Chapter Twenty-two: New Lessons
A soft knock on her door jerked Adesina out of sleep. Ravi was still sitting by her side, resting his head against her arm and humming quietly. A glance out the window told her that it was late morning. How had she slept so long?
She got out of bed and walked to the door, talking through it instead of opening it. “Yes?”
“Adesina?” came a muffled voice. “It is I, E’nes.”
The young woman debated whether or not to open the door. “What do you want?”
“You did not come out for breakfast. I just wanted to see if you were all right.”
She leaned her forehead against the wood of the door. “I am fine.”
There was pause.
“Would you like something to eat?”
Adesina shook her head, even though she knew he couldn’t see it. “No. I am not hungry.”
“Very well. L’iam was wondering if you wanted to begin your lessons.”
L’iam did not stare at Adesina the way the others did, and she deeply appreciated that. Also, it would give her something new to think about. She glanced back at Ravi, who was looking at her intently, and took a deep breath.
“Tell him I will be out shortly.”
She could hear E’nes walking away, even though he moved quietly. There was a brief moment where Adesina simply stood leaning against the door. She felt weary, down to her very spirit.
Finally, she sighed and straightened.
She turned towards the table, imagining that she probably was a mess. She brushed out her long hair and re-braided it, letting the braid hang down her back. She washed her face and tidied her Shimat uniform, wishing she had a change of clothes. Then she pulled on her boots and turned to Ravi.
“Will you be following me today?”
It was said sarcastically, but Ravi detected a hint of a request behind her tone.
“Of course, Ma’eve.”
Adesina nodded in a seemingly cold manner and walked out the door. Her step was firm with determination now and there was a steely glint in her eye. K’eb and Ri’sel were sitting in the main room, but she passed them as if they were nonentities.
Her brother was waiting for her just outside. He said nothing, but pointed north of the fort. She turned to walk in the direction that he had indicated.
For several minutes there was nothing but trees and occasional birds. Then, in the distance, she spotted L’iam’s deep blue tunic and golden hair.
He stood with his back to her and his arms relaxed at his side. There was something different about him—something that flickered just outside of Adesina’s range of sight. Almost as if he would be glowing if it were dark.
He heard her approach and turned around, the flicker dying with the movement. His pleasant features greeted her amiably with a smile. “Good morning.”
“Good morning,” she replied.
He gestured that she should come and stand by him, which she did warily. Ravi took a seat several feet away, a faintly amused expression on his face.
“There are several different kinds of vyala,” L’iam began, not wasting any time. “Nevertheless, understanding one means understanding them all.”
The Shimat nodded, but said nothing.
“The most important part of working with your vyala is focus. Focus hard enough, and you can do almost anything.”
L’iam saw her body tense in preparation. He smiled, “Also keep in mind that this is something that comes naturally to you. An infant is not taught how to breathe, it automatically knows how. The awareness of it only comes later when it is brought to their attention. Such is the nature of vyala with the L’avan. A L’avan child can use vyala years before they realize what they are doing.”
She frowned. “How can something come naturally but need focus at the same time?”
“Do you breathe the same when you run as when you walk?” L’iam asked. “When you fight as when you sleep? Vyala is connected to instinct up to a certain point. After that, it requires work.”
It made sense to Adesina. L’iam had mentioned that she had been using magic unintentionally, but even that had called for practice and focus.
He planted his feet, facing the young woman before him. “To begin, I believe it will be more effective if I show you before you try yourself.”
The strange luminescence that she had seen before reappeared in L’iam’s eyes. They became a shimmering gold and green, swirling as if moved by some underlying current. Adesina stared in fascination at the change.
He reached out to her. “Give me your hand.”
She hesitated, suddenly afraid of what might happen. He had said that magic would change her, and she didn’t know if she was ready.
L’iam did not push her to a decision, but waited patiently with his arm outstretched. With a small amount of trepidation, she decided to trust him and took his hand.
