- 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
“We’ve got to do better than this!” called Isidore from his horse. It was true. Alaric and the others would need to increase their pace by a significant amount if they were going to be able to catch up with the Son. We shouldn’t have hesitated so long. Alaric didn’t want to accept the fact that, no matter how much he wanted to follow the Son, it would ultimately prove a fool’s errand. Still, he and the others all knew it was their sacred duty, and they would do whatever it took to get there eventually. They retraced their steps closely, so Alaric was already familiar with the landscape, but it worried him that they were racing headlong and not paying enough attention to the danger that may be lying in wait for them.
The beats of their horses’ hooves upon the ground eventually synced up to form a kind of metronome, which, naturally, made Alaric turn his mind to music. In particular, his thoughts were drawn to the battle tunes of old, with their prominent drumming that soldiers used to maintain a steady pace as they marched off to war. He had always been drawn to studying that genre of music, with its commanding purpose to every word and every verse. Perhaps it was simply because it made him feel closer to the Heroes of history, those brave commanders and soldiers who had become the stuff of legend. It was one thing to admire those people and to study the songs that were sung about them – that part brought Alaric comfort. It was another thing, entirely, to follow in their footsteps and march off to war, albeit with much less fanfare and a much smaller army. He was already convinced after getting his own taste of true combat that he would much rather study those Heroes from the comfort of his own room or, even better, the Library.
No matter how hard they pressed their horses, the quartet simply could not bridge the gap between them – the Son simply had too much of a head start and too fast of a horse for them to catch up with him. At best, they would rally with him back at the City. Should he be intercepted by monsters, then at worst they would ride in and provide aid at that time. Either way, it made Alaric terribly nervous to not be riding at his leader’s side, where he was needed.
“There’s no chance we’ll catch up!” cried Euric, over the hoofbeats. Alaric knew this already, but hated hearing the words spoken, because that made his denial harder.
“We’ve got to try!” Alaric called back in defiance. “Press harder and keep the pace!” Alaric knew that the pace was unsustainable, and that they were pushing their mounts much harder than they should for such a long journey. They set out to follow and support the Son, so to stop or slow down now meant they might as well have not left camp at all. The horses could rest when they got to the City. If they could just push a little harder, they might just be able to close in on him…
“Oh, shit!” yelled Euric. “Look out!”
Euric pulled hard left on his horse’s reins, narrowly avoiding a long-armed scaly demon that lie in wait. It reached for him, but he managed to evade its clutches. Alaric, who was in the rear of the three horses, was able to react with enough time to avoid the creature, but Isidore and Calix on Isidore’s horse did not have nearly enough time to dodge the creature lying in wait. It lashed out with both of its bony hands, striking at their horse in an attempt to bring it down. Isidore attempted to control the horse, but the demon’s claws slashed at it, ripping a gaping wound into it that spanned from its foreleg to its hindleg.
Screaming from sheer pain and terror, the horse ran erratically as fast as it could away from its attacker, blood spraying across the dirt as it bounded away. It may have narrowly escaped from the ambush, but it was clearly too scared to control, as evidenced by the fact that it started bucking in an attempt to free itself from its passengers. Isidore managed to hold on, but Calix was thrown off after the horse’s third attempt to buck them off. It charged away, Isidore hanging onto its back for dear life as he attempted to stop it. He turned his head in an attempt to see where Calix had landed, but was redirected immediately by the horse’s state of shocked flight.
Alaric called out to Euric, trying to get him to turn around. They needed to save the boy, who had landed hard upon a patch of desert grass and wasn’t moving. The demon, on the other hand, scrambled toward Calix, its attempt at an ambush successful. Alaric pulled hard on his horse’s reins and turned him around to try to save the fallen ward.
Fear ballooned in Alaric’s mind, primarily for the safety of Calix. Alaric always felt bad for the boy – his disfigurement being the greatest factor standing against his ascension into prominence. Were his appearance not a factor, he would have had a high likelihood of rising to the heights of the greatest of his bloodline politically. The Sybilla family was as well-known as they come in the City, their prominence stemming back since the time of the earliest consuls. Calix’s father alone had been elected Senate consul three times in a row before retiring, a worthy contributor to the family’s long and storied legacy.
When Calix was sent full-time to the martial academy for training, however, it became apparent that the only way he would be able to rise up in the ranks would be to prove himself in the arena before he partook in any politics. His father always said it was the best way he knew to toughen him up for the mean-spirited political battles that would await him later in life. Now that all of that hung in the balance, it was up to Alaric to save the boy from an untimely end.
