TCE

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TCEA
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The council of Royals quickly degenerated into a kind of trial. A chain of seemingly endless accusations against House Gerash were left dangling in the air while Samael attempted to defend against each one of them. Queen Aurra Firegem spoke first of her son Count Aldred.
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After hyz audience with Lord Zadkiel, King Melchiyahu sent hyz daughter Princess Lilith as a herald to seek Michael, give the king's regards, and bid the new prophet to visit the court in Salem to teach what hy would, if hy was so willing. Yet it was no sovereign decree.
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She said, "I was already deep in mourning. The news of Aldred's death traveled faster from the field than the bier carrying his pierced body. Yet it was not until I saw the stricken face of Evandr that I submitted fully to my grief. And Lord Michael had come with him."
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Michael agreed to come if the encounter was open for any of the people to witness as they chose. The king prepared the amphitheater where oft hy entertained visiting nobles with exhibitions of personal combat. Lilith attended also, dressed for once like a real princess.
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Then I spied Hashmal Phanuel of Family Bellon walking behind the procession, and I asked Duke Evandr, 'Did we prevail in the battle after all? Is the lord of Alodra our prisoner?' But my husband said, 'Nay, Aurra, the Lord Michael brought hem hither under a truce-bond.'
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These are the words Michael spoke to the angels of Salem as the orange sun sank in the sky. In after years the sermon was remembered as the Sunset Discourse:
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Phanuel prostrated hemself before me. Che offered hez deepest regrets for the death of my son, and che offered to give an explanation. 'But it is war', said I. 'What is there to explain?' The hashmal said in reply, 'Yet it is a war that never had to be, Your Majesty. Lord Samael came before me in Atria not long ago. Hy rolled out a map and told me the isle of Danya should belong solely to House Bellon, for we had ever been the mariners while the Gold Beards had become more the farmers and should be content with the vale of Loenna.'
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“Chokhmah is a lamp whose light is these words. The darker your thoughts, the farther from Chokhmah you must be. Sha whose thoughts have led har to drift far from Chokhmah is in no better state than hy who outright denies Chokhmah.
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'Hy said to me House Sala holding Danya was like sticking a finger in my eye. I accepted the truth of hyz argument at the time. Then very skillfully Samael changed the subject from Danya to the superbow.' And Hashmal Phanuel brought out this superbow for my inspection.
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"Yeng are said to be superior to animals because they can control their own environment, but sha who embraces Chokhmah can control har own behavior.
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Phanuel stood up at a nod from the queen. Che said, "The superbow is made of gopher wood between a layer of sinew to the fore and horn to the rear, all held together from glue made from boiled horse hooves. The bowstring is made also of sinew from the shoulders of oxen."
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"The noble born are called famous, but sha who embraces Chokhmah sets an example by har deeds and becomes influential.
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My eyes fairly sparked at the sight of the thing. And when I fitted an arrow to it I deemed that only mighty ones could draw the string fully back, and when I released the string the shot flew half again as far as from any other bow. So I ordered a thousand of them.
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“The wealthy accumulate many riches but cannot keep all of them safe. Sha who embraces Chokhmah has few desires, and so holds on to all that sha has.
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And why should I not? Have not each of our kingdoms done the same for centuries, one or two Houses rising up against one, or all Houses assailing the others, but never, and how odd this now seems to be, all three Houses simultaneously coming up against the Black Beards?
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“The self-satisfied demand to see good in others, and attribute the cause of a tragedy to unbelief or a defect in ritual, but sha who embraces Chokhmah is too busy mercifully addressing the needs at hand to render judgment, and sha does not live for yesterday or tomorrow.
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Queen Aurra said, "I thank you, Phanuel. If you also recall, at the time I showed Duke Evandr the curious mark on your superbow which is also stamped on every weapon we have purchased of Adanite make, not excepting the compound bows that settled the battle in our favor."
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“A strong yang can do hy wills to do, but hy cannot even determine what hy wills. Sha who embraces Chokhmah makes har own awareness of injustice the determinant of har actions. Sha diminishes the overflowing bounty of the corrupt to meet the needs of the impoverished.
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The queen's husband Duke Evandr stood to explain hyz wife's remarks. "When my cavalry met Phanuel che had somewhat greater numbers than we, but my forces were armed with bows curved in curious shapes which allowed the archer to hold the string back without growing weary."
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“The boastful put their riches and knowledge on parade, but sha who embraces Chokhmah does not tell all that sha has, nor all that sha can do.
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That in turn gave them sufficient time to take a carefully considered shot.
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“The proud will never admit error, but sha who embraces Chokhmah sees those who point out har faults as har greatest teachers.  
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Phanuel said, "I was forced to break off the engagement or face a mutiny by my own cavalry. But it was not soon enough to preserve the life of your son, to my everlasting regret, Noble Ones."
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TCEB
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The queen offered Phanuel a gentle smile, but her eyes were moist. She said, "My son is gone and cannot be replaced. Your army was driven off by special bows that Samael supplied to us just before the battle. And now we both see hy has been quietly playing a double game."
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“Hy who denies Chokhmah speaks only of the dead traditions of hyz longfathers of old, and by coercion leaves them in force, but sha who embraces Chokhmah cultivates the living and the new as the coin to buy har way, and sha knows that fully half of a dialogue is listening.
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Queen Aurra was seated once more, followed by her husband and Phanuel. Then, abruptly, Samael stood up to speak. "I do not deny the essentials of what the queen, her duke, and the hashmal Phanuel have just related to you. Family Gerash is a House of merchants after all."
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"Hy who denies Chokhmah may refuse to grow or merely say that hy is willing to grow, yet in truth hy lives only to quench hyz appetites that hy might feel sated. But sha who embraces Chokhmah does not remain idle; rather sha grows, fulfills har passions and becomes joyous.
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What I deny is the unspoken implication that my dealings with House Bellon and House Sala are somehow an evil. Are any of you making the claim here today that weaponsmiths may not seek increase? If they did not, of a surety there would soon be no arms in all of heaven.
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Hy who denies Chohkmah values only that which hy does not and can not have, and which do not multiply when shared. But sha who embraces Chokhmah empties har purse and finds har heart being filled. Sha contents herself with those things which are possible for har to obtain.
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King Uriel Bellon stood to answer hym. "No one here would deny workmen their wages, Lord Samael and no one is suggesting that the industry of a kingdom must be carried out entirely by edicts from on high. But I beg you to recall last winter when you came to my palace. You carted off much Bellon gold, and left in its place a forest of long pikes made from a new admixture of metals that could pierce any armor in my inventory, and you assured me it would pierce even the mail of the Brown Beards. Yet the summer campaign proved otherwise. The yeng and nephilim of House Larund were not caught by surprise. I was met on the approaches to Elketz by the ophan Gadreel and hyz entire infantry clad with immovable plate armor that was curiously able to turn aside the allegedly irresistible pikes you sold to me. So friend was turned against friend with no small loss of life, and no one benefited except the arms merchants of House Gerash. So let us not speak of reining in commerce when the only industry commanded by directives issued from a cabal is that of the Black Beards."
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Hy who denies Chokhmah evaluates how much a yin is worth by considering only how much sha possesses and what sha might do to benefit hymself. But sha who embraces Chokhmah looks to what a yin does for others and who that yin protects, for that is what sha is truly worth.
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The Lord Samael said, "I fail to see any real significance in this tale, Your Majesty, nor in your conclusion. The pikes we sold were indeed invincible at the time we sold them to you. House Larund merely took advantage of a late breakthrough we achieved in metalsmithy."
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Hy who denies Chokhmah considers yen vile and always falling short of his ancient standards. Sha who embraces Chokhmah extols har sisters over all existing standards because when yen do go astray it is always induced by the repression induced by those very same standards.
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If your ancient House and the House of Larund insist on carrying out your hoary family squabbles, we in Adan are only too happy to provide the means for you to do it, as surely as we aid House Sala and yourself in your other perennial quarrels on the shores of Thalury.
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Hy who denies Chokhmah examines everything about who is speaking except har words, and hears only what fits hyz prejudices. Sha who embraces Chokhmah recognizes har own tendency to have a bias and tries to set it aside so that sha may understand what is really being said.
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The lesser nobles of the monarchies then rose one after the other to weigh in on these matters. Jegeduel Bellon and Balthazar Firegem spoke of battles that were fought, every year it seemed, on the hills of glacial till that formed the border between Rimmon and Gerazan.
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"When hy who denies Chokhmah suffers an indignity hy mindlessly retaliates by committing another indignity. Sha who embraces Chokhmah knows the greatest revenge is simply not to be like hym who did the injury. The greatest conqueror is the yin who has conquered harself.
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Gadreel of Elketz spoke of a skirmish with Hashmal Raddai near Peshast, a sharp row between nobles within the same House, and neither one knew at the time what had been the essential cause. "Only now, at this council," said Gadreel, "are things beginning to grow clear."
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Michael concluded the Sunset Discourse by healing many of the angels who came to hear hym speak and it was hyz sincere hope that one day the instruments and medicines hy used would not be viewed as magic. King Melchiyahu sent word bidding Michael to come before the throne.
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In hindsight we see Larund against Sala, Larund against Bellon, Sala against Bellon, even brother against brother among the Brown Beards. And it's so curious how Samael is omnipresent, pointing out problems we never knew we had, and ever with a remedy on hand for sale.
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After hy entered the castle and drew near to the King's seat Michael was announced by Lilith, who at har father's command was still in the temporary role of herald. No titles were given, it was known that Michael was a yang of the city, the commoner son of a glassblower.
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Lilith then stood up to state har piece. "All of you have heard tidings, no doubt, of how the land of Adan has been torn by civil war in recent years, and how my brother King Melchizedek was slain by many arrows even as hy drew night the shore east of Salem to surrender."
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Mayhap not all of you know how I fled Salem in exile with my Lord Michael, and with the Fallen Angels and others of the city who yet call me Queen, even as we were pursued across the ice bridge by the overweening victors who were not content to digest the spoils of war.
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TCEC
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But I deem that among those in attendance here only King Metatron knows of the bargain we forced on Samael, Michael and I, that there is now a hard border on the frontier of Magodon that the Adanites must never cross west, nor I east. And so I remain in perpetual exile.
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The King asked, “When you repeatedly say, ‘sha who embraces Chokhmah’ do you mean no yang can become your disciple?”
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My husband assures me that once a seraph's word is given, there can be no repentance, and indeed this is why Samael could depose my brother only by warfare and not a simple edict. Also an impenetrable bog stands between Adan and Rimmon so the Black Beards are boxed in.
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“Not at all, Your Majesty," said Michael. "When I speak in those terms I wish to convey an image. A yang that admires Chokhmah will have a gentle heart."
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They need only to fear an attack from King Metatron, yet the king has no reason to ever do so, save it be to recover the trackless wastes that lie between the new border and the ice bridge. But that would be a fruitless adventure against a thoroughly well-equipped army.
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"The yang who embraces Chokhmah sees others around hym as another ‘I’ yet hy will retain his strength and hyz male angelic nature, as hy rightly should.
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So the weaponsmiths of Adan have now only the three kingdoms to buy their wares. No great wonder, then, that Lord Samael is seen much of late craving audience with Queen Aurra in Sarahad, and King Uriel in Jelaket, and King Metatron in this city, and all their vassals.
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"My own daughter has always had a fierce heart, yet sha has come to admire your teachings, and this has gentled har."
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Lilith was seated. Michael stood up to add hyz remarks to those of hyz wife. "Ultimately, Samael is lord of heaven. That no one denies. Lord Samael is a seraph in union with the sun we call Keter, and heaven huddles near to Keter as though to a fire in an overnight camp."
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"The King is aware that some prefer to use the left hand,” Michael says. At first the King and hyz attendants are puzzled by this apparent non-sequitur. But Michael continues. “This is not a matter of choice. There is an element of chance that is a part of every birth."
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In the land of Adan House Gerash has always been especially devoted to Keter, and while angels and nephilim are peculiar to heaven, humans are from the world where Chokhmah reigns as lord, and it was from human stock that the angels and nephilim of heaven were begotten.
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Michael stepped aside to a nearby bowl of mixed nuts and thrust first hyz left hand within, then hyz right. Hy opened both hands to show the King. “If you count the number of morsels I have in each hand, and their kinds, you will find they are not exactly the same sets. Angels who prefer to use their left hand are more few than those who prefer to use their right, so somehow this has been ascribed to evil. Charlatans profess to change this tendency to the acceptable one." Michael returned the nuts to the bowl, but retained one to eat.
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For heaven is a poor imitation of Earth, where there are islands with more land free of ice than exist in all of heaven, and there are no beasts native to heaven by reason of the world-embracing ice. And it is a truth that humans are kindred to the beasts in most ways.
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Suddenly King Melchiyahu saw through the elliptical manner of Michael's digression and admired the way it was done, so as not to embarrass Princess Lilith. Sha saw it also and said, "Don't forget that some angels are equally at ease using both their right and left hands!"
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Therefore in Rimmon where Queen Aurra reigns Chokhmah receives the adoration befitting an eloah, while in the lands ruled by the House of Bellon less so, and here in Magodon lesser still. This is tolerable to me since I have always called world-dwellers the Students.
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“Lucky you, Princess Lilith," said Michael with a gentle smile. "Enjoy your life and never allow yourself to be talked into living a lie."
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It is a far better thing a student learns how to think rather than what to think, and I demand obedience only from the b'nei elohim, whom I have set aside just for that purpose. But I assure you divided loyalty is not tolerable to Keter, and there is Daat to consider.
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Melchizedek looked at his beloved sister then and belatedly noticed sha wore no leather above har feet. Sha had cleaned up nicely. Melchizedek raised his eyes to take in Lilith's red dress and hy could not recall the last time hy'd seen har wear one. Finally he saw how har eyes seemed to be drowning in Michael and in an instant hy knew what was happening to har. Hy said, "Who are you really, Michael?"
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Poor Daat has not even a thin ribbon of land on a world of ice to rule as his own, and his living avatar, Israel, must settle for whatever dregs in heaven are left to hym by Samael. And Samael has never called the dwellers of heaven the Students but rather the Servants.
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So I am certain that Samael has already begun to set his designs in motion, and I think you will soon discover why he has maneuvered to keep the other three Houses off balance and at each other's throats. Yet I will not attempt to impose my will on that of the council.
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But I counsel great caution in the wake of forming one front against Samael. Hy cannot assail you with hyz main force, but hy can send assassins at will, and burn through the ruling nobility until he finds one more to his liking, and outfit that one to adventure abroad.
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TCED
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Samael stood to offer a rebuttal. Hy said, "Of the self-styled queen named Lilith I have nothing to add, other than to ask, can there be a queen without a city to rule? For sha harself allows that sha must never return to Salem in har lifetime, nor har daughter in hars."
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Michael drew near to Melchizekek. "Your Royal Highness, for years you were not to be seen in Salem but only your father the king, yourself, and two servants knew that you were in the other world searching for a man who was not content to worship the gods of his fathers."
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As for your own misguided imaginings, Lord Michael, consider! If I had truly ever wanted to subdue the remaining three kingdoms of heaven it would be a small thing to equip one and put a complete embargo on the two others, yet ever I have sold Adan's arms to all alike.
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The prince was stunned to silence. Melchiyahu said, "My son found a man by the name of Abram, but his loyalty to his own father’s well-being exceeded any loyalty to what was, to him, an unknown god. Melchizedek found no others, and when he returned he reported failure."
