Part 6: The Haze
a short story series by lawton von emelen
“What troubles you, Adam?”
Annalise’s voice echoed for a bit before Adam had realized she even asked the question. Although he had gotten used to harboring her soul within him, and hearing her words as thoughts, he was tired and was not fully aware of his situation.
“What?” he asked aloud, startling both The Gambler and Leo. Leo scowled and bitterly threw his fire-striking kit in the air. “I’ve been at this for a half hour! Someone else try.”
The Gambler chuckled. “It only recently stopped raining. The stones are wet. We’ve told you this three times but you insist on succeeding at the immense risk of looking like a buffoon.”
“Fine. You try it.”
The Gambler accepted this challenge and drew a single match from his cloak. He struck it against his forearm, the match-end instantly catching ablaze. This drew Adam’s interest, which was previously not quite anchored to this reality. Leo touched his forehead with two fingers, contemplating what he just realized.
“Have you forgotten, even just for a moment”, laughed The Gambler, “that our skin is far hardier than mortal skin? Being a Godsblood blesses us with more physical traits than mere strength or speed.” He then placed the match in the makeshift campfire, comprised of what dry wood they could find, and watched as the fire grew into something that they could all appreciate. Leo quietly conceded and looked off to the twilight sky.
The Gambler and Leo then engaged in discussion that Adam couldn’t quite understand, so he took the time to consider other things. He pictured Annalise laying down in some black void, as a golden silhouette, with her feet up, while delightfully humming some nameless tune. It sounded like it would go well with bagpipes. Adam didn’t know what bagpipes were, only hearing the name of the instrument in the context of his former slavemaster speaking of them, though he imagined they sounded like heroism. As it turned out, she actually was humming a tune.
“Curious?” She asked, divining his thoughts.
Yes, thought Adam.
“The Gambler and I had a mentor named Theodoric. Old, stoic Anglo-Saxon, from the days of thatch roof cottages, before written literature. He hummed this tune in battles he fought and while watching us spar.”
As Adam wondered what Theodoric was like, Annalise explained with a soft chuckle, “A bit like Leo, with age and experience.”
Adam glanced at Leo, embedded in a conversation Adam had no hope of joining. “Leo only knew Theodoric for a little while. When Theodoric died, we three swore to see his bloodline safe, for he prophesied that the Godsblood secret was not safe, and that people would look to his descendants for answers they didn’t have.”
Adam came to an epiphany, excitedly: Theodoric was the first Bristol!
“He was.” confirmed Annalise. “As much as our charge was important, we had other tasks, and eventually we three split off . . . Why? Well, to be frank, The Gambler has his mysteries. There are secrets neither Leo nor I know of The Gambler.”
Adam wasn’t quite satisfied with the amount of information he had concerning The Gambler, and The Gambler was no help in revealing such, so he turned to Annalise.
Through the next few weeks, while The Gambler and Leo scoped out possible leads on the location of the Godsblood herb (“Stay with our belongings, Adam, really, we have this handled,” one of them would always say), Adam would ask questions concerning the Godsblood, and Annalise would answer. While The Gambler seemed reluctant to reveal further nuances of the natures of the Godsbloods, Annalise was far more informative. Every question Adam asked, Annalise answered in what ways she could.
“What Godsbloods were here before Theodoric, and you three?” Adam asked aloud when The Gambler and Leo left Adam once again with the supplies while they went off to places unknown.
“How aware are you of mythology, Adam?”
“Very little,” Adam admitted.
“Well, there are multitudes of mythologies around the world, stories of pantheons of gods indigenous to their regions. Some of these gods are warped versions, put on paper, of actual Godsbloods. Mere sightings of us inspired entire mythologies of gods. Some saw us as angels. Some saw us as omens. Some saw us as heroes, but could not comprehend our mystical powers, so turned what they did see into stories.”
“So you Godsbloods are… gods?”
“Some thought they were. They’ve been disposed of.”
“That,” Annalise said, “I will tell you in time.” Adam imagined that she said this with a knowing smile.
Adam much preferred Annalise’s willingness to teach him about what he was to become over The Gambler’s casual avoidance. Adam had many more questions, multiplying in number even as Annalise answered them, and so listened to her tell tales whenever he was conscious. One of his questions was “Can souls inhabit objects, not just human beings?”
“Sometimes. It is exceedingly rare, however,” Annalise replied.
More days passed, turning into weeks. The Gambler, Leo and Adam scoured the northern rivers of the Chesapeake Bay, turning up nothing remotely similar to the location that Annalise described where she hid the herb.
