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Chapter XXIII

The sight before Sahar was as beautiful and terrifying as he always imagined. In the darkness he could see only his Mother's face, with hollow eyes. Most of her body had disappeared into the shadows behind her, and was all but invisible, save for the dancing lights that sparkled like stars where her body should be. Seven tails, each one resembling that of a different breed of snake, slithered on the ground out of the shadows, and Sahar could see a single talon, like that of a hawk, floating in the darkness.

“One from this vessel's own oven comes seeking my counsel,” said Deidra, though her voice was accompanied by several others, all speaking in unison. “Wolf of the beast's seed, speak to us, ask your questions.”

For a moment Sahar was too in awe of his mother's beauty to speak. Truly she was a piece of the Void incarnated on Erets. “Mother, things have not gone according to plan.”

“Not according to what you believed was the plan,” said Deidra.

“I lost control of Arx! I had it for such a short time, I was their king only mere days before the throne was taken from me.”

“This vessel spoke to you that the Crown of Nihilus would be the Crown of Arx, that a union of lovers would make the sands one. Do you doubt?”

“Forgive me my doubt, but I don't see how it's possible! That bitch raised a coup against me and took my queen prisoner!”

“The moon's purpose is to bring destruction to the prison. Crack open the eggshell so that the urchin inside may be eaten.”

“Yes, I need to destroy Erets, I understand. How? How is that even possible?”

A soft, feminine hand reached out from within the darkness, along with a long, slender human arm. The hand gently caressed Sahar's face. “A garden of violets. From the sun's birth it shall spread. Soon the dancing violets will cover all the world.”

“I don't understand Mother...how can I destroy Erets with flowers?”

The same hand that was caressing his face now pulled back and slapped him hard. “Wisdom! This you lack! The enlightened will teach you. Those who are free of their shackles.”

“The Unchained!” Sahar shouted. “Of course! You want me to seek out the Unchained! With their help I can fulfill my life's purpose!”

“Secrets taught by Xaphan and Aivas will be your answer. Once the dancing violets cover the world and their scent fills the wind water them with the iron of the second.”

“Yes! I understand, Mother! Once I have learned the secrets of the Unchained my brother will die by my hand. When I spill his blood a legion of daemons like the world has never seen will pour forth onto this world and wage war against the filthy tyrant who rules over us all. His angels will die, and then Saklas himself will pay for his crimes!”

. . .

“Lady Quin has refused our demands.”

Quillan shook his head at the messenger. “Does she not understand what we offer? The true freedom that comes from joining us?”

“Apparently not,” said the messenger.

Quillan was not so surprised at the fact that Lady Quin had failed to see what he was offering so much as he was surprised at just how bold the old general was being. Most people couldn't see enlightenment when it came to greet them, they were too wrapped up in the pleasures of mortal life to understand. What they could more easily understand, most of the time, was Quillan's success. He'd taken town after town, city after city, and out of those who surrendered nearly all converted and were now Unchained. Each battle only bolstered Quillan's army. Quillan was the liberator of souls, blessed by the daemons of the Void, and nothing could stand in his way. How was it that Lady Quin, with all of her wisdom, thought it possible to stand against the Unchained?

“Have scouts move in ahead to the other side of the city. At the top of the hill closest to the city they are to set up barrels of water, each one leaking. At the bottom they are to spill jars full of wet fire.”

When the Unchained took the tavern where Caolan and Val were holding their duel they found the formula for Wet Fire in Val's coat pocket. Once Quillan's alchemists had figured out what the formula was for he ordered them to start brewing some. A substance that burst into flames when it came in contact with water, and burned so hot that water only fueled it? They couldn't possibly pass it up.

Nihilus may have been a mostly flat and barren land, but there was enough tree cover for the scouts to move to the hill on the far side of the town and set the trap, and plenty of time for them to run back to Quillan's army.

All the while, Lady Quin's warriors had their eyes fixed on the Unchained army outside of their town. An attack seemed imminent. Lady Quin knew that while the down-side of trying to defend a town that had no walls was the fact that you could not simply seal the gates and hold out until your enemy left, there were still ways to defend against invasion. On the town's rooftops she had archers positioned, waiting to hail arrows down upon the enemy army when it filled the streets. Under over-turned carts she had warriors hiding, ready to ambush the Unchained when they passed. Furthermore, on both ends of the town she had her cavaliers ready to charge. An army invading a walled town had the defenders cornered and hemmed in, but in a town without such walls they had the chance to either escape or flank their enemies.

Quillan watched on as Lady Quin's warriors gathered in the streets, with their shields and spears at the ready. The lot of them were just waiting for the attack, and had undoubtedly set traps. Quillan almost smiled thinking of how little this would help them.

