“It is unusual for someone to pay attention to dead Gods.” Said the cloaked man. He stood there in the entrance watching me. I couldn’t make out any of his features but there was a sword on his belt. That told me a lot about the man, not of it seemed good.
“Not as unusually as a mysterious cloaked figure showing up in my ancestral estate on the same day that I just happen to visit. Especially one with a sword.” I stepped back, still holding the broken part of the statue of Zillk in my hands. Maybe I could use it to defend myself in some way. I really should have learned swordsmanship like my father had wanted.
The man made a soft chuckling sound that made him feel even more dangerous. “I suppose that is true. However Lords don’t often go riding off alone without guards. I would say this is a rather special case wouldn’t you say Lord Friddnick of Korfield?”
I instantly regretted letting my emotions get the better of me over the last few days. As a noble it wasn’t surprising that I was being targeted. It probably came down to money. There were a couple of likely reasons I would be targeted. The first was kidnap, they capture me and hold me unless they are paid large amounts of money. The other option was worse, one of my rivals could have hired the man to eliminate competition. At that moment it seemed the more likely of the two options.
I gulped and tried to take a step backward. However I didn’t move, I felt like I was rooted to the floor. My thoughts were race and fear bubbled up inside of me. I felt petrified as the man began walking toward me. I wanted to run, to escape, to bolt to my horse and ride back to my well guarded manor. Yet as the man stepped closer and closer to me I still couldn’t move an inch.
Then there was a small breeze, just a little one that made the man’s cloak flutter showing his hands for a brief moment. I caught the sight of something golden in his hand and I felt my stomach drop out from under me. I knew then that the man was an Apostate, of who I did not know but that realization made me understand it I wasn’t rooted to the floor in fear, that man was preventing me from running.
Gold, such a dangerous substance. When forged into the right shape it let Apostates tap into the energies of the dead gods and use their powers. There was other ways but gold was the easiest and most powerful. It was one of the reasons that gold was one of the most heavily regulated metals.
Yet despite my newfound realization I was still unable to move my body and could do nothing while I watched the man get closer and closer. I couldn’t even open my mouth to scream for help, not that there was anybody to come.
The man’s smile was barely visible beneath his hood and he calmly moved his free hand toward his sword. “I see you have figured it out. But that doesn’t matter, there is nothing that you can do.” There was the distinctive sound of a sword being drawn from a sheathe.
I wanted anybody, anything to help, even the dead gods would do. I didn’t wanted to die there at the sword of a bandit Apostate. Maybe my desire was heard, maybe I just had nothing else to lose. Just as I had finally condemed myself to death and the man raised his hand I felt the finger of my right hand twitch, the fingers that were tightly clutching the broken hand of Zillk.
My hand raised, partially of my own volition and intercepted the falling sword. There was the clash of metal against metal and I felt blazing pain in my hand. Knocked backward by the force of the blow I slammed into the stone wall behind me.
Whatever power that was holding me seemed to have vanished and I tried scrambling away from the Apostate. The pain in my hand was incredibly intense but I began scrambling away as fast as I could. The man seemed to be surprised that I had managed to block his strike but then he began to laugh, a crazy hysterical laugh.
“Excellent, excellent. You did it, you really did it. I didn’t think it was going to happen but you did it. Now do better, you can, I know it.” He lifted his blade and looked at my blood that was coating it. Then instead of walking he ran toward me. However just before he reached me he looked to one side and then dived to one side as a crossbow bolt passed through the place he was going to be.
“Lord Friddnick, get down!” Came a loud voice. The big man with and equally big crossbow stood in the doorway of the chapel. Next to him was a woman wearing a chest-plate and a sword at her side. She rushed in toward the Apostate however her movement froze mid run toward the man. The man pulled himself to his feet and looked at the two intruders.
“It seems that I took too long. Your little guardians have arrived. Don’t worry though. We will meet again Lord Friddnick and next time I will make sure that you die.” The man with the crossbow pointed it again at the Apostate however his movements too froze just as he was about to pull the trigger. Then the man just walked past them, leaving me kneeling in the chapel.
