- The Apostate Saint: Chapter 1 – The Spear and the Sword
- The Apostate Saint: Chapter 2 – The Candle
- The Apostate Saint: Chapter 3 – The Stones
- The Apostate Saint: Chapter 4 – At the Foot of the Stairs
- The Apostate Saint: Chapter 5 – The Price of Entry
- The Apostate Saint: Chapter 6 – The Grand Melee
- The Apostate Saint: Chapter 7 – The Broken
- The Apostate Saint: Chapter 8 – A Lively Feast
- The Apostate Saint: Chapter 9 – Hospitality
- The Apostate Saint: Chapter 10 – A House with a Big Hole in it
- The Apostate Saint: Chapter 11 – The Art of the Sword
- The Apostate Saint: Chapter 12 – The Bearer of Bad News
- The Apostate Saint: Chapter 13 – A Farewell to the City
- The Apostate Saint: Chapter 14 – The Leader of the People
- The Apostate Saint: Chapter 15 – A Dark Place
- The Apostate Saint: Chapter 16 – Into the Abyss
- The Apostate Saint: Chapter 17 – The Deadlock
- The Apostate Saint: Chapter 18 – The Art of the Deal
- The Apostate Saint: Chapter 19 – What Was Seen in the Darkness
- The Apostate Saint: Chapter 20 – Graveyard of a Thousand Unburied Demons
- The Apostate Saint: Chapter 21 – In the Twinkling Stardust
- The Apostate Saint: Chapter 22 – “Ass Water”
- The Apostate Saint: Chapter 23 – Crossing the Line
- The Apostate Saint: Chapter 24 – The Tables of Death
- The Apostate Saint: Chapter 25 – Waking the Son
- The Apostate Saint: Chapter 26 – Arrival (Part 1)
- The Apostate Saint: Chapter 27 – Arrival (Part 2)
- The Apostate Saint: Chapter 28 – Departure
- The Apostate Saint: Chapter 29 – Two Arms!
- The Apostate Saint: Chapter 30 – Something Foul in the Air
- The Apostate Saint: Chapter 31 – Chaos and Order
- The Apostate Saint: Chapter 32 – Dal Segno al Coda
- The Apostate Saint: Chapter 33 – And Then You’re Gone
“Help!” shouted Alaric, seeing Fridok’s body bounce off the walls of the crevasse that neither of the two had seen before starting their ill-fated race. The sound of the wet but solid impact of Fridok against the hard cave floor echoed upward and reverberated throughout Alaric’s head like a sudden fortepiano bar in an otherwise soft, gleeful melody. He felt the absence of that sound even louder than the sound itself. To Alaric, there was little chance that Fridok was alive after a fall like that, but he hoped that perhaps the impacts against the sides were enough to mitigate the damage of his friend’s descent. There was only one way to find out.
All of the others rushed over to Alaric’s side. First, Ervig and Isidore arrived to assess the damage, and then Geilamir. Their silence said everything as they inspected Fridok’s limp body at the bottom of the hole, sprawled out in an almost comical fashion. It appeared that he must have lost consciousness prior to the big impact at the bottom, by the way that he landed without any apparent attempt to brace himself for the landing. “I’ve got rope,” Isidore said, as the others quickly came to join them.
The last to arrive was the Son, calm and collected. The way that he took his time and casually approached them made Alaric rather upset at him – this was, after all, an emergency and the Son was the only one who might be able to bring Fridok back if he had indeed perished. He certainly was needed to heal any injuries that Fridok sustained in the descent. How can he be so cavalier about this?
Still, his arrival at Alaric’s side had a calming effect on Alaric, as well as everyone else there. Alaric just wanted Fridok to be pulled out of there as quickly as possible and brought back to the living. After all, it was Alaric’s fault that Fridok was down there in the first place. Stupid competitive heart.
“What do you see?” the Son said, with a determined but peaceful tone, to Gailavira. Gailavira, to Alaric’s surprise, was lying down in the dirt with her head above the opening, holding her hands next to her face to block out the sun. “Hard to tell,” Gailavira said, focusing hard on Fridok’s body below for any signs of life. Just then, Isidore arrived with a large rope that he had packed on his horse for the ride. Not packing a rope himself for the journey was another mistake that made Alaric feel like he wasn’t right for this mission. Then again, Isidore made it a point to always be prepared for everything, so it was hard to excel in that regard.
