God of Shadow – Chapter 11

Adahmri and Sielahiel had departed the city swiftly after they had found Adahmri’s first Pearl. The sheer number of auras which he could detect had proven too overwhelming to ignore, so they had resupplied and headed back out through the southern gates. Out in the wilds, they came upon few travelers, and suddenly things like food and water were no longer a concern. Adahmri’s senses had become vast, and he found he could pinpoint easy game or the direction of a stream. He enjoyed flexing these newfound senses, and after traveling for several days it became second nature to him.

His new power fascinated Sielahiel, and at night before the campfire, she watched him manipulate the shadows cast by the flames. He could move and mold them into different shapes, creating tendrils which reached out unnaturally against the light or pushing them into recognizable shapes.

“Does this mean you’re the God of Shadows?” Sielahiel teased. They had laughed, but that night Adahmri lay awake next to her, gazing up at the starry sky and wondering if that was indeed who he would become. He was unsure if he liked the connotations. Darkness and shadow were normally attributed to wicked things. Would the people think of him as a wicked god? Ariana was the Goddess of Darkness, and she was generally loved by the people, so perhaps it was not such a concern. As he rolled onto his side and drew Sielahiel’s body closer for warmth, he reasoned that worrying over his reputation as a god was silly at this point in his journey. He still had a long way to go. He didn’t know where they would find his next Pearl, but his instincts seemed to pull them toward the Moonfall Mountains, which lay southeast of Thornin. He did not question his instincts anymore.

The next day, the sun had begun to set when they saw a large camp set near the base of the Moonfall Mountains. Cayil was exhausted after another full day of traveling, and Sielahiel worried that the aging horse would not last on their journey. They dismounted when they drew near enough that the camp of travelers noticed them in the fading light. Adahmri gazed at the campsite intently, reaching out with his senses as he had practiced numerous times since leaving Thornin. There were about twenty people in the camp, split evenly between men and women. He didn’t sense any children, so he reasoned that it was not a family caravan. The many horses among them were well-bred and strong, enjoying the soft summer grass for their evening grazing.

Four men moved to the western edge of the camp, and Adahmri urged Sielahiel to stay back with Cayil while he moved forward to meet them. She remained behind and watched with some concern as he moved toward the busy camp. The few travelers they had encountered since leaving the city had behaved strangely, in her opinion, and she worried that these visibly armed men might react to Adahmri in an unpleasant way.

“Good evening,” Adahmri called as he drew near the other men. They stood in a line, each wearing a faded red jerkin bearing a sigil of a setting sun on his breast. Caravan guards, Adahmri mused. He had seen their uniform before in Lorre. Their company was a popular one for travelers.

“We don’t need trouble,” the largest one drawled. Adahmri held his hands out to either side placatingly.

“We don’t want trouble,” he answered. “My lady and I have been traveling for days. We have our own food and water, but we wondered if we might be able to share in pleasant company.”

The four guards looked at him strangely, as if there was something about this black-haired youth that they could not place but did not fear. The largest man, presumably their leader, spoke something aside in a language that Adahmri did not recognize. One of the others pivoted on his heel to return to camp.

“What are your names?” the large man said, glancing past him at the woman and her horse.

“I am Adahmri,” Adahmri answered politely. “My lady is Sielahiel. We come from Thornin, headed toward the mountains.”

The man grunted, and then gestured to his fellows. They turned to go back to camp, as well. “You can call me Barrus,” he said, keeping his hard gaze on Adahmri. Despite his intense and gruff demeanor, his voice seemed to soften in an almost friendly way. “Something about you, kid. You and your lady are welcome here tonight. The girls will be happy to meet new friends. Consider yourself warned.”

Adahmri smiled, relieved that the conversation had gone so well. “A bit friendly, are they?”

“To put it lightly,” Barrus grunted. “But they pay well.” He gestured them to follow, and then turned back. Adahmri beckoned to Sielahiel and she hurried over to his side. Cayil followed her without any encouragement from the lead tied to his bridle.

“Everything okay?” she said. She curled her arm around his when he offered it to her. Her stomach fluttered when he smiled warmly at her.

“Of course,” he replied, leading her toward the camp. “Apparently they’re a friendly bunch.”

Sielahiel sighed, relieved that her apprehension had been unnecessary.

The caravan still bustled when they reached it, following Barrus. To their surprise, several young women appeared to be in the process of arranging some kind of performance. They wore colorful, decorative dresses and ran about the caravan, gathering instruments and props. At the sight of their guests, they paused in their work and stared at the couple with interest.