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Samael seated hymself. All the guests of the king had stated their concerns. At last King Metatron rose to hyz feet to say, "Lord Michael, your words are weighty and must be pondered deeply. Know that we too here in Rumbek have played the fool for Adanite arms merchants."
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Michael had no power to open a fold-door in heaven, only Keter or Daat, but the Abram case remained a piece of unfinished business. Communicating directly with Keter, Chokhmah demanded a link. A bubble grew to envelop Michael and through it Harran on Earth could be seen.
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This city has formidable water barriers to protect us on three sides, and the Nine Mile Wall protects us from being assailed by land on the fourth. Yet at times in centuries past we have ventured over the Wall of God, and even crossed Thalury to assail the Gold Beards.
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The heat of the desert seeped from the fold-door into the king's chamber.
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Once during the reign of my father I crossed the ice bridge and passed through Salem to Ganelon and thence to Adan, a journey that took the better part of a year. In Ganelon I saw some of the finest bottom land I have ever seen, better perhaps than even around Saharad.
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Michael stepped out of the sphere and said, "Prince Melchizedek, know that Terah, the father of Abram, is dead. Return to Earth at once and complete the errand as your father once commanded you."
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While there I saw that much of Adan had soil so deep and rich it was nearly black, yet there were few crops, save weeds.
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Melchizedek glanced from Michael to hyz father and had naught to say.
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Samael replied, "After the revolution most of the Middle Land has become a smithy. Only Salem has primitive agriculture like in your monarchies."
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Michael said to the Prince, "Make haste, and delay not to take anything that you think you will need. I will provide them for you myself."
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"Noble ones," said the king, "let us dwell on that for a moment. East of Salem, everyone who makes a living in the Middle Land is either employed to make weapons directly, or they support those do. Their livelihood rests entirely on keeping us at each other's throats."
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The king rose from hyz throne. "Guriel! Iofiel! Come forth!"
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"I will say what our livelihood purchases for us," Samael countered. "In a legal sense even my guards are on the same level as myself, with the same rights and obligations to the state. Can any of you noble born say the same thing about yourself and one of your servants?"
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Two young court attendants drew near to the king and knelt.
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"A lowly apprentice could rise to attain to my seat on the State Council. Blood counts for nothing in the Middle Land, only ability and loyalty to Keter. In all of Adan now that Queen Lilith has been permanently dispossessed, we have a republic. A theocratic meritocracy."
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Melchiyahu said to hyz son, "These dirks shall accompany you, for Zophiel and Kemuel have attained yanghood and I have released them from service."
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Queen Aurra smiled at this. "When that apprentice does rise to your seat on the State Council hy will undoubtedly find hy is merely the next yang to be possessed by Keter. Nevertheless, not just citizens but kingdoms, too, may form republics after a fashion, Lord Samael."
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The name Iofiel means Beauty of God, and Guriel means Whelp of God. They follow Melchizedek into the ball of distorted desert light and are seen to shrink as they walk away into Harran. Keter, not willing to mar the stone floor, raises the fold-door before closing it.
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A bell was heard to ring somewhere in the castle. Metatron slapped hyz hands sharply twice and that was the signal for Luzea and Gabriel to serve the midday meal. The Council of Royals paused in their grim deliberations to enjoy the hospitality of King Metatron's kitchen.
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The king approached Michael and dropped before hym on one knee, but Michael bade hym to rise. "Truly I am in union with the holy one you call Chokhmah. The Princess has heard me say this. But for my part I call you my students, not my servants as Keter would have you be."
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Gabriel fans out with wine. When Luzea Cedarbranch serves a kingly plate of roast beef to Uriel Antero che ventures to sing to hem:
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"Born to rule Jelaket as king.
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Yet queen-gentle hez words do ring.
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TCEE
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Valiant like the yeng of old
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Hearing this King Melchiyahu rose and said, “My daughter has expressed to me a strong desire to become your leading student, Michael, if you were willing to receive har. I deem that you would return to me a daughter none could gainsay was a fitting princess of this realm."
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Fair like a bust of purest gold."
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After a long pause Michael replied, "When I used the word 'students' in the past I always had in mind all angels and nephilim and humans. I never considered founding a formal school. It would demand a far greater commitment than a few hours away from the castle every day. Would you, Princess Lilith, be willing to part with your father for years? It might be you would never see hym again as a living yang."
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King Uriel is shocked to silence at first, but then che laughs with self-recognition at Luzea's impromptu verse. Queen Aurra Firegem is less amused and growls Luzea's name. But this only serves as the trigger for a couplet directed at her from the playful Miz Cedarbranch.
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“I am willing to do so Lord Michael, and much more: I would put the Fallen Angels at your command. But not, I assure you, as thieves.”
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"Who rules the city of my birth?
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In that moment Michael needed no more persuasion. Hy had found willing allies in the ancient dispute with Keter and Daat, and despite hyz frequent assurances that Chokhmah viewed planet-dwellers only as Students, hy saw the utility of having some who were servants as well.
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Aurra Firegem, Queen of mirth! "
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Michael said, "Sire, let it be so: I accept your daughter Princess Lilith as the first acolyte in what I choose to call the b'nei elohim, the children of the gods." Then hy bowed deeply, a god-yang paying sincere tribute to a cherub-king, and the audience was concluded.
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This elicited laughter from everyone at the table except Aurra, who pointed directly at Luzea. "Tonight. Twelve lashes!"
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Hell's Half Acre is a roadside patch of badlands almost exactly in the center of Wyoming. It's much bigger than the name suggests, more like Hell's Half Square Mile, and the nearest sandstone and shale scarp that looks similar to it lies a whole state away in South Dakota.
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Suddenly Gabriel burst into tears for hez friend. Luzea was shocked to silence.
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A brown-skinned man emerged from the entrance of a cave in the eroded landscape dressed in dark blue-gray trousers and a knee-length jacket. He had a matching shirt and a silver leaf brooch in place of a tie and looked like a Shoshone with a good seamstress for a wife.
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Indeed, an embarrassed silence settled all around the council table. Surely the Queen must be joking, they thought. The whipping tree for such a small thing? Michael caught the queen's eye and slowly shook hyz head, letting her know as politely as possible hy forbade it.
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But the fellow was too short, his hair wasn't straight enough, and his facial features suggested the Mediterranean shores were his true home. He had never walked in that place before, but the strange eroded landscape reminded him of the desolate area around the Salt Sea.
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In hyz mind King Metatron weighed the wisdom of publicly countermanding the queen's command. Hy would brook no dungeon-style cruelty by hyz guests. But the Queen's face remained stern and inscrutable. Luzea and Gabriel returned to the high niche overlooking the chamber.
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It was one hundred fifty feet from the floor of the ravine to the gravel parking lot above and the man ascended with no sign of exertion. He once roamed on foot the whole land of his birth from Lake Kinneret as far as Mount Hermon and south to the hill country of Judaea .
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Queen Aurra's surviving son Balthazar had been under a sort of punishment by exile that brought him to Rumbek. He had not taken a meal with his mother for all that time, so hy was not acquainted with Luzea Cedarbranch and hez "talent", although he certainly noted hez sex.
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That Luzea was an ambi had naturally set the clockwork of Balthazar's mind in motion to find a way to be alone with hem. Now he saw a clear path to rescue his mother from her self-inflicted dilemma, and if by chance it also helped himself, well, that couldn't be helped.
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He said, "My mother the Queen may not know it was a diversion of mine in Belen to contrive certain unusual forms of chastisement. Now a flogging is without a doubt a terrible thing, especially with a whipping tree, but I fear it is doled out far too frequently in heaven."
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TCEF
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I feel that a flogging no longer has the desired lasting effect that it undoubtedly did in the days of yore. So by your leave, Mother, turn this slave nephil Luzea over to me for correction. I can assure you in all truthfulness that che will never forget the experience.
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He noted, without any surprise, the presence of a maroon 1941 Chrysler Town & Country woodie parked at the restaurant overlooking the geological oddity and knew he would find Robyn and her friends eating lunch inside, just as Robyn knew he was coming and gave fair warning.
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The queen knew exactly what Balthazar was up to and hid a smile behind her hand. It wasn't like he was going to come right out and ask her, before all the royals assembled there, "Mother may I be excused from this meal so I can go have sexual relations with your servant?"
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Robyn, Jerry, Peter, Hunky and Dory were already standing at their table when he walked indoors, which the other guests might have thought was odd. None of them had ever seen him before but as b'nei elohim they knew a seraph on sight and stopped everything, ready to serve.
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Nevertheless, Queen Aurra realized her son was on to something. She was not blind. The entire Sala delegation had noticed how love-smitten Luzea had grown over Metatron's jen servant. What Balthazar had in mind would amount to a severe punishment of mind and body indeed.
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"Please be seated," he said, grabbing a chair from another table and carrying it over to theirs. "I'll have what you're having, Peter."
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Then I turn the ambi over to you, son. But let me caution you, if che is fit to return to work in less than a week I will deem your punishment far too lenient.
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The Prophet raised a hand to flag down the waitress but the newcomer said, "No, not allegory. I'll literally have what you're having."
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"You are too gracious to me, mother." The Baron tossed his napkin and pushed himself away from the table.
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He took up a knife, cut Peter's cheeseburger in two, and helped himself to one piece.
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After Balthazar signed to the guards that Luzea should be brought along most of the other guests excused themselves as well, whether they were finished eating or not. Gabriel, free for a time, had a very good idea where Luzea was going, and knew of a second way to follow.
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----
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On the edge of Shaula Wood, northeast of Adjara, Lael and a remnant of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin tended their flocks of animals and slowly wandered east into the hills until they were come to the face of the Wall of God, four miles high, and could go no further.
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Hunky said, "I'm pretty sure that burger is not kosher, Jesus. Aren't you Jewish?"
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The decorative sphinx on the cover of the Ark of the Covenant rotated to guide them ever north on a maze of paths at the foot of the Wall. Lael knew that by means of the ark Chokhmah had never failed to lead them to good grazing grounds for their little herd of livestock.
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"Not Jesus, Hunky. Call me Yeshua. The Greeks thought Yeshua was a girly name and called me Iesous. The Romans spelled it I-E-S-U-S. Then later the English thought names beginning with vowels were too girly and called me Jesus. As for the food, my mother made just one arbitrary law about cutting a little flap of skin. Mixing meat and dairy was never on her mind."
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As they trundled along often they would meet friendly parties who journeyed south from Sastrom. They used the paths at the foot of the Wall of God to reach Fatho where they could find river passage on the Sabik downstream to cities in Alodra. But few words were exchanged.
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Dory and Jerry stared at Yeshua in wonder, trying to reconcile his actual appearance with the popular depictions of him and there was just no way to do it. Robyn seemed preoccupied and looked off to the side. "What is wrong, Robyn?" Yeshua asked her. "What do you see?"
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One evening when Lael's group reached a precipitous bench along the face of the Wall and decided there to make camp they encountered a party of seven Brown Beards. Lael was delighted to learn that one among them named Marsayas spoke Hebrew and could be understood by them.
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She said, "Peter announces the wedding but the White Wing of the Church will not accept it. Jerry is attacked, but torture doesn't work on b'nei elohim and Jerry's friends retaliate, so Paul Bergin and Klaus Hansen try to kill me. They end up killing the Church instead."
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Marsayas begged Lael to grant his travelers leave to make overnight camp nigh to Lael's group. This, said che, was laid on hem for want of any other flat place to pitch tents. To this Lael warily agreed but ever he eyed the ark of God while the two bands shared provender.
-
"How would you reply, Robyn, if I asked in truth that you do not avoid or resist those men, even to your death?"
+
Lael told Marsayas that he and his people were newly come to heaven and knew nothing of the lands that lay about them, but he led the remnant wheresoever Chokhmah made known through an oracle, which was the gold-covered chest Lael and his sons reverently carried about.
-
After a long pause she said, "I would decline such a request, Lord. I'm not in any particular hurry for my life come to an end just when I'm getting started."
+
Marsayas could not resist this perfect opportunity to spin a tale, but he cautioned Lael's company that it was true in every detail, and although it recounted the actions of very foolish men, it was a solemn tale of caution rather than one of mirth, and none should laugh.
-
"And what did my cross teach you?"
+
And again Marsayas spoke to his own band using the strange tongue of the nephilim in heaven. As che did so, Lael made his sons Elam, Jemuel, and Rosh stand nigh to the Ark while the wives of all the colonists seated themselves in a circle between the fire and Lael's sons.
 +
Together with Lael within the ring of women sat Abner and his son Asa, and Josiah with his son Tobiah. But Zethan, Jabez, and his two sons Rimon and Asher stayed with the small flock of animals on the edge of the little plateau to ensure they were not lost over the edge.
-
TCEG
+
You call this land Haaretz," Marsayas told them, "but we call it simply The Land We Know. Towards the setting suns lies Thalury, the great Western Sea. Ships ply between ports in Sastrom, Alodra, and the Saiph League, and they sail up the River Sabik as far as Atria.
-
"That death is not a blank wall, it's a door, and you went through it and came back to show us that even if we die we don't stay dead. But now I see how time really works and I know it was all a magic trick like Jerry with his coins."
+
The coast continues north and south farther than any mariners know, for they ever turn back after sailing for a month or two, yet there are innumerable coves and many of these are settled, it is known, and they survive by trading fish and wares with folk of other coves.
-
Yeshua was genuinely fascinated by Robyn's unexpected reply. He asked, "When you look at my life with your talent, what do you see?"
+
From the beginning of days sailors of the Land We Know heeded the commandment of the gods never to sail out of sight of land. No captain, drunk or otherwise, dared steer his ship so far to the west that the haze caused the Land to fade from the view of the aft lookout.
-
She said, "I see a movie of a burning fuse, but the movie is running backwards. The fuse assembles itself from smoke and sparks. It grows. One time that fuse looped back, crossed itself, and then there were two burning Yeshuas experiencing an advancing present, but one of them was wiped off the face of the Earth by the Romans. He hit that blank wall we call death. The one who lived, the lucky one, is you."
+
An order to sail far west was good cause for the crew to mutiny and throw the captain overboard. It was an ancient and bedrock article of law that no such crew returning to port without their captain would ever face punishment if their tale held true under questioning.
-
"You're wrong about the blank wall, Robyn. The part of me that is Binah carried over the dying memories of the man who was put to death and merged them with my own."
+
But in the days when Demonstoke raged free there was revolution in the Land We Know. The Saiph Republic flourished for a time, and many longstanding laws were overthrown. Reason reigned over all, and when the time was ripe men and nephilim were found to crew two ships.
-
"Again, Lord, lucky you. But that didn't help the Yeshua who experienced death. You're a different one."
+
These sailors were willing to disregard the strict commandment of all the gods never to sail much west. So stiff-necked were they it was never imagined the gods cared for the lives of mariners. Instead, there spread rumors of a choice land far in the west called Rimmon.
-
"Robyn, nobody in the whole history of both worlds has ever 'experienced' death. Yes, we experience dying, each one of us, from the moment we are born, and there comes a moment in our lives that is not followed by another one, but that last moment never becomes a memory."
+
It was said among them Rimmon was a land the gods created for their own enjoyment, a beautiful realm filled with gold, rich in abundant fruit, never without the most select game, and their divine interdict was merely to keep the secret from being despoiled by mortals.
-
"Lord, will you please say why I must not resist my own murder?"
+
The two ships commissioned by the revolutionaries of the Saiph Republic were named Will O' The Whisp and Fire of the Covenant. They drifted in the slow current with sails unfurled, for on Thalury the currents move stately to the west while winds blow reliably to the east.
