Gerash sailing craft concentrate at nightfall in the three mile-wide gap north of the Isle of Sealiah. The tiny settlement of Surat (including the ferry landing) is taken by commandos and after that many of the new Gerash ships traverse the narrow strait. Five battalions of Gerash troops go ashore unopposed. The boats must be driven well up on the beach to avoid the omnipresent man-eating flora in the waters of the Eastern Sea. Lord Kirodiel’s ships then turn southwest down the Tala Strait toward Rumbek. In this crucial time House Gerash accumulates their forces as quickly as possible so a credible penetration into Bellon territory can be attempted.

At daybreak the southernmost two battalions of the amphibious invasion force link together and march across Sealiah Island. They begin taking the island house-to-house. At first there is little resistance and only scattered bow-shot, but soon the residents of island villages regret surrendering so easily, for the Eyes of Thaumiel carry out Kirodiel’s orders to kill all male Brown Beards on sight.

Meanwhile three other battalions erupt from the beach and cut southwest across the island to join up with the first two. But Khondiel’s Fallen Angels issue forth from the Castle Brys to hit them on their left flank. Princess Khondiel, however, remains in the castle to defend Haziel as har personal guard. All of Sealiah is awake and begins putting up the first real resistance of the war. Movement grinds to a halt as a pitched battle develops along a front that creeps south down the Isle of Sealiah. But the army of House Gerash slowly gains the upper hand by dint of numbers.

In the Tala Strait the defenders of Rumbek answer the incursions with a wall of ships. In this arena alone does House Bellon gain a clear victory. By the end of the first day no Gerash ships are left to threaten Rumbek and the surviving ships are pulled north to defend the beachhead.

On the second day of the war as the fighting draws near, subjects protected in Castle Brys began leaving on foot. Khondiel and Haziel fall in with them, and King Arman assigns a squad to guard them led by the Hashmal Binyiel. But Haziel objects to this protection.

Hashmal, please return to the King. I have Khondiel with me, and the people of House Bellon need you and your yeng far more than we do.

Even so, the King hymself charged me never to depart your side.

And in har presence Binyiel produces the King’s own ring, embossed with the seal of the House of Bellon, which the King used to imprint documents sealed with wax to assure their authenticity. Now to Haziel the Hashmal gives the King’s ring, and Haziel mourns, because sha knows this to be a token of the King’s premonition that hy would not survive the coming attack. But Haziel accepts the ring and also Hashmal Binyiel as a companion.

As they make their way down from the top of Sujelah Hill the road to Mandakar along the west shore of Sealiah falls to the Army of Thaumiel. A massive bridge is sunk by Bellon engineers with black powder as a final defensive measure. But also on this day the Bellon navy prevails in a large sea battle. They win through to demolish Lord Kirodiel’s pontoon bridge and they set fire to hyz remaining ships, thus cutting off the only Gerash line of supply to Sealiah.

The whole north of Sealiah is occupied. Even Kelang is under assault. Only here in the extreme south does Sealiah remain free.

Over the shoulders of Mount Memalek to a seldom-seen natural bridge trudge Khondiel and Haziel, escorted by Hashmal Binyiel and two other officers. They move by secret paths in the wilderness terrain until they have come to the village of Olivus snuggled in the hills along the southern shore.

Hashmal, I am unwarlike, and I am about to swoon from this march. Perhaps I could rest for a while in that cottage hard by.

BINYIEL (approaching the nearest cottage and pounding on the door)
Open in the name of King Arman!

SUBJECT (not looking very happy)
What do you want?

Lodging for these two travelers. They go with the blessing of the King himself.

SUBJECT (irritated)
How much did they pay you to say that, soldier? Do you think in this confusion the ‘blessing of the King’ are the pass words to help yourself to the bounty of any subject of the realm?

So Binyiel produces the King’s ring, and the hospitality of that cottage improves markedly. Haziel and Khondiel are welcomed for the night while the soldiers stand guard outside.