Alaric looked around the party gathered there, despite the shame he could feel flushing his cheeks and face. Bulgar and Euric were talking amongst themselves so quickly and quietly that Alaric couldn’t understand what they were saying. They kept pointing in different directions, however, which made him feel like they were devising some kind of a plan that wasn’t readily apparent to Alaric. To him, there was no good way to go about this – the hole’s walls were far too sloped and slick for anyone to be able to descend in a safe way. The only way they were going to be able to go down there safely was by rappelling with Isidore’s rope.
“Anything?” the Son asked Gailavira again. “No movement, no breathing as far as I can see.” That statement again sent a chill down Alaric’s spine. Fridok was now likely dead, and it was because of him. He would never be able to take that back.
“Don’t blame yourself,” Geilamir whispered to Alaric. “It wasn’t your fault. There was no way either of you could have seen this hole. I saw the same thing you did, and this crack just came out of nowhere. Besides, he didn’t really fit in with the… Nevermind–” Alaric turned to Geilamir abruptly, his guilt now redirected as anger to his childhood friend. “Not another word from you.”
“Any chance you can just bring him up to us?” said Ervig, to the Son, as he was helping Isidore unravel his rope. Aside from Gailavira, Ervig was the only one that seemed to have no problem with talking to a living god like he was just another part of the crew. Perhaps it was because he was the oldest, and simply had seen too many big egos in the City in his life to care about using proper etiquette with the most esteemed people.
“Not without risking a total collapse,” replied the Son, unperturbed by the direct line of questioning. “Figures,” Ervig said recklessly. “Alright, tie me off,” he said to Isidore. Isidore found the end of the rope and began to wrap it around Ervig’s waist. Alaric panicked, understanding that he was about to miss out on his one chance to scoop up what little dignity he could collect at the bottom of that hole. “Wait,” Alaric said with urgency. “Let me do this!”
“You’re too flustered and shaken,” Ervig said, putting his arms to the side to allow Isidore to fasten the rope into a type of harness. Alaric had seen Isidore tie that knot a thousand times when he demonstrated to the men at the barracks how to properly ascend and descend a wall. Granted, they never did get a chance to really use it until just now, so Alaric was certain Isidore was thrilled to get a chance to do so. Rather than allowing the two older men to sort out the mess that he had created, Alaric again insisted.
“I’m lighter, more graceful and far more nimble than you are,” Alaric said, attempting to appeal to the man’s logic. It came out conceited, so Ervig just raised his eyebrow at Alaric and continued to be harnessed in.
“It’s my fault it happened, damn it, let me fix it!” Alaric said, finally saying what he really meant.
Ervig turned to Isidore with a disdainful, displeased look on his face. Alaric wasn’t sure where the disagreement would go next, but he had run out of ammunition and all honor was on the line now. That’s when Gailavira said the words that washed Alaric with a flood of relief.
“He’s breathing,” she said aloud, so everyone could hear. “Just barely, but it’s there.”
Alaric walked toward Ervig and stood directly in front of him, hoping that the man would finally relent. After sizing up Alaric for a moment, Ervig just stared at him with an incredulous look. But he didn’t fight anymore, and Alaric knew that this was the opening he needed.
Alaric took a deep breath, looked down at Fridok’s now barely breathing body, and then back at Ervig. With nothing left to lose, he simply said, “please.”
Ervig removed the harness himself, dropping the rope on the ground, and, once he was free from it, he took a step back and motioned for Alaric to take his place. Alaric did just that, with haste.
“Remember your training,” Isidore said to Alaric. “Use every surface you can to brace yourself on the way down. Walk when you’re able to walk. Tread lightly if you get too close to any jagged edges. Breathe. Take it inch by inch. Most of all, don’t free fall unless you have to. I’m not as strong as you might be convinced.”
Alaric thanked Isidore, nodding his head and mentally preparing himself for the drop down. He looked at the sides, trying to decide on the best route to take. Geilamir approached, along with Euric and Bulgar and the two wards, to help fortify Isidore’s grip. Ervig did the same. On his own honor, he wasn’t about to let someone under his protection get hurt.