-
"When you and Hunky escaped your prison last night what did you do to make the correct combination appear in your memory?"
+
In two days the gray band that was the Land We Know could no longer be seen in the east by reason of the sea mist which had entirely shrouded it, and some of the older sailors muttered in fear, for the tradition was deeply carved within them, while certain others scoffed.
-
"I had to begin punching them in."
+
One night the lookout manning the highest mast of Fire of the Covenant screamed that the horizon ahead was closing in on them. There was a sharp edge to the sea! Captain Dogtrapper signaled with lamps to Will O' The Wisp that he was raising his sails and veering off.
-
"Even so, your own end will spark a beginning. But Robyn, I will not order you to do what you are unwilling to do, so let us speak of something else. Your friends will not arrive in Headwater until late tonight. Will you come alone with me? I can bring you to a reunion with your mother in almost no time at all."
+
Captain Skulldagger aboard the Will O' the Wisp did not alter his course until it was too late. With billowing sails Fire of the Covenant barely escaped, but the current became too strong for her sister ship. She was seen to tip over the edge and was never seen again.
-
Dory remembered the jaunt she had made with Michael and said, "You should take him up on that offer, girl, it's the only way to travel." Jerry heartily nodded in accord. So Robyn, who felt a little guilty telling Yeshua no on the first thing, told him yes on the other.
+
"The Will O' The Wisp and all aboard had indeed fallen over the edge of heaven. In the uttermost west Thalury pours over a great cataract, a vast waterfall with no bottom. Long the ship fell partially submerged within the waters of the sea, which had become a white sheet.
-
TCEH
+
"The waters of the sea and even the air fell together with the ship, and there was little breeze. The ship tumbled, resting on nothing, and the crew felt no weight. They floated freely in the air, as though swimming under water, but some floated far away from the ship.
-
After hugging her farewells Robyn hiked with Yeshua down to the bottom of the ravine and followed him into the dark cave, where it grew light again, a little warmer, and they were kicking through fallen leaves piled up to their knees. But there was still plenty of green.
+
The small but constant breeze broke the sea sheet into globes of water, some the size of a man's head, others the size of a barn. Fish were seen swimming in many of these balls of water, and when the rations aboard the Will ran out these fish were the only source of food.
-
"Christmas trees!" exclaimed Robyn when she saw a stand of Douglas Fir. Many more of them covered the mountains she could see through bare branches of maple and alder. They were standing on a mountain as well, near the top. Yeshua said, "This is just a short side trip."
+
Yet none of the doomed men and nephilim suffered thirst as was common among marooned sailors of Earth, for Thalury was a freshwater sea ever renewed by ice melt. As the crew continued to fall, the dark underside of heaven became visible overhead like the inside of a mask
-
"Where are we, Lord?"
+
And it was seen and understood by the falling sailors that the Land We Know is really the lowest step in an endless stair, vast beyond all mortal imagination, and there is a second step rising to the east, and this step we know from this side of heaven as the Wall of God.
-
"We are still in your country. Of the forty-eight states, this one is furthest to the north and to the west."
+
But the breeze blew the globes of water far apart one from the other and the heat of the two suns caused them to shrink until none of the water globes which remained near the ship held living fish. The survivors began to starve, and pondered killing each other for meat.
-
"Washington."
+
By the time the sailors were desperate enough to become cannibals they were too weak to successfully attack each other or do anything more than make pitiful moans. Then came the final days when they passed from the living one by one, according to their remaining strength.
-
"I want you and your friends to put together a migration and move the Red Wing of the Church here."
+
The sailors found that death was not the end. They awoke in new bodies untouched by any scars of battle or the lash, looking down upon The Land We Know from the very rim of the Wall of God, four miles of sheer and implacable stone which none of the living have yet scaled.
-
"But who will listen?"
+
The sailors who tarried atop the Wall of God heard feeble voices carried by the wind through a trick of sound reflecting on the stone precipice. Ever they walked the ramparts of heaven, hoping to hear the voices of their loved ones, and when they did it was bittersweet.
-
"You and Jerry, Hunky and Dory are ophanim, the only such outside of heaven. In the eyes of myself and Michael no President or Pope is greater than you. And when Headwater dries up, literally, I think the ones who will listen are those who understand when money talks. "
+
As time went on the newly dead found they were forgotten by their friends and even their loved ones sooner than they would have liked. The more impact a person had in their life the more fragments they heard so they lingered more, but the humble accepted the truth sooner.
-
Robyn looked through the trees to the bottom land at the foot of the mountain laid down by repeated mud flows from a large nearby volcano and she remembered the Japanese-American fellow at Heart Mountain who helped her and Hunky escape by giving them clothing and advice.
+
At great length nearly all the dead came off the precipice and rested on the narrow lawn behind it, before the Upper Sea, waiting, they were told, for a white ship to come and take them east to an unknown destiny. The elohim refused to speak to them of their final fate.
-
She said, "There's a Mr. Kaneko who lost his strawberry farm when they sent him to the camp. I want to buy a new one for him, Lord, right there. Do you see?"
+
The dead are told only, ""Great gifts are sweeter when they are but revealed in their fulfillment unspoiled by hasty tidings."" Within twenty years every member of Captain Skulldaggers's dead but resurrected crew passed over the Upper Sea to the east, and he alone remained.
-
"After the war is over," Yeshua said, and he produced a large envelope somehow, perhaps by using the Jerry trick.
+
Skulldagger has attained a form of immortality through infamy, and never a day passes but that his name is spoken aloud by someone below. Yet more often than not his name is spoken with a shudder, as the story of the Will O' The Wisp is told again to every new generation.
-
"Yes. Mr. Kaneko will have his land when the relocation camp is no more. That is a very kind thought, Robyn. But this money is for your mother, to return to the home of her own parents in the east."
+
Marsayas said, ""Now I tell you all these things not that you do not fear your own death, which indeed is truly nothing to be feared, but that you know what you must do, presently, when each one of you find yourselves resurrected and standing the brink of the Wall of God."
-
Robyn accepted the envelope gratefully. Yeshua displayed a small object.
+
When those words were spoken Marsayas drew out a weapon. Che cried out, "All glory be to Belphegor, lord of Magodon!" Che thrust forth with a cruel knife that was more a sharpened pipe with four twisting edges. The blade slipped through Lael's ribs to core out his heart.
 +
As though by a pre-arranged signal, the six other jan of the House of Larund withdrew identical weapons and made to assail the men of Lael's little band of nomads, but they soon grew dismayed to find the little humans, both men and women, were ready to defend themselves.
 +
Lael's wife Sariah restrained Marsayas' arm to prevent hem from striking her husband with a second blow but she was unaware Lael was already bleeding out. The six Brown Beards who had traveled with hem quickly jumped out of striking range of Abner, Asa, Josiah and Tobiah.
-
TCEI
+
But the Judahite woman named Serach and the Benjaminite woman named Sela restrained two of the fleeing Brown Beards by embracing their calves. As they were dragged, four other jen were free to burst through an open hole in the ring of womenfolk seated around the campfire.
-
Robyn accepted the envelope gratefully. Yeshua displayed a small object.
+
At the death cry of Lael the men who had been watching the animals on the rim of the camp immediately took the bows they carried on their backs and fitted arrows to them. They fired at Marsayas and two of the newcomers, shooting over the heads of the women hindering them.
-
"Robyn, if you choose to do what I asked, this will give you a temporary link similar to the one I have with with Binah. All your memories will be saved."
+
Still, four of Marsayas' company were free to make for their real target and rushed toward the Ark of the Covenant to seize it. Lael's sons Rosh, Jemuel, and Elam had not been lulled to sleep by Marsayas' tale and had already drawn the swords dangling from their waists.
-
Robyn took a quick glance at time and saw that there was another her eating lunch back there at Hell's Half Acre.
+
A fold-door appeared with Belphegor standing within, ready to take possession of the Tablet of the Abrahamic Covenant moments after one of the nephilim were able to seize it. But dark energy is limited and time was critical. Belphegor could not wait for very much longer.
-
Yeshua said, "I have put us back into the first stream, the one where you ate your lunch in peace and I never appeared. Do you feel like a mere copy, Robyn? Did you notice any bump?""
+
Three individual sword duels commenced far more fierce than any of the jan had foreseen. This left a fourth Brown Beard free to draw near to the Ark and seize it, but Chokhmah now entered the fray. When the nephil touched the relic che immediately stiffened and fell dead.
-
"No, Lord."
+
Every beat of Lael's heart let out more of his life's blood and he sank to his knees. The body of Marsayas and two of the jen in hez party fairly bristled with arrows. Jemima, Keturah, and Susanna slipped daggers between the ribs of the nephilim strangers to finish them.
-
"So will it be when there is one Robyn again with the memories of both. Robyn, have a little faith that I am nothing like Keter or Daat. What kind of teacher would deceive a student in a matter such as this?"
+
Atara, Keziah, Dinah, and Leah then dragged the three nephilim to one edge of the plateau where the men tending the flocks of animals helped cast them over the side, whether still living or not. Belphegor saw that Marsayas had failed him and that he had ran out of time.
-
"Forgive me, Lord," Robyn said, and she accepted the device he offered. She saw it would resemble a large mole when it was installed.
+
The fold-door, which always resembled a glass or crystal ball taller than a man owing to the way it bent light, snapped into non-existence. The first attempt to seize the Ark had failed, and now the Laelites knew the Ark was a prize much sought by none less than a seraph.
-
"Be of good cheer," Yeshua told her. "You alone among all the humans of Earth have the real freedom to choose, because you alone can look ahead. And there is so much more than mere duty for the b'nei elohim. You will soon find that one benefit even rivals eternal life."
+
A grieving Sariah sought to revive her husband, but his life had already slipped away. She held his body through the night and when the white sun became visible over the rim of the Wall of God the sons of Lael buried him on the flat of ground where they had made camp.
-
Deacon Paul had nothing to say, and he declined to make his phone call to a lawyer or anyone else. FBI Special Agent Mark Felt was content to let Bergin stew in the county lockup overnight and he called it a day. The sheriff dropped him off at the library on 17th and V.
+
By that evening the shock of what had happened to them faded. None of the Brown Beards, if any had survived, crawled up to the plateau to renew their attack. So the three sons of Lael began to dispute which one of they would take up Lael's office of high priest and chief.
-
When Felt wasn't in counter-surveillance mode he slammed to the full reverse and became a man of precise routine. His ritual at the end of the workday was always to sit in a library, summarize the events of the day, and mail it to Dotty back in DC. Somehow this Robyn knew.
+
Jemuel sank to his knees and said, "O living God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, if you will, make known what man of us shall be high priest and hear your voice on the Day of Atonement." And in reply the graven sphinx decorating the cover of the Ark rotated to face Rosh.
-
That day had been more eventful than any since Quantico, and it took Felt longer than usual to summarize events for Dotty on the stationary Robyn had provided. When he was finished, Felt spotted a book on the table with a note taped to it, inked in a neat feminine hand.
+
Elam pondered this silently for a time, then said to his younger brother, "God favors you to be the High Priest, that is plain, and so the oracles of God shall be committed to you. But think you strangers will never again attempt to take from us the Ark of the Covenant?"
-
The note said:
+
Rosh shook his head. "Our father Lael was a great prophet and while he was yet alive it was the will of God that the office of high priest and the office of judge should be in the grasp of one man. Yet even our father led us only where the Ark itself marked the way."
-
Dear Special Agent Felt,
+
Let the offices of priest and judge be carried out by two sons of Lael according to our temperament. I will set foot on the path marked out by the oracle of God, spoken or otherwise, but in all other things, beloved brother, I shall obey as though you were our father.
 +
Then Rosh removed he the cover of the Ark of the Covenant with his bare hands, yet Chokhmah did not smite him. And Rosh took he the White Scroll of Lael to record all the things leading to the death of his father, and wrote that Elam had become their judge and chieftain.
 +
And it came to pass that the Ark led the Remnant west from the Wall of God to the Shaula Wood, but they were tracked by an officer of Belphegor's Extraordinary Force named Derash with a small platoon of lesser soldiers who had been taken to Haaretz by fold-door in pairs.
 +
And Derash gave battle to the Remnant, and brought Elam into captivity, but his nephilim could not seize the Ark, for Rosh had hidden it within a tent that was not discernible from the thirteen identical tents of the people. And men of the Remnant drove the attackers off.
-
TCEJ
+
Derash put Elam to the most refined torment, but che learned naught of the movements of the Remnant as they were led by Chokhmah himself by means of the Ark. And Jemuel and Rosh led a war party from among the people to assail the camp of Derash and release their brother.
-
Well done on the bust, but there were two sets of footprints at the scene of Kim's murder and you've put away the low-hanging fruit. The other fellow is smarter and has (or rather he will have) an unexpected ally within the Bureau. Meanwhile, to compensate for the unfortunate renovation of B Wing at the Temple, I bring your attention to this excellent account of the Red Wing's part in the origin of the Church of Green Dome. It might explain the behavior of your supervisor SAC Tolson. Enjoy!
+
Elam put Derash to the sword in vengeance for his pain, and slew he also Hovan son of Bron the chieftain of Eniph. Jemuel's party wounded four others, but the unscathed jan and men were scattered into the depths of Shaula Wood and none save Telan Blackseed returned again.
-
Robyn
+
Telan knew no one less than Lord Belphegor sent Derash on his errand, and Telan knew also that Belphegor would demand his own life in recompense should he flee with the faithless others after the errand of Derash failed. Therefore he sought Bron, Hovan's father, in Eniph.
-
Felt glanced around the library to see if Robyn was watching. How did she know to leave the book at just that table and not another one? The title of the book was "Island in the Sky: The Life of the Kuwapi People" written in 1925 by Jashen Shybear and it was rather thick.
+
But the Ark of the Covenant led the Remnant through a land of rolling ridges and scattered trees between Adjara and Lake Enkaa, then west between Mount Naratha and Mount Linan, and there the graven gold Director began to spin, and Elam called their wanderings to a halt.
-
The Kuwapi were more significant than a mere band of nomads scratching out their existence on the Great Plains of North America, yet they did not have the interior blood ties to mark them as a tribe or even a clan. They originated as outcasts from among the Oglala Sioux.
+
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-
Kuwapi means "they follow". The outcasts wandered the tribe's hunting grounds as a kind of punishment detail for religious and other offenses, with the level of Oglala displeasure permanently tallied by the number of whip scars each one bore on their back, male and female.
+
On the edge of Shaula Wood, northeast of Adjara, Lael and a remnant of the tribes of Judah and Benjamin tended their flocks of animals and slowly wandered east into the hills until they were come to the face of the Wall of God, four miles high, and could go no further.
-
To the north the Kuwapi were beset by the Dakotas who held the entire Black Hills and the plains around them. The Kuwapi named them the northern raiders and if the mainline Oglalas helped fend them off from time to time it was more to ensure the hunt than to do any favors.
+
The decorative sphinx on the cover of the Ark of the Covenant rotated to guide them ever north on a maze of paths at the foot of the Wall. Lael knew that by means of the ark Chokhmah had never failed to lead them to good grazing grounds for their little herd of livestock.
-
In the richer grasslands eastward the Kuwapi had the fierce Pawnees to contend with. To the south along the Oregon Trail they were buffeted by the Arapahoes and also ran the risk of encountering fearful white settlers and the United States Army troops who protected them.
+
As they trundled along often they would meet friendly parties who journeyed south from Sastrom. They used the paths at the foot of the Wall of God to reach Fatho where they could find river passage on the Sabik downstream to cities in Alodra. But few words were exchanged.
-
In the scrubby furrowed lands westward they had the Cheyennes to fear. The whole northwest was put out of their minds from dread of the Crows and Blackfeet. But in the ever-moving sliver of meager grasslands left in the wake of the Oglala Nation the Kuwapi hunters rode.
+
One evening when Lael's group reached a precipitous bench along the face of the Wall and decided there to make camp they encountered a party of seven Brown Beards. Lael was delighted to learn that one among them named Marsayas spoke Hebrew and could be understood by them.
-
Wanica led them downwind of a herd of bison drinking water at a ford in a large creek named Squaw River by the whites. When he signaled a halt, they tied their horses off to the roots of sun-bleached stumps. Quietly they crept unseen through brush to approach the herd.
+
Marsayas begged Lael to grant his travelers leave to make overnight camp nigh to Lael's group. This, said che, was laid on hem for want of any other flat place to pitch tents. To this Lael warily agreed but ever he eyed the ark of God while the two bands shared provender.
-
TCEK
+
Lael told Marsayas that he and his people were newly come to heaven and knew nothing of the lands that lay about them, but he led the remnant wheresoever Chokhmah made known through an oracle, which was the gold-covered chest Lael and his sons reverently carried about.
-
Some of the animals seemed to grow nervous although they could not see any of the men. As Wanica and his hunters crept through the riparian zone to watch the herd they cast no shadows. The day was darker than most, with a low overcast. It was cold, but it did not rain.
+
Marsayas could not resist this perfect opportunity to spin a tale, but he cautioned Lael's company that it was true in every detail, and although it recounted the actions of very foolish men, it was a solemn tale of caution rather than one of mirth, and none should laugh.
-
The bull stopped drinking and stared downstream, sensing danger. Judging the moment to be right, Wanica stood from behind a shrub and loosed an arrow. The bolt struck a cow in a flank but it was not a lethal shot. All the bison heard the cry of the victim and panicked.
+
And again Marsayas spoke to his own band using the strange tongue of the nephilim in heaven. As che did so, Lael made his sons Elam, Jemuel, and Rosh stand nigh to the Ark while the wives of all the colonists seated themselves in a circle between the fire and Lael's sons.
-
A rapid series of shots were made by other hunters but all of their arrows missed or made non-lethal wounds. The bison fled, ascending a slope to the north and west and making for the cover of the low cloud bank, although they were too stupid to have planned such a move.
+
Together with Lael within the ring of women sat Abner and his son Asa, and Josiah with his son Tobiah. But Zethan, Jabez, and his two sons Rimon and Asher stayed with the small flock of animals on the edge of the little plateau to ensure they were not lost over the edge.
-