King Arman Bellon stands hyz ground in the walled city of Mandakar as it comes under attack by cruel flaming catapult rounds from the surrounding lands of Sealiah Island that are already captured by Kirodiel. This is the beginning of a merciless siege by fire that would end only when the city loses the battle to put out the flames and succumbs three days later. Meanwhile, at the city of Rumbek on the Isle of Liban, Count Zelus Bellon, ruling the city in the name of the king, learns the enemy suffers a shortage of boats. Hy orders the bridge to Fanon island to be deliberately sunk.

The easy victories of the House of Gerash up to the middle of the fourth day are explained by their fanatical willingness to die for Thaumiel. However the resolve of their Bellon foes stiffens as the slaughter of King Arman’s innocent subjects continue. Faced with no alternative but to die the people make their final stand at Rumbek.

Khondiel and Haziel reach the last unconquered piece of the island of Sealiah. There Rumbek is taking refugees away by boat. Khondiel and Haziel queue up with the rest of the crowd while their personal squad of soldiers join others to hold off the overland Gerash attackers in a desperate fight to win sufficient time for the last refugees to escape.

And now, Lady Haziel, I must spend the remaining moments of my life in disobedience to the strict commandment of the King, and leave your side to win time for you to escape, but I deem it the greater good.

HAZIEL (voice heavy with emotion)
If Thaumiel is defeated, then I will make it up to you one day, Hashmal Binyam!

Hy bows and leaves her then.

Suddenly there is an orange flash, and the boat which is being loaded in front of Khondiel and Haziel catches fire. A catapult round of flaming tar has struck home. Many nephilim, screaming in agony from their burns, desperately dive into the water to quench the flames of the sticky tar that licked their clothes and skin. But they are immediately devoured by the hungry plant life native to Barbelo that lives beneath the waves.

There are six catapults on Sealiah that lob rounds over the heads of the city’s defenders to reach the refugee boats, but in a single moment the six catapults themselves all catch on fire. A streak of rushing fire appears in the sky overhead, followed by two bursts of sound so loud it seems to Khondiel sha would be knocked to the ground. The fire streak, Khondiel can see, forms behind a small dark object that races across the sky almost too quickly to follow. Before sha can point it out to Haziel it is already many leagues away and curving back up higher into the purple skies.

KHONDIEL (after a moment calming harself)
Is that your avatar?

Indeed it is, Khondiel, though I imagine Thaumiel is growing very tired of my interference by now.

Suddenly room in another boat is found to be available for Haziel and Khondiel to step aboard, because many of the people aren’t certain all of the catapults are destroyed, but Khondiel knows Haziel is meticulous in what she sets out to do. The avatar of Chokhmah had already made its appearance at Salem years before, killing twelve Eyes of Thaumiel, yet Thaumiel has long idled his own avatar to carry out the sham of having a dragon under the thumb of the Antero Princess, and all that time Thaumiel could do nothing to avenge the many affronts.

Haziel, for har part, suspects the dragon will make a belated appearance soon in the skies over Rumbek to level the odds, and sha knows that will be a terrible thing to behold, but sha says nothing of this to Khondiel.

In the heavily fortified city of Rumbek, after hours of confusion as the refugees are sorted out, Count Zelus learns that Haziel is bearing the King’s authentic ring. After sha surrenders the ring to hym, Zelus welcomes Khondiel and Haziel into hyz castle.

Haziel realizes the King intended this very thing all along, for the Count would know by this sign that the King wanted hym to rule in his stead. She guesses King Arman to be certainly dead. Count Zelus bids them to stay with him for a few days to see which way the war would turn. For Rumbek is as secure as any place in the West Lands are these days, says hy. No army has ever breached the Nine Mile Wall. The Count has turned the forces at the Nine Mile Wall around such that they are defending the peninsula of Magodon in the event Rumbek falls to Kirodiel’s attack from the east, rather than defending Rumbek from Antero attacks from the west.

