Authors: Callie Kanno
There were so many knobs, and several that refused to lock into
place no matter what Adesina did. She knew what she had to do to solve the
puzzle, and her mind raced over the fastest way to find the correct series of
Some of the knobs could only be locked in place by a single one of
the others, but the movement of any other knob would unlock them again.
Almost there. Adesina was fairly certain she knew the sequence
needed to lock all of the knobs in place.
The last knob locked into place and the door swung open. Adesina
took a deep breath to slow her heart rate. That had been much closer than she
liked. A Shi was usually given more time for a puzzle of that complexity, which
was probably why Kendan had given her less.
It took Adesina’s eyes a moment to adjust to the light before she
stepped out to the last section of the obstacle course. The door from which she
emerged was obscured from the rest of the open area. In the center of that
arena stood a pedestal, on which rested a small wooden chest. Patrolling around
the chest were four guards.
Adesina ducked out of sight and mulled over the problem. She only
had two unused darts in her belt. That left two more to be neutralized without
being harmed. Adesina muttered darkly under her breath as she peered around the
corner to check the guards’ positions. After marking the two on which she felt
it would be the most advantageous to use her darts, she took a steadying breath
and moved into action. The darts flashed out of her hand, flying straight and
true. Adesina launched herself from her hiding spot, sprinting across the
uneven ground to the two remaining guards.
She misjudged her footing as she ran and stumbled slightly. It
wasn’t enough to throw off her attack, but the pain in her ankle hindered her
agility. She did her best to push her discomfort to the back of her mind as she
came to her human targets.
The first one received a sharp blow to the side of his head,
rendering him unconscious before he had finished drawing his weapon. The second
guard proved to be harder.
Adesina had to move quickly to evade the sword wielded by the
remaining guard, clenching her teeth against the pain of her twisted ankle.
They circled each other slowly, each assessing their opponent. Almost as if by
luck or fate, the guard’s footing on the gravel gave ever so slightly. Adesina
was moving before he could blink. She took advantage of this momentary loss of
balance to sweep the guard from his feet entirely. Another sharp blow rendered
him unconscious as well.
Once again, Adesina had to repress her smile. The triumph she felt
didn’t last very long, as her throbbing ankle brought her back to reality. She
retrieved her darts, limped over to the chest and picked it up. It was quite a
bit heavier than she expected. Curious as to what it held, Adesina undid the
latch and looked inside.
There were two crystal-like stones, each about the size of her
fist. When the light fell upon them, they slowly turned from a soft pink to a
deep red. Adesina furrowed her brow thoughtfully as she closed the lid to the
She turned and walked back to the puzzle room, expecting the door
to close behind her again. This time, however, it did not. On the opposite door
there was a small plaque with four words engraved on it next to a set of four
dials. Each of the dials was numbered to one hundred.
Adesina’s eyes quickly scanned the words in front of her. They
were written in one of the more obscure dialects of the far south. Her
knowledge of those dialects was limited, but she did recognize the words: moon,
child, anagallis, butterfly.
The moon has a twenty-eight day cycle. She spun the first dial,
and stopped on the number twenty-eight. There was a faint click as it settled
into place. Adesina felt a bit disappointed at how easy this door would be.
It took nine months for a child to be born. She turned the second
dial to nine, but nothing happened. She thought about what she had learned in
her anatomy classes. Technically a woman was pregnant for approximately forty
weeks. She tried again, this time stopping on the number forty. There was
another faint click.
Anagallis was a flower with five petals. Adesina turned the third
dial and heard it click on the number five.
A butterfly’s life span was six weeks. Adesina tried the number
six on the fourth dial, but to no avail. Six weeks was forty-two days. She
tried again with the number forty-two.
The door swung open. Adesina walked through and continued onward.
The way back through the rest of the obstacle course was more difficult with
the chest in hand and with her injury. She had a couple of close calls with the
arrows as she crossed the first area. Clutching the chest between her legs, she
swung carefully from rope to rope, all the while trying to keep her motion
random enough to avoid getting shot.
The closely set poles were easy to get across, as was the tight
rope strung between the two platforms. The individual poles and the draping
fabric, however, were very difficult to manage. Adesina had to do them
one-handed, using the other to hold tightly to the chest.
The last area seemed empty, but Adesina had the feeling that
something was amiss. The three unconscious guards lay where they had fallen,
but the small servant girl was nowhere to be seen. As soon as Adesina stepped
into the open, three guards sprung from their hiding places with their weapons
Without a moment’s hesitation, Adesina hurled the chest at the
head of the nearest guard. It struck him with a sickening thud and he dropped
to the ground. Undaunted by this, the first guard tried to come up behind Adesina
while the other slashed with his sword from the front.
Adesina dodged the stroke, and the sword cut into the first guard
instead. While the guard was distracted by this unexpected wound, Adesina
roundhouse-kicked her, sending her crashing into the wall. The agony in
Adesina’s ankle resulting from this attack, however, was enough to mar her
The final guard lunged again, bringing a heavy fist across her
face. Lights exploded in Adesina’s eyes, disorienting her with pain and
dizziness. She staggered for several steps before she was able to catch herself
and reel back with a counterattack.
He was bringing his sword around, and didn’t expect her to recover
so quickly. She grabbed his hands and spun, disarming him and bringing his own
sword to his throat.
He spoke in a deep, rumbling voice. “I yield.”
