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Chapter XXVIII

“Lady Farrah, three paladins have just arrived.”

Farrah looked up from the letters on her desk and put her quill in the ink-well. “They're responding to my letter about Galia?”

“It seems so,” said Kiva. “And they have with them a strange little girl.”

“What's strange about her?”

“She has white hair, white eyes, and the paladins appear to be taking orders from her.”

Farrah blinked twice and shook her head. “That is...odd. Fine, send them in.”

The four guests soon met Farrah in her office. A middle-aged paladin with dark skin, a young female paladin, a handsome young man with black curls, a small girl with white hair and white eyes, and a handsome young man with black curls. Farrah's eyes wandered over Lemuel twice, and judging by the red on the young man's cheeks he noticed. Farrah made a mental note to come back to that later.

Farrah curtsied to her guests. “As you know I am Lady Farrah, daughter of Cory, Chosen of Malkira.”

The paladins all cringed at the sound of Cory's name. They had to remember that while in their homeland Cory was remembered as the monster who murdered King Hadar here he was remembered as a hero.

“Lies,” said Erelah. The three paladins all turned to her in shock and tried to signal her to be silent. They were in the middle of a fortress held by Nihilites, the last thing they needed to do was insult their martyred hero in front of his daughter.

“I beg your pardon?” Farrah said.

“Thou art not truly Cory's daughter,” said Erelah.

Farrah laughed. “Yes, yes I am.”

“Thou art not. Cory visited the town where thou wert born, but he never had relations with th mother as thou claimest.”

Farrah stared at Erelah a moment, her face blank. After an uncomfortable silence she gestured to the door and looked at the paladins and Mave, her bodyguard. “Leave us.”

“M'lady?” Mave asked.

“Please, Mave, leave us,” said Farrah.

They all filed out and closed the door. Soon only Farrah and Erelah were in the room. Farrah stood from her chair and paced for a moment before finally saying, “You see a lot, little girl.”

“I am Erelah, prophet of the God of Erets.”

“And the Agalmite God...he tells you everything?”

“Not everything, but he tells me much.”

“He's told you about me?”

“Yes,” said Erelah. “He has told me about how thou claimest to be Cory's daughter, even though Cory never had any children. That wicked man was hollow inside. His pride came even before his lusts.”

“Wicked man, hmm? A wise man once said that one's martyr is another's murderer. One's hero is another's villain.”

“And one's God is another's Devil,” said Erelah. “I have heard this before.”

“What else do you see?”

“I see that thy wish is for peace for thy people. To achieve peace thou needest power, and that is why thou hast chosen to deceive everyone into following thee. I see that thou art ready to fight some of thine own people to achieve that peace. Moreover, I see that thy wish is to install Nihilus' rightful heir to his throne.”

“You know about Prince Elykos?”

“I do, but he is not what thou believest him to be.”

“What do you mean?” The possibilities ran through Farrah's head. First she thought that perhaps Elykos wasn't truly an Aeon as he was believed to be. Then she thought that perhaps he wasn't truly the son of the late King Therion.

“He is Sahar.”

Farrah stared at Erelah blankly, her mouth hanging open.

“Thou knowest Sahar, then?” asked Erelah. “Yes, Sahar is an alias he has adopted so that he could take control of Arx. He failed, however, to establish himself as Arx's king. Admittedly it was a brilliant plot, but I was sent to stop him.”

“Sahar is...” Farrah paused, swallowed hard, and then continued, “I've heard stories...Mother Galia was his prisoner for years. She told me all about his cruel, sadistic nature. Is Prince Elykos truly the same person?”

“Verily Elykos and Sahar are one and the same. He is a demon wearing human flesh, one who has found joy in causing suffering and destruction. That is the path that he has chosen, the path of violence. He relishes in chaos, pain, and death. Even now he conspires to bring about the end of Erets.”

“Most Nihilites do hope for the end of Erets. It kind of comes with the religion,” said Farrah.

“True, but most who understand what such an end would entail also fear it,” said Erelah. “'That great and terrible day,' is that not what it is called? Thou knowest the kind of suffering people would endure in order to bring about that end, Farrah. Furthermore thou knowest the pleasures this world has to offer. Exceedingly well, I might add.” Erelah gave a knowing smirk, which told Farrah that though this prophet looked like a little girl she was far older and world-wise than she seemed. “Tell me truly, wouldst thou wish to see all of Erets burn?”

“No!” Farrah said. “I'd like to see the Firmament tear open and every soul who doesn't want to be here allowed to leave, but to see the land itself burn? I can't even imagine how horrible that would be, watching all of those people suffer...”

“That's what Elykos plans to do, Farrah,” said Erelah. “He wishes to set all the world on fire, and he has been manipulating everyone from behind the scenes to start wars. So many wars that all life on Erets will come to an end. I know that thou prayest to the demons of the Void, Farrah, but canst thou truly bring thyself to follow such an evil?”

“Maybe.”

“Maybe?”

“Well, he's an evil who wants to kill everyone, apparently. At least that's fair. Your people just want to kill all of the Nihilites.”

“The Arxians do not want to kill all of the Nihilites.”

“No, just stamp out our faith and destroy our way of life. That's better.”

The anger in Erelah's stare made Farrah worry that this old, wise, little-girl prophet couldn't tell that she was being sarcastic. With a scowl on her face Erelah said, “Thou art angry about what the Arxians have done to thy country. This I can understand. However, forget not that the reason the Arxians invaded Nihilus was in retaliation for what the Nihilites did to Arx.”

“Most of the Nihilite common folk didn't want the war, yet they were punished for it. The war was King Therion's doing.”