The Unchained warriors rolled forward and assembled a single trebuchet. It was the only such siege weapon they had in their possession, but it was more than enough for what they had in mind. They rolled up to the trebuchet barrels, rather than rocks, which would be their missiles. Half of the barrels had marks of blue paint on them, the other half had marks of purple paint. The first barrel they loaded had a purple mark upon it.

Lady Quin had not anticipated that the Unchained would begin by bombarding the town. She turned to the officers nearest her. “Make sure the cavaliers are ready to charge the second the trebuchet launches. We need that weapon destroyed.”

“Yes, ma'am!”

The order was brought to the cavaliers, and all of them watched for the first shot to fly through the air.

A sound like thunder rumbled across the plains and echoed off of the hills nearby as the hill behind the town erupted into a violet blaze. Lady Quin's warriors all jumped at the sound. Some dropped their weapons and others knocked over the carts and tarps that were their only cover. A blast of hot wind rippled through the town. Those unfortunate enough, or perhaps cowardly enough, to have been standing in the back of the town, furthest from where they expected the battle to take place, had their hair singed off and their flesh badly burned. A few unfortunate souls had their clothing catch fire, and they ran screaming through the town.

“NOW!” Quillan shouted. The trebuchet launched the first barrel into the air. For a moment the cavaliers were so distracted from the sound of the explosion and the sight of the purple fire burning on the hill that they did not notice the moment to charge. Just before the barrel hit the town hall, however, they noticed what had happened and charged out to the north and south to encircle their enemies.

The barrel struck the highest point on the town hall and shattered. A strange liquid splashed all over the rooftops of the town. Some of the archers waiting on the roofs were coverd in it. Whatever it was, it was ice cold, and sticky.

“LOAD BLUE AND LOOSE!” Quillan shouted to the men at the trebuchet. She then turned her head to the warriors on the outskirts of the formation. “WALL OF BOLTS!”

The usual defense against a cavalry charge was a shield wall with spears, which was what Lady Quin's cavaliers were expecting. Unsurprisingly, there was a shield wall, but the shield-bearers were crouched low, and behind them stood lines of men with crossbows loaded and ready. The first few riders to see this panicked and spurred their horses on faster in hopes of closing the distance between them and their enemies before the wall of crossbow bolts hit. Too late. One-hundred clicks sounded at once, followed by a whistling like the strongest gale. Cross-bow bolts ripped through the first lines of the cavalry. The shield-bearers raised their iron shields just in time, as the fallen horses and their riders smashed into them. Those immediately behind them barely had time to react. The first few smashed into the shields as well, but the rest drove their horses to leap over the shield wall. Just on the other side, though, they were met with their enemies long-spears and pikes. Those cavaliers not immediately impaled on their enemies' spears rode through the enemy ranks and sliced through whomever they could reach. The Unchained practically threw themselves at the cavaliers, tackled them off of their horses, and cut them to pieces with their blades. Other Unchained aimed specifically for the cavaliers' horses and sent the riders crashing to the ground.

A barrel marked with blue paint had been loaded into the trebuchet and launched. The barrel hurtled toward the roof of the town hall and smashed against it. This time water burst out on impact. The water fell onto the cold liquid the last barrel had spread around and the liquid burst into flames. Those unfortunate archers who'd had some of the sticky liquid splash onto them exploded into purple fire, and their ashes and bones fell from the rooftops.

“LOAD PURPLE AND LOOSE!” Quillan shouted. Immediately those surrounding the trebuchet began to load another barrel marked with purple paint, just as the fire on the hill behind the town began to creep down, and a fire began to spread from the center of the town as well.

Lady Quin knew an imminent panic when she saw one. She knew better than to let her warriors react on their own accord, they'd be sure to run. She needed to get them out of the town, she just needed to make sure they were going the right direction. “CHARGE!” she shouted. Sending one's infantry into a full charge was a terrible tactic, usually used by undisciplined barbarians. A good infantry stayed together, worked as a single, cohesive unit, while a cavalry charged, but Lady Quin was out of other options.

Lady Quin's warriors charged out of the town, their weapons raised high. Quillan's soldiers knew exactly what to do when they saw this, Quillan did not even need to give the order. They formed ranks and stood their ground, with their swords and axes at the ready, and round shields braced for impact. The charge was just long enough for the warriors charging in full suits of armor to feel fatigued, while the Unchained were fresh and ready for the attack. Just as Lady Quin's warriors drew close the Unchained closed the gap and engaged their enemies. The charging warriors threw all their weight and momentum into that first strike. Some even managed to break through the shields on the first line, but soon they found that charging as they did merely made sure that every warrior crashed into the back of the one in front of him. The first line of Unchained gave their enemies a sharp, sudden push with their shields and knocked them back over each other, before going after them with their swords and axes. Lady Quin's soldiers were mostly on their back, and easy targets for the Unchained.

