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As the keeper of the enchanted diamond sword named Dragonthorn, Prin- cess Dafla Bellon was convinced that she had the power to bend the will of everyone around her, even the will of her father King Uriel. At least, that is what her father constantly assured her from the day he first laid the burden on her, and nothing that happened since served to convince her otherwise.

Once, when she had flown Demonstroke to the island of Danya and hud- dled in the lee of the dragon's bulk to stay warm overnight Samael came to her. There she put the power of the blade to the ultimate test.

Now, while the Council had taken a short recess in the noon hours she brandished the weapon and dismissed the guards blocking her way to Samael's chamber. Thus she received yet one more confirmation of her invincible power of persuasion.

Joy was lounging sensuously inside the chamber like some exotic black cat. In fact, her hair and everything else about her was black except her coffee-colored skin. Dafla told her she was dismissed also. Joy raised an eyebrow, but left quickly without a word of protest.

"How did you get in here?" Samael demanded angrily after witnessing his woman sent away abruptly like some common servant.

"It wasn't very difficult," Dafla said. "I'm very persuasive it turns out. Yet the last time we met, you had the stronger power, it seemed."

"I don't know what came over me then," hy said. "And Joy would cer- tainly never accept it, were she to discover the truth of the matter. She has unpleasant ways of making her dissatisfaction known."

"I came to see if your resolve to keep our secret, the resolve I laid upon you with the power of the blade, has not withered."

"You must be thinking of the purity I mandated for the woman who is entrusted to guard the Dragonthorn blade. In a way, Princess, I'm flattered that you risked the consequences to all of Heaven for a sin- gle tussle on your bedroll with me."

"I do not know why you came to me on Danya, but now you must see it was a mistake. Surely you must have known that not only could I com- mand you to lie with me, I could command you to set aside the very 'consequences' of that action that you speak of, and I could also com- mand you to remain silent about the whole incident. So what are your feelings on this whole matter, Samael?"

"I find that I still have no desire at all to reveal it to anyone, and even thinking about revealing it to another person causes me to be overcome with a very bad depression that grows worse and worse the closer I come to making my urge into an actuality."

"It is a shame that it must be so, Samael." Her grin belied her words. "When last we met, you said I had a very lovely ass and you could not keep your hands from caressing me."

Kirodiel puckered his mouth in disgust. "Princess, right now I would- n't reach across your ass to grab a winning ticket in the Salem num- bers racket. I resent very much that you have somehow wound this spell about me. But be assured that your secret is still safe. Now, if that is all you wanted from me, then please leave."

Dafla pivoted on one foot and marched out of his chamber without a sound. When she was well out of earshot Kirodiel began to snicker. The effort it had taken not to laugh the entire time was almost too much for hym!

"So that was the girl," Joy said, emerging from behind a curtain. She had doubled back by secret ways and listened to almost the entire ex- change. She, too, had to exercise supreme control to avoid revealing herself. "What a stupid twit, my Lord! It's a wonder you didn't have done and unleash the dragon on Vaska the instant she gave her so- called virtue away."

"It is not her virginity that controls the dragon," he told Joy, "but the sword."

"I am told a diamond is the hardest substance known," said Joy.

"Indeed," said Samael, "and it is certainly a pretty thing, is it not? A diamond that large could never be found in nature. It could only be made by the artifice of an eloah. But found, or made, a diamond may be hard but it is also brittle. The Princess could use it to behead a man, but if it was ever struck against armor it would shatter of its own accord."

"But you are a seraph, Lord," said Joy. "No doubt you could shatter it right now."

"I could have caused the blade to shatter when the princess disquali- fied herself on Danya, but then it would have just been her word against mine. I am trying to manipulating events such that when the blade is shattered, all the blame will fall squarely on young Dafla. Then, if all goes well, you can take control of the beast yourself."

"With the sword broken, milord, I should have no problem flying Demon- stroke. But I need access to his holding pen. There's a limit to the range of my talent."

"The Eyes of Keter can get you to the dragon easily enough," Samael said. "But tell me, Joy, how is it you can make beasts do your bid- ding?"

"It is not by true magic, milord, certainly. There is no such thing, as you well know. Call it a magic trick. My lord already knows Chokh- mah has what he calls the B'nei Elohim project going on the side. A little below gods we are, the saying goes, a little above world-dwell- ers. Michael himself was the first of these. We have special abili- ties, and each one is different. As I understand it, I cannot control any animal until Chokhmah has first prepared it with something like a small bead in their head. I suppose the bead is placed inside the animal in the same way the seraphim are frequently seen to appear and disappear at will."

"There may be a fatal obstacle to our plan," Samael said. "Demon- stroke is not a living dragon, but only a mechanism, a clever facimile of a beast. And Chokhmah would never be willing to offer up one of these beads you mention in any event."

"Your dragon, however, has already been prepared by yourself, Lord, as though the whole thing was one of these beads. I will merely tap into that."

"Good. Then we shall await the moment when Princess Dafla breaks the sword. There must be no doubt in the mind of Michael and all the as- sembled ladies and lords that what follows is entirely the fault of the princess."

Joy had removed herself to the enemy camp and served Samael with her entire body and soul. Yet at no time did it ever occur to her to re- veal that Binah had discovered how to manipulate time. The compulsion never to reveal this, directly or even indirectly, ran to the very inner core of the B'nei Elohim. In a way, it was the same the power Dafla thought she enjoyed, yet it was very real.

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Strangers In Paradise