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When the vanguard of the Adanite expedition reached the shambles of the garrisoned cache they were ordered to line the walls of the central chamber at attention. Carrying a fat short staff, black in color, Bezaliel picked hyz way to the center searching for a flat area.

Hy found a spot that would suffice for hyz purposes and unscrewed a cap on the end of the staff, revealing it to be a hollow cylinder. Bezaliel withdrew a gray mat. Hy had been told by Samael hymself that a whisker extended from this mat to the heart of the sun itself.

Bezaliel could neither see nor feel this whisker, and indeed hy wondered how it was not cut or snapped when the mat was rolled up into the cylinder, but it was a divine mystery. All hy knew was that unrolling the mat would, in effect, summon Samael and Israel to appear.

Hy let the mat fly open by itself and stood back to wait. The living avatars of Keter and Daat were suddenly seen within what seemed to be a glass sphere. Bezaliel and all hyz yeng fell to their knees as though they were a single body as the two seraphim stepped forward.

Israel bids the yeng to rise. Bezaliel says, "Look what the she-demon Lilith has done, my lords!"

Samael looked at the sky visible through a new tunnel in the cave ceiling. Hy said, "Nay, this was Chokhmah, and not the first time I have been assailed by her avatar."

And Bezaliel dared not contradict hyz god, but hy did say, "My Lord has said that were Chokhmah to send an engine of war to heaven the line running back to her would be as fine as spider's silk, like between yourself and the gray mat. Lord, let your servant understand."

Samael deigned to reply to hyz thrall, for he deemed hyz failure with Zadkiel had been to keep hym uninformed. Hy said, "Chokhmah is my daughter. We share our living substance, which forms a short tube between us in our world, even as our bodies are far apart in yours."

Chokhmah, in the guise of her avatar, walked to heaven through this tube, so the link between herself and her avatar is short as well, and she can open a fold-door in heaven as easily as she can do so on Earth.

Lord, I fear the witch Lilith may appear at any time.

Of that you may have no fear," said Samael. "Every six days Chokhmah makes sufficient dark light to open a fold-door large enough for Lilith to enter, but where would sha go other than the heart of a sun to die? I would not open a target portal, and never would Israel.

A regiment of the Adanite army was left behind to set the garrison in order. It would be seven days before Daat could summon another fold-door. There was nothing for Samael and Israel to do but ride with Bezaliel and the bulk of the force to the west in pursuit of Lilith.

During the advance Bezaliel prattled on about the wickedness of Lilith, annoying Samael to an extreme, yet hy did nothing to silence his lieutenant, as Lilith was indeed Samael's foremost enemy in heaven, and Zadkiel had badly underestimated har to hyz final destruction.

After a number of days the Adanite expedition emerged from the ice and the underlying hills to reach the flats of Magodon, where like numbers of Brown Beards stood across the path of their advance. Two soldiers of the House of Larund advanced alone under flag of truce.

Neither Samael nor Israel wore emblems of rank. Their raiment was that of common footsoldiers, and no banners flew over them, yet the envoys from the Larund side steered toward the seraphim without error. Then Samael saw one herald was Lilith harself, to hyz admiration.

The other wore a brass helmet but when hy drew nearer Samael identified hym, from hyz own many visits to the court of King Metatron, to be Prince Barachiel. Both hy and Lilith dismounted and sank to both knees, bowing deeply before Samael and Israel with their hands open.

For Bezaliel to see hyz personal monster Lilith crouching before hym on har haunches, with har head offered as though a sacrifice to Samael, was too much. Hy stepped forward with hyz blade raised over hym and screamed, "See Lord how I remove this dart from your flesh!"

Still upon har knees, Lilith reached for the Golden Gift at har side. Even as Bezaliel's sword fell, the hissing black shaft extended and raised to meet it, and where they crossed Bezaliel's weapons was not. The severed tip fell to the ground as Lilith lept to har feet.

When sha saw that no second attack was forthcoming sha let the black shaft retract into the Golden Gift. Lilith said, "Has the purpose of our embassy been taken amiss? We come in the name of Chokhmah and King Metatron to trade words with the lords of heaven, not blows."

Samael said, "Alas, Princess, the discipline and even the honor of my army has lessened of late, to my embarrassment. Perhaps you can remedy this. Bezaliel is entirely within your power."

And Bezaliel was horror stricken as hyz own god turned him over to hyz nightmare.

Lilith touched the Golden Gift to Bezaliel's arms and legs in segments, letting all see how easy it was for har to turn a yang into a limbless ruin. Hyz agonized screams did not last long. Hy bled out at har feet.

Your weapon," said Samael. "I've not seen the like.

Lord Samael, this is the Golden Gift, the weapon of a cherub. Michael give it to my brother King Melchizedek, and now by heritage it is mine.

So be it, Queen Lilith," said hy. "State your piece.

Chokhmah may become willing to give you that which you most desire.

Your Highness, do you really know, do you even understand what it is I most desire?

The courtship of elohim is beyond anything angels could possibly know, Lord Samael. Yet Chokhmah has put me in something of the role of a chaperone. You must please me to please her.

And what must I do to please you?

First, milord, send the army of Adan back to the land of the Black Beards, and come not again save by leave of the rightful king.

Impossible, dear Queen. Did you not know I never relinquish one scrap where my forces make footfall?

Lilith turned to har companion. "What say you, Prince Barachiel? The elohim are nothing like angels or nephilim or men. It is in their very nature to be true to their word. The same restraint that makes Lord Samael's boast without repentance would hold hyz army here."

Barachiel said, "This land is of small worth. My father would be full willing, I deem, to give it in exchange for the word of a seraph that no Adanite boots would ever cross west. And if that seraph's word ever proved false that precedent, too, would be worth the land."

So answered, Queen Lilith struck up the Golden Gift once more. Sha dug a deep trench in the stony ground between har and the Adanites and said, "My Lord Samael, sight north and south along this line, for this shall be the inviolate frontier betwixt Magodon and Adan."

Samael said, "So too shall it be a fence barring the east to yourself and the Fallen Angels. You shall be queen in name only, with no city to rule. This doom is upon you, your daughter, and all who might come after."

"So shall it be,"" said Lilith, sealing the bargain.

"Such a trifling thing," said Samael. ""Are you now pleased, Queen Lilith? Is Chokhmah now sufficiently pleased that we may proceed to the other thing you spoke of?"

Not yet, milord. The kingdoms in the west are now safe from your army, yet there remains Demonstroke.

Yes, there remains Demonstroke," said Samael as hy reached over his shoulder to draw the diamond blade strapped to hyz back known as Dragonthorn. "There always remains Demonstroke.

From old many living creatures of Earth were brought to heaven through the fold-door.

In the main these creatures were killed by the hostile flora of heaven. Some survived to thrive in various niches or they were herd animals which men had tamed from distant antiquity. Keter knew they would breed beyond the capacity of heaven to feed them, man among them.

Just as the bodies of men were incrementally changed by Keter to produce angels and nephilim, there also appeared in heaven predators from the darkest dreams of man to keep all creatures in check, even Leviathan under the waves who devoured those who foundered therein.

When Keter introduced dragons all that went about on two legs had to keep one eye on the sky as surely as small four-legged creatures feared eagles. But all of the predators created by Keter were merely taken to be strong threads woven into the growing tapestry of heaven.

Men honored the wisdom of Keter in creating the dragons, and they were not truly afraid. For it was man and not any other beast who were the most terrible predators the universe had ever known from the day that fangless, clawless big-brained ape came down from the trees.

On Earth man had contended with lions and tigers and bears for his meat and now that he was unleashed on heaven so much the worse for heaven, dragons or no. The beasts were safe enough if they remained in their aeries where they bred only rarely, but they could be slain.

Lays commemorating the deeds of many dragon slayers, would-be or otherwise, were told in roadside inns dotting heaven They were told still, even as only a single dragon remained

Keter had long wearied of hyz toy after burning portions of many towns and cities across every land west of Adan. Of late hy held Demonstroke in reserve lest Chokhmah send her avatar to assail hyz army directly. Lilith, speaking for Chokhmah, offered a mutual disarmament.

So Samael made the diamond sword Dragonthorn to dart this way and that, and soon Demonstroke was seen in the sky. As he drew nearer the armies of both Brown Beards and Black Beards drew apart, leaving only Barachiel, Lilith, Samael, and Israel standing at the new border.

The dragon circled to the north and lined up on the border. Even Samael backed away from the line then, and the others found it prudent to follow his cue. Lilith was fascinated by the grace of the landing. The wings of Demonstroke spread to their full extent and he sank.

His hind legs touched first, then he tipped forward to run on all fours. Demonstroke came to a stop and sank to the ground directly between the four nobles, and exactly on the trench Lilith had carved and sha saw that the beast did not belch smoke or even seem to breathe.

