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Chapter XI

“Ever since Erets was first created demons have been trying to destroy it. They declared Erets an abomination, a prison for human souls, and managed to convince many of the people living here that it was so. Demons have fought with God to destroy Erets for thousands of years. Why art thou, a demon in human flesh, different from the rest?”

Erelah’s question was right to the point. Tamas could tell that when she spoke of the conflict between God and the daemons of the Void she wasn’t speaking just from reading about it in the Scriptures, this was someone who’d seen the conflict first-hand, just as he did. Though, it seemed her memory of the conflict was far more lucid than his own.

He had a simple answer, though, to her seemingly complicated question. “I like what this world has to offer.”

Erelah tilted her head to one side in puzzlement. “What it has to offer?”

“I enjoy this world. I like food and drink. I enjoy getting drunk, the thrill of gambling, and the simple pleasure that adventure brings. I enjoy the beauty of nature, the feeling of cool grass under my bare feet, blue skies, sunrises and sunsets. And sex. Sex is, by far, your God’s greatest invention! How can I not thank him for it?”

Erelah rolled her eyes. “Thou needst not be crass.”

“Perhaps not, but there’s a need to be honest. I enjoy a woman’s touch. Seriously, though, more than sex I enjoy love. There’s one woman’s touch I desire above all others. If she will let me touch her that way even once I will never touch another woman again, for none can compare to her.”

“Queen Aryn?”

“How’d you guess?”

“I am a prophet.” Erelah smirked and Tamas chuckled. “It is obvious in the way thou beholdest her. It’s obvious that thou fanciest her. At least, it is to me.”

“Well, there you have it, then. You wanted to know if you could trust me, and there’s proof enough, I’d think. I’d never betray the woman I love.”

“She can never be yours,” said Erelah, almost interrupting Tamas.

“Excuse me? Why not?”

“She’s the Queen of Arx.”

“And I’m a prince of Nihilus.” Tamas shrugged.

“Yes, of Nihilus. It’s not a question of your station, it’s the fact that she cannot marry a prince of Nihilus. She simply can’t. Neither the people of Arx nor the people of Nihilus will ever accept that.”

“If my brother’s taken out of the picture I’ll be King of Nihilus, and I can make them accept it. Well…at least make the Nihilites accept it.”

“Is that the manner of king thou desirest to be, Tamas? The same manner of king thy father was?” Erelah shook her head. “There’s a reason why God smote him.”

“So the volcano erupting really was your God’s doing?”

Erelah nodded. “He gave him plenty of warning. The moat boiled, the ground shook, steam filled the air. All of that happened days before God destroyed Therion’s castle.”

“You must admit, that leads one to wonder, why doesn’t the God of Erets do the same thing to Mahla?”

“When God caused that eruption innocent people were caught in the blast. Only a few, but one is one too many. Canst thou imagine the number of innocent people who would die if he caused the ground to swallow up Aius so that he could smite Mahla?”

The mere thought of how many innocent people would die in such a disaster hit Tamas hard. “Fair point.”

“He can’t do just anything he wants at any time,” said Erelah. “He has to use his power wisely.”

“What about taking over Aius with an angelic army?” Tamas asked. “He defended it with one sixteen years ago.”

“Since then more and more angels have been rebelling against God. Many angels have joined Sandalphon, the Archangel that leads the Inquisition. Ever since the Obelisk of the Law was destroyed people have been falling away, and the angels find that disheartening. They believe a stricter way of life may be the only way to lead mankind back to righteousness.”

Tamas rolled his eyes. “Because torturing people and burning them at the stake, as the Inquisition does, surely that is the path to righteousness.”

Erelah showed no sign of amusement at his sarcasm. “I have determined that I can trust thee, Tamas. In spite of thy sinister origins it seems we have common goals. Still, do remember, however much thou lovest Aryn thou cannot be with her.”

“I disagree,” said Tamas. “I say that’s for her to decide, not you.”

“Two years ago she rejected several handsome suitors to marry a young boy she found annoying. She did so purely because she thought it would be beneficial to her kingdom.” Erelah said. “She sacrificed her own happiness for the sake of her people. Even if she loves thee back she will never choose you. Not unless it will help her people.”

Tamas shrugged. “Even back when she first met Paolo she was already admiring my good looks. There’s always a chance she’ll allow herself one selfish decision.”

