The Shattered World Saga - Book Three

by Dennis K. Hausker

In the stunning conclusion of the epic story of Aron and his post apocalyptic world, Damien poses the threat of a society of his rabid followers bereft of rational values and concerns. He's faced with the impossible in leading the rebellion with primitive arms against a nightmare enemy armed with fearful weapons from the ancient war that destroyed the world. His personal angst continues, as again love remains elusive with the obstructions of endless setbacks and interference from others. Can he find a way to prevail and warrant the faith his friends have in him or will the world sink into Damien's dark reality?


Chapter One

~ Panic ~

The warm pleasant day faded into dusk and the lamps were lit at the palace in Nephora. As people went about their normal business, there was no sense of trouble. The fact Aron and Cherine hadn’t returned yet from their romantic excursion didn’t concern anybody. Palace denizens made assumptions about the couple’s possible choice to spend time alone together in light of their recent announcement of a relationship. The union was a happy surprise, unexpected, but nearly universally approved. Aron was finally smiling after what seemed an eternity of galling setbacks and Cherine was certainly seen as a worthy companion for him.

Granor sat in his room curious about Lilith’s absence. It wasn’t like her not to at least check in with him each night in case he had plans for her.

“That woman is getting to be a little too headstrong,” he muttered in annoyance. “I think she forgets who’s in charge and who the vassal here is.”

He went to pour some wine in a wide mouth chalice and took a deep swig, some of which spilled down his cheeks and dripped onto his shirt.

“Now see what you’ve done, Lilith,” he snarled. “You made me spill this expensive wine with your rude behavior.”

He heard a knock at his door.

“Enter,” he yelled sourly.

Lilith stepped in his room with a smug smile.

“You’re late,” he challenged, trying to wipe away the spill from staining his white shirt.

“I had my reasons,” she cooed. “I have great news for you.”

“What news?”

“We’ve ambushed Aron and Cherine returning from the royal gardens and kidnapped them. We hold them prisoner.”

“What!” he shrieked. “Lilith, what were you thinking? We’re not ready for


“When would we be ready, Granor?” she replied in an acid tone. “They’re expertly guarded surrounded constantly by the fiercest fighters in the realm, people who make no mistakes. There would have been no better time than now to capture them when they let their guard down. It was ridiculously easy. They were besotted with romantic passions and paid no attention to their surroundings. Frankly, I’m surprised. With all the legends and grand stories about them, I expected much more. I find they’re just a simple man and a woman, no different than any other.”

Granor frantically paced the room, trying to collect his thoughts.

“Lilith, you’ve set something in motion we can’t undo. Once the authorities realize they’re gone they’ll leave no stone unturned looking for them. There will be no place in the city to hide. The Black Fist and the masters will be feral in that pursuit. Where do you think they’ll look first? You may have signed our death warrants.”

“You don’t think I know that? This is why you’ve always been a secondary figure here at court. You fear to take bold steps. Do you think sitting here in a dither and doing nothing will impress Damien?”

Granor fought his panic, but his fear was too strong. Lilith watched him clinically, assessing whether he was fit to follow any longer as a leader, or if she needed to go in a different direction. She felt no panic, instead feeling giddy at her success in capturing the greatest names in the kingdom.

“No one knows they’re in our hands. We have time to take action. I hadn’t planned on keeping them in the city. There’s a station outside of the city limits where we can safely keep them in the short term. I have some ideas about a more permanent home. They’ll give us huge bargaining chips with either the crown or with Damien.”

“Damn you, Lilith,” he hissed. “If I go down, you’ll go down with me.”

She shrugged. “Life is opportunity and its chance. I saw a golden opportunity and I took it. If it leads to my demise, so be it. I feel no regrets for what I did.”

“We’ll see how you feel if we’re discovered and they take you to the dungeon for torture. Being a woman won’t protect you there, in case you didn’t know that. They’ll tear your flesh apart the same as they would a man.”

“They’ll never take me alive. I’ll fight to the death first,” she replied frostily.

He paused and glared at her.

She smiled insolently, went over to the pitcher, poured a full chalice of wine, and sat down at his table. She crossed her leg evocatively and smiled, drinking slowly savoring the high quality of the beverage. She eyed Granor mirthfully cognizant she could affect him with her feminine wiles, as if daring him to say anything about her affront.

