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Chapter XLI

Tamas fell through dirt, then through stone. At a greater velocity than he'd ever traveled before he could feel himself being pulled ever-downward. He could see all the layers of dirt and rock passing by him in a blur. He passed through tunnels underground, and caves. Then he saw magma beneath him, glowing with heat. He braced himself for the impact and tried to close his eyes, only to find out that he could not. He had no time to ponder this mystery as he struck the layer of molten rock. To his surprise, however, it was not burning hot as he expected, but rather warm. The experience was like being wrapped in a warm blanket. Comforting. Even loving, in a strange way. Then he fell through the molten rock and out the other side. Blinding white light, and then he saw it.

Spread out all around him, built on the inside of a sphere that seemed larger than all the world, was an endless city made of crystal. Spires reached up towards the center from every direction, impossibly tall. The streets of this city, and the walkways over those streets, teamed with people, all of them made of different-colored precious stones. In the air floated palaces made of diamonds, emeralds, and rubies. Tamas looked for the source of the light that shone all around, but it seemed that the light was coming from everywhere and nowhere at the same time.

His fall slowed, and the gravity beneath him shifted. His toes, and then his heels rested on the very pinnacle of one of the tall spires. It was only then that he could see the object floating in the center of it all. Or, rather, the BEING floating in the center of it all. There, in the center, looking even more glorious than all of the idols made in his likeness, was the God of Erets.

He appeared like a sphere of diamond, with thousands of needle-like spikes extending from his center, and the center glowed like a star.

A round platform of granite appeared before Tamas' feet. Tamas tested the platform with his foot before he stepped onto it. The platform floated towards the being in the center. Tamas' focus on the glorious deity before him was only broken for a moment, as millions of angels flew past him, flying out towards one particular edge of the city. Tamas watched their flight, and saw the ground tear open, and the angels fly through the gap. After the gap closed again, Tamas looked around the crystal city and noticed that the streets were all but empty now.

When Tamas looked up at the God of Erets again he found that he was floating uncomfortably close to the spikes emanating from the center. Again, he braced himself. Yet again it was not what he was expecting. He passed through the crystalline spikes as if they were only water, and felt only a slight tingle as they passed through him. The platform continued to bring him closer and closer to the center, until it finally pushed him into the sphere in the middle.

As he stood in the middle, a spark of light, white like a star, and no bigger than Tamas' own head, floated in front of him. “Hello,” came a voice from the star. The voice sounded all at once like an elderly man, a little girl, and an indistinct whisper.

“Hello,” Tamas replied.

“I'm sure you already know who I am and where we are,” said the voice.

“Yes. I know.”

“Amhras, I cannot tell you how pleased I am that you are here. Your brother has made such an awful mess of things.”

“My brother?” Tamas said. “That's right! My brother just killed me, didn't he? Doesn't that mean Erets is ending up above? Shouldn't you be up there, fighting?”

“I have sent every fighting angel I have to minimize the damage the daemons will do, but I'm afraid I cannot actually stop that on my own. Neither can my army. I need you.”

“Then send me back! Right away!”

“We must first come to an agreement.”

“We have no time for that!”

“Amhras...time works differently here. In the minutes that it took you to arrive here to speak to me not even a second has passed above. We have all the time in the world to come to terms,” said the voice. “Now...will you speak with me?”

Tamas sighed. “How can I refuse. But...could you call me Tamas?”

“Why? Amhras is a fine name.”

“It's the name I had in the Void. And it means 'Doubt,' apparently.”

“What's wrong with doubt?” asked the voice.

Tamas couldn't believe he was actually being asked this question, and by God himself no less. “Doubt is one step away from disbelief. Isn't it, you know...the opposite of faith?”

“Quite the contrary. Without doubt faith is weak. Just as a man must work in order to make his muscles strong, so one who chooses to believe must strengthen his faith by confronting doubt. Doubt makes faith strong, just as you have the power to make faith strong.”

“I...guess I never thought of it that way...”

“But if you wish me to call you Tamas I will.”

“Thanks. What should I call you.”

“Saklas is fine. I see your discomfort with that name. It's fitting. I have been known to be foolish from time to time.”

Tamas laughed. “Fine, 'Saklas,' what did you want to talk about?”

“Everything that matters at this moment. Let me explain, first, why I created Erets. As you may already know, I was once a daemon of the Void. A daemon lord, in fact. I embraced many different 'paths,' as you call them, all the while trying to figure out the meaning of existence. It occurred to me, however, that perhaps embracing just one path at a time would not work to find the answers we seek. So, I created Erets, a place where much of the chaos of the Void was restricted, and to those billions of souls who agreed to join me there I granted new bodies, ones in which they could follow multiple paths in a single lifetime, and then live another lifetime, and another. It was a revolutionary idea at the time. From what I understand, I am not the only one ever to do it. Other daemons have done the same since then. Other worlds.

