Of Gods and Madness: The Faithful

Chapter Four

Light flooded the derelict staircase as Theon wrenched the door to the side. An audible gasp escaped the passage as fresh air rushed in. Earth and rot filled his nostrils as he grabbed a handful of vines and ripped them from their death grip over the opening. He ran his fingers through his long white hair, reminded himself to breathe shallowly and started down the wood steps.

Dust and debris littered the wood stairway, complimented by the occasional long dead carcass. The walls of the passage fell away, revealing darkness on both sides of the stairs, as they spiraled downward. The decay from years left open had taken its toll, but somewhere along the way this place had been shut off from the world. He descended the rickety steps, not so much focused on a particular destination but on what he would discover in the withered temple. He stepped on a brittle skull without a second thought. The remnant shattered underfoot and shot off to the side, echoing down the passage.

As he took another carefree step, the stairs groaned. He pressed forward then his next step crumbled under his weight. He caught himself, almost pitching off into the gap between. He pulled his weight back, then laughter spilled from him, exuberant, unhindered. As he tried to unsuccessfully suppress his laughter, he skirted the new hole and continued down leisurely. The light waned as he descended.

In this forgotten realm, silence ruled over all. The only thing that disrupted it was Theon’s exuberant steps. Water trickled off in the distance.

Despite that pitch darkness filling the great hall, he could see perfectly. This place had been a testament to some long deceased god, withered away with the burden of time. A dozen tattered banners remained. Most littered the floor, while one managed to keep hold. Without the sunlight to bleach it, the colors had grown darker, muddier, as if the vibrancy had been sucked from it.

He pushed his hair from his face, tucked it behind his ear.

Theon’s eyes flashed.

The room came alive again, haunted with the ghosts of its past. Crackling fires and solemn vows filled the dusty air. He froze and watched. He could almost see their faces, but they melted away and the room was left cold once more. In the wake of the vision, the air felt hollow, lost in the past.

The chamber groaned in protest to his appearance, as if his presence was enough to cause it to shift, to awaken. He walked straight to the altar without a backwards glance. The destroyed recreation of the fallen one, face smashed with one good eye left, stared with unforgiving focus.

He locked eyes with the monolith. His heart raced as the hairs on the back of his neck raised on end. Is it watching me? No, that’s not possible. He broke his gaze from the statue and continued without blinking.

The pedestal had been surrounded by archaic drawings and pathetic offerings. He kneeled at the altar.

“Praise be to . . .” Theon looked up at the broken face once more and asked with his head cocked to the side, “Excuse me, what was your name again?” In the wake of the words, the unease melted away. Laughter erupted from his throat as he shot to his feet, stirring dust and debris into the air.

His laugh echoed through the empty hall and amplified itself a hundred fold, as if mocking his petty contempt. Creatures scurried away, annoyed at their interrupted sleep. The echo fell dormant and he was left smirking at the inevitable silence. “That all you got, old man?” He challenged at above a whisper. Even a god as dimwitted as Kanya could hear that.

He waited for retribution to strike. The creatures settled, the unsteady drip of water continued. The darkness seemed to deepen, but was easily seen through.

Theon snapped back to the task at hand. Convinced of the god’s death and the lack of iniquity from the remaining gods for his sacrilege, he chuckled once more. Of course, they weren’t watching. Still, it was better to be careful than sorry. With that test complete, he could continue his work.

He walked with purpose. Each room was a small mystery to be inspected then forgotten as he searched. He threw his body into a wood door, letting the rot shatter under his weight. As he brushed the debris away, he searched the disheveled library.

Books laid scattered and torn on the floor, few left on the remaining shelves. He picked up a rotting tome. Most of the pages had faded into nothingness. The words that filled the pages were faint, unreadable. Even as he flipped through it, the binding crumbled and he was left with nothing worthwhile. He tossed it away.

The first few works at his feet turned out to be nothing. Simple propaganda filled with gross inaccuracies. He pitied the culture, all the while knowing how easily they must have been manipulated by the forgotten one. This stuff was better burned and eradicated.

He pushed further into the collection. The mildew and mold was so strong he couldn’t breathe. He swallowed hard. His orange eyes, dulled with the overbearing darkness, combed the stands. They rested on the only vibrant book left — a bright red thing that cut through everything else that had grown drab in this area. Surrounded by corroding books, it seemed untouched by the effects of time and dampness.

Theon stepped on a fallen case, balancing as he crossed to the back of the room. His steps quickened as excitement overwhelmed him. His foot slammed through a weakened backing. A curse flowed from his lips as he pulled his leg out. He twisted quickly. Was that a whisper? He listened with a sense of unease. He shook his head. Just those damn creatures. He dismounted the case and stepped over to the vibrant book.

He cradled it in his hands and let the pages open where they may. The inside of the book wasn’t in as good condition, full passages had melted into one another, leaving large blobs of ink while other pages were left blank. He scanned the remaining text and slammed the book shut. An elastic smile spread across his face, wide and mischievous.

He moved through the wreckage of the temple only acutely aware of the shadows shifting like ink amongst water. They gathered and the whispers gained strength. He looked over his shoulder, but the building was still once more. He left the chamber without another fleeting glance.

Theon had found what he was looking for.

Now to head to Sandhyanen to find someone to try it out on.

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Justin D. Herd

Justin D. Herd is a purveyor of the weird and strange. He occasionally squawks at friends and family, but does so only under the cover of night. Okay, that's not true. He squawks in full daylight. Drinking games have been built around his peculiarities, but the truth of it is this: he is a loving husband, with two wonderful dem--children. One growls at things he likes, including pretty women. The other has started to learn hand-eye coordination. Neither had made it to the tender age of three. From there, things will only get more interesting. He spends most of his writing time either at a coffee shop or sitting at one of his many desks around his house. Any other place makes it nearly impossible for him to write. He uses horror movies and rock music to help get the juices flowing. His favorite authors are Jeremy Robert Johnson, Alan Campbell, Terry Pratchett, Justin Cronin, and Patrick Rothfuss. He consumes most of his books through audiobooks, but still loves his personal library and getting lost in the printed word.