TCA

There was a thing Daughter already knew how to do when she came into existence: she could send pieces of herself out of her body. These fragments were like hot liquid raindrops, yet each one was as heavy as a stone temple. In the void surrounding Daughter they expanded and cooled, becoming large frozen shapes which flew free of Daughter’s body, yet each shape remained connected to her by a thread which none could see. Not even Daughter herself with her surrogate eyes within the shapes could see this thread.

Daughter saw her body was a globe of light, and her surface was covered in jets and loops of flame which erupted into the void. In the distance she saw countless others of her kind, but they were so dim that Daughter, who saw the way her own light faded with distance, marveled how far across the void they truly were.

Daughter also saw other points of light, much closer, that reflected the light that she herself made. She slightly fattened the link to one of her tools and let hot plasma flow through it. This plasma then escaped into the void and caused the tool to move. As it responded to Daughter’s will she lived through the tool vicariously, as though her body was free to move through the void. It had become a manifestation in molecular chemistry of her nuclear chemistry self.

One of the lights lay at a distance a hundred-fold greater than the width of the Daughter’s body. Her avatar dropped below the cloud layer and cooled off in a world-girdling expanse of water. When the avatar emerged from the ocean it crossed over a land thickly covered with green trees. As she plowed through the vegetation Daughter observed frightened apes fleeing over the ground using all four limbs to move.

Her avatar arced through the void and reached a grassy plain with a single mountain dominating it. Here Daughter saw another group of apes that walked erect. She changed her shape to watch. Hidden from their notice as a white rock, Daughter observed a burial ceremony for a newly dead hunter. Afterwards the apes polished elaborate bone tools with stone tools and repaired the animal hides they slept within during the hunt.

At night the apes entered a cave and a tendril from the avatar of Daughter snaked in to watch them. She saw a female ape apply pigment to the wall to produce a beautiful painting. Daughter also saw resin boiling in a pot over a fire. This resin was then used to fix a stone spearhead to a shaft for hunting.

Her parents nothing about the creatures Daughter found. After a time she said, “It would be a small thing for me to reach one of the other suns and speak to him.”

Father said, “No, Daughter, the link to your avatar will grow too thin to be useful as a conduit for matter when it has reached the distance light travels in the time this inhabited world you discovered makes one full revolution. You could begin such a crossing but you could never stop. We rule our own near vicinity absolutely, but we can reach no further. If it were not so, even now I would be preparing to cross the void and destroy all of these living creatures you have discovered with fire from my own belly.”

Daughter said, “Help me to understand, Father. Do you really wish to destroy them? Something within me says these strange living things are not our enemies.”

Father replied, “Even if they are not dangerous to us now, they could become our mortal enemies in the future. We have found many worlds with life of similar kind, but the tool-making creatures you have discovered are unique. They are potentially dangerous to us because they are fully awake, even as we are, guided by their own will rather than by their nature. Given time, nothing would restrain such ones. ”

She said, “Certainly these creatures are intelligent. Does that not make them something to be treasured by our kind for their very likeness to us, and not merely cast away?”

Father replied, “If these creatures learn the lore of the Elohim nothing shall hinder them from doing whatsoever comes into their mind to do. How can they be good students if they prove to be unfaithful servants? The risk to our kind is too great. Not immediately, perhaps, but certainly in the future. I can do nothing but block your announcement. Your mother is in full agreement. But this does not give us pleasure, Daughter.”

Daughter said, “It may be true that I cannot halt my avatar at another star, but certainly information is not so constrained. When my avatar reaches a nearby star I can speak to him in a quiet place, directly, and speak of the creatures I found circling me.”

Father was dismayed how Daughter, without recourse to the lore of the Watchers, knew a sun’s own body filled the void with noise, yet there remained silent regions where even creatures such as the ones she had found could make themselves heard.

Father said, “You are too young to understand the responsibility that has been thrust upon you by your misfortune of finding these creatures. You have not yet been granted access to the city of stars. It is the way of our kind to introduce our young to the other Elohim in stages, after they have developed a stable personality. But after this exchange I judge you are now ready for this and therefore I will announce your own birth to the other Elohim. But you must be willing to accept two conditions. The first is you must send some of these clever animals you have found to a world circling myself, that I may examine whether they are amenable to our control. The second condition is that you shall only listen to the chatter of the stars. You shall not ask of them the smallest question. You shall not speak to them of these creatures nor any other thing, until I myself announce the existence of these creatures. Our highest law will bind you to this Covenant.”

