Of Gods and Madness: The Faithful

Chapter Sixteen

Shielded from the rest of Na Creidmhigh, Urban Imus sat surrounded by the controlled chaos of his office, feeling guilty for not keeping its door wide open. It was one of the few luxuries he afforded himself, but he still kept the door ajar, just in case anyone needed him. He didn’t want to make himself completely unavailable, as much as it pained him.

Like a child absconding with cookies, Urban listened for each and every creak through his living quarters. If anyone entered, he wanted to make sure he was up and ready to greet them. He handled the results for the next several fights, the recommendations on how to best serve the Family. Most of the time, he didn’t follow them — Amin’s Lighthouse was his project, a betting shop that existed as an arm of Na Creidmhigh that he could call his own. And, because it was his, he made sure to be extra careful when it came to keeping it in full and proper order.

He carefully plied the numbers with a ballpoint pen, noting that Dawber’s upcoming match had been rigged and to adjust the odds accordingly. He cursed, looked for his phone to call Raine and complain about the Family’s meddling, then remembered that he needed to wait on Raine’s call since he was out on assignment. Pressing down the frustration and turning back to the stats, Urban continued his task.

He caught the sound of approaching footsteps, coming from the living quarters. He immediately closed the manila folder and slipped it back into its slot, amongst all the crumpled receipts and errant paperwork that covered his desktop. He pulled an off-yellow notepad and wrote down his altered odds, along with a giant note for him to update the tabs before heading out for the night. “Come on in,” he called out to the person in his home, but no one responded.

More worried than irritated, Urban crossed his small office and pulled the door open.

A disheveled girl, her hair pulled back in a tight ponytail, stood there awkwardly, shuffling from one foot to the other, eyeing the door. “What can I do for you, Amber?”

She flashed him an awkward smile, then swallowed. “Raine’s disappeared, wanted for murder.”

“What —”

“I’m sorry, Urban. I’ve got to spread the news.” Again, that quirk of a smile. She darted out of the room. In her haste, she pulled on the door ever-so slightly, enough for it to swing shut, cutting Urban off from the rest of the world. He crossed the living quarters, listening to the growing frenzy. Raine had done everything he could to avoid killing anyone, even going so far as to pay off their debts back when he’d done some side jobs for Urban. It was always painfully obvious when Raine had included his own money, but Urban usually kicked it back to Raine and wrote off the debt anyway. To have Raine lost and someone’s death attributed to him . . . something must have gone drastically wrong.

Pulling the door open, he was struck with a burst of shouting, quick phrases, all lost to him as he tried to sort out what he’d been told. He stared out into the frantic hallways. The back half of Na Creidmhigh served as housing for the majority of its members, only higher officials, such as Raine, had dared to venture out into the rest of the city. Despite them controlling the majority of the city, the Family’s members were targeted when on their own. Retreating back into his office, he made a few adjustments, including to the Dawber fight, and sent them to Sern. He knew within a few minutes, the odds would be set for this evening and the bets would start pouring in. He closed his file, slipped it back into its nook, then grabbed his coat and slid out into the halls in search of more information.

Messengers moved from door to door, some getting caught to give out more information than Amber had given him. Regardless, Urban pressed into the chaos, throwing out the names of his brothers as he passed them. Oki’s Veins widened, blue snaking not only on the floors but along the walls. Normally the halls were quiet, but now those that had been disturbed had left the safety of their dorms and conversed. As he neared the end of the hallway, he passed a group of three younger members huddled against the oak. They spoke in hushed tones, but their faces betrayed the panic lacing their words. Urban stopped to listen.

“I heard he was covered in blood and attacked an Officer in broad daylight. Sounds like he snapped.”

“Yeah, there were five bodies in his place, including his neighbor, but he’s nowhere to be found.”

“Look, I’m sure there’s a reason.”

One of the older boys said, “Sure there is. Raine finally came down to our level and found he liked it a bit too much. Everyone else here has to clean up the Family’s messes and Raine —”

Urban grimaced and stepped up, clapped his hand on the shoulder of a shorter blonde boy. He tried his best approximation of a smile. “It’s okay, Gilpin. Raine will be fine.”

