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Even as Keter and Daat aided Chokhmah to establish a covenant people on Earth they were implacably opposed to her doing the same thing in heaven. This new interloper named Michael had made Salem and the nearby lands a lost cause but troops were sent to contain the plague.

Princess Lilith and her Fallen Angels had proven remarkably efficient at shielding Michael from being abducted or killed but as a consequence Salem had effectively been sliced out of intercourse with the rest of the middle lands. Michael wished to bring things to a head.

Lilith and Michael had flown in the avatar of Chokhmah to Anshar many times but never before to the city of Adan where Keter ruled the house of Gerash directly through his own avatar seated on the throne. Princess Lilith was known to many, but by law sha could not speak.

Nevertheless by an awkward and complicated arrangement involving one of the wives of Lord Zadkiel who then spoke to hym in private, that ophan was made aware that Princess Lilith came in the company of one Michael, the prophet who had been giving Keter such grief of late.

So after much effort Michael managed to get hymself arrested after all. Lord Zadkiel suggested there be a public tribunal to allow Michael to in- criminate hymself by hyz own words so there would be no doubt among the people that Michael blasphemed the god of House Gerash.

Michael said, "Let there be such a tribunal, but Princess Lilith must speak in my defense."

To this the ophan Zadkiel said, "That is impossible. It is the eternal law of Keter that no yin may speak in public, nor to any except her close kin. Choose from among the yeng."

"Nevertheless, Her Royal Highness will represent me at the tribunal, or I will speak no words."

Michael was shown yeng suffering the most refined torments Keter could de- vise, but none made hym blench. So the law forbidding Lilith to speak on hyz behalf was set aside.

In a sick parallel to the Sunset Discourse, the tribunal took place in a gladiatorial arena. The charge was insurrection. Specifically, Michael was accused of inciting infidelity to Keter. As in any theocracy, to sin against God is exactly equivalent to breaking the law.

As the tribunal wore on Zadkiel attempted to trip Michael with riddle- words, but hy was dealing with an advanced composite being, both eloah and angel, and Michael had a suitable answer at every turn. It was a back-chan- nel way to bring hyz teachings to the people of Adan.

Even prior to hyz union with Chokhmah Michael could have handled Zadkiel, who was too stupid to realize hy was being soundly beaten by rhetoric. But Michael knew it would not matter in the end. The outcome of the tribunal was fixed. The sole purpose was to discredit hym.

Zadkiel turned to the words of the famous Sunset Discourse in Salem which had been preserved in a growing set of literature called the Sayings of Michael. Hy brought up a thing even King Melchiyahu pondered. "Interesting that you always say 'Sha who embraces Chokhmah.' Do you imply that only yen can be your disciples, and no yang can ever be?"

Michael said, "By these things a yin excludes harself as my follower: Sha grows annoyed at things sha cannot help, and so is perpetually angry. Con- troversies that divide the people attract har. Sha is caught up in every fad and does not affirm har own uniqueness. Such a yin does not truly em- brace Chokhmah. But any yang who does not do these things is on the path to becoming one of Chokhmah's followers, though hy may not even know that to be the case."

Zadkiel said, "And yet, contrary to the Code of Keter you employ yen, your so-called Fallen Angels, which many say is really a female army. Such an absurdity has never existed in the history of heaven."

"The Fallen Angels only scatter the wealth and gather the people."

"So you espouse income redistribution?"

Michael replied, "I espouse giving yen work that draws them together in service of their sisters. Have no fear, there is no overlap with the work of yeng."

"Their sisters! And just where do yeng fit into your schemes, Michael?"

Michael said, "Just as the angels were called out of humanity to have a closer relationship with the elohim, Chokhmah has called yen out of the angels that they may unite and nourish one another."

"The implications are considered unnatural by all our ancient traditions."

"It is natural to stink, Lord Zadkiel, yet none suggest falling back on the tradition of neglecting personal hygiene. To yen who follow Chokhmah the word 'unnatural' simply means 'not on the level of animals.'"

Zadkiel ran out of arguments and waved for Lilith to cross.

