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Authors: Callie Kanno

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BOOK: The Threshold Child
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The corridors of the fortress were set up like a maze as part of
the defenses. Everything was uniform, there were numerous doors, the lighting
was dim, and it was incredibly easy for one to get lost. Even if an enemy were
able to get past the outer defenses and into the center of the fortress, it
would be almost impossible find the way out again. It was a common joke for
older students to send the younger ones down wrong halls and make them late for
class. It wasn’t very amusing for the student who was punished for their
tardiness, but they eventually found themselves doing the same thing to younger
students in a few years time. Adesina knew the student corridors blind, but
walking down the halls of this new section of the fortress, she felt as
disoriented as a new student.

Adesina focused her thoughts on her instructions and she hurried
through the halls to a courtyard almost identical to the one used by the
students. At the far end of the courtyard stood a black-robed Shar, proud and
tall as an obelisk.

His hair was jet black and his eyes were almost as dark. He had a
strong, serious face that was remarkably handsome. Adesina guessed he was in
his mid-twenties. He was quite a bit taller than her—Adesina estimated she
would only come up to his shoulders. There was a deadly grace in his air, which
defied his rather muscular build.

As she approached him, their eyes met and there was a subtle
change in his expression. It was something akin to surprise, but slightly
different. Adesina was accustomed to people regarding her abnormal coloring
with astonishment, but this was not the same. There was a glint of admiration,
or at least something akin to it.

Within seconds the well-trained neutral expression returned to his
face. “Shi Adesina, I am Shar Kendan. You are to be my charge for the duration
of your training.”

Adesina bowed to her new Shar, which he did not return. Kendan
indicated for her to follow him. He led her to a room that was set up like the
student quarters, only this smaller room was meant for one person rather than a
dozen or so. There was a washstand and a small mirror, a small trunk in which
she could store her clothing, and a cot in the corner. Kendan pointed to a set
of black training clothes folded neatly on the bed.

“This shall be your room while you train, and you are responsible
for keeping it up to code. Change into those and bring me your old uniform. You
will wear black from now on.”

Adesina nodded. Color was one of the ways used to differentiate
training ranks. Years one through four wore white, five through eight wore
light gray, and nine through eleven wore dark gray. Black was reserved for Shar
and graduated students.

Kendan walked out of the room with a few bold strides. “I will be
waiting for you in the courtyard.”

Adesina looked around her new room as she changed her clothes. It
was barely bigger than a cell, but she had never had a room of her own. Adesina
allowed herself a small smile before gathering up her old uniform and leaving
the room.

As Kendan had said, he was waiting in the courtyard. He turned to
face her and she detected the same brief, subtle change of expression. Adesina
bowed and handed him the clothes, which he took and passed to a small servant
boy who seemed to appear out of nowhere and disappear just as easily. Kendan
ignored the servant, keeping his eyes on Adesina.

“You are missing an essential year of training to specialize, Shi
Adesina. To compensate, the main points of that year will be added into your
training here.”

He began to walk through the corridors and down a set of stairs.
Adesina followed him silently.

“This year you will learn advanced weaponry, languages and
cultures of the world, medicine, survival in extreme conditions, accelerated
problem solving, and carpentry.”

Adesina looked at him in surprise. “Carpentry?”

“Yes, carpentry.”

The stairs led down until it was clear that they were deep
underground. A strange, earthy scent filled her nostrils, and felt unusually
heavy as she breathed it in. Faint echoes could be heard from the distance,
giving Adesina an eerie feeling. Kendan led her through another maze of
corridors. The stone was strangely damp and the halls were lit by smokeless
lamps. She stared at her surroundings in amazement. She had no idea that all of
this existed beneath the feet of training students.

Kendan continued listing the planned curriculum. “In addition to
all of this, you will be reviewing all that you have learned thus far as a
student and there will be severe tests of your endurance. You will periodically
be allowed less sleep and given less food…among other things.”

They stopped outside one of the many doors. Kendan looked at
Adesina with a challenging gleam in his eyes. Adesina knew that he was trying
to intimidate and overwhelm her. She lifted her chin and stared back.

He smiled at her response. “Are you ready to begin?”

Adesina didn’t smile in return. “Yes.”

Kendan opened the door to reveal a short, stocky man sitting at one
of three long tables that lined the walls of the room. He looked up at their
entrance. “Ah, Kendan. I think I-” He saw Adesina and stopped abruptly.

Kendan spoke smoothly over the awkward pause. “Zadok, this is Shi
Adesina.”

He nodded quickly. “Of course, of course. One vial?”

Kendan frowned thoughtfully. “Three.”

Zadok looked surprised. “Three? Is that really necessary?”

Kendan ignored the question and turned to Adesina. “Give me your
arm.”

Adesina held out her left arm. He pushed back her sleeve, drew a
knife and cut the crook of her arm. She resisted the urge to flinch. Zadok
handed Kendan three small vials, which were filled with Adesina’s blood and
carefully sealed. Zadok took the vials over to one of the tables and bent over
them, ignoring Kendan and Adesina as they left.

They made their way back to the ground level, passing other pairs
of students and teachers on the way. They were ignored, just as Kendan ignored
them.

He showed her a room filled with a large variety of minerals,
dried plants, live plants, and other things used by apothecaries. There was
also a cupboard filled with medical supplies standing next to a small fountain
at the far end of the room.

“From now on you will treat your own injuries.”

The challenging gleam was back in his eyes. Adesina stiffened her
back and walked over to the fountain. She picked up a shallow bowl sitting at
its edge, filled it with water, and began to carefully wash the wound.

