Chapter Seventeen: Another Mission
Adesina awoke the next morning to the insistent chirping of a bird on her windowsill. As soon as she looked at it she saw the red string on its leg. Adesina’s heart felt unexpectedly heavy at the sight. Ravi sat up, watching her face intently.
She got out of bed, removed the string and sent the bird on its way. Then she started getting dressed. Ravi was instantly on his feet.
“Surely you are not responding to this summon.”
Adesina stared at him for a moment, her look of surprise turning into a glare. “Oh, are we speaking to each other again?”
Ravi raised an eyebrow. “I never refused to speak to you.”
She rolled her eyes. “No, you simply pretended I did not exist.”
His expression became stiff. “A lot has happened over the past month. More than you realize. I have had a lot on my mind, Ma’eve. Do you begrudge me that?”
“No more that what you begrudge me for doing my duty as a Shimat.”
Ravi’s eyes narrowed. “It is not the same.”
Adesina finished dressing and began heading out the door.
She paused, looking back at Ravi’s distressed figure.
“I am asking you to not go.”
All of the weeks of loneliness and anger came back full force. She wanted to lash out at Ravi, hurting him as much as he had hurt her. She restrained herself and simply spat, “I do not care.”
Adesina made her excuses to Jelana as she hurried out the door. Ravi was waiting for her outside by the fence. “What is it you are trying to prove by doing this?”
She moved through the streets as quickly as she could without drawing attention to herself.
She wished Ravi didn’t keep up so easily. “I am not trying to prove anything.”
There was a soft snort of disbelief, which goaded Adesina even more. “I have sworn to do my duty. That may not mean much to someone like you, but being a Shimat is my life.”
“No, Ma’eve, it is not your life. It could not be if it makes you so unhappy.”
It was Adesina’s turn to snort. “I am not unhappy.”
His voice became gentle. “Yes, you are. You may think that I have neglected you over these last weeks, but I have watched you closely. You are tortured by the Dream you had, and you worry that you were wrong to kidnap that man.”
She couldn’t find the words to argue. She had felt this strange weight pulling on her thoughts ever since that day. She had thrown herself into work, school and wedding preparations with a myriad of reasons why. It wasn’t until this moment that she realized what the real reason was.
“Leave me alone, Ravi.”
“I cannot, Ma’eve. I cannot let you make the same mistake twice.”
Adesina found herself getting furious. “You cannot let me?”
“You are not my superior, my parent, or even a comrade. You just showed up one day and have been following me ever since. Now you act as though I owe you something for that? You have absolutely no say in what I do.”
At this point they had reached the grate in the wall. Adesina ducked through and sprinted across the field, not caring if someone saw her.
Ravi was silent for the remainder of the walk to the small cave. Adesina felt the anger ebb out of her, and felt foolish for being so irrational. She tried to think of something to say to Ravi, but nothing came to her.
Her companion did not follow her into the cave, but waited patiently outside.
Kendan was pacing across the narrow stone space, anxious for her to arrive. He greeted her with his usual wide smile and approached her with a hint of uncertainty. After searching her eyes for a moment, he leaned forward and kissed her softly. “I am so proud of you. Shimat Bear reported that the assignment went much better than expected.”
Adesina felt the rush of emotion at the kiss, but her heart was still heavy from her Dream. She tried to smile in return. “It went fairly well.”
He looked searchingly into her eyes. “What is it?”
She wanted to tell him what she had been feeling over the past few weeks, but she couldn’t find the words. She felt foolish and childish, and she worried that Kendan would think so as well. Adesina wanted him to see her as the warrior she had been trained to be.
She strengthened her smile and shook her head. “Nothing. I just wish I could have been more efficient.”
Kendan laughed. “Well, the Sharifal seemed satisfied with your performance.”
This piqued Adesina’s interest. “She did?”
He grinned. “Very much so. In fact, she has another assignment for you.”
Adesina felt her stomach drop. “Oh?”
He handed her a scroll. “The Sharifal must think highly of you. Not many new Shimat are kept so active in important matters.”
She began reading the scroll, but Kendan explained what was written there anyway. “The man you captured was a ranking member of our enemy’s party. They have sent out a search team to find what has happened to him. Among this party is a man whom it is vital we detain.”
He noticed the stony look on her face. “Are you all right?”
Adesina nodded quickly. “Of course. How will I recognize him?”
“He will be known by the insignia on his tunic. It will be the same as the man you captured, but embroidered on blue material. You must move quickly, though. They should be in the city by this afternoon.”
The young woman nodded again and prepared to leave. Kendan caught her arm. “Are you sure you are all right?”
She forced another smile. “Yes, I am sure.”
He clearly wasn’t convinced, but let the matter drop. Adesina opened the scroll again, reading it more carefully than before. It gave the details of the kidnapping of which Kendan had spoken, and where she was to hand the man over to other Shimat. This time the location of the exchange was set outside of the High City. She frowned thoughtfully. It was a risky operation, and it would take much more skill and planning than the last assignment had. She also had less time to prepare.
Adesina handed the scroll back to Kendan and waited while he burned it. Then he gave her hand a squeeze before letting her go.
Ravi rejoined her as she walked back towards the city. She berated herself for her absurd emotions and pushed them to the back of her mind.
She ghosted through the High City, sneaked back into her bedroom without going through the house, and began gathering her things. Adesina was unsure what she might need, so she packed a bag with all of her Shimat equipment.
Ravi watched her with saddened eyes. Adesina felt a strange mixture of remorse, anger, helplessness, and defiance. She looked away from him deliberately, not wanted to feel anything at all as she prepared to do her duty.
She crept back out of the house and made her way to Master Lorcan’s blacksmith shop. If this search party was the least bit competent, they would go there first.
She waited out of sight for most of the day. It wasn’t until evening that two men showed up. Master Lorcan was closing his shop and didn’t take kindly to being questioned. He answered them tersely and walked away, leaving the two men to quietly converse with each other about the next course of action.
Adesina was given the chance to study them. They were both quite young, in their early twenties, which surprised her. They both wore tunics with the strange insignia. One was embroidered on the same crimson as the first man she had kidnapped, and the other wore a deep blue. He was her target.
He had hair that was as golden as hers was silver. Its metallic hue shimmered in the fading light. He turned his head slightly, and Adesina could see that the locks around his face were a pure white. He had remarkably beautiful features, but still looked quite masculine. Wisdom was written on his face, as well as the burden of responsibility given early in life. There was also something in his expression that Adesina couldn’t describe. Something that went deeper than sorrow and loss. She also took note that around his neck he wore a black ribbon.
She turned her eyes to his companion, and her gaze was arrested as she looked at his face. His hair was silver with black locks around his face, exactly like hers. What was more, his facial features almost mirrored hers, only male. They had the same eyes, the same nose, the same stubborn set to the jaw. If she had been a man, she would have looked exactly like this stranger.
Adesina could not tear her eyes away until she realized that they were leaving. She followed at a discreet distance, trying to make some sense of what she had seen. They began leaving the city, and Adesina hurried to the grate in the wall. She darted across the field and watched them closely as they also headed towards the forest.
Once they entered the forest, the young Shimat pushed all distracting thoughts from her head and went to work. Her mind raced to come up with a plan, but she couldn’t think properly. Knowing that her time was running out, she resorted to the first trick that became coherent.
Adesina ran a ways off and gave a distant cry for help. The two young men stopped and looked in her general direction. They began consulting with each other, and she gave another cry. When it became apparent that they were coming to her “aid,” she silently moved deeper into the forest, away from the direction the young men had been heading.
Slowly she drew them farther and farther away, using her voice to lend the illusion that they were getting closer to their goal. When they were deep enough in the forest to satisfy Adesina, she drew a couple of darts from her pack and took careful aim. The silver haired one stopped suddenly and spoke a few quiet words to the other. Adesina hesitated for a moment, pausing to see what they would do.
Although they were careful not to show it, she could tell that they knew where she was hiding. Without waiting for another moment, she let loose her darts and the young men fell to the ground in a drugged unconscious.
Adesina walked over to them slowly and bound them while avoiding looking at their faces. She had the sudden desire to hide her face as well. As soon as her two prisoners were secured, she dug into her pack and pulled out her Shimat uniform.
It consisted of a black high-collared blouse covered by a high-collared black leather vest, fitted black pants, and knee-high stealth boots. She also wore black gloves made from a strong material that didn’t hinder the dexterity of her hands, and a black hood and scarf that left only her eyes visible. Adesina buckled on a belt that held a variety of tools and weapons as well as a small medical kit, and finished by strapping on her Blood Sword.
