– – –
Time slowed as Luik’s fingers inched closer to the fruit. Then it stopped. Everything did. The battle. The arrows flying overhead. Even the sound of his heart as it beat in his head stopped. His hand was suspended just a finger’s breadth above the white apple piece.
Luik felt the air move against his cheek. It was soft at first, like a gentle breeze. But then it turned wild, a rushing wind swirling about him, threatening to knock him off his feet. Yet still he remained motionless, aware of only the wind. The sound filled his ears, as loud as a waterfall.
His stomach suddenly grew hungry—not for physical food—for something deeper. Something grander. It was as if a secret need for more had been revealed in his life. More of what, he knew not. He felt naked and exposed, but he welcomed it. For somehow he knew that with it came freedom. With surrender came life.
He was tired of himself, of desires he could not satisfy, needs he could not control. Staring at the apple he suddenly realized how shallow a soul he was. Empty. Pitiful, even. Whatever nature he had been given, whatever drove him on the very inside of his being, he no longer wanted. Yet he was powerless to overcome it. He needed something else. Someone else.
Luik knew plenty, had learned plenty, and had lived plenty. But yet there was something more. Something he felt he had never touched…something none of them had ever touched. Dionia had known the presence of the Most High since her inception. There was not a day that the Great God was not among them, even in their darkest hour.
They knew Him, but only with a limited degree of knowledge.
They were close to Him, but not intimate.
They were aware of His presence on the outside, yet never knew what it was like to feel the Almighty breathing…on the inside.
“I want more,” was all Luik could think to say. He wasn’t even sure if his mouth moved, or if his ears heard. Whatever the Great God had for him, Luik wanted it. There were always two choices. Belief; unbelief. Dependency; indulgence. But now he knew what he wanted.
And he wanted it now. Not for greed’s sake…
…nor for lust’s sake…
…but because he could no longer live with himself.
As if a fiery torch had been set off in his stomach, Luik suddenly screamed. All at once the fire was replaced by the sensation of a river emanating from somewhere deep within his bowels. He jerked upright and raised his hands. His spirit was opened and in rushed the Mighty Counselor. The Promised One.
Luik felt as if pure light filled his entire being. He had believed the Most High, even felt His presence. This, however, was something altogether new. Strength such as he had never known! All his doubts were suddenly put to flight. No cares of the battle ahead. No worries for what would happen next. Luik seemed to have instantaneous and limitless trust in the Mighty Hand…
…everything was going to be all right.
For the first time in his life, Luik felt alive. Something had died. And something else had been awakened.
Then a voice spoke to his spirit. Luik, my son. Today I take up residence in you. Not just a visitation, but a habitation. You will never be alone. I have sent the One I promised to imbue you with power. Nothing will be impossible for you now. I am with you always.
Tears streamed from Luik’s eyes as reality came rushing back to speed. He held his hands even higher and began to praise his Maker. Words of life and blessing flowed from his mouth. He began to prophesy life to his people, to Dionia herself: that she would live and not die; that the Almighty Father had created her with a purpose, with a destiny to fulfill. Then, as if his mind had run out of words to speak, his spirit took over. He loosed his tongue and spoke in other languages of praise, heavenly languages he had never heard. He knew not what he was saying, but he didn’t need to. He was finally free of himself. Free of his old nature, and consumed with a new one. The nature of the Son. The mind of the White Lion.
Luik took a deep breath and lowered his hands. Limbs shaking, his entire body felt as free as if heavy burdens had been lifted. He wiped the tears from his face and glanced around.
Throughout the battlefield other men seemed to be experiencing exactly what he had. They looked a bit dazed, some almost as if they had drunk too much wine, but all had a wide grin on their faces, beaming with light.
A scant few stood as they were, looking irritated at the others. Perhaps these were the ones who had eaten of the other Tree? He wasn’t sure.
What Luik did know, however, was that he was changed. Transformed. He felt brand new. He eyed the awaiting enemy that had somehow been held at bay during the whole experience. Whatever fear Luik and the others had been carrying before was gone. And for once Luik saw fear, true fear, in the eyes of the Dairne-Reih. Perhaps they had seen what Luik and the others had felt.
The rushing wind was not finished yet.
Luik heard a rustling in the Tree behind him. He turned to see leaves and limbs churn from a twisting gust of air. Shouting from above told Luik the archers would quickly vacate their perches. They scrambled to get down, each man descending the trunk and leaping the last short distance to the ground. The wind whipped at the limbs, dirt and rubble tossed through the branches. More men fled, and Luik saw Anorra drop down. She rolled in the soot and stood up.
