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Chapter XVII

“The Grand Inquisitor is a stone-hearted man. I don't think this will make him surrender.”

Atius didn't look up at the centurion who was questioning his tactic. “We don't need him to surrender, we just need the people to feel fear. Fear is a sin to these people, and if we can instill fear we'll instill both guilt and doubt, and doubt is also a sin. We'll break them on the level of their faith, and when that happens they'll have nothing left.”

None of the cities in Kolob were walled, but even so Atius and his legion treated it as a siege. They'd surrounded the city wherein the Grand Inquisitor himself lived, and encircled it with their catapults and trebuchet. The people in the city all stood ready for the attack, with their pitch-forks, axes, and hoes their only weapons. Beside them stood the Inquisition's witch-hunters. As they looked on at this massive legion surrounding their city they knew they were vastly out-numbered, but they were prepared to go down fighting if need be, and the witch-hunters were ready to call angels to their aid.

Father Lamech met with the Archangel Sandalphon in the Inner Sanctum. In that commanding, rumbling voice Sandalphon told him, “Your people have become complacent, Lamech. For the past two years the True Way has controlled the land of Arx. During that time your people allowed sloth to take them. What need had they to stay strong in their faith if they were not being persecuted?”

“I have tried to keep them on the right path, Sandalphon. I swear, I have given my best effort to keep them all virtuous.”

“And they have not turned astray,” said Sandalphon. “They are on the correct path, they just aren't traveling on it as fast as they were. This impending attack is a test and a blessing. Weakness will be stripped away from the Inquisition, and only its strength shall remain. The battle is nigh. Speak to them, bolster their courage.”

It was with those wise words in mind that Father Lamech left the temple to speak to the people of his city. He found that all of the people of the city were standing on the city's border, staring at the enemy army lining the tops of the nearby hills. Though none of them showed even a single sign of fear, Lamech could tell that many of them were tempted to succumb to terror. With such a sight on the horizon who wouldn't?

“Brothers and sisters, followers of the True Way, listen to my words. The Archangel Sandalphon sends his blessing upon all of you. He has seen the outcome of this battle, and he assures me that in the end we will prevail. Call upon those angels loyal to him when the time comes and they shall rush to your aid, as they did at Aius. You will see victory this day, for the army of Sandalphon will not let you die so long as you keep faith in them. You must not fear, you must not doubt. Fear and doubt are your greatest enemies, far greater than this legion from the West. Defend your home, and defend the truth for which we have long been the care-takers!”

The people all cheered as Father Lamech concluded his speech, but the roaring applause was cut short as they heard the sound of a dozen catapults and trebuchet going off in the distance. While the people were busy trying to find a place to take cover, Lamech stared at the projectiles hurtling towards them through the air. Why would this legion fire their catapults at the city? There were no walls for them to break down. As Lamech stared at the missile, what it was became more and more clear. His suspicions were confirmed when he caught a glimpse of its eyes.

Lamech dropped to the ground just as one of the heads they launched at the city struck the house behind him. Many more of these human heads rained into the city. They lined the streets. People who'd been religiously taught to resist fear their whole lives now screamed as they laid eyes on the faces of those who had fallen. Some were the faces of loved ones or people they knew. Terror gripped them at the realization that they'd spoken to these people just a few weeks ago, and now their lives had come to an end. A permanent end. The realization of the inevitability and apparent permanency of death crept into their minds. The sweat on their hands made it hard to keep hold of their weapons, and their knees shook.

Soon the rain of their comrades' heads ebbed, and they heard the sound of drums. The infantry began its march towards the city, all in a perfect line with shields raised high and spears at the ready. A trumpet was sounded, and the cavalry rode in a circle around the city. The cavaliers let out a howl that chilled the blood. Monsters. Savages. The inquisitors were not to fight men but vicious animals, it seemed.

