It was like the drapes had been pulled aside and light had come rushing in. The blindness was gone, and Sahar could see them all. Lady Farrah, his traitor brother, and all the treacherous rebels out in western Nihilus. Erelah was dead, that was the only explanation. The single greatest threat that Saklas could throw at Sahar to ruin his mission was now out of the way. Unless Saklas himself showed up on the surface world Sahar could imagine no force in the world that could stop him now.
He ran from his tent to find Quillan to tell him the good news. He could hear Quillan preaching to the crowd gathered.
“A philosopher posed a question to me as he held up a single, plucked, beautiful flower. 'How could a God who created a world with such joys in it be evil?' I wish I had known then what I know now, because I would have given him this answer: what is joy? Beauty? Happiness? Love? They are all temporary. That flower you hold, now that you have plucked it from the ground will shrivel and die. Even had you left it where it was it would have shriveled and died, it just would have taken longer. Look at what a beautiful, sunny day today is. Doesn't that just make it so much more awful when it rains or when fog rolls in with gloom in its wake? Do you feel more pain when a stranger dies or when a loved one dies? The joy of love that you feel when you hold a loved one close is only to make the pain of loss worse later on. Every moment of hope in your life is only so that later Saklas can drag you into deeper despair. Do you need further proof? Who in this world succeeds? Tell me, who in this world is without troubles? Is it the good of heart? The merciful? The generous? The pure? No. It is the cruel. The wicked. The hateful. The greedy. Saklas rewards their wickedness by granting them power, while punishing those who would show compassion for their fellow souls! Look at us, the Unchained! Did we not only begin to succeed in our mission once we adopted cruel and violent methods? Before we put those who refused enlightenment to the sword we were but a forgotten remnant. We were destined to remain in obscurity, in the shadows, never to accomplish our goals. If the only way to achieve your goals in this world is through violence, then I say damn this rotten world! Use the violence Saklas loves so much to rend this world asunder. Only once we've set all Erets on fire will we see the last of war and strife!”
A roar of applause echoed throughout the camp, some of Quillan's followers symbolically rattling broken chains.
Sahar, stirred by this speech, pushed through the crowd in front of Quillan. They barely noticed him, as he was dressed like the rest of them and had long-since shaved off his white hair. “Quillan! I have good news for you!”
“Elykos, come on up. Tell me what news you have,” said Quillan.
“The Agalmite prophet is dead! I can once again see all of Nihilus when I meditate!”
“Then there is nothing left to stand in your way,” said Quillan.
“There's more,” said Sahar. “In my meditations I discovered my traitor brother's next move. He has joined forces with Lady Farrah and they intend to take the Temple of Henwen as their new capital.”
“The Temple of Henwen shall prove a fitting grave, then,” said Quillan.
“There's more still,” said Sahar, a twisted grin across his face. “If we spill Tamas' blood a legion of daemons will come through, the more blood we spill the more daemons will answer the call, and I can command them all. If I am present they will listen to me, not him.”
Quillan nodded. “Then we must take your brother captive, and be sure to spill every last drop of his blood. This stone prison will crumble at last!”
Immediately the Unchained took to gathering their weapons and armor. They tore down the camp in short order, and resumed their march west. Sahar stood back to watch as the immense force he and Quillan had gathered followed the setting sun. Since Sahar had joined the Unchained their numbers had almost doubled, due in no small part to his mind-control abilities. Plant the right thoughts in people's minds at just the right times and you could change the way they thought for good.
And those people had brewed enough Wet Fire to set the oceans ablaze, and even turn the deserts of Subra into glass. This had to be the first time in Nihilus' history they'd ever had true hope of bringing about the apocalypse they'd all been praying for.
. . .
“My Dearest Daughter,
“We have won the first part of our campaign against the Digan Empire. Their soldiers have been driven from our lands, and their general is dead. However, this war is far from over. As they marched east through Kolob and Arx they captured peasants in every town and village they came across, and sent them to Diga to be sold as slaves. We cannot abandon our people to this fate, but we also cannot liberate them with only the help of the paladins of Caelum. I request that you send additional knights and soldiers to help us liberate our people from the Digans' hands.
“Mother, what do I do about this?” asked Aryn.
The two of them met in a private room of the castle. Sarahi fiddled with the curtains, unsure. “You made a promise to the Arch-Bishop, didn't you?”
“So, you're saying I should ignore this?” asked Aryn.
“No. Your own people come first...” Sarahi thought for a moment. “We need to send additional forces out west to help Milo, but we also cannot leave the extremists in Nihilus unchecked. You said Tamas is leading a faction of the Nihilites against the extremists?”
“Yes, but there's no guarantee that his followers will win,” said Aryn.
“There's never a guarantee of that,” said Sarahi. “Here's what I propose. Write letters to the heads of every noble house in Arx. Most of them are to send knights west to assist your father. I'll ride with them and give commands. However, when you write to my sister, and the Marquises ruling the neighboring marches, tell them that they are to send their armies into Nihilus to aid Tamas. Make sure to stress that not all Nihilites are our enemies, only those extremists with whom Tamas is at war.”
