TC11A

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When Melchizedek brought Abram into a covenant relationship with Chokhmah there was a name change. Abram means "the father is exalted" and had glorified Terah rather than his son. In the ritual Melchizedek changed his name to Abraham, which means "father of many nations".

The Abrahamic Covenant was marked by a very strange ritual. Melchizedek took a cow, a goat, and a ram and split their carcasses in two. Then a floating barbecue and a floating torch passed between those pieces. After that, Abram and all his people passed between them.

By doing so, Abram was telling Chokhmah, "If I ever break faith with you, may I be cut in half like these animals."

The most bizarre part of the covenant was cooked up by Keter who wanted to sabotage the whole thing

Previously Abram's worship of Chokhmah had been solely of the nature of a personal devotion. All of the interactions had occurred solely between Abraham and Chokhmah as mediated through Prince Melchizedek. Sarai followed Abraham because she loved him and she was his wife.

Abram's servants followed Chokhmah on the principle of what the boss says goes. But with the introduction of the ritual of circumcision the worship of Chokhmah became corporate worship. And this proto-Judaism became something embedded in the culture rather than a choice.

Even babies were circumcised. Anyone not circumcised was cut off from the people, so to speak. But Chokhmah had the last laugh over Keter, as there was an unintended benefit to circumcision. Unprotected by the foreskin, the glans of the penis was chafed day and night.

The brain responded by turning down the volume. This resulted in the ability of a man to last somewhat longer during intercourse before making that funny noise that meant it was all over. And that, in turn, resulted in a happy lady who was less likely to step out on him.

The Jews call the story of the Binding of Isaac the Akedah.

When the boy was about fourteen, Melchizedek said to Abraham, "Take now your son Isaac and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will show to you."

The countenance of Abraham fell. At first he searched the face of Melchizedek, suspecting it was a joke. Then he suspected the sanity of the prince. He was tempted to refuse outright as he once did before in Haran. After that he considered offering a defense of his son.

In the end he remembered the covenant and his affirmation of loyalty to the one Abram knew as El Shaddai. Now Melchizidek said God required the life of his son? At last he spoke. "Let my word be true. I will obey my God, notwithstanding I find his demands to be hateful."

When all was ready Abraham left his flocks grazing on the plains nigh to the coast. There he left his wife and all his servants. With Isaac at his side they were led by Melchizedek east into the arid hills with the Golden Gift as surety against any who would waylay them.

Two days and three nights passed and they had seen no game along the way even as they drew near to Mount Moriah and Melchizedek pointed the hill out to them. Isaac said, "Where is the animal for the offering?" Melchizedek could not find his tongue and glanced at Abraham.

Abraham deflected this question, yet he could not bring himself to lie to his son. He said, rather, "God himself will provide the animal."

Isaac was excited to see what sort of creature God was going to provide for the sacrifice and ran ahead up the hill with youthful energy. Abraham said to Melchizedek, "When it is time you will help me restrain my son. If he knew, he would not go willingly to his death."

When they caught up with the boy on the hilltop Isaac called out, "Father, there's nothing here!" Abraham had a length of rope and was tying loops in it. He said, "Join me here son, and help with this." Thus distracted, Melchizadek took the opportunity to seize the boy.

Isaac didn't cry out at first because he didn't even understand what was happening until Abraham and Melchizedek had lashed him securely to a flat boulder that would serve as the altar. Abraham would never forget his son's utter terror and the betrayal he must have felt.

After that Abraham didn't need to work up the will to kill his own son because now he was actually in a hurry to do it. Every moment that Isaac lay in mortal terror of his own father tore at his heart. He couldn't stand it. Melchizedek was barely in time to restrain him.

"Enough!"" he shouted. ""Do not harm the boy!"" And for good measure Melchizedek used the Golden Gift to cut the lad free once more.

TC:Isaac stood at a safe distance to watch his father work through a storm of dark emotions. At length Abraham said, ""A day of testing?"

Melchizedek nodded in the affirmative. "It is a day that will not be forgotten while cold and heat, seed-time and harvest remain. God knows now that you will not even withhold your only son from him."

