“How do you expect to escape the cycle of suffering with so much love for the things of this world? You know the pleasures of your flesh and of material wealth are as evil as Erets itself, a trap to keep you here in Saklas' prison, so why do you seek out these pleasures? Look beyond all of that, beyond the pleasures of wealth, intoxication, fornication, and even love. True joy comes from within you, and must be independent of everything without. Clear your mind of all worldly desires and you will be enlightened, you will be free, Unchained.” The crowd cheered in unison at Quillan's speech. Thousands of people, all with their heads shaved and wearing the simplest of robes raised their voices in approval. “In order to start thinking more like the spiritual beings you are rather than the physical beings Saklas wants you to be, consider this: there is no such thing as man or woman. The very concept of gender is a construct of a flawed society, corrupted by Saklas' influence. Look to your left and to your right. You see not men or women, you see people! You see the spirits trapped in prisons of flesh and bone.”
“High Acharya!” a voice cried out from within the crowd. “Quillan! We have a matter that requires your wisdom.” Two of Quillan's soldiers brought forth four attractive young women, all wearing revealing dresses, and all tied with ropes around their necks. “Harlots. Temptresses we found attempting to seduce the faithful and lead them astray.”
“No doubt sent by Farrah, the harlot queen herself,” said Quillan. He stepped down off of the stage and walked through the parting crowd to the four young women. At Quillan's approach, one of the four women pushed her arms closer together in front of her, pushing up her breasts with her biceps in hopes of tantalizing Quillan, or making him show even a moment of weakness. Quillan did not seem to notice. “Am I right? Did Farrah send you? This is your chance to speak. Choose your words wisely.”
One of the young women saw the danger they were in and began to plead with Quillan. “Please, sir! We're so sorry! We've seen the error of our ways! Please, teach us the way into the light!”
“Dear one, there is always time for redemption,” said Quillan. “You have so much vanity, and you are full of lust, but we will teach you to let all of that go.”
The girl who'd previously tried to tempt Quillan spat at the traitor who was so quick to bow to their captors' will. “Did you already forget why we're here? To put an end to this oppression!” The girl turned to the crowd. “Listen to me, people! Think about what he's forcing you to give up! Anything and everything that brings you happiness in this world! We're all trapped in this prison, it only makes sense to make the best of it while we're here! That's what Farrah has waiting for you if you follow her instead of this maniac; all the pleasures this life has to offer!”
She'd been expecting to hear a cheer, or even a simple murmur from the crowd, but they were silent. It was as if they simply hadn't heard her. She would have thought there would be at least a few in the crowd licentious enough to express some interest.
Quillan placed a hand on the girl's head. “Poor, misguided one. Do you confess your sins?”
The girl turned to face Quillan, a scowl on her lip. “No. Everything you teach is a load of schyte! I will not confess, I've done nothing wrong.”
“Sad. Then perhaps in your next life you might let go of your worldliness. For now, let this wretched life come to an end.” Quillan gave the girl's forehead a light push and the girl slumped over, dead on the ground. Quillan then turned to the other three prostitutes, all of whom were staring in fright at their friend's body. “Do you confess your sins?”
“Yes! We have sinned! We're terribly sorry!” They cried out.
“Do you want to live a new life, to be free of the troubles and cares of this world? Do you want to be Unchained?”
“Yes! Make us your disciples!”
“In this lifetime you shall reject the material world and embrace a higher purpose. No longer will you be happy when you have riches or sad when you are poor, but you will always be filled with joy that comes from within. No longer will you go hungry when you lack food, but you will be nourished by the spirit. Come, dear friends, take these into your care, and make them Unchained.”
Six men in robes like Quillan's came and took away the girls, leading them off to be re-educated in the ways of the Unchained.
As Quillan returned to his room, he soon found that the girls' appearance had a stronger effect on him than he'd originally realized. Not in the sense that he felt any lust for them, or any longing to join them, but in that it brought back the painful memories that led him to the path he was on now.
It was so long ago, but he could still remember it well. “Put on the dress,” his father had told him. “I spent a week's wages on that dress for your meeting with Lord Donn, you're going to wear it.”
