TCE


From Peshast, Baron Bayard Sala leads Haziels dwindling party west through
a maze of footpaths that winds through the hills that border the Wall of
God. With the baron goes hyz commoner servant Aliwe, and from time to time
Bayard stoops to pick up an agate and hands it to the girl. Victoria no-
tices that hyz fingers linger on Aliwe’s hand as she takes the stone from
hym, and the expression on the girl’s face is hard to decipher.

For the first time since joining Haziel’s group, Victoria looks at Aliwe
very carefully and is surprised to see that the girl’s face has features
that strongly remind Vic of her own. But there are also things in Aliwe’s
appearance that remind her of Baron Bayard. Vic doesnt know what to think.

The quest moves at the pace of the oldest and slowest person among them,
Count Berek Antero, who is entirely aware that hy is holding everyone up.
Hy also misses hyz wife Losna who has stayed behind at Gerazan, and hy is
not entirely sure hy is prepared to endure the Catwalk as Bayard has de-
scribed it. Yet hy is a thoroughly honorable yang who wants to aid Haziel
in every way that hy can. So hy is torn by an internal debate as hy trudges
along.

Victoria looks at Haziel and sees how har legs have become muscled and
wiry. The walk has aged har a decade. Haziel is more handsome now than
beautiful. Victoria and Haziel both know full well that beauty has a sell-
by date. Haziel regrets only that sha would never grow old together with
Princess Khondiel.

Behind them goes a single company of Fallen Angels, only about two hundred
forty yin now. Two of every three have elected to stay behind in Peshast
and disband, and gloomy Berek warns Haziel that some of the yen who elected
to tag along are certain to fall and die. The law of averages would claim
them and there is little anyone could do.

At length the Baron leads them south on a footpath that gently climbs up a
long wooded ridge. It looks like a simple trail, but Baron Bayard assures
them it will become the Catwalk when they walk a little bit further. They
all look back down the way they have come. They are now at an altitude
where the trees are stunted and sparse, so the views east are unobstructed
and spectacular. But at the summit of the ridge the view west is absolutely
beyond belief.

Nineteen thousand feet below them lies the land in its entirety, even to
the great sea known as Thalury. In one glance they take in both the North-
ern and Southern Ice, walls little higher than the Wall of God itself, rac-
ing west and drawing together until both they and Thalury slip over the
horizon. Nowhere else on Barbelo is the spherical shape of the world so
apparent.

To the south the trail slips below the ridge and becomes an ice-carved wall
almost concrete smooth, and the travelers can see how the trail transforms
into the infamous Catwalk, a lip only three feet wide where the cliff juts
out and falls once more. As hy feared it would be, all of this is far too
much for Count Berek Antero.

BEREK: I am deeply sorry. I have already delayed the quest, but now I see I
cannot go on.

ALIWE: I would say that you have made a noble decision, Highborn.”

Not a few Fallen Angels come to the same wisdom as Count Berek. Haziel’s
party whittles down to some one hundred fifty souls.

Haziel suggests that they make camp and embark on the Catwalk in the morn-
ing when everyone is well fed and fully rested. But rest will not come for
many of them. In the morning there is little speech, for the enormity of
the task ahead has weighed in everyone’s mind all night.

After they reach the Catwalk the law of averages begins to take its toll as
Berek had warned. About once every hour or so the silence of the trek is
broken by the terrified scream of a yin somewhere far behind Haziel slip-
ping off the Catwalk and falling to har death. Waiting for the next one to
fall becomes a constant and living horror that none would ever be able to
banish from their memories for as long as they lived.

There comes a moment in the quest when Baron Bayard makes a move to fondle
Aliwe, and Aliwe tries to back away from hym. The problem is there just
wasnt much backing-up room on the Catwalk, and she, like some of the Fallen
Angels behind her, slips off the face of the Wall of God.

There is no scream but Victoria sees everything and flies down after her,
not even taking the time to think that Aliwe’s weight would be too much and
there really is no saving her. Didnt she say as much before they embarked
on the quest?

Below the Catwalk the Wall of God is not perfectly vertical. Victoria can-
not stop Aliwes fall but she can push Aliwe out of the way of any stony
outcroppings as she approaches them. Aliwe tells Victoria to let her go,
and reluctantly, Victoria has to arrest her own descent and let Aliwe slip
away to impact the broken talus at the base of the cliff.