“Hold onto hope if thou desire, even a fool’s hope,” said Erelah. “Now, down to business. If what thou toldest us about your brother’s ability to enter minds is true we have to act soon.”

“I agree.”

Shamira, Aryn, and Kamal stood outside Erelah’s tent as the meeting went on. They’d been told to stay a good distance away, but even so Aryn tried to listen in on the conversation. A few times she could swear she heard them say her name.

Shamira was pacing back and forth, staring off into the distance as she did.

“Wondering what’s going on in there?” Kamal asked.

“Hmmm?” Shamira snapped out of her daze and turned to Kamal.

“You curious what the prophet and Tamas are talking about?” Kamal asked.

“Well, yes, why wouldn't I be?” said Shamira. “Is there any sort of precedent for this sort of thing? Our prophet, the reincarnation of the very same prophet who founded our religion in the first place, left alone with a daemon? Every part of this is just too surreal.”

Before they could enter into a discussion about any of that, however, Tamas and Erelah came out of the tent. Both of them walked straight to Aryn.

“Well?” Aryn asked.

Erelah looked at Tamas and then back at Aryn. “I have decided that he can be trusted. More importantly, though, I have decided that the time to strike is upon us. No more time do we have for preparation, because we shall never take Sahar by surprise, and he is the true enemy in this war. I’ll have the signal horns sounded and messages sent out to all of our allies. We march on the capital now!”

Tamas knelt before Aryn and brought a fist to his chest. “I hereby swear my fealty to you. My sword is yours, and your enemies are mine. You are my queen, not the usurper who sits on the throne now. As surely as my heart beats it will beat for you. I will serve you until my dying breath, or until you tell me you no longer have need of me.”

Aryn reached out her hand to Erelah and said, “Blade, please.” Erelah gave Aryn the short sword she carried. Aryn tapped the sword to each of Tamas’ shoulders. “I’m sure you were already knighted in King Gianni’s service, but as of this moment you are a knight in my court as well. Rise, Sir Tamas.”

At that very moment Sarahi and Milo arrived in the castle of Marquise Nerissa of the March of Muri. Nerissa was Sarahi’s sister, and when Aryn was deposed the March of Muri broke away from Arx and formed its own sovereign lands. Fortunately for them Queen Mahla was far too busy rooting out pockets of resistance close to the capital to worry about the most distant March.

Sarahi and Milo had traveled in disguise much of the way, which brought back some fond memories of their honeymoon. The two of them were long past the point of lamenting that nothing about their relationship, down to their secret wedding, was normal.

The road to Nerissa’s castle was through a wide, open field, and every step was uphill. The castle itself sat on top of a rock at the top of the hill. As such, any army foolish enough to try to lay siege to the Castle of Muri would have to march up the main road, marching uphill and bombarded by arrows the entire time.

The knights within the Castle of Muri saw Milo and Sarahi coming from almost a mile away, and so, as they drew close to the castle, a small infantry force came to greet them. “Who approaches the Castle of Muri?”

Sarahi pushed back the hood of her cloak. “Marquise Nerissa’s sister, Queen Mother Sarahi, and her husband, Sir Milo.”

The soldiers who’d come to greet them did not appear to be entirely convinced. “Until the Marquise confirms you are who you say you are we cannot allow you into the castle so armed.” The soldier pointed to Milo’s sword, which was tied to his back and wrapped in sack cloth. “Hand over your weapon.”

Milo smirked. “Sure, here you go.” He took the sword off his back and held it out to the soldier. Sarahi shot Milo a scolding look just before the soldier took the sword, Milo let go, and the soldier fell over from the sword’s immense weight. Milo laughed as the soldier hit the ground and then reached out to help him back up. He pulled back some of the sack cloth concealing the blade to reveal that it was made of pure diamond. “Sorry. I suppose I should have warned you about that.”

“You’re a paladin?” the soldier said. “Then you’re certainly not working for Mahla.”

Sarahi reached under her coat and produced a small, diamond-headed mace. “Is this also proof enough that I mean your Lady no harm?”

“Of course!” The soldier bowed. “Please, do come in.”

It had been so long since Sarahi had walked those halls. Eighteen years, in fact. It was while she was hiding out in the Castle of Muri that she’d first discovered and announced that she was pregnant with Aryn. Aryn. Sarahi had been trying not to think about it the whole trip, but she missed her girl so much, and worried about her every day. She understood her daughter was under a prophet’s protection now, but to a mother there was never such a thing as “safe enough,” when it came to her child. Especially when that child is the target of a powerful and ruthless queen.