As usual, when Lilith began to speak there was a stir from the onlookers at the scandal of hearing a yin's voice in public, but as the tribunal wore on the novelty wore off. Her line of defense touched on the fact that the so- called Code of Keter was of recent vintage.

After spitting Zadkiel's own words back at hym from when hy first began to preach in Salem Lilith argued that the Code of Keter had become known only after Michael's ministry had taken root at Salem, and might even have been introduced purely in reaction to hyz teachings.

"At no time in our history have we condemned anyone for committing actions that were made illegal after the offense," sha said. "Such a thing has al- ways been anathema to our concept of justice."

Zadkiel shot a glance at the High Lord Patriarch Kirodiel, who presided.

As he had done throughout the tribunal, whenever Lilith got any traction and Zadkiel needed a lifeline, Kirodiel ordered har to end har line of questioning and use a different one.

Lilith swallowed har frustration and said, "There is still the question of jurisdiction. The Code of Keter is the law of this city, but Michael is a subject of my father the king of Salem, where hyz will alone holds sway. King Melchiyahu has already found this yang to be innocent of any wrongdo- ing."

Once more Zadkiel signaled Kirodiel for help.

The High Lord Patriarch instructed Princess Lilith to move on to har next objection. Sha was being worn down but Michael took it with equanimity. Hy knew the outcome was predetermined. More important was that the angels in the gallery saw the injustice of the whole farce.

Lilith had one more card to play. "Michael, despite all the evidence we have heard for the charge of impiety toward Keter you still maintain your innocence. How can this be?"

Hy said, "Most yen in Adan are faced with a stark choice: Remain with their husband or starve."

"In the same way, it cannot be a powerful decision to worship Keter any- where in the middle lands, because the alternative is a mock trial and exe- cution."

"So you contend that piety compelled by law is false?"

"Any such 'piety' is as phony as the love of most marriages."

"How much more vital is the love of two angels who are utterly free to stay or part, yet who still choose to stay together!"

"That sound risky."

"Does it? It is the risk of losing things, even our lives, that makes them dear."

Lilith nodded to Zadkiel. "Your witness."

In cross-examination Zadkiel said, "So your claim is that living dangerous- ly is the missing ingredient in Adanite marriages?"

Michael said, "The fear of losing a thing is what lends excitement and sig- nificance to that thing, from a marriage bond to our very lives. Keter once told Chokhmah that to take fate into one's own hands was to rise beyond good and evil. In truth, a rock and a tree are beyond good and evil, and so is every angel who will not, or is not permitted, to make a free choice. Ethics simply does not apply to them."

"So you deny that the Lord Keter has the authority to decree what is right and wrong in our world?"

Michael replied, "Not that Keter or any other power ought to legislate mor- ality, but that they literally cannot do so. It's logically absurd, like a four-sided triangle."

In that moment Zadkiel was certain hy had sprung hyz trap and told Kirodiel the state rested. Lilith, too, thought that Michael had finished on a high note and said the defense also rested. Kirodiel did not even make a pre- tense of deliberating. "Judgment for the State."

No one was surprised except Princess Lilith, who was allowed to pay one final visit to har client in the dungeons beneath the Temple of Keter be- fore the sentence was to be carried out. The first of their last few mo- ments was spent in an awkward embrace though iron bars.

Lilith glanced around the dungeon, assuring harself that their privilege of private counsel, no matter how brief, was still inviolate. Sha said, "Guilty! A sentence of death! What's your plan now?"

"There is no plan." Michael reached through the bars to touch har face.

"I watched you send my brother and his two squires to the other world," Lilith objected. "Could you not summon another such bubble and take your- self out of harm's way?"

"Only Keter and Daat can open a fold-door in heaven. Here I can only manage holding one thin line.They've been planning this tribunal for a long time. It all stinks of Keter moving behind the scenes. He wants something big from me but he's taking his time laying it all out in the open. He has another, much easier way to communicate with me but he refuses to use it."

"Then in the absence of your plan I say we go forward with my plan."

Michael narrowed hyz eyes. Hy said, "Lilith, don't do anything stupid. Bet- ter yet, don't do anything at all."

