Chapter Thirty-seven: Cut Off
Adesina led them to the cave where she had often met Kendan to report on her status. At first they looked around in confusion, uncertain why she had brought her horse to a stop. When she dismounted, they all did the same.
She walked over to the small, hidden opening and got down on her knees.
“Wait a moment, Adesina.”
She turned as saw L’iam advancing toward her. “You cannot go in there by yourself. What if it is a trap?”
Adesina sighed at his protective nature and brought her vyala to bear. She scanned the cave and then turned back to him. “No one is inside.”
He shook his head sternly. “Even so, I do not want you going in by yourself.”
She looked at him oddly for a moment before beckoning to Ravi. Her guardian came forward readily. One after another the two of them entered through the small opening of the cave.
Adesina stood up and brushed herself off, reprimanding herself for not thinking to bring a torch. She started to feel around in the dark, looking for something to light the room.
Ravi’s voice was amused. “Use your vyala, Ma’eve.”
She felt slightly foolish for not thinking of that herself. Her vyala flared up and pooled in the palm of her hand, glowing in a ball of pure energy. Light spread through the cave, chasing the shadows into the far corners.
It was empty.
She searched the area, looking for a note or something with instructions of how she was to contact Kendan.
A worried frown creased her features. “I do not understand, Ravi. Something should be here—a note, a clue, or even a packet of survival supplies. Where is it?”
Ravi sat down, slowly surveying the cavern around him. “Are there any reasons why it would not be here?”
“Yes,” she replied, after some thought. “If a Shimat is dead, or if their mission dictates a complete loss of contact. If the latter were the case, though, the Shimat in question would have been orally informed of how to make contact if necessary.”
“Yes?” he urged.
Another thought came to her. “Basha could have known about this cave and taken what was left by Kendan.”
“Anything else?” Ravi asked.
Adesina knew of one last possibility, but was reluctant to say it. “If a Shimat has gone rogue, their supplies would be cut off.”
He nodded solemnly and got to his feet. “I think we need to hurry on to find your father, before it is too late.”
She agreed, but still cast her eyes around the cave one last time, hoping to find something she had overlooked.
Ravi’s voice was gentle. “Come, Ma’eve.”
Adesina extinguished the ball of light resting in her hand, and then they exited through the small opening. The L’avan were anxiously awaiting her return.
“Well?” asked L’iam in a strangely detached voice.
She shook her head in disappointment. “Nothing. It must have been taken before our arrival.”
Adesina was about to explain to them what she had told Ravi when an alarm sounded in her head. She instinctively let her vyala flash out, taking in the surrounding area. As she did so, several Shimat stepped out of their hiding places. There were probably two dozen shadowy figures surrounding them, and another six hiding in the trees.
The L’avan gasped in shock, and both E’nes and L’iam took a step closer to Adesina. All of them seemed to be waiting for some sort of cue from her, whether to run or fight.
She stood perfectly still, her face void of any emotion. Her mind was racing over possibilities, trying to come up with the best way to survival.
One of the Shimat directly in front of Adesina removed their hood and scarf, revealing the triumphant countenance of Basha.
“Well, well. Shimat Falcon! The report said that you had been taken captive, but I must say you do not look like a prisoner.”
Adesina wanted dearly to punch her right in her smug face, but knew it would accomplish nothing. Instead, her mind began working even harder on a way to escape, relishing in the thought of the humiliation Basha would encounter if they got away.
Basha’s venomous voice continued. “Are these a gift for the Sharifal?” she asked sarcastically, glancing over Adesina’s companions.
Adesina clenched her jaw, controlling the rage she felt. Hatred clouded her thinking, hindering her ability to plan quickly. Her vyala began swelling in power, whispering visions of how many ways she could lash out at her lifelong enemy.
Basha saw something in Adesina’s face that she had never seen before. There was an intensity and confidence that ran deeper than the arrogance of her youth. Adesina stood more upright, her limbs seemed at ease but were ready to spring into action and there was a strange glow in her eyes. The enemy standing before her was no longer an overly proud Shi, but a L’avan warrior.
Whatever it was that Basha saw in Adesina, coupled with the clear hatred in her eyes, made the Shimat uncomfortable. She tried to overcompensate by puffing out her chest and giving a haughty smile. “If you will not answer to me, perhaps you will answer to your former Shar.”
She gestured to the Shimat standing next to her, who slowly reached up to remove the hood and scarf covering his face.
His dark eyes captured Adesina’s shimmering ones. Almost involuntarily, she took a step toward him. E’nes and L’iam both started to reach out a hand to touch her arms, but stopped themselves. Adesina also stopped herself from moving forward.
Kendan spoke in a quiet voice, using the language of the Shimat. “Where have you been, Adesina?”
