Dee slowly drifted back into consciousness. As she blinked her eyes open, the bright natural light stung her eyes. ‘Well this feels familiar.’ She thought. ‘This is becoming a bad habit, waking up in an unknown place after putting my life in danger. One of these days I won’t wake up, or might wake up in a much less pleasant place. Not that I can be sure this place is pleasant. It might just look like it.’
She quickly checked her body’s condition. She knew something was different, but couldn’t quite put a finger on what it was exactly. Everything felt a little different but not drastically so. Her body was filled with energy and power, much more so than before. ‘A sixth tail?’ She wondered. Apparently whatever she did with the rift had at least some positive effects.
“Why do I have a faint memory of my tails changing color?” Dee asked herself out loud.
“That would be because for a brief moment they did.” Croestia helpfully replied. “When you got inside the rift, you absorbed the rampant elemental power. The result was that your tails changed color, though they also went right back moments later.”
“What happened after that? My memory is hazy at best.” Dee inquired.
“I’m not sure I can explain it.” Croestia gave a brief description of the ethereal form of a dragon surrounding Dee. “After that I went out too. Too much raw mana. I know there was a fight, but not what the result was. Anyway, I woke up while a woman in red armor was tossing you through the teleportation gate to the evacuation zone. She seemed powerful. Moirai found you on the other side and got you treated.”
“That sounds…odd. Any idea as to the identity of the woman in red?” Dee asked confused.
“I haven’t seen that kind of armor before, and I’ll recognize it if I see it again, but aside from that no. Very powerful. She felt…different somehow. If I were to make a guess, then I don’t think she was mortal.” Croestia tried explaining her nebulous impression.
“So most likely someone from a high level community come to take over the rift. How kind of them to spare me and even get me to safety.” Dee guessed rather accurately.
“Sarfina and Mazatl are here, for your information.” Croestia suddenly said.
“Here? Why?” Dee asked with a raised eyebrow.
“If I were to make a guess from what I overheard, they had people keeping an ear out for news concerning the area we were in. You did send them letters telling them where you were. All of three letters in almost two years. Also, there are only so many white kitsune around these parts. You do stand out a bit when your aura doesn’t work properly.” Croestia pointed out the obvious.
“I’m guessing they already ran in to Moirai?” Dee asked with slight trepidation.
“Oh yeah, they were swapping stories over your bed the moment they realized who each of them were.” Croestia replied with obvious mirth in her voice.
“Shit.” Dee replied with a palm over her face.
“Hey, the wayward disciple is awake.” Moirai said with a chuckle as she entered the room with Sarfina and Mazatl.
“How are you feeling?” Sarfina asked with obvious relief in her voice.
“I’m ok. A little disoriented, but otherwise fine. Any idea how long I was out?” Dee asked back.
Moirai replied. “You were tossed trough the portal a couple of days ago. You seemed exhausted. I’m guessing it has to do with your little level up. I tried searching for you earlier but had trouble locating you. I could feel you within the mindscape but your position was too nebulous to actually locate you. It was like you were there some of the time, but somewhere else the next moment. Then one of the members of the Crimson Path informed me that my presence was no longer welcome.”
“You met one of the crimson witches?” Sarfina asked clearly shocked.
“Crimson witches?” Dee asked.
“Yes, most call members of the Crimson Path with the somewhat nasty moniker of crimson witches. They are the strongest community outside of the nine that reside in the first circle. That would make them rank ten within the Day city. They are brutally efficient in what they do, but they aren’t exactly known for caring about who dies just as long as they reach their goals. Very much a group that believes the ends justify the means. Hence the deriding moniker crimson witches.” Mazatl helpfully supplied from the side.
“Well that and they bathe in the blood of their enemies and eat their flesh, all in order to gain their power. They are as close as you get to a demon community within Day city. I don’t know if they’re could actually be called demons, but their methods make them at least half that. That too makes them unpopular with the other communities. Though you can’t argue with the results.” Sarfina added.
“Wait, so are they demons or not?” Dee asked, her interest obvious.
“Not in the traditional sense. They originally come from a variety of races, though a big part of them are known to be vampires. It’s the methods they use that turns them into what some would define as demons.” Moirai explained. “Even I’m not sure on the details, as they don’t exactly advertise their methods. Though I would note that all of them are female, hence the witch part. Apparently whatever methods they use are unsuitable for men. There are some very old rumors about their original male members going insane.”
Dee considered that for a while before changing the subject. “So what brings the two of you here? Not that I’m not glad to see you, but I would’ve come to you in a few weeks or a month at most. I was planning on spending my sixteenth birthday with you guys.”
“Well it’s good we found you before that. There’s been a change of plans.” Mazatl started off.
Sarfina continued the explanation. “As much as we planned on waiting for your birthday before having you officially become part of the order, things are moving up. The recruitment starts in a week at the Radiant Sun headquarters.”
“Wait, why there? We lived right next to a training facility, where you worked at I might add. Why isn’t the recruitment done there?” Dee asked, feeling rather uninformed today.
“If you were becoming just a standard member or the order, then that would be the plan. However, we all know that would be a waste in your case. There are templars and then there are templars. If one is satisfied with becoming a normal member of the order that works in the lesser circles then the location of your training doesn’t matter. However, if you want to really become someone in the order, then you will need to apply during the yearly recruitment at the headquarters and get trained by the best of our order.” Sarfina explained.
Sarfina herself was an odd case. Her brother was the grandmaster of the order, and she herself had great potential, but she also wanted to avoid favoritism due to her family. Hence she had enrolled in the training complex she now worked at, and tried to climb the ranks against all the odds with her own merits alone. Somewhere along the way she had lost her reasons for striving and just worked hard without any real goals or purpose. That made her progress stagnate, which she in a way welcomed because it allowed her to stay away from her family affairs, where a more prominent person would’ve been pulled back in forcefully.
Then she had met Dee, and ultimately even lost to her. That had given back her lost motivation, and she was now striving for improvement again, and the last two years had been fruitful.
“Besides, Commander Wolfhart has invited someone from the scouts to observe the selection. He’s supposed to take you under his wing if things go according to plan. He wouldn’t come to a selection in the middle of nowhere, but the headquarters? That can be arranged.” Sarfina continued to explain. She didn’t mention how hard it had been for the commander to get his old friend to come.
“I hope you’re feeling good because in a week you’ll be pitted against the best of the best new hopeful recruits the order has. I’ve heard that this year especially has many young members of notable communities joining. They won’t be the normal run of the mill trainees you saw in the training complex. They will be people who have been trained since childhood to become paladins and templar.” Mazatl said with a laugh.
“Come to think of it, I don’t think you ever properly explained how the order does recruitment. I find it a little odd that other communities would send their best youngsters for training since they’ll have to join the order, and you can’t be relying on orphans and rescued people like me.” Dee suddenly thought to ask.
“Oh we didn’t go through this before?” Mazatl asked, a little surprised by her oversight and going into her teacher mode. “Well then, we must rectify this immediately.”
Before Mazatl got too preachy, Sarfina started to explain. “While the order does take in orphans and such, they aren’t necessarily suited for this profession, so we definitely can’t rely on them for recruitment. Majority of our members come from other communities. I’m myself a member of the Arazana family of the Tuatha Dé Danann empire. As much as I try to avoid it, I can’t completely deny my old ties, and neither will the other people recruited by the order. But they don’t have to. The order realizes that our brothers and sisters have families and ties beyond the order.”
Mazatl picked up the explanation. “The order, and in the same vein the temples, don’t require you to renounce your old ties. You can be a member of your old community as well. There are however conditions. You are not allowed to leak the training and skills to people outside the order for example. There are exceptions made, like parents can train their children in preparation for joining the order, but if some other community suddenly starts pumping out trained paladins and templar, then the Radiant Sun will hunt down and annihilate that offending community.
You’re also expected to perform duties in the service of the order and answer when you’re called to arms. Mostly the new members will spend a certain amount of years in direct service, depending on their skills and position in the order. Later on you will get a certain amount of missions, but you’ll be otherwise free to do what you want. The exception is a general call to arms, which all those called will have to honor. That one is usually only used when there’s something large going on. This of course all depends. Some people spend their entire lives in the full service of the order, due to it being their calling or because they have specialized skills that are necessary.”
Sarfina picked up the explanation again. “The other communities get very powerful training for their young, which allows them to become pillars of support for their communities in the future. In addition, they gain connections with the order, and often our help when they are in trouble. Especially so if one of their number becomes a high ranking member in the order that could even order entire armies to move to protect their communities.
The training is also something of an honor for many. Certain parts of Pantheon view the templars and paladins as some of the most honorable and prestigious professions to be. There are families and communities that are dedicated to the order and send each generation to train with us. All this becomes especially so if they get selected in the selection you will be taking part in the headquarters. Like I said, there are templar and then there are templar.”
“That’s something you should take note. Normally we don’t even train the young ones in the use of weapons until their bodies develop, but these families and communities are different. Don’t assume they don’t know what they are doing, because some of them were handed the weapons of a templar or a paladin the day they were born. Some of them might even already have a blessing just like you. You aren’t the only one impatient enough to sneak into the ceremony. Some of them might have even been taken there by their parents. There are other priests like me, willing to help their friends and acquaintances to get a leg up.” Mazatl pointed out, wanting Dee to be prepared.
Moirai finally spoke. “That all said, I expect my disciple to absolutely shit stomp them.” Moirai wasn’t all that big on using profanities, which made it even more notable she used one now. “None of ours will get defeated by some preening noble who thinks they’re special because of their family, and that goes double for my disciple. Don’t you dare bring shame to us and most importantly to me.”
Moirai’s grin betrayed her serious tone a bit. She however surprised Dee further by tossing her an insignia signifying a membership with the Four Winds alliance. Members of the four main races often didn’t wear theirs, because their allegiance was obvious. Those members that came from other races nearly always wore theirs as a form of identification and to bring glory to the alliance. “Since they explained how the membership in the order works, I thought it was time to make it official. Welcome to the alliance, and I expect to see you back once you are able to return. Your training is far from finished. Go and make me proud.”
Dee was suddenly flooded with a sense of belonging. She had a group to call her own. People that would welcome her. Sarfina and Mazatl had been the first, but that was two people and not a group. The Radiant Sun wanted her out of obligation and partially as repentance for what she might have done as an assassin. The Four Winds wanted her for who she was. That brought tears to Dee’s eyes. She would make them proud, and glad that they had made this decision.
Sarge watched quietly as Commander Wolfhart took a long swig from his glass of scotch. This wasn’t the first swig or even the first glass. Sarge was worried about his superior and friend, but he also knew not to say anything and just let his friend work through things on his own. He settled on swirling the drink in his own glass. His was still the same glass that Wolfhart had poured him almost an hour ago.
The commander finally spoke. “You know, I’m not sure if I’ve brought about a bright future for the order, or have I set things in motion for its destruction.”
Sarge remained quiet. He burned to ask questions, but he knew some of what the commander was talking about while the rest he wouldn’t get an answer for. Unless the commander was feeling especially loose-lipped, which seemed unlikely.
The commander continued quietly. “Putting those two together…I have no worries that Razark will be impressed by her, and take her in. She was good enough for that two years ago, and I doubt she’s gotten weaker since. And he’ll make her even more powerful. In a few years she’ll be a real terror, perhaps even more so than Razark himself.”
“So the problem is…” Sarge prompted, knowing it was expected of him.
“The problem is neither of them hold any real loyalty towards the order, and Razark especially has more than enough reason to hate us. His honor and the few people he’s still close to are the only thing keeping him in the order. But now he’ll get a new disciple. They will bond and get close. And should anything happen to her and should the order once again do nothing to help…this will be the last time.” The commander gave a deep sigh, before continuing.
“He has always been loyal to people instead of ideas or groups. That has always been his downside and will eventually be the downfall of either him or the order.” The commander placed his empty glass heavily on the table before rubbing his eyes tiredly.
“I’ve always wondered why the order had never done anything about him?” Sarge couldn’t help but ask.
“They haven’t done anything because they can’t. He isn’t just one of the Blades, he’s the strongest of them. Maybe even our illustrious grandmaster with his hero Authorities can’t stand up to him. Besides, the scouts all love him, and two of the other Blades would stand with him unto death. If they tried to move against Razark, they’d have a rebellion by the scouts and three of the ten Blades in their hands.” The commander replied with exasperation. “And he’s almost always right. Maybe not on long term, but morally he is in the right.”
“So why did you agree to Faylen’s request then? Why send the girl to him?” Sarge finally asked the burning question that he knew the commander wanted to be asked, just so he could get it off his chest.
“Because the potential upside is so great. Sarfina was right. He’s the perfect teacher for the girl. If things go right, then she’ll be one of the Blades soon enough. Maybe even the strongest of them. Also because I owe him. We took something precious something from him, so this might be my sad attempt to make amends. The girl isn’t Lilly, but she has a way of growing on people. And knowing his character, there’s no way for him to take a disciple like her without them growing close, either as lovers or as something akin to a family. Brothers for a day, brothers for life, as the scouts like to say.” Wolfhart was quiet for a long time.
“And finally, if things go wrong, she might be the only one who will be capable of killing him.”