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The Guardian
7. The eternal forest

"No, that will not do," Nlaminer corrected Rhissa's hand. "The bowstring should not be so tight. If you overstring it, it will snap the next hot day." He loosened the string a bit and began carving the point-of-aim. After a hour of work he nodded and passed the finished bow back to Rhissa.

They traveled for four days now; the trees were magnificient here. Rhissa said she never saw such a perfect forest. It varied from coniferous to mixed; she took several good yew branches. They made a staff for each of them and a bow. Nlaminer's knowledge in bows was nearly as great as Rhissa's in staves and maces. They traveled and traveled; nature in this world was undisturbed; the Realm presence was strong, but there were no signs of intelligent life. Nothing.

Civilization cannot be completely invisible; for magic users such as they were, it could not be hard to find the nearest town. They continued their journey; one forest was replaced by another forest; lakes, rivers, springs were crossing the land. A distant mountain was seen on the edge of eyesight - and no minds, except for their own.

They taught each other the skills they knew; Rhissa showed interest in bowman skills and Nlaminer was glad to give her the basics of that. After a day of training Rhissa's skill was quickly catching up his own. Nlaminer sat evenings writing verses and polishing his knowledge in magic arts.

They were guarding their thoughts and intentions from the spying spirit of the Stranger, but no spies ever came. As they moved east, onward and onward, it was obvious there was nothing but endless forest. The whole world was like a great park, carefully looked after and colorful.

Rhissa was finding new and interesting herbs day after day.

Nlaminer was not skillful in alchemy, but followed her and listened to her explanations, even if they did not bear the immediate truth.

"I cannot understand," he said one evening, "how you recognize a particular plant suitable for some mixture. This is another world; all the herbs are quite different."

"This is only partly true." Rhissa showed him a leaf. "I do not know how it would be called here; but its inner spectrum is just like our common athelas. You see ? Alchemy uses this inner spectrum in its formulae. I have no need to learn about the plant or root or whatever. All I have to know is the core of this leaf."

"And how one can do that ?"

Rhissa shrugged. "One uses a relevant spiritual plane to see the spectrum. I use the Realm, the one that is familiar to me. If you choose to learn alchemy, you'll use your mental plane to see its emanations. Alchemy is mostly empirical science; without our knowledge, precognition and magic, it would be almost useless; from a million senseless or outright dangerous mixtures one must pick the only right one. This is hard to do; I used to throw away more than seven eighths of my potions when I was learning. This is the basis of alchemy. Rhymes and rites are mostly a theater; a way for an alchemist to get into a necessary state of mind. And," she smiled ironically, "to impress the spectators." She made several passes of her hand and the leaf withered and blackened. Then she said several inaudible words, made some other passes and the leaf returned to life again.

"What was it ?" Nlaminer said after he studied the leaf. It was completely fresh and vivid; its spicy odour was new and pleasant. "I cannot believe what I have seen. Tell me how you've done it !"

"Some other time," and the teasing flame flashed in her eyes.

"Anyway, if you knew all my tricks, how could I surprise you ?"

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