Uncomfortable at best, Urban remained silent during the ride in the elevator, lost in his thoughts. Not a leader, he’d still become the head of a small mob. He treaded dangerous ground and only had a young boy to protect him. He watched the numbers shift higher and higher, the light falling behind the etchings as they passed each floor. He breathed in deeply.
The bell dinged and the lift sagged. The doors slid open. Trepidation filled him as he stepped into dead air. He glanced around, found an empty lobby. The guards had abandoned their posts.
He motioned for Gilpin to follow. He approached the glass door, knocked twice, and with no answer, entered.
As he crossed the threshold, he froze. An expanding puddle of crimson spread from the base of Keir’s desk. A steady drip filled Urban’s ears.
The air became wholly empty, a thin whine filling the background of the scene.
Strung up with frayed rope, Keir had yet to stop swinging. Blood coated the front of his shirt, no more than a few minutes old.
Urban watched, stuck in his frigid fear, as a trail of blood emerged from the cuff of Keir’s jacket, running down the edge of his hand, into his palm.
Then he noticed the coin.
Stained with bloody fingerprints, the gold managed to glint. Urban stepped closer, the whole of his body telling him to run, to escape. But the coin called to him, a beacon that would help this make sense. He took it, recognized one of the gods, the elastic smile stretched across its face.
His stomach flipped and he retreated, retched at the entrance. Wiping away the tears, he smeared blood across his cheek.
“What have you done?” Carrick’s voice seethed with disgust. The glass door slid shut, giving the faint sound of the room sealing. He stood over Urban, gun poised and ready for him to make a move.
“W—what? I didn’t—” his eyes widened with horror.
Carrick snarled, gripping his jacket, lurching him to his feet. He pressed the revolver into his back and shoved hard. Carrick’s guards, all somber suits and muscle, stood on the outside of the glass, backs turned on Keir’s office. They flanked the double doors, unmovable, unflinching.
Gilpin stood frozen at the doorway eyes locked on Keir’s corpse. Carrick asked, “What happened, boy?” When he didn’t get a response, he grabbed Gilpin by the neck and thrust him into the door. A weak sob escaped him and his eyes turned in fear to Carrick. “Did Urban do this?”
Gilpin shot a glance at Urban. “No—”
Carrick squeezed the trigger. Gilpin’s face stretched as he twisted, his eyes catching Carrick’s before the bullet ripped free. Then, his features erupted in a fine mist as shards of skull exploded across the glass doors. The body flopped to the floor.
Carrick spat in disgust. His lackeys stood at the doorway, smart enough not to watch their master’s actions.
Urban stared in horror, fighting the urge to squeeze his eyes shut, to will away the awful reality settling around him. Carrick had done this, erasing any evidence to the contrary. He drew in a deep breath, forced himself to stand. Carrick shoved him to his knees. He stared at the ground, at the spreading pool. “Let’s just get this over with.”
“It won’t be that quick for you.” Carrick seized him, dragging him to the open and waiting elevator. Urban stumbled to his feet, but tripped forward, collapsing onto the remnants of Gilpin’s face. Staring into the vacant eyes, Urban’s heart seized.
Blood smearing behind him, Urban scrambled against the hold, but flopped into the elevator. Carrick pressed on him, keeping him pinned against the marble. One of the lackeys pressed the button and they began their descent.
The doors opened to a packed church.
Oki’s Veins, vibrant with the blue light pouring from beyond the glass, oozed with the calm rush of water. They curled around each other, the roots of a settled oak. She stared down on the proceedings, casting her silent judgment.
While they eschewed the pews, the breadth of Na Creidmhigh crowded the pulpit like so many starved believers, ready to swallow any lie. The cerulean hue shifted their features, twisting them dangerous.
Forced at gunpoint, Urban stumbled out where the waiting mob could see. His stomach a ball of lead, he stared over the faces. The blue light from Oki’s coalesced veins silhouetted most of them, but he discerned some of his followers, their eyes narrowed.
“This man killed Keir,” Carrick proclaimed.
Urban kept his eyes on the followers, shifting his head slightly from side to side. Metal struck the back of his head, a new pain blossoming behind his eyes. He hit the ground.
The barrel rested against the base of his skull. He looked up, noticing the shift in the crowd’s faces.
Oki be damned, they believe him.
Carrick’s eyes bore down, but Urban dared not look up. He stared into the mob, hoped this performance wouldn’t sway them.
“I arrived just in time to see him murder Gilpin.” His voice dropped, faltered, then he said, “But he didn’t do this on his own. He was sent by a man we all trusted. Raine.”
Glances tossed between the viewers.
This had vendetta written all over it.
“But I’ll end it right now.”
“Wait!” A man shouted from the back. The crowd parted to let the man speak. Though thankful for the intervention, Urban didn’t recognize him.
The man stepped forward, his smarmy smile stretching across his face. White hair fell past orange eyes and he walked with a sway, almost playful in his movements. “You’ll prove nothing executing him here. There must be an inquiry.”
Urban hazarded a look at Carrick.
Carrick shot a glance over the crowd, his face settling into a grimace. The crowd shouted for justice, for them to decide his fate.
Either way, he would die.
Urban dropped his head, awaited judgment.
“Fine.” Carrick withdrew the gun, sliding it into the shoulder holster. “Raine’s lackey won’t be harmed. We’ll deal with him as Na Creidmhigh has always done with traitors.” He paused with a thinly veiled smile. “But not until after Keir’s burial.”
Carrick ripped him up by his jacket, the bitter sweetness of his breath washing over him, and said, “You’re lucky, boy, but we’ll see how long that keeps.”
Urban stared at him but said nothing. Shoved abruptly, he crept toward the back of the building, blissfully away from prying eyes.
He thought of nothing but Raine.