Adesina nodded and returned his sword to him. She limped over to
where the chest lay and picked it up. It seemed to be undamaged, so Adesina
tucked it under her arm and walked out of the maze. Due to the pain and fatigue
she felt, Adesina decided to go under the fence instead of over it. After
nonchalantly dusting herself off, she handed the chest to Kendan, who was
waiting for her on the other side.
Adesina recognized the expression in his eyes and braced herself
for the verbal fencing that was sure to come.
“You were told not to harm the guards.” “Nor did I, Shar.”
Kendan raised an eyebrow. “Oh?”
She hated when he did that. She took a breath and reminded herself
to stay calm and unemotional. “No lasting damage was inflicted.”
“Blood was drawn.”
Adesina raised her chin defiantly and said in a cold voice, “I am
not responsible for the carelessness of other Shimat.”
He smiled, and there was a brief pause as he looked at her
admiringly. “Very well, then.”
Her breath caught in her throat when he smiled like that. She
quickly lowered her eyes to compose herself. Kendan had a knack for reading her
thoughts through the subtle expressions in her eyes.
He held up the chest. “Did you open this?”
Adesina frowned slightly. “Were you not watching?”
Kendan didn’t answer, but looked at her expectantly.
“Yes, I did open it.”
“And what did you find?”
She was confused by this line of questioning. “Two stones, Shar.”
Kendan seemed satisfied by this answer. He nodded and set the
chest down. “Come. Your weaponry could use some work.”
Adesina stifled her feelings of indignation at this slight on her
skill. Sometimes it felt like he was incapable of letting her have a single
moment of triumph. It was not enough that she had overcome the obstacle course
he devised; it was not enough that she was pushing herself to exhaustion. None
of it was enough.
She swallowed back the tears she suddenly felt forming and lifted
her chin in a gesture of confidence she didn’t feel. “Yes, Shar Kendan.”
They practiced first with the spetum, then daggers, then axes.
None of which were really favored by Adesina, but were still wielded with great
amounts of skill. After he was satisfied, Kendan made Adesina run at full speed
until she was gasping for breath and her eyes were filled with tears from the
pain in her ankle.
When all of this was done, Kendan surveyed Adesina with a passive
look on his face. “You may go to your room now. Finish preparing for your
journey and get what rest you can. You will be summoned when it is time.”
Adesina nodded, not trusting her voice. All of the physical
exertion as well as the lack of sleep were catching up with her. While walking
back to her room she went over her mental checklist. By the time she reached
her door she was reassured that she had taken care of all of her preparations.
The time was hers to get some sleep.
Adesina wrapped her injured ankle tightly, and assessed that no
lasting damage had been sustained. She washed herself thoroughly before laying
down on her cool, welcoming cot. She blew her breath out in an audible sigh and
closed her eyes, instantly falling asleep.
High in the Sharifal’s tower, Signe gazed out the window at the
training students below. She felt a wave of satisfaction as she watched the
sixth year Shi going through their maneuvers. These were the students who were
halfway through their education. There was much that they had learned, and even
more that they would learn in time. So much talent. So much potential.
There was a soft knock at the door. “Enter.” Signe did not need to
turn around to know that Kendan had walked into the room. His quick, deliberate
step was easily recognized. “Well?”
Kendan required no clarification. “Adesina is in top form. There
was some blood drawn, but not by her.”
“And did she open the box?”
Kendan hesitated before answering. “Yes.”
“You verified this?”
A quick nod went unseen by the Sharifal. “The stones were already
red when I opened the chest.”
Signe sighed and turned to face the young Shar. Kendan’s
expression hardened slightly. “She freely admitted to opening the box. That is
something, is it not?”
The Sharifal raised an eyebrow. “That does not change the fact
that she took matters into her own hands. She was not given permission to take
Kendan scowled at the floor. “I do not think that this exercise
should be held against a Shimat’s promotion.”
She studied Kendan’s handsome face intently. “You did not feel so
in the past. Why is this different now?”
Signe, who knew Kendan far better than any other being, watched
the almost invisible signs of emotion flicker across his face. She could see
clearly the inner struggle that would have been hidden to anyone else.
“Adesina is naturally inquisitive. I did not order her to
the chest.” His voice was suddenly defensive.
Signe smiled softly. “I will take that into consideration. What of
the other matter?”
Kendan’s expression became strangely guarded. “I will see to it. I
intend to begin immediately.”
There was something in Kendan’s tone of voice that didn’t ring
true. Her eyes narrowed slightly, becoming speculative. “What is it, Kendan?”
Neither spoke for a few minutes. His eyes had returned to studying
the floor. “You are sending Adesina to the High City?”
It was more of a statement than a question. Signe could hear the
discontent in his voice. “Yes.”
Kendan’s gaze flashed upward. “Do you think that wise? The war is
most apparent in those lands.”
She waved a strong hand. “The High City is neutral. They have
always been very firm on that point.”
He snorted quietly. “That means nothing. The political intrigue is
stronger there than any other land. You are thrusting a brand new Shimat into a
Signe was unmoved. “She has been trained, Kendan. She knows how to
handle herself.” She studied his face for a moment before continuing. “That is
not what is troubling you.”
He stiffened ever so slightly, but merely shook his head. “It is
The thoughtful silence persisted for another few moments. “Very
well.” Her tone was indifferent, but she kept her sharp eyes on the young man