In the very chamber where Queen Aurra had convened the Council, the surviving royals meet once more again to speak with Lady Haziel about har offer to whisk the noble ones home again in har avatar, even as many of them had been brought to Rumbek. Baron Kerresh is to be taken west to meet up with the Antero army and take command of the Bellon forces which marched with them. Queen Aurra Sala, her Consort, and Countess Ayani were slated to be taken home to the lands of the Gold Beards, and the queen thinks to take both of her serving girls as well, but Baron Bayard declares that he wills stay behind to aid Count Zelus.

I would ask that the servant wench Aliwe Halil stay with me.

Luzea Cedarbranch howls in greatly dismay because she would be parted from her best friend and lover, possibly forever. Aliwe tries to assure her it would turn out well, which made Luzea feel a little better, but when she is pressed to give a reason for her confidence Aliwe can give none.

AURRA (narrowing har eyes)
Am I to believe my son cannot set aside his…hobby…for the duration of one battle for the life of the Brown Beard capital?

I know what it looks like, my mother and Queen, but the girl has luck bordering on the supernatural.

Seeing Haziel nod, the Queen sighs, and nods har assent as well.

Say what you would have me do in my land, Lady Haziel.

You see the problem, of course, Your Highness. People blindly naturally gather themselves into large settlements, driven by simple economics. After that, they attempt to protect their cities with walls, but walls are no defense against the avatar of Thaumiel and stone dwellings are no protection from his dragon. The solution is as obvious as it is simple, but it will require a mighty hand and much time to overcome thousands of years of tradition. Instead of a few large cities and towns dotting the land, the people of House Sala must live in many small settlements with no more than fifty souls, spread evenly across the land as well as hidden under the land, with leagues upon leagues between each one.

Such a drastic change! Is there no alternative?

None for House Sala, since only a single ice bridge stands between your land and the invading armies of House Gerash. And there are forces that can overthrow an entire city of stone in a single moment when yeng learn to harness them, as they must someday. When that time comes, only a decentralized House Sala will be able to withstand them. At that time attacking you will be like trying to dig a hole in a lake of water.

And so the queen and her entourage embark for Saharad after many tears of parting between Luzea and Aliwe. The avatar then whisks back to Rumbek with certain officers of House Sala possessing skills uniquely honed to fend off attacks such as the one presented now by Lord Kirodiel.

Of the Red Beards, Count Berek, hyz wife Losna, and Baron Priam remain in Rumbek to aid House Bellon, but at the Count’s request hyz wife Losna is taken by the avatar of Chokhmah to Gerazan. Raddai the Bold, Count of Belen, remains behind to help defend the city, and despite the extreme danger Lady Irus stays behind with hym. But the rest of the Black Beard contingent go home with King Garand in Chokhmah’s avatar.

For a number of days Lord Kirodiel completely bypasses the hard target of Rumbek. Hyz army destroys the villages of Teal and Olivus, then fans out through all the surrounding hills. By the end of the third day the city of Mandakar lies in smoking ruins, and the entirety of Sealiah Island lies under the boots of the invading House Gerash.

At Mandakar the Gerash forces roll forward a prefabricated bridge and swung it out on a pivot to connect Fanon Island to Sealiah Island once more. Supported by many small boats the bridge swings across during a lull in the naval engagement when the forces of Rumbek have pulled back many ships to reduce the alarming losses from Gerash suicide commando swimming parties. The bridges from Fanon Island to Krone Island, and also to the main city on Liban Island, are preemptively sunk by Count Zelus to limit their losses.

This new intensity in Gerash violence is a set piece put on for High Lord Patriarch Kirodiel, who is now physically present on the battlefront rather than leading from behind as is often hyz preference. Khondiel stands long atop the ramparts of the walls of the city of Rumbek, and it is apparent to har that House Gerash is steadily gaining the advantage against House Bellon by sheer dint of numbers, and the hate by which the Gerash warriors flung themselves into battle. So Khondiel bids Haziel to immediately journey with har west beyond the Nine Mile Wall while the route is still clear.