They were interrupted by Lilith's escorting guard, a kind but unswervingly loyal yang.

Hy said, "I'm sorry, that's all the time I am permitted to give you with the condemned." Then hy gestured for har to leave the chamber, unwilling to touch a princess unless sha made things difficult.

Michael called out after har. "Lilith! Just drop it, do you hear me?"

Michael's next visitor was Lord Zadkiel, who moved very close to Michael's iron cell to look directly into hyz eyes. After studying hym quietly for a time hy said, "Keter sends his regards, Chokhmah."

Michael smiled. "I made no secret of the union, and you denied it."

"The Lord Keter knows that you put on something of a conjuring act just before he opened fold-door in Salem to whisk Melchizedek away. Only Chokh- mah could have timed things so.

"How wonderful," said Michael. "Now that you and your Lord have come to belief, what next?"

"Certain actions and non-actions will be required of you," said Zadkiel. "And you have no choice but to comply."

"Keter knows well I can choose to end my life at any time. No threat of death or torment can compel me to do his bidding, let alone the whim of his slave."

Zadkiel smiled and said, "Oh, a martyr is the last thing we want, Chokhmah. Unfortunately, Princess Lilith has har mind quite made up. Do you really think the Eyes of Keter are not aware of the preparations sha has made to rescue you?"

"What does sha have in mind?"

Zadkiel said, "You will be amazed when you see it unroll, Chokhmah. Fallen Angel sleeper cells! Guards taken out with a head twist. Secret disguises, body doubles, and safe houses from here to the edge of the city! But as you've probably surmised before now, it's a trap."

"That way we catch Lilith red-handed, scoop up key Fallen Angels, and crush your whole movement over the span of a single night. Then this glassblow- er's son's body will be broken and braided on the hub of a windmill with no one left to rally around the spinning corpse."

"I think you are grossly underestimating Lilith and har Fallen Angels if you think it will be that easy to roll them up."

"You may be immune to pain, Chokhmah, but of a certainty Lilith is not, and neither are har co-conspirators. But Lord Keter has a far better idea. If you agree to Lord Keter's demands, your sentence of death will be set aside. Princess Lilith and her friends will have no reason to carry out their suicide pact. Instead, we shall parade you captive in a cage through every city, town, and village from here to Salem."

Michael, knowing that it would have precisely the opposite effect, said, "That would discredit everything that I have taught. I'll let myself die the moment you display me in a cage."

"Michael, you must not refuse, because the alternative is Lilith, remember? Har plan?"

Michael sighed, and made a show of hanging hyz head in defeat. "What are Keter's demands?"

"One, you shall not allow yourself to die until the people of Salem have seen the humiliation of their so-called prophet, the daughter of Keter, dressed up in the body of a yang."

"That will require some backtracking on your part, Zadkiel. Or have you forgotten your own preaching to the effect that Chokhmah is the ungrateful son of Keter and Daat, impatient to come into his inheritance?"

Zadkiel curled hyz lips. "The people have short memories."

"So I must not perform an End of Cycle," Michael said. "Is that all that your lord Keter requires of me?"

"No, you must share with him the secret of merging with a yang as a living avatar, as you have done."

Then Michael understood at last the purpose of the tribunal.

Hy said, "I can teach Keter how to achieve the union, but you should remind him to use a light touch. The temptation will be to take full possession of the world-dweller, but that will only backfire when his entire psyche be- comes that of a yang. He risks dissolution."

"Let the Lord Keter judge if that is true."

"As you wish, Zadkiel. As soon as mother and father have sent Princess Li- lith safely home to Salem by fold-door I will conform to these demands."

Hy chuckled. "Chokhmah, you are in no position to make demands of your own."

"Very well, Zadkiel, I will now shed this container of meat, and after that I will let Keter know how close he came to learning the trick of having one of his very own before you and your incompetence boofed it."

"Hold! I will bring your request before the Lord himself."

One of the farmers who lived nigh to Salem drove to the lines of the Eyes of Keter ringing the city. The farmer and three sturdy dirks in hyz employ removed a box from their wagon and bore it toward the city gate using two staves threaded through brass rings on the box.

One of the Eyes grows suspicious and barks at the yeng carrying the box, "What yang of you be the loadmaster?"

The three dirks let fall the box and edge fearfully away from the oldest yang, who says in reply, "This shipment be mine, milord. I am Sibiel of Odargas."

"Dost thou makest vouchesafement for the goods thou bearest?"

"I do, milord."

"Yet I would see therein." Crestfallen, Sibiel ordered the dirks to open the box. Princess Lilith tumbled out, dazed by the sudden light. The three dirks feigned outrage at the sight of har.

The Eye of Keter said, "Stand ye apart from Sibiel, if ye value your lives, for contrary to the will of Keter hy bearest aid to the fugitive daughter of King Melchiyahu to enter Salem."

But Lilith was not cowed by the pretensions of this uncouth lackey of Lord Zadkiel. Sha cried out in a loud voice, "May Chokhmah send down fire to smite thee all all thy companions!" At first the farmers from Odargas thought the princess was joking, but only a few heartbeats after sha spoke, brilliant orange bolts of fire shot down from the clear sky.

So bright and hot was this fire that Sibiel and the dirks thought their eyebrows had been burnt off. The immolation left only smoking grease spots where twelve Eyes of Keter stood an instant before. None remained to hinder Lilith from proceeding to the gates of Salem.

When Samael, the living avatar of Keter, learned what happened to the Eyes hy knew the attack was direct interference from Chokhmah, the first such meddling that hyz daughter had dared to do in heaven. Samael spoke to hyz prophet Zadkiel of two dilemmas confronting hym. "The people must not come to believe this yang Michael is in union with an eloah. Otherwise my con- troversy with hym will lead angels to hold the eloah Chokhmah in contempt. That is the natural impulse of world-dwellers when dealing with enemies among your own order. Also I have encouraged the people in their belief that yen are unwarlike, and to be treated as mere property. Princess Lilith and har so-called Fallen Angels, who are without peer in heaven, contra- dict this tradition every day. This cannot be permitted to continue. Yet when it comes down to it, who is really worthy to confront them?"

Zadkiel snorted in derision and said, "Surely my Lord makes a ridiculous joke."

Samael continued to explain things to Zadkiel as though hyz prophet had not made hyz ill-informed interruption at all. "Lilith has exactly one weak- ness, and that is Michael hymself. So I am willing to tolerate the human incarnation of an eloah being caged like a beast, because I assure you that is the only thing staying the annihilation of your expeditionary force by the Fallen Angels. When you put the city under seige you must keep Michael in full view of Princess Lilith at all times, with pikeyeng ready to run hym through at the slightest provocation from har Fallen Angels or the forces of Melchiyahu. Your victory will hang upon that slender thread."

At a beautiful cataract in the mountains east of Salem, Princess Lilith and a squad of har Fallen Angels refreshed themselves. Afterwards they resumed their usual mode of riding slowly on their horses while patrolling the land approaches to the city for intruders. The waterfall completely blanked out the sound and vibration of onrushing hooves until it was nearly too late. Not even Lilith's hypersensitive mare gave warning. Undetected, Adanite horseyeng raced up behind Lilith, har chief lieutenant Hashmal Imriel, and the other yen. At the last instant Lilith's sword was unlimbered only to crash against a mighty iron rod. There were sparks and Lilith was knocked clean off har horse. Still stunned, Lilith witnessed another horseyang decapitating Imriel with a single stroke and choked back har grief.

Her horse possessed the intelligence to linger with Lilith rather than follow her equine instinct, which was to bolt. Shaking har head clear, Lilith mounted up again. Poor Imriel was dead but four of the Fallen Angels survived the assault and they rallied around har.

Lumbering after them at a full gallop, Lilith and har companions loose many arrows and fell the one wielding the iron staff. Two other weaving hor- seyeng are slain taking arrows fired at the one who killed Imriel. Hy has a swift horse and far too much of a head start. Hy dove into the safety of a vast forest glade guarded by a large armed encampment. Contrary to har every wish Lilith reared back and brought har horse to a stop. The other Fallen Angels conformed to har movements as the soldier they had chased turned to face them.

