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Chapter XL

“Cyril put up quite a fight when we actually got to him. I think I must have filled him with about five arrows.”

Milo gave Magdiel a confused look. “Pardon?”

“Well, I found him in his bedroom, just like you said I might,” Magdiel shook his head. “Monster of an old man. He flew at us with swords in hand, screaming and foaming at the mouth.”

Milo shook his head in disbelief. “What are you talking about? I found Cyril in the throne room and his bodyguards killed him so he couldn't be taken hostage.”

“Now, hold on,” said Kamal, “The other geomancers and I found him in the tallest tower. He begged us to kill him rather than take him prisoner.”

Milo raised an eyebrow at Kamal. “Three Emperor Cyril's? What in the-”

Sarahi interrupted, “Body doubles, all of them. We found an additional Emperor Cyril trying to sneak out the water-ways under the city. He fought us, so we slew him. He was surprisingly spry for such an old man.”

“Body doubles...” Milo repeated.

“Yes, and there's no telling if we got the right one or not,” said Sarahi.

“So...what do we do?” Milo asked.

“Simple. We have the Kanai come out west and search the surrounding cities for him. If anyone claims to be him and tries to regain power they eliminate him.” Sarahi sighed. “He's escaped justice, but it doesn't matter. I'm confident he'll never be able to rise to power again, and stopping him was far more important than killing him.”

Milo shrugged. “True. Now we just focus on the long process of ending the slave trade and rescuing all Arxians in the West.”

“It will take time,” said Sarahi, “But we have control of the West now, minus a few remnants of the Digan Legion, which now has no leadership.”

“Your highness! You should see this!” shouted a scout from outside the palace foyer.

The four of them, along with their respective teams, walked out the front doors of the palace to see what the scout was so upset about. All of them went cold and numb when they saw the sight above. The blue sky seemed to crumble, starting at some point in the east, and spreading out. Pieces of it appeared to break away, like it was just an egg-shell to be peeled, and behind it was a starry sky, but with far more stars than usual. A cold wind blew through the city, and terror gripped everyone who saw the phenomenon above.

“Oh dear God...” said Sarahi.

“No...is that...the Void?” asked Milo.

“The Firmament is broken!” said Sarahi.

“What do we do?” Magdiel asked.

Sarahi lifted her mace. “We get ready for our last battle, that's what we do. And then we fight to the end.”

. . .

“You don't think we should lift the tax on Saburan goods?” Aryn asked.

Tabor shook his head. As the new Chancellor he was insistent upon his own reforms and tax laws. “No. We keep a high tax on all foreign goods; whether they be from Nihilus, Shadia, Sabura, Subra, or the West.”

“But the people of Sabura are our allies now!” said Aryn. “What's more, Queen Morowa is family. Her nephew married my aunt. No tighter alliance than a marriage alliance.”

“I really don't care,” said Tabor. “That's a military matter, and a political one. I worry about the economy. More and more of our people buy foreign goods every day, often just because of the appeal of those goods being foreign and exotic. Our goods are better quality. If we put a higher tax on foreign imports we encourage our people to buy locally, and that keeps money in our economy rather than a constant out-flow of our gold. Queen Tahlia nearly bankrupted this kingdom back when she was on the throne just by letting all our gold flow south and west.”

“We could encourage people to buy locally, but that might also encourage smuggling. Our soldiers have enough trouble enforcing laws that actually matter without having to worry about tax and trade laws.”

“Again, that's a matter for the military,” said Tabor. “You and I write the trade laws, you and the Grand Duke worry about enforcing those laws.”

“We don't have a Grand Duke,” said Aryn.

“Then I suggest you get to appointing one, your Majesty.”

Their heated discussion was interrupted when a guard popped his head into the office and shouted, “Your Majesty! Look out the window! There's something you should see!”

Aryn gave him a puzzled look and then shrugged her shoulders. What could possibly be so important? Aryn opened the window and looked down at first, expecting to see a riot or some new crisis in the capital. So many people in one place, there was always bound to be some trouble.

Then her eyes were slowly turned towards the sky, and she saw what the guard was actually talking about. “Oh my God...”

“What?” Tabor ran over to look at the sky as well. “Schyte! What is that?”

The two of them watched the as blackness above, which had engulfed nearly the entire sky already, spread. Aryn felt a sickening sensation in her stomach, though this time she was sure the baby in her womb was not the cause. The hairs on her arms and on the back of her neck stood on end and her whole body went cold, as did the air around them.

In the sky above they could see tiny, black specks in the distance descending towards the ground. They seemed to fall from the Void itself, and they fell by the millions.

“It's the end of the world!” said Tabor. “Those damn Nihilites! They finally did it! It's over!”

. . .

“I'm glad you finally came to your senses. Have I already said that?”

“Yes, Shiri, only about a million times already,” said Lila. The two of them had finally reached the land of Subra, and all around them stretched out the yellow sands of that sun-baked land.

“Mahla was no good for you anyway. Can't imagine she was much good for anyone. Why is it still so cold? We're in the desert, for crying out loud! Seriously! It's as cold as it was in the mountains!”

“Shiri...look up and look north,” said Lila.

“What for?”

“Just do it,” said Lila.

Shiri rolled her eyes before turning them to the northern sky, and then screamed as she saw what Lila was pointing out. The two of them stared in silence for a few moments as the blue sky chipped away, bit by bit, with the blackness of the Void revealed behind it. The more the sky broke open, the colder and fiercer the wind got. Shiri fell to her knees, her eyes so wide it looked like they would fall out of her head.

Lila turned to Shiri and tapped her shoulder. “Come on! We have to run!”

Shiri said nothing. She merely stared up at the sky in shock.

“Shiri! Wake up! Snap out of it! We have to run!”

Again, Shiri did not budge. She wasn't even blinking. Her mouth hung open, and she started to drool, as if she'd fallen into a catatonic state. Lila sighed, grabbed Shiri by her arms, forced her to her feet, and dragged Shiri behind her as she ran. Lila didn't even know where they were running to, she just knew she wanted to be as far away from all of that madness as she could get. At best she felt this would delay the inevitable, but death was always inevitable. Avoiding it was never anything BUT delaying the inevitable. She'd finally found happiness, and she wanted to hold onto it for as long as she could, even if that was only for one more day.

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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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