The Apostate Saint: Chapter 12 – The Bearer of Bad News

Alaric marched his charger through the streets without a word to anyone. Despite the stares and the questions and the whispered confusion of the onlookers standing in his way, Alaric had to report his failure to the Son. It would not be easy, and Alaric knew there were no words he could use to lessen the blow. Not only was the Spear stolen, the betrayer was someone whom the Son and Alaric had loved dearly. All of that now was thrown to the wind, and Alaric could not understand why Fridok chose to do the unthinkable. Vitus. Oh, Fridok, you fool. You have leapt into the abyss from which there is no return.

The dreadful music from the festival rang through Alaric’s ears as he rode forward. He would have put an end to that terrible noise if he could have done so. It mocked him as he moved through the City.

Alaric was angry, angrier than he had ever been in his entire life. Angrier than when his mother died. Angrier than when his father blamed her death on him. All of the time he had dedicated to the suppression of his boyish emotions in the name of duty to his House was for naught as his fury trailed behind him. Nothing he did or said could reverse the obscene betrayal he had just witnessed. Not even the Seven Gifts had the power to undo what had just been done.

Alaric knew that Fridok wasn’t happy with the way that everything turned out. He couldn’t fault him for that, but he never in his wildest dreams suspected that Fridok would betray the Son and the City in such a spectacular and irreversible way. He had chosen a path from which there was no return, and no forgiveness.

Before long, Alaric was at the door of the Palace, the ancestral home of the Toriad to which the Son had laid claim after he permanently settled in the City, despite the fact that the Aurumantian family had firmly been established there for over two hundred years. It was, after all, the house of his father, and the Son now had the backing of the Senate. Geilamir’s parents were ultimately no match for such a man.

The place was alive with all of the little children, the numerous Gifted offspring of the Son. Alaric prayed that he didn’t run into his new wife Decia who frequented this place. These children were destined to rule over the whole world once what the Son referred to as the Gifted Renaissance was in full swing. It was certainly ambitious, but Alaric did have his doubts about the Son’s intentions and ego whenever he came to this place. It was hard to deny its resemblance to a harem, as he had heard too many people whisper when they thought Alaric wasn’t listening.

Inside the Palace, there were at least thirty women lounging about, some of them in attire only suitable for the bedroom. All of the Son’s wives were objectively beautiful, but their looks had no effect upon the dutiful Alaric. He was far too upset to be concerned with anything of that sort now. As Alaric walked past the central pool, he caught a glimpse of his own reflection. He couldn’t help but see the resemblance between the man who now looked up at him and his late father. He purposely took a few steps away from the pool so that he wouldn’t have to look upon his own angry, unfamiliar face any longer.

At the other side of the room, the Son caught a glimpse of Alaric approaching him. In his typical fashion, the Son had little emotion on his face save for the warmth that hid a thousand plots, certainly nothing on that face suggested he knew of what had just transpired. Then again, he always seemed to know more than Alaric felt like should have been possible, and Alaric could never truly gain a proper estimation of what the man was thinking, even as he spoke clear direction.

As he approached the City’s ruler, Alaric felt as if he had just come to a hard stop after a sprint, and needed time to think about how he would present the information to the Son. He wanted to blurt out without any tempering what had transpired, but he held back, likely due to his history with Fridok. He hated what Fridok had done, but speaking the truth of what had happened would make it more hard to deny than it already was.

Alaric found himself prostrated before his commander with nothing to say. The Son must have seen something in Alaric’s face that gave him away immediately, however. Damn you, Fridok.

“You know,” the Son said, in his calm but fatherly tone. “Beneficia is a celebration for everyone, not just the common rabble. I appreciate your commitment to your post, but you don’t seem very interested in taking advantage of the holiday. Relax. Take some time.”

Alaric stared hesitantly at the Son, finding it increasingly difficult to initiate the report. The Son returned the gaze but didn’t cut to the chase despite Alaric’s obvious display of discomfort.

“Perhaps it is time to have a conversation about realigning on your role in the future?” the Son said, with no malice. “I want to make certain that you aren’t so over-burdened with your duties that you cannot find time to dedicate to the future of your line. A Gifted child is no easy thing to rear. They require much patience and commitment, and they need their father’s guidance.”

Alaric had no capacity to think about the future with such troubles on his mind. Settling down and raising a family was just something that always felt out of reach for Alaric, something for some far distant future when he had completed all of his other duties. That was the portrait that Alaric painted for himself, anyway.

