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CMA: When everything was done in preparation for the Council of Royals, there remained only the impending arrival of the Great Personages. Queen Aurra's serving wench, a woman named Lamassu, attained to the astonishing situation of having nothing to do and removed to a nook. CMB: Lamassu was perched above the great hall of Barachiel's airy castle high enough to see all the nobles when they paraded in to be seated. She was joined by Gabriel then and they shared a sweet kiss. They had been together for only six days, but for as many wonderful nights. CMC: For Lamassu the wild affair had been entirely bewildering. Gabriel seemed to know everything about her. In bed there was not a single awkward move. It was as though they had been married for a lifetime and Gabriel had returned to the very beginning to start all over again. CMD: Lamassu was already in love with this nephil who towered over her, this dark-skinned boy who was so beautiful because che was also a girl. Gabriel told her che was a servant of Michael but that che really came from the other world where the nephilim were almost non-existent. "CME: Gabriel adored how Lumassu communicated only with music. To Gabriel she sang:

'I sing of woe brought by those of black beard.

When noble ones stood against what they fear'd.

Just close your eyes to see them meet the king.

Mark two slave women who watch all unseen.'" CMF: Gabriel said to her, 'Technically, Lamassu, I'm not a woman, but never mind that, it's your art, right? By the way, if anyone catches you here avoiding work I think Queen Aurra has a pet whipping tree somewhere that will make the skin on your back become bloody ribbons.' CMG: Lamassu ran a delicate hand over the cloth of the tunic covering Gabriel's back, knowing that che, too, was no stranger to the touch of the lash. Five of the scars had been given hem, che said, by men on Earth asking questions of hem, before Gabriel could extricate hemself. "CMH: She said: 'Now Gabrielle is one slave woman's name

And one Lamassu is her female flame.

They shirk toil in the valley castle

As Uriel walks before hez vassal.'

Indeed King Uriel of House Bellon had entered the chamber first, accompanied by hez daughter Princess Dafla." CMI: They looked none the worse after their flight on the dragon Demonstroke to the Dul Valley. Ophan Barachiel excluded all weapons from the council chamber save for the Dragonthorn alone, the diamond blade in the possession of Dafla, which she wore in a scabbard on her back. CMJ: Gabriel knew the Dragonthorn was useless as a weapon of war, yet it was something more than merely a ceremonial blade. Here in Heaven, in this time, the word talisman was wrapped around it. Where Gabriel originated, it was just a transmitter and antenna to control a machine. Ophan Nithael followed King Uriel into the chamber arm-in-arm with hez spouse Losna. A jen and an ambi, red of hair in the nephilim crop, they looked less a married couple so much as nearly identical twins. The city of Vaska was theirs to rule on the western shores of Thalury. "CML: Of two these nobles Lamassu sang:

'They rule distant Vaska where I was born.

Queen Aurra greets them with no trace of scorn.

Yet their bitter clash of arms claimed her son

And is fresh in the minds of everyone.'

