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On the edge of Shaula Wood, northeast of Adjara, Lael and a small remnant of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin tended their flocks of animals and slowly wandered east into the hills until they were come to the very face of the Wall of God, four miles high, and could go no further. As they trundled along often they would meet friendly parties who journeyed south from Sastrom. They used the paths at the foot of the Wall of God to reach Fatho where they could find river passage on the Sabik downstream to cities in Alo- dra. But few words were exchanged.

One evening when Lael's group reached a narrow bench along the face of the Wall and decided there to make camp they encountered a party of seven Brown Beards. Lael was delighted to learn that one among them named Marsayas spoke Hebrew and could be understood by them. Marsayas begged Lael to grant his travelers leave to make overnight camp nigh to Lael's group. This, said hy, was laid on hym for want of any other flat place to pitch tents. To this Lael agreed, but ever he eyed the Ark while the two bands shared provender.

Lael told Marsayas that most of his people were newly come to Heaven, and that he knew little of the lands that lay about them, but he led his little migration wheresoever Chokhmah made known to them through the gold-covered oracle Lael and his sons reverently carried about.

Marsayas said this presented a perfect opportunity to tell a tale, and he assured Lael's company that it was true in every detail, but although it recounted the actions of very foolish men, it was a solemn tale of caution rather than one of mirth, and none should laugh. Lael agreed to let his people hear this lay.

Then Marsayas spoke in aside to his own band using the strange tongue of the angels in Heaven. As hy did so, Lael made his sons Elam, Jemuel, and Rosh stand nigh to the Ark while the wives of all the migrants seated themselves in a circle between the fire and Lael's sons. Together with Lael within the ring of women sat Abner and his son Asa, and Josiah with his son Tobiah. But Zethan, Jabez, and his two sons Rimon and Asher stayed with the small flock of animals on the edge of the little plateau to ensure they were not lost over the edge.

"You call this land Haaretz," Marsayas told them, "but we call it simply The Land We Know. Towards the setting suns lies Thalury, the great Western Sea. Ships ply between ports in Sastrom, Alodra, and the Saiph League, and they sail up the River Sabik as far as Atria. The coast continues north some eighty leagues and bends west, forming a narrow land at the foot of the Great Ice. Along his strip of land there are innumerable coves and many of these are settled, it is known, and they survive by trading fish and wares with the folk of other coves. In many places the ice reaches to the shoreline, and this ice ever cleaves into great floating bergs, such that it is not possi- ble to build a road west around Thalury.

"To the south of the Sea it is said there is no like band of land, only the Ice, and far away from both the western and eastern shores this Ice fails, and there is a gap of some fifty leagues, though few have seen it and lived.

"From the beginning of days sailors in the Land We Know heeded the commandment of the gods never to sail into the far south of Thal- ury. No captain, drunk or otherwise, dared ply his ship much south of the normal routes between ports on the Great Sea. Such an order was good cause for the crew to mutiny and throw the captain over- board. It is an ancient and bedrock article of common law that no such crew returning to port without their captain would ever face punishment if their tale held true under questioning.

"But in the days when Demonstroke raged free there was revolution in the Land. The Saiph Republic flourished, and many longstanding laws were overthrown. Reason reigned over custom, and when the time was ripe angels, nephilim and men were found to crew two ships. These sailors were willing to disregard the strict commandment of all the gods never to approach the Southern Ice.

"So stiff-necked were they it was never imagined the gods cared for the lives of mariners. Instead, there spread rumors of a choice but unconquered land called Anabas at the foot of the Ice. It was spo- ken among them Keter himself created Anabas for his own enjoyment, a beautiful realm filled with gold, rich in abundant fruit, and over- flowing with the most select game. It was whispered his divine inter- dict was merely to keep Anabas from being despoiled by angels, ne- philim, and men.

"The ships commissioned by the revolutionaries of the Saiph Republic were named Will O' The Wisp and Fire of the Covenant. They drifted in the slow current with sails unfurled. On Thalury the currents move stately to the west, while winds blow reliably to the east. But they also applied rudder slightly to port, letting the westering sea currents also push them gradually to the south where none had dared to go before.