“Ah!” she said expansively. “Delicious. You do have excellent taste in wine.”

“Where do you have them?” he asked softly, his attention affixed to her attractive legs.

“In two separate locations, they’re close enough we can gather them and be on our way in no time at all.”

Granor scowled again. “If we leave the palace now there’ll be no doubt about who’s responsible for the kidnapping.”

“I can send our people ahead. Your weak demeanor is unbecoming for the type of person you purport to be. Did you think never to risk anything on behalf of Damien? If you wish to cower here, I’ll do what must be done about the situation, but the credit will go to me. Damien will know who showed genuine courage and who was timid.”

A murderous look spread over Granor’s face. “I can see I was too lenient with you. If you think to take my position and power away from me, you’ll see a side of me as ruthless as you. Don’t forget your place. You’re still a woman and whether in the kingdom or in Damien’s world, women do not rule. Their roles are clear. Is that what you want from me now to remind you of your real duties?”

He seethed and shook with anger. She hardened her glare in response.

“If you wish to test your prowess against me, I invite you to do so. If you think I’m so easily dispatched, there’s an easy way to find out. Do I look to be in fear of you? Is it possible there’s a good reason why I feel confident? I told you to come and see us in our training. You should’ve done so because you’d realize who you’re dealing with now. I spoke the truth when I said Cherine is no longer the only woman to fear in a fight.”

He continued to glare at her.

“Thank you for the excellent wine. I believe it best I leave you now to see to our prisoners. I’ll have them sent away to start their new lives and then I’ll return here. As you say, when the alarm is sounded, we both want to be here to avoid instant suspicion. I’m sure you can find others to warm your bed. That’s a role I won’t be performing any longer, by the way.”

He watched her leave the room closing the door. Granor was at a loss about what to do. He trusted no one enough to confide in them. The contingencies of the situation were mind boggling for him. So many things could go wrong. He was in an imminently precarious position.

“Okay, Lilith, let the contest begin. You say you’re not so easily dispatched? Neither am I. We’ll see who is the greater between us. I haven’t ascended to my position with only pure luck.”

Frustrated, he slammed his fist into his hand with a loud smack.

“I’ll see you humbled and groveling at my feet begging for my forbearance, woman. We’ll see if you still eschew my bed with your misguided arrogance. I’ll show you I can take risks and I can be a person of iron will and brutal responses to your insolence. You’ve made a huge mistake trifling with me.”

* * * *

Lilith left the palace immediately and rode into the city heading for the first of her stops, an old empty tenement wood house in a poor section. From the outside the structure was dilapidated and seemingly vacant. She’d stationed guards in the ground level to turn away squatters while she kept her prisoner below in the basement.

Cherine was immobile, trussed up with a sack over her head lying helpless on a bed stinking of mildew and urine. An ample number of Granor’s guards were in the house, but Lilith’s trained servants attended Cherine, so she only received contact from females.

Cherine lay unmoving.

“I know you’re awake, Cherine. You need not pretend to be unconscious.”

Cherine moved her head in the direction of Lilith’s voice.

“You need not pretend I don’t know who you are, Lilith.”

Lilith chuckled and pulled the hood off Cherine’s head. Cherine blinked and focused her vision before looking directly at Lilith. She winced in pain from the head blow she’d taken.

“I regret we needed violence to subdue you, but there was no way around it. Had I asked you to surrender, I think you would have rejected my request.”

Cherine simply looked back at her.

“I also regret the poor state of your accommodations, but take solace in the fact we’ll provide you with better lodging soon enough. This is a stopover point and nothing more.”

“What do you want? You’re not a stupid woman. Surely you realize what a colossal mistake this is. What could you possibly hope to gain?”

“It depends on your point of view. I don’t see it as a gaff at all. If you’re looking for gaffs, perhaps you should look back at your foolishness allowing us to catch you unarmed and inattentive.”

Cherine sat up and shrugged. “I can’t disagree with you on that point. I put myself in a vulnerable position. That fact can’t be debated, but it’s not important now. Do you realize the position you’ve put yourself into?”

“I’m fully aware of our position. I made a calculated choice. Granted, there was great risk, but also great reward.”

“Reward from whom? Do you hope to barter with his majesty for our return? You’d have a price on your head which would bring out every manner of man looking to claim the reward for your capture. I’d suspect they’d make it dead or alive. If they caught you, your torment in their torture chambers could be endless. What possible prize offsets such a dire ending?”

