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Chapter XXXIX

Strong gales whipped across the barren plains and brought in rust-colored clouds to cover the sky. There was a chill in the air, one only noticed it with the breeze as it crept into every tiny crevice of one's clothes. The wind pulled tears from Tamas' eyes, only to dry them out against his cheeks.

Behind Tamas stood Farrah's army, and all those who supported Tamas as the rightful King of Nihilus. Including those who now struggled with doubts. Tamas marched through the barren plains, wrapped in a bright-red cloak that hid everything except his face. With each step his boots sunk an inch into the dirt, and there was a clank to accompany each stride. The helmet he wore was simple, with a visor lifted up to his forehead.

In the distance he could see the army of the Unchained. Hundreds of warriors clad in black armor with white stars painted upon it. One warrior, wearing the same armor, walked ahead of the rest. He stood out because his helmet was ornate. It had been specially-crafted to the shape of a wolf's head, with antlers sprouting from the top. Just under the wolf's snout was the mask that covered this warrior's face, but Tamas did not need to see his face to know who he was. This was Sahar.

The two of them stopped at a distance just close enough to where they could hear the other's shouts. Sahar was the first to speak, and the voice proved that it was him and not an impostor. “You didn't say what weapons we were to use in this battle. Neither did I. Hope you don't mind, but I came prepared for all possibilities.”

“I figured you would,” said Tamas.

Sahar squinted his eyes at Tamas' bulk. His brother seemed larger than usual, though that bulk was hidden under the red cloak. When Sahar couldn't figure out what was different he looked into his brother's eyes a moment, and then smirked. “That's not going to save you, you know.”

“We'll see.”

“If anything it will cost you your life.”

“We'll see.”

Sahar nodded. Tamas lowered his visor over his face. For a fleeting moment Sahar got a glimpse of what his brother had hidden under that red cloak. Surely he had to know that so much weight would make him an easy target.

Sahar drew his long-sword and embedded the blade in the ground by his right side. “Begin.”

Tamas began his jog to close the distance between he and his brother. Every step sank into the ground, and then kicked up clumps of dirt. The clanking that accompanied him was so loud he must have weighed a ton.

Sahar reached behind his back and produced a crossbow that had been strapped to his back under his silver-colored cape. Typically a duel was understood to be a fight with close-quarter weapons, but Tamas had never said anything about that. Tamas increased his pace to a run, as fast as he could move. Sahar pointed the crossbow at his advancing brother and pulled the trigger. He'd thought his aim was perfect, right at Tamas' head, but the bolt flew over Tamas' shoulder, right past his ear. Tamas did not slow. No matter. Sahar had plenty of time for a second shot. He fixed a new bolt to the crossbow and turned the crank. Once the bolt was ready he aimed at Tamas a little more carefully. He saw the problem now that he looked at it more carefully. Because Tamas' feet sank into the dirt with every step his head bobbed up and down and side to side in Sahar's field of vision. Sahar aimed a little lower, hoping that Tamas would sink right into the next shot, and fired another bolt. The bolt hit Tamas square in the chest, tore a hole in the cloak, but broke on impact.

Sahar suddenly felt foolish that he hadn't thought of this problem before. He'd thought he was so clever when he brought a crossbow to what was otherwise anticipated to be a close-quarters fight. Now he scrambled for the next bolt, and dropped it. His brother still lumbered towards him, clumps of wet dirt followed his every step. Sahar fumbled for the next bolt and placed it in the crossbow. No time to aim now. He turned the crank as quickly as he could, pointed, and fired. This bolt hit Tamas in the neck, tore a hole in the cloak, and again broke on impact against Tamas' armor.

