- 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
“I don’t have to explain to you that none of this leaves this house,” Valoricus said plainly to his colleagues gathered in his home. “Not to your wives, your compatriots or your sons. We work in darkness, as it must be done. As it has been done so often in times of great need for the sanctity of this ruling body. For the City.” The men gathered before him nodded, eying one another as if to gauge their loyalty to the conspiracy. Barius Fiducoulus seemed more nervous than the four others, something which Valoricus took to mean that the man was to be a liability. Valoricus couldn’t ignore the obvious, so he sought to address his suspicions without hesitation.
“You are troubled, Barius. Speak your concern or let it be buried beneath the dirt.”
Barius the Younger had earned a reputation of being a more conservative senator than his father who also served in the Senate. His father had been a champion, albeit unsuccessful, for the rights of the lower classes. The elder had attempted to garner support throughout his career for a term as consul so that he could enact several of what most people considered radical social policies, but the fact remained that only the Primisian ruling class had voting power in the City and therefore they had little cause to cede any of that power to the masses, even though their voices were occasionally loud enough to at least discuss the minutia of commoner life. Barius never saw eye to eye with his father and didn’t understand why he would relinquish any of the benefits of their class to the masses. Valoricus understood Barius’ fear of change very well, and played to that fact when recruiting him for this most emergent cause.
“No,” Barius said. “I am not so troubled as to let it stand in the way of doing what in my heart I know is the right thing to do.”
Valoricus gave Barius the benefit of the doubt and continued his examination of the character of the others. It was on Valoricus’ shoulders to fulfill the request given to him by Consul Kaius, but Valoricus had not gotten to the summit of his career by going alone. Nor had he gotten this far by blindly following orders. One truth that Valoricus knew without any shadow of a doubt about the world was that it was never in the interest of those in power to share that power with anyone. Orders were given all the time – it was up to him to seize the opportunity to improve his standing while satisfying those giving the command. Symbiotic subordination, he liked to call it. He specifically picked the men in this room as his cohorts because he knew that they didn’t think about ways to benefit themselves with their dealings – they already had their rewards laid out neatly and openly for their service. A fed pet doesn’t need to scrounge for food on their own.
“If any of you have any doubts about this duty, speak now or consider yourselves committed without objection.”
Valoricus allowed the co-conspirators to stew in their silence for a prolonged period, seeing the truth of their souls through their eyes. When he was at last satisfied, he decided the best course of action was to disassemble.
“Now, all of you – kindly find your way out of my house and seek for me the information I need.”
The conspirators began to disperse. As they made their way toward the door, Valoricus watched Barius with a growing suspicion. He would need to cut Barius out of the conspiracy, that much was becoming obvious. There was no room for doubt in this most important mission.
As the last man vacated, Valoricus summoned the guard from the door.
“Please ensure that man makes it all the way home without meandering. There are many dangers in the dark and we wouldn’t want him to make any wrong turns.”
The guard nodded, taking his leave.
It was now silent in the Caballarius household. It was never this quiet in Valoricus’ home at this retiring hour of the night. Between the soft music from Alaric’s lyre underscoring the natural melodies of the critters outside and Dacinia’s meticulous grooming habits as she prepared to lie down for bed, his home felt foreign to him tonight in absence of both. It was as if his life had been nothing more than a dream or a perhaps a distant memory that was too far out of reach to grasp. The tune of a song that Dacinia and Alaric used to play and sing together on rainy days when he was first being taught to play ran through his mind, but Valoricus rejected the memory as too difficult to bear. There was too much still to do.
He sighed in frustration and anger to himself, then busied himself with some cleanup duties – work suited for the slaves. Valoricus opted to do it himself because he didn’t want to allow the machinations of his mind to wander beyond the critical tasks at hand. His duty to bury his wife was important, but not nearly as important as the work ahead of him. Dacinia may be dead, but the City – the last spark of civilization on the planet – she was still alive and it was his duty to defend her to his dying breath.
Try as he might to focus on his top priority, he found himself beginning to hum the tune to the song that he had just tried to put out of his head. He stopped himself, angry at his self-sabotage. He walked the dirty cups over to the wash basin in the kitchen and dropped them in. He had fully intended to wash them by hand and be done with the business, but he kept finding himself returning to the forbidden areas of his mind. He couldn’t be so distracted or troubled by that business.
It wasn’t that men of the City were considered weak if they mourned the loss of a family member – in fact, it was common for men to weep, even in public, when such a tragedy occurred. There was a socially accepted period of mourning that was expected and allowed in all social classes, even for Decorus pedigree Primisians like him. The hesitation to mourn was instead within Valoricus himself; it was his truth that there are matters significantly more pressing than processing grief. When the duty of washing cups gave him no reprieve from the oppressive absence of his family, Valoricus slammed the last few cups into the basin and left them to soak for the remainder of the night.
He found his way over to the wine cabinet – one of the most impressive displays in his house. He noticed that several bottles of his favorite vintage were missing, something that didn’t take him very long to figure out where they had gone.
The Farraige can have it. He has his role to play in all of this, and if his loyalty can be secured by looking the other way for a missing bottle or two, then so be it. Such a small price to pay for the benefit he would provide.