Her thoughts were interrupted when she saw her sister again. Sarahi’s face lit up as Nerissa came to greet her.

“Sarahi!” Nerissa hugged her. “I’ve been so worried! When you went into hiding I knew I wouldn’t hear anything from you for a while, but it’s been two years!”

Sarahi returned the hug. As she hugged Nerissa, she noticed the handsome young man with dark skin and long braids standing behind her. Sarahi looked the young man over, trying to figure out why he was staring at the two of them with such a wide smile on his face. He was not dressed as a Saburan, though he most definitely was. The clothes he wore were Arxian in design, with patterns of the Muri coat of arms on the right sleeve.

“Pardon me, I don’t think we’ve met,” said Sarahi to the young man.

“Oh, how rude of me,” said Nerissa, breaking the embrace. “This is Reon, my husband.”

“Husband? You got married?” Sarahi asked.

“Congratulations to you both,” said Milo as he patted Reon on the shoulder. Upon getting closer to Reon he noticed that he appeared to only be in his early twenties while Nerissa was in her late thirties. Milo was almost ashamed that he was just then realizing that Nerissa and Reon’s marriage, like many noble matches, was part of a marriage alliance. “Where are you from, Reon?”

“The city of Tajiri,” Reon said in a thick accent and exceedingly deep voice. “My aunt is Queen Morowa.”

Certainly a marriage alliance, by the sound of it. That meant that Queen Morowa would be fighting with them when they went to take the capital. Milo was anxious to see what the Saburans could do in battle. Or were they the Subrans? Milo could never keep the two lands straight.

“Nerissa, I’m sorry to say this isn’t just a visit,” Sarahi said.

“Is it time to retake the throne for Aryn?” Nerissa asked.

“It will be soon, we’re just waiting on Erelah’s signal.”

“Erelah?” Nerissa asked, puzzled.

“There is much I have to tell you about.”

Nerissa, Sarahi, Milo, and Reon all met in private to discuss everything that had transpired. Sarahi told Nerissa all about how they’d been using mountain passes and tunnels to hide out from Mahla and slowly rebuild their forces over the past two years. She told her all about their alliance with the Shadians. Most importantly she told her about Erelah, the prophet from long ago, who had returned to life.

Nerissa gave a skeptical look. “You say she’s come as a child this time?”

“Everyone was a child at some point,” said Sarahi.

“Strange, though, that God would send her as a child to us. Why not have her appear already fully grown? Or accompanied by an army of angels?”

“Maybe she’s a child now so that when the war is over she can have more time to teach us the Law again,” Milo said. “Honestly, the Agalmite Church could probably use a prophet to rebuild after all that’s happened. The longer she’s around the better.”

“That still doesn’t answer the question of ‘why no angelic army?’” said Reon. “I heard what happened when the Inquisition took the capital. An army of angels rose up to fight beside the inquisitors, and demons fought against them to protect Aius.”

“According to her holiness,” said Sarahi, with a hint of sarcasm, “Not all angels serve God anymore.”

Milo touched Sarahi’s hand to remind her not to say anything that might border on blasphemy. Already she had lost her powers as a paladin once before because of careless speech, and Milo remembered how hard that was for her to accept, and what she risked in order to get those powers back.

“I have faith,” Milo began, “That the prophet’s interference will be enough to make up the difference. As it is she’s been great for rallying people to our cause. Even members of the noble houses who fought against us two years ago are now pledging their allegiance to Aryn.”

Nerissa smirked. “Between the Inquisition’s constant execution of Agalmite clerics and rumors of the first prophet returning to life I can imagine a lot of houses will have a convenient ‘change of heart.’ When do we move to take the capital?”

“The signal is to be the sound of four horns blasting from the tops of the tallest mountains in Arx,” said Sarahi. “Supposedly, from anywhere in Arx you’ll be able to hear it.”

After the meeting with Nerissa and Reon had concluded, Milo and Sarahi were escorted to their guest quarters. Their joints ached after such a long journey, and they felt such relief as they climbed into bed.

Still, something had been bothering Milo for a long time, and he decided that he could not sleep if he did not hear Sarahi’s answer. “You seem to have a lot of doubts about Erelah.”

“They’re not important,” Sarahi said. “I’m sorry I’ve made them known.”