Had Sahar been thinking more defensively, rather than being so focused on killing his brother, he would have jumped out of the way much sooner. As it was, he stumbled to one side, only to have his brother crash into him like a charging bull. Sahar sprawled to Tamas' right side, dizzy and bruised. Tamas now stood between Sahar and his long-sword, which was still stuck in the ground. Tamas reached up under the cloak and pulled a leather strap. Enormous steel plates of armor crumpled to the ground all around Tamas' feet. Tamas then unhooked the cloak, revealing that under that shell he was wearing much more practical armor, and carrying his two-handed sword. Sahar was only just on his feet again before Tamas was after him. Sahar raised the buckler on his left arm to deflect Tamas' blade. The weight of the blade dragged Tamas along with it, but he let go of the sword with his right hand as he began to fall and reached for Sahar's helmet. Sahar had been foolish and arrogant to wear such an ornate helmet. All the antlers on top did was give Tamas something to grab hold of. Tamas seized one of the antlers tightly with his right hand and threw Sahar forward by his head. In the mean-time, the tip of Tamas' sword caught the ground, and Tamas regained his balance.

Sahar stumbled around a moment, the weight of his own armor threatening to pull him down. Still, he managed to stay on his feet, and pulled his long-sword from the ground. Tamas stood with his sword raised between he and Sahar, the point aimed at his twin. Sahar knew he'd have to clear the line in order to get his long-sword within range. Damn Tamas! How could he be so fearless even now? Sahar charged Tamas. Tamas took a strong footing. Just as he drew close to Tamas' blade, Sahar struck out with his buckler to knock it away and clear his path. Tamas seemed to anticipate this, used the momentum in combination with his own swing, and brought his sword down at Sahar's head. Sahar caught his brother's blade between his buckler and the flat of his sword. Tamas stepped into Sahar and slammed him with his shoulder. Sahar, in turn, stabbed Tamas's chest as he fell back. The blade hit Tamas' breast-plate, but slid off to one side, leaving only a scratch on the plate.

Sahar reached to his back again and produced a chain in his left hand with a hook on the end. Tamas ducked as the hook flew at his head, but the hook caught his shoulder-plate instead. Sahar gave the chain a sharp jerk as he thrust his long-sword forward to meet Tamas' falling body. Tamas spun in the direction of his hooked shoulder, dodging Sahar's stab, and brought his sword around to Sahar's back. The blade cut deep into Sahar's armor, but stopped just short of Sahar's skin. Sahar flung his own blade in a rage and caught it in Tamas' neck-guard. Tamas responded, in kind, by back-handing his brother's face, and the two of them fell away from each other.

All the while, Farrah watched on. She was a picture of confidence. Anyone who looked at her would assume she had no doubt in her mind Tamas would be victorious here. Inside, however, she was a wreck. Every time Sahar pulled some new dirty trick or struck out at Tamas she felt that silent reminder of what was at stake if he lost.

Lemuel was on both of his knees, praying for Tamas' victory in a whisper. “Please grant him the strength. Please grant him the fortitude. Please grant him the speed!”

“Read my mind, Sahar,” said Tamas in a taunting voice. “Tell me what I'm thinking, and tell me what advantage that brings you now.”

Sahar couldn't help his curiosity, and he focused long enough to see Tamas' thoughts. He recoiled as the images flooded his mind. There was no strategy there, no plan for victory. All Sahar saw in Tamas' mind was a series of horrible images of Tamas beating Sahar to death, mutilating him, and doing awful things with his remains. Sahar could see, in Tamas' mind, himself crying out in agony as Tamas broke him. The images shook Sahar so much that he almost didn't see Tamas' charge until it was too late. Sahar jerked his head to the side at the last second as Tamas sword whipped past. The two of them clashed again. Sahar struggled to maintain his footing.

When Tamas slipped by Sahar reached out and grabbed the chain, the hook still embedded in Tamas' shoulder plate. He yanked hard on the chain, but Tamas did not budge. Then Tamas threw his left shoulder forward and Sahar's feet left the ground as the chain yanked him forward. His face connected with Tamas' waiting elbow. Tamas spun again to face his brother and Sahar, again, narrowly managed to deflect Tamas sword with his buckler. He thrust forward with his long-sword again. Once more, Tamas' breast-plate deflected the sword's tip, though this time the blade left a deeper scratch in his armor. The sword slid under Tamas' left arm, and he closed his elbow over it to hold the blade between his side and his arm.