The hunters returned to their horses. They followed the herd away from the river and up the hillside into the cloud bank which enveloped them as a thick fog. Bows were held at the ready, turning left and right, but nothing was visible to the men in the complete whiteout.
+
You call this land Haaretz," Marsayas told them, "but we call it simply The Land We Know. Towards the setting suns lies Thalury, the great Western Sea. Ships ply between ports in Sastrom, Alodra, and the Saiph League, and they sail up the River Sabik as far as Atria.
-
Further uphill the fog cleared, patches of blue sky were seen, and three of the bison were isolated and exposed. Arrows were loosed and struck home, dropping one of the animals. The two surviving bison ran back down off the hill into the fog, seeking the safety of numbers.
+
The coast continues north and south farther than any mariners know, for they ever turn back after sailing for a month or two, yet there are innumerable coves and many of these are settled, it is known, and they survive by trading fish and wares with folk of other coves.
-
Wanica ordered braves to carve up the body of the fallen animal. Meat was loaded on skids made of wooden staves and animal skin to be dragged away. Nothing of the bison was wasted. Satisfied with the progress of the younger men, Wanica turned away with the other hunters.
+
From the beginning of days sailors of the Land We Know heeded the commandment of the gods never to sail out of sight of land. No captain, drunk or otherwise, dared steer his ship so far to the west that the haze caused the Land to fade from the view of the aft lookout.
-
The hunters rode up the slope until they could go no higher. The summit of the high hill stood alone over a sea of clouds that reached the horizon. It was a rare and beautiful moment. Wanica was deeply moved by the sight. He said, "I name this place the Island in the Sky."
+
An order to sail far west was good cause for the crew to mutiny and throw the captain overboard. It was an ancient and bedrock article of law that no such crew returning to port without their captain would ever face punishment if their tale held true under questioning.
-
The herd of bison slowly wandered back out of the fog, grazing warily on the mountaintop even with the hunters close at hand. The animals sensed that the humans had done their worst and would leave the rest of them alone. But what followed next scattered even the humans.
+
But in the days when Demonstoke raged free there was revolution in the Land We Know. The Saiph Republic flourished for a time, and many longstanding laws were overthrown. Reason reigned over all, and when the time was ripe men and nephilim were found to crew two ships.
-
Something taller than a tree emerged from the sea of clouds on six pillars of flame. Only Wanica and his fearless steed remained to watch it touch down on the summit of the hill. At first he thought it was just the whites doing one better than their smoking horse of iron.
+
These sailors were willing to disregard the strict commandment of all the gods never to sail much west. So stiff-necked were they it was never imagined the gods cared for the lives of mariners. Instead, there spread rumors of a choice land far in the west called Rimmon.
 +
It was said among them Rimmon was a land the gods created for their own enjoyment, a beautiful realm filled with gold, rich in abundant fruit, never without the most select game, and their divine interdict was merely to keep the secret from being despoiled by mortals.
 +
The two ships commissioned by the revolutionaries of the Saiph Republic were named Will O' The Whisp and Fire of the Covenant. They drifted in the slow current with sails unfurled, for on Thalury the currents move stately to the west while winds blow reliably to the east.
-
TCEL
+
In two days the gray band that was the Land We Know could no longer be seen in the east by reason of the sea mist which had entirely shrouded it, and some of the older sailors muttered in fear, for the tradition was deeply carved within them, while certain others scoffed.
-
The object radically changed in size and shape to resemble a faceless white man. Not like a European, but white as snow, with no eyes, ears, nor mouth. Its head opened in six petals to reveal a golden object that rose as though being offered to Wanica. He drew near.
+
One night the lookout manning the highest mast of Fire of the Covenant screamed that the horizon ahead was closing in on them. There was a sharp edge to the sea! Captain Dogtrapper signaled with lamps to Will O' The Wisp that he was raising his sails and veering off.
-
Wanica dismounted to take a close look at the shiny thing. Tentatively, respectfully, he withdrew the golden object from the head while the limbs of the white man-shape remained motionless at its side. The golden object fit neatly in Wanica’s palm like the hilt of a knife.
+
Captain Skulldagger aboard the Will O' the Wisp did not alter his course until it was too late. With billowing sails Fire of the Covenant barely escaped, but the current became too strong for her sister ship. She was seen to tip over the edge and was never seen again.
-
Wanica squeezed the gift to produce a hissing opaque black beam. When swept around the beam carved trenches in the stony ground of the hilltop entirely without effort. When Wanica no longer actively squeezed the gift the immaterial black shaft retracted and disappeared.
+
"The Will O' The Wisp and all aboard had indeed fallen over the edge of heaven. In the uttermost west Thalury pours over a great cataract, a vast waterfall with no bottom. Long the ship fell partially submerged within the waters of the sea, which had become a white sheet.
-
The curiosity of Wanica’s companions overcame their fear. They slowly returned to the summit, together with some of the bison. There the hunters saw the white dome on the very summit of the Island in the Sky, and they also saw Wanica standing next to it with his horse.
+
"The waters of the sea and even the air fell together with the ship, and there was little breeze. The ship tumbled, resting on nothing, and the crew felt no weight. They floated freely in the air, as though swimming under water, but some floated far away from the ship.
-
Wanica lifted a large stone and set it down near the white dome. The companions of Wanica joined him stacking stones around the dome as though they were building an igloo out of rock. When the men finished they stood back to look. The white dome was concealed by a cairn.
+
The small but constant breeze broke the sea sheet into globes of water, some the size of a man's head, others the size of a barn. Fish were seen swimming in many of these balls of water, and when the rations aboard the Will ran out these fish were the only source of food.
-
None of the Kuwapi hunters understood what they have seen, but they all agreed it was a sign from the Great Spirit. It was fitting, they deemed, to have built a hallowed lodge for Wakan Tanka after his manifestation to them, which they took to be his blessing for the hunt.
+
Yet none of the doomed men and nephilim suffered thirst as was common among marooned sailors of Earth, for Thalury was a freshwater sea ever renewed by ice melt. As the crew continued to fall, the dark underside of heaven became visible overhead like the inside of a mask
-
But the time the People were feasting on bison the animal's horns had been fastened to leather thongs. One of Chief Tatanka's women pinned the horns to his shoulder as though he had actually gotten out of the tipi where he roils in womanflesh and killed the animal himself.
+
And it was seen and understood by the falling sailors that the Land We Know is really the lowest step in an endless stair, vast beyond all mortal imagination, and there is a second step rising to the east, and this step we know from this side of heaven as the Wall of God.
-
Briefly Tatanka and Wanica eyed each other, but there was with no mutual respect whatsoever. The chief said, "There are five different stories how this animal was taken."
+
But the breeze blew the globes of water far apart one from the other and the heat of the two suns caused them to shrink until none of the water globes which remained near the ship held living fish. The survivors began to starve, and pondered killing each other for meat.
-
Wanica looked away and blew a ring of smoke.
+
By the time the sailors were desperate enough to become cannibals they were too weak to successfully attack each other or do anything more than make pitiful moans. Then came the final days when they passed from the living one by one, according to their remaining strength.
-
"About the hunt, then. What say you, Squaw Who Hunts?"
+
The sailors found that death was not the end. They awoke in new bodies untouched by any scars of battle or the lash, looking down upon The Land We Know from the very rim of the Wall of God, four miles of sheer and implacable stone which none of the living have yet scaled.
-
Wanica's gaze returned to the Chief sharply as though he had been slapped, but he controlled his rage and answered. "We followed the herd into
+
The sailors who tarried atop the Wall of God heard feeble voices carried by the wind through a trick of sound reflecting on the stone precipice. Ever they walked the ramparts of heaven, hoping to hear the voices of their loved ones, and when they did it was bittersweet.
 +
As time went on the newly dead found they were forgotten by their friends and even their loved ones sooner than they would have liked. The more impact a person had in their life the more fragments they heard so they lingered more, but the humble accepted the truth sooner.
 +
At great length nearly all the dead came off the precipice and rested on the narrow lawn behind it, before the Upper Sea, waiting, they were told, for a white ship to come and take them east to an unknown destiny. The elohim refused to speak to them of their final fate.
-
TCEM
+
The dead are told only, ""Great gifts are sweeter when they are but revealed in their fulfillment unspoiled by hasty tidings."" Within twenty years every member of Captain Skulldaggers's dead but resurrected crew passed over the Upper Sea to the east, and he alone remained.
-
a low cloud. I could not see the other hunters. Each man ascended alone. On the hilltop the clouds parted and we took the animal."
+
Skulldagger has attained a form of immortality through infamy, and never a day passes but that his name is spoken aloud by someone below. Yet more often than not his name is spoken with a shudder, as the story of the Will O' The Wisp is told again to every new generation.
-
"And the Great Spirit appeared out of the cloud to bless our hunt!" blurted Plenty Lice out of turn.
+
Marsayas said, ""Now I tell you all these things not that you do not fear your own death, which indeed is truly nothing to be feared, but that you know what you must do, presently, when each one of you find yourselves resurrected and standing the brink of the Wall of God."
-
“You have taught your hunters to lie so easily, Squaw Who Hunts,” said Tatanka. “I should give you another name.
+
When those words were spoken Marsayas drew out a weapon. Che cried out, "All glory be to Belphegor, lord of Magodon!" Che thrust forth with a cruel knife that was more a sharpened pipe with four twisting edges. The blade slipped through Lael's ribs to core out his heart.
-
Even Wanica was annoyed by the intrusion of Plenty Lice.
+
As though by a pre-arranged signal, the six other jan of the House of Larund withdrew identical weapons and made to assail the men of Lael's little band of nomads, but they soon grew dismayed to find the little humans, both men and women, were ready to defend themselves.
-
"Wakan Tanka was white like snow. He sat on the top of the mountain. His head and arms and legs shrank until he became an egg. The others saw this egg."
+
Lael's wife Sariah restrained Marsayas' arm to prevent hem from striking her husband with a second blow but she was unaware Lael was already bleeding out. The six Brown Beards who had traveled with hem quickly jumped out of striking range of Abner, Asa, Josiah and Tobiah.
-
The hunters who had been with him nodded their assent and grunted.
+
But the Judahite woman named Serach and the Benjaminite woman named Sela restrained two of the fleeing Brown Beards by embracing their calves. As they were dragged, four other jen were free to burst through an open hole in the ring of womenfolk seated around the campfire.
-
"And what did you do when you saw this egg, liar?"
+
At the death cry of Lael the men who had been watching the animals on the rim of the camp immediately took the bows they carried on their backs and fitted arrows to them. They fired at Marsayas and two of the newcomers, shooting over the heads of the women hindering them.
-
"We built a lodge of stones for the Great Spirit to honor him for his blessing."
+
Still, four of Marsayas' company were free to make for their real target and rushed toward the Ark of the Covenant to seize it. Lael's sons Rosh, Jemuel, and Elam had not been lulled to sleep by Marsayas' tale and had already drawn the swords dangling from their waists.
-
Tatanka pulled out his knife and drew near to Wanica. "You built a pile of rocks and a pile of lies. There's no white egg." And he flicked just the tip of his blade across Wanica's face.
+
A fold-door appeared with Belphegor standing within, ready to take possession of the Tablet of the Abrahamic Covenant moments after one of the nephilim were able to seize it. But dark energy is limited and time was critical. Belphegor could not wait for very much longer.
-
Tatanka was satisfied to draw only a little blood. Maiming his best hunter wouldn't do. He said, "Young liar I name you Hole In Cheek!"
+
Three individual sword duels commenced far more fierce than any of the jan had foreseen. This left a fourth Brown Beard free to draw near to the Ark and seize it, but Chokhmah now entered the fray. When the nephil touched the relic che immediately stiffened and fell dead.
-
Wanica put his hand to his face and walked with dignity out of the range of the fire’s light. Chief Tatanka laughed but nobody else did.
+
Every beat of Lael's heart let out more of his life's blood and he sank to his knees. The body of Marsayas and two of the jen in hez party fairly bristled with arrows. Jemima, Keturah, and Susanna slipped daggers between the ribs of the nephilim strangers to finish them.
-
Wanica's wife Yuha left the circle of light as well and followed her man to their tipi. While she dressed Wanica's wound his son Shy Bear said, "Father, did you truly see the Great Spirit, or did you just want to annoy Bad Heart Bull?"
+
Atara, Keziah, Dinah, and Leah then dragged the three nephilim to one edge of the plateau where the men tending the flocks of animals helped cast them over the side, whether still living or not. Belphegor saw that Marsayas had failed him and that he had ran out of time.
-
Wanica shifted his eyes to the boy.
+
The fold-door, which always resembled a glass or crystal ball taller than a man owing to the way it bent light, snapped into non-existence. The first attempt to seize the Ark had failed, and now the Laelites knew the Ark was a prize much sought by none less than a seraph.
-
Wanica appraised his son but did not answer until Yuha finished staunching the cut. At length he said, "Yuha, what we spoke about before, now it is time."
+
A grieving Sariah sought to revive her husband, but his life had already slipped away. She held his body through the night and when the white sun became visible over the rim of the Wall of God the sons of Lael buried him on the flat of ground where they had made camp.
 +
By that evening the shock of what had happened to them faded. None of the Brown Beards, if any had survived, crawled up to the plateau to renew their attack. So the three sons of Lael began to dispute which one of they would take up Lael's office of high priest and chief.
 +
Jemuel sank to his knees and said, "O living God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, if you will, make known what man of us shall be high priest and hear your voice on the Day of Atonement." And in reply the graven sphinx decorating the cover of the Ark rotated to face Rosh.
-
TCEN
+
Elam pondered this silently for a time, then said to his younger brother, "God favors you to be the High Priest, that is plain, and so the oracles of God shall be committed to you. But think you strangers will never again attempt to take from us the Ark of the Covenant?"
-
Yuha nodded that she understood and retrieved a leather pouch containing many pigments and implements to apply them.
+
Rosh shook his head. "Our father Lael was a great prophet and while he was yet alive it was the will of God that the office of high priest and the office of judge should be in the grasp of one man. Yet even our father led us only where the Ark itself marked the way."
-
For his part Wanica retrieved a ceremonial dress made of bison skins and feathers and many beads.
+
Let the offices of priest and judge be carried out by two sons of Lael according to our temperament. I will set foot on the path marked out by the oracle of God, spoken or otherwise, but in all other things, beloved brother, I shall obey as though you were our father.
-
Yuha said, "Stand and be still, son."
+
Then Rosh removed he the cover of the Ark of the Covenant with his bare hands, yet Chokhmah did not smite him. And Rosh took he the White Scroll of Lael to record all the things leading to the death of his father, and wrote that Elam had become their judge and chieftain.
-
Wanica laid the ceremonial dress on Shy Bear as his wife began to paint the boy's face. He said, "You will get no answer from me."
+
And it came to pass that the Ark led the Remnant west from the Wall of God to the Shaula Wood, but they were tracked by an officer of Belphegor's Extraordinary Force named Derash with a small platoon of lesser soldiers who had been taken to Haaretz by fold-door in pairs.
-
While his wife worked Wanica put the boy's own bow in his hands and said, "I will give you no morsel of food."
+
And Derash gave battle to the Remnant, and brought Elam into captivity, but his nephilim could not seize the Ark, for Rosh had hidden it within a tent that was not discernible from the thirteen identical tents of the people. And men of the Remnant drove the attackers off.
-
Yuha finished painting her son's face and stood apart from him.
+
Derash put Elam to the most refined torment, but che learned naught of the movements of the Remnant as they were led by Chokhmah himself by means of the Ark. And Jemuel and Rosh led a war party from among the people to assail the camp of Derash and release their brother.
-
"I lent you the name Shy Bear," Wanica said, opening the flap door, "but now you are nameless."
+
Elam put Derash to the sword in vengeance for his pain, and slew he also Hovan son of Bron the chieftain of Eniph. Jemuel's party wounded four others, but the unscathed jan and men were scattered into the depths of Shaula Wood and none save Telan Blackseed returned again.
-
"Go now, into the night, nameless one. Kill your own food, if you can. And if you cannot?” Wanica shrugged. "Perhaps in your hunger Wakan Tanka will give you a vision.
+
Telan knew no one less than Lord Belphegor sent Derash on his errand, and Telan knew also that Belphegor would demand his own life in recompense should he flee with the faithless others after the errand of Derash failed. Therefore he sought Bron, Hovan's father, in Eniph.
-
The astonishment on Shy Bear's face at these proceedings faded, and he nodded, understanding at last.
+
But the Ark of the Covenant led the Remnant through a land of rolling ridges and scattered trees between Adjara and Lake Enkaa, then west between Mount Naratha and Mount Linan, and there the graven gold Director began to spin, and Elam called their wanderings to a halt.
 +
----
 +
Pilate was procurator of Judea. He ruled under Vitellius, who was the legate of Syria, and Judea was considered to be part of Syria by Rome. Pilate was so cruel even Vitellius sometimes thought he went too far. He would execute Jews at the drop of a kippah, any kippah. He had absolutely no respect for Jewish religious sensibilities, so bringing Yeshua before him on charges of being a false prophet or a blasphemer would be a waste of his time and Pilate enjoyed having his time wasted somewhat less than watching the drop of a kippah.
-
But he could see his mother did not understand, not really. She was doing this under duress. Since the form of the ritual required it, she said, "The boy will go out from us. The man will return." He hoped the worry on her face was not from another of her premonitions.
+
Yeshua knew that too well. He planned to commit suicide by Roman by suborning a tax agent, but the oafish incompetence of Annas nullified all his preparations when he roughed up Mattiyahu. Pilate would demand to see the tax agent and he would see the marks of the beating. So Yeshua worked a blasphemy narrative to motivate Caiaphas, in turn, to work a messiah narrative before Pilate. The irony was that when Yeshua, in hypostatic union with the eloah Binah, claimed to be on a level with the God worshiped by Caiaphas, he wasn't lying at all.  
-
Obeying his father, the boy stepped out into the night. In the moonless dark, he stumbled across the prairie until the fires of the Kuwapi people were like flickering stars far behind him. He drudged up the slopes of the Island in the Sky and reached the summit at sunrise.
+
Notwithstanding what Yeshua's admirers would come to believe in the centuries to follow, in First Century Judea "mashiach" was a word which very specifically meant a Jewish king who would defeat their Gentile enemies and restore the Jews as a regional power in the Levant. So if the people acclaimed a Jew as mashiach, or messiah, and that Jew did nothing to discourage them, Rome had every reason to suspect sedition, and her usual response was state terrorism in the form of public crucifixion on the Tau cross. That suited Caiaphas to a "T".