Abraham longed to embrace his son but saw how the boy remained aloof.

Abraham said, "Could there...could there not have been another way?"

It would be difficult to explain the background of the controversy. Let it be enough to know that the enemy of man has made certain claims, and God has chosen you and your descendants to answer them.

The fold-door appeared on the hilltop. There was the crack of a whip and a ram rushed through. In a smooth stroke of the shaft of the Golden Gift Melchizedek separated the head of the animal even as it ran. Then he said, "I will return when Isaac of age to take a wife."

Then the fold-door was gone and Melchizedek gone with it. Only one tiny artifact remained, indistinguishable from a fly, one unnoticed terminus of a fold-line stretching back to Chokhmah and left there to witness Abraham and Isaac as they made a burnt offering of the ram.

The fold-door left the prince in the very place where hy had been taken, the audience hall of hyz father, but only one lamp was burning to give light. Melchizedek had forgotten that when it was day on one world it was night on the other, and hy marveled how that could be.

Knowing that hyz father slept, hy wandered toward the wing of the palace where hyz sister Lilith lived, knowing har to be somewhat nocturnal. When he drew near to har chambers hy saw servants going out with wet linen, and going in with dry and wondered what hy was in for.

The worst fears of Melchizedek materialized when hy came into the presence of Lilith and found har to be nude from the waist down, with each leg in the air held by a servant, debauched even by hyz sister's standards. But Michael was also present amid a flurry of activity.

Lilith spied hym approaching and smiled broadly. "Deck, you've come! And just in time!" Michael said, "The head has breached. Push, Lil! Push!"

Melchizedek didn't see much of what happened after that except that it all very liquid. Afterwards hy realized hy fainted.

But if Melchizedek must needs faint at the sight of hyz sister giving birth there were plenty on hand to revive hym. Hy realized hy must have been unconscious for some time, the newborn was already skin-to-skin against its mother. Sha said, "Deck, is sha not beautiful?"

The prince looked from hyz sister to Michael, then back again. "There have been many changes these three years I've been away."

Who more worthy to wed a princess of Salem than a seraph?" replied Lilith. "And yes, brother, in your absence we have fought a major war.

Hy said, "Beloved sister, you are the most valiant and hardy yin I know, but unless I am still unconscious and dreaming, just now you went through one of the most difficult and painful experiences possible for an angel or nephil or human being, and did not once cry out."

I cannot stand to watch my wife suffer in the smallest way," Michael explained "So I gave har a gift. Sha can stand apart from any pain, if sha so chooses.

"And I most certainly did choose, tonight,"" Lilith said, as a nipple slipped into the mouth of har tiny Leliel.

"Abraham proved true in the testing,"" Melchizedek said, ""but I fear he now has little love for an unseen god who demanded the life of his son."

Yet even now he is making a burnt offering of your kill," said Michael. One might still be loyal to a god one actively hates.

But come, Melchizedek, let your mind be at ease. It will be years before you return to the other world once more. Now, rejoice with your sister, you have a niece! Tomorrow morning you and I will see your father to speak of what has befallen the city in your absence.

It was a thousand leagues from Salem to the city of Adan, and after hyz defeat Zadkiel did not hurry home overmuch, for hy knew hyz life was almost certainly forfeit. Yet hy had never seen Keter delight in cruelty for its own sake. Hy could not say as much for the Eyes.

So Zadkiel did not flee, which would lead to a far more wretched death, but made hyz stately way to the capital, where one Bezaliel, a large scum bubble who had oozed to the top of the Eyes of Keter, warned Zadkiel of what hy could expect in the Lord's audience chamber.

Samael will receive you now, but hy is not alone. Seated on a throne at hyz right hand is the Lord Israel. Hy has the appearance of a young dirk, but no mistake, even as the seraph Samael is the living avatar of Keter, so the seraph Israel is the living avatar of Daat.

