Chapter Thirty-five: Hidden Enemy
When she awoke, she felt slightly ill, but much better as a whole. Of her companions, only L’iam was awake, because it was his turn to keep watch.
He noticed that she was awake and looked at her sternly. “You could have killed yourself.”
She frowned in confusion. “What?”
He sighed softly and began building up the fire. “You are incredibly powerful, Adesina, but even you have your limits. You have to learn to draw from the energy around you when you use your vyala as you did last night. Your life force cannot sustain power like that.”
Adesina sat up slowly, fighting the wave of nausea that washed over her. “I do not understand what you mean.”
L’iam glanced at her sharply, then shook his head ruefully. “Perhaps you do not.”
He rummaged through the medical kit, pulling out certain herbs and powders, and mixing them together. He put a small pot of water on the fire, waiting for it to boil before adding the mixture he had created. The steam that reached Adesina’s nose was refreshing, and helped to clear her head.
L’iam sat back, keeping a close eye on the concoction as it boiled. “For most L’avan, their vyala draws its power from their own life strength. This is why L’avan grow tired and their vyala cannot be sustained indefinitely. Only those with gold in their eyes know how to take energy from their surroundings.”
Adesina nodded. She remembered L’iam showing her how to do this early on in her training.
“It is possible,” he continued, “to take minute amounts of energy from everything around you. Small enough that nothing is disturbed, but depending on your range of intake, those multiple small amounts are enough to feed your vyala without expending any life force of your own.”
The medicine on the fire appeared to be ready, so L’iam poured it into a cup and handed it to Adesina to drink. She sipped it, savoring the warmth as it spread throughout her body. It had a slightly bitter taste, but it wasn’t unpleasant.
His eyes were solemn as he watched her drink the medicine. “What you did last night, Adesina, projecting as far as you did and combining vyala as you did,” he shook his head, “I have never seen anything like it.”
There was awe in his voice that warmed Adesina more than the drink in her hand.
He went on in a sober tone. “But you could have died. It was all I could do to keep your life force going until we stopped to rest.”
She realized the seriousness of the situation and nodded to show that she understood. “I did not know the danger, L’iam. I will be more careful in the future.”
The relief in his eyes was apparent. He smiled his brilliant smile and then turned his attention to tending the fire and preparing a meal. The rest of the camp was beginning to stir, and Adesina glanced at the sky.
“What time is it?”
L’iam shrugged. “About midday.”
Her gaze turned to Aleron, who had gotten to his feet to stretch and work out his sore muscles.
She began quietly speaking in the L’avan language. “What are we going to do about him?”
L’iam also glanced over before fixing his eyes on the fire. “I do not know. He certainly cannot come with us, but we cannot leave him alone.”
She nodded her head in agreement. As if he was aware that they were talking about him, Aleron walked over to join them and spoke in a rush. “I know it may be presumptuous, but I want to come with you.” When he received no answer, he went on. “I have given it a lot of thought, and there is no doubt in my mind that that is where I should go.”
Adesina raised an eyebrow. “Do you even know where we are going?”
He suddenly looked uncertain. “Well…no…I assumed your original destination was the High City; but now that it is destroyed, are you not going back to your homeland?”
She switched back to the L’avan tongue. “This would be an easy way out. We could tell him that no outsiders are allowed in Pevothem.”
L’iam frowned, also speaking in their language. “Why not tell him the truth?”
“Because he would insist on coming and helping in any way he can.”
Aleron looked between them, perplexed. “I promise I will not be a burden. In fact, I could be helpful. Before the High City was attacked, I was training to be a healer.”
L’iam studied the young man sitting across from him before replying in the common tongue. “We appreciate your desire to be of assistance, but you cannot come with us.”
“Why?” he asked desperately.
Adesina threw a sideways glance at L’iam, hoping that his natural honesty would not prompt him to say more than what was necessary to put off Aleron.
“Because we are not going to our homeland. We are going into the heart of Shimat lands, and it will be dangerous.”
She repressed a sigh, wishing that L’iam would have simply lied and said that they were going to their secret home.
Aleron, on the other hand, perked up. “All the more reason to take a healer.”
The other L’avan began joining them beside the campfire. L’era looked around at the situation and innocently asked, “Is he coming with us?”
“No,” said both L’iam and Adesina.
Aleron’s face fell. “Why not?”
“Yes,” said L’era, “why not?”
Adesina switched to the L’avan language again. “Because it is too dangerous and he would only be a hindrance.”
