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The Cherub Uriel loved heznine year old daughter Dafla above all. Che was almost supernaturally patient with Dafla and denied her not the least thing. Even with all life in Heaven hanging upon one slender thread, che listened to the girl as she spoke of last night's dream.

Dafla said, "Father, I dreamed it was night and the ground was covered with sleeping metal children. People came out of the sky in two tall silver engines of war that spouted fire, but they wore armor and I didn't know if they were men or women, jin or ambe, yen or yeng. The first person picked up one of the metal children and they went into the first tower, and somehow I knew that metal child was myself, in the strange way of dreams. We flew into the sky and we were safe. But the second person stayed behind to pick up more children. Even though I knew I was flying away and safe, somehow I was also there watching the second person look for as many metal children as they could find, but that person was caught by dark iron men and killed. Then I awoke. Is that not the strangest dream you ever heard?"

Uriel smiled at hez Dafla. "I shall interpret your very strange dream, child. The first person in your dream is really myself. You feel pro- tected around me, which is a good thought, because my entire will is bent toward keeping you safe. The second person is your mother. Dafla, your dear mother wanted to have other children by me, and those were the other little metal people in your dream. But in real life, as we know, she fell victim to poison in her drink, and so she was killed by the palace intrigues that never cease here in Jelaket."

"As simple as that, Father?"

"As simple as that. At night your sleeping mind creates images to ex- press what you feel deep in your heart. You are still dealing with your grief. I take solace from the content of your dream that you do not blame me for your mother's death."

"Never, Father!" Dafla was shocked at the mere suggestion that she would think that, or even dream it.

The king placed a hand on hez daughter's hand to reassure her, and che said, "If you did blame me, even in your inner heart, your dream would have been very different."

"Father why have you not married once more? Do you fear a second wife would be killed as well?"

"Not so, Dafla. Soon a woman will try to wedge herself into my life and I will know the identity of the poisoner."

Uriel did not yet mention that che would wed Makassar after the assas- sin was exposed.

"Now we must set aside talk of your dreams, daughter, and our linger- ing grief for your mother, and our lamentation over things we can nev- er change. Did you see the dragon?"

"Oh, yes father, but only for a little while. First Minister Makassar came and locked my window.'"

"Forgive him, dearest Dafla, he did so only at my command, that you might be safe. Did you know this evening I have been speaking with two nobles who came with the dragon from far in the east? One of them is Lilith, who is the Queen of Salem. I am certain you have not seen har before. But the other noble is a seraph named Samael. In Adan hy is a greater lord than even a king, although hy has no power to rule here. Lord Samael has taken counsel with me before on a number of occasions. Have you learned something of the elohim from your tutors, Dafla?"

"Yes, father, I havelearned that the elohim are alive but they are not like angels or nephilim or humans. They never die. We see them as stars. Chokhmah is really the star we call Nahash, or the head of the snake. Keter and Daat are stars which are so close to us we see them as suns."

"All that is true, Dafla.Your tutors are excellent. But in less than even your short lifetime the elohim have begun to appear to us in the form of angels as well. No one knows how they are able to do this, but the first to do so was Chokhmah. We know her as the seraph Michael. The eloah we see as the cool orange sun called Daat is also seen in heaven as a youth named Israel. And the hot white sun, Keter, has Sa- mael as his living avatar. This is the same Samael who has spoken with me this evening, Dafla, and I would have you meet hym."

Dafla slid off her bed where she had been sitting and rushed to em- brace her father. "Of course I will see hym, simply because you wish it. But many lords and ladies have visited you before and I was never invited to meet them."

"Truly, daughter, what is soon to happen I do not wish for you."

"I don't understand, Father."

"Samael has already used hyz dragon for murder. It can hunt down and kill every living thing in Heaven. But Queen Lilith has forced a bar- gain on its master. The dragon will stay with us in the city, forever. But Samael always gives with one hand and takes with the other. Be- loved Dafla, this dragon, Demonstroke, is controlled by a talismanic blade, the largest diamond in heaven. But now only one such as your- self can touch it. Only a human female who has never been a mother or a wife. Do you see why I wish the dragon had never come here?"

"I think so, Father."

"Still, Dafla, you are too young to understand everything that Samael will take away from you if you accept the Dragonthorn. In years to come, what you lose will weigh upon your body and mind as a terrible burden. Yet what choice do we really have in this matter?"

"Father, do you fear that I, at age nine, have no right to decide something for the Dafla to come at age nineteen? Of course I do! That's just me living my life!"

"Such wisdom in a child," wondered Uriel. "Do you know when I hear your words I hear the voice of your mother? Now let us go see our noble guests."

Uriel introduced Dafla to Samael and Lilith, who were waiting with Makassar. Lilith knew all along that only the king's own daughter could safeguard the dragon. Samael had conditioned it upon her celiba- cy, and Uriel, for as long che reigned, could control that absolutely.

Seeing the diamond blade lying on the table and knowing Lord Samael had given it complete power over the dragon, a deception suggested itself to Uriel as a way to lighten the lifetime burden that was about to be laid upon Dafla. Che said, "Behold the Dragonthorn, daughter. Take up the sword and none shall have the power to deny your least whim, save in the one matter of which we spoke. With the blade in hand the beast must obey you. All my subjects must obey you. If you so choose, even I must obey you, as well as Queen Lilith, and Lord Sa- mael."

Makassar, Lilith, and Samael immediately discerned what the Bellon king was doing, and none dared to contradict hym, not even Samael, who smiled broadly at how Uriel had just set hez daughter on the path to her own destruction and che had no inkling that che had done so.

The king's daughter did take up the sword, unleashing another light show that impressed everyone present save Samael, who worked it, and Lilith, the wife and first disciple of Michael, who knew all sorcery to be mere showmanship like the gentle ruse Uriel was carrying out with Dafla.

Lord Samael said, "I commend you, King Uriel, Demonstroke is now bound by chains that may only be broken by an act of human will. Further- more, you have the means to travel anywhere in Heaven in mere days that would otherwise take a year or more. And none now dare assail you."

King Uriel said, "Yes, Lord Samael, I considered that when I weighed laying this yoke upon Dafla, that it should be made lighter with a dragon at her beck and call. I need not see you again peddling arms of Adanite craftsyeng and making off with the gold of my treasury."

Dafla took this cue and decided to test the power of the Dragonthorn blade. She pointed the tip at Lord Samael and said, 'Leave at once, you, on foot if you must, and never return!" She pointed the tip at Lilith as well. "You must leave as well, for your part in upsetting my father!"

"Indeed." Lilith stood up, reached inside har breastplate, removed a fragment of parchment, and handed it to Samael. Sha said, "I do not understand any of the symbols written here, but Michael said you would know them and take this to be our next destination."

Samael read the parchmentand summoned a fold-door, the one bit of sor- cery that even Lilith could not put down as a simple trick. Sha and Samael were enveloped by an insubstantial dome that showed forth a land free of snow, roaring with the dim sound of Mt. Anshar in erup- tion.

Lilith bowed to the kingand said, "Farewell, Your Majesty! May good fortune be with you and all who look to you." Then with a loud noise that frightened Dafla to tears they were gone, leaving only a familiar but unnecessary crater in the floor that was Samael's calling card.

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