Authors: Callie Kanno
Adesina did her best to keep these doubts from her face, but Signe
sensed that something was wrong. “What is it?”
She quickly shook her head. “Nothing. Is there anything else?”
The Sharifal gave her an appraising glance before replying, “Yes.”
She placed a beautifully carved wooden box in front of Adesina and
opened it. Lying on a bed of deep red velvet was an exquisite sword. It was
slender and slightly curved, with intricate engravings etched down the center
of the blade with the greatest skill. Beside the sword was a simple sheath with
the image of a diving falcon near the top.
Signe smiled at the stunned expression on Adesina’s face. “Upon
graduation every student is given a special weapon made specifically for them.
The weapon is infused with a few drops of their blood, making it truly theirs
and no one else's. This is your Blood Sword, Adesina. I have never been more
proud to present one to a student than I am now.”
Adesina picked up the sword with a sort of awe, the importance of
this moment falling upon her shoulders. She tested the balance of the blade,
which was flawless, and twirled it experimentally. It was the perfect weight
and length for her, and in her hand the gleaming metal seemed to come to life.
She placed it back in its case somewhat reverently. “What does the
A slight smile played at the Sharifal’s lips. “It is to be the
symbol by which you shall be known—one who attacks from above. Now, child,
kneel before me.”
Adesina did as she was instructed. Signe turned her penetrating
gaze on the budding young woman before her. “Do you, Adesina, swear eternal
loyalty and unquestioning obedience to the Sharifal of our order, even should
it cost you your life?”
Signe smiled. “Rise, child. I declare you a Shimat.” She indicated
to the sword and stack of papers. “Go and prepare for your mission. You leave
Adesina hurried back to her room, where she found a pleasant
surprise. Folded carefully on her cot was a Shimat uniform exactly like the one
she had worn for her final test the year before. Next to it sat a set of
nondescript travel clothes that she was to wear the following night. She was
tempted to try on the uniform immediately, but she resisted the urge. Instead,
Adesina made a detailed list in her mind of everything she would need for the
journey. As she was assembling a kit for her medicine she heard a tentative
knock at her door.
It was Zadok. “The Sharifal said I am to give you whatever weapons
She jotted down a list and handed it to the bulky man, who left as
quickly as he came. Adesina was uncertain what kind of preparations would be
needed because she still didn’t know the specifics of her mission. She tried to
account for every situation when putting her things together.
When she had done all that she could, she settled on her cot to
read the stack of papers Signe had given her. She read each sentence repeatedly
until all of the information was ingrained into her memory. Once she had done
this, she tried to get some rest.
Zadok returned at first light with the items she had requested,
which Adesina hid carefully in her bags. She checked and rechecked her mental
list of preparations, anxious to take care of everything.
A sudden thought occurred to her, and she hurried to the courtyard
where she usually met Kendan to begin her lessons. He was standing with his
arms folded expectantly.
Adesina bowed respectfully. “Forgive me, Shar Kendan, I did not
know if I had a lesson in light of my new assignment.”
Kendan raised an eyebrow. “Why would you not? All who are resident
to the fortress are students. All students have lessons.”
Adesina nodded. “Of course, Shar Kendan.”
He beckoned to her and walked down the corridor that eventually
opened up to a large training area. As she followed him, she had an unpleasant
feeling that he was going to make her pay for keeping him waiting. Her fears
proved to be well founded.
Kendan took her to an obstacle course he had set up on the range.
It was arranged in such a way that Adesina could only see the obstacle
immediately in front of her, and the rest was hidden from view. The wooden
walls formed a kind of maze around each of the puzzles she was to solve.
He turned to face her with the familiar challenging gleam in his
eyes. “There are guards patrolling the area. You are to neutralize them without
harming them. Each obstacle in the course is to be dealt with in a manner of
your choosing, but you are not to influence the servants assisting on the
course. At the end of the range is a box you are to return to me. Do you
Adesina nodded, her mind already working on the task.
Kendan pointed to a raised tower that overlooked the entire
obstacle course. “I will be watching you from there.”
He walked away, leaving Adesina to her exercise. She entered the
maze on velvet feet, making no noise even though the ground was covered in
gravel. The first obstacle was a wall of wooden boards. There was enough room
at the bottom for her to squeeze under it, but it also was a height that
Adesina could climb over. She crouched by the wall, closing her eyes and focusing
on what was on the other side.
Adesina could hear two guards breathing. They were standing
stationary, and there was a third guard patrolling.
She pursed her lips thoughtfully. It would be tricky getting all
three at once. She reached into her belt and detached three darts, which were
coated with a special compound that Adesina had invented during her sixth year
of training. The result of the mixture was almost immediate unconsciousness.
She jumped lightly and grabbed hold of the top of the wall, raising
herself up slowly and silently. Peering over the edge, she verified the
positions of all three guards. Then, gathering her energy, she vaulted over the
wall. While in midair she threw a dart at the patrolling guard with pinpoint
accuracy, then she landed between the stationary guards, jabbing both of them
in the shoulder with the remaining darts.
Not one of the three guards had time to react before the drug on
the darts took effect. Adesina gathered the darts and immediately turned her
mind to the next obstacle.
Just beyond the fallen third guard were a series of moving targets
and a small servant girl standing on the path that led out of the enclosure.
