Of Gods and Madness: The Faithful

Chapter Seventy-Six

Marise moved through the ruined tram station, glad to be free of the storm. Rain pelted the ground along the shattered windows. Bodies littered the concourse. She didn’t linger, instead opted to keep her gaze straight and unwavering. She brushed damp hair from her forehead, traced the line on her right hand. She tore at its scab, letting the fount open. Rivulets of blood danced between her fingers. She smiled, bitter and weak, and rubbed a symbol onto the wall.

That familiar feeling, the quick burst of adrenaline, ecstasy spread through her. The exaltation bled from her almost instantly, leaving her cold even as the red light tinged the surrounding area. She retreated from the vein.

Heavy plodding footsteps echoed amidst the still corpses. Marise froze, then, without looking back, darted to the shelter of an overturned row of seats. Her fingers wrapped the cool metal as she ducked behind. She positioned herself so she could look through the gap between seats. She kept her breathing calm as she fought the urge to scratch the wound.

A slim man appeared around the corner, his shoulders slumped, wary. His white hair fell in clumps to his shoulders. In the dim light, she made out the panic that etched his features as he scanned the concourse as if he knew what the red veins meant. He seemed to weigh his options then he shot a glance backward — an inhuman screech filled the air. His body started, then he regained his composure and he sprinted toward the broken down trams.

She had a flicker of recognition, but couldn’t place him.

Then Raine’s murderer emerged, lumbering in a step-drag rhythm. He’d deformed further since she’d seen him. He craned his neck in unnatural movements, snapping flesh as he did so. He paused on top of the red vein. The light highlighted every engorged vein, giving the shadows more than enough license to sculpt him into something even more monstrous. As it was, she was having a hard enough time processing the changes. His head snaked around, sniffing the air. His movements slowed, then he lurched in her direction.

A gentle hum filled the air. Marise looked toward the sound. Down toward the platforms, lights flickered on and burned. Marise let out a pent up breath, then Raine’s murderer hovered near her. She peeked out again, found him headed away.

That man had managed to get the power back on.

Marise stood from her hiding place. She absently smeared the blood. She bit her lip, forced herself to follow the broken gods.

 

Theon walked briskly from his creation down the long thoroughfares of the terminal. As soon as Oki touched his project, Theon knew she wouldn’t be able to fix Carrick. Theon had been toying with things he couldn’t possibly know how to undo. In the aftermath of that violent pulse, he knew with absolute certainty that Oki was dead. At least now he could take a shower without her showing up.

Rain struck the shattered windows, begging to be let in. The torrential downpour increased in its ferocity. Sandhyanen had been consumed in the last few minutes by the rain, visibility reduced to a blanketed fog.

His humorless laugh echoed in the station’s silence. Only the hum of the generator deep below provided relief. He glanced over the discarded bodies, half-expecting them to rise in all this madness.

A heaving growl tripped after him. Theon turned, caught sight of Carrick hot on his heels. He cursed, pressed further down the concourse.

Carrick shouted, then his explosive shots careened through the air.

Theon kept running, betting on there being enough distance between them that—

One erupted above his head; shrapnel burst all around him. He threw himself to the ground, scrambled for cover. He realized then that a piece had ripped open his cheek.

Carrick’s ragged screams hit his ears. The distorted body slumped, infection ripping through him.

Theon rose, smoothing his suit. Striding toward Carrick, he assumed a triumphant gait. “You’ll have to do better than that.” He heard the labored breathing of his creation as he approached. Flesh stretched like webbed hands, groping Carrick as he hunched on the ground. “I can’t see how that could be healthy.”

A moan came in response.

Theon leaned in, his gaze malicious. He stared straight into Carrick’s remaining blue eye. “Here, let me help.”

The eye darted back and forth, pleading.

“No need to thank me.” Theon placed a hand on Carrick’s forehead.

His eyes flashed as the skin leapt.

Carrick howled.

 

Pryor stood on the edge of the entrance to his temple. It’d grown voracious, tireless in its need to expand, to consume. Pryor tried not to think of what it would do once the entire city had been consumed. He imagined a creeping city, its appetite insatiable. He wondered if he had any control of it anymore, but didn’t dare test his assumption for fear of it rebelling.

He also didn’t want to appear weak in front of Journey. He’d become convinced she could smell it, like a demonic bloodhound and, at even the first sign of weakness, she’d end their “partnership.” She hovered on the periphery of the humans he’d drawn in, utilizing their fear to boost his power, his strength with all the death surrounding them.

Oki had fallen, the storm a reminder of her demise. Hot rain licked his destroyed flesh, reminding him of long lost days. He’d secretly hoped that with her death he’d be free of her destructive influence on his body, but no, he was just as corrupted. He didn’t like the fear that had settled deep in his gut. He watched the tram line, clear blue water arching up as if wanting to escape. Every once in a great while another explosion would light up the surrounding area, but from Pryor’s vantage, it might as well have been in another country. The ball of flame would be swallowed in the fog and it was like it never existed. Pryor had begun to wonder if there was even a city out there anymore. He sneered, turned to find Journey at his side.

She pressed her cold hand against the bandages wrapping his chest. She said, “It had to be done.”

His jaw set at this. She didn’t withdraw, instead she stared with as much impatience. Housed in the hall, the crowd beyond them stirred as the temple began to burn white hot.

He looked past her. She kept her gaze strong. “Time for a sacrifice.”

“What?”

She didn’t smile, not exactly. “You can feel it, everyone is coming here. You’ve brought a beacon for them to come to.” She motioned to their bounty. “And they’re expendable. You know we’re as easy to kill as any other god. Even Oki fell. You’re that much closer to ruling this whole place.”

“You’ve certainly hitched yourself to this plan.”

“I’m with you, no matter what,” she responded plainly.

But do I want you with me?

Her face changed, growing angry and he worried she could read his thoughts.

Hailstones struck the ground, turning cobblestone white with each broken hunk of ice. Beyond that, smoke receded as the rain beat the fires into submission.

Pryor turned to his former lover, the great manipulator. She was more like Theon than he’d ever imagined. He looked at his followers. “All right. There will always be more.”

She headed into the open air of his hall. He followed her, the creeping sensation spreading through his arms.

He dropped his voice in the mask of theatricality. “I’ve need of you, my people. You must be a sacrifice.”

Comment

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.