You will not, in any event, see the great lords, for you must enter the audience hall on all fours like a dog and keep your gaze ever on the floor before you. Now prepare yourself to enter, prophet Zadkiel, and may the merciful gods of the house of Gerash forgive you.

So Zadkiel crawled into the chamber with the same lack of haste that marked his ride from Salem to Adan. Israel bounded off his throne toward him with a sword that hy never sheathed. "Come no closer, worm," hy said, "Speak, but spare us any war stories from last year."

My Lord Israel," hy stammered, "if any angel in heaven told me Princess Lilith could be so warlike I might be excused for dismissing them. Yet the Lord Samael hymself told me this, and I did not believe hym. Thus my army was destroyed in detail, and I have no excuse.

Israel said, "You are forgiven, Zadkiel. But your invincible stupidity is another matter entirely

With that Zadkiel received the clean death he had hoped for. His only surprise was how long he could still see after being decapitated.

Israel hurled the blade across the audience hall. It tumbled end-over-end, yet it was perfectly timed and embedded itself in the massive wooden door at the entrance. That was the signal for Bezaliel to stroll in. Not crawl. When hy reached the body hy didn't even bow.

Keter and Daat knew what they were and needed no human acknowledgment of that. Samael said, "This mess is the result of one of my thralls dwindling in unbelief."

I shall send to have it cleaned at once, Lord Samael.

Do that. When they have finished return once more. I will speak to you of the ophan called Lilith, and how you must never take har out of considerations when you head my army to bring Salem to heel. Once I tried to impress this carrion with just that, and hy thought I was having him on. You see the inevitable result.

When Isaac was seventeen years of age Melchizedek returned to Earth and journeyed once more to Harran in the land of Abraham's own people. There hy became acquainted with one Bethuel, who was son of Milcah. Milcah was the wife of Nahor. And Nahor was Abraham's brother.

In the household of Bethuel there dwelt a beautiful young woman named Rebekah. She was Abraham's great niece, and therefore Isaac's first cousin once-removed. Eyeing her, Melchizedek told Bethuel it had fallen to hym to find a wife for Isaac from among Abraham's kin.

The prince had access to Abraham's entire estate and had brought as much as ten camels would carry, as well as precious stones and jewelry from heaven itself, and all these he dangled before the eyes of Bethuel, prompting him to say, "Rebekah, will you go with this man?"

Thus Rebekah was formally asked to take her place in the epic set in motion when Chokhmah inserted herself into human history and commanded Abraham to go to the land of Canaan. But the display of wealth did not sway Rebekah. She wanted to know more about Isaac himself.

Melchizedek spoke to Rebekah of the time three years prior when as a boy Isaac feared losing his life at the point of a blade. Hy remaining carefully vague about the fact that hy hymself had relayed the kill order from Chokhmah, the eloah known to Abraham as El Shaddai.

And Melchizedek told Rebekah how the incident caused Isaac to develop a more profound affection for his mother, while deliberately neglecting to tell her how Isaac in fact almost never left his mother's tent after he barely escaped being sacrificed to his father's God.

The prince used all the statecraft hy had learned at the foot of hyz father King Melchiyahu, which was indeed the real reason Michael had sent him back to Harran. Yet Rebekah did not make her decision on the basis of Melchizedek's testimony of Isaac's personal character.

Melchizedek had represented hymself to Rebekah and her family as courteous, humble, and devout. The gifts were obligatory. Something still seemed a bit off, but she decided to go on a hunch. She judged Melchizedek to be a good man (for a human she thought hym to be).

Rebekah was very intelligent and it stood to reason that if the servant was a good man (for a mere servant Melchizedek made hymself out to be) then his masters, her kin Abraham and Isaac, must be good men as well. So she answered her father Bethuel by saying, "I will go."

When Melchizedek returned to the oasis at Beersheba, Isaac brought Rebekah into his late mother Sarah's tent and took her as his wife, and he loved her. So was Isaac comforted after his mother's death. Melchizedek, in a sense, had provided Isaac with a replacement mother.

Rebekah sensed this and felt perhaps a twinge of regret, but she was an honorable woman who had assented to the marriage sight unseen.

