The SciFi Roundtable's new anthology Gods of Clay is available to preorder.
God had abandoned them.
Or so Jakka’s brother Akari said. She lay back on an outreaching tree branch and contemplated the heavens. Streaking tendrils of orange and pink played across a vast sea of pale blue as the second sun sank beneath a distant wall of mountains.
So beautiful was the evening sky that it had always served to reinforce her devotion to Syri, as did many other natural wonders of her world. But the last season had been harder than any the Vandorian people had known, leaving many dead or battling starvation. Had Syri lost sight of them from his tower? Had they angered him? These and many other questions haunted her thoughts as she struggled to justify the blatant neglect of her people.
Rain hadn’t fallen for the better part of four cycles, and the crops they had counted on to sustain them into the cold times had not survived the drought. What was more, the local herds had all abandoned the region, making it impossible to hunt without an extraordinary cost of provisions and energy, neither of which Syri had granted the tribe’s hunters.
Ignoring the grumbling of her stomach, Jakka leapt down from her perch and started home. Reaching the safety of her village’s bordering walls before nightfall had become essential in recent times, as many dangerous creatures from the region, now desperate for meat, had taken to hunting Vandorians, who had traditionally been avoided for the dangers of tackling such a prize. But alone, equipped with only a few arrows for her bow and a single obsidian blade, she would be no match for several attackers.
She upped her jogging pace to a full run.
“There you are. Mother’s going mad with worry.” Akari was waiting for her by the gate and raised his hands with obvious impatience before ushering her into the village. “As if she didn’t already have enough to worry about, you seem to relish forcing her to contemplate whether or not you’ve become a meal.”
“I didn’t mean for it to get so late. Anyway, I’ve reached adulthood. It is no longer mother’s task to worry for my safety.”
“One who had truly reached adulthood would never say such a thing.”
“I … You’re right … of course. It’s just that I’ve always gone to the arct tree to think in the evening. I won’t let fear take that away from me.”
“No one said you can’t go there to think. The issue is that you wait until second sun has set before you come home. It’s too dangerous.” He grabbed her quiver and gave it a shake. “How do you expect to defend yourself with so few arrows?”
“Okay, I get it. I know you’re right. I’m sorry.”
Exhaling her animosity, she closed her eyes and nodded. “Yes. I am. I would come home sooner but it has always been during the setting of second sun that I have felt the most connected to Syri. How can I hope for him to hear my pleas if I am disconnected?”
Akari’s expression hardened. “Jakka, Syri has—”
“—abandoned us? Yes, I know what you think. And you know I don’t believe you.”
“Look around. No god would allow their creations to suffer in such a way. If things go on like this, we will all be dead by the end of this rotation. We will not survive the cold if Enuni herds don’t return to this region.”
“The rain will come, you’ll see. Syri is just testing our faith. He gives us so much, and we give little in return. Is he not entitled to test our devotion to ensure we are still worthy of his gifts?”
“We did not ask for this, Jakka. Don’t you see? We were put here for his amusement, and he has grown weary of us. Do you not grow weary of things you once loved? When was the last time you wove arct branches?”
Hurt by his words and unable to conjure a valid response, Jakka stormed away. She entered her hut and ran to her mother, sobbing into the supportive shoulder that had always been there.
“Akari has lost his faith. The things he says are horrible.”
“I know, dear. I have tried to speak with him, but he is angry. Ever since starvation took your father from us, he has been cold and empty inside. His bitterness is all he has to feed on now.”
“Why won’t it rain? Why is Syri doing this to us?”
“Because we have become complacent; assumptive of his many blessings. Tell me, last rotation, how often did you feel compelled to engage in your dedications?”
Shame tugged Jakka’s eyes to the floor. She shifted her feet, searching her mind for a response that might shed a better light on her answer than reality would. Disgraced by the only reply available, she said, “Maybe once a cycle … if that … ”
“And you were not the only one. Many became complacent in the gifts bestowed upon us. Well—now we are made to pay for a lacking gratitude.”
“I have apologized so many times, though. I have beseeched him to have mercy—to forgive us for our many faults. And still, the drought continues. We will not survive much longer if things go on like this.”
“Perhaps it is his will that we die. After all, he gave us life, and he can just as well take it away.”
Too disturbed by her mother’s words to find a response, Jakka went to her bed and curled up, weeping fresh tears of fear and sorrow until sleep brought reprieve.