Quillan had been born a girl, but had always hated girly and feminine things. Nonetheless, Quillan obeyed. Quillan was thirteen at the time, and her father thought it was about time he found his daughter a match, particularly a rich one. Quillan remembered putting on the frilly, foolish-looking dress and looking in the mirror. He remembered the blonde hair in spiral curls, the make-up applied so thickly that it created the appearance of a doll or a clown, and he remembered just how sick he felt looking at such a reflection.
Quillan was brought before Lord Donn. Lord Donn was older, nearly twenty, and apparently was impressed with Quillan's beauty. Quillan was at least expecting to speak with her betrothed once before they were married, but after a quick once-over Lord Donn turned to Quillan's father and said, “How much would you like as a dowry?”
Quillan was old enough to know exactly how wrong all of this was. Arranged marriage had been forbidden in Nihilus for centuries, but there were still those who practiced that virtual slave trade. Nonetheless, Quillan tried to be a good girl and obey.
They had a small ceremony under the stars a week later. It had to be a small ceremony, lest word get out that Quillan had been forced into the marriage. Besides, the dowry was so high, Quillan suspected that Lord Donn couldn't afford much else.
With the eyes of countless witnesses on her, Quillan had said those empty vows, and it was a blur between then and Lord Donn roughly bedding her. Quillan spent her wedding night in tears. For the better part of a year Quillan was Lord Donn's slave. At his command she wore whatever he wanted, let him use her body however he wanted. It was only after she miscarried their child and was sure he would kill her that Quillan finally fled.
Quillan ran to the cliffs on the eastern coast of Nihilus, overlooking the vast ocean. There were sharp rocks below, and Quillan stood at the edge, prepared to end this miserable life. Yet, for all of her misery, she couldn't bring herself to jump. Horrible thoughts filled her mind, what would happen if she didn't die at the bottom? She'd be a broken, mangled mess. She'd be crippled, and any man could use her the way that Lord Donn had. Lust turned men into monsters, and a woman's helplessness made the beast within men feel strong.
So Quillan fell asleep by the edge of the cliff. It was in that sleep that Aivas appeared to her for the first time.
Aivas had the kindest voice Quillan had ever heard. A voice that was not a man's or a woman's, but sounded rather like the voice of compassion itself. “Sweet one, you have been a victim all of your life because of illusions.”
“Yes. Lord Donn looked upon your body, but he never saw you. All he saw was your chains, your flesh and bone confining you to this damnable world. He saw a woman, and felt that he was a man, and so he surrendered to his animal lusts.” She could almost see Aivas in the darkness, and remembered trying to, but to no avail. “Don't try to see my form, my form is not me, no more than your form is you. You are not your hand, you are not your eyes, you are not your hair. You are not the pretty dress your father made you wear, and you are not the womb that cannot carry a child. How long must we teach you, our brethren, the truth about this? You are not your bodies, you are spirits. There is no such thing as a man, no such thing as a woman. Even the differences between the sexes are constructs invented by Saklas to keep you all chained. Until you learn to denounce the desires of your body you will never be free.”
And so it was that Quillan revived the religious order of the Unchained. There were a few covens and communes out by the seashore, and he joined them together. Quillan shaved his head and wore robes that revealed no gender, because as far he was concerned he had no gender, no one did. He renounced the woman his father and husband wanted him to be, and became the spiritual being that he always knew he was.
Ten long years since that day, and finally the Unchained were gaining momentum. They were leading more and more people to enlightenment daily. Quillan could see it all clearly now, the true reason Nihilite heroes such as King Therion, Cory the Savior, General Meriel, and King Sulaiman had failed to bring about the destruction of Erets was not because the Arxians had defeated them, but because deep down they still loved their prison far too much. Therion was lustful, Cory was vain and greedy, Meriel took pleasure in sadism, and Sulaiman was materialistic. They needed to be above all of those things, beyond worldly desires. Only then would they be free, only then could they bring Erets to an end, as he and the Unchained were destined to do.
“So who was this man who brought you to Sahar's castle again?”
“Ardal,” Galia answered. “His name was Ardal.”
Farrah, Mave, Kiva, and Galia were all in the basement of one of the houses in Ormondsburgh. Galia had been nothing but grateful that they had gotten her out of Sahar's castle, but as they continued to question her about her story she was getting visibly frustrated.
