Of Gods and Madness: The Faithful

Chapter Seventy-Five

Greeted with the warmth of the rising sun, Dion and Liam emerged from underneath the city. Part of Dion believed they’d arrive to find another ruin for him to move on from.

Shipping containers jutted from the sea. Most had maintained their seal, but some had burst open, leaving coffee, food, and other sundries littering the sea. Birds circled, screaming and swooping. Turning, he saw that Sandhyanen hadn’t fared much better.

In the receding gloom, the newly risen tower lashed out, pulling, ripping. A set of wires drew back, then launched into another building, ripping, tearing it down in moments.

“What do you want to bet that’s Pryor’s doing?” Liam asked.

“I think —”

The rumble of cascading debris cut him off.

“We have to stop him.”

In his docile tone, Liam commented, “I’m surprised the city made it through the night.”

As if complimenting his statement, the gloom deepened, followed by a violent pulse. Dion turned, staring into the clouds circling over the water. They weaved together, drawing ever closer.

“Don’t count that out just yet. Looks like we’re in for another round.”

An audible sigh escaped Liam as he slumped. Dion offered the jug of alcohol. This time Liam grabbed it, taking a mouthful of the stuff. He coughed, sputtered.

“Proud of you,” Dion stated. “I can now call you one of mine.” He regarded the bottle. “Stiff stuff. Not everyone can handle it.”

Before Liam recovered, the first rain came down in thick waves. Lightning exploded in the sky, several bolts in quick succession. The lighthouse erupted in a shower of sparks. Bits of mortar and stone pelted the docks. The percussive rattling shook the entire harbor. Dion dropped the bottle, letting it swing from his waist as he grabbed Liam.

The wind howled after them as they moved down the shattered planks.

 

Cale’s eyes fluttered open. Deep, hearty thunder roared all around him. Somehow muted and distant even as the ground vibrated underneath him, a wetness flowered around his forehead. Absently, he rubbed the spot, pushing the damp tangle of black hair away.

He rolled over. His thoughts came into jagged focus and pain erupted down his left side. Raising a trembling hand, his fingers grazed the edges of bloody, shattered glass jutting from his face. He gripped a shard, tugged it out. His cheek parted, fluid streamed down his chin. Casting the shard aside, he heard it strike cloth, clatter against the pavement. The movement revealed an array of glass embedded in his right arm. He stifled a scream and gingerly touched the first of many.

Rain curled around the buildings, creating thick streams that poured over the metal frames, pelting the concrete. Bits of broken glass fell from the shattered window above. Something growled.

Cale looked up, caught the glimmer of white eyes. Drawing back, he screamed as he brushed his arm. His attention shifted as he quelled the shout then fought to keep himself from causing any more damage. The crack of thunder fell hard, rattling debris in growling, violent waves that deafened him. Summoning his last reserves of strength, he pushed himself up to his scraped knees, then to his feet.

His head pounded as he limped from the wreckage, the off-kilter laughter from before reverberated in his head. He didn’t want whatever was in that building to catch up with him. He checked his holster to find the gun gone. A curse rolled off his swelling tongue and he looked behind him. Swaths of shadow complimented the precipitation, but no white eyes dwelled in the dark corners. His heart pounded in his chest and he didn’t want to gamble his life on it not being there. Mindful of the glass shards in his arm, he pulled his torn jacket up around him in an attempt to shield himself from the rain, then turned the corner.

He emerged from under the edge of a fallen skyscraper, catching sight of the tower. Its wires lashed out, pulling chunks of surrounding buildings, signs, and the like toward its center the mass. Like creeping vines, they were voracious as they consumed the city around. Cale almost stopped from the pure shock of it, at these things that seemed to stretch into the sky, but the cacophony coming from the tower broke him from his daze and he pressed forward.

Whatever was tearing his home apart, he would find it there. What he’d do then, he wasn’t sure. First thing he needed to do: get some bandages. Every step had a hitch to it and the pain wracked his body unlike anything he’d experienced before. Each movement jostled the glass and he slowly picked at them, trying to rid his arm of the foreign objects. As each one came loose, more blood flowed down his arm, mixed with the rain. Cale was light headed, most likely in shock, but he forced his body forward into the city proper.

Shouts echoed through the alleys, but far away. Though he could see evidence of the riots everywhere he looked, there were few signs of life. The power had gone out through most of the city, but occasionally Cale would come across a flickering neon sign, a whole building lit up like a cure against the darkness. He took refuge when he could, but each time he’d hear some movement just out of sight, he retreated from it. He was in no shape to fight.

He turned down Lye Street and found an all-night drugstore, abandoned, the windows ripped out like empty sockets. The image brought to mind Terach’s building and he almost turned around rather than face the event, so fresh and unreal. But, there it was, sitting in the back of his mind. Terach coughing. All that blood.

 Cale froze in the middle of the street, watching the building, as if expecting it to come to life. He wondered if he still had Terach’s blood on him, but knew that it had probably been wiped away in the torrent. In the distance, he heard the rumble of the tower claiming yet another structure. If he wasn’t in so much damned pain, he would swear he was dreaming. But, no. He was alone on the street. No one was foolish enough to leave the safety of their homes with all the madness he’d seen today.

He approached the building cautiously. Perking up his ears, he eased onto the shattered glass outside the building. His mind was already working overtime, but he knew that meant someone — or something, he corrected himself — was trying to get out. He wasn’t sure if that was a comfort or made this place all the more terrifying. Glass crunched underfoot. He used his sleeve to brush the remnants of the window from the frame. He leaned in, listening for any movement but found none.

