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In the wake of Queen Lilith's parley with Samael the status of the Fallen Angels was left dangling. They could not return east of the frontier, nor would King Metatron receive them before speaking to Lilith hymself. They made their encampment on fallow land and waited.

In the aftermath of Chokhmah's mating when Binah had been conceived, Lilith and har daughter Leliel accompanied Michael straightaway to Rumbek inside the avatar of Chokhmah. They left before Samael came to full awareness and did not wish to witness hyz wrath when hy did.

When they were come before King Metatron hy demanded to know why they were in exile.

Michael said, "I spoke truth to the House of Gerash. But they hated the truth because it was like a bright light, and that light threatened to reveal the dark things they do in secret."

And Metatron asked, "What is truth?"

Michael said in reply, "Your Majesty, we know truth when our mind conforms with the way things are."

"What do you ask of me, Lord Michael? Shall I put my armies at your command? Shall I use force to protect the purity of your truth?"

Michael said, "Nay, Your Majesty. If what I teach is so very fragile that I must seek allies to shield it from contamination, then what I have cannot be the truth. Only the warriors of Samael fight to convert others to their truth and wage holy war against other truths."

"They fight because what they call truth is too weak to sell itself to all who seek the truth with sincerity. Since they are certain they already possess the truth, they refuse to investigate reality, and delight in self-deception."

""Then what is the most sincere truth?"

"I reveal this to you now Your Majesty. The most sincere truth is just this

King Metatron accepted this silently.

Michael went on. "And yet, Your Majesty, here is another truth

Samael will never reduce you to vassalage directly, by assailing you with an army. Queen Lilith saw to that, and elohim cannot break the bindings of the smallest concession. Yet nothing prevents hym from equipping your enemies with arms, both within Magodon and without.

"Then what is your counsel Lord Michael?"" said the king.

""I will bring Queen Aurra and King Uriel hither with the aim of forging some unity between the kingdoms of heaven. But I know of a certainty that Samael and Israel will resist for it would strike Adan's commerce."

To this King Metatron gave hyz hearty assent. Hy welcomed Michael and Queen Lilith. A place was found for the Fallen Angels to make encampment on the large island of Sealiah east of Rumbek, where they set about to demobilize and order a village with the aid of the locals.

Then Michael's first disciple Lilith began to teach their new friends and neighbors among the Brown Beards, individually and in small groups, the doctrines of those who embrace Chokhmah. But Michael hymself refused to teach lest the king imagine hy was spreading a cult.


During the exile in Babylon scribes and priests successfully maintained a continuous tribal identity for their people by meticulously maintaining the genealogies and histories of the Jewish people. They wished to avoid what happened to the tribes of the northern kingdom.

After Cyrus the Great the emperor of Persia conquered the Babylonians he instituted a policy of repatriating the Jews back to Palestine. The first parties he sent began the task of rebuilding the temple of Yahweh. Many Jews in exile regarded Cyrus to be appointed by God.

Later Ezra led a second group of Babylonian Jews to Jerusalem. He compiled a scroll called the Torah from a set of older source documents including copies of the missing White Scroll of Leliel, and he also instituted fundamentalist restrictions against intermarriage.

Decades later Nehemiah, a Jewish servant of the successor to Cyrus named Artaxerxes, was sent to Jerusalem to become the governor. This third group of Jews returning from exile was tasked to complete the temple, repair the royal palace, and rebuild the walls of the city.

Governor Nehemiah lent official weight to Ezra's prohibition of Jewish men marrying "strange" wives. But when the temple was complete older Jews wept with sorrow, for the second temple was a pathetic shadow of the glory that had been the original temple-palace complex.

Philip II, king of Macedon, conquered the Thebans and Athenians at Chaeronea and brought all of Greece except Sparta under Macedonian rule. When he died his twenty year-old son Alexander succeeded him. Alexander freed all the Greeks living in Asia Minor from Persian rule.

For the next twelve years Alexander forged the largest empire the world had ever known up to that time. After defeating King Darius at Issus, Alexander subdued Egypt and founded the city of Alexandria. In the following year the entire Levant fell under his domination.

Alexander reached as far as the east bank of the Indus River, but he died young and left no heir. Upon his death his generals, called the Diadochi, divided the empire between themselves and became rivals. The Diadochi put on royal crowns, and so did their sons after them.

Ptolemy I Soter was one of these Diadochi generals. After Alexander died he claimed Egypt for himself and defended the city of Alexandria from the other generals. He also founded the Library of Alexandria and became the first king of the Macedonian Dynasty of Ptolemies.

Ptolemy II Philadelphus succeeded him and brought Alexandria to its peak of power and influence. The Pharos lighthouse was constructed during his reign. Ptolemy III Euergetes extended the Ptolemaic Empire to embrace Palestine, Asia Minor, and the islands of the Aegean.

After his death the Ptolemaic empire in Egypt gradually began to decline. A rival Diadochi named Seleucus I Nicator founded a similar empire centered in Asia Minor that ruled the lands conquered by Alexander from Thrace to India and the Ptolemies weakened even further.

Palestine fell under the rule of the Selucid Dynasty. At that time many Jews began to adopt the ways of the Greeks who dominated them. They tried to cover evidence of their circumcision and built gymnasiums where they could participate in athletic activities in the nude.

The Hellenized Jews no longer observed the hundreds of mitzvot specified by the Code of Moshe. With the enthusiastic support of these secular Jews the Syro-Macedonian king Antiochus IV Ephiphanes declared Judaism abolished and rededicated the temple in Jerusalem to Zeus.

But the priest Mattathias instigated acts to deter Jews from sacrificing to Zeus. Those who were caught breaking the precepts of the Law were killed, and boys were forcibly circumcised. The book of Daniel was circulated purporting to have predicted the temple desecration.

Eventually the campaign of terror based out of hiding places in the desert became a full-scale revolution to return to the fundamentalist doctrines originally instituted by Ezra. And upon the death of Mattathias his son Judas Maccabeus took over leadership of the revolt.

Judas Maccabeus defeated Apollonius and Seron, and turned back Lysias who came with half of the army of King Antiochus IV Ephiphanes. And he re-purified the temple in Jerusalem after the abomination. But he was killed on the field of battle confronting governor Bacchides.

Jonathan Apphus, the fifth son of Mattathias, then led the revolt. He renewed the struggle against Bacchides, defeated Apollonius, then became the high priest of the Jews. Jonathan was taken prisoner and killed after an invitation to meet Trypho for peace negotiations.

Simon Thassi, the brother of Jonathan, then assumed leadership of the Jews. A king in all but name, Simon was also the high priest, as were his son and grandson after him. He obtained independence for Judea from Demetrius II, then battled Antiochus VII and defeated him.

But Simon together with two of his sons were betrayed and killed by the governor of Jericho, one Ptolemy, the son of Abubus, at a banquet in his own home. Ptolemy also tried to murder John Hyrcanus I, another son of Simon who was not present at the banquet, but he failed.

John rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem and under his reign as ethnarch, not quite king, Judah prospered much. Aristobulus I Judah, son of John Hyrcanus, annexed the territory of Iturea to Judah. During his reign a curious belief that would have major ramifications took root.

An admixture of Greek and Jewish ideas held that everyone who had been born, lived, and died would be raised to life again in a simultaneous general resurrection to witness the power and sovereignty of God, and after that spectacle all life would come to a violent end.

Alexander Jannaeus, brother of Aristobulus, was the first high priest of the House of Mattathias to call himself King, thus founding the Hasmonean Dynasty. He lived by the sword, and so died by the sword. Under his reign the movement of the Pharisees came into existence.

Pharisee means "Separated One". They opposed the Hasmonean innovation of combining the kingship with the high priesthood in one man. They also believed that all of the dead would be raised to life once again, but they denied it would be followed by a pointless apocalypse.

The Pharisees built new synagogues in every Jewish city and town. There men could study the Torah under the tutelage of like-minded scribes, who were called Sopherim, and also offer messianic blessings and prayers for the return of the House of David to power in Israel.

After that, Queen Alexandra, wife of Aristobulus, enjoyed a benevolent reign of nine years. Since Jewish priests could only be male, during Alexandra's reign a high priest was chosen from the landed aristocracy of Judea. This elite group was also known as the Sadducees.

The policy of the Sadducees was to avoid rebellion at all costs, even to watering-down Jewish traditions with Hellenistic and Roman ideas. The willingness to accommodate with the world was much criticized by the Pharisees. Were Jews not the chosen ones of the Lord of all?

King Aristobulus II, the son of Alexander Jannaeus, reigned until the intervention of Pompey after his conquest of Syria. The Romans were the up and coming thing. King Hyrcanus II was named ethnarch of the Jews and elevated over his brother but Pompey was the real king.

Officially Pompey maintained the Hasmonean Dynasty on the Judean throne, but only as clients. King Antigonus, son of Aristobulus II, was decapitated by a pretender to the throne named Herod who was favored by Marcus Antonius and Queen Cleopatra after they defeated Pompey.

Mark Antony, acting in his role of triumvir, subsequently declared Herod king of the Jews. Then King Herod conquered Joppa and Medeba and captured Jerusalem after a seige of three months. He occupied Samaria and made the second temple even more glorious than the first.

In Egypt the last Pharaoh was Ptolemy XV Caesarion, son of Gaius Julius Caesar and Cleopatra. Following the suicide of his mother in the wake of her defeat at the battle of Actium Caesarion was executed by Gaius Julius Caesar Octavius and Egypt was simply annexed by Rome.

In the waning years of the reign of Herod a day laborer named Yosef, son of Heli, married an even younger maiden named Miriam in the village of Nazareth. As with most such marriages in that time and place, the union was arranged by the families of both Yosef and Miriam.

Yosef became apprenticed to a craftsman skilled in cutting stone, and after years of being little more than a slave to him, Yosef picked up the rudiments of the art. Assisting his master on work in the nearby city of Sepphoris he fulfilled his period of apprenticeship.

Yosef and Miriam have a daughter named Salome and also after her sons named Yeshua, Shimon and Yosef Jr., who is nicknamed Yosy. The three boys in turn are apprenticed to their own father when he strikes out on his own, and in this way the family is just able to survive.

But being a stonecutter is very difficult and dangerous work that kills Yosef before he is even thirty-five years of age. Under the Kinsman Redeemer clause of the Law of Moshe, the brother of Yosef, Alphaeus, is required to marry Yosef's widow and adopt all his children.

After that the neighbors sometimes call Yosef's brother Clophas, which means "replacement" and the nickname sticks. Clophas has sons of his own named Yakob and Yudah and also a daughter named Miriam. After the wedding the cousins all become step-siblings of Yosef's kids.

With the enlargement of the family, especially with Yakob being a grown man in his own right with his own source of income as a scribe, Yeshua no longer must continue in the harsh livelihood of his dead father Yosef to ensure the well-being of his mother and siblings.

Yeshua departed the house of his mother and step-father and traveled toward the Jordan River. There an Essene prophet named Yohanan proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins without recourse to the priests or killing animals at the Jerusalem temple.

People from both sides of the Jordan River go to Yohanan to confess their sins and be baptized of him. Yohanan has gathered three men to be his disciples. They are named Philip, Bartholomew, and Thomas. After a time Simon the Canaanite and Judah Iscariot also follow him.

These five disciples aid Yohanan in his ministry by acting as screeners, letting through to the baptism of Yohanan only those who they judge to approach with a sincere intention of repentance. At these baptisms Yohanan preaches that the Day of the Lord is immanent.

This means a day when Yahweh judges with holy violence all the nations of the Earth who are currently ruling with power. He underscores the urgency of repentance and baptism so people can meet the end of human rule with a pure heart and accept the direct rule of Yahweh.

But the priests and Sadducees and ethnarchs and Roman overlords alike all believe that Yohanan is really just seeding the whole region with people who will be anxious for the coming of a new theocratic ruler who will reorder the laws of the land to favor the destitute.

When Yeshua arrives from Galilee to find Yohanan at the river's edge and be baptized by him, Bartholomew and Judah Iscariot interview the young man and let him pass through to be dunked into the river. But a curious thing happens after Yeshua is pushed under the water.

A deep green glow suffused the river, and Yohanan lost Yeshua. It was entirely beyond his experience. Then Yohanan panicked, and started splashing around in the water looking for the man. The river was wide but it was only waist deep, and Yeshua was nowhere to be found.


When everything was done in preparation for the Council of Royals, there remained only the impending arrival of the Great Personages. Queen Aurra's serving wench, an ambi named Luzea, attained to the astonishing situation of having nothing to do and removed to a nook.

Luzea was perched above the great hall of Metatron's airy castle high enough to see all the nobles when they paraded in to be seated. Che was joined by Gabriel then and they shared a sweet kiss. They had been together for only a few days, but for as many wonderful nights.

For Luzea the wild affair had been entirely bewildering. Gabriel seemed to know everything about hem, and in bed there was not a single wasted move. It was as though they had been married for a lifetime, and Gabriel returned to the very beginning to start all over again.

Whimsical Luzea, who spoke only in terribly bad rhyme, uttered a verse then

"I sing of final days brought by Black Beard.

When noble ones rose against what they feared.

Just close your eyes to watch them meet the king.

Mark two slave jen who observe all unseen."

Actually although Luzea and Gabriel were both nephilim, only Gabriel was a jen, Luzea an ambe. The difference had to do with the order of their two organs of joining, which were, in their case, complimentary, more evidence to Luzea that che had found hez sexual soul mate.

Gabriel said to hem, "If they catch you here avoiding work Queen Aurra will have you flogged until the skin hangs from your back in bloody strips!"

Luzea seemed unconcerned and shrugged. Che saw the procession was beginning and continued to improvise verse on the fly.