Valoricus stole a bottle for himself and retired to his quarters. Thankfully, the air was once again clear in the room. He poured himself a tall cup and sat at his desk. Several parchments were in disarray since the Stranger had arrived, so he took the opportunity to organize the documents while he calmed the tempest raging in his mind. He always found comfort in the practice of organization. There was something to be said about focusing his mind on bringing order out of chaos, a lesson that he had always failed to imprint upon his teenage son. The only thing that could break that feeling of mental victory was when that perfect order fell to chaos the second he diverted his attention onto other things.
Perhaps that was one of the key factors in his decision to solve the City’s crisis in his own way, as opposed to watching diplomacy between equals fall apart. Like it or not, the chaos usurping the order of the City would be thwarted and Valoricus was to be the architect of its salvation.
After the legal parchments were organized, he noticed that the bookshelf nearby had somehow gotten put in the wrong order.
His wife had always taken great care to ensure she presented herself in noble fashion, her looks and her dress always immaculate. Her soaps and her perfumes, still at home in their bath quarter, were always lined up in a perfect order to maximize their presentation. There had never been a more perfect match for him in tidiness and order – except when it came to Valoricus’ possessions.
His bookcase was perhaps the most extreme example of this fact. She had been, of course, welcome to read any of his collection whenever she pleased, but she never did put the tomes back in order when she was finished reading. It was, by far, her most annoying behavior that drove him absolutely mad that she had never corrected it, even after so many years. He scowled, as he always did, when he realized it required his attention.
This would be the last time he ever had to reorganize the books.
Valoricus got on his knees, angrily grabbing the first misplaced book he noticed and pulling it out to fix its position. When he found the proper spot, however, he hesitated to put it back in its home. A thought entered his mind.
This would be the last time he would ever have to opportunity to put things back in order.
Why was it that whenever things didn’t go his way in court or in the forum, he would always have to rearrange the book shelf? The more he thought about it, the more he realized that it would not have been logical for her to read the same books so many times, causing such disarray in the case as often as she did. It finally dawned on him, after it was too late to appreciate it, that she must have been intentionally disorganizing the books so that he would find something smaller, more manageable than the egos of petulant lawyers, to bring to order.
It took Valoricus a long time to move at all, but when he finally did, all of the books came flying off of the shelves and would remain there indefinitely. He gulped down the rest of the cup of wine and threw himself upon the bed. It didn’t take long for the potency of the wine to do its sacred duty.
He didn’t dream.
The next day, Valoricus found himself again at the gate of Sanctus Mysta. The Astrum Order’s muscle stood in his way, as always, but this time they were expecting him and he was to be allowed through.
Valoricus had successfully used Dacinia’s death as a way to get her brother Stasius Barbatus to humor an audience with him. After a long discussion, the two hardheaded men eventually came to an understanding with one another – one that was too dangerous to speak aloud to anyone else. There was perhaps some irony in the fact that Dacinia’s death had been the one thing that had ever managed to bring order to the chaos of the relationship between Valoricus and Stasius.
Stasius secured the audience for Valoricus, as Valoricus had been instructed to do by Consul Kaius. He would fulfill this duty to the Senate, and if, as he expected, the plea would fail, then the plot that Valoricus had devised would proceed as planned.
Valoricus entered Consul Quintus’s chamber, a peculiar room that seemed to be organized in a way that made Valoricus feel as if he was standing on the ceiling.
Priests and their mysteries.
He stood at attention before Consul, but did not salute or bow like Valoricus would do to Consul Kaius. The Senate was the equal of the Church and Valoricus was its representative – he would not bow to an equal while he carried Kaius’ word. The consul spoke first.
“The first thing that must be stated is the obvious. Don’t think for a moment that I have suddenly thrown aside my sacred duty to bow to the plotting of the Senate. While I am of sound mind, I shall not reach across the line for your opinion on matters concerning my domain. This meeting request was only granted because Cardinal Stasius asked for the boon. He has been an asset to this Church, and thus you are here. I do not owe it to anyone to be swayed by your words.”
“That is the natural order. I do not seek to upset the balance.”
“Then why have you come?”
“Consul Kaius simply wants to relay a message. You may use the information in any way you like.”
“My ears are open.”
“The Senate has investigated the claims of the Stranger about the City’s infrastructure risks. We have found them to be of merit.”
Valoricus allowed the information to sit in the stale air.
“That is all you came to say?”
“That is all. As you said, it is not for the Senate to convince you of anything. Your authority is to decide how to act upon every bit of information you receive. Therefore, I am ready to take my leave. Thank you for this audience.”
Valoricus nodded, the slightest sign of respect to grease the wheels of the chariot of this man’s mind. He knew that the Consul would follow the breadcrumb. It was Kaius’ hope that Quintus would end up finding the same inevitability the Senate had already discovered and understand that the two halves would seek to work together to solve the problem.
They needed to get this man firmly under their thumbs, or he would likely usurp them all by solving all of the openly mentioned problems himself and then wresting all of the power for himself. The Senate and the Church would have to work together as they never had before, or the City’s destiny would be in the hands of one man, an honor that only the Toriad had ever held. Power would never be in the hands of the people again, should this stranger have his way. The City needed no King.
Valoricus walked out, greeted by the tune of bells ringing from the bell tower. It took him a moment to realize it, but they played the same song that reminded him of his wife and son that he was trying hard to forget. There was no stopping the rush of emotions, this time. He barely made it out of the building without succumbing to the tears he wished so badly to delay.