Tamas ducked behind cover as another of his mother's talons, big enough to crush a grown man's skull, lashed out at him. He almost did not see it coming in the darkness, and it broke the stone behind which he was hiding.
Tamas had already learned that his sword was useless against her. The inquisitors' blessings had long since worn off. His mother had become more daemon than human at this point, and was one with the Void itself. A piece of that infinite nothing beyond the Firmament was here, and it was trying to kill him. The woman who had been Deidra was long since gone, and a monster stood in her place.
From his hiding place Tamas could see Lemuel taking cover behind some other rubble inside the temple. He could also see the front door, which Mave had barred just as the fight broke out. They didn't want any more innocent people getting caught up in this.
Tamas gestured to Lemuel's diamond sword and gave him a nod. Lemuel shook his head. Clearly he was too scared for Tamas to count on him. Tamas nodded in argument. Again Lemuel shook his head. This non-verbal argument was cut short as black tendrils whipped around the pile of rubble Tamas was hiding behind and felt around for him. Tamas took a brick in his hand and struck one of the tendrils as hard as he could. The tendril withdrew while the others whipped around to try to grab Tamas. Tamas ducked under them and fled across the room. His mother's talons lashed out at him. The claws tore holes in the walls as they missed him. Tamas kept running and took off down the nearest hallway. He could scarcely see, and repeatedly stumbled over fallen rubble in that darkness. All the while he could hear the clicking of his mother's spider-like feet as she pursued him through the halls.
“Pointless,” she hissed, a choir of voices accompanying her every word. The voices echoed down the hall and surrounded Tamas. “Doubt will embrace nothing, and nothing shall embrace doubt.”
“I call upon ye, the Spear of Heaven, to undo the wicked!” Lemuel's voice rang out from behind Deidra. She narrowly avoided a spike of stone that erupted from the ground and tore off one of her spider-like legs. The eye on Deidra's chest rolled across her torso until it was on her back and glared down the hallway at the source of the voice. Lemuel stood, with his sword drawn and his hand raised. Deidra's whole body rounded and she rushed the young paladin.
Lemuel chanted again, though his voice stammered as the daemon lumbered at him. “Oh g-great Creator who d-dwells b-b-below us, consecrate this g-g-ground to p-protect it against the enemies from the Void!” As he spoke, tiny shards of diamond appeared on the ground between Lemuel and Deidra. No sooner had the diamond shards appeared then Lemuel ran off in the opposite direction. Deidra's spider-like legs stepped on the diamond shards and she shrieked in pain as they cut deep. Black blood oozed from every tiny cut.
Lemuel ducked down a hallway on his left just as Deidra's talons raked across the nearest wall. Lemuel's head pounded every time his foot hit the stone floor. Deidra would be slowed after that last injury, but she would still be able to catch up with him if he wasn't careful. “Oh G-God who d-d-dwells under Erets, b-b-bring this enemy of all that is holy under your just p-p-power-”
But Lemuel was cut off from finishing the chant when one of Deidra's talons caught him in the chest. The claws pierced his armor as she threw him up against the wall. Lemuel tried to cry out, but the wind was knocked out of him.
Deidra's claws dug deep, and Lemuel could feel his ribs separating as she tore the cartilage. With what little strength he had in him he took his diamond sword in hand and severed her talon. He dropped to the floor. Deidra recoiled.
“Oh God,” Lemuel wheezed out. “Grant your servant the strength and courage to stand against this evil.” The wound in his chest began to seal up again, and Lemuel stood before Deidra. He pointed his sword at the daemon. He had finally stopped shaking. His once-terrified face was now a confident scowl.
Deidra towered over him, tendrils and talons extended. She let out an echoing hiss in an attempt to make his resolve falter, but Lemuel did not budge from where he stood. Blood dripped down around his boots, but he seemed unaffected.
“You who sing to rocks, your hope is lost to you,” said Deidra, that horrible voice echoing through the halls. With that last taunt she charged again. Everyone of her limbs was anxious to rip this young paladin to pieces.
As Lemuel watched her approach he realized that he was more than likely facing down his own demise. Even if he managed to block the first of her attacks she would have other arms with which she could attack him. He had no hope of surviving this; these were surely his final moments. But perhaps he could make sure she died when he did. Lemuel bent his knees and got ready to leap into her once she was close enough. He flipped his sword around so that the blade came down under his fist. This way he'd be able to throw his full weight behind the blow.
Deidra drew close, and her talons whipped forward. Lemuel kicked off the ground and he flew at his opponent. He jerked his head to one side and one of the talons gouged his face. Another talon sliced through his right thigh. Another took his left leg clean off. Another ripped open his mid-section and spilled his guts. Still, he was alive, if only for a few seconds more. With both hands he forced the blade down into the eye in Deidra's chest. There was a sound like thousands of screams, and Deidra's body crumbled into dust.
Lemuel smiled for only a moment, before he hit the ground face-first. He felt his nose break when he hit the floor, and blood filled his vision.
Mave, Tamas, and Farrah were at his side in seconds, and the light of the lamps returned. Mave lifted Lemuel off the ground and turned him around so that he could face them. “Oh...Lemuel...”
“I'm sorry...” said Lemuel.
“Sorry for what?” Mave asked.
“Dying on you,” said Lemuel. “She got-” but his words were cut off as he choked out blood.
“Oh no...” Mave cried. “Lemuel, stay with me!”
Tamas turned to Farrah. “Save him!”
“Save him?” Farrah repeated. “How?”
“You're an Aeon, remember? Just like me!” Tamas said. “Conjure some daemons who can save his life! A phoenix or something!”
“How do I do that!”
“Give me your hand,” said Tamas, and he drew a dagger from his coat pocket.
“Is that even going to work? I was an Aeon in a past life...”
