Of Gods and Madness: The Faithful

Chapter Eighty-One

Blood.

Everywhere, blood.

All around, a geyser splattered against the pavement.

Marise groaned, pitiful, distant. Her thoughts came out clouded and muffled. She stretched, found something sticking in her side. Craning her neck an inch, she caught sight of a spire embedded under her ribcage.

With a trembling hand, she gripped the jagged metal and bent it. She took a deep breath, fighting the scream, and lifted herself off of it. A rush of emotion, of agony swept through her and she lurched forward, throwing up. The acrid smell of bile hit her, mixing into an unholy brew.

Wiping her mouth with her soaked sleeve, she crept forward, ignoring the sinking feeling along her wound. She pressed against the door.

It didn’t budge.

She realized after a concerted effort that it had caved in. She reached out, gingerly touching the cracked glass. Peering through it, she saw distorted shapes, nothing more than a smear of darkness. She leaned back, kicked at the window. Glass sprayed the concrete. She started to lift herself through the hole.

The toxic voice boomed inside her skull. What have you done?

Reeling from the words, she collapsed back into the shell, struck her head against another warped metal piece. She couldn’t answer, couldn’t think straight. Rain, blood poured through the hole, soaking her, chilling her limbs.

The voice came again, groping her in the confined space. She slowly turned back on her hands, clambered through the opening. Shards dug into her arms, slicing flesh as she escaped into the plaza.

She hit the wet pavement, a shock to her system as tiny rivers washed the courtyard away. Loose bits of stone and waterlogged plants crept across the ground. She pressed herself up, fighting the weakness in the whole of her body. She turned back to the tram, unimaginably coupled with the other shuttle.

In the vermilion glow, darkness began to take shape inside the car like a swirl of leaves. It gathered, flooding together in pieces. A jagged claw extended. It gripped the metal, tore it free as it forced itself forward. The entire vehicle exploded outward, unfurling in a blossom of metal.

Marise screamed, scrambling toward the tower. The rain came in waves, slamming into the pavement, tossing blood into the air in spurts. A shout erupted on her heels. She dropped her head, tried to force herself forward. She saw it behind her eyes, its white slits gleaming.

Its breath trickled over, licking the curve of her neck. She shied from it, tripping, hitting the ground and skidding across it. Thunder rumbled behind, lightning arced across the sky. The acidic voice screamed in her head. She rolled over to see the creature hovering over her, roiling in shadow. Its mass shrank.

“What do we have here?”

Marise glimpsed a tall man, his eyes gleaming gold. He focused on the demon. Marise’s brow furrowed as she realized he had no skin. But there was something familiar in the way he held himself. Beyond, a figure stood in the open doorway to the tower. The man spoke again, “You’ve gotten bigger since the last time we met.”

She’s mine, Pryor! the thing exhaled, its words popped, gurgling and insistent. The white slits that served as its eyes swelled with its rage. She got her first real look at the creature. It had become a giant, its body comprised of tight strands of dark muscle. Shadow seemed to waft off of it, despite the constant rain. Lightning sparked, reduced the creature by magnitudes. Its size fluctuated in the brief flashes, like a slideshow of conflicting light sources.

The white gap of its mouth working in wordless phrases. It saw her and tried to reassemble itself, becoming the man that had been guiding her, using her for its revenge. A piece here, a smile there, then the lightning struck again and all its efforts were undone. It shrieked as its facade was lost and it returned to the dark amorphous entity.

“Not anymore.”

Marise turned in time to see Pryor’s eyes flash. The air shifted, a roar filling it while the rain slowed. Her eyes widened as she recognized the effects from her first meeting with the thing.

Pryor surged forward, striking the creature. The blow ripped apart the muscle, then they knotted together and it lurched toward Pryor with jerky movements. Pryor shouted, the temple lashed out, wires spinning together and grabbing the creature’s arms. The creature flailed, unfurling as it freed itself and then let out an enraged roar. A singular hatred fell over Pryor’s features and he hit it, throwing it back. It skidded through the rain, colliding with a pile of rubble. The debris erupted, fanning out into the rain before dissolving, leaving the creature backlit by the vermilion glow. It hunkered down then snide laughter hit the air.

The creature’s head bobbed to Pryor. It had regained its human mask, golden eyes regarding the man, though the rest of its body was the monstrous darkness. I’ve been working to avenge us. And now you’re going to kill your own past? Its laughter hitched, broken and clearly deranged.

Pryor faltered. His eyes caught on the face as if recognizing it, his eyes welled up. “You’re just a shade.”

No. I’m what you used to be before Oki ruined you. I’m that lust for revenge that’s fueled you. I’ve been feeding off it for years. I’ve just been looking for the right prophet.

“No,” Pryor whispered.