I perceive the siege of Rumbek will soon grow strait, and the Brown Beard navy will be tasked to defend the city itself, letting the invincible Nine Mile Wall, undefeated in war, defend the rest of Magodon. But should Rumbek fall and Lord Kirodiel besiege the wall, none will then find their way through it, be they friend or foe.

Haziel agrees with Khondiel. Sha asks leave of Count Zelus Bellon, which hy grants with great deference, and sha leaves with a few words.

King Arman is surely dead, or captured, as you have surely guessed, and that is a grievous loss, my Lord, and if we had time I would mourn with you and the people as is fitting. Yet King Arman’s sacrifice is not wholly in vain, I deem. The house of Bellon does not stand against Gerash alone, and the king may have won for you the time you needed for the house of Antero to march to your aid from the west.

I thank you for the spirit in which you intend to say these words to me, Lady Haziel, but if Rumbek is destined for a dark and bloody fate, I consider it my duty to share in that fate full-willing, and it pains me to say so, but false words of hope are worse than none at all, I deem.

Count Zelus, I would never throw you a line of hope and then fail to tie off my end. Little do you know of my labors to bring hither aid from House Bellon. If Rumbek can hold out for yet a little while more, then High Lord Patriarch Kirodiel Gerash may find hy has stepped into a trap. Then all who crave peace might win through to the day when King Arman is laid to rest in honor, and you are crowned king in this city. Farewell!

Princess Khondiel has judged well the time of their departure. Mere hours after sha and Haziel depart Rumbek and take the bridge to the narrow strip of land at the foot of the Nine Mile Wall, the Brown Beard navy rallies all their ships around the Isle Liban. This leaves Lord Kirodiel free to pull all hyz troops off Sealiah except those directly involved in the Rumbek siege, and those troops are ferried across the channel to the bench of land nigh to the Wall almost on the very heels of Haziel and Khondiel.

The beautiful dwellings and public buildings of Krone Island, isolated now from Liban, are burned to the ground in a blaze kindled by Lord Kirodiel hymself. After the fire consumes everything and the flame abates, Kirodiel scatters the embers in the sight of the defenders of Rumbek looking on from across the strait and hy also sprinkles the ground with salt.

KIRODIEL (in a loud voice)
Even so shall Rumbek be wasted utterly.

And the hearts of the folk of Rumbek fall.

The peninsula of Magodon is ringed on three sides by cliffs of sandstone which rise from the sea some four hundred feet, but at the Nine Mile Wall yeng erected masonry that made that tall cliff purely vertical, slotted in many places with holes for observation and to shoot arrows or pour boiling liquids. The wall is higher than the face of the cliff, so that it could face west as well as east, as the need might be. Between the face of the wall and the face of the natural cliff which it encloses are many platforms and stairs and catacombs filled with weapons for the bane of besieging armies and stores to supply defenders for many days of battle.

When Princess Khondiel and Lady Haziel are admitted through the Wall they climb many steps and ramps until they arrive on the plateau of Magodon at the top, where they behold the banners and ranks of countless troops from the House of Antero. Then Haziel knows har long labors have born fruit. For sha has kept har avatar at a remove lest Kirodiel force the tangle with hyz dragon too early, and so Haziel did not known of the presence of the Red Beards until sha saw the host with har own eyes.

Bellon troops who are rallying to the aid of Rumbek from across the land of the Brown Beards have also come to the city with the forces of the House of Antero. Already many of these are filling positions on the Nine Mile Wall to turn back the Gerash invaders.

But there in the sight of everyone under arms Demonstroke arrives on the east wind. The flying beast releases from its left claw something resembling a star that falls from the sky burning like a torch, and it strikes the ground near the center of the Nine Mile Wall with great violence, such that it digs a deep pit therein.

