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From Peshast, Baron Bayard led Talishi’s dwindling party west through a maze of footpaths that wound around the hills that bordered the Wall of God.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Like Del?”

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

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

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

“So why are you back here?”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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