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Chapter XLII

The wind whipped around the hem of Farrah's dress as she, Mave, and Lemuel rushed through the battlefield with their heads low. Daemons with thick shells and pincers like those of crustaceans flanked them on all sides, keeping them hidden and safe from the horror all around them. Phoenixes circled them about the middle, waiting for their true target: Tamas' body. All the while Farrah watched the battle from hundreds of vantage points, each wisp just one more eye for her. The sheer number of daemons on the battlefield was overwhelming, and only a handful appeared to be fighting for Farrah and her people. Hard as her people fought, they could not stand against such impossible odds. She was forced to watch as her warriors fought their human enemies valiantly, only to have daemons swoop in and pick them off one at a time. Farrah didn't know if resurrecting Tamas would close the hole in the sky, but it was the only idea she could think of to stem the slaughter.

Sahar heard the screams of his enemies as they fell, both those in ear-shot and those whom he only heard in his head. The noise of the carnage was music to him, like the sweetest song. The grand symphony that heralded the end of an age. He'd won. He'd finally won. After all his struggles, after Erelah had nearly ruined everything, Sahar had achieved the victory he'd been looking forward to his entire life.

Then there was a great rumbling. The ground shook. All on the battlefield fought to keep their footing. And when that rumbling stopped countless angels filled the skies, their crystalline bodies glowing brightly. With crystal swords in their hands and their bladed wings they assaulted the seemingly infinite daemons falling out of the sky. Ash fell like snow as the angels slew the first enemies they encountered. Then sparkling dust followed as the daemons fought back and slew many of the angels. Sparks and trails of light filled the sky as the battle raged on above.

Sahar looked up at the celestial army clashing with his daemonic brethren and sneered. There weren't nearly enough angels to win this battle, but Sahar wasn't about to take the chance that they might somehow ruin his apocalypse. Sahar closed his eyes and reached out his mind to Quillan. “Launch the Wet Fire.”

Quillan, on the other end of the battlefield, recognized the Aeon's voice in his head and said out loud, “We were going to save that for when we reached Arx.”

“No! Launch it now! Start the fire that will consume the world! We must ensure our victory here and now!”

Quillan nodded. “Very well. I will give the order. You tell those soldiers in the field.” Quillan turned to the soldiers who were pulling along the trebuchet, catapults, and ballistae. “Get the siege weapons ready and launch Wet Fire as soon as possible! The Violet Inferno begins now!”

“Aye!” They got to work loading the catapults and ballistae, while others assembled the trebuchet. Barrels of Wet Fire were loaded into the catapults. Into the ballistae they placed bolts with jars of Wet Fire strapped to the end. Aiming these weapons high and in the direction of their enemies, they launched the first bombardment.

The purple liquid splashed over the field, all over Farrah's soldiers and the Arxians. Even some of the Unchained got caught in the bombardment. At first Farrah's soldiers and the Arxians did not know what to think of this strange event, until they saw the Unchained who got caught up in it starting to panic. The Unchained who'd been splashed yelled and rolled on the ground, throwing dirt on themselves. All this proved to be for naught, however, as the perspiration from their panic came in contact with the Wet Fire spilled on them and they burst into purple flames. The Arxians and Farrah's soldiers recoiled from the sight and fled, but the Wet Fire was already upon them, and their own perspiration soon touched it as well. They fell screaming onto the field, their armor first red-hot, and then molten metal. The blaze spread from each point where the cursed fuel had struck, burning the dry grass and dead soil.

The trebuchet were loaded, and barrels of Wet Fire launched out into the distance. The barrels struck outside of the battlefield, forming a circle around the combatants. All it took was for one of those barrels to strike a lone puddle on the ground and the fire began. A ring of purple flames now surrounded the battlefield, and was gradually spreading both inward and outward from there.

Sahar stood immobile, his mind reaching out to the Unchained on the battlefield. He knew only a few of them were carrying vials of Wet Fire on their person, but a few was all he needed. He found one Unchained soldier surrounded by Arxian knights. “Set off your Wet Fire,” he told him. The Unchained soldier did not need to be told twice. He pulled two vials from his pocket, one filled with the purple liquid and one filled with water. As the Arxian knights drew close to slay him he smashed the two together and burst into flames. With his body still immolated the soldier ran screaming at the Arxians, who tripped over each other to fall back. More and more Unchained soldiers did the same, their bodies fueling this world-consuming blaze. Sahar giggled and searched the crowd for more of his loyal soldiers, ready to kill themselves in this most excruciating fashion for the sake of their goal.