Her knowledge of medicine was limited, for she had only been
studying it for a year. However, treating a simple cut, such as the one on her
arm, was done easily enough. Adesina dabbed a healing salve on the wound,
wrapped a clean bandage around it and pushed her sleeve back down. Kendan
watched without comment and then led her back to the courtyard.

Another small serving boy stood at the end of the yard holding two
scabbards. Adesina felt a wave of apprehension as she saw Kendan draw one of
the two swords. Practice weapons used at the school were the exact image and
weight of real weapons, but they were mostly made of wood and usually caused no
lasting damage. The weapon in Kendan’s hand was very clearly a real sword. He
offered it to her. “Here we practice with real weapons, not the ones to which
you are accustomed.”

Adesina took the sword and spun it experimentally. Yes, it felt
the same, but she was still disturbed by the idea of using it on her Shar.
Kendan drew the other sword and bowed. Adesina barely had enough time to bow in
return before he attacked. Startled by his speed and ferocity, Adesina
immediately took a defensive stance. Form followed form, and Adesina found
herself being pressed harder and harder.

She knew that Kendan was testing her limits and was surprised to
find that she was getting angry. It had been a trying day and Adesina was tired
of tests. In a burst of energy, she did a quick feint, jabbed him in the side
with her fist and knocked the sword from his hand.

Kendan pursed his lips thoughtfully. “Some would criticize you for
attacking without your sword.”

Adesina lowered her guard. “Only if they were the one who had
lost.”

Kendan suppressed a smile. “Perhaps.”

Then, with movements so fast even Adesina was surprised, he
wrested her sword from her hand and brought it to her throat.

Adesina stared at him in shock. “That is not allowed. I won, you
must yield.”

“Do you honestly believe that your enemies will follow the rules
you have been taught?”

Kendan sheathed the sword and did the same to the one that had
fallen. He handed them to the serving boy with an almost careless expression on
his face. He then motioned for her to follow and led her to her next lesson.

 
Chapter Four: A New Path
 

It was a full year before Adesina was called back to the
Sharifal’s tower. The time seemed to pass like an eternity.

The amount of information she had received daily was almost
overwhelming. It took constant effort to retain it all. Every time she won a
victory, Kendan would twist it and take it from her. She never got the same
amount of sleep two nights in a row and sometimes she went for days without
food. Yet, through all of this, Kendan continued to push her harder and harder.

There was no regularity in her schedule, which was something every
Shi was accustomed to having. Some days were spent on only one subject, and
others covered them all. Adesina also struggled because her body was still
changing as she matured. Every day was an adjustment physically, and a battle
to remain disciplined and unemotional through the ruthless pace of her studies.

Adesina’s sixteenth birthday came and went without note. Her only
consolation on that day was that she was allowed three meals; however unlikely
it was that her birthday was the reason for that.

In spite of all of this, her life was not without its pleasant
moments. There were times when Kendan was sweet and understanding.
Unfortunately, he seemed to be nothing but extremes. When he was harsh his
words and actions would border on cruelty, and when he was kind he treated her
with tender affection. His inconsistency was, to Adesina, the deepest cut of
all.

His was the opinion that she sought in all things. His approval
meant more to her than she even cared to admit to herself. Most of all, she
felt a warm admiration for him that she often hoped he returned.

They strictly adhered to the code of conduct between a Shar and a
Shi, but Adesina was closer to him than she had ever been to anyone else. The
hours upon hours that they spent together every day made it difficult for them
not to grow close, in spite of the days when Kendan treated her sharply.

It was now mid autumn, and Adesina sat in the Sharifal’s office
reflecting on how her life had changed since the last time she had stood in
that room. Signe walked into the office and sat down across from Adesina.

“I have been watching you closely, Adesina. I am pleased with the
progress you have made.”

Adesina stared at her hands. She did not feel she had made very
much progress. The past year had seemed like one failure after another.

Signe studied Adesina’s grave expression. “Is something wrong,
child?”

Adesina slowly shook her head. She didn’t think she could put into
words what she felt, let alone how to make Signe understand. When Signe saw
that Adesina wasn’t going to give more of an answer she sighed quietly. “I have
an assignment for you.”

Adesina looked up, almost unable to believe what she had just
heard. “What about my training?”

“You have received sufficient training for what I must ask of you,
and this cannot wait.”

A brief nod was Adesina’s only response.

“There is a northern organization that threatens the southern
lands of Tunith. Essentially, it is a cult of magic users who try to force
others to submit to their rule. We have been fighting against them covertly for
several years. Certain political considerations have prevented open warfare. I
need you to position yourself in a place where you can be of use to our
resisting forces.”

The young Shi shifted in her seat nervously. “How am I to do
this?”

Signe handed Adesina a stack of papers. “There is a city in the
central lands that locals refer to as the High City. It was founded by a group
of people who felt the world was too corrupt and sought to cease any sort of
association. They built the city so that it is practically impenetrable and set
a strict standard of living for those within the walls. Few are allowed into
the city, but if you can establish yourself as a citizen there, you will be
untouchable from those outside. This is the first step of your mission: to
establish a solid alibi as a citizen at the High City. Everything you need to
know is in those papers—a detailed background for the identity you are to
assume, how to contact the local faction, and so forth.”

A wave of uncertainty washed over Adesina. The past year of
training had proven to her how much she still had to learn. More importantly,
she was aware that she had never put her skills to use in a real life
situation. Her only associations had been with those at the Shimat fortress.
How could she possibly pass herself off as a normal citizen?

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