Seeing at last the face of the yang who killed Imriel, the princess mouthed hyz name with all the bile she could summon: "Zadkiel!" Yet every indication Lilith had gathered from the path of burning villages told her Zadkiel was yet twelve to fifteen leagues to the west. Sha guessed that Zadkiel must have dragged hyz army here by forced march overnight. But that led har to marvel how hy knew to come to just this place. "Keter," Lilith muttered, answering har own unspoken question. As though in answer, Demon- stoke soared over the trees.

Lilith was shocked to see the first and now last dragon in heaven had been brought to this fight, but he orbited far overhead and made no move to at- tack. Then sha understood Demonstoke was brandished only as insurance against any more interference from Chokhmah's avatar.

Lilith signaled for the Fallen Angels to gather close around har. Sha said, "Zadkiel will pay for Imriel, life for life. You needn't follow me." Sha gestured to the back of har head. "Chokhmah said my death will not be my death, but she has made no such promise to you."

But the Fallen Angels were of a single mind. One of them answered for all and said, "Lead us, Your Royal Highness. For Imriel!"

So heedless of the danger Lilith turned har horse to face the enemy. Sha sped forward to attack Zadkiel directly, and not one yen held back.

Zadkiel ordered the canvas covering Michael's cage to be removed, revealing hym just as Lilith entered the range of the enemy's darts. Sha brought har horse to a halt once more. Hy said, "You can kill me from where you stand, Lilith, but Michael would join me in death."

Lilith stared at Zadkiel with narrowing eyes and rides a bit closer. Mov- ing in a well-practiced dance, Keter's best pikeyeng, arranged in a ring around Michael's cage, bring their forest of spikes to the horizontal, yet not toward Lilith, but inward, toward Michael.

"Don't sink to this, Zadkiel," sha called out. "I expect as much from Sa- mael but it is not worthy of an unpossessed Gerash nobleyang." Lilith was shocked how effectively the use of Michael as a living shield curtailed har actions.

Zadkiel seemed to read har thoughts. "Michael has become a noose around your neck, and the closer you try get to hym the tighter that noose will become. How easy it is to make you dance with a simple threat to Michael's life!"

"Did you not know that is the only thing I could never do?" Then Lilith's eyes became moist as she silently shook har head with a tragic smile. But there was nothing more sha could do on the field. Spurring har horse, sha turned and led har Fallen Angels back to the city.

On the eve of the first battle of Salem Princess Lilith joined har father King Melchiyahu to tally the campfires of the Adanite forces arrayed against them. When they were finished sha asked, "My father and king, how did you survive the countless battles you have fought? It is known that you never lead your forces from safe headquarters in the rear, but share the risk and the hardships of the front."

Melchiyahu replied, "A cowardly commander puts a premium on hyz personal survival, Lilith. This endangers hyz army, and ultimately hymself. When I advance on the battlefield I have already reconciled myself with death. I go into every battle, no matter how great or small, as though I were cer- tainly doomed to die. This leaves my mind clear to concentrate on fighting well. Gaining the victory, I keep my life. Gaining victory, furthermore, I preserve the city and save the life of the people."

During the battle the King's forces, which were a larger body than the Fallen Angels, took the role of the primary force. Lilith's yen were the skirmishers, the saboteurs, the assassins.

On a grander scale, it was King Melchiyahu and his ordinary force that gained the victory, but Zadkiel's yeng remembered only the leather-clad yen who had somehow gotten behind their lines, throwing knives, cutting throats, driving off horses and setting fire to wagons. And Keter, watching through the eyes of the dragon Demonstoke flying high over the field, wit- nessed the defeat of Zadkiel. He discounted his numerical losses and or- dered more yeng to march west from Adan. They moved toward Salem like buckets of water in a fire brigade.

In the second battle for Salem the enemy massed on the king's left, north of the city, and Melchiyahu marched to meet them. There Princess Lilith, asked, "My father and liege-lord, why have you camped your army on this plain, and let Zadkiel attack from the high ground?"