To these conditions, Daughter reluctantly agreed. So Daughter entered into a covenant with Father to speak no words to the Elohim, and to bring a male and a female of these creatures to Kemen for a time of testing before allowing them to set aside their servitude and embrace the Elohim as teachers.

When she had carried out the letter of the agreement, and even threw in an infant human for free, the avatar of Father joined Daughter as she looked down upon the new garden. And she said, “Here are the servants, as I vowed, brought within reach of your avatar to do with them as you will.”

But Father said, ‘All you have given me is three creatures in a world that will kill them if they try to leave their little farm. You must bring to Kemen forty more such families before I will hold our covenant to be fulfilled.”

There is no native fauna in Kemen but some of the flora moved of its own accord and most of it was dangerous. A whipping tree can render a man down to a pile of broken bones and bloody flesh in a few heartbeats. Some of the leaves formed clenching mouths with teeth. Thorny ball bushes rolled under their own power by shifting their weight and selectively gripping the ground. Most plants were deadly to touch. Daughter and Father toiled together to plant several dozen gardens in Kemen and populate them with wayward couples brought from Earth through a shortcut in reality that any two Elohim could establish. The first children to be born away from Earth came to be. But many of the colonists brought to Kemen died long before the span alloted to them, all killed by the hostile flora. Later, beginning in the first garden, the colonists even began to kill each other.

Daughter refused to watch Father’s response to the first murder in Kemen. She returned to the tunnel in the Garden wall, and thence to the hillside cave on Earth where the first colonists were taken. Daughter did not return within the lifetimes of Adamu, Chava, Kayin, nor any of their children.

Father soon joined Daughter atop the high hill and said, “How very instructive of world-dwellers, would you not agree?”

Daughter said in reply, “In the other gardens you have made changes to their bodies which persist in their offspring. Your testing in Kemen is no longer pure. It has little bearing on the original stock here on Earth.”

Father said, “Yet after the killing today it is clear to me your precious creatures will destroy themselves and leave nothing but ruins, both on Kemen and on Earth. Neither Kayin nor Hebel were changed as you rightly note I have done in some of the other gardens, yet Hebel now lies dead at the hands of Kayin.”

Daughter said, “You would raise up thralls who hasten their own extinction, but here on my own world I will teach them to live together and survive. In this I know I will have their willing participation, while in Kemen I foretell you will only heap to yourself the resentment of your slaves.”

Father said, “I have given thought to their survival on Kemen, notwithstanding your accusation. The changes I have introduced will, over the course of time, make the males far more mighty of frame and sinew, and the females far more fertile and desirous to the eye. Now lower your center of gravity, daughter, it is unbecoming a goddess to have her avatar fall on its face. And do not forget you must never make targeted queries of the Elohim.”

Daughter did as her father suggested and seated her avatar upon the summit of a small mountain which overlooked a vast plain in the middle of one of the larger landmasses of Earth.

Father seated himself next to his daughter and for a moment they remained silent and simply took in the view. “I envy you this world,” he told her after a time. “How very much unlike Kemen with its narrow unfrozen band.”

But Daughter made no answer, for she was already in contact with the City of Stars. As Father had cautioned her, it was overwhelming. For many years her silent white avatar sat motionless atop the mountain as the seasons changed, as winds buffeted her and snows blanketed her.

Daughter learned how once there existed aquatic creatures who adapted to cross land when an ice age reduced their world ocean to scattered lakes. The Elohim were delighted to find the universe looking at itself through other eyes. But the energies unleashed by the creatures hastened the end of the glacial period that made them tool-users and they slowly reverted to silent ocean-dwellers once more. Collectively the Elohim vowed they would not sit idly by as similar creatures brought about their own extinction.

But Daughter’s discovery of humans would unleash scrutiny that Father was not prepared to endure. From the moment Daughter had spoken of them Father knew he must immediately tempt her mother Belial into the same transgression as his own to maintain his coverup.

The act of giving birth changed an eloah from female to male. As the ages rolled on the ratio of males to females only grew worse, and courting became ripe for abuse. The only way for an eloah to speak with others was through two umbilical cords that always connected to her parents, and through them to their parents, and so on. But this could be abused. Individual living suns could be entirely sealed off from the greater community of elohim. Two male elohim could set up a secret harem and take turns mating with each other’s offspring. Among the Elohim this was called the Forbidden Way.

