Authors: Callie Kanno
Adesina frowned. “What makes you think I would know?”
He flashed his teeth in an expression that was half smile and half
grimace as Adesina brought her staff down on his shoulder. “I did not say I
thought you knew. I was asking for your opinion.”
Adesina stepped out of the way of his staff as he jabbed it
forward and shrugged. “Why bother speculating? There is no benefit in it.”
He let his weapon drop ever so slightly, as if letting his guard
down. Adesina knew he was just trying to draw her in, and ignored the gesture.
She continued to circle cautiously and said in a voice of forced indifference,
“I suppose we will know soon enough.”
There was a noticeable jump in anxiety as their Shar filed into
the courtyard. Every Shi fell silent and their bodies became tense. The
students stopped what they were doing and bowed to their instructors.
Per pulled out a list and read the order they were to go see the
Sharifal. It alternated between a marked student and the one who had marked
them. Adesina was glad to hear her name near the beginning. She didn’t think
she could bear the agitation of waiting for hours.
The Shar left with the first student on the list, and the eleven
remaining Shi tried to go back to what they were doing. Some gave up entirely
and began pacing along the edge of the courtyard next to the stone walls.
Adesina bowed to her classmate, indicating that she was finished sparring, and
walked over to the range.
She was particularly good at throwing knives and the activity took
her mind off the stress at hand. Adesina walked to the end of the range and
closed her eyes, imagining her goal. There were four targets on the opposite
side of the range: one on each side, one in front, and one behind. The object
was to run into the center of this circle of targets and throw the knives
without breaking stride.
Adesina took a deep breath and began running at full speed. The
calculations of each shot flashed through her mind and translated to action
almost automatically. She threw knives at the front and left targets first,
then spun and threw knives at the remaining two. She slowed to a stop and
inspected each target to see where her knife had struck.
Most of them stood dead center, but one was slightly left of where
she had aimed. Her nerves were proving to be more of a problem than she wanted
to admit, and she shook her head in frustration. She gathered her knives and
started again, this time with more concentration than before.
No students returned from their meeting with the Sharifal, but
Shar Per reappeared at regular intervals to call the next name on his list.
Adesina felt a twinge of satisfaction seeing Basha leave with Per pale and
Basha’s interview was longer than the students’ before her, which
made Adesina even more nervous. Her mind flew over all of the things that could
possibly prevent her advancement, in spite of the victory she won the night
before. When Per returned and called her name, Adesina hoped she didn’t look as
scared as Basha had.
As Per led her through the fortress to the Sharifal’s tower, the
details of her surroundings stood out in Adesina’s mind.
The fortress was devoid of any sort of decoration. The walls were
a dull gray stone, lined with torches that were rarely lit. Every so often
there would be a brazier that lent a little heat, but not enough to overcome
the chill of the season. It was a drab and gloomy place, but Adesina didn’t
have much with which she could compare it. The only time she ever left the
fortress was to train in the surrounding area, which consisted of the woods and
the small strip of grassland along the coast.
They arrived at the base of the Sharifal’s tower, where Jareb was
waiting. Jareb dismissed Per and led Adesina up the long winding staircase. At
first Adesina silently counted the stairs as they climbed, but the numbers got
higher and higher until she finally gave up. She sighed softly and stared at
the back of Jareb’s head, wishing he would say something.
They finally reached the top of the tower, where Breyen stood
waiting for them. He was standing next to two stern-looking Shimat who were
guarding a simple wooden door. Breyen dismissed Jareb and waited until he left
“Shi Adesina, you have come before the Sharifal as victor of your
trial. Enter and be recognized.”
He opened the door and stood back. Adesina walked through the door
with as much confidence as she could muster. She found herself in a large
circular room that was both meticulously tidy and minimalistic. A good portion
of the walls were covered with bookshelves, some of which were bolted shut.
There were two windows: one facing toward the courtyard and the other facing
towards the ocean. There was a large desk placed next to the ocean-viewing
window, which was covered with neat stacks of papers and books.
As Adesina’s eyes turned on the Sharifal, she stopped in her
tracks and stared in shock, unable to believe what she saw.
The woman sitting behind the desk was the same woman who had
raised Adesina when her mother died in childbirth. She had been a second mother
to the young Shi, always encouraging her to go beyond her best. Adesina had
assumed that Signe only served as a nursemaid for the Shar Children. Yet here
she was, the leader of the entire Shimat order.
Signe was dressed in the black robes of a Shar, but with a heavy
gold chain and pendant around her neck. She was a middle-aged woman with a
strong build, raven hair and piercing blue eyes. There was a very businesslike
feeling to her gaze, and a deep determination that showed she was a woman to be
She patiently waited as Adesina struggled to find her voice. “You
are the Sharifal?”
Signe indicated toward the chair in front of her desk. “Sit down,
Adesina did so, numbly. “Why did you not tell me?”
“You know the answer to that question,” Signe said with a brief
Adesina was completely dumbfounded by this revelation. She wasn’t
sure how she felt about it, let alone how to react. Ignoring Adesina’s obvious
discomfort, Signe pulled a stack of papers toward her and began glancing
“Your Shar have all rated you very highly.”
Adesina knew this. She had always been among the best.
“Your opponent was not very complimentary of your performance.”
This didn’t surprise Adesina either. She knew that Basha would do
everything in her power to discredit Adesina’s victory.
