The Abandoned Gods

Author: Jack Kirk

Content Warnings: Religion, Violence

Tarot Cards: The Fool, Justice, The Moon

“Breathe in… Breathe out…” 

I sat on the ground in my favorite grotto, meditating. I had been pacing my breath for most of the morning. It wasn’t difficult anymore, but I always practiced the basics. 

“Today is the day,” a familiar voice said from behind me. I had been alone all morning, but didn’t jump at the sudden interruption. 

“You can stop trying to startle me. It’s not going to work,” I responded, not moving a muscle. 

“I know. I wasn’t.” I could feel Victor’s eyes on me. “How do you feel?”

“Fine,” I replied.

“No nerves?” 

“None, whatsoever.” I stood up and started stretching. “I feel great, actually. Everything feels so easy, like I’m perfectly in tune with my body!” I said, a little too loudly. “I’m definitely ready. Just wait, once the trial begins tonight I’ll be the fastest one to finish it!”

Victor chuckled. “Ash, I think you’re ready too,” he said warmly. “Don’t take it lightly, but you’ll do just fine.”

Before I realized it, I was hugging his barrel chest. “I know I will. Thank you so much, V.”


“Your hair is so soft, Ashley. My short hair seems to always have a twig in it,” Elder Lisa said. She had come in to help me braid my hair. 

“That’s because you’re always in the forest,” I laughed. “I brush it as often as I can. I like to take care of the things I have.” I sat on the floor in front of Elder Lisa while she sat on the edge of my small bed. 

“How does that look?” she asked.

We sat in front of the only mirror in the whole village, but I didn’t recognize myself. I wore a long pale green dress with a leather belt, a necklace made of bone, and a brown fox fur covering my shoulders and upper back, a leather harness secured everything in place. The village had worked together for days to make this outfit for my Trial.

“I look amazing….Even a king or prince would want to marry me!” 

“Ashley, you have always been a beautiful girl. It’s almost tragic you have to go through all of this….” The older woman’s expression soured. “I’ve seen too many head up the mountain and never return to us…”

“I’ll certainly miss all of this.” I stretched out my arms and twirled a bit. “I’ve been told I have the comfiest bed in the whole village. I wouldn’t want to let it go.” 

Our conversation died as a heavyweight descended over my room. The only sound was Elder Lisa slowly finishing braiding my hair and her trying to hide her quiet sobs. 

Around my room were various things I had found in the village. A pair of entwined nails, a small embroidered pillow, and a rock that I thought looked like a wolf sat on the only shelf opposite my bed. A patchwork doll Elder Fiora had sewn and repaired many times sat on top of my small dresser. 

“Um…” I started breaking the silence, “ If I don’t come back. You can have my bed. I don’t really have anything else… I want to make sure someone else gets to enjoy it.” I nervously fidgeted with my feet. 

“Oh, thank you. It will make me think of you every time I go to sleep,” Elder Lisa said. “There, I’m done.”

I stood up admiring myself in the mirror, it was a little dirty.

“You do look gorgeous.” 

“Of course I do. Do you see this dress?” I said.

The room fell quiet as the two of us just sat there; I broke the silence after a moment, “You look as though you want to say something…” 

“I-” the older woman started, but faltered. She started to cry openly, holding her hands up to her face. Then as quickly as it started, she sniffled, took a deep breath and stood up. “You need to get going. I’ve taken up too much of your time. Get out there before it gets too late.” 

“Okay, okay. I’m going.” I got up and quickly walked towards the door. 

“Ash?” the woman said softly, using my nickname for the first time tonight. “Please come back to us. I don’t care if you get hurt, or if you make it or not. Just come back, please.”

“Oh… I’ll do my best… That means I get to keep my bed though.” I said turning to leave. 

“I think I can handle that,” Elder Lisa laughed. 


“Ashley Agedóttir, the clan has gathered to formally call upon you to take the trial laid out by the Gods in honor of the clan,” Victor announced. The clan had gathered at the base of the Fjell mountain. I stood under an archway made of wood surrounded by torches. When I was younger, I remember seeing it during the summer, vines and flowers had grown around the wood of the archway. It was such a beautiful sight, but tonight the sight sparked unease and dread in me.