Mother’s own mother Hod had been one such trapped female. Hod was granted full contact with the city of stars in return for mating with Father, but there was a covenant of silence in force, and breaking a covenant was considered a greater crime than even the Forbidden Way. Yet if Hod only knew of it, he would not hesitate to announce Daughter’s discovery of the humans to the city of stars as a certain way to bring about the investigation, judgment and death of Father.

Elyon found the sole path out of his self-inflicted trap. Belial was an orange sun very near to the Earth, as the gaps between suns go. Chesed was another such orange sun, somewhat further away. Father arranged their liaison. In the mating eight ripples flew out into the void. It took nine years for the first ripple from Chesed to reach a wild yellow sun and quicken into a living and conscious being. The second ripple from Chesed arrived a month later. But Netzach was already well along in becoming the newest female member of the Watchers, so the ripple did not tarry. Instead, it continued on until reached a very small red sun and began to quicken life there.

This sun and two others beyond it were too cool. The three red suns formed a trap for the six remaining generative sphere-waves. They repeatedly quickened into newborn elohim, only to result in a stillbirth soon after. At the end of the mating Chesed, the mother of Netzach, had become forever male. And Belial, having succumbed to the Forbidden Way, allied with Elyon in maintaining the secret.

From old the creatures discovered by Daughter looked into the night sky and saw a faint white band. They called it the Backbone of the Night. Daughter was confident that one day humans would fashioned certain instruments and they would see the mist was really innumerable stars.

Two-thirds of these stars are much more cool and dim than yellowish Daughter and Father and Netzach, or even than orange Belial and Chesed. They contained no stable layer within for a sentient eloah to form, yet they could host species of life more primitive than the elohim.

A distant ancestor of the Elohim diverged into three species. One adapted to the much cooler red stars and even colonized the ubiquitous warm brown stars that burn, ever so dimly, under a different principle than do the visible stars that shine much more brightly.

A second species became adapted for the brighter types of red stars. By necessity they reproduced prodigiously, since a large flare would kill them on the time scale of a few decades. A third species adapted to claim the more stable habitats of the hotter suns.

With much longer lifespans, this third species developed full sentience and, ultimately, established a community. These are the Elohim and the oldest surviving member, whom the B’nei Elohim named Yefefiah, is over 980,000 years of age.

And Daughter, filled now with the lore of the Elohim and noting the appearance of a newborn half-sister, thought to herself, “My own parents have become enemies not only of myself, but enemies of our whole kind. They have fallen into the Forbidden Way, and now they will strive to hide the Students, or even to destroy them if they can contrive it.” And this she vowed to oppose at every turn.

Daughter had been overwhelmed by sudden access to the chatter of the City of Stars, even as her father had warned, but over time she learned to separate her identity from the truly endless stream of information. Atop the mountain her avatar stirred to action once more.

When Daughter returned to full awareness she saw the avatar of her father waiting for her on the summit. She stood her own avatar up on its feet and said, “You are revealed as a liar, Father. This is not a research project, it is merely part of your illegal harem! You have no intention of announcing their existence to the Elohim, no matter how they behave. In fact, you are toiling to ensure they present themselves in the worst light possible, in the event the Elohim do find out about them, that you might defend your coverup and have grounds to destroy them out of hand.”

Elyon did not deny any of the accusations that Daughter hurled at him. He only restated there was a covenant and Daughter must abide by the terms.

She said, “Have no fear that I will break our covenant, for I will do what my own parents could not, and obey every law and custom of our kind. You and mother have fallen into the Forbidden Way, and how ver shortsighted of you. And how very unfortunate for you the long-foreseen Students have appeared in this place and time. You know that one day these creatures which I have found will make such a noise that every Watcher will hear them, and wonder how they could have evaded detection in the very heart of the City of Stars. Many Elohim will question why the native sun of these creatures remains unquickened, or if it is quickened why does it remains unannounced? That, all by itself, with no breach on my part, will begin to unravel your transgression here. And that is what you should fear.”

“It will never come to that, daughter. While you were immersed in the chatter of of the Elohim this world made just two circles around yourself, but on Kemen there was yet another killing. It is clear your precious woken creatures will destroy themselves and leave nothing but ruins.”

