~Chapter 1~

And as the years passed, seeming to be only a blink in the eternity of the gods, the young child grew to be a fine young woman by the name of Nadia. Living in the small hut she was first found on the porch of sixteen years ago, she had grown accustomed to the simple and hard life of the peasants. She learned how to wash the clothes with her mother, Movati, and how to climb and learn the ways of the hunter with her three adopted older brothers; the eldest, Damyn, then Sebastian, and the youngest, also happening to be the one she was closest to, being the mischievous Janjak, always showing her the best hiding places everywhere in the village and telling her stories of the outside world.

Being still a child, Nadia was never permitted to join her brothers and father on their hunting or explorations outside the village; impatient and curious as she was, she soon began to look forward to her sixteenth birthday, when she would receive her loa's blessing and become a woman. Only then would she be able to leave this simple life of washing clothing and gathering urchins by the sea for the wonders and mysteries that awaited her on the other side of the island.

And, as she woke up on this special day to the morning sun streaming delicately through her window, she felt a refreshing new hope and excitement that only her birthday could pull out of her normally dreary life.

Nadia quickly pulled on her blue-grey skirt and small top, checking her face and combing her hair with her fingers in a cracked and stained shard of glass she had picked up one day on the beach.

She already knew that her brothers were out of the house, seeing as they went fishing at dawn every morning, but she heard the familiar tunes of her mother humming sweetly in the main room of their small hut.

"Morning, Mama!" Nadia said brightly, skipping over to Movati and planting a kiss on the woman's cheek; the woman smiled lovingly at her, seeming years younger as she looked at her child.

"Blessed morning, child." Mama Movati greeted Nadia; she was just finishing rinsing off a few clay plates and bowls in her water basin, which Nadia assumed had been for her brothers. "Grab a mango, they're where they always are."

Nadia nodded and took a mango from the large porcelain bowl on the windowsill beside the door, careful not to disturb their finest piece of china as it leaned precariously on two legs.

Nadia took a seat cross-legged on one of the various mats placed on the hard packed mud floor of the hut, biting into the mango and not bothering to wipe the sticky-sweet juice as it dribbled down her chin.

Movati came to join her, waiting to speak until her daughter was finished with her meager meal. "Ah, Asaka blessed us with plenty of fruit this summer, didn't she? Picked those fresh from the tree this morning." she said finally as Nadia swallowed the last of her mango.

Nadia nodded, a small grin playing on her face. "Let's hope she blesses another of us sooner still." She winked, and Movati chuckled.

"I see you haven't forgotten." Movati said, smiling as Nadia's eyes lit up with happiness. "I hope the gods continue to bless our family with the good news of your loa."

"Did you wonder about your loa before, Mama?" Nadia asked, unable to contain her questions; she knew Movati's, as well as Damyn's and Sebastian's, loa was Asaka, their own great Earth Mother, while her father's was Agwe. Janjak was only a year younger than Nadia, yet to receive his own guardian, although his superior hunting skills pointed him in the direction of Asaka, like his brothers before him. Nearly everyone in the village suspected that either Agwe or Asaka would take Nadia as their own, but Nadia had felt a strong urge that she was to get something no one would expect; she had a craving to be different, at least a little bit, inside this village of similar routines and people.

"One would have wasps in their brain not to worry or wonder about which god is to decide their fate." Movati said, gesturing to the hut around her. She gathered Nadia in a hug. "But don't you worry too much, my hope; whichever god decides to take you, I will always be proud of you."

"Thank you, Mama. I promise I'll make you proud of me." She kissed Movati lightly on the cheek, standing up and heading toward the door, where a water bucket was waiting to be filled.

"Don't stray too far from the well, dear." Movati called as Nadia opened the door to head outside. "I don't want you wandering off again on such an important day!"

"I won't, Mama. No need to worry!" But Nadia was only half-listening as the door swung shut behind her.