And Demonstroke releases from its right claw another projectile that falls directly into this new pit, and there follows a blast under the ground of such a magnitude as had not been seen on Barbelo since the fall of the asteroid that brought the world flood, and never in living memory.

The bottom half of the Nine Mile Wall nigh to Rumbek blows straight out, and the masonry of the Wall above the blast collapses in ruin, and in place of a sheer wall there is now a ramp of sand, but many besieging Gerash troops also die, or are buried alive by the debris. Lord Kirodiel pays no mind to hyz own casualties. Hy commands hyz remaining generals to charge up that ramp with their divisions to the Magodon plateau above, and they immediately began to comply.

Then Demonstroke himself drops from the sky and crashes to the battle plain behind the wall, and smoke rises from its black carcass like the smoke of a great furnace, and the orange sun is darkened by reason of the smoke. And the dragon rises again out of the smoke glittering with black armor as smooth as glass, and its teeth are rockets which are loosed against yeng, and the sound of its wings are like a great waterfall. And Demonstroke has a flexible tail like a scorpion, and there is a gun in that tail which kills yeng with rounds as thick as a thumb. Demonstroke descends among the ordered ranks of the allied families like a storm, killing yeng at will, and scatters them in disorder before they can make a counter-charge down the new ramp in the Nine Mile Wall.

HAZIEL (squeezing Khondiel’s hand)
Alas, our enemy Kirodiel is come.

And Haziel knows the dragon has the power to snatch har victory away when sha is on the very cusp of attaining it, and that was reason enough to summon har own avatar, but sha finds that neither victory nor defeat means much to har now. A new thing has come to dominate Haziel’s mind. When sha looks upon Khondiel it is as though seeing har for the very first time. Haziel finds that Khondiel has suddenly become the most important thing in creation to har, and sha is desperate to get Khondiel away from the field of battle. A living star has fallen in love with a planet-dweller.

Demonstroke alights near High Lord Patriarch Kirodiel Gerash on the battle plain. Joy and Lord Kirodiel dismount from the beast. They come before the Gerash Patriarch, who bows to Lord Kirodiel deeply. After hy pays obeisance the three of them witness the avatar of Chokhmah also landing on the plateau of Magodon close to them.

Destroy the avatar of Chokhmah immediately!

Joy bows her head in deference and runs back toward the waiting dragon.

Speak plainly to me now, Haziel. What do you want me to do?

My avatar will take you far away from this place. I want you to go. No, I need you to go. Something happened to me just now. Khondiel, you are now the most important thing in heaven or Earth or Barbelo to me.

If I leave in your avatar, House Bellon and House Antero will have no defense against the dragon. Forget about me, Haziel!

But Haziel recalls Khondiel’s own words at the Battle of Salem when sha saw har naked in a cage and Haziel told Khondiel to forget about har. Haziel repeats the words again for Khondiel now, tearfully.

Don’t you know by now that’s the one thing I can never do?

And Khondiel openly weeps, because for the first time sha knows har undying love for Haziel is truly being reciprocated at last, and they are mostly tears of happiness.

All those things I preached about love were really just so much straw, because I didn’t know what love really meant until now, neither as Haziel nor as Chokhmah, nor as both, neither as nephil nor living star.

Khondiel still wants to protest, but sha can see the dragon is now rising above the battle plain, and sha can see that Haziel desperately needs har to do this thing. So sha kisses Haziel and climbs inside the avatar like sha has done many times before.

The avatar of Chokhmah leaps in to the sky with fire and smoke and noise, and Khondiel, pressed against the rear hatch, feels harself to be too heavy to move. Once again sha is deeply terrified, which is an extraordinary thing, for Khondiel leads the Fallen Angels. But har terror is not rooted in har own personal safety. Khondiel is afraid that the love that has been acknowledged at last by Haziel will never take root and flourish. Such a good thing! And it wasn’t going to happen. No. Khondiel knows that now.