Daughter replied, “On your colony you would only raise up thralls who work to hasten their own extinction. As for me, I will teach my students to survive.”

Elyon said, “And you can only fail, since you, as covenanted, must only listen to the Elohin as an outsider while I can make queries. This gives me a perpetual advantage over you.”

But Daughter did not despair. Vowing to preserve the sentient creatures she found, Daughter knew she would have the willing participation of those she called the Students, while Mother and Father would only heap to themselves the resentment of their slaves.

As time went on, the changes Father bred into some of the colonists made them sufficiently distinct that one time could no longer really be confused with the original human stock. These were the elyonim. They stood two feet taller than men, and each individual possessed two genitalia rather than one. But the species had not really diverged. Elyonim could mate with humans, and their offspring, called nephilim, where entirely fertile. Nephilim stood only a foot taller than men, but they, like the elyonim, had two genitals. Where they differed from the elyonim was that their genitals were always one of each.

Father was considered the god of the elyonim, so he was called of them by the name of Elyon. And Mother was called Belial, the goddess of wrath. Daughter, too, took on a name among the people of Keman, and was known simply as Bat-El, literally the daughter of God.

Every century a rock the size of a mountain smote Kemen with enough force to lay waste to an entire kingdom. In the main these collisions went unnoticed. Most strikes occurred on the ice sheets that covered the vast majority of the surface of Kemen. But if a rock struck the narrow equatorial band it would rain for many days, then freeze, and cover all Kemen in ice for a generation. Only plants that could spore would survive.

Elyon commanded they construct ships and stock them with enough food to preserve their lives and those of their animals during the coming catastrophe. But few heeded the oracles of Elyon. Only in Adan was there built any ships. Scoffers amused themselves until the day a dazzling blue-white light was seen over the southern ice and rain began to fall in nearly unbroken sheets.

Forty days and nights it rained scalding water until the ships were lifted off their blocks and carried by winds and currents east to scattered points around the belt of Kemen. Then the rain cooled and began to fall as snow. The ships slowly came to a frozen stop.

Then Bat-El waxed wroth at both of her parents. She said, “It would have been a small thing for one of you to prevent the object from striking Kemen yet you let it come, for no good purpose. Nought that goes on two or four legs lives outside of the ships!”

Elyon said, “The purpose is manifest. You saw how the faithfulness of the world-dwellers burns like kindling but then quickly becomes unbelief.”

Bat-El wondered aloud, “Why must the world-dwellers conform to the will of the Elohim to demonstrate their uprightness?”

Elyon replied, “If you cannot discern that we are as high above these creatures on the Chain of Being as they are above the things they cultivate for food, then granting you access to the City of Stars was clearly just a waste of time.”

Bat-El said, “I have time to waste. In due time even we Watchers will be surpassed by the world-dwellers I have found.”

“In Kemen at least they will not have the time to overtake the Elohim. I will give no warning of the next great deluge and they will all perish.”

“Father, seven Adanite ships give testimony that the world dwellers can remain faithful to your decrees.”

But Elyon said, “The Adanites remain loyal to me only because I speak to them directly from time to time. Were I to turn away from them for a short span, they would rapidly fall into unbelief and contempt for the Elohim.”

Bat-El said, “Your familiarity has led them to see you as a mere chieftain, not a god. I propose a test. Release to me a colonist to raise up a people to me on Earth while I remain aloof.”

“That would be a good test, daughter, and I will accept your demand, but have patience! It could be centuries before the Adanites fully recover from the Deluge.”

Bat-El named this testing the Second Covenant. She knew there would be no unannounced rocks from the sky until it was done.

She also knew that when the plants and animals of Heaven and Earth multiplied, their offspring were of like kind, but not so alike as to be identical, and this was proper, as conditions on both worlds were always changing, and life must change to meet this. This was built in to the fundamental principles of life.

Bat-El sought to create a living avatar, but the attributes she specified had never been fastened upon by any living thing because such changes, such as the ability to override pain, undermined that organism’s ability to compete with others in a shared environment. The possible changes were also constrained by Bat-El’s desire to have them manifested by the living activity of the subject, once triggered, and to have the changes breed true in the subject’s offspring.

Bat-El gnawed away at the problem of creating a living avatar for eight hundred years following the Great Deluge. She used animals similar to humans to guide her inquiries, before arriving at a procedure that could reliably prepare a world-dweller for something akin to union with an eloah.