Nadia breathed in the fresh scents of tropical blossoms and sea salt, feeling refreshed and ready to start the day. She gazed around the village, now bustling with activity, and saw with excitement that the preparations were being made for her ceremony in the town square. Flowers and leis decorated the lampposts and fire pit, a large banner holding the signs of all the gods - a flower for Erzulie, a leaf for Asaka, a water droplet for Agwe, and a bone for Papa Ge - hanging loosely in the sea breezes tied at opposite ends to two long poles.

Nadia made her way slowly to the well across the square, browsing the goods and charms lying out on colorful blankets on wooden carts and on the ground beside the road. She greeted her neighbors as they passed by, all of them knowing each other's names as this was quite a small village with very few people.

Nadia nearly tripped over a small child chasing a chicken through the street, shrieking with laughter as her older brother chased her around and scolded her fiercely. Small carts pulled by ponies and mules passed by with more goods from trade and harvest, their wheels wobbling along the rock-strewn road and sending up small puffs of dust.

Nadia passed by most of these events without even a second glance, already very used to the normal activities of the village around her. What she was really interested in was the weaver's son, living next to the well; his bronze skin accented his darker hair, and his eyes were as blue as the ocean. Erzulie had already claimed him two years ago, so Nadia often tried her hardest to impress him with her shiny black hair and gray eyes.

Nadia carefully turned the corner, seeing the boy out of the corner of her eye as she tried to walk as nonchalantly and gracefully as she could to the well; he was busy with his work at cleaning the wool and various animal skins out front of his mother's shop, so Nadia took the trouble of noisily dropping her water bucket onto the ground, spilling water everywhere.

"Oh, great Agwe!" Nadia exclaimed, looking at the water bucket in dismay; she saw the boy look up and smile at her, and she nearly leapt with triumph when she saw him coming over to her.

"Hey, Nadia. Here, let me help you with that." The boy said as he walked up to her, meeting her gaze for a second before bending down to pick up the bucket.

"Oh, thanks, Darius." Nadia said shyly, trying to keep the smile out of her voice. She took the bucket from him and turned away for a moment, beginning to fill it again.

"So..." Darius said, attempting to break the awkward silence that had formed between them. "...I heard it's your sixteenth birthday today."

Nadia struggled to sound uninterested. "Yeah."

"Which god do you think is going to claim you?" Darius continued; Nadia turned to him and saw that he was looking away, his hands in his pockets.

"I'm not too sure. My whole family is pretty much guarded by Asaka or Agwe, though, so almost everyone thinks one of them." Nadia replied, still trying not to blush and to keep her voice even and calm; her heart beat faster as he met her gaze, watching as he hastily averted it.

"Well, you never really know." Darius said slowly. A smile flitted across his lips. "...you might get Erzulie, though; you seem eligible enough to receive her." his smile faded as he realized what he just said, and he turned bright scarlet. "I-I mean..."

"It's okay." Nadia laughed, feeling lightheaded; he had just called her equal to a goddess!

"I...better get back inside." And with that, Darius hastily turned around and opened the door to his mother's shop.

"See you tonight!" Nadia called to him before he walked inside; he paused a moment, gave a brief nod without turning around, and shut the door behind him.

Nadia heaved the bucket up into the crook of her arm, trying not to skip with joy to keep the remaining water inside; all while she made her way home, she contemplated which of her colorful sarongs to wear to the ceremony.

She was so absorbed in her thoughts that at first she didn't hear the scream.

Papa Ge watched as the man floundered in Agwe's great waves, smirking darkly to himself as the man began resurfacing less and less. Beside him, Agwe watched the scene with crossed arms, eyes hardened.

"Which of your precious fish did he slaughter this time?" Papa Ge asked tauntingly, clearly enjoying himself at watching the man's demise.

"It was his net that strangled a helpless dolphin that was being washed ashore, and for that he is unforgivable." Though there were hardly any clouds in the sky, a deep roar of thunder could be heard echoing off the rocks.

Papa Ge watched triumphantly as the man sank underwater one last time, not returning to the surface. "It's my time now." He nodded to Agwe, who kept his eyes fixed to the spot where the man had disappeared.

Papa Ge dived beneath the waves soundlessly, not caring for breath as he floated toward the shape of the man. Looking closer, he saw that he wasn't so young at all, probably not too far from death anyway by the looks of it.

Just as he was about to reach him, a wave heaved the man upward, bringing Papa Ge tumbling after him, onto the sandy beach; the man slapped hard against the sand and pebbles, coughing and hacking water out of his lungs.

Papa Ge, remaining unhurt, turned in a fit of rage on Agwe. "What was that for?" He shouted.

Agwe's eyes had visibly softened, and he responded to Papa Ge solemnly. "While you were below, Erzulie came to me and asked why you and I were drowning this poor man; I told her, and she showed me that he had three boys and a daughter to look after, and a loving wife, who would all be devastated if he were to pass."

Papa Ge's eyes shifted around him angrily, looking for any signs of the love goddess. "That blasted girl! She knows she's not to meddle in our affairs - in my affairs!"

Agwe shrugged indifferently, keeping cool and collected in response to Papa Ge's rage. "Well, love does win out over death, unfortunately for you. It's just the way it is."

Papa Ge turned his back on his fellow god, staring darkly as the man on the beach was reunited with his sobbing and hysterical family. The daughter's eyes seemed to flit over in his direction as he floated above the waves, and he tensed as she caught his eye. With a flick of his cloak, he vanished, leaving the girl blinking stupidly on the shore.

Nadia blinked rapidly on the shore as she knelt down toward her father, soggy and bruised and uttering low moans.

"What happened, Syrus? Are you all right, my love?" Movati sobbed at her husband's side, rubbing his chest as he coughed up more water. He reached a hand to gently caress her dark face for a moment, then slumped back down, unconscious.

Though Nadia was worried about her adopted father, she somehow felt detached from the scene of relief and worry before her as her family helped their father to his feet, Sebastian and Damyn stretching his arms over both of their shoulders. She had sworn she had seen a dark figure among the waves, and chills rolled up and down her spine as she remembered his dark, midnight eyes. However, the next time she blinked, he vanished, leaving her with feelings of apprehension and fear.

Once they returned to the village, all of the peasants murmured to themselves quietly as Nadia led her family proudly through the street, turning every corner to more watching eyes and whispered words. A steady hum rose up around her, and she began to pick up some of the conversations.

" - probably not Agwe anymore, by the way he was almost drowned."

"Who knew of a man with Agwe as their loa being sunken to the bottom of the sea?"

" - bad omen for the girl; this could be one of the first signs today that one of the gods is not her loa. Only three more..."

"More like two more. Papa Ge rarely takes a peasant into his guardianship; even if he did, grave and terrible things would come to the peasant under his care, for sure."

Nadia didn't meet anyone's gaze as she opened the door to the hut and let her family inside. It seemed as if the whole village was watching her as she shut the door behind her.

Nadia made her way to their kitchen and lit a fire in their homemade stove, putting water in a rusty kettle and setting it up to boil. Behind her, Sebastian and Damyn set their father down in a chair, where he sat slumped with exhaustion.

Movati stroked Syrus's sandy face, murmuring words of comfort and sending a quick prayer to Erzulie before helping Janjak get another glass of water for her husband. Syrus snatched the cup and gulped the water down greedily, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand once he was finished.

"What happened out there, my love?" Movati whispered, her eyes wide with confusion and fear. "Why did Agwe attempt to drown you?"

"Well, I had hauled in a large load of fish with my nets," Syrus began in a raspy voice, "but then as I was preparing to bring them back with me to shore, one of my partners called out that I had a dolphin trapped between one of my nets and a rock." Nadia picked a few mint leaves off of the plant outside the window in the kitchen, dropping them in the boiling water.

Sebastian cursed under his breath. "Did you release it, father?"

As Nadia turned around, she saw her father's forehead crinkle in worry. "I tried, yet...it's throat was cut off from air with a strand, and we couldn't save it quick enough." His eyes suddenly flashed with fear. "Before I knew it, I was being tossed into the waves, struggling for my life and carried far from my men. I was just beginning to sink when a shadow of a man appeared in the water beside me, stretching for me, yet his eyes held death."

Nadia shivered. She had heard many descriptions of Papa Ge before from many peasants; about how his black cape would sometimes darken a sky without clouds, or how his tall hat rattled with the bones of the deceased, or how his scarlet-black eyes could pierce through one's soul...

Nadia blinked. Scarlet-black eyes...she had seen them, at the beach, far from the shore and seeming to billow in the air; there had been the outline of a man.

"Erzulie must have helped Agwe spare you." Janjak breathed, holding the back of his father's chair with clenched fists. "But why he would attack one he was guardian of...?" Janjak seemed lost for words, which was rare for him.

Syrus shook his head, holding his wife's hands in his own. "I don't believe it is a bad omen that Agwe almost drowned me. Besides, he was the one to decide to take my fate in his hands, anyway."

"How can you be so calm about it?" All four boys looked at Nadia as she walked up with a steaming cup of tea, her eyes puzzled. "...could this also mean that Agwe isn't my loa?" Nadia said quickly, changing the subject.

Movati nodded. "Yes; attacking a family member of the one who is yet to receive a guardian this evening is definitely a sign." She sighed. "But, it doesn't mean we can take Agwe out as an option. It just shows that he is not the definite."

Damyn clapped his hands together, startling everyone. "Well, let's not mope about it now. Father, I'll help you get into a fresh pair of clothes, and we can all get back to our duties; it's a busy day today, and we have many preparations and errands to do before the ceremony." He smiled.

A thin smile passed faintly over Movati's lips as she watched her eldest son take charge. "Four years after his own ceremony, and already such a man."

Papa Ge drifted about the village, silent as a spirit, passing by oblivious people and touching vines and flowers lightly along his way; as he did so, they just began to crinkle a bit at their tips, destined to shrivel in a few days so more new buds could take their place.

Just as he was drifting into another rose garden, Papa Ge noticed Asaka carefully guiding a woman as she picked and weeded the delicate white and pink flowers, invisible to her eye yet helping her all the same.

"Good afternoon, Papa Ge." Asaka greeted him cheerily, grinning. "Beautiful, aren't they?" Asaka's eyes gestured to the roses around her, delicately shining in the sunlight.

Papa Ge shrugged. "It seems so." He passed by the Earth Goddess without a second glance, tapping the tips of flowers lightly as he went. Just before he could tap a third on its rosy bud, a firm, strong grip grabbed his arm and refused to yield.

"Not these, Papa Ge. Mama Nefti here has been working hard to grow these especially for little Nadia's ceremony." Papa Ge looked up into Asaka's dark eyes, his own gaze questioning.

"Why should I care? These flowers have already seen their time. I must let them go on." Papa Ge gave her a pointed look of disbelief, as if he could hardly hear what he was saying.

Asaka put her hands on her hips, puckering her lips into a scowl. "I said to leave them alone, just for tonight. They will represent the fertility and grace she will receive as she matures."

Papa Ge still looked at her blankly, and Asaka tried another tactic. "They can help her find her love." She prompted; this only made the God of Death roll his eyes.

"Don't speak of love to me now, Asaka. I've had enough to last me the rest of the week." Papa Ge shuddered at the memory of the hugging, tearful family gathered around the peasant man on the beach, and he remembered the puzzled gaze of the peasant girl, Nadia, trained directly on him.

"Just...just stay away from these, okay?" Asaka sighed, feeling somewhat defeated at his indifference. She shook her head at him. "You know, I think love won over death only because Death is too stubborn to yield in his own pride and arrogance to think of others."

"Excuse me?" Papa Ge said, incredulous. He clenched his fists, and the flowers around him browned at their petal tips and wilted considerably.

"What did I tell you—" Asaka nearly toppled over him to rescue the flowers before they completely withered away, waving her arms in a fluid motion around them and restoring the flowers to their original state. Asaka sighed in relief when she saw that the old woman Nefti hadn't seen a thing, her back to the gods and oblivious to their quarrels.

"Who told you to keep these flowers ripened to near death?" Papa Ge said sharply, his tone clipped as he tried to keep his voice level and his anger at bay. "Was it little-miss-sunshine Erzulie again?" Ever since Ti Moune, Papa Ge had come back onto rivaling terms with the Love Goddess, but this seemed a new low even for her; turning Asaka and Agwe against him, keeping him from his duties?

Confirming Papa Ge's suspicions, Asaka nodded her head curtly. She had fully restored all of the flowers Papa Ge had so carefully wilted around town, and she tapped her foot impatiently at him.

"I thought you learned your lesson long ago? Love conquers Death, remember? And these flowers symbolize Nadia's soon-to-be mature love." Asaka gestured around her, but Papa Ge only clenched his fists at his sides, silently fuming.

"Never mind." Papa Ge muttered quietly. A small, cold breeze stirred the garden, and old woman Nefti touched her wrinkled cheeks with surprise as the sudden crispness of the air.

"I need to speak with Erzulie. You can find me at her shrine if you need me." Without waiting for a reply, Papa Ge swung his cloak around him and vanished without a trace.

"Pushy, no good..." Asaka grumbled to herself, crouching down to help the old woman below her carefully pull weeds and tend to the flowers. "What has gotten into him lately?"

Nadia carried a bowl of fresh fruit through the jungle, careful to avoid stepping on roots and carefully weaving her way between the trees. She silently fumed at getting stuck with the task of doing her brother Janjak's share of work as well as her own, and she promised herself never to make a bet like this one again. She knew she always lost, anyway, and she probably should have learned her lesson when she lost five mangos to him when she predicted spring would come early last year.

Now, Nadia had to take his share of godly offerings to the row of shrines scattered neatly over the countryside above the forest on a small plateau. However, the day was bright and beautiful, as always, and this lifted Nadia's spirits and made her feet dance even lighter among the stones and leaves on the ground as she made her way up to the shrines.

Nadia slowed as she reached the shrines. Something about them always took her breath away whenever she saw them glistening like golden fish in the sunlight with the offerings and trinkets the villagers gave them. At Agwe's shrine, Nadia dropped a small carp into the offering bowl at the center of a shell-shaped altar, the small shack surrounding it covered with silky blue and silver cloth and the inside strewn with the riches of the ocean, including starfish and even a necklace of pure mother-of-pearls hanging loosely on the candlestick.

Nadia lit the candle with a small match from a box beside the candle, sent a quick prayer to Agwe for good weather, then blew out the candle and moved on to Asaka's shrine.

Asaka's was a bit less pompous, as its cloth was of tones of earthy browns and dark forest greens that shimmered in the sunlight. Nadia spied roots growing into the ground and the sturdy trunk of a sapling serving as a stand for the altar at the center, carved out of the finest wood and filled with many fruits and nuts. Nadia placed two mangos carefully into the bowl of the altar, repeated the prayer process as she had done for Agwe, and then moved on quickly to Erzulie's shrine.

Erzulie's sacred shrine seemed to Nadia the most beautiful, with bright red roses and carnations white and smooth as silk adorning the walls of the shrine. Soft white and silver cloth weaved its way around the altar, coming to hang beside the silver altar and offering bowl.

Nadia dropped two small pink flowers and a small container of mixed berry jam, quickly lighting the candle to say her prayer. Along with the usual words of mercy and graciousness, Nadia then whispered her final wish.

"Please, oh great Mother of Love and Joy, please claim me as your humble child and guide me through my troubles today and always." The brief image of Darius passed through her mind, and she blushed slightly as she placed a single red rose on the altar beside the food. Nadia blew out the candle and watched as the smoke rose to the low roof of the shrine, curving around the lip and disappearing into the brightness of the sky.

As soon as he saw the teenage girl depart, Papa Ge drifted down into Erzulie's shrine, resting his feet on the soft mud-packed earth. He kicked aside the gentle layer of flower petals scattered around his feet, scowling.

