Last peek of ‘The Rhise of Hope’ before release!

Chapter 2: The War

The silence that met the angel was almost reverential. Leon seemed to be the only member of the group who could believe what he saw. A gauntleted hand held a cup of the bitter liquid. As Rohiel drank it, the cup disappeared into the light of his face, then reappeared less full. It seemed that it was up to Leon to respond to Rohiel.

“I have brought them, as instructed,” Leon stated, hoping for some sort of acknowledgement.

“Do not seek the approval of others before the approval of Adonai, Judge.”

“Sorry, Rohiel.”

“You are forgiven, of course.” The angel began to pace around the table, and the eyes of those who were assembled followed his movements through the empty space.

Leon spread his hands wide as he asked, “How… How is this possible?”

“All things are possible for those that believe,” Replied the angel, as he grasped the edge of the table. “Now, listen and learn.”

The monolithic walls of the room seemed to expand outward without a sound. The floor and ceiling also seemed to stretch and fall rapidly away, which caused everyone to gasp in alarm. The only things that remained were the stone table, the shining spear set into it, and the remains of their breakfast.

“Have no fear.”

Everyone present, with the exception of Leon and Rohiel, grasped the table as the room continued to expand beyond sight. It created a black expanse of nothingness – a void that stretched on forever. Then, the blue light of the spear blade changed to a rainbow-like hue.

The colors shifted and swirled all around the א in the middle of the blade. With a flash, light exploded from it as blazing beams shot forth. Where the beams ended, stars were formed. The expanse became filled with pinpoints of red, blue, yellow, and white. Large and small, near and far, lights innumerable grouped together and swirled around each other. Hundreds, thousands, Leon couldn’t even count how many he saw. Color and light painted the blank space around them. The beauty of it stole his breath, and caused him to gaze around in wonder.

A small slurping sound came from Rohiel as he drank his java and broke the silence. “Adonai created everything. He still does. He loves to create. He loves all.”

Tears formed in Leon’s eyes as he beheld the heavens from a proximity closer than he ever had. It was far better than even when he had been on an airship during a cloudless night. The starscape began to move and shift, and it felt as if they were traveling a great distance. Their table drew ever closer to one section of the beautiful light show. The sight was so incredible, that Leon almost missed Rohiel’s words as his voice reverberated all around him and his friends.

“Some creations, however, sought higher stations than what they were made for. They defied their creator. Stepped away from His love.”

Their journey drew them closer to one star that had spheres flying around it. As their table flew ever nearer to one of those spheres, Leon could see that it was blue and green in color. As it spun in place they saw a dense cloud of shooting stars fall to it. Iridescent balls of light surrounded them when they finally landed on its surface. Leon realized this sphere was their world, and they were at the very top of a snow capped mountain.

“Some of my brethren, my brothers and sisters, rebelled against Adonai. For that, they were cast out.”

From where they stood at the peak of this mountain, they could look out and see miles of land that extended below them. Leon did not recognize the landscape, but he instinctively knew that what they were seeing had occured in the distant past. The balls of light that had fallen had scorched the earth like bolts of lightning upon their impact. Soon, all the balls began to gather together and move towards the mountain top. As they moved, their forms began to change.

What had shone as light turned into darkness. What once looked perfect and pristine was now marred. A grotesqueness started to pervert the images of Rohiel’s brethren. The divine beings turned into something else – something unnatural.

The beings they saw had changed. They had been beautiful, but became ugly – with fanged maws, extra appendages, and bat-like wings that dripped shadow.

“They made a pact here, to teach forbidden knowledge. To become other ‘gods’ for creation to worship. To intermix with your kind, and taint Adonai’s workmanship in order to achieve their own ends. They were outnumbered by Adonai’s armies in the heavenlies, and they wanted… needed… more power. They sought to overthrow what cannot be overthrown. This is where they agreed to lead your world astray.”

Leon knew that he was looking at a multitude of incredibly powerful beings, like Rohiel. The stone table they all held onto circled lazily around the assembled monstrosities. Their guide’s voice took on an ominous, edged tone.

