As the keeper of the sword Dragonthorn, Kari Antero is convinced that she has the power to bend the will of everyone around her, even the will of her father the King. At least, this is what her father constantly assures her, to hez ultimate undoing.

Some time ago when King Brogan was away, Kari flew Demonstroke all the way to the city of Thaumiel to put her belief to the ultimate test. Now, while Queen Aurra’s Council is taking a short recess she once again dismisses the guards blocking her way to Kirodiel’s chamber and receives yet again confirmation of her invincible power of persuasion.

Joy, the woman from Earth, is lounging sensuously inside the Lord’s chamber like some exotic black cat. In fact, everything about her is black except her unnaturally pale white skin. Kari tells her she is dismissed also. Joy raises an eyebrow, but leaves quickly without a single word of protest.

How did you get in here?

Kirodiel is angry after witnessing hyz woman being sent abruptly away like some common servant.

It wasn’t very hard, I’m very persuasive it turns out. Yet the last time we met, Lord Kirodiel, you had the stronger power, it seemed.

I don’t know what came over me then. And Joy would certainly never understand if she discovered the truth of the matter. She has very unpleasant ways of making her displeasure known.”

I came to see if your resolve to keep our secret has not withered.

You must be thinking of the strict sexual purity required of every female entrusted to guard the Dragonthorn blade.

The penalty for losing my virginity, were it discovered, would far more terrible than any other punishment in the history of Barbelo.

Yes indeed, Princess. A truly terrible fate to contemplate for any creature no matter what their crime, and sufficiently horrible, in fact, that in the past it has never been found necessary to mete out. In a way I’m flattered that you risked that awful fate for a single session in bed with me.

So what are your feelings on the necessity to keep the matter, secret, Lord Kirodiel?

I find that I still have no desire to reveal it to anyone, and even thinking about revealing it to another person causes me to be overcome with a very bad depression that grows worse and worse the closer I come to making my urge into an actuality.

It is a shame that it must be so, Lord Kirodiel. When last we met you said that I had a very lovely ass and could not keep your hands from caressing it.

Kirodiel puckers hyz mouth in disgust.

Princess, right now I wouldn’t reach across your ass to grab a winning ticket in the Salem numbers racket. I resent very much that you have somehow cast this spell against me. But your secret is safe, so be content with that.”There is a long pause before Lord Kirodiel says, “So if that is all you want, Princess Kari, then please leave.

Kari frowns, pivots on one foot, then marches out of hyz chamber without a sound. When she is well out of earshot Kirodiel begins to snicker. The efTC1I2-UNION

fort it had taken not to laugh the entire time was almost too much for hym to manage.

Joy emerges from behind a curtain. She had doubled back by secret ways and listened to almost the entire exchange.

So that was the girl. What a stupid twit, my Lord! It’s a wonder you didn’t have done and unleash the dragon on Vaska the instant she came to you and gave away her so-called virtue.

It is not her virginity that controls the dragon, but the sword. I need only to manipulate her into breaking the sword and then you can take control of the beast yourself.

With the sword broken I will have no problem flying Demonstroke. But I need access to his holding pen, my Lord. There’s a limit to the range of my power.

My guards can get you in easily enough. But tell me, Joy, how is it that you can make beasts do your bidding, really?

My lord already knows Chokhmah and Binah have what they call the b’nei elohim project going on the side. A little below gods we are, the saying goes, a little above humans. Each one of us has a unique ‘talent’. Mine is to control animals. I cannot control any beast until Chokhmah or Binah prepare it with something like a bead embedded in its brain. Your dragon, however, has already been prepared by yourself, Lord. I will merely tap into that.

Good. Then we shall await the moment when Princess Kari breaks the sword. There must be no doubt in the mind of Haziel and all the assembled ladies and lords that what follows is entirely the fault of the princess.”

And though Joy has removed herself to the enemy camp, and serves Thaumiel with her whole body and soul, it never at any time occurs to her to mention that Chokhmah and Binah have discovered a way to manipulate history. The compulsion never to reveal this to Thaumiel, directly or even indirectly, runs to the very inner core of all the b’nei elohim, faithful or otherwise.

When the table in the council chamber is restored again to order after the meal and everyone has taken their places, it is Haziel’s turn to state har piece.