Demonstroke lumbers into the sky after har and smites the avatar with a white flame directly from the heart of the orange sun, a flame that pours from its open mouth, and the avatar is destroyed, which is no small feat, for it had been made deep in the belly of Sol. And Princess Khondiel, riding inside, instantly dies and is lost forever to Haziel. Thaumiel feels the fold-line that once linked Chokhmah to the avatar retract through the fold-door that he keeps open in his capital city, never to return again.

In that very moment Haziel knows Khondiel is dead, and the world seems to turn empty and gray to har. There is no possible path to change time and save Khondiel. Haziel refuses to speak a word until long afterwards, for sha is utterly lost in har grief. In a daze, sha falls in among the forces of House Antero as they return to the west, fighting (along with the stragglers of Bellon) a fierce rear-guard action against Lord Kirodiel.

Joy flies the dragon back to Kirodiel, who praises her for removing the thorn of Chokhmah’s ancient avatar from Barbelo, but hy also laments.

It will be such a small thing for Chokhmah to enlarge his link with the avatar of Binah and cause the seed of a new avatars to pass through it and unwrap, and thus attempt to hinder me on Barbelo yet again.

And Joy is astonished, because she discerns that Kirodiel does not know a certain thing that she is free to reveal.

It may please the Lord to learn that since the conception of Binah, Chokhmah is no longer free to construct an avatar within his body, nor may Binah construct an avatar within hers, for the life of both elohim share a single sun, and to build an avatar now within this shared sun would kill one and perhaps also the other.

Haziel stumbles west with the defeated forces of House Antero, Bellon and a regiment of Fallen Angels for days before sha shakes off har own self-pity over the loss of har precious Khondiel and realizes there are injured people around har who need the knowledge and skills of a healer. So sha begins to carry har own freight long before reaching the first major Antero city of Jelaket. As Haziel walks without the benefit of riding in har avatar or even on horseback sha learns directly in the muscles of har legs and in the soles of har feet what a large planet Barbelo truly is.

Baron Bayard Sala tells hyz serving wench Aliwe Halil to walk close to Lady Haziel and that har smallest whims are to be taken as direct commands. The two seem to quickly develop a language of their own and speak of many things that are incomprehensible to the Baron when hy happens to catch a word or two, tales of swarms and moons, of things called micros and other things called macros. And after Aliwe’s first words with har the Baron and soon everyone else notices that Haziel has begun to smile again and seems TC1J8-RUMBEK

to shed all vestiges of har grief at last.

The forces of House Antero has horses, yet they use them only as beasts of burden to carry supplies, and the yeng walk beside their horses that they might stay and protect Haziel. Baron Priam Antero had fallen in battle, but King Brogan and Count Berek yet live.

None of the House of Larund walk with them save Lady Irus, for har husband Count Raddai had also fallen at the Nine Mile Wall, yet sha never shows the level of grief that afflicted Haziel when Khondiel died. For Irus and har husband had freely come to aid the Brown Beards, and when sha saw Raddai consumed by the fire of the dragon har heart was salved against the pain of losing him with the pride of knowing hy fell after a most valiant stand.

At Jelaket the ranks of the stragglers begin to thin, but the rest press on across the heart of the West Lands to the Antero capital of Vaska. As they draw near the subjects of King Brogan send trains of supplies to aid their march, including many horses, for Jelaket has none, having sent nearly all of them with the forces that had come to aid Rumbek.

In Vaska when King Brogan and Count Berek have been welcomed home by the people of the city, Haziel is bid by the king to stay and rest for as long as sha would like. But Brogan laments the faithlessness of hyz daughter Keri, which had brought all of this grief down upon them.