“You will face challenges that, as your trainer, I hope to have prepared you for. Only the Gods know what you will face. When I faced the trial I returned empty handed. May you earn the Gods’ favor where I did not.” Victor’s face fell slightly. Tonight, he had dressed up just as much as I had. His beard and hair were immaculate; a small clasp decorated his beard. He wore a dark brown vest complemented by a light undershirt, a nice pair of pants, and a thick belt. His boots had been washed and seasoned. Lastly, a large ceremonial sword hung from his hip. His normal sword was actually somewhat smaller, but he knew how to use it very well.

“I have a small gift for you Ash. Fjell is as dangerous as it is mysterious.” I knew it would be my own sword, but when Victor presented it to me, I was no less taken in by it. The hilt was wrapped leather anchored by a silver pommel and guard. In the silver was set a linear design which centered around the rune for protection. Drawing the sword from the scabbard, the blade was straight and sharp. It reflected the torch light in a way that I’d only seen in the village mirror. 

“T-thank you,” I stammered. This was the most amazing gift I had ever received. “It is a gorgeous sword. I will cherish it as I climb the mountain.” 

Victor smiled. “May it protect you during the trial, and after, should you return to us.”

I had always been working towards this moment. I learned to fight, learned about plants and animals, the Gods, our history, I learned to make temporary shelters, how to bandage wounds, trained my body to peak levels, and I even trained to endure some poisons. Everything led up to this single moment. The fire at the archway danced in the wind, while everyone watched me in silence. Nothing had ultimately prepared me for this moment. I could do and make things, but everyone expected me to climb the mountain of the Gods and then return home. Tears started to form, I began to slowly melt under the pressure of this monumental task, like snow in one of our water pots. My knees faltered, but I pushed myself forward and somehow stumbled towards the archway. I would not show my weakness in front of my tribe. 

“Ash…” a familiar, deep voice whispered behind me. 

I started to look, but instead pulled up the furs on my shoulders and charged through the archway up the path. Somehow, I mustered the courage to start my journey. 


When I was born, my parents had found one of the five symbols of the Gods as a birthmark on my lower back. The Fox was a peculiar symbol, but even years later I could see it clear as day when I looked at it in the mirror. 

At the time our wisest elder, Ruiz, had been summoned. 

“What does this mean?” my father had asked. 

“Will she have to take the trial?” my mother had blurted.

“Along with the others, who must take the trial, she will be exiled until the Gods have shown she is among the favored,” he had said. “There is no doubt that she is among those who have stolen the power of the Gods.” Victor later told me that was rubbish and not to be believed, but The Trial must be completed if I were to return to my tribe. No one says the whole truth, that would be too painful. 


The climb wasn’t as hard as I expected. Once my eyes adjusted to the darkness and the dim light of the moon, I was able to see much of the trail plainly. A few rocks or sticks still hid from me and I tripped occasionally, but my pace was much faster than I expected. 

That was until I got to the bridge. At one time, this path had been maintained and well used, but at some point, the elders of the tribe had forbidden anyone from making the trek up to see the Gods. Now the bridge was in tatters. Planks were missing, ropes were frayed, and one of the anchor posts had been destroyed by a rock slide. 

I’ve heard legends of how God after God had been offended by one member of the tribe or another. The stories always had the most ridiculous reasons for their disfavor. My favorite as a child was about a man who offended the Fox God by feeding the ducks in the man’s pond. The Fox God had leapt down from the mountain to eat the man before tricking the ducks to fly the Fox God back to the top of the mountain to join him for dinner. They unfortunately realized too late what the Fox God had meant, and were his special treat after the first meal. 

This was not the Fox God’s doing, but it certainly would be tricky getting across the river, especially at night. About two dozen paces below, the river flowed down a narrow canyon. I could hear that I wasn’t too far from the falls, but the river was too dark and too twisty to see the falls directly. If I fell from the bridge, there was no way I would survive. 

I went over to the side that had both anchor points intact and started to move across the bridge. It creaked under my weight, but nothing seemed to give out. At least not yet. I took a few more steps before I heard something rustling behind me on the cliff. A long moment later, a small young wolf walked out of the brush. We stared at each other for a moment before he let out a loud howl. Another wolf walked out of the brush, and even in the dim light, I could see another wolf jump down from a rock behind the two. 

I took off over the bridge, one of the wolves lunged, but fell short. Its breath was hot on my skin in the night air. As I ran, the bridge below me creaked and swayed slightly, but somehow it held under my weight. The wolves behind me snarled, but didn’t seem to follow onto the bridge. I snuck a glance back, and saw they were in fact staying off the bridge. Relief flooded into me and I slowed a little, I turned back around to realize I was already on the other side. 