Alaric neared the place where Calix had fallen and withdrew Daemonore. It wasn’t an easy feat, as the Soularm was large and unwieldy while mounted. Still, he did his best to hold the blade out in preparation for striking down the demon as he approached. Unfortunately for both of them, the demon was much faster than it appeared to be capable.
The hideous creature used its long arms as a spring, launching itself into the air and directly upon Calix, who was just starting to come around.
“No!” Alaric shouted. The demon scooped up Calix in one of its massive arms and used the other to leap away just as soon as Alaric was within arm’s length of it. With only one of its arms available to balance itself, it landed rather hard and ungracefully on the ground several yards away. Alaric pulled his horse to a sudden stop, which worked, but Alaric didn’t account for the speed at which he was moving and the fact that he was holding on with only one arm. He nearly made contact between Daemonore and the horse, but corrected himself before tragedy occurred. Because of this, Alaric continued moving while the horse stopped.
With no soul energy present to empower his acrobatics, Alaric landed in a somersault, letting go of Daemonore as to avoid ended up on the wrong side of the Soularm. When he finally came to a stop, he did his best to recover despite the fact that the wind had been knocked out of him. He scrambled back toward Daemonore, and, in doing so, had an orchestra-level seat to the show the creature was about to perform.
The creature reached Daemonore faster than Alaric, and, with its free hand lifted a massive stone and slammed it down upon the Soularm, covering it completely and rending it inaccessible if not destroying his dear sword altogether. Then, it set its eyes upon Alaric and tilted forward like any predator does when it knows it has its prey dead to rights.
Alaric turned to find his horse had decided to run away, leaving him stranded and helpless against a foe whom Alaric stood no chance of defeating under present circumstances. He thought of his training, but none of it had ever prepared him to fight a foe so terrible as this without any weapons with which to defend himself.
The creature leaped forward, easily closing in upon Alaric, then pulled its free hand back in preparation to strike at him. Alaric braced for the attack, that being the only course of action he had remaining in this dire encounter. It bellowed a roar, which was more like a series of loud, low-pitched clicking noises, and leaned in for the strike. It only stopped from making contact with Alaric when an arrow narrowly missed it by less than a foot.
It spun around, spotting Euric who had gotten close enough to them to start firing at the demon, but far enough away that his arrows were beholden to whims of the wind. It was fortuitous that he distracted the demon long enough for Alaric to put some distance between himself and the demon, but that fortune didn’t last very long as the creature took the opportunity find cover among rock formations nearby. Euric, suddenly without a clear shot on the creature, waited to see if the demon would make the first move. It did, but it wasn’t what both Euric and Alaric needed it to do.
The demon hurled a head-sized stone at Euric, who realized very quickly how accurate its throw was. He pressed his horse forward as quickly as he could, but the stone still came within a few feet of where he was.
“Any ideas?” Euric called to Alaric as he continued to move, dodging rocks of varying size that were cast at him. With the pile of stones in front of it and an overlook behind it providing cover, the demon had taken a very defensible position which made Alaric more convinced that these larger demons might possess some form of intelligence. Alaric darted toward the place where the demon had crushed Daemonore, hoping beyond hope that the Soularm was still in-tact. When he reached it, he realized that the stone was far too heavy for him to lift on his own.
He pressed at the stone as hard as he could with his arms and then his feet, but to no avail. It simply would not budge, not, at least, until Alaric got ahold of some soul energy to empower his muscles. As he backed away in an attempt to perhaps lunge all of his body weight at the stone, he inadvertently avoided an at least thirty pound rock, dedicated to him. It crashed to the ground with a thud, and, though nearly at the bottom of his well of hope, Alaric thought of a new plan.
If I can get it to hit the boulder, perhaps it will move it enough for me to get Daemonore from underneath.
Alaric hid behind the stone, waving at the demon, trying to taunt it into throwing a rock at him. It worked a few times, but each time, it was as if the demon was onto his plan and thus intentionally avoided hitting the target. It frustrated Alaric to no end, but then he realized he could still use this to their advantage.
“I’ll keep distracting him – you try and get an angle on him,” Alaric shouted to Euric, who was still searching for a good opening in hopes of being able to catch the demon making a mistake.
“Keep your eyes open!” Euric shouted at Alaric, pressing his horse onward to find a better angle. As he did, the monster caught on and redirected its projectiles toward Euric, who narrowly avoided being hit.
“You too!” Alaric shouted back. He jumped out from behind the stone, figuring that if the monster was focused upon Euric, it would give him another opportunity to dislodge Daemonore. He found a large tree branch nearby, figuring that perhaps he could use it as a wedge to free his blade. As soon as he made a dash for it, he heard Euric call out.
To arms? What did he mean by that? Alaric figured out quickly that it wasn’t a battle cry at all. The demon was now hurling rocks with both of its arms, one arm aimed at each of the young men. The rock aimed at Alaric bounced and crashed against his left leg, throwing Alaric to the ground. The pain was immediately felt and nearly crippling. He wouldn’t be making any sudden moves at this point.
Euric was no more successful than Alaric, it seemed, in getting into position. Keenly aware of the fact that Euric had to have a clear shot to be able to hit it, the demon simply repositioned behind the large stone jutting out of the ground nearby so that it was still behind cover as Euric moved. No longer holding Calix in its arm, it was free to continue hurling boulders at both Euric and Alaric. Alaric pressed through the pain, pushing himself with his good leg out of the way of the oncoming missiles as each came his way. Each time he did, however, the pain grew exponentially. He knew he couldn’t keep dodging this forever.
“Hit the damn thing already!” Alaric called out in desperation.
“I can’t hit it if I can’t see it!”
The situation seemed hopeless. Alaric began to feel as if each rock was like the grains of sand in a nearly depleted hourglass that counted down to the end of his life. He knew that it would only be a matter of time before one of those rocks would again make contact, and it was likely to be fatal the next time. His eyes did a dance between Euric and the demon, watching it skillfully avoid Euric’s line of sight while hurling an apparently infinite number of rocks at them without succumbing to exhaustion.
Alaric bit his lip to press through the pain, crawling back toward the rock so that he could at least have cover. It took everything he had to do so, but he managed to push through the pain to get there. It was now up to Euric to defeat the thing, and Alaric feared for the worst.
With every thud of a stone hitting the ground, he thought again of the battle tunes that soldiers used to march to in the days gone by. The creature’s throws created a steady beat, much slower than horse feet tramping, but at regular intervals where Alaric could almost hear soldiers marching to the drums. And then, as Alaric sorted through the vault in his mind to find the perfect song to match the beat, the sounds of the rocks pounding upon the ground suddenly came to a halt.
Alaric knew that if the pounding had stopped, that meant that either the demon or Euric had won. And, knowing Euric and how enthusiastic he always was after a victory, Alaric knew in his heart that all hope was now lost.
He resigned himself to his fate, resting his back upon the stone, his one source of salvation nearby but completely out of his reach. He closed his eyes, thinking of the things in his life that he would never again be able to enjoy. He always thought was too young to die, but what did he expect when he signed up for this fool’s errand? This was an unwinnable war. How could they possibly have hoped to defeat all of the evil across the land? It all seemed so foolish now, here at the end of his song.
Alaric heard his mother’s voice, singing to him like she did when he was but a small child. He found comfort in it, and it seemed almost real, as if she was here with him. At least he tried. Maybe that would finally make Father proud of him. The pain in his leg began to fade as he refocused his mind on the inevitable peace that would come when he at last passed into the unknown.
His peace was broken as the rock behind him suddenly shifted. He opened his eyes, jutting forward and cringing as he expected the demon’s claws to crash down upon him.
“Are you able to stand?” Alaric heard a familiar voice ask him, in a comforting tone. The voice belonged to Isidore Maritium. Alaric turned around to see his mentor standing above him, gleaming with the vibrant glow of soul energy. Where the rock had stood lie Daemonore, seemingly no worse for the wear. In the distance, Euric was carefully lifting Calix up to his horse. He nodded in relief when he saw Alaric’s face. Alaric placed Daemonore back in its sheathe.
“It got my leg pretty good,” Alaric told Isidore. “Not sure I can get up.”
“How about you lean on me? I suppose in a few hours I’ll need you to do the same for me, but for now, let’s get up on your horse.”
The fact that they would both now be riding on Alaric’s horse, and Isidore’s horse was nowhere in sight, made Alaric understand the sacrifice that Isidore must have made to come to their rescue. Alaric wondered if he would have had the will power to make the same choice, if the roles were reversed. He supposed that there would possibly be many more hard choices on the path they had all freely chosen.
“We all did the best we could,” Isidore said as they mounted the horse. “Let’s take the rest of the path more carefully. We will get there when we can.”