-
In the light of dawn the boy sat to let his shadow fall upon his father’s stone cairn. He watched all morning until his shadow no longer touched the rocky mound. Then the shadow of the cairn began to touch him. By dusk he had not received a vision from the Great Spirit.
+
Since Pontius was an honorific assumed by Pilate himself, Caiaphas was not being familiar with the military governor when he said, "Pontius Pilate, this man leads the rabble who once followed the baptizer in Galilee. Herod Antipater has no doubt has spoken of him to you. His followers believe him to be one to restore the line of David to the throne in this city. In recent days his disciples set him upon an ass and the foal of that ass. He rode into the city deliberately 'fulfilling' the words of one of our prophets about a future king."
-
There was a strong breeze. When the sun sank below the horizon the boy grew cold. He gathered woody brush growing on the summit and cut it with the edge of a flint scraper, which he also used to spark a fire to burn them. But the flame and smoke kept changing direction.
+
Pilate addressed the prisoner directly. "Is it true, what the High Priest has accused?" Yeshua merely shrugged and was silent, which infuriated Pilate at first, then intrigued him. He said, "You must know what I can have done to you, yet you reply to me in this manner?"
 +
Yeshua raised his eyes to peer into those of Pilate and said, without a trace of fear, "You have no power over me but that which is ordained by God."
 +
"We shall see," said Pilate, who was more interested in the venom Yeshua's simple presence invoked in the high priest.
 +
He said, "And you, Caiaphas, what would you have done with this man?" 
 +
The high priest replied, "You have ears, Pilate, but do you not hear? Do you not discern the faithfulness of the Jews of  Yerushalayim?  Listen to them crying out for an enemy of the Emperor to die."
 +
 +
"What I discern is a mob you have raised up against a mob led by this man, and you think I cannot see how your scribes are inciting them. I would chastise both of you, but I am constrained to just the one." And  Pilate ordered solders to lead Yeshua away to be flogged.
-
TCEO
+
A Roman flogging was nothing like the caning of "forty stripes less one" ordered by Jewish religious courts that often didn't even break the skin. They used the flagellum, a whip with pieces of bone and metal embedded in the thongs. Its primary purpose was to flay a man. The first stroke was too much for Yeshua. As a b'nei elohim he invoked unconsciousness for the rest of the ordeal. The Roman soldiers saw he was wasting their time and tried to rouse him with water but to no avail. Seeing he was not dead, they proceeded to skin him alive.
-
The boy took the changing winds to be an invitation to spend the night with Wakan Tanka within the lodge that his father built. He removed stones away from one side to create a door. When he crawled inside he saw the white egg that Wanica spoke about to Bad Heart Bull.
+
It was not Chokhmah's will that Yeshua endured the preliminary torture, but that he died of crucifixion. Yet he would never get from the barracks courtyard to the cross by remaining in a self-induced coma. He came around, and the full yoke of his suffering slammed down. It was as though the skin of his back had been burned away, but it felt far worse than that. A flame, at least, would have charred away most of the nerve endings. Here the nerve fibers of Yeshua's ruined and bleeding were intact and screaming, by exquisite Roman design. 
-
The boy was hungry but it was too dark now to try to kill a hare. No heat came from his fire outside but least he was shielded from the wind. There was no room to lie down straight, but he could sleep on his side if he curled around the white egg, careful not to touch it.
+
Yeshua longed to will his death yet from obedience chose to live. Binah, a living star, knew pain on such a level that it captured the psyche of the eloah and trapped her in Yeshua's body with no hope of escape except through death, but death could only come on the cross. Binah freely accepted this mistreatment in compliance with Chokhmah's will, and the compliance was in full union with the human Yeshua. With the obedience of Binah/Yeshua even to the point of a wretched death, Keter's final claim against all humanity was silenced forever.
-
But sometime in the middle of the night while he was asleep he touched the white artifact anyway and was awakened by the sting of a needle pricking his hand. Taking even more care not to touch the manifestation of Wakan Tanka the boy stood up and went outside of the cairn.
+
Yeshua was brought back before Pilate with his teeth chattering from shock and loss of blood and agony. Pilate, in a contorted way, was actually trying to save Yeshua. Perhaps the crowd controlled by Caiaphas would look at the man after his bloody ordeal and be satisfied.
-
The boy saw that his fire had become glowing coals, but that earlier the wind must have carried embers halfway down the slope and kindled a brush fire that threatened to form a ring all the way around the small mountain. He knew that if he stayed on the summit he was dead.
+
Instead, the crowd's demand to crucify him grew into a throbbing chant. Pilate began to see the depth of Caiaphas' inexplicable fear of the prisoner. Then he saw a chance to mock the high priest. He said, "Behold, the King of the Jews!" and laid his own robe on Yeshua.
-
Small game was running up and over the summit to flee the fire and the boy could have shot his dinner then, but with every wasted moment he risked being roasted himself. He moved toward the fire to have light to see in the dark, then moved west to get around the flames.
+
Yeshua flinched under the weight of the robe on his raw shoulders and let out a rasping moan.  
-
But the boy could go no further. A steep chasm of the Squaw River lay before him. He could hear it flowing over rocks far below as wrapped around the entire southern half of the mountain. He needed light to try to cross it. The fire spread to cut off any escape north.
+
Caiaphas said, "Pilate, do not say he is the king of the Jews.  Thus do his followers think him, and so we brought him before you."
-
The boy looked down into the canyon of the Squaw and saw a tiny light of purest white, like the brightest star he had ever seen, bobbing along the west slope as though it were walking. Sometimes it would move north. Other times it moved south, but it always rose higher.
+
But Pilate remembered another Yeshua.  Yeshua bar Abbas was an assassin of Roman officials who was presently undergoing a slower but more thorough chastisement than a flogging. Pilate said to Caiaphas, "Forget the crowd. Choose your Yeshua. Either this Yeshua bar Yosef shall be crucified or Yeshua bar Abbas."
-
At length the light reached the rim on a level with the boy and he saw it was actually worn on the head of a human figure even taller than he. The prairie fire behind it outlined an hourglass shape. A female voice speaking his tongue said, "Follow me and you will live."
+
Yosef Caiaphas knew he was caught in a trap. One bad choice here and he could be deposed as high priest as was his father-in-law.
-
She turned and went back the way she came, and the boy did follow, if anything to safely reach the creek where he could stand a chance of surviving when the wildfire reached the canyon. The path was free of obstructions, but the woman turned now and again to check the boy.
+
Pilate said, "I have made my own inquiries into this man long before you brought him before me, did you know? Of course you must have known. This man you are asking to have put to death for you, Caiaphas, was a disciple of the baptizer called Yohanan, and he accepted some of the baptizer's disciples when Herod put him to death, that much is true. Such Herod communicated to me when this one walked to Judea. Do you wonder why Antipas never killed this Galilean also, Caiaphas? The answer is simple. This Yeshua never spoke a single word against Herod.  He is a doctor, and by all accounts a very good one.  The crowds follow him seeking to be cured, not to watch a fiery prophet.
 +
"And I was not content to take Herod's word for it," Pilate went on, turning to face Yeshua as he spoke.  "I sent an agent to find this fellow.  You may remember him, Galilean. He was a Jew but he really answered to me.  He asked about your views on paying taxes to Rome."
 +
Yeshua acknowledged Pilate with a nod of his head, but said nothing. Pilate turned then back to Caiaphas. "Yeshua here said, 'Show
 +
me the coin used to pay the tax' and my agent produced one. Yeshua said, 'Whose likeness is stamped on the coin' and my agent said Tiberias. Finally Yeshua said, 'Then give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, but give to God what belongs to God.' So my agent returned to me and made his report, and I put this traveling healer out of my mind until you brought him before me today, Caiaphas, and said he must die. Now when he rode the donkeys, that was stupid. I can't have more of that, so he's been punished, but was it worthy of death? I leave it entirely up to you and your God, Caiaphas.  Choose. Shall I crucify an actual Judean revolutionary, or shall I crucify your king?"
 +
"Release to us Yeshua bar Abbas," said Caiaphas. "We have no king but Tiberius Caesar." 
-
TCEP
+
Pilate fairly beamed with pleasure. "See how much better it is, priest, when all can clearly see your professed fealty to Rome is a lie? I despise nothing more than hidden motives."
-
When she resumed walking the boy admired the patterned skintight leather she wore, even in the dim light of the fire, which made her ass look like nothing so much as a big ripe plum. But the sound of the water grew quieter the closer they approached, which was strange.
+
As Yeshua was led away to die Caiaphas said to Pilate, "You spoke of hidden motives. Today this false prophet foretold his own death in my presence, and that he would rise again on the third day. It is clear to me now he was really attempting to deter his own execution."
-
By the time they reached the creek bed the water wasn't flowing at all. It had become a wet staircase of puddles that led up to a low cave entrance in a wall of dark shale. The woman crouched to splash her way inside the cave with her knee-high boots, and the boy followed.
+
"Now Governor, I fear that after he dies his followers will spread a lie throughout the city that they have seen Yeshua risen again from the dead, exactly as he predicted. We will never be rid of the zealots his disciples will draw to themselves with this fabrication."
-
Inside the cave the boy saw a pool of water with a narrow stone ledge all around it. The light from the woman's headband filled the space and he saw that she looked very much like a Kuwapi female but much taller, and she was not much older than he.
+
"Then I will simply leave the man on the cross until the crows have picked him clean."
-
"I am called Leliel."
+
"Governor, you must not let that come to be. I invoked the Law of Moshe to bring Yeshua's fate upon him and the Law also says the sun must never set on one who has been put to death."
-
She expected him to give his name in reply, and he knew if he delayed she would think him addled, so he said, "My father once named me Shy Bear, but now he has cast me out of his tipi nameless."
+
Pilate's annoyance grew to obvious anger. Would he never be rid of this priest? He said, "I will order my centurion to make sure the man is dead before sunset and to bury him nigh to the place where he was crucified. Will that satisfy Yosef Caiaphas and his God's law?"
-
"Chief Yeshua said the first human I met in this world would have that name."
+
"I do not question the discipline of your troops, Pilate, but it is known that following a Roman crucifixion the bodies are usually buried in hastily-dug graves with only a light covering of gravel over them. During the night dogs will root his body out and feast on it."
-
She removed her headband light and dropped it into the water. It faded as it sank, but the water began to glow with a broader light. She said, "Follow me and you will see and do and learn many things. If you stay, you must leave this cave quickly or you will drown."
+
"What of it?" barked Pilate. "It would be, in the end, no different than if birds consumed his body, except the burial will comply with the letter of your Law of Moshe."  
-
Leliel jumped into the underground cistern, turned turtle, and disappeared from view. The boy waited for her to come back up for air as he knew she must, but she did not. The water began to stir and overflow its bounds. So in the end he came to believe and did follow her.
+
"But we will never be able to disprove he is risen, as his followers will claim to the multitude!"
-
For years after Prince Melchizedek first visited the crossroads town of Harran Old Man Terah, the father of Abram, was seen slowly moving around inside his idol shop near the town’s central market square as his well-to-do son did the best he could to keep his father alive. But inevitably there came a day when Terah was not seen working in his shop. A customer found him lying dead on the floor with a stone chisel near his hand. Messengers were sent into the lands surrounding Harran to search for Abram grazing sheep and cattle and bring word.
+
"I can do nothing about the dogs," said Pilate. "They make crucifixion a more effective deterrent among your people in light of your own belief that bodies are raised at the end of time."
-
A few days later Terah's body was lowered into a tomb in Harran as hundreds looked on. A heavy stone was moved into place over Terah's body.
+
There was in the audience hall a member of the Sanhedrin named Yosef of Arimathaea. "Listen," said he. "I have a freshly hewn crypt which I caused to be made for myself and my wife when our time is at hand.  You may lay the body of Yeshua within for the span of three days where it will be safe from beasts or any of his followers who would do us harm."
 +
"The crypt will keep the body of this Yeshua safe from being devoured by dogs, true enough, but what is to stop his followers from stealing the body away?  Any stone we set into place to seal the tomb can be removed by the man's followers if they have sufficient numbers."
 +
"What of it?" demanded Pilate. "Their future king will still be dead, whether his body rests in their hands or in a tomb."
 +
"General, you do not anticipate what will happen. His disciples will bury the body in another place and three days after claim they saw him alive."
-
TCEQ
+
Pilate thought on Caiaphas' words for a moment and reluctantly came around to his point of view. "Make any reasonable request of me, priest, but consider carefully. When you depart I will receive no more audience concerning that man, and entertain the matter never again."
-
Abram said to all the people gathered there, “My father is dead. Nothing remains to bind me to this place sick with false gods."
+
"Pilate, order a number of armed men to watch his sepulcher four days and four nights. Then we may be certain  none of his followers have stolen his body only to say in three days, 'Lo, he is risen as he said, behold his empty tomb!'" And all the other councilmen agreed.
-
Isaac, a mere slip of a lad, asked, “Where shall we go, father?”
+
Pilate seemed delighted. "Let it be so!" he said. "Now, Caiaphas, if you are finished piling on impossible tasks to satisfy your paranoia and your religious law I will leave it for you to give the instructions to Longinus, who is the centurion overseeing the man's death." 
-
“We will journey far in the west to the river that begins in the snows of Mount Hermon and ends in the Salt Sea. The grazing land is good there. Let the word go out to all who would remain in my pay."
+
The Romans, it was universally conceded, had a certain engineering genius when it came to building arenas, roads, bridges, and aqueducts. They applied the same acumen to the death penalty. Crucifixion was by far the worst thing they could imagine happening to any man.  
-
A number of days after Abram and his people left town Prince Melchizedek reached Harran with his two servants. They saw Terah's idol shop standing empty. Melchizedek inquired of the townspeople about Terah and his son. Soon they were closing on Abram and his massive herds.
+
In Jerusalem the Romans liked to run a practical joke when they crucified men.  Near Damascus Gate the cross had a platform of wood for the feet, bristling with nails pointy end up, and a second platform was laminated under it to prevent the nails from being pushed out. They tied prisoners to the cross by his wrists with ropes, but let their legs kick free. The victim's own body weight made it impossible to breathe unless he brought his head to a level with his arms. After his arms were exhausted he must do that by standing on something. In the case of the cross near Damascus Gate, the only thing to stand on was a little bed of sharp nails. Invariably the victims "volunteered" to impale their own feet on the nails, because continued life was important to them early in the crucifixion. Later, not so much.
-
It was easy to find Abram because his livelihood required a large geographical footprint, and it had been made even more wide by a drought. Near Beth She'an, Melchizedek and his yeng approached Abram at the center of his flocks. When Abram saw them he bowed reverently.
+
Very soon after the prisoner had perforated his own feet just to stay alive, the Roman soldiers lashed his ankles to the cross to make sure he could not change his mind in the hours or days to come.  After that he transformed into a reciprocating engine of suffering. When the prisoner died of thirst and shock and exposure after a number days, it was a simple thing to tug on the arm ropes and haul the prisoner's feet from the points of the nails. That way the same cross could be used again, as the one at the north gate frequently was.
-
Abram said, “You see? I obeyed the call of the one I seek after all!"
+
Now it was Yeshua's turn. Each wrist was secured by a knot with several turns of rope. The two ropes had been passed through iron rings at the ends of the crossbeam. The Romans hauled him up and he let out a great cry as his raw back was scraped against the vertical post.
-
The prince replied, “And I swear to you Abram that the Lord of the Earth also seeks you. And God has said, 'I will give the land of Canaan to the descendants of Abram to be their inheritance forever.'"
+
Both ropes were tied off at another iron ring mounted under the little bed of nails but they weren't made too taut. By long experience Longinus, the centurion who was supervising the execution, knew just how much slack to leave in Yeshua's body to maximize his suffering.
-
Hearing that, Abram was suddenly moved to express his loyalty to this unseen God. He said to his servants, “Bring to me the best animal of each kind in my flock.” Then Abram ascended the highest pinnacle of the Gilboa range hard by and constructed an altar of stones.
+
But after a number of minutes even Longinus grew dismayed. Yeshua, silent now, had sagged against the cross and showed no sign of attempting to preserve his life by pulling himself up to breathe. His feet remained dangling, entirely motionless, along the vertical post.
-
Abram's servants killed the animals and laid them on Abram's altar. Then Abram made a burnt offering of them in the name of El Shaddai, which is translated One God Is Sufficient. This he did in the presence of El Shaddai's messengers Melchizedek and Iofiel and Guriel.
+
If Longinus was supervising the crucifixion, Yosef Caiaphas and Yosef of Arimathaea were supervising Longinus. "What is wrong?" Caiaphas demanded.
-
Melchizedek and Abram walked the hills of Gilboa until nightfall. The prince asked Abram to look at the stars and see if he could count them. “So shall your descendants be."
+
Longinus replied, "I'm not certain. The condemned man should be showing signs of, ah, extreme distress at this point."
-
There are only six thousand stars visible to the human eye but Abram immediately got the point.
+
After more minutes passed Yeshua voided his bowels. The soldiers crucifying him found that his skin was growing cool and they began to fret, because it looked like they had somehow bungled the execution. And if that proved to be the case they would be punished themselves.
-
Chokhmah agreed to reward Abram with countless progeny and help them thrive in the land of Canaan. Abram agreed to have as his god Chokhmah alone, known to him as El Shaddai. It was the first agreement made between elohim and human beings on something like an equal basis.
+
"It must have been the flogging," suggested Longinus. "Petronius was too thorough. I had nothing to do with that."  He took his spear and depressed the skin of Yeshua's bare chest. Then he looked at the two members of the Sanhedrin standing nearby. "By your leave, sirs?"
 +
It was not Caiaphas' purpose that Yeshua should suffer. The man had claimed to be on a plane with Hashem, The Name, and for that he must die, traditionally by stoning, but Yosef's fool of a father-in-law Annas had caused the Romans to withdraw that power from the council. Now, incredibly, Yeshua had somehow died in the first few moments of his crucifixion and Longinus was asking permission to verify it.  Caiaphas said, "You may proceed, Centurion." And Longinus pierced the heart of Yeshua with the tip of his spear.  There was no movement.
-
 