"Ah, but daughter," said hy, "the heights would only be valuable to the enemy if we were the attacker. In that case we would tire ourselves fight- ing uphill and possibly be surprised by hidden forces waiting to ambush our troops. Instead, my army is deployed like water."

"How is that an advantage to us, father?"

"Is not water itself vital if people are to live?" hy answered. "Does not everyone seek it out in wells and rivers and even swamps? By our mere presence on this plain leading to the city Zadkiel will begin to covet the plain."

"But father, we are ringed by hills on three sides. When Zadkiel attacks, we will not know from which direction hy will come!"

"But I have the interior lines. I can reinforce at the point of contact in moments, while anywhere I choose to counterattack he will be weak. And daughter, behold: the hills hy occupies are covered by trees. Hy cannot communicate with hyz own force with signal companies using flags, only with individual messengers that must run around the horseshoe. Lilith, our enemy is a fool and his defeat here is assured."

Hyz boast would have held true against any other foe in heaven, but Zadkiel spent the lives of yeng on the plain of Galcha without remorse until the Adanite horde was on the brink of mutiny. Melchiyahu and Lilith withdrew closer to Salem and the enemy did not pursue.

After they reckoned their own losses Lilith asked, almost in despair, "Fa- ther, why do yeng love combat so much?"

"Because while a dirk is growing hy is filling out hyz potential," said King Melchiyahu. "As long as hy has not yet exceeded hyz limits, hy remains a child."

"For yen, maturity is attained in a very practical and natural way," re- plied Lilith. "Motherhood. Maturity means acknowledging your limits and returning to your root. And it is a yin's nature, even those who bear no children, to make harself still and embrace har center."

"But yeng are always reaching out," said the King, "always extending until they find a breaking point. And while they are on this quest for a limit they can be enlisted in stupid vainglorious campaigns to defend the honor of other yeng who never found their own limit."

Zadkiel came again against Salem with his dwindling army. The forces clashed in the ravine of Anixi and the king was driven down the brook to the plains of Nolesh. Then Lilith with timely reinforcements turned and drove the Adanite army to the brink of the gorge of Armak.

The flags of truce were brought out, and with the King's consent Lilith rode into the lines of the enemy to see if Zadkiel, with his back against an awesome precipice, had come to new wisdom. He had not even believed Ket- er concerning Lilith, but that was before the fight.

"I find I want you working for me and not against me," Zadkiel told har as Michael watched from hyz cage only a few paces away. "You can defeat my army in this position, but I fear that Michael is close to the edge and something might happen to hym during the confusion. To keep Michael safe you will dissolve your band of yen dressed as warriors, ride at the head of this army, and go where I command you in the East Lands and the West Lands, and Salem, and every place where angels dare to hold the law of the God of heaven in derision."

"Where is the honor here, Zadkiel? Where is the glory? Do you really want me to command your army while every decision is tainted by holding hostage a peaceful yang that I love? Keter would do better to shun pretense and send Demonstoke down to finish the Fallen Angels."

Zadkiel was delighted to hear Lilith declare that she loved the prisoner. "Then are the rumors true, Princess? Michael must not fall outside of the control of my army but hy need not be confined to a cage. Consider very carefully. You could go to hym this very night."

"At a word from my father every Salemite would flock into hyz army, Zadki- el; yea, even the yen, the infirm, the dirks and the dolls. The war would grow so bloody that the whole face of the land would be covered with the dead, but no one would have the time to bury them. This," said sha, "must not be." Only then did sha first lock eyes with Michael, turn on har heels, and quit the parley. There had been no need to prod Lilith to do the right thing. Never was Michael more proud of har.

"Sha knows, Chokhmah. The things you love are always used against you. Al- ways! Sha knows!"

"Sha does know," Michael replied, "but woe to those who turn love into a weapon used against the ones who do love. Beware, Zadkiel. The struggle for Salem will end badly for you."

Many years before Zadkiel brought war to Salem, King Gordiel hitched a wag- on to a nearby tree with a knot so elaborate no one has ever been able to fairly begin to unravel it. At that time an oracle said whoever untied the wagon would rule all the angels in heaven.