Thaumiel is Lord of this world that we call Barbelo. That no one denies, and House Gerash has always been especially devoted to him. And yet the nephilim are not native to Barbelo. Long ago they were grafted in from human stock originating on Earth, where I reign with my newborn daughter Binah. Perhaps this is why House Sala has cast their lots entirely with me, and why the other houses of Barbelo, and even the inhabitants of the city of Salem in the Middle Land have varying degrees of devotion between the two deities. This divided loyalty is tolerable to myself, I can assure you, since I have has always called humans and nephilim the Students, and one of the most important thing a student can learn is how to think, not what to think. But I can also assure you that this state of affairs is not tolerable to Thaumiel. I’m quite certain that he has already begun to make his move to bring this entire world to war, and you will soon discover why he has maneuvered to keep the other four house off balance and at each other’s throats. For he does not call human beings students, but rather slaves. I will not attempt to influence the decision of this council, but I do offer a warning that if you decide to present a united face to House Gerash, that afterward you move with supernatural speed, for Lord Kirodiel will then be presented with no choice but to attempt to conquer each one of the other four houses one at a time. And now I would bid good King Arman Bellon to tell his tale.

Thank you Lady Haziel. Your worlds are weighty and are to be pondered deeply. We here in Rumbek have also played the fool for the arms merchants of House Gerash, despite the formidable water barriers which protect us on three sides, and the Nine Mile Wall which protects us on the fourth. At times during the last century we have campaigned often against the Red Beards and even crossed the Ice to assail House Larund. But for the last twenty years, with only one recent exception, the aforementioned unfortunate incident with Count Zelus, we have been at peace with the rest of Barbelo. That is why when Lord Kirodiel came to me with tidings of House Antero building many portable pontoons designed to bridge the straits north and south of Magodon, I was not panicked into buying the catapults hy was offering to repulse the supposedly immanent attack.

Lord Kirodiel did offer to sell us the prefabricated pontoons, King Arman, but I was never tempted to buy any of them.

So you told me, King Brogan, through your ambassador, and thus we both knew Lord Kirodiel to be a liar. It brought to mind a state visit to the Middle Land I had made some time prior, when I crossed the Ice and passed through Salem to Ganelon and thence to the city of Thaumiel. In Ganelon I saw some of the finest bottom land I have ever seen, better even than the land around Saharad perhaps, with soil so deep and rich it was nearly black, yet there were no crops, save weeds.

The Middle Land has a manufacturing economy now, not a primitive agricultural one like the four monarchies.

Your land is indeed a manufacturing economy, Lord Kirodiel, but it manufactures weapons of war. Solely. Noble ones, let that fact sink in for a moment. Outside 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 on keeping us at each other’s throats.

I will tell you what our economy purchases for us. 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 any one of your servants? A lowly apprentice could rise to attain to my seat on the State Council. Outside of Salem, as you say (but that is now changing) blood counts for nothing in the Middle Land, only ability and loyalty to Thaumiel. We are a theocratic meritocracy.

AURRA (standing)
Not just individuals but kingdoms, too, may form republics after a fashion, Lord Kirodiel.” Sha stands up and raises har voice. “At this time I propose the creation of an entity I choose to call the Union of Kingdoms. Within each individual kingdom, we royals shall maintain our absolute sovereignty. Yet decisions which have an effect outside of our respective borders, such as concluding treaties or going to war, shall be thrashed out in council chamber with every kingdom fairly represented.

BROGAN (standing as well)
I second your proposal, Your Highness. At this moment you may consider House Antero to be joined to House Sala in a Union of Kingdoms precisely as you describe.

After Brogan vows to join Queen Alodra’s new Union of Kingdoms, Arman Bellon announces hyz decision to add the land of the Brown Beards to the Union as well, followed by Belen Larund of the Black Beards, whose conflict with the Queen had accelerated this Council of Royals, and whose assent now at the end completes it.

Lord Kirodiel remains sitting. Hy is perceptive enough to know the White Beards are not and never would be invited into this Union.

KIRODIEL (without looking at anyone)
Review your own history, O privileged ones. Can you remember a single battle between your kingdoms and House Gerash? Or even hearing about one? You cannot, and if you scratch a little deeper you will find that it was not for lack of trying. We clipped your little seedling attacks before they could proceed beyond a simple skirmish and take root. How were we able to do this time after time, you ask? Very simple. House Gerash, you see, always retains the newest and best arms for its own defense.