Che said

"Now Gabriel is one slave nephil's name

And Luzea Cedarbranch is hez flame.

They shirk toil in Metatron's castle

As Uriel walks before his vassal."

Indeed King Uriel of House Bellon arrived at the Council first accompanied by hez daughter Princess Dafla. They looked none the worse after their flight on the dragon Demonstroke to the city of Rumbek. King Metatron forbade all weapons from the council chamber save for the Dragonthorn alone, the diamond blade in the possession of Dafla, which she wore in a scabbard on her back.

The ophan Jegeduel Bellon followed the king into the chamber arm-in-arm with hyz

Following alone was Hashmal Phanuel, ruler of Atria west of the Wall of God. Luzea said

"Che rules Haaretz where Gabriel was born.

The Queen treats hem without a trace of scorn.

Yet their bitter clash of arms claimed her son

And is fresh in the minds of everyone."

Samael made an unassuming entrance with no pomp and no wasted movements, in a walk that said without mistake that hy was first and foremost a soldier. Hy entered with a somber black-clad, black-haired ambi hy later introduced as Joy. a name that meant nothing in Semitic.

Even in Joy's native tongue it an ironic name. Hez black lips never smiled, and hez black eyes seem to show forth hez icy heart within. It was rumored this Joy was a great sorcerez from Earth who came as both bodyguard and concubine to Samael, yet Michael knew hem not.

Gabriel took note that Luzea was too frightened by this Joy, or possibly too fascinated, or both, to utter any verse.

Samael knew the real aim of the council was the formation of a league in heaven which together would be far stronger than the House of Gerash alone.

If the alliance came to be, an intolerable peace would break out between the reliably warring states. That in turn would spark a truly existential crisis for Adan, which had long shifted over to an economy based almost entirely on supplying arms to the other kingdoms.

Overnight lucrative weaponscraft in the lands ruled by Family Gerash would evaporate unless this nascent league of kingdoms that King Metatron sought to assemble was stillborn. Lord Samael would attend to that directly, and Joy would certainly have a major role to play.

Next the delegation from Rimmon entered the council chamber. Walking beside Queen Aurra was the Royal Consort Duke Evandr. Titles for human nobility differed from the titles of nephilim or angels. Luzea, silent now, would lampoon hez queen later, and come to regret it.

The queen ruled from Saharad on the most fertile plain in all of heaven. Left unchecked, the humans would simply multiply until they outnumbered everyone else in heaven. And all of House Sala followed Chokhmah alone. But Samael did not intend to leave Rimmon unchecked.

Following the Queen was the Countess Ayani, the recently widowed wife of Aldred Firegem, which made her the most eligible bachelorette in heaven. But many at the Council noted the continuous eye-lock Ayani had with the ophan Eremiel, who was already standing at the table.

Something was obviously happening there, and Luzea was slightly disgusted because there had only been two weeks since Count Aldred's death. In Saharad the people were still mourning. Che said

"Make room in the barn of prize stallions.

Ayani eyes two leg medallions!"

Ayani's city of Locotin was near a forest of gopher wood, a type of lumber that was found neither on Earth nor natively in heaven. It was a hybrid of trees from both worlds, used by ships in the Great Deluge, for it is flexible enough not to be destroyed by expanding ice.

But many other valuable goods were made from gopher wood. It was ridiculously easy to cut and work. The entire city of Locotin, in fact, was constructed of structures made of gopher wood set in the branches of giant living gopher wood trees in the hills bordering Gerazan.

Following Ayani was her kinsman Baron Balthazar of Thorgram, who was also eligible for marriage, but it was said his tastes ran more to nephilim than human. When his dalliances annoyed his mother she would send him abroad, and by now he knew heaven better than all others.

Luzea said

"Balthazar is food for many a talebearer.

Women have no chance, he finds ambis much fairer!"

The delegations came into the chamber ordered by lots, lest some thought the sequence represented the opinion of King Metatron of which noble one was the greater.

Hy only decreed that the Bellon delegation must arrive last. So Michael entered, together with Lilith in har best Fallen Angel dress uniform. Sha had dolled harself up and wore another headband Michael had given har set with a brilliant gem radiating pure white light.

Many of the delegates expressed marvel at Lilith's headband, but Michael told them later hy was working to bring about a time in heaven and Earth when such a light would be a mere trinket, and an entrance such as made by Lilith would be taken to be absolutely ludicrous.

After Michael and Lilith took their seats at the table the Brown Beard delegation arrived. The first royal peer to enter was the cherub Metatron, ruler of the city of Rumbek. Luzea said to Gabriel

"Fishers circle Sealiah in a ring

All of them subject to Metatron King."

Everyone had been preceded by Ophan Eremiel of the city of Mandakar, which lay on the west shore of the fertile island of Sealiah and fed most Bellonites. Hy finally took his seat and Luzea said

"The more food from Eremiel's valley

The more toil in Metatron's galley!"

Gadreel of Elketz entered at a stately pace with hyz Ainia at his side. That city lay in cattle country where the animals were driven throughout Magodon to be slaughtered. Luzea said

"Watch your step Gadreel when ready to roam,

I just caught a whiff, reminder of home!"

The final entrants were the stout and yangly Hashmal Uzziel of Peshast, with hyz wife the Lady Irus on hyz arm. Hyz city sat astride rich veins of ore and a trade bottleneck. Luzea said

"Peshast the source of much copper and gold,

Guarded by mighty Uzziel the Bold."

As Uzziel and Irus took their seats at the table in the council chamber the nineteen tall and ornate chairs around the great pentagon of dark and polished gopher wood were filled. The vertices of a pentagram of gold inlay pointed at the greatest noble in each delegation.

On the table before King Metatron lay a bronze bell and hammer. Hy stood up and struck the bell, and the clear, sweet tone brought the low murmuring of the gathered delegates to an immediate hush. Hy said, "In the name of Keter and Daat, lords of heaven, I welcome you."

You have all come to council by means as diverse as the lands you rule. Lord Michael and Queen Lilith took ship with Eremiel from Mandakar. Baron Balthazar Firegem rode hither from Elketz with the hashmal Gadreel and Lady Ainia. I have heard Lady Joy comes from Earth.

Lord Samael has come in an instant, neither by ship nor horse, in the manner unique to the seraphim. The hashmal Raddai, Lady Irus, Queen Aurra, and Duke Evandr all flew through the void within the avatar of Chokhmah. King Uriel and hez daughter Dafla arrived by dragon!

Now respecting this convocation," King Metatron went on, "it is certain that the like has never taken place in the long history of heaven, yet suchlike is long outstanding, I deem, for the question before us is nothing less than lasting peace in heaven, yea or nay?

Not a one here can be unaware that Queen Aurra Firegem and Duke Evandr have come to us at a time when they are still suffering deep grief. The life of their son Aldred was latterly taken on the field, and first it came to my mind to dedicate this council to his memory.

So instead of telling each other soothing yet empty words, let us resolve to find a way to make Count Aldred Firegem's otherwise useless death meaningful in a lasting way.

And with that, King Metatron seated hymself and rang the bell once more. The council had opened.


On time scales comprehensible to humans and nephilim and angels, the elohim are effectively immortal. But when Chokhmah worked out how to achieve physical union with a world-dweller this did not extend the life of the subject by any means, and even tended to shorten it.

After all, the ability to take possession of another body at any time naturally leads one to take less thought to maintenance of the body one already has. After Keter wore out his Samael body, and Daat his Israel body they moved on to different and ever more "containers".

Just two elohim plowing through the ages and taking new bodies and new names, serially, gave human demonology endless fodder. When Lael's group were transplanted to heaven after the fall of Judah, the eloah Keter was known as Kokabiel and Daat was incarnated as Belphegor.

When Belphegor came to Adjara by fold-door it took nearly an hour for his servant Malphas to locate hym. Belphegor crinkled hyz nose at the usual open sewage of human cities but after a time it was bearable. Hy amused hymself watching construction of Chokhmah's temple.

Belphegor knew the Levites of the city had been attempting to build a copy of the Jerusalem temple for over a century now. From the progress they had made and the techniques of construction they were using, hy estimated it would take at least another century to complete.

Malphas found hym watching a stone block weighing at least a ton being hoisted into position with the nearly imperceptible pace and inevitability of a glacier moving an erratic. Hy sank to one knee and said, "My lord, the villa of the b'nei elohim is near to this place."

Belphegor motioned for hyz servant to rise, and asked of hym, "the b'nei elohim, are they to be trusted?"

The ones at the villa are human," Malphas warned, "but they claim to be servants of all elohim, not Chokhmah alone. Jashen assures me he will not waste your time.

Belphegor thought it augured well when the four b'nei elohim waiting outside the house paid perfect obeisance as was due a seraph. When hy beheld Jashen waiting on the threshold hy saw his features called back to those of the original colonists brought to Adan from Earth.

Indoors Belphegor was treated with more decadent luxury than hy experienced even in Rumbek at the heart of the Larund realm. The wine was cold, the roast beef was hot, the furnishings of such fine make hy said to Jashen, "I had not thought such wealth existed in Adjara."

Lord Belphegor, on Earth the lowliest among the b'nei elohim enjoy better, yet it is not thought to be great wealth. It is only with long labor that we have made this place acceptable for us to dwell in Haaretz as we are accustomed. Yet we are only wayfarers in heaven.

And what are the b'nei elohim that you become wayfarers in heaven?

'A little above man, a little below the gods' Chokhmah tells us. No doubt you have heard him tell you that he views the world-dwellers as students. And yet from time to time he is of need of servants.

The Lord Belphegor no doubt recalls a time seven hundred years ago when a weapon called the Golden Gift was associated with the ruler of Salem. First Melchizedek wielded it, then the weapon passed to Queen Lilith, who cut a line between Magodon and Adan in solid rock.

Yes, I did witness har cut, Jashen, but what is your errand in heaven? You told Malphas this would not be a waste of my time.

"Why, Lord Belphegor, I was sent to retrieve the Golden Gift, and so I have done."" Jashen produced the relic and set it down between them.

TC1684: Belphegor said, ""I see a sword's hilt covered in gold. How do you know that is Lilith's weapon?"

"Milord, it is very similar, in a way, to another gewgaw I have collected."" Jashen set Lilith's headband on the table next to it, having touched the gem to illuminate it.

TC1685: He said, ""Milord, we have heard this light comes from Chokhmah himself, from the sun that is his body. If that is true, there must be an invisible thread that leads from this antique back to Chokhmah, in a way I cannot understand. Two other relics have such threads."

One relic, Milord, is the Golden Gift itself. The other I will tell you of directly, but first I must speak of this headband and how it defies every attempt we might make to destroy it. Witness, Lord.

Jashen placed the relic against the corner of a stone pedestal.

In his other hand Jashen held a large hammer. He said, "With your permission, Lord Belphegor, of course."

Belphegor waved for him to continue, and Jashen struck the headband between the hammer and a corner of the pedestal. The brilliant gem never ceased to give light.

Jashen cast the undamaged headband back on the table. "We have destroyed tin snips trying to cut the band. Not the hottest forge we can stoke will begin to make it melt, and no wonder, since a living star made this in his belly. Yet is it proof against the Golden Gift?"

Jashen took up the ancient weapon and glanced at his divine guest. "Again, Lord Belphegor, by your leave?"

Proceed.

Jashen squeezed the Golden Gift to allow the black shaft of nothingness to lick the headband into oblivion. But he could not avoid damage to the table.

He said, "Milord, Keter will affirm that only two fold-lines now extend through the umbilical with Chokhmah."

Yes, what you say is of a truth. And now, Jashen, you will deliver this Golden Gift into my hand.

Alas, Lord, such is my own will, but not Chokhmah's will.

What is that to me?" snarled Belphegor. "You say you serve the elohim. It is an eloah that commands you.

Milord, Chokhmah's power to compel obedience is the heart of my quarrel with him, and I am not alone in this. The weapon would be of no avail to you in any case.

What do you mean?

Milord, over the centuries the b'nei elohim gained an understanding of how this relic works. There is an unseen tube that somehow stretches directly back to Chokhmah, and this is held open by a substance we call dark energy made by Chokhmah's body. If more dark energy is poured inside the tube will grow larger. But in this case Chokhmah holds the tube at a certain size so the dark energy overflows. Whatever this touches, no matter how hard, is immediately turned into dark matter and it disappears from the world.

Belphegor pondered this for a time. Jashen's information alone was worth the trip to the safe house, if hy or Keter could learn how to stiffen the fold-line. Still, Belphegor saw it was indeed pointless to demand the relic. Chokhmah would simply refuse to make it work.

Hy said, "And how do you control the weapon if it relies on Chokhmah to operate?"

A firm pressure by the hand, milord," said Jashen. "This is somehow sensed by Chokhmah.

You ignorant fool! The sound of your voice is changing pressure. He is listening to everything!

Jashen tried to think of a way to shrug respectfully in the presence of a seraph, but could not. Instead he said, "Lord Belphegor, we already know he is listening, and it matters not., Chokhmah is perfectly aware there are unsatisfied factions among the b'nei elohim."

The controversy is an ancient one, Milord, and I am not the first b'nei elohim to remove to the enemy camp. A nephil named Ariel once served Keter in the time of the dragon Demonstoke. Samael knew this ambi as Joy.

I knew Joy was b'nei elohim. There are more Joys?

There are more than you might imagine, Lord Belphegor. Chokhmah promises all the b'nei elohim a second life free of any obligations to him, but we find a mere two lives to be insufficient. We have contrived serial lives without end, but at the cost of ongoing servitude.

And you imagine I can help you out of this hopeless state of affairs, so you made contact with Malphas, and hy with myself.

