Liam led the way as Dion watched him with a wary eye. Something didn’t feel right when it came to his upbeat pace. Dion slowed under a partially collapsed awning, waited for Liam to notice. The reading god nearly got to the next street before he turned. Water sloshed at his ankles, pouring down into the drains.
“What’s wrong?” he shouted across the space.
Dion regarded him with a cool certainty. He ambled through the rain, falling victim to the cold seeping into his bones. “You’re looking forward to this,” he said as he brushed past.
This time, Liam stared.
“You’re practically bouncing with anticipation. If I were to read you,” he gestured to the assimilating structure he could no longer rightly call a tower, “I’d say you were going there to die.”
Liam shrugged, his face vacant. “I just might be.”
Dion growled. “Such a childish god. You think you’re the only one that’s suffered? We’ve all lost things, people that we’ve loved. But we keep going on. We find something good in this, this curse.”
“Maybe you can, but just being alive makes me sick.”
“Is that why you came to see me?”
“You seemed like the better alternative.”
Liam’s words came out matter-of-fact. “I don’t know what you’re griping about. If memory serves, you had just abandoned your last student because you were afraid. Where’s Raine now? Dead. Killed by one of us. Lot of good you did him.”
“You’re a piece of work.”
“Aren’t we all?” Liam stood there at the edge of the gutter, looking for all the world like a man out of time. “There’s so little left standing. You’ve got to know neither of us is going to make it out of here alive. Why delay the inevitable?”
“That’s not the question. You should be asking why you’re so quick to meet it.”
“That’s—” Liam turned, eyes narrowing on the darkness between buildings.
“Liam?” Dion regarded the god. His eyes, then Liam’s, flashed in recognition, displaying their godly affinity. The rain was held at bay for a moment, rising like a veil, revealing a hunchbacked figure. “What’s that?”
The moment lingered, all three sets of eyes lit from behind, preternatural in the gloom. The figure lifted as its muscles shifted. Its arm opened in a flower of sinew. Before Dion could speak, he heard a pop and Liam lurched toward the silhouette. Liam let out a raspy breath.
Liam looked at Dion, revealing a red splotch in the center of his tattered uniform. It grew as the rain resumed its constant barrage. Dion hobbled forward, unsure of his footing as he stumbled.
The moment lingered.
Dion looked past Liam to the hulking shadow that seemed to vibrate. Sinewy appendages lashed out from the core figure, stretching then settling back, changing the figure’s shape. It inched ever closer, its eyes glimmering with an unnatural light.
Liam approached it, a determination to his step as he raised a steady hand despite his chest spilling his blood into the gutter. He placed a hand on the creature’s flesh and he muttered something that Dion couldn’t hear. The creature recoiled, its shout coming out doubled, violent. It reverberated through the alley and it recoiled from Liam’s touch. Liam followed suit, retreating back to the street, his calm eyes setting on Dion’s. He said, “That’ll keep it from hurting anyone else.”
“What did you do?”
Liam coughed, harsh wracking things that doubled him over. Lines of pain creased his studied face and he tucked away his hand behind his back. He looked at Dion, recognizing he’d been granted his wish. “Some old sigils,” he managed. “Stopped him from further transformations.”
A declaration left the mass. “Boom.”
Gray fabric exploded outward, exposing shredded muscle, bone. Liam’s eyes lit from behind, blue pouring out of his mouth in wisps of smoke. Then Dion realized that no, the smoke was comprised of a thousand tiny words, dark blue serif fonts swirling together to make the illusion. A slow smile spread across his lips as he crumpled. The glow intensified, words pouring through the torrents, fighting against the death of their master.
Dion stood there, aching for a drink. The mass shuddered, shrieked. Dion doubled over, fighting against the grief darting through him. He let out a long breath, telling himself to run. His body wouldn’t listen.
Windows cracked all around him, splintering but not shattering. Moisture stung his legs as the liquor bottle exploded. He looked up as the figure moved forward, no longer a heaving mass.
A man emerged out into the light, sleek and slender, though his skin had arcane etchings all up and down them, with no sign of any hair. Lines stretched down his arm, like ruts deep in the flesh. They curved up his shoulder to his face, then swept down his chest, disappearing under his torn pants. His fierce blue eyes showed no humanity, only a cold calculation. He flexed his fingers, studying them. “So, Theon actually kept his word.”
Starting at the name, Dion took a step back. Liam’s body seemed to bloat. The blue light turned the stranger’s skin to a mottled grey.
Dion caught himself as he retreated. His cane smacked against the pavement. The figure’s head snaked to Dion, the seams in his face splitting into a distended smile. “Another one of you. Fucking cockroaches.”
He raised his arm, the lines splitting apart in a flower of sinew and muscle. The skin peeled back from his fingers revealing a hole in the center of his palm.
Then Liam exploded in a blast of light.
The gutter became a hail of concrete and metal. Dion’s eyes flashed and he bolted, scurrying down the street away from the scarred man.
The man appeared in front of him, ready to fire.
Dion brought his cane up, struck the arm as a blast erupted. It exploded as it hit a building, fanning out bits of brick and mortar. He then drove it under his attacker’s chin, knocking him back.
A pulse followed, stopping the rain before it all came falling back down.
In its wake, the stranger lit up with black ink, words covering every inch of his body. The phrases whispered, hissing with their reveal, then they started to peel from the flesh, flaking off like a bad sunburn. Dion’s eyes widened as he recognized Liam’s short-lived seal leaving the thing’s flesh. The man rose, not noticing the change. He set his eyes on Dion, covered the distance in a second. Lifting Dion by his throat, he whispered, “Can you feel it?”
Dion’s croak came out strained.
“This is what it feels like to die.”
The lines in his face split open, becoming an amalgamation of dripping muscle. The rest of his body opened up, the flesh becoming an afterthought.
As blood seeped into his nostrils, Dion sighed in relief.