The Apostate Saint: Chapter 2 – The Candle

One hour before the betrayal

The candle display on the Outer Sanctum alone was a marvel to behold, a true testament to the wonders of the Namer’s creation. It had taken monks a full week to set up the display prior to the start of Beneficia, the week-long festival that pre-dated the Fall of Man. ALARICUS CABALLARIUS LUCIDIUS – Alaric, as he was known to his contemporaries, allowed himself reprieve from his duties to the Lord to see the tiny lights dancing in the wind. By themselves, none of the candles were remarkable. It was only when they were there, in their right places designated by skilled artists, that they amounted to something greater than themselves. If one were to remove just one from the collection, the whole display would be weaker in its absence. Alaric was proud to be here, in the place carefully designated for him.

“My lord,” came a voice from behind, interrupting Alaric’s temporary respite. The voice belonged to Vitus Malleator, one of the more spirited men under Alaric’s command. He reminded Alaric of a younger version of himself in a way, always the first to volunteer for anything that would prove his mettle. That same spirit served Alaric well, in his formative years. He wouldn’t have been elevated to such a high stature in the City had he not been among the first to volunteer for El Hijo’s trials. Had he not been so enthusiastic in his youth, the lay folk wouldn’t be revering him as a hero or calling him a Saint. Alaric had completed his mission and was now enjoying the fruits of his labor in the serenity of the White Walled City.

“What do you have for me?”

“Nothing to report, my lord.”

Alaric sought reason in the needless interruption, but reminded himself to treat the ambitious young man with the same kindness that was shown to him when he was so young and hungry for valor.

“Is that all?”

Vitus briefly took on the dumbfounded gaze of a mirumua at the question. Like the trivial creatures that froze at seeing the light from a Soul-arm, Vitus had no immediate response and just stared at Alaric, likely searching for something to say. Alaric put his minor frustration aside in order to treat the young man in the way befitting his stature. The Lord’s teachings said to treat all people with kindness and respect, after all. It didn’t come naturally to Alaric, and even still to this day, he had to remember to emulate the same kindness that was shown to him all those years ago.

“My lord, I’m just letting you know that nothing is amiss. I’ve circled the festival grounds three times since the last check-in and everything is quiet.” Vitus took a breath and his eyes widened, which Alaric knew meant he was fighting to not say something. “Well, the festival crowds aren’t quiet, obviously, but nothing’s come up that requires the Guard to act, anyway.” He just couldn’t help himself, could he?

“Good,” Alaric said, trying not to allow the sarcastic nature of his own youth to lash out at the needless interruption. “Come and find me if, and only if, something requires my attention.” He couldn’t help himself, either. Trying to act against his true nature was a constant struggle for Alaric, even if it had gotten easier with time. At least Vitus would provide good practice for that discipline in the future.

Vitus bowed and excused himself to continue his patrol. Alaric turned again toward the candle display, but the magic of the moment had been lost by the interruption. He decided it was time to perform another of his duties.

Decia was a lovely girl, there was no doubt about that. It was no surprise that she grew up to be as lovely as her mother, Claudia, the first wife of the Lord. She was named after her grandfather Decius Sartorius Decorus, an odd choice for someone to name a girl. Typically, girls were named after their fathers, so when Decia was named after her maternal grandfather instead, it sent confusion through those who care about such formalities. It served two purposes to name her as such – it showed the humility of El Hijo to honor the family of his betrothed, and also it kept the true name of El Hijo hidden from potential enemies. He wouldn’t even tell Alaric, despite their closeness, on their tours of Caelon. Not even when He gave his daughter to Alaric in marriage.

Alaric was always conflicted about the marriage. He was seventeen years Decia’s senior and, though she had come of age, he had known her from when she was very small and had watched her grow up. She, in many ways, was like a young sister or close cousin to Alaric. Alaric, for his part, never expected that when the Lord began marrying off his daughters to His chosen suitors, that He would offer her hand in marriage to him. It was the highest honor that El Hijo could impart upon him, but it never felt right to Alaric.

He had tried to keep himself busy in the time after their wedding, with one thing or another. Though the duties of the Demon Hunt had passed on to new people, Alaric still had other responsibilities that were required of him as the Lord Guardian of the Torian High Consul, His Greatness El Hijo. He so consumed himself in his work that many nights he didn’t even make it home. It didn’t take many months before rumors started to spread about Alaric, which forced him to swallow his hesitancy and perform his husbandly duty. The talk subsided just the past week, when Decia was officially announced to be heavy with child.

Decia was there, chattering away with her many half-brothers and half-sisters and other siblings in the upper balcony overlooking the festivities. Alaric ascended the stairs and met them after a momentary hesitance.

You’ve jumped into the nest of demons, be not afraid of this lot.

They were talking about the things they always talked about. It was one thing to be nobility in the City. It was an entirely different thing to be Gifted. These children and young adults were blessed with the Seven Mysteries, the very powers given by God Himself. The Namer had taken the Gifts away from humanity, but they now returned through El Hijo and His children.

These children would one day reshape the world that their father had cleansed. Only the Houses that absorbed them into their bloodlines would survive over time, that much was certain. But they were children, nonetheless. Even his own wife had not completely rid herself of her childish ways. She belonged here among her siblings more than in Alaric’s manor.

They quieted down when Alaric arrived, which always made him feel even more out of place. They were probably just being respectful, but nevertheless the awkwardness persisted.

