Chapter Twenty-three: Power
They set off at a fairly easy pace and Adesina couldn’t see why L’iam had made an issue of someone walking. As they reached the edge of the trees, he commanded them to slow to a stop and he turned to face the rest of the group.
A’asil nodded and closed his eyes in concentration. When he opened them again they were shimmering with vyala. L’iam saw this and urged his horse forward at a brisk pace. The group moved out from under the trees and into the open, heading north.
Adesina leaned forward to speak in her brother’s ear. “What is A’asil doing?”
E’nes turned his head slightly to respond. “He is creating an illusion that hides us from the sight of others. If we did not have him in our group, we would have to travel at night.”
She frowned in confusion. “Why?”
“Because he is the only one of us who knows how to create illusions, and it is imperative that we are not seen.”
The young woman stewed over this for a while, staring at the landscape. They were currently in grasslands, which stretched out as far as the eye could see. The grass was long and green, flourishing in the early summer weather. A slight wind stirred the grass, making it whisper and sway, which helped to hide any sign of their horses passing through.
Adesina decided to start a different train of conversation. “E’nes?”
She hesitated, wondering what kind of a response she would receive. “Would you teach me the language of the L’avan?”
There was a startled silence and she held her breath as she waited for his answer. The Shimat adamantly refused to teach their language to anybody who was not of their order. It was among their most closely guarded secrets. Adesina wondered if it was the same with the L’avan.
When he spoke, the surprise he felt was evident in his voice. “Of course! I will teach you if you wish to learn.”
The young Shimat smiled. “Thank you, E’nes. When can we begin?”
She felt him chuckle quietly. “Right now.”
He then began to explain the origins of the language and how it had evolved over time. He spoke of grammar rules and began teaching her simple, useful words. Adesina had always been a quick learner, and she drank in everything that her brother had to offer.
The two of them were riding beside Mar’sal, who was listening with interest. After a time, he began contributing to Adesina’s lessons. He would offer bits of information that E’nes had left out or give more detailed explanations. By early evening, Adesina was forming simple sentences.
It was around this time that they came across a small copse of trees. Once they were under cover, they brought their horses to a halt and dismounted. Adesina was sore from riding so long, but she looked at A’asil and immediately felt that she had no right to complain. He was completely exhausted from the hours of sustaining his vyala. No one said a word when he left the others, who were setting up a camp, and went to sit beside a tree. They all willingly took over his portion of the work.
Adesina was perplexed to see L’iam go to join him, also looking worn out.
“What is wrong with L’iam?” she quietly asked her brother.
He glanced in their direction before continuing to rub down his horse. “He has been channeling energy into A’asil and the horses for a good portion of the day. A’asil might have died without his assistance.”
She was surprised that she hadn’t noticed sooner. They had kept their hurried pace all day, not stopping for any breaks. This wooded area was the first cover they had come across, and therefore their first chance to stop. Even though there was still a fair amount of daylight left, they were getting ready to settle in for the night. Here, at least, they would be protected from prying eyes without the aid of magical illusion.
Adesina walked over to L’iam’s horse and began to care for it. It was a proud-looking stallion that was probably seventeen hands tall. He was a beautiful golden chestnut with a long mane and tail only slightly darker in color. He looked at Adesina curiously, but by no means opposed her gentle touch. The L’avan horses were not tethered, but left to roam free. After she was done caring for L’iam’s horse, she let him do the same.
“His name is Avab. It means devotion.”
She turned and saw L’iam leaning against a tree behind her. He gave a weary smile and went on. “He began following me around when he was a colt, so my father gave him to me. I trained him myself.”
Adesina glanced at the horse with admiration. “I have never seen anything like him.”
L’iam nodded in agreement. “Yes, he comes from an exceptional bloodline. I enjoyed training him, and perhaps if things were different…”
Her brow furrowed in inquisition. “What?” she urged.
He shrugged in an offhanded manner. “Perhaps I would have chosen the training of horses for my profession.”
“Can you not?” she asked.
With a brief smile, he shook his head. “No, I cannot. My path has been chosen for me, in that regard.”
Adesina’s thoughts turned to the conversation she had had with her brother previously.
“Because of your father?”
The young leader was startled by her question. It was clear that he didn’t expect her to know about that aspect of his personal life.
“Yes,” he replied slowly, “because of my father.”
She knew how he felt, to a degree, and unexpectedly decided to share that with him. “I also had my path chosen for me. Sometimes I wonder what kind of life I would have chosen if I had not been raised by the Shimat.”
“Have you come to any conclusions?” he asked.