“An Aeon has the body of a human and the soul of a daemon. You are an Aeon, now give me your hand!”
Farrah nodded and held out her hand to Tamas as she looked away. Tamas dragged the blade across her palm and her blood poured forth from the wound. Farrah yelped at the pain, but then looked at the blood on the ground and began to focus on it. She thought hard about a phoenix emerging from the blood.
Nothing happened. Lemuel's breath gave out and his body went limp. “NO!” Mave cried.
Just as Farrah heard Mave's cry a red ball of fire burst forth from the blood on the ground. The ball of fire took flight into the air around them. Wings of fire spread out from it, as well as seven long tail-feathers and a golden beak.
“Heal him!” Farrah commanded. No sooner had she given the command than dozens of other phoenixes flew forth from the puddle of blood on the ground and swarmed Lemuel's body.
The three of them watched in wonder as the fiery birds lifted Lemuel's body off of the ground. They were expecting to see his wounds heal up, but to their surprise his entire body immolated. The fire burned bright, almost white, and the three of them had to look away. Ashes and molten metal fell from the blaze as Lemuel was cremated in mid-air.
Then the flames died down, and the phoenixes lowed Lemuel to the ground, fully healed and naked as the day he was born. There wasn't so much as a scar on his body. As soon as he touched the ground the phoenixes disappeared back into the puddle of blood from which they'd been conjured.
Tamas and Mave knelt by Lemuel and helped him sit up.
His eyes fluttered open, like a man waking from a deep sleep. “What happened?” Lemuel asked.
“You won,” said Tamas.
“But I died,” said Lemuel. “I know I did.”
“Yes, well, you got better,” said Tamas with a chuckle.
“People don't just...”
“Long story, I'll explain later,” said Tamas. “How do you feel? And why didn't you charge Deidra back when I told you to?”
“Because it would have been suicide to attack her head on,” said Lemuel. “Obviously, considering what happened. Why didn't you conjure demons to fight her?”
“I was worried they'd listen to her instead of me,” said Tamas. “She was already talking about spilling my blood.”
Lemuel turned his face to Mave and smiled at her. Mave smiled back, but glanced downward. Only when Mave looked did Lemuel realize that he was naked, and he scrambled to find some piece of cloth to cover himself. Tamas laughed and threw his coat over the young man's loins.
Farrah patted Tamas on the shoulder. “How do you feel about all of this?”
“About your ability to bring back the dead?” asked Tamas. “I imagine it will come in handy.”
“No...we just...Lemuel just killed your mother, right? Sure, she'd gone off the deep end, but she was your mother.”
“No she wasn't,” said Tamas. “My real mother died shortly after I was born. The daemons who'd been feeding her visions her entire life finally took her over. I came to grips with the fact that she was gone a long time ago. I've already mourned her loss.”
“Don't be,” said Tamas. “My next big goal is fratricide. Obviously I don't care about this messed up little family I'm a part of. Mave, you can unbar the door now, and see if you can get Lemmy here some new clothes. Yes, I know you prefer him this way, but you guys can indulge in that later.”
Mave gave Lemuel a seductive eye-brow raise, which made the young paladin blush, before she headed off to unblock the door and inquire about a new wardrobe for him.
Farrah stood over the ashes left over from Lemuel's resurrection. “I still can't believe it worked.”
Tamas patted her on the shoulder. “Get used to it. Being an Aeon you'll see weirder things than that, I'm sure.” Tamas laughed. “I guess this means you learned how to practice daemon-conjuring. Now you're ready to be a spiritual leader to the people of Nihilus. This time, though, you'll have a king who actually supports you. Lead these people to a better age. Create the peace you wanted to create the first time. This is the real reason you were reincarnated, Henwen, so you could have a second chance. Finish what you started centuries ago.”
. . .
The weeks flew by, and Milo was fully recovered from his brush with death. He was awakened early in the morning by the sound of horns blasting, and when he looked out his window he could see knights under many banners riding up to Caelum Academy, the army he was waiting for. With their help the Arxian people would not be slaves.
Milo would have been in far more of a rush to get to the bottom of the stairs had he known his wife would be at the bottom waiting for him. As soon as Milo's eyes found her smiling face he ran to her, pushing people out of his way, and threw his arms around her. Sarahi sighed into Milo's embrace and held her husband tightly.
Milo pulled back and looked her up and down, noting that she was wearing her armor and her mace was at her hip. “I take it this isn't just a visit?”
“No. I'm here to help you free our people,” Sarahi's smile turned to a smirk. “I imagine my strategy will be better than yours anyway.”
“You don't know that!” said Milo, pretending to be indignant.
“Don't I? Tell me your plan.”
“We go from one city to the next breaking up every slave market and getting our people back.”
Sarahi laughed. “That's cute, Milo. A decent plan, but it's assuming our people haven't already been sold yet. No, we need to defeat the Digan Emperor.”
“Doesn't that seem a little extreme?” Milo asked.
“When Hadar was killed what was my response? You remember, don't you?” asked Sarahi.
“To conquer Nihilus. Not sure that turned out as well as you planned.”
“No, but consider this, the Digan Emperor is likely to try again if we let him continue to reign over the West. Even if he doesn't try an outright invasion, his slavers will kidnap our people now and again. We have to put a stop to his reign, and then put a stop to the slave trade in the West.”
“The slave trade in the West has been around for thousands of years...” Milo said. “Do you really think we can do it?”
“I don't know if we'll ever stop the slave trade as a whole, but stopping it starts with deposing Emperor Cyril.”
“So ambitious!” said Milo. “All this talk of tactics, coups, and battle has me in the mood. You wanna head upstairs?”
“I hope I never say 'no' to that question,” said Sarahi with a devious grin.
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.