That's when Sahar felt a sharp pain in his chest. It started in his sternum, then passed through his heart, and went out through his back. He opened his eyes to see Lemuel standing before him. Lemuel's had impaled Sahar with his diamond-sword. Mave stepped in with her sword and sliced Sahar's face clean in half. Lemuel gave Sahar's gut a firm kick, and Sahar fell on the ground, dead.

With the enemy out of the way, and with daemons standing guard, Farrah ran to Tamas' body, the phoenixes still circling her. “Heal him! Bring him back!” she commanded. The phoenixes all dropped on Tamas' body and lifted him off the ground. Flames engulfed his body, and ashes and molten metal fell from the blaze in mid-air. All the while, daemons dove at the group of them, but the daemons Farrah had conjured protected her and her friends. Their great pincers clipped daemons in half, or snipped off their wings. Lemuel chanted prayers, and daemons fell from the air, their bodies turned to stone.

When the fire on Tamas body had died down the phoenixes lowered him onto the ground, naked and healed. Mave ran to wake Tamas, but, to her surprise, he forced himself to his feet on his own and thrust his right hand into the air.

All over Erets the people who'd been watching the sky above in horror watched as the blue sky began to weave itself back together. It knit in threads over the black Void, as if it was a great tapestry being repaired. On the battlefield in Nihilus, all present watched as millions of the daemons were sucked back up through the hole in the sky, pulled back into their own infinite home.

There were those, however, who stayed. Feral daemons, who resembled beasts. Tamas reached down, ripped the cape off his dead brother's back, girded his loins with it, and shouted at the daemons remaining, “Attack the Unchained!”

The very same army that had been fighting against Farrah's soldiers, the Arxians, and the angels under Sahar's command only moments ago had now turned on the Unchained. The daemons set upon them in such great numbers that the Unchained had little they could do. Except to immolate themselves. The fires burned so hot that even the daemons attacking the Unchained were burned. Even angels who drew too close to the flames cracked from the heat.

Tamas ran over to Farrah. “Any daemons you know of that can manipulate the cold. Frost, snow, ice, whatever. Conjure them now! We have to stop this fire before it consumes the world!”

“Understood!” Farrah focused on each of her wisps and spoke the same command to every witch and warlock under her command.

The first daemons to appear to combat the fire were giants made of ice, who breathed a frosty mist over the purple flames. Next to appear looked like women made of snow, who threw their bodies upon the fire. Then great winged beasts with blue scales and white feathers who breathed cones of frosty mist over the fire. Then daemons who looked like clouds shaped like men, and they swallowed up the flames.

Quillan called out to her soldiers, “Do not retreat! We fight to the last!” and so they did. Even against odds they could not hope to defeat they did not route, they did not retreat. Farrah's army, the daemons, and the Arxians overtook and surrounded the Unchained and they fought and fought until only Quillan and twenty of the Unchained still stood.

When only those twenty were left, the advancing forced held back. Tamas and Farrah walked forward from the ranks surrounding the Unchained. Quillan scowled at their approach.

“You're defeated,” said Tamas. “It's sad that you sent so many to their deaths against us. It was hopeless. Any good leader would have ordered a retreat by now.”

“We are not afraid to die for our cause,” said Quillan. “That's because we know our cause is right. This damnable world NEEDS to burn! You can protect it all you want, but consider the cost when all is said and done. Protect your prison, you prisoners! Fight tooth and nail for he who would keep you in a gilded cage! Go ahead! You're loyal little birds, aren't you? I wish to fly! I want to be free!”

“And that you can be,” said Tamas. “When you die your soul will be free to roam the Void, as you have wanted your entire life.”

“Liar!” shouted Quillan.

“It's true,” said Tamas. “From this day forward it shall be true that anyone who wishes to leave Erets upon their death shall be allowed to do so. I am the Gatekeeper. I have passed through Heaven and hold the keys to the Firmament. None need to stay imprisoned here any longer.”

“If what you say is true set me free now!” said Quillan.

“We all die eventually,” said Tamas. “You'll get your chance to be free. Really consider, though, whether it's worth it to have that freedom now or to actually experience this gift called 'life' for just a little longer. If you and your remaining force will surrender we will let you live.”

“What?” said Farrah. “You can't be serious!”