“How will this keep my promise to the Arch-Bishop?” Aryn asked.
“You have bigger things to worry about than your promise to her,” said Sarahi. “You swore a sacred vow to the people of Arx when you became queen. That vow comes first, at all times.” Sarahi stopped and smiled. “But I suppose I don't really have to tell you that, do I? No, you've always stood for the people of Arx, even when it would have been more convenient to only side with the rich and powerful. You are the people's queen, more even than I ever was.”
. . .
After weeks of marching through the plains of Nihilus, Lady Farrah's army finally reached the Temple of Henwen. The place was over-grown with tree branches and brush, and one of the four spires on its four ends had toppled over. Nonetheless, they knew it was the temple they were looking for. As they cleared away the branches and brush they could see the remains of murals painted on the outside walls. The mural resembled the night sky, full of stars, with specific constellations mapped out as they would have been back when the temple was first built.
In the mural they could just make out the remains of a painted figure, looking like a beautiful woman clad in clothes made of starlight, dancing with her toe touching the curve of a crescent moon. She had four vibrant wings of every color spread out from her back, and her hands were outstretched in a welcoming gesture. It was a shame they couldn't make out her face. The years had scratched that away.
“We've arrived,” Tamas said with a smile. “Lady Farrah, care to accompany me in being the first to enter this old temple in centuries?”
“I'd be delighted, Prince Amhras,” said Farrah. Mave gave the two of them a questioning look, as did Lemuel. Farrah whispered to them, “Yes, you can come too. Bodyguards would be in order, in case we run into any surprises.” Farrah turned to the crowd. “The rest of you work on clearing way all the surrounding brush. Once that's done work on that fallen spire. We want this old temple restored to its former glory as soon as possible.”
Tamas had already started in while Lady Farrah addressed her people. The old doors creaked as he forced them open. He lit a torch, only to spot oil lamps and chandeliers in the old temple, most still containing oil in them. Tamas walked around the sanctuary of this old temple, lighting every lamp he could find, until the room was well-illuminated. As the flickering light danced along the walls his jaw dropped and he shouted, “Lady Farrah! You MUST see this! Quick!”
Farrah rushed inside at the sound of Tamas' shouting. “What is it? Prince Amhras, is everything-”
“Look at the walls!” Tamas said, his eyes wide with amazement.
Farrah looked at him for a moment, confused, but then turned her gaze to the walls as he commanded, and her jaw dropped as well.
There, painted on the walls, Farrah saw her own face. There was no doubt and no denying that it was her. She was in the mural. As she followed the time-line on the mural backwards she saw the same celestial figure painted on the outside of the temple, her hand outstretched towards what looked like a painting of the world of Erets. Her fingers pierced the Firmament. The next painting showed a mother and father weeping tears of joy as they held a baby girl with curly red hair. The next painting after that pictured that girl as an adult, one who looked just like Farrah herself. In this picture she was seen taking a sword from a warrior who was on his knees before her. The look on her face was sad, but knowing. In the next picture she was seen teaching to a crowd, as the warriors appeared to be melting down their swords and taking off their armor. The paintings went on and on, telling the life-story of what everyone assumed was Henwen. Farrah felt along each painting, taking in the history marked there. Some of it had survived in legend, but most of it had been lost. Farrah had never heard of Henwen conjuring a phoenix from the Void to heal a wounded Arxian soldier. Neither had she heard of a king proposing marriage to Henwen, or of Henwen's refusal. She certainly hadn't heard the story of Henwen embracing one of the angels that serve the God of Erets.
She was silent as she absorbed it all, and Tamas, Lemuel, and Mave stared at her in silence as well. What did it all mean? Why was the resemblance so close? They didn't understand.
Farrah finally broke the silence. “I remember.”
“Pardon?” Tamas squeaked out, having lost his voice in the moment.
“I remember this now...all of this.”
“You've heard the story of all this before?”
Farrah shook her head. “No.” Farrah walked back to the beginning of the time-line and touched the face of Henwen's celestial form. “I remember watching Erets through the Firmament and seeing all of the suffering and strife.” She walked on to the next painting. “I remember my mother and father from those days. A soothsayer and a baker. Everyone always said she was too good for him. She always said they had it reversed.” Farrah felt her way down the painting. “I remember teaching the people to lay down their arms. I taught our people that fighting to end Erets was only going to make it worse, and that they should make the best of the world they lived in. I remember that I, like you, Amhras, had the power to conjure legions of daemons with my blood. But...I also remember that the daemons I conjured were healers and protectors, not the sorts of daemons we typically see today.” Farrah laughed. “When's the last time you saw a Nihilite conjure a phoenix or a wisp? I stopped a war between Arx and Nihilus, all by a few kind gestures and with some diplomacy. I had so many followers after a certain point that even King Sulaiman had to decide what to 'do' about me. He proposed marriage, professed his eternal love for my beauty and grace. But...I saw right through him. Sulaiman's very birth was part of a failed attempt to create peace through a marriage alliance between the previous King of Nihilus and a princess of Arx. He wanted to be king of both realms when he came of age, but the Arxian Council rejected him, so he sought to take the throne by force. He wanted me to help him conquer Arx, take a land that was not his and subjugate a people who did not want him. I refused.”