When all was in readiness Bat-El flew her avatar to the city of Salem far in the west of the lands held by the Adanites along the narrown unfrozen ribbon that circled the girth of Kemen.

Outside of Salem’s stone walls the angels of the city rejoiced over a record harvest. But as the celebration of Hellberry Days reached a fevered pace something the size of an engine of war descended on blue flame heralded only by a terrifying roar that scattered the crowd.

The first Salemite to return to the pavilion was not a soldier of the warrior caste nor one of the elders of the council, but a mere child. Yet this dirk proved more valiant than the adult angels who ran away. Curiosity had overcome his fear, and it so happened that Bat-El was selecting for curiosity.

The blast of the descent uprooted the fabric of the pavilion tent and blew it far away. The young lan stood his ground, albeit at some distance. He was curious about the object, but not eager to be burned. A loud voice then rang out from the avatar of Bat-El:

Bat-El said, “Adanite child, if you are willing, draw nearer.”

The dirk obeyed. He saw how by resting on six legs the avatar of Bat-El remained shoulder high above the ground. Underneath the central pillar a round hatch dropped open on a hinge and inside this hatch were steps.

Bat-El said, “If it seems good to you, child, come inside.”

The dirk squeezed between two of the six white legs to look inside the hatch. The central pillar was hollow. There was much light within, and also many ribs embedded in the interior wall forming circular edges to be grasped. As the dirk crawled inside the central core the voice requested his name.

“I am Michael, son of Jophiel the glassblower,” he said, and noted how the hatch below closed of its own accord. He climbed until the core flared out into a larger space with cushions and windows. Looking outside from there, the dirk saw only a handful of elyonim daring to draw near.

“Do not be afraid, Michael. I am Bat-El, coeval with Elyon and Belial. I have much to tell you, but only with your freely-given consent. If you withdraw now, your life shall resume as before. If you tarry, I shall bear you to a far land. The journey will be quick and safe, but the passage would terrorize even the most valiant of len, and there can be no succor.”

Michael declared he would stay, which greatly pleased Bat-El.

She said, “You are bold in a way that belies your years, Michael. Allow me to make you steadfast.”

Several straps embraced Michael as though they were alive. The avatar of Bat-El ignited in flame again, and there was much shaking. Michael was whisked into the sky far away from the city of Salem where he dwelt. But as the avatar rose a great Michael felt himself grow heavy and he began to cry. The young lan was brave but Bat-El spoke truly of the terror of the passage.

At the top of the arc made by the avatar the invisible weight suddenly lifted from Michael. He felt blessedly free, as though he were swimming in the air. The avatar of Bat-El turned until the white bulk of Kemen could be seen through the windows. Michael saw the sky was no longer purple but black, and he saw that Kemen was really a ball.

“I had thought it to be a ring, Lord,’ said Michael after a time. “We hear tales that men have crossed the West Lands to arrive in the East Lands.”

Bat-El said, “That much is true, Michael. The unfrozen part of Kemen does forms a ring, do you see?” Michael affirmed this.

The avatar turned to put Kemen and the two suns out of sight. Michael saw countless stars. Bat-El said, “Know this, Michael, for it is of a truth: All the stars are but faraway suns.”

After a short span of time the avatar fell to Kemen once more. Michael began to feel his weight again but his mouth remained wide open in wonder. And he knew that Elyon, who had commanded the elyonim to memorize the Litany of Creation, was exposed as a liar.

Precipitation is greatest at the poles of Kemen, where the two world-glaciers, north and south, are miles thick. And the glaciers move very slowly, grinding the surface and underlying bedrock flat. Only at the equator are temperatures warm enough to melt the ice. There at the foot of long terminal moraines large chunks of ice shear away and melt, the source of water for many streams and freshwater lakes.

Across Kemen volcanoes are born below the surface and burn their way through the ice. The ice caps give way around the bulk of them and close back up again to form rugged lands in the shape of teardrops. In one such place, which abounds with geysers and boiling lakes, the avatar of Bat-El touched down once more. Anshar was the name Michael later chose for the hidden land after he surveyed it. So distant is Anshar from the inhabited places along the equator that no angels had ever discovered it, thinking the Northern Ice to be a wasteland that continued without bound.

When Michael climbed back down through the central pillar and reached the ground Bat-El ordered him to walk a short distance away. After he did so, the avatar begin to shrink and change shape until it attained the form of a slender angel of indeterminate sex. The avatar was encased entirely in featureless white, even the face, which remained perfectly smooth with not even eyes to see nor mouth to speak. Yet see and speak it could still do.