Marise forced herself up on her elbows. She dragged herself from the shade. Her vision faltered, splitting between those veins which she’d taken over and the scene unfurling in front of her. She couldn’t draw her eyes away from the creature. Its breath seethed toward her, a palpable force that nipped at her feet.

“Isn’t this just fucking splendid?” Theon muttered as he stepped into the light. “Big boy Pryor has finally emerged. And he’s got a shiny new temple.”

Pryor stiffened and Marise could see he wasn’t prepared to be out in open confrontation. Marise glanced at the creature, it was still hunkered over, its body rising and falling with heaving breaths. Beyond the man she’d seen at the tram station, the Officer that had interrogated her. Her mind reeled at the thought that they were involved, but she could see he was just as out of his depth as she was. Pryor’s gold eyes crept over her, catching on her shuddering body. Without looking at Theon, he said, “Whatever happened to—Kanya’s temple?”

“Oh, it’s so fucking delicious. It’s now a brothel.” A smile spread across Theon’s face. “Though, I might ask you what happened to the young thing. She sure did scream a lot.” He leaned in, tilting his head. “I’m not even that callous.”

“Of course you’d think that.”

Marise retreated, her hands searching the ground. The tension between the two gods prickled against her skin. The shade rose to its full height as its gaze darted between them. Then it took its chance.

Before Marise could yell out, it closed the distance and seized Pryor’s arm, ripping it into the air. The bone snapped, white gleaming through broken muscle. It drew Pryor close as the creature’s talons sank into the flesh. Its grip tightened, shattering his jaw with the force.

Pryor stopped kicking, instead an odd stillness overcame the skinless man. The shade reached up with its other hand and cupped his face. After a few moments, a red hot glow appeared around the edge of Pryor’s face and his screams turned frantic, deranged.

Pryor’s voice cut off with a savage jerk.

His body was tossed aside with little afterthought. The body bloated as a wispy blue light began to seep out of his mouth.

Marise couldn’t look away. That monster had touched her in much the same way and her mind filled in the blanks of what would’ve happened if she had not consented to his plan. She reached back, her hand grasping blinding, missing any ground. She shouted as she tumbled back, landing in a frigid moat. She tried to move, to struggle but found her limbs unresponsive. Blood seeped from her wounds. The temple shuddered behind her, but otherwise was still. The rain relented for the briefest of moments before another torrent pelted the scene.

At the sound, the creature’s face snapped on her and it shrieked. The shade darted forward, its claws tearing into the stone. Its white slits focused on Marise.

An explosion of vermilion light erupted underneath her, caressing her skin, bathing her in its warmth. She stared down into the trench, watched the tendrils of sinew expand. There was something different in this, this light than what she’d tasted before. A single minded clarity came over her. The shade recoiled from the exhalation, screamed as all the windows of the darkened tower lit up.

The entire concourse was awash in the vermilion glow, pouring over them in an unrelenting wave. It roared, a beast in its own right. The creature thrashed, a smudge against the brightness.

Marise lifted out of the water, the warmth guiding her movements. She walked the space, the creature warbling as it crawled, whining like a wounded puppy. Its size had drastically reduced, becoming a mere child running from its bully.

Let me go, it pleaded. The acidic voice had gone slight.

“You used me,” she said in a hushed tone. The familiar fury pressed against her. She tried to fight it down, but it seethed there, guiding her hand. She ran a hot hand down the length of her arm, not sure if it was rain or blood she drew from.

She wasn’t sure it mattered anymore.

Her fingers crackled, a fire beneath her skin, rising and arcing with every incidental movement. She drew the hand down, laid it flat against the figure. Darkness expelled from her wounds, wafting off her in waves that burned her flesh.

She heard one last whimper.

An explosion ripped through her body, cold, hard, stretching through her limbs as the creature unraveled. The overwhelming urge to let it sweep her away played on her nerves, but she kept focused on it.

Its voice entered her thoughts, frantic and terrible. We gave everything. We’ll take —

“That’s enough,” she whispered.

The shade’s body unfurled, separating like strands of rope, coming loose one at a time. It let out one final terrible scream, then snapped out of being.

She hovered over the spot, staring, waiting. Dropping her eyes, she caught sight of black tattoos that marred her flesh. Instead of fresh wounds, the darkness had seeped from them, tainted her skin.

She tore at her skin, ripping away chunks of skin and muscle.

She felt nothing.

 

Cale pushed himself up from the explosion. Light roared around him, leaving him with nothing but blurry shapes in the cacophony. He searched for the shotgun and wrapped his hand around the stock.  Planting one foot, he was greeted with a shape hovering over him.

“Seems we’ve got quite the precarious situation, Officer Edmonds,” Theon said.

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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.