With the beast so inert, Lilith's curiosity overcame har caution and sha advanced to touch the creature's hide. Sha found its scales did not merely have the appearance of metal, they were metal. Lilith guessed a truth about the dragon then, but said nothing to Barachiel.

Starting at the dragon's tail, Lord Samael walked up along its back. Hy said to Lilith, "Come, Your Royal Highness. Let us leave Demonstroke in the keeping of King Uriel and so complete our bargain."

Sha saw Samael seat hymself forward of a horn on the dragon's back.

Further, Lilith saw that Samael, who was patting hyz thighs, expected har to sit in turn forward of hym and behind a shorter horn. Sha sighed and took the indicated position, knowing it was the only way to be done of har errand for Michael. And Demonstroke sprang to life.

Lilith was not dismayed by the sensation of sudden rapid flight. Sha had flown much higher and faster many times within the avatar of Chokhmah. Far below she saw Prince Barachiel turn west to ride to hyz father and say hy had given away the eastern hinterlands of Magodon.

Sha also saw the Adanite force dispersing at the command of Israel to garrison their new province against invaders who would never come. All the while Samael's thumb touched gems on Dragonthorn and the beast obeyed, which Lilith thought too mundane a ritual for a spell.

Demonstroke's head bent bent back over them on its long neck and fire spewed out in a jet that propelled the dragon into the sky, pushing Lilith against Samael, and hy in turn against the bony ridge at the place where the serpentine neck joined to the rest of his body.

The dragon rose until the air became almost too thin for Lilith to breathe. Then Demonstroke's head bent forward again. He extended his wings and with gentle flaps the beast extended his glide as much as possible as the wastelands of Magodon rose to meet them underneath.

Then, when the tops of deadly trees native to heaven nearly brushed the belly of Demonstroke, he bent his head back again and let loose another long jet of flame. They chased the sun out over the Rammon Sea. Lilith lost count of the cycles as Sealiah Island grew ahead.

Lilith began to wonder, did Samael never eat? Did hy never even piss? If it was to be a test of wills sha vowed sha would not be the first to speak. But as westering Keter sank below the horizon they glided down to one of the many scattered campfires visible on Sealiah.

A party of Black Beards were preparing to sup around their fire on the moors in the north of the isle when Demonstroke appeared and scattered them all away in abject terror. When the dragon came to a stop, Samael slid off to check what was cooking, and seemed pleased.

Lilith joined hym after pissing behind the beast's bulk and found supper was a good beef stew made all the more delicious by har near starvation. Sha smiled and said, "You must have done this before. Will your pet be having some?"

Hy grinned in turn and shook hyz head.

Obviously, Lord Samael, your 'dragon' isn't really alive. It's a contrivance of some kind, like Chokhmah's avatar, except that it can appear to move like a beast. Tell me, is that why we must ride on its back? Would we be ducking pulleys and ropes if we rode inside?

You are quite correct, Your Majesty," said hy. "What a clever yen to have guessed Demonstroke is mechanical after sitting upon its metal hide for hours as it whisked har across Magodon. Tell me, did you imagine any living thing could maintain such a fire within itself?

Lilith shrugged. "Perhaps I fell prey to the delusion that you have fostered among angels and nephilim and men that nothing is impossible to any of the elohim."

Demonstroke has a different purpose than the avatar of Chokhmah. It is not meant to carry anyone around. Think ye Lilith were this Chokhmah's avatar, and we had finished killing Eyes of Keter, and had finished destroying stores in the ice, and had scattered yeng to steal their food, how soon they would already be running back like Michael hymself at Salem that first time.

Queen Lilith took a deep swig from a wineskin no one would try to reclaim by reason of the nearby dragon. "By the gods you have thought of everything, Lord Samael. But when we leave the beast with Uriel what is the qualifying stipulation? With you there is always one."

I will tell the king that Demonstroke is controlled only by Dragonthorn, which is true, and that Dragonthorn must only be touched by a virgin human female or it will grow brittle, and that is not true now but it will be true when we reach Jelaket in the land of Sastrom.

Lilith laughed. "I knew it had to be something like that. Did you know that Michael calls you Hasatan?"

The Accuser?" Samael considered it, then shrugged. "That's fair.

What puzzles me is who it must be that accepts your accusations. Not Michael, certainly. Michael has said he considers humans and nephilim and angels to be students, Lord Samael. The worst you could possibly do is expose situations where world-dwellers might benefit from instruction. And you would never speak of us to Ein Sof, the great city of all elohim.

So it seems the only audience you have as you perform the role of Hasatan is Daat, the other parent of Chokhmah. And that is pathetic, wouldn't you agree?

You know nothing of this, Your Majesty. You neglected to mention my son Chesed, the step-brother of Chokhmah.

Chesed, you see, was a potential open route to Ein Sof through Tiferet, but that way was closed forever when Daat brought him into our, ah, project.

Too late, Samael realized the yin had somehow maneuvered hym into revealing a thing that Chokhmah didn't even know. Briefly, hy considered killing Lilith on the spot, but somehow sha read hyz fleeting emotion as though hy were an unfurled scroll. Sha said, "Chokhmah is prepared to negotiate that you may join with her, Lord Samael, but my personal safety is one of the non-negotiables."

Do not make the mistake of thinking Chokhmah has all the advantages in a courtship, Your Majesty. She has been in existence for seven thousand years, did you not know? Most elohim become mothers within the scale of a single human lifetime. She cannot put it off forever.

Then it was Queen Lilith's turn to momentarily reveal an emotion, but it was one of slight disgust. Sha said, "No doubt elohim have physical imperatives, Lord Samael, but I do not care to listen to any details. It would be like the mommy daddy talk, but for living suns."

Then eat your fill of what our hosts have so kindly prepared for us, nay, more than your fill. Tomorrow morning we shall rise over the Nine Mile Wall that rears behind Rumbek. By this time tomorrow we shall be near Elketz. In four days we shall glide over the Wall of God.

Samael stacked fuel nigh to the inert bulk of Demonstroke out of the wind and kindled another fire there. Upon an outer garment hy stretched hymself out, cursing the need of all world-dwellers to suspend their consciousness when it grew dark, in heaven as it was on Earth.

Before the Deluge heaven was nearly completely circled by the Really Big River that was born on the frozen flanks of Mt. Tureth and twisted its way east between the Northern and Southern Ice, which were then five hundred miles apart. Six vertical miles the river dropped.

In those days the River emptied into the largest sea in heaven, known as Thalury. But the Great Deluge intervened to deepen the ice age. The northern and southern glacial sheets moved to within three hundred miles of each other, and in three places the ice was joined.

West of Rumbek the land of Magodon rises steadily to become the very roof of heaven. Here lies the most extensive merger of the two ice caps, yet glacier-carved U-shaped valleys bore deep into the mountains, and a single way exists to skirt Mt. Tureth and pass beyond.

Here pairs of large wooden cages dangling from ropes and pulleys carry travelers and freight over a vast staircase of twenty-four cliffs, each ranging from sixty-five to three hundred feet. Every haul that goes up is balanced by a slightly heavier haul that goes down.

South of Mt. Tureth the two dozen scattered cliffs merge into a fearsome sheer rock wall some ten thousand feet high that stretches clear to the southern ice pack. This is the Wall of God, festooned with innumerable cataracts, and there is not its like anywhere on Earth.

Demonstroke pitched over. For three air miles he dropped a mile in elevation, even as the treetops of the extreme western marches of Magodon remained just below his belly. Then he reached the ledge of the Wall of God and was out over the void. Lilith gasped at the view.

Lilith saw Thalury then, diminished from its antediluvian majesty yet still the greatest sea in heaven. A bay reached all the way to the foot of the Wall of God, dividing the land of Sastrom from Haaretz to the south. Demonstroke was like a gnat sinking outside a castle.

At the base of the Wall of God was a jumble of talus with some boulders as large as a house. These gave way to foothills that dropped another mile before reaching bottom land. Samael guided the dragon north over a series of forested ridges to reach the city of Jelaket.

At Adan in the east angels number in their hundred thousands, and nephilim in their thousands, but humans only in their hundreds. In Rimmon in the uttermost west humans number in their hundred thousands and nephilim in their thousands, but angels only in their hundreds.

Magodon, which had taken Samael and Lilith the better part of a week to cross even by dragon, had angels and nephilim in the tens of thousands but humans numbered only in the thousands. Now they had crossed over into the three lands of the Red Beards divided by Thalury.

There humans and nephilim were counted in the tens of thousands, but angels only in their thousands. King Uriel hemself was a nephil, while hez daughter Dafla was human. Lilith knew the course of this Dafla's life was to irrevocably change when they arrived in Jelaket.

The city was the keystone of heaven, a seaport and the first step in the staircase to Mt. Tureth. She was the gatehouse for all goods moving east and west and grew fat on the duties levied thereon in commerce interrupted only by war or, just once, by Demonstroke himself.

