High Voltage

Page 26

Gustaine enjoyed an intimacy with the planet few gods knew. He, who’d once dined on the finest the world had to offer, now subsisted on its refuse, burrowed deep into its septic waste, had come to relish the diverse flavors of shit, for the knowledge it afforded him. He could taste the sickness in human offal; knew what disease was killing them. In days of yore he might have fetched them the right herb, root, or oil to correct the imbalance. Rot faster, he cursed them now. Blow yourselves up, kill your race off and get out of my way.

He’d even burrowed of late, beneath human skin, dining on the succulent fat of their bodies, nestled within them, privy to many of their thoughts and feelings. He crept anywhere and everywhere, knew all their secrets yet lacked the power to do a damn thing with it. Merely shaping himself into a form that could communicate was taxing. His arms and legs tended to crumble into individual segments if overexerted.

Yet…the timeless melody had been sung and it had changed the world, waking some things, killing others, but most dazzling of all, giving rise to the possibility of a new order that might restore the position he’d once enjoyed. Elevate him from the gutters and sewers and endless attacks that were his existence. The Earth felt the same as it once had to him, over a million years ago.

The ancient Song had not, however, improved or altered him in any way. The imperviousness of the cockroach ran deep into his insectile core. Virtually indestructible, he alone remained unchanged by the relentless march of time, by the magic that waxed, waned, and waxed anew. He was, as far as he knew, the sole exception: the obdurate Gustaine.

He’d pledged his allegiance to a few during his darkest times: a half-mad witch from the Caspian mountains, a dead man who’d risen to hunt the night, an ancient, primal beast that was neither god nor Faerie but possessed the Lanndubh, the hated black blade that could destroy him; and finally, recently allying himself with a prince of the very race that had corrupted and crushed his. With his brothers and sisters gone, he no longer cared who held power, so long as he had a share.

But now one of his own was back and strong enough to merit attention. Powerful enough to reclaim the Lanndubh and free him. And from what he’d witnessed thus far, quite possibly capable of becoming deadly enough to eradicate the Faerie from their world.

Gustaine dispersed his many bodies, reclaiming and molding them into a misshapen head atop one of the many corpses littering the stifling cavern, with its glowing rocks and bonfires, and watched the great god command his legion of worshippers.

The great Soulstealer, Balor, had returned.

The gods had been tricked by their Faerie enemies; deceived, manipulated, and crushed. But they’d lacked advantages they now possessed, assets Balor had already begun to exploit, as evidenced by a recent acquisition: a dozen women, many of them badly beaten, chained to a column near his altar.

Even now a slim dark aperture rippled near the towering dark god who’d once been worshipped more devoutly, and with more terror, than any of the others, as he stripped still more human souls from their bodies, increasing in power with each one he claimed.

Once, the gods had cared about humans. That affection had been destroyed long ago. This time things would be different.

This time the gods would win.

Unlike Gustaine, Balor had changed, as had his method of exploiting his—he chuckled dryly at the pun—God-given gift. And why not? With such enormous power, it was a wonder he’d ever been kind.

He’d watched long enough. This was the master he would serve. A gargantuan, ruthless deity who shared his own grievances, goals, and desires. Who’d already begun drawing other powerful gods near, as even now the devilish, bloodthirsty, wish-granting AOZ danced devious attendance. Balor had a plan, and a fine one. Gustaine was more than ready to see the human race wiped out. And when it was, Balor would be powerful enough to kill even the Faerie.

Gustaine scattered into a sea of insects, scuttling over the grooves and crevices, making his way across the enormous cavern in a dark, glistening wave. He approached the god, where he stood near the black mirror and mound of bodies. Though many were maimed, they were not beyond repair or prolonged use.

He waited respectfully while Balor finished removing the paralysis spell from a tumble of bodies before assembling a precarious form and grinding out a formal troth, “I am at your service, great and powerful Balor.”

The immense god whirled from the bodies in a rustle of long black robes, his limp barely noticeable. Ah, yes, he was stronger than before!

Half his magnificent face curved in a blindingly beautiful smile, the other half was completely concealed behind an elaborately embellished glossy raven mask.

As he glanced down at the roach god’s squat form, he laughed. “Ah, Gustaine, my dear old friend, I’d hoped you’d survived and would find me here. Your skills have always been invaluable.”

“It is a pleasure to see you,” Gustaine said. “How may I serve?” One day he would never say those words again.

“AOZ has just apprised me of a human who has something that should belong to me. Scour Dublin and find her.”

“I would be honored to aid your cause. Who do I seek?”

“AOZ will give you the description. When you locate her, return to me with her location. Take no action. I will collect this body myself.”

“Have you a name?” Gustaine eavesdropped everywhere, on everyone, invisible at their feet, in crevices and refuse. A name would help.

“She calls herself Dani O’Malley.”

I’m awfully underrated but came here to correct it

SURE ENOUGH, THE BASTARD was rebuilding Chester’s.

I stood on the sidewalk, hands fisted, a muscle working in my jaw, assaulted by such acute duality that I’d locked my limbs to keep them from ripping me apart, as they attempted to obey polar opposite desires.

Conflicted is not my natural state.

I’m an arrow to the goal, focused, unwavering. I pick a side and stick with it where every single facet of my life is concerned.

Except for one.

That. Man.

Half of me wanted to punch my fist into the air and shout, “Bloody hell, my sidekick’s back and it looks like he plans to stick around for a while this time!” while I dashed below to confirm the auspicious event with my own eyes.

The other half of me wanted to slam my fist into Ryodan’s face and break bones.

No, I reevaluated my percentages, half wasn’t quite right. Thirty-eight percent of me was in favor of caving to an idiotically happy smile, while sixty-two percent of me was incensed, infuriated, enraged, with thick plumes of steam threatening to erupt from my ears.

I don’t get headaches often but I was about to have one. There was too much pressure in my body and no way to vent it.

While he’d kept me out of commission without my consent, he’d made mind-boggling progress. A framed structure now stood on the previously empty lot above Chester’s underground nightclub. Several hundred workers were rushing to and fro, prepping for the next phase of the project.

Footers had been poured and were curing, there were steel beams and girders waiting to be placed. Bobcats growled, there was even a small crane maneuvering stuff around. Here, piles of lumber rested on pallets, there, enormous blocks of smoky stone were stacked high.

He had to be running three shifts a day, working through the night. Ryodan was like that. Once he wanted something, he wanted it yesterday. He’d wait if he had to, with the true patience of an immortal, but if he could bypass that waiting he would.

Why now? His bloody club had been wrecked years ago and he’d not once made any effort to rebuild the facade aboveground! What message was I supposed to take away from this—you may have worn yourself out helping Dublin for two long solitary years but I’ve gained their fealty in a mere matter of days?

Not that I thought he was doing it to mess with me, which—given how much he used to mess with me would have been a fair assumption—but I no longer think everything he does is about me.

Still, my super ears were picking up way too many compliments about him.

“Hey, miss? Miss?” a man said behind me.

I ignored him. I was no doubt in his way and he wanted me to move so I wouldn’t delay a single second of the great Ryodan’s planned re-creation of the world, which the bible of Dublin would soon be rewritten to immortalize.

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