Lilith smiled smugly. “You and your little band of allies have no idea what’s coming for you. The world you serve is about to change radically, and I intend to be a part of what will be, rather than what was.”

“You’re talking about Damien,” Cherine replied. “Actually, we do have an idea. We were in his camp. We’re not making judgments on hearsay like you are. We know all too well what he offers the world with his jaded pronouncements and pathological nature. If you think to strike some bargain with him, you’ll rue that decision and I would say sooner rather than later. Damien has no incentive to honor pacts with underlings. He uses and discards without conscience or concern.”

“We shall see about that. In the meantime, you’re my guest. I’m afraid I can’t offer you the deference you’re accustomed to. You’ve been a great example for women wishing to throw away the dominance of men, but you’re no longer the only woman who can deal with them on an equal footing. My maidens and I have schooled with the best of trainers we could find. I demanded they show us no quarter and force us to our limits with hard lessons and unsympathetic attitudes. We didn’t want to be seen as or treated like women. We wanted to become warriors and we’ve done that. If you think you’re singularly invincible and that no other woman could achieve your competence, I think we’ll show you the error of such thinking in the days ahead.”

Lilith gazed into Cherine’s eyes and saw what she expected, disdain and dismissal.

“I understand your skepticism. It’s true none among us has proven ourselves in real combat with men like you have. It’s simply because we haven’t had the opportunity, do you see? I’ll ask you your opinion later once we’ve had a chance to display our progress for you to witness. That’s a process I so look forward to. We’ll come to know each other very well, darling, better than any living person you know in this world and that includes your new lover, Aron. That part of your life is over.”

“Where is Aron? Is he injured too?”

“His injury is the same as yours. No, he’s not here at the same location, and I don’t think he ever will be in the same place with you. Don’t plan on seeing him ever again. It would be imprudent on my part to allow that vulnerability. You’re here alone and on your own. Your new life will not include Aron.”

Lilith smiled at a momentary glimpse of emotional distress shown in Cherine’s eyes. Cherine quickly hardened her expression.

“We’re going to feed you, wash you clean, and then we’ll be moving on to better accommodations. Say goodbye in your heart to those fanciful dreams you had. You were never meant to be a wife and a mother. You’re a woman, warrior and your true life is not that of other women. Your true worth is wielding a sword. I’ll be back later to join you for the journey. Welcome to our little sorority. We’re a very select group. We’ll see to your needs, Cherine.”

Lilith stood up with a triumphant look, almost haughty. She turned to leave with Cherine helpless on the bed, but paused to watch a large number of stocky women come in promptly to untie Cherine as Lilith directed so she could eat and bathe. They were imminently attentive to her every movement and were reinforced with backup so Cherine had no chance to try to overpower her captors and make an escape. She closed her eyes a moment to suppress the pain of her captivity and especially the separation from Aron.

* * * *

Lilith next rode to her other captive site where the guards were among Granor’s best. They were equally competent and attentive to details about their prisoner.

When Lilith walked into the room where Aron was being held he was awake, sitting on his bunk glaring at any who came near him. She felt a twinge of excitement, just as she had with Cherine. Aron was a universally renowned figure and not without good reason. On a primal level, Aron was a very attractive man that evoked a woman.

“Greetings, Aron,” Lilith said as she walked up to him. “Welcome to you. I’m sorry for the unpleasantness, but I’m sure you understand the reason.”

He eyed her grimly.

“I completely understand your feelings, but I hope we can get past that in the near future.”

“Where is Cherine?”

“She has a small headache, but otherwise just fine. She won’t be joining us here, by the way. As I told her, it would be unwise of me to have you both kept in the same place for a number of reasons. You would do no less if the roles were reversed.”

“I’m sure Cherine asked you why you’re doing this. The obvious answer is you’ve gone insane. This move can’t possibly have a happy ending for you and your cohorts. If you think you’ll escape consequences for this idiotic decision, you’re sorely mistaken.”

Lilith laughed. “Perhaps I’m a bit insane, but I don’t take that as a problem. This is so much better an experience than I anticipated. I find it downright stimulating.”

“Enjoy your time while you can. It will be short lived.”

