TC-Catwalk

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Mastema had a dragon, sure, but Bat-El had a woman who could fly. Her name was Victoria and she was a third-generation B’nei Elohim.

Yeshua got the idea of a flying woman from that one time when he departed from his followers in Jerusalem and ascended into the sky. On the summit of Mount Olive he had summoned a worm-tunnel mouth, stepped into it, and had remained entirely visible to the disciples as he physically moved the bubble into the air, riding along with it. The same mechanism was used to allow Victoria to fly on Earth and also on the moon, the only difference was that Bat-El handed full control of the position of the worm-tunnel mouth to her.

Talishi asked to borrow Victoria after learning of her existence during her long talks with Aliwe. And so Victoria had immediately come to Barbelo through the Sacred Pool. She dropped to one knee before Yeshua and said, “Command me, Lord.”

For it was written by Paulus that every knee will bow at the name of Yeshua and every tongue confess that Yeshua was Lord. The B’nei Elohim considered themselves the greatest servants of Yeshua.

“I need you to kill an errant dragon,” Yeshua told her, and not for an instant did Victoria blanch.

“Such a simple thing, Lord? I would love to whack a dragon for you, of course, but there is one small hitch. I can’t fly on Barbelo.”

Yeshua then ordered the Ark of the Covenant to be brought out and propped just above the dark wooden decking that surrounded the Sacred Pool. Then he told Victoria, “Touch one of the cherubim on the cover of the Ark.”

For the Ark, as the only remaining avatar of El Shaddai, was also a receptacle for the end point of a one-dimensional fold-space line. El Shaddai used the physical structure of the Ark as a reference to keep the end-point of the worm-line positioned within. But after Victoria touched the lid of the Ark, that worm-line began to track on her body like an invisible piece of string cheese she could never shake loose.

Now Victoria was the Ark. For the time being, the original Ark was just an inert piece of gold-covered wood, with no connection to El Shaddai at all.

Yeshua said, “The fold-line cannot act as a tunnel, that requires a continuous flow of dark energy and El Shaddai is only budgeted for the one that connects to this pond of water. But the end of the fold-line you now possess can balloon out like a pod, big enough to contain you, and of course you can now control where that pod takes you, in the usual way.”

“Which is to say, Lord, I can now fly on Barbelo. Where shall I go?”

“Talishi is waiting for you in the King’s castle in Peshast, the capital city of the Black Beards, east from here and over the Wall of God. There she will give you the weapon you will use to kill Demonstroke.”

Victoria bowed and said, “Thank you, Lord Yeshua, for giving me this opportunity to bring glory to our God.”

“El Shaddai doesn’t need glory, Victoria, he just needs the dragon dead. But I will say to you that you are entirely welcome for this opportunity to have more fun than any B’nei Elohim has ever enjoyed before.”

The demigod Victoria, daughter of Ariel, granddaughter of Robyn, exulted as she flew in the violet sky of Barbelo. Victoria soared over the River Armak, which flowed west from the place where it was joined by the river Arhena. She continued to fly along the Arhena east, always east, as the awesome Wall of God began to loom as a barrier before her.

Victoria looked down and saw trees with leaves of many colors, red and green, yellow and gold, such that the land looked to be perpetually in the full glory of autumn as it was known on Earth. Yet Barbelo’s trees were never bereft of leaves, for there were no seasons as there were on Earth. Instead the leaves fell from their trees individually after a span, and were replaced by another.

The source of the River Arhena was a perpetual rain that fell as a mist in the center of the Wall of God. Victoria became thoroughly soaked as she flew through this heavy drizzle. A little more than halfway up the dark Wall of God, at 10,000 feet, the mist became a solid white sheet of falling water. This was the greatest cataract known to man.

At 19,000 feet Victoria flew over the rim and turned horizontal once again, now following the chief waterway of the Black Beards, the River Bandar, east through high hills to the city of Peshast.

The guards of the castle saw Victoria alight and nearly fled in their fright. She said, “I am Victoria of the B’nei Elohim. I was summoned here by Talishi herself, gentlemen, so please take me to her.”