Alaric found what path he felt would be best on his descent, and motioned for the others to follow him to the launching point. They did, everyone supporting Isidore as Alaric grabbed ahold of the side of the crevasse and eased himself over the edge. His initial descent was just as smooth as it had been in practice. With so many people bracing him, it was rather easy to find his way down along the jagged edges of the rocky terrain. He allowed himself to think that things were beginning to look up. He was going to be able to retrieve Fridok’s body, the Son would use the Gifts to heal him and then they would be able to start putting this whole thing behind them. That thought was interrupted, however, by a sound he had never heard before, but would never forget.
It came blasting from the deep crevasse, echoing in every direction around Alaric. It was unlike anything Alaric had ever heard before, a high pitched shriek that pierced his eardrums and caused him to physically shudder from the assault on his ears. He immediately clasped his hands around his ears to dampen the sound, and, by the fact that he was now descending far more uncontrollably downward, he knew that at least one or two of the others holding the rope had done the same. The sound was so deafening, Alaric wasn’t surprised that it had disoriented them so.
Alaric used what he could from his training to safely find his way down, but there was still a good amount of cave wall left to go before he would reach the bottom. He tried to be as graceful as he could, but with the shrieking still breaking his eardrums and the slack from the rope falling faster than he did, Alaric wasn’t able to assure his own safety well enough to stop the inevitable collapse. He heard Geilamir curse from above, even over the noise, and he knew it was even worse than he figured.
The rope came down in its entirety and the other end of the rope flew past Alaric as he desperately held his hands against a side of the cave, bracing his feet on the jagged surface below him. It wasn’t enough to stop him as the rock surface was slick, and Alaric fell about a third of the way that Fridok had just fallen, landing hard against the surface of the cave below.
Rather than losing all consciousness as completely as Fridok did, Alaric managed to simply black out for a short time. When he awoke, he realized that the shrieking had not stopped. It had only gotten louder.
Alaric moved to right himself, but was in immense pain as shocks course through him stemming from his right shoulder. He winced in pain, but managed to scramble to his feet and found Fridok’s body lying nearby. He scurried over to him, attempting to wake him with his good arm. It didn’t work – Fridok’s bloodied face lie motionless despite the horrendous noise assaulting his ears.
Alaric pressed his head to his right shoulder, and his left hand against his open ear. If he hadn’t done that to protect himself, the sound would have been far too much to bear. He looked around him, seeing the whole rope that Isidore had tied around him lying in a heap on the cave floor, abandoned even by the City’s most formidable champions. If this awful portrait of which he was the subject was any indication of the overall success of the expedition, then those above might as well turn around now.
Facing the source of the sound, Alaric could see nothing in the chasm just past the reaches of the sunlight, save for what he imagined were actual sound waves pulsating forth from the source of the unbearable screeching. That screaming continued with no end, and though Alaric couldn’t see anything, he knew that it was getting closer to him.
Alaric was about to come face to face with his very first demon and neither he nor Fridok had their Soul-arms with them. He was completely without any weapons whatsoever, as they had removed their excess items prior to starting their race. He looked up, hoping that salvation would come in the form of his companions, but was unable to see anything from this vantage point. He certainly couldn’t hear them talking over the demonic sound of whatever it was that was fast approaching.
Alaric stood up, thinking quickly. He took the end of the rope and found a stalagmite, tying it off there. He scurried over to the other side of the cave and wrapped the rope around another jagged rock jutting up from there. His hope, though desperate, was that he would somehow be able to trip the creature by pulling up quickly as it approached. With no proper weapons to speak of, he would be left with nothing but his bare hands and teeth and perhaps a pointy rock or two, if he could find any in time.
He prepared himself to spring the hastily made trap and continued to look around for something sharp with which to arm himself. Sadly, he found no suitable rocks in his proximity and thus was left with only his throbbing right arm and non-dominant left arm and legs as his means to defend himself. He backed himself up against the wall, preparing for the creature, whose figure was just starting to appear in front of him.