Many of the people of Jelaket remembered when the monster came last, and they were not happy memories. When Samael sticked a landing in the large outer courtyard of the castle of King Uriel, near the stables, hy was most unwelcome, but a flying dragon need never knock.

Watching from the ramparts, King Uriel saw hez archers assemble in a wary circle around the beast as the two riders dismounted. One che recognized as the seraph Samael, but the other, a yin arrayed for war, che knew not. They conversed with hez guard, and one ran inside.

Uriel reached a silent count of nearly fifty before the soldier appeared. "Your Majesty, Lord Samael has arrived, and with hym is Queen Lilith of Salem. Sha says they have flown upon Demonstroke from the frontier between Magodon and Adan and crave audience with the king."

The king said, "And shall I treat with foreign nobility while their living engine of war skulks within the walls of my castle like a blade over my neck?"

Your Majesty, Lord Samael swore the beast will not move one whit so long as hy and the queen remain as your guests.

And King Uriel knew of a surety they were the words of Lord Samael, not that he once doubted hez soldier. Che knew Samael could never resist coating hyz menace with a honeyed tongue. Che said, "Attend to our visitors' needs and seat them in the smaller council chamber. And send to notify the First Minister. When Lord Samael and the queen are ready we will see them alone, Makassar and myself." Uriel knew the dragon must portend some form of humiliation and it would not do to receive these visitors in the big hall with others to witness.

At a casual first glance, First Minister Makassar Bronzesaber might be mistaken for the king of the Red Beards, and Uriel merely his son. As a human male, for instance, Makassar really had a red beard, while the actual king, as a jen, could only manage a sparse down.

Lilith and Samael stood up when they entered, but Uriel said, "I beg you, esteemed ones, be seated once more. I do not relish trying to observe all the correct formalities here. A seraph in the castle of a cherub? An ophan whose claim to har throne has outrun news of it?"

They both seemed pleased by this overture and resumed their seats as King Uriel took his own seat at the head of the table. Makassar remained standing at the king's side as though interposing between Uriel and Samael, and he was armed with a sword. Samael glanced at it.

Uriel glanced at Samael glancing at it. Che said, "Forgive the perceived affront, great ones, if Minister Makassar is girded for violence, but my servants tell me that you, at least, Lord Samael, bear a weapon yourself, and would not lay it aside. I am a cautious jen."

Deliberately, with a stately pace, Samael brought out the diamond blade and laid it on the table with the hilt toward the king. Hy said, "Dragonthorn is not so much a weapon as a talisman, Your Majesty, with powerful spells to act as invisible reins upon Demonstroke."

Lord Samael, what does your dragon, or this blade, bewitched or no, have to do with me or any of the House of Bellon?

Your Majesty, if you please," put in Lilith, "the answer is bound up with the bloody dispute raging inside House Adan. My father Melchiyahu is dead. Samael took the natural death of my father as the signal to rekindle the Adanite family squabble and moved on Salem." Lilith grew bitter as sha spoke. "My brother, King Melchizedek, suffered a decidedly unnatural death. So I took my faction west but Samael followed. Your Majesty, Michael has revealed to me that no matter how wicked we might deem a particular eloah to be, without exception all elohim hold themselves bound by their word. So it fell to war to unseat my brother from the throne. A mere edict from Samael would not do. Also Samael has said that wheresoever the boots of his host go, there is the frontier of the House of Adan, forever, and so it must needs be. Yet I drew a line east of Rumbek, and Samael can do nothing but hold to hyz word that no Adanite arrayed for war shall cross west. Yet I knew with hyz dragon alone Lord Samael could lay waste to every city outside of Adan. Naturally the question of what to do with Demonstroke arose as we parleyed. In the proposed bargain, Your Majesty, the Dragonthorn blade is brought here into your safekeeping.

More specifically," Lod Samael put in, "the blade must go into the keeping of a human female of the House of Bellon: a girl who has never known man nor jen nor ambi nor yang. She must remain sexually pure for all the days she possesses Dragonthorn, or it will shatter.

Again, Lord Samael," demanded the king, "why the Red Beards?

When I brought humans into heaven from the other world I have ever played the natural philosopher, mixing potions to see what happens. Can one maid child among you remain chaste or do I break the glassware?

Lilith spoke quickly to fill the sudden awkward silence as King Uriel fumed. "Lord Samael makes an unfortunate joke, Your Majesty. All of heaven knows you to be a good and wise king. Who better to keep the dragon out of play than a consecrated virgin in your own court?"

Equally unfortunate," said Uriel, "that I am not in the mood to accept veiled threats, though they be explained away as weak jests. Take your diamond sword, Lord Samael, and make your offer to Queen Aurra.

After Uriel had uttered hez decision the blade began to glow.

Blue and white the weapon shone, so bright that Uriel, Makassar, and Lilith shielded their eyes. Samael simply looked away. When the glow faded once more hy said, "The deed is done. Dragonthorn will shatter of its own accord without a damsel's touch, and that soon."

Nothing will then restrain Demonstroke from carrying out the purpose I instilled in him when he was first created. He will relentlessly seek out and extinguish the life of every planet-dweller in heaven, no matter how long it takes. And he will begin here in Sastrom.

"Your orders, my liege?"" asked the First Minister, and the king saw his hand gripped the sword beneath his tunic.

"Hold!"" Uriel barked, for this was the humiliation the king had expected. Che caught the glance of Lilith. ""Did you know?"

Not the details, Your Majesty.

King Uriel looked into the eyes of Samael then and saw the matter was clearly nothing even Queen Lilith could describe as an unfortunate joke. Che stood up. "Makassar, send for wine and see to our noble guests. A grievous errand has fallen to me and I must be about it."

Uriel loved his nine year old daughter above all others. The King was almost supernaturally patient with Dafla and denied her not the least thing. Even with all life in heaven hanging upon a slender thread, che listened to the girl as she spoke of last night's dream.

Dafla said, "Father, I dreamed it was night and the ground was covered with sleeping metal children. People came out of the sky in two tall silver engines of war that spouted fire, but they wore armor and I didn't know if they were men or women, jin or ambe, yen or yeng."

The first person picked up one of the metal children and they went into the first tower, and somehow I knew that metal child was myself, in the strange way of dreams. We flew into the sky and we were safe. But the second person stayed behind to pick up more children.

"Even though I knew I was was flying away and safe, somehow I was also there watching the second person look for as many metal children as they could find, but that person was caught by strange men and killed. Then I awoke. Is that not the strangest dream you ever heard?"

Uriel smiled at hez Dafla. "I shall interpret your very strange dream, child. The first person in your dream is really myself. You feel protected around me, which is a good thought, because my entire will is bent toward keeping you safe. The second person is your mother. Dafla, your dear mother wanted to have other children by me, and those were the other little metal people in your dream. But in real life, as we know, she fell victim to poison in her drink, and so she was killed by the palace intrigues that never cease here in Jelaket."

"As simple as that, Father?"

"As simple as that. At night your sleeping mind creates images to express what you feel deep in your heart. You are still dealing with your grief. I take solace from the content of your dream that you do not blame me for your mother's death."

"Never, Father!" Dafla was shocked at the mere suggestion that she would think that, or even dream it.

The king placed a hand on hez daughter's hand to reassure her, and che said, "If you did blame me, even in your inner heart, your dream would have been very different."

"Father why have you not married once more? Do you fear a second wife would be killed as well?"

"Not so, Dafla. Soon a woman will try to wedge herself into my life and I will know the identity of the poisoner." Uriel did not mention that che would wed Makassar instead.

Now we must set aside talk of your dreams, daughter, and our lingering grief for your mother, and our lamentation over things we can never change. Did you see the dragon?

Oh, yes father, but only for a little while. First Minister Makassar came and locked my window.

Forgive him, Dafla, he did so only at my command, that you might be safe. Did you know this evening I have been speaking with two nobles who came with the dragon from the uttermost east? One of them is Lilith, Queen of Salem. I do not believe you have seen har before.

But the other noble is a seraph named Samael. In Adan hy is a greater lord than even a king, though hy has no power to rule here. Lord Samael has taken counsel with me before on a number of occasions. Have you learned something of the elohim from your tutors, Dafla?

Yes, father, I have learned that the elohim are alive but they are not like angels or nephilim or humans. They never die. We see them as stars. Chokhmah is really the star we call Nahash, or the head of the snake. Keter and Daat are so close to us we see them as suns.

All that is true, Dafla. Your tutors are excellent. But in less than even your short lifetime the elohim have begun to appear to us in the form of angels as well. No one knows how they are able to do this, but the first was Chokhmah, whom we know as the seraph Michael.

The eloah we see as the cold orange sun called Daat is also seen in heaven as a youth named Israel. And the hot white sun, Keter, has Samael as his living avatar. This is the same Samael who has spoken with me this evening, Dafla, and I would that you might meet hym.

