Benzhi looked at the Stoneskin Stronghold's Land Core, it was early morning and the Vanguard would train with Anastasia and the dwarven warriors in an hour. Reyas was showing Anastasia around, while Gisael was sitting quietly behind Benzhi as he contemplated how to use the Land Core to either find or create some white silver and vanadium, whatever they were.
Benzhi's knowledge of metallurgy, or geology, whatever this fell under was sparse at best. He thought out loud, "I could draw from or ask the Land Core for the white silver and see what happens, but perhaps it would be better to know what I am asking for first."
Gisael, listening, suggested, "you could ask Barrin for a sample to examine."
"Would you be a darling and go fetch some for me?" Benzhi asked.
Gisael stiffened, "I am not a servant."
Benzhi stood, sighing and started walking towards the forges. Gisael followed, "you are going to follow me anyway," he observed as they left the great hall.
"That is not the same as fetching something for you as you sit doing nothing," she accused.
"I was thinking," he explained.
"AHmm," she said non-committedly.
As time passed, their bonds were renewed and they had grown close again. The separation was not easy for Reyas, but Gisael was affected by his absence in a different way. She had become agitated with him upon his return but was mellowing with time. He shouldn't be too harsh, it was less than two days and things were almost back to normal.
Benzhi waited at the entrance to the forge, he had learned never to just walk in, the hard way. "Barrin," he called and waited.
"Aye, what ye be needin?" Barrin asked when he popped out a minute later.
"I am trying to interact with the Land Core to produce some white silver and the, um, vanadium you mentioned. Do you have any samples I could hold on to for reference?" Benzhi asked.
"No white silver, that stuff be extremely valuable and we used every ounce years ago. But I do 'av some vanadium and we often find small amounts of white silver with the vanadium ore," Barrin replied. He ambled across into the rooms the artisans used for storage and came back a few minutes later with a small crate of shiny Vanadium.
"It looks like chrome," Benzhi said.
Barrin raised an eyebrow, "they all look similar to the untrained eye."
"Thanks, I will see if I can find some of this stuff," Benzhi said.
Benzhi sat in front of the Core and merged with it. He held a handful of Vanadium nuggets and tried to get a sense or feel for it. If this didn't work he would try again with Bhar assisting, but as she was not a miner, he did not think she would be of much help.
"Ok, Core, can you show this to me? I don't mind using a bit of power, we can kill a few hundred gnolls and replace it," Benzhi was talking quietly to himself with Gisael listening to every word, smiling.
Benzhi reached out, feeling his way around, he had no idea what he was doing he was just feeling through the mountain, in a way he was sense scanning. After an hour of searching, he gave it a rest. He was unable to discern any types of rock or ore, let alone vanadium. And it was time for training.
Gisael and Benzhi headed to the practice field down the mountain, a large open area down the mountain where they trained under the open sky. It was a fair hike, but much preferable that inside the stronghold or on the slopes themselves.
Benzhi watched the dwarves to train as they always had waited for them to finish before praising them and offering a suggestion or two. The Stoneskin warriors were stubborn and set in their ways, Benzhi found he had to either order them giving them no choice, which he saved for extreme circumstances, or the best strategy, was to plant the seed of ideas, let the dwarves think about it and it would come back as their own idea in a day or two.
The dwarves were much more open to their own ideas, they even made it sound like something they used to do in the old days, or it was merely an extension of common practice. In the end, he did not have that many adaptions or suggestions for them, their style and tactics were effective. The dwarven warriors were a mobile wall with spears.
Gisael had taken up a second sword, Benzhi had sent a request through to the glade for two ebony swords for Gisael. Her bow could not be any more deadly, however, there could be an improvement with two ebony qi blades. Reyas was training spear and shield, almost identical to Benzhi, however, she could switch back to dual picks at any time. Paphyra had requests in for two ebony swords and an additional two ebony shields. Any metal the dwarves found would go to weapons.
Hides for their armour would provide the focus of their next expedition, ideally, they needed the skin of a magical or divine beast. There was no way they would kill the protectors of the Alpine Forest, such as the Ancient Kodiak, or the Snow Leopard, so it would have to come from a portal spawn, probably the penultimate fight, the proverbial boss spawn.
Benzhi was experimenting with Gisael and Reyas' training, he knew that Anastasia would be able to learn techniques like he had, that came down to her ability. But with Reyas and Gisael, they had only ever exhibited techniques from their people. The only person Benzhi knew from the extraplanar beings who broke this rule, sort of, was Mother. But even that was up for debate, perhaps she was no longer a simple Fae. Hell, she was spiritually and physically attached to a tree.