“Oh. I suppose you are right,” admitted the princess. It seemed to have slipped her mind that they were on a serious mission.
“We could drop him off in a nearby village,” suggested E’nes. “We left behind many of our supplies when we fled last night, so we need to go to a village anyway.”
“Will they deign to trade with us?” asked Adesina bitterly.
L’iam smiled sadly. “These are the central lands, so it is more likely.”
Adesina turned back to Aleron. “You cannot come with us. It is far too dangerous. We will take you to a nearby village, and there we must part ways.”
He looked at her anxiously and was about to speak, but she held up a hand to stop him. “No, Aleron, do not argue. From the village you may begin your own journey of healing, like you always wanted to do, but you cannot come with us.”
He searched each of the faces of the L’avan, looking for one with sympathy, but they were all in agreement. He sighed in disappointment and nodded.
After the meal, they packed up their makeshift camp and remounted their horses. Adesina was still feeling a bit weak, but did her best to act otherwise.
They began riding west, for this was the direction of the nearest village. Little was said as they rode, especially by Aleron. He kept his eyes fixed on his horse’s ears, his face heavy with despondency.
As if in response to his mood, the sky clouded over and it began to rain. At first it was no more than a light drizzle, but it grew heavier as the hours wore on. By the time the village came into view that evening, they were all drenched.
They rode into town just as the shops were beginning to close, so L’iam led them to a small inn. The interior smelled strongly of cooking grease and onions, and the air was filled with smoke. Still, it was warm, and they were glad for a roof over their head. The proprietor eyed them suspiciously and admitted that he had some empty rooms, but insisted on being paid in advance.
The L’avan first sat down around a table placed in a corner and ordered supper, which the owner brought out and carelessly tossed on the table. It consisted of some greasy potatoes and wooden chunks of meat, but it was accepted gratefully.
Once left alone, Sa’jan asked, “What are we going to do now?”
L’iam was struggling to saw a piece of meat into a more manageable size. “Tomorrow we will resupply and set out as soon as possible. We have lost too much time as it is.”
He glanced at Ravi with a questioning look in his eye. Ravi nodded once. “That would be wise.”
Adesina felt a wave of anxiety. “How much time do we have?”
He shook his head slowly. “Things are becoming less clear. I only know that we must hurry.”
Aleron frowned in confusion. “Why must you hurry?”
She hesitated before deciding to explain. “Do you remember the man taken from the High City just before I left?”
He nodded. “The magic…I mean, the L’avan?”
“Yes,” she affirmed. “We are on our way to rescue him from the Shimat.”
Aleron’s frown deepened. “It seems to be a dangerous mission to risk for one man. Is he important?”
“Every L’avan is important to us,” replied Sa’jan. “Hopefully, he will not be the only one we save.”
“Also,” added E’nes, “He is our father.”
Adesina couldn’t bear to look at the sympathetic expression on Aleron’s face. His voice was brimming with sorrow. “Had he come to find you?”
Her smile was self-mocking. “I am doubtful, since he was not aware that I was alive.”
“Then why was he in the High City?”
Adesina didn’t know the answer to this question. She glanced at L’iam, who shook his head in response. “Even I do not know. His mission was given to him by my father. I suspect it had something to do with the rumors we were hearing about Shimat activity.”
“Well, if he was looking for the Shimat, he found them,” she said coldly.
E’nes reached over to take her hand. “It is not your fault,” he insisted.
She abruptly got to her feet. “I am going to bed. What time should we leave tomorrow morning?”
L’iam’s expression was touched with sadness as he looked her in the eye. “As soon as the shops open.”
She nodded curtly and then asked the innkeeper to show her to her room. Adesina, L’era, and Ravi were to share one room, and the others would share another. Ravi followed her upstairs and into the cramped, musty room where they would be spending the night. The straw filled mattresses that made up the bedding smelled like they had never been changed, and the blanket spread over it was thin and scratchy.
Adesina ignored all of this and laid down facing the wall. She heard Ravi sit down on the floor next to her bed.
“You know, he is right. It is not your fault, Ma’eve.”
“If I wished to discuss it,” she said shortly, “I would have.”
His tone of voice was light but serious. “Do not lash out at me, my friend. I am not the one with whom you are angry.”
“Who, then?” she asked sarcastically.
She had been ready to make some biting remark, but this simple reply stopped her in her tracks. Deep down she knew that she was acting childish and that Ravi was right. Her self-loathing was so firmly rooted that she felt it poisoning her soul.
