Authors: Callie Kanno
She turned her own gaze to her hands, which were twisting the
reins tightly. “Please, Shar Kendan, go on with what you were saying.”
He quirked an eyebrow. “I asked you to simply call me Kendan,
Adesina. I am no longer your Shar.”
After a few moments of determined silence, he asked, “Do you
dislike talking about your childhood?”
She gave a halfhearted shrug. “There is not much to tell.
Especially to a fellow Shar Child.”
He inclined his head. “We both may have been raised in the
fortress, but your childhood was very different from mine. I was in the nursery
until I turned five, then I did my years of service before beginning my
training. You, on the other hand...”
Adesina’s jaw set bitterly. “Yes. I was special.”
“You say that as if it were a bad thing.”
She gave a short laugh. “It
a bad thing. In an
environment where the competition is fierce to begin with, one student with an
unfair advantage turns everyone else against her.”
His expression was sympathetic. “It is only their ignorance that
leads them to feel that way.”
Adesina frowned. “Their ignorance?”
She could see that Kendan was doing some quick thinking before he
answered. “Well, they could never understand the sacrifices you have made to
get to where you are today. The majority of them would not have been able to
make it, even if they had been given the chance.”
There was admiration in his voice that made Adesina look away
self-consciously. As she did so, her eyes turned to a strangely forbidding
forest they were passing. Ravi’s midnight form could barely been seen against
the deep shadows of the woods behind him, even in the broad daylight.
“Ma’eve,” the Rashad called softly, “there is something in this
forest for you.”
Adesina slowed her horse to a halt. Kendan did the same, looking
at her with a puzzled expression. “What is it?”
An unexpected wave of apprehension washed over Adesina, but Ravi’s
eyes were strong and reassuring. She addressed her former Shar, “What is in
Kendan furrowed his brow. “I do not know. It is generally avoided.
People who enter that forest do not come out the same.”
Normally such tales would not bother Adesina, but there was
something about this forest that filled her with dread. It was not merely the
unnatural darkness, but there was a deathlike hush that filled her with fear.
Even the surrounding area was affected by the presence of this forest.
It took a strong force of will to keep the tone of her voice
offhanded and her facial expression mild. “Would it be faster to go through
“Yes,” Kendan answered
slowly, “but from what I have heard of this forest it is hardly worth the few
Adesina gave him the challenging stare that he had so often fixed
on her. “Surely you are not frightened, Kendan.”
Kendan’s expression hardened and he turned his horse to ride into
the forest. With a slight smile on her face from this small victory and her
chest constricting at the fear of what lay ahead, Adesina followed.
As soon as they entered the trees, the light seemed to vanish as
if it had never been. Shadows flitted in and out of Adesina’s vision, and
incoherent whispers sounded in her ears. Ravi appeared at her side, his golden
eyes like a beacon in the dark.
“Dismount your horse, Ma’eve. Walk beside me with your hand on my
Adesina followed his instructions, moving stiffly to keep herself
from trembling. As soon as she touched him she felt a strange comfort warm her
“Tell your companion to follow you.”
She beckoned to Kendan. “Follow me, Kendan, I know the way.”
In spite of the perplexed look on his face, Kendan did not
question her. He climbed down, took the reins of both horses, and reached over
to take Adesina’s hand.
Adesina felt a thrill shoot up her arm. She looked into his
powerful eyes and saw a strength of emotion that she had never seen before. She
lowered her eyes shyly, but didn’t pull away.
Ravi began to move forward quickly, as if they were walking along
the most brightly lit path. Adesina buried her fingers in his thick silky fur,
and tried to move with equal confidence. Kendan led the riding horses along,
and the packhorses followed obediently.
The whispers grew louder and more understandable the further into
the forest they walked. The voices were chaotic, each speaking over the others,
and they all spoke in tones of poignant longing.
“Never to be found...”
“...to the advent...”
“...of this people yet not of this people...”
“Fear, like a caged beast...”
“...stands on the threshold.”
“...will lead my chosen...”
“...waiting to be set free.”
Adesina had never been superstitious, but these disembodied voices
struck her with deep terror. “What is it?” she asked their guide in a shaking
Ravi’s response was firm and soothing. “Do not be afraid, Ma’eve.
They cannot hurt you.”
Adesina wondered if Kendan was hearing the same things she was.
She looked back at him and saw him pale with fear. He clutched at her hand,
muttering at the voices he heard. “No, you are wrong. I am not!”
Adesina put aside her own fear and gave his hand a reassuring
Ravi glanced back. “He cannot hear you. He hears only the voices
in his soul.”
“The voices in his soul?” asked Adesina.
Ravi nodded. “In truth, this forest is silent. The only sound most
people hear comes from inside themselves. This is a magical place that gives
voice to one’s innermost soul.”
They walked for several minutes more without speaking. Bit by bit,
Adesina took strength from Ravi’s confidence and slowly put her alarm behind
her. She was still far from being comfortable, but her anxiety became more
manageable. She began looking for things to talk about, just to keep her mind
“You said there was something in this forest for me.”
“What is it?” she asked.
Ravi shook his head. “That is not for me to reveal.”
Adesina pursed her lips in irritation. “What is the use of having
a prophetic companion if I still have to find everything out on my own?”
A deep melodious chuckle rumbled in Ravi’s chest. “Yes, I would
imagine that could be rather frustrating.”