Just as the QWP in Dawnharbour were restricted by their aids, the Wood Elves and the Gaels were restricted by their cultural abilities.
As he had done with the students at the academy, Benzhi was bringing Gisael and Reyas back to basics. If anyone from their tribes could break their cultural norms, it would be those two. The key ability for anyone was qi sight. In Benzhi's eyes, pun unintended, qi sight was the ability which opened up all other abilities. The only other two requirements were the ability to manipulate your own qi and the level of skill in doing so.
Benzhi, Reyas, Gisael and Anastasia completed the forms for six hours before sparring for two hours. During the form practice time, Benzhi would layer qi sight over one of the three, allowing them to watch either him, one of the others or view their own circulation as best as they could.
Unlike Mother, Benzhi was incapable of assisting more than one person at a time, but even providing this aid was training for him. He was manipulating qi in his body and one other person. It was working both his manipulation and qi core, as he would be drained by late afternoon and in need of rest. Even with the high rate of rejuvenation in the Alpine Forest, Benzhi was able to deplete his reserves when running qi abilities on two people full time.
Gisael was showing promise early, her circulation was exemplary and the fact she could qi blade and qi arrows gave her an innate sense of control. It was just convincing her stubborn mind that she could do more. Something no Fae could do.
"Mother can do many things the Guardians cannot," Benzhi stated.
"She is no longer one of us," Gisael argued.
"What about the Myrkalfar, they are not restricted at all from what I could see. Are you not from the same people Eons ago?" Benzhi asked.
Gisael did not want to discuss the Myrkalfar, much less be compared to one. "We are not the same," she said simply.
"It was not long ago you could no perform qi blade and now you can. Was that an awakening, or did you make it happen?" Benzhi asked.
"Both," she sighed, "I will try."
Gisael's first test was to use Benzhi's sword and attempt to run two qi blades at once. This had never been done by a wood elf before, as far as she knew. Their spoken history was extensive, so Benzhi did not doubt it was highly unlikely for her to be unaware if it were the case.
Benzhi watched, encouraging her with every small improvement. By the end of the six hours practice, she was very close to using two qi blades.
Benzhi set Reyas a much more difficult task. She would not need qi blade if the dwarves made them qi weapons and she was already strong, fast with huge amounts of stamina thanks to qi body techniques. Reyas worked on her footwork. When it was her turn with qi sight, she stopped practising the forms and focused on placing qi on her feet.
Benzhi had her sit and practice, then meditate and practice. He even had her perform the mantis form with its kicks and had her attempt to qi strike as she kicked. It was much more difficult for her, Gisael was merely spreading to a second arm something she was already capable of doing. Benzhi was not sure if Reyas made any progress, but they remained positive, it had taken him weeks to get a breakthrough.
Of the three women, Anastasia made the most progress. She was already effecting qi strikes before coming to the Alpine Forest and she was not hampered by generations of set abilities. She had the belief it could be done, which was the greatest difference of all.
Anastasia borrowed Benzhi's sword as well. She would have to decide upon a weapon, whether it was a two-handed weapon with reach, dual wield, or shield and weapon combination. She had no discernable style as yet, no obvious preference.
"If the Vanguard were to extend to four," Benzhi hypothesised to the group. Anastasia had not been accepted by the other two yet, it was almost as if being in the Vanguard was more than just a spearhead combat team. Gisael treated like they were wives and they had to accept Anastasia on a personal level as well as professional.
Strangely enough, although Benzhi could appreciate Anastasia was smart, beautiful and self-assured. He held no animal attraction towards her, unlike Gisael and especially Reyas who could raise a response out of him with a look, touch or pose.
"What type of weapon would compliment the group the most?" Benzhi asked.
"Another bow," Gisael answered matter of factly smiling to herself.
"If we both have spears and shields we would need a slicing weapon, but with reach," Reyas offered. She received a stern look from Gisael.
Benzhi had an idea how to break the impasse. Anastasia was talented enough in qi manipulation and qi core to join the Vanguard. She was capable of learning everything he could do, if not invent her own, it was just a matter of time and the only unknown was how much finesse she could manipulate with. Mother was on one level, Benzhi fell well short of that, but he was superior to Huineng and other practitioners. Where Anastasia would land, in terms of skill, was going to dictate how much she was capable of.
"That is an excellent point Reyas. I see Skandear's point, I should switch to spear given my style which leaves us with only Gisael with a slicing weapon. And sometimes she will be using the bow," Benzhi stated, "what do you think Anastasia?"