Victoria was brought to Talishi in the council chamber, and as she had done in Canterwood she knelt in worship, for B’nei Elohim were much more aware of the awesome difference of the Elohim than most other humans were. Talishi welcomed Victoria and told her to rise.

“My Lady,” Victoria said, “the Lord Yeshua told me you have a weapon to kill Demonstroke.”

“Aliwe, please do the honors.”

Aliwe unwrapped the black cloth from around the broken pieces of Dragonthorn, the blade Kari Antero once used to command Demonstick.

Talishi said, “This is the only heirloom we possess with which we can hope to even the odds against the dragon and it is nothing more than a pile of sharp baubles.”

Victoria stepped forward to gather up the diamond shards. The one still attached to the hilt could serve as a long dagger, or very short sword. She said, “I think I can fly behind the dragon and ram this into his brain.”

‘The covenant says she who wields Dragonthorn must be a virgin woman,” Baron Bayard declared. “Otherwise the dragon will not be mortally wounded.”

Which was the Baron’s way, of course, of saying he was interested in Victoria and wanted to know more about her. He wasn’t sure where a B’nei Elohim female fit on the spectrum between commoner and noblewoman.

“I have never known man,” Victoria declared in turn, with a wink at Talishi. She didn’t mention the crazy lesbian sex she once had with Chayn. Maybe that skirted the intent of the virginity requirement, but it was the Elohim, after all, who made their demigod servants such utter horn dogs.

After Victoria officially joined Talishi’s group they rode down the river Bandar to the town of Vesa, where the Fallen Angels camped outside the city. The royals reserved an inn. There, after supper had finished, the conversation turned to strategy. Victoria asked the first, most obvious question: “Where, actually, is this dragon located?”

Baron Bayard asked the innkeeper if there was a map of Barbelo at hand. When servants posted it on the wall of the dining hall, Baron Bayard walked up to it and said, “Behold the Wall of God. The woman Joy is said to keep Demonstroke in an aerie high above the Valley of Ten Thousand Creeks that come together to form the Alnitar river, approximately here. You can see this is the wildest region in Haaretz. No roads issue forth thither from Nath or Hamar. Yet we must start from Fatho because it is the nearest city to the aerie.”

“Hell. In the morning I can find this aerie myself and dispatch the dragon as I have been commanded,” Victoria said.

“That will not do,” Talishi countered. “I have no doubt you can do precisely as you have described, but it’s no good if you just kill the dragon in secret. People have to see you do it. That’s what this is really about. People have to see that we are resisting Mastema.”

Victoria bowed her head. “As you say, Lady Talishi.”

The Baron said, “Some of you might have surmised that I intend to use the Catwalk to reach Haaretz from here.”

“And what dear Baron is this Catwalk of which you speak?” Victoria asked.

“The Catwalk, Lady Victoria, is a path carved into the stone face of the wall which drops four air miles in one hundred Catwalk miles. But it is precarious beyond belief. There are places where the Catwalk is no wider than one of your feet is wide.”

“M’lord Baron, please tell me this Catwalk comes with a safety rail,” said Aliwe Halil.

“The Catwalk comes with no rail. We must take our own precautions. Oh, did I mention that one part of the Catwalk entails a rope traverse?”

“Naturally I do not fear this Catwalk,” Victoria said, “but have caution. If anyone falls, I will not be able to stave off your death. I can carry little more than this blade which I intend to use to slay Demonstroke.”

“I do not doubt the courage of anyone in this company to continue,” Talishi said, “but it may be the case that not everyone will be mentally prepared to negotiate it, as the Baron describes it. Let everyone turn it over in their mind as we ride to the rim tomorrow, for it shall be there that whoever freely elects to end their part of our quest must remain behind while the others go on.”

An awkward silence fell as everyone contemplated how they would react when they saw the Catwalk.

Talishi turned to the commanding officer of the Fallen Angels who was also present at the inn. “Tell the girls what they’re facing tomorrow and make the same offer. I am not ordering any of them to accompany me to Haaretz. But if they elect to stay behind here in the lands of House Larund they must disband as Fallen Angels, and not even form veteran societies. I will not have King Garand troubled by the presence of a regiment of foreign troops in his realm.”