Her eyes flickered to Basha and the other Shimat surrounding them and she gave him a faint smile. “Away.”
His expression hardened. “That is hardly an answer.”
“I told you,” interrupted Basha, who was still speaking in the common tongue, “She has betrayed us.”
Kendan waited for Adesina to dispute this accusation, but she remained silent. His voice became even more quiet. “What have you to say to this, Shimat Falcon?”
Adesina felt her chest constrict when he used her Shimat name. This was not how she had planned this conversation going. How was she supposed to convince him of the truth with all these other Shimat present?
“Kendan,” she began uncertainly, “this is not what it seems.”
Basha snorted in derision, but Kendan appeared willing to listen. “Go on.”
She glanced around once more. “May I speak to you alone?”
“No,” protested Basha, this time in the Shimat language. “She will use her witchcraft on you. Let her intentions be declared here before our brothers and sisters of the Shimat order.”
After a pause, Kendan looked at Adesina expectantly. She lowered her voice, silently cursing Basha for listening so intently. “They have lied to you, Kendan. They have lied to all of us. The Shimat order is not what we believed it to be.”
A look of wry amusement passed over his face. “What are they, then?”
She struggled to find the right words. “They are assassins, corrupters…”
Adesina trailed off when she saw the small, knowing smile appear on his lips. She struggled to breathe as the awful truth washed over her.
He already knew.
He had always known. He was one of them.
Kendan spoke in a calm, almost loving voice. “Adesina, have you ever stopped to think that perhaps you are the one who has been deceived? By those people standing behind you.”
She shook her head fiercely, her thoughts whirling out of control.
Basha laughed mockingly. “So the high and mighty Adesina has finally been brought to our level. How does it feel to stand in the mud?”
There was a hint of a glare when Kendan’s eyes flickered to Basha, but it disappeared when he turned his attention back to Adesina. He held out his hand to her. “It is not too late. All can be forgiven, and…we can be together.”
She shook her head again, refusing to listen to his lies. The back of her throat ached as she fought against the tears that stung in her eyes. She had thought that he loved her, and she had grown to love him in return. Her heart throbbed sharply as she realized that he had just been manipulating her just as Signe had.
The pain and wrath was taken up by her vyala, whipping it into a frenzy. She did not try to control it or restrain it in any way, and it flared around her into waves of palpable energy. Those standing closest to her were forced to take a couple of steps back, driven away by the sheer power of her being.
Oblivious to all of this, Adesina kept her eyes fixed on the man before her. She raised her chin, defying him as she had the first day she met him.
Kendan’s eyes were filled with disbelief. He had felt certain of her answer, and he was shocked to find he had been wrong. There was something else in his eyes that Adesina had never seen before: fear.
His seemingly unshakable confidence was nowhere to be found as he stared at his former student in her unearthly radiance. He felt as if he were staring at a complete stranger, and perhaps he was.
It was the sight of that fear that kept Adesina from obliterating him on the spot. She reigned in her vyala, and spoke a single, hate-filled word.
Kendan was only too happy to comply. He signaled to the Shimat surrounding them, and they silently melted into the shadows of the trees.
Basha was torn between her desire to attack and her compulsion to obey. The latter finally won out, leaving Kendan standing alone with the L’avan.
He gazed at her a moment longer before tearing his eyes away and turning his back on them.
Adesina sobbed into the shimmering white fabric of E’rian’s dress.
They sat in the Garden beneath a large willow tree. A weeping tree. E’rian clasped her daughter close, stroking her hair and whispering words of comfort.
It was several minutes before Adesina could speak. “I do not know what to do,” she said brokenly.
Her mother’s arms tightened around her. “About what, love?”
“I do not know how to get into the Shimat fortress without Kendan’s help. I do not have enough information, and this mission cannot succeed now. They have my father, and he is going to die there.”
A sad smile touched E’rian’s lips. “You have prepared for every situation, Ma’eve. You can figure out how to succeed.”
She shook her head. “I cannot lead this group up against the entire Shimat order.”
“You are not leading an attack against the fortress, dearest. You are finding the L’avan prisoners and setting them free.”
When her daughter refused to be consoled, she asked quietly, “What is really troubling you?”
Adesina was reluctant to admit the cause of the sharp aching in her heart. Why else had she come to her mother, though?
“I…I loved him.”
She frowned. “Kendan?”
Her daughter nodded, a fresh torrent of tears coming over her. “I thought he loved me too, but he was just using me.”
Understanding filled E’rian with sorrow for her child’s young heart. She was already much too old for her age, why must this burden be placed on her slender shoulders as well?
“I am sorry, Ma’eve. I am truly sorry that you must feel such pain.”
Adesina smiled bitterly. “Yet I must still feel it?”
