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The Guardian
15. The Ethereal Bridge

"You are frightening me," Rhissa told him once after they finished their combat lesson.

Nlaminer sat under a tree and smiled back. "I am frightened myself," he replied. "I never dreamt to have such skills."

This time they made their camp in a warm, but mostly lifeless world, where they lived at a small archipelago, comprising eight tiny islands.

They jumped there immediately after Nlaminer woke up. Rhissa told him something was changing in the Realm. They did not wait for emissars of the false god.

Nlaminer felt no oppression now. Was it some Zartin magic or anything else, but he discovered world again. He was writing songs, travelling across islands, he seemed to be reborn. They knew they were not safe, and Nlaminer proposed that they would continue their combat training.

He wasn't a clumsy novice any more. Rhissa was brilliant at maces and staves, but she was far below his present abilities. Nlaminer was quite another creature now - thoughtful, concentrated, but quick and vigorous. When they began their first fight in this world Rhissa was defeated ten times out of ten.

Rhissa couldn't understand where her friend took this extraordinary energy, knowledge, vigor. He only smiled when he was asked. During their second combat lesson she saw something that made her not only surprised but terrified.

They were fighting with ironwood staves. After a series of maneuvres Rhissa tricked his defense and was about to touch him with a knob - to indicate a hit - when she saw Nlaminer outlines changed for a moment... he became combined from several different creatures... she saw all of them melting together again and in the next instant he half-turned gracefully and disarmed her.

"There," he said, with his staff raised above her. "That's what Zartin has given me. He calls that Thought."

"I am astonished," Rhissa said, wide-eyed, and indeed she was.

"How could you impress him so much to receive such gift ?"

Nlaminer shrugged. "I told you everything. I thought someone else was speaking with my lips... as if several separate Nlaminers were dwelling inside my mind. When I was weak, they helped me to speak to the god."

"I think I saw your other selves," Rhissa whispered. "Right now, when we fought."

"Tell me," Nlaminer asked. After Rhissa described her vision, he dropped his weapon and sat on the ground.

"This is wonderful," Rhissa added. "If we manage to return home you will be a living legend. A mortal who spoke to the gods themselves and has been given many gifts from them." she saw a shadow passing across his face, "Something bothers you," she said and sat near him. "What is it ?"

"To return home," Nlaminer echoed. "He forbid me to return to my homeworld."

"What ?!"

Nlaminer repeated Zartin's words.

Rhissa shook her head and added, "It's hard to understand gods. You can only be sure in one thing.

Zartin would not try to trick you."

The shadow left and Nlaminer turned to her, smiling.

"You are right. We will confront our opponent once more. But when we return home, we'll both be living legends." he laughed. "I never thought I could take such hazards ! They are not yet passed, but the whole story's enough to write a wonderful book. Well," he added, winking at her, "Probably I will write it some day. I had a good training, you know."

"You are a perfect fighter," Rhissa added. "Why do you insist on training me ?"

"You should be able to confront my double," Nlaminer became very serious. "The false god has stolen a part of me. The double's my mirror. I know he would be glad to destroy you. He cannot harm me.

But he will venture to kill you."

"That's impossible !" Rhissa felt despair. "One cannot defeat godlike skills."

Nlaminer took gently her hand and despair was gone.

"He's a mirror," he said, softly and slowly. "Only a mirror. He can only imitate me, nothing more."

Rhissa was silent.

"Besides, my Voice, my inner Voice will help you."

Rhissa looked at him. "How do you..." she stopped abruptly.

He winked once again. "I know and you know. In the Museum.

Remember ? You were in trouble and my Voice helped you. Rely on it, Rhissa."

"But I cannot summon it by will !" she protested.

He shrugged. "We will train until you can control it. I lost this Voice, I think - after my conversation with Zartin I do not sense it.

But you share this ability, and without it you are doomed. We both are doomed."

After several long minutes Rhissa stood up. It was former Rhissa, alert, ironic and quick. "Let's continue," she demanded. "If we are meant to return home, I would like to return as soon as possible."

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-- mecenat --

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