Victoria continues down at a smaller pace, trying to estimate where Aliwe’s
body bounced so she can attempt to bury her. But when she finds her, Aliwe
is smiling, none the worse for wear. She is standing in a small woody glen
at the base of the Wall of God. They were at least three thousand feet be-
low the Catwalk where the rest of the party waited for any sign of them.
Victoria finally guesses that Aliwe is b’nei elohim like herself, but one
she never knew.

ALIWE: I’m the daughter you havent had yet. Hi Mom.

VICTORIA (smiling back): It makes sense. I thought you had my cheekbones.

ALIWE: And I have Baron Bayards eyes.

She knows the implication of that statement has sunk in when Vic stops
smiling.

ALIWE: Sorry I ‘slipped off the Catwalk, but I had to get Bayard to turn
his attention to you. Otherwise the ick factor would have been too much and
I wouldnt be born in this loop. Besides, as you can see, my own particular
talent is indestructibility.

VICTORIA: Like Mike?

ALIWE: Similar. I can heal myself with supernatural speed but I cant heal
anyone else. Aren’t we superheroes all supposed to have a weakness, like
Kryptonite? And even Mike can only fix so much.

VICTORIA: Let’s see. Bayard is a yang, so I guess that makes you an ambi?

ALIWE: A very feminine jen, actually.

VICTORIA: You are here so it means we win, right? Binah and Chokhmah sur-
vive?

ALIWE: We win, they live, Thaumiel dies. This quest is still important.
Thaumiel has this weird passive-aggressive thing going on with his dragon
where he can assail any city or army on Barbelo and its all Keri Anteros
fault for getting laid and breaking the Dragonthorn. After you kill the
dragon he has to decide whether to use his first avatar in the same way,
but either way, he loses. If he uses it, people stop following him because
hes a violent and malevolent god. If he doesnt, then theres peace on Barbe-
lo. Win, win, for us.

VICTORIA: So why are you back here?

ALIWE: Yeshua wanted me to improve the outcome for Haziel’s group. Its al-
ready paid off to an extent. On the original loop Kari killed Kirodiel with
Dragonthorn. With no need to escape with her lord still living, Joy simply
had the dragon burn down everyone at the Council, which meant of course
that I was the only survivor.

VICTORIA: So who is that Joy woman? I’ve never seen her up close.

ALIWE: Joy is really your aunt Ariel, killed in the Moon War and living out
her afterlife here. She’s not doing very much to impress Yeshua, if you ask
me. Joy has been possessed by Jill, and even before that Jill went com-
pletely over to Thaumiel, so dont hesitate to kill the dragon even if it
means Joy dies too, which she will, and when she does she’s basically
screwed because Yeshua wont give her a third chance.

VICTORIA: As long as I dont fuck Bayard before it happens. Rules you know.

ALIWE: That whole virginity thing was part of Thaumiel’s scam all along.
Its all lies. You could fly straight out of a week-long orgy and still kill
Demonstroke with that shard.

VICTORIA: One thing still bothers me. You said on your loop Joy killed ev-
eryone at the Council except you. So if she killed your father, where the
hell do you come from?

ALIWE: I should have said she killed everyone who came to the council cham-
ber when the Queen summoned us. Dad was still in his own chamber having sex
with Luzea. I dont blame him for that, actually. Luzea ain’t one of the
b’nei elohim but she sure has a natural born talent! On your timeline I
interrupted them because Luzea is all mine, and then Dad went back to see
Gramma Aurra. All this this was before you got here, but you’ve heard the
accounts of this loop so you already know I saved Kirodiel’s life by inter-
cepting the diamond blade with a metal tray. On my timeline Dad was the
only surviving noble on the planet, outside of the Middle Land. He became
something like a renegade while House Gerash started to take over the
world.

VICTORIA: So how did I meet him on your timeline?

ALIWE: Pretty much the same way you did this time around, Mom, except the
quest was just you and him. You took the Catwalk, went to Menkant, the
dragon shows up, and you fought Joy pretty much the same way you will
again. As for how you fell in love with Dad I dont really know, and do you
know what? I dont even want to know!

VICTORIA: I find it impossible to believe that you will result from our
union again, when there must be a trillion factors that will be different
this time. The timing is crucial. This sperm and not that sperm, fifty-
fifty youre a boy instead of a girl and very few of the events that formed
your memories on your timeline will be present again in this timeline.