"I do like this sword, but what Reyas says interests me, a longer sword with more reach; Can they be made?" Anastasia asked.
"I am confident nothing is too hard for the stoneskin craft masters. It is just a matter of materials. I am unsure whether a wooden sword can be made that long. It is something we would have to ask Paphyra. But, I have been thinking, if the dwarves can make a runed sword, which creates a qi blade without you needing to concentrate. That would be much better than you using a wooden sword. It will allow you to concentrate on shunpo or qi body techniques," Benzhi said. "There are only so many things you can concentrate on at once, the more we free-up your mind with masterwork equipment the better. I have been in several situations where I had to decide on stoneskin, or qi body, or qi blade and prioritise what was needed most as I could not do everything."
"Then it is decided," Anastasia responded, "no matter what weapon I choose, it will be dwarven made. What about your shield, does that require concentration?"
"No it does not, it also has an amazing capacity to store qi. It is not only the dwarves who can craft such things," Benzhi said, "Paphyra made these shields and created channels for the qi to run through, the shape they form makes the shield exceedingly strong. They also have the capability of pushing out a qi strike. Until I saw the dwarven work, this shield was the most amazing piece of equipment I had seen on Basal. By a long shot."
The group continued to train and then spar until the day was at an end.
Benzhi had an inspiration regarding finding the white silver during the day. He contacted Mother as soon as they had washed and eaten.
|''Mother' Benzhi sent|
|'Yes Protector,' Mother replied formerly and immediately|
|'I need to ask you something about qi. It is to aid in the search for materials in the mountains. Ones we need to protect the Alpine Forest.' Benzhi sent|
|'Benzhi you need not explain, if you need something it is mine to give or it is not,' Mother sent.|
|'If you want to find a tree or an animal, how would you search for them using qi?' Benzhi asked|
|'I do not order my qi like you do Benzhi, I merely spread my awareness through the Forest and everything is there for me to feel,' Mother replied|
|'Is this something you could help me with searching for a particular rock,' Benzhi sent|
|Mother just laughed through the connection it was more akin to sending a feeling of mirth. 'No, Benzhi, it is not something I could do. I have no affinity for the rock.'|
|'Thank you Mother, you have helped,' Benzhi sent and after some small chit chat closed the telepathic connection|
Benzhi searched for Kindeag. He needed help, spreading their senses was something he may be able to do, but, distinguishing one rock from another was not something achievable at this or for a very long time.
"Kindeag," Benzhi called the dwarf before he turned in for the evening.
"Benzhi, have ye brung me news?" Kindeag asked in his thick dwarven accent.
"No, but together we may be successful, will you come with me now? I do not wish to cut into your time in the morning and if we are successful, you will be able to pursue it in the morning," Benzhi responded.
"Oh, very wull. What do I need to do?" Kindeag asked.
"Let us go to the Land Core, I will work through you, all I need you to do is look at what I show you," Benzhi said.
"Last time it did not work, we needed Bhar," Kindeag stated in his thick dwarven accent.
"Yes, but this is different, I can work through you, you just need to look. Last time we needed Bhar I needed her to manipulate and design. This is different," Benzhi said.
"Very well, time is a wastin," with that Kindeag marched off to the great hall.
"All you need to do is stand here, I will work through you. I will show you the mountain and its depths, all you need to do is look for the white silver and vanadium," Benzhi said.
Kindeag nodded, "I be ready."
Benzhi drew of the Land Core, all pulled Kindeag with him, creating a telepathic link, connecting their cores.
|''Close your eyes' Benzhi sent|
|'Me ale be sour!' Kindeag replied in surprise|
|'I need you to feel the rock as we spread our awareness, just sense what is there from your gut' Benzhi sent|
|'Alright,' Kindeag replied, 'I can feel it, I can feel it!'|
|'Can you feel the white silver already?' Benzhi asked|
|'Nay, just the mountain and rock, but ... he then went quiet concentrating on what he was seeing.|
Benzhi expanded their awareness through the mountain, feeling through all the rock, fissures, caverns and layers. They felt deep down and further into the mountains, it seemed like they spent hours searching when Benzhi finally finished the search.
"You got very excited, did you find what we need?" Benzhi asked.
"Oh, aye and more, I need to go write down a few things before I forget," Kindeag was jumping up and down like a kid in a candy shop.
"What did you see? White Silver?" Benzhi asked again.
"I saw everything," Kindeag replied.
'Well, I needn't worry about them finding the ores needed now,' Benzhi thought to himself. Challenge cleared.