+
So he made his men unhitch the ropes and lower Yeshua's body into a bag made from hemp, and loaded this onto a wheeled cart. They followed Yosef of Arimathaea around the eastern wall of the city and across the Kidron ravine to his prepared crypt on the Hill of Olives. Then the sack with Yeshua's body was lowered into the hewn pit, and a heavy stone was slid over it by all the men present, even the priests. Longinus put upon on the stone seven seals in the name of the Governor, and they pitched a tent amid the olive trees to keep watch.
-
TCER
+
-
 
+
-
In heaven neither Keter nor Daat ever concluded a similar covenant. Slaves obeyed or they were punished, they didn’t make bargains with gods.
+
-
 
+
-
Abram was the head of a large clan and possessed many things. He was already living in the golden age as far as he was concerned. Abram did not pine away for an afterlife. Abram was living a full and blessed life on Earth. He accepted that was mortal like everything else in the world from mayflies to olive trees. Chokhmah promised only that his blood would be carried across generations without end.
+
-
 
+
-
Robyn opened the door of her home just before Robyn knocked on it, but that went with the territory of being the Seer. The second Robyn let herself in, and why not? It was her house too. She was still wearing Mr. Kaneko's clothing and was still stinky from the road trip.
+
-
 
+
-
Both girls sat on different couches and had a long look at each other. Smelly Robyn said, "The thing you didn't want to do for Yeshua? I'll do it."
+
-
 
+
-
Clean Robyn didn't even think of that. "Are you sure?"
+
-
 
+
-
"Let me see the gadget he gave you." Clean Robyn dug it out. It was like half a ball of dark pink rubber, but with a 55-pin female connector on one side to match the male connector protruding from both girls' heads. Clean Robyn said, "When Paul and Klaus show up I have to be wearing this. It's supposed to save my last memories."
+
-
 
+
-
"It works exactly as Yeshua promised. I've seen on the other side of that 'blank wall' you seem to be so worried about. That's why I'm willing to be Kim who gets killed, so you can be Robyn who lives. But you have memories of meeting Mom before she left and I want those."
+
-
 
+
-
Kim unfastened her belt, which was really one of the Purple Cables she and Hunky stole from the camp at Heart Mountain. When they attached the ends to themselves they experienced a strange dual awareness but it did not persist as when Robyn and Hunky were linked together.
+
-
 
+
-
The differences between each girl poured through the line but there was a rhythm to it, like a heartbeat. It took a brief time for each memory to be packed for transfer on the cable and then unpacked. Soon Kim had Robyn's conversation with Yeshua in Washington State.
+
-
 
+
-
Since the Change Kimberly's memories are stored with perfect clarity, not merely as triggers to be re-enacted by her mind. The full
+
-
 
+
-
 
+
-
TCES
+
-
 
+
-
emotional impact of meeting her mother again after six months, followed by their parting, brought Kim to tears, then Robyn a heartbeat after.
+
-
 
+
-
The Purple Cable had set up a kind of feedback whine, but with an 800 millisecond delay. Kim received back from Robyn the new experience of Kim receiving the memory of Robyn greeting her mother. This went around at least a dozen more times, growing weaker on each pass.
+
-
 
+
-
As the loops cycled Robyn obtained Kim's experience of the rest of her trip home after Hell's Half Acre, which kicked off different loops. After a time only two real differences stubbornly persisted: One girl was lying on the couch, and the other was lying on top of her.
+
-
 
+
-
That situation got Robyn thinking that she was set to become the wife of Jerry, and che was something of a sexual cafeteria line. One of these, and one of these, and two of those. She wasn't sure she would even like everything che had to offer, let alone know what to do.
+
-
 
+
-
So without further ado Mr. Kaneko's trousers and Kim's undies were slid up to Kim's knees and Robyn became the first non-contortionist in heaven or earth to have oral sex with herself. Kim really could have done with a bath but Robyn figured it was the worst-cast scenario.
+
-
 
+
-
What Robyn was doing with her tongue, in combination with the Purple Cable loop back, reminded Kim of one time when Hunky set up her drumkit in the Squaw River canyon and did a drum duet with her own echoes. The pleasure built so steadily Kim thought it was like cheating.
+
-
 
+
-
Actually it was cheating. Through the Purple Cable Robyn could feel exactly what she was doing to Kim as though she was Kim. She wondered if this was the thing Yeshua said would rival eternal life. That was the last rational thought either had for the next ten minutes.
+
-
 
+
-
Robyn felt the first contraction of Kim's orgasm 0.8 seconds after Kim did, just when Kim was having her second one. At 1.6 seconds Kim felt Robyn's experience of her first contraction precisely at the same time she felt her third one. And so the stack continued to build.
+
-
 
+
-
Neither Kim nor Robyn knew what was happening. They didn't even breathe until Kim had a dozen contractions, and when they did breathe, they could only make incoherent sounds. Purple Cable sex was never going to be a discreet thing. The orgasm looped around and around.
+
-
 
+
-
After three minutes the stack of orgasmic contractions and their echoes were no longer distinct pulses. The climax settled into a timeless high
+
-
 
+
-
TCET
+
-
 
+
-
intensity electric sheen. After another seven minutes Robyn found it possible to unplug the cable from her head. It was too much.
+
-
 
+
-
After that they lay still for another ten minutes trying to take in what just happened to them. Robyn's face was soaked.
+
-
 
+
-
Kim began to stir under her. "I'll go get myself cleaned up. At least we got something to keep us happy until Bergin and Hansen come here to kill me."
+
-
 
+
-
Even as Keter and Daat aided Chokhmah to establish a covenant people on Earth they were implacably opposed to her doing the same thing in heaven. This new interloper named Michael had made Salem and the nearby lands a lost cause but troops were sent to contain the plague.
+
-
 
+
-
Princess Lilith and her Fallen Angels had proven remarkably efficient at shielding Michael from being abducted or killed but as a consequence Salem had effectively been sliced out of intercourse with the rest of the middle lands. Michael wished to bring things to a head.
+
-
 
+
-
Lilith and Michael had flown in the avatar of Chokhmah to Anshar many times but never before to the city of Adan where Keter ruled the house of Gerash directly through his own avatar seated on the throne. Princess Lilith was known to many, but by law sha could not speak.
+
-
 
+
-
Nevertheless by an awkward and complicated arrangement involving one of the wives of Lord Zadkiel who then spoke to hym in private, that ophan was made aware that Princess Lilith came in the company of one Michael, the prophet who had been giving Keter such grief of late.
+
-
 
+
-
So after much effort Michael managed to get hymself arrested after all. Lord Zadkiel suggested there be a public tribunal to allow Michael to incriminate hymself by hyz own words so there would be no doubt among the people that Michael blasphemed the god of House Gerash.
+
-
 
+
-
Michael said, "Let there be such a tribunal, but Princess Lilith must speak in my defense."
+
-
 
+
-
To this the ophan Zadkiel said, "That is impossible. It is the eternal law of Keter that no yin may speak in public, nor to any except her close kin. Choose from among the yeng."
+
-
 
+
-
"Nevertheless, Her Royal Highness will represent me at the tribunal, or I will speak no words."
+
-
 
+
-
 
+
-
TCEU
+
-
 
+
-
Michael was shown yeng suffering the most refined torments Keter could devise, but none made hym blench. So the law forbidding Lilith to speak on hyz behalf was set aside.
+
-
 
+
-
In a sick parallel to the Sunset Discourse, the tribunal took place in a gladiatorial arena. The charge was insurrection. Specifically, Michael was accused of inciting infidelity to Keter. As in any theocracy, to sin against God is exactly equivalent to breaking the law.
+
-
 
+
-
As the tribunal wore on Zadkiel attempted to trip Michael with riddle-words, but hy was dealing with an advanced composite being, both eloah and angel, and Michael had a suitable answer at every turn. It was a back-channel way to bring hyz teachings to the people of Adan.
+
-
 
+
-
Even prior to hyz union with Chokhmah Michael could have handled Zadkiel, who was too stupid to realize hy was being soundly beaten by rhetoric. But Michael knew it would not matter in the end. The outcome of the tribunal was fixed. The sole purpose was to discredit hym.
+
-
 
+
-
Zadkiel turned to the words of the famous Sunset Discourse in Salem which had been preserved in a growing set of literature called the Sayings of Michael. Hy brought up a thing even King Melchiyahu pondered. “Interesting that you always say ‘Sha who embraces Chokhmah.’ Do you imply that only yen can be your disciples, and no yang can ever be?”
+
-
 
+
-
Michael said, “By these things a yin excludes harself as my follower: Sha grows annoyed at things sha cannot help, and so is perpetually angry. Controversies that divide the people attract har. Sha is caught up in every fad and does not affirm har own uniqueness. Such a yin does not truly embrace Chokhmah. But any yang who does not do these things is on the path to becoming one of Chokhmah’s followers, though hy may not even know that to be the case.”
+
-
 
+
-
Zadkiel said, “And yet, contrary to the Code of Keter you employ yen, your so-called Fallen Angels, which many say is really a female army. Such an absurdity has never existed in the history of heaven.”
+
-
 
+
-
"The Fallen Angels only scatter the wealth and gather the people."
+
-
 
+
-
“So you espouse income redistribution?”
+
-
 
+
-
Michael replied, “I espouse giving yen work that draws them together in service of their sisters. Have no fear, there is no overlap with the work of yeng.”
+
-
 
+
-
“Their sisters! And just where do yeng fit into your schemes, Michael?”
+
-
 
+
-
 
+
-
 
+
-
TCEV
+
-
 
+
-
Michael said, “Just as the angels were called out of humanity to have a closer relationship with the elohim, Chokhmah has called yen out of the angels that they may unite and nourish one another."
+
-
 
+
-
"The implications are considered unnatural by all our ancient traditions."
+
-
 
+
-
“It is natural to stink, Lord Zadkiel, yet none suggest falling back on the tradition of neglecting personal hygiene. To yen who follow Chokhmah the word ‘unnatural’ simply means ‘not on the level of animals.’”
+
-
 
+
-
Zadkiel ran out of arguments and waved for Lilith to cross.
+
-
 
+
-
As usual, when Lilith began to speak there was a stir from the onlookers at the scandal of hearing a yin's voice in public, but as the tribunal wore on the novelty wore off. Her line of defense touched on the fact that the so-called Code of Keter was of recent vintage.
+
-
 
+
-
After spitting Zadkiel’s own words back at hym from when hy first began to preach in Salem Lilith argued that the Code of Keter had become known only after Michael’s ministry had taken root at Salem, and might even have been introduced purely in reaction to hyz teachings.
+
-
 
+
-
“At no time in our history have we condemned anyone for committing actions that were made illegal after the offense,” sha said. "Such a thing has always been anathema to our concept of justice."
+
-
 
+
-
Zadkiel shot a glance at the High Lord Patriarch Kirodiel, who presided.
+
-
 
+
-
As he had done throughout the tribunal, whenever Lilith got any traction and Zadkiel needed a lifeline, Kirodiel ordered har to end har line of questioning and use a different one.
+
-
 
+
-
Lilith swallowed har frustration and said, "There is still the question of jurisdiction. The Code of Keter is the law of this city, but Michael is a subject of my father the king of Salem, where hyz will alone holds sway. King Melchiyahu has already found this yang to be innocent of any wrongdoing."
+
-
 
+
-
Once more Zadkiel signaled Kirodiel for help.
+
-
 
+
-
The High Lord Patriarch instructed Princess Lilith to move on to har next objection. Sha was being worn down but Michael took it with equanimity. Hy knew the outcome was predetermined. More important was that the angels in the gallery saw the injustice of the whole farce.
+
-
 
+
-
 
+
-
TCEW
+
-
 
+
-
Lilith had one more card to play. “Michael, despite all the evidence we have heard for the charge of impiety toward Keter you still maintain your innocence. How can this be?”
+
-
 
+
-
Hy said, “Most yen in Adan are faced with a stark choice: Remain with their husband or starve."
+
-
 
+
-
"In the same way, it cannot be a powerful decision to worship Keter anywhere in the middle lands, because the alternative is a mock trial and execution.”
+
-
 
+
-
"So you contend that piety compelled by law is false?”
+
-
 
+
-
"Any such 'piety' is as phony as the love of most marriages."
+
-
 
+
-
"How much more vital is the love of two angels who are utterly free to stay or part, yet who still choose to stay together!"
+
-
 
+
-
"That sound risky."
+
-
 
+
-
"Does it? It is the risk of losing things, even our lives, that makes them dear."
+
-
 
+
-
Lilith nodded to Zadkiel. "Your witness."
+
-
 
+
-
In cross-examination Zadkiel said, "So your claim is that living dangerously is the missing ingredient in Adanite marriages?"
+
-
 
+
-
Michael said, "The fear of losing a thing is what lends excitement and significance to that thing, from a marriage bond to our very lives. Keter once told Chokhmah that to take fate into one’s own hands was to rise beyond good and evil. In truth, a rock and a tree are beyond good and evil, and so is every angel who will not, or is not permitted, to make a free choice. Ethics simply does not apply to them."
+
-
 
+
-
“So you deny that the Lord Keter has the authority to decree what is right and wrong in our world?”
+
-
 
+
-
Michael replied, "Not that Keter or any other power ought to legislate morality, but that they literally cannot do so. It’s logically absurd, like a four-sided triangle.”
+
-
 
+
-
In that moment Zadkiel was certain hy had sprung hyz trap and told Kirodiel the state rested. Lilith, too, thought that Michael had finished on a high note and said the defense also rested. Kirodiel did not even make a pretense of deliberating. "Judgment for the State."
+
-
 
+
-
 
+
-
 
+
-
TCEX
+
-
 
+
-
No one was surprised except Princess Lilith, who was allowed to pay one final visit to har client in the dungeons beneath the Temple of Keter before the sentence was to be carried out. The first of their last few moments was spent in an awkward embrace though iron bars.
+
-
 