As foolish as it was, Adesina felt much better thus attired. She walked back to her prisoners and found them still unconscious. Ravi sat just behind them, staring hard at the ground.
The sight of them brought her inner conflict to the front of her mind. She should be contacting the Shimat to aid her in transporting her two prisoners to the proper authority, but…
Adesina paced back and forth, arguing with herself as to what was the right thing to do. Her instincts had never led her astray, but there had always been some logic behind it. She wanted to talk to Ravi about it, but couldn’t bring herself to speak her doubts out loud.
She still had so many questions about who she was and why she looked so different from those around her. She had already given up one person who could have given her answers. How could she give up these two as well?
The first tendrils of dawn permeated the darkness. Adesina sat down, impatient and unnerved. She turned her eyes once more to her two prisoners, who were still unconscious. The growing light revealed their features more clearly than she had seen them the evening before. She shuddered and looked away.
The minutes crept by slowly, bringing more light but no peace of mind. The prisoners began to stir, and Adesina checked to make sure her hood and scarf were securely in place. The one lying closest to her awoke first. He struggled to sit up, shaking his silver and black hair out of his face. He was alarmed at first, but calmed at the sight of his companion lying beside him. He studied Adesina warily, but she avoided his glance.
The golden haired prisoner finally opened his eyes and looked around with some confusion. A few whispered words passed between them, but not in any language that Adesina understood.
Following what was almost a compulsion, Adesina looked her captives in the eye. The silver haired one had dark metallic green eyes with flecks of a shimmering dark orange. The other man had golden eyes with rings of a light metallic green. It was obvious that they took note of her only visible feature. They stared at her purple and golden eyes with looks of dismay on their faces.
Adesina wanted to shake them and demand that they tell her what they saw. She was so tired of unanswered questions and repressed doubts. If anyone could help her piece together the puzzle of her life, it would be these people who bore an uncomfortable resemblance to herself.
The silver haired man spoke in a voice that relayed his disbelief, but it was in the language he had used earlier. “Rabeth!”
Against her better judgment, Adesina replied quietly in the common tongue, “I do not understand.”
The golden haired man’s expression turned from troubled to thoughtful. For a brief moment it seemed as if his eyes were glowing. She was reminded that her prisoners were magic-users, and she tensed to defend herself. When nothing happened after several moments, she relaxed slowly. One of them seemed about to speak, but Adesina deliberately turned her back on them to discourage any hope of discussion.
She kept her hands and eyes busy as her mind turned over the situation, trying to make a decision. At one point the silver haired man whispered a question to his companion and was given a slow shake of the head in return.
As time passed, Adesina grew increasingly anxious. Ravi remained a distance from the prisoners, refusing to look her in the eye. Adesina’s two most dominant thoughts kept fighting for her attention. One said that she had to contact the Shimat, the other said she needed to question the prisoners before losing the opportunity again.
Neither thought was able to win over the other, and so Adesina continued to sit frozen in inaction. It had almost become unbearable when an alarm sounded in the back of her mind.
Something was wrong.
She looked at her prisoners’ body language. It was tense, expectant. Then she detected the almost silent approach of something behind her. Adesina eased a dart from her belt and took a calming breath. She shut out all distractions, focusing solely on the one…no, two figures creeping up behind her. She pulled another dart from her belt.
She took careful mental aim and spun around, letting her darts loose. The first mysteriously flew off course at the last moment, as if caught in a strong wind. The second struck the younger of the two in the shoulder rather than the chest, where she had been aiming, but the effect was the same. He looked stunned for a moment before toppling forward.
Adesina snatched her last dart and was about to throw it when a huge invisible force flung her backwards. She would have gone a good distance if she had not collided with the large tree beside her captives.
She hit her head as she fell, and she could feel a trickle of blood down the side of her face. She had not felt any bones break, however, and her initial reaction was to get back on her feet. Her limbs felt strangely numb, and she found that she could not move as quickly as normal. She looked down and saw her own dart sticking out of her arm.
Adesina pulled it out as quickly as her drugged mind allowed, but it was not fast enough. She struggled to stand, and found that she couldn’t.
Her vision was fading rapidly, and her actions were sluggish. Her last coherent thought was that she had to find some way to regain the upper hand before losing consciousness.
Then all went black.