Yet there are unintended consequences to becoming makers of arms rather than customers. We have a continuous warfighting tradition which you lack. Take extreme care, then, lest your attacks sputter to nought in confusion and your forces become our prisoners.

No doubt your longfathers of old weighed that very thing in their calculations as well. The wise ones refrained from assailing our Republic. The foolish ones made their sorties and were repulsed. So this can be no new warning to you If ever House Gerash should find your so-called Union of Kingdoms standing at cross-purposes to our interests, beware.

Princess Kari Antero stands up then, drawing the diamond sword Dragonthorn from its jewel-encrusted scabbard strapped to her back.

Lord Kirodiel would also do well to remember that the Middle Land is not the only realm which can bring unmatched weaponry to the field of battle!

BROGAN (sharply)
Nay, daughter! Your king now commands you! Stand down and restore the sacred blade to its place!

And the King is very wroth because Kari is the only person allowed to be armed in this chamber, and even that only on a ceremonial basis. A chastened Kari obeys her father the King and stows the diamond blade once more.

KIRODIEL (in a parody of lament)
I begin to wonder for what reason I was really summoned to this Council. To receive threats, and weapons brandished in my face, it seems.

My daughter’s action was rash, but there is some truth to her words. The meaning of the creation of our Union of Kingdoms is that we shall never fight among ourselves again. But that must not be construed to mean we shall never fight again. And there are some mighty ones here who are worth many times their number in Gerash soldiery.

We could have made this a secret Council, and let your people be caught off-guard by a sudden and inexplicable loss of their livelihood. I invited you here for one purpose, Lord Kirodiel. The people of the Middle Land must till their earth again, and make things once more that serve life rather than end it. They will need a huge head start to begin to make the necessary changes before starvation sets in. So you witnessed the creation of the Union of Kingdoms to bring that news to your people in your socalled republic and give them that head start.

Lord Kirodiel has been holding back his mounting anger for the entire duration of the Council. Now hyz wrath is taken off the leash, and hy launches into a long-winded screed against the monarchies of Barbelo that holds nothing back. As hy rants, hy skirts dangerously near to revealing Kari Antero’s awesome secret, yet without actually crossing the line.

As Kirodiel fully anticipates, the Princess rises from her seat and approaches hym with Dragonthorn drawn from its scabbard once more, in open defiance of her father the Red Beard king. The sword is pointed directly at Lord Kirodiel’s heart. So shocking is this sight all the other royals are struck dumb at the spectacle, even Brogan Antero.

When Kari Stronghammer is standing near enough to threaten Kirodiel once more, she speaks again.

Lord Kirodiel must give account for the loved ones each one of us have lost due to his lies!

And she raises Dragonthorn to strike hym. Aliwe Halil, also standing nearby, freezes in the act of filling Lord Kirodiel’s flagon with wine.

King Arman is furious and finds hez tongue first.

Princess Keri Antero, hold! I gave my word to grant Lord Kirodiel safe passage to Rumbek for the purpose of attending this Council, and my word holds firm. Lord Kirodiel of House Gerash shall be sped to the border with all haste, and I swear that no harm shall come to hym! Stand down, daughter! Put away your blade. As your king and father I command you!

Noble ones of the Council, I believe I know precisely what it is that is really disturbing the Antero Princess.

But before the human incarnation of Thaumiel can continue to speak, Kari assails the unarmed yang with Dragonthorn, the legendary blade that, they say, cannot be turned by iron mail nor even the hardest stone.

Instinctively Aliwe Halil brings up a silver platter she is using to carry wine as a pathetic shield to try to protect Lord Kirodiel, knowing full well it will just be demolished by the beautiful diamond blade, perhaps sliced in two along with her arm, but Aliwe’s first impulse is to act in such a way that carries out the stated will of King Arman. But to everyone’s surprise the Dragonthorn shatters against Aliwe’s makeshift silver barrier, and glittering broken diamond shards of the ancient blade fall to the ground at Kari’s feet.

Baron Bayard Sala begins to marvel that this Aliwe girl always seems to be exactly where she needs to be, exactly when she needs to be there. Aliwe replaces Luzea as foremost in his erotic thoughts.