Or so Thaumiel would have you believe, Your Highness. Thaumiel takes pleasure in turning the things we love against us, King Brogan. In time the shame you feel over your daughter will be transformed into anger against Thaumiel. And after that, perhaps your anger will be transformed once more, but into pity. For Thaumiel is well embarked on a path toward his own dissolution and is indeed to be pitied. Great has been his fall heretofore, and greater still the depths he has yet to fall. Thaumiel might succeed in gaining direct control of all of Barbelo one day, but the one who controls the world, whatever it is, will not be of the elohim or anything like us.”

Then what do you council for House Antero?

House Antero is unfortunately in a most precarious position, for there exists no natural barrier except distance between your city of Jelaket and downfallen Elketz in Magodon. Next year Lord Kirodiel will arrive here demanding tribute. Hy will begin to build garrisons throughout your land and Demonstroke will darken your skies to protect them. Behind him will be the combined might of House Gerash and House Bellon in a newly-doubled army of Thaumiel. You have no hope of succeeding if you offer resistance. So I council that you do not resist. Pay the tribute to Kirodiel.

And the honor of the Red Beards will never be retrieved again.

Yes, King Brogan, that is true. But in return, you will preserve the lives of your people and the lives of House Larund beyond yours. You will find that the Law of Thaumiel has prepared the White Beards to assail any resistance until it breaks, but after it breaks this law flounders, and when presented by no resistance at all, the death culture it fosters slips into the inactivity of confusion, which is why we were not pursued after the war. You see, the one thing Thaumiel cannot teach the people to do is to simply live.

Then we will pay tribute. And yet, Lady Haziel, there remain tokens of the shame of House Antero I can no longer bear to have in my keeping.

The King unrolls a rich black cloth on hyz table so Haziel can behold the glittering broken shards of Dragonthorn.

Take these far away from my kingdom, I beg you.

It will be as you say, King Brogan.

After a month in the house of the king, Haziel and har dwindling group ride to Gerazan to winter over. Then together with Aliwe, Lady Irus, Baron Bayard, and a brigade of Fallen Angels, Haziel crosses the ice bridge that leads from the far west of the West Lands to the far east of the East Lands. They are almost precisely on the other side of Barbelo from Thaumiel’s capital city in the center of the Middle Lands. For all their journey they are never assailed by Demonstroke as Haziel feared they would be. Thaumiel had essentially forgotten all about Haziel.

Harvest time is unusually warm and Haziel is in good spirits as they come down off from the ice to the outskirts of Belen. Here is the source of the River Bandar, emerging from the face of a melting glacier. Every hour a portion of the ice melts, releasing a boulder, sometimes the size of a house, into the vale below. But the stream is too wild to run in a raft. The journey, by necessity, remains by foot, parallel to the river.

At length, Haziel’s group arrives in the city of Locotin in the center of the Black Beard lands. They have come to the end of their walking travels. Lady Irus commissions a barge and floats with Haziel down the River Bandar to the capital city of Peshast, where the people marvel to see the wife of Count Raddai returning from a battle beyond the end of the world.

House Larund has the best disposition of those who oppose Kirodiel. You have flown in my avatar, King Garand, so you know Barbelo is in the shape of a ball, and the lands of House Larund are furthest from the Middle Lands. On the west you are protected by a great natural wall. On the east are two ice bridges and a friendly House. I do not think you will be subject to invasion, but for a time, I believe you might face raids from the dragon controlled by Joy. Therefore I council that you convert all the dwellings in the land of the Black Beards into houses of stone.

Your counsel is good, Lady Haziel. You have traveled far. I offer a wing of the castle to be a home for yourself and your Fallen Angels to abide here in Peshast. Many of our people have assigned their loyalties to Chokhmah rather than Thaumiel, much as House Sala has done and here you would have much to teach and do. Your reputation as a healer is well-known.

I thank you deeply for your offer, King Garand, and indeed I will avail myself of it for a little while. But Peshast will not be my final home. My daughter has summoned a woman of the b’nei elohim named Victoria to come to our aid, and I must wait here until she arrives.