- 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
Nineteen years before the betrayal
The hardy young laborer Fridok wiped sweat from his brow and drank the bitter and sandy water from his banged-up, dingy tin canteen. He tried and failed to tune out the foreman squawking insults at the other stone workers. Those kids wouldn’t cut it in this hard vocation; they would have to find something else to do for their wages. Pity. Stone work was decent pay for someone of Fridok’s station. It would never elevate his status in the City, but it would keep his belly full and his hands busy. He couldn’t hope for more than that.
The Walls kept the demons outside at bay, but did nothing to address the invisible demons that choked those marginalized by society. Being noble-born in an enclosed city with finite space with which to live meant that the rich owned not only the best buildings to live in, but also every other sliver of real estate in the City. The cost of living in the insulae apartments only continued to rise over time as the Houses squeezed what pittances remained in the pockets of the dredges. Fridok, at least, managed to keep an apartment roof over his head through the virtue of his Namer-granted strength. He could haul more stones farther than any of the other workers, and because of this he was able to negotiate a more palatable pay. It still wasn’t enough, but it was all he could ask.
What else could he do? He was twenty-three years old and already resigned to the reality that this was all there was for a Houseless whelp like him. Fridok’s father had worked himself to death working on the new aqueduct system when Fridok was only twelve years old. His mother would have starved to death trying to make ends meet, but turned to prostitution in the name of keeping Fridok’s belly fed. Fridok took up hard labor shortly after his father had died in the hopes that he would be able to save his mother from the shame of that retched life, but she died still the same. Fridok never learned who it was that had killed her or how they could so carelessly discard his mother’s sprawled out and naked body in an alleyway near the docks, but Fridok knew that one day he would kill that man. It was his only goal in life.
It wasn’t enough to build up massive strength; Fridok trained incessantly with a sword every day after his shift was over. He had saved up his wages by sleeping in the dirt and the grime for two years before he could afford it, but when it was finally his, the sword became his obsession. He would learn how to counter every blow, every movement, every twist of a wrist in any direction if it meant that one day he could attain justice for his mother. But Fridok was poor, and poor people didn’t get to enjoy participating in the recreation of swordplay.
Only the wealthy families put any effort into swordsmanship. Only the wealthy were prestigious enough to join the Consul Guard, the Torian peace-keeping force that supposedly protected the city from the evils of the world. In reality, they protected the rich from the poor. The impenetrable walls surrounding the City did a fine enough job keeping the demons out and they weren’t going anywhere.
Fridok watched the wealthy sparring and training with the sword every chance he could. Although he would never be allowed to participate, he would spend the whole next workday digesting the techniques and then train by himself at night against a crude practice dummy he had erected. He knew the swordsmen all by name, though he had never spoken a word to any of them. All he could do was watch from the barrier like the handful of others who found some entertainment in the sparring in their otherwise meager existences. If the man who had killed Fridok’s mother was a fighter, Fridok would simply be better.
The swordsman that interested Fridok the most was a rich youth by the name of Alaricus. He was a highly talented swordsman, young, maybe sixteen or seventeen by his estimation. He had long, well-maintained blond hair and the composure of someone who had always gotten what he needed in life. The way that he fought was always slightly different every time he sparred off with his partners. Most of the others who had been sparring there had very predictable styles that Fridok had already beaten a hundred times each in his imagination, but Alaricus was different.
It wasn’t just that Alaricus would change his style depending on his opponent, it was the fact that Alaricus had no predictable patterns at all. He would fight the same opponent three times on three different days and his fighting style would be completely different each and every time. Even when Alaricus would show signs of performing a familiar pattern to something Fridok had seen him perform before, he would always add a subtle twist that would change the entire direction of the fight in a second. He had a ridiculous win record, but he broke every rule that Fridok had come to understand about swordsmanship. Even in Fridok’s imagination, he wasn’t so sure that he could beat this young man in most scenario.