That’s when I hit something hard and was knocked to the ground. Something warm and slightly damp warmed my face. Then my vision cleared and I realized I was looking straight into the snarling face of a wolf. I reached down to my hip to draw my sword, but there was no room to maneuver the silvery blade. Not knowing what else to do, I leaned back and headbutt the wolf with as much force as I could muster. A massive thwack accompanied an intense headache that surfaced as fast as my headbutt had been. 

Somehow I recovered first. The wolf had stumbled back a few feet, which allowed me to stand. I quickly drew my sword, the ornate blade glistening in the light of the moon and stars. The wolf lunged in response, but now I had a weapon. I stabbed out and found purchase much earlier than I had expected. I didn’t even realize I had closed my eyes until I opened them. 

When the wolf lunged at me it had jumped onto my blade, which had then pierced the underside of its throat and continued up until it struck the spine. The blade now stuck out the otherside. I tipped my sword towards the ground, and the now dead wolf slid off the blade. 

Victor would have been furious that I had closed my eyes during my desperate attack, but his training had kept me from dropping the sword. I silently thanked him, and promised I would be a better representation of all the time and effort he put into me. 

I turned around to the other wolves. Only the first one was visible still, the others must have left when I killed the one that now lay behind me. I’m not exactly sure how, but the last one looked more dangerous than before, but it still wouldn’t cross the bridge. 

“Are you coming or not?” I taunted.

The wolf just growled again and again, saliva flying as it did. 

“You must not care that much, if you won’t cross a simple bridge…” 

Somehow the wolf must have understood me, because it sprang forward. Finding the courage, or maybe just enough rage, to cross the bridge. The bridge swayed under the wolf, which hesitated just a moment on the uncertain ground. This was all the opportunity I needed. I grabbed one of the support ropes, and sliced it in two easily. The bridge slid to one side, but the wolf remained in place, shifting its weight expertly. I spun and sliced the remaining support rope clean in two. The bridge swung out from under the wolf, which howled as it fell. Eventually a thud silenced its cries. 

All around me the mountain was quiet. The wind blowing against my face made the only sound. I turned, and let it guide me up the path towards the Gods I was destined to meet. 

I crested the last hill just as the sun broke above the horizon. My aching feet carried me the last few feet into what only could be the temple to the Gods. 

In the middle was a marble dais. Circular in design, it was smooth and simple. Surrounding it was the circular footprint of the temple itself. Eight columns, decorated with gold leaves at the base and cap, adorned the edges of the temple while supporting a massive marble roof. Set into the roof was an artistic representation of the symbols for each of the Gods. I immediately recognized the Fox, my favorite, and the crow which was Victor’s. There were a few I had seen in passing before, but a few of them were completely foreign to me. 

“Young one, you seek an audience with us?” 

Startled, I turned to find a woman had appeared before me. She was tan with dark brown wavy hair and a robe that looked as light as a feather. 

“Um… I didn’t see you there… Who are you?”

“Don’t be daft, child.” This time, a male voice. I spun to find a stocky middle aged man wearing a bear pelt as a surcoat. Gaps in the surcoat revealed chainmail underneath and a large golden sword was sheathed at his hip. “You obviously are seeking the Gods! Are you not?” 

“I-I uh…” I started.

“If you weren’t, then why are you standing upon our dais?” Another woman walked into my view. This one wore a dark purple gown that was draped over her shoulders and hugged her hips. The material reflected the light of the moon and contrasted her light skin. Her black hair was tied up behind her head. Her voice dripped with ichor and just looking at her made me adverse. 

I looked down and realized I had indeed wandered onto the dais. “I am here to complete the Trial laid out by the clan of the Three Rabbits.”

“What trial? We didn’t ask you to come looking for us. In fact, it’s been many years since we have seen or heard from anyone. We were starting to think you all had abandoned us!” the woman with the purple gown accused. “Once upon a time, all mortals worshiped at our feet. Now we only see you when you complete some trial.” 

“No matter,” the first woman said. Her voice felt like a warm fire. Cozy and inviting, but with a slightly dangerous undertone. “What is it that we can help you with? You’ve come so far, and braved our mountain. At night, no less.”

“Don’t coddle the child, Nura, she can fend for herself,” the man said. “She even has blood on her sword.” 

“All the more reason to hear her out,” Nura replied. 

“Fine,” he replied. “Speak, child.”

All three of them stood next to one another now, waiting patiently for me to speak. 

