Chapter Twenty-one – The sage’s lessons

“Adjust your stance to what I’m showing you. You don’t have to completely abandon what you’ve learned, but try to adjust, okay? If you move your hips slightly lower and keep the knees bent you have way more flexibility. Move with the strike of the sword as you parry it as opposed to forcing yourself into a battle of raw strength. Let the opponent’s strength work for you instead of against you.” Dionil had been giving him instructions all morning and made him copy certain movements again and again until he was satisfied. “Now do one hundred more of those strikes on the straw dummy over there and then we can eat lunch as a group. After lunch I need you to go over the instructions I’ve put on paper and memorize them as best you can. We’ll continue tomorrow.”
Cobal nodded. He would have liked to practice more with Dionil, but he also understood that Mana was the sage’s number one priority. He continued the exercise as he was instructed. A lot of the basics that Dionil was having him practice were very similar to what he’d learned in the capital, but there were subtle differences. His fighting style was based a lot on overpowering your opponents whereas Dionil was teaching him ways to use the sword that required way less force. During their first lesson earlier this week he’d explained that what he was teaching him was mainly elven swordsmanship. Although Might had a unique way of fighting, the basics were very similar to what the elves already practiced so Cobal would have to get those down first. Being used to intense sword training, Cobal had no problem following instructions and returning to the basics. It was quite nice, actually, since repeating tasks left time for the mind to wander and think. After finishing up the last few repetitions he put his wooden sword away and went to the nearby river to clean up.
Sitting in the cold stream he thought back to the first few days they’d been here. Dionil had still been fairly cold towards Cobal and he himself hadn’t forgotten the sage’s harsh treatment when they met. But they also both understood that there were more important things than bickering and after Cobal convinced Dionil that he was there to support Mana, the latter warmed up to him a little bit. Cobal himself couldn’t help but quickly gain a massive amount of respect for Dionil. The elven man may look old, but he could pick up any weapon and immediately become a deadly opponent. Not only that, his control over magic was apparently unrivaled as well.
After finishing up a quick dip in the river he headed back to the cabin for lunch.

“You know, if you want to sit in on the magic lessons you’re free to do so,” Mana said to him as they were eating. “You’ve been saying that the afternoons are a bit boring with Dionil being preoccupied so you might as well give it a go.”
Cobal thought about it for a moment before nodding. “That’s not a bad idea.” he shot Dionil a look. “Assuming that’s alright?”
Dionil nodded. “I have no issues with it, as long as you’re not interrupting anything.”
“I want to learn about magic too,” Cassandra interjected, pouting slightly.
Dionil smiled. “You can sit in and listen, but if you want to finish your project anytime soon you can’t really waste too much time.”
Cassandra sighed. “I know, it’s just so much work.”
“What are you working on?” Cobal asked her.
A wide grin appeared on her face. “That’s a secret for now.”
“Why?” Cobal asked.
“So that if it fails she can just pretend it was something unimportant,” Mana said.
Cassandra’s grin vanished as she gave Mana an annoyed look. “Fine, I’ll keep working on it and it’ll be great and you’ll all be sorry you said it might fail.” She stood up. “Thanks for the food.”
Cobal looked around. “I don’t see Kimi anywhere, what is she doing?”
“I sent her to the town. There’s someone in town that can be of more use for her. And I think it’s good for her to meet more elves.” He paused for a moment. “That and I think the people in town would really love meeting a spirit of music, so it’s a good thing for everyone involved.”
Cobal smiled. “Hitting two birds with one stone.”
Dionil and Mana both smiled too. “Well then, shall we get started for the day?”
Dionil got up and walked to the front of the house where the pillows and the low table were located. The place was already covered in scrolls and books and although there was a lot of stuff, it was all placed there deliberately. Dionil and Mana had been pouring over the scrolls and books for several days already but this was the first time Cobal was joining them. Magic wasn’t exactly something he was knowledgeable about and although he’d seen Mana use it a couple of times on their journeys and he’d learned a small amount about it back in the capital city, he never did manage to practice it. Maybe Dionil could change that for him. Dionil had confessed that although he was ready to help any new hero grow, he was secretly hoping for someone with an affinity for magic. Mana was just that.
From what Cobal had understood though, it wasn’t all going swimmingly right from the start. There seemed to be a lot of gaps in Mana’s knowledge and although she’d been looking into magic from the moment she arrived here, she wasn’t really able to convert that theory into practice. The only things she could really do were manipulating  the air around her and just sending her magic out in large uncontrolled bursts. What Dionil was trying to teach her was control.
“What you need to do most of all is focus on the moment. I know it might sound boring and cliche, but unless you rid yourself of unnecessary thoughts you can’t truly focus on the magic you’re trying to cast.” Dionil looked at Cobal really quickly and added. “Since you already have a magic focus, that part is done, as we talked about the other day. Once you have a way of focusing, you should be able to control the magic in a way you want to. The focus will allow you to turn your energy into mana.”
“That’s going to be confusing, isn’t it?” Cobal asked.
Dionil laughed. “Not the most convenient naming sense, but it’s what we have to work with. I’m sure it’ll be okay.” He turned back to Mana. “Now, I want both you and Cobal to attempt the following.” He pulled out two books from one of the shelves. Both were nicely leatherbound. “These tomes are yours now. Use them to write down your progress on magic every single day. If you didn’t progress that’s okay too, but I want you to write down why you think you didn’t progress. Was something bothering you, did you not spend enough time on it or anything else.
“Like a day journal?” Mana asked.
“I don’t know what that is, but the name sounds like it’s probably the same thing, yes.”
“This is a very nicely made book,” Cobal remarked, looking at the tome he was just handed. It had a similar quality to some of the books in the royal library.
Dionil smiled. “Griana in town makes them, he’s an excellent bookbinder.”
“Now, besides writing in this every single day, I have another assignment for you both.” He looked out of the window for a moment and then nodded. “Follow me outside.”
They both followed him to the front porch. He took another book with him, which he put in front of him on the ground. Holding a small dagger in his hand he looked at the book and after a moment it started floating into the air, hovering in front of him. The front page opened, followed by several pages moving about until he reached the page he was looking for. From his pocket a small pencil appeared and without touching it, it hovered towards the page and drew a small circle on the page. The pencil then floated back into his pocket and the book closed itself again before landing softly on the ground. Dionil picked it back up and smiled. “Before I send you on your way again in the future, I want you to be at least able to reproduce all of that.” Mana and Cobal both looked at him with disbelief.
“There’s simply no way I can do that in any reasonable amount of time.”
Cobal quickly added, “I have no talent for any of this, do you really expect me to be able to do something like that?”
Dionil laughed. It was an honest laugh and Cobal was a little bit surprised by it. “Honestly, no. I don’t believe you’re capable of doing this, but that’s okay. What I want from you is to try your hardest. I’m not letting you quit before you either succeed or both you and I believe you’ve tried your best and it’s just not going to happen.”
Cobal sighed. “That seems mean.”
“I never said I was nice.” With that said the sage walked away.

