God of Shadow – Chapter 1

The combat dummy splintered under the force of the sword. The round slab on top, with a scowl painted in white, crashed to the ground and rolled toward the fence surrounding the training area. Adahmri wiped sweat from his brow and looked down at the detached head. The few drifting clouds offered no protection from the sweltering heat of the sun, which had just reached its peak in the heavens, but it was almost time for the militia trainees to break for lunch.

“Hey! Kick that back over here, Goose!”

Adahmri’s lips pressed into a thin line as he glanced toward the young man who had called out to him with that ridiculous nickname. The other teenager propped his sword on his bare shoulder and laughed with a group of others around him. Adahmri turned away from the training field without touching the dummy’s misplaced head. His fingers curled into fists when the laughter grew in volume against his retreating back.

He had made a habit of watching the militia’s training sessions, but he had neither wealth nor influence enough to join them like he wished. Most of the young men training with them now had bullied him his entire life, so he supposed it was a small blessing. Still, Lorre was an arguably small town, compared to the capital city of Thornin to the north, and there were not many career paths before Adahmri. He had grown up with only a handful of other children in the orphanage, so he also had minimal outside support – and nothing to offer aside from his genuine desire to prove himself. But earnestness didn’t mean anything in a town run by politicians eager to earn favor with the King in Thornin. They selected only the best for their militia, and oftentimes “the best” came from families with coin to spare.

The streets of Lorre were quiet today, which suited Adahmri perfectly. He had hoped to be able to work up the courage to approach the recruitment officers for the militia, given he had finally come of age today, but it seemed it was not meant to be. His sixteenth birthday was as uneventful as any other day, and a glower settled on his sharp features as he made his way back toward the orphanage. He would not be able to remain at the orphanage for much longer. He would have to finish gathering his things and find a new place to stay. Without any employment prospects, he was not looking forward to sleeping in whichever chicken coop or barn he could sneak into. He had met with several shopkeepers and professionals regarding an apprenticeship, but he had been unable to secure a place anywhere.

Cynical speculation about his future kept his mind occupied as he slipped into the barn next to the orphanage to fetch a bucket. After a moment of consideration, he pried open a loose floorboard and retrieved an old sword in a rusted scabbard which he had stolen from the militia’s armory years ago. He had half a mind to leave this town and never come back; he had a sword to defend himself, and he could gather up enough food to make it to Thornin. Perhaps he could steal some valuables from the homes of those idiot boys who had long tormented him.

Adahmri sighed and tied the scabbard to his belt, carrying the bucket back out of the barn. He couldn’t just break into his neighbors’ homes and take things which did not belong to him, but desperation had begun to gnaw at his stomach of late. He had not truly paid attention to the passage of time, or to what that meant for him. He had nothing. He had spent the majority of his time reading and wandering around outside of town, without any real concern for what he would do until it was too late.

His thoughts drifted to the nearby gates leading out of the city. A farmer and his family lived out north of Lorre. The farmer’s daughter, Sielahiel, had long captured Adahmri’s interest – ever since he was a boy. She was several years older than him, but miraculously still unmarried. She had always joked that one day she might meet a prince, but in the meantime had no interest in treating marriage like a business transaction. She was fortunate to be just wealthy enough to carry such a stance. All around her family’s farm stretched fields that were always full of crops suited to the seasons – and they also had an impressive herd of sheep which supplied the entire town with all the wool they could want.

Sielahiel was a woman who could afford to be selective in choosing a husband, and content to wait for a good match. It was truly no wonder she had always laughed away his proclamations. He could offer her nothing. Even now that he had come of age, what could he give her?

He could give her wildflowers plucked from her own fields.

Adahmri shook his head and turned east onto a clear-cut footpath. He sighed heavily as he looked ahead toward the rolling hills surrounding the town. It was a long walk out to the well which had been erected in honor of Soragen, the God of Fortune, but he enjoyed the peace which settled over his mind whenever he visited it. He had been coming out here since he was a young boy, always the one to volunteer to take the offerings from the orphanage. He didn’t have any offerings today, but the water from the well here was cleaner than the water from the wells in the city. He would bring some to Sielahiel. It was his birthday, after all. It would give him an excuse to stop and see her.

He had traveled the steep hills countless times over the years, and his legs were accustomed to the climbing, but he was still somewhat short of breath when he arrived at the well. He stood still and contemplated the well for a time before placing his bucket down in front of it. He had plenty of time to enjoy the afternoon out here. Miss Inger at the orphanage had told him to spend the day doing whatever he desired. To her chagrin, that largely meant he would be spending his time alone.

Just as he started to sit down in the grass, a strange sensation swept through him. Warmth flowed through his bones, and his fingers tingled. He stood straight and looked down at his hands, startled. It had not stopped.

