Two to my left, four above, one to my right, three in front. A wall behind me. Right was my best option. I dived to the right, avoiding the incoming blasts of magic from the other directions, and intercepted the one coming from my right with a palm-sized disc of light, stopping the blast in its tracks. Immediately, another barrage of ten blasts honed in on me, all targeted at the spot where my dodge had landed me. I grit my teeth and generated ten discs of light, blocking all of the blasts with pinpoint accuracy. My assailant didn’t let up. Another barrage, followed by another. First ten, then twenty, then thirty, then too many to count. I tried to keep up, creating ever more discs to block the flight paths of the missiles, but the number was too overwhelmingly large to perfectly account for every attack – eventually, I would miss one, and that would be the end of it.
When the miss did finally occur, I had only a split second to squeeze out a curse before my body jolted, magic running through my body like liquid fire. At the moment of impact, all the other blasts of magic abruptly disappeared, and I was left to crumple on the ground, exhausted, in a cold sweat. A gentle voice brought me back to my senses.
“Thirteen minutes. That was pretty good. I’d give you a 7 out of 10.”
I steadied my breathing and pulled off the blindfold, coming face-to-face with the woman who was my teacher, squatting next to me with a grin on her face.
I painfully pushed myself into a sitting position and replied.
“I’m guessing that if I’d gone another direction, I might have gotten an 8?”
“More or less, yeah. When an opponent leaves such an obvious weak point in the encirclement, it’s a safe assumption that it’s a trap. How are you feeling?”
“Ugh. Are you sure those blasts are non-lethal? Certainly doesn’t feel that way.”
“Well, think about it this way, if it was lethal, it wouldn’t hurt.”
“…valid point. Still, could we take a break? That was brutal.”
“Certainly. Let’s take a ten minute break.”
She sat down next to me, looking up at the sky. A look of longing – or was it melancholy – crossed her face as she took in the clouds. Ruth had a strange habit of looking to the sky whenever we had these moments of peaceful silence between sparring sessions. The woman who had volunteered to be my teacher was a strange one indeed, but it was none of my business. I had enough on my plate just trying to survive her lessons.
I groaned and massaged my neck. My body felt like it had just run a marathon. I ached everywhere. The training I had just undertaken was, according to Ruth, intended to help me learn to use my magic defensively.
The objective was to survive her onslaught for fifteen minutes. To make matters worse, I had to do it blindfolded – I had to rely on my ability to feel magic gathering in the air to determine the direction of her attacks. To this end, she didn’t use the four elements that she was accustomed to, but instead used blasts of concentrated mana. This way, it would be easier for me to detect them – it was also less dangerous than, say, hitting me with a spear of fire. But that also meant that the magic didn’t produce sounds or changes in the temperature of the air that could clue me in. Everything hinged on my ability to accurately pinpoint concentrated mana.
The first few sessions had ended instantly – I had never tried to do something as abstract as feel the presence of magic before, so I was at a loss when we started. Ruth gradually beat the awareness into me, such that by the end of the first day, I could accurately and almost subconsciously pinpoint her blasts. Incidentally, by the end of the first day, I had thrown up thrice and had trouble walking back to the inn.
Of course, knowing where the attacks came from was of no use if I couldn’t do anything about them. Ruth had taught me the basics of forming an elemental barrier, so on the second day I had attempted to cover my entire body with a barrier of light. It worked, for about eight minutes. Problem is, sustaining a large-area elemental barrier like that takes a toll on your body. A massive toll. After eight minutes, I collapsed from exhaustion – we had to end our training early that day.
As the week passed, I learned to form multiple tiny shields instead of one large one, and instead of sustaining it for the whole period, I formed it only to block a specific missile and let it dissipate once the missile’s magical energy was completely dispelled. This way, the drain on my body was much less pronounced and I could keep up the defence for a longer period of time. Of course, it required more attention on my part to the direction of the attacks, but after nearly a week of being pummelled by magic, it was almost an unconscious effort to note the coordinates of each attack. With this new method, I thought I had a chance of winning…until Ruth attacked me with a blast the size of a large tree. It was too powerful for my barrier to stop and ended up knocking me unconscious. Hence why I had decided to mix evasion into the technique today. It was working well, too, until I made that fatal mistake at the end and allowed myself to be cornered.
I let out a deep sigh and took out the small Resound Jewels that Elysium had given me, holding them up to the sun and admiring their shine. It was something I had taken to doing in my free time, though this break was the first time in a week I had free time in the company of Ruth, so this was her first time seeing them.