Adesina looked down at the ground, pushing some grass around with the toe of her boot. “I never decided. It seemed to be a pointless line of thought.”
L’iam studied her face for several moments before turning and walking towards the camp. After a second of hesitation, she followed him.
“I understand that your brother has been teaching you our language.”
She nodded. “Yes…is that a problem?”
He immediately shook his head. “No, of course not. I was simply unaware of your interest.” He quirked and eyebrow teasingly. “We will have to be more careful of what we say around you.”
Adesina could see that all of his movements were labored and she looked at him in concern. “Are your gifts so tiring?”
L’iam’s expression became rueful. “They are when used as foolishly as I have used them today.”
“What do you mean?” she prompted.
“I tend to overestimate my own strength,” he explained. “I pushed myself too hard for too long.”
She cocked her head to one side. “Is that not how we become stronger?”
He assented, “To an extent, but there are limits to how far one can test oneself before it merely becomes foolhardy.”
Adesina wasn’t sure if she should be offended or if she was inferring more than what he actually meant.
They were now approaching the camp, and she could see that A’asil was still resting by a tree with Ravi at his side, conferring in low voices. K’eb was leaning over the fire pit cooking something, Mar’sal gathered firewood and E’nes was drawing water from a nearby stream. Ri’sel seemed to be standing guard and Sa’jan was nowhere to be seen.
She took in the sight of the groups—watchful order mixed with friendly ease—and for a moment she forgot that she didn’t belong with them. It all felt so natural, so soothing. She felt more at home in the military environment, but these people were also longtime friends. Everyone knew how things were done and they were accustomed to each other’s ways.
L’iam didn’t notice anything extraordinary about the scene before them. This was how things always were for him. He gave her a parting smile and went to join A’asil and Ravi. She wanted to lend a hand, but she was afraid of just being in the way of the seamless flow of duties. Eventually she wandered over to E’nes, who greeted her warmly.
“May I help?”
He paused to glance around. “I believe we have taken care of everything.”
She pursed her lips together and slowly walked away. Ravi, who seemed to sense her restlessness, moved to join her.
“What is it, Ma’eve?”
She sat down at the edge of the camp, like a stranger looking in. “It has been a long time since I have had nothing to do. Even the High City kept me busy in its own way.”
He nodded in understanding, but said nothing in return. Together they watched the others go about their business happily. Later that evening Sa’jan returned with a respectable-looking grey horse. He led it over to Adesina, where it looked at her with large benign eyes.
He handed her the reins and said, “L’iam thought you would enjoy the journey more if you had a horse of your own.”
She looked over at the L’avan leader, but he was deep in conversation with Ri’sel and not paying attention. She took the reigns of the horse and gave Sa’jan an uncertain smile. “Thank you.”
He nodded in an oddly apologetic way. “She is not much more than a farm horse, but she will do for now.”
Adesina expressed her gratitude again, acknowledging that she would be more comfortable on her own horse. She watched as the aging warrior walked away and then glanced back to L’iam. She had the feeling that he had been looking at her the moment before, but his full attention was now on the man sitting next to him.
She cared for the mare and let her go to graze with the other horses. Then she walked over to her blankets and rolled up, trying to get some rest. Ravi joined her shortly and sang her into a peaceful sleep.
When she woke up, one arm was laying over him—his warmth a protection against the morning chill.
The first week of their journey passed in this manner. They woke up long before dawn and left as soon as the camp was broken, often eating cold rations as they traveled. They continued heading north, rarely deviating in course.
The young Shimat found ways of making herself useful in the camp. She would gather wood or draw water, wash dishes or find ways to pad their beds on the ground. The L’avan never expected any labor from her, but were always grateful for her assistance.
Every day A’asil would shield them from outside eyes, and L’iam would channel energy. They never stopped travelling until they came to an area that offered some sort of protection. It was apparent that they had traveled this route before and knew when to stop for the night and when to keep going.
E’nes and Adesina continued with their language lessons, with the help of Mar’sal. Both L’avan were impressed by how quickly she was learning, and she was secretly pleased as well. The words felt strangely natural, like she was remembering rather than learning.
Adesina was anxious for her lessons with L’iam to continue, but he was too tired in the evenings to teach her anything. He promised her early on in the journey that their lessons would continue as soon as possible.
Halfway through their second week, Adesina noticed greater changes in the landscape. There were more forests, hills and rivers. Everything seemed greener and more full of life. They spotted deer watching them from a distance and the air was adorned with the song of birds.