ALIWE: You are absolutely right, Momma, but even if you and Dad have noth-
ing but boys that will have nothing to do with me, because you did have me
back on my timeline. But all I want to do right now is get back to the tal-
ented Luzea. Now this next part is going to seem strange to you, because I
know you but you dont know me, but here goes.

And Aliwe pulls Victoria close for a kiss and a hug.

VICTORIA: I love you, baby. Will we meet again when it’s all over?”

ALIWE: I hope so Mom, but this is a new loop. It rhymes, but its not the
same.

Then Aliwe leaves to pick her way down the river, a trip that would kill a
less hardy person. On the coast she will try to find someone willing to
take her to Saharad.

Victoria soars directly into the sky along the face of the wall to return
to the Catwalk. Everyone sits around looking sad, except for Baron Bayard,
who looks guilty. Victoria tells them only one thing.

VICTORIA: Aliwe is in a better place.

Considering the nature of the Catwalk is absolutely true. Besides, it would
keep Bayard from trying to hit on her at least until they got down off the
face of the Wall of God.

A day later Haziel’s party has nearly completed the descent of the Wall of
God on the Catwalk. Only about a thousand feet of vertical distance remain.
But no one lets their guard down just yet. That thousand feet is still per-
fectly fatal.

On that final afternoon they arrive at a section of the Catwalk that Bayard
calls “problematic”. It has been damaged somehow, perhaps in a quake, and
for nearly a mile it was no wider than a toehold. But there are steel pi-
tons already pounded into the rock ready for them to snap brass carabiners
and sling ropes.

By some quirk of fate or baronic contrivance Victoria is next in line after
the Bayard.

BAYARD: Haziel calls you one of the bnei elohim, yet I know almost nothing
about them. Can you tell me more, or is it some sort of divine secret?

VICTORIA: There are some things about us we may never reveal, but what I
can tell I will. The most important thing is that we are a family, one big
unruly but mostly loving family with the usual family squabbles.

BAYARD” Then are you noble born?

VICTORIA: Not in the way you are royalty, Baron, as the son of Queen Aurra.
In a real sense we would be considered nothing more than common folk here.

Victoria does not know that was precisely what she needed to say to raise
Bayards interest level in her to eleven. Still, Bayard wants to test that.

BAYARD: And yet you can fly. Some say you are demigods, which would make
you far greater than royalty.

VICTORIA: I can fly, that is true, but its not on account of something in-
nate to me, to my body. For all practical purposes, its nothing more than a
magic trick.”

Applause and cheering break out on the line ahead of them on the Catwalk.
Lady Haziel successfully traversed the broken portion to safety on the oth-
er side.

BAYARD: And our foe, this woman Joy, is she also bnei elohim?

VICTORIA: She is one of us, and that is what I alluded to when I mentioned
family squabbles. Some of us have removed themselves to the camp of the
enemy.

BAYARD: And the way she controls the dragon, is that another magic trick?

VICTORIA: More trick than magic. Neither we nor the elohim that we serve
hold the supernatural realm to be real. So call it a holy deception.”

BAYARD: The House of Sala has also dabbled in the same sort of thing. When
the Blackbeards first cut the Catwalk and began to settle in the land below
us, we Gold Beards feared that many of them would sail west across Thalury
and make their homes in our ancestral lands. We sought to discourage that,
so we spread a tale among them that the world was constructed like a stair,
and the Wall of God was but the second of many such awesome barriers. We
told them another wall existed to the west, and Thalury tumbled over this
step in a bottomless cataract. We went on to tell them that from the begin-
ning of days sailors heeded the divine injunctions of all the elohim never
to sail out of sight of land, lest they meet the edge and fall over it. We
made the claim that so rigidly was this law observed that if any sea cap-
tain captain, drunk or otherwise, steered hyz ship such that the land faded
from view, it was cause for the crew to mutiny and throw the captain over-
board. No such crew returning to port ever faced punishment. And the story
contained a warning that went something like this:

BAYARD: In the fullness of time King Ravenmaster was put to death. It was
the days of the revolution in the ancient kingdom of Kurgan, when the union
of loosely-united city-states known as the Saiph League was born, and many
of the laws established by the elohim were overthrown. Reason reigned su-
preme, and when time was ripe seayeng were found to crew two ships, sailors
who were willing to disregard the divine warning never to sail out of the
sight of land. Such was the rebellious mindset of the yeng of the Saiph
League that it never occurred to them the gods issued their commandment for
the safety of mariners. Instead, there were rumors of yet another land far
in the west, a choice land the elohim created for their own enjoyment, a
beautiful realm filled with gold, rich in abundant fruit, and the divine
prohibition was to keep this land from being despoiled by mere mortals. The
two ships commissioned by the revolutionaries were Will O The Whisp and
Fire of the Covenant. They drifted in the current with sails unfurled. Af-
ter two days, only the Wall of God could still be seen in the east, and
some of the sailors shuddered, for the tradition was deeply embedded within
them. And their fears proved more than superstition, for one night after
about a week underway the lookout in the highest mast of Fire of the Cove-
nant 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 Whisp that hy was raising his sails and turning back. Captain Skulldag-
ger aboard the Will didnt follow suit until it was too late. With billowing
sails Fire of the Covenant barely escaped, but the current became too
strong for her sister ship. In short order she was seen to tip over the
edge and was never seen again.

By a strange coincidence Baron Bayard slipped off the Catwalk just then and
screamed. Victoria pushed her nose into the wall of the Sacred Cliff, re-
sisting the urge to fly after him, since it would be as useless as her at-
tempt to save Aliwe. But Bayard’s fall was arrested by the ropes, as they
were intended to do. When he had been hauled back up, and had recovered
enough that his voice had steadied, Victoria begged him to continue his
story again. Or his meta-story, his story about a story that had been told
to the Larund colonists in Haaretz to keep them from sailing to the lands
of the House of Sala.

BAYARD: Will ‘O The Whisp had indeed fallen over the edge of the world. For
not far away from Haaretz the sea poured over a great cataract, an infinite
waterfall. For days the ship fell partially submerged within these waters,
which had become a vertical sheet. The crew found they had no weight, they
floated freely, and some floated far away from the ship. Winds eventually
broke the sheet into globes of water, ranging in size from a mans head to
the size of a barn. Fish were seen swimming in some of these spheres of
water, and when the food aboard ship ran out these fish provided the only
source of food. There was no thirst, for Thalury was a freshwater sea, al-
ways replenished every few thousand years by comet-fall. As the crew con-
tinued to fall, the black underside of the world became visible overhead
and the doomed crew could see that the warnings were true, the world was
indeed a vast stair. The eternal winds blew the globes of water further and
further apart, and the heat of the day caused them to slowly evaporate. One
day none of the water globes which remained near the ship contained any
fish, and the yeng began to starve. Thoughts of killing each other for meat
crossed their mind, but by the time they were desperate enough to act, they
were too weak to successfully attack each other or do anything more than
moan pitifully. Then came the final week, when they passed away one by one,
according to their remaining strength.

BAYARD: But the story we told them didnt end there. We said that when ne-
philim die in the land below they find they are resurrected on a bench in
the face of the Wall of God, no wider than the Catwalk, but with no means
of escape. The dead nephilim on the wall can hear voices upon the winds
through a trick of reflecting sound. Ever they pace the cramped space of
this bench, hoping to hear their loved ones. When they do hear their name
it is bittersweet, for they find their friends and loved ones have soon
forgotten them and moved on. The more famed a nephil was in their life, the
more fragments they hear, so they linger a while more. The humble accept
the truth sooner. Its really all about letting go. When they accept this,
they dissolve away. But there are always the dummies at far end of the
curve, and firmly anchored there was Captain Skulldagger, captain of the
Will o the Whisp. To this very day the shade of this infamous captain is
still standing on the face of Wall of God waiting for hyz name to be heard
once more as the story of his voyage was retold, just as I have told it
once more to you. Within a human lifetime all the members of Captain Skull-
daggerss ill-fated crew dissolved into air, or leaped from the rim to a
more permanent death, but the captain alone remained. For hy had attained a
form of immortality through infamy, and never a day passed but that hyz
name is spoken aloud by someone far below with a shudder as the story of
the Will ‘O The Whisp is told to yet another generation. The sound of hyz
name is carried aloft to the rim, and hy savors it.

When Baron Bayard finishes telling hyz story, Victoria begins to see a
glimmer of how she can see the way through to loving this yang. Hy is
strong and kind, and more important than that, hy is interesting.

After everyone survives the rope traverse the Catwalk becomes much wider
and safer, but their journey is slowed by the presence of many blown-down
trees which have been knocked over recently in a storm and lie directly
across the trail. Sometimes the travelers roll over them, but other times
they must crawl under them, which is exhausting work, and they could not
avoid getting their clothing soiled.