She brushed back a lock of hair that had fallen across her daughter’s face. “I cannot take the pain from you.”
Adesina sat up straight, looking her in the face. “What can we do, then?”
E’rian gently stroked her daughter’s hand. “I can hold you, child, and share in your pain. You can pour your heart out to me, and our shared sorrow can help you begin to heal.”
Logically, it didn’t make much sense to Adesina, but she still liked the idea of sharing her heartache with her mother. She allowed her mother to pull her close again and closed her eyes against the tears welling up there.
“Then,” continued E’rian, “when our tears are spent, I will help you find the information you need to make this mission succeed.”
“How?” whispered Adesina.
Her mother’s tone became one of grim determination. “We will find those who know the Shimat fortress, and convince them to share that knowledge.”
Adesina nodded slowly. It was the only reasonable option they had at this point. Every day was taking them closer to the fortress, and they needed a new plan. Time was running out.
Kendan and Signe stood in the Sharifal’s tent, quite a distance away from where the encounter with the L’avan took place.
Some people shouted or threw things when they were angry, but not Signe. She became still, like a block of ice. Her voice was quiet, but cold and biting.
“You said she was in love with you.”
Kendan felt his chest constrict painfully. “She was,” he insisted softly. “She is.”
“Obviously not,” Signe snapped, “because she chose to go with the L’avan.”
Again, the pain in his heart returned. Part of him agreed with what Signe said. How could she have left him like that?
The Sharifal did not look at her nephew. Her eyes were fixed on the subtle design in the fabric of the tent. “You were assigned as her Shar for one purpose alone: to created an emotional bond that would tie her to us permanently. Now we have lost our most valuable weapon. Seventeen years of research, training, and experimentation are lost.”
“She-” Kendan cut himself off abruptly.
Signe turned for the first time since the beginning of the conversation. “What?” she asked in a deadly tone.
He knew he shouldn’t go on, but couldn’t help himself. “She is more that just a weapon. She is a person with integrity and honor. Perhaps if we had treated her as such she would not have betrayed us.”
His aunt sneered at him mockingly. “How precious. You have fallen in love with her.”
He started to deny it, but he realized that it was the truth. When Signe saw he had nothing to say, she got so close he could feel her hot breath on his face.
“Little good it does us now that she has turned her back on you. She spent a year with you, day and night, and then all that time while she was in the High City. Yet after a few weeks with the L’avan, she has forgotten you.”
The words were meant to hurt Kendan, and they did. His stomach dropped and his throat strained as he struggled to control his emotions. He had never had trouble with self-control before he met Adesina. It was only after he began teaching her that he discovered how quickly a heart could be lost.
Signe read his face as easily as she read the reports given to her daily. Her derision for her nephew grew with what she saw there.
“You should have followed my orders, Kendan. Mistakes such as this cannot be tolerated in the Shimat order.”
He only shook his head. Signe had suggested more extreme measures to tie Adesina to himself, and he had begun his assignment with no qualms. He had been immediately struck by her exotic beauty, and admitted to himself that he had looked forward to following the orders given to him.
However, as their relationship grew and Kendan fell in love with her, he began to have misgivings. Deep down he knew that everything between them had been built upon lies. He had determined to start fresh, making her truly his this time.
Then she had disappeared.
Kendan had scoured the lands looking for her, pulling together all of his resources and devoting all of his energy to it. He had only discovered her whereabouts when Basha had contacted him, also informing him that she had turned against the order.
He hadn’t believed it at first, knowing the depth of Adesina’s loyalty. Regardless, Kendan assured himself that it didn’t matter. He had intended to convince her to run away with him. With their skills combined, no one would have ever been able to find them.
Kendan had not even gotten the chance to really talk to Adesina, thanks to Basha’s interference. Instead, he had been forced to say the words that were expected of him, rather than the ones in his heart.
He had seen the heartbreak in her eyes, and he knew she would never forgive him for what he had done.
While all this was going through Kendan’s mind, Signe grew tired of his silent musings. She moved away from him, gesturing impatiently. “Did you at least discover their intended destination?”
He ducked his head in shame. “No, Sharifal.”
She sat at her makeshift desk, surveying him in contempt. “I am surprised you found the courage to return to my presence in such disgrace.”
Kendan kept his eyes on the ground, not wanting her to see how little he cared right now. He heard her irritated sigh and the shuffling of parchment.
“I shall send a team to track them. In the meantime, our plan goes forward as before.”
He nodded, even though his stomach clenched in anxiety.
The Sharifal turned her attention away from her nephew. “You are dismissed.”
Kendan felt the weight of sorrow on his shoulders, but bowed obediently. He then turned and walked out of the Sharifal’s tent.
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