Adahmri didn’t know what he had expected, but when he sat near a large, crackling campfire nearly an hour later, surrounded by music, mead, and merriment, he was unprepared. The “girls” had stolen Sielahiel away, gushing over her beautiful wavy hair and dark skin. They had given her a beautiful emerald gown with silver trim, and now she danced around the campfire alongside the other women, laughing joyously with them. The young man stared openly. All the women were beautiful, but Sielahiel was the only one he could see. Her gaze met his from the other side of the fire and the look she gave him was coy. He gave her a crooked grin in return.

“Yeah, I’m smitten,” he muttered under his breath.

“You’re not the only one, lad!”

Adahmri grunted when Barrus laughed and clapped him hard on the shoulder. He looked at him curiously, though, and the older man laughed loudly, pointing. Adahmri followed the direction he indicated and realized that Sielahiel had drawn the attention of several other men in the camp. He couldn’t help but smile. Sielahiel was a gorgeous woman, and it was only right that others took note of it, too. But she was his, and he did not fear losing her to anyone else.

Dainty hands danced over his neck suddenly, pressing against tender muscles that had gone ignored too long. Adahmri closed his eyes at the soothing touch, leaning his head back as the fingers massaged down to his shoulders. Vaguely, through the haze of mead, he wondered when Sielahiel had come over to him. When his eyes focused on the woman behind him, he blinked out of his daze. The young woman smiled, her blonde hair pinned up in a style very similar to the one they had given Sielahiel.

Adahmri jerked away from the unfamiliar woman, startled. She just laughed and danced away again, rejoining the other dancers. Barrus snorted next to him.

“Gotta watch them,” he said, taking another hefty drink of his mead. Adahmri gazed at the man’s large mug and hoped the other guards weren’t drinking so freely tonight. “They get their hands on you, they’ll make you want them there.”

Adahmri shook his head and looked back out at the dancers, searching for the jade beauty. Sielahiel winked at him when he found her, and he grinned again.

“I have all I need,” he said in reply.

“Where you two going, anyway?” Barrus said after a deep belch rocked him.

Adahmri shrugged. “To the mountains. Looking for baubles. Adventure and glory and all that.”

Barrus chuckled. “Well, you got a good week or so till you reach the nearest village over that way,” he gestured vaguely to the south. “Game’s not so easy. This lot came from Stransin, but that’s even further south. Been talk of dragons out that way.”

Adahmri looked at him curiously. “Dragons?”

Barrus rolled his shoulder. “Didn’t see any myself,” he answered. “Didn’t expect to. No one’s seen dragons in three hundred years. Not gonna just pop up now for no reason. Probably all died out.”

Adahmri gazed at him thoughtfully, and then looked south. Just the thought of seeing a dragon made his heart race. He used to read about them in the Orphanage. They were his favorite stories. But dragons had disappeared hundreds of years ago, as Barrus said. Could they still exist? Were they hiding? And if they were, why?

Sielahiel’s laughter drew Adahmri from his thoughts, and he looked aside as the young woman plopped down next to him. She seemed to glow in the light from the fire, and all thoughts of dragons and adventure swept away from his mind. She was so beautiful.

“What are you doing?” she said breathlessly, beaming at him. “Not enjoying the dance anymore?”

He smiled. “Just talking,” he said, reaching for her hands. She gave them to him easily. “You’re absolutely breathtaking tonight, Siel.”

“Just tonight?” she teased. “Aren’t I breathtaking every night?”

Adahmri laughed. “When we’re done traveling, I’m buying you a dress like this,” he declared.

“No need!” she said with a grin. “They’re letting me keep this one.”

“Then they have my utmost gratitude.”

“I did see Vicc come over here and try to collect on that gratitude,” she teased again. Adahmri tugged her hands and she fell forward with a startled yelp. She then laughed as he pulled her into his lap and showered her neck with kisses. She grinned and tilted her head up, gazing at him lovingly. He smiled softly at her.

“Never would have worked,” he murmured.

She smiled warmly. “I wasn’t worried it would.”

“We got a spot in one of the wagons, if you two need it,” Barrus said suddenly.

Their cheeks flushed when they recalled the large man sitting right next to them. And they burst into laughter at his cheeky grin. Adahmri helped Sielahiel back to her feet and kissed her cheek.

“Might need it,” he said, his eyes sparkling.

She winked at him, and then spun away to rejoin the other girls as they struck up a new dance. Adahmri stood still as he watched them all. The evening had gone much better than he could have hoped.

 

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Jes A. Condrey
Line Art by Mariamjs. Colored by Jes.

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