(This story was an entry for Clue #1 in the 2013 Treasure Hunt -- see the collection for related stories and images! It is also an entry in the 2013 Family Time Contest -- see that collection for more contest stories and images!)
Illo by Joanne P.
“It’s not working,” Agate grumbled, disdain forcing its way out in a short burst. “Why isn’t it working?”
She sat crosslegged on the floor of her family’s den, focusing intently upon the smooth ovular stone nestled in her upfacing palms. She was concentrating with all her might to perform the simple task of shaping the stone into a more spherical shape, but the rock was stubbornly choosing not to oblige. It seemed to stare up at her in contempt, as if to laugh at what it perceived to be inadequate attempts. And it had been doing so for the better part of the evening, leaving Agate with little to show for her efforts.
“You tell me, daughter,” Stoneback rumbled from a few steps behind her, his arms folded across his chest as he leaned against the den wall.
“I don’t know! That’s why I’m asking, father,” she retorted in frustration, a tiny bit of her father’s stubbornness seeping out of her mouth.
“But you are not asking, daughter,” Stoneback said, keeping his face expressionless. “You are demanding. No elf can solve their problems by demanding they be fixed for them, least of all a child of mine.”
Agate’s brow furrowed in time with the blush that began to fill her cheeks. She knew her father put great stakes into working for your goals — a tall, muscular elf, no one could ever claim that Stoneback shied away from working, and he had had to work for his magic, too, having had no rockshaping teacher himself. Still, right now she wished he were a bit more sympathetic to her frustration. At least she had a teacher in him, she told herself, and though adulthood had reached her long before her powers awakened, she did not have to wait quite as long as he had.
She shook her head to clear it of superfluous thoughts, took a deep breath and closed her eyes to concentrate better. “All right,” she said, “what do I have to do again? Please explain it one more time. I’m listening, I promise.”
“The first steps are always the hardest, and require the most focus. Close your eyes,” he ordered. Agate swallowed hard and nodded, squeezing her eyes tightly shut. “Steady your breathing. There is no need to rush; it will take as long as it needs to.”
“But father —”
“My lesson is not yet finished, daughter,” her father interrupted, startling the young elf with his sudden scolding. Usually, she had a light, easy relationship with her father — he would sometimes have her rolling with laughter at his jokes around an evening fire — but since the ability had manifested itself and she had asked him to teach her, he would suffer no nonsense during their lessons.
“Feel the weight of the stone in your hands, the smoothness of it, the shape of it. Know this stone. Right now, it is your entire world. You cannot begin to affect change unless you are intimately familiar with the thing that needs changing.”
But it’s just a stone, Agate thought sullenly. Just like any other stone. A stone is a stone is a stone...isn’t it? Not wanting to receive another scolding, she instead pushed past the insecurity shimmering through her mind and focused on her father’s words.
Feel the weight of the stone in your hands.
It wasn’t a particularly large stone, maybe two or three times as large as the pebbles she had used as sling ammunition when she was a cub. Not much heft, but certainly enough to cause a nasty bruise, or to weigh down berry-picking baskets on particularly windy nights.
The smoothness of it.
It was so soft and slick that her hands practically begged to slide off it as she held it. The stone had probably come from the river — she could almost feel the remnants of scales from the Creek’s fish swimming by it — and who knew how long it had resided beneath the Creek’s still waters, where gush after gush of water rushed over it and weathered it down to its glossy sheen.
The shape of it.
She moved her hands across the stone’s surface slowly, exploring its skin. I wonder if this is what Father meant, she thought, realization dawning upon her. It wasn’t what she thought it was, not a perfect oval, but rather it had definition and character. Minor blemishes and crevices scattered incidentally across its skin, a chip near one end where it might have caromed off a sibling stone, the faintest remnants of scales where a fish brushed against it. It was unique.
Know this stone.
“I think...” she uttered softly, more to herself than to her father. “I think I understand.”
“Open your eyes, daughter,” Stoneback said simply, a faint hint of amusement rumbling through his deep voice. Agate did as she was told, and after they were fully opened they expanded still wider when her gaze focused on her hands. With wonder, she stared at the stone sitting in her hand, its shape now the sphere she had imagined and tried to force upon it earlier. It was not perfect, far from it, but the change was unmistakable.
“It worked!” she exclaimed in surprise and delight, looking around to her father, and was rewarded with a smile. He abandoned his stance against the den’s wall and came forward to take a closer look at the stone, though she felt that there was enough of a markable difference that it wasn’t necessary and he did it more to indulge her than anything else.
“Good,” he praised her, and she beamed. Surely she could now tackle a more exciting task, now she had managed to do this one! But her hopes were cruelly dashed when Stoneback returned the stone he had taken from her hands for a moment and simply said: “Now, return it to the shape it was before.”
“What, why?” Agate protested. “I can do it, didn’t you see? Let me do something else!”
Stoneback shook his head. “Again,” he replied firmly. “Until you can do it in your sleep.”
Agate stared at him for a moment, then sighed resignedly and closed her eyes to get back to work.