The Son’s words were very much aligned with the leader’s new focus. By in large, they had managed to stem the tide and drive back the forces of evil that had laid claim to the land. The remainder of the lesser demons that still crawled in the darkness did not need to be hunted down by the original champions, or what remained of them. Now, that duty fell upon the next generation to finish the job and Alaric traded the dangerous freedom of the outside world for the contained chaos of the City. At least Alaric knew how to survive in the City, as opposed to Fridok who, for obvious reasons, felt more at home in the wilderness.

“I take it this isn’t a simple social call, then?” the Son said, at last. “No, lord. I am afraid I come bearing news you will not like to hear.” Alaric’s face flushed as he realized the truth was about to come out.

The Son gave a look to the two wives who were closest to him. They understood that look and the older one took the younger one by the hand and led her away. Alaric had a hard time remembering all of their names. He already had enough trouble remembering the names of all of the Senators and their entourages, he decided a long time ago that he would keep the Son’s private life at arm’s length. It didn’t concern him that the Son impregnated a portion of all of the women of age in the City; it wasn’t Alaric’s place to challenge the will of a demigod. He would just say that it was in the best interest of mankind to share the Gifts, anyway. Everybody was guilty of twisting reality in some way to make themselves less guilty of enjoying their own vices, after all.

“Very well,” said the Son, “you may speak freely.” Alaric allowed his mind to leave his heart in the name of duty, and his mouth did the work out of muscle memory alone.

“There has been a break-in at the Vault. The perpetrator has made away with the Spear and fled the City.”

The Son’s expression gave no hint of anger or surprise. In fact, his demeanor remained as calming and patient as it always did. He never cracked. Alaric always admired that impossible coolness under pressure.

“What else?” the Son asked. “It sounds like you have more to share.”

“We discovered the perpetrator’s location and pursued him immediately. When we caught up with him, Vitus Malleator attempted to subdue him and lost his life for the effort.” The Son upturned his head slightly in concern at the news. He seemed to be one step ahead of Alaric, based upon his response.

“Just his life?” he said, gripping the arm of his chair. Alaric hesitated to respond. It was too hard to put what had happened to words.

“More than his life, then.”

Alaric lowered his head. A younger Alaric would have lost himself at this point, but Alaric the head of the House was not permitted to show such weakness. He closed his eyes in confirmation of the Son’s inference, and the Son was visibly shaken. Death was not supposed to be the end for a man. A broken promise of paradise for the deceased was the worst kind of tragedy imaginable.

“Was the recovery successful?” the Son asked, most likely already knowing the answer. Alaric shook his head. The Son was not amused, and his discomfort was something Alaric hadn’t seen since the final crusade.

“What was the motive? A common criminal would take it and try to sell it or ransom it for personal gain, so the fact that they fled the city leads me to believe they knew about the Spear’s capabilities.” The Son’s eyes widened. “Ah. I see now.”

It pained Alaric to do so, but with a clenched jaw, he brought his eyes to meet his commander’s. A single tear fell down his face. A wave of realization washed over the Son’s visage and he immediately slouched back in his chair, pressing his hands to his face.

Alaric took the opportunity to wipe the disgusting weakness away. He would not forgive himself for that show of emotion. Stupid boy, he thought, the voice inside his head resembling his father’s. He felt an odd heat pulsating from Daemonore, but when he looked at it, it did not glow.

After a short time, the Son regained his composure as well as his typical indifferent gaze. How can he do that? How can he keep so composed even now?

He stared at Alaric with what an unacquainted outsider might recognize as kindness. Alaric knew better. He waited for the Son to speak first, but he simply did nothing. The silence was deafening and it took Alaric far too long to decide that the Son wanted him to speak first.

“I will find him.” Alaric’s voice nearly cracked as he spoke. He cleared his throat quietly. “And I will return it to the vault. And I will bring him in for judgment.”

He kept waiting for the Son to say something – anything – but he remained silent. After a long pause, Alaric bowed his head and excused himself. The Son’s eyes said more in their distance than any words might convey. Alaric turned about face and marched out of the palace as fast as he could, careful to avoid the stares of the women lounging there. He felt the Son’s eyes burning him as he went.

Just as he left the main entrance and hoped to take some time to breathe, he was met by someone he had hoped to avoid.

Decia, his young wife, immediately met him with a hopeful grin as she saw him. He knew she must have thought he was there to make good on the promise that he made to her just earlier in the night. In an embarrassing overreaction, Alaric shunned Decia and the hopes she had to spend time with him tonight. He knew as soon as he turned from her what she must think of him, but he simply did not have the right mindset to deal with a young girl’s company that night.

Alaric set forth to his empty home alone. He needed to prepare for the arduous road ahead without any distractions.

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