Of Gods and Madness: The Faithful

Chapter Seventy-Four

Carrick limped through the streets, mangled, burnt flesh aching with each block he put between him and Raine’s body. For a god, he’d been surprisingly easy to dispatch. Now that he’d done his part, he’d been rewarded withthis damned constant pain. He’d experimented, going down side streets, travelling back home to the husk of Na Creidmhigh. The ache distorted the closer he got to Theon. He wasn’t sure if this was a positive or not. Regardless, he was able to think better with Theon’s proximity. He sneered the best he could with his mauled features.

The needling sensation persisted, a constant reminder he wasn’t quite human anymore. And, at the end of the day, he’d always remember one thing: he wanted this.

Passing into the open plaza around the tram terminal, Carrick growled. His vision doubled, a sharp stabbing blossomed, settling in the grooves of his skull. He shook his head, his stringy, sweat drenched hair slapping him in the face.

“Theon!” Carrick shouted into the abandoned station. Despite his early assurances, he couldn’t think straight this close to the source. Pain assaulted him from all sides. He stopped, listening to the echo, as the silence draped once more, leaving him alone.

“Geez, boy. You don’t have to shout.” Theon emerged from a side door, clearly marked with an Employees Only decal in the center of it. He stood there as if not sure he’d invite his disciple in. “You look like you’ve had one hell of a night.” He smiled, somehow false and notan altogether convincing mask. His clothes were mussed, filthy. His hair was frizzy, in odd knots.

Carrick returned the gesture, his coming out less conniving somehow despite his grotesque appearance. “Raine’s dead.”

“Pardon?”

“I killed the little shit. Blew his chest out. He’s not coming back.” Carrick beamed. He lifted his arm, revealing the flaps of skin, the etched lines that circled his muscles. “This has been quite useful.”

“I’m glad I could help.”

“Now for our part of the deal.”

“Follow me.” Theon let go of the door, letting it almost slam shut before Carrick caught its edge with his good hand. His fingers kissed the seal before he pulled it back, revealing an empty passage. Assaulted with a burning smell, that of shorted wires, busted lights, he looked behind him. Beyond the black smoke, the first rays of sunlight peeked over the remaining skyscrapers, becoming gleaming reminders of the night’s chaos.

He let the door slam shut behind him, dragged himself forward. His heart double tapped in his chest, hurting more and more with each step. He tried easing his breathing against the constant ache. Though the power felt amazing, he cringed at the thought of distorting it into something completely unrecognizable.

And, as much as he wanted to be a god, he’d rather have his body back. He’d gotten his revenge — at the expense of his dreams and desires. Now, all he wanted, no needed was to regain his old body, then he could start the process of rebuilding the Family.

The trickle of a steady stream hit his ears as he emerged into the room. He took a step, then the frigid liquid splashed up to his ankles. His movement slowed, coming to a standstill as he sloshed through it, his limbs revolting against the sensation.

Oki sat at the center, legs crossed, hand dipped in the standing pool. Water rose in arcs, swooping around her. Theon leaned against a broken pipe, arms crossed, failing at his attempts to mask his grin. “Oki, may I introduce our future brother, Carrick.” He tilted his head. “That has a nice percussive sound to it. Carr-ick.”

Each word punctuated another spike of pain through Carrick’s veins. His gaze shot between the two gods. A snarl leapt from him, unbidden.

Theon’s grin spread. His head dipped ever-so slightly that Carrick almost missed it.

Carrick warily stepped toward her, pulsing with anticipation.

“I have heard little about your exploits,” Oki said. Her cerulean eyes locked on Carrick. “What have you come to tell me?”

“Raine’s dead,” Carrick replied, nothing more than a guttural sound. A gleeful chuckle escaped Theon.

The arcs of water slowed, becoming slivers of ice gliding gracefully through the air.

Carrick drummed his good fingers along his leg, rubbing the smooth fabric in absent circles. He glanced at Theon, but his benefactor betrayed nothing.

A pulse ripped through the room, sudden, violent.

