"The crossbow is good when you defend a position," she explained
after they scanned the nearby lands for any intelligent life. "You
will need to attack, not to defend, mainly; and there will be no
walls to hide behind."
4. Up and down
After several hours of work Rhissa cut an oaken branch and made a
small but carefully balanced staff. Nlaminer didn't understand much
of what she was doing; she chanted strange pleasant
songs over it; the wood became a light, dry, strong and resonant
staff, easy to handle... so it seemed.
They trained for two days and Nlaminer thought he
made no progress at all. But this was a challenge he was proud to
take. Rhissa's patience seemed infinite; he only noticed
mischievous sparks in her eyes when she declined his clumsy attempts
to hit her.
Nlaminer had his first enlightenment... he called
it "voice"; while engaging in a sequence of attacks and defenses, he
suddenly began talking to himself...
"The arrow that struck the star..."
...he paused for Rhissa's sign that she was ready to defend...
"... it then returned ..."
...he was ready to issue a sliding blow; the staff began to
descend and he was ready to spin in order to bypass his opponent's
defense movement; he had never succeeded before...
"... all charred and burnt ..."
...the staff was advancing with all the effort he could muster.
Rhissa's eyes were looking in some other direction, but Nlaminer
never believed she was not seeing his intentions...
"... and left the sky AJAR !"
...and as the inner voice spelled the last word, it was as if some
brilliant light lit the whole scene. An invisible force guided his
attack; Rhissa's staff missed his and Nlaminer almost hit her
with all his might. He took control in the very last moment
and raised his weapon quickly. Both staves clanked
at each other and flew high in the sky. Still guided by the same
inner power, he jumped in the air, turned and landed still grasping
the staff, ready to react. Rhissa's staff was still in the air and
she reached for it, not slower than he... here the inner guidance
ceased; he found himself face to face with Rhissa; his staff was
raised above her head; she was not ready to defend.
Rhissa bowed and dropped her weapon.
"I cannot believe !" she said with respect. "You seemed to
radiate energy; as if a god were guiding your hand. Tell me, my
friend, what was it ?"
Nlaminer, still under the effect of his newly gained ability, told
her of his sensations. Rhissa touched him lightly; his trembling
immediately stopped. "You must learn to
relax," Rhissa said softly. "Your movement was perfect, but you have
to sustain inner equilibrium. While under a sudden attack, your
feelings should be steady and controlled. No matter what weapon
you have, if you cannot concentrate on the equilibrium, you
eventually will lose the battle."
Nlaminer knew that the strange rhyme he heard just a few moments
ago indeed gave him additional force and knowledge; but the effect
ceased quickly and led him more quickly to tiredness. After an hour
of training Rhissa said they needed rest. They sat under a tree side
by side; Nlaminer drank water from his flask (he had no Water of
Strength any more, though simple water from a spring was no worse).
He vaguely remembered the events that occurred after that dread
night battle with the undead hunter. Rhissa dragged him to a safer
place where he remained unconscious for several days and nights until he
returned to life. The life draining force had almost
slain him; he survived and learnt more from his wounds. Rhissa
said he would now be able to sense undead presence; probably it would
bring more benefits than troubles. His life until his encounter with
Rhissa was a chain of losses.
He felt his inner attraction to Rhissa growing slowly
stronger. He doubted now that she had been in real danger that time (but
Rhissa said she was in a dire peril nonetheless). He noticed
there were no grand quarrels between the two of them.
He preferred not to think too much about that. She was a
perfect teacher; as time was passing, his abilities grew greater;
Rhissa said they had about ten days more to prepare for their
expedition; when the moon is full, she said, the undead will come from
underground and it will be almost impossible to stop them. When the
island is under their control, the City of Singara would be as
effectively protected as sealed.
He slept poorly these days; shadows dark and sinister flooded his
dreams and he woke up in terror, his heart beating violently... but
all of this slowly was cured. Meantime they told each other
stories from their adventures while Rhissa made many notes in her
diary; Nlaminer had no need to write all of this. His memory held
everything he needed with almost no effort.
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