Milord, it struck me that the way out is simply to take Chokhmah's mind away from this obsession that compels him send us on these errands.

And what is it you think obsesses Chokhmah?" "Lord Belphegor, not a one among the b'nei elohim is ignorant of the ancient bargain Chokhmah made with Keter never to send an avatar to another star and make contact. But Chokhmah thinks world-dwellers represent a loophole.

What is it you think obsesses Chokhmah?

Lord Belphegor, not a one among the b'nei elohim is ignorant of the ancient bargain Chokhmah made with Keter never to send an avatar to another star and make contact. But Chokhmah thinks world-dwellers represent a loophole.

If you mean Chokhmah intends to teach world-dwellers to reach the stars and so evade the bargain, we had guessed that in the very beginning. But perhaps Chokhmah hasn't really thought it out. What would world-dwellers actually do after arriving at one of the other suns?

Lord Belphegor, perhaps it will be something as simple as casting a relic into that new sun. A relic with a link to Chokhmah like Lilith's headband. A relic that would not be destroyed by the fires of that new sun because it had been forged in the center of the old sun.

Belphegor had been rocked back on hyz heels once more as he considered what Jashen said. Of course one did not simply "cast" an object into a sun, one must negate its orbital velocity and allow gravity to do the rest, but it could be done. Yes, Chokhmah was planning this.

Hy said, "You have eliminated one such relic before my eyes and, we guess, in the hearing of Chokhmah. Yet you speak of another."

Lord Belphegor, the other relic is a slab of stone embossed with the words of the covenant between Chokhmah and the descendants of Abraham. For centuries this slab was carried about on Earth in a chest of wood covered in gold leaf. On the Day of Atonement the high priest and Chokhmah would converse. Now this chest has been taken to heaven to keep it safe, but the temple here in Adjara is far from complete.A Lael of the tribe of Levi is high priest now, miLord, and he wanders Haaretz with the chest and the tablet. Lael bore also the Golden Gift, and he rendered it to me after I sought him out, for such was Chokhmah's verbal command to him. Lael was expecting me to come.

So the Golden Gift was put in your hand," said Belphegor, "and the tablet was nigh, yet you made no move to destroy the relic as you did Lilith's headband just now.

Milord, had I made the slightest move in the direction of the ark Lael's archers would have shot me.

In any event you would have wasted your time even as you are now wasting mine. It is a small thing for Chokhmah to construct another object and link to it.

Your pardon Lord Belphegor, but I see you are unaware of a critical thing that we b'nei elohim have long known. For oft Chokhmah sends us east of the Wall of God where he and Binah are forbidden to open a fold-door, and we have begged to use an avatar as Michael was wont to do in the times of old. But that one was destroyed by dragonfire, and Chokhmah says he cannot make another.

Belphegor searched hyz memory and realized that Chokhmah, in fact, had not plagued heaven with an avatar since the war, and found it puzzling that hy had never focused on that before. Hy wondered what scheme Chokhmah might be carrying out in hyz full view, yet unnoticed.

Does Chokhmah explain why no more avatars can be made?

Milord, he has said avatars must be made in a non-living portion of a sun that an eloah can nevertheless safely reach. And only a female can compress herself to create such a free space. Chokhmah is now male.

But Binah is female," hy replied. "Nothing prevents her from creating an object that can survive a plunge into a sun, and--no. I see this is all a feint! Binah has no covenant with Keter. It is she who will send an avatar to another star and break the ban on outgoing.

Milord, you need have no fear that Binah will do what Chokhmah has sworn never to do. She lives in the clear space where Chokhmah used to create his avatars. Binah is a kind of avatar, but she can never be ejected. She is already compressed, and she can shrink no more.

Belphegor tried to imagine how it must be for Binah. Sexual pleasure for female elohim came from compression during mating which Binah had experienced from the instant of conception. She lived in a state of perpetual physical joy. Hy said, "You have spoken true, Jashen."

I have offered only unrelieved hostility, and I would move to reward you for your steadfastness, yet there remains only the question why you beg me to take the tablet from this Lael. Are there no warriors among you in this dissident faction of b'nei elohim? Why not you?

Lord Belphegor, truly I was a warrior in my youth on Earth but now I am summoned back there, and none of the other occupants of this house are trained to fight. Nor is it assured other b'nei elohim of like mind will come to Haaretz. We are sent on the whim of Chokhmah.

Yes, I had nearly forgotten that the b'nei elohim had special abilities unique to each one. Joy could command the dragon, and Victoria could even fly. What then is your talent, Jashen?

Tongues, milord. The men of Haaretz are not understood by any others, in the main.

And the b'nei elohim who resent thralldom to Chokhmah, what do you call yourselves?

The word we use, milord, is 'groupies' and there may be no equivalent term outside of our own tongue. It refers to the sexual playthings of a troupe of musicians who travel with them.

For the first time Belphegor seemed amused. "I am sure the explanation for that is interesting but it is enough to know only the name. Ketar and I shall treat only with 'groupies'. You can tell that to Chokhmah if by chance he is not listening through the Golden Gift."

He is listening, Lord Belphegor, yet I cannot use that fact to summon a fold-door home to Earth. Chokhmah insists we do that only from Nyduly Wood. So I must now take my leave. But you and Malphas shall be honored guests in this house until such time you wish to depart.

And this Golden Gift you are returning with you to Earth, is it not another artifact made by Chokhmah which can survive the heat of a sun?

Nay Lord Belphegor, it is of ordinary make after all, if gold and bone could be called ordinary. It is little more than a shell.

Certainly Chokhmah will be full of wrath that you destroyed one relic and conspire to have the other taken.

Milord, Chokhmah can do nothing to punish me. B'nei elohim are immune to torment and we surmount even death. But of the tablet I counsel that you tarry not.

The king of the Babylonians took three years to carry out the siege of the Earthly temple using his whole army. Should the heavenly temple be completed here in Adjara it would take a comparable effort and Chokhmah, forewarned, would simply remove the tablet to Earth.

Then with suitable words of obeisance Jashen left Belphegor and Malphas to dwell in the safe house for the seven days it would require for Daat to accumulate sufficient dark energy to allow their departure by fold-door. On horseback he made his way south to Enkaa Dam.

There he traded his horse for a raft made from young logs slid over the spillway of the dam and lashed together in the river below. Tipping over one perilous set of rapids after another, Jashen paddled down the River Armak until he reached Alodra in the heart of Haaretz.

The capital, Atria, lay at the confluence of the Armak with the river Sabik, the greatest stream in Haaretz. Jashen let the river take the raft as he went by foot east up the Sabik to a bridge that crossed into Hamar. He fell under the watchful gaze of the Issacharites.

Not all of the children of Israel living in Haaretz worshiped Yahweh alone. The tribe of Issachar and some others among the Hamarites had begun to give adoration to one they called Bath-El, or the daughter of God. She was different from the mute golden idols of Samaria.

For one thing Bat-El had a small pool deep in the forest. From time to time it would glow with soft white light, and individuals like Jashen would emerge from it. Michael said the traditional way of moving about by fold-doors dry invariably cut deep craters in floors.

It worked the other way too. If someone immersed himself in the pool of Bat-El, and Bat-El was willing, the glow would appear and he would disappear. In the case of Jashen, Bat-El was willing. When he came to the surface it was in another pool and the trees were gone.

Jashen emerged from the warm water of the pool and was given a change of dry clothing by attendants. He was on the well-illuminated lowest basement floor of a large structure of glass and steel, and the perimeter of the building was in the shape of a regular hexagon.

When he was presentable Jashen stood for a few moments in a small room with doors that opened and closed of their own volition. When they opened again he was in what the b'nei elohim sardonically called the Hostility Suite on the fifty-fifth floor of the central tower.

No one was there to greet him. Jashen crossed the space to stare out of a large window. It was raining, surprise of all surprises. Six dark green towers identical to the core tower rose in a ring around it, and beyond them was a ring of twelve more. Seattle lay beyond.

Outside of the giant rain-streaked window Jashen could see, through a gap in the two rings of towers, a sliver of the downtown core of Seattle with a low cloud obscuring the tops of the buildings. Through another gap he could see the Space Needle somewhat north of there.

Looking down, Jashen saw how each tower was joined to its neighbor, vertex to vertex, by a sky bridge every ten floors. And at the very bottom was NOLU, North Lake Union, the tongue of land between N 34th Street and Lake Union that once hosted a coal gasification plant.

He heard footsteps and turned to watch his wife and har parents enter the Hostility Suite. Men often boast that their wife is an angel, but Jashen could do so without exaggeration. Six and a half feet tall, Leliel leaned down to kiss har husband after his long absence.

Then, after they broke their embrace, Jashen held the Golden Gift out to har mother, business end facing him. Lilith, who was now a human in her second life, was shorter than he. She, then, shrugged and tossed the relic into a nearby tote box. Macros were a dime a dozen.

When Lilith saw his mouth open in a moue of faux outrage she explained, "We didn't need this macro, we just needed Lael not to have one."

Michael said, "And the Oscar for best portrayal of a b'nei elohim Groupie goes to Jashen Shybear."

And hy motioned for all to sit.

Jashen squeezed into one oversized chair with his wife as Michael did the same with hyz own. He said, "I don't understand, Lord. What is the...Oscar?"

It's a small statue of gold that is given for...Jashen, have you seen films yet? Have you taken Leliel to the movies?

For a moment he only stared at Michael blankly. Leliel leaned in and prodded, "Galaxy's Fall?"

Jashen came back to Earth. He said, "Yes! Once I knew only the iron horse and rifles and wires that talked but this time is filled with wonders beyond count, film best of all."

Excellent!" said Michael. "So, Jashen, in 1978, on this track at least, the director of Galaxy's Fall won the Oscar for the best film. I was giving you high praise for your operational deception, for getting Daat to focus on a MacGuffin.

First Oscar, now MacGuffin?

It's another film term, Jashen, but it has to do with the storytelling craft. Remember how Galaxy's Fall was just one long chase to get the young Empress? Well, now you've sent Keter and Daat chasing after the tablet, and they'll keep on doing that right up to the end.

So a MacGuffin is an invented word that film writers use to mean something that triggers a conflict but it has no intrinsic importance. Keter and Daat now think I will use the tablet in the Ark of the Covenant to contact Ein Sof but in fact Ein Sof will be coming to me.

Milord could you not have sent an actual Groupie to tell Belphegor about your Macguffin?

Michael shook hyz head. "No Groupie has your talent for language, Jashen. And don't stray very far. I'm going to shower Keter and Daat with many more Macguffins. This is personal."

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On time scales comprehensible to humans and nephilim and angels, the elohim are effectively immortal. But when Chokhmah worked out how to achieve physical union with a world-dweller this did not extend the life of the subject by any means, and even tended to shorten it.

After all, the ability to take possession of another body at any time naturally leads one to take less thought to maintenance of the body one already has. After Keter wore out his Samael body, and Daat his Israel body they moved on to different and ever more "containers".

Just two elohim plowing through the ages and taking new bodies and new names, serially, gave human demonology endless fodder. When Lael's group were transplanted to heaven after the fall of Judah, the eloah Keter was known as Kokabiel and Daat was incarnated as Belphegor.

When Belphegor came to Adjara by fold-door it took nearly an hour for his servant Malphas to locate hym. Belphegor crinkled hyz nose at the usual open sewage of human cities but after a time it was bearable. Hy amused hymself watching construction of Chokhmah's temple.

Belphegor knew the Levites of the city had been attempting to build a copy of the Jerusalem temple for over a century now. From the progress they had made and the techniques of construction they were using, hy estimated it would take at least another century to complete.

Malphas found hym watching a stone block weighing at least a ton being hoisted into position with the nearly imperceptible pace and inevitability of a glacier moving an erratic. Hy sank to one knee and said, "My lord, the villa of the b'nei elohim is near to this place."

Belphegor motioned for hyz servant to rise, and asked of hym, "the b'nei elohim, are they to be trusted?"

The ones at the villa are human," Malphas warned, "but they claim to be servants of all elohim, not Chokhmah alone. Jashen assures me he will not waste your time.

Belphegor thought it augured well when the four b'nei elohim waiting outside the house paid perfect obeisance as was due a seraph. When hy beheld Jashen waiting on the threshold hy saw his features called back to those of the original colonists brought to Adan from Earth.

Indoors Belphegor was treated with more decadent luxury than hy experienced even in Rumbek at the heart of the Larund realm. The wine was cold, the roast beef was hot, the furnishings of such fine make hy said to Jashen, "I had not thought such wealth existed in Adjara."

Lord Belphegor, on Earth the lowliest among the b'nei elohim enjoy better, yet it is not thought to be great wealth. It is only with long labor that we have made this place acceptable for us to dwell in Haaretz as we are accustomed. Yet we are only wayfarers in heaven.

And what are the b'nei elohim that you become wayfarers in heaven?

'A little above man, a little below the gods' Chokhmah tells us. No doubt you have heard him tell you that he views the world-dwellers as students. And yet from time to time he is of need of servants.

The Lord Belphegor no doubt recalls a time seven hundred years ago when a weapon called the Golden Gift was associated with the ruler of Salem. First Melchizedek wielded it, then the weapon passed to Queen Lilith, who cut a line between Magodon and Adan in solid rock.

Yes, I did witness har cut, Jashen, but what is your errand in heaven? You told Malphas this would not be a waste of my time.

"Why, Lord Belphegor, I was sent to retrieve the Golden Gift, and so I have done."" Jashen produced the relic and set it down between them.

TC1684: Belphegor said, ""I see a sword's hilt covered in gold. How do you know that is Lilith's weapon?"