Carrick was lifted off his feet, then pitched into the water. The cold shocked his system, causing him to exhale quickly, followed by a sharp intake of breath. Water rushed down his wind pipe and he flailed, ripped his head from the water. As coughs wracked his body, his skin felt as if it were about to burst. That it’d simply desert his body and find its own way. His stringy hair was matted, a tangle of chestnut curls.

Oki stood in front of him, her full lips turned somewhere between a grimace and a smile. “On the docks.”

“Y—yes.”

“You did right by throwing him in the river. I’ve got his body.”

Despite the momentary confusion, Carrick seized the opportunity. He bowed his head, almost kissing the treacherous water. “Of course. Anything to please the water goddess.”

“Kiss ass,” Theon said.

Oki reached out, touching his burned skin. She ran her palm along his recessed jaw, up his cheeks, finally to his forehead. A distant tug worked at his insides, tearing at something deep down. It shifted excruciating and he collapsed to a knee.

Oki whispered, “I cannot fix this.”

A shock tore through him like a burning iron inside his veins. “Theon said you’d fix me. I did what you wanted.”

“Unfortunately, he did too good of a job.” She placed a steadying hand on his shoulder. The agony intensified; he jerked away. “I am sorry.”

“I don’t want your pity,” Carrick seethed. His words tripped over themselves, becoming an incoherent slop of grunts. “I want you to fucking change me back!”

“I cannot.”

He drew back from the god, saw the empty space Theon had occupied. Wracking laughter seized his body, coming in bursts. “You know, Theon had ordered me to kill you.”

Oki watched him, concern spreading through her irises at a glacial crawl.

Then both their eyes flashed, lingered.

Carrick shoved his mangled limb to her stomach, released a blast of pressure. It caught her square as she bounced off a console. She landed gracefully, water wrapping her ankles. The pulsating shot glowed with irritation.

“I am no mortal, Carrick. I invite you to remember that,” she said, digging the slug from her flesh.

It exploded. Blood dotted the air then fell away.

Oki stared at her missing fingers.

Carrick stalked closer. “You trusted him, didn’t you?” He released three shots. One grazed her neck, searing a trail along her skin, while the other two lodged in her knee and side.

Oki worked with her other hand, tossed one away before it exploded, while the one in her knee ripped her apart. Blood splattered the standing pool, resting atop it as it began to boil. She screamed, shrill and very much human.

Water flowed from her exposed veins, coiling around itself, reforming into an icy blue substitute. She rose, leaning into the artificial limb. Her hair fell limply to her shoulders. She stared at him, eyes covered with a clear substance. “I’ll . . . destroy you . . .”

“I doubt it.”

She thrust forward, bringing the prosthetic up to his head. He raised his good arm as the artificial limb struck, unfurled, and wrapped around him. He growled, but she threw herself backward. They hit the concrete. She pivoted, holding him down.

She stared at him, all emotion lost to concentration.

Carrick struggled, flailing as he fought to regain control. He gagged, choking against the water. The tick-tock echoed through his thoughts and he couldn’t hold back anymore. Tendons parted in a flower of sinewy muscle.

His arm spasmed three, four times.

Oki uncoiled from him, caught one of the slugs. The others ripped right through into her ribs, chest, right eye. She shrieked, dug furiously.

Tick.

“Boom.”

The slugs exploded in quick succession. Oki teetered like a lame marionette, collapsed in a heap to the boiling liquid.

A blue light poured from her neck, becoming brilliant, heavier as it enveloped the crumpled god. It curved around edges, eliminating shadows, roaring with its totality.

He stood there watching it, but a sense of panic, of need, battered him. He took one step back, then two. He never looked away, couldn’t. It chased after him, amidst the torrent of sound, there was something inviting about it, a whisper trailing at the back of his thoughts that told him to come back.

He withdrew to the safety of the hallway. The blue light exploded, blinding him, then disappeared as soon as it had erupted. He rubbed at his face, the tremors already threatening to overtake him. As he dug his fingers into his eyes, the after image faded amidst the stars he forced into his vision. He saw the empty spot where the water goddess had died. Adrenaline flooded his senses.

He turned to the corridor Theon had disappeared down.

Carrick had his next victim.

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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.