Just as Alaric expected to see the whites of the creature’s eyes, it vanished back into the abyss. With its disappearance, its constant screaming came to an immediate halt. It seemed as though the demon might have been more bark than bite, and decided not to risk a direct conflict. From what Alaric could tell, it wasn’t as big as he had imagined demons being. This thing that had gotten near him and retracted was no taller than a man, though from what glimpse Alaric got of it, it was considerably more gaunt and bony in its appearance to be considered human. Whatever that thing was, it was gone, now.
Now that he wasn’t being audibly assaulted, he was able to hear the voices of his companions from above – along with a residual ringing in his ears that he was certain would remain for a long time.
“Are you hurt?” he heard Isidore call down to him, though he could hardly call it hearing. Alaric checked the darkness to see if he could spot the creature again, but darkness was all he could see.
“Yes, I’ve taken quite a bit of damage,” Alaric reported. “We need to get him out of here first!” If the screaming demon hadn’t successfully roused Fridok from his state of unconsciousness, then he clearly wasn’t about to get up and walk away without supernatural administration.
“Hang on, we’ll get it all sorted out,” Isidore assured him. “Just don’t move, don’t do anything but sit there.”
Easier said than done, what with the throbbing pain that was just catching up with him, the everlasting ringing in his ears, the barely breathing companion and of course, the threat of another attack by the screamer. What else could possibly go wrong?
A moment later, his mentor was himself descending from the heights. Alaric had to laugh. He hadn’t thought to bring even one rope, and here Isidore was, replacing the rope that was lost with a spare. Because of course Isidore always came prepared.
“We’ve got this handled, don’t worry.” Comfort did indeed wash over Alaric with those words as Isidore’s feet gently hit the ground next to Alaric. “Let’s harness him in first, then come back for me,” Alaric said, knowing that Fridok’s case was the more dire one. Isidore agreed with Alaric after assessing the situation and together they gently harnessed in the heavy body of their fallen companion. With a tug of the rope, Isidore ascended the cave with Fridok in tow.
Alaric eyed the blackness with building trepidation as he waited for his turn to be rescued. When at last the moment came that Isidore again began his descent, Alaric couldn’t help but feel like there was still something down here with him, just waiting for an opportunity to strike. It felt like an eternity before he finally arrived to secure Alaric’s escape, but there was no additional incident at that time.
“Let’s get you out of here,” Isidore said, to which Alaric nodded enthusiastically in agreement. Utilizing the existing harness that Alaric already had around him, the process of escaping was much quicker for Alaric than it had been for Fridok. In only a matter of seconds, the two were fastened together and Alaric felt himself finally departing the cursed place.
In order to keep his hands busy as they ascended, Alaric began spooling up the first rope that was still attached to him, but now dangling below and spread out on the cave floor. He could see the evening sky brighter and more clearly with each tug from the rescuers above, and things were finally about to be as they should.
Just then Alaric felt a violent tug on the rope below him which broke his grip entirely on it and cast what he had gathered back into the abyss. Terror coursing through him, he felt the other end of the rope start to yank not only Alaric but even Isidore to the side, even loosening the tight grip of the men holding the rope above.
“By the Namer you will HOLD THAT ROPE!” shouted Isidore, realizing the immediate danger they were both suddenly about to face. Alaric was reminded of the feeling of freefalling that he had just endured, and braced himself mentally for the feeling once again. But, just as he felt like things were at their most dire, a newfound strength empowered those on the top side. The rope from the surface overpowered the pull from below, and in a matter of seconds, Alaric and Isidore were close enough to grasp the ground above them.
Alaric looked over at the one person not handling the rope – Gailavira – who approached Alaric carrying Alaric’s own Soul-arm. With surgical accuracy, she cut through the rope that was dragging them down, and Alaric and Isidore’s safety was at last assured.
As Alaric caught his breath, he took notice of three things: one – Fridok was alive and sitting up, looking around, two – the Son seemed to stand taller than usual, and had a glowing aura surrounding him, and three – the entire bed of grass around Fridok was now completely grey and devoid of life, for many yards in every direction – all the way around the crack in the ground to the bush that was to be the destination of the race. Nothing but dead sticks remained where the bush once stood.