+
-
Lilith glanced around the dungeon, assuring harself that their privilege of private counsel, no matter how brief, was still inviolate. Sha said, “Guilty! A sentence of death! What’s your plan now?”
+
-
 
+
-
"There is no plan." Michael reached through the bars to touch har face.
+
-
 
+
-
"I watched you send my brother and his two squires to the other world," Lilith objected. "Could you not summon another such bubble and take yourself out of harm's way?"
+
-
 
+
-
"Only Keter and Daat can open a fold-door in heaven. Here I can only manage holding one thin line.They’ve been planning this tribunal for a long time. It all stinks of Keter moving behind the scenes. He wants something big from me but he's taking his time laying it all out in the open. He has another, much easier way to communicate with me but he refuses to use it.”
+
-
 
+
-
"Then in the absence of your plan I say we go forward with my plan."
+
-
 
+
-
Michael narrowed hyz eyes. Hy said, "Lilith, don’t do anything stupid. Better yet, don’t do anything at all.”
+
-
 
+
-
They were interrupted by Lilith’s escorting guard, a kind but unswervingly loyal yang.
+
-
 
+
-
Hy said, “I’m sorry, that’s all the time I am permitted to give you with the condemned.” Then hy gestured for har to leave the chamber, unwilling to touch a princess unless sha made things difficult.
+
-
 
+
-
Michael called out after har. “Lilith! Just drop it, do you hear me?”
+
-
 
+
-
Michael’s next visitor was Lord Zadkiel, who moved very close to Michael's iron cell to look directly into hyz eyes. After studying hym quietly for a time hy said, “Keter sends his regards, Chokhmah.”
+
-
 
+
-
Michael smiled. "I made no secret of the union, and you denied it."
+
-
 
+
-
"The Lord Keter knows that you put on something of a conjuring act just before he opened fold-door in Salem to whisk Melchizedek away. Only Chokhmah could have timed things so.”
+
-
 
+
-
 
+
-
TCEY
+
-
 
+
-
"How wonderful," said Michael. "Now that you and your Lord have come to belief, what next?"
+
-
 
+
-
"Certain actions and non-actions will be required of you," said Zadkiel. "And you have no choice but to comply."
+
-
 
+
-
"Keter knows well I can choose to end my life at any time. No threat of death or torment can compel me to do his bidding, let alone the whim of his slave."
+
-
 
+
-
Zadkiel smiled and said, “Oh, a martyr is the last thing we want, Chokhmah. Unfortunately, Princess Lilith has har mind quite made up. Do you really think the Eyes of Keter are not aware of the preparations sha has made to rescue you?”
+
-
 
+
-
"What does sha have in mind?"
+
-
 
+
-
Zadkiel said, “You will be amazed when you see it unroll, Chokhmah. Fallen Angel sleeper cells! Guards taken out with a head twist. Secret disguises, body doubles, and safe houses from here to the edge of the city! But as you’ve probably surmised before now, it’s a trap."
+
-
 
+
-
"That way we catch Lilith red-handed, scoop up key Fallen Angels, and crush your whole movement over the span of a single night. Then this glassblower's son's body will be broken and braided on the hub of a windmill with no one left to rally around the spinning corpse."
+
-
 
+
-
“I think you are grossly underestimating Lilith and har Fallen Angels if you think it will be that easy to roll them up."
+
-
 
+
-
"You may be immune to pain, Chokhmah, but of a certainty Lilith is not, and neither are har co-conspirators. But Lord Keter has a far better idea. If you agree to Lord Keter's demands, your sentence of death will be set aside. Princess Lilith and her friends will have no reason to carry out their suicide pact. Instead, we shall parade you captive in a cage through every city, town, and village from here to Salem."
+
-
 
+
-
Michael, knowing that it would have precisely the opposite effect, said, “That would discredit everything that I have taught. I'll let myself die the moment you display me in a cage.”
+
-
 
+
-
“Michael, you must not refuse, because the alternative is Lilith, remember? Har plan?”
+
-
 
+
-
Michael sighed, and made a show of hanging hyz head in defeat. “What are Keter's demands?"
+
-
 
+
-
 
+
-
TCEZ
+
-
 
+
-
"One, you shall not allow yourself to die until the people of Salem have seen the humiliation of their so-called prophet, the daughter of Keter, dressed up in the body of a yang."
+
-
 
+
-
"That will require some backtracking on your part, Zadkiel. Or have you forgotten your own preaching to the effect that Chokhmah is the ungrateful son of Keter and Daat, impatient to come into his inheritance?"
+
-
 
+
-
Zadkiel curled hyz lips. "The people have short memories."
+
-
 
+
-
"So I must not perform an End of Cycle," Michael said. "Is that all that your lord Keter requires of me?"
+
-
 
+
-
"No, you must share with him the secret of merging with a yang as a living avatar, as you have done."
+
-
 
+
-
Then Michael understood at last the purpose of the tribunal.
+
-
 
+
-
Hy said, "I can teach Keter how to achieve the union, but you should remind him to use a light touch. The temptation will be to take full possession of the world-dweller, but that will only backfire when his entire psyche becomes that of a yang. He risks dissolution."
+
-
 
+
-
"Let the Lord Keter judge if that is true."
+
-
 
+
-
"As you wish, Zadkiel. As soon as mother and father have sent Princess Lilith safely home to Salem by fold-door I will conform to these demands."
+
-
 
+
-
Hy chuckled. "Chokhmah, you are in no position to make demands of your own."
+
-
 
+
-
"Very well, Zadkiel, I will now shed this container of meat, and after that I will let Keter know how close he came to learning the trick of having one of his very own before you and your incompetence boofed it."
+
-
 
+
-
"Hold! I will bring your request before the Lord himself."
+

Latest revision as of 12:46, 4 February 2019

The council of Royals quickly degenerated into a kind of trial. A chain of seemingly endless accusations against House Gerash were left dangling in the air while Samael attempted to defend against each one of them. Queen Aurra Firegem spoke first of her son Count Aldred.

She said, "I was already deep in mourning. The news of Aldred's death traveled faster from the field than the bier carrying his pierced body. Yet it was not until I saw the stricken face of Evandr that I submitted fully to my grief. And Lord Michael had come with him."

Then I spied Hashmal Phanuel of Family Bellon walking behind the procession, and I asked Duke Evandr, 'Did we prevail in the battle after all? Is the lord of Alodra our prisoner?' But my husband said, 'Nay, Aurra, the Lord Michael brought hem hither under a truce-bond.'

Phanuel prostrated hemself before me. Che offered hez deepest regrets for the death of my son, and che offered to give an explanation. 'But it is war', said I. 'What is there to explain?' The hashmal said in reply, 'Yet it is a war that never had to be, Your Majesty. Lord Samael came before me in Atria not long ago. Hy rolled out a map and told me the isle of Danya should belong solely to House Bellon, for we had ever been the mariners while the Gold Beards had become more the farmers and should be content with the vale of Loenna.'

'Hy said to me House Sala holding Danya was like sticking a finger in my eye. I accepted the truth of hyz argument at the time. Then very skillfully Samael changed the subject from Danya to the superbow.' And Hashmal Phanuel brought out this superbow for my inspection.

Phanuel stood up at a nod from the queen. Che said, "The superbow is made of gopher wood between a layer of sinew to the fore and horn to the rear, all held together from glue made from boiled horse hooves. The bowstring is made also of sinew from the shoulders of oxen."

My eyes fairly sparked at the sight of the thing. And when I fitted an arrow to it I deemed that only mighty ones could draw the string fully back, and when I released the string the shot flew half again as far as from any other bow. So I ordered a thousand of them.

And why should I not? Have not each of our kingdoms done the same for centuries, one or two Houses rising up against one, or all Houses assailing the others, but never, and how odd this now seems to be, all three Houses simultaneously coming up against the Black Beards?

Queen Aurra said, "I thank you, Phanuel. If you also recall, at the time I showed Duke Evandr the curious mark on your superbow which is also stamped on every weapon we have purchased of Adanite make, not excepting the compound bows that settled the battle in our favor."

The queen's husband Duke Evandr stood to explain hyz wife's remarks. "When my cavalry met Phanuel che had somewhat greater numbers than we, but my forces were armed with bows curved in curious shapes which allowed the archer to hold the string back without growing weary."

That in turn gave them sufficient time to take a carefully considered shot.

Phanuel said, "I was forced to break off the engagement or face a mutiny by my own cavalry. But it was not soon enough to preserve the life of your son, to my everlasting regret, Noble Ones."

The queen offered Phanuel a gentle smile, but her eyes were moist. She said, "My son is gone and cannot be replaced. Your army was driven off by special bows that Samael supplied to us just before the battle. And now we both see hy has been quietly playing a double game."

Queen Aurra was seated once more, followed by her husband and Phanuel. Then, abruptly, Samael stood up to speak. "I do not deny the essentials of what the queen, her duke, and the hashmal Phanuel have just related to you. Family Gerash is a House of merchants after all."

What I deny is the unspoken implication that my dealings with House Bellon and House Sala are somehow an evil. Are any of you making the claim here today that weaponsmiths may not seek increase? If they did not, of a surety there would soon be no arms in all of heaven.

King Uriel Bellon stood to answer hym. "No one here would deny workmen their wages, Lord Samael and no one is suggesting that the industry of a kingdom must be carried out entirely by edicts from on high. But I beg you to recall last winter when you came to my palace. You carted off much Bellon gold, and left in its place a forest of long pikes made from a new admixture of metals that could pierce any armor in my inventory, and you assured me it would pierce even the mail of the Brown Beards. Yet the summer campaign proved otherwise. The yeng and nephilim of House Larund were not caught by surprise. I was met on the approaches to Elketz by the ophan Gadreel and hyz entire infantry clad with immovable plate armor that was curiously able to turn aside the allegedly irresistible pikes you sold to me. So friend was turned against friend with no small loss of life, and no one benefited except the arms merchants of House Gerash. So let us not speak of reining in commerce when the only industry commanded by directives issued from a cabal is that of the Black Beards."

The Lord Samael said, "I fail to see any real significance in this tale, Your Majesty, nor in your conclusion. The pikes we sold were indeed invincible at the time we sold them to you. House Larund merely took advantage of a late breakthrough we achieved in metalsmithy."

If your ancient House and the House of Larund insist on carrying out your hoary family squabbles, we in Adan are only too happy to provide the means for you to do it, as surely as we aid House Sala and yourself in your other perennial quarrels on the shores of Thalury.

The lesser nobles of the monarchies then rose one after the other to weigh in on these matters. Jegeduel Bellon and Balthazar Firegem spoke of battles that were fought, every year it seemed, on the hills of glacial till that formed the border between Rimmon and Gerazan.

Gadreel of Elketz spoke of a skirmish with Hashmal Raddai near Peshast, a sharp row between nobles within the same House, and neither one knew at the time what had been the essential cause. "Only now, at this council," said Gadreel, "are things beginning to grow clear."

In hindsight we see Larund against Sala, Larund against Bellon, Sala against Bellon, even brother against brother among the Brown Beards. And it's so curious how Samael is omnipresent, pointing out problems we never knew we had, and ever with a remedy on hand for sale.

Lilith then stood up to state har piece. "All of you have heard tidings, no doubt, of how the land of Adan has been torn by civil war in recent years, and how my brother King Melchizedek was slain by many arrows even as hy drew night the shore east of Salem to surrender."

Mayhap not all of you know how I fled Salem in exile with my Lord Michael, and with the Fallen Angels and others of the city who yet call me Queen, even as we were pursued across the ice bridge by the overweening victors who were not content to digest the spoils of war.

But I deem that among those in attendance here only King Metatron knows of the bargain we forced on Samael, Michael and I, that there is now a hard border on the frontier of Magodon that the Adanites must never cross west, nor I east. And so I remain in perpetual exile.

My husband assures me that once a seraph's word is given, there can be no repentance, and indeed this is why Samael could depose my brother only by warfare and not a simple edict. Also an impenetrable bog stands between Adan and Rimmon so the Black Beards are boxed in.

They need only to fear an attack from King Metatron, yet the king has no reason to ever do so, save it be to recover the trackless wastes that lie between the new border and the ice bridge. But that would be a fruitless adventure against a thoroughly well-equipped army.

So the weaponsmiths of Adan have now only the three kingdoms to buy their wares. No great wonder, then, that Lord Samael is seen much of late craving audience with Queen Aurra in Sarahad, and King Uriel in Jelaket, and King Metatron in this city, and all their vassals.

Lilith was seated. Michael stood up to add hyz remarks to those of hyz wife. "Ultimately, Samael is lord of heaven. That no one denies. Lord Samael is a seraph in union with the sun we call Keter, and heaven huddles near to Keter as though to a fire in an overnight camp."

In the land of Adan House Gerash has always been especially devoted to Keter, and while angels and nephilim are peculiar to heaven, humans are from the world where Chokhmah reigns as lord, and it was from human stock that the angels and nephilim of heaven were begotten.

For heaven is a poor imitation of Earth, where there are islands with more land free of ice than exist in all of heaven, and there are no beasts native to heaven by reason of the world-embracing ice. And it is a truth that humans are kindred to the beasts in most ways.

Therefore in Rimmon where Queen Aurra reigns Chokhmah receives the adoration befitting an eloah, while in the lands ruled by the House of Bellon less so, and here in Magodon lesser still. This is tolerable to me since I have always called world-dwellers the Students.

It is a far better thing a student learns how to think rather than what to think, and I demand obedience only from the b'nei elohim, whom I have set aside just for that purpose. But I assure you divided loyalty is not tolerable to Keter, and there is Daat to consider.

Poor Daat has not even a thin ribbon of land on a world of ice to rule as his own, and his living avatar, Israel, must settle for whatever dregs in heaven are left to hym by Samael. And Samael has never called the dwellers of heaven the Students but rather the Servants.

So I am certain that Samael has already begun to set his designs in motion, and I think you will soon discover why he has maneuvered to keep the other three Houses off balance and at each other's throats. Yet I will not attempt to impose my will on that of the council.

But I counsel great caution in the wake of forming one front against Samael. Hy cannot assail you with hyz main force, but hy can send assassins at will, and burn through the ruling nobility until he finds one more to his liking, and outfit that one to adventure abroad.

Samael stood to offer a rebuttal. Hy said, "Of the self-styled queen named Lilith I have nothing to add, other than to ask, can there be a queen without a city to rule? For sha harself allows that sha must never return to Salem in har lifetime, nor har daughter in hars."

As for your own misguided imaginings, Lord Michael, consider! If I had truly ever wanted to subdue the remaining three kingdoms of heaven it would be a small thing to equip one and put a complete embargo on the two others, yet ever I have sold Adan's arms to all alike.

Samael seated hymself. All the guests of the king had stated their concerns. At last King Metatron rose to hyz feet to say, "Lord Michael, your words are weighty and must be pondered deeply. Know that we too here in Rumbek have played the fool for Adanite arms merchants."

This city has formidable water barriers to protect us on three sides, and the Nine Mile Wall protects us from being assailed by land on the fourth. Yet at times in centuries past we have ventured over the Wall of God, and even crossed Thalury to assail the Gold Beards.

Once during the reign of my father I crossed the ice bridge and passed through Salem to Ganelon and thence to Adan, a journey that took the better part of a year. In Ganelon I saw some of the finest bottom land I have ever seen, better perhaps than even around Saharad.

While there I saw that much of Adan had soil so deep and rich it was nearly black, yet there were few crops, save weeds.

Samael replied, "After the revolution most of the Middle Land has become a smithy. Only Salem has primitive agriculture like in your monarchies."

"Noble ones," said the king, "let us dwell on that for a moment. East of Salem, everyone who makes a living in the Middle Land is either employed to make weapons directly, or they support those do. Their livelihood rests entirely on keeping us at each other's throats."

"I will say what our livelihood purchases for us," Samael countered. "In a legal sense even my guards are on the same level as myself, with the same rights and obligations to the state. Can any of you noble born say the same thing about yourself and one of your servants?"

"A lowly apprentice could rise to attain to my seat on the State Council. Blood counts for nothing in the Middle Land, only ability and loyalty to Keter. In all of Adan now that Queen Lilith has been permanently dispossessed, we have a republic. A theocratic meritocracy."

Queen Aurra smiled at this. "When that apprentice does rise to your seat on the State Council hy will undoubtedly find hy is merely the next yang to be possessed by Keter. Nevertheless, not just citizens but kingdoms, too, may form republics after a fashion, Lord Samael."

A bell was heard to ring somewhere in the castle. Metatron slapped hyz hands sharply twice and that was the signal for Luzea and Gabriel to serve the midday meal. The Council of Royals paused in their grim deliberations to enjoy the hospitality of King Metatron's kitchen.