“Behold, the b’nei ha’elohim. The little gods. The Fallen.”

Leon’s mind reeled from the implications of what he was being shown and told. When he had first been charged with being a Judge, Rohiel had stated that Judges were chosen by Adonai to oppose the Fallen. These beings, however lovely or grotesque, were gods?

How could one contend against that? How could someone as insignificant as Leon be victorious against beings that had been deemed gods? As he looked at his companions, he saw expressions of awe splayed openly over their faces. They must have been wondering the same things, because Rohiel answered their unasked questions.

“As powerful as you may think they are, they are nothing compared to Adonai. Their power waxes and wanes. Adonai is the same yesterday, and today, and forever. He is the one true God.

After another sip of the heavenly java, Rohiel continued, “Over the centuries most have been imprisoned, some consigned to the very abyss. One however, has become an imminent threat to your world.”

The mountain, stars, and everything else faded around them into a familiar grey expanse. Everything except for one being.

Chills ran down Leon’s spine as he saw the undulating shadowy form. It had inky black tendrils which stretched out all around and grasped at the air. Slits of red lantern-like eyes glowed with a familiar glow – one common to every undead being that Leon had destroyed. The miniature statue he had turned to salt earlier was of a similar likeness. It had not, however, even begun to capture the sense of sheer malevolence Leon felt as he stared at this Fallen.

Connections bridged in Leon’s mind, and he made a guess. It was a name that he heard in his vision the night before. A name that had been chanted by the undead husks who had defended the Judge’s section, or ‘Sanctuary’ as Rohiel called it, for two hundred years.

“Xhormas,” Leon said aloud.

The angel sighed, “Yes. The b’nei ha’elohim of corrupted undeath.”

He is bent on turning your world into his altar of worship. His aim is perversion. It is not the will of Adonai. Together, you have the power to thwart him.”

“How?” Miala croaked.

“You have already started.” The blazing light that came from Rohiel’s head still obscured his features, but somehow Leon knew that the angel’s gaze swept over each of them. “Each of you must align yourselves to Adonai’s purposes in order to succeed. For He knows the plans He has for you… Plans for your welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.”

Rohiel stepped closer to the circular stone table, and the instant he set his empty cup onto it the room returned. It snapped back to normal as the illusion around them dissolved away. A few of the group gasped, while Magnus hugged the floor.

“Some of you have questions about Adonai. About the war. This is good. The beginning of knowledge is wisdom. The beginning of wisdom is awe of Adonai. Time is short. Ask.”

Words tumbled forth from the others, while Gionna scribbled furiously on her notepad. It seemed as though her charcoal stick moved a mile a minute. “I– I have so many to choose from… Come back to me… WAIT!” She exclaimed, as she brandished the charcoal stick at the angel. “How does this Adonai stay the same in the past, present, and future?”

Rohiel held out a hand to the older gnome as he asked, “May I?”

Everyone watched as Gionna nodded. Rohiel then picked the charcoal stick out of her hand and held it up. “Your life.” He pointed at one end. “Your birth.” Then he touched the other end. “Your bodily death.”

He then deposited the stick into the empty wooden cup which had held his java. “Think of the cup as Adonai, watching over your life. He is there… Ever present, all at once. He is at the beginning, and at the end. He exists outside of time. After all, He is the one who created it.” Pushing the cup with the charcoal across to Gionna, he fell silent and unmoving at the other end of the table. The two elder gnomes, Gionna and Magnus, seemed to be the only ones who understood his explanation – confused looks abounded from everyone else.

Schalae pressed her hands on the table and leaned forward, “Can’t this Adonai just fix everything if He is so all powerful? He could stop this Xhormas right now if he wanted to, right?”