“How are you?” Alaric said with intentional firmness. Decia bowed to him. She was still very timid around him, which didn’t help melt the tension. “I hope that you are being attended well?”

She nodded. Of course she was being attended well. She was the daughter of El Hijo, the granddaughter of El Tor, the Speaker of the World. The White Walled City may have had no king, but she was royalty.

Decia bowed her head low. A few strands of hair fell out of place and obscured her face. Alaric didn’t know if it was romantic or not, but he gently pushed the strand of hair back behind her ear and tilted her head up to meet his gaze. He had to make a point of proving his tenderness more often. He wanted the awkwardness to be gone. He needed to make this work. She was carrying his child.

“How are you?” he said again, low enough that only she could hear him. She met his eyes only for a brief moment. Her smile was forced, just like their marriage. Alaric was failing as a husband.

“Listen,” he said. “Tonight, I should very much like to sit with you by the fire.” He started to say something else but couldn’t find more words to say. He wanted to say that he was sorry for being inattentive to her needs, for not listening to her and treating her like a human being. He wanted to apologize for being absent in their marriage. But it was against his nature, and he still desired to be true to himself despite everything. He stopped himself on the way to an apology until he was relieved to see she been distracted by another guest.

It was Vitus Malleator once again. What is he doing here?

Alaric lost his patience all at once. He let go of Decia’s hand and lashed out at Vitus. “What is it? Can’t you see that I’m with my wife?”

“My lord,” Vitus said in a huff. “There’s a matter most pressing that needs your immediate attention.”

Alaric, flustered and upset, turned his head back to Decia, begging her forgiveness. He wanted to be better for her despite the awkwardness he felt in the marriage. She must have seen that, too. She moved a strand of his long blond hair that had fallen out of place behind his ear and beamed at him graciously.

“I would enjoy sitting with you,” she said meekly. So much sweetness was being wasted on Alaric. She needed someone her own age, who could properly hold a conversation with her. Vitus made his nervousness known.

“I’m afraid it’s rather urgent-”

“Then let’s get on with it!”

“How could this have happened?” Alaric shouted at his men. If he was his younger self, he would have had to restrain himself from striking these men down with Daemonore. It was a mortal sin punishable by death for his Soul-arm to meet human flesh, of course, but the temptation would have been hard to resist in his youth.

“We’re not exactly sure, my lord,” said Ninnius. “But we’ve sent scouts everywhere to find the perpetrator. He can’t have gotten far.”

In a time before the Demon Hunt, Alaric would have agreed with the sentiment. The White Walled City was large, but the truth would eventually come out if the Spear remained somewhere inside. Things had changed, however, and the outside world was becoming more and more accessible to mankind.

“You’ve got eyes on the outer walls, then?” Alaric demanded. Ninnius looked to Chius, pleading for reprieve. Chius only gritted his teeth and clenched his jaw.

Alaric, filled with righteous indignation, rushed out of the chamber. If El Hijo finds out about this…

He wasn’t fortified with spirit energy, but his legs remained strong and swift even this far past his prime. Alaric chased his intuition up the city wall and looked out into the horizon. It was already dark, but the sky was lit up well with the glow from the Great Band. A group of robbers would be easy to find in the bare fields that surrounded the sanctuary. But there was no one visible from the Western Wall. Alaric bounded along the battlements onto the northern side, scanning the horizon for movement. He saw nothing. Perhaps the perpetrators were indeed still inside the city.

Vitus caught up with him. “Well?” Alaric demanded. His blank stare and non-response told Alaric all he needed to know. Vitus must have taken this failure personally, as well he should have. His guards were the ones who had failed to protect the artifact. He lashed out at Vitus, letting him feel the full force of his anger. “Why do you insist on wasting my time?” Vitus shrunk in heart, if not in stature. He had no response.

“Namer, are you dense? You need to oversee the group looking through the city. Post two guards on every wall until we’ve found the perpetrators!”

Vitus took it hard, face flushed with shame. He started running toward the eastern wall to climb down but suddenly stopped and looked out at the grounds outside the City. Alaric, curbing his hope, turned to look as well. As soon as he spotted the lone man riding out toward the mountains, Vitus cried the obvious.

Alaric and his men tramped through the gate on their chargers, hot in pursuit of the lone man who absconded with the Spear. The man had stopped and was apparently unaware of their presence for quite some time. It didn’t take long for them to catch up with him. The guards all swarmed around the man, forming a perimeter that he wouldn’t be able to break.

It wasn’t until Vitus broke rank and attempted to cut the man down, that Alaric finally saw the man’s face up close.

“No!” Alaric called out, too far behind and too slow to stop the inevitable tragedy unfolding before him. This was no mere robber. This was Fridok. Vitus was no match for a Saint.

The flash of light that followed had always meant good things to Alaric. It heralded the good news that a demon would no longer haunt the graveyard of this continent. That would be forever different after this one terrible moment, when his beloved friend sundered Vitus into ash. There was nothing Alaric could do but watch in horror as the soul-charged friend of his broke through the line and escaped with the Lord’s Spear.

He would chase him, but he would never catch him. Vitus had died thinking that he was a failure, and he was absolutely right. Alaric would have to carry the burden of his own failure with him for the rest of his days as well, until Fridok was brought to justice. There were no gentle conversations to be had by the fire tonight.

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