The fearsome cliff under the Catwalk comes to an end, and forms a normal
slope. The company enters a small stand of fat virgin trees that drape the
slope down to the bottom, and here the character of the journey changes
dramatically. Victoria thinks it to be a magic place that has escaped the
ax in the first, second, and third waves of cutting from Wazol, as though
by an oversight.

After that they reach a large outcropping of stone that Bayard calls Pic-
ture Buttress. It offers a marvelous view to a forest glade below. Victoria
thinks it is beautiful but still dangerous. The trail actually wraps around
the parapet here, and a thoughtful person, probably Bayard on his journey
long ago, has provided a rope for each of them to hold on to.

They pass a large duckpond so serene that it reflects the sky and the
branches of the trees above the water like a mirror. The trail skirts the
edge of this pond with a small but calm diversion before resuming its
course.

BAYARD: Its going to be a little rough going here.

He starts plowing through prickly foliage and bidding Victoria to trust
him. The route is flagged with orange and black ribbons.

BAYARD: Not many people know about this trail. Those of us who do know of
it use it and we maintain it but we dont fully connect it anywhere.

And finally the Catwalk ends ignomiously in some poor old Black Beard’s
backyard in the village of Wazol. Hy is tending his garden and shrug as
one hundred forty people tramped through his property and go out the side
gate to the front of his house to reach a street.

BAYARD: Where do we go next?

HAZIEL: Victoria knows.

Haziel’s smile reveals her awareness that Vic has spoken to a living Aliwe.

HAZIEL: Menkant. Then Joy and her dragon will come to us.
—————————————————————————
Immediately after the death of Princess Khondiel and the destruction of the
avatar of Chokhmah on the battle plain west of the Nine Mile Wall, High
Lord Patriarch Kirodiel Gerash divides hyz forces in twain. Half of the
Army of Thaumiel is rushed back home to the Middle Land in the east, leav-
ing the other half of hyz soldiery to complete the occupation of the lands
of House Bellon and to garrison the Magodon peninsula.

When the White Beard army reaches the city of Salem once more they are
transferred completely across the Middle Land by relays of many horses like
a bucket fire brigade. And it comes to pass that even as Lady Haziel is
just arriving at the city of Jelaket on the other side of the world, Lord
Kirodiel assails the ice bridge between the lands of the House of Gerash
and the House of Sala with an exceedingly great force. But Duke Evandr Sala
of Saharad, the Prince Consort and husband of Queen Aurra, rushes to defend
the border, where hy is joined by Countess Ayani Sala.

On the eve of the battle Ayani approaches Evandr.

AYANI: How did you survive the countless battles you have fought, Sire? For
it is well known that you never lead your forces from the rear, but share
the physical danger and hardships of the front.

EVANDR: A cowardly general thinks only of his personal survival, Countess
Ayani. Thus hy endangers hymself and hyz entire army, and indeed hy puts
the existence of hyz entire state in jeopardy. But when I advance on the
battlefield I have already reconciled myself with death. I go into every
battle, no matter how great or small, as though I were certainly doomed to
die. And because the thought of dying has already been accepted in my mind,
this frees me to focus only on fighting well. Thus I retain my life. Keep-
ing my life, I gain the victory. Gaining victory, I preserve the state and
save the life of the people.

In the battle Evandr gives a good account of hymself, and the aid of Ayani
is vital, yet Lord Kirodiel, despite hyz numerical losses, simply continues
to feed more troops into the battle until the Gold Beards begin to yield.
The battle takes place while Lady Talishi and her traveling party on the
far side of Barbelo reach the city of Vaska, the capital of House Antero.
Duke Evandr rallies hyz forces once more on the edge of the plain at the
foot of the ice bridge, near the city of Galcha.

AYANI: Sire, why have you camped your army on this plain, letting Kirodiel
attack from the high ground?

EVANDR: Because in this battle we are the guest, and Lord Kirodiel is the
host. Therefore I yield the hill of honor to hym and accept this lower sta-
tion.

AYANI: But hy can see our entire force, Sire, while we cannot know what
strength he has hidden in the ice!

EVANDR: Ah, but Ayani, that would only be important if we were the attack-
er. In that case we would tire ourselves fighting uphill and possibly be
surprised by hidden forces waiting to ambush our yeng. Instead, my army is
deployed like water, dwelling in the low places considered to be of negli-
gible military value.

