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Fri Aug 25, 2006 15:40 (XFF:

When the class had been divided, Afailla had wandered over towards the defensive group, figuring that this would take more finesse and concentration – not something she wanted to have to worry about after being tuckered out from battle weaves. Her suspicions were confirmed as the Dedicated began speaking and filling them in on just what to do. When the shield popped up in front of them, Afailla was immensely grateful that she had chosen to follow the woman – she hadn’t even thought about the unforeseen problem of not being able to see any of the Asha’Man’s weaves. The Soldier examined the first shield carefully, doing her best to memorize exactly how it was done and what it should look like, so that she could duplicate it when it was time. When the shield was collapsed so that Ceto could form the second example, Afailla looked at it as well, quite interested in the difference the Air made. After some rather extensive practicing, she’d found Air to be one of her stronger elements, and spirit to be among her weakest. If she could hold two elements at once, the second shield may be easier . . .. But, alas, she was instructed to stick solely to the first shield, and so stored the few gleanings she’d gained of the second for later use.

When they were told to pair off, Afailla found herself left alone. Everyone else seemed to have already determined who they wanted to be with, and Afailla, not familiar with this technique, was left stranded. She caught the eye of another girl who looked rather forlorn, and managed a smile. Once she’d managed to get to the other Soldier’s side, it had become obvious that they were both the odd man out, so to speak. “Need a partner?” The girl nodded, and they moved off on their own to begin practicing. Afailla wasn’t particularly looking forward to being shielding, but she volunteered to go first – her partner seemed to be absolutely petrified at the possibility. Maybe if she saw that it wasn’t the end of the world . . ..

Afailla had scarcely finished the thought when the ground suddenly dropped out from under her and she felt the world waver a bit before setting itself steady again. It felt as though there were a sudden, gaping hole somewhere inside her, as though she’d been bored through in the middle. She couldn’t stifle a gasp, and the blood visibly drained from her already-pale face. It took a while for her to get a grip on her panicking mind, but eventually, she managed to stop freaking out about the absence of the Power and concentrate on the lesson. She was supposed to try to break free. She could see the shield in her mind, and she could kind of feel her way along it mentally. As she did so, she realized with increasing panic that there were no holes, no weak points that she could find. Once again, her thoughts began to spin away into irrationality – and then she found it.

The flaw was tiny, so small and well hidden that she must have passed over it several times before it finally became apparent. With a little gasp of relief, she began work at it, pushing, pulling, prying – and finally, with one last mental shove, the shield broke away and the hole was rapidly filled. Afailla embraced quickly, just to assure herself that it was back and to feel the wonderful rush of saidar coursing through her. By the time she managed to calm herself and look across at her partner, any hint of surprise had been swept away, and the strange girl stood still, though she still looked terrified. Afailla managed to give her a fairly comforting smile (it shook considerably; that had been worse than she could possibly have imagined), and then constructed a shield of her own, slamming it into place. She saw the other girl wince and go down to one knee (maybe she’d been a little too forceful, though she had been careful to blunt the edges; it may have just been a bit too sudden . . .), and almost immediately wanted to release the shield, knowing what her partner was feeling.

The other girl took several minutes to regain some measure of composure, and then Afailla could feel her searching her way around the “wall,” feeling for a flaw, for any mistake. After several interminable minutes more, the other girl seemed to be losing hope, and Afailla felt distinctly sorry for her. Was this what her partner had been feeling, holding the shield around the redheaded girl? Finally, Afailla couldn’t stand it any more. She was sure that there were flaws that she had no way of smoothing out her first time (though she could see now where they were and what to do differently next time), but apparently a frenzied mind is less able to think coherently. Biting her lip worriedly, Afailla loosened the shield just ever so slightly, making a deliberately obvious, if small, flaw in the shield. Had that been why she’d finally found the flaw in the shield around her? Had her partner pitied her, too? That was a disturbing thought . . .. If she was shielded outside of this lesson, it was doubtful that the one controlling the shield would feel sorry for her being cut off from the Power.

Finally, Afailla’s shield was shattered, and she staggered back a step as the weave snapped back into her. That, she hadn’t been expecting. She managed to regain her composure much more quickly than after being severed from the source, but it was still a bit startling. Once both girls had themselves under control again (Afailla’s partner had embraced the second she was able, and Afailla still held her own grip on the Power), the Shienaran decided that it was better to find out than wonder.

“You didn’t . . . put a deliberate flaw in my shield so that I could break it, did you?” Her partner gave Afailla a startled look, and then laughed a bit weakly. Smiling ruefully, Afailla shook her head. “No one else is going to feel sorry for us. This time, let’s just do our best shields and really try to hold them against each other, okay?” The two girls repeated the process several times, and while it never got easier to be separated from the Source, it did grow easier for Afailla to form the shield, hold it firm, keep her concentration, and to break the shield that was placed on her. She was starting to feel a bit more confident in her defensive abilities so far, though this was all still quite new to her.

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