The Apostate Saint: Chapter 20 – Graveyard of a Thousand Unburied Demons

The terrifying screech immediately thrust Alaric out of his sleeping position and back into a panic. He was exhausted from the day’s travels and missteps and was just starting to let down his guard when the screaming demon once again ripped away all sense of security. He covered his ears, which would have probably sprung forth blood under the auditory assault, but quickly realized that he would have to endure the sound in order to properly defend himself. For though he could not see the demon herself, he immediately took notice of perhaps hundreds of other creatures, clamoring toward their camp at rapid succession. He let go of his ears and reached for it – the Soularm he had been granted as one of the chosen. There was no more hesitation – now was the time for all of them to prove whether the Son had made a mistake or not.

“To me!” the Son shouted, rallying all of the warriors at the camp to his side, a few feet away from the campfire. Alaric wasted no time at all in doing so, and was met there by the lady Gailavira. Shortly after, Geilamir, Isidore, Ervig, Xanthus and Calix were all there. Last to arrive was Euric, who was preoccupied and hesitant, as he looked East to where his cousin were looking out. That’s when Alaric realized that Fridok was still out there as well, the two of them stranded a good distance from the rest of the group. “Close in!” the Son said, gathering everyone together.

Alaric looked out at the rock that Fridok and Bulgar had stationed themselves upon, but saw no glimpse nor shadow of his friends. He immediately feared for the worst, but understood he needed to focus on the task at hand. The spot at which the group had gathered was at the Son’s tent, under the shade of two large trees. It became immediately apparent why he had chosen this spot as he pressed one his hands against one of the trees and began channeling its life force into the ground at their feet. The tree wilted and crumbled at his touch. As the creatures pressed closer, the Son demonstrated his immense power in defense of their position.

The cacophony crescendoed as the combined orchestra of demons snarling, howling and cackling underscored the unbearable high-pitch shriek that continued far longer than a typical human’s lungs would ever allow. As if the insanity-inducing high notes of the witch demon and oppressive middle notes of the oncoming demon army hadn’t been too much for their ears and minds to bear, the low notes came from underneath them to complete the symphony from hell. The very ground at their feel shook and splintered, bending to the will of the Son at the cost of both trees. It moved and cracked and reshaped itself so quickly, all of them nearly lost their footing.

First, a great barrier wall rose up from the ground in defense of their positions. It formed a protective shell around them, keeping the masses at bay as they crashed upon it like waves against the City’s levies. Next, the Son instructed all of them to hunker down as to not lose their balance as he forced the ground under their feet up high into the sky. They all braced themselves and leaned upon one another as the ground under them transformed into a platform, an earthen citadel surrounded by a defensible wall made entirely out of rock.

Suddenly, things were not so bleak. The demons might have been many, but they didn’t have the Son on their side.

“Prepare yourselves,” the Son warned them. “For these damned souls know no fear, they persist simply on malice and hatred for God. They are hungry and insatiable. They will not leave this place until every last one of us is dead and they will do so simply because they have nothing left to lose. We have to put to an end each and every one of them if we are survive another day. Do you understand?”

The minor feeling of safety that Alaric had just appreciated fled promptly. Now, it seemed, it was time to test their mettle. This was what they had come to do, but they were simply outnumbered a hundred to one. Being the best swordfighter in his class was something Alaric could achieve. Taking on hordes of mindless, bloodthirsty creatures with no sense of honor or dignity was simply not something any one of them had been prepared to do. Alaric could already imagine the songs that would be sung about his group after they were torn apart and devoured. “The Slaughtered Madman and his Ten Fools” or something like that was probably going to be the title of a song. At least no one else would be foolish enough to think that going outside of the walls again would be an option.

“I’m going to open a hole in the wall right there,” said the Son, pointing at a section of the rock wall close to a particularly hard to navigate tract of land. “If we don’t give them a place to focal point, they’ll eventually figure out a way up the walls on all sides. If that happens, we might as well cast down our arms and accept our fate.”

Alaric turned to Geilamir, both of them frankly terrified. They held their swords, but had no confidence in their ability to turn the tide in this battle.

“Once the bodies start piling up, we must fall back up here, where we must make our stand.” The Son looked upon the faces of his small team, who were disheartened to say the least. He must have known how impossible it seemed to them that they might even stand the slightest chance against the howling crying masses, because, for a moment, he remembered that these were not Gifted men in his company, but regular soldiers, devoid of anything that made them particularly worthy of standing by his side.

“You there, bowman.” Euric turned his attention to the Son, in an obvious panic. “Fire a single shot into the masses. Don’t miss.”

