of power to the gods than simple believers.
That part is fairly widely known among us serving the deities. The next part is something of an educated guess combined with real knowledge. The deities have a ranking of their own. I don’t know everything that goes into that ranking, but I know that powerful followers and their actions are a large contributing factor. If a god has a powerful champion doing many deeds in their name, then the ranking of that particular deity shoots up rapidly. So mortals with great power are a precious commodity for the deities. It’s also in their best interest to do their best for us, as that will be reflected in their rankings. Of course the importance of that reduces as the power and potential of the servant diminishes.” Sarfina had some of her thoughts confirmed during her own Ritual of Choosing by the goddess that had blessed her.
Mazatl picked up the explanation at this point again as this was more her area of expertise. “As for how the deity is chosen, officially it’s because the deity and servant connect during the Ritual of Choosing, which we all go through at a certain part of our training. Truthfully the gods get to pick the best, and the rest are mostly assigned by either luck or Fate. Well it’s not entirely random at least, as evil people don’t get assigned to gods that represent good and people strong in light don’t get assigned to the dark gods, or vice versa. The nature of people plays a role, but to what extent is largely unknown.”
“Ritual of Choosing?” Dee asked, noticing a term Mazatl had mentioned at least once before, but never explained in detail.
“Right, the ritual is conducted when it is judged that your training has reached a point where you should learn to use holy power. The trainee or acolyte spends the night sitting vigil within the temple and their soul is brought to the Pantheon of Gods to meet their deity. The deity then forms a connection with the trainee and gives them a blessing deemed appropriate.” Mazatl explained rather eagerly. She herself oversaw the ritual at the particular training complex most of the time. She found enjoyment in the hopeful young applicants and their jubilation as they returned from their vigil.
“So there are different kinds of blessings?” Dee pointed out shrewdly, noticing Mazatl’s words.
Sarfina answered this time. “Right, and this also answers your earlier questions. The blessings vary widely according to the deity granting the blessing as well as the level of blessing. The blessing of a goddess of love most likely won’t increase your strength much, but it will most likely improve your appearance and luck with love. A blessing from a god of war on the other hand…”
“The blessing also determines the amount of holy power you have available for use, but like I told you before, with holy power the way you use it is more important than the amount of power you have available. Up to a point of course. There are some high level holy spells that you just can’t use with a minor blessing. Usually there’s a certain amount of balance, as the gods that give blessings with other benefits such as increased strength provide less holy power, while blessings with no other benefits usually give the most holy power. This of course depends on the deity as well. Even a minor blessing from one of the strongest deities gives more power and benefits than a major blessing from a tiny deity.” Mazatl explained.
“You mentioned minor and major, are there actual rankings for blessings, or are those just names you’ve given as an example?” Dee asked again.
“There are actual rankings, and the weaker gods can’t even give the highest ranked blessings. The blessings directly affect your ranking as a priestess or templar. There are four rough categories where they fit from smallest to greatest: minor, normal, major and greater blessing. Then there are certain special categories for select few people. The gods can pick a small handful of what are called heralds and the strongest gods can pick a champion. There’s also a category called special for everything that defies the other categories, as the gods and their boons are many and sometimes hard to evaluate.” Mazatl rattled off, clearly having explained this to thousands of students before.
After their impromptu lessons had finished, the trio focused more on lighter subjects. To be exact, Dee focused on enjoying her dinner, while Mazatl and Sarfina focused on gossip. Dee half listened, but wasn’t all that interested as she knew none of the people involved. The other two were highly amused as they saw the amount of food Dee devoured. The girl ate more than the two of them combined, which was rather odd considering one of them was a saurian while the other was a templar used to burning a lot of energy.
Once they had finished, Sarfina was planning to handle the bill, but Dee insisted on paying it with her power. “I’m not really using the power at the moment anyway, so…” was her excuse, as she simply wanted to show her thanks for their patience at her questions.
As they were pushing her wheelchair out, Dee asked the obvious question. “So what happens next? I’m guessing you still want to keep an eye on me, but my visit to the infirmary is coming to an end. They still don’t want me to stress my body too much, but they are planning on kicking me out of the bed in the next few days.”
They were quiet for a moment, before Sarfina finally decided to go ahead with her suggestion. “Normally any and all trainees would be placed into the barracks dedicated for them, but your case is a little special for many reasons. Firstly you are much younger than the others, then there’s the way you came to us. It’s rather likely you’ll get isolated and even confronted by the other trainees. As such, I don’t think that is a very good idea for you, especially when you haven’t completely recovered. How would you like to live with me for a while at least?”