Zadkiel had heard the prophecy, of course. When the Army of Keter drew near the city hy found the wagon and laid eyes on the Gordian Knot. For several days, while the army built camps in the surrounding fields, Zadkiel tried to undo the legendary knot, but to no avail. This hy did in great secret, for the Eyes of Keter would look askance at any attempt to usurp the power of Samael by fulfilling the prophecy. Then, accepting at last the wagon was going nowhere, Zadkiel had hyz yeng lash Michael's cage to the old wag- on on the hilltop.

Sibiel, the farmer from Odargas who once smuggled Princess Lilith into Sa- lem, was fingered by witnesses after the Eyes of Keter threatened torment. The Eyes elected not to kill Sibiel, for it seemed a waste of good yengpow- er. Lilith had made Zadkiel's army short-handed. Sibiel was issued army livery and pressed into service as a waterbearer in Zadkiel's camp. Hav- ing little else to do for entertainment, often the Adanite soldiers tripped hym, laughing together with their fellows as Sibiel trudged back and forth to refill hyz waterskin.

One night when Sibiel wandered off toward the edge of the camp hy was at- tacked by a hooded shape and dragged into a ravine. When they were alone the attacker revealed harself to be Lilith and ordered hym to swap their clothes. As hy stripped Sibiel said hy wanted to help.

But after some stern words from the princess, tempered with ample thanks for what hy had already done for har, Sibiel faded off into the night under the black robe.

Lilith adjusted Sibiel's second-hand armor and helmet, which was almost worse than no protection at all. Sha padded out har ample curves and ap- plied false facial hair to offset the soft yenish features that belied har status as commander of the most fierce army in heaven. Then Lilith drifted into camp fetching water for the yeng and taking abuse as though sha were Sibiel.

Lilith searched in the area where Sibiel told har Michael was being held captive. The wooden cage that had been hyz home for much too long had been taken off the wagon tied to a tree by the Gordian Knot and relocated to the center of the camp, guarded by only two yeng. The cage was covered with a canvas to keep Michael from dying of exposure. It would not do, Zadkiel knew, to break the single thread keeping hymself and hyz whole army alive.

Lilith could swagger with the best of them. The guards permitted har to bring water to Michael.

Lilith appeared between the canvas and the cage with har ladle of rancid water. For light sha put on a green flexible band of intricate make, a gift from Michael. In the center it possessed a brilliant white light that allowed Lilith to move on the darkest nights. There was none like it in heaven. The canvas covering Michael's cage was thick enough that no light escaped to betray the princess and whispers could not be heard outside. Michael was initially filled with joy when hy saw the face of hyz disciple but this quickly changed.

"Nice beard."

"Hush! Take my headband."

"I gave that to you and I never ask for my gifts to be returned."

"You will have to make an exception."

"Do you want me to use it to escape?"

"Please don't do anything stupid, Michael. Better yet, don't do anything at all!"

Michael immediately got the joke and smiled. Lilith offered the water sha brought, such as it was. Then sha said, "That headband is the only thing I have that says 'Lilith was here' without mistake. Zadkiel will come here later to gloat over you like they always do."

"At that time I want you to let hym see that you have my headband. That's my message to hym, and it is a very simple one: that I can come or go at will."

"It will rattle hym good."

"It will rattle him to the point of pulling many yeng off the front lines to guard you."

"It is a sound plan," whispered Michael. "I never doubted that you had a scheme to get me away from Zadkiel."

Their last moment together that evening was spent in a passionate kiss that was made necessarily short because the guards were already getting suspi- cious.

At dawn Lilith and har father beheld the enemy, now very close to the city, from a small rise. Michael's cage was visible in the center of the field, protected by a sizeable fraction of Zadkiel's available yeng, perhaps up to a third. Lilith marveled how easy it had been.

"Do you see what I have done, father?" asked sha. "Things have been neatly reversed. Michael has become Zadkiel's greatest weakness instead, a pre- cious jewel tying down a third of hyz force just as our attack begins."

And the king did not hesitate to let the attack begin.