Then Melchizedek received word that hyz father Melchiyahu had died in hyz sleep, making hym the king of Salem by right of succession.

Then Melchizedek bid farewell to Abraham, Isaac, and Rebekah. With hyz two servants Zophiel and Kemuel hy passed out of all knowledge of those who dwell on Earth, and came not again, for the task appointed to hym to set aside a holy people for Chokhmah had been fulfilled.

The Adanite army led by Bezaliel had blocked and garrisoned all the roads leading to Salem from the north, south, and east. Salem itself lay on an island within a large lake fed by meltwater from a place where the northern and southern sheets of ice came together as one.

During the days of mourning for the father of King Melchizedek the seraph Michael spoke in council of the movements of the Adanite army hy had discerned with the avatar of Chokhmah. "The forces now moving in the field are five times again what came against Salem before."

Five, or half, or a hundred times greater," said Melchizedek, "it makes no difference. So long as I reign over this city, none will face the enemy in the field.

My brother and king," said Lilith, "we have ships, and time enough to carry the people of the city away.

But where would they go, Lil? There's a hundred rustic coves scattered around the Sea of Aramel where little clans of fisherfolk barely survive from what little they catch and what lesser still they trade. The vale of the Dashok is too rocky. No crops will grow there.

Even so, Your Royal Highness," said Michael, "I beg of you to release one seaworthy craft, at least. I would send spies to the source of the river Dashok. Samael maintains a fortress in an ice cave there and supplies it by fold-door. It blocks any escape to the west.

"Where are your thoughts leading, Michael?"" asked hyz wife.

"Your brother is very wise, Lil. Hy knows Samael's quarrel is really with the ruling family and your Fallen Angels, not with the ordinary subjects of Salem. There is a way out of this. Salem can live in peace."

The king said, "Do you think the Fallen Angels can win through the cave?"

As things now stand, Sire, that is impossible. Samael has me at a disadvantage. Hy knows precisely where the cave lies on the surface of heaven and I do not. Lilith's spies can remedy this.

Azarael and Jael would be perfect for this job," the princess said. "They're ghosts. They could travel light and live off whatever supplies they find in the cave.

Then they shall have their boat," said Melchizedek, "and what provender and weapons they might need.

It could not be hidden that the full might of House Gerash was drawn up against Melchizedek. As Salemites mourned their dead king for the full twenty-five days, forces led by Bezaliel closed in until Salem stood isolated on the island that was coterminous with the city.

Melchizedek considered abdicating the throne, but no one believed Samael would seat Princess Lilith on the throne to succeed hym, and a successor more to the liking of Samael was unthinkable to everyone who was now dwelling in Salem. Yet a siege would be even worse.

Hy said, "Beloved sister, the time has come the Fallen Angels must quit Salem or renounce the sword for so long as they dwell within the city walls."

Lilith replied, "Sire, this is a bitter edict, for my yen have already sworn their hand shall ever cleave to the sword."

And where shall they go, Lil?

Sire," Michael said, "I propose to call together a council of royals with the aim of uniting heaven against Samael. I will fly Lilith and Leliel to Anshar but Raphaela will lead the Fallen Angels and all who would go with har to Rumbek.

And Raphaela? Where is sha? Let her stand forth.

Lilith's second-in-command approached the throne and dropped to one knee. Melchizedek waved for har to stand. "Do you, Hashmal Raphaela, understand the task that lies before you?"

I confess that I do not, Sire.

Lilith said, "Sire, she was voluntold only moments ago."

Melchizedek stroked his beard and sighed before saying to Raphaela, "This is what you have agreed to do

Raphaela will prevail, Sire" Michael interposed. "I have made certain arrangements to assure myself that this must be so.

Excellent," said the king. "Then sha will safely pass to the lands held by the House of Larund. The Brown Beards are no friends of the Adanites.

Michael said, "Sire, King Metatron boasts hy will welcome any refugees departing from what hy terms 'the unlovely lands ruled by Keter'. So steadfast is this enmity that I plan to commit Queen Aurra and King Uriel to the council before I even meet with the Larund king."