'Not bad,' said Gabriel. 'I should have brought my sax.'" "CMM: The ophan Jegeduel Bellon followed the king into the chamber arm-in-arm with hyz Following alone was Hashmal Phanuel, ruler of Atria west of the Wall of God. Luzea said 'Che rules Haaretz where Gabriel was born.The Queen treats hem without a trace of scorn. " CMN: Yet their bitter clash of arms claimed her son And is fresh in the minds of everyone.' CMK: Samael made an unassuming entrance with no pomp and no wasted movements, in a walk that said without mistake that hy was first and foremost a soldier. Hy entered with a somber black-clad, black-haired ambi hy later introduced as Joy. a name that meant nothing in Semitic. CML: Even in Joy's native tongue it an ironic name. Hez black lips never smiled, and hez black eyes seem to show forth hez icy heart within. It was rumored this Joy was a great sorcerez from Earth who came as both bodyguard and concubine to Samael, yet Michael knew hem not. "CMM: Gabriel took note that Luzea was too frightened by this Joy, or possibly too fascinated, or both, to utter any verse. Samael knew the real aim of the council was the formation of a league in heaven which together would be far stronger than the House of Gerash alone." CMN: If the alliance came to be, an intolerable peace would break out between the reliably warring states. That in turn would spark a truly existential crisis for Adan, which had long shifted over to an economy based almost entirely on supplying arms to the other kingdoms. CMO: Overnight lucrative weaponscraft in the lands ruled by Family Gerash would evaporate unless this nascent league of kingdoms that King Metatron sought to assemble was stillborn. Lord Samael would attend to that directly, and Joy would certainly have a major role to play. CMP: Next the delegation from Rimmon entered the council chamber. Walking beside Queen Aurra was the Royal Consort Duke Evandr. Titles for human nobility differed from the titles of nephilim or angels. Luzea, silent now, would lampoon hez queen later, and come to regret it. CMQ: The queen ruled from Saharad on the most fertile plain in all of heaven. Left unchecked, the humans would simply multiply until they outnumbered everyone else in heaven. And all of House Sala followed Chokhmah alone. But Samael did not intend to leave Rimmon unchecked. CMR: Following the Queen was the Countess Ayani, the recently widowed wife of Aldred Firegem, which made her the most eligible bachelorette in heaven. But many at the Council noted the continuous eye-lock Ayani had with the ophan Eremiel, who was already standing at the table. CMS: Something was obviously happening there, and Luzea was slightly disgusted because there had only been two weeks since Count Aldred's death. In Saharad the people were still mourning. Che said 'Make room in the barn of prize stallions. Ayani eyes two leg medallions!' CMT: Ayani's city of Locotin was near a forest of gopher wood, a type of lumber that was found neither on Earth nor natively in heaven. It was a hybrid of trees from both worlds, used by ships in the Great Deluge, for it is flexible enough not to be destroyed by expanding ice. CMU: But many other valuable goods were made from gopher wood. It was ridiculously easy to cut and work. The entire city of Locotin, in fact, was constructed of structures made of gopher wood set in the branches of giant living gopher wood trees in the hills bordering Gerazan. CMV: Following Ayani was her kinsman Baron Balthazar of Thorgram, who was also eligible for marriage, but it was said his tastes ran more to nephilim than human. When his dalliances annoyed his mother she would send him abroad, and by now he knew heaven better than all others. CMW: Luzea said 'Balthazar is food for many a talebearer. Women have no chance, he finds ambis much fairer!' The delegations came into the chamber ordered by lots, lest some thought the sequence represented the opinion of King Metatron of which noble one was the greater. CMX: Hy only decreed that the Bellon delegation must arrive last. So Michael entered, together with Lilith in har best Fallen Angel dress uniform. Sha had dolled harself up and wore another headband Michael had given har set with a brilliant gem radiating pure white light. CMY: Many of the delegates expressed marvel at Lilith's headband, but Michael told them later hy was working to bring about a time in heaven and Earth when such a light would be a mere trinket, and an entrance such as made by Lilith would be taken to be absolutely ludicrous. CMZ: After Michael and Lilith took their seats at the table the Brown Beard delegation arrived. The first royal peer to enter was the cherub Metatron, ruler of the city of Rumbek. Luzea said to Gabriel 'Fishers circle Sealiah in a ring All of them subject to Metatron King.' CNA: Everyone had been preceded by Ophan Eremiel of the city of Mandakar, which lay on the west shore of the fertile island of Sealiah and fed most Bellonites. Hy finally took his seat and Luzea said 'The more food from Eremiel's valley The more toil in Metatron's galley!' CNB: Gadreel of Elketz entered at a stately pace with hyz Ainia at his side. That city lay in cattle country where the animals were driven throughout Magodon to be slaughtered. Luzea said 'Watch your step Gadreel when ready to roam, I just caught a whiff, reminder of home!' CNC: The final entrants were the stout and yangly Hashmal Uzziel of Peshast, with hyz wife the Lady Irus on hyz arm. Hyz city sat astride rich veins of ore and a trade bottleneck. Luzea said 'Peshast the source of much copper and gold, Guarded by mighty Uzziel the Bold.' CND: As Uzziel and Irus took their seats at the table in the council chamber the nineteen tall and ornate chairs around the great pentagon of dark and polished gopher wood were filled. The vertices of a pentagram of gold inlay pointed at the greatest noble in each delegation. CNE: On the table before King Metatron lay a bronze bell and hammer. Hy stood up and struck the bell, and the clear, sweet tone brought the low murmuring of the gathered delegates to an immediate hush. Hy said, 'In the name of Keter and Daat, lords of heaven, I welcome you.' CNF: You have all come to council by means as diverse as the lands you rule. Lord Michael and Queen Lilith took ship with Eremiel from Mandakar. Baron Balthazar Firegem rode hither from Elketz with the hashmal Gadreel and Lady Ainia. I have heard Lady Joy comes from Earth. CNG: Lord Samael has come in an instant, neither by ship nor horse, in the manner unique to the seraphim. The hashmal Raddai, Lady Irus, Queen Aurra, and Duke Evandr all flew through the void within the avatar of Chokhmah. King Uriel and hez daughter Dafla arrived by dragon! CNH: Now respecting this convocation,' King Metatron went on, 'it is certain that the like has never taken place in the long history of heaven, yet suchlike is long outstanding, I deem, for the question before us is nothing less than lasting peace in heaven, yea or nay? CNI: Not a one here can be unaware that Queen Aurra Firegem and Duke Evandr have come to us at a time when they are still suffering deep grief. The life of their son Aldred was latterly taken on the field, and first it came to my mind to dedicate this council to his memory. CNJ: So instead of telling each other soothing yet empty words, let us resolve to find a way to make Count Aldred Firegem's otherwise useless death meaningful in a lasting way. And with that, King Metatron seated hymself and rang the bell once more. The council had opened. CNK: - CNL: - CNM: - CNN: - CNO: - CNP: - CNQ: - CNR: - CNS: - CNT: - CNU: - CNV: - CNW: - CNX: - CNY: - CNZ: -

