God of Shadow – Chapter 2

His movements were mechanical as Adahmri lifted the bucket of water and the bouquet of wildflowers. Numb, he made his way down the hill toward the nearby farmstead. His gaze lingered on the colorful arrangement. He had never spoken aloud his wish to bring Sielahiel flowers, so it seemed a surreal gesture from his otherworldly sire. Soragen, God of Fortune and Life and War – his father. His thoughts swam with questions and skepticism, while his heart swelled with understanding. He knew it was true, though he could not state how, and his intellectual mind warred with the hope in his chest. He had always been a religious child, and even to this day had believed strongly in the messages the gods delivered. But it was one thing to believe in the gods, and another to face the possibility that he may be one of them. What was he supposed to do?

The Pearls of Power. Soragen had said that he would need to find three Pearls to release the magic sealed within him before he could take his place alongside him. He had also said that no god-child had ever succeeded before.

Adahmri’s heart raced with apprehension. Why hadn’t they succeeded? Were these trials so dangerous that none of his past siblings could survive them? Would he have to fight terrifying monsters? He had daydreamed about going out on an adventure numerous times, but now he realized that he had never had any real intention of going. The very notion mortified him, made his blood run cold. What encouragement Soragen had delivered suddenly meant very little as Adahmri considered the beasts that roamed Camriiole: trolls, orcs, goblins, and giants. He froze mid-step and his eyes widened. What if he had to face a dragon?

Oh, gods. I’m going to die.

“Adahmri?”

The young man dropped both the bucket and the bouquet when he jumped in alarm at the proximity of the voice. Turning his head, he stared at Sielahiel, his chest heaving with quick, deep breaths.

She was gorgeous. She wore her dark, crimped hair loose today, despite the heat of the summer sun. Out here in the fields, though, the breeze that came in from the north was cooler, and it tousled the red skirts of her dress. She wore a loose white blouse under a yellow bodice, which contrasted perfectly with her dark, chocolate flesh. She watched him curiously with her vibrant green eyes, though her gaze dropped to the grass near his feet after a moment of startled silence. He had not realized he had come so near her farmhouse already. She was seated against a fence which ran alongside her house and barn, and she did not bother to rise as he drew near.

He followed her gaze and silently mourned the sight of the spilled bucket and scattered wildflowers. But he made no move to rescue the items; nor did he say anything. He just stared distantly at the ground, his brow pinched in an increasingly distraught expression.

Sielahiel frowned with concern, but remained seated. “Adahmri, are you all right?” she called out to him again. “What happened?”

He knelt to lift the bucket first. The slight incline had spared some of the water, but it was largely lost. After righting the bucket, he began to gather up the wildflowers. He pushed them together haphazardly and tied the olive-colored ribbon back around their stems. He stared at the ribbon in silence after he finished, and then looked up at Sielahiel. She continued to watch him curiously. A small smile curved her lips when he held the messy bouquet out to her.

“Today is your birthday, Adahmri,” she reminded him. “Why have you brought me a gift?”

“I, uh…” Adahmri stared dumbly at her as she took the flowers from him and held them in front of her so she could breathe in their scent. When he didn’t attempt to elaborate, she met his gaze, concern returned to her fair face.

“What’s on your mind, Adahmri?” she said gently. She placed the flowers aside and leaned forward toward him. “You are not yourself. Did those boys do more than just pick on you?”

His eyes traveled over her, taking in the sight of her curvy form, the strong line of her jaw, and her brilliant eyes. He looked at her hands – hands which bore calluses and cuts, signs of the work she did in the fields nearly every day. He had been fortunate to meet her here now, during one of her breaks. Perhaps he had caught her during her lunch.

His lingering gaze drew a blush to Sielahiel’s cheeks, and she folded her hands in her lap. “That is rather impolite, you know,” she admonished. “Why’re you looking at me like that all of a sudden?”

Adahmri exhaled through his nose. Because I’m terrified I’ll never see you again, his mind answered silently. Sorrow filled his gaze, but he did not speak his fears. Instead, he shifted his legs under him so that he could sit next to her. She watched him, confused, as he looked away and lifted his gaze to the heavens.

