Of Gods and Madness: The Faithful

Chapter Sixty-Three

Raine leaned through the door, gun flush against his thigh. The hallways had fallen deathly quiet. Only the plodding of Marise’s boots hit his ears. The air reeked of smoke. In the wake of the explosions, he’d expected more, some sign of outrage, to have people flooding out of Na Creidmhigh, fearing for their lives. Instead, they’d encountered a smattering of guards, armed but hardly efficient.

Seeing Carrick move with authority left Raine with a thick knot in his gut. Why had Na Creidmhigh been abandoned? The question needled at him. And Fergel’s reference to Keir. That troubled Raine most of all. “Marise, have you heard anything about the Family? Any news?”

“I’ve been— No.” She shook her head. “I wish I had something to tell you.” She peered down at her tattoos, rubbing the back of her hands.

“Right.” Raine chose his words carefully as he proceeded, “I forgot. Your mysterious man in white couldn’t clue you in to the latest events at Na Creidmhigh? What good is he?”

She tensed, though he wasn’t sure why. She looked him in the eye. “No, your Family didn’t come up.”

“They’re not my Family anymore.” He pushed from the wall, rounding the corner into the open lobby. He came to an abrupt stop.

The glass wall was alight with the fire of the city. Dozens of twisted, angry faces marched toward the temple, holding makeshift torches, nailed bats. The anger he’d felt bled away in that instant, the knot doubling up. He stepped back.

A figure broke away from the mob, a young boy, no more than thirteen. He shouted something, then lobbed a brick. It crashed through, spinning, and landing with a thud on the red vein. Another flew forward, then another. The plate glass crackled then collapsed in a spray. Heat lurched into the room, blasting Raine like an oven. He turned, grabbing Marise, and sprinted back to the hallways. He tapped in his code as the first crossed the foundations, filling Oki’s temple with their hatred.

Their shouts came out mangled, unintelligible. He hazarded a glance back, catching the fury in their eyes and recognized the feelings he’d been fighting down since . . . Marise had killed the god. He shook his head, trying to see through the fog settling in his brain.

As he shoved the door shut, it clicked with a reassuring echo. “We’ve got to run,” Raine stated. Dragging Marise forward, he stopped as she tugged away from him.

“What’s going on?” Marise asked, her words coming out harsh and to the point.

“I don’t know. There’s a horde of people out there with everything but pitchforks. Looks like they’re planning on razing the old temple.”

She hesitated. “How do we get out of here?”

Raine flashed an uneasy smile. “It seems everything’s coming down anyway. Guess this can’t hurt.”

Marise favored him with a questioning glare before he grabbed her good hand.

He squeezed it. “Trust me.”

Raine led her away from where the gods had met, down a flight of stairs. Behind them, the sounds of the mob travelled down the hallways. “Have you felt anything off since you—?”

She shook her head. “No.”

“I’ve had this knot in my chest and my head’s been reeling since Dawber died. I’ve fought it the best I could, but it’s sitting there, behind my eyes, making every thought, every word just irritate me.” He looked back at her, saw the blankness of her expression and thought she’d relapsed. He tried to pull away from her, but her eyes locked with his and their fingers tangled together. His steps slowed. “I’m not explaining it well.”

“No, but I understand.” Her lips quirked into a grimace. “It’s Dawber, isn’t it?”

“I’m not sure, but I think his death— look, it’s just a thought, but the mob, the anger I’ve been feeling. What if the gods dying affects us?”

“I don’t think any of them will be that excited to answer our questions.”

“One will.”

Raine stopped at an alcove in the middle of the flight of stairs. More than a dozen boxes had been stacked against the wall, just another deposit of the Family’s records. Extracting his fingers, he held out a hand to reassure her. “Here we are.”

Before she had a chance to protest, he moved to the boxes, shifted two of them, then took a step back. He stared expectantly at the wall.

After thirty seconds of watching nothing happen, Marise said, “Impressive.”

Raine uttered a growl of disapproval, nudged the boxes; something clicked, muted and far away. A seam appeared. Rather than a full doorway, a black hole the size of a half wall awaited them. Raine gave a flourish, then stepped forward.

Marise pushed past him. She stepped down into the niche, ducked her head, descending into the darkness. Raine followed suit.

Ordinarily, the sound of hurried steps, of machinery would’ve hit his ears, but he stepped into a blanket of silence. A swath of light illuminated the landing, but its halo didn’t reach far. A chill swept over him, erasing the memory of the heat outside for a moment or two.

He turned, hit a button and the entrance began its slow swing backward. The shouts came from the top of the stairs, filtering in through the closing doorway. As it pressed shut, the shouts became a muted half whisper.

The fluorescent bulbs flickered to life, casting the stone stairs in a pale glow. Raine didn’t wait for them to fully come on before descending.

“What is this place?”

“The Family has a certain reputation. On the outside, we’re a business in direct opposition to the Officers. People come to us with their problems and we come up with unconventional solutions to them—”

“By murdering.”

Raine nodded reluctantly. “I’m an enforcer, but I’ve always found a way to make sure everyone’s happy.”

“So you’ve—”

“Never killed anyone.” He paused, amended, “Until the past week.”

“Quite the record you’ve got.”

“I tried.” He paused, held out an arm to stop her. As the bulbs illuminated the concrete, he said, “This place is the true face of Na Creidmhigh.”

The long room reeked of mildew. A pump hissed, expelled its contents in the corner. Hundreds of blank white boxes lined the passage, pages jutting out from under their lids. Raine moved to the wall, flicked a switch. A dozen screens came to life, filling in the image from white noise, then stabilized.

Each screen displayed a different aspect of the city, ranging from security cameras to lists of names, their profiles displayed on another screen — video, text, all their dealings with the Family. Raine shook his head, continued walking. He heard the slight rustle of fabric, turned, watching Marise raise a hand to the glass and press firmly into it. “You’re in there too.”

She faced him, eyes darting between the displays. “But I’ve avoided any contact with you guys.”

“Except for me. Also, your father asked for a favor a few years back. Nothing too nasty, but the investigators like to be thorough.”

Marise’s eyes darkened. Her shoulders slumped. “Where are you headed?”

“The docks.”

“I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I don’t think any ships are left.”

“I’m not trying to leave,” he replied. “I’ve got to get back to Dion.”

“Did you plan on dragging me along?”

“If you’re up to it, I’ll try to convince him to take us both on. The gods are probably terrified of you. To be perfectly honest, I’m not sure what to think either. You killed a god. I know you don’t remember it, but whatever’s inside you, it took hold and slaughtered Dawber. You can come along and I’ll do my best, but I can’t guarantee yours or the other god’s safety. I just don’t know where else to go.” He took a deep breath, forcing out the chill mounting inside. “But I want you to come with. I risked my life to make sure you were safe and I’d hate to abandon you now.”

Marise studied him, eyes suspicious. His eyes swept down her arms, wondering what type of deal she’d made with the creature and what would happen when she couldn’t resist it anymore. “One thing we’ve got to get straight, Mr. Raine Morgan. I don’t need you to save me, I can damn well take care of myself.” She strode past him, making her way down the lane.

Raine smirked, muttered, “Yes ma’am.”

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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.