With Sahar's sword stuck he drew a stiletto dagger in his left hand and punched it at Tamas' side. Tamas caught Sahar's left wrist just as the dagger slipped between two plates. The blade was but an inch from Tamas' skin. The two of them were now locked in a grappling match. Sahar gritted his teeth and pushed with all his might. All he needed was for Tamas to bleed, just a little, and he could turn this fight around. Tamas, however, knew that it was the strength of his right hand against the strength of Sahar's left, and both men were right-handed. He tightened his grip and pushed Sahar's arm down, away from his side. Tamas' left hand came down and he smashed the front of Sahar's helmet with the hilt of his sword. While Sahar staggered for a moment, as his vision was obscured, Tamas let go of Sahar's wrist and seized Sahar by those silly antlers again. He brought Sahar's face down to his knee as hard as he could. He felt the mask over Sahar's face cave in, and Sahar yelped as his nose broke. Tamas swung his great sword with just his left arm, let the weight carry itself, and struck Sahar in the shoulder-plate. Sahar staggered away and threw off his helmet, realizing only now what a liability it had become.

Tamas' adrenaline had carried him the whole fight, kept the fear at bay. Now, however, the close call with Sahar's stiletto dagger brought fear to the front of Tamas' mind. He couldn't let it show, but, then again, Sahar could probably sense it anyway. Yes, Sahar could definitely tell Tamas was afraid now, for in spite of the blood pooling down from his broken nose Sahar wore a sadistic smile on his face.

Tamas focused his thoughts again at all of his built-up rage at his wicked brother. All of the hurt his brother had caused, all of the lives he'd destroyed. He reminded himself that this was the man responsible for all of the wars that Arx, Nihilus, and the West had been so cursed with recently. Furthermore he reminded himself that this man had nearly cost him Aryn. As his anger over-came his fear, so too it overcame Sahar's confidence.

Once again Tamas and Sahar locked themselves in battle, though Sahar now knew the slight advantage he found. Whenever Tamas deflected Sahar's sword with the flat of his own he jabbed at Tamas with his stiletto. Tamas had to handle the heavy blade with two hands, so he could hardly defend against Sahar's second weapon. Tamas decided immediately that he needed to strike harder, fiercer. Keep Sahar on the defensive. Tamas threw his whole weight behind every blow. With so much pressure coming down on him, even though Sahar managed to block or deflect every blow that came his way from its target he still suffered strikes and cuts to his armor. His armor saved him from the blade itself, kept his skin from butchery, but the force of each blow bruised Sahar's skin. It was only with Tamas practically on top of him that Sahar realized that the many blows he was receiving merely to his shoulders and his arms were partially intentional. Sure, a blow to his arms was not likely to be lethal, but each hit made it harder and harder for Sahar to raise his weapons in defense. The bruises ached. The muscles were sore.

Sahar cursed being the smaller twin, as well as his attempts to be cunning with his choice of weapons. Had he a longer sword, perhaps one more like what Tamas wielded against him, perhaps he could have kept his twin's weight off of him. As it was, his brother was nearly crushing him just by virtue of being the larger combatant.

Still, Sahar was not the only one suffering the longer this duel went on. Tamas felt the fatigue setting in with each blow he threw at his smaller brother. In his early days of training, Tamas' trainers always warned him about throwing all his weight and all his strength behind the blade. When one did that, especially in full armor, one tended to tire more quickly. Nevertheless, it appeared to be the only strategy that worked here. It was the only thing that Sahar could know Tamas was doing and it wouldn't rob Tamas of any advantage.

With every strike Sahar fell back a step, and Tamas moved forward a step. Sahar was hurt, bruised, and tired. He could no longer raise his long-sword high enough to even come close to piercing Tamas' body. Then a wicked thought occurred to him. An under-handed tactic, but possibly an effective one. The next time Sahar caught Tamas' blade he flicked his left wrist around the blade and stabbed Tamas in the back of the hand with his stiletto dagger. The dagger went right through the gauntlet, and right through Tamas' left hand. Not only did this force Tamas to let go of the sword with his left hand and rob him of much of his strength, but it spilled Tamas' blood on the ground.