With the baron went his commoner servant Aliwe, and from time to time Bayard would stoop to pick up an agate and hand it to the girl. Victoria noticed that his fingers would linger on Aliwe’s hand as she took the stone, and the expression on the girl’s face was hard to decipher.

For the first time since joining Talishi’s group, Victoria looked at Aliwe very carefully and was surprised to see that the girl’s face had features that strongly reminded Vic of her own. But there were also things in Aliwe’s appearance that reminded her of Baron Bayard. Vic didn’t know what to think.

The quest moved at the pace of the oldest and slowest person among them, Count Berek Antero, who was entirely aware that he was holding everyone up. He also missed his wife Losna who had stayed behind at Gerazan, and he was not entirely sure he was prepared to endure the Catwalk as Bayard had described it. Yet he was a thoroughly honorable man who wanted to aid Talishi in every way that he could. So he was torn by an internal debate as he trudged along.

Victoria looked at Talishi and saw how her legs had become muscled and wiry. The walk had aged her a decade. Talishi was more handsome now than beautiful. Victoria and Talishi knew full well that beauty has a sell-by date. Talishi regretted only that she would never grow old together with Princess Khondiel.

As El Shaddai she had war-gamed every scenario that he and Bat-El could imagine to determine whether Khondiel could be extracted before she died and in every case Mastema won all of Barbelo and their own cause was irretrievably lost.

Behind them went a single company of Fallen Angels, about two hundred forty women. Two of every three had elected to stay behind in Peshast and disband, and gloomy Berek warned Talishi that some of the women who elected were certain to fall. The law of averages would claim them and there was little anyone could do.

At length Baron led them south on a footpath that gently climbed up a long wooded ridge. It looked like a simple trail, but Baron Bayard assured them it would become the Catwalk when they walked a bit further. They all looked back down the way they had come. They were at an altitude where the trees were stunted and sparse, so the views east were unobstructed and spectacular. But at the summit of the ridge the view west was absolutely beyond belief.

Nineteen thousand feet below them lay the land of Haaretz in it’s entirety, even to the sea known as Thalury. In one glance they could take in both the Northern and Southern Ice, walls little higher than the Wall of God itself, racing west and drawing together until both they and Thalury slipped over the horizon. Nowhere else on Barbelo was the spherical shape of the world so apparent.

To the south the ridge trail slipped below the ridge which became an ice-carved wall almost concrete smooth, and they could see the trail became the infamous Catwalk, a lip only three feet wide where the cliff jutted out and fell once more. All of this was far too much for Count Berek Antero. “I am deeply sorry,” he said. “I have already delayed the quest, but now I see I cannot go on.”

“I would say that you have made a noble decision, Highborn,” Aliwe said, and not a few Fallen Angels came to the same wisdom as Count Berek. Talishi’s party had been whittled down to some one hundred fifty souls.

Talishi commanded that they make camp and embark on the Catwalk in the morning when everyone was well fed and fully rested. But rest would not come. In the morning there was little speech, for the enormity of the task ahead had weighed in everyone’s mind all night.

As Count Berek had feared, the law of averages began to take its toll. About once an hour the silence of the trek was broken by the terrified scream of a woman somewhere far behind Talishi slipping off the Catwalk and falling to her death. Waiting for the next one to fall became a constant and living horror that none would ever be able to banish from their memories.

There came a moment in the quest when Baron Bayard made a move to fondle Aliwe, and Aliwe tried to back away from him. The problem was there just wasn’t much backing-up room on the Catwalk, and she, like some of the Fallen Angels behind her, slipped off the face of the Wall of God.

There was no scream but Victoria saw everything and flew down after her, not even taking the time to think that Aliwe’s weight would be too much and there was no saving her. Hadn’t she said as much before they embarked on the quest?

Below the Catwalk the Wall of God was not perfectly vertical. Victoria could not stop Aliwe’s fall but she could push Aliwe out of the way of any stony outcroppings as she approached them. Aliwe told Victoria to let her go, and reluctantly, Victoria had to arrest her own descent and let Aliwe slip away to impact the broken talus at the base of the cliff.

Victoria continued down at a smaller pace, trying to estimate where Aliwe’s body bounced so she could attempt to bury her. But when she found her, Aliwe was smiling, none the worse for wear. She was standing in a small woody glen at the base of the Wall of God. They were at least three thousand feet below the Catwalk where the rest of the party waited for any sign of them.