“And yet they hail King Therion as a martyred hero to this day.” Erelah shook her head. “In any event, if the Nihilite people didn't want their king to murder innocent people in a foreign country they should have done something about it. If the Nihilite people don't want to be associated with the most militant and violent members of their faith they need to do more to distance themselves from those extremists. That's what I'm asking of thee now, Farrah. Stand against Sahar. He will soon unite the most extreme sects of the Nihilite faith under his command. Thou must unite those Nihilites who want peace under thine and stop him. Do this for thyselves, or we shall have to do it for thee, and thou hast already seen how that turns out.”

Farrah chuckled. “You really think I can unite the Nihilite people against the rightful heir to the throne? Religion isn't the only way Elykos holds power over the Nihilites, you know. Tradition and politics come into play as well.”

“Then you back his twin brother for the crown.”

“Twin brother?”

“The soothsayer birthed twins. When they reached adolescence one returned to his homeland disguised as an Arxian. That was Elykos, who took the name 'Sahar.' The other brother was sent to the city of Uvino out west. That was Amhras, who took the name 'Tamas.' He is now in Arx, and a close friend of our queen. He is both an Aeon and an heir to the Nihilite throne. If thou wouldst agree to fight against Sahar when he tries to take the throne and release Mother Galia to us now I will send word to our queen to send Tamas here.”

“How will I know he's truly Therion's heir and not an impostor you've sent to control us?”

“He is blessed with abilities that only Aeons possess,” said Erelah. “And he resembles his father, but with his mother's eyes.”

“So...a prince, big man, red hair, muscles, black eyes? Yes, please send that man to me as soon as possible.” Farrah gave a perverted smirk.

“Already he is in love with another. Get not thy hopes up.”

“Damn it!”

“Do we have an accord?” Erelah asked.

“Yes, fine. Get Prince Tamas or Amhras or whatever his name is here and I'll back him for the crown.”

“Good. I will send a letter to Queen Aryn right away. In the mean time I will stay here and aid thee against Sahar.”

“In secret, of course?” asked Farrah. “I can't imagine the Nihilite people will truly want to fight for me if they know I've got the Agalmite prophet by my side.

“I will remain secret. If necessary I can dye my hair so as to draw less attention to myself.”

. . .

Omar, Shamira, Lemuel, and Mave all waited outside in uncomfortable silence. Farrah's soldiers patrolled the halls, some of them giving second, suspicious looks to the three obvious paladins in their midst. Omar shifted his feet, rolled his shoulders, and cracked his neck. Lemuel hummed the tunes of Agalmite liturgy.

Shamira was the first to break the silence as she asked Mave, “So...you've known Farrah for how long?”

“A few years now. She's a good leader.”

Shamira nodded. “How...how did you two meet?”

“We shared a cell. Inquisitors locked us up because they were sure we were insurgents.” Mave chuckled. “Funny thing was, at the time we weren't. Only after being prisoners there did we decide to fight for Nihilus' independence.”

Shamira gave an uncomfortable chuckle. “She's a good friend, then?”

“She is.”

Lemuel chimed in. “And does she...you know...is she...” he thought for a moment about the phrasing. Omar, Shamira, and Mave all stared at him. “Is she already betrothed to anyone?”

“Lemuel!” Omar snapped.

“I'm just curious...you know...”

“You and your endless search for love,” Omar rolled his eyes.

Mave and Shamira both giggled, and Mave said, “If love is what you want don't bother. She'll just use you up and break your heart.”

“Use me?” Lemuel said.

Omar could see the way Lemuel's eyes were almost lighting up at the particular choice of words, and he smacked the young man in the back of the head.

The door to Farrah's office opened and Erelah and Farrah stepped out. Farrah turned to Mave. “Go fetch Mother Galia. And some paper for the prophet here to write a letter.”

Erelah said, “No need. The letter's already been sent.”

“What?”

“I've already sent the letter instructing Queen Aryn to send Tamas here.”

Farrah shook her head. “You can't have known I was going to agree to-”

Erelah cut her off. “No, but I knew Tamas would be needed here, that much was revealed to me days ago.”

“Why didn't you just have Tamas come with us from the beginning?” Shamira asked.

“I didn't know about it until we'd already left Aius,” said Erelah. “I don't question the timing of the revelations I'm given, I just act on them.”

Farrah shook her head and laughed. “And here I thought everything I heard about the soothsayer sounded crazy. I'll make sure you all get your own private sleeping quarters.” On the last three words she looked up at Lemuel and gave him a wink. She laughed inside as the handsome boy blushed and looked away, those curls falling just above his long eye-lashes. He possessed an innocence she just couldn't wait to corrupt.

Mave soon returned, with Mother Galia close by. Shamira and Omar's hearts sank as they saw the look in her eyes. Since coming into Farrah's care Galia had been taken care of and well-fed, but she still had that broken look about her. It was apparent to them on a glance that this young woman had everything taken from her, and had suffered more than even she thought it was possible to suffer and survive.

Erelah walked over to Galia and placed a hand on her cheek. Galia winced as the hand drew close, clearly a learned response, but she opened her eyes again when she found that Erelah's touch was gentle. “All that thou hast seen, all that thou hast endured, it has all prepared thee for what is to come next,” said Erelah. “Shamira, Omar, come morning thou shalt escort Mother Galia back to Aius. There she will be safe.”

“What about me?” Lemuel asked.

“Thou shalt stay here, as my bodyguard,” said Erelah. “Thou art needed in Nihilus.”

Lemuel smiled and glanced at Farrah again, but when he felt Omar's accusing eyes staring at the back of his head he pulled his eyes away from the ravishing, red-haired woman. Farrah wore a lecherous smirk on her face, and didn't even attempt to hide it.

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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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