We shall see if Metatron is willing to stand by hyz boast when the first refugees arrive to accept hyz hospitality. But I think you are overlooking something, Michael. If you can send me to Earth through a fold-door what stops Samael from sending yeng to his fortress?

Michael said, "The king knows that elohim are living suns but perhaps hy does not know, and indeed could scarcely imagine, the crushing forces that exist in the heart of suns. There is a dark light made by elohim that stays this pressure and allows their life to endure. The body of Daat is really a layer in the cold sun thinner than the finest gold leaf. It takes a full seven days for Daat to make sufficient dark light to fatten his bridge to Keter such that a yang could use it. If this were not so Salem would have fallen long ago."

Lord Michael, you have made me come to believe the Fallen Angels will win through to Rumbek after all. I thank you.

And I thank you in turn, King Melchizedek for your years of service to me in the other world. I have made far greater demands on you than you of me.

There has been a spring in this city," said Melchizedek. "It has lasted far longer and tasted far sweeter than anyone dared to dream. But if winter must now come to Salem, Michael, may the flowering we have known take root outside of the lands trampled by House Gerash.

Will you reconsider your rejection of the Change, so that your sister may not be parted from you forever?

The king saw Lilith grew supremely unhappy as hy spoke. "It is tempting, yet as the centuries wore on I would become like a stone smuggled into a nest of eggs."

Then Sire, think you of the refined cruelty of the Eyes of Keter, and what you will suffer should you fall into their hands. Your sister accepted the Change and not even the pains of childbirth made har blench. At the least you could die at the moment of your choosing.

Melchizedek said, "I have no fear of that. Every moment I remain alive in their captivity, under torment or no, the Eyes risk having me snatched out of their hands by my sister. They do not know sha will be whisked off to Anshar. No, Michael, it will be quick and sure."

And Melchizedek saw that hyz sister was smiling through har tears. Hy was moved to drop the airs of a king, step down from the dais, and embrace har one final time as a brother would the sister hy always loved. "I regret the years I had to admire you only in my thoughts."

And Lilith could find no words other than to merely sob, "Oh, Deck, this parting is bitter. Bitter!"

Hy held har gently apart from hym then to say, "Michael told me your Leliel is the firstborn of the bene elohim. The children of the gods! How fortunate you are, Lil!"

And suddenly, like the shadow of a cloud passing over the white sun, the king's mood grew fey, for he saw in one instant how they were inflicting torment upon themselves as cruel as anything devised by the Eyes of Keter by letting the necessary partings linger too long.

At hyz command Melchizedek was arrayed in hyz finest raiment, and donned a jeweled cloak. Then hy led hyz weeping subjects to the lower levels of the city, and Princess Lilith longed to follow, but Michael gently stayed har, and together with Leliel they went another way.

Two hours later a lone craft neared a dark shore thronged with the enemy after making a nighttime crossing from Salem, but no darts flew, for it was yet too dark to see the identity of the boatyang. Lord Bezaliel passed through the ranks to properly receive the visitor.

Suddenly night became day as the avatar of Chokhmah rose over the walls of the city on a pillar of flame. Lord Bezaliel was not distracted even as hyz yeng were. Hy recognized Melchizedek and ordered weapons red and free. The king perished quickly in a storm of arrows.

The avatar's light diminished as it bent to the north and picked up speed, becoming lesser in light than the orange cold sun that reigned over the night, and finally nothing more than an ordinary star as it raced out of sight. Never again would Salem know a ruling king.

As Azarael and Jael made their way through the ice tunnels of the Adanite stronghold by stealth only three soldiers ever discovered them

The two yen find the location of the enemy's main storeroom of meat and grain. Not even Chokhmah knows the exact position of that space where it sits under the ice, but she knows the position of Lilith's headband, the one capable of casting a bright light, at all times.