“The problem was that I had unwittingly sealed us all in Erets. Those who wished to leave found that they could not return to the Void. When the other daemon lords discovered this they accused me of having done it on purpose, and sought to destroy the beautiful world I'd created. The war has waged on ever since. From that point on I did all I could to strengthen the Firmament to keep out those who would bring terror on the ones under my charge. In time, I became convinced that those under my charge would only be safe so long as the daemons of the Void were kept out, and those under my charge became convinced that I was a God.”

Saklas almost seemed to laugh at that. “Such a strange concept...a God. When I was in the Void I was one of the few who believed there was a God, a supreme and omnipotent being who transcended time and space. One even higher than Prunikos. But, truth is, I can't say I ever really KNEW for sure that there was one. I always felt that was the meaning of existence, to find that God. Now the people of Erets were calling me their 'God.' In time I stopped trying to correct them because I saw the hope and wonder it brought so many of them. Who's to say a part of the God I once prayed to is not inside of me? Perhaps that is what my followers see.

“Anyway, as the centuries went by I saw those under my charge turn to violence and wickedness, just like so many of the daemons of the Void had. But they still had good in them. That is why I created the land of Arx. I raised up a series of mountains like a crown around a particular expanse of land, and I made that land more fertile and beautiful than any other place on the surface. But I had a rule, if anyone wished to live there they had to abide by a particular code of morality; the Law. The Law was meant to remind them of the compassion, wisdom, and sense of justice they all had within themselves the entire time. Something so many of them had forgotten. You can imagine my sadness that out of the many many tribes of people I invited to live in Arx under my Law only twelve decided to stay. I'm sure you can imagine my further sadness when even amongst those twelve so few truly followed the Law.

“Wars raged between the people of Arx and their neighbors, especially with Nihilus. And why should Nihilus not be at war with Arx? Their gods are at war with me, after all. Yes, I intervened in the wars on the surface from time to time, but I found that the more I interfered directly the more people became convinced that I was a tyrant and joined the Nihilite religion against me.

“Then came Henwen, the first Aeon. She was so gentle, and kind. She was teaching the Nihilite people a better way to live, and even expressed a desire to broker a peace between me and the Void. I sent Tzedek to negotiate that peace, but the King of Nihilus murdered Henwen before our negotiations were done. Her soul wandered the surface of Erets, and I could never find her, though I had my angels searching. Looking back on it, I'm not so sure she wanted to be found. The people of Nihilus praised King Sulaiman for what he did to Henwen, and that angered me so much that I punished the people of Nihilus by making their fields barren. I was furious for so long! We'd been so close to ending all of this awful conflict, and it was all thrown away by one greedy man! How could such a man be their hero?

“Now...here you are. More than Henwen did you understand what I tried to do when I created this world. More than anyone you understand the virtues both of Erets' order and the Void's freedom. More than anyone in the history of this world you have a chance to create the peace I've wanted for so long.”

“What?” said Tamas. “How?”

“You have power over the Firmament, just as Henwen did. You can make small holes in it whenever you want, and when Elykos spilled all of your blood it broke the Firmament completely. That being said, you also have the power to close it again. I want to make you the Gatekeeper of Erets. Using the power you already have, and giving you a little of my own essence, you will have the power to open doorways through the Firmament. Ones that lead in, but also ones that lead out. Those souls who wish to leave will no longer be trapped here. In time, I hope, their freedom will convince the daemon lords who threaten this world that it is worth leaving alone. What say you, Tamas? Will you be my Gatekeeper and hold the keys to the Firmament?”

“There's no higher honor that I can imagine!” said Tamas. “Seriously, when a God offers you a job it's hard to turn it down.” Both Tamas and Saklas had a laugh. “So...does this mean I'll be an angel now, like the others?”

“I'm not certain yet. Well, about the 'now' part, anyway. Right now Henwen is fighting her way to your body, and her phoenixes are converging on your position. If she manages to reach you and resurrect you then you will have this power even as a living man. If she fails, however, then I will make you an angel, and then you must immediately return to the surface and close the tear in the Firmament.”

“What do I do about my brother?” asked Tamas.

“I imagine he must be slain,” said Saklas. “If he isn't slain he'll never stop trying to kill you and break the Firmament again. Not to mention all his other plans for Erets' destruction. And once he is slain his soul must be banished back to the Void. I can't say I want him here, and he'd probably be happier there anyway.”

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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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