Farrah touched the face of the angel in the painting. “I remember talking to him too. Tzedek, the very voice of the God of Erets. The God of Erets was impressed that I had brought peace between two peoples so constantly at each other's throats. He wanted to work with me to find a way to create peace between him and the daemons of the Void as well.”
Tamas listened for Farrah to say more, but when she was silent he said. “So what happened? That's the last of the mural. Why did we not achieve peace?”
Farrah turned back to the three of them. “Malkira,” she said.
“There were several daemon lords assigned to the task of liberating souls from Erets. I was only one of them. In my meditations I stretched out to speak to them in the Void, but Malkira did not want peace. He convinced the other daemon lords that Saklas was a liar, and any peace would only be a false peace, a way for him to bide his time.” Farrah's eyes began to tear up as more memories filled her mind. “Malkira reached out to King Sulaiman. He called me a traitor, said I'd been seduced by Saklas' deceptions, and told him to kill me.” Farrah shook her head. “That's the problem with having followers who've all lain down their arms. If they are attacked they cannot defend themselves. King Sulaiman's soldiers massacred my followers and captured me. Powerful though I was, I was no match for Sulaiman's army. He took me to his palace and drained me of every drop of blood in my body, forging a ring that would allow him to conjure Malkira's armies of daemons to his aid. The God of Erets retaliated by sinking Sulaiman's palace into the ground while he was inside. After that my soul wandered Erets, occasionally reincarnating into a new body for a time. I was offered the chance to enter Saklas' heaven, but I refused.”
“You still thought of it as a prison?” Tamas asked.
“I didn't feel I deserved it.” Farrah looked into Tamas' eyes, her own eyes now filled with tears. Seeing her cry was enough to bring Tamas' own eyes to tears as well. “In my naivete I told my followers to lay down their arms. I taught them never to fight, thinking that this would bring peace. Because I was naïve I condemned them all to death, and ruined this world's one chance for peace! By the Void...how could I have been so stupid?”
“Stop that!” Mave shouted. “None of that! Farrah, I don't know if any of this is true or if it's some kind of bizarre coincidence that you just happen to look like Henwen, but you are not stupid! Even if you did something stupid centuries ago you've clearly learned from your mistakes since then!” Mave crossed the room and placed her hands on Farrah's shoulders. “Whether or not you're a reincarnated Aeon you are still my friend, as you always have been. You have my respect, as always, because you've earned it time and again.” Mave pulled Farrah into a tight hug and let Farrah cry on her shoulder.
Farrah was so overwhelmed with emotions. Sorrow over what she lost, joy at what she finally remembered, fear at what it all implied, and hope about what she could do now that she knew all of this.
Lemuel and Tamas stood in silence, watching the two women embrace and listening to Farrah cry. With a smirk on his face and a tear in his eye Tamas turned his head to Lemuel and said, “You want a hug too?”
“Yes!” Lemuel threw his arms around Tamas and buried his face in his shoulder as he let the tears flow.
“I was joking...well, ok,” Tamas reluctantly returned the hug and patted Lemuel on the head.
“The treacherous twin embraces the enemies of everything he once stood for.” As the hissing voice rang through the halls, the air grew cold and the lamps dimmed. Tamas had never heard the voice before, but in an instant he knew who it was and drew his sword. Lemuel and Mave followed suit, and Mave pulled Farrah behind her.
From the shadows emerged a vile figure, the sight of which sent chills through everyone present. “This vessel saw that the lesser twin and the iron one would come to this temple. Doubt does not yet realize that it has come here to die. By its own blood shall it die, and by its own blood it shall destroy this world.” The face was that of a young woman with black eyes and white hair, but the body was grotesque. Most of it looked like some sort of black ooze with legs like those of a spider moving the creature along the ground. From the mass of its body extended six arms, each with talons like a hawk extending from them. All over its body were the faces of different animals, and all of their mouths moved whenever the creature spoke. In the center of its chest sat one, enormous eye with a black iris. The eye sat vertical, rather than horizontal, and blinked with two different sets of eyelids.
“What the...” Lemuel started to say.
“My mother,” said Tamas. “Deidra, the soothsayer who gave birth to Therion's heirs. Mother, please, just leave. It's been difficult enough dealing with my brother's treachery.”
Deidra hissed. “Doubt does not realize that, in fact, it is the traitor. The moon could have crushed this world long ago were it not for doubt. Malkira did not suffer traitors, and neither will this vessel.”
Support "Tales of Erets Book Three: Holding the Heavens"
- Colorado Springs, CO
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.