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Chapter XXX

“You called for me, your majesty?” When Tamas heard that Aryn wanted to see him privately in her office he thought he was certain what it meant. Morning, noon, and night these two couldn't seem to get enough of each other. As he'd entered the room he closed the door and turned the key in the lock so that they would not be disturbed. The look on Aryn's face, though, was startling, and made him realize that he was not invited there for a tryst.

Aryn held up an unfolded sheet of paper. “Erelah must have sent this shortly after she left.” Aryn's expression was worried, and disappointed.

Tamas gave her an affectionate kiss on the forehead and took the letter.

“Your Majesty,

“Our God has revealed to me that Tamas will be needed in Nihilus. I don't yet know the reason why, but I am sure all will become clear once he has arrived. Inform him of this change of plan, say your goodbyes, and send him on his way.

“-Erelah”

Tamas stared at the letter in silence for a moment. When he looked up from the letter his gaze met Aryn's. “Seems I have some business to do in my homeland,” Tamas said. “Then I'll be back to continue ravishing you every time you feel the whim.”

“She said 'Say your goodbyes,' Tamas,” said Aryn.

“Yes...isn't that just...polite to say goodbye?”

“It implies that this is the last time I'll see you,” said Aryn. Her voice was distant, even somewhat cold. It was as if she'd drained herself of all emotions just to not have to deal with this pain.

Tamas rolled his eyes. “You're reading way too much into it. What else would she say? 'Say your see-you-laters?'”

“Tamas! Everything this woman does is for a reason. When she had us marching towards the capital and kept asking us to stop, and then resume, and then stop again? Turns out we were avoiding patrols that even our scouts hadn't spotted. If she's telling us to say our goodbyes that probably means-”

Tamas cut Aryn off with a fierce kiss. As he pulled her body close to his own Aryn felt herself melting into his strong arms. She touched his scruffy cheek and pushed her body into his. When he finally broke the kiss he said to his ruttish queen, “Don't worry about it. I'll be back. Have a little faith. But, just in case, let's make the most of this moment.”

Queen Aryn threw all of the papers and other clutter off the top of her desk, sat down on it, and pulled Tamas down on top of her. There were more fierce kisses and their clothes couldn't disappear fast enough.

. . .

Farrah's new campaign began with messengers sent out to the town criers and community leaders in every town in western Nihilus. She told them all about Tamas, and everything Erelah told her about Elykos' cruel nature, though she omitted the simple detail about who told her all of this. She even told them that Elykos and Sahar were one and the same person. Now, Farrah knew that a lot of people wouldn't believe any of it, but she also knew that rumors would spread and some people would believe it. Furthermore, when Elykos finally did reveal himself to the Nihilite people and everyone could see that he really was Sahar, and then they'd believe everything else the letters said about him.

Over the course of the next few days people began to show up at Farrah's town asking to join her army and support the new prince.

“We're tired of waiting for Elykos to act. He's been promising to liberate Nihilus for years.”

“Arx has been weak for two years now. Why hasn't Elykos risen up to take his throne?”

“Aye. If there's an alternative heir I'll support him instead.”

All the while Erelah, with her hair dyed black, pretended to be a normal child. She used her staff to feel the ground in front of her everywhere she went, pretending that she was blind so that her white eyes made sense to the strangers. Lemuel had to hide his paladin uniform and dress in traditional Nihilite warrior armor, and he kept his diamond long-sword in a sheath at all times.

One particular day, Lemuel asked Mave, “Do you have a library in this town? I'd like to spend some time reading.”

Mave laughed. “You're not that familiar with Nihilite culture are you?”

“Is that a 'no?'”

“Yes, it's a 'no,' lad,” said Mave. “Not a lot of Nihilites can read.”

“Then how do you study?” asked Lemuel. “At the very least I know that devout Nihilites must study your doctrines and scriptures.”