“I-I-,” I faltered. What did I want? I’ve been training all this time for what? The Trial, which was dedicated to the Gods, but what did that even mean?

I cleared my throat. “I want to go home. Everyone I’ve talked to in the past few days has asked me to come home safely. I want to say I want this or that, I’m especially tempted to ask for your gown…” I blushed a little. “It’s a gorgeous dress, but as much as I want all of the prettiest things, I couldn’t imagine not returning home. Everyone there, especially Victor, is awaiting my return.”

The woman with the purple dress chuckled slightly, “What a sappy answer. You show up in our temple, and we offer you the world, but you just want to go home. BAH! Will you– what?” She looked at the other two sitting next to her. 

“You could learn a lot from this girl, Scarlett. You harbor too much darkness in your heart. Anyone that shines this brightly should be a role model for you,” Nura said. 

“Young one, I think your people would love to see you again. I don’t doubt the integrity of your words, nor the passion in your heart. As you say, temptations are merely a distraction, but I think you can do with a small one.” He picked up a small pebble off the ground then smashed it between his two hands. “Do not look at this until you are home safely. Now go, you have friends and family that miss you dearly.”

Startled, I took the stone from the God and slowly turned to leave.

“Go!” he shouted, and I started running as the golden rays of the morning sun illuminated my path. I ran as fast as I could and soon enough, I was standing in front of the broken bridge with no path forward. 

I searched the area for some time, looking for a way to cross the chasm before me. I even backtracked a bit looking for a second path, but no other path seemed to exist. Not wanting to lose my gift, or to betray the Gods’ limited favor, I wrapped my gift in my fox fur and set it aside from the trail. I kept looking for something useful, and eventually found a large branch. With some careful cutting, I was also able to use what was left of the support ropes I had cut earlier to fashion a sort of hook and rope. It was short, but might just be long enough to grab the bridge. 

I grabbed my makeshift hook, got a running start, and threw it at the rope bridge. It clattered off the far side of the cliff. I hoisted it up slowly and got ready to throw the hook again. Another running throw and this time I bounced the hook off one of the boards. Closer. I pulled my hook up again. This time I doubled the distance I backed up for my run. 

Taking a deep breath I sprinted at the cliff only to stop just short, almost skidding off the cliff, and using the momentum to throw the makeshift hook at the bridge. The branch sailed over the chasm, bounced off one of the boards, only to catch the last plank on the way down. 

I jumped with joy and relief for succeeding at my task, only to land directly on top of my fox fur bundle. I slipped, and slid over the side of the cliff. Grasping at anything possible, I found something soft but it couldn’t hold me. As I fell, I could see the cliff face get smaller and smaller until suddenly my arm yanked up and I was filled with pain. But as I looked up, I realized I had stopped falling. I was still holding the rope attached to the hook! I would have jumped for joy again, but obviously hanging there, I couldn’t jump again. 

I hung there a moment before hoisting myself up slowly. I didn’t want my strength to give out before I was safe. Each time I pulled myself up with the arm that had been holding the rope my body cried out in agony. After a few times, I surrendered to only using the other arm to hoist myself up. However, despite the pain, I was able to make it slowly. Pulling myself over the edge, I had never felt so happy to be alive. 

That’s when I remembered – the gift! I had been lying down, but immediately sat up, looking all around for the bundle. Obviously it was not on this side of the cliff, but I couldn’t see it on the other side either. It was nowhere to be seen. 

No matter how I searched across the gorge, I couldn’t seem to find the bundle. I even tried balancing on a large rock I found so I could get a better view of the other side, but slipped and almost went over the cliff edge again. Depressed, I left to head back home. 

The archway back home was a shadow of its former self. The torches surrounding it had been extinguished long ago, leaving only burnt pieces of wood sticking out of the ground. A rough pile of furs was stacked off to one side. I felt about as bad as the archway looked when I walked through it. The village just down the hill from this clearing looked welcoming, but I had returned empty handed. They wouldn’t even want me now. 

“You’re back!” a gruff voice called out from behind me. Then I was in the biggest hug I have ever felt. “I’m so happy you returned to us,” Victor cried. 

“I-I lost their gift, but I met them. I met the Gods,” I stammered. 

Victor put both of his hands on my shoulders. “I only care that you’ve returned, young one.” I could tell he was fighting back tears.

“But V, I-we could go back. They are waiting for us.” I was struggling to get the words out of my head. “The Gods haven’t abandoned us. We abandoned them.”