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The Guardian
4. Up and down

"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."

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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-- mecenat --

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