“Over here!” Luik yelled, waving his arms.
Anorra spotted him and raced forward. Grasping her arm, they backed away from the Tree and watched.
Once every soul was clear, the wind picked up and swirled violently. The leaves strained to hold on, and the branches flailed as if they might be ripped from the trunk. The sound escalated as well, mounting to a deafening roar. Luik shielded his face, and Anorra buried her head in his chest when a massive gust blasted through the Tree and ripped most of the leaves away. They swirled into a funnel, a shimmering cone of green that raced through the air. Bark was torn from the hardwood, peeled back like layers of skin. The limbs waved around like stalks of wheat, until they broke away, only to shatter in midair.
Soon all that remained was the massive trunk column, naked and trembling. Luik peeked over his arm to see it shaking itself into a blur, the roots making the dirt dance on the ground. The wind grew stronger and stronger until the stress became too great, and the trunk exploded into oblivion. The pieces were swept away in a swirling cloud of debris and then hoisted skyward, leaving a gaping hole in the ground.
As quickly as the wind had come, it was gone, and everything was silent. Luik held Anorra close and took a deep breath.
“Is it over?” she asked, squinting at him.
“Aye,” Luik replied, staring at the wide hole in the terrain ahead. Anorra pulled away and surveyed the scene. Then turning back toward the warband she said, “Luik, look!”
Over the entire army of Dionia were small flames of fire, as if the whole company was ablaze. The burning came without smoke and without smell. Just the presence of light.
“What’s happening?” she inquired.
“It’s time to take our land back,” Luik said quietly. He let Anorra go and then raised his voice to summon all the warriors to him. “Men of Dionia! We no longer fight alone! But it is the Most High who fights within us!” His words were echoed back through the ranks so all could hear. Luik raised his sword and let out the deepest war cry he could muster. “For the King and His Kingdom!”
Luik felt invincible. He lowered his head and started forward. At first he jogged, the men starting to part ahead. But as the path opened, Luik took off into a full run. Those ahead saw him coming and turned on their enemies as well, running forward.
Luik let out another war cry. It was answered, not by the few, but by the many.
Soon the entire host of Dionia was charging forward, flames above them, swords in front of them, and their voices shaking the air. Blood would soak the ground this day.
• • •
The sight was so horrific that even Morgui took a step backward. He could sense the mounting fear in his generals, and even though his hordes acted as though they were hungry for the fight, he knew they were pretending.
That, or naive.
Dionia’s warband looked like a wave of fire devouring the ruins of Grandath. Something otherworldly had transpired. And Morgui didn’t like it at all.
The front line of men closed on the Dairne-Reih with frightening speed. The demons raised their arms and opened their toothy mouths, screaming in defiance as loud as they could. But they were drowned out by a more powerful force. An unstoppable force.
From where he stood, Morgui sensed everything go silent…
…a moment where time stopped…
…and the balance of power shifted…
…the land was no longer his to rule…
…the Children of the Almighty were now invincible if they wanted to be.
He knew then, it was finished.
• • •
The deafening collision shook Jerovah at its foundation. The warriors of Dionia blasted into the front lines, and through them, without so much as a contest. The bodies of their enemies blasted apart like eggs thrown against a stone wall. Row after row of Dairne-Reih was consumed, their enemies barely seen before it was too late.
The Dibor fought beside the rest of the Lion Vrie, and on either side the Immortals held the flanks. The demons had no chance at all; scarcely a man in Dionia later remembered if a single Dairneag ever landed one blow in defense. The vast army of the Most High swept forward and utterly destroyed every beast that had ever tormented the people of Dionia, stolen their fathers, and slaughtered their mothers and children. The men struck back for every village that had been razed to the ground, and for every hour that a daughter had gone without her mother, every day a son had failed to feel the embrace of his father.
The Dionian warband swept forward uncontested, plunging deep into the enemy’s heart. They knew Morgui was dismayed, and while he feared them, they would think nothing of dispatching him from Dionia forever.
And Morgui knew it.
Whatever gift the Most High had sent, it had erased the power he had previously held over Creation. The army before him no longer feared him. And they would not hesitate in their recompense. His only escape to the Sif Gate in Grandath had been cut off, and all that was left was to retreat to the open plains of Jerovah.
The advance was getting closer by the moment, and Morgui’s generals looked to him for some sign of direction. Some plan of attack. This was unlike their previous battles—storming Adriel, or moving against the well-protected fortress of Mt. Dakka—nay, this was altogether different. This is what it felt like to be bested.
When Morgui finally said it, his generals could not believe what they heard.
– – –