The scarlet-cloaked witch-hunters, knowing that there was no advantage in holding their ground and waiting for the infantry to reach them, sprung forward to initiate the carnage. A flash of red, and they were upon the enemy infantry. They slipped in past the range of their enemies' spears, and stabbed at them around their tower shields. The first line of infantry was frantic as they tried to hold the line. They staggered back and wobbled their shields to block the witch-hunters' erratic stabs. All the while they dropped their long spears and fumbled for their swords. When they heard the tortured groan of one of their comrades they knew their formation was doomed to break.

Sure enough, as soon as one of the infantry soldiers in that first line fell the witch-hunters exploited the gap. They tore through the phalanx and broke the line. No longer operating as a unit, the soldiers in that first line were desperate to fight back, and protect themselves from a massacre at the hands of the Inquisition's most dangerous killers.

The inquisitors and militia, emboldened by the sight of the enemy infantry's fall, called out in roaring applause. This applause was only to be cut short as the Digan cavalry thundered towards them. In their joy they almost did not see the approach.

The cavaliers had seen the weapons in their enemies' hands. Short swords, pitch-forks, shovels. Nothing too dangerous to a man on horseback. The Inquisition's deception worked. Just under the dust of the road, lightly buried, were long spears. Just as the Digan cavalry drew close, the militia and inquisitors dropped their weapons, reached down under the dirt, and pulled the spears up just in time to impale the first few cavaliers. As Legate Atius pulled the reins on his horse to narrowly avoid one of the spears, he cursed himself for not having seen this coming. Nevertheless, from the back of his horse he struck out with his saber as he rode through the Inquisition's streets. The gutters ran red as he rode by too fast for his targets to react, and split open their sternums or slashed their throats with his blade. Behind him a wave of curved, steel blades washed over the Inquisition's army, leaving the path painted red behind them.

Upon seeing that street fall, other members of the militia began to flee, and, soon after them, the inquisitors themselves.

“Don't run!” called out the Grand Inquisitor. “Cowards! Did I not tell you? Call upon the army of Sandalphon!” Lamech pulled back his sleeve to reveal a mass of symbols tattooed to his arm. Dust flew up around him. In seconds a humanoid figure made of diamond as clear as glass, with feathered wings of crystal stretching from its back, appeared in front of Lamech.

The cavalier who'd been riding towards Lamech with the intent of riding him down jerked his reins. The angel lunged at the cavalier, seized him by the face, and forced him off his horse and onto the ground. There was loud pop as the cavalier's head hit the ground and his scream was cut short. The very next cavalier in line was foolish enough to reach out and strike the angel with his saber, but the metal broke against the angel's crystal body. The angel stretched out one wing across the cavalier's mid-section as he passed and sliced the cavalier cleanly in two.

Atius may have been surprised by the long spears, but he certainly saw this attack coming. “Acolytes!” He cried out.

Dressed no differently than any of the other cavaliers were the acolytes of the Father Atius had brought with him for just this occasion. They broke from ranks, stretched forth their hands, and called out in unison, “Irae di Pater!”

The wind surrounding the angel blew with a fine, black smoke, which snaked around the angel and forced its way into the angel's eyes and mouth. The angel threw its head back as if to scream from the agony, but no sound came out. The angel's body then fell limp on the ground, its head cracked on a stone. The glow in its eyes faded, and the crystal feathers fell from its wings.

Lamech recoiled at the sight. These heathen acolytes had just killed an angel. As far as Lamech could tell they hadn't merely defeated it, they'd truly killed it, which was supposed to be impossible. Lamech may have been a fanatic, but he was no fool. He knew when he was staring down a death without reward. With his last hope dashed Father Lamech finally gave in to the temptation of fear. He turned and ran, faster than he'd ever run even as a child.

Atius called out to his cavaliers. “Decanus Carlo, take your eight men and follow Father Lamech. After this battle is over we want a public execution.”

“Yes, sir!” the decanus replied. He shouted to his men and the nine of them rode after the Grand Inquisitor.

Legate Atius pushed on. He assigned other groups to chase after the rest of the militia and inquisitors while he rode out to reinforce his infantry.

The witch-hunters had broken the lines of the infantry, but they soon found that this was not advantage enough. Neither was their superior individual skill, for the army they were fighting worked as a team, vastly out-numbered them, and had them surrounded now. For every two Digan soldiers they killed one of them would fall. They were sure to lose this battle of attrition, but they were convicted to fight to the last man.

For a moment, they breathed hope as their enemies began to withdraw. All too soon they found, however, that the infantry had only withdrawn to let the cavalry through. Atius and his cavaliers rode through the ranks of the Inquisition's witch-hunters. Hope had failed, and despair set in as the Inquisition's best warriors collapsed to the welcoming grave.

Legate Atius had taken the capital of Kolob, the heart of the Inquisition itself. He'd taken few prisoners, and those few he had taken, mostly the children, would be sent out west as slaves. Atius surveyed the destruction of the Inquisition's city and couldn't help but tear up at the poetic brilliance of such desolation.

Decanus Carlo and his eight men arrived at the camp late, and apparently without their target. Atius told his centurions, “Take their weapons and have them line up in the center of town.”

Soon the nine of them were lined up in front of Atius, and he paced before them. “Carlo, come forward.”

The decanus stepped forth. He'd been stripped of his weapons. He knew that he was totally vulnerable. If Atius chose to strike him down Carlo wouldn't have any chance to stop him. Still, he stood a greater chance of living if he cooperated with whatever punishment Atius had in mind.

Atius looked Carlo in the eye. “Which of your men do you find to be the most responsible for losing Father Lamech?”

Carlo released his held breath and tried to hide his smile. He'd be allowed to punish the soldier he hated most out of his group, it seemed. Carlo pointed to one of the soldiers and said, “Gaius. He was the closest to Father Lamech and let him slip away.” This wasn't really true. All of them were practically right on top of Father Lamech at some point or another, and he still managed to squirm out of their grasp. Still, he'd never liked Gaius. Gaius was always questioning his orders.

“Gaius, stay where you are. The rest of you, come forward and stand by your decanus.” Atius ordered. Seven of the eight soldiers under Carlo's command walked over and stood by Carlo. Atius walked over to Gaius, and Carlo was certain he was about to watch Gaius' execution. “All of you, grab Carlo and hold him tight.” At these words Carlo tried to run, but immediately his own men took hold of him and held him still. No matter how much he struggled he was no match for all of them. Atius picked up a large stone and held it out to Gaius. “A commander is responsible for the actions of his team. If the whole team is chosen to perform a task and they fail to do so it is their leader's responsibility. Do you think if I lose this war in Arx I can return home and blame a subordinate? No, it will be on my head. Had Carlo taken responsibility for his failure a simple flogging may have been enough. Not so. Gaius, take this stone and bash Carlo's head in.”

“Yes, sir,” said Gaius.

Carlo shouted, “Please don't! Gaius! Please!” He was desperate, but he realized the futility of his pleas. Just moments ago he'd been ready to watch Gaius' execution, Gaius was sure to know this was so. Carlo struggled some more, but escape was impossible, the seven soldiers had too tight a grip on him.

With the whole legion watching on, Gaius struck Carlo in the face with the stone over and over. At first they could hear Carlo's screams between each loud crack, but soon he went silent, and all they could hear was the sound of the stone against his skull.

When Gaius was satisfied that Carlo was dead, he dropped the bloody stone on the ground.

Atius patted Gaius' shoulder. “For him to hate you enough to have chosen you for execution you must have been a threat to him, perhaps a better leader. Gaius, you are now a decanus. Choose one more man to join your team.” For a moment Gaius was overjoyed that he was being promoted, until Atius caught his eye and said, “You've seen the price of failure now. I trust you will do well.” Atius turned then to the rest of his legion. “Find places to sleep tonight and set up watches. A small group will take the prisoners out west to the slave markets. Also, someone send a message by pigeon. Call for additional soldiers. We'll need more to take the rest of Arx.”

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Nicholas S. Casale

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