“This Ardal...he was a Nihilite rebel? Fought for Val?” Farrah asked.
“Yes...well no...he never approved of what Val did, but when the city of Bogeid was attacked by Arxians he did help defend it.”
“And what was your relationship to Ardal?” Farrah asked. Galia hesitated a moment and considered her words carefully. She opened her mouth as if to speak, but then closed it again. Farrah leaned in towards her. “Galia, what was your relationship to Ardal? How did you know him?”
“At first he came to me for healing, he had the Gavish. We stayed together because when Val took over the city he protected me...and because we were in love.”
Farrah could have doubted every other word this girl had said, but when she said that she and Ardal were in love Farrah could see the truth in the tears Galia held back. “And he died because he attempted to assassinate Sahar?”
“Yes. Though I think he may have been mad, insane.”
“Why do you say that?”
“While we were traveling together occasionally he'd stare off into the distance and mutter to himself, almost as if he was talking to someone.”
Just as Galia was saying it Farrah realized that Ardal was probably receiving orders from Elykos. Nihilites all over the kingdom had been hearing their long-lost prince's voice speaking to them. “Let's skip ahead a bit, when did you first realize that Sahar was cruel?”
“When the clerics never showed up at the castle,” Galia said. “I had been made a bishop, so Sahar said he wanted me to call all of the Agalmite clerics in Nihilus to convene at his castle, with the rebellions rising up all over the duchy he wanted them to be safe. I sent out the letters. Months went by and we never heard from or saw any of the clergy. One day he came into my room, closed the door, and began to hit me. He told me that the clerics didn't show up and it was all my fault.”
“So he started beating you?” Farrah asked.
“Yes. It wasn't every day. Had it been every day I could have predicted it. Instead he came at random times to hit me and insult me. He kept asking me if I really still believed in God and that the world was good after all I'd suffered.”
“And...why didn't you try to escape sooner?”
“I did! I tried so many times. Somehow he always knew when I was about to slip out. He intercepted me again and again, each time he punished me, every time the punishment was worse than the last time.”
“All of this because the clerics never showed up? What, did he think you'd betrayed them or something?”
“I don't know what his rationale was, or if he even had one. Sometimes as he'd hit me he'd smile, once or twice he even laughed. He might have just been doing it because he enjoyed it.”
Mave could see Galia shudder, clearly she was remembering some of the more disturbing incidents. She walked over to Galia and pulled her into a tight hug, which caused Galia to burst into tears and bury her face in Mave's shoulder.
Soon after, Farrah and Mave left the house together. Galia had cried herself to sleep. For a while they said nothing, just looked at each other. After a long silence Mave finally asked, “So, what do you make of all that?”
“Well...either she's a very good actress, or the same man who's told us we can have peace and independence if we just get rid of the Unchained is a man who delights in violence. Neither answer bodes well. If he's truly that sadistic it could be he's just promising us peace if we defeat the Unchained because he expects we'll destroy one another.”
“I thought you said men that evil don't typically rise to power,” said Mave.
“Typically they don't,” said Farrah. “If someone's a raving, screaming madman people around him usually take notice, and then they do anything they can to prevent his rise to power. If, however, he's someone who can hide that side of him, a crafty bastard who knows exactly what to say and when to say it, they can sometimes slip in unnoticed. According to Galia's story Sahar was kind to her at first, she had no idea he was such a monster inside.”
“So what do we do?” Mave asked.
Farrah thought for a moment, and then a smile crept across her face. “We write to Caelum Academy.”
“Caelum? The paladins?”
“Yes, the holy knights of the Agalmite faith. The academy is the last bastion for those who openly practice that religion around there, the Inquisition's seen to that. Tell them we have one of their bishops, and we are willing to give her to them free of charge, if they will but send an emissary to hear us out.”
Mave's jaw dropped. “You can't be serious! You're going to INVITE paladins to come here? What will the people say?”
“The people of Nihilus suffered under the hands of the Inquisition, not the paladins. Now that the paladins are enemies of the Inquisition I can play that angle to my advantage. Plus, we might be able to get some of them to help us out with the Unchained.”
“This is a dangerous game you're playing Farrah.”
“It's been a dangerous game for a long time now. Either this will help us greatly, or it'll cost me my head. But how is that really different from any other choice I ever have to make?”