It seemed Euric had completely lost his nerve, as he responded with defeated hesitance. “There are too many…” His attention went again to the East, back to where his cousin had last been seen. Alaric could still see nothing there, and also feared for the worst for Fridok and Bulgar. It was very likely that they could have simply been overwhelmed and trampled by the numerous demons that now sieged their camp. It was enough to make anyone give up hope.

“Pick up your bow and take a shot.” The Son placed his hand on Euric’s shoulder, then took an arrow from his quiver and placed it in Euric’s hand. Euric swallowed his pride, nocked the arrow and pulled back, firing it at a particularly large conglomerate of demons. Though the arrow made no sound loud enough to hear over the noises of demons, the effect that it had was immediate.

A light flashed in the darkness from the place that Euric’s arrow had fallen. The demons that had amassed in that area scattered at the sight of the golden light that now shone forth, illuminating the darkness all around like a beacon. Remarkably, the light then moved from the place where the arrow had been fired all the way back to Euric, whose body took it in. He, himself became a source of light. All of those in the company looked upon Euric with disbelief.

“Now, place your hands upon me and give me the light,” said the Son. Euric, who had never done anything like this before and probably had no idea how to do so, simply followed the command. He placed one hand on the Son’s shoulder and bit his lip, unsure of how to go about the request. The Son nodded at him and Euric closed his eyes. Within a few seconds, the light that had been illuminating through Euric’s whole body poured out into the Son, who became something of a god at the transfer of power.

“Good. Now do the same for each and every other person here and send them down to me. Once that is done, stay here with the two boys and protect Lady Gailavira with your lives.” With that, the Son leaned forward and slid down the steep side of their rocky platform and made haste to the part of the wall he had pointed out just prior. Euric, wasting no further time, went about fulfilling the command of his leader. With each shot, he gathered the glowing energy and transferred it to the others. When it came time for his turn, Alaric wasn’t sure what sensations to expect.

“When you’ve received the light, come to me!” shouted the Son, who stood with one hand on the wall, preparing to take it down. Alaric looked into Euric’s eyes as he approached him. There was something alluring about the light dancing in the whites of Euric’s eyes that entranced Alaric. Even though Alaric was frightened about what was to come, something about that light soothed him and commanded him to take heart. Euric placed his hand on Alaric’s shoulder just as he had done with the Son, and then it was Alaric’s turn to feel something he had never felt before.

It was as if his bloodstream had become a river of pure energy and strength. His entire body tingled, leading him to believe he was now capable of reacting to any stimulus at speeds he never thought possible. His muscles bulged with newfound strength unhindered by the weight of typical muscle mass. The Soularm he had at the ready immediately felt light in his hand, as if now he might even be able to wield it with only one hand. The situation that had looked bleak just seconds before suddenly seemed entirely within the realm of possibility, a revelation both exciting and horrifying at the same time.

“Shall we?” said Geilamir, who seemed absolutely thrilled to have the chance to try out his new sword. Alaric smiled at him, feeling as thrilled as he had when they were children, going on their various misadventures together. Alaric had never dreamed that they would actually end up playing out one of their make-believe missions in real life, but here they were.

The two slid down the edge of the platform and joined Isidore and Ervig there behind the Son. When they arrived, the Son acknowledged their presence with a nod and leaned into the wall. He transferred a great deal of the energy that he had been infused with into the wall, and a twenty foot section of it came crashing down ahead of them. Demons cried out in agony as the wall crushed them, but the minor victory was short-lived.

“Hold the line!” the Son said, now glowing significantly less than he had prior to pressing the wall. Isidore and Ervig angled their Soul-spears for the oncoming assault. Alaric and Geilamir held their swords at the ready as the inevitable tide of hideous grotesque creatures began to fill the void where the wall had just been standing. In the center of them all was the Son, spear and sword in either hand as he held a stance unfamiliar to any fighting style Alaric had ever seen.

But when the demons came upon them, Alaric experienced first-hand the strength of the Son’s particular style. He thrust first with the spear, then immediately followed up with a strike with his Soularm. The spear sent out a purple-ish light from the demon from where it had been hit, but one swift strike with his sword not only killed the thing, it caused it to shrivel up into a pathetic husk of a thing. Just like that, the Son was re-infused with stark luminescence and immediately went on to fight the next demonic attackers coming down the battlefield.

Alaric darted into his place on the line, giving the Son enough distance to continue his graceful dance. Geilamir took up the other place in the middle and the two of them began their work as the spearmen held the flanks.

Infused with incredible reflexes and strength unlike anything he had ever experienced, the demons fell before him like blades of grass. With every swing, Alaric downed several more of the hideous creatures, their animated though ugly visages melting away to something more akin to dried fruit upon contact with his Soularm. Each time he destroyed one, he felt stronger, more agile and more aware of everything around him. And he thought that he had been at peak physical performance before.

Geilamir laughed with every felled foe, his voice booming louder and louder as he cackled with glee. He was actually having fun. The demons kept throwing themselves at the Son’s chosen, but their efforts only amounted to an ever-growing pile of withered corpses in a semi-circle around them. Along with Geilamir and Alaric, the two spearman also pressed forward, jabbing at every wicked thing that dared attempt to flank them. Their strikes with their Soularm spears were made inhumanly fast, each jab imbuing the older warriors with an ever-rising upper limit of martial awareness. Incredible though these fighters were proving themselves to be, they were simply still out of the league of the Son, whose life force-infused nimbleness and grace was combined with his usage of the Gifts. One second, he would be cutting through three demons at a time, the next he would be sending huge splinters of ground to crush groups of them. Simply put, the unstoppable horde of demons was no match for the City’s finest and their great leader.

But there was still the matter of the screamer – the witch-like demon that continued to underscore the whole fight with her unbearable high pitch screaming. Though Alaric had managed to somewhat tune it out in the carnage that he found himself embroiled in, he felt that the creature must be stopped at all costs as to stem the tide of further demons heeding her call to alarm. In the madness of the battle that they were clearly winning, Alaric inexplicably found her, standing behind the lines of demons just south of camp. He knew he had to make his move, lest she continue to hound the warriors through all of their travels. Plus, he had the gentle ears of a musician and hated her for assaulting them.

Alaric leapt onto the shoulders of one demon, slicing its face the second after launching off of it. He literally ran atop the thickly-packed demons’ heads and shoulders as he made his way toward the source of the horrible sound. As much as he could, he struck out at the demons along the way, sending many more of them to Hell as he passed. It didn’t take long at all for him to reach her – the gangly witch-demon from the cave.

She was even more hideous than he remembered her, and she was now fully visible to him because of how much light his body emanated upon his surroundings. She had tattered clothing, something ancient but remarkably human. Her figure was skeletal, the strands of her hair long, white and spindly. Her pasty bony hands like claws awaited Alaric as he made his final approach.

Alaric expected an actual fight, but his highly elevated state made him far more capable than she. As he landed, he sent her flying backward in two directions, her body cut in twain as easily as a knife through butter. As the screaming came to an abrupt halt, only the sounds of the battle carrying out behind him remained. Satisfied with his move, he looked back at the encampment, perhaps expecting some kind of praise and celebration, but he did not find it, for when he left his position on the line he was supposed to hold, the demons had apparently broken through the line and now poured forth into the inner sanctum of the makeshift keep where Gailavira and the young wards were helpless, save for Euric who could not possibly hold all of them indefinitely.

Alaric hurried back to join his comrades, swinging wildly through the masses of demons as he strived to patch the hole he had made when he had gone to put an end to the screaming. As he got closer, he realized just how foolish his gambit had been. The Son still remained, but he was now surrounded by too many demons to easily move to close the lines. Geilamir and Ervig were still fighting, but the gap in the line that Alaric caused now sent a flood of demons coursing through the wall, pushing the two of them out of the way. Isidore was nowhere in sight.

He cut through the demons and did his absolute best to stop them, but they were simply packed in too tightly for Alaric to position himself in front of them again. Alaric saw the look of desperation on Euric’s face as he attempted to shoot down each of the demons that climbed the central earthen platform on which he and the wards and the lady were hopelessly stranded. Demons clawed at Alaric’s back, which forced him to address the immediate threat to himself rather than making his way to anyone’s rescue. He had made a grave mistake.

Even being infused with immense power was not enough to balance out poor tactics, a fact that he had been lectured about a hundred times over in his classes on ancient history of the wars of the world before the Fall. Yet, here he was making the same mistake that he had criticized the generals of the Second Age for committing, a failure that always meant a horrible death for the troops. You don’t break rank, Alaric. You don’t go off on missions of personal glory when your men need you most. He could hear Isidore’s voice echoing in his head from his days at the academy and now felt even worse about ignoring his better judgment since Isidore most likely had fallen because of Alaric’s reluctance to simply stay put.

Victory over the mass of demons had seemed possible just minutes before, but now the fog of war was lifted and the battle was revealed for what it had always been: a hopeless exercise in proving the futility of what everyone already knew about conquering the world outside of the City. They would indeed be known forever as fools, sung in sad songs about hope crushed under the weight of reality. No hope would come from elsewhere; this first fight would prove to be their last.

As everything was beginning to seem lost, Alaric caught sight of a figure atop the Eastern wall, a bearded man bathed in light, holding in his hand a great sword that also shined like the Sun in the dead of night. Fridok yet lived, and a moment later he pulled an equally luminescent Bulgar up to his side. The two of them took no time at all to assess the situation before Fridok dove headlong into the fray, Bulgar sending one arrow after another at the demonic forces below.

His morale rekindled, Alaric focused his attention now upon closing the gap between him and his remaining brothers-in-arms. He knew that if they were to succeed, Geilamir and Ervig would need to have the pressure eased off of them, so that they could all fall back together and clean up the force that had broken through the wall. Alaric made quick work of the creatures, both two-legged and four legged, snapping and scratching at him. With each swing, the river of monsters that separated him from his friends grew more narrow until at last they were cut off.

With no time to celebrate, Alaric, Ervig and Geilamir together cleared a path toward the Son, who continued to use his powers to upend vast sections of ground to shape the land into a tighter funnel. With the enemy’s ability to flank them thoroughly cut off, they were able to begin to clear out the demons that were now cut off from support. The Son and Ervig stayed behind to bar entry to the mouth of the battlefield, and Alaric and Geilamir began cleaving through the demons that had flooded the innermost section of the former camp.

As they approached the ground where Alaric had previously been stationed, he took notice of Isidore’s spear, sticking out from a large heap of demon husks. Realizing that Isidore’s hand had not been separated from his weapon, Alaric shouted for Geilamir to help him dig their mentor out. Isidore’s face was covered in blood, shredded and maimed along with the rest of his upper torso, but when Alaric hoisted him up, Isidore’s eyes came open. He yet lived.

Alaric looked into the inner area of the camp and saw another opportunity for glory as the demonic forces were finally starting to wane thanks to the efforts of a berserk Fridok and the Alcamora cousins. Still full of regret from his mistake, Alaric decided to leave all of the glory for the others and determined to help bring Isidore to a safer location out of the way of any more demons. Geilamir wasted no time in assisting, but couldn’t help but stare at the incredible swordsmanship of the Solumian man he didn’t really care about. With the screamer dead, Fridok’s war cry carried over everything – a sound that seemed to terrify and scatter even fearless demons as the bite of the mad dog from the slums proved even worse than his bark. This carried on for ten minutes until the battle was won.

When the last demon had been destroyed, the Son walked over to each of the warriors and placed his hands upon them, healing their wounds. Isidore was the first to feel the salvation of the laying on of the Son’s hands, and though Alaric couldn’t bring himself to make eye contact with him, he was filled with relief at the restoration of his mentor. Each one of them had sustained significant wounds from the demons, but all of that was wiped away with an administration of the Son’s Gifts.

The Son laid a hand on Fridok’s shoulder to heal him as he approached the central platform. It was also to be taken as a sign of new respect, and Fridok understood that he had earned it. Alaric felt a wave of sympathetic pride wash through him as he gave Fridok a knowing smile. Fridok returned it, and allowed himself to be at peace with his place among the others.

Lastly, the Son placed his hand upon the platform whereupon the others still stood and forced the earth to lower them to safety. As it did, the last bit of light faded from the Son and he collapsed onto the ground right where he was standing. Geilamir gasped in disbelief.

Gailavira rushed to his side, administering to him. Everyone there was completely taken aback by the sudden fall of this god-like man who had until just that moment seemed all-powerful. Alaric could do nothing else but stare in disbelief at the sudden turn of events. Gailavira checked the vital signs of the Son, and, to everyone’s relief, did not share any dire news but instead gave commands as if she were the Son’s lieutenant.

“We’ve got to move him while all of you still have the light within you. The power will sustain you for a time, but when it leaves, it is going to take every ounce of your strength with it. We must be somewhere safe when it does, because there will not be one of you left standing when the time has come to pay the debts of your battle.”

Alaric, still overflowing with immense power, had to admit to himself that if it could happen to the Son, it could happen to any one of them. Now, Alaric finally understood and appreciated why the Son had chosen Lady Gailavira and the two wards to accompany the warriors upon the journey. They would be all that would be left to mop up when the party came to an end.

So, the party gathered up all of their things and made haste away from the graveyard of a thousand unburied demons. As they made their way to the new campsite, Alaric felt weaker and weaker as the light left him. Soon enough, he would end up just like the Son. Soon enough, he would be at rest.

He studied his sword, and began to think of what he was going to call it.

3 thoughts on “The Apostate Saint: Chapter 20 – Graveyard of a Thousand Unburied Demons”

  1. That’s probably the creepiest picture you’ve added to a chapter yet. Gee thanks… I am heading up to bed soon. If I have nightmares about that screaming demon, I’m blaming you.

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