“Who is to say that he has not already?” Rohiel countered, also leaning forward over the remnants of their breakfast. He picked up a leftover grape and set it at one end of the stone table. “Adonai sees all time, all at once, He sets His plans, which include our purposes, in motion.” Flicking the grape, it rolled across the table until it slowed and stopped at the other end. “He sees the end before we do because He is already there. Already at the solution. Yet because we are not Him, we can only see the plan in motion. Your assumption that Adonai sees the world in the same way that you do would be incorrect.”

Leon was able to comprehend this explanation. How much had he not known about Adonai until now? Leon had thought that here, in the depths of the Archive, the very origin of the library itself, all of his sought after knowledge had been lost. He had figured that the undead destroyed any chance of learning more about the Judges and Adonai. Yet here was Rohiel – teaching them all about Adonai.

Nobody spoke a word. Whether it was speechlessness due to the shock, or perhaps awe from their experience, maybe it was due to their not knowing exactly what to say… Leon couldn’t guess. It was at that moment, however, that Duamé stepped forward and squashed the grape with an open palm. “If yer God o’ Love is so rustin’ powerful, then can I have me daughter back?”

A sharp intake of breath came from several of those who were present, and was the only response to his question for a full minute. Rohiel stepped slowly around the table, and came to stand before the dwarven blacksmith who had lost his wife and child. Once, recently, the dwarf had unburdened himself about his past to Leon and Miala. He had shared how his wife died after a difficult childbirth. Then how his five-year-old daughter, Esperella, had succumbed to illness. Never had Leon encountered anyone who had suffered the kind of personal loss that Duamé had.

Upon discovering all that he had been through, Leon hadn’t been surprised by his initial vehemence towards spreading the word of Adonai. It had been after Leon had learned about Duamé’s past, that the other angel who frequented his dreams told him to have faith. She said that Adonai had a plan. Somehow, in that same lesson, she also taught him that he could jump really far. Lochemetel was kind of awesome.

Now, however, it had all come to a head. While Leon understood Duamé’s frustration, he could never understand his pain. A pain so deep that it would drive him to ask an angel, whom he had just met, if Adonai could give his deceased daughter back to him. 

Rohiel stood before the dwarf, and with a pronounced creak from his armor, got down on his knee to look Duamé directly in the eye. The radiant glow that came from the angel’s head still obscured his facial expressions, but emotion came through the angel’s voice as he responded.

“Duamé Onyxwill, it is not Adonai’s will that any should suffer, but that all would come to Him. Your daughter is with Him, and with your help, and your acceptance of Adonai, countless other daughters and families can be saved.”

“That’s not… an answer… ta me question… Boyo,” Duamé enunciated.

After their exchange, the angel became silent and withheld any further response. This seemed to only anger Duamé further. Soon enough the dwarven blacksmith cocked his arm back and flung his fist at the bright light of Rohiel’s head.

The abruptness of the action was not lost on the angel. A gauntleted hand snapped up to close around the dwarf’s fist. Everyone, including Kelleren, protested with shouts (and barks) of alarm.

The pressure of the angel’s hand brought the dwarf to his knees, and Rohiel’s shining head seemed to turn to Leon as he spoke.

“I will not be able to manifest like this again for some time. Judge Leon, take up Revelator.”

The glowing spear hummed a pleasant tone and suddenly launched itself from the center of the table. Leon reached out and grasped the shaft of the spear while it was still in the air. He now knew the name of the mysterious weapon. As he looked back at Rohiel, the angel seemed to dissolve away into the air. Just like the images of the visions and memories when he dreamed. The angel’s voice echoed around them as the pale blue gauntlet, which had held Duamé’s fist in place, finally disappeared.

“Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary Xhormas prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking to devour Adonai’s creation. Make no mistake, he is aware of all of you, and has already set his plans into motion.”

The hairs on the back of Leon’s neck rose with the knowledge that a god was literally out to get him. Needless to say, this didn’t sit comfortably with him.

“You have everything that you need. You must act. Now.”

Duamé collapsed, and his fist struck the stone ground as he cried out in anger and frustration.