Victoria finally guessed that Aliwe was a B’nei Elohim like herself, but one she never knew.

“I’m the daughter you haven’t had yet,” Aliwe explained. “Mom.”

Victoria smiled back. “It makes sense. I thought you had my cheekbones.”

“And I have Baron Bayard’s eyes.” She knew the implication of that statement sunk in when Vic stopped smiling. “Sorry I ‘slipped’ off the Catwalk, but I had to get Bayard to turn his attention to you. Otherwise the ick factor would have been too much and I wouldn’t be born in this loop. Besides, as you can see, my own particular talent is indestructibility.”

“Like Del?”

“Similar. I can heal myself with supernatural speed but I can’t heal anyone else. Aren’t we superheroes all supposed to have a weakness, like Kryptonite? And even Del can only fix so much.”

“You are here so it means we win, right? Bat-El and El Shaddai survive?”

“We win, they live, Mastema dies. This quest is important. Mastema has this weird passive-aggressive thing going on with his dragon where he can assail any city or army on Barbelo and it’s all Keri Antero’s fault for getting laid and breaking the Dragonthorn. After you kill the dragon he has to decide whether to use his first avatar in the same way, and either way, he loses. If he uses it, people stop following him because he’s a violent and malevolent god. If he doesn’t, then there’s peace on Barbelo. Win, win, for us.”

“So why are you back here?”

“Yeshua wanted me to improve the outcome for Talishi’s group. It’s already paid off to an extent. On the original loop Kari killed Kirodiel with Dragonthorn. With no need to escape with her lord still alive Joy simply had the dragon burn down everyone at the Council, which meant of course that I was the only survivor.”

“So who is that Joy woman? I’ve never seen her up close.”

“Joy is really your aunt Chayn, killed in the Moon War and living out her afterlife here. She’s not doing very much to impress Yeshua, if you ask me. Joy has been possessed by Jill, and even before that Jill went completely over to Mastema, so don’t hesitate to kill the dragon even if it means Joy dies too, which she will, and when she does she’s basically screwed because Yeshua won’t give her a third chance.”

“A long as I don’t fuck Bayard before it happens. Rules you know.”

“That whole virginity thing was part of Mastema’s scam all along. It’s all lies. You could fly straight out of a week-long orgy and still kill Demonstroke with that shard.”

“One thing still bothers me,” Victoria said. “You said on your loop Joy killed everyone at the Council except you. So if she killed your father, where the hell do you come from?”

“I should have said she killed everyone who came to the council chamber when the Queen summoned us. Dad was still in his own chamber having sex with Luzea. I don’t blame him for that, actually. Luzea ain’t one of the B’nei Elohim but she sure has a natural born talent! On your timeline I interrupted them because Luzea is mine, and Dad went back to see Gramma Aurra. All this this was before you got here, but you’ve heard the accounts so you already know I saved Kirodiel’s life by intercepting the diamond blade with a metal tray. On my timeline Dad was the only surviving noble on the planet, outside of the Middle Land. He became something like a renegade while House Gerash started to take over the world.”

“So how did I meet him on your timeline?”

“Pretty much the same way you did this time around, Mom, except the quest was just you and him. You took the Catwalk, went to Menkant, the dragon shows up, and you fought Joy pretty much the same way you will again. As for how you fell in love with Dad I don’t really know, and do you know what? I don’t even want to know!”

“I find it impossible to believe that you will result from our union again, when there must be a trillion factors that will be different this time. The timing is crucial. This sperm and not that sperm, fifty-fifty you’re a boy instead of a girl and very few of the events that formed your memories on your timeline will be present again in this timeline.”

“You are absolutely right, Momma, but even if you and Dad have nothing but boys that will have nothing to do with me, because you did have me on my timeline. But all I want to do right now is get back to the talented Luzea. Now this next part is going to seem strange to you, because I know you but you don’t know me, but here goes.” And Aliwe pulled Victoria close for a kiss and a hug.

“Love you, baby,” Victoria said. “Will we meet again when it’s all over?”

“I hope so Mom, but this is a new loop. It rhymes, but it’s not the same.”

