Of Gods and Madness: The Faithful

Chapter Forty-Three

Raine woke in the small shack, alone. Thunder rumbled in the distance while the inconsistent patter of rain struck the water outside. Dion’s words ran through his head but he tried to push them away. He had to escape. He was never one to wait in one place, much less if it was in service of him surviving. That would never be enough for him. He still had one more victim to add to his name. Jaiden. He planned on turning himself over, even in the face of his supposed godhood. He deserved to be punished for that woman’s death and, maybe, just maybe, he’d be killed before this whole god business stuck.

He slipped out the door. The first rays of the rising sun colored the tumultuous sky, giving him enough to make his way down the makeshift dock. Moisture clung to his skin, leaving him wishing for a fresh change of clothing. He glanced around, expecting to see the nest of hair, instead he caught a whiff of liquor. Spinning around, Raine found the shack still empty.

Waves crashed, splashing the docks. He glanced over the black water, half expecting Oki to be there, watching him. He shook his head and continued down the planks. They were warped and clearly pieced together from wreckage and forgotten containers. He wondered if Dion had been one of the people that had been exploiting the abandoned crates, searching for scraps of food and water.

Raine paused, realizing that he hadn’t been hungry or thirsty in the last couple days. He swallowed, his throat dry but his body hadn’t punished him for his negligence. Even the thought of steak sent a pang of longing through him, but his body didn’t respond in turn. He wondered if this was yet another side effect of godhood — never needing to eat, drink, or, possibly, even sleep again. The enormity of waking hours threatened to overwhelm him, but he forced it from his thoughts. He wasn’t a god yet. He still had time to correct his failings and avoid this whole immortality thing.

He followed the dock until it curved around the sidewall, safe from the light of the rising sun. The planks narrowed into a walkway, perhaps there was a way to ascend from here. After all, you needed a way to get to and from here. He tried to quell any assumptions about the gods. It was much easier to think of them as mortals with some extra talents. He didn’t need to worry if teleportation was one of those. The further he travelled, the darker it became. He furrowed his brow in an attempt to make out where he was going, but he began to instinctively touch the rock wall with his left hand to ensure his movement.

A faint whisper settled on his neck, pressed seductively against his ear. He froze, turned, found an indention in the wood, revealing exposed rock. Studying it, he touched edge of the tunnel. Spalls flaked from it. Wiping those away on his pants, he paused, looking for Dion to reclaim him. He breathed in the salty air, gratefully free of the alcohol. Breathing in, he studied the inky blackness, then looked back toward the wood walkway. It continued to narrow as far as he could see, before it disappeared around the edge of the cliff face. His instincts told him that there wouldn’t be much left, and he had begun to doubt its use as an escape.

Reluctantly, Raine stepped into the tunnel, intent on exploring the darkness. His mind flashed to the creature from the bathroom, but he had few choices for his current situation. If that thing was going to appear, this would be the place. He braced himself as he moved forward, doing his best to control his breathing.

Something old and ancient hung in the air, like life snuffed out under vile terms. The steady beat of the waves faded behind him, instead it was replaced with trickling water. He tried to see through his inky surroundings, but found only afterimages from his time outside following him. He wished he had a flashlight or a lantern. In lieu of, he used the cave wall to move deeper.

He began to make out silhouettes of the new world, built on darkness. He felt the dynamics of the air shift and realized he’d emerged into a larger chamber. He left the safety of the wall, edged toward the center of the cavern when he stumbled over something. He landed in a puddle of water, pushed himself onto his arms and then the air thinned, just like it had with Dion’s intervention.

A deafening roar filled the chamber, baring down on him as he tried to find who was causing it. In an instant, his head pounded, as if bits of flesh were being ripped from him. He brought a trembling hand to his face, but found it intact. Then, the water began to glow phosphorescent blue.

At first, the droplets that fell from the ceiling lit up, like plummeting fireflies. Then, each of the individual streams burned in the dark, revealing twirling patterns too intricate to be accidental. It only took a moment for Raine to recognize the symbols being formed over and over again: Oki’s sigil.

He looked down and found the blue water creeping up his arms, spreading across his chest. He recoiled from the pool, frantically wiping the water from his skin, flinging it to the cave floor. His head felt fuzzy and free with the rapid breaths. Whispers rose, entwining together with the heaving of his chest. I should’ve stayed with Dion. He fought to get the water off him, pulling off his shirt as he wiped the last bit of the water away. He used the shirt to wipe away the last remnants and then threw it across the room. Footsteps rang out, an uneven clomp coming directly for him. He held his breath, heart pounding as he tried to regain control.

The pounding synced with his heartbeats.

Then the footsteps stopped.

In the wake of the silence, he shivered.

Slowly, he looked behind him. The figure, eyes glowing gold, watched him. The slits narrowed and a deep voice said, “So, you’re the one.”

The god reached out, palm up. “Welcome to the fold.”

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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.