She chuckled again. “You’ve lived a life of the miraculous, though I know you wouldn’t see it that way. What you’ve managed coming from peasantry to such renown, facing down the mightiest powers in the realm, even standing before Damien himself and defying him is remarkable. I’m awed every time I come into your presence.”

“I can’t tell you how honored I feel to hear that,” he replied snidely.

“Oh Aron,” she said, chuckling cynically. “This is going to be incredible for me, although for you, perhaps not so much. I’ll explain to you as I did with Cherine. Your old life is over. Who you were has ended. I’m sorry to tell you your romantic dreams of Cherine as a wife will never come to fruition. She wasn’t meant to be a wife and mother, and she was never meant to be with you. I know how painful that is in light of your other romantic losses first of Coraline to the crown prince, and then Tasha to that rogue, Radigan. You haven’t been lucky in love up to this point, but perhaps you can look forward to better days. I have some ideas I’ll share with you when the time is right. You’ve aimed very high with the women you pursued. Perhaps they thought too much of themselves as it’s my opinion it was never a flaw in you which caused your failures. With time I think they’d have greatly rued their choices. Your fate has intervened now. Your new course will go in a much different direction. It doesn’t have to be the lonely path you’ve traveled. You’re highly respected here, though we have our duties to follow.”

“What are you talking about?”

“I know you’re curious, but I must keep my surprises. As I said, at the proper time, we’ll have a nice talk when you’re in a better frame of mind to hear me rationally. Right now your emotions are clouding your judgment.”

“I’ve been a captive before. Whatever you think you’ll accomplish with me is not going to work. Although I don’t agree with them, many people hold me in high esteem. They won’t be idle while you perpetrate your schemes. Since it’s you here, I’ve got to think Granor is not far away.”

“The last time I saw Granor, we had a frank discussion. He has a point of view, as do I. I wouldn’t plan on dealing much with him.”

“If this is your plan, you’re far crazier than I thought. This goes beyond insane. I’ve been in the royal prison and I can tell you you’re not going to enjoy your time there.”

“I know the risks and yet here we are. I hold your life and that of your former lover in my hands. If I decided to discard my plan, it would be the easiest thing to leave your bodies in an alley to be discovered by royal patrols, hapless victims of thieves and scoundrels.”

Aron shook his head dismissively. “You can dream you’ve got all the answers. I guess it remains to be seen. I’ve had plenty of practice being patient.”

Lilith walked over to Aron, grabbed his face in her hands, and kissed him passionately. He merely sat immobile.

She sat back and laughed heartily.

“Yes Aron, this is going to be so good for me, my love.”

* * * *

Both Aron and Cherine were taken from their temporary holding stations tied up and supine in the back of wagons, covered under blankets in a column of supply trains. They both were heading away from the palace in different directions. Away from their friends and unable to leave any sign of their plight. This happened at Lilith’s direction, as she had to return promptly to the palace to maintain her ruse of innocence in the kidnapping.

The next day when Aron and Cherine didn’t show up at the palace, Galean went to the crown prince.

“I don’t want to cause a problem, but I’m worried about Aron and Cherine. We assume they’re holed up somewhere in love’s sweet embrace, but I tell you neither of them would stay away without sending us word of their plans. They’re not thoughtless adolescents and wouldn’t choose to act foolish about this. Having a romance wouldn’t mean discarding good sense. I fear something dire has happened.”

Agar looked at Galean with concern. “Can it be right here so close to the palace, with our patrols all about in the city?”

“I think we need to start a search immediately. If we come upon them in a delicate situation, it’s much better than the alternative.”

“I agree with you. I’ll send out the alarm and begin the search. It’s hard to imagine Aron and Cherine being waylaid. They’re the last two people who could be caught that way.”

“We can’t make any assumptions. We don’t know what happened to be able to make any judgments.”

After the order from the crown prince, word spread like wild fire. The Black Fist and the masters both were enraged and looking to exact retribution on someone. Brock spent every waking hour in the saddle as they scoured every building and inflicted considerable property damage looking for hidden or secret rooms. The royal army joined the search, blanketing every part of the city and closing the exits, but it was too late. The supply trains already left the city after arousing no suspicion at all. Aron and Cherine were on their way to the next leg of their journey.

* * * *

Consequently, Coraline spent considerable time with Aron’s agonized mother, along with her own mother and even the queen trying to comfort her.

“I’m sure they’ll be found soon. The entire army is looking for them. We’ll catch the miscreants and deal with them severely.”

