God of Shadow – Chapter 12

Adahmri and Sielahiel journeyed south along the foot of the mountains for weeks. They passed through a few small villages, where they were able to resupply and rest in a bed. Cayil, Sielahiel’s trusty horse, showed signs of increasing exhaustion, necessitating earlier stops with each day that passed. Adahmri was in no hurry, but he and his companion agreed that they could not continue to strain the poor animal like this. According to the family who hosted them in the last village, they were only another day or so from the larger city of Stransin. There, they would be able spend some extra time tending to the workhorse’s needs. Sielahiel was reluctant to leave Cayil behind, but neither did she want to keep Adahmri from continuing on his journey, as he would surely stay by her side if she remained with the horse.

Adahmri sat next to the horse on their final night of traveling. They had paused at the crest of a tall hill, where it smoothed into a flat top and sported a handful of trees they could use for cover in the night. Stransin sat in a basin between the hills, fully visible to them from their camp, but they did not want to risk a descent down the steep incline to the city in the fading light of the evening—and they couldn’t easily see any other way down. If there was a road and a safer approach, the sharp hills made it impossible to see it from their vantage point.

Sielahiel fell asleep propped against Cayil’s side. The horse had lain down in the soft grass to rest, as he had done for the last several weeks now, as if his aged legs could no longer bear the burden of his weight through the night. Adahmri placed a hand on the horse’s face as he studied the animal’s weary eyes. Cayil remained subdued, but still nickered quietly and nudged the young man’s arm. Adahmri smiled sadly and closed his eyes.

Animals had an aura, just as every human did, but it was softer, blending with the land around them. Adahmri had to focus his senses to see Cayil’s aura, and when he did it planted a seed of sorrow. It was so quiet, so dim. The animal had lived a long and plentiful life on the farm outside of Lorre, and all its days had known the love and friendship of its mistress, Sielahiel. But Adahmri’s heart ached nonetheless. Cayil was not long for this world; he could feel it. Sielahiel would be devastated—more so than she was even now. He searched himself for any hint of the magic flowing through him, tried to wrest some form of miracle to breathe youth and vigor into the old workhorse. But by the time he finally relented to the truth that Cayil was going to die, his eyes were red from tears he refused to shed.

What was the point of being a god if he could not save those worthy of being saved? What could he actually do for the people he loved, once he Ascended? He knew that it was foolish to lament the passing of this horse, or to even try to stave it off. There was nothing sinister to the animal’s old age, and it was certainly not unnatural. But he desperately wanted to protect his beloved Sielahiel from the pain of loss that would soon come over her. Perhaps this was all part of his trials, though. Maybe he needed to learn that he couldn’t fix everything, even with his great power.
Not that he had great power yet. But one day he would, and he reasoned that he shouldn’t go into this with the assumption that he could—or should—seek to make everyone happy. He didn’t know what to expect of his future duties, but he doubted very much that prolonging the lives of old farm animals would be one of them.

For a moment, he resented his logical mind.

With a heavy sigh, Adahmri moved around the horse’s bulky form and nestled close to Sielahiel to offer her the comfort of his presence. She mumbled as he drew close, and he shifted her into his arms. They slept against the horse’s side until morning, and when they woke, Cayil did not stir again. Sielahiel’s tears cut Adahmri’s heart like a blade, and all he could do was hold her close as she wept for her old friend. They didn’t have the means to bury the animal so they stripped some branches from the nearby trees and respectfully draped them over the horse’s corpse. It wasn’t an optimal grave, but perhaps they could come back out with some proper supplies from the city.

Once they said their goodbyes, Adahmri offered Sielahiel his arm and they made their way down the steep incline, carrying their bags on their backs. The northern gate stood tall in front of them as they reached it, and Adahmri noted that a well-maintained road wound west around the city’s walls, disappearing around the bend. They approached on a broken footpath that had been carved out of the rocky hill they descended, but it clearly didn’t receive the same care as the larger road which circled the city, presumably to an easier path down into the basin.

At the gate, a guard wearing a yellow surcoat over a long-sleeved chain shirt halted them. The man had a sword strapped to his belt, but the weapon was not drawn. The two travelers looked worn after their emotional morning and subsequent descent down the difficult terrain, but the guardsman greeted them with a smile nonetheless.

“Welcome!” he crowed. “The city of Stransin greets you, strangers. What brings you to our fair home?”

Adahmri gave Sielahiel’s arm a reassuring squeeze before addressing the man. “We are traveling south along the mountains, looking for an opportune place to cross,” he said in a more subdued tone than he might normally use. “We hoped we could find shelter here.”

“That’s a lot of traveling to be doing on foot,” he noted. Sielahiel blanched, but the man didn’t pause. “There’s an inn near the center of the city. The Yellow Harp. Good food and comfortable beds. It’s small, but it’s the only one in town, so you’ll have to make do.”

Adahmri glanced past the guard into the city proper. The settlement seemed fairly large—certainly larger than Lorre, but not close to Thornin by any means.

“Why is there only one inn?” he asked uncertainly.

The guard shrugged. “Don’t need more than one. Visitors don’t come often, and they seldom stay long when they do.”

Adahmri nodded slowly, and then thanked the man as he and Sielahiel entered the city. They looked around the quiet streets, and then glanced back toward the gates.

“There’s no portcullis there,” Sielahiel remarked. “They just leave those huge doors open?”

“Maybe they don’t have any trouble with the wilds,” Adahmri assured her. “We didn’t come across anything on our way here, after all.”

His words eased Sielahiel’s worries, but he was not so readily soothed. Sielahiel didn’t know about the myriad of things Adahmri had sensed as they had traveled. He hadn’t worried over them, as the creatures hadn’t seemed to notice their passing, but there had been dozens of other beings out there in the wilds: wolves, goblins, and trolls. He was certain he hadn’t sensed everything, either. Was the city as safe as it thought it was, or was he just growing paranoid?

Setting aside that thought for now, he walked with Sielahiel through Stransin’s quiet streets, trying not to think about how strange it was that a place of this size was not already bustling as distant bells tolled the late morning hour.

 

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Jes A. Condrey
Line Art by Novianttt88. Colored by Jes.

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