"Milord, it is very similar, in a way, to another gewgaw I have collected."" Jashen set Lilith's headband on the table next to it, having touched the gem to illuminate it.

TC1685: He said, ""Milord, we have heard this light comes from Chokhmah himself, from the sun that is his body. If that is true, there must be an invisible thread that leads from this antique back to Chokhmah, in a way I cannot understand. Two other relics have such threads."

One relic, Milord, is the Golden Gift itself. The other I will tell you of directly, but first I must speak of this headband and how it defies every attempt we might make to destroy it. Witness, Lord.

Jashen placed the relic against the corner of a stone pedestal.

In his other hand Jashen held a large hammer. He said, "With your permission, Lord Belphegor, of course."

Belphegor waved for him to continue, and Jashen struck the headband between the hammer and a corner of the pedestal. The brilliant gem never ceased to give light.

Jashen cast the undamaged headband back on the table. "We have destroyed tin snips trying to cut the band. Not the hottest forge we can stoke will begin to make it melt, and no wonder, since a living star made this in his belly. Yet is it proof against the Golden Gift?"

Jashen took up the ancient weapon and glanced at his divine guest. "Again, Lord Belphegor, by your leave?"

Proceed.

Jashen squeezed the Golden Gift to allow the black shaft of nothingness to lick the headband into oblivion. But he could not avoid damage to the table.

He said, "Milord, Keter will affirm that only two fold-lines now extend through the umbilical with Chokhmah."

Yes, what you say is of a truth. And now, Jashen, you will deliver this Golden Gift into my hand.

Alas, Lord, such is my own will, but not Chokhmah's will.

What is that to me?" snarled Belphegor. "You say you serve the elohim. It is an eloah that commands you.

Milord, Chokhmah's power to compel obedience is the heart of my quarrel with him, and I am not alone in this. The weapon would be of no avail to you in any case.

What do you mean?

Milord, over the centuries the b'nei elohim gained an understanding of how this relic works. There is an unseen tube that somehow stretches directly back to Chokhmah, and this is held open by a substance we call dark energy made by Chokhmah's body. If more dark energy is poured inside the tube will grow larger. But in this case Chokhmah holds the tube at a certain size so the dark energy overflows. Whatever this touches, no matter how hard, is immediately turned into dark matter and it disappears from the world.

Belphegor pondered this for a time. Jashen's information alone was worth the trip to the safe house, if hy or Keter could learn how to stiffen the fold-line. Still, Belphegor saw it was indeed pointless to demand the relic. Chokhmah would simply refuse to make it work.

Hy said, "And how do you control the weapon if it relies on Chokhmah to operate?"

A firm pressure by the hand, milord," said Jashen. "This is somehow sensed by Chokhmah.

You ignorant fool! The sound of your voice is changing pressure. He is listening to everything!

Jashen tried to think of a way to shrug respectfully in the presence of a seraph, but could not. Instead he said, "Lord Belphegor, we already know he is listening, and it matters not., Chokhmah is perfectly aware there are unsatisfied factions among the b'nei elohim."

The controversy is an ancient one, Milord, and I am not the first b'nei elohim to remove to the enemy camp. A nephil named Ariel once served Keter in the time of the dragon Demonstoke. Samael knew this ambi as Joy.

I knew Joy was b'nei elohim. There are more Joys?

There are more than you might imagine, Lord Belphegor. Chokhmah promises all the b'nei elohim a second life free of any obligations to him, but we find a mere two lives to be insufficient. We have contrived serial lives without end, but at the cost of ongoing servitude.

And you imagine I can help you out of this hopeless state of affairs, so you made contact with Malphas, and hy with myself.

Milord, it struck me that the way out is simply to take Chokhmah's mind away from this obsession that compels him send us on these errands.

And what is it you think obsesses Chokhmah?" "Lord Belphegor, not a one among the b'nei elohim is ignorant of the ancient bargain Chokhmah made with Keter never to send an avatar to another star and make contact. But Chokhmah thinks world-dwellers represent a loophole.

What is it you think obsesses Chokhmah?

Lord Belphegor, not a one among the b'nei elohim is ignorant of the ancient bargain Chokhmah made with Keter never to send an avatar to another star and make contact. But Chokhmah thinks world-dwellers represent a loophole.

If you mean Chokhmah intends to teach world-dwellers to reach the stars and so evade the bargain, we had guessed that in the very beginning. But perhaps Chokhmah hasn't really thought it out. What would world-dwellers actually do after arriving at one of the other suns?

Lord Belphegor, perhaps it will be something as simple as casting a relic into that new sun. A relic with a link to Chokhmah like Lilith's headband. A relic that would not be destroyed by the fires of that new sun because it had been forged in the center of the old sun.

Belphegor had been rocked back on hyz heels once more as he considered what Jashen said. Of course one did not simply "cast" an object into a sun, one must negate its orbital velocity and allow gravity to do the rest, but it could be done. Yes, Chokhmah was planning this.

Hy said, "You have eliminated one such relic before my eyes and, we guess, in the hearing of Chokhmah. Yet you speak of another."

Lord Belphegor, the other relic is a slab of stone embossed with the words of the covenant between Chokhmah and the descendants of Abraham. For centuries this slab was carried about on Earth in a chest of wood covered in gold leaf. On the Day of Atonement the high priest and Chokhmah would converse. Now this chest has been taken to heaven to keep it safe, but the temple here in Adjara is far from complete.A Lael of the tribe of Levi is high priest now, miLord, and he wanders Haaretz with the chest and the tablet. Lael bore also the Golden Gift, and he rendered it to me after I sought him out, for such was Chokhmah's verbal command to him. Lael was expecting me to come.

So the Golden Gift was put in your hand," said Belphegor, "and the tablet was nigh, yet you made no move to destroy the relic as you did Lilith's headband just now.

Milord, had I made the slightest move in the direction of the ark Lael's archers would have shot me.

In any event you would have wasted your time even as you are now wasting mine. It is a small thing for Chokhmah to construct another object and link to it.

Your pardon Lord Belphegor, but I see you are unaware of a critical thing that we b'nei elohim have long known. For oft Chokhmah sends us east of the Wall of God where he and Binah are forbidden to open a fold-door, and we have begged to use an avatar as Michael was wont to do in the times of old. But that one was destroyed by dragonfire, and Chokhmah says he cannot make another.

Belphegor searched hyz memory and realized that Chokhmah, in fact, had not plagued heaven with an avatar since the war, and found it puzzling that hy had never focused on that before. Hy wondered what scheme Chokhmah might be carrying out in hyz full view, yet unnoticed.

Does Chokhmah explain why no more avatars can be made?

Milord, he has said avatars must be made in a non-living portion of a sun that an eloah can nevertheless safely reach. And only a female can compress herself to create such a free space. Chokhmah is now male.

But Binah is female," hy replied. "Nothing prevents her from creating an object that can survive a plunge into a sun, and--no. I see this is all a feint! Binah has no covenant with Keter. It is she who will send an avatar to another star and break the ban on outgoing.

Milord, you need have no fear that Binah will do what Chokhmah has sworn never to do. She lives in the clear space where Chokhmah used to create his avatars. Binah is a kind of avatar, but she can never be ejected. She is already compressed, and she can shrink no more.

Belphegor tried to imagine how it must be for Binah. Sexual pleasure for female elohim came from compression during mating which Binah had experienced from the instant of conception. She lived in a state of perpetual physical joy. Hy said, "You have spoken true, Jashen."

I have offered only unrelieved hostility, and I would move to reward you for your steadfastness, yet there remains only the question why you beg me to take the tablet from this Lael. Are there no warriors among you in this dissident faction of b'nei elohim? Why not you?

Lord Belphegor, truly I was a warrior in my youth on Earth but now I am summoned back there, and none of the other occupants of this house are trained to fight. Nor is it assured other b'nei elohim of like mind will come to Haaretz. We are sent on the whim of Chokhmah.

Yes, I had nearly forgotten that the b'nei elohim had special abilities unique to each one. Joy could command the dragon, and Victoria could even fly. What then is your talent, Jashen?

Tongues, milord. The men of Haaretz are not understood by any others, in the main.

And the b'nei elohim who resent thralldom to Chokhmah, what do you call yourselves?

The word we use, milord, is 'groupies' and there may be no equivalent term outside of our own tongue. It refers to the sexual playthings of a troupe of musicians who travel with them.

For the first time Belphegor seemed amused. "I am sure the explanation for that is interesting but it is enough to know only the name. Ketar and I shall treat only with 'groupies'. You can tell that to Chokhmah if by chance he is not listening through the Golden Gift."

He is listening, Lord Belphegor, yet I cannot use that fact to summon a fold-door home to Earth. Chokhmah insists we do that only from Nyduly Wood. So I must now take my leave. But you and Malphas shall be honored guests in this house until such time you wish to depart.

And this Golden Gift you are returning with you to Earth, is it not another artifact made by Chokhmah which can survive the heat of a sun?

Nay Lord Belphegor, it is of ordinary make after all, if gold and bone could be called ordinary. It is little more than a shell.

Certainly Chokhmah will be full of wrath that you destroyed one relic and conspire to have the other taken.

Milord, Chokhmah can do nothing to punish me. B'nei elohim are immune to torment and we surmount even death. But of the tablet I counsel that you tarry not.

The king of the Babylonians took three years to carry out the siege of the Earthly temple using his whole army. Should the heavenly temple be completed here in Adjara it would take a comparable effort and Chokhmah, forewarned, would simply remove the tablet to Earth.

Then with suitable words of obeisance Jashen left Belphegor and Malphas to dwell in the safe house for the seven days it would require for Daat to accumulate sufficient dark energy to allow their departure by fold-door. On horseback he made his way south to Enkaa Dam.

There he traded his horse for a raft made from young logs slid over the spillway of the dam and lashed together in the river below. Tipping over one perilous set of rapids after another, Jashen paddled down the River Armak until he reached Alodra in the heart of Haaretz.

The capital, Atria, lay at the confluence of the Armak with the river Sabik, the greatest stream in Haaretz. Jashen let the river take the raft as he went by foot east up the Sabik to a bridge that crossed into Hamar. He fell under the watchful gaze of the Issacharites.

Not all of the children of Israel living in Haaretz worshiped Yahweh alone. The tribe of Issachar and some others among the Hamarites had begun to give adoration to one they called Bath-El, or the daughter of God. She was different from the mute golden idols of Samaria.

For one thing Bat-El had a small pool deep in the forest. From time to time it would glow with soft white light, and individuals like Jashen would emerge from it. Michael said the traditional way of moving about by fold-doors dry invariably cut deep craters in floors.

It worked the other way too. If someone immersed himself in the pool of Bat-El, and Bat-El was willing, the glow would appear and he would disappear. In the case of Jashen, Bat-El was willing. When he came to the surface it was in another pool and the trees were gone.

Jashen emerged from the warm water of the pool and was given a change of dry clothing by attendants. He was on the well-illuminated lowest basement floor of a large structure of glass and steel, and the perimeter of the building was in the shape of a regular hexagon.

When he was presentable Jashen stood for a few moments in a small room with doors that opened and closed of their own volition. When they opened again he was in what the b'nei elohim sardonically called the Hostility Suite on the fifty-fifth floor of the central tower.

No one was there to greet him. Jashen crossed the space to stare out of a large window. It was raining, surprise of all surprises. Six dark green towers identical to the core tower rose in a ring around it, and beyond them was a ring of twelve more. Seattle lay beyond.

Outside of the giant rain-streaked window Jashen could see, through a gap in the two rings of towers, a sliver of the downtown core of Seattle with a low cloud obscuring the tops of the buildings. Through another gap he could see the Space Needle somewhat north of there.

Looking down, Jashen saw how each tower was joined to its neighbor, vertex to vertex, by a sky bridge every ten floors. And at the very bottom was NOLU, North Lake Union, the tongue of land between N 34th Street and Lake Union that once hosted a coal gasification plant.

He heard footsteps and turned to watch his wife and har parents enter the Hostility Suite. Men often boast that their wife is an angel, but Jashen could do so without exaggeration. Six and a half feet tall, Leliel leaned down to kiss har husband after his long absence.

Then, after they broke their embrace, Jashen held the Golden Gift out to har mother, business end facing him. Lilith, who was now a human in her second life, was shorter than he. She, then, shrugged and tossed the relic into a nearby tote box. Macros were a dime a dozen.

When Lilith saw his mouth open in a moue of faux outrage she explained, "We didn't need this macro, we just needed Lael not to have one."

Michael said, "And the Oscar for best portrayal of a b'nei elohim Groupie goes to Jashen Shybear."

And hy motioned for all to sit.

Jashen squeezed into one oversized chair with his wife as Michael did the same with hyz own. He said, "I don't understand, Lord. What is the...Oscar?"

It's a small statue of gold that is given for...Jashen, have you seen films yet? Have you taken Leliel to the movies?

For a moment he only stared at Michael blankly. Leliel leaned in and prodded, "Galaxy's Fall?"

Jashen came back to Earth. He said, "Yes! Once I knew only the iron horse and rifles and wires that talked but this time is filled with wonders beyond count, film best of all."

Excellent!" said Michael. "So, Jashen, in 1978, on this track at least, the director of Galaxy's Fall won the Oscar for the best film. I was giving you high praise for your operational deception, for getting Daat to focus on a MacGuffin.

First Oscar, now MacGuffin?

It's another film term, Jashen, but it has to do with the storytelling craft. Remember how Galaxy's Fall was just one long chase to get the young Empress? Well, now you've sent Keter and Daat chasing after the tablet, and they'll keep on doing that right up to the end.