“We don't have scriptures. We have sacred songs. In fact, most of what's worth knowing about Nihilus is immortalized in song.”

“Oh.” Lemuel was puzzled by this concept. How was it that a culture could be almost entirely without books? Even if only a few people could read it seemed so strange to him that those few who could read wouldn't spend time engrossed in studies. “What if people forget the songs?”

“What if they what?” Mave asked, laughing.

“Songs are committed to memory. What if people forget?”

“We hear them so often no one could possibly forget! The real question is; what if someone re-writes the words in your books?”

“Does everyone truly have these songs memorized?”

“I'll prove it,” said Mave. She turned to the crowd and began to sing loudly.

“The road is long and cold

Me tired bones are old,

Across these dusty moors I roam,

and through the fields of gold.

With my staff well in hand

I journey 'cross the land,

to a loving wife who'll greet me when at last I am come home.”

Nearly everyone passing by, young and old, man and woman, joined in the song, smiles on their faces.

“To be at home, to be at home, O, to be in my loving home!

I'll sit beside the fire and rest me weary bones.

To be at home, to be at home, O to be in me loving home!

To go and fin'lly rest my head in a place I call my own.

My boys have grown to men,

but I still remember when

Those scoundrels gave their knees a scuff

Stealing my neighbor's hen.

They've taken bonnie wives,

The joy of their lives,

But 20 years for them as boys was never quite enough.

O, to have 'em home, have 'em home, to have 'em in my loving home!

To sit them by the fire so they can rest their weary bones.

To have 'em home, have 'em home, to have them in my loving home!

For my boys to spend just one more night in the place I call my own.

My hair's all turned to gray,

Years pass by every day,

More than e'er I do miss my sons

Each year they are away.

I see them now and then,

But I know I'll see 'em when

They come to bury my bones when at last my days are done.

They'll be home, they'll be home, they'll be in my loving home!

They'll come home to the farm if just to bury these old bones.

They'll be home, they'll be home, they'll be in my loving home!

They'll speak the kindest words to the grave I'll call my own.

Aye, they'll speak the kindest words to the grave I'll call my own.”

Mave had more than illustrated her point. Everyone in the crowd knew every word of the song, and Lemuel couldn't help but get choked up listening to those words.

Mave must have heard the song countless times, because as she turned back to Lemuel there was not a tear in her eye. “You want me to teach you a Nihilite song or two?”

“Yes, but on two conditions,” said Lemuel. “First, nothing too religious. Second, nothing quite as sad as that one.”

Mave laughed. “You'll be hard-pressed to find a Nihilite song that's neither religious nor heart-wrenching. We've a rough history. I suppose I could teach you a bawdy one. Your God going to turn you to stone if you sing crass lyrics?”

“No! Of course not!” said Lemuel.

“Then I think I have a good one for you.”

As Mave taught Lemuel the lyrics to “My Six Wives,” Farrah sat in her office with Erelah.

“You've heard the reports, I assume? Or did your God reveal it to you?”

Erelah gave a sad sigh. “I heard the reports of the Unchained marching west now.”

“Witnesses say they have a strict 'Convert or Die' policy. That's your people's realm of expertise, so you should know how we stop them.”

“My people do not follow a 'Convert or Die' policy.”

“Agalmites and inquisitors in Nihilus were forcing my people to convert all the time.”

“Those Agalmites were not 'my people,' no matter how much they thought themselves to be. Certainly the inquisitors were not.”

Farrah shrugged. “Fair enough. Still, you're the prophet, how do we defeat an army that only seems to be growing with every battle? According to the reports each time they conquer a new town more people surrender than last time, and more are willing to convert rather than die. Also, it's rumored that many of those who don't convert become possessed by daemons. And there's one more detail...” Farrah sighed.

Before she could continue, Erelah said, “I have heard. Elykos has joined with them as well, yes?”