Adesina immediately felt power surge up her arm and through her entire body. It was beyond anything that she had ever experienced in her entire life, and she found that she was both warmed and energized by the feeling. It was overwhelming and fulfilling and heady.
She discovered that she was hyperaware of her environment. It was almost as if the wind were actually visible around her. The plants and rocks radiated a peculiar light, and the trees seemed to be moving of their own accord.
Somewhere through the glow of energy she felt, Adesina heard L’iam’s musical voice speaking to her. “Everything in the universe has energy. This energy can take many forms, but it is always the same energy. It is the link between us all.” She felt him reaching out and connecting with their surroundings. “As a wielder of this energy, you have the ability to affect everything around you in a wide variety of ways. You can lend energy…”
She felt some of their power drain as L’iam channeled it into a small bush, causing it to flourish and bloom.
“…or you can take energy away.”
The bush withered, returning the power to L’iam and Adesina.
“This is only the beginning, you understand. A L’avan’s ability is only as limited as their creativity.”
He carefully returned the bush to its original state before continuing.
“Close your eyes,” he instructed.
As she obeyed, the limitations of her physical vision dropped away and the universe opened up to her. She felt an understanding and belonging that she never could have imagined, and she suddenly believed that all things were possible.
Her teacher spoke in a low voice. “This is the world of the L’avan. Few are able to see it as clearly as you do right now, but we are all a part of it.”
Adesina opened her eyes again, surprised to find that she still felt that connection to the universe. She looked at L’iam through the brilliance of this new world and found that she could look deeper than before.
It was like gazing at his soul rather than his physical being. She saw all of the things that she had seen in his eyes the day before: his integrity, his compassion and so forth. She also saw the things that he held hidden from view. She recognized his uncertainty, his worry that he wasn’t a good enough leader. She saw his confusion over some of the things he had found on this mission, and something deeper that Adesina couldn’t quite place.
L’iam could sense her probing and gently removed his hand from hers. The unexpected disconnection from the power left Adesina cold and trembling. The colors around her, so beautiful only minutes ago, now seemed dull and lifeless. Her own vision seemed shallow and inadequate when compared with what she had just experienced. She steadied her breathing, looking away from L’iam as she composed herself.
As she did this, her gaze fell on Ravi. There was a small, knowing smile on his face and a sudden realization swept through Adesina’s mind. “This is what you were trying to teach me. This is why you had me staring out the window for hours at a time.”
Ravi merely nodded.
Irritation began creeping forward in the young woman’s thoughts. L’iam had made it her lesson simple and straightforward. Why had Ravi made it seem so mysterious and muddled?
L’iam saw the expression on her face and hurried to head off her anger. “It was easy for me to show you because of my gift—a gift that Ravi does not possess. Tomorrow I will teach you how to do it on your own.”
She furrowed her brow. “Why tomorrow?”
He was surprised by this question. “To give you time to rest. Are you not tired?”
It had not occurred to her, but she was extremely tired. When this realization came over her, she nodded in acquiescence.
He laughed when he saw the change on her face. “I know how you feel. My first conscious experience with my vyala left me flat on the floor.”
They sat down for a bit, breathing in the warm air and letting the sunlight bathe their faces.
Adesina gave L’iam a quick glance out of the corner of her eye. “How old were you when you had your first lesson?”
He picked a blade of grass and began to shred it as he searched his memories. “I was eight years old. My father was the one who showed me what I just showed you.”
There was love and respect in his voice as he mentioned his father, and Adesina suddenly felt jealous of his relationship with his parents.
She studied her clasped hands. “He must mean a lot to you.”
He was momentarily confused. “My father? Yes, he does.” He was quiet for a few seconds before going on. “I saw little of my father when I was growing up—he was always so busy. I remember that day because he took me on a walk, just the two of us. I was surprised that my older brother was not invited to come along, because L’on always joined us when I had personal time with Father.”