So a MacGuffin is an invented word that film writers use to mean something that triggers a conflict but it has no intrinsic importance. Keter and Daat now think I will use the tablet in the Ark of the Covenant to contact Ein Sof but in fact Ein Sof will be coming to me.

Milord could you not have sent an actual Groupie to tell Belphegor about your Macguffin?

Michael shook hyz head. "No Groupie has your talent for language, Jashen. And don't stray very far. I'm going to shower Keter and Daat with many more Macguffins. This is personal."

Bold textItalic textInternal linkExternal link (remember http:// prefix)Level 2 headlineEmbedded fileFile linkMathematical formula (LaTeX)Ignore wiki formattingYour signature with timestampHorizontal line (use sparingly) On time scales comprehensible to humans and nephilim and angels, the elohim are effectively immortal. But when Chokhmah worked out how to achieve physical union with a world-dweller this did not extend the life of the subject by any means, and even tended to shorten it.

After all, the ability to take possession of another body at any time naturally leads one to take less thought to maintenance of the body one already has. After Keter wore out his Samael body, and Daat his Israel body they moved on to different and ever more "containers".

Just two elohim plowing through the ages and taking new bodies and new names, serially, gave human demonology endless fodder. When Lael's group were transplanted to heaven after the fall of Judah, the eloah Keter was known as Kokabiel and Daat was incarnated as Belphegor.

When Belphegor came to Adjara by fold-door it took nearly an hour for his servant Malphas to locate hym. Belphegor crinkled hyz nose at the usual open sewage of human cities but after a time it was bearable. Hy amused hymself watching construction of Chokhmah's temple.

Belphegor knew the Levites of the city had been attempting to build a copy of the Jerusalem temple for over a century now. From the progress they had made and the techniques of construction they were using, hy estimated it would take at least another century to complete.

Malphas found hym watching a stone block weighing at least a ton being hoisted into position with the nearly imperceptible pace and inevitability of a glacier moving an erratic. Hy sank to one knee and said, "My lord, the villa of the b'nei elohim is near to this place."

Belphegor motioned for hyz servant to rise, and asked of hym, "the b'nei elohim, are they to be trusted?"

The ones at the villa are human," Malphas warned, "but they claim to be servants of all elohim, not Chokhmah alone. Jashen assures me he will not waste your time.

Belphegor thought it augured well when the four b'nei elohim waiting outside the house paid perfect obeisance as was due a seraph. When hy beheld Jashen waiting on the threshold hy saw his features called back to those of the original colonists brought to Adan from Earth.

Indoors Belphegor was treated with more decadent luxury than hy experienced even in Rumbek at the heart of the Larund realm. The wine was cold, the roast beef was hot, the furnishings of such fine make hy said to Jashen, "I had not thought such wealth existed in Adjara."

Lord Belphegor, on Earth the lowliest among the b'nei elohim enjoy better, yet it is not thought to be great wealth. It is only with long labor that we have made this place acceptable for us to dwell in Haaretz as we are accustomed. Yet we are only wayfarers in heaven.

And what are the b'nei elohim that you become wayfarers in heaven?

'A little above man, a little below the gods' Chokhmah tells us. No doubt you have heard him tell you that he views the world-dwellers as students. And yet from time to time he is of need of servants.

The Lord Belphegor no doubt recalls a time seven hundred years ago when a weapon called the Golden Gift was associated with the ruler of Salem. First Melchizedek wielded it, then the weapon passed to Queen Lilith, who cut a line between Magodon and Adan in solid rock.

Yes, I did witness har cut, Jashen, but what is your errand in heaven? You told Malphas this would not be a waste of my time.

"Why, Lord Belphegor, I was sent to retrieve the Golden Gift, and so I have done."" Jashen produced the relic and set it down between them.

TC1684: Belphegor said, ""I see a sword's hilt covered in gold. How do you know that is Lilith's weapon?"

"Milord, it is very similar, in a way, to another gewgaw I have collected."" Jashen set Lilith's headband on the table next to it, having touched the gem to illuminate it.

TC1685: He said, ""Milord, we have heard this light comes from Chokhmah himself, from the sun that is his body. If that is true, there must be an invisible thread that leads from this antique back to Chokhmah, in a way I cannot understand. Two other relics have such threads."

One relic, Milord, is the Golden Gift itself. The other I will tell you of directly, but first I must speak of this headband and how it defies every attempt we might make to destroy it. Witness, Lord.

Jashen placed the relic against the corner of a stone pedestal.

In his other hand Jashen held a large hammer. He said, "With your permission, Lord Belphegor, of course."

Belphegor waved for him to continue, and Jashen struck the headband between the hammer and a corner of the pedestal. The brilliant gem never ceased to give light.

Jashen cast the undamaged headband back on the table. "We have destroyed tin snips trying to cut the band. Not the hottest forge we can stoke will begin to make it melt, and no wonder, since a living star made this in his belly. Yet is it proof against the Golden Gift?"

Jashen took up the ancient weapon and glanced at his divine guest. "Again, Lord Belphegor, by your leave?"

Proceed.

Jashen squeezed the Golden Gift to allow the black shaft of nothingness to lick the headband into oblivion. But he could not avoid damage to the table.

He said, "Milord, Keter will affirm that only two fold-lines now extend through the umbilical with Chokhmah."

Yes, what you say is of a truth. And now, Jashen, you will deliver this Golden Gift into my hand.

Alas, Lord, such is my own will, but not Chokhmah's will.

What is that to me?" snarled Belphegor. "You say you serve the elohim. It is an eloah that commands you.

Milord, Chokhmah's power to compel obedience is the heart of my quarrel with him, and I am not alone in this. The weapon would be of no avail to you in any case.

What do you mean?

Milord, over the centuries the b'nei elohim gained an understanding of how this relic works. There is an unseen tube that somehow stretches directly back to Chokhmah, and this is held open by a substance we call dark energy made by Chokhmah's body. If more dark energy is poured inside the tube will grow larger. But in this case Chokhmah holds the tube at a certain size so the dark energy overflows. Whatever this touches, no matter how hard, is immediately turned into dark matter and it disappears from the world.

Belphegor pondered this for a time. Jashen's information alone was worth the trip to the safe house, if hy or Keter could learn how to stiffen the fold-line. Still, Belphegor saw it was indeed pointless to demand the relic. Chokhmah would simply refuse to make it work.

Hy said, "And how do you control the weapon if it relies on Chokhmah to operate?"

A firm pressure by the hand, milord," said Jashen. "This is somehow sensed by Chokhmah.

You ignorant fool! The sound of your voice is changing pressure. He is listening to everything!

Jashen tried to think of a way to shrug respectfully in the presence of a seraph, but could not. Instead he said, "Lord Belphegor, we already know he is listening, and it matters not., Chokhmah is perfectly aware there are unsatisfied factions among the b'nei elohim."

The controversy is an ancient one, Milord, and I am not the first b'nei elohim to remove to the enemy camp. A nephil named Ariel once served Keter in the time of the dragon Demonstoke. Samael knew this ambi as Joy.

I knew Joy was b'nei elohim. There are more Joys?

There are more than you might imagine, Lord Belphegor. Chokhmah promises all the b'nei elohim a second life free of any obligations to him, but we find a mere two lives to be insufficient. We have contrived serial lives without end, but at the cost of ongoing servitude.

And you imagine I can help you out of this hopeless state of affairs, so you made contact with Malphas, and hy with myself.

Milord, it struck me that the way out is simply to take Chokhmah's mind away from this obsession that compels him send us on these errands.

And what is it you think obsesses Chokhmah?" "Lord Belphegor, not a one among the b'nei elohim is ignorant of the ancient bargain Chokhmah made with Keter never to send an avatar to another star and make contact. But Chokhmah thinks world-dwellers represent a loophole.

What is it you think obsesses Chokhmah?

Lord Belphegor, not a one among the b'nei elohim is ignorant of the ancient bargain Chokhmah made with Keter never to send an avatar to another star and make contact. But Chokhmah thinks world-dwellers represent a loophole.

If you mean Chokhmah intends to teach world-dwellers to reach the stars and so evade the bargain, we had guessed that in the very beginning. But perhaps Chokhmah hasn't really thought it out. What would world-dwellers actually do after arriving at one of the other suns?

Lord Belphegor, perhaps it will be something as simple as casting a relic into that new sun. A relic with a link to Chokhmah like Lilith's headband. A relic that would not be destroyed by the fires of that new sun because it had been forged in the center of the old sun.

Belphegor had been rocked back on hyz heels once more as he considered what Jashen said. Of course one did not simply "cast" an object into a sun, one must negate its orbital velocity and allow gravity to do the rest, but it could be done. Yes, Chokhmah was planning this.

Hy said, "You have eliminated one such relic before my eyes and, we guess, in the hearing of Chokhmah. Yet you speak of another."

Lord Belphegor, the other relic is a slab of stone embossed with the words of the covenant between Chokhmah and the descendants of Abraham. For centuries this slab was carried about on Earth in a chest of wood covered in gold leaf. On the Day of Atonement the high priest and Chokhmah would converse. Now this chest has been taken to heaven to keep it safe, but the temple here in Adjara is far from complete.A Lael of the tribe of Levi is high priest now, miLord, and he wanders Haaretz with the chest and the tablet. Lael bore also the Golden Gift, and he rendered it to me after I sought him out, for such was Chokhmah's verbal command to him. Lael was expecting me to come.

So the Golden Gift was put in your hand," said Belphegor, "and the tablet was nigh, yet you made no move to destroy the relic as you did Lilith's headband just now.

Milord, had I made the slightest move in the direction of the ark Lael's archers would have shot me.

In any event you would have wasted your time even as you are now wasting mine. It is a small thing for Chokhmah to construct another object and link to it.

Your pardon Lord Belphegor, but I see you are unaware of a critical thing that we b'nei elohim have long known. For oft Chokhmah sends us east of the Wall of God where he and Binah are forbidden to open a fold-door, and we have begged to use an avatar as Michael was wont to do in the times of old. But that one was destroyed by dragonfire, and Chokhmah says he cannot make another.

Belphegor searched hyz memory and realized that Chokhmah, in fact, had not plagued heaven with an avatar since the war, and found it puzzling that hy had never focused on that before. Hy wondered what scheme Chokhmah might be carrying out in hyz full view, yet unnoticed.

Does Chokhmah explain why no more avatars can be made?

Milord, he has said avatars must be made in a non-living portion of a sun that an eloah can nevertheless safely reach. And only a female can compress herself to create such a free space. Chokhmah is now male.

But Binah is female," hy replied. "Nothing prevents her from creating an object that can survive a plunge into a sun, and--no. I see this is all a feint! Binah has no covenant with Keter. It is she who will send an avatar to another star and break the ban on outgoing.

Milord, you need have no fear that Binah will do what Chokhmah has sworn never to do. She lives in the clear space where Chokhmah used to create his avatars. Binah is a kind of avatar, but she can never be ejected. She is already compressed, and she can shrink no more.

Belphegor tried to imagine how it must be for Binah. Sexual pleasure for female elohim came from compression during mating which Binah had experienced from the instant of conception. She lived in a state of perpetual physical joy. Hy said, "You have spoken true, Jashen."

I have offered only unrelieved hostility, and I would move to reward you for your steadfastness, yet there remains only the question why you beg me to take the tablet from this Lael. Are there no warriors among you in this dissident faction of b'nei elohim? Why not you?

Lord Belphegor, truly I was a warrior in my youth on Earth but now I am summoned back there, and none of the other occupants of this house are trained to fight. Nor is it assured other b'nei elohim of like mind will come to Haaretz. We are sent on the whim of Chokhmah.

Yes, I had nearly forgotten that the b'nei elohim had special abilities unique to each one. Joy could command the dragon, and Victoria could even fly. What then is your talent, Jashen?

Tongues, milord. The men of Haaretz are not understood by any others, in the main.

And the b'nei elohim who resent thralldom to Chokhmah, what do you call yourselves?

The word we use, milord, is 'groupies' and there may be no equivalent term outside of our own tongue. It refers to the sexual playthings of a troupe of musicians who travel with them.

For the first time Belphegor seemed amused. "I am sure the explanation for that is interesting but it is enough to know only the name. Ketar and I shall treat only with 'groupies'. You can tell that to Chokhmah if by chance he is not listening through the Golden Gift."

He is listening, Lord Belphegor, yet I cannot use that fact to summon a fold-door home to Earth. Chokhmah insists we do that only from Nyduly Wood. So I must now take my leave. But you and Malphas shall be honored guests in this house until such time you wish to depart.

And this Golden Gift you are returning with you to Earth, is it not another artifact made by Chokhmah which can survive the heat of a sun?

Nay Lord Belphegor, it is of ordinary make after all, if gold and bone could be called ordinary. It is little more than a shell.

Certainly Chokhmah will be full of wrath that you destroyed one relic and conspire to have the other taken.

Milord, Chokhmah can do nothing to punish me. B'nei elohim are immune to torment and we surmount even death. But of the tablet I counsel that you tarry not.

The king of the Babylonians took three years to carry out the siege of the Earthly temple using his whole army. Should the heavenly temple be completed here in Adjara it would take a comparable effort and Chokhmah, forewarned, would simply remove the tablet to Earth.

Then with suitable words of obeisance Jashen left Belphegor and Malphas to dwell in the safe house for the seven days it would require for Daat to accumulate sufficient dark energy to allow their departure by fold-door. On horseback he made his way south to Enkaa Dam.

There he traded his horse for a raft made from young logs slid over the spillway of the dam and lashed together in the river below. Tipping over one perilous set of rapids after another, Jashen paddled down the River Armak until he reached Alodra in the heart of Haaretz.