El Shaddai sent a curse upon the land such that when any of the soldiers of the Saiph League set objects down at night, in the morning they were found to have disappeared. Blackseed said the missing goods were not a sign of the power of El Shaddai, but indicated only thieves. So everyone started keeping their worldly goods and weapons on their own person, but the invaders were steadily impoverished even as they looted Nath. And it came to pass that Baron Nahaliel Kerresh came out of Linan and gave battle to Blackseed, who was driven to the wilderness of Shikah. And the Baron waylaid the greater part of the army of Blackseed because they were exceedingly drunken. Then seeing his foes flee before him, the Baron went nigh to the city of Mizal and plundered the encampments of the invaders. And King Garand gave battle for three days. Lord Blackseed fought with his back to the water. In the battle Blackseed smote upon King Garand with many wounds. The king fainted from the loss of blood and was carried away. Battle casualties were so high on both sides that Blackseed ordered his army not to pursue the armies of King Garand as they withdrew again to the city of Hadal. And it came to pass that Telan Blackseed wrote an epistle to King Garand that he ought to surrender his forces for the sake of the lives of his people. But the king answered nay. And it came to pass that Blackseed wrote another epistle to King Garand that if he gave himself up, and renounced his crown, he would spare the lives of the people. And the king answered nay. And it came to pass that Blackseed wrote a third epistle to King Garand, saying, Behold, with me are six thousand staters of silver, and all these I will give thee if thou wilt renounce thy throne and step down. King Garand refused to yield even to the sore temptation of the silver offered by Blackseed, which was enough to buy two and forty thousand measures of barley or seven hundred head of cattle. And this money had not been taken by the curse of the land, for it had been carried on the person of each person loyal to Telan Blackseed. Yet it could not be used to buy provisions in Nath, for the war campaign had run well into the harvest season, and many crops rotted in the fields while the farmers fought for the king, and the cattle had been slaughtered. It was truly worthless. So King Garand replied, May El Shaddai the true and living God curse your money.

Telan Blackseed personally led the Army of the Republic in many boats across the lower reaches of the River Sabik, taking the town of Sadl Ferry in Menkal by surprise. Rynet Wood, however, just a few miles inland, remained undigested. Saiph League troops completely encircled the forest and were beginning to fight their way in, but a fair fraction of Blackseed's forces camped on a wide prairie between the forest and the roads to Melak to prevent Queen Firegem from aiding the refugees hiding among the trees, as well as to prevent the refugees from fleeing to Alodra. The balance of Blackseed's forces came to grips with King Stronghammer's infantry on the Horse Plains between Rynet and Suhair along a broad front. Both sides dug in and erected earthworks with elaborate trenches to protect themselves from bowshot, for soldiers on both sides realized that on the flat battleground there was absolutely no cover. Thus the unfolding war threatened grind to a standstill and become a contest of attrition. That it did not do so could be attributed solely to Demonstroke, commanded by Joy, who used the dragon to provide "air support". Menkalese troops who thought themselves cozy and safe in fortifications soon found the very lumber they used to build their bulwarks were the target of liquid fire from the dragon's mouth. So it was that Blackseed, using judicious air strikes, slowly pushed Stronghammer back and seized the town of Rynet itself. King Brogan Stronghammer dispatched a horseback courier to Queen Firegem in Atria begging for aid in the name of their new Union of Kingdoms. Che said Blackseed's left flank was "in the air" along the Menkal-Alodra border, therefore if sha attacked from northeast from Melak and burned Blackseed's boats, sha could raise calamity in the Republic rear and starve the enemy, forcing Blackseed to call off the invasion. The Queen sent the Menkalese messenger back to Akamar with the reply that sha had done precisely that very thing without waiting for a plea from King Stronghammer, but every Alodran company that set a toe over the border, without exception, was wiped out in detail from the air by Demonstroke. Yet the dragon did not attack into Alodra itself. So now if the Queen ordered the relief attempts to continue, sha faced a mutinous army. Stronghammer replied that Blackseed had played his hand brilliantly, and it was now just a matter of time before he exported his revolution across the entirety of the Land We Know, one kingdom at a time. Again che begged the Queen for any relief sha could muster. In har final message sha said sha would take it directly to Chokhmah in the Temple, and suggested that Stronghammer take hez petition to Binah. For it was the gods themselves who established the political order in the Land We Know, and assuredly they would not roll over for this contemptuous upstart. But by the time this message reached the King, Suhair had already fallen, and the way to the Temple of Binah was cut off. And the forces of the Saiph League won through to the very threshold of the Temple of Binah, yet none dared to go in, not even Lord Blackseed himself, for concerning the shrine there was something very special planned. Then Belial rode forth on a black steed, and the truth was in the open now, that Lord Blackseed was nothing more than a sockpuppet with Belial's hand rammed up his ass. And Belial, as he had done for these last eight hundred years, possessed the body of the current Gerash patriarch, Abaddon, and styled himself an Emperor. With him came his brightest flag officer, Field Marshal Ithuriel, who (it was said, when out of earshot of Abaddon and his spies) rivaled Binah herself in his intellect. With the Saiph League troops arrayed around the Temple of Binah, only Emperor Abaddon, Ithuriel, and a small cadre of the most elite Eyes of Belial warriors entered therein