Sahar practically laughed at the look of panic on Tamas' face when he saw the blood hit the ground. Immediately, daemons of every breed and variety began to flow forth from the puddle of blood on the ground. “Kill him!” Sahar screamed at them. “Kill him now! Now! Kill him! Tear him to pieces!”

“Charge!” Farrah shouted. All of her warriors understood that so long as the fight between Tamas and Sahar remained a duel they were to stay out of it. However, the appearance of an army of daemons changed the very nature of the battle before them. Farrah's warriors charged into the battlefield with weapons raised. Her warlocks and witches conjured daemons to join in the fray, and Lemuel rushed into the fight with his diamond-sword drawn.

The Unchained responded to this change in the battle as well. High Archaya Quillan did not even need to give the order. His soldiers already charged to the battle ahead. Those who'd been possessed by Donnvic daemons were at the front, tentacles stretching out from their mouths. Daemons rose from the Unchained's warlocks and witches as well, and the daemonic armies met in the air above the field before the human armies had even arrived.

Daemons fought daemons overhead. All the while, Tamas ducked and dodged daemons who swooped down to catch him in their talons. Sahar laughed at his victory and kept screaming for the daemons to kill Tamas until his voice was growing hoarse. As soon as Tamas had a moment he sheathed his two-handed sword and took out one of the two diamond daggers Lemuel had given him for this occasion. He'd never been too skilled with such weapons, but it was all he had to defend himself against the daemons he himself had unwillingly conjured. A daemon resembling a hideous woman with wings and talons swooped in and picked Tamas up off the ground, only to have Tamas stab her repeatedly with the dagger. She dropped him again, and the weight of Tamas' own armor cracked his ribs.

Sahar kept his distance as the daemons swooped in over and over to attack Tamas. Every scratch, every cut just summoned more of the beasts. Tamas now flailed in a cloud of daemons, his screams audible even over all the other noise. His blood painted the ground, and he was blind in the madness of it all.

Farrah cut her left hand and let her blood drip. Phoenixes took to the battlefield, raising her fallen comrades, and wisps floated overhead to keep an eye on the battle. Daemons with thick shells appeared to defend her followers. To her surprise, her followers held their own against the Unchained, but none of that mattered if they lost Tamas.

A horn blast in the distance rang through the field, and all looked off to see the approaching Arxian cavalry, their banner flying the symbol of the March of Muri. Both sides cringed as this force approached, sure that the Arxians were there to slay them. Only the Unchained were right. The cavalry fell upon the Unchained, with Marquise Nerissa leading the charge. Behind that cavalry was another, one bearing the symbol of yet another of the Marches of Arx. Then another. All of them fell upon the Unchained. Riding amongst them were paladins and geomancers, whose spells and prayers turned the tide back in Farrah's favor.

But it seemed like none of it would matter. One of the daemons surrounding Tamas caught his throat with its talons and ripped him wide open. As more of his blood poured out and his body finally collapsed to the ground, thousands more daemons filled the skies. Sahar strutted over to Tamas' dying body. Daemons parted out of Sahar's way as Sahar picked up Tamas' own sword. He proudly walked up to Tamas' body and placed the tip of the sword against Tamas' breast-plate, right in the center.

“You always were the stupid one,” said Sahar, and he brought all his weight down behind the sword. The blade pierced Tamas' breast-plate and pushed through his chest. It pierced his heart and emerged out the back, until the tip rested firmly in the soil beneath him. What little blood was left in Tamas' body flooded the ground. Vibrations rippled through the air. The rust-colored clouds parted above. A black rip appeared in the sky as the Firmament tore open, and daemons descended from above in such great numbers that it looked like a cloud falling. The air grew cold, and darkness overtook the fields. Sahar cackled. “The end! It's finally here! It's finally upon us!”

Tamas' body just lay there in the field, his empty, black eyes staring at the shattered sky above.

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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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