Only Lord Kirodiel finds his voice.

You have been remiss in your education as well as in your duties as priestess, my dear Antero Princess. It seems the ones who instructed you did not mention that when the spell is broken with the loss of your virtue, Dragonthorn becomes nothing more than a diamond in the shape of a blade. Beautiful, yes, harder than anything known, but as brittle as glass! My own body mail would have done as much as that servant’s silver plate.

But far more astonishing to Kari than the destruction of the Dragonthorn blade is Lord Kirodiel suddenly breaking her magic spell of persuasion commanding hym to be forever silent about her seduction of hym once upon a time.

Lord Kirodiel correctly interprets the shock of this development on her face.

Foolish girl, you never had the power to persuade anyone to do your least bidding, and if King Brogan thought to make you believe that so your life might be a little more pleasant as you waxed old in your spinsterhood, then more fool che, for the pretense has led to the undoing of you both!

For no mortal flesh can withstand the pure white fire of Demonstroke and live. Keri is rapidly consumed where she stands as the dragon hovers outside the chamber on great strokes of his articulated wings, harnessed by the dark sorceress will of the mysterious Earthwoman named Joy who now rides upon his shoulders.

It would have been a simple thing for Kirodiel to command Joy to reduce all of the chief Peers of the Land assembled there to piles of ashes, not the least hyz most dangerous foe Princess Khondiel, yet for now Kirodiel has determined that Kari alone should die. In so doing hy shows contempt for King Brogan’s earlier claim that some of the nobles assembled there individually are worth many Gerash soldiers on the field of battle. Lord Kirodiel deems it more important to leave them alive for a time, that their minds might encompass the fullness of hyz triumph and thus fall into despair before he contrives their final end.

Later some of the royals even thought that Lord Kirodiel had done the thing out of a greater kindness, so that Princess Keri would not suffer the penalty of her abomination, and certainly that peculiar tradition of the monarchies filled even Thaumiel with disgust.

With the dragon Demonstroke’s smoking open mouth menacing the royals none dare to stop the hysterically laughing Lord Kirodiel from joining hyz lover Joy on the back of the dragon as both of them make good their escape into the air.

The Great Sea of the West Lands is divided in twain by the peninsula of Magodon, as large as Florida and anchored to the mainland on the west. But sheer cliffs rising as much as four hundred feet guard every approach to Magodon by sea. This natural wall is made of soft sandstone and cannot be scaled by any army. At the foot of these bluffs all around the peninsula lie impassible swamps that would swallow horses and trap the wheels of chariots.

Also none can pass by land around the Sea to the north or the south. There roaring waves run nigh to the very Ice, and oft vast slabs of unstable ice melt and slide into the sea with a great thunder. No permanent road can be carved, no tunnel bored, to permit passage east or west.Thus King Arman had thought Lord Kirodiel to be a big fat liar for suggesting House Antero was preparing to invade Magodon from across the water. For only at the uttermost eastern tip of the peninsula of Magodon can armies pass, but this is guarded by the Nine Mile Wall and also by several small islands bristling with fortified settlements, including the chief city of Rumbek.

So the Bellon capital has long been the main bulwark against any Gerash incursion, protecting not only the Brown Beard’s lands in Magodon and beyond, but also the lands of family Antero and Larund far in the west. As for the other invasion route, assuming House Gerash could subdue House Sala, their army would be stopped by the Wall of God in the east of Haaretz, blocking any further travel east.

So believing there was still much time, most of the nobles who had attended Queen Aurra Sala’s council, including the queen harself, lingered in Rumbek after the Council abruptly ended with Lord Kirodiel and Joy departing on the back of the dragon Demonstroke.

In the immediate aftermath Haziel whisks King Brogan by her avatar to Jelaket, where he begins to organize the immediate deployment of the greater part of the forces of House Antero to ride with all haste to the east to come to the aid of House Bellon. Che does not know how long it will take for hem to return with hez forces, yet Princess Khondiel deems this is the only hope that Rumbek would survive the impending onslaught of House Gerash despite the existence of the Nine Mile Wall.

As for Haziel and Khondiel themselves, they return to their home on Sealiah Island to ensure the Fallen Angels are fully prepared to aid the Brown Beards in the coming war. The general feeling is that of a calm before a storm.