An elven archivist, known as Xieth, hurriedly entered the room. Her vapish demeanor from the day before was all but gone. Instead, a look of desperation and anxiety filled her face as she peered around the room. Her eyes settled on Princess Schalae as she composed herself. “Your highness, you must return home immediately! We have just received word that a massive horde of undead has been spotted invading the Chimera Lands to the west!”

All manner of decorum and reverence for what they had just experienced disappeared. Exclamations of surprise and alarm gave way to Magnus asking Xieth for further explanation.

The elven maiden’s terseness from the prior day now worked in her favor, as she quickly informed them of the latest developments. “The Herald Guild spread the news that no undead had been sighted, and that no major attacks had occurred. With the lack of undead assaults against Bulwark Fortress, and the strange migratory patterns of the deceased, only some of the populace seem to be concerned, while most appear relieved. Their news signalled to many that the Kingdom may very well have survived the longstanding onslaught of undead. Celebrations are being held all around, while only a small contingent still hold onto their reservations.”

As Xieth’s report continued she explained that the undead seemed to have all gathered in one location and they had bypassed the cliffs of the fortress. She then told them that according to a newly-arrived appropriated mail carrier airship, a fast scouting ship if there ever was one, a collapse had occurred in the cliff face which had formed a natural staircase farther west. The undead had ascended that staircase and moved, en-masse, eastward towards the Chimera Lands.

This news presented its own set of problems. This use of strategy denoted an organized intelligence within the undead – one that up until their meeting with Rohiel, nobody could have known existed. Now, Leon knew better. This previously unknown being, this Xhormas, was most likely responsible.

They all listened to Xieth’s report – asking only a few questions, and listening as the doom of the Kingdom was pronounced. If the undead army could not be stopped, it would mean the end of Xaelon and the living world.

“A council meeting has been called Master Magnus, and you are to report to the courts in haste, sir.” Xieth finished.

“Yes, of course. I will be there presently.” Magnus smoothed his white beard and turned to the princess. “Will you be joining me, your highness?”

After a deep calming breath, the elven princess shook her head. “No, I need to get back to the Elvenwood. A transport was already waiting for me today, and I must hurry to help with the defense.”

Magnus nodded, as if he expected that to be her answer. “I will give the council your well wishes. It will certainly be an… interesting… meeting.” He concluded, as he looked at the spear and to Leon.

“Will Lucien Rhise be there?” Leon asked, as he tucked his necklace back into his undershirt.

“Yes, of course. Along with the rest of the Lords and the military leaders. Considering the dire situation, even King Garinth should attend this meeting!”

Leon knelt and looked the Head Archivist directly in his eyes, “I need to ask you to refrain from mentioning anything to him about me, about my being a Judge, and about what you saw here today.”

Magnus patted Leon’s pauldron, “I doubt anyone would believe me anyway. Besides, we can’t have you arrested, right? You’re the one on those wanted posters?”

Maybe Gionna hadn’t been the only observant one in that relationship, Leon thought to himself. “I am. Although I assure you, I am not the criminal that the Herald Guild and Lord Rhise make me out to be.”

Magnus huffed, “Judge, if I had to choose to trust Lucien Rhise, the Herald Guild, or an undead wretch offering me a back massage… I would get the incense, the lotion, and clear my schedule for an hour! Now, if you would excuse me…” As the gnome nodded his farewells, his gaze lingered on his ex-wife Gionna, before he finally followed Xieth out of the section.

His joke broke the solemnity for only a moment. Princess Schalae turned to the rest of the remaining group, “I humbly request any assistance you can give.”

Leon had felt the stirrings in his heart, even while Xieth was still relaying what had happened. Stepping forward, he said, “I will go to the Elvenwood to assist you.”

Gionna and Miala both stepped forward as well, “Us too.”

Kelleren woofed.

Duamé, who had gotten up and watched the whole exchange, picked up the small partly-filled barrel of java with a frown on his face. It sloshed as he gulped the remnants down. He wiped his mouth and beard, then said, “Ya, alright. Wotever.”