Azarael left the gift inside a container near the center of the ice cave in such a way that it would not likely be discovered and moved, even if the storeroom were actively being drawn down, which to har eyes it was not. After that sha and Jael moved some distance away.

They moved far down one of the tunnels radiating from the central space like wheel spokes, there to remain until such a time as they detected, as Michael put it using what hy warned was extreme understatement, a disturbance. "This is not a suicide mission," hy explained.

They would never starve amid the bounty of stores, but it was always cold. Fortunately they had a good remedy that never seemed to get old. In the cozy little rat's nest they made for themselves Jael slipped nude between fur blankets and purred to Azarael to come to har.

Ice pinched the Belt of Heaven in three places, leaving three unfrozen swaths. Each of these lands were about two thousand leagues long but only a hundred leagues from north to south. The Adanites styled their own the middle land. In practical terms it was the east land.

The ice bridge between the middle and east lands was the thinnest of the three, and in the far future it would be the first to melt, but it was four hundred leagues across and not smooth by any means. The earliest travelers despaired of reaching the end and turned back.

The few travelers who did cross the ice found themselves wading through a swampy tulgey wood that may have run for another four hundred leagues for all anyone knew, for none found the one trickle emerging from the vast bog that was the ultimate source of the River Loenna.

The earliest human inhabitants of heaven migrated west from Adan instead. They steadily beat back the lethal native flora as they founded Salem and points beyond and crossed two more barriers of ice. Ultimately they reached a land they called Rammon and went no further.

In Rammon far from any interference from Keter the Gold Beards of the House of Sala developed an enduring culture unique in heaven. It was based on the Ringhouse, a single common wooden dwelling of about eighty people at the center of a small circle of cultivated fields.

Along the rim of this circle one or two dozen footpaths entered the forest, but only four to six of these trails led to another Ringhouse some five or so leagues away. The rest petered out to game trails or (more likely) dead-ended in a grove of lethal whipping trees.

When girls were of age they were married to a fellow in a neighboring Ringhouse. Most people were born, lived, and died without seeing more than a dozen or so Ringhousen, yet it was very peaceful. No Adanite invaders would cross the ice and the swamp for such meager loot.

What combat, such as it was, came against Saharad, the sole city in Rimmon, in periodic raids from the adjoining land of Gerazan by the Red Beards of House Bellon From time to time Samael appeared to both sides with the latest Adanite weaponry, and left with their gold.

And yet in the main the Gold Beards of Family Sala embraced Michael's revelations of Chokhmah to an extent that rivaled the angels of Salem. To a man they were the proud subjects of a powerful queen, Aurra Firegem, which would be absolutely unthinkable to the Adanites.

When the avatar of Chokhmah made landfall nigh to Saharad it did not inspire the fear that once overcame Salem, for this was the third such appearance. The first had been with Michael alone, in the second Lilith had joined hym. Now Leliel was present, two years of age.

Queen Firegem canceled that business her court had prepared for that day to receive instead her unannounced visitors. With her husband the Duke Evandr the two made an imposing pair. The queen was not beautiful in the eyes of many men, for she was broad of face and frame.

Upon har introduction Leliel had sufficient discipline to render the queen a parody of court etiquette before being allowed to roam free, but neither Aurra nor Evandr were offended, so taken were they with the lovely child. But Aurra guessed Michael's news would be bad.

Your Highness," Lilith began with a husk in har voice, and even as sha spoke sha was surprised at the depth of har emotion two weeks after the event. "Your Highness, my brother King Melchizedek is dead, and even now the city of Salem is trampled by the Adanite army.

Dismay edged the queen's voice. "Why, Princess Lilith? Why did this happen?"

Your Majesty, the people of Salem embraced Michael as a teacher, even as you and your people have done here in Rimmon. Lord Samael would not, nay, hy could not allow that to continue to be.

And for hyz part my brother saw how a siege was immanent. Hy deemed that no penalty Samael would likely impose upon the angels of the city for their defiance would be worse than starvation. So hy went willingly to the enemy camp and Michael assures me hy died cleanly.

The queen glanced then at Michael. "And what did befall Salem, do you know?"