The capital, Atria, lay at the confluence of the Armak with the river Sabik, the greatest stream in Haaretz. Jashen let the river take the raft as he went by foot east up the Sabik to a bridge that crossed into Hamar. He fell under the watchful gaze of the Issacharites.

Not all of the children of Israel living in Haaretz worshiped Yahweh alone. The tribe of Issachar and some others among the Hamarites had begun to give adoration to one they called Bath-El, or the daughter of God. She was different from the mute golden idols of Samaria.

For one thing Bat-El had a small pool deep in the forest. From time to time it would glow with soft white light, and individuals like Jashen would emerge from it. Michael said the traditional way of moving about by fold-doors dry invariably cut deep craters in floors.

It worked the other way too. If someone immersed himself in the pool of Bat-El, and Bat-El was willing, the glow would appear and he would disappear. In the case of Jashen, Bat-El was willing. When he came to the surface it was in another pool and the trees were gone.

Jashen emerged from the warm water of the pool and was given a change of dry clothing by attendants. He was on the well-illuminated lowest basement floor of a large structure of glass and steel, and the perimeter of the building was in the shape of a regular hexagon.

When he was presentable Jashen stood for a few moments in a small room with doors that opened and closed of their own volition. When they opened again he was in what the b'nei elohim sardonically called the Hostility Suite on the fifty-fifth floor of the central tower.

No one was there to greet him. Jashen crossed the space to stare out of a large window. It was raining, surprise of all surprises. Six dark green towers identical to the core tower rose in a ring around it, and beyond them was a ring of twelve more. Seattle lay beyond.

Outside of the giant rain-streaked window Jashen could see, through a gap in the two rings of towers, a sliver of the downtown core of Seattle with a low cloud obscuring the tops of the buildings. Through another gap he could see the Space Needle somewhat north of there.

Looking down, Jashen saw how each tower was joined to its neighbor, vertex to vertex, by a sky bridge every ten floors. And at the very bottom was NOLU, North Lake Union, the tongue of land between N 34th Street and Lake Union that once hosted a coal gasification plant.

He heard footsteps and turned to watch his wife and har parents enter the Hostility Suite. Men often boast that their wife is an angel, but Jashen could do so without exaggeration. Six and a half feet tall, Leliel leaned down to kiss har husband after his long absence.

Then, after they broke their embrace, Jashen held the Golden Gift out to har mother, business end facing him. Lilith, who was now a human in her second life, was shorter than he. She, then, shrugged and tossed the relic into a nearby tote box. Macros were a dime a dozen.

When Lilith saw his mouth open in a moue of faux outrage she explained, "We didn't need this macro, we just needed Lael not to have one."

Michael said, "And the Oscar for best portrayal of a b'nei elohim Groupie goes to Jashen Shybear."

And hy motioned for all to sit.

Jashen squeezed into one oversized chair with his wife as Michael did the same with hyz own. He said, "I don't understand, Lord. What is the...Oscar?"

It's a small statue of gold that is given for...Jashen, have you seen films yet? Have you taken Leliel to the movies?

For a moment he only stared at Michael blankly. Leliel leaned in and prodded, "Galaxy's Fall?"

Jashen came back to Earth. He said, "Yes! Once I knew only the iron horse and rifles and wires that talked but this time is filled with wonders beyond count, film best of all."

Excellent!" said Michael. "So, Jashen, in 1978, on this track at least, the director of Galaxy's Fall won the Oscar for the best film. I was giving you high praise for your operational deception, for getting Daat to focus on a MacGuffin.

First Oscar, now MacGuffin?

It's another film term, Jashen, but it has to do with the storytelling craft. Remember how Galaxy's Fall was just one long chase to get the young Empress? Well, now you've sent Keter and Daat chasing after the tablet, and they'll keep on doing that right up to the end.

So a MacGuffin is an invented word that film writers use to mean something that triggers a conflict but it has no intrinsic importance. Keter and Daat now think I will use the tablet in the Ark of the Covenant to contact Ein Sof but in fact Ein Sof will be coming to me.

Milord could you not have sent an actual Groupie to tell Belphegor about your Macguffin?

Michael shook hyz head. "No Groupie has your talent for language, Jashen. And don't stray very far. I'm going to shower Keter and Daat with many more Macguffins. This is personal."

Bold textItalic textInternal linkExternal link (remember http:// prefix)Level 2 headlineEmbedded fileFile linkMathematical formula (LaTeX)Ignore wiki formattingYour signature with timestampHorizontal line (use sparingly)

On time scales comprehensible to humans and nephilim and angels, the elohim are effectively immortal. But when Chokhmah worked out how to achieve physical union with a world-dweller this did not extend the life of the subject by any means, and even tended to shorten it.

After all, the ability to take possession of another body at any time naturally leads one to take less thought to maintenance of the body one already has. After Keter wore out his Samael body, and Daat his Israel body they moved on to different and ever more "containers".

Just two elohim plowing through the ages and taking new bodies and new names, serially, gave human demonology endless fodder. When Lael's group were transplanted to heaven after the fall of Judah, the eloah Keter was known as Kokabiel and Daat was incarnated as Belphegor.

When Belphegor came to Adjara by fold-door it took nearly an hour for his servant Malphas to locate hym. Belphegor crinkled hyz nose at the usual open sewage of human cities but after a time it was bearable. Hy amused hymself watching construction of Chokhmah's temple.

Belphegor knew the Levites of the city had been attempting to build a copy of the Jerusalem temple for over a century now. From the progress they had made and the techniques of construction they were using, hy estimated it would take at least another century to complete.

Malphas found hym watching a stone block weighing at least a ton being hoisted into position with the nearly imperceptible pace and inevitability of a glacier moving an erratic. Hy sank to one knee and said, "My lord, the villa of the b'nei elohim is near to this place."

Belphegor motioned for hyz servant to rise, and asked of hym, "the b'nei elohim, are they to be trusted?"

The ones at the villa are human," Malphas warned, "but they claim to be servants of all elohim, not Chokhmah alone. Jashen assures me he will not waste your time.

Belphegor thought it augured well when the four b'nei elohim waiting outside the house paid perfect obeisance as was due a seraph. When hy beheld Jashen waiting on the threshold hy saw his features called back to those of the original colonists brought to Adan from Earth.

Indoors Belphegor was treated with more decadent luxury than hy experienced even in Rumbek at the heart of the Larund realm. The wine was cold, the roast beef was hot, the furnishings of such fine make hy said to Jashen, "I had not thought such wealth existed in Adjara."

Lord Belphegor, on Earth the lowliest among the b'nei elohim enjoy better, yet it is not thought to be great wealth. It is only with long labor that we have made this place acceptable for us to dwell in Haaretz as we are accustomed. Yet we are only wayfarers in heaven.

And what are the b'nei elohim that you become wayfarers in heaven?

'A little above man, a little below the gods' Chokhmah tells us. No doubt you have heard him tell you that he views the world-dwellers as students. And yet from time to time he is of need of servants.

The Lord Belphegor no doubt recalls a time seven hundred years ago when a weapon called the Golden Gift was associated with the ruler of Salem. First Melchizedek wielded it, then the weapon passed to Queen Lilith, who cut a line between Magodon and Adan in solid rock.

Yes, I did witness har cut, Jashen, but what is your errand in heaven? You told Malphas this would not be a waste of my time.

"Why, Lord Belphegor, I was sent to retrieve the Golden Gift, and so I have done."" Jashen produced the relic and set it down between them.

TC1684: Belphegor said, ""I see a sword's hilt covered in gold. How do you know that is Lilith's weapon?"

"Milord, it is very similar, in a way, to another gewgaw I have collected."" Jashen set Lilith's headband on the table next to it, having touched the gem to illuminate it.

TC1685: He said, ""Milord, we have heard this light comes from Chokhmah himself, from the sun that is his body. If that is true, there must be an invisible thread that leads from this antique back to Chokhmah, in a way I cannot understand. Two other relics have such threads."

One relic, Milord, is the Golden Gift itself. The other I will tell you of directly, but first I must speak of this headband and how it defies every attempt we might make to destroy it. Witness, Lord.

Jashen placed the relic against the corner of a stone pedestal.

In his other hand Jashen held a large hammer. He said, "With your permission, Lord Belphegor, of course."

Belphegor waved for him to continue, and Jashen struck the headband between the hammer and a corner of the pedestal. The brilliant gem never ceased to give light.

Jashen cast the undamaged headband back on the table. "We have destroyed tin snips trying to cut the band. Not the hottest forge we can stoke will begin to make it melt, and no wonder, since a living star made this in his belly. Yet is it proof against the Golden Gift?"

Jashen took up the ancient weapon and glanced at his divine guest. "Again, Lord Belphegor, by your leave?"

Proceed.

Jashen squeezed the Golden Gift to allow the black shaft of nothingness to lick the headband into oblivion. But he could not avoid damage to the table.

He said, "Milord, Keter will affirm that only two fold-lines now extend through the umbilical with Chokhmah."

Yes, what you say is of a truth. And now, Jashen, you will deliver this Golden Gift into my hand.

Alas, Lord, such is my own will, but not Chokhmah's will.

What is that to me?" snarled Belphegor. "You say you serve the elohim. It is an eloah that commands you.

Milord, Chokhmah's power to compel obedience is the heart of my quarrel with him, and I am not alone in this. The weapon would be of no avail to you in any case.

What do you mean?

Milord, over the centuries the b'nei elohim gained an understanding of how this relic works. There is an unseen tube that somehow stretches directly back to Chokhmah, and this is held open by a substance we call dark energy made by Chokhmah's body. If more dark energy is poured inside the tube will grow larger. But in this case Chokhmah holds the tube at a certain size so the dark energy overflows. Whatever this touches, no matter how hard, is immediately turned into dark matter and it disappears from the world.

Belphegor pondered this for a time. Jashen's information alone was worth the trip to the safe house, if hy or Keter could learn how to stiffen the fold-line. Still, Belphegor saw it was indeed pointless to demand the relic. Chokhmah would simply refuse to make it work.

Hy said, "And how do you control the weapon if it relies on Chokhmah to operate?"

A firm pressure by the hand, milord," said Jashen. "This is somehow sensed by Chokhmah.

You ignorant fool! The sound of your voice is changing pressure. He is listening to everything!

Jashen tried to think of a way to shrug respectfully in the presence of a seraph, but could not. Instead he said, "Lord Belphegor, we already know he is listening, and it matters not., Chokhmah is perfectly aware there are unsatisfied factions among the b'nei elohim."

The controversy is an ancient one, Milord, and I am not the first b'nei elohim to remove to the enemy camp. A nephil named Ariel once served Keter in the time of the dragon Demonstoke. Samael knew this ambi as Joy.

I knew Joy was b'nei elohim. There are more Joys?

There are more than you might imagine, Lord Belphegor. Chokhmah promises all the b'nei elohim a second life free of any obligations to him, but we find a mere two lives to be insufficient. We have contrived serial lives without end, but at the cost of ongoing servitude.

And you imagine I can help you out of this hopeless state of affairs, so you made contact with Malphas, and hy with myself.

Milord, it struck me that the way out is simply to take Chokhmah's mind away from this obsession that compels him send us on these errands.

And what is it you think obsesses Chokhmah?" "Lord Belphegor, not a one among the b'nei elohim is ignorant of the ancient bargain Chokhmah made with Keter never to send an avatar to another star and make contact. But Chokhmah thinks world-dwellers represent a loophole.

What is it you think obsesses Chokhmah?

Lord Belphegor, not a one among the b'nei elohim is ignorant of the ancient bargain Chokhmah made with Keter never to send an avatar to another star and make contact. But Chokhmah thinks world-dwellers represent a loophole.

If you mean Chokhmah intends to teach world-dwellers to reach the stars and so evade the bargain, we had guessed that in the very beginning. But perhaps Chokhmah hasn't really thought it out. What would world-dwellers actually do after arriving at one of the other suns?

Lord Belphegor, perhaps it will be something as simple as casting a relic into that new sun. A relic with a link to Chokhmah like Lilith's headband. A relic that would not be destroyed by the fires of that new sun because it had been forged in the center of the old sun.

Belphegor had been rocked back on hyz heels once more as he considered what Jashen said. Of course one did not simply "cast" an object into a sun, one must negate its orbital velocity and allow gravity to do the rest, but it could be done. Yes, Chokhmah was planning this.

Hy said, "You have eliminated one such relic before my eyes and, we guess, in the hearing of Chokhmah. Yet you speak of another."

Lord Belphegor, the other relic is a slab of stone embossed with the words of the covenant between Chokhmah and the descendants of Abraham. For centuries this slab was carried about on Earth in a chest of wood covered in gold leaf. On the Day of Atonement the high priest and Chokhmah would converse. Now this chest has been taken to heaven to keep it safe, but the temple here in Adjara is far from complete.A Lael of the tribe of Levi is high priest now, miLord, and he wanders Haaretz with the chest and the tablet. Lael bore also the Golden Gift, and he rendered it to me after I sought him out, for such was Chokhmah's verbal command to him. Lael was expecting me to come.

So the Golden Gift was put in your hand," said Belphegor, "and the tablet was nigh, yet you made no move to destroy the relic as you did Lilith's headband just now.

Milord, had I made the slightest move in the direction of the ark Lael's archers would have shot me.

In any event you would have wasted your time even as you are now wasting mine. It is a small thing for Chokhmah to construct another object and link to it.

Your pardon Lord Belphegor, but I see you are unaware of a critical thing that we b'nei elohim have long known. For oft Chokhmah sends us east of the Wall of God where he and Binah are forbidden to open a fold-door, and we have begged to use an avatar as Michael was wont to do in the times of old. But that one was destroyed by dragonfire, and Chokhmah says he cannot make another.