“I am serious,” said Tamas. “When word spreads that no one is anymore a prisoner to Erets their entire cult will make no sense to anyone. Why struggle with an ascetic lifestyle to achieve your freedom when you can have that freedom anyway? The Unchained will no longer be a threat. Certainly not after such a humiliating defeat. What say you, Quillan? Will you tell your soldiers to lay down their arms so that they may live the rest of their lives in peace?”

“No,” said Quillan. “If what you say is true we will have our freedom now. And if it is a lie we will fight to the death. We are not afraid to cast off the shackles of this mortal life.”

“This is a poor decision, Quillan,” said Tamas.

“It's my decision,” said Quillan. “One I made for myself. Right or wrong, maybe all that matters is that I decided for myself.”

Tamas shook his head. “Fine. Let's finish this.”

A volley of arrows rained down on the last remaining Unchained, arrows which flew in on them from every direction. Quillan's chest was filled, and his body fell upon his comrades'.

There was a moment of total silence, which was so unsettling after all of that noise. Then the silence was broken when one Arxian knight shouted, “We won!”

“Victory!” one of Farrah's soldiers called out.

“Victory!”

“We've won!”

Arxian knights embraced each other in celebration. Arxian knights even embraced Nihilite soldiers to celebrate the victory. The whole field rang with applause. As Tamas walked through the ranks of Nihilite and Arxian soldiers hundreds of hands reached out to touch his shoulders or pat him on the back. Farrah followed, receiving the same reception. She couldn't help but feel an amazing sense of gravitas as these people embraced her as a hero.

In the crowd Tamas found Nerissa, whom he only recognized because of her banner and her resemblance to Sarahi. “Thank you so much for lending a hand,” said Tamas.

“Queen Aryn's orders,” said Nerissa. “She told us to come and support you out here.”

“How did you know which force was mine?” asked Tamas.

“Easy. On the way here we asked around some of the towns we came in contact with. People told us the basic situation in Nihilus, and explained what the Unchained looked like. Easy to figure out from there. But I have a better question, why are you wearing a raggedy skirt?”

Tamas looked down and realized that he was still only clad in the cape he'd torn from his brother's back. “It's a Nihilite tradition to gird your loins with your defeated enemy's clothes.”

“Is it really?”

“No, but it ought to be,” said Tamas with a laugh. For a moment Tamas reflected on the losses he'd suffered lately. He was the last living member of his family now. His father had died before he was born, his mother went mad and daemons overtook her shortly after he died, now she was gone for good, and so was his brother. Tamas knew they were all terrible people who'd caused so much pain in the world. Objectively, he knew they had to die. Still, he couldn't help but feel a hollowness inside in realizing that he was the last member of his family who still lived. To fill that emptiness he'd need to start a new family.

Tamas turned back to Farrah. “Listen, I have to return to Arx for a while. I'll be back in about a month or so, maybe a little longer. In the mean time you need to lead the people to re-build our great nation.”

“You really think I can do that?” asked Farrah.

“You were leading these people long before I came along,” said Tamas. “And now they know who you really are. Yes, you can do it. You're the only one I trust to do it. And...as your king I order you to do it.”

“Aye, sire,” said Farrah with a wide smile.

“Spread the word,” said Tamas. “Spread the word that the God of Erets, Saklas, has given me the keys to the Firmament. He has agreed to hold no more prisoners, so long as the Nihilite people will remain at peace with the people of Arx. And when I get back I want a full coronation ceremony waiting for me.”

“Aye, sire,” said Farrah. “I'll spread the word.”

Tamas turned to Lemuel. “Well, you and I share a special bond now, the first two people actually brought back from the dead in...how many hundreds of years now?”

“I don't know,” said Lemuel.

“I'll be returning to Arx now,” said Tamas. “You want to come with me?”

“I...” Lemuel glanced at Mave. “Actually, I think I'll stay for now. Learn a little more about Nihilite culture.”

Tamas laughed. “Young love. It really knows no boundaries, does it? Alright, Lady Nerissa. If you'd be so kind to find me some suitable clothes I would like to accompany you back home.”

“We'll find you something.”

Tamas turned to his people. Yes, truly his people now. They all looked on him with such reverence and pride. The same pride he now felt for all of them. “In my absence,” he called out, “I want you to follow everything Lady Henwen says. She is your spiritual leader. I will return to Nihilus soon to reign as your king, and a prouder king I could not be. Be as good to each other as you have been to me and Nihilus will see greater days.”

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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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