“I went up to Soragen’s Well,” he answered finally, his voice low. “Siel, do you… Do you believe in the gods?” He looked at her, and the desperation in his eyes caught her off guard. “I mean, really believe in them. More than just thinking they’re real.”

The young woman tilted her head. This was so unlike Adahmri. No matter the trouble the boys from town gave him, Adahmri was always happy to see her, always energetic and sweet. The crush he had had on her ever since he was a boy had long blossomed into something more, and she had grown used to it – even enjoyed the attention. He was not like other young men from nearby Lorre. He was smart, despite his lack of formal education, and he was attentive. He always knew just what to say, and he never lingered on the many difficulties she knew he faced while living in that orphanage.

But this was something more, and her heart ached for him when he looked at her as if her answer could tear his world apart. She reached out to him, and gingerly took hold of his hand.

“Of course I believe in ‘em,” she insisted, squeezing his hand. “I think our crops would never be as plentiful if we didn’t praise Rafrin and Soragen both. And I believe our loved ones find peace after they die, only with Ariana’s guidance. And this peace we have here, the joy in our hearts? That’s from Jahcivan. They are in everything we do, and our prayers to them give them the strength to bless us in kind. We need them, Adahmri.”

He closed his eyes, and his eyebrows pinched again with uncertainty. “I believe in them,” he whispered, after a lengthy pause. “Would you… Would you believe in me, if I was one?”

Sielahiel blinked rapidly, startled by this sudden turn in the conversation. She then laughed lightly and drew his hand into her lap. “Ah, kid,” she said lightly. “I don’t think that’s anything you ever need to worry about.”

Adahmri’s heart sank further. “R–Right,” he stammered. “But… But I mean, if it was. If it could–”

He stopped and just sighed heavily. Sielahiel canted her head again, studying his face.

“Adahmri, what happened?” she said gently.

The young man laughed, but it had an empty quality to it that made Sielahiel’s heart clench. “You won’t believe me,” he said, meeting her gaze again at last. There was a tumult of emotion in that gaze, and the young woman found that it stilled her breath. “I barely believe it, Siel. I… I don’t want you to think I’m crazy.”

She moved her free hand and placed it over their joined hands in her lap. “I already think you’re crazy, so what harm could it do, hm?” She smiled warmly at him. “You’ve been trying to propose to me since you were nine years old. I think I know you pretty well, hm?”

He was torn. What if she didn’t believe him? What if she thought he was ridiculous? What could he do to prove it to her? He sighed heavily and looked down at their joined hands, squinting when he realized that she might let go of him as if his flesh was fire.

“Soragen was there, at the well,” he said slowly, his voice strained. He didn’t dare look up at her as he went on. “He… He told me that he was my father. That Ariana is my mother. I… He wants me to go on a quest, and to become one of them. He said that it would be dangerous – that none have ever succeeded before. I could die…”

Whatever Sielahiel had expected, this was not it. She stared at Adahmri with wide eyes, wondering from where this wild tale had come. But the pain in his expression, the fear in his trembling fingers… Perhaps he really was crazy. He believed this.

She released his hand, and Adahmri closed his eyes tighter. His heart thudded painfully in his chest as pain seared his sinuses to herald his burning tears. But then his eyes flew wide open when warmth surrounded him. Sielahiel’s warm body pressed against his, and her arms wrapped around him firmly. Her cheek rested against his. The tears in his eyes shed into her voluminous hair as he turned his face into her long tresses. Her fingers came to rest on the back of his head, stroking his smooth hair.

“I don’t know what happened to make you think all this,” Sielahiel whispered into his ear, “but it’s eating you up. I don’t like it none.”

Adahmri smiled then. For the first time, he didn’t feel like the annoying little boy that wouldn’t stop offering unwanted affections to the most beautiful girl in town, or the weird, book-smart kid who couldn’t shut up long enough for her to offer some excuse to escape.

He felt like he was her friend.

 

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

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