“My son has faced so many horrible times, I wonder if this is yet another terrible test. A person shouldn’t face such misery. He’s paid such a price already, and his spirit is so badly wounded. I thought at last he could find happiness with Cherine. How can this be happening?”

“Bad circumstance isn’t something which happens because we’ve shown weakness and made mistakes. It’s random chance. I truly believe it,” said the queen.

No one in the group argued with her, though there were a variety of divergent opinions which they opted to keep to themselves.

* * * *

As days passed with no sign of them Brock grew increasingly desperate along with the other searchers scouring the city. His father Barmon, reticent in the best of times, grew foul tempered and acerbic. Aron’s father rode with them everywhere, stoic but also depressed. It became obvious the couple had been spirited out of the city before they could seal it up. Helplessness gripped the pursuers like a tightening noose around their necks.

“This is a big country,” Trent mentioned as they sat at the city limits and looked across the vast horizon. “We’ll continue to search, but it will be a slow process. We have no idea which way they were taken.”

“I think we should start by taking Granor to a wine press and squeezing the truth out of him,” Brock replied tersely.

“Granor has an alibi. He’s the logical suspect, but we have nothing pointing to him having a hand in this. If the villain is another, perhaps someone came to the city we don’t know. We would be wasting our time on an innocent man.”

“Granor will never be an innocent man. He’s guilty of something even if not this, but I understand what you’re saying. If Damien sent a team to do this, heading for the wilds would be a logical path for them to follow. We can send fast riders spread out across the flatlands to search them out. I’ve already sent word to the Uripeans and also to Belisa and the Arreck.”

“Galean is very upset by this whole sorry event. He saw Aron as our great hope against Damien. With Aron gone, Galean sees us having no chance to prevail and it seems to have shackled him with despair.”

“I can’t disagree,” Brock replied grimacing at the adverse turn. “Aron has a quality that draws people. He’s genuine. There aren’t many people around who are sincere and it makes him stand out just for that alone, not even considering his other noble attributes.”

“I’m worried who would be so brazen as to take such steps against Aron and Cherine in the midst of our might,” Trent continued. “Equally, I’m very worried about Galean. He doesn’t seem able to function and we can’t afford to lose his help. He fills a role no other person can. Apparently the fate of Aron is the pivotal support to Galean’s psyche and his optimism. I have no words to heal his distress. I’m told he stays in bed now much of the time.”

“I don’t know who we can call on about this. Tasha, Belisa, Liani, and now Cherine are all gone. Enna and Biala were friends to Galean, but they’re fighters and spent little time in his company. If they speak to him, I don’t think it will affect him.”

“I wonder what else can go wrong. Is it our fate to suffer doom? Will we never have a favorable turn of circumstance?”

“I’m a simple man. I can only deal with what comes before me. Anything else is beyond my capacity. I don’t ponder fate. I punch it with my fists and knock it down.”

Trent chuckled. “That’s because you’re a bonehead, as Aron says. I am also.”

“Perhaps some ale will crystallize our thoughts.”

“It can’t hurt. At the very least, it will be numbing.”

* * * *

It was Coraline taking on the task of visiting Galean. She went to the library and down to his quarters. The room, recessed deep in the ground under the palace, was dim even in daytime. Galean closed the door even though it was just past noontime.

Coraline tapped on the door. She heard no response so she spoke.

“Galean, may I speak with you? It’s Coraline.”

She heard rustling about beyond the door.

“What do you want?” he replied hoarsely.

“If I could have a moment of your time, I would be grateful, Galean.”

He muttered sourly, something Galean wouldn’t normally say to a woman. This wasn’t the person she’d come to know and respect. This version of him was irritated and annoying.

He opened the door a disheveled mess. It didn’t appear he’d bathed recently and his face was blanched. Galean wasn’t known as a drinker, but the odor of alcohol was unmistakable.

“How may I serve you, Princess?” he spouted acidly.

She was taken aback, unsure what she should do.

“I, eh...”

“You came to rescue me? Did I need rescue?”

“Will you talk with me, Galean? Let me make you breakfast. I’ll get coffee.”

He glared at her.

“Am I not allowed any solitude?”

“No, you’re not,” she replied. “Go bathe, please, your stink is offensive.”

"Savior" by Dennis K. Hausker


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