As I lay on the narrow bed in the darkness I think about what I have learned over the past few days. It had never occurred to me before to use abstract symbols as a means to focus the effect of what I wanted. The other advantage I could see was they provided convenient shorthand. It would be a good way to build an arsenal of effects that I could have ready at any moment. I thought of all the implants I had pushed into people’s minds over the years and how much easier it would have been to use re-use common symbols.
In a strange way it felt oddly satisfying to learn something new. I could wield power, but to add some finesse to it as well was a pleasant feeling. The fact that is also made me more capable was no bad thing either. I’m sure it would come in useful soon.
Again I slept soundly that night, waking feeling refreshed and eager to learn more. It occurred to me that I hadn’t dreamed since I had been brought here. I wonder if that is intentional or not.
With breakfast concluded Friar Francis introduces today’s topic. “Continuing on from your extra-curricular activities we’re going to look at shields and barriers today.”
So they have been watching what I do in the evening. It seems unlikely that they have any technology to monitor what I’m doing, so they must either be able to get a presence inside their barrier or they’re aware when I make changes to their barriers. My money is on the second option, but either way it is useful information.
“We’ll start with building a shield for yourself. At its most basic a shield protects you from attack or external influence. With novices we start with having them visualize a shield as a bright blue aura around them. It’s a good place to start, so why don’t you give it a try.”
Seems simple enough, I coat myself in a bright blue aura as described.
“In your case it’s more of a beacon than a shield. It would protect you well enough, but would also attract attention for miles around. Make the aura thinner, so it just follows the contours of your body.”
I dial it down a bit.
“Good. Now the strength of a shield isn’t determined by its thickness, but in its density. If you remember the exercises where you penetrated various barriers it was the density that forced you to use ever smaller probes. The denser the shield, the smaller the imperfections, so the harder it is to pierce. Your power or strength of will and mastery of the technique is what determines how strong a shield you can create.”
Makes sense, I refocus the aura, making it thinner still but also putting more will into the smaller volume.
“Excellent. Now we can look at increasing the complexity of the barrier. The easiest way to do this is to have multiple shields, each one layered on top of the other.”
I see a problem with this. “If they can penetrate one then surely penetrating the others is no more difficult?”
“That’s a fair point, you’re jumping the gun a bit, but I expected no less from you.”
That fucking smile again.
“To make the different layers more effective you should vary the density of the barrier, make your opponent seek each level of imperfections. That will cost them time, giving you more time to react. To stop an attack the shield must be stronger than your opponent, in essence that means that the imperfections he seeks must be smaller than he can focus his will. Having to do this across multiple layers will compound their challenge.”
I give this a try.
“Ok, that’s good. Now instead of layering them, try entwining them so the layers pass through each other. Think of it like tying it into a knot, the more complex the knot, the more effective it will be.”
“That’s good. Now let me have a go at breaking the shield.”
I can feel his probes immediately. He attacks from multiple directions at once with countless tiny barbs. I can feel them flickering across the shield, looking for weaknesses. At first I react to each probe, strengthening where I can feel him probing. In response he increases the number of probes and I try to match. It’s a mistake as I respond to one batch of attacks he switches and I fall into a cycle of responding.
I am trying to track too many things and the first of his probes breaks through. I switch tactics and collapse the penetrated shields and adding new ones beneath those.
The Friar changes tactics again, this time instead of probing he focuses his will into a single lance that slams into the shield. The tip is soft and splashes against the shield, splitting into billions of filaments that fill the imperfections in my shields. As clusters find the gaps they instantly burst, shattering new holes.
I see a new method of attack and instead of resisting allow the filaments in and then envelop them with new shields trapping them. I then start pulling at them drawing them into the pockets I have created. His attack weakens as he feels himself being dragged in to these pockets.
“Enough.” He says. “That was well done. The point as I’m sure you’ve realised is that the defence must be dynamic. For the untrained it is often just a clash of wills. The problem with that is if you pour all your strength and focus into a single move, you’ll often end up outmanoeuvred”
With a chuckle he continues. “In many ways it’s like a fighting a boxing match and playing chess at the same time. Agility can often beat power, and keeping moves in reserve can change the balance of a contest. The other problem with putting all your will into a single attack is that you don’t know if the other person is the same, or if you are actually battling more than one person.”
“And as you’ve just discovered, often offense can be the best for of defence.”
I can’t disagree with that, in my experience a good defence is just about waiting to unleash a brutal offence.
We continue with some exercises until Hammond brings through a selection of sandwiches for lunch. As always, he leaves me on my own to eat, but when I finish he quickly returns and resumes the lesson.
“At the start I said to you to create an aura of blue. We always start with blue as it is a strong colour well suited for defence. It’s also an easy way to encourage putting a lot of energy in a smaller volume. Like with stars, the brightest stars tend to be blue and are also smaller than the red ones.”
“For more experienced initiates colour can be used to add complexity to your shields. Colours can have meanings, but it is best to treat them as another symbol, or as a way flavouring your symbols. If you are juggling different effects at the same time, they can provide a quick mechanism for keeping track of them.”
“This leads me to the final lesson for today. A shield itself is a form of symbol, but it can work the other way round. If you create a symbol, let’s say a symbol that is a snare, similar to how you trapped my probes earlier. You can take that symbol and entwine it into your shield layers. Another way to look at it is to take the symbol and stretch it over your shield. And of course, with an array of symbols you can easily layer multiple effects.”
“That’s a good way to add traps or triggers to your shields. Let’s try it now. Create a symbol in your mind, keep it simple for now. Create a symbol that sparks when another presence touches it.”
I create the Snap Dragon symbol in my mind.
“Now raise a shield, keep it simple just a single layer. Now merge the symbol with the shield.”
I think of a better way. The Snap Dragon symbol is now a layer that acts as a shield but sparkles when something touches it. I tell the Friar that I’m ready and I watch the shield sparkle as his probes at it. I change the symbol again, with a small grin of my own, the sparkles now buzz around him like bees.
“All right, I see you’ve learnt how to modify your symbols on the fly. That will come in useful. Now for your next exercise ...”
He’s interrupted by a knock at the door. That’s unusual, we are never disturbed. He opens the door, I can hear some muffled voices, I expand my awareness to try and listen in, but the Friar steps out of the room, closes the door and blocks me off.
Fair enough. I look at Hammond stood at the door. He is impassive, just watching me, his eyes alert, his back straight. I don’t enter his mind, but I can sense the rock within him. It suddenly strikes me, the rock is a special type of shield, a shield on the inside. A shield on the inside is not easily noticed, a last line of defence. Very clever.
My thoughts are interrupted by the Friar walking back into the room. He nods at Hammond before saying. “One of our teams has spotted Lazarus. We fly out in an hour. Hammond will help you get ready.”