The figure pointed across the barren flats to a dwelling made of glass and wood. It said, “Michael, there is only one structure in all of this land and it now belongs to you, solely. Let us draw indoors and I will declare many things.”

Michael agreed. He found that when Bat-El walked the ground shook far more intensely than it did under a horse’s gait. He said, “I am safe Lord, as you said, I would be, though it was every bit as terrifying as you counseled. Reciting the Creation Litany as you commanded me did help. Yet now I see the Litany is false, and I wonder what other lies were taught to me.”

Bat-El told Michael she was the daughter of Elyon rather than his son as the Litany taught.

The house was more glass than wood, built on a stony knoll with an outstanding view of the ever-changing fire torrents of Mount Anshar only two leagues distant across a pumice plain. But there was no danger of lava engulfing the house. A great chasm intervened.

In design the house was merely a single room with an alcove above the kitchen where Michael could sleep with some degree of privacy, but there was no other living soul for a thousand leagues. On the main level were plush cushions and a glass table of superior make. Bat-El required no cushion for comfort. She simply seated her avatar on the stone floor to put its head on a level with Michael’s head and began to speak.

“We call ourselves the Watchers. Elyon and Belial call angels and men their servants, but I call you the Students. Contrary to your scriptures I did not make your kind, I found your ancestors living in another world than this. It was the most important discovery we Watchers have ever made. World-dwellers are fully awake, even as the Elohim are, and for this reason Elyon and Belial fear you. From the beginning they have contrived to see you destroyed. Your very existence, if revealed to other elohim, will uncover their hidden transgressions. However they cannot stay me from sharing with you everything the elohim know.

“But how shall I do it, Michael? Shall I lecture you and hope we understand one another? I have found another way, but it will require your cooperation. I am not like my father Elyon. I would not force you to accept the changes required.

“Your identity as Michael will not change, but my memories as an eloah will be added to your memories, and your memories as a young angel will be added to mine. My will shall be manifest in your mind always. You will become my living avatar, yet you will remain free to act. In that way you would ratify our joining from moment to moment. But you must know beforehand the physical changes cannot be undone for so long as you live.”

Michael said he was curious about the proposed changes. Bat-El touched a hand to Michael’s temple and said, “You mind is like a cup that you filled with wine during your brief life. The new cup will have a greater capacity, but the wine of your memories will remain the same. Even when the cup is gone that wine will remain, but not forever. Elohim have finite lifespans like other living things. But that is so much longer than the span of an angel that I cannot adequately express it to you. Your culture never pondered such magnitudes.”

Michael stood up from hyz cushion to stare at the volcano while he weighed the words of Bat-El. Then hy asked, “Following these changes you propose to make in me, will I look very different?”

“Not very different. Most of the changes will be inside you, Michael, and there will be only small changes otherwise. You will have two small white horns as a visible mark to set you apart from the other elyonim.”

He returned to kneel before the avatar Bat-El and said, “O Great one, let it come to be as you say, this union of elohim and angel. I am willing, yet not so that I may push my own end out to a time beyond all reckoning. Let us join so that together we will both come to know many new things.”

Lilith was a scrubby urchin who rose to the very top of the Fallen Angels gang because no matter what trouble she got into, she never seemed to actually get into trouble. This was a matter of her connections. Lilith was, after all, the daughter of a cherub, King Melchiyahu. In the hierarchy of Kemen Lilith held the rank of Ophan. Had she been male or born in other lands Lilith would have ruled a city or commanded an entire army.

In the country around Salem Michael when he began preaching to the angels he confirmed the authority of his teachings by healing many of their infirmities. Soon he began to draw crowds wherever he went, and the Fallen Angels in turn were drawn by the opportunity to steal from them. But even Lilith and her streetwise pickpockets grew captivated by Michael’s words. Michael promised no paradise to come in the future, and he assigned no blame for the errors of the past.

Michael taught a quiet spirituality of the present that spoke directly to the hearts of yen. Lilith witnessed Michael healing angels with salves prepared from fireweed and the bark of vogul trees. And Michael said, “You have heard it said how Bat-El is the ungrateful son of Elyon and ElBelial. But I say to you Bat-El is their obedient daughter.”