He closed his eyes, imagining the scene before him. “He took me to his meadow, a special place where he would go to think and be alone. He told me that even though I was young, it was time for me to begin my preparations to become a man. He told me about the responsibilities of a man, and the ones for me specifically. I remember feeling overwhelmed by the things he told me, but he reassured me that everything would be fine.”
The young man opened his eyes again and looked directly at Adesina, giving weight to each of his words. “My father said that the L’avan had been given gifts to help them bear the burdens placed upon them. He warned me that our lives would never be easy.”
She felt vulnerable under his penetrating gaze. She didn’t know what to say in return, but L’iam didn’t need a reply. He returned his eyes to the forest surrounding them, lost in thought.
Adesina found herself studying the face of her new teacher and comparing him to her former one.
L’iam had a strong jaw and a straight nose, just like Kendan, but his features as a whole were not as angular as her Shar’s. In coloring they were complete opposites—one being dark and the other fair—but they both had a strong build and an air of a warrior’s grace.
Adesina felt a familiar pang in her chest as she thought about Kendan. She missed him, and she worried about their loss of contact. Kendan would be searching for her by now, and he would not be able to find any trace of her.
“Shall we return to the others?”
Adesina jerked out of her thoughts and nodded. She got to her feet, looking around for Ravi. Her guardian was a few feet away, dozing in the sunlight. As soon as he heard their movements, he opened his eyes and joined them.
They walked back to the fort at a slow, thoughtful pace. L’iam and Ravi conversed in the language of the L’avan while Adesina sorted through what she had learned over the past couple of days. As they drew closer to the fort, they could see a bustle of activity.
A’asil ran to greet them, giving L’iam a report in their native tongue. Adesina frowned in annoyance at her inability to understand.
L’iam nodded and sent A’asil off again, then he glanced at Adesina. “Mar’sal has returned from the village. We are preparing to leave.”
“Leave?” she asked in a shocked voice.
E’nes spotted them and hurried over. “L’iam, what about Adesina?”
This was the question that had jumped to Adesina’s mind when she had heard the news. She tried to anticipate her reaction to any number of situations but was drawing a blank. Therefore, she wasn’t prepared when L’iam turned to her.
“Will you come with us?”
The young Shimat started. “What?”
“Will you come with us?” he repeated.
E’nes looked just as surprised as Adesina, but he still turned to his sister, silently pleading for her to consider.
She honestly didn’t know what to do. Part of her wanted to go with them and learn all that she could about her race. She wanted to see the house she would have grown up in if things had been different. She wanted to hear her brother tell stories about their mother and father. She wanted L’iam to teach her more about magic. She wanted Ravi to show her how to Dream on her own.
However, another part of Adesina was equally insistent that she needed to find a way to contact the Shimat. She had to let them know where she was and that she safe. She imagined Kendan’s worried face and she felt her heart constrict. The pull of duty told her to rejoin her order.
It was clear that she could not complete her original mission. Even if she had been able to, her conscience would not allow it now that she knew her targets personally. In the event of a failed mission, the Shimat were trained to reestablish contact as soon as possible and wait for further instructions.
The young woman’s eyes turned to Ravi, and she found him gazing back. Deep down she knew that this was one of the moments he had told her about. This was a decision that would determine her course in the “labyrinth of destiny,” as her guardian had called it.
What was she supposed to do?
She forced herself to find her voice. “I need some time to think about it.”
L’iam was reluctant, but finally nodded. “We depart within the hour. Tell us your decision as quickly as possible.”
He and E’nes walked away, leaving Adesina alone with Ravi. Together they moved to a fallen tree where they sat down.
Ravi was the first to speak.
“I will follow you wherever you decide to go, Ma’eve. I will always do whatever I can to aid you in your quest. Unfortunately, there is much that I, alone, cannot teach you or reveal to you.”
“Such as…?” she asked quietly.
He merely smiled.
Adesina made an exasperated noise. “You are not helping me make a decision, Ravi.”
Her guardian shrugged. “Nor will I. There is something you must know, though.”
She turned to look at his large feline face. “What is that?”
“You will never be given this opportunity again.”