Annalise was rambling on about one of Theodoric’s adventures that she had heard him recount when Adam noticed that The Gambler was waving his hand in front of Adam’s face. “Adam,” The Gambler said for the fourth time.
“We’re leaving again. Stay with the supplies. You heard me?”
Adam nodded to confirm. The Gambler mimicked his nod with a mischievous smile before departing swiftly with Leo, who looked suspicious of The Gambler’s imminent plans. Adam sighed with relief and sat down. He began to imagine these Godsbloods that Annalise described, in their prime, crossing highlands with mortal folk finding awe in their fleeting presence. He dreamed and envied The Gambler and Leo, though he continued to feel confused. Why were The Gambler and Leo squandering their lives here, in towns and cities surrounding the Chesapeake Bay, when they could travel the world and do far greater things?
Another three days passed, feeling like mere minutes to Adam. They were setting up camp once again (Leo remembered to strike his match against his arm this time), and a few minutes later, Leo was fast asleep. In the darkness, Adam could barely make out The Gambler handling a small chest, flipping its lock open and closed in indecision.
“What is that?” Adam asked. The Gambler glanced over at him, before looking back at the chest. After a moment of contemplation, he opened it, revealing three medallions, each with crude iron crests of a sword emblazoned on them.
“What are those?” Adam asked.
“These are medallions that were given to Annalise, Leo and me by our mentor,”
The Gambler replied. “His name was Theodoric.”For a brief moment, Adam recognized that this was the first time The Gambler mentioned his mentor’s name. The thought passed, however, as Adam mused upon how The Gambler acquired the box. He questioned why he even had that thought; perhaps The Gambler had always had it with him.
He heard The Gambler saying things, though he didn’t hear them clearly because Annalise was also talking, her words interspered with from his own thoughts. He heard The Gambler say, “I had picked this up from a relative of Benjamin’s – the man who kept you safe at his stop on the railroad – his aunt, precisely. It’s an old Bristol valuable, though I suppose no one’s missing it now. These belonged to us three anyway.”
Adam nodded, masking his confusion with a nod of understanding. What was happening to him? He still felt a slight haze as he laid down to sleep. By morning, he didn’t feel it anymore, though he was still concerned. Fearing that if he were to admit his worries and concerns to The Gambler and Leo, they would doubt his capabilities of becoming a Godsblood, he kept them to himself.
More days passed. Adam asked Annalise of his condition, though Annalise did not offer much on the subject. “Perhaps it’s your nerves?” Annalise wondered. “Perhaps your soul senses that we will find the herb soon, and that your soul will be awakened.” Trusting her judgement, Adam spoke no more about it.
There came a day when Adam was, once again, guarding supplies in a makeshift camp while The Gambler and Leo ran off elsewhere. Unlike the other times, however, when they came back, they came back triumphant rather than persistent. Adam looked up to them, further standing up as The Gambler smirked.
“We found it, Adam,” The Gambler said.
“The herb?” Adam asked, his excitement beginning to swell.
“Well, not exactly ‘found it,’ well, not yet at least, but we know where it is.”
“Where is it?”
“Near a waterfall on a river called Falling Branch,” said Leo. “The Falling Branch Falls,” he clarified, eliciting a nod from The Gambler.
“The time has come, Adam,” The Gambler said. He withdrew one of his golden steel cards from his cloak, fiddling with it as he spoke. “Your destiny is at hand! These minions from the future have reason to fear you, and I believe it is the justice you will serve that they so fear.”
Adam nodded slowly. The card drew his attention. For some unbeknownst reason, he began to feel oddly about the card. Time seemed to slow down as The Gambler spoke and Adam watched the card. The golden luster that illuminated the symbols and suits on the steel playing card pulsated, almost as if it was alive.
Time nearly slowed to a halt as Annalise spoke. “Remember what I told you about the Godsbloods that thought themselves gods?”
Yes, Adam thought.
“The Gambler hunted them down while I dealt with more political issues. Though there is proof that they were slain, I wonder if The Gambler properly disposed of their souls . . .”
They both wondered at the same time: what gave these cards their magical properties?
Adam returned his attention to The Gambler, who was finishing his monologue. “You’ve picked your side and thrown in your lot with us. A good choice all the same, I’d think. Are you ready?”
Adam stood unmoving for a moment. Could it be that The Gambler’s cards held a far darker secret? It muddled his perception of what was good and evil, though ultimately, he didn’t care. Becoming a Godsblood was what he cared about. And so he smiled, and said “I am ready, Gambler.”
The Gambler took Adam’s hand in his own and gripped it firmly with a smile. “To Falling Branch we go.”