Then Aliwe left to pick her way down the river, a trip that would kill a less hardy person. On the coast she would try to find someone willing to take her to Saharad.

Victoria soared directly into the sky along the face of the wall to return to the Catwalk. Everyone sat around looking sad, except for Baron Bayard, who looked guilty. Victoria would tell them only, “Aliwe is in a better place,” which considering the nature of the Catwalk was absolutely true. Besides, it would keep Bayard from trying to hit on her at least until they got down off the face of the Wall of God.

Talishi’s party had nearly completed the descent of the Wall of God on the Catwalk. Only about a thousand feet of vertical distance remained. But no one let their guard down just yet. That thousand feet was still perfectly fatal.

On the final afternoon they arrived at a section of the Catwalk that Bayard called “problematic”. It had been damaged somehow, perhaps in a quake, and for nearly a mile it had become no wider than a toehold. But there were steel pitons already pounded into the rock ready for them to snap brass carabiners and sling ropes.

By some quirk of fate or baronic contrivance Victoria was next in line after the Bayard. He said to her, “Talishi calls you one of the B’nei Elohim, yet I know almost nothing about them. Can you tell me more, or is it some sort of divine secret?”

“There are some things about us we may never reveal,” Victoria said, “but what I can tell I will. The most important thing is that we are a family, one big unruly but mostly loving family with the usual family squabbles.”

“Then are you noble born?”

“Not in the way you are royalty, Baron, as the son of Queen Aurra. In a real sense we would be considered nothing more than common folk here.”

Victoria did not know that was precisely what she needed to say to raise Bayard’s interest level in her to eleven. Still, Bayard wanted to test that. “And yet you can fly. Some say you are demigods, which would make you far greater than royalty.”

“I can fly, that is true, but it’s not on account of something innate to me, to my body. For all practical purposes, it’s nothing more than a magic trick.”

Applause and cheering broke out on the line ahead of them on the Catwalk. Lady Talishi had successfully traversed the broken portion to safety on the other side.

“And our foe, this woman Joy, is she also B’nei Elohim?”

“She is one of us, and that is what I alluded to when I mentioned family squabbles. Some of us have removed themselves to the camp of the enemy.”

“And the way she controls the dragon, is that another magic trick?”

“More trick than magic,” Victoria said. “Neither we nor the Elohim that we serve hold the supernatural realm to be real. So call it a holy deception.”

After everyone had survived the rope traverse the Catwalk became much wider and safer, but their journey began to be slowed by the presence of many blown-down trees which had been knocked over recently in a storm and lay directly across the trail. Sometimes they could roll over them, but other times they had to crawl under them, which was exhausting work, and they could not avoid getting their clothing soiled.

The fearsome cliff under the Catwalk came to an end, and became a normal slope.

The company entered a small stand of fat virgin trees that draped the slope down to the bottom, and here the character of the journey changed dramatically. Victoria thought it was a magic place that had escaped the ax in the first, second, and third waves of cutting from Wazol, as though by an oversight.

After that they reached a large outcropping of stone that Bayard called Picture Buttress. It offered a marvelous view to a forest glade below. Victoria thought it was beautiful but still dangerous. The trail actually wrapped around the parapet here, and a thoughtful person, probably Bayard on his journey long ago, had provided a rope for each of them to hold on to.

They passed a large duckpond so serene that it reflected the sky and the branches of the trees above the water like a mirror. The trail skirted the edge of this pond with a small but calm diversion before resuming its course.

“It’s going to be a little rough going here,” Bayard said, plowing through prickly Mastema’s Club and bidding Victoria to trust him. The route was flagged with orange and black ribbons. “Not many people know about this trail. Those of us who do know of it use it and we maintain it but we don’t fully connect it anywhere.”

And finally the Catwalk ended ignomiously in some poor old man’s back backyard in the city of Wazol.

He was tending his garden and shrugged as one hundred forty people tramped through his property and went out the side gate to the front of his house to reach a city street.

“Where do we go next?” asked the Baron.

“Victoria knows,” said Lady Talishi with a smile revealing her awareness that Vic had spoken to a living Aliwe. “Menkant. Then Joy and her dragon will come to us.”

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