Once he was gone to the other people rushed toward me and began helping me up. I recognized them of course. Sir Nathan and Sir Janet, both knights in my personal guard. They must have chased after me when I left the manor and followed me here. Had they been minutes slower I might not have survived. I wanted to thank them for saving me but now that the danger had passed I slumped and feel into blissful unconsciousness.
I woke in my bed sorer then I imagined I had ever been before. My hand ached like it was on fire and my head rung like a thousand bells. I reached out to grab something and somebody grabbed my hand.
“No, my lord, you need to stay in bed. You are not well yet and you hand has not yet healed.” I barely recognized the voice of one of the house keepers of my manor but it relaxed me and I fell back onto the bed. I was still trying to cope with what happened.
The days passed and I slowly recovered. My hand had been badly wounded. The Apostate’s sword hand cut through the metal band in the statue’s hand and into my flesh. It had slowed the blade just enough that the sword had stopped at the flesh. No permanent damage, at least that is what I had been told. My guards had given me a strict talking to about how I would worry more about my safety. I planned to take their advice from then on.
It was the fifth day after the injury that I managed to get well enough to continue my normal lordly duties. For the first time in what seemed like ages I dressed myself. I opened the small wooden box that held my signet ring before lifting it and placing it on my finger. A chill ran down my spine as it slide onto my fingure.
For the first time I was distinctly aware that my signet ring was primarily made of gold. A ring of gold that was the same shape as the band of metal of Zillk. My head throbbed with intense pain, more than I had ever felt before, even more then why my hand had gotten sliced. Again I collapsed into the ground. I could see things through my eyes while my body fell. Things were burning around me, people screaming, blood spilled everywhere. There standing in the vision was the cloaked Apostate laughing madly.
Sweating I controlled my body the best that I could and pulled the ring from my finger. What had I been shown, the future? And what had I become, was I now an Apostate, one of Zillk? I didn’t know but I knew I had to hide it. Being an Apostate was not technically illegal most places but they were feared and distrusted almost universally.
I slipped the ring into the pocket, my head now clearing after that strange vision. It shouldn’t have been a prophetic vision, I didn’t believe that was part of Zillk’s domains. However it was hard to tell for certain. The god’s domains seem to be hazy and overlap almost constantly. Zillk was supposed the Hope Ender, associated with fear and despair. Not a pretty god, although there didn’t seem to be many of them, on of the reasons historians think the Slayer picked up her blade.
Zillk was also often associated with dead and the afterlife, if that even existed anymore. He was also associated with various types of violence no that that was unusual for any of the gods. I managed to climb into a chair and kneaded my brow trying to think. I was a noble, a soft friendly noble, but a noble never-the-less. There was also was scandal or another about an Apostate noble and it was generally grounds of being stripped of our lands, it they got caught.
I could put away my signet ring or get a new one made or a less dangerous metal but both of those might be noticed. I could secret figure out how to use this power to get an edge against the other nobles and if I did that the face that my signet ring was a focus would be an advantage. Nobody would suspect me of being an Apostate. That line of reasoning was dangerous though, Apostates tended to wield dangerous powers which could get to there head and make them think they were unstoppable, or even gods themselves.
No solution seemed to be good. For now I decided to hold onto the ring and avoid using it unless I had to. I was afraid that time would come to soon. If the cloaked Apostate’s showed up again I would be in danger and if he could stop people from protecting me then that would be even more risky. I needed a secret edge in case the worse happened, and considering my vision I feared that the worse was all too likely.
Concerned that I was taking so long one of my maids peeked in on me. I raised my hand and smiled at her to dissuade her worry, “Sorry, just some sudden fatigue, I will be better in just a moment. It seems I am still not completely well.” She just nodded and I was grateful when she shut the door. It took me a few minutes longer to compose myself and leave my chambers.
The ensuing days were relatively peaceful. I dealt with several issues that the estate had been dealing without me however my steward had done a fine job without me. It almost felt that I had been unneeded. With my totally rational fear of getting on the dead end of a sword fight I tried to convince Sir Janet to teach me how to use a sword.
She agreed however her condition was that I wait to fully recover before risking myself in the training. Disgruntled I was forced to agree with her. While I was much better I still had trouble going through the entire day without feeling fatigued. The ring may have been part of that. I avoided touching it as much as possible because each time I had to fight back the strange visions and slitting headaches.