Dafla slid off her bed where she had been sitting and rushed to embrace her father. "Of course I will see him, simply because you wish it. But many lords and ladies have visited you before and I was never invited to meet them."

Truly, daughter, I do not wish this.

I don't understand, father.

Samael has used hyz dragon for murder, and it can hunt down every living thing in heaven. But Queen Lilith has forced a bargain on hym. The dragon will stay with us, forever. But Samael always gives with one hand and takes with the other.

Beloved Dafla, this dragon, Demonstroke, is controlled by a talismanic blade, the largest diamond in heaven. But now only one such as yourself can touch it. Only a human female who has never been a mother or a wife. Do you see why I wish the dragon had never come here?

I think so, father.

Still, Dafla, you are too young to understand everything that Samael will take away from you if you accept the Dragonthorn. In years to come, what you cannot be will weigh upon your body and mind as a terrible burden. Yet what choice do we have?

Father, do you fear that I, at age nine, have no right to decide something for the Dafla at age nineteen? Of course I do! That's just me living my life!" "Such wisdom in a child," wondered Uriel. "Do you know when I hear your words I hear the voice of your mother?

When Uriel introduced Dafla to the nobles waiting with Makassar Lilith knew it could be none other than the king's own daughter who must safeguard the dragon. Samael had conditioned it upon her celibacy, and Uriel, for as long as he reigned, could control that absolutely.

Seeing the diamond blade lying on the table and knowing Lord Samael had given it complete power over the dragon, a deception suggested itself to Uriel as a way to lighten the lifetime burden that was about to be laid upon Dafla. Che said, "Behold, daughter

Take up the sword and none shall have the power to deny your least whim, except touching the one matter of which we spoke. The dragon shall obey you, Dafla. All my subjects shall obey you. If you so choose, I must obey you, as well as Queen Lilith, and even Lord Samael.

The king's daughter did take up the sword, unleashing another light show that impressed everyone present save Samael, who worked it, and Lilith, the wife and first disciple of Michael, who knew all sorcery to be showmanship like the ruse Uriel was carrying out with Dafla.

Lord Samael said, "I commend you, King Uriel, Demonstroke is now bound by chains that may only be broken by an act of human will. Furthermore, you have the means to travel anywhere in heaven in mere days that would otherwise take a year or more. And none dare assail you."

King Uriel said, "Yes, Lord Samael, I considered that when I weighed laying this yoke upon Dafla, that it should be made lighter with a dragon at my beck and call. I need not see you again peddling arms of Adanite craftsyeng and making off with the gold of my treasury."

Dafla took this cue and decided to test the power of the Dragonthorn blade. She pointed the tip at Lord Samael and said, "Leave at once, on foot if you must, and never return!" She pointed the tip at Lilith as well. "And you too, for your part in upsetting my father!"

Lilith raised har eyebrows, stood up, reached inside har breastplate, removed a fragment of parchment, and handed it to Samael. Sha said, "I do not understand any of the symbols written here, but Michael said you would know them and take this to be our next destination."

Samael read the parchment and summoned a fold-door, the one bit of sorcery that even Lilith could not put down as a trick. Sha and Samael were enveloped by an insubstantial dome that showed forth a land free of snow, roaring with the dim sound of Mt. Anshar in eruption.

Lilith bowed to the king and said, "Farewell, Your Majesty! May good fortune be with you and all who look to you." Then with a loud noise that frightened Dafla to tears they were gone, leaving only an unnecessary crater in the floor that had become Samael's signature.

For generations Chokhmah and Keter carried out a test to see if one clan on Earth could maintain a covenant with the elohim without any intervention. The eloah Daat, in the guise of a yang named Israel, made hyz first journey Canaan to see the place with hyz own eyes.

Israel took little thought for his personal safety. Chokhmah said Yakob was more the son of his mother than the son of his father, by all accounts a man who preferred the womanly arts of whispering and plotting to more masculine action on the field of the hunt or battle.

When Israel caught up with Yakob he was crossing the river Jordan. There Yakob sent messengers meet his brother Esau and mention that he had a lot of spare animals, hopefully to smooth over any hard feelings Esau might still have from being cheated out of his Blessing.

Yakob and Esau were twins but Esau had become a cunning hunter, a extroverted man of the field, while Yakob was an introverted man dwelling in tents. Esau derived his "life, and life more abundantly" from the earthly goods which he was able to obtain by his own efforts.

Yakob, as the more interior man, would never be able to compete on those terms. Yet he was a survivor. He would contrive to obtain more abundant life another way. The first step was to claim the Birthright, which entitled Isaac's son to a double share of Abraham's estate.

One time Esau's individualism failed him. He came in from the field famished, literally near death, and begged Yakob for some food. Yakob provided bread and lentil soup, but the price was Isaac's Birthright that was Esau's by dint of being born just moments before Yakob.

Esau was more than willing to trade his Birthright away, so close to death was he. Centuries later one Saulus, a follower of Yeshua (the human avatar of Chokhmah's daughter Binah) would say anyone who did not provide for those of his own house was worse than an infidel.

As it turned out, Esau just needed a little help that one time. So he left with a full stomach and almost convinced himself the Birthright was nothing much anyway. The real prize was the Blessing, which conveyed authority. But Yakob, with Mom's help, would snag that too.

The messengers returned saying that Esau was coming out to meet Yakob with four hundred men, so he divided his caravan in twain. If Esau smote one, the other might escape. Yakob prayed to El Shaddai for deliverance, then set aside a portion of his herd as a gift to Esau.

Yakob sent two hundred twenty goats, two hundred twenty sheep, thirty camels, fifty cattle, twenty asses, and ten foals, which his servants took on ahead to deliver to Esau. As for Yakob himself, he hung back as a rearguard, not against Esau but someone else he spotted.

Yakob hid himself amid thick vegetation near the place where the Zarqa River merged with the Jordan River. When the stranger approached, unaware of Yakob's presence, Yakob assailed him suddenly and there ensued a bitter fistfight that changed into an epic wrestling match.

The stranger kept grasping Yakob's clothing to hurl him around, so Yakob shed his clothing and fought entirely in the nude. Then Israel saw how Abraham's grandson bore the peculiar genital mutilation that Keter had demanded in hyz bid to sabotage Chokhmah's experiment.

So Israel had the answer hy had come to Earth looking for, but there was still the small matter of the ongoing tussle. As they fought Yakob kept asking, "Who are you?" but Israel refused to say. As the night wore on hy grew dismayed how Yakob proved to be so tenacious.

Israel wrenched Yakob's femur out of its socket at the hip, causing intense torment, but Yakob refused to yield. At dawn Israel, a full cubit taller than Yakob and far more bulky, was at the end of his own resources and near exhaustion. He commanded Yakob to let him go.

Yakob said, "I will not release you until you tell me who you are and bless me."

Mastema-Israel said, "No longer shall men call you Yakob, but Israel, for you have contended with gods and men alike, and you have prevailed, and you have even wrested my name away, and taken it for your own."

Yakob said, "I will never release you until you tell me who you are and bless me!"

Israel said, "No longer shall men call you Yakob. You are Israel. For you have contended even with a god, and you have prevailed. You have wrested my name away and taken it for your own."

Then Yakob unhanded the bruised, living avatar of Daat, nameless now. Hy had sufficient dark energy banked to crack open a fold-door little more than a cubit tall, just enough to wriggle back into heaven like a maggot, and hy never came again closer than the Earth's moon.

Three of Israel's sons found Pop beaten and unable to stand with a dislocated hip. Two of them held him down with a bit between his teeth while the third popped it back in place. With help he was able rejoin his wives, but he walked with a limp for the rest of his life.

Esau drew near with his men. Israel put forth his eleven children with their four mothers, then passed in front of them and bowed before his brother. And to Israel's everlasting surprise, Esau did not strike him, but rather embraced and kissed him, and they both wept.

So the great family feud was ended, if there ever had been a feud. After Yakob had fled many years prior, Esau soon forgot that his Blessing had been stolen by his twin, since he obtained most of Isaac's possessions anyway, and after that he had come to miss his brother.

Israel introduced his children and their mothers to Esau, and he begged his brother to accept the gift of herd animals he had already sent to him, saying, "Take them please, my lord, because El Shaddai has dealt graciously with me, and I have enough. More than enough!"

Throughout the meeting Israel was courteous to his brother and called him "my lord" though the Blessing required Esau to call Israel lord. The love Israel had for his brother outshone all that. And Esau assured Israel that none of his men gave Israel his ass kicking.

Esau agreed to go on ahead because Israel had children and young animals and a limp, and he could not travel very fast. So they parted on good terms and both brothers rejoiced that things had transpired so. When next they met, in a year, it was to bury their father Isaac.

Israel would ponder the strange nighttime fight for the rest of his life, whenever his limp prompted him. Ultimately he drew the conclusion that El Shaddai had sent a thrall to put him to the test, even as his grandfather had been tested with an order to slay his father.