Fridok stretched his arms and rolled his head around to address the nagging pain in his shoulder, putting his canteen back on the ground. He had been working already for nine hours of this backbreaking work and it was starting to get to him. If he was going to get his two hours of training in tonight, he would need to pace himself for the rest of the day. He bent down and outstretched his arms around a stone, but just as soon as he hoisted it, a loud rumble reverberated through his body like a far-off building crumbling. Fridok hesitated for a moment, looking around like the rest of the crew for some explanation. A few seconds later, an excited commotion enveloped the city. Something was amiss.
Several people darted by the place where Fridok was working. Even the foreman dropped what he was doing and told the workers to stay put. They didn’t. A few seconds after he left, their curiosity all got the better of them and they all ran off toward the noises. Fridok wouldn’t be the only one to be kept in the dark – he dropped his load and cautiously approached the excitement. He considered going home and retrieving his sword, but decided there simply wasn’t enough time for that.
When Fridok met the crowd, he saw something he never thought he would see in his lifetime. The Main Gate of the City lay in crumbles on the ground. In its place, a jagged splinter of earth jutted into the city. For the first time in his life, Fridok could see the world outside of the White Walled City. It was verdant green and overgrown, not at all how he had imagined it.
The crowd was stupefied. Fridok, who had all of his worst fears realized earlier in life, was surprisingly less afraid than entertained by the sudden potential of freedom – though it was too early to consider it a possibility. Life inside the walls was hard, but surely it wasn’t worse than outside where the demons prowl, waiting for souls to reap.
Did a demon do this?
Fridok immediately regretted letting his curiosity tip the scale against his better judgment. If there was a threat to be dealt with, he would need his sword. The effortless destruction of the impenetrable door, the terror that had taken the crowd and the measly response by the Consul Guard made Fridok realize that there would be no hope to defend himself if they were overrun by demons. His only option at this point was to stand in the crowd and wait to see what terrible thing was about to descend upon the masses.
The cries from the slightly growing number of Guardsmen who stood defiantly in the road near the smashed gate did little to quell the fear that had begun to fester in the hearts of the people. There had never been an attack from outside the walls since El Tor sealed that gate at the Fall of Man, thousands of years ago. Whatever it was that had come knocking proved that it held enough strength to stand against the Prime Consul Himself. But the White Walled City had no Prime Consul. Not anymore. Not for a long time. The First Man had vanished hundreds of years ago, and in his disappearance the Houses had seized control of the City.
“Archers, ready your arrows! You fire on my command!” A guard captain had taken his place near his men, preparing to counter-attack. Fridok considered the weapons these men held, and how he might be able to take them up after they were surely slain. He had been waiting a long time for a chance to prove himself. Perhaps his time had come. Fridok inched closer to the street through the tightly packed crowd that inched itself the other way.
All the archers took aim from their places on the walls, as well as a few that had taken spots near the captain.
The snaps from a dozen bows rang through the air, but were barely audible over the sound of the crowd. In the most bizarre turn of events, a flock of sheep that had gathered near the opened gate rushed over and sprang into the air just outside of the gate. By the pained cries from the sheep, it was obvious that several of them had been hit by the arrows. Fridok pushed closer to see the aftermath.
“Hold your fire!” came a commanding, yet foreign-sounding voice from just outside of the City walls. The archers ceased. Everyone watched with baited breath as the figure of a tall man in foreign clothing walked through the gates. In each of his arms he carried a writhing sheep, arrows littering their bodies. Though they were writhing in pain, the man held them tightly. He carefully placed them on the ground and pulled something out of a bag he was carrying. The man then firmly pulled each arrow out of the sheep and held his hand over the wounds. A blinding light emanated from his hand, and then they scurried away, seemingly healed.
Fridok did not know what to make of the man, but he knew that what the man did was not natural. If he was capable of commanding the earth and the animals and could even heal them, then there was only one possible explanation.
He has the Gifts.
The man stood up and looked around. From this distance, Fridok could make out the man’s figure better. He was half-clad with exposed chest. His legs were covered in some kind of embossed leather with dark fabric that billowed off of him. His skin was deeply tanned. In one hand, he carried a curved saber that shone bright like the Sun. A large black spear adorned a strap attached to the man’s back. He looked around, studying the faces in the crowd.
In a booming voice, he shouted.
“Tell my father – I have returned!”