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On the edge of Shaula Wood, northeast of Adjara, Lael and a remnant of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin tended their flocks of animals and slowly wandered east into the hills until they were come to the face of the Wall of God, four miles high, and could go no further.

The decorative sphinx on the cover of the Ark of the Covenant rotated to guide them ever north on a maze of paths at the foot of the Wall. Lael knew that by means of the ark Chokhmah had never failed to lead them to good grazing grounds for their little herd of livestock.

As they trundled along often they would meet friendly parties who journeyed south from Sastrom. They used the paths at the foot of the Wall of God to reach Fatho where they could find river passage on the Sabik downstream to cities in Alodra. But few words were exchanged.

One evening when Lael's group reached a precipitous bench along the face of the Wall and decided there to make camp they encountered a party of seven Brown Beards. Lael was delighted to learn that one among them named Marsayas spoke Hebrew and could be understood by them.

Marsayas begged Lael to grant his travelers leave to make overnight camp nigh to Lael's group. This, said che, was laid on hem for want of any other flat place to pitch tents. To this Lael warily agreed but ever he eyed the ark of God while the two bands shared provender.

Lael told Marsayas that he and his people were newly come to heaven and knew nothing of the lands that lay about them, but he led the remnant wheresoever Chokhmah made known through an oracle, which was the gold-covered chest Lael and his sons reverently carried about.

Marsayas could not resist this perfect opportunity to spin a tale, but he cautioned Lael's company that it was true in every detail, and although it recounted the actions of very foolish men, it was a solemn tale of caution rather than one of mirth, and none should laugh.

And again Marsayas spoke to his own band using the strange tongue of the nephilim in heaven. As che did so, Lael made his sons Elam, Jemuel, and Rosh stand nigh to the Ark while the wives of all the colonists seated themselves in a circle between the fire and Lael's sons.

Together with Lael within the ring of women sat Abner and his son Asa, and Josiah with his son Tobiah. But Zethan, Jabez, and his two sons Rimon and Asher stayed with the small flock of animals on the edge of the little plateau to ensure they were not lost over the edge.

You call this land Haaretz," Marsayas told them, "but we call it simply The Land We Know. Towards the setting suns lies Thalury, the great Western Sea. Ships ply between ports in Sastrom, Alodra, and the Saiph League, and they sail up the River Sabik as far as Atria.

The coast continues north and south farther than any mariners know, for they ever turn back after sailing for a month or two, yet there are innumerable coves and many of these are settled, it is known, and they survive by trading fish and wares with folk of other coves.

From the beginning of days sailors of the Land We Know heeded the commandment of the gods never to sail out of sight of land. No captain, drunk or otherwise, dared steer his ship so far to the west that the haze caused the Land to fade from the view of the aft lookout.

An order to sail far west was good cause for the crew to mutiny and throw the captain overboard. It was an ancient and bedrock article of law that no such crew returning to port without their captain would ever face punishment if their tale held true under questioning.

But in the days when Demonstoke raged free there was revolution in the Land We Know. The Saiph Republic flourished for a time, and many longstanding laws were overthrown. Reason reigned over all, and when the time was ripe men and nephilim were found to crew two ships.

These sailors were willing to disregard the strict commandment of all the gods never to sail much west. So stiff-necked were they it was never imagined the gods cared for the lives of mariners. Instead, there spread rumors of a choice land far in the west called Rimmon.

It was said among them Rimmon was a land the gods created for their own enjoyment, a beautiful realm filled with gold, rich in abundant fruit, never without the most select game, and their divine interdict was merely to keep the secret from being despoiled by mortals.

The two ships commissioned by the revolutionaries of the Saiph Republic were named Will O' The Whisp and Fire of the Covenant. They drifted in the slow current with sails unfurled, for on Thalury the currents move stately to the west while winds blow reliably to the east.

In two days the gray band that was the Land We Know could no longer be seen in the east by reason of the sea mist which had entirely shrouded it, and some of the older sailors muttered in fear, for the tradition was deeply carved within them, while certain others scoffed.

One night the lookout manning the highest mast of Fire of the Covenant screamed that the horizon ahead was closing in on them. There was a sharp edge to the sea! Captain Dogtrapper signaled with lamps to Will O' The Wisp that he was raising his sails and veering off.