“That's the rumor. Now that they're supporting an heir to the throne they'll surely gather even more followers than ever before. Erelah...I'm not sure they can be stopped!”

“They gather followers because people are filled with fear and they take advantage of that fear. Thou must make that fear your advantage too. Thou hast sent out messengers before to besmirch Elykos' name with the truth. Now just add one more truth; the fact that he sides with people who are mass-murdering Nihilites, and remind people that there is an alternative heir to the throne they can follow. Conversion at the tip of a sword only works if that sword is already in thy face. If it be miles away people will flee for safety. Thou must to be the refuge they can flee to.”

“You truly believe this will work?” asked Farrah.

“It's all we have.” Erelah shrugged. “And just know that so long as I am here Elykos won't be able to read the minds of anyone in your army. We have at least robbed him of that advantage.”

. . .

At that same moment, Sahar sat meditating in his tent. Even those who'd grown up around him would barely recognize him if they saw him. He'd shaved his head and marked his forehead with an X, just as Quillan had. He wore simple robes made of sack-cloth, and his now restrictive diet had led him to lose weight even over the course of a few weeks.

Quillan and the Unchained were right, Sahar had only to listen to them to realize it. The Nihilite people had grown weak, getting fat on the distractions of Saklas' gilded cage. They could have ended Erets ages ago had they not succumbed to all these temptations. How foolish even Therion's war on Arx seemed to him now. What good would it do to destroy the kingdom of Arx and leave the rest of the world intact? No, that war had clearly been about Therion's pride, a weakness he'd gained from being too much a man of his flesh. Sahar would lead the Unchained in a true campaign to end Erets, but before it came to an end they would bring as many people to enlightenment as they could.

And so Sahar sat in his tent and stretched out his mind to whisper into the thoughts of the common people all over Nihilus. In their sleep he gave them dreams, and in their waking hours he gave them revelations. Every thought he slipped into their minds pushed them ever so slowly towards joining the Unchained. Whenever he found a town wherein nearly every soul was ready to accept enlightenment he made a mental note of where it was so that the Unchained could travel there next.

The further west his mind traveled, though, the harder he found it to enter the minds of anyone. At first he just thought it meant he needed to focus more, but as he tried harder and harder to get through he realized what was truly happening.

In a fury he burst out of his tent and ran to Quillan. “The Agalmite prophet has come to Nihilus!”

Quillan gave him a questioning look. “Pardon?”

“That bitch! That pint-sized bundle of filth! She's blocking me! Damn her! Damn her!”

“Elykos, slow down!” said Quillan. “Who is this you're talking about?”

“When I was in Arx the idolaters only managed to defeat me because their prophet was there. You know my power to enter the minds of others? She can stop me from doing that! Well, I tell you, she is here, in Nihilus, far out west!”

Quillan's expression was grim. “If the prophet is indeed here then we need to deal with that. Let me find you a map.” Quillan left and returned in a short moment with a map of Arx. “Where on this map is the prophet? Approximately.”

Sahar stared at the map for a moment before pointing to an area close to the western border. “Around here...yes, it was in this area I believe.”

“Thank you,” said Quillan. He circled the area with a quill and rolled up the map. “I will show this to our agents and they will send assassins to the area. Tell me, what does this prophet look like?”

“She's a girl of about ten or eleven years...white hair and white eyes. She always walks around with a staff. She's an Arxian girl too, so she'll be a little more tan than most Nihilites.”

“I'll have our assassins looking for anyone who matches that description. Any child they find who even remotely matches that description they will be instructed to kill. We can't take any chances if she's disguising herself.”

“Good! Good! I want her gone!” Sahar said. “She's already ruined everything I worked for in Arx, she will not ruin our plans in Nihilus too!”

“Don't worry,” said Quillan. “No one is going to stop the end this time. I have alchemists working day and night to brew as much Wet Fire as possible. In time there will be enough to scorch the entire surface of the world. Even the oceans will burn.”

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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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