“Where are these doubts coming from, dear? Do you think she’s secretly just a powerful sorceress or something?”

“No. We’ve seen her miracles. No mere sorceress can do what she does. She knows the Scriptures in and out too, like one who lived the events contained therein would. I don’t doubt she really is Erelah the prophet who established the kingdom of Arx and the royal bloodline of Melech. My doubts come from…whether or not that’s a good thing.”

“Pardon?”

“Do you remember what happened to the Kufar people in the Book of Clashes?” Sarahi asked.

Milo thought for a moment. The Book of Clashes was a lengthy book regarding the many battles the first Arxians had to fight in order to maintain their independence and fend off invaders. The Kufar were a minor enemy mentioned only in a few small passages. “They were enemies of the early Arxians who were wiped out.”

“Do you remember why they were wiped out?”

“Aside from being our enemies?”

“What made them our enemies? What did they do that led Erelah to declare them enemies of Arx?”

“Honestly…I can’t remember. Sorry.”

“Not surprising. Even priests and monks, whose job it is to study the scriptures constantly, often skip over those passages. The Kufar people were a nomadic tribe that lived in the high mountains. Erelah confronted them, and told them that if they wanted to continue to live in Arx they needed to follow the Law. They refused, so she told them they had to leave. When they refused to leave she beheaded their leader, and with a wave of her hand caused the ground to swallow all of them up. To this day you can visit the Kufar tunnels and you’ll see the petrified corpses of those swallowed up by the mountains. I’ve never been there, but I’ve heard from people who have. It’s the most ghastly graveyard you’ll ever see. Human bodies, covered in calcite, reaching out for mercy…”

“In those days everyone was trying to kill our people,” said Milo. “More so even than today. Erelah couldn’t take chances.”

“But the Kufar people weren’t trying to kill our people, as far as we know. They simply refused to live by the Law, they refused to convert.” Sarahi shook her head and gave Milo a look full of fear. “Milo, they were killed for not following our faith. Throughout the scriptures there are stories of people refusing to ‘live by the Law’ and being either banished from Arx or killed. During the reign of King Kesed people of all faiths have been able to live here peacefully. Under his son, King Othniel, the Nihilites were persecuted and driven from Arx, but they were the only religion so persecuted. What if once we have control over the kingdom again Erelah decides that all ‘heretics’ must be killed or driven from Arx? How many people will die if she does? Things will be as bad as they are now, just with different victims.”

“You’re over-thinking it,” said Milo. “Really, you’re worrying over nothing. The Law commands us to respect life, and to only take a life when necessary to defend other lives. Erelah taught that Law, she lived her life by it, and she still does.”

“Sometimes I can’t help but wonder if our interpretation of the Law may be different from what Erelah thinks about it. A modern view created for convenience-sake, because we’ve become too soft-hearted to do what the prophet says is ‘right.’”

Sarahi’s words gave Milo a sinking feeling. He’d thought the same thing a number of times, but he’d always dismissed such thoughts as useless worry. Now Sarahi was coming to the same conclusion. The more he thought about it the more he realized he didn’t have a good answer. He had no solid argument that could dismiss her fears. As Sarahi blew out the candles and pulled the blankets over her and Milo, he was sure he wasn’t going to get any sleep that night.

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About the author

Nicholas S. Casale

Bio: Nicholas S. Casale, or "Nico" as his friends call him, was born on Vandenberg Airforce Base in California. When he was eleven years old, he moved to Colorado with his family for his father's new job.

He went to Lewis-Palmer Middle School, where teacher Mrs. Susan Doyle got him interested in history by expressing to him that it was not about facts to memorize, but about stories to be told. During this time, English teacher Mr. Todd Mucci also taught him how to write, and he began work on his first piece of historical fiction.

Though his family was fairly secular, he attended a youth group at the Little Log Church in Palmer Lake, Colorado.

In college, he majored in history, and studied various mythologies and religions throughout the world. After college, he became certified as a paralegal and worked at Wal-Mart for the next three years while he tried to find a job with a law firm.

After landing his first paralegal job, he still felt something was missing in his life, and struggled with bouts of depression and loneliness. That was, until he started attending a Messianic Jewish Synagogue in Colorado Springs, where he met the Hebrew class teacher who would one day become his wife.

He is now happily married to Jenifer E. Casale, who wrote "The Whispered War" with him and is currently working on a feminine counterpart to the famous "Hero's Journey" theory devised by Joseph Campbell.

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