AYANI: Why is that an advantage, Duke Evandr?

EVANDR: Is not water itself vital if people are to live? Do not people seek
it out in wells and rivers and even swamps? By our mere continued presence
on this plain Kirodiel will begin to covet this plain.

AYANI: But Sire, we are ringed by ice on three sides, and hy has taken all
of that high ground. When hy attacks, we will not know from which direction
hy will come!

EVANDR: Yes, Ayani, but hyz forces are, as you say, spread like a ring
around us while down here we have the interior lines of communication. Any-
where hy attacks I can order reinforcements within minutes. And anywhere I
counterattack hy will be weak, while hyz own signals will be slow to propa-
gate around this ring. Do you see, Countess, how we assure ourselves of
victory merely by humbling ourselves and keeping to the lowland?

And Evandr does gain the tactical victory in the battle of Galcha that day,
yet Kirodiel has many more yeng to spend. By throwing their lives away with
no absolutely no remorse Kirodiel is able to grind out a strategic victory
by forcing Evandr and Ayani to withdraw deeper into the lands of House
Sala.

Ayani and Evandr assess the battle of the previous day.

AYANI (almost in despair): Duke Evandr, why do yeng love combat so much?”

EVANDR: As long as a child is growing hy is filling out his potential,
Countess Ayani. As long as hy has not reached hyz limits, hy remains a
child. Hyz limits remain unknown unless they are met and even exceeded
somewhat. Combat is the crisis by which yeng come to know their limits and
obtain maturity.

AYANI: For many yin this maturity is attained in a very natural way,” re-
plies Ayani. “Motherhood. Maturity means acknowledging your limits and re-
turning to your root. It is a yin’s nature to make harself still and em-
brace har center. So even without the experience of motherhood, yin are
naturally mature.

EVANDR: But young yeng are always reaching out, always moving, always ex-
tending, until they know their breaking point. And while they are on this
personal quest to find their limits, they can be enlisted in stupid vain-
glorious campaigns to defend the honor of warlords and kings and patriarchs
who themselves never attained adulthood. And many of these young yeng, of
course, needlessly die.

AYANI: That’s what makes a female warrior different from a male warrior.
Sha is primarily interested in the survival of the people sha protects.

So Evandr and Ayani fight a noble fighting retreat for many days until the
fighting draws nigh to the Gold Beard capital itself, the city of Saharad.
At that moment Lady Haziel and har companions are in the city of Gerazan in
the far west of the West Lands.

Queen Aurra joins her husband on the field.

AURRA: Look at that, Evandr! Ten times ten thousand arrayed against us! Did
you ever see such a host?

EVANDR: A large force does not assure the enemy a victory, Aurra. What are
the stakes? Kirodiel is fighting to add yet another tax-paying province to
hyz empire. But our people can barely make ends meet as it is. Paying the
Gerash tribute would kill them. They are fighting to survive.

AURRA: But leading them are the most famous generals and captains on Barbe-
lo!

EVANDR: And how did they get so famous, Aurra? By their reckless aggres-
sion. If I present our shock troops to them as bait they will rush out to
engage them, thinking how this will advance their reputation.

AURRA: But behind them are the best fed and best trained troops in the
world!

EVANDR: But they aren’t fighting for their wives or cities or farms in the
Middle Land, they are fighting to prop up a bankrupt culture and a fragile
economy of arms trading. When they see the carnage wrought by our extraor-
dinary force, they will hesitate. And in that moment we will strike with
our main force. The Sala army will prevail because it is humble. Our sol-
diers do not think of self-aggrandizement or the aggrandizement of their
leader.

Once more Evandr’s words ring true, and the captain of Ayani’s forces bring
the White Beard patriarch into captivity, but Hovan the son of Kirodiel
goes into the camp of Ayani with a squad of Eyes of Thaumiel and releases
his father.

And Kirodiel comes once again after Ayani with hyz dwindling army. Their
forces clash in the ravine of Anixi, and Ayani is driven down the brook to
the plains of Nolesh. Then Countess Ayani, aided by the timely arrival re-
inforcements commanded by Evandr turns and drives the Gerashi army to the
brink of the gorge of Armak.

But for the first time since the invasion the strange Earthwoman Joy comes
to the aid of the Gerash forces with dragon fire. And in this battle the
chief lieutenant of Kirodiel slays Evandr, but in hyz death throes Evandr
sorely wounds this lieutenant in his thigh.

