- 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
Valoricus never carried a sword, though he, like all the Cabalarii men since the time before the Fall, had come of age with years of combat training under his belt. The greatest of his ancestors – the generals and consuls of the countless civil wars that led to the downfall of mankind – had effectively set the tone for the family that no man in that line of succession had dared challenge, even over two millennia later. He came from exceptional stock; his was one of the only families from that time in the City’s history who could still trace back their heritage – and name – to the great heroes of the past. He didn’t need to carry a sword; he was royalty as much as any man could be in a City with no king, and nobody would disrespect the honor of the City so much to threaten anyone in a family of such historical import.
His bodyguards in tow, Valoricus left his estate in the mid-morning without considering to address Dacinia. Since their argument about their son Alaric’s company and his choice to go off with the Stranger, he dared not even look at her. He banished her that night to a secondary suite as he had done only a few times in their marriage, under the guise of her needing additional rest. In reality, he was sickened about the way she had embarrassed him that night, and though she really did need extra rest due to the tax upon her body from the Stranger’s ritual, he also didn’t want to see her until he could decide how she would make it up to him this time. Besides, he had important business to attend to that affected the fate of the entire City; he couldn’t be bothered by the concerns of a woman – especially one whom he blamed for the effeminate tendencies of their only son.
Valoricus headed forthwith to Sanctus Mysta, the home of the priests, without giving himself any room to doubt his actions. Consul Quintus Maximilius was out of his reach by design – the religious and political bodies of the City were separated intentionally after in-fighting erupted between the faith militant and the agents of the Senate upon the departure of the Toriad. The solution was two permanently separate branches of government – one to maintain the body and one to maintain the soul of the populace. Valoricus wasn’t the first, by far, to overstep the line that separated the two branches in an attempt to influence the other side, but simply going there unannounced was dangerous nonetheless.
“How can I help you, senator?” the monk at the door asked, as if he hadn’t expected somebody from the Senate to eventually show up. The monks who served under the religious consul were no mere men of God – they were exceptionally trained combatants who were said to possess unrivaled control over their physical bodies. Valoricus had heard many of the stories about so-called heretics who were found with their heads were caved in, lying in a pool of their own blood with their arms and legs spread out into the Namer’s star-pattern, so that everyone could see that they were slain justly by men of God. The monks of the Astrum Order were a force of nature, able to kill a man with any object found nearby or with nothing at all. The fact that they never carried weapons on them mattered little. Even with three guards in tow, Valoricus did not feel safe in this man’s presence.
“I humbly request to be permitted with urgent business.”
“Urgent business, you say? And what would that be?”
Valoricus sized the guard up to gauge whether he had already decided one way or another about letting him pass. This was, after all, the very heart of the City’s religion. A senator entering these grounds sent a very clear signal to the masses that one side of the government was overstepping its jurisdiction. Arriving without an official appointment, especially, was regarded as a clear violation of protocol. Valoricus knew that by coming here, he was sending a very clear message to the consul that the Senate was desperate enough to avoid going through the proper channels to get a hearing, which could take weeks.
“I have come to speak with my wife’s brother.”
“I’m overjoyed to hear that the two of you had finally decided to bury the hatchet.”
Valoricus had never met this man before, but the monk was certainly aware of who he was and that there was no love shared between Valoricus and Dacinia’s brother Stasius Barbatus. The fact that Valoricus had swallowed his pride for the greater good of the City meant nothing, however, if he was simply turned away by a guard at the gate.
“And suppose I give you my word that I’ve come not on the behest of the senate but to speak with Stasius about something that concerns him, important family business?”
“And what business would that be?”
“It is a private matter.”
“A private matter concerning a certain bearer of the Gifts, maybe?”
“A private matter.”
“I am sworn to share no gossip, expose no secrets. You can give me the message and I shall relay it with no other ears to interfere.”
“It is for his ears only.”
“And by my tongue he shall hear it.”
“What is your name?”
The monk smiled at Valoricus, knowing he had achieved his goal of badgering him enough to make him crack. “Frater Liboritus, at your service.”
“Liboritus, you have living family, yes?”
The monk nodded at him, smirk still borne upon his face.
“Suppose a family member of yours came to find you with as great a sense of urgency as I have demonstrated, and another guard on duty had stopped this urgent caller from being received. How would you react then?”
“Have I stopped you from relaying the message?”
“You have stopped me from delivering it myself.”
“This is not the same thing.”
Valoricus was truly beginning to lose his patience with this petulant man. Yes, he was doing his job with a degree of excellence that would have made him well suited for employment as a door guard at Valoricus’ estate, but Valoricus had no time for games. Rather than falling for any further antagonization, Valoricus decided to redirect his efforts.
“Tell me, frater, how much is your stipend?”
The monk leaned in, eyes shifting from side to side. Valoricus determined that he had figured out the name of this man’s game.
The monk shook his head, then pointed up with his thumb.
Once again the monk pointed up.
“Surely the consul isn’t paying you more than fifteen, that sum is ridiculous. I trust these men with my life, and I’d quickly run through my coffers if I paid these men more than fifteen per week.”
The monk narrowed his eyes. Perhaps his bluff had been discovered? Regardless, he once again pointed up.
“I’ve humored your little game long enough,” Valoricus said flatly. “Tell me where you would like to exchange the fee later and I’ll have forty delivered there at the time of your choosing tonight. That is my only offer.”
The monk’s smile waned and Valoricus thought for certain that he had outbid the man’s loyalty. That was until he held his hand out, thumb pressed into the air once again.
“Forty is generous enough, I will go no higher.”
Frater Liboritus then shifted his hand signal from a thumbs up into a straight pointer finger, lifted high above his head and directed it toward the sky, as if he were pointing out a passing bird or a cloud.
“That’s my fee. Right up there.”
Valoricus didn’t need to look up to realize how foolish he had been to try to bribe a man of faith. Money mattered little to a man who felt his reward was to be won but not to be enjoyed in this lifetime. Valoricus bit his tongue, realizing he had only one move left.
“Fine, if that is the way it must be, then simply tell Stasius that his brother-in-law has come calling and that I am waiting for him outside with important matters that require his immediate attention.”
The monk stared at Valoricus for a moment, probably relishing in his victory.
“Fine,” he said, then he went inside and then shut the door. It took the monk nearly ten whole minutes to return, and Valoricus heard him talking and laughing with someone else inside two minutes before the monk once again opened the door.
Valoricus expected to see Stasius with him, but found that Frater Liboritus had returned alone.
“Cardinal Stasius has expressed his willingness to be seen. Not by the esteemed Aesculus who stands before me, but by the cardinal’s own flesh and blood. Fetch your wife and she alone may enter these grounds.”
Furious, Valoricus wanted to lash out at the monk, but decided to not further hinder his only chance at progress. Instead, he and his guards retreated once again back to where they had started. Valoricus marched directly to the room where Dacinia had stayed the night before, ready to pour out upon her the wrath he had stored inside for her brother. When he entered the chamber, however, he was immediately disarmed by the scene playing out in front of him.
Three of his wife’s servants surrounded Dacinia who lie there upon her bed. Two of the girls were hysterical and one of them seemed to be trying and failing to wake his wife up. The second Valoricus saw that Dacinia’s eyes were open and not moving, he realized that she wasn’t merely asleep.
“Oh dear Namer,” Valoricus uttered as he rushed to his wife’s side. She looked even more ghastly and drained than she had looked just two nights before, when the Stranger had performed his cursed ritual upon her to give Alaric his sword. All the color had gone out of her skin and even her thick golden blonde hair had withered to a feeble thin echo of the locks she had handed down to Alaric. Even the color in her eyes had faded away, leaving nothing but glossy lifeless greyish marbles in their place. This wasn’t the wife he had known for nearly two decades – this grotesque thing was an abomination and an affront to everything that once made her so dear to him. The woman who had given him their only son had passed away sometime in the dead of the night.
“We had no idea that she was so ill,” said her beloved handmaid, tears flowing from her eyes.
Valoricus took in the sight, completely floored by the unimaginable loss of his wife. He didn’t have to search very hard in his imagination to find somebody to blame for what happened to her.
“She wasn’t ill. Dacinia was murdered.”
All of the servants could not comprehend what had made Valoricus come to this sudden conclusion, but he didn’t care what they thought. He knew in his heart who was responsible for this travesty, and it was a transgression that would come to define Valoricus for the remainder of his life.
Stricken by shock and unable to direct his anger at the one person who deserved his wrath, Valoricus found a silver lining in the most terrible of events.
“Get the guards,” he told one of the servants. “Have them deliver this body to the doorstep of Sanctus Mysta. Tell them that I will see the cardinal immediately, and that he will come to me.
Valoricus waited until everyone had gone to allow himself to cry, but when the time finally came, the tears wouldn’t flow like he assumed they would.