Her eyes jerked to the fort, where the preparations for departure continued. “Do you mean I will never see E’nes again?”
“Perhaps you will see him, but you will never again be invited to the home of the L’avan.”
Doubt colored the first part of his sentence, but there was a certainty in the last statement that sent a chill up Adesina’s spine.
“Why?” she asked breathlessly.
“Because the Shimat are their enemies,” he explained gently. “Right now the L’avan understand that there are extenuating circumstances in regard to your alliance with them. If you choose to return to your order, the L’avan will know where your loyalties lie.”
A mixture of frustration and despair weighed down on her mind. “If I go with the L’avan, the Shimat will assume that I have betrayed them.”
The Rashad smiled briefly. “The Shimat believe you have been taken captive, Ma’eve.”
Her eyes narrowed. “I thought you said that you were not going to help me make a decision.”
“I am not,” he insisted. “I merely wish for you to have all the facts before you make your decision.”
There was a momentary silence. Adesina hugged her knees, resting her chin on them. “What about my father?” she asked. “If I am with the Shimat I might be able to find where he is being held.”
“Perhaps.” Ravi didn’t sound hopeful.
Adesina also had her doubts. She was a new Shimat, and it was extremely unlikely that her superiors would share such information with her. In all honesty, if she returned to the Shimat right now, she would probably be sent back to the High City to wait for a new mission.
The very idea of waiting around for months at a time in that boring, self-important city was enough to make her cringe.
“I really only have one option.” she said in a resigned tone.
Ravi shook his head. “There is always a choice.”
She got to her feet and brushed herself off. “Not for me.”
They walked over to the fort and sought out L’iam. He was standing next to a young man that Adesina assumed to be Mar’sal. He was clearly the youngest of the group. His boyish face was strained between the underlying anxiety of being inexperienced and the elation of completing a mission successfully.
Mar’sal was reporting to L’iam, but stopped when he saw Adesina approach. L’iam turned and looked at her expectantly.
“What have you decided?”
She took a deep breath. “I am coming with you.”
The young leader smiled, genuinely happy with this news. “I am glad, as will be E’nes. He is in the fort, awaiting your decision.”
Adesina nodded and walked through the open door, feeling strangely elated with her choice.
E’nes was helping K’eb pack up all the cooking supplies. He glanced up at her entrance and was instantly on his feet when he saw it was her. He walked up to his sister with an air of uncertainty and looked as if he wanted to reach out and touch her hand. He refrained, aware that their relationship was still new.
She spoke quickly, wanting to both ease his discomfort. “I am coming with you.”
He blew out his breath in relief. “I was worried you would not want to.”
She forced a smile, but did not reply. Her brother reached out to briefly touch her shoulder. “I am more happy than I can say.”
The young woman knew that he meant it, and enjoyed the sensation of belonging. She quickly stifled the feeling, not trusting that it would last.
The closing of the fort was fairly straightforward, and done quickly. It seemed that most of the things that they had been using stayed at the fort, which had made it unnecessary for them to unpack their own belongings. Everything was cleaned and some dried goods were left in the cooking area, for those who would use the fort in the future. Then they closed the door behind them, not bothering to lock it.
E’nes smiled at the questioning expression on his sister’s face. “The fort is always open to those who need it.”
She nodded in understanding. It was, after all, in the middle of a magically protected forest. It was very likely that only friends of the L’avan could get near the shelter.
Being that Adesina had no horse of her own, she was forced to ride with E’nes. He had offered to walk and let her ride, but L’iam had disagreed before Adesina had a chance to refuse and insist on walking herself.
“We must move quickly until we leave the central lands. Everyone must ride.”
E’nes obeyed immediately, climbing onto his horse and then lending a hand to help Adesina mount behind him. It was uncomfortable and she didn’t like leaving control of the horse to someone else, but she didn’t complain.
As an alternative, she made a mental list of all the things she was going to ask her brother during their travels. She assumed it would be a long journey, and she planned to use the time wisely.