As Theon reached the top of the stairs, he stopped just outside the tram station and looked over the districts below. Instead of Oki’s normal blue, the alleys had been turned into a never ending lane of blood red veins that more resembled their namesake than the art piece Oki had installed. A tightness in his chest leapt up again, but he pressed it down as he turned. From what he could see, the station had yet to be overtaken and he had plans.
Theon stepped through the broken glass that used to serve as an entrance to the tram hub. Situated on the edge of the water, it had remained untouched by the raging fires. The inescapable stink of burning tar, bodies, rubber permeated the air. Hot wind swept through the gaps.
With power cut throughout the city, he’d found it much easier to navigate, to avoid the rabble tearing apart their own homes. If he wasn’t on such pressing business, he would’ve lingered, playing the voyeur as they fought and killed each other.
He loved watching them self-destruct.
“What are we doing here?” Oki said, suspicion lacing her words.
Theon replied with a snarky smile, “Have you lost your eyes? I thought you could sense water.”
“These are not mine.”
“Noted. Just follow me.” Theon cut across the concourse, past the torn and scattered remnants of the vendors. The far wall remained alight with the orange glow of a dying city.
Pushing open an ajar doorway, he revealed a passage flanked by pipes. “After you.”
Oki swept past him, trailing the scent of the open sea. She ran her fingers along the pipeline. He watched her movements grow more confident. A bright orange appeared in the space where she’d touched and he heard the water become erratic, a pounding filling the space as it fought to escape. The metal hissed, warped, shrinking away from the heat. She stopped and whispered something and the pipes burst, flooding the hallway. Nodding with satisfaction, he followed.
The narrow corridor eventually opened into a large chamber, built on the edge of the sea. Slender windows peered out over the churning waters. If not for the black smoke drifting out above the waves, Theon could’ve forgotten the rest of the city had fallen. Water preceded them into the chamber, already pressing against the steps, trying to ascend them.
Theon smiled as he came up next to her. “My gift to you. Your very own fortress. With all the water you could wish for.”
Pryor stepped from his citadel, a tower of brown stone and lost relics. Behind him, Journey stood, a defiant ghost in rags. He didn’t look to her, didn’t check for her affirmation, but felt her gaze on his back.
A tremendous weight had lifted from his shoulders. The temple no longer needed his help in completing the illusion. Instead, it had assimilated the underworld, grabbing bits from previous iterations of the city, becoming whole and finishing itself in the process.
Wires swayed in the hot air. His eyes flashed, then the cables severed, stretched, seized a nearby building and pulled the other building into the tower. Metal groaned, glass shattered, raining down. An explosion of dust cascaded all around. As the debris fell, the structure expanded, becoming an amalgamation of white and brown.
“You’re gaining more control. That’s good.”
Pryor didn’t turn.
Every word from her laced him with dread. He was just waiting for her knife to slip in between his ribs, for her to turn his power against him as he bled out and she coerced one final display of his godhood: something as simple as their eyes flashing. They couldn’t control it and he’d already played it out a hundred times in his head. He thought about using his new found strength and trapping her inside the tower, assimilating her into the stones as an eternal reminder not to betray him. Or those he loved.
Instead, he rubbed his hands together. The first handful of potential followers emerged from their battered buildings. “Stay inside.”
A chasm had opened around the foundations, partially clogged with the crumpled remains of asphalt and shattered glass. Jettisoned from Oki’s broken veins, water seeped through the cracks, creating another barrier between him and his lot. He raised a blood-stained hand, palm up.
Climbing atop the jagged ground, Pryor leaned on his knee. Loose debris lifted from the tiny moat, creating a bridge for the first of the believers to cross. None moved forward. “Come now,” Pryor said. “Don’t be afraid.” He motioned with his hand, indicating the nearest woman. His eyes flashed, implanting his symbol in her mind.
She dropped her eyes, but shuffled forward anyway.
Pryor smiled. “I know things are tough. That the city is falling apart around you and you don’t know why. I have the answer. Your old gods are dying. And I’m here to claim their mantle.”
He stepped up to the full height of the stones, towering over the humans below. “I am your god now. My name is Pryor.”