Adesina rolled her eyes. “Rather.”
Time seemed to lose meaning as they walked through the black
forest. When Ravi said it was time to sleep, Adesina found a small clearing
where they could set up camp. She let go of Kendan’s hand as she set to work.
He was still quite pale and a bit unresponsive. She had to ask him
to build a fire a couple of times before he nodded in understanding. His face
was covered with a sheen of sweat and he was shaking badly, but he set to work
Adesina took care of the horses and made sure that they were well
tied to a tree. After everything was set up in the camp, she made a simple meal
of bread and soup. When a bowl was offered to Kendan, he sipped it slowly and
distractedly, still muttering under his breath. Adesina, who was famished, got
a bowl of her own and sat down next to him.
“Are you all right?” she asked.
After a heavy pause, he shook his head. “How can you stand it?” he
said in a strangled voice. “The voices...”
She shuddered slightly. “I know. I do not like them either.”
“You seem so calm,” he whispered.
Her glance turned to Ravi, who laid down next to her with the
softest hint of a purr. He sensed what she was thinking and shook his head. “I
cannot take credit for that.”
Kendan’s tortured eyes fixed on hers. “They know things about
me...things I wanted to forget. My parents...” His gaze jerked to rest on the
fire. “I saw them die when I was only a child.”
Adesina suddenly felt a pity for her former Shar that she had
never experienced before. The whispers that followed her were disjointed
puzzles that filled her with apprehension. The voices he heard, however, made
him relive his darkest memories.
She wrapped a blanket around his shoulders and encouraged him to
rest. He obeyed and fell asleep quickly, due to the fatigue of his high
emotions. Adesina tucked her knees under her chin and studied the feline face
of their guide.
“Will he be all right?”
Ravi looked unconcerned. “That really depends on him. If he
chooses, he will be fine.”
She sighed in aggravation. “What does that mean?”
“It means that he has more control over what happens to him here
than he realizes.”
Adesina still didn’t understand, and it was apparent by the blank
expression on her face. Ravi paused for a moment as he searched for the right
words. “You were afraid when we first entered this forest, but you did not
allow yourself to be overcome by the fear. Kendan is choosing to be swallowed
up by the darkness he has experienced rather than letting it go.”
She bit her lip as she turned this over in her mind. “What can I
do to help him?”
“Nothing,” the Rashad replied. “It is something he has to learn to
do for himself.”
The young Shimat was not willing to give up so easily. “How much
longer until we are out of this forest?”
“A day or so.”
She nodded in relief. “Then we will just have to travel as quickly
Aside from her concerns for Kendan, the constant whispering was
really starting to get to Adesina. Ravi seemed to sense this and began sing
softly. It was not in any language that Adesina recognized, but she focused on
the soothing sound.
There was no doubt that he had the most beautiful voice she had
ever heard. Its tone was rich and deep, just like when he spoke, and the notes
seemed to swell up from the heart of his being. As her attention fixed on the unearthly
music, she discovered that the whispering voices were dimming.
Adesina pulled a blanket around her own shoulders and curled up
next to the fire. With the warmth and the soothing music, she began to doze
into a peaceful sleep.
It was the sudden silence that jerked Adesina awake. She sat up
and looked around, her hand resting on the throwing knives on her belt. The
fire was out, but bright moonlight filtered down through the trees. Adesina
frowned in confusion, wondering how the moon could be so bright now when it had
been invisible only moments before.
Other concerns soon invaded her thoughts as she realized that Ravi
and Kendan were nowhere to be seen. Adesina jumped to her feet, but remained
crouched, ready to defend herself. There was a soft rustling just in front of
the young Shimat, and the figure of a woman moved into the moonlight.
She was arrayed in a flowing white dress that was belted with an
elegant silver chain. Her thick hair fell freely down her back, occasionally
tousled by a slight breeze. The tresses were jet black in color, but the locks
surrounding her face were a rich chestnut.
Adesina stood slowly, not quite ready to let her guard down. The
woman beckoned for her to come closer. “Come, Ma’eve. Walk with me.”
Adesina stared at the woman in confusion. “Who are you?”
The woman smiled and began to walk away, not choosing to respond.
At first Adesina wasn’t sure what to do, but after a moment of deliberation,
she followed her cautiously. They walked in silence for several feet before entering
a meadow filled with thousands of flowers. The woman stooped to pick a few.
Now that she was closer, Adesina could see that the woman’s face
was remarkably like her own. There were a few small differences other than the
hair coloring. The woman’s eyes were a pale metallic yellow with flecks of
purple, and she did not have Adesina’s light sprinkle of freckles. Overall, the
woman’s face had a more delicate look to it than Adesina’s own features.
Standing side by side they were almost exact in height and build. Adesina,
however, had the look of more physical strength, while the woman exuded
The young Shimat had a strange feeling growing in her chest as she
studied this stranger
before her. The woman knelt down among the unseasonable blossoms
and indicated that Adesina should
do the same. “Are
these not lovely?”
“Who are you?” Adesina repeated.
The woman smiled again. It was a warm, enchanting smile. “Do you
Inexplicably, Adesina did know, but she hesitated to voice what
her heart told her.
The woman nodded. “Sit with me, Ma’eve.”
Adesina did so numbly. “I am still asleep.”
Her mother nodded again. “Yes, you are.”