Of Gods and Madness: The Faithful

Chapter Eighty-Five

Raine was thrown back and forth through the water as he struggled to find any semblance of home. The storm raged around him but he couldn’t even distinguish the tower anywhere around him as he fought. He caught sight of a shipping container bobbing through the mist, but he was so tired. He shook his head, trying to keep himself afloat as he fought to breathe. He gulped air, but caught a mouth full of salt water and instantly began coughing.

The container disappeared from his view.

No, no, no. Raine thought, panicked and forcing himself to move forward.

The waves picked him up and tossed him around, then there was the edge of the dock. He slammed into it, but he managed to throw out an arm and catch hold of it. His freshly built body was already battered from Marise’s display of power. He was weak but managed to drag himself up onto the split dock.

He laid on his back, laughing even as the rain continued its torrential mischief. He slowly turned over, rested his head against the rough docks, then stood. Only then did he recognize the remnants of Dion’s shack. Any relief bled from him then. The shack had collapsed into the water and most of his work was adrift in the river. He still crossed the distance and pulled at the door. Any hopes of seeing Dion died then, but instead, he found Marise standing there, in one piece, balanced at the edge of the water. She was examining a stack of journals one by one. “Marise—”

“Why did he keep so many empty journals?”

Raine’s brow furrowed and he awkwardly entered the space. His sense of balance was all wrong and he almost fell into the water, but Marise grabbed him with—

“Your arm.”

Marise looked at the black prosthetic that had replaced her arm. “It’s the same stuff that came from my wounds.” Then he noticed all the wells of shadow that covered her skin.

“But you didn’t have those before.”

“They came when I got out of the tram. Survived this entire fucking ordeal with a cut on my hand, then I get all cut up and end up like this.” Her voice was steady, if not a bit irritated, but otherwise calm.

“How’d you do that?”

“I just had to wrestle Pryor’s temple from him. It was looking for someone stronger anyway,” she said, putting another journal aside. “I used its power against it and pitched it into the harbor.”

Raine saw the blank pages, asked, “How many gods died?”

“I don’t know,” Marise said. She finally looked him in the eye. “I guess we know there’s a least one left.” A quirk of a smile played at the edge of her lips. “I don’t think I killed the others though. More of a stopgap than anything else.”

Raine considered this.

“Are you going to go back?”

Raine’s head snapped up at this.

“To Sandhyanen.”

Raine considered it. He would be the head of Na Creidmhigh. There would be so much to rebuild, so many people reliant on him. “No. I can’t do it.”

Marise nodded, stood. She offered him a hand. “Where to then?”

“I think I’ve got an idea.”

 

Emerging into the chamber, Raine pulled the array of perfumed cloths from his face. The howling winds above filled the hall, a comfortable static. He searched the darkness, finding an altar at the back of the room. A figure sat there, bent over, elbows resting on its knees.

Their eyes flashed in recognition. A third set responded in kind.

“So you came. And you brought company.”

Raine laughed, striding forward. “You piqued my interest.”

“I’m surprised you found me,” the raspy voice said. “You’ve got a good memory.”

“Well, if I had forgotten, I could’ve always killed myself. How many times have you been back?”

“A handful.”

“I come bearing gifts.” Raine offered a water sack, untouched.

Senwe waved it away, movements slow, exhausted. “I don’t like water. What about the girl? She’s got that same spark.”

Marise shifted. Her new arm twitched in anticipation.

Before she could respond, Raine raised a hand. “She’s not on the table. She saved my life, well . . . as much as a mortal could.” He grinned back at her unsure features. Indicating the water, he continued, “There’s nothing to worry about. Oki’s dead.”

Eyes still glowing, Senwe looked at him. “Who?”

“Oki, the water goddess. She—”

Senwe erupted into dry laughter. “Well I’ll be damned. The new kid’s a country bumpkin.”

“Go fuck yourself,” Raine said.

“I’ve offended you.” He shook his head, went to stand. Raine moved toward him. The god stopped, regarded him. “Please.” Senwe rose to his full height, towering over Raine, a gaunt giant. “The ‘gods’ you’ve been worshipping are jokes, bickering children we let play in their own little sandbox.”

“But they’re gods, right?”

“Hardly.” Senwe’s voice strengthened as he began to walk forward. “You said it yourself: Oki’s dead.”

“You mean—”

“Boy, you’ve got a lot to learn.” As the god moved forward, robes materialized out of nothing, draping him in exotic fabrics. Raine watched as its body fleshed out, becoming fuller with each step.

Senwe reached out a hand to the stone wall. They began to pull apart, rolling back like so many loose stones in a river bed. The darkness, thick, filled the now open passage.

“Where are we going?”

“It doesn’t matter. If you want to learn how to be a real god, you’ll come.” His voice teased, but the humor had faded. “You’ll have to leave your little toy behind though.”

“No dice. She’s the only reason I’m here.”

“Fine, but don’t blame me when she’s taken.”

“I can take care of myself.” Marise cut in, words steel.

Senwe’s eyes flicked down her body. “I suppose a part of you can.” He started down the passage without looking back.

Raine hesitated. He looked back at Marise, replaying their auspicious beginnings, how much grief he’d caused her and, at the end of the day, she’d been the one to help him. A pang of guilt laced itself through him, his thoughts tripping back to the dead, forgotten woman. Cyra, he reminded himself. Maybe he’d found some measure in redemption with Marise.

Marise stepped up next to him, their fingers twining together. Her touch chilled him, something unnatural about the darkness that served as her left side. He smiled at her, knowing he’d never let her go, not in this or any lifetime.

They moved into the corridor together.

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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.