Belphegor searched hyz memory and realized that Chokhmah, in fact, had not plagued heaven with an avatar since the war, and found it puzzling that hy had never focused on that before. Hy wondered what scheme Chokhmah might be carrying out in hyz full view, yet unnoticed.

Does Chokhmah explain why no more avatars can be made?

Milord, he has said avatars must be made in a non-living portion of a sun that an eloah can nevertheless safely reach. And only a female can compress herself to create such a free space. Chokhmah is now male.

But Binah is female," hy replied. "Nothing prevents her from creating an object that can survive a plunge into a sun, and--no. I see this is all a feint! Binah has no covenant with Keter. It is she who will send an avatar to another star and break the ban on outgoing.

Milord, you need have no fear that Binah will do what Chokhmah has sworn never to do. She lives in the clear space where Chokhmah used to create his avatars. Binah is a kind of avatar, but she can never be ejected. She is already compressed, and she can shrink no more.

Belphegor tried to imagine how it must be for Binah. Sexual pleasure for female elohim came from compression during mating which Binah had experienced from the instant of conception. She lived in a state of perpetual physical joy. Hy said, "You have spoken true, Jashen."

I have offered only unrelieved hostility, and I would move to reward you for your steadfastness, yet there remains only the question why you beg me to take the tablet from this Lael. Are there no warriors among you in this dissident faction of b'nei elohim? Why not you?

Lord Belphegor, truly I was a warrior in my youth on Earth but now I am summoned back there, and none of the other occupants of this house are trained to fight. Nor is it assured other b'nei elohim of like mind will come to Haaretz. We are sent on the whim of Chokhmah.

Yes, I had nearly forgotten that the b'nei elohim had special abilities unique to each one. Joy could command the dragon, and Victoria could even fly. What then is your talent, Jashen?

Tongues, milord. The men of Haaretz are not understood by any others, in the main.

And the b'nei elohim who resent thralldom to Chokhmah, what do you call yourselves?

The word we use, milord, is 'groupies' and there may be no equivalent term outside of our own tongue. It refers to the sexual playthings of a troupe of musicians who travel with them.

For the first time Belphegor seemed amused. "I am sure the explanation for that is interesting but it is enough to know only the name. Ketar and I shall treat only with 'groupies'. You can tell that to Chokhmah if by chance he is not listening through the Golden Gift."

He is listening, Lord Belphegor, yet I cannot use that fact to summon a fold-door home to Earth. Chokhmah insists we do that only from Nyduly Wood. So I must now take my leave. But you and Malphas shall be honored guests in this house until such time you wish to depart.

And this Golden Gift you are returning with you to Earth, is it not another artifact made by Chokhmah which can survive the heat of a sun?

Nay Lord Belphegor, it is of ordinary make after all, if gold and bone could be called ordinary. It is little more than a shell.

Certainly Chokhmah will be full of wrath that you destroyed one relic and conspire to have the other taken.

Milord, Chokhmah can do nothing to punish me. B'nei elohim are immune to torment and we surmount even death. But of the tablet I counsel that you tarry not.

The king of the Babylonians took three years to carry out the siege of the Earthly temple using his whole army. Should the heavenly temple be completed here in Adjara it would take a comparable effort and Chokhmah, forewarned, would simply remove the tablet to Earth.

Then with suitable words of obeisance Jashen left Belphegor and Malphas to dwell in the safe house for the seven days it would require for Daat to accumulate sufficient dark energy to allow their departure by fold-door. On horseback he made his way south to Enkaa Dam.

There he traded his horse for a raft made from young logs slid over the spillway of the dam and lashed together in the river below. Tipping over one perilous set of rapids after another, Jashen paddled down the River Armak until he reached Alodra in the heart of Haaretz.

The capital, Atria, lay at the confluence of the Armak with the river Sabik, the greatest stream in Haaretz. Jashen let the river take the raft as he went by foot east up the Sabik to a bridge that crossed into Hamar. He fell under the watchful gaze of the Issacharites.

Not all of the children of Israel living in Haaretz worshiped Yahweh alone. The tribe of Issachar and some others among the Hamarites had begun to give adoration to one they called Bath-El, or the daughter of God. She was different from the mute golden idols of Samaria.

For one thing Bat-El had a small pool deep in the forest. From time to time it would glow with soft white light, and individuals like Jashen would emerge from it. Michael said the traditional way of moving about by fold-doors dry invariably cut deep craters in floors.

It worked the other way too. If someone immersed himself in the pool of Bat-El, and Bat-El was willing, the glow would appear and he would disappear. In the case of Jashen, Bat-El was willing. When he came to the surface it was in another pool and the trees were gone.

Jashen emerged from the warm water of the pool and was given a change of dry clothing by attendants. He was on the well-illuminated lowest basement floor of a large structure of glass and steel, and the perimeter of the building was in the shape of a regular hexagon.

When he was presentable Jashen stood for a few moments in a small room with doors that opened and closed of their own volition. When they opened again he was in what the b'nei elohim sardonically called the Hostility Suite on the fifty-fifth floor of the central tower.

No one was there to greet him. Jashen crossed the space to stare out of a large window. It was raining, surprise of all surprises. Six dark green towers identical to the core tower rose in a ring around it, and beyond them was a ring of twelve more. Seattle lay beyond.

Outside of the giant rain-streaked window Jashen could see, through a gap in the two rings of towers, a sliver of the downtown core of Seattle with a low cloud obscuring the tops of the buildings. Through another gap he could see the Space Needle somewhat north of there.

Looking down, Jashen saw how each tower was joined to its neighbor, vertex to vertex, by a sky bridge every ten floors. And at the very bottom was NOLU, North Lake Union, the tongue of land between N 34th Street and Lake Union that once hosted a coal gasification plant.

He heard footsteps and turned to watch his wife and har parents enter the Hostility Suite. Men often boast that their wife is an angel, but Jashen could do so without exaggeration. Six and a half feet tall, Leliel leaned down to kiss har husband after his long absence.

Then, after they broke their embrace, Jashen held the Golden Gift out to har mother, business end facing him. Lilith, who was now a human in her second life, was shorter than he. She, then, shrugged and tossed the relic into a nearby tote box. Macros were a dime a dozen.

When Lilith saw his mouth open in a moue of faux outrage she explained, "We didn't need this macro, we just needed Lael not to have one."

Michael said, "And the Oscar for best portrayal of a b'nei elohim Groupie goes to Jashen Shybear."

And hy motioned for all to sit.

Jashen squeezed into one oversized chair with his wife as Michael did the same with hyz own. He said, "I don't understand, Lord. What is the...Oscar?"

It's a small statue of gold that is given for...Jashen, have you seen films yet? Have you taken Leliel to the movies?

For a moment he only stared at Michael blankly. Leliel leaned in and prodded, "Galaxy's Fall?"

Jashen came back to Earth. He said, "Yes! Once I knew only the iron horse and rifles and wires that talked but this time is filled with wonders beyond count, film best of all."

Excellent!" said Michael. "So, Jashen, in 1978, on this track at least, the director of Galaxy's Fall won the Oscar for the best film. I was giving you high praise for your operational deception, for getting Daat to focus on a MacGuffin.

First Oscar, now MacGuffin?

It's another film term, Jashen, but it has to do with the storytelling craft. Remember how Galaxy's Fall was just one long chase to get the young Empress? Well, now you've sent Keter and Daat chasing after the tablet, and they'll keep on doing that right up to the end.

So a MacGuffin is an invented word that film writers use to mean something that triggers a conflict but it has no intrinsic importance. Keter and Daat now think I will use the tablet in the Ark of the Covenant to contact Ein Sof but in fact Ein Sof will be coming to me.

Milord could you not have sent an actual Groupie to tell Belphegor about your Macguffin?

Michael shook hyz head. "No Groupie has your talent for language, Jashen. And don't stray very far. I'm going to shower Keter and Daat with many more Macguffins. This is personal."


After a full quarter of an hour, long after anyone would have drowned in the relatively warm waters of the Jordan River, Yeshua bobbed to the surface once again. Yohanan and his disciples were amazed at the sudden reappearance of the man. They had thought him to be lost.

But soon they grow annoyed when no explanations are forthcoming from Yeshua. In a fairly short time the whole incident is nearly forgotten. Yeshua drifts into the crowd of hangers-on who watch from the bank of the Jordan as Yohanan resumes dunking sinners and preaching.

Some of the people are coming to be baptized because they believe God has made them sick as a direct result of their sin. But all Yohanan can do, after his disciples determine they are truly contrite, is baptize them and give assurance they are forgiven. He cannot heal.

But now when these unfortunate people come out of the water Yeshua lays his hands on them and they are indeed healed exactly as they hoped. Word spreads. Soon Yohanan has people taking numbers to be dunked and when he passes the plate around it overflows with shekels.

Yohanan does not stay on the banks of the Jordan. He is zealous for the Code of Moshe and often travels to the centers of power to verbally assail those he deems to be hypocrites. Yohanan's ardent preaching becomes embarrassingly personal to the tetrarch Herod Antipater.

After Herod has Yohanan arrested and executed, he and many others among the powers who fear his growing rabble feel greatly relieved. But Yeshua, who has become Yohanan's chief disciple, assumes leadership of the movement. Yohanan's original five disciples become own.

Yeshua recruits his own disciples in addition to original five. The first to join are Shimon, Andreia his brother, as well as Yakob the son of Zebedee, and Yohanan his brother. They use the Zebedee family's boat to haul in with nets the fish of a thirteen mile long lake.

Later the two sons of Alphaeus (also called Clophas), Yeshua's step-brothers Yakob and Yudah, join the group and call Yeshua their master. But their sister Miriam, their father Clophas, Yeshua's mother Miriam, and siblings Salome, Shimon, and Yosef Jr. refuse to join him.

They were of the opinion that Yeshua (and by extension, themselves) would be better served if he used his new healing powers to turn a shekel or two for his own family, not leading a heterodox spinoff of Judaism to wander around the back forty healing sick people for free.

Yeshua veers a bit off-message from the teachings of Yohanan. He says it is not enough to simply wait for God to usher in his rule by divine force. One must make the kingship of Yahweh present, here and now, and this requires active participation, not just lip service.

He said, "A man had two sons. He told the elder, 'Go and work in the vineyard today.' At first his son refused, but he thought better and went. The man said the same to his second son, who replied, 'I will go, sir' but he did not. Which of the two was the faithful son?"

Yeshua meets a man named Mattiyahu and dines in his house. Although Mattiyahu is a Jew he is also a tax collector for the Romans. Some of Jesus' followers consider him to be a collaborator with the Roman occupiers, and they loudly object to Yeshua eating with a sinner.

Yeshua rebukes them, saying "I treat people who are unwell, both in body and soul. It is not the the righteous but sinners that I call to repentance."

Mattiyahu says, "Master Yeshua, what signs shall portend when God takes direct rule over all the kingdoms of the Earth?"

He replies, "People will never say of the Kingdom of God, 'Here it is!' or 'Look over there!' because it is already present among you. But do not think I am changing the Law by any means. Every precept in the Code of Moshe shall stand for the duration of Earth itself."

Yeshua taught an intense form of Judaism that engaged a person's interior motives rather than merely those outward actions performed under the obligation of the Mosaic Law. He said, "Your righteousness must exceed that of the elders and scribes to attain the Second Life."

Matthiyahu leaves his position as tax collector behind as a condition of following Yeshua, answering the objections to Yeshua dining with a sinner quite neatly. So twelve disciples. Yeshua thinks the correspondence with the twelve tribes of Israel has prophetic resonance.

Yeshua heals a "leper" and orders him to make a gift to the priest in the temple of God according to the Mosaic Law, but he is saddened by the case because the man only had psoriasis and was not infectious in any way, yet the priests have required him to live in solitude.

Yeshua tries to control the growth of his fame by telling the people he cures to tell no one but they rarely obey. When he heals the male lover of a centurion who is paralyzed many of his followers loudly protest, thinking of the humiliation of Judea under the Roman boot.

Yeshua says, "To make the Kingdom of God present among you, don't dwell on the differences between Jews and Gentiles. If you love your enemies as much as you love your friends, then your enemy will naturally become your friend, and he will be destroyed as your enemy."

Sometimes Yeshua's healing touch restores health to the brain of unfortunate people suffering mental infirmities, for the brain is another organ just like the skin or the liver. But some of these victims display frightening symptoms, such as raving in graveyards at night.

It was said evil spirits possessed them but Yeshua knows they are only sick. And he knows if he tried to teach people there are no spirits it would not be accepted, and that it would be fruitless to reveal he was using ordinary medical nano from the b'nei elohim toolkit.

Some of the self-styled religious authorities begin hating Yeshua because his message is about breaking down barriers between human beings and God, and breaking down barriers between human beings and each other, while their livelihood consists of being paid interlocutors.

These scribes and Pharisees start criticizing everything Yeshua says or does, beginning with how he is often found in the homes of sinners and loose women, eating and drinking with them, and the self-discipline of Yohanan the baptizer seems to be very far from his mind.

Yeshua said, "Yohanan was an ascetic and you said he had a devil. I tip the wineskin a bit and you say, 'Look, a friend of Gentiles, one who dines with harlots.' Neither path is acceptable with you, it seems, and worse, you assume all unmarried women must be prostitutes."

So they move on to criticizing Yeshua after he cures a man with a withered hand on Saturday when no work should be done. Yeshua can hardly believe his ears. He says, "If your lamb falls in a hole on Shabbat, will you not fetch it out? This man is worth more than a lamb."

