Of Gods and Madness: The Faithful

Chapter Forty-One

The bitter cold lashed at Journey’s red cheeks. She breathed in deeply, snowflakes cutting her lungs. She smiled, the lost feeling building once again. It took more and more every time she wanted to feel this. Under a sky filled with billowy clouds, her blue eyes reflected grey.

She pulled off the heavy furs the locals had pressed on her when she’d passed through Pertium. She didn’t have any money, but the concern had crossed their faces and they just gave them to her, not wanting to be the ones to cause her death. Curiosity had garnered her a handful of followers, but she’d lost them in the ascent. The furs collapsed in a heap into the snow, covered moments later. Stripped down to the thinnest of cloths, she continued toward the ledge. Every sensation echoed in her mind a thousand times over.

Her cropped blonde hair fell past her eyes. The wind swept through it and lingered. She moved closer to the edge, smiled brightly. It would’ve warmed the coldest hearts. And it only emerged on these peaks. She had crossed the world several times over, but this was her refuge, a place where no other god would dare approach and mortals just weren’t cut out for the pilgrimage.

Snow coiled like sand in drifts. It fell away, picked up in swirls. A pulse ripped through the mountainside from far away, at the fringe of its long trip to the edge of the world.

Her smile disappeared. The new god’s signature was new, inexperienced. A pang of regret, some forgotten life edging into her thoughts. She shook her head, trying to dispel the half-formed images. Annoyance assaulted her, bleeding away the sights that had inspired such joy.

She pulled the garments from the snow, shook them off, and draped them over her body. She’d be out of place in this getup, but she’d be more prepared for civilization with them on. They felt lighter than they had when she ascended.

She had to go back to Sandhyanen.

A fresh one had emerged.

The others would arrive as well.

She looked over the cliff faces. She tried to smile, but it faltered.

As another drift shot up, she disappeared.

 

Liam broke away from his book, claimed from a vender down the street who didn’t know the true worth of his product. He loved the ignorant and, for once, found himself thankful he didn’t have to track it down and barter with some senile old man who’d lived far beyond his years. And he didn’t have anyone trying to kill him.

Not that they’d have much luck.

Precipitation pelted the tin roof of the shack and the candle flickered. He saw nothing beyond the emaciated light he maintained.

But the most gripping of reads couldn’t keep his attention with that horrible pulse tingling at the back of his skull. It played there, unwilling to ease back into the darkness. He could ignore almost anything, even Cale’s middling conversation, but not this.

The fresh one had broken through.

Liam stood, placing his book on the stool. His joints creaked with the movement and he grimaced. He couldn’t stay here anymore. He’d lingered for far too long in one place, reveling in the details of a life from long ago.

Looking at the creased spine, he feared that after this trial, he’d have no past left to go back to. And the books would no longer remind him of everything he’d lost. He’d already forgotten the finer details of his life back in Sandhyanen’s heyday. His wife, his child — he needed those memories to keep going. The last thing he wanted was to become like them.

With a new god on the horizon, the others would expect him to be there. He couldn’t care less about their petty squabbles or their fear of Pryor. He’d never quite fit in with them, mostly because he spent most of his time wrapped up in the books from his early immortal life. Even though he’d steeped himself in the old world, he sometimes questioned whether it was all a dream he’d clung to rather than something he’d ever actually experienced. At the end of the day, he so wanted to see Oki again, as guilty as that made him feel.

He pulled his thin jacket up against him, crossed into the rain.

 

Kanya stuck to the streets these days.

She’d heard plenty of times that the top of buildings were no place for her to spend her time. After an age, she’d come to believe it.

Lightning crackled in the sky. Rain struck broken concrete and exposed steel beams, singing out. Her long black hair had been put up in a red bow by a kind lady who brushed it out for her. The bow sagged, soaking wet.

She deposited a shard of glass in an old cigar box, sticking it between a jar filled with shells and a whittled candle. She observed her collection before closing the lid and tucking it inside a hole in the column. She cherished every one of her treasures. Kanya giggled, darting from her stash.

As she hopped down the sidewalk, running between awnings in a game she’d invented called “Hide from Oki,” a ripple tore through the ground. She stopped, considered it, shrugged, and continued with her game.

She’d see Big Brother Liam in a little while.

 

Water.

Dawber opened his eyes.

The irregular patter of rain cascading from an overflowing gutter struck his face, coating his naked body. He stepped out of Oki’s shattered vein. The cerulean liquid pooled around his feet, spreading along the pavement as he avoided the fanned out glass shards. He shook his head, running a hand over his close cropped hair. He breathed in deep the rank decay from the surrounding alley. He looked for anything to drape around his body, to shield him from the elements, but came up with nothing but waterlogged paper and rotting garbage. The downpour tended to sweep it away, but in this storm, it amplified. He turned to the mouth of the alley, recognized the flashing neons of Sandhyanen’s Pleasure District.

“Ah, I missed this place,” he said in a strained voice.

He smiled a toothy grin and looked himself over. A weak body, clean of any scars, but he’d reworked this body time and time again. He’d reshaped it in every way, everything from gaunt and starved of sustenance to lithe, taut muscles, to a hulking mass. He tended toward more and more muscles — it was more impressive and gathered better crowds. If he came across a different, more efficient method, he would test it out. After all, he had centuries to attain perfection. The scars he accrued through his training helped to shield him from recognition. His face had been distorted so many times over the years that he doubted he’d even recognize himself if he watched the replay of his death.

For now, he had business to attend to.

Theon had come to see him, after all.

He started walking, alone in the night. The rain pelted his back, stinging but also a refreshing reminder that he’d survived another kiss with death. The hard concrete bruised his feet as he moved between the shadows left by the shattered streetlights. Only the neons from the bars gave him anything to cling to.

Dawber closed his eyes, trying to feel out the city. A brief flash in his head and a ripple later, Sandhyanen opened up before him.

Many gods hid in the city, but all of them were revealed in the brief flash, though not the Trickster. Theon masked himself well. The slap of Dawber’s feet against the wet pavement accompanied him as he focused his efforts and— there.

Theon’s position lit up as someone crashed into Dawber.

Dawber lost the thread, but maintained his feet. He growled as he looked up at a three hundred pound drunk. The man smiled through his giant beard. “Whoa there, buddy. It’s going to be okay.” He put a mitt of a hand onto Dawber’s naked shoulder. A wave of confusion spread across the stranger’s face. “Why’re you nak—?”

Dawber’s fury intensified and the barest wisp of his power filtered through his arm.

Dawber’s eyes flashed and he gripped the hairy arm, breaking it with a deft twist. The drunk’s eyes gained focus and his mouth opened to scream. Dawber lifted the three hundred pound man with his twig-like arm. He hurled the man into the glass facade of the building. The window exploded into a hail of fragments. Beyond, a thrift store sat huddled in darkness. An alarm blared high and insistent that someone pay attention.

He thrust a swift kick into the drunk’s chest. The man made no noise as Dawber walked away, his anger turned cold. His chest pounded. A shrill laugh escaped his lungs as the old feeling returned.

A shout followed after him. Dawber turned; a shard of glass entered his left cheek. Ripping his head back, Dawber felt the jagged piece slice through the muscle. A fresh surge of sticky liquid filled his mouth. He gulped it down, not bothering to coddle the wound.

The drunk stumbled before focusing on Dawber. Blood coated his face, but his eyes burned. His baritone voice came in deep gulps. “I’m going to fucking kill you.”

Dawber assumed a fighting stance.

The man slashed high. Dawber grabbed the arm, brought it down, cutting his attacker’s thigh. The man screamed. The bloody glass fell from his hand, shattering into tiny pieces.

Dawber tossed him to the ground, this time taking his heel and driving it into the man’s neck. A loud pop filled the night air.

Standing over the body, Dawber leaned down, searching the pockets. His breath came heavy as the pain filtered in. He pulled out a wallet, tossed his identification as he grabbed the last bit of money the man had. “Sloppy technique.” He spat on the corpse.

While he had lost the thread, at least he had the inkling of Theon’s location. They had things to discuss. He turned back to the screaming shop and climbed through the open window. He grabbed a pair of boots and some loose fitting clothes. That’s okay. He’d grow into them.

The clouds flashed; a low rumble emerged. She’d arrive soon.

He caught a look at himself in a mirror. Blood poured down his face and he smiled.

He had his first scar, loved it.

 

Pryor opened his eyes, gleaming gold even in this darkness.

In the background, churning machinery had lulled him to some other place that felt like home. He’d caught the faintest glimpse of his old temple, the lost purpose he’d sacrificed after he’d been betrayed. He was always left unsure, weak whenever he’d trip across this reminder of his old life. Then all he had to do was move to get his sense of purpose back. Behind his throne, the steady drip of the underground spring had intensified, becoming increasingly irregular.

The silhouettes of his workers moved silently along the walls, filling in the gaps of his incomplete temple. Their task was simple — to make his illusion real. He’d repurposed himself into a projector of sorts, giving them a fluid blueprint for them to build toward. The faint flicker of candles lit a path to his altar, but only the select few worshipped at his feet.

Worshipped a living god.

Not the only one, but a true one nonetheless.

Followers arrived every day with a perversion of his former symbol etched into their flesh. They’d done it to themselves in an effort to pay homage to him, to show how true they were to their art. However, he’d broadcasted a simple variation of his original sigil that made them more pliable.

But something had torn him from his sleep.

He’d searched his faulty memories for some recognition of that power, but he soon realized that it was a new god’s signature. He laughed. Another one would awaken soon. A fresh god to help his ascension.

A smile played across his face, cracking his lips. He’d set up shop in the catacombs of Sandhyanen, intent on vengeance. Here, he’d build his temple in the forgotten history of the city. And, here of all places, a fresh god was surfacing. An opportunity had presented itself. He needed allies for the impending war.

He pushed himself from the altar. Flesh tore along his wrists, but he pulled the black sleeve down to cover the emerging blood. He had to be careful. Even the most subtle movement could split his skin in millions of tiny rips. He focused, eyes flashing as he used his powers to weld his flesh back to the muscle.

Fastened by a single button at his waist, the long coat swayed, torn and dirty. Discolored bandages wrapped his upper chest, stopping at his left shoulder, stretching down his right arm to the hand.

He tried to follow the source through his church constructed on the ruins of old cities, pushing through the rubble and broken walls.. Focused only on the task at hand, his possessed laborers paid him no mind as he passed.

As he emerged into the grotto that housed his temple, he eyed the pitch black recesses, an uneasy feeling of life permeated the bleakness that spread as far as the eye could see. The network of caves and shattered walls grew longer and wider every time he lost himself in it.

The cut off pulse hadn’t left enough of a trail for him to latch onto.

Pryor had to investigate further.

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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.