Captain Skulldagger aboard the Will O' the Wisp did not alter his course until it was too late. With billowing sails Fire of the Covenant barely escaped, but the current became too strong for her sister ship. She was seen to tip over the edge and was never seen again.

"The Will O' The Wisp and all aboard had indeed fallen over the edge of heaven. In the uttermost west Thalury pours over a great cataract, a vast waterfall with no bottom. Long the ship fell partially submerged within the waters of the sea, which had become a white sheet.

"The waters of the sea and even the air fell together with the ship, and there was little breeze. The ship tumbled, resting on nothing, and the crew felt no weight. They floated freely in the air, as though swimming under water, but some floated far away from the ship.

The small but constant breeze broke the sea sheet into globes of water, some the size of a man's head, others the size of a barn. Fish were seen swimming in many of these balls of water, and when the rations aboard the Will ran out these fish were the only source of food.

Yet none of the doomed men and nephilim suffered thirst as was common among marooned sailors of Earth, for Thalury was a freshwater sea ever renewed by ice melt. As the crew continued to fall, the dark underside of heaven became visible overhead like the inside of a mask

And it was seen and understood by the falling sailors that the Land We Know is really the lowest step in an endless stair, vast beyond all mortal imagination, and there is a second step rising to the east, and this step we know from this side of heaven as the Wall of God.

But the breeze blew the globes of water far apart one from the other and the heat of the two suns caused them to shrink until none of the water globes which remained near the ship held living fish. The survivors began to starve, and pondered killing each other for meat.

By the time the sailors were desperate enough to become cannibals they were too weak to successfully attack each other or do anything more than make pitiful moans. Then came the final days when they passed from the living one by one, according to their remaining strength.

The sailors found that death was not the end. They awoke in new bodies untouched by any scars of battle or the lash, looking down upon The Land We Know from the very rim of the Wall of God, four miles of sheer and implacable stone which none of the living have yet scaled.

The sailors who tarried atop the Wall of God heard feeble voices carried by the wind through a trick of sound reflecting on the stone precipice. Ever they walked the ramparts of heaven, hoping to hear the voices of their loved ones, and when they did it was bittersweet.

As time went on the newly dead found they were forgotten by their friends and even their loved ones sooner than they would have liked. The more impact a person had in their life the more fragments they heard so they lingered more, but the humble accepted the truth sooner.

At great length nearly all the dead came off the precipice and rested on the narrow lawn behind it, before the Upper Sea, waiting, they were told, for a white ship to come and take them east to an unknown destiny. The elohim refused to speak to them of their final fate.

The dead are told only, ""Great gifts are sweeter when they are but revealed in their fulfillment unspoiled by hasty tidings."" Within twenty years every member of Captain Skulldaggers's dead but resurrected crew passed over the Upper Sea to the east, and he alone remained.

Skulldagger has attained a form of immortality through infamy, and never a day passes but that his name is spoken aloud by someone below. Yet more often than not his name is spoken with a shudder, as the story of the Will O' The Wisp is told again to every new generation.

Marsayas said, ""Now I tell you all these things not that you do not fear your own death, which indeed is truly nothing to be feared, but that you know what you must do, presently, when each one of you find yourselves resurrected and standing the brink of the Wall of God."

When those words were spoken Marsayas drew out a weapon. Che cried out, "All glory be to Belphegor, lord of Magodon!" Che thrust forth with a cruel knife that was more a sharpened pipe with four twisting edges. The blade slipped through Lael's ribs to core out his heart.

As though by a pre-arranged signal, the six other jan of the House of Larund withdrew identical weapons and made to assail the men of Lael's little band of nomads, but they soon grew dismayed to find the little humans, both men and women, were ready to defend themselves.

Lael's wife Sariah restrained Marsayas' arm to prevent hem from striking her husband with a second blow but she was unaware Lael was already bleeding out. The six Brown Beards who had traveled with hem quickly jumped out of striking range of Abner, Asa, Josiah and Tobiah.

But the Judahite woman named Serach and the Benjaminite woman named Sela restrained two of the fleeing Brown Beards by embracing their calves. As they were dragged, four other jen were free to burst through an open hole in the ring of womenfolk seated around the campfire.

At the death cry of Lael the men who had been watching the animals on the rim of the camp immediately took the bows they carried on their backs and fitted arrows to them. They fired at Marsayas and two of the newcomers, shooting over the heads of the women hindering them.