The armies slammed together. With the new disparity in numbers the battle inexorably began to tip against Zadkiel. Lilith fought har way to the top of the hill behind Zadkiel's army where the wagon was tied up, standing all by itself and forgotten. Zadkiel spotted har.

Zadkiel nudged hyz horse up the hill to cut har off. A sudden fear gripped hym that Lilith could accomplish what no others had tried, solve the Gord- ian Knot, and inherit the promise of the oracle to rule heaven.

Alone on the summit they both dismounted and squared off. After a flurry of clashing swords just the tip of Zadkiel's blade slashed Lilith's bare midsection and hy attained first blood. Sha feigned shock at the injury and slowed har dance. Zadkiel saw that and let his guard wither for just a few heartbeats, but it was enough. Seeing har slim opening, Lilith let fly a ferocious kick of one booted foot to hyz face and Zadkiel was laid out cold. Hyz sword separated from hyz unconscious hand. Lilith tossed it far away, then returned to har helpless prey with a strong urge to make an end of hym.

Before sha met Michael, Lilith would have done precisely that. No, it was better vengeance to let this ophan live and explain this defeat to hyz god. Sha suppressed har rage and glanced at the forgotten wagon fastened to a tree on the hilltop. Lilith ran to it instead. Sha attempted to untie the knot that her mad grandfather old King Gordiel had made to secure the wagon to a mighty tree, but like so many that came before har sha made no head- way. Sha looked down and saw Adanite skirmishers ascending to come to the aid of their commander. Finally, with no time to lose, Lilith just hacked at the knot with har sword. The wagon was free, but sha was certain Gordiel didn't have that solution in mind when he created the knot. The wagon began to roll downhill and Lilith jumped inside, hanging on for dear life.

Lilith's trademark ululating war cry gripped the attention of the troops guarding Michael. They gaped at the horror rushing down upon them faster than any horse could drive it. All of the yeng fled as har desperate gamble played out. Sha ducked inside and braced harself.

Michael saw what sha was doing also, and flattened hymself against the side of the cage that hy guessed would avoid a direct impact. The wagon collided with enough speed to shatter both the cage and the wagon to splinters. Lilith was unceremoniously dumped on har ass.

Somehow they both survived the collision. Lilith was more bruised and beat- en than sha has ever been in har life but Michael was free. Melchizedek and the Fallen Angels under Lilith's lieutenants pursued the defeated and scat- tered forces of Zadkiel's army into the forest.

But King Melchiyahu knew this defeated army was not the total strength that Samael could bring to bear on hym and its modest size was itself a gesture of contempt on the part of Samael for the power of Salem to defend itself. Hy knew they would return with greater force.

When Zadkiel awoke hy took in the scope of hyz humiliation from hyz vantage on the hilltop. Cursing, hy fled the field alone on hyz horse. For the rest of hyz life, which endured little longer than hyz long ride back to Adan, hy contemplated how to explain it to Keter.

"No more adventures for a while," Lilith told Michael as hy was making sure sha was not seriously hurt. "I've cracked a rib, for starters. But you know this battle would have been unnecessary if you had let me carry out my plan at Aden. "You would have been killed."

Lilith touched the back of har head. "But now you have changed me, and un- leashed a warrior yin on heaven who does not fear the consequences of death." "I would unleash an army of them. But tell me, why did you throw away everything you've worked for since you met me?

"I don't understand what you just said."

Michael held up one end of the wagon's rope. "I'm talking about the Gordian Knot. I'll admit, cutting it was probably not what the oracle intended, but now you are destined to rule heaven. Fate! The unreformed Lilith must re- turn."

"Must sha? You say Keter was behind all this, but do you think he will have his way forever? What if the oracle really meant the spirit of the new Li- lith will take over heaven? The one who changed --" Har eyes brimmed with moisture and har voice broke, but sha went on. "The Lilith who changed on that unforgettable day when sha first heard you speak.

Michael ran hyz had over Lilith's side, and something hy did took the pain away. Sha could breathe deeply again. "It may take centuries to play out, my beloved, here and in the other world, but you may have turned the corner here today. Once and for all...love won!"

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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