“She seemed to think it dishonorable for you to drop from the
Adesina made an exasperated noise. “Every fifth year Shi should
know to use the environment and every advantage it offers.”
Signe pushed the papers aside. “What I really want to know is how
think you did.”
Adesina thought over the previous night carefully. She was
dissatisfied with what happened, but for entirely different reasons than Basha.
She looked at the face that was so familiar to her and felt that she could speak
without restraint. “It was…too easy.”
Signe raised an eyebrow. “Oh?”
Adesina shrugged uncomfortably. “I was just expecting something
more challenging for our final test.”
Signe’s expression was unreadable. Adesina felt the need to
explain herself further, but waited for the Sharifal to speak.
“A challenge.” Signe mused quietly. She raised her eyes to study
Adesina’s face. “Do you think yourself above your training?”
This question caught Adesina off guard. She answered carefully.
“No, but I have not felt truly challenged since my third year.” When Signe did
not dispute this statement, Adesina went on boldly. “We both know that I have
long been the best among all Shi. I have always had the most potential. That is
why you began my training in my fifth year of life rather than my tenth. Yet I
am continually placed in the same training program as every other mediocre Shi.”
Adesina stopped abruptly, afraid that she had overstepped her
bounds. It was true that Signe had practically raised her, but she was still
the Sharifal. Adesina lowered her eyes respectfully and sat in silence.
Signe was lost in her thoughts for several moments. When she
brought herself out again, it was with some effort. “What do you suggest?”
This was the part that gave Adesina trouble. She had often thought
about her restlessness, but had no idea what changes to suggest. She let her
breath out slowly and shook her head. “I do not know, Signe.”
There was silence for a few minutes while they both thought about
the situation before them. Signe clasped her hands on the desk in front of her.
“Do you remember the question you always used to ask me when you were a child?”
The sudden change of subject momentarily confused Adesina. She had
to think for a second before replying. “I…would ask you about my father.”
Although she wasn’t sure why, Adesina had always felt a strong
need to find her father. As a child she had strange recurring dreams that urged
her to find this man she had never met. These dreams usually consisted of her
hurrying through the woods, pursuing a figure that she somehow knew to be her
father. The feeling of desperation to catch up to him grew with every step,
until she woke up in a cold sweat.
Sometimes she dreamed of the story she had been told of her
mother. Signe once told her about how a beautiful young woman had been found
wandering in the woods. It had been a harsh winter, and the woman was clearly
reaching the end of her pregnancy. The Shimat took her in and cared for her
until she had her baby. Before she died, just minutes after giving birth to
Adesina, she said that her husband would come for their daughter.
But he never did.
Adesina had always wondered why he never came. Finally, at the age
of five, she decided that if he could not find her, then she would find him.
Signe broke through Adesina’s reverie. “And do you remember what I
That was much easier to answer. Signe’s words had been a driving
force in Adesina’s life. “You said that if I wanted to find my father I would
have to train very hard. That only the best of Shimat would have the means of
Signe inclined her head. “Do you feel you have done this?”
Adesina nodded fervently. She had pushed herself harder than any
Shar could have. This driving ambition, along with a great amount of skill, had
shot Adesina to the head of her class at a very young age.
The Sharifal leaned back in her chair, giving Adesina a calculating
look. “It has been recommended that your training be specialized.”
Adesina was astonished. Specializing was an option given to
students who had graduated, but Adesina wouldn’t graduate for another year.
Signe’s expression was once again unreadable. “Yes. All of your
Adesina furrowed her brow. She was excited, but felt a sudden
surge of concern as well. The words of ready acceptance stuck in her throat.
Signe raised an eyebrow expectantly. “Are you willing to
specialize your training?”
Adesina merely nodded. Signe’s smile was now without humor.
She stood with a small folded piece of paper in her hand. Adesina
also got to her feet, her gaze fixed on the paper in Signe’s hand. She had to
remind herself not to be so presumptuous as to reach out for it.
Signe hesitated as she studied the young woman before her. Adesina
could not read her expression, but did her best to appear confident. Whatever
it was that the Sharifal saw, it seemed to satisfy her. She extended the paper
to Adesina, who took it with a sort of reverence.
“You are excused.”
Adesina bowed and turned to leave.
She turned back. “Yes?”
“Do not prove us wrong.”
Adesina nodded slowly and went out the door. Breyen did not take
note of her as she walked past, nor did the two guards. As she descended the
stairs she heard the bell tolling for the evening meal. She unfolded the paper
given to her by Signe and read the words carefully.
They were instructions on where she was to go for her new
training, and the passwords necessary to get there. She was also admonished not
to delay by going to her quarters for any personal items. This brought a grim
smile to Adesina’s face. She had no belongings other than what she was wearing.
Adesina put the paper on the first brazier she passed and made sure it burned
before moving on.
Following the instructions given to her, Adesina went deeper into
the fortress than she had ever been before. The northwest section of the
fortress was off limits to students; and to ensure that no curious student got
“lost” and found their way to that area, guards were posted at the door that
led to it. The guards eyed her suspiciously, but let her through when she gave
them the password.
Adesina studied her new surroundings and was somewhat disappointed
with what she saw. There were many rumors as to what this area contained, but
it looked very much like the rest of the fortress. The walls were the same gray
stone, the braziers were the same blackened metal, and the hallways were the
same dimensions as in the other parts of the fortress.