Of Gods and Madness: The Faithful

Chapter Twenty-Three

Three successive knocks crashed against the walls, each louder than the last. Raine turned over in bed, letting one arm flop over his chest.

A shock of pain carved through his arm and he curled up on the mattress again. He stared at his damaged hand and tried to flex it. It was stiff from disuse, pain all too present.

“Come on, Maha. Open up. You have the most beautiful eyes.” The words tripped over one another. Knocking blasted against the wood, this time full fist instead of hopeful knuckles. The voice twisted vengeful. “You whore, I knew you were a liar. Thief. Bitch.”

Groaning, Raine pushed himself off the bed, cradling the mauled hand against his chest. He stumbled into a wall, straightened, listening to another string of profanities. He staggered toward the doorway.

As a cascade of knocks rocked the thin wood, Raine tugged it open. A giant lurched forward. He stepped back and stared up, bleary eyed and bloodshot, at the shirtless Raine. His face ran red, burning with an unhinged fury.

He poked Raine’s chest and said, “What the fuck man? You just can’t—” he froze midsentence, caught the lost thought and continued, “steal a guy’s girl. That’s just not cool.”

Raine tried to speak.

“Maha!” the drunkard screamed into the empty room. The bottle in his hand slipped, its contents spilling across the floor. He looked down. Once again his skin flushed, his eyes turned dangerous and he swung.

His fist went wide, missed Raine.

“Belay.” A woman approached. Raine took her in. She did have the most beautiful eyes.

Belay swayed upright. “Maha,” his voice came out in a whisper, “I thought I’d lost you.” He slipped off the doorframe. Raine caught him, propping him up, offering him to the girl.

She took him, mouthing a “thank you.” Belay muttered incomprehensibly. As the door clicked shut, Raine noticed the forgotten bottle of booze. He scooped it up, careful not to get any of the liquor on himself, and set it next to her door.

Belay would need it in the morning.

Loud shouts and clinking glasses filled the hall. A warm yellow light peeked beyond the curtain separating the rooms. Shuffling feet cascaded over one another, just beyond his sight. He flicked open the tarnished pocket watch.

Damn, he’d slept too late.

He reentered his room. The air had changed from earlier in the evening. Gone, the feeling of constant surveillance. He scanned the area as he put on his suit.

Nothing.

Fingering the key, he walked into the packed dive.

Raine worked through the crowd, pushing past a roughneck with his morals tattooed on his arm. A puff of smoke drifted in the man’s wake. The atmosphere had flipped in the intervening hours; laughter and shouting filled the room.

The older, lanky man that resembled the bar’s namesake had abandoned his post. With this dump packed to the brim, his table remained curiously empty.

A young woman with eleven earrings down her left ear mixed drinks while chatting over her shoulder. Her dark brown hair had strands of purple. Her eyes locked with his. She signaled him over with a flick of her wrist.

He glanced around to make sure he went unnoticed. In this chaos, anyone who’d follow him would have a hell of a time keeping track.

He slipped into a vacant seat. The girl managed to break away after eight minutes. Calls for booze followed her.

“Where’s—”

“Hal said you’re looking for Mr. Nedrun and his entourage.”

“I don’t see ‘em.”

“They’ve gone down the road, doing their usual pub crawl.” She nodded toward the door. With the curtain drawn aside, he watched mobs of people cross. Several dimly lit buildings burned beyond. “I’ve got something better though.”

Raine turned, leaned in to hear her better.

“I know where Jaiden’s butt buddy lives.”

Raine considered her. He didn’t like the flippant way she threw this out, knowing full well what he wanted, what that meant for the men. “How’d you come by that?”

“Me and Turrell had a go.” She drew back the curtain of her hair, revealing a faint line of bruises along the line of her neck. “Let’s just say I hit the door after he hit me.”

“Smart move.”

“I can pick ‘em.”

“I’ll teach him some manners if you’ll be so kind.”

“Market Street, above the trinket shop.”

He stood.

She cleared her throat, her hand open for services rendered.

He grimaced, then dug in his pocket. “By Oki, you people are greedy.”

“You’re welcome,” she said. The money disappeared as it hit her outstretched fingers. She smiled and crossed to a new patron.

Raine closed his wallet, feeling its lightness as it folded over perfectly. Considering his options, he leaned into the bar. He could try to squeeze another drink from the bartender, but he was certain she’d want money and nothing else for the libation. He slipped out, ignoring the drunken chatter following him.

Leaving behind the stench of liquor, smoke, and impending sex, Raine headed out into the night, intent on violence.

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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.