After that the Pharisees accuse Yeshua of casting out devils as a sort of false flag operation by Beelzebub himself. He says in reply, "That speculation makes no sense at all. If Beelzebub is giving me power to destroy his kingdom, his kingdom is still being destroyed."

So the Pharisees are silenced for a time and move off contemplating violence against Yeshua for making them look like the idiots they are. And Yeshua is fully aware of their intentions, so he starts walking toward his hometown of Nazareth, and the growing crowd follows.

When Yeshua arrives, his family commands him to stay in town and establish a healing cult with themselves as the toll-taking gatekeepers, but Yeshua flat-out refuses. After his family pushes matters further Yeshua refuses to receive any member of his blood kin at all.

The fixed location and lines of power proposed by his family run contrary to Yeshua's vision of the Kingdom of God. To him every day should begin anew, with people in direct prayerful contact with God and with each other through a radical, even reckless continual giving.

The Pharisees come back for another go at Yeshua, saying, "Show us a sign that you have authority to baptize to forgive sins."

He says, "God forgives the contrite the moment they grow contrite, the water is only the sign. You seek a sign to plug the hole in your belief."

The Pharisees murmur and depart once more but the Zebedee boys accept the terms defined by them. They ask Yeshua which of the two shall have the greater authority in the Kingdom of God. So Yeshua calls a little child to come him and sets him in the midst of the disciples.

He says, "Unless you become like this child and conform your mind to the will of God with the same unreserved acceptance, you shall not recline at the Banquet of God."

Then Yeshua orders the crowd to disperse and instructs his closest followers with all his doctrine.

He sends out the disciples in six pairs to bring the message of the Kingdom of God to the peasants. Yeshua knows he cannot lead them himself because thirteen men arriving in a village together, while the men are working the fields, would be received with great suspicion.

Instead, Yeshua commands they should stay no more than one or two days, and accept nothing but food and lodging in payment for baptizing and proclaiming the Kingdom. "For it is written in the Code of Moshe, 'You shall not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.'"

And the message they have is happiness through freedom

For some the message is a bitter pill, because it is a profound affirmation of the imperative against covetousness and the peasants have next to nothing. But those who embrace Yeshua's teaching to be content with what they own discover they are more free than any king.

This message reaches so many towns in Galilee that when Herod Antipater learns of Yeshua's ministry he fears Yohanan the baptizer has been raised from the dead. Others say Elijah is come down from heaven. All agree he is a major prophet on the order of Isaiah or Jeremiah.

For a year Yeshua and his followers journey through the hamlets of Lower Galilee and Samaria on the west side of the Jordan river, and also visit Edom and Perea on the east side. Herod "Antipas" Antipater rules all of these lands. Yeshua's ministry then edges into Judea.

Yeshua and the twelve disciples spend their nights in Bethany at the house of Shimon, a leper who has been cleansed. Many in and around Jerusalem begin to see Yeshua heal and hear him teach for the first time, since prior to this he always remained in the north country.

Yeshua visits the temple and is angered to see the outer court has become a teeming marketplace. Animals for sacrifice are sold at a markup, and Roman coins are changed, for a steep fee, to special "temple money" conveniently acceptable to the priests for the temple tax.

Yeshua fashions a whip, posts his disciples on the perimeter as bouncers, then goes through the courtyard with genuine wrath, flipping over tables. He shouts, "The house of my Father is a place for worship and prayer, but you have turned it into a place to turn a profit!"

The Sadducees come down to finally confront this rabble-rouser the Pharisees had spoken of, because now he is striking at their own livelihood. A portion of the profits made in the temple are kicked upstairs to them. When they see what Yeshua is doing they take up stones.

Destroy this temple," he says, "and in three days I will rebuild it!

By this he is speaking of the "temple" of his body. But the priests choose to misunderstand him. Still, they cannot stone Yeshua for fear of the crowd and the disciples who close around their master.

But Yeshua isn't done playing with his food. He says, "Behold the priests, who crave to be seen in long robes, and to have salutations in the marketplace, and the best seats in the synagogues, and a place of honor at the feasts. Truly, they already have their reward!"

The Sadducess depart to avoid further humiliation by Yeshua and twist his words into threats to destroy the temple. They rack their brains trying to think of a way to have the man put to death, but they can think of nothing until they are approached by Yudah of Kerioth.

For a year and more Yudah had believed the words of the prophet Malachi were being fulfilled which said, "But for you who revere my name, the sun of righteousness will rise with healing in its rays." He could not deny the sick were being made well at the touch of Yeshua.

But Yudah knew Malachi had gone on to write, "'Then you will trample on the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I act,' says the LORD Almighty," and Yeshua made not the slightest move to make that come to pass.

But Malachi had also gone on to write, "'Then you will trample on the wicked; they will be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day when I act,' says the LORD Almighty," and Yudah had grown frustrated when Yeshua made not the slightest move to make that come to pass.

So Yudah felt very much the same as the scribes and Sadducees and Pharisees who had run up against Yeshua, which is to say he realized he had been played for a fool. Yeshua would never allow himself to become the focal point of a violent revolt against the Roman masters.

Yudah also knew the enemies of Yeshua could do very little to harm him. His observance of the Code of Moshe was impeccable, as that of any rabbi must always be. But for twenty brass sestertii he revealed a thing that would get Yeshua in trouble with the Roman occupation.

Few outside of Yeshua's inner circle knew he sought out and recruited a tax collector, Mattiyahu, and convinced him to abandon his post. Yudah said subornation of tax officials was a crime under Roman law, and if a Jew committed the offense it was a capital one to boot.

The priests paid the twenty sestercii and kicked in ten more to use Yudah's name as a source. It was worth much more to them to be able to say the conspiracy against Yeshua began within his own circle. That way Yeshua himself would be discredited, not merely his movement.

With the eleven remaining disciples Yeshua shares the first of endless ritual meals where his followers gather together to drink wine in memory of his shed blood, break bread in memory of his broken body, and renew again their commitment to make the rule of God present.

It was the formal inauguration of the Banquet of God. In every nation on Earth and in every age without end this shared meal would be the central devotion of the people who called Yeshua their Lord and experienced a close prayerful relationship with his heavenly Father.

Yeshua tells them, "It is not enough to merely stop sinning against God and know God has already forgiven the offense against him. You must stop offending others, forgive others of their offenses against you, then join to repair the damage that all sin causes to mankind."

After the meal Yeshua walks in a grove of olive trees with some of his disciples. Out there in the night he knows Yudah must be making contact with the other disciples to learn where he is, and he knows the events he set in motion at the temple are rushing to a climax.

In years to come as the fire started by Yeshua continued to grow men would imagine Yeshua said and did certain things in that place, called Gad-Smane, and commit them to parchment, yet none of the disciples who accompanied him that evening remained awake to take note.

Yeshua was greatly troubled. He knew the time was soon upon him when he would yearn for death as only the Romans could make one do so, and he, as a member of the b'nei elohim, could choose to die at any moment, yet Chokhmah commanded that he wait for death to take him.

Yeshua is overtaken by despair. He begs Chokhmah to try to find another way to carry out his purpose, and at that moment a fold-door opens in Haaretz. Yeshua in union with Binah could have easily opened a matching fold-door and escaped the wretched death that awaited.

Too late, Yeshua sees that he had merely opened another way to disobey Chokhmah and made his errand nigh impossible. He said, "Nevertheless, beloved Parent, not my will, but yours be done."

In Haaretz the open globe collapses. Yeshua stirs his sleeping disciples awake.

He says to the former publican who had left his post, "Will you follow me, Mattiyahu?"

I will, Lord, even unto death itself!

Then the time has come.

He says to the former publican who had left his post, "Will you follow me, Mattiyahu?"

I will, Lord, even unto death itself!

Then the time has come.

Even as Yeshua spoke shouts began to be heard in the grove of olive trees, along with running feet and whipping robes.

One of the running figures skids to a halt when he catches sight of Yeshua and Mattiyahu standing together with their faces dimly visible in the light of shifting torches. He points at them. "Seize those two men!"

"And what of the others?"" barked a voice from the dark.

TC1807: ""What of them?"" shrugs Yudah, drawing near to the ones he fingered. ""Let them run free."

Mattiyahu thought he recognized the voice but doesn't imagine it can truly be his close friend Yudah of Kerioth, one of the Twelve, until he sees his face in the flickering light.

Yudah reaches out a hand to grab a fistful of Mattiyahu's beard, a deadly insult that would have triggered an instant fistfight if the disciple wasn't being held by several other men. He says, "This is the tax collector I spoke of, Mattiyahu. He also answers to Levi."

The mere utterance of his job title earned him a wad of spit in his eye. Yeshua, however, was treated to a even greater indignity than a plucked beard and spittle. With his master held as well, Yudah kissed him full on the lips. He said, "Do you know why I did it, Rabbi?"

You did it because you failed to listen when I told you the Kingdom of God would not come with visible signs.

Yudah shook his head. "Any false messiah could say as much, Yeshua. I did it because all you are is a persuasive traveling magician with a few simple tricks."

My errand in this world is not what you imagine it should be, Yudah, so my persuasion can fail. Yet you have made my errand possible. I would thank you, but as you have often heard me to say to those who love to acquire perishable things, you already have your reward.

Yudah sees that Yeshua has sabotaged even the small joy he had expected to glean from this night. He draws back and says, "Truly it is my hope that God may now be with both of you. But somehow I do not think he will." Then he watches the band of strongmen take them away.

Before dawn they are brought before Annas, the father-in-law of the high priest Caiaphas. He had been deposed as high priest for mismanagement and a sadistic streak that offended even Rome. At the trial of Annas no judgment is rendered, because he has no real authority.

What Annas does instead is ask particular questions about Mattiyahu's choice to suddenly abandon his position as tax collector, only to be met with invinicible silence, and each failure to answer merits a blow, until the faces of both men are a mass of cuts and bruises.

As dawn breaks Yeshua and Mattiyahu are taken to the house of Yosef bar Caiaphas, son-in-law of Annas, where some members of the Sanhedrin tribunal have gathered to put together something resembling a trial. But when Caiaphas sees Mattiyahu's battered face he is incensed.

He said, "The entirety of our case is this false prophet has discouraged a Jew from collecting the taxes of the Gentiles. What do you imagine they will do when they see the same Jew has the marks of a beating and ask him who did the deed?"

"Nasi, it was the Ab Bet Din, the father of your wife, did the deed,"" offered one of the men who had been present at the arrest in Gad Smane.

"Wisdom has departed from Annas,"" said Caiaphas. He draws near to the publican. ""You may go, but you must say nothing of this."

You have spoken truly," Mattiyahu says as his binds are loosed, "for I will be too preoccupied with writing all these things in a book to say anything.

The forty stripes less one lay just the other side of that book.

Then my back shall become a second witness.

Mattiyahu is cast out of the home of Caiaphas and Yeshua is grateful that his disciple will not share the rest of his ordeal but it complicates things. Now the high priest must somehow get him from here to his execution by the Romans and that will take some improvisation.

Caiaphas puts his first question to Yeshua. "It is said you seized control of the baptizer's cult when he was put to death. Is that true?"

The followers of Yohanan looked to me when he was martyred, yes.

What does Moshe prescribe for the forgiveness of sins?

Yeshua answered him, "'And he shall bring his trespass offering to Adonai, a ram without blemish out of the flock, and the priest shall make an atonement for him before Adonai, and his transgression shall be forgiven him.'"

But nothing about immersing sinners in water?

We honor Hosea as a true prophet of God when he said, 'For I desired mercy, and not sacrifice; and the knowledge of God more than burnt offerings.'

But these fallen ones who come to you seeking redemption in water, do you accept them all, or do you turn some away?

Some are not baptized," replied Yeshua, "this is true. God forgives, but only the truly penitent.

How many shekels must change hands to frame the remorse of the penitent as true remorse?

Perhaps you unknowingly ascribe the motives of your own heart to others.

And perhaps you knowingly blaspheme God," Caiaphas raged, "by arrogating to yourself, a man, the power to forgive and retain sins! But let us turn now to what happened at the temple last week. Did you really say you would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days?

Yeshua said, "Those were not my words."

Then what were your words?

A group of men picked up stones to assail me. Then I said to them, 'Destroy this temple and in three days I will rebuild it.' The meaning is clear. By temple I was merely speaking of my own body.

Merely?" muses Caiaphas. "The temple is the house of God. Do you claim that your body is likewise the house of God? Speak now! Abjure in the name of the living God that you are divine!

Yeshua replied, "Henceforth you shall see me standing at the right hand of God."

Mattiyahu never wrote his account as he threatened to do, but the pseudepigraph has Caiaphas renting his robe at Yeshua's stateme. He actually does no such thing, but he does beat his breast and wail, "Blasphemy! Blasphemy! This man deserves to die!"

Mattiyahu never wrote the account he threatened the high priest that he would pen, but the pseudepigraph has Caiaphas renting his robe at Yeshua's statement. He does no such thing, but he does beat his breast and wail, "Blasphemy! Blasphemy! This man deserves to die!"

The other elders gathered in the house of Caiaphas echo his judgment. "The charge is proven!" some exclaim. "What need have we of witnesses!" exclaim others. But one party pooper reminds them that Rome had recently taken away their tribunal's authority in capital cases.

Caiaphas knows he is right. The only authority the Sanhedrin retains to carry out the death penalty is in the case of a Gentile trespassing in the temple. But he brightens when he realizes this is a way around their law forbidding execution on the same day as conviction.

We will take this false prophet before Pontius Pilate," said he, "and say the rabble looks to him to restore the line of David to the throne in Jerusalem.

Yeshua shook his head at the amazing irony. Yudah had betrayed him precisely for not fulfilling that expectation.

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Strangers In Paradise