Dee gave that some thought, and had to agree with Sarfina. She wasn’t as worried about getting confronted and bullied, but it would most likely be frowned upon if she crippled several of the other trainees in retaliation. It would be beneficial to avoid that mess for the time being. The more time she spent among the templar, the less they would associate her as one of the kids saved from the assassins.
“That sounds good to me as long as you won’t think it’s too much of a bother.” Dee subtly gave Sarfina the chance to back out in case she wasn’t quite sure of her idea yet.
However, Sarfina had given this some thought. “I’m sure we can handle any bother with civility.”
“In that case, I’ll let the two of you go on your way. I still have things I need to do for tonight. Some of the students are about to go through their Ritual of Choosing in a few days.” Mazatl said with a small bow and started to move towards the training complex.
“Shall we go and check out your new abode? We can make a list of things that you’ll need before actually moving in.” Sarfina suggested. Dee approved the suggestion with a simple nod and a small smile.
Dee’s eyebrow twitched a little as they stopped in front of an enormous mansion walled off by a stone wall covered in ivy. The mansion was about three times as big as the surrounding mansions even without counting in the large yard and garden. And the surrounding mansions weren’t exactly small either. This was clearly the richest part of the area. Not rich as in wealthy merchants, but rich as in filthy rich to the extent of buying a small city with pocket change.
“I’m guessing this wasn’t bought with a captain’s salary?” Dee asked with t tinge of sarcasm mixed in with quite a bit of curiosity.
“You’re right. My family built this for me when I moved here. According to them, no member of the Arazana family will live in a hovel. I protested, but…” There was clear note of disgust in her voice.
“Arazana? I’m pretty sure Sarfina isn’t your first name. No need to answer if you don’t want to, I’m simply curious.” Dee couldn’t avoid trying to fish for information. Information was power.
“Don’t worry. You’d find out most of this soon enough living with me. Arazana is the name of my family. I changed my last name just so I wouldn’t always be treated like a member of the Arazana family, though something like this is impossible to keep secret in the long run. Incidentally, there’s something else you will soon discover. The grandmaster of the Radiant Sun is my brother.” Sarfina’s voice shifted from disgust to something more complicated when talking about her brother. However, the tone was still not positive. Dee suspected there was some history there.
‘A more accomplished big brother drawing the fawning of the family, leaving his little sister without attention, perhaps?’ Dee thought to herself, deciding against probing further for now. Something like this could be a source of great pain and humiliation and Sarfina didn’t know Dee well enough to open up about something like that.
As they went thought the gate, a row of servants was lining the path in identical uniforms. Every uniform was impeccable. They all bowed together at the waist and greeted Sarfina. “Welcome home master.”
Dee could hear Sarfina giving a slight strangled sigh. “Continue as you were. Qinlana, a word.”
A woman dressed as the head maid, approached them. Same as all the other servants, she too was an elf. Seeing as most of the people in this part of the tenth circle were not elves, it was most likely that the servants were provided with the house from Sarfina’s family. “Master.”
“Qinlana, this is Haydee. She will be living with us once she is released from the infirmary. She will be staying until further notice, but most likely for several years. I would like to have a room prepared for her, close to mine. She will need some essentials for living, as she has almost nothing at the moment. She will be a trainee as a templar, so take that into consideration while picking her clothing. We’ll have a small tour of the house today, so she can get familiarized.” Sarfina explained, giving only the important information and nothing else.
“As you will master.” Qinlana replied. Her face didn’t show any reaction, but Dee could sense that the woman wasn’t too pleased about the situation. Then again she didn’t seem to hate Dee either so it didn’t seem personal. She seemed like a professional, so her dislike was probably due to either Dee’s race or low station in life. Sarfina was most likely nobility of some kind, so the servant might think it to be improper to take in someone of unknown origin like Dee. That was something Dee could understand, and probably turn to her advantage. It would be more problematic if the servants dislike was for some more complex reasons.
As they got alone and started their tour, Sarfina finally spoke. “I’m sorry, I’ve tried to have them act more casually, but the sad fact is that they are servants of my family instead of me. Propriety has been driven into them since childhood.”
“Oh that’s something I can relate to a bit. Although in our case it wasn’t propriety. It was obedience, and it was beaten into us.” Dee mumbled, not really sure if she wanted Sarfina to hear.