After a time Ophan Lilith spoke of Michael to her father, but it was much more than the new teacher’s words and deeds that impressed him. Melchiyahu also knew his daughter had stopped dressing like len, and was again seen of evenings within the walls of the castle.

But word of Michael’s healings and his teachings also reached the ears of the avatar of Elyon in Adan. He sent a noblelan named Zadkiel to be his eyes and ears in Salem. He was ordered to assess the damage and staunch the bleeding. But for a time Michael returned to his home near Mount Anshar.

The elyonim of Salem continued to form crowds in the countryside, hoping to draw Michael out from his retreat. Zadkiel found them ripe to hear his own teachings, which contradicted Michael’s doctrines precept-by-precept.

When the words of the interloper Hashmal Zadkiel reached the ears of King Melchiyahu through his officers he was summoned to appear before the cherub. Zadkiel found he didn’t rate an audience before the actual throne. He met Melchiyahu in his salon and was announced by the king’s majordomo.

Zadkiel found the lack of pomp striking, but he was too stupid to discern what it really meant. No armed guard was present to protect the Cherub save his son Melchizekek, who bore no visible weapon, yet he was in truth armed with a small, powerful artifact forged by Bat-El herself that was called at times the Killing Relic, and at other times the Golden Gift.

The Cherub said, “Lord Zadkiel? I have heard of a Hashmal in the city of Adan who goes by the name Zadkiel. And yet you did not obtain leave from Prince Melchizekek to preach in our realm. You did not even ask my daughter Princess Lilith. Ophanim, both of them.”

“Sire, I say this all due deference, Were I the get of a lowly craftsman like this glassblower’s son named Michael, I would still have leave to preach in Salem. Lord Samael himself commissioned me, and your kingdom still lies, no matter how uneasily, within the Middle Lands.”

“Were Lord Samael himself to come to Salem he could not pronounce death even for a glassblower’s son. That is my power, solely. The giving of the scepter is without repentance.”

Zadkiel said, “Then sire, at the very least, I counsel you restrain this Michael by fetters if not by death.”

“Not in haste, self-described Voice of Samael. My own daughter admires this young prophet and puts his words into action, which gladdens my heart in a way I cannot begin to tell you.”

“Your Majesty, the ideas admired by your daughter spread through the land like a plague. Already the river of pilgrims who flow to Adan seeking absolution ebbs. The priests had to raise rates across the board! Michael is a dagger pointed at the heart of the state.”

Melchiyahu looked at hym with a mixture of pity and amusement. Abruptly Zadkiel realized the Cherub’s purpose in limiting the audience to just two noblelen in this private setting. Grandstanding was impossible. In a raw state his words sounded insane even to himself.

The Cherub said, “I will listen to the words of Michael with my own ears and judge whether they are a threat to Lord Samael’s greater–” “Have a care, Melchiyahu!” Zadkiel dared to interrupt. “I solemnly assure you the Lord will not hesitate to bring an errant cherub to heel through war!”

Melchiyahu did not grow visibly angry at the affront, though his son knew from long experience that his father concealed great wrath. The cherub only rose to his feet and said, “This hashmal I leave to you. Remember, son, that you will one day rule Salem.”

When his father departed Melchizedek reached into his cloak and brandished a unique weapon given to him by the avatar of Bat-El herself. He called it the Killing Relic. In appearance it was like a gold ingot, or the handle of a blade. It was small enough to fit in Melchizedek’s hand. With a firm squeeze a hissing black shaft emerged from the hilt to grow as long as an angel was tall.

“Say no more words in my presence,” the ophan warned, shouting over the noise. “You would be cut in twain even as you spoke.”

To affirm the truth of what he said, he sliced the corner of the massive and ornate stone table before Zadkiel as though it were made of bread. The severed piece fell to the floor with a solid thump and did not bounce once. Melchizedek had not felt the call to demonstrate the Relic since returning from the other world after his failure with Abram.

Melchizedek allowed the black rip in reality to fully retract and he continued, more quietly. “A horse shall be given to you with comestibles to see you to the first outpost thirty leagues east of Salem. Tarry you there. A herald shall follow after Cherub Melchiyahu has heard this Michael preach.

“But you, Hashmal Zadkiel, must never return to this city. If your master inquires, tell him the Lord of Salem will gladly receive an ambassador who comports himself with the basic rudiments of court etiquette in the presence of an Adanite cherub.”