The boy nodded, though his eyes faltered. “Yes, sir.”

“I told you: call me Urban.” He squeezed the boy’s shoulder, giving a knowing nod to the other two boys. They looked away, their conjecture put to rest for the moment. Urban pressed forward.

He shot a glance toward Carrick’s room, found the door wide open, a first for Carrick. Urban peeked inside, found Amber delivering the news. Grief cascaded over Carrick’s features. His five o’clock shadow left him looking more unkempt than rugged, but his brilliant blue eyes remained ever alert, focused intently on Amber’s concerned face. A smile flittered at the corner of his mouth, then disappeared in a mask of concern. The messenger stood there for only a moment more before retreating with the same urgency she’d displayed before. She passed him in the hallway, where he exchanged a brief nod with her before pressing into the room.

All the lights were on, bathing the bare white walls in a yellow light. Carrick was dressed in a stark pinstripe suit, careful how he moved to avoid wrinkling the fabric. He took a sip from a large coffee cup before placing it on a stack of pages with little regard, then leaned back in an angular chair. Two of his flunkies crouched down next to him, talking in hurried sentences. Carrick’s conversation cut off quickly as his head snapped to Urban. “Oh, it’s Raine’s lapdog. What can I do for you, Mr. Imus?” His men stood and moved back to the edges of the room.

Urban forced a smile, but he regretted invading Carrick’s space. Still, he had something to say. “Sounds like Raine has gotten himself into some trouble.”

Again, that smarmy smile that vanished in an instant. “Yes, it’s a damn shame. Hope he doesn’t get caught out in the cold.”

Urban froze, reading Carrick’s expression, the laze of his body. The silence spread between them like an itchy blanket and Carrick’s mask slipped again, revealing his deep seated anger, mistrust of Urban. He moved like he would speak, but Urban cut in, “Don’t think anything’s going to change. Raine will come back home, you’ll still be stuck in all this. This isn’t your moment, Carrick. The best thing you could do is hang back and let the adults handle the situation.”

Carrick’s face contorted in a sneer of hatred, but Urban flashed his pleasant, reassuring smile and bowed.

“It was lovely having this chat,” Urban said, then turned for the door. He pulled it shut behind him. He didn’t stop when he heard the sound of exploding porcelain.

A thousand thoughts flashed through his head, chastising himself for antagonizing Carrick, but, through it all, he had one clear objective: He needed to get a crew together to find Raine. If his worries were founded, Carrick would be on the prowl.

And Raine wouldn’t last the night.

 

Carrick Uren tried to keep his anger at bay at Urban’s disrespect as he left the sanctity of his room. He had to compose himself if he was going to present himself to the man himself. Keir wouldn’t want to be disturbed, but Carrick couldn’t hold back. Keir had to be told and Carrick wanted to make sure he would be the one to deliver the devastating news.

After all, Keir might invite him into his confidence once he learned that his pet was missing in that big bad city. Carrick scoffed, then stared down at the peons that gave him an odd look. As he rounded a corner, he spotted Gilpin with some other kids. He gave a curt nod to the boy, but didn’t stop to talk with them.

This news was of the utmost importance, after all.

And, to think, that messaggero would think she would tell Keir.

Today had been going so well.

Outside of the dorms, Carrick pressed forward toward the heart of Na Creidmhigh. Once the door shut behind him, he was left with silence, all the chaos forgotten and distant. His shoes clicked, echoing, the lingering scent of disinfectant filling his nostrils. Keir had the insides of the temple meticulously cleaned, as if it mattered to the long dead goddess he worshipped. Carrick lit his last cigarette, crumpled the package and tossed it aside.

The nicotine steadied him as he crossed the closed office doors, the warehouses filled with records of each visit, each petty personal matter that trickled down to their runners. Sometimes Carrick fantasized about raiding the archives and posting up the city’s dirty laundry for everyone to see. He passed three elevators on his descent. None would take him directly to Keir’s offices, a failsafe against the Officers when they finally grew tired of Keir’s vigilante business.

A business built on blood. Everyone seemed to think that his rivalry with Raine was petty, one-sided, and futile. But Carrick believed with every fiber of his being that Raine would be the downfall of this organization. While everyone else killed to protect the family, to conduct their business, to make an example out of those weasels who would try to cheat Na Creidmhigh, Raine let the fuckers go free. Not only was it bad for business, it endangered everything they stood for.

And the little orphan had been promoted above him.

Carrick had fought and bled for this family and had been looked over by someone actively destroying the Syndicate. Carrick clenched his fist, the anger filling him by just thinking about Raine. He let out a deep breath, letting smoke float around him. He needed to get this under control before he met with Keir.

Outside a nondescript door, Carrick stubbed out his cigarette. He left the smoldering butt on the floor, burning atop Oki’s vein. He entered the main chamber of the old temple, a circular room swarming with an intricate network of glass carved into the dark oak walls. Water swirled through the veins as they met and split away from the center. Blue permeated everything, staining anything that entered the room. A giant pulpit overlooked the fanned out pews. Despite falling into disuse over the years, the chamber had been maintained by Keir as if Oki herself would show her face. Once Carrick ran the place, the first thing he’d do is find a way to shut off the water. It was a waste that cost the Family untold amounts of money.

The elevator doors in the back of the room remained closed, an image of a woman emerging from an explosion of water, hair shifting around her etched into the woodwork. Carrick approached it, and as he did so, the symbol of Oki split in half to reveal an empty elevator. Wishing he had another cigarette, he pressed the top button. He had a lot running on this move; if he made even one misstep, he’d lose his advantage.

A hollow ring announced each floor. As the elevator ascended, he pulled his wavy chestnut hair back into a tight bun, checking his reflection in the elevator doors. The elevator dinged once more and the cab faltered, then steadied.

In front of him were the glass doors that led to Keir’s office. Two guards flanked the entrance. They watched impassively. Through the glass, Carrick saw the leader of Na Creidmhigh. Keir sat at his desk, poring over an ancient tome. His black hair was pulled back in large knots that trailed past his shoulders.

Carrick took a deep breath, bravely pulling open the glass doors. As soon as the seal had been broken, Keir tensed, then leaned back into his chair, his hand already going to his damn coins.

Carrick bowed, arms rigid against his sides. He had called off the messenger, preferring to deal the news personally. “My apologies sir, but I have some . . . bad news.”

Seven coins rose and fell in unison, collapsing over one another into a clean stack. Keir stared at Carrick from the other side of his desk, hand moving ever-so slightly as he picked up the coins, then let them cascade over each other as he dropped them. The coins displayed macabre portraits of gods long since dead and forgotten. For a moment, they rang out as though alive.

Carrick flinched at the cascading tones, but remained bent at a precise angle, his face blank.

“The longer you stand there trying to be honorable, the more impatient I become.”

Carrick straightened. “Raine has gone missing, sir.”

Keir leaned back in his chair. “Tell me what happened.”

“There’s some confusion. What we know came from our contacts inside the hives. There were five people found slaughtered,” he relished the word as it slid off his tongue, “in his apartment earlier today. One of his neighbors, a woman, was also found murdered. On an unrelated note, there is talk that the remains of a girl were found on the docks late last night. But we have found no evidence to support those claims.”

Keir’s face remained passive until the mention of the docks, then his body stiffened. Just for a second, but Carrick caught it. “Has anyone had contact with Raine?”

“No, sir. If I may ask, sir, what was he working on?” Carrick ventured. “I mean, that might give me some idea where to start looking.”

Keir studied him. Carrick’s stomach felt cold. His thoughts spun, wondering if Keir would see through his questions. When Keir’s stare turned disapproving, his eyes dropped back to the carpet.

“He was looking for two individuals. Jaiden Nedrun, Turrell Louden. Find them, you’ll find Raine.”

“Thank you, sir.” He dipped further and retreated.

“Carrick.”

He froze, turned. Keir had stood. He forced himself to meet Keir’s deep brown eyes.

“Bring him back safe.”

Carrick nodded, then slipped out the room. He turned back, saw Keir’s head dropped in prayer. As the glass doors shut behind him, a grin spread across his face.

He had his chance.

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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.