All the people in the Saiph League were mobilized for war. A third of them were despoiling the Kingdom of Menkal. A third of them remained home to guard against a counterstroke from Alodra. And a third were arrayed for battle before the Temple of El Shaddai in Nath. Men, women, and even their children were all armed with weapons and wore armor. But on the morning the final battle was to take place, the people loyal to Telan Blackseed awoke to find even the money many of them were holding on their person was now gone. It dawned on them that they could not keep their own property on account of the bewitched land, and there rose up a great lamentation. Then King Garand came forth and prayed the people would turn back to El Shaddai and receive his blessings again (that El Shaddai was actually female was not widely known), but his hope was in vain, because they were not sorrowful for their sins, only sorrowful for their lost property. And they said, Let El Shaddai return to us our missing silver and gold, and then we will serve him. Telan Blackseed was not willing to smite the Temple of El Shaddai, just as he feared to smite the Temple of Binah, and Belial in the guise of Emperor Abaddon was angered by his reluctance to do so. Abaddon himself rallied the people to loot the gold of the Temple of El Shaddai, and set the roof on fire, and tear the walls down stone by stone. And the crowd drew near, but Yeshua and Talishi had come to witness the desecration, and these elohim they touched not. As the people surrounded the temple, a death squad of five powerful men chosen by Abaddon and armed with weapons gleaned from Binah's workshop at Proxima stood forth. Thrand Pikebreaker caused stones to move and fill the moat, which gave the death squad access to the wall of the temple. Magar Hardlash cut a hole in the thick stone wall with a copy of the Golden Gift to allow the death squad to enter. Atol Ratrunner caused dark storm clouds to pile up over the temple, to hurl lightning bolts at the archers in the highest parapets. Derian Elderwood caused strong whirlwinds to rage about the death squad, protecting them from other archers and horsemen. Torr Stonespear caused the temple doors to splinter before the death squad, one by one, until they reached the chambers of the High Priest and slew him unarmed. Their task complete, they stood at attention as Emperor Abaddon and two nephilim guards of the House of Gerash proceeded into the heart of the Temple in the wake of the death squad. Abaddon was eager to take possession of the Ark of the Covenant, the only artifact associated with the very aloof El Shaddai. She had used the Ark to communicate with her high priest, much as Belial and Binah often spoke from their avatars. It sat in the center of the room suspended above the floor by two staves on four pillars. But something was amiss. Abaddon only felt 17% of his own weight. The passage back to the Land We Know transformed into a blank wall in Taurus City, and Abaddon knew he had been duped. Wormhole. Abaddon and his guards were disarmed by the simple expedient of having Jerry set their weapons glowing orange-hot. They dropped them to the deck. Emperor Abaddon, you are under arrest for war crimes, and, uh...trespassing, Lilith said, and simultaneously he heard Binah speak these same words directly to him, mind-to-mind, so he knew without any mistake exactly whom he was dealing with. The wormhole thing was an interesting trick. Hello Binah, he said, and offered no further resistance

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Strangers In Paradise