“You have grown so very much.”

Adahmri leapt away from the well and spun on his heel to face the speaker. His left hand moved toward the hilt of his sword, but froze when his eyes came to rest on the individual in front of him. The man was tall and muscled, garbed in a flowing olive-colored robe made from a material that Adahmri didn’t recognize. He had a thick mane of dark red hair, bronzed skin, and eyes that gleamed like diamonds. He stood so still, and looked so pristine that for a moment Adahmri wondered if he was gazing upon a lifelike statue. But the breeze tousled the man’s hair, and he smiled. Adahmri’s lips parted, but words did not come to him immediately. The man simply examined Adahmri in return, and allowed him to respond when he was ready.

“I… Who are you?” Adahmri said at last.

The man smiled, and it was as bright and welcoming as the summer sky. “My name is Soragen,” he replied in a voice like warm honey, “and I have come to tell you something very important.”

Adahmri’s pulse quickened. His natural reaction was to laugh away the man’s claims, but he could not deny the sheer power which radiated from him. His eyes were captivating, and Adahmri found that he believed wholeheartedly that this man was who he said he was: Soragen, the God of Life and Fortune. Fingers shaking, Adahmri pressed his hands together and dropped to his knees. The god before him simply held his gaze, the smile never once fading from his lips.

“M-My lord…” Adahmri gasped. “I… I do not know what to say…”

“Listen, dear boy.” Soragen drew closer and took Adahmri’s hands. Adahmri stared, dumbfounded. “Clear your mind and listen to my words. Hear their truth, and let the task I now give you fill you with the purpose you have lacked your entire life.”

Adahmri closed his mouth and nodded once, resolved. A god stood before him now, and had a task for him. Finally! This was what he had been waiting for, his entire life! He was not useless. He was not meaningless. A god needed something of him, and he didn’t care at all what the task might be. It was an honor!

“You are my son,” Soragen began, and the words plunged Adahmri’s body into ice. “You are now of an age when you must transition into adulthood. But where your peers take up arms or learn trades, Adahmri, you will go forth and search for three Pearls of Power which we have tailored specifically to you. As you find each of them, they will unlock an aspect of the magic which lies dormant within you. If you find all three of them, you will Ascend and take your place among the gods.”

Adahmri stared at Soragen, and his breathing grew rapid. The icy chill of the truth of Soragen’s words had not eased, and it now clashed with the heat of desperation and confusion which threatened to overwhelm him. He wanted to laugh, to look aside and see that the boys back home had played yet another trick on him. He had always wondered what had truly become of his parents, but this was not at all what he had expected.

He shook his head and tried to back away, but stumbled as his knees moved slower than his mind. He fell onto his back and scrambled away, hot tears burning his eyes. Soragen moved after him, and knelt when Adahmri stopped backing away. He gazed at the boy with concern, and Adahmri slapped his hand away when he reached out to him.

“Why did you leave me here?” Adahmri suddenly shouted. He didn’t care right now about the rest of Soragen’s message. All that mattered to him was that he had found his father, and his father had been around all this time. “If… If what you say is true, then why did you abandon me!”

Soragen’s brilliant eyes dimmed with sorrow. “We had no choice,” he said gently. “Each god-child must undergo the trials to prove that they are worthy of their birthright.” He reached out again, and Adahmri did not pull away. Soragen smiled. “You look so much like your mother.”

Adahmri was silent for several long moments before he finally whispered, “Who is my mother?”

Soragen’s smile lingered, warm and joyous. “The goddess Ariana,” he said.

Adahmri’s head spun. “But… I-I don’t understand. I’m not-”

“You are the child of Fortune and Sorrow, of Life and Loss. We have great hopes for you, Adahmri.” Soragen grasped Adahmri’s hand tightly. “None have ever succeeded in reaching Ascension,” he went on. “Your mother and I think that you have what the others did not. You have the necessary strength and intellect to survive the trials which will test your mettle and resolve. You have the drive to succeed, to become something greater. You, Adahmri, have known life at its lowest. Now you will know it at its greatest. You will not fall, as your past brothers and sisters have. I truly believe that.”

Adahmri’s breath quickened again, but this time with excitement. He was not useless. He was not meaningless. If this was true, if this was not just some hallucination conjured by a lonely and tired mind, then he could one day be a god. He could be powerful. He could be worshiped.

Or he could be murdered, if he wasn’t careful. That was always a possibility.

He was unsure when his wild thoughts had overcome him and he lost consciousness, but when he woke, he had gained a bucket full of water, a large bouquet of wildflowers, and a vivid memory of a dream which urged him to travel north to Thornin. The powerful entity known as Soragen was gone.

 

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Jes A. Condrey
Line Art by Jolme. Colored by Mike Lisle.

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