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The Guardian
9. The Twilight Palace

"These passages confuse me," Nlaminer complained after they climbed stairs for more than half an hour. The only light inside the great hall came from nowhere. Thick carpet rustled as they walked; the stairs were well tended. They passed many floors and saw no other passage but this great staircase.

Fascinating paintings decorated the walls of this strange place.

In the dim light they seemed insubstantial and illusory.

With unfailing interest, the two strangers examined the weird beauty of the palace. The palace was deserted, yet nothing was falling into decay...

...Nlaminer thought of their arrival here. Unlike their previous jumps, this one occurred while they slept in that room with thirty six mirrors and a dark globe above.

They awoke in the nearby alleys. Their interworld journey was quiet and sudden. They stood up hastily, prepared to defend themselves... but no one came. Twilight ruled the place; a purplish horizon indicated the sunset that had ended not long ago. They waited and waited and nothing changed. Unknown birds sang a strange song, filled with unalloyed beauty. The sall singers flew over their heads; bushes were trimmed and a colossal Palace overlooked the surrounding lands. As far as they could see, only alleys stretched as far as they could see. Distant woods seemed to begin at the horizon and Rhissa thought she heard splashing of the sea.

As it was before, the whole place was quite peaceful. The quietness differed from malign silence of the lighthous or the eerie calmness of the mirror room. The Ezoxu world gave assurance and equilibrium. This place was indifferent to them. They felt lost in the maze of low trees and bushes. Disordered fountains order produced cascades of water droplets.

"Fresh," Rhissa said at last when she first sipped the water.

"This is good. I feel no one's presence near us; but there must be a reason why we were brought here."

"I think we are meant to learn something," Nlaminer replied. They sat on the outer wall of the basin. Water fog gave a pleasant sensation in the hot air that surrounded this place...

"I think we have something to learn here," Nlaminer repeated.

They entered a large room filled with bookshelves. Book everywhere.

The titles were all in Thalen.

"This cannot be," Rhissa objected. "Think of it; why would there be anything familiar to us ?"

"Someone has modified this place for us," Nlaminer said. "Why not?"

"Too much to do. Besides, why bother for us ? We have to find a way to rid of our... well, you understand me. We cannot hide from him. To be frank, I do not wish to seek refuge the rest of my life.

"Ezoxu helped us, didn't he ?"

"Yes and no. Do you consider gods to be everywhere at the same time ? Do you consider them to care for mortals ? No. The status of god is a way to establish the cult. The cult is a self-preserving entity, you see. For example, if a god said, 'A blindness upon those desecrating my altars', then the one desecrating that altar will be blinded. But will a god perform that personally ? No. There are billions of worlds; not even gods have power enough to deal with every problem. Their cult is their essence. In most cases a god doesn't do anything at all."

"Did we not talk to a deic manifestation ?"

"This is a case as rare as a god's death or a god's coming. One chance out of a billion billions. How do you feel about it ?"

"It seems for me I saw a brilliant dream. What of that ?"

"Exactly. A dream. When - and if - we talk to him once more, he will remember us. Do not expect a god to come in flesh to talk to a mortal. Ezoxu is a Wisdom itself; he knows the origins and ways. He cannot predict or see through time; but he can teach many things. His wisdom is subtle, almost invisible, yet it forces one to learn.

Didn't you feel anything there ?"

"Well,.. what I learned was very general advice, no more."

"You want too much," her eyes glistened angrily, "If even a god's words cannot persuade you or teach you, what do you expect of mortals? Of me ?"

Nlaminer stood silent. His stared at the shelves and absentmindedly took a book. 'Deities and cults', it was entitled. He put the book into the pack and immediately they were at the entrance.

of the palace. The book was still in the pack. Rhissa sat on a small stone bench and sat there, ignoring Nlaminer.

"Something is stirring inside me," he said, approaching her.

Rhissa kept silence. "I walk as if in a fog. Something inside me calls for my attention." She sat silently. He put his hands on her shoulders. Rhissa relaxed a bit but remained silent.

"I need you," he called softly. "If I hurt your feelings, I beg your pardon."

"I understand," she turned her face; it was calm again. "The Rite stirs you. The bridges between your mind and other mental planes were opened too quickly. Be patient. The first time it is painful. For both of us, Nlaminer."

He was embarassed again to ask more.

"Imagine you've been given new eyes, ears and so on. The old ones were cut off, replaced with new ones. It's very painful."

She paused for a moment. "We cannot investigate this place.

It's laughing at us. We walk for hours to find something new.

I feel tired of it."

Nlaminer took a book out of his backpack. "This time, more luck."

Rhissa saw the book and brightened. "How interesting," she pointed at the title. It was completely indecypherable now; letters were unknown. Only pictures remained the same. She browsed through the large tome and exclaimed, "Here !"

He had a brief look. The stranger was depicted, in colors and life. Many other pictures and runes commented on the images. Rhissa tried to understand something, but in vain.

Frustrated, they returned to the nearest fountain.

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-- mecenat --

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