Still, four of Marsayas' company were free to make for their real target and rushed toward the Ark of the Covenant to seize it. Lael's sons Rosh, Jemuel, and Elam had not been lulled to sleep by Marsayas' tale and had already drawn the swords dangling from their waists.

A fold-door appeared with Belphegor standing within, ready to take possession of the Tablet of the Abrahamic Covenant moments after one of the nephilim were able to seize it. But dark energy is limited and time was critical. Belphegor could not wait for very much longer.

Three individual sword duels commenced far more fierce than any of the jan had foreseen. This left a fourth Brown Beard free to draw near to the Ark and seize it, but Chokhmah now entered the fray. When the nephil touched the relic che immediately stiffened and fell dead.

Every beat of Lael's heart let out more of his life's blood and he sank to his knees. The body of Marsayas and two of the jen in hez party fairly bristled with arrows. Jemima, Keturah, and Susanna slipped daggers between the ribs of the nephilim strangers to finish them.

Atara, Keziah, Dinah, and Leah then dragged the three nephilim to one edge of the plateau where the men tending the flocks of animals helped cast them over the side, whether still living or not. Belphegor saw that Marsayas had failed him and that he had ran out of time.

The fold-door, which always resembled a glass or crystal ball taller than a man owing to the way it bent light, snapped into non-existence. The first attempt to seize the Ark had failed, and now the Laelites knew the Ark was a prize much sought by none less than a seraph.

A grieving Sariah sought to revive her husband, but his life had already slipped away. She held his body through the night and when the white sun became visible over the rim of the Wall of God the sons of Lael buried him on the flat of ground where they had made camp.

By that evening the shock of what had happened to them faded. None of the Brown Beards, if any had survived, crawled up to the plateau to renew their attack. So the three sons of Lael began to dispute which one of they would take up Lael's office of high priest and chief.

Jemuel sank to his knees and said, "O living God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, if you will, make known what man of us shall be high priest and hear your voice on the Day of Atonement." And in reply the graven sphinx decorating the cover of the Ark rotated to face Rosh.

Elam pondered this silently for a time, then said to his younger brother, "God favors you to be the High Priest, that is plain, and so the oracles of God shall be committed to you. But think you strangers will never again attempt to take from us the Ark of the Covenant?"

Rosh shook his head. "Our father Lael was a great prophet and while he was yet alive it was the will of God that the office of high priest and the office of judge should be in the grasp of one man. Yet even our father led us only where the Ark itself marked the way."

Let the offices of priest and judge be carried out by two sons of Lael according to our temperament. I will set foot on the path marked out by the oracle of God, spoken or otherwise, but in all other things, beloved brother, I shall obey as though you were our father.

Then Rosh removed he the cover of the Ark of the Covenant with his bare hands, yet Chokhmah did not smite him. And Rosh took he the White Scroll of Lael to record all the things leading to the death of his father, and wrote that Elam had become their judge and chieftain.

And it came to pass that the Ark led the Remnant west from the Wall of God to the Shaula Wood, but they were tracked by an officer of Belphegor's Extraordinary Force named Derash with a small platoon of lesser soldiers who had been taken to Haaretz by fold-door in pairs.

And Derash gave battle to the Remnant, and brought Elam into captivity, but his nephilim could not seize the Ark, for Rosh had hidden it within a tent that was not discernible from the thirteen identical tents of the people. And men of the Remnant drove the attackers off.

Derash put Elam to the most refined torment, but che learned naught of the movements of the Remnant as they were led by Chokhmah himself by means of the Ark. And Jemuel and Rosh led a war party from among the people to assail the camp of Derash and release their brother.

Elam put Derash to the sword in vengeance for his pain, and slew he also Hovan son of Bron the chieftain of Eniph. Jemuel's party wounded four others, but the unscathed jan and men were scattered into the depths of Shaula Wood and none save Telan Blackseed returned again.

Telan knew no one less than Lord Belphegor sent Derash on his errand, and Telan knew also that Belphegor would demand his own life in recompense should he flee with the faithless others after the errand of Derash failed. Therefore he sought Bron, Hovan's father, in Eniph.

But the Ark of the Covenant led the Remnant through a land of rolling ridges and scattered trees between Adjara and Lake Enkaa, then west between Mount Naratha and Mount Linan, and there the graven gold Director began to spin, and Elam called their wanderings to a halt.

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Strangers In Paradise