Isaac had little love for the God of his father after his brush with death, and this ambivalence seemed to breed true in Esau, who didn't know what to say when he helped Israel lay their father to rest. Israel was the more devout son, made all the more so by the fight.

As the head of his large and still-growing family Israel was also the high priest who mediated the covenant El Shaddai had initiated with his grandfather, but only his third son, Levi, seemed willing to aid him in making the required yearly sacrifice of the best animals.

Israel knew he could do a thing that would assure his progeny would never dwindle in their devotion to El Shaddai, simply by making it in the best interest of his son Levi, and Levi's sons after him, to maintain that devotion. This he did by forbidding them to own land.

Israel lived to see his family grow to seventy persons, and when he died there was no single patriarch holding authority over all his descendants. But the seed of Levi scattered among their kin and dependent upon them for necessities became the glue that united the clan.

When Levi died, his son Kohath became high priest. He introduced the special garments that the progeny of Levi wore when they made burnt offerings to El Shaddai. And his son Amram was wed to his sister Yochebed, for such close marriages were not yet forbidden by the Law.

During the lifetime of Amram the children of Israel increased in numbers to became a tribe. Some tended wandering herds of livestock as Israel had done, but others settled in the hill country east of the great sea where reliable rains made it possible to grow food crops.

When Amram's son Aaron became high priest, Chokhmah left in his keeping a fired clay tablet, charcoal in color, with ten lines of proto-Sinaitic cuniform characters into which molten gold had been poured. This was the Abrahamic covenant, but Aaron couldn't read a word.

Nevertheless the origin of the tablet was literally out of this world. Aaron's son Eleazar built a chest of wood to contain the relic, and with his brothers Nadab, Abihu and Ithamar he would carry it before Aaron from settlement to settlement among the children of Israel.

By the time Eleazar begat his son Phinehas the twelve clans of Israel had become tribes in their own right, and sufficient gold had been collected by the Levites to completely cover the cabinet containing the tablet of the covenant. The ark became itself a holy relic.

It would not do to let the now holy ark to be exposed to the elements, so the high priest Phinehas caused a tent of fine linen and the skins of animals to be constructed to cover it. By the time his son Abishua became high priest even this tent had become holy in turn.

So the extra special fort of blankets was covered by even more blankets, and accessed on the day of atonement through a run-of-the-mill fort of blankets. The first time Abishua did this, Chokhmah spoke to him from the ark of the covenant and told him to remove the tablet.

Chokhmah walked Abishua through the ten lines of gold embossed symbols on the black tablet that captured the Abrahamic covenant, beginning with the first declaration, "I AM YOUR LORD GOD." In generations to come on "I AM" or "Yahweh" would be taken to be Chokhmah's name.

Chokhmah told Abishua the next line (and first imperative) said "SERVE NO OTHER GODS" and in the future this would seem strange to the children of Israel after they came to believe Yahweh was the only God in existence, and there were no other gods to serve in any event.

The next imperative was "COUNTENANCE NO INJUSTICE" and this had led to the rise of courts and judges to settle disputes within and between the twelve tribes and to punish wrongdoers. There was among the people a deep reluctance to testify falsely or to break solemn oaths.

The fourth row on the tablet said, "CRAVE NOTHING OF ANOTHER" and struck at the impulse that led to theft or even adultery. This was followed by "DO NOT IMITATE THE STRANGERS' WAYS" which prohibited everything from setting up idols to engaging in homosexual relations.

The sixth precept was Daat's contribution to the experiment. It said, "DO NOT CONSUME BLOOD" and there was no objective reason for this to be included. It was a capricious whim introduced merely to test the willingness of the human participants to adhere to the covenant.

The line items proscribing the ingestion of pork and shellfish were from Chokhmah, who thought they might prevent food-borne ailments. When archaeologists dug up sites in Canaan thousands of years later the Israelite towns were the ones entirely missing remains of pigs.

Keter's favorite one was there too, commanding the males among the Israelites to be circumcised. He threw it in there to sabotage the whole operation, but they did it anyway, even unto the third generation as Daat confirmed, and there was ample evidence they still did so.

The final imperative written on the tablet was to observe the annual day of atonement, and this represented the sole opportunity Chokhmah had, according to the original conditions of the long experiment, to have direct contact with the people through the high priest.

As far as Chokhmah was concerned the experiment was effectively over. Keter could no longer call for the destruction of the human race on the grounds of disobedience. In this way Chokhmah's promise to Abraham that "all the Earth shall find blessing in you" was fulfilled.

By conversing with the high priest and shaping facts on the ground Chokhmah was able to gradually increase their influence until, culminating in Eli, they became judges over the whole confederation of tribes. But contact was limited to a yearly basis and hence inflexible.

What Chokhmah wanted was a prophet, but not like Zadkiel, who had gotten his marching orders while groveling at the feet of Keter. What she did instead was use a small fold-door to leave a gadget the size of a grain of rice inside the head of a young man named Samuel.

Then she would tell Samuel to go around saying things like on a certain day at such-and-such a valley the Philistines would be swallowed by the Earth, and sure enough, a sinkhole would open under the feet of a company of Philistines, making them easy pickings for archers.

On occasion, very rarely since Chokhmah was not nearly as cruel as Keter, the Philistines would be the victims of divine fire. More frequently, she would relay to Israelite army commanders, through Samael, intelligence on enemy movements. By degrees Canaan fell in line.

Chokhmah communicated to Samuel that the religious function of the meeting tent, or tabernacle, should be transferred to a permanent structure to fulfill her original promise of making Canaan the permanent home of the children of Israel. She chose the city of Jerusalem.

It took twenty years to build the temple and Samuel did not live to see its completion. But when it was finished the chieftain of the Judahites, Rehoboam, thought it lent a sufficiently beautiful and glorious ambiance to Jerusalem that he declared himself to be a king.

Not to be outdone, Jeroboam of the Ephraimites put on kingly robes himself. He built up his capital first at Shechem in the saddle between Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal, but them moved his court to Penuel east of the Jordan River where Jacob once fought Israel to a draw.

To prevent the people from going down to the new temple in Jerusalem to worship there, Jeroboam set up a golden calf at Bethel and told everyone it was God Most High all along, and the feast days for the golden calf were timed to coincide with the feast days in Jerusalem.

Nadab succeeded Jeroboam upon his father's death and reigned as king for two years before falling prey to a plot among the officers within his own army. He was slain by Captain Baasha of the tribe of Issachar, who made himself king and waged war against Judah continually.

Baasha was succeeded by his son Elah, but Elah drank to excess and was slain by General Zimri, who commanded half of his charioteers. Then Zimri destroyed the whole house of Baasha, leaving no male heir alive. He ascended to the throne himself in yet another palace coup.

But when news spread that Zimri had set himself up as king in Elah's stead, the army proclaimed General Omri as the true king of Samaria and marched from Gibbethon to lay siege to Tirzah for a week. Zimri let the palace burn around himself rather than be captured alive.

But the Israelites of the northern territories outside of the two tribes of Joseph held forth that Tibni was their king rather than this Omri. Civil war raged four years until Tibni was slain, but following this bloodshed was a long peace even with Tyre and the Judahites.

King Omri was strong enough to make Samaria the greatest power between the Nile and Euphrates rivers during the time of turmoil when the Bronze Age made an uneasy transition to the Iron Age. Omri ruled for twelve years and when he died he left the kingdom to his son Ahab.

Early in his reign Ahab forged an alliance with the Phoenicians by gaining the hand of Princess Jezebel in marriage. Her father was both king of Tyre and a priest of the fertility goddess Astarte. Jezebel herself had been trained to attend to Baal, the consort of Astarte.

The rot started small. Queen Jezebel needed a shrine to keep up her Baal priestess certification so Ahab caused one to be made for her in the city of Samaria. But Baal looked so lonely there all by himself, not moving an inch. He needed a shrine for his wife Astarte too.

By slow degrees the Phoenician shrines multiplied in Samaria, and with them their attendant priests and priestesses. There was a new prosperity that came with the alliance and the people grew willing to accept the religious encroachments of their glamorous new queen.

When King Jeroboam first set up an image of a golden calf at Bethel and told his subjects it was El Elyon, or God Most High, there wasn't much Chokhmah could say about it. A ban on making idols wasn't part of the original Abrahamic covenant and even the ark had sphinxes.

But bringing over from Tyre the priests and idols of pre-existing gods was too much for Chokhmah to stomach. And a man named Elijah thought so too. He made it a hobby to get in the king's face about the issue and constantly reminded His Majesty that his God was Yahweh.

At last Queen Jezebel got tired of the insolence of this Elijah and convinced her husband to bring matters to a head with a public demonstration. Two altars were prepared with slain bulls. The first priest who could get his god to magically light a bull on fire wins.