The trebuchet launched again and smashed against the rooftops of the town. More of that sticky liquid splashed all over the town, and the fire spread faster. Those who'd been unfortunate enough to get stuck in their hiding places within the town were burned or melted down to the bone.

“CEASE!” Quillan told those at the trebuchet. At this point the town would surely burn down, she didn't want any more Wet Fire to go to waste. Arx's forests and rivers would be a much better place to spread that glorious gift.

Lady Quin's cavaliers had broken ranks and all lost track of each other. Everywhere they rode swarms of Unchained struck out at them or attacked their horses. No matter how many they cut down, no matter how fearsome they tried to seem the enemy kept coming. The cavaliers would cut through with a sword or smash to pieces with a war-hammer over a dozen Unchained, only to have dozens more leap at them without fear. It didn't take long for the cavaliers to realize how hopeless this was and try to retreat. Yet even as they tried to retreat a bolas would catch their horses' legs and bring them to the ground, where they were helpless before their enemies. The Unchained were savage butchers once they got their hands on the cavaliers.

Lady Quin was among her warriors at the front of the battle. She watched as with every passing moment the battle became more and more hopeless. She couldn't retreat at this point, though. Behind them was the town, which was on fire. Even if they tried to go around it they'd be moving through all that smoke, and would asphyxiate as their enemies filled their backs with crossbow bolts. Yes, they were dead for sure. All she could do now was make sure as many Unchained fell as possible before her warriors were all dead.

That was when the Unchained stopped merely holding their ground against Lady Quin's infantry and began their slow advance. They struck with shields and weapons alike. The Unchained pushed Lady Quin's warriors further and further back. With every step the Unchained forced their enemies closer to the burning city. They could smell the foul, toxic smoke and feel the intense heat at their backs. They were sweating profusely in their armor, and the dehydration made them dizzy. More prone to mistakes or stumbles.

The last of the cavaliers fell, and Unchained gathered around him with maces and hammers. He cried out for mercy, but they had none, and they crushed him in his suit of iron.

Weeping from despair and agony, Lady Quin's warriors began to throw down their arms and beg for their lives. A foolish gesture, because killing is not always the worst thing one's enemy can do. Those to whom Lady Quin's warriors were surrendering nodded to them, and then broke their legs instead of beheading them.

This sign of the Unchained's idea of mercy was all the rest of Lady Quin's warriors needed to throw everything they had at the advancing infantry. They would go down swinging, fighting tooth and nail not to be taken. Lady Quin soon saw that only she and five others stood against the Unchained. There was no retreat, there was no surrender. In a panic, Lady Quin threw herself upon her own sword. The remaining five made one final, desperate charge, only for the Unchained to massacre them.

. . .

After the battle was finally over, less than one-hundred of Lady Quin's army were still living, but all of them were far too wounded to fight anymore. “Gather the survivors,” said Quillan. “And have the warlocks draw the circle.”

The survivors were all shackled together and brought to a flat space in the fields far from the burning city. Those who still could stand were forced to kneel beside their comrades. They were all groaning from the excruciating pain of their wounds and injuries, and all were far too weak to fight back.

Quillan, accompanied by many of his warlocks, approached the prisoners. “You think I have shackled you? These chains are nothing compared to the chains you have willingly put upon yourself. These chains of iron have been forced upon you, but you willingly donned the golden chains of Saklas. Worse even than Saklas' worshipers are you who know the truth and yet choose to disregard it, you who give in to the great fool's temptations! Prunikos granted you free will, and you squandered it on worldliness. Lust, greed, love of strong drink, you have made yourselves slaves to Saklas by these. You cannot be freed. You refused enlightenment, refused redemption, so you will remain slaves, but now to a much better master.”

All the while when Quillan spoke the warlocks had been drawing a large circle in the dirt with shovels. The circle surrounded the prisoners, and every five feet they drew an X on the edge of the circle. One of the prisoners looked at the strange shape and could swear he'd seen it somewhere before. His older brother had been a warlock, what did he tell him this symbol meant? The warlocks all spread out and knelt down on the dirt. They placed their hands on the edge of the circle. “Accept this gift in the name of Prunikos, in the name of freedom!” Now the prisoner recognized the circle, the Ring of Stars! Before he could cry out, though, the spell was cast. Darkness surrounded the prisoners, a pitch blackness so intense they could not see even their own bodies if they looked down. Yet, in that darkness, they could hear the screams of the other prisoners as something swept through. Each scream started out as a loud cry of pain, but was soon muffled, and finally completely silenced.

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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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