Adesina rolled over to look her guardian in the eye. “I am angry with myself.”
His voice was gentle. “I know, dear one.”
“So angry that I do not know what to do about it.”
He shook his head. “You have no reason for such hatred.”
“Do I not?” she asked incredulously. “Shall I list all the atrocious things I have done in my life?”
Ravi quirked an eyebrow. “I know what you have done in your life. I know everything about you, Ma’eve. None of it means that you are a terrible person, just that you are human. A human who was manipulated by those she trusted.”
She set her jaw stubbornly. “That does not excuse anything I have done.”
He sighed. “Are you happy for the things you have done? Are you anxious to rejoin the Shimat?”
Adesina raised herself up on one elbow. “Of course not!”
She laid back down. “Well, what?”
Ravi also settled down. “You have no reason for your self-hatred.”
“Hmph,” she turned away, unable to think of an argument.
“Stop being obstinate, Ma’eve. You have only ever tried to do your best with the knowledge you were given. There is no fault in that.”
“I have done much harm,” she whispered.
“Then right it,” he suggested. “Right the wrongs, change your purposes from evil to good. That is all you can do. Being angry will only destroy yourself.”
Adesina let her breath out slowly and felt a tear drop from the corner of her eye. “You are right. I cannot be of use in this state of mind.”
“I am not advising you to repress your emotions,” he added. “I am simply stating that you should not allow your remorse to turn into self-loathing. Learn from your mistakes, forgive yourself, and make an effort to change.”
She nodded and closed her eyes, still tired from the previous night. As she was dozing off to sleep, she vaguely heard L’era come into the room to check on her.
She felt a slender hand brush her hair away from her forehead and a quiet voice whisper, “We all love you, Adesina, no matter what you did in the past.”
After that, she dropped off to sleep.
In the morning she awoke completely refreshed. Adesina glanced over and saw that L’era was still asleep, so she was especially silent in slipping out of the room. Ravi padded after her, making less noise than a shadow.
She found E’nes, L’iam, Sa’jan and Aleron sitting at a table eating breakfast. They invited her to join them.
“How are you feeling?” asked her brother.
Adesina smiled. “Better. I think I have recovered from our escape.”
They all looked relieved at this announcement, but Adesina could see that something else was on their minds. Namely, her sudden exit the previous evening.
Sa’jan cleared his throat and indicated to Aleron. “We have been giving our young friend some advice about the outside world.”
She smiled wryly. “Really?”
Aleron nodded. “Apparently the High City does not provide realistic life experience.”
They all chuckled.
“No,” agreed Adesina, “it does not. What do you intend to do first?”
He traced a pattern on the surface of the table with his finger. “Well, I will probably start by offering my services here in this village. Then I will move on when I feel the time is right.”
The group was joined by L’era, who looked around moodily. “You could have awaken me, you know. I half thought that I had been left behind.”
Her brother looked at her thoughtfully. “Actually, that is not a bad idea. You and Aleron could keep an eye on each other until we come back.”
She glared at him. “No, L’iam.”
He sighed in resignation and got to his feet. “Well, I suppose we should get going, then.”
Aleron also got to his feet, but L’iam held up a hand. “You do not need to come with us. In fact, it would probably be better if you did not. The less you have to do with us, the more likely the villagers will be to accept you.”
He shrugged. “I have already been seen with you. What does it matter if I go with you to buy supplies?”
So they all walked out onto the muddy street, breathing in the fresh air. Many of the villagers stared at them curiously, or sometimes in fear, but none of the faces seemed openly hostile.
The L’avan made their way to the market and inspected the displays. One bold man even ventured to assure them of the quality of his produce.
They finished their resupplying fairly quickly and began walking back to the inn where their horses were stabled. Aleron was walking next to Adesina, reminding her of the times they had spent together in the High City market with friends.
As Adesina smiled at his anecdote, something caught the corner of her eye.
It was the motion of a shadowed figure moving quickly out of sight, but it was just slow enough to have deliberately attracted her attention.
She saw short, sandy colored hair and eyes like two chips of ice. She saw a vicious smile that gave the face an expression of triumph. Most of all, she saw a long scar that marred the pale left cheek.
Adesina stopped in her tracks, her mind suddenly filled with hatred, rage and dismay. Her companions also stopped, looking at her expression in concern.
“What is it, Adesina?”
Her voice was barely more than a hiss.