"In eight days the Southern Ice began to be seen, and some of the older sailors muttered in superstitious fear, as the tradition was deeply etched within them, while most of the younger ones scoffed. But it was not noticed that a small but growing undercurrent had taken hold of the ships, taking them directly to the gap in the Ice where they had dared to go.

"One night illuminated by the Orange Sun the lookout manning the highest mast of Fire of the Covenant screamed that the horizon ahead was closing in on them. There was a sharp edge to the sea! Cap- tain Dogtrapper signaled with lamps to Will O' The Wisp that he was raising his sails and veering off. Captain Skulldagger aboard the Will O' the Wisp did not alter his course until it was too late. With billowing sails Fire of the Covenant barely escaped, but the cur- rent became too strong for her sister ship. She was seen to tip over the edge and was never seen again.

"The Will O' The Wisp and all aboard had indeed fallen over the edge of Heaven. In the south Thalury pours over a great cata- ract, a vast waterfall with no bottom. Long the ship fell partially submerged within the waters of the sea, which had become a white sheet. The waters of the sea and even the air fell together with the ship, and there was little wind. The ship tumbled, resting on noth- ing, and the crew felt no weight. They floated freely in the air, as though swimming under water, but some floated far away from the ship.

"The small but constant breeze broke the sea sheet into globes of water, some the size of a head, others the size of a barn. Fish were seen swimming in many of these balls of water, and when the rations aboard the Will ran out these fish were the only source of food.

"But none of the doomed angels, nephilim, and men suffered thirst as is common among marooned sailors of Earth. Thalury is a freshwater sea ever renewed by ice melt. As the crew continued to fall, the dark underside of heaven became visible overhead like the in- side of a mask. So it was seen and understood by the falling sailors that the Land We Know lies on the lowest step in an endless stair, vast beyond all mortal imagination, and there is a second step rising to the east. This vertical face of step we know from this side of Heaven as the Wall of God.

"The breeze blew the globes of water far apart one from the other and the heat of the two suns caused them to shrink until none of the water globes which remained near the ship held living fish. The sur- vivors grew famished and pondered killing each other for meat. By the time the sailors were desperate enough to become cannibals they were too weak to successfully attack each other or do anything more than make pitiful moans. Then came the final days when they passed from the living one by one, according to their remaining strength.

"The sailors found that death was not the end. They awoke in new bodies untouched by any scars of battle or the lash, looking down upon The Land We Know from the very rim of the Wall of God, two miles of sheer and implacable stone which none of the living have yet scaled.

"The sailors who tarried at the Wall of God heard feeble voices car- ried by the wind through a trick of sound reflecting on the stone precipice. Ever they walked the ramparts of Heaven hoping to hear the voices of their loved ones, and when they did they deemed it bitter- sweet. But as time went on the newly dead found they were forgotten by their friends and even their loved ones sooner than they would have liked. The more influence a sailor had in his life the more fragments he heard so those lingered a bit longer, while the humble accepted the truth sooner.

"At great length nearly all the dead came off the precipice and rested on the narrow lawn behind it, before the Upper Sea, waiting, they were told, for a white ship to come and take them east to an unknown destiny. The elohim refused to speak to them of their final fate. The dead were told only, 'Great gifts are sweeter when they are but revealed in their fulfillment unspoiled by hasty tidings.'

"Within twenty years every member of Captain Skulldaggers's dead but resurrected crew passed over the Upper Sea to the east, while he alone remained. Skulldagger had attained a form of immortality through infamy, and even now never a day passes but that his name is spoken aloud by someone below. Yet more often than not his name is spoken with a shudder, as the story of the Will O' The Wisp is told again in the Land We Know to every new generation.

"I tell you all these things not that you should not fear your own death,' Marsayas said, 'which indeed is nothing to be feared, but that you know what you must do, presently, when each one of you have been resurrected and are standing the brink of the Wall of God."

When those words were spoken Marsayas drew out a weapon and cried out, "All glory be to Belphegor, Lord of Magodon!" Hy thrust forth with a cruel knife that was like a sharpened pipe with four twisting edges. The blade punched through Lael's ribs to core out his heart.

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Strangers In Paradise