Gabriel fans out with wine. When Luzea Cedarbranch serves a kingly plate of roast beef to Uriel Antero che ventures to sing to hem:

"Born to rule Jelaket as king.

Yet queen-gentle hez words do ring.

Valiant like the yeng of old

Fair like a bust of purest gold."

King Uriel is shocked to silence at first, but then che laughs with self-recognition at Luzea's impromptu verse. Queen Aurra Firegem is less amused and growls Luzea's name. But this only serves as the trigger for a couplet directed at her from the playful Miz Cedarbranch.

"Who rules the city of my birth?

Aurra Firegem, Queen of mirth! "

This elicited laughter from everyone at the table except Aurra, who pointed directly at Luzea. "Tonight. Twelve lashes!"

Suddenly Gabriel burst into tears for hez friend. Luzea was shocked to silence.

Indeed, an embarrassed silence settled all around the council table. Surely the Queen must be joking, they thought. The whipping tree for such a small thing? Michael caught the queen's eye and slowly shook hyz head, letting her know as politely as possible hy forbade it.

In hyz mind King Metatron weighed the wisdom of publicly countermanding the queen's command. Hy would brook no dungeon-style cruelty by hyz guests. But the Queen's face remained stern and inscrutable. Luzea and Gabriel returned to the high niche overlooking the chamber.

Queen Aurra's surviving son Balthazar had been under a sort of punishment by exile that brought him to Rumbek. He had not taken a meal with his mother for all that time, so hy was not acquainted with Luzea Cedarbranch and hez "talent", although he certainly noted hez sex.

That Luzea was an ambi had naturally set the clockwork of Balthazar's mind in motion to find a way to be alone with hem. Now he saw a clear path to rescue his mother from her self-inflicted dilemma, and if by chance it also helped himself, well, that couldn't be helped.

He said, "My mother the Queen may not know it was a diversion of mine in Belen to contrive certain unusual forms of chastisement. Now a flogging is without a doubt a terrible thing, especially with a whipping tree, but I fear it is doled out far too frequently in heaven."

I feel that a flogging no longer has the desired lasting effect that it undoubtedly did in the days of yore. So by your leave, Mother, turn this slave nephil Luzea over to me for correction. I can assure you in all truthfulness that che will never forget the experience.

The queen knew exactly what Balthazar was up to and hid a smile behind her hand. It wasn't like he was going to come right out and ask her, before all the royals assembled there, "Mother may I be excused from this meal so I can go have sexual relations with your servant?"

Nevertheless, Queen Aurra realized her son was on to something. She was not blind. The entire Sala delegation had noticed how love-smitten Luzea had grown over Metatron's jen servant. What Balthazar had in mind would amount to a severe punishment of mind and body indeed.

Then I turn the ambi over to you, son. But let me caution you, if che is fit to return to work in less than a week I will deem your punishment far too lenient.

"You are too gracious to me, mother." The Baron tossed his napkin and pushed himself away from the table.

After Balthazar signed to the guards that Luzea should be brought along most of the other guests excused themselves as well, whether they were finished eating or not. Gabriel, free for a time, had a very good idea where Luzea was going, and knew of a second way to follow.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Pilate was procurator of Judea. He ruled under Vitellius, who was the legate of Syria, and Judea was considered to be part of Syria by Rome. Pilate was so cruel even Vitellius sometimes thought he went too far. He would execute Jews at the drop of a kippah, any kippah. He had absolutely no respect for Jewish religious sensibilities, so bringing Yeshua before him on charges of being a false prophet or a blasphemer would be a waste of his time and Pilate enjoyed having his time wasted somewhat less than watching the drop of a kippah.

Yeshua knew that too well. He planned to commit suicide by Roman by suborning a tax agent, but the oafish incompetence of Annas nullified all his preparations when he roughed up Mattiyahu. Pilate would demand to see the tax agent and he would see the marks of the beating. So Yeshua worked a blasphemy narrative to motivate Caiaphas, in turn, to work a messiah narrative before Pilate. The irony was that when Yeshua, in hypostatic union with the eloah Binah, claimed to be on a level with the God worshiped by Caiaphas, he wasn't lying at all.

Notwithstanding what Yeshua's admirers would come to believe in the centuries to follow, in First Century Judea "mashiach" was a word which very specifically meant a Jewish king who would defeat their Gentile enemies and restore the Jews as a regional power in the Levant. So if the people acclaimed a Jew as mashiach, or messiah, and that Jew did nothing to discourage them, Rome had every reason to suspect sedition, and her usual response was state terrorism in the form of public crucifixion on the Tau cross. That suited Caiaphas to a "T".

Since Pontius was an honorific assumed by Pilate himself, Caiaphas was not being familiar with the military governor when he said, "Pontius Pilate, this man leads the rabble who once followed the baptizer in Galilee. Herod Antipater has no doubt has spoken of him to you. His followers believe him to be one to restore the line of David to the throne in this city. In recent days his disciples set him upon an ass and the foal of that ass. He rode into the city deliberately 'fulfilling' the words of one of our prophets about a future king."

Pilate addressed the prisoner directly. "Is it true, what the High Priest has accused?" Yeshua merely shrugged and was silent, which infuriated Pilate at first, then intrigued him. He said, "You must know what I can have done to you, yet you reply to me in this manner?"

Yeshua raised his eyes to peer into those of Pilate and said, without a trace of fear, "You have no power over me but that which is ordained by God."

"We shall see," said Pilate, who was more interested in the venom Yeshua's simple presence invoked in the high priest.

He said, "And you, Caiaphas, what would you have done with this man?"

The high priest replied, "You have ears, Pilate, but do you not hear? Do you not discern the faithfulness of the Jews of Yerushalayim? Listen to them crying out for an enemy of the Emperor to die."

"What I discern is a mob you have raised up against a mob led by this man, and you think I cannot see how your scribes are inciting them. I would chastise both of you, but I am constrained to just the one." And Pilate ordered solders to lead Yeshua away to be flogged.

A Roman flogging was nothing like the caning of "forty stripes less one" ordered by Jewish religious courts that often didn't even break the skin. They used the flagellum, a whip with pieces of bone and metal embedded in the thongs. Its primary purpose was to flay a man. The first stroke was too much for Yeshua. As a b'nei elohim he invoked unconsciousness for the rest of the ordeal. The Roman soldiers saw he was wasting their time and tried to rouse him with water but to no avail. Seeing he was not dead, they proceeded to skin him alive.

It was not Chokhmah's will that Yeshua endured the preliminary torture, but that he died of crucifixion. Yet he would never get from the barracks courtyard to the cross by remaining in a self-induced coma. He came around, and the full yoke of his suffering slammed down. It was as though the skin of his back had been burned away, but it felt far worse than that. A flame, at least, would have charred away most of the nerve endings. Here the nerve fibers of Yeshua's ruined and bleeding were intact and screaming, by exquisite Roman design.

Yeshua longed to will his death yet from obedience chose to live. Binah, a living star, knew pain on such a level that it captured the psyche of the eloah and trapped her in Yeshua's body with no hope of escape except through death, but death could only come on the cross. Binah freely accepted this mistreatment in compliance with Chokhmah's will, and the compliance was in full union with the human Yeshua. With the obedience of Binah/Yeshua even to the point of a wretched death, Keter's final claim against all humanity was silenced forever.

Yeshua was brought back before Pilate with his teeth chattering from shock and loss of blood and agony. Pilate, in a contorted way, was actually trying to save Yeshua. Perhaps the crowd controlled by Caiaphas would look at the man after his bloody ordeal and be satisfied.

Instead, the crowd's demand to crucify him grew into a throbbing chant. Pilate began to see the depth of Caiaphas' inexplicable fear of the prisoner. Then he saw a chance to mock the high priest. He said, "Behold, the King of the Jews!" and laid his own robe on Yeshua.

Yeshua flinched under the weight of the robe on his raw shoulders and let out a rasping moan.

Caiaphas said, "Pilate, do not say he is the king of the Jews. Thus do his followers think him, and so we brought him before you."

But Pilate remembered another Yeshua. Yeshua bar Abbas was an assassin of Roman officials who was presently undergoing a slower but more thorough chastisement than a flogging. Pilate said to Caiaphas, "Forget the crowd. Choose your Yeshua. Either this Yeshua bar Yosef shall be crucified or Yeshua bar Abbas."

Yosef Caiaphas knew he was caught in a trap. One bad choice here and he could be deposed as high priest as was his father-in-law.

Pilate said, "I have made my own inquiries into this man long before you brought him before me, did you know? Of course you must have known. This man you are asking to have put to death for you, Caiaphas, was a disciple of the baptizer called Yohanan, and he accepted some of the baptizer's disciples when Herod put him to death, that much is true. Such Herod communicated to me when this one walked to Judea. Do you wonder why Antipas never killed this Galilean also, Caiaphas? The answer is simple. This Yeshua never spoke a single word against Herod. He is a doctor, and by all accounts a very good one. The crowds follow him seeking to be cured, not to watch a fiery prophet.

"And I was not content to take Herod's word for it," Pilate went on, turning to face Yeshua as he spoke. "I sent an agent to find this fellow. You may remember him, Galilean. He was a Jew but he really answered to me. He asked about your views on paying taxes to Rome."

Yeshua acknowledged Pilate with a nod of his head, but said nothing. Pilate turned then back to Caiaphas. "Yeshua here said, 'Show me the coin used to pay the tax' and my agent produced one. Yeshua said, 'Whose likeness is stamped on the coin' and my agent said Tiberias. Finally Yeshua said, 'Then give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, but give to God what belongs to God.' So my agent returned to me and made his report, and I put this traveling healer out of my mind until you brought him before me today, Caiaphas, and said he must die. Now when he rode the donkeys, that was stupid. I can't have more of that, so he's been punished, but was it worthy of death? I leave it entirely up to you and your God, Caiaphas. Choose. Shall I crucify an actual Judean revolutionary, or shall I crucify your king?"

"Release to us Yeshua bar Abbas," said Caiaphas. "We have no king but Tiberius Caesar."

Pilate fairly beamed with pleasure. "See how much better it is, priest, when all can clearly see your professed fealty to Rome is a lie? I despise nothing more than hidden motives."

As Yeshua was led away to die Caiaphas said to Pilate, "You spoke of hidden motives. Today this false prophet foretold his own death in my presence, and that he would rise again on the third day. It is clear to me now he was really attempting to deter his own execution."

"Now Governor, I fear that after he dies his followers will spread a lie throughout the city that they have seen Yeshua risen again from the dead, exactly as he predicted. We will never be rid of the zealots his disciples will draw to themselves with this fabrication."

"Then I will simply leave the man on the cross until the crows have picked him clean."

"Governor, you must not let that come to be. I invoked the Law of Moshe to bring Yeshua's fate upon him and the Law also says the sun must never set on one who has been put to death."

Pilate's annoyance grew to obvious anger. Would he never be rid of this priest? He said, "I will order my centurion to make sure the man is dead before sunset and to bury him nigh to the place where he was crucified. Will that satisfy Yosef Caiaphas and his God's law?"

"I do not question the discipline of your troops, Pilate, but it is known that following a Roman crucifixion the bodies are usually buried in hastily-dug graves with only a light covering of gravel over them. During the night dogs will root his body out and feast on it."

"What of it?" barked Pilate. "It would be, in the end, no different than if birds consumed his body, except the burial will comply with the letter of your Law of Moshe."

"But we will never be able to disprove he is risen, as his followers will claim to the multitude!"

"I can do nothing about the dogs," said Pilate. "They make crucifixion a more effective deterrent among your people in light of your own belief that bodies are raised at the end of time."

There was in the audience hall a member of the Sanhedrin named Yosef of Arimathaea. "Listen," said he. "I have a freshly hewn crypt which I caused to be made for myself and my wife when our time is at hand. You may lay the body of Yeshua within for the span of three days where it will be safe from beasts or any of his followers who would do us harm."

"The crypt will keep the body of this Yeshua safe from being devoured by dogs, true enough, but what is to stop his followers from stealing the body away? Any stone we set into place to seal the tomb can be removed by the man's followers if they have sufficient numbers."

"What of it?" demanded Pilate. "Their future king will still be dead, whether his body rests in their hands or in a tomb."

"General, you do not anticipate what will happen. His disciples will bury the body in another place and three days after claim they saw him alive."

Pilate thought on Caiaphas' words for a moment and reluctantly came around to his point of view. "Make any reasonable request of me, priest, but consider carefully. When you depart I will receive no more audience concerning that man, and entertain the matter never again."

"Pilate, order a number of armed men to watch his sepulcher four days and four nights. Then we may be certain none of his followers have stolen his body only to say in three days, 'Lo, he is risen as he said, behold his empty tomb!'" And all the other councilmen agreed.

Pilate seemed delighted. "Let it be so!" he said. "Now, Caiaphas, if you are finished piling on impossible tasks to satisfy your paranoia and your religious law I will leave it for you to give the instructions to Longinus, who is the centurion overseeing the man's death."

The Romans, it was universally conceded, had a certain engineering genius when it came to building arenas, roads, bridges, and aqueducts. They applied the same acumen to the death penalty. Crucifixion was by far the worst thing they could imagine happening to any man.

In Jerusalem the Romans liked to run a practical joke when they crucified men. Near Damascus Gate the cross had a platform of wood for the feet, bristling with nails pointy end up, and a second platform was laminated under it to prevent the nails from being pushed out. They tied prisoners to the cross by his wrists with ropes, but let their legs kick free. The victim's own body weight made it impossible to breathe unless he brought his head to a level with his arms. After his arms were exhausted he must do that by standing on something. In the case of the cross near Damascus Gate, the only thing to stand on was a little bed of sharp nails. Invariably the victims "volunteered" to impale their own feet on the nails, because continued life was important to them early in the crucifixion. Later, not so much.

Very soon after the prisoner had perforated his own feet just to stay alive, the Roman soldiers lashed his ankles to the cross to make sure he could not change his mind in the hours or days to come. After that he transformed into a reciprocating engine of suffering. When the prisoner died of thirst and shock and exposure after a number days, it was a simple thing to tug on the arm ropes and haul the prisoner's feet from the points of the nails. That way the same cross could be used again, as the one at the north gate frequently was.

Now it was Yeshua's turn. Each wrist was secured by a knot with several turns of rope. The two ropes had been passed through iron rings at the ends of the crossbeam. The Romans hauled him up and he let out a great cry as his raw back was scraped against the vertical post.

Both ropes were tied off at another iron ring mounted under the little bed of nails but they weren't made too taut. By long experience Longinus, the centurion who was supervising the execution, knew just how much slack to leave in Yeshua's body to maximize his suffering.

But after a number of minutes even Longinus grew dismayed. Yeshua, silent now, had sagged against the cross and showed no sign of attempting to preserve his life by pulling himself up to breathe. His feet remained dangling, entirely motionless, along the vertical post.

If Longinus was supervising the crucifixion, Yosef Caiaphas and Yosef of Arimathaea were supervising Longinus. "What is wrong?" Caiaphas demanded.

Longinus replied, "I'm not certain. The condemned man should be showing signs of, ah, extreme distress at this point."

After more minutes passed Yeshua voided his bowels. The soldiers crucifying him found that his skin was growing cool and they began to fret, because it looked like they had somehow bungled the execution. And if that proved to be the case they would be punished themselves.

"It must have been the flogging," suggested Longinus. "Petronius was too thorough. I had nothing to do with that." He took his spear and depressed the skin of Yeshua's bare chest. Then he looked at the two members of the Sanhedrin standing nearby. "By your leave, sirs?"

It was not Caiaphas' purpose that Yeshua should suffer. The man had claimed to be on a plane with Hashem, The Name, and for that he must die, traditionally by stoning, but Yosef's fool of a father-in-law Annas had caused the Romans to withdraw that power from the council. Now, incredibly, Yeshua had somehow died in the first few moments of his crucifixion and Longinus was asking permission to verify it. Caiaphas said, "You may proceed, Centurion." And Longinus pierced the heart of Yeshua with the tip of his spear. There was no movement.

So he made his men unhitch the ropes and lower Yeshua's body into a bag made from hemp, and loaded this onto a wheeled cart. They followed Yosef of Arimathaea around the eastern wall of the city and across the Kidron ravine to his prepared crypt on the Hill of Olives. Then the sack with Yeshua's body was lowered into the hewn pit, and a heavy stone was slid over it by all the men present, even the priests. Longinus put upon on the stone seven seals in the name of the Governor, and they pitched a tent amid the olive trees to keep watch.

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Strangers In Paradise