Following the death of Evandr, Queen Aurra, in har grief, sends a curse
upon the land such that when any of the soldiers of the White Beards set
objects down at night, in the morning they are found to have disappeared.

Lord Kirodiel says the missing goods are not a sign of the power of Chokh-
mah, but indicate only thieves, and on that point hy is correct. The
thieves are a number b’nei elohim tunneling unseen under the ground. Every-
one starts keeping their worldly goods and weapons on their own person, but
the invaders are steadily impoverished even as they loot the land of the
Gold Beards.

These events transpire while Lady Haziel and har diminishing party are
crossing the ice bridge to the city of Belen in the land of the Black
Beards.

AYANI: Queen Aurra, how can we, numbering only in our thousands, hope to
prevail against our enemies numbering in their tens of thousands?

AURRA: A light commando force wreaking havoc behind enemy lines will tie
down a much greater force hunting for it. A small army that is still and
rested with have the better of a large army that is worn out marching dou-
ble-time to meet it.

AYANI: But there must be a limit to how small a unit can be before it is
ineffective no matter how intelligently it is employed.

AURRA (with a nod): Too light and we invite aggression. Too heavy, and our
army becomes unwieldy. The excellent commander coordinates the small with
the great, the strong with the weak, the eager with the reticent, balancing
opposites to obtain the perfect middle way.

And nothing would have pleased Queen Aurra more than to see har words of
encouragement to the Countess hold true, and House Sala waylay the forces
of Kirodiel in vengeance for har fallen mate, yet sha can also see there
are not enough b’nei elohim to aid har. The very tinders har army cuts to
form bulwarks against House Gerash are just so much kindling for the drag-
on.

Worst of all the queen judges that Kirodiel has assailed har land at a hor-
ribly inopportune time when har subjects are fleeing the cities at har ear-
lier command to spread themselves across the entirety of the lands held by
House Sala, as was suggested by Lady Haziel. The enemy knows everything har
people possesses they have taken with them on the road, and all these pos-
sessions are ripe for Kirodiel’s forces to plunder.

Yet Queen Aurra also knows that at a word from har the whole House of Sala
would flock into har army; yea, even the yen, the infirm, and the children.
Sha foresees the war would grow so bloody that the whole face of the land
would be covered with dead bodies, but no one would even take the time to
bury them because they would be too busy marching to make more dead bodies,
and the land would exceedingly stink. This, sha resolves, would not be.

So Queen Aurra rides across the plains of Nolesh and meet Lord Kirodiel for
a parley on the hill of Ronmok, and there the queen negotiates the surren-
der of har forces for the sake of the lives of har people. And as part of
the deal the queen turns over to the forces of House Gerash every seaworthy
vessel of the Gold Beards on the river Loenna.

Lord Kirodiel takes the queen captive after the parley, putting har in a
wooden cage identical to the one which had once held Haziel. Lord Kirodiel
journeys with all hyz remaining forces down the winding river Loenna to the
great sea known as Thalury. This voyage takes place even while Haziel is
lodging in the castle of the Larund king in the city of Peshast.

Yet Queen Aurra, who still deeply mourns the death of har mate, and finds
the indignity of har captivity almost too much to bear, counts House Sala
fortunate, since most of the people will now complete their emigration from
the cities unmolested by the army of the White Beards. And sha has appoint-
ed Countess Ayani to guide them to the new faith communities in har stead.

Two divisions of the Army of Mastema are left in the West Lands to carry
out of the occupation of House Bellon. During the invasion of the East
Lands, Lord Kirodiel sustains casualties at the hands of House Sala equiva-
lent to a full division. So only a single division, reorganized from the
survivors of the original two, remain available for action.

These yeng are put on every boat and ship that can be commandeered from the
Gold Beards and they drift down the river Loenna to the great sea named
Thalury. Kirodiel hymself embarks on the royal barge and takes the lead
position of the expedition, with Queen Aurra confined to a cubical wooden
cage on the main deck in somewhat less comfort than sha has come to expect.
Yet Kirodiel is not interested in humiliating the queen beyond har basic
captivity, and hy does not hold har in a state of undress as hy had once
forced Haziel to do.

