- 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
His chance, it seemed, had finally come. Without even allowing himself to catch his breath, Fridok gathered his sword and attached it to his waist. It was time to emerge, once and for all, from this loathsome place with its dank, mold-covered walls and all sorts of foul-smelling odors from any number of the other inhabitants who were rotting away in their own filth. The son of the Toriad had returned to the City to liberate His people from the demons and from themselves, and he had openly called for warriors to join him; His companions would win their place by His side in the proving grounds. There would never again be another chance for Fridok to claim his own salvation, and he knew it.
Fridok left the run-down, cramped apartment building for what he hoped would be one of the last times. Nothing else mattered to him other than this one opportunity to lift himself out of the squalor in which his like were so often doomed to wallow in until an early death offered a merciful alternative. He had seen exactly what inaction coupled with an unfairly dealt hand always meant for people like him. It was either now, here, in the presence of the son of the Speaker of God, or he might as well cast himself out from the city to be torn asunder by demons.
Nobody paid Fridok any mind on the roads to the heart of the City, where the Son of the Toriad had called for the tournament to be held. On a normal day, he would have been inundated with questions of why a member of the Solumian class would need to carry a sword, along with how he had managed to come about it in the first place. Accusations would be thrown, somebody would attempt to confiscate his property, and then, invariably, someone would have to die which would lead to final ruin of whatever meager life Fridok had to preserve. But at least all those countless hours of training would finally be put to some use before he met his end.
Boys carry weapons and fight a thousand imaginary foes. Men carry no arms at all and only fight what is real.
It was a saying his father would repeat to Fridok over and over as a small child, when Fridok would talk about one day having a sword like the nobles and the guardsmen. He had kept the words close to his heart as a mantra after his father had passed. When the boy in him won out and he purchased his sword with all of his savings from nearly starving himself for years, he still honored his father’s words by keeping the sword a secret to the outside world. But now his father’s misguidance was the reason why he was about to be late for entry into the melee, because he chose not to grab it before the recent events unfolded. Fridok started to consider it may be time to let go of the words of a man who foolishly died young and left his wife to starve and child to suffer.
A great crowd had amassed there in the plaza, surrounding the roped-off section that was to be the grounds on which the contenders would fight. Fridok scanned the makeshift tournament area for an indication of where he might be able to sign himself up for the tournament, and only after climbing atop an elevated garden and peering over the crowd did he see the booth where fighters were lined up. Fridok made haste toward that group. When he arrived, he stood himself in line and waited.
He stuck out like the feathers in his tattered pillow and he knew it. Each of the young men standing ahead of him were hungry to prove their pedigree was not wasted on them. Fridok had seen many of them before in the training grounds, and they were all just as intimidating as he remembered. Each of them had the luxury to pursue swordplay as a pastime, trained by the best that the City had to offer. To them, this was just an exhibition of their upbringing, a demonstration of their status. Surely, they were not actually hoping to win and leave all of their wealth and comforts of home. Fridok would make short work of them because to him, this was the only way out of the squalor of his life. The fact that the others ignored him and felt uncomfortable with him in their presence hardened Fridok’s resolve and made him hungrier to meet them in combat.
When Fridok’s turn came up in the queue, the registrar scribbling away paid him little regard.
“State your name.”
The man winced, clearly annoyed. “Full name, Fridocus. House and title, if you’ve earned one.”
The man turned up from his parchment. “What House?” He injected considerable vitriol in the question. He clearly had no time for answers that got in the way of a speedy registration.
Fridok had nothing else to say to the man, who turned up from his writing to regard him with considerable hesitance. His visceral response to Fridok’s appearance make Fridok feel three feet tall. He always knew he would never be one of the fortunate. It wasn’t until this exact moment that his years of telling himself he didn’t care were challenged. In a heartbeat, the wall he had erected to shield himself from the reality of his status was in ruin.
“You cannot be serious,” the man said. The look itself was enough damage to make Fridok shrink up and nearly flee. Thankfully, Fridok had a strong muscle memory on how to deflect words.
“Does my appearance amuse you?” Fridok said, snapping back. “Then I give you full permission to laugh to your heart’s content. It will be I who will have the last laugh, when I emerge from the melee on top.”
“Bold of you to assume we would allow it in the first place. Begone.” He shooed Fridok away.
“Funny. I missed the part where He said only nobles were allowed to participate.”
“This isn’t some back-alley fighting ring where any scrappy Solum can fight like dogs. This man is the Son of the Toriad. This will be the most prestigious melee of our time. You are not welcome here, and I, certainly, will not permit it. Leave!”
Fridok placed his gladius on the table. “I wager this,” he said. The man looked down at Fridok’s blade, only the slightest bit entertained. “If I should lose this opportunity, I won’t be needing it anymore, anyway.”
The man hesitated. Fridok could tell the proposition enticed him, but he resisted it anyway.
“You seek to bribe me with some flawed commoner’s sword?” he said. “That piece of scrap wouldn’t last three strikes against a proper blade without shattering.”
“Look again!” Fridok demanded, fury fueling his insistence. “The man before you may be Solumian but the blade is clearly of higher make. If you understood how much I paid for this sword, you would not balk so easily at it. It is the work of the bladesmith Taranilius. See, his inscription here.”
The man eyed the etchings of the gladius tentatively. If he was at all impressed, the only indicator Fridok had was that he wasn’t immediately persistent about Fridok’s dismissal.
“Taranilius is only the fourth or fifth best weaponsmith in the City. Swords aren’t even his specialty – he’s better known for his battle axes and pilums. I wasn’t aware he even made these.”
Fridok stared at him with disbelief. He wasn’t even sure how to respond at this point. Being attacked for things he couldn’t control was something he could deal with. Having his prized possession, the object he had worked for years to obtain, be insulted and berated was something Fridok was not prepared to withstand.
“What do I care?” the man said, changing his tone. “You lack proper training, so you’ll be dead or disarmed in thirty seconds in there anyway. If you want to throw away your life and donate your sword to me, I won’t stand in the way of your righteous self-destruction.”
“You’ll enter my name, then?” Fridok asked, a flood of emotion coursing through his body.
“Your name means nothing, and neither do you. You wish so badly to dance in a league in which you’ll never be a member, I will grant you this one opportunity. But when you fall, the sword is mine. It should fetch a few silver, at least. Now begone ‘Fridok.’ You’re holding up my line and there are far more relevant registrants that still need to be processed.”
Fridok buried his excitement. The moment he had been hoping for had become real. All of the countless hours he’d spent anticipating this one opportunity to pull himself out of obscurity were finally about to pay off.
In his excitement, he didn’t look behind himself before walking away. He bumped shoulders with a young noble with long blond hair.
“Apologies,” Fridok said, realizing only a second later who the young man was.
“No worries,” he replied. “Congratulations, and see you on the field.”
Hearing Alaricus speak to him as a peer gave Fridok an overwhelming sense of pride. This was the beginning of a new chapter in his life. It was time to make his mother proud.