a god’s weakness

novel excerpt, liked this conversation/dynamic

“Why does he care so much for the girl?” Rha asked me, his right eye studying me, then flicking past me to study Rha. Again I saw it—the flash of terror, mixed with suspicion and hatred. I recognized it then as a dangerous look. Like an ancient predator, who no longer knows how to identify threats properly, so he’d lunge at anything.

“They’re friends,” I said. It seemed the easiest way to dismiss the subject, and perhaps subdue the ancient predator look in the Black Pope’s eyes. He pulled back a little, the look fading somewhat from him.

“I do not wish to see him, any longer,” he said, frowning. “He is a scourge within my church.”

I lifted an eyebrow. “Till,” I said. “We shall take our leave. Please wait for me in the entryway.”

I did not immediately hear his footsteps retreating, so I turned to look at him. He stood right behind me, his arms crossed, his eyes defiant. I didn’t blame him. I also would not want to wait in the musty, dark, chilly space between the exterior doors and the massive, broken double doors leading inside. But I needed him to. My eyes narrowed and he glared a little sharper at me for a moment before turning on his heel and storming out, returning to his normal hunched posture in the process. I sighed, my breath manifesting in the freezing cathedral.

When I turned back, I found Rha staring at the ghouls where they had gathered behind the pulpit. They’d engaged themselves in some activity I couldn’t quite identify—picking through broken glass beneath the massive shattered stained glass piece at the head of the church. After a long period of silence, the Black Pope turned back to me, his gaze distant and distracted.

“Stormcrow,” he said after another interminable stretch of quiet. He spoke the word quietly and reverently, and in his smooth accented voice, it became a prayer. “When I was young, my mother would tell us stories of the Stormcrow. A great, dark bird that heralded the storm wherever he went. Mischievous but strong and noble at his heart. That is you.”

“Excuse me?”

He laughed his dry, humorless laugh. “You are the Stormcrow, Jack Immortal. You sweep in here and you bring your little knife-boy and I do not know if you come to help or harm.”

I lifted an eyebrow. “Little knife boy. Hm.” A cruel grin teased at the edges of my mouth.

“What other man seeks to begin a fight with no weapon visible in his hand? I notice these things, Stormcrow. I see the motion of a man’s hands toward a concealed weapon. I see the lines of an assassin because I must see them, if I wish to survive.”

I barked a mocking laugh. But the ancient predator look had drawn across Rha’s eyes again and now the look made me a little nervous. “Till is here because he travels with me. He has no other purpose. I promise you that.”

“So he tells you of all his contracted killings? He tells you of every man he must slay?”

I recognized the corner I had backed myself into, but that didn’t mean I had to like being there. When I did not respond to his goading, Rha smirked.

“You do not strike me as a man who enjoys having his weaknesses exposed, Stormcrow.”

“I imagine I would dislike that extremely, should I possess weaknesses to expose.”

“What is a man without his weakness? Boring things.” Rha made a dismissive gesture with his right hand. “So let me ask you this, Jack. What is your weakness? For you do not strike me as a boring man.”

I smiled a little. “I am not a man at all, but a god.”

His smirk slid into a wan, derisory expression. “No. Sathanus is a god. I am the vessel of a god. You are a man in the clothes of a god, Immortal. You have a weakness.”

My smile grew strained, my brow lowering dangerously over my golden eyes. Then I shook my head, waving my hand at him as though I couldn’t be bothered to be in his presence a moment longer.

“So find it, then, oh grand and glorious vessel of the one true god.” I rolled my eyes at him, before turning and walking away, shaking my head as I strode away from him. “Find my weakness, if I have one. I look forward to it.”

I stopped at the end of the pew, before taking one final step into the aisle between the rows and turning back to survey him, my face solemn and my eyes annoyed. He drew back and analyzed me.

“I will,” he said, before turning away and striding back to the small door in the side of the church. I watched him go with a smirk, knowing I would succeed in this. It wouldn’t be difficult. I had no weaknesses. And Rha seemed just paranoid and borderline stark, raving insane enough to be an easy crack. In turning toward the doors to collect my assassin, I noticed the ghouls with their eyes upon me. I paused to size them up, wondering what quarrel Rha had with them—and then I waved companionably at them and strode down the center aisle toward the doors. I threw them open and Till, waiting just beyond them, flinched so hard he almost fell over.

He regained his feet and glared at me in silence.

“He’s ruining her,” he said. “And you don’t even want to help.”

“Come on,” I said, grabbing him by the shoulder and pulling him out of the cathedral.

“Where?” he asked, but only after we’d gone a few footsteps out into the snow. I grinned back at him.

“What you need is a drink,” I said. He didn’t look convinced. But he also didn’t have a choice, and I think he knew that.

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