The L’avan traveled at an easier pace, keeping to the sheltered areas as they went. A’asil was no longer required to hide them, and the hours they traveled were more traditional. They got up at dawn, ate breakfast and took down the camp, rode at a steady pace with occasional stops along the way, and then set up camp again in the early evening.
At the end of this second week, L’iam approached Adesina as soon as the camp had been put in order.
“Are you ready for another lesson?”
She immediately got to her feet. “Of course.”
They moved a short distance away from the camp and stood facing each other. Ravi followed and seated himself nearby, watching them intently.
L’iam held out his hand. “This time I will show you how I connect with the world of spirit.”
The Shimat frowned briefly at the name he gave the universe of energy he had shown her, not quite sure she understood his word choice. She took his hand anyway, impatient to begin.
He smiled at her eagerness. “Watch my eyes.”
Adesina’s gaze locked on his. Between what she saw there and what she felt through his grasp, she somehow knew the process in which he connected to his vyala. Without moving a muscle, he reached deep down into the core of his being where he held powers such as love and intelligence. His vyala was found there as well. He beckoned to it, encouraging it to flow to the rest of his body. The vyala swelled forth from its resting place, uniting with L’iam like an old friend.
She felt it starting up her own arm and withdrew her hand from L’iam’s. He was startled by her sudden movement, but did not protest. He seemed to understand that she wanted to connect on her own.
Adesina closed her eyes, trying to become more aware of herself beyond the physical existence. She stood there for several strained minutes before opening her eyes and looking at L’iam in frustration.
“Why can I not do it?”
He nodded in empathy. “It is difficult to find at first. Close your eyes again and think of someone you love. Follow the emotion deep into yourself. It will lead you to your vyala.”
She obeyed his instructions, anxious to succeed. She studied her thoughts, searching for someone she loved. To her dismay, she couldn’t think of anyone.
There were several people of whom she was fond, but she could not think of anyone she truly loved. She felt that she should love her family, but she hardly knew them. She wondered if she loved Signe for raising her, but found that she felt only a deep respect.
Then she thought of Kendan. She imagined his brilliant smile and his warm touch. She blocked out the memories of him as her harsh Shar and focused on the time they had spent together since leaving the fortress. He had seemed like a completely different person, and he had been eager to show her that side of him. She remembered how it had felt every time he touched her, or when he had taken her in his arms and kissed her.
Adesina felt the emotion she had been searching for and quickly followed it deeper, worried that she would lose its trail. It led to a rarely used part of Adesina, one that felt repressed and resigned. There she found a spark that was akin to the warm glow found in L’iam. She touched the spark, silently asking it to become brighter.
It was as if it had been awaiting this request. It flared to life, consuming everything in its path. The young Shimat gasped, unable to control the power she had unleashed.
L’iam hurried forward to take her hand. Using his own vyala, he helped her to calm the spark to a more manageable magnitude. It still occasionally flickered in surges of energy, but it was almost as amenable as L’iam’s.
He gave her a rueful smile. “Your vyala is still quite untamed. I apologize, I should have warned you that might happen.” He paused. “It seems to have developed a personality rather like your own, which is to be expected.”
Adesina merely nodded, not quite trusting her voice at first. She cleared her throat and spoke quietly. “How long will it take me to be able to tame it?”
His smile broadened. “Not long.”
He let go of her hand, and Adesina tensed for the overpowering sensation she had experienced before. Instead, the vyala remained as it was.
“The first rush of conscious vyala is always the hardest to control. As you get to know your vyala better, and as it gets to know you, it will get easier.”
She shifted uncomfortably. “You talk about it as if it were a living thing.”
L’iam inclined his head. “And so it is. You must remember that and treat it as such.”
With this new perspective, she examined her vyala again. It did seem more like a being than a thing—a radiating outline of herself. Adesina wondered what would happen if this almost-person decided to step outside of her physical being. She shuddered and pushed the thought out of her mind.
Then she started to experiment. It wasn’t like ordering a servant to obey or even like wielding a weapon. It was more like working with a partner—one that was infinitely more powerful than herself.
L’iam sensed her hesitation and gave her a few more tips. “You must treat your vyala with respect, but remember that you are the master. Be firm but understanding, and soon you will know each other well enough that you will work together effortlessly.”
She nodded and tried again, this time moving in synchronization with her vyala. She tentatively reached out with her mind and was once again hyperaware of everything around her. She extended even further and felt as if she could touch worlds beyond her own.
Adesina pushed harder and suddenly felt herself being yanked forward. Her surroundings rushed past as if she were flying through the air. She almost felt sick to her stomach as the sensations of violent motion and not moving at all assailed her simultaneously.
She came to an abrupt stop and found herself standing in the Garden.