The girl looked to be about seven or eight, and was holding a bundle of various
weapons. Adesina walked over and took the bundle from the girl. As she did so,
the girl looked up at her with undisguised admiration glowing in her young
Children who were brought to the fortress between the ages of five
and nine were put to work as servants. If they were younger, they were taken to
the nursery. The fortress rarely accepted children over the age of nine because
at least one year of service was required before training began. Being that
Adesina had begun her training so early, she never went through that particular
process. This was yet another part of what engendered the feelings of hostility
between Adesina and the other Shi. All of them had paid their dues, except for
Adesina rummaged through the bundle of weapons and picked out a
bow. The girl smiled and handed Adesina five arrows—one for each target.
Adesina stood and faced the targets. They were small, round wooden
shields painted with a red circle and an X through the middle. Their movements
were reasonably paced, but it was also clear that their course was random.
Adesina knew that this would take a bit more time and skill than if they had
had a clear pattern.
She drew the bow and took careful aim. The arrow was released with
a soft twang. Adesina didn’t need to look to know that she had hit her mark,
but she checked just in case. The arrow stood quivering in the center of the
red painted X.
Adesina drew her bow again, and dealt with the other four targets
in a similar manner. A brief smirk crossed her face, but she quickly banished
it. The course was far from done.
The young girl took the bow from Adesina and stepped aside to let
her pass to the next section of the challenge.
The path led to an open area that looked a lot like part of the
final test of her fifth year of training. The ground was spread with a yellow
substance that showed clearly on any clothing. The objective was to cross the
area without touching the ground. Adesina studied the course, mapping out a
path in her mind. When she decided on the best strategy, she began.
The entrance where Adesina stood was in the corner of the open
area. High up on the outer wall that ran away from the entrance hung a sturdy
draping fabric. Adesina braced herself in the doorframe and climbed up slowly
in order to reach it.
There was still quite a bit of distance between Adesina and the
fabric when she reached the top of the doorframe. Focusing all of her energy in
her legs and feet, Adesina jumped toward the fabric with all the force she
She hit the wall much harder than she anticipated. Her slender
fingers automatically clutched at the fabric, even though her breath had been
knocked from her body. It took several moments for Adesina to steady herself.
Her hands were beginning to ache by the time she was able to breathe normally
There was a trick that Adesina had learned when she was very
young. If she focused hard enough, she found she could trick her mind into
thinking her body was incredibly light. Adesina closed her eyes and did so now.
Years of practice made it fairly easy. She immediately felt the pressure on her
She began climbing along the wall, careful to control her momentum
so as not to lose her grip. The fabric ended after about fifteen feet, leaving her
no direction to go but out into the open area.
Ten feet away from the wall stood a series of tall wooden poles.
Adesina pushed off the wall with her feet, leaping to grab the closest rod.
From there she jumped to another, and then to another. The fourth pillar had a
tiny platform nailed to the top. Adesina climbed onto this platform and paused
to reorient herself. There was a rope strung tautly from the small platform to
another on a pillar twenty feet away. Adesina balanced herself expertly and
slowly crossed the rope.
From there, there was a section of many thick wooden rods that
varied in height and size and were placed fairly close together. Adesina found
herself jumping and climbing from pole to pole with relative ease.
At the end of this section was a platform and a rope hung from a
rod high above. There were about half a dozen ropes hanging at intervals that
led across to another platform, but the first one was the only one that touched
the ground. She would have to climb straight up the first one, and then swing
to reach the next rope. As soon as Adesina began to do this, three young Shi
appeared on the far wall with bows in their hands. They immediately drew their
bows and began shooting at Adesina as she climbed.
The tips of the arrows were dull, but they were coated with the
same yellow substance that covered the ground. Although a hit would not be
physically harmful, it would be clear that she had been careless.
Adesina quickly began to swing the rope as she climbed, making
sure she never was stationary. Luckily, the archers were still fairly
inexperienced and also a good distance away, giving her a split second longer
to move out of the way.
Arrows whizzed past her ominously. As soon as she was high enough,
she leaped to the second rope. Adesina had just enough momentum to get her
hands around the rope. She knew she would have to swing harder to reach the
next one safely.
Adesina soon discovered that each rope was further away than the
last. Each one took a little more time and strength to reach, all the while
dodging the arrows that flew past. In spite of this, she landed on the platform
as gracefully as if she had been doing nothing more than a dance. One last
arrow shot in her direction, which she dodged with an expression of contempt.
The platform led out of the open area and into a small room. As
soon as she entered, the door slammed shut behind her. It was completely dark,
and Adesina was not equipped with anything to produce light. The soft sound of
falling sand led her to the right side of the room. She searched the wall with
her sensitive fingertips, finally coming across the shape of an hourglass.
She was being timed.
Adesina’s mind kicked into high gear. Based on the size of the
hourglass, she only had about ten minutes to solve this problem.
Before the door had closed behind her she had seen that there was
a door on the opposite side. She made her way over there and began examining
the door by touch. There were a number of knobs on the door of various shapes
and sizes. Some had carvings in them, others had bumps in different patterns,
and some were smooth. Some of the knobs turned with a soft clicking noise,
others had notches that allowed them to be pulled out to different lengths, and
some were set in a slot and could be moved to different positions.
As Adesina began experimenting with the different knobs, she
discovered that certain knobs would lock into place according to how she
positioned other knobs. She also found that some knobs would lock some in place
while releasing others that had previously been locked. Adesina turned the
puzzle over in her mind, looking for patterns and trying out various sequences.
She also listened carefully for the sand in the hourglass, using the tone of
the falling sand to judge how much time she had left.