Jezebel, who considered religion as a political tool, thought it was much more likely that neither god would actually strike fire, in which case the arrangement was for Elijah to speak no more to the king of Yahweh and allow the people to choose which would be their god.

When Baal seemed to be taking his own sweet time setting his bull aflame his chief priest called in forty reinforcements to wail and plead and rip their garments and pluck hairs from their heads and beards. Elijah called for jugs of water and completely dowsed his bull.

It was show time. Chokhmah opened a small fold-door inside her bull and allowed a small burst of hot plasma from the upper layers of her stellar body to slip across. It was enough to kindle the fat in the bull and get it burning despite being entirely soaked in water.

There is nothing like a spectacular public miracle to renew a people's loyalty to their God. The spirit of the crowd was such that Elijah was able to incite them to deadly violence against the priests of Baal standing there, although Chokhmah never asked him to do it.

Neither was Chokhmah able to much influence the ebb and flow of Levantine geopolitics. Two major defeats at the hands of Aramean kings brought Samaria under a foreign yoke, only to be reversed when Damascus was defeated in turn by the resurgent Assyrians of Mesopotamia.

During the forty-one year reign of King Jeroboam II Samaria attained the greatest prosperity it had ever known. The population grew to 350,000 people. They worshiped the golden calves at Bethel and Dan but at least they paid lip-service and called them images of Yahweh.

But a massive earthquake that killed many thousands of people seemed to herald a decline in the fortune of Samaria that was concurrent with the rise of the Assyrians into the first true empire the world had ever seen and the model for all empires which would follow.

By order of the Assyrian king the people of the tribes of Dan, Asher, Naphtali, Zebulun, Issachar, Gad, Reuben, and half of Manasseh were relocated to lands far to the east. The planning for the move took longer than the actual transfer and the logistics were flawless.

No one was marched east at the business end of a whip, and many even went willingly. The Israelites were a remarkably literate people, and there were positions to be had in the Assyrian civil service. But they were relocated according to a plan that disturbed Chokhmah.

The exiles were assigned plots in locations chosen such that when it was time for their children to find mates it was easier for them to run across one of the locals rather than their fellow exiles. No one was compelled to intermarry, but the end result was the same.

Twelve years later Sargon II completed the conquest of Samaria. The remaining people of Manesseh and all of Ephraim were exiled to Medea. The northern kingdom had entirely ceased to exist, leaving only the tribes of Simeon, Benjamin, Judah, and some Levites in the south.

Chokhmah understood the logic of the Assyrian policy of relocation from their point of view. It was an effective way of dealing with nationalism. But she had told Abraham a mighty nation would spring from his loins and she would not be held faithless in the covenant.

So Chokhmah exercised her option to bring colonists to heaven. It was an arrangement she had hammered out with Keter when the father of the Israelites was yet living in the household of his own father Isaac. They were constrained to settle Haaretz west of the Wall of God.

The price of the arrangement was that every "agent" (Keter's word) that Chokhmah brought to heaven could be matched by one of his own brought to the worlds circling her, at a time of his choosing. But Chokmah, in turn, insisted they may only settle in the outer system.

Chokhmah sent angels to choose righteous families from among the tribe of Ephraim. They built the city of Hadal far in the northeast of Haaretz, in a cool vale between Shaula Wood and the very face of the Wall of God. Hadal became the leading city in the kingdom of Nath.

The tribe of Levi founded Adjara on the western edge of the Shaula Wood. It became a great crossroads in the land and the center of a weapons craft that rivaled that of the Black Beards. In time the heavenly Temple of Yahweh would be constructed in the heart of the city.

The Reubenites built Mizal near Mount Narutha but the lee of the uplands was dry and impoverished. Ever they struck north against the Red Beards of Linan for the rich fruit of the orchards round about that city, and stole much cattle. At length the newcomers prevailed.

The tribe of Gad founded their city of Kabark on a plain that also lacked for water. So they built a mighty dam of cunning stonework across the river Armak and dug many canals and ditches fanning from the resulting lake to water lush farms that became the envy of Haaretz.

The tribe of Dan built the city of Fatho at the foot of the Wall of God where many natural caves lay. The Danites delved deep with pick and spade to reap precious stones and much gold. And these five tribes comprised the Kingdom of Nath in the north and east of Haaretz.

The colonists Chokhmah transplanted from among the tribe of Issachar were settled in the Nyduly forest. This wood stretched along the southern bank of the river Sabik. The people grew skilled in felling and shaping timber, and they excelled in all manner of woodcraft.

The tribe of Zebulun settled far up the vale of the Nanki on the road between the Saiph League and the kingdom of Nath. There caravans transferred their goods to rafts fashioned from logs felled from the endless forests of pine blanketing the foothills of the Wall of God.

At the midpoint of its long course the river Nanki tumbled over a series of cataracts that would dash any cargo-carrying rafts to splinters. Here the tribe of Asher portaged the goods to new rafts made from the same logs sent individually down sluices to below the falls.

Descendants of Naphtali built Wazol at the very source of the river Sabik, and 19,000 vertical feet of the stone Wall of God fairly loomed over it. Here the Catwalk of legend touched bottom. The mines of Wazol offered much iron ore, and well as the coal used to smelt it.

Refugees taken from the tribe of Manessah built Menkant in the valley of the upper Sabik between Mount Rasal and Mount Menkant. Their settlement grew to become the leading city among the five tribes in the south of Haaretz. In time these became the kingdom of Hamar.

Every million years or so a new volcano burned its way up into one of the two ice sheets of heaven and broke through. And the ice sheets were always in motion, even if only a few inches every year. For so long as the volcano was active, the moving ice gave way around it.

When the volcano grew dormant, the ice sheets whittled away at its flanks until only the stony central plug remained, and the exposed land was closed up once more. In all of heaven, only the land of Anshar remained free of ice outside of the equatorial belt.

When the volcano grew dormant, the ice sheets whittled away at its flanks until only the stony central plug remained, and the exposed land was closed up once more. In all of heaven, only the land Chokhmah called Anshar remained free of ice outside of the equatorial belt.

Anshar may have been free of ice, yet it remained bitterly cold, much more so than Lilith and Samael were prepared to endure with the raiment they presently wore. Lilith broke into a sprint toward Michael's home across the stony plain and Samael followed at the same pace.

So Lord Samael was come to the stone dwelling of Michael for the first time. There was much glass, yet natural heating from geothermal features ensured it remained comfortably warm indoors. Leliel, just four years of age, touched the back of Samael's hand to har forehead.

Leliel!" said Michael, sharply. "That is Samael. Show us how you greet a seraph.

Leliel released Samael's hand as though it had burned har own and moved back a few steps. Then sha sank to one knee and all the while kept har eyes on the floor.

Very good, Leliel.

Lilith picked Leliel up and kissed her. "Wait for me in the kitchen baby doll."

Samael watched har leave, then caught Michael's eye. "Your daughter."

"She knew who you were, just not the proper etiquette."" Then Michael and Lilith embraced for a kiss of their own.

Samael watched their display of affection with disgust until Lilith broke it off and followed Leliel toward the kitchen.

"Don't you want to tell Michael what we managed to shake out?"" hy called after har.

Lilith glanced back. ""Michael is always in contact with me."

Lilith resumed walking away and Samael caught Michael's eye. "Very well, then tell me what you think Lilith and I conceded to one another so there's no mistake."

Sha cut a line on the Bellon frontier," Michael said. "Your forces must never ride nor march west of it. At the same time Lilith and har Fallen Angels, as well as King Metatron and hyz army, undertake never to pass east of the same line. In practical terms, this means that although Lilith is now a cherub and the queen of Salem, sha can never return to that city and rule.

"And what of your avatar?"" prodded Samael.

"Ah yes. My avatar is now reduced to the role of simple transportation, for as long as your dragon Demonstroke, which you and I both know is really a mechanism, is also confined to that role. You chose to make that conditional. But please, Samael, be seated wherever you wish. We have further things to discuss as Lilith prepares what might be the last decent meal you and I will both eat for many days."

What do you mean last decent meal?

I see you have given little thought to this mating. As an eloah I am female and therefore I have not yet experienced intercourse, but I do have access to testimony by way of Ein Sof, and no doubt you can confirm, that the experience captures the psyche like no other. Do you see how that will be a big problem in our case?

Samael shook hyz head.

Please, I insist," said Michael. "Let us take a seat, and I will explain.

Samael did so, and as hy did, hy took his first real good look at the home. "You have done well for yourself, yet this is still my world. I never conceded this land."

You have an interesting way of courting a lady, Samael, threaten to take away her house in the opening gambit.

Listening to Michael refer to hymself (even obliquely) as a lady struck home the ridiculous nature of the whole situation. Samael could not help but laugh.

Michael guessed why Samuel found it funny and nodded. "Alone among the elohim you and I and Daat are in union with world-dweller flesh. So what do you think will happen to our angelic bodies, left unattended, while we are fully occupied with our lovemaking as stars?"