Your Majesty, Samael appointed a governor over the city who levies a heavy tax. The Eyes of Keter multiply almost as fast as do the onerous edicts and street checkpoints, and none may depart. And yet for all that, Your Majesty, Samael has utterly failed, because a daughter and a granddaughter of King Melchiyahu remain alive, and both have slipped away from hyz grasp. I hold Lilith to be a cherub and the queen of Salem in exile. Samael will come for har.

Duke Evandr Firegem said, "Are you seeking asylum for Queen Lilith, your daughter, and yourself, Lord Michael? For you are entirely welcome, indeed we are eager to have you live here in Saharad, and if the city is not to your liking you may disappear anywhere in Rimmon."

I thank you, Sire, but myself and my family aside, Samael is pursuing many other exiles from Salem even into the land of the Brown Beards. Were I to do nothing to stave off the war that must follow King Metatron would no more welcome them in Rumbek than Samael in Salem.

He said in reply, "Lord Michael, if, perchance your best efforts to bring peace fail, and war does come to House Larund, know that we humans of heaven hold ourselves to be exiles as well, and Chokhmah to be our only God. Rimmon will never turn away any who embrace her."

I thank you and Queen Aurra, Sire," said Michael, "but if war comes it will hardly stop at Rumbek. Samael means to overawe the kingdoms of heaven one after the other before they can unite to stop hym. Think on this when next hy appears before you as a merchant of arms.

After conversing more with Evandr and Aurra on things of lesser import Michael healed many of the incurably infirm in Sarahad before returning to Anshar with Leliel. But Lilith went on to rejoin the Fallen Angels who had reached the dwidling upper stream of the Dashok.

As Melchizedek had warned the cache was strongly defended. After the Fallen Angels forced the entrance the garrison commander ordered a slow retreat to the central chamber while dealing out fire. There the bulk of hyz troops made a stand that seemed impossible to break.

As Lilith's forces emerged from one tunnel or another hy shifted soldiers to meet the threats as they appeared. Lilith found it impossible to attack the core simultaneously from more than a handful of tunnels since the cross tunnels were few and the enemy knew them well.

Raphaela spied a drop of water rolling down Lilith's cheek, and har lieutenant was shocked at first, then sha steeled harself up to rebuke the queen. It was one thing to feel despair during a battle, it was quite another to allow that despair to be visible to underlings.

But a large drop of water landed square on Raphaela's head. Sha looked up to see many such drops were falling from the dimly-illuminated ceiling of ice far overhead. The drops became a true rain. The ceiling began to glow with a light of its own and a deep thunder grew.

Lilith ordered the Fallen Angels to disengage and fall back in the tunnels. None witnessed the ceiling of the ice cave glowing orange before exploding, with the more fortunate Adanite defenders killed by house-sized chunks of ice and the less fortunate ones boiling alive.

Only the dying yeng saw the avatar of Chokhmah drill into the chamber of ice with all six engines skewed, some pointing up, some pointing down, others turning from side to side, all six motors spouting fusion fire from the heart of Sol and turning the water to steam.

The water boiled away and the bodies of the yeng were crisped by the raw flame until even their ashes were scattered away. Lilith and har lieutenants walked to the ragged end of several tunnels trying to comprehend the chaos of the scene below. The avatar fell silent.

Far across the chamber at another tunnel stood Azarael and Jael, both quite safe. The applause of the two yen echoed across the now quiet space.

Lilith dropped to the lowest level and spoke to the inert avatar. "Michael, if Leliel is in there with you, you're dead. And if you left har alone in Anshar where Keter or Daat can get at har by fold-door you're twice as dead!"

The avatar of Chokhmah began to shrink before har eyes until it was a white faceless figure with a head, arms, and legs. It said, "Do give me some credit, Lil."

Lilith had quite forgotten that Chokhmah could fly her avatar perfectly well without Michael inside. In fact, there were nothing like reins inside for Michael to steer it. Chokhmah marched out of the Adanite supply cache with every footfall sounding like an avalanche.

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