“So what did he teach you about so far?” Cobal asked Mana.
They had been trying to make the books move for about an hour now to no success. Cobal was about ready to give up but Mana was still trying.
“There’s been a lot of theory so far, some of which I’m sure you’re already aware of. The important things I took away from his teachings so far are two things.” She put her focus, the small necklace she’d gotten in Arana, away for a moment. “The first thing is the fact that using magic takes physical energy. Mana is a form of energy the body uses. I’ve likened it to my old world where people knew which foods gave some energy. If you had more energy, your body could do more active things. It’s also very important to build up stamina so you can do more with the energy you have. I’ve also understood that the energy required for mana works a bit differently from just eating food so I want to dive into that a little bit more.
The second thing I’m learning is that although you generally need a focus to cast magic through, it’s not an iron rule that can’t be changed. Some people can cast spells through reading a specific text from a book. Some can use music, as Kimi has shown us before, and even others can make the mana flow through  their bodies, enhancing their physical capabilities. Dionil says that elves have a natural mana flow, which allows them to live way longer and be more dexterous than humans. Dwarves have something similar but it makes them physically tougher instead of more dexterous. Maybe learning to make mana flow through your body will help you get better at swordsmanship.”
Cobal thought about this for a moment. “That sounds great and all, but nothing will happen if I can’t move this book, will it.”
“Best get on that then,” Mana replied, laughing.
Cobal grumbled but continued the practice. By the end of the afternoon they both gave up without any real progress. Once Mana had launched the book from its place and into the grass nearby. She was definitely able to use wind magic in bursts, but any form of control was still lost on her. The next day Dionil would give them some advice and help them out for a while, so hopefully they would start to progress. After each writing in their book about their lack of progress that day, they went back inside to have dinner with everyone else. Besides training all of them and giving them individual advice, Dionil also took care of preparing the food so that they could spend all of their free time focusing on their training.
The evenings were not for training as Dionil said that you should always spend time on other things so you don’t get overwhelmed. After a rough start at the sage’s cabin, things were slowly falling into place and Cobal was starting to enjoy his time here. Most importantly, he could really see Mana glow up as well. Her anxious nature was still there but she seemed way more comfortable here than on the road. He was happy for her.

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