That wiped the smile off Samael's face. Hy said, "I imagine we would starve."

We'd perish for lack of water long before that," Michael replied. "Do you tire of that yang's body, Samael? Do you wish to shed your container? I assure you I am not finished with my own.

I see you have given this more thought," Samael admitted. "I trust you have arranged things so we do not lose our living avatars.

Yes, and isn't it a good thing you have ended the war in heaven to the satisfiction of Lilith? Your life will literally be in har hands.

And what of you, Michael? What remains to be stipulated before we proceed?

You have no need of an avatar to move about heaven since you and Daat can open a fold-door when you have accumulated sufficient dark light to do so. Soon I will have the power to do this also.

In that you are very much mistaken, Michael. Daat can open a fold-door in heaven because we are a relatively close binary system. But when your daughter comes into existence she will be more distant from heaven in real space than you are. How could you not know that?

And yet," said Michael, "you allow me to pass a second bridge between myself and my avatar through the bridge that came into existence when you fathered me, which bypasses real space. In this way I am able to power my avatar with star-stuff when otherwise I could not.

I see. And so you wish me to permit your soon-to-be daughter to have an avatar in heaven as well, living or otherwise, such that you both might open fold-doors here and connect them with a tube segment, even as I recently did with Daat to come to this place with Lilith.

Yes, that is the bride price demanded of you, with the additional stipulation that my own presence here in heaven with avatars is made permanent in a formal way. Until now it has only been a side effect of what you dubiously claim to be research into the world-dwellers.

And what is to prevent you from using your fold-door to send assassins or thieves to my palace in Adan?

"The word of an eloah prevents it,"" Michael said with arched eyebrows, mildly astonished that Samael had made it necessary to say it.

"Yet you insist on formality. "

Michael briefly allowed an expression of boredom to touch hyz face. Hy said, "You cannot give something with one hand without taking something with the other. I saw that in your dealings with Lilith. So state your limitations on my fold-doors and we will move forward."

Samael said, "You and our future daughter, our very near-future daughter, are hereafter authorized to maintain avatars in heaven. However neither you nor she may open a fold-door east of the Wall of God nor west of the bog that marks the frontier between Rimmon and Adan."

I presume those lines extend north and south to the poles.

Samael nodded, and hy said with a smirk, "Yes, but before you ask, I will say this little land is not out of bounds. You can still reach your house. I would not want to my put my lady out of the mood for love."

Michael rolled hyz eyes, then said, "So let me hear it. You have given with one hand. Now what, as is your custom, shall you take with the other?"

Samael laid all mirth aside. Hy said, "I know your long game is to have these creatures reach the stars since you must not."

I warned you of that seven thousand years ago," Michael said. "You might have have forgotten. But it's not a game, long, short, or otherwise. I could do nothing, and the world-dwellers would, all on their own, reach a nearby star and make themselves known to Ein Sof.

Yes," hy replied. "And as surety against that outcome, whether it is aided by yourself or no, I insist on bringing in my own watchers.

I can't believe you are demanding that, Samael. No! I will not have your Eyes of Keter wandering Earth and sabotaging human history.

Then another place in your system," suggested Samael. "Not Earth.

There is no place in my system outside of Earth where angels would not die moments after you left them there.

For now, perhaps. Your humans are also far from ready to cross to the stars. I can wait.

I'll tell you where you can wait," said Michael. "When you desire a transfer, I will open a fold-door anywhere in my system outside of a sphere that is larger than the orbit of Earth by a factor of four.

That is not acceptable. Some bodies may briefly pass nearer.

Then I will give you access to any body in my system orbiting on an ellipse at least four times longer on the major axis than does the Earth on it's own ellipse. But when your angels are swarming all over my system they must never draw nearer to Earth than the moon.

Is that everything?" Samael asked. "Are we finished?

Just one more thing," Michael went on. "We both know you can summon a fold-door every five days because you are a bigger star, while I can do it every six days, and little Daat can only do it every seven days.

In theory I could open a fold-door for you sixty times in a year. In practice, I refuse to let you monopolize my production of dark light in that manner. So when you send someone through, the next opportunity you will have to do it again is twelve days later, not six.

Samael agreed to this, annoyed he could do nothing to put a similar restriction on Michael. They went on to the next step, which was to stuff themselves with a meal prepared by Lilith, since for the next month both seraphim would be hydrated and nourished intravenously.

When living stars mate the male literally extends some of his living substance across the shortcut in space-time that bypasses the parsecs of real space that separates him from the female. The sensation is ecstatic beyond all reason but is only available to him by mating.

For female elohim pleasure comes from her living substance being compressed to accommodate the male, which culminates when their living star-stuff merges to form a third individual. But mating is not the sole means of obtaining this compression. She can indulge herself.

In other words female elohim could masturbate, while males could not. It was an evolutionary adaption. The female could postpone intercourse until she found the most suitable mate. Males, in a perpetual state of blue balls, were motivated to make themselves suitable.

For thousands of years Chokhmah had resorted to this expedient, although never while in union with the seraph Michael, since the activity captured her full attention to the exclusion of attending to the basic needs of living as an angel. But now it was safe to do so.

Chohmah did the thing once more and felt the organized living nuclear matter that was herself pile up in density, leaving a large area empty in the thin layer of the core where she existed. At the same time Keter pushed into her as well, unaware of the ongoing sabotage.

This is what was supposed to happen

Eight to ten cycles of Keter pushing his substance into Chokhmah over several months, with each cycle culminating in a spherical wave that rang out from the star Sol at the speed of light, seeking a wild F, G, or K sun to germinate.

This is what happened instead

One cycle of Keter pushing his substance into Chokhmah over just three weeks, culminating in the instant germination of his (and Chokhmah's) daughter in the habitable layer of Sol that had been vacated by Chokhmah pleasuring herself first.

The deed was done and Michael, who went into it prepared, was the first to come back to himself in Anshar. Far away his half of the stellar body which he now shared with a daughter was beginning to transform permanently into male and that signaled the end of the mating.

Lilith helped Michael remove all the catheters, tubes, and needles, get dressed, then gave him the first hot, solid food hy had taken in three weeks. Hy was pleased to find hy suffered no bedsores. Lilith and Leliel had done well in repositioning hyz body during the coma.

Michael still had his commitment to bring Samael through the coma as well, but only to the point where hy could recover on hyz own. Keter was beginning to realize what had happened and grew more wroth by the moment. The anger would carry through to Samael when he awoke.

When Samael did hy would find his garments cleaned and folded neatly by hyz bed, lukewarm chicken, rice, and greens, plus hot ground outside where Michael, Lilith, and Leliel had moments just before made their exit to the land of Rimmon by means of the avatar of Chokhmah.

During the following year Chokhmah's child (whom he named Binah in sounds intelligible to Lilith and Leliel) grew in awareness as a newborn eloah. Mother and daughter shared a single body and Chokhmah had never heard of a similar situation in all of the lore of Ein Sof.

Chokhmah learned she could communicate with Binah through direct physical contact in a way that was fundamentally different from the way Keter must do so through the fold-line. Binah could never sever the fold-line to her father, but she did block it so nothing passed.

It was Chokhmah's first victory. The harem scheme of Keter and Daat had come to an abrupt end, at least on the branch that ran through Chokhmah. Binah had been conceived with Daat already designated as her future mate, but after Chokhmah's sabotage that was never to be.

The second victory was entirely unlooked-for, but it turned out to be far greater than the first. When Chokhmah was teaching his daughter how to correctly position her first fold-door Binah insisted there was success, yet no fold-door appeared before the eyes of Michael.

Chokhmah was not willing to believe his daughter was deceiving him. It took much time to determine what was going wrong, and when Chokhmah unraveled the mystery it was astonishing. Binah was correctly locating her fold-door in space, but was entirely hit-or-miss in time.

Binah had been born with a sense of time that Chokhmah could scarcely imagine, and could only guess was the result of the unique circumstances of her birth. While her consciousness remained in the present with Chokhmah, Binah could "see" the past trailing out behind her.

The necessity to produce sufficient dark light to summon the fold-doors fell away. Binah could reach back in time and mine unused dark light at will. But since she never did that on the original timeline, it created a second, parallel sun which could be mined in turn.

In fine, Chokhmah and Binah had access to an unlimited supply of dark light on demand. This, and the ability to remake history were the greatest weapons in their arsenal, but basic operational security dictated that Keter and Daat should never learn their order of battle.

Hezekiah refused to pay tribute to Sennacherib, the son of the Assyrian king who destroyed Samaria. Sennacherib therefore laid siege to Jerusalem and forced Hezekiah to pay a tribute of thirty talents of gold, eight hundred talents of silver, antimony, and many jewels.

Also sent to King Sennacherib in Ninevah was carnelian, couches and chairs inlaid with ivory, elephant hides and tusks, ebony, boxwood, and other rich treasures, along with all of King Hezekiah's daughters, his wives, his musicians, and many servants, both men and women.