“Oh, a Resound Jewel. That brings back memories. Did Elysium give that to you?”
“Yep. Oh, actually, that reminds me. I was supposed to ask you how to link them together.”
She placed a finger to her chin, a pondering look crossing her face.
“Hm. Well I could do that, or…”
“I already don’t like where this is going.”
“Hey! I was just going to say it would be better for you to figure it out yourself.”
She gently flicked my forehead. It hurt. A lot.
“I mean, that’s just how teaching works, Glint. It’s always better to let the student figure things out. Especially a student with your level of talent. That said, it’s the teacher’s job to guide the student there. So, first off: tell me what you know about Resound Jewels.”
I rubbed my forehead and dutifully answered.
“They can be paired up, a single “master” jewel can be linked to several “slave” jewels, and they allow for the transmission of sound between two paired jewels.”
“5 out of 10. Not wrong, but not exactly right, either.”
“Resound Jewels indeed do allow for the transference of sound, but that is not their primary function.”
“Think about it. What is sound?”
“Eh? Sound is just… I don’t know, sound, I guess. Everyone knows what a sound is. It’s the thing you hear when something happens.”
“Not good enough. Go one level higher. Think in terms of abstractions. What does it mean to hear something?”
I mused on it for a while, thinking aloud.
“Well… to hear a sound means to become aware of the sound, I guess? Like, hearing a crash in the distance means knowing that there is a sound resulting from a crash in the distance.”
“Very good. You’re almost there. Make the leap, Glint.”
“So to hear the sound is to become aware of the sound, and by extension, to become aware of the fact that something has happened to produce the sound. For example, hearing a roar in the distance would inform me of the fact that there is-“
I stopped mid-sentence as I suddenly realised where Ruth was going with this. I looked to her, my mind rapidly working to comprehend the implications of the revelation. She nodded encouragingly, silently urging me to bring this line of thought to its natural conclusion.
“…Sound is information. And information can be encoded as magic.”
I looked back down to the Resound Jewels resting in my hands.
“…Resound Jewels don’t transmit sound, they transmit magic.”
With that concept in mind, what was required to pair them became clear. I closed my eyes and held the stones together, making sure they touched. Then I directed a small amount of pure mana through the two stones, making sure the point of contact didn’t shift. When I was done, a channel had been created between the two stones, a faint ripple of magic that I could only detect by carefully searching for it.
Ruth clapped her hands excitedly.
“Perfect! 10 out of 10! Resound Jewels are great catalysts for the transfer of magic. Explaining how it works would be a bit too technical – it involves natural resonance and mana frequency – but it’s enough to know that it sends magic, not sound. It’s a recent discovery, too. As it turns out, the mineral that it’s made of happens to be an excellent natural converter of sound to magic, so for the longest time, it was assumed that it only transmitted sound. Trying to transmit anything else through it requires a conscious effort, and the idea itself was so absurd that it seems nobody ever tried it. Pass those over here.”
Ruth held out her hand, and I placed the paired jewels in her open palm.
“Of course, being the clever student you are, you’ve probably surmised that what I’m about to show you is theoretically possible, but a practical demonstration can’t hurt.”
She then tossed the two jewels in different directions, one straight above, the other directly in front of her. She opened her palm in the direction of the jewel in front, and immediately a spear of fire materialised in front of her hand and struck the jewel. The moment it touched the surface of the jewel, the fire disappeared, as if it was sucked into the jewel. Then, from the jewel above, an identical spear of fire erupted out, flying off into the sky to barbeque some poor, unsuspecting bird.
I could only watch her, flabbergasted. I mean, she was right, I had been thinking along those lines, but seeing it actually happen in front of me was another matter entirely.
Moving faster than I could follow, she caught both jewels before they hit the floor and turned to me, holding them out.
“Now, I had cast that spear with the intent for it to pass through the jewels. If I hadn’t consciously done that, the magic wouldn’t have been transferred and the jewel would just have been struck normally. So I’m afraid that if you’re thinking of making some sort of shield from the jewel, it’s not going to work. That said, I’m sure you can think of numerous applications for this discovery. I look forward to seeing what you come up with.”
She jerked her outstretched hand, a signal for me to hurry up and take the jewels. I retrieved the jewels and pocketed them, then turned to her with a feeling of dread deep in my stomach.
“Come on, break’s over. I want to get in another three rounds, at least. With your current level, you should be able to succeed before the day’s out.”
I breathed a deep sigh and prepared for another round of desperate evasion and blocking. Somewhere, a voice inside me screamed that I was crazy for continuing with this routine, but I ignored it.