- 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
Art was pulled back to consciousness abruptly by the overpowering aroma of something repulsive. Opening his eyes, he was met immediately by the source of the smell. Face to face with a corpse lying on its side next to him, Art tried and failed to rise from his position. He quickly realized that he was somewhere on the bottom of a pile of corpses, some fresh, some rather far along on the pathway to rot. A newly appreciated claustrophobia overtook Art him as he pressed violently against body parts trying to unbury himself from the pile. He pushed against one corpse that looked the least decomposed, but quickly found it to be rather rigid and immovable. It wasn’t until he pressed his hand firmly against a cold, worm-infested body that he managed to make some progress in escaping the heap of corpses in which he was lumped.
He scraped and squirmed his way out of the mess of bodies and managed to reach open air. A few desperate, adrenaline-fueled pushes later and he found his entire body free of the grip of the dead. The body of an old woman tumbled down to the ground in response to his desperation, her hair whipping around as she found a sad resting place on the dirt. Despite everything, he felt some relief wash over him as he realized his legs were, indeed, still able to move. He had initially felt dread about his legs possibly once again being paralyzed. That dread was second only to the terror that was the pestilence that had enveloped him.
What. The. Hell is going on here?
Art took in deep breaths but the air was still filled with the stench of decay – so he covered his mouth with his shirt and proceeded to clamber off of the table that he had found himself upon. As he hit the ground, he recognized just where he had been taken. He stood at the entrance of Necropolis Nullius, the mass cemetery for people of no status in the City. Rich folk were typically buried on their own grounds but the poor were cremated here, their ashes cast into big holes in the ground, most of the time unceremoniously. Solumians accepted their fate because there simply were no places inside the City where they might hope to one day be buried. The Daoine Farraige, however, had other rituals for their dead that were more aligned with their beliefs of the afterlife. The fact that he had ended up here meant whoever had put him here had no care or no knowledge about the fact that he was Farraige.
Perhaps whoever did this to him knew that Art was Farraige and they put him here simply to spite him. Either way – Art wasn’t dead, so somebody had made a big mistake. The biggest unanswered question was what exactly transpired the night before that put him here, lumped in with the dead. He had absolutely no recollection.
Art jumped off the wagon and moved quickly away from the stench as fast as his wonderfully agile legs would carry him. His whole body ached. His head was pounding. Bits and pieces of the events of the night before began to come back to him, but they came only to him in glimpses that he could barely understand, and wasn’t sure if they were real memories or dreams. As he got further away, the adrenaline started giving way to what felt like a really bad hangover. Dizziness overwhelmed Art and he stumbled, catching himself too late to save him from tumbling over. As soon as he hit the ground and tried to prop himself back up, he let go of the contents of his stomach by way of his extra dry mouth.
A curious black bile accompanied the gunk, blood and debris also coming up from his stomach. It was as if he had swallowed tar, the consistency and color matching closely to that vile substance. Along with all of that, Art felt an immense pressure inside his head, as if something was trying to push his eyeballs out from the inside.
He vaguely remembered being escorted by a detail of guards to the office of a City magistrate, but the details after that were a bit blurry. Art knew that he had been thrown into a holding cell the previous day, but didn’t understand what transgression it was he was being charged with. Nobody would dignify Art with a direct response, only that he would likely be there for a while. He had drifted off to sleep thinking about Sabia’s thighs, among other things, but he didn’t understand whatsoever what had brought him into the ire of the guard. He did vaguely remember one nightmare he had, though – one that felt oddly realistic but was likely due to the stress of the series of events that had put him there.
There were creatures everywhere. Strange things, unlike Art had ever seen before. He reckoned that the things in his dreams were demons, or at least what his mind perceived as demons. Everything was a blur now – he focused but couldn’t bring the actual imagery back into the forefront of his mind, and the harder he attempted to do so, the more his head hurt. All of his muscles were taxed more heavily than he had ever had felt them before; he was exhausted and needed sleep more than anything, but knew that he must get away from this place – this foul graveyard for people who didn’t know, understand or appreciate Farraige culture. So, he gathered what strength he could muster and he pushed himself to return to the City, to the only place that he felt like he had left to hide: Fridok’s apartment.
If there was one thing Art was proficient at doing, it was navigating the City’s alleyways. Even after an exhausted awakening from an unexplainable fugue state, Art was able to get to Fridok’s apartment building with relative ease. It wasn’t until he got there that he realized there really was no safe place left to hide.
Standing at the door were two guards, stationed there with spears and armor. They barred entry for all men, women and children who attempted to gain entry to the building. It wasn’t until he recognized the face of a third guard coming out of the building that Art realized their presence was likely directly related to Art’s incarceration the night before.
It was only a flash, but the second he remembered that man, his legs began to throb – as if they suddenly regained the memory of what happened to him. Art remembered how the man had used a contraption to squeeze and scrape Art’s legs, taunting him further and further with breaking his newly mended appendages or even with dismemberment if he didn’t comply with the demands. The fact that this man and his guards were now at Fridok’s building led Art to believe that, for whatever reason, they were actually after Fridok. Perhaps Art was merely the means to that end. Whatever they were planning, Art understood that it was best if he were not discovered by them. They probably thought Art was dead, and he knew it was better to keep it that way.
It wasn’t like Art needed a place to go. He had lived the majority of his life a vagrant in the streets. But, now that Art had been given a second chance at life, he simply didn’t want to go back to being an untouchable wretch begging for scraps. He had tasted the nectar of a proper life and those delights had changed him. No, there was to be no settling for that again, if Art could help it at all. The fact remained, however, that he had to keep his head down for the time being. First thing’s first, though – he needed to get some new clothes and a bath as soon as possible. He couldn’t do much with a rot-soaked, death-scented tunic. And he certainly didn’t want to risk being caught at the public baths with nothing to wear.
An idea came to Art, one that he knew would likely land him in hot water, though not in the way that the grime on his skin demanded. If somebody was willing to act out against one of the champions of the Son, then perhaps it wasn’t Fridok alone whom they would target. The magistrate behind Art’s recent outing may simply be targeting Fridok first, before he makes a move on the estates of the other champions. If some kind of conspiracy was afoot, then others had to know, for the safety of all of them. Yes, it was time for Art to pay another visit to the house with a big hole in it.
Art slipped through the City with relative ease, finding his way by mid-day to the Caballarii mansion, where he and Fridok had undergone the Son’s ritual to create his sword. That whole experience had left Art feeling sapped of any energy for several hours afterward. When he woke up this morning, he felt similar to that night, but even worse for the wear considering the circumstances of where he was when he regained his consciousness. Hopefully the patron of the house would be a bit more welcoming to him, this time.
As he approached the mansion, Art carefully considered the flavor of the hustle he would employ in order to gain entry. He thought about the various ways he could convince the guards to let him in, including pretending to come bearing a message from Fridok, like the two of them were linked together by their minds or something. He ultimately decided against that, as the lady of the house would most likely be able to call him on his bluff with her own connection to her son being evidence against such a wild claim. It was rather ridiculous to even think of such a thing happening, after all.
There were two guards stationed at the front of the house, armed with spears. Art decided to simply present himself exactly as he was, telling the truth as much as he could remember it and lay himself at the mercy of the men there. He wasn’t convinced it would work, but he knew that to these men, honor meant everything. The hope was that they would take him at his word.
“Please!” Art cried, throwing himself at their feet. “Sanctuary!”
The guards reacted as he expected them to do, pinning him down with their spears, barring him from coming any closer. When he looked up, his most convincing waterworks on full display, he saw at least one of the men take the slightest nibble of his bait. To set the hook, Art feigned a fainting spell, lying still at their feet in a rather convincing manner. He even knew how to draw the blood away from his cheeks to really sell the whole ghastly-faced performance. As soon as he heard one guard tell the other guard to report Art’s arrival to their master, Art knew he had been successful in this part of his gambit.
The remaining guard poked Art in the shoulder, which hurt like hell, but Art pushed through the pain to keep his act up. He wanted to shout out in reaction to the spear tip’s unfriendly prodding, but he knew that maintaining the charade was paramount for this whole thing to work. Just as he nearly gave in to the pain of the prodding, the other guard returned and the spear was withdrawn.
“Orders are to bring him inside. Quickly.”
Art was carried by one of the guardsmen, his body slumped over the man’s shoulder. Having the man’s shoulder bones drive into his gut was not a pleasant feeling, and reminded Art that his stomach was already on shaky ground ever since he escaped the pile of corpses in the necropolis. He held his internal contents this time, just long enough to be led through the lavish home to where he would surely be pampered again to his full strength. All he had to do was stay “unconscious” until he was in a more comfortable spot, then ask for a bath and some new clothes and request a longer stay while he figured out what that magistrate was up to. The only problem with this plan was that Art wasn’t carefully placed on a comfortable bed like a guest should be – he was plopped down in a less-than-kind way upon a large wooden table in the middle of the house.
They couldn’t even put me on a couch? They’ve got dozens!
Art lie there, waiting motionless for time to pass long enough to believably “wake up” so he could work the guards over with the next part of his scheme. With any luck, he would endear himself to the mister and misses and convince them that it was in their best interest for him to stay here for the time being.
When enough time passed to be convincing, Art opened his eyes in horror to see the pale, lifeless face of Alaric’s mother about a foot away from his own. Her lifeless body, like his, was placed there upon the table on full display. Art jolted up, panicked and slid right off of the table, crashing to the marble ground below.
“Tell me,” the voice of Alaric’s father said, “why God has decided to take away my wife, but you of all people, get to live? What justice is there in this?”
Art could see the anger in Valoricus’ reddened eyes as he spoke. It was then that Art realized that this woman’s death might somehow be connected to his own experience, whatever that was, the night before.
He didn’t understand at all what was going on, but the one thing he realized was that he might not be any safer in this mansion than he was on the streets.
Art looked sheepishly into the eyes of the man and saw something broken within him. For the first time in a long time, Art had nothing at all to say.