As if sensing a disturbance, the flower petals seemed to whirl and dance angrily around his ankles, making Papa Ge start with surprise. He floated slightly above the ground as the petals grew in number, twirling and spinning in a red cloud that rivaled the rosy hues of the island sunset. After a moment, the petals settled back contentedly on the ground, and in their fading twirls of color a beautiful maiden stood elegantly in a flowing sarong of white and silver. Her bronze hair seemed to glow with health and life, yet her face was hot with an irritation.

"What is it now, Papa Ge? It's almost time for the ceremony, and you know we have to be there beforehand to discuss what to do about the child." Erzulie's voice rang like bells, chiming and shrill in Papa Ge's ears.

Papa Ge crossed his arms, and the few flower petals near his feet crinkled with illness. "I believe you have some explaining to do, Erzulie. Why is it that both Asaka and Agwe kept me from my work today?"

Erzulie crossed her arms as well, and a rosy scent perfumed the air around them a sickly sweet. "I don't know what you're accusing me of. It's not my fault that they wouldn't let you kill their work." She spat out the last word as if it tasted sour on her tongue.

"Don't you dare pretend like you had nothing to do with it! Both of them went on and on about how 'love is stronger than death', and they refused to suit my needs because of it. What is the meaning of this? Why are you sabotaging me, and death itself?" Papa Ge fumed, his eyes burning dark amber and his fists clenched tightly at his sides. The room was considerably darker now, and the candles had been blown out by a chill wind that stirred the curtains and drapes on the walls.

Erzulie pursed her lips, taking a breath and closing her eyes. When she spoke again, her voice was delicate and soothing. "I never meant to sabotage you, Papa Ge. We've all been waiting these long sixteen years to reveal Nadia's loa to her, and I just wanted everything to be perfect for this special day. She is a special case in that she wasn't a part of this village originally, and the only way to have her be accepted by the villagers is to have approval from the gods. She needs this, Papa Ge. We all do."

Papa Ge was silent for a moment, his anger ebbing. A deep hurt, one that sliced a dark cavern in his heart, had surfaced at her words. When he spoke, his voice quivered with sorrow. "I just…you don't know what it's like to be the most hated god. The Demon of Death isn't necessarily the most prayed to, or the most praised. Even when I let loved ones pass to the other side peacefully, there is at least one family member who is dissatisfied with my work." He looked into Erzulie's eyes, her round blue pearls holding his amber-black irises with sympathy.

Erzulie reached out a golden palm, pressing her hand in his. A warm glow radiated over the death god, staining his skin dark silver before fading. It left him without any trace of his sorrow seconds before, and after a decade without them, love and sympathy laced his heart with Erzulie's healing.

After the glow had faded, Papa Ge took a deep, ragged breath. "…I appreciate your sympathy, Erzulie. And I now realize how important this day truly is." He stood to his full height, the flower petals previously crinkled bursting with life and color once more at his feet. "I will consider putting off a few of my daily duties…to prepare for the ceremony."

Erzulie smiled, shimmering with happiness. "Thank you, Papa Ge. This truly means a lot."

Papa Ge's eyes flashed a smile in return, but his mouth stayed tight and neutral. His eyebrows furrowed. "So, between you and me, as Nadia is my burden to bear…which of us is to be revealed to her during the ceremony?"

Erzulie caught his eye again, and a brief conversation seemed to take place in that single gaze. Papa Ge blinked and nodded. "I see."

"Then I shall see you tonight at the ceremony. I must help my villagers with their duties." Erzulie's voice was soft, and in a whirl of silver mist she disappeared, leaving Papa Ge standing alone in her darkening shrine.

Papa Ge turned to look at the altar, where Nadia's rose sat vibrant against the cool marble of the dais. He smirked to himself, snapping his fingers to relight the candles in the room. In their new soft glow he followed Erzulie's example, flicked his cape, and was gone.

Hello, all! Hope you are enjoying the story!

I've gotten into the groove of continuing some of my older fanfiction stories as I come across them in my archives, and I'm seeing how they come along as I write them. Feel free to leave a review with any questions, comments, criticisms. :)