Shelves had been overturned, fallen over themselves with different products littering the floors. Shadows draped the inside of the building, dispelled only briefly by flashes of lightning. He fought the urge to retreat as the thunder followed right after. His body wasn’t suited to this fight or flight thing. He hadn’t been this on edge since the last time he was sure the Stalker was here. But that was years ago. Hoping the adrenaline would sustain him until he could get some painkillers in his system, he sucked in two deep breaths and pressed into the building.

Cale crossed to the cash register to find it undisturbed. Just another bit of evidence that the place had been abandoned, not merely ransacked. He tested a hunch and crossed into the work area behind. He searched a shelf two down, found a 12 gauge shotgun. A sound came from just outside the glass. Panic trailed a horrible path through him, etching into his muscles.

His body revolted in the wake of it. Each movement made his joints ache, each step sent spirals of pain through his ankles, knees, and groin. He stiffened, all too aware of his injuries, at the burning wound in his cheek, the handful of holes in his arm. He fingered the magazine tube, found it empty except for one shell. He searched the area, found four more and slotted them in.

 He held the pump action carefully as he searched the toppled shelves for any sort of bandage. He’d just about given up hope then he tripped and caught himself on a rack. The shotgun fell, clattering against the wet floor. The rack creaked in protest, then gave, collapsing on top of the shotgun. He cursed, trying to find a way to easily get it. He then spotted a dark shape moving in his periphery, approaching with swiftness of a predator.

Their bodies collided and Cale hit the ground hard. The figure pinned his arm to the ground, his body wrapped in darkness. A hot liquid dribbled on his cheek. He turned his head, thrashing from it. Heat poured from his opened wounds, leaving him cold and wracked with chills as he struggled to get up. Lightning flashed, giving him a perfect view of the figure’s mangled face. She was missing multiple teeth, her jaw seemed to have been broken, ripped partially into a Chelsea smile. Ragged flaps of skin were covered in blood, dancing as her wild eyes searched his. He broke away from the mad gaze, instead he clawed amidst the smashed packages, the crinkled wrappers, for anything of substance. Then he spotted the shotgun, wedged underneath the metal shelving.

Cale struck the woman across the face. The wounds in her cheek parted around his fist, coating it in bloody sinewy tissue. She shrieked, recoiling just enough for him to wrench his arm free and scramble across the floor. The wounds in his arm reopened, screaming as he trailed against the dirty floor. Blood splattered the floor and her nails lodged into his scalp. He shouted, focused on the shotgun just out of his reach. He pushed a leg underneath him, catapulted himself forward into the shelf.

It scraped against the linoleum floor, spilling another bevy of loose packages onto the floor. His fingers toyed with the butt of the shotgun, then the woman’s full weight fell onto him, trying to pin him down.

Another tremor worked its way through the city, through the door, Cale saw a rolling cloud of dirt and debris. He shifted, in attempt to buck her off, but her twisted nails had dug into his jacket and wrapped around his hair. His head jerked back and his eyes twisted toward the approaching cloud. He slammed his eyes shut, struggling for breath but managing to take one deep breath before —

A roaring horde consumed the building as thunder clambered after. The debris filled the air and burned his skin. The woman shrieked but held steady. He angled himself, throwing his elbow into her ribcage. He felt something give and snap beneath his strike, but he fought the urge to gasp in revulsion. Suddenly, her weight was gone. With his eyes closed tight, he just hoped he’d survive this. He drew up into himself, pulling his jacket up to his face, trying to shield himself.

Then the roar was silenced, like the carefree click of a remote snapping off a television. Not trusting the cluttered air, he continued to breathe through his jacket. His ears rang, but he listened intently for the woman. All was deathly still.

Then another loud screech, a sonorous exhalations that rushed toward him. Without daring to open his eyes, he scrambled for the shotgun. A viscous mixture of saliva and dirt escaped his mouth as he craned his arm and --

He had it. He jerked the shotgun toward him clumsily pulling the fore-end down. He rolled over, squeezed the trigger. The woman’s face erupted in fleshy bits of bone and brain matter. Thunder rumbled in the distance.

Cale’s insides seized and suddenly he was retching. Bile struck the debris-strewn linoleum, coating the now stained packages - with a lovely mixture of blood red and off-white stomach acid. He plopped against the fallen shelving and studied the remnants of the woman’s body, recognizing the telltale Blue Fey addict, but he’d never seen them this violent. He thought of the disembodied shouts coming from the interior of Terach’s apartment and could see exactly what Terach had to deal with. If the entire city was like this . . . no, he couldn’t think about that.

He pulled the jacket back up to his face, fully pulling in the stench of expelled fluids. Through the disgust, he used his sleeve to wipe away the caked on dirt then chanced a breath. The debris filled his lungs and he coughed and sputtered, shifting over to his knee and trying to hack it back up.

There, tucked under the edge of the front counter, was a battered first aid kit. He laughed despite himself, fumbling with its contents while holding the shotgun, not wanting to lose it for any reason. He pocketed bandages and some antiseptic before rising to his feet.

A loud bang came from the ceiling, then a smattering of smaller ones. Cale straightened, staring out the doorway for what was coming. Giant hailstones struck the pavement, shattering and fanning out. They pinged off the surrounding buildings in the darkness. Two, three ricocheted off the ground, as if trying to crawl after him. He snatched one from the ground, rolling it around in his hand before setting it aside and focusing on his task.

He watched the doorway as he bandaged himself, with no idea of what he’d find in the tower .  .  . and how he’d deal with it.

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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.