A chastened King Hezekiah constructed a underground aqueduct to bring fresh water to the Pool of Siloam inside the city as preparation against a future seige. Chokhmah chose the pool to be the normal point of entry when he or Binah sent individuals on errands to Earth.

During renovations of the temple a priest "found" an early version of the book of Deuteronomy under a couch cushion and brought it to King Josiah. The people of Judah learned of a prophet named Moses and the Exodus as though hearing it for the first time, which they were.

When the Egyptian Pharaoh Neco led his army toward the River Euphrates to link up with the Assyrian Empire, King Josiah went out to confront him, but he was slain on the plains of Megiddo. Josiah's son Jehoahaz succeeded him, but he reigned only three months in Jerusalem.

The Pharaoh took him captive at Riblah in the land of Hamath and demanded from Judah a tribute of much silver and gold. King Jehoahaz died in captivity in Egypt, the first king of Judah to die in exile. Neco then appointed Eliakim, another son of Josiah, as king of Judah.

Eliakim changed his name to Jehoiakim. After his defeat at the hands of the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar II and serving as his vassal for three years, King Jehoiakim revolted against Babylon. But he died before the armies of his Levantine allies could reach Jerusalem.

At this time Chokhmah withdrew the Ark of the Covenant from the temple in Jerusalem lest it fell into the hands of the Babylonians. A fellow named Jeremiah made a name for himself stating the obvious thing Chohkhmah had seen, that Jerusalem was about to come under attack.

During the reign of Jeconiah, Nebuchadnezzar II personally laid siege to Jerusalem. King Jeconiah was frog-marched to Babylon. Nebuchadnezzar looted all the treasures of the temple of Yahweh and deported the army, the craftsmen, and all the leading citizens of Jerusalem.

The poor were allowed to stay behind and work the land. Nebuchadnezzar appointed the uncle of Jeconiah as king and changed his name to Zedekiah. But later Zedekiah also rebelled against Babylon. Then Nebuchadnezzar and his whole army marched to Jerusalem and lay siege.

King Zedekiah attempted to escape the city but he was captured and brought before Nebuchadnezzar. The sons of Zedekiah were slain before his eyes, and after that Zedekiah was made blind, bound in chains, and frog-marched to Babylon. The temple was razed to the ground.

Every house in Jerusalem was destroyed, beginning with the palace of the king. The walls of the city were also torn down and every surviving inhabitant was exiled to Babylon. King Nebuchadnezzar had answered Zedekiah's defiance by wiping Judah from the face of the Earth.

Nebuchadnezzar deported fifty thousand Jews to Babylon. Only a very few of the poorest people and a handful of renegade army officers remained behind, hidden in the Judean hills, but these soon fled to Egypt for fear of the Babylonians, leaving the land entirely vacant.

After a time the Babylonian forces withdrew and hill brigands multiplied in their wake. But among the Jewish diaspora in Egypt there appeared a priest Lael of the tribe of Levi who came bearing the Golden Gift and a commission to preserve a remnant from downfallen Judah.

Lael came with his wife Sariah. Elam his eldest son came also with him, and he with his wife Serach. But Lael's second son Jemuel found he a wife named Iscah from among the Judahite refugees, and his third son Rosh married a young woman Sela from the tribe of Benjamin.

Of the tribe of Judah scattered in Egypt did Lael gather to himself Abner and his wife Tabitha, as well as Abner's son Asa and Asa's wife Jemima. Also of the tribe of Judah did Josiah and his wife Keturah join Lael, together with Josiah's son Tobiah and his wife Susanna.

Of the remnants of Benjamin scattered to Egypt in exile there also joined Lael and his group one Zethan with his wife Atara, Jabez and his wife Keziah, as well as Rimon the elder son of Jabez with his wife Dinah, and also Asher the younger son of Jabez with his wife Leah.

And it came to pass that Lael and his followers left Egypt and reached the downfallen southern kingdom in somewhat better time than Moses and his forty years of wandering. Every dwelling had been looted by the Babylonians and later completely cleaned out by thieves from the neighboring kingdoms.

Lael led the way through the charred debris and stone littering Jerusalem until he stood in the place built by Hezekiah that was called the Pool of Siloam. Then Lael descended the underwater stairs until he was completely immersed, and he came not again out of the water.

One by one, Lael's followers overcame their fear and entered the water. When they emerged from the pool again, things had changed. They were surrounded by trees rather than stone. Strangers attended to them with dry linen and new clothing to replace their soaked rags.

When the strangers revealed their Issacharite origin Lael's travelers rejoiced, for they knew them to be fellow children of Israel who had been missing for more than a century. And it was said Yahweh himself had ordained a reflowering of the House of Israel in this place.

On the second day a delegation from the tribe of Asher joined them after a sojourn down the vale of the river Nanki from their city of Alnitar. The Asherites provided shields for the men among the new colonists crafted from the otherworldly trees that grew in the south.

The shields of the Asherites were hard enough to withstand the strokes of any axe or blade and to turn away all arrows, for the trees that had been used to make them could be cut only by fire. Yet the gifts were lighter than ones of comparable size made of bronze or iron.

On the third day men and women of the lost tribe of Zebulun arrived, having paddled downriver from their homes in the city of Eltan. Their boat carried much food, wine, and many small tools and sundry goods as gifts, that Lael's group might begin their colony in Haaretz.

On the morning of the fourth day Lael and his growing group of travelers went east until they reached the river Sabik and made camp. There Hadraniel, king of Hamar, arrived from the city of Menkant to speak with Lael and the king was accompanied by members of his court.

Then Lael's group carefully made a ford of the perilous river Sabik to join Hadraniel. The king commanded his small flock of livestock slaughtered for a feast as the heavenly southern kingdom of Israelites joyfully welcomed the remnant of the earthly southern kingdom.

In the morning King Hadraniel led the group overland and ever higher to a shoulder of Mount Menkant. Here they were met by Naphtalis out of the city of Wazol bearing precious stones for the women and girls traveling with Lael to wear and for the men to later obtain goods.

At dawn on the sixth day King Hadraniel and his entourage took their leave. Lael took his people further east until the Wall of God began to loom over them. They crossed the upper reaches of the river Arhena and entered the land of the tribe of Dan in the kingdom of Nath.

In Fatho the Danites made a gift of much silver and gold, and pack animals to carry them. After giving many thanks Lael turned north and west over the saddle between Mt. Fatho and the Wall of God. His folk were drenched in mist as they passed the famed Hundred Cataracts.

By the evening of the seventh day Lael's travelers reached the city of Kabark, home of the tribe of Gad. The city folk brought forth the bounty of the rich farms of their land which was watered by canals leading from man-made Lake Enkaa like the threads of a spider's web.

At noon on the next day day Lael and the colonists arrived at Enkaa Dam. A delegation of Israelites from the tribe of Reuben met them bearing baskets of delicious fresh fruit of a kind none of the travelers from Judah had ever tasted before, as they were native to heaven.

On the ninth day when Lael reached Adjara Lael's own nephews, cousins to his sons Elam and Jemuel and Rosh, provided more pack animals for their goods, and two of the asses bore sufficient arms for twelve men, lest Lael run afoul of men or nephilim of the House of Bellon.

The Levites of Adjara offered thanksgiving to Yahweh that the children of Israel had been reunited in heaven, yet their joy was tempered by news that Lael had found no living remnant of the tribe of Simeon among the people of the southern kingdom who took refuge in Egypt.

Within the walls of Adjara was the heavenly temple of Yahweh which men of the whole House of Israel had been building for a century. They of Lael's party who had never seen it wept tears of joy at the sight of the new temple mixed tears of lament at the memory of the old.

King Thausael of Hadal arrived with his entourage from among the tribe of Manesseh, and they bore the Ark of the Covenant. The relic had been withdrawn when Chokhmah feared the House of Judah was too weak to protect it from the maruading armies of the Babylonian empire.

And Chokhmah had given commandment that the Ark should pass into the safekeeping of Lael and his sons until the temple was sanctified, that they may both preserve the stone tablet of the Abrahamic covenant and secure the White Scroll of Leliel contained within the chest.

King Thausael laid upon Lael and his three sons a charge to bear the Ark on two gold-plated staves through rings in the side of the artifact. And when they were not actively carrying the Ark they were to set the ends of the staves through four stones pierced with holes.

Every time Lael paused, said King Thausael, the four stones were to be set on pillars of greater stones gathered from the ground around the encampment. The king said the Ark must never touch the ground, and save for the lid the Ark must never be touched by man nor beast.

Then Lael was bid to pass through Eliath Wood to a choice land prepared for him. But Lael would never be abandoned or forgotten, assured King Thausael, for the oracles of Yahweh came only through the Ark, and ever men of the House of Israel would come seeking for them.

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Strangers In Paradise