After the expedition reaches the mouth of the river the prevailing winds
suffice to take them halfway across Thalury, but over the whole land at the
foot of the Wall of God is a stagnant air mass created as the winds pile up
against the rock barrier, and there the fleet is becalmed. So oars are bro-
ken out and distributed to the yeng, and the army begins to row day and
night. When they grow fatigued this is remedied by whips.

At length the Gerash expedition rows past the Isle of Avior and Murzi Bog
to enter the wide mouth of the river Sabik, and nephilim throng the bank to
watch the parade of ships toil upstream. Then, after passing the place
where the river Nanki enters from the south, they row through Canterwood,
and Yeshua, who has been expecting them, even waves from the beach together
with many of hez followers as the White Beard fleet continues on.

Victoria finds the village of Wazol, which is snuggled up against the Wall
of God, to be extraordinarily beautiful during the night, and many of the
nephilim call their settlement the Queen of Lights. The Wazolites know
Yeshua well, and Yeshua has told them to take Haziel’s every vague whim to
be their most succinct command. Haziel’s whim at this time is a supply of
horses.

Victoria could have flown by herself to the town of Menkant in a relatively
short time, but Haziel wants to maximize the element of surprise, so sha
insists everyone go together by land. Victoria has never ridden a horse
before, so there is a brief but necessary period of familiarization before
they can set out. Baron Bayard finds it within himself to volunteer to
hoist Victoria on the animal and in other ways make her ready. One hundred
twenty folks begin the journey, but only one hundred nineteen animals are
embarked, because Bayard, who is sincerely concerned about Victoria’s inex-
perience with handling horses, wants them to ride pretty much glued togeth-
er.

They ride north down the upper reaches of the Sabik, taking most of the day
to cover some forty miles, with many stops to rest the horses and rub their
own sore asses. Haziel does not rush them at all. The dense forest begins
to thin out, and great vistas can be glimpsed through them at last. Haziel
calls a halt to that day’s riding.

In the morning when Haziel’s party resume the ride the trail turns to the
east away from the river a small distance and ascends a gently rising slope
of grasslands where the trees disappear altogether. In the distance ahead,
as the sun climbs toward the zenith, the travelers see large herds of cat-
tle grazing, and beyond them, as a short dark line that slowly grows to
encompass them, is the town of Menkant itself, the largest settlement in
the Sala colony at the foot of the Wall of God.

When Haziel arrives in Menkant with Baron Bayard, Victoria, and over a hun-
dred Fallen Angels, room is quickly found for all of them. Haziel, Victo-
ria, Bayard, and Ambe Omphal, the senior officer of the surviving Fallen
Angels, are invited to stay in the house of the ruling Gold Beard chief-
tain, Yupin Putar, who dwells nigh to the bank of the river. Thus Haziel
and har inner group have a front row seat when the lead ship of the White
Beard expeditionary force rows smoothly into position and ties up nigh to
the house of Putar. Queen Aurra is in her cage on deck as Kirodiel intends,
and as Kirodiel also intends, this is what har son focuses upon to the ex-
clusion of all else.

KIRODIEL (bellowing from the rail of the ship): “Baron Bayard Sala! Al-
though it pains me to place your mother in such straits as you now behold,
I find there is no avoiding it, for I wish to make a simple trade, the com-
mon criminal called Haziel for Queen Aurra Sala. What say you, Gold Beard
Baron?”

The baron draws his blade and bellows in reply.

BAYRD: Such a cowardly proposal from one who styles hymself the Patriarch
of the oldest family on Barbelo! This yen for that one, as though bartering
in serving wenches! I say, rather, that both yen shall go captive, or both
shall go free, and that the one yang of us who remains alive, be it your-
self, Lord Kirodiel, or me, shall be the one to give the order!

Kirodiel draws hyz own blade.

KIRODIEL (to his own yeng): Let the Baron step aboard!

By making this order both hy and all hyz men are held to the terms outlined
by the Baron. By the same token, the freedom of Haziel is now conditioned
on Bayard prevailing in the personal combat to immediately follow.

A plank of wood is thrown to bridge the gap between ship and land. The Ba-
ron fearlessly crosses over the rail and stands on the deck of the royal
barge in full view of hyz mother and Lady Haziel and Ambe Omphal and (most
important in the mind of Bayard) Victoria.

The Baron salutes the Gerash lord with a sharp military slash vertically
downward, and Kirodiel returns hyz salute. Then they start in with fairly
standard stuff, just simple thrust and parry from safe distances.

Suