This chapter was written in collaboration with Scylla.
Amon listened to her dejected words, feeling a sinking sensation in his chest. For a moment, he struggled to make sense of it – was this, perhaps, sympathy?
Sympathy for Scylla, his rival since childhood?
They’d almost always kept up their brave faces to one another before this – never admitting weakness or defeat. To do so put one at risk of being bettered by the other, and that couldn’t happen, of course.
This was perhaps the first time that he’d ever heard Scylla speak so humbly of herself, admit to mistakes she’d made that led to what she viewed as a limitation that she couldn’t overcome. He just watched her with observing golden eyes that for once… could not judge. Not with such a vulnerable display before him.
Amon found his instinctual response to be… almost nurturing. That bit of him that sought to problem-solve. Sought to fix the wrongs. Sought to heal troubles for others… though he often did all these things improperly.
The Elezen reached out and took Scylla’s hand in her mid-point, forgetting his own pained hands for a moment. He then turned it so that it was palm up, and inspected it with pursed lips.
“Now then… perhaps ‘tis a difference of accessing aether that has you befuddled. I admit, I’m still not used to the idea of a focus acting as a transit, myself,” Amon told her and released her hand gently. “Mayhaps, walk through the process of taking in the aether, and I may be able to see where you’re getting stuck.”
He pointed to his eyes, reminding her of his ability to see the flow of aether. Though it wasn’t always a useful skill, in this case, he might just be able to spy what hindered Scylla’s casting… if it was a matter of troubled aetherflow.
Scylla’s face turned bright red, throat tightening up as she struggled to choke out words. She was ready for him to just laugh in her face. But lately… he had these random moments of compassion that always surprised her.
“I… uh… uhm…”
She pulled down on her shirt, shaking out her shoulders as she regained her composure, gathering up the focus in her hands.
“Ahem, just like Ben instructed… I try to gather the aether at the focus…” She squinted, struggling to draw in the energies around her to the focus with a pained face. “It’s like the energy wants to be anywhere but here.”
With a shallow breath, she released the small stream into the dummy, the dull-lit energies giving it a slight nudge.
“Something is just not right.”
Amon pursed his lips, watching in a professional manner. Then he tilted his head a bit as he saw the aether disperse before she was even able to work it into an elemental form.
“Mmmm… I feel like you’re relying on the focus a little too much,” the Elezen suggested. “Aether is a living energy inside of us, something that relies on the connection with a living being. The focus is just an object that has been designed to help manage and enhance the natural aether within us. Therefore, you can’t just shove the aetherflow inside of it and expect it to do all of the work.”
Amon pulled his own focus out, floating it lightly above his hand as it did automatically, indicating its connection with his internal aether. It would be so much easier if he could show her what he saw, but he knew it was impossible.
Instead, he drew on aether of the electric element, hoping it could help demonstrate what he’d termed “aetheric juggling.” The pulse of his internal aether could be seen bouncing between himself and the focus, faster and faster until there was almost no perception of the motion. It had become a constant flow.
“’Tis a consistent motion, a balance in energies… a true aether flow between yourself and the focus. If at any time, the motion stops, the focus will not maintain the energy because ‘tisn’t the focus’ job. ‘Tis our job, you see. It merely mirrors and enhances what we cycle through it.”
“Hmm….” Scylla squinted as she mimicked his motion, pulling her own focus out. “It makes enough sense.”
The mage considered Amon’s words carefully. As she had learned as a child, he was frustratingly almost always right about things like this, though in the past, she did not know of his aethersight.
She carefully worked to gather up the energies within her own form, stunting the flow to the focus, taking a little more time to gather energy internally. The woman could feel the aether grow from a trickle into a river. It coursed into her veins, as her face started to flush from the reaction.
“When?” Scylla asked the Elezen as she felt her whole body heat up. “Now?”
If she didn’t release it at the right time, she would spend the rest of her day with the hairstyle of a lavender Coerthan sheep.
With a sharp exhale, she released the aether into focus. It lit up, sending streams of color into a burst of light. Scylla’s eyes widened as she struggled with the captured energies as her control slipped. With anything but grace, she stumbled and fell backwards into the Elezen behind her, sending the energies forward in a sprawling messy display of crackling lightning.
Amon’s eyes widened as he saw the flickering warning just before the cast. Scylla had, indeed, successfully gathered and spun the aether, but perhaps had not been ready for a release of that magnitude.
For a moment, he almost thought to call out in victory! See here! She still had some archemagic aetheric abilities!
But any celebratory thoughts were cut short as Scylla came barreling back, slamming square into his chest. Amon stumbled backwards from the force as the release of Scylla’s lightning struck out the opposite way. At the dummy. At a tree. At the wall of the house. At the bucket of water, which ended up blasted skyward.
Out of instinct, Amon caught his rival in their backwards trajectory, seeking to shield them both from the unexpected blast. They ended up rolling a few times across the lawn, some of the grass smoldering in darkened spots, mildly threatening to blaze.
The Elezen wheezed encouragingly, trying to catch the breath that had been knocked out of him. “’Twas… a step in the right direction…”
Scylla letting out a cough, trying spitting out the metallic taste that the spell had left in her mouth. It had happened so fast, and now she was left splayed on the lawn, with little crackling bits of grass all around her.
Did that come from me?
To her side was Amon, wheezing from the unexpected blast with a smile between dirt and grass smudged cheeks. Scylla gave a small smile, brushing off her knees before offering the prone Elezen an open hand.