Of Gods and Madness: The Faithful

Chapter Seventy

Raine, followed swiftly by Marise, stepped out into the arid night, shaken by the abrupt wailing. Nothing passed between them, not even a casual glance. He stared at the choppy waters of the docks, afraid to turn around, to see how his world had changed.

As long as he didn’t look, everything stood.

The lighthouse turned its lazy gaze, sweeping the docks, the waters, the warehouses without stopping.

 “Raine, you have to see this.” Marise touched his shoulder, fingers tapping as if she hadn’t looked when she went to catch his attention. He turned, found her staring into the heart of the city.

Na Creidmhigh was in ruins.

Thick columns of smoke filled the night sky while the oranges from the fires reflected in the clouds. Embers spun through the air, drifting off the plumes. All in the time that it took for a god to die, the city had lost all sense of reason.

“By Oki, what happened?” Marise managed.

“I’m not sure she’s involved.”

“Something caused this.”

He studied her, taking in the disheveled clothing, the blood stained sleeves, the disintegrating makeshift bandage she’d used to cover the cut on her hand. He knew the answer, but he had to ask, “Have you had any more—”

“Oh, fuck you.”

“It’s a fair question. I’m betting that crying we heard wasn’t anything natural. That means that two gods have died.” He looked toward the burning city, the tightening of his stomach only growing stronger. “We know you had a hand in one. And your benefactor has more than his fair share of influence. What I’m asking if there’s any possibility that you were involved in the second.”

“No,” she breathed out. “You’ve been with me the whole time.”

“I know. It’s just — things have gotten a lot more complicated.”

“So much for us having the upper hand. At least I’m in the clear.”

Raine shook his head. “They just have another target.” He smiled, rueful and knowing. “We’re just as fucked.”

“You sure know how to show a girl a good time.”

“I try.” He bridged the gap between them, looking into her eyes. “We’ll be okay.”

“You’re full of shit.” She relaxed, lips curving up at the edges. “But what can I expect from the infamous Raine Mor—?”

A sharp crack cut her off. Raine spun, searching for its origins amongst the shipping containers. The wandering eye of the lighthouse did little to illuminate the sound. He took a cautious step into the labyrinth. Splitting wood echoed again, followed by faint curses. Raine reached for his gun, securing his grip. He heard a sound behind him, turned sharply, found Marise. He raised a single finger to his lips, then moved through the crates.

A figure rustled through a shipping container, making no attempt to mask itself. Instead, a shout came out, echoing against the walls. Raine stiffened, recognizing the voice.

“—damnit. They were supposed to be here. Fuck!” Jaiden shouted.

Jaiden continued his tirade as Raine moved to the opening. The lighthouse’s beam swept across the interior, highlighting shredded boxes, crushed foodstuffs littering the floor. The halo revealed Jaiden’s disheveled hair, his torn jacket, what looked like blood. A battered crowbar hung from his left hand, his fingers wrapped around the grey metal.

“Fucking piece of shit!” Jaiden struck the wood, lodging it in the wall of one of the crates. He wrestled it free, ripping a chunk out of it, heaving rasps escaping his lungs. He turned, spotted Raine in the doorway. “You—”

Raine’s eyes flashed. The air roared around him, but this time, he was calm and knew exactly what had to be done.

He raised the gun, slicing through the stale air, feeling every twitch of his muscles, every shift in his body as he steadied his position. He squeezed the trigger, savoring the pull of the metal against skin. The bullet exploded from the barrel, hissing through the chamber.

It struck Jaiden in the forehead, spinning him with the momentum. Blood splattered the walls. He crumpled into the open crate, toppling it as he fell to the ground. Coffee beans splashed into the air, cascaded back around his corpse.

The smell of burning powder hit Raine’s nostrils. His ears rang.

Raine turned from the shipping container.

He stood alone. The emptiness he’d held at bay seeped in, constricting his chest. “Marise!” he shouted, words coming out muffled, out of sync with the world around him. He stepped out into the light.

The air returned to normal, coming to life in an instant.

“Raine Morgan, always on the job,” a seething voice addressed him.

“Carrick—”

Raine was cut off by an eruption, the sound wet and explosive. It struck his ankle, tore through the tendon, lodged into the planks. The pistol fell from his hand, hitting the planks with a clunk. Wavering, he collapsed to his knee. Raine bared his teeth at his enemy. Blood flowed down his shoes, soaking his socks.

Carrick emerged from his hiding spot. He showed elation behind tufts of greasy hair. “You’re too fucking predictable.”

With a growing sickness, Raine watched Carrick’s arm distort. The veins bulged, sighing audibly as they expanded, reinforcing themselves with extra skin. Fresh lines appeared, creating seams where his hand had been. The skin separated, revealing layers of muscle underneath. Strips of flesh climbed his arm, becoming tendrils that cascaded over themselves.

Carrick craned his neck as his skin stretched, latching onto his collarbone.

“Looks like you’ve made quite the bargain,” Raine said, braced against the dock. He leaned into the shipping container, about to launch himself at his enemy. Carrick’s head snapped past Raine. He released another shot, struck Raine’s shoulder. Raine screamed, collapsed to the damp wood. The slug pulsed in his skin. His wound sizzled as curls of smoke rose from it. He blinked, trying to clear his thoughts.

Carrick quivered as the smile bled from him. He doubled over, using his remaining hand to clutch at his stomach. He choked out, “Keir will be so pleased to see you.” He raised his grotesque limb. Skin peeled away in a flower of sinew. Another slug slammed into the center of Raine’s chest.

It burned white hot.

“Tick-tock,” Carrick forced out as crippling spasms brought him to his knees. His flesh assimilating tufts of hair, distorting his features as they elongated. His blazing blue eyes watched Raine with a sense of satisfaction. “Boom.”

The first slug exploded, destroying Raine’s ankle. Bits of wood became shrapnel embedded in his thigh. He toppled over, disbelief and panic flooding him all at once.

Raine clawed at his shoulder. Blood covered his fingers as he tore into the tendons. He heard a small pop, then the joint exploded, fanning blood and tissue.

Staring at the shredded joint, he didn’t scream. His arm hung limp at his side. Smoke curled from his chest. He closed his eyes, thoughts scattering.

Darkness overtook him.

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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.