Week 25 - Novel - Dreams Part XIX - November 18-24
She pulled in the entirety of the remaining ruby, then visualized scattering the coalesced energy of the ruby into as many individual splinters as she could, shooting them out from her in every direction before guiding them to arc towards Elvir, surrounding him on all sides with darts of blazing energy.
Casually, Elvir raised a hand and a tiny shield of ruby flicked into existence, then spun around him impossibly quickly, perfectly deflecting every incoming bolt Jo had sent, in many cases appearing to deflect certain bolts into other bolts to throw them all harmlessly off course. When the last bolt sputtered out of existence, Elvir remained wholly untouched.
He raised his ruby. It was barely smaller than it had been when they had started the exercise, whereas Jo’s ruby had been entirely consujmed.
“You may have learned the basics of harnessing, but I hope this illustrates that there is still much to learn. At this point in time, you have merely learned how to swing your sword. This is no simple feat in of itself when it comes to stoneworking, but now, you must learn to master the art of swordfighting as well, and this is an entirely different matter.
“As you can see, the difference between someone proficient in the art and someone still freshly new can be vast, even with the same exact resources at hand. Efficiency and strategy is key to successful stonefighting.” Elvir eyed Jo carefully. “But this is enough lecturing for one day. You’ve had quite the eventful day, and stoneworking is always exhausting work. Rest, now, and we will continue our training tomorrow. I’ve set up three beds for all of you in the other room. I will see you all in the morning.”
Jo stifled a yawn as Elvir bowed in parting and left the cavern. He must have noticed how she was barely keeping awake. That last burst of harnessing the ruby had left her feeling completely drained, and all she could think about now was falling back asleep. Ardin and Tan wanted to keep chatting and hear more about her journey back to Eukaon, but she pled fatigue and retired to their makeshift bedroom. Catching up could wait. Her first real night of uninterrupted, perfect slumber couldn’t.
The next few weeks went by in a blur for Jo. Elvir drilled the three of them at a grueling pace every day, and she went to bed every night completely spent. Her life became stoneworking, and almost literally, she lived and breathed it every day.
After the first week, she began to surpass Ardin and Tan in their progress, and by the end of the second week, she could easily defeat either of them in their mock duels, often with substantially less stone. Despite their lagging individual progress, however, when the two boys combined forces, they were shockingly effective, having known each other intimately well their entire lives, and working flawlessly in unison to synergize their forces. Try as she might, when the three of them dueled together, she still lost more often than not.
Besides her difficulty defeating the two brothers in tandem, almost everything felt like it came naturally to her, and Jo astonished herself with her rate of progress. It was the first time in her life she’d felt she was truly good at something, and slowly, some of the hesitations and self doubts she’d harbored about her ability to live up to everyone’s expectations melted away.
She no longer felt deeply uncomfortable every time she was complimented on her progress, and stopped qualifying the praise with a disclaimer about her likely future failure, in anticipation for the inevitable moment when she would let them all down. Instead, she dove into her learning, and began to proactively seek out progressively harder challenges, learning about every stone she could, and harnessing as many of them in as many different combinations and situations as Elvir would allow her to.
It helped that Elvir was an exceptional teacher, and gently encouraged her forward whenever she failed at a specific progression. She learned to thrive off testing her own boundaries, seeing every shortcoming she encountered as a puzzle to overcome rather than an indication of her own limitations. The more she accomplished, the more her past achievements gave her confidence in her future progress, and before long, she began to see herself as everyone else seemed to see her. Perhaps she really could pull this off. Her feelings towards the prospect of ultimately facing off with Aeon began to shift slightly from dread to anticipation, with more than a sliver of excitement.
After three weeks of nonstop training, Elvir pulled the three of them aside one evening.
“If I had my way, we would continue training here for another year, at least, but unfortunately, the circumstances dictate that we act far more quickly. Before facing Aeon, there are many preparations we must make. In particular, there are two items we must obtain.
“Shortly after the Heartstone was discovered, a sister stone was also found, one that similarly resisted all attempts at harnessing, but that, upon further research, appeared to dampen or even nullify the effects of the Heartstone. Seeing as no one could harness the Heartstone to begin with, this new stone, called by some the Soulstone, was tucked away in the royal stone reserve without much further thought.
“If we are to have any hope of disarming Aeon, it is imperative that we obtain the Soulstone. This will not be an easy task, as it does involve breaking into the royal reserve, which is likely the most guarded complex on this planet, but with my aid and guidance, I believe it should be possible.
“As an added advantage, the royal reserve also contains the most advanced harnessing equipment presently devised by the Tachen research forces. In particular, there is an experimental tandem harness that I expect should significantly increase Ardin and Tan’s efficacy. With our hands on the Soulstone and the tandem harness, our odds of success should be greatly increased.”
Ardin coughed. “I’m just going to state the obvious here and ask why we don’t just ask the Tachen government for access to these things instead of risking our lives breaking into their reserve. Aeon just destroyed our capital city. Shouldn’t they be welcoming all the help they can get?”