Glad he was still choosing to join them, Leon quietly asked, “Are you okay, Duamé?”

“I said I’m FINE, boyo. Let’s get on with it an’ bash some undead in!”

They made their way up and out of the Archive building to a remarkably different atmosphere. Those who walked about the thoroughfare outside were noticeably on edge. The princess and her bodyguards made their way to the airship yards at the naval academy, with Leon and the rest following. His helm and mask were back in place, as he couldn’t risk his identity becoming more compromised.

As they reached the yards, they saw that the expansive grounds usually allowed for double the number of airships than were presently there. Something was off. Of course, it could be attributed to the looming army of undead that was headed their way. It could also be that Leon hadn’t seen a decent battleship in the yard since he had initially gotten to Agaprya in the first place. If there had ever been a point in time that he wanted his “former” father to come to the rescue with a new assemblage of warships – it would be now.

When he had been thrown out of the house, Lord Lucien had basically admitted that he was going to build his own airships. He was even going so far as to marry Leon’s sister off to a lumber baron, in order to do so. Liara’s wedding to Halomir was only days away, and Leon couldn’t imagine a worse fate for her.

The airship that they made their way to, was an older transport vessel. Lightly armed with three cannons on either side, what it lacked for armament it made up for in speed and cargo capacity. The slim airship was a single decker on the interior. It was larger than a mail carrier, but not able to be used as a full military ship. As they looked to the stern, where the small captain’s cabin was, they saw a blocky figure painted on the side of the vessel. It was an artful rendition of a woman made of stone. Golem was written in cursive script above her. While Leon had never seen this vessel, he had heard tales of it.

Golem was supposedly the fastest transport in the Xaelon fleet. It also always seemed to have numerous accounts of narrow escapes and close calls. If such a thing as luck existed, then Golem had the worst of it. Or perhaps it had just enough luck to keep flying. Leon was an airship crash survivor – another mark of bad luck to have onboard an airship.

Duamé didn’t help the situation at all as they watched the princess climb aboard with her guards. “Dwarves don’t belong in tha air. We belong in tha earth.” He muttered.

I once knew an Admiral who would strongly disagree with you, Leon thought.

Of course, Miala had to add her own jinx to things by reassuring the dwarf, “Don’t worry Duamé, I’m sure that everything will be fine!”

Gionna sighed and shook her head, “Dearie, the phonetic pronunciation of ‘everything will be fine’ is in actuality a curse upon yourself in old gnomish. Best to never say that again.” She tapped the side of her intricate glasses, surveying the ship they were about to board.

Leon groaned inwardly. If this was the transport taking them to the Northern Elvenwood, then he had good cause to wonder at what would befall them before they would arrive.

Well, that’s the last free chapter of ‘The Rhise of Hope’ before launch next month on December 20th! We also got to see a peek into the lore of the story, and I chose to use the Mt. Hermon rebellion as part of the backstory of the world. It is a largely unknown event in western culture, but personally I feel that with as much biblical and archaeological evidence to support it, that it should be known. Maybe my next post will delve into it a little further.

‘The Rhise of Hope’ can be ordered at https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B09FTLWD19?ref_=dbs_m_mng_rwt_calw_tkin_1&storeType=ebooks. Grab your copy today!

Author: maxbsternberg

Max B. Sternberg lives in Virginia with his wonderful wife and two incredible boys. When he is not working, or filling his time with the activities of a husband and dad, he enjoys delving deeper into biblical scripture and telling dad jokes. He strives to live his life as best he can – in all areas – for Jesus. Max believes that humor, mixed with truth, and tied together in a relatable way, can be an amazing way to reach people for the Lord. It is his sincere hope that readers will find his imaginings, paired together with biblical truth, inspirational for a deeper relationship with Christ. For more info, please check out his author page at http://maxbsternberg.com/. His works, the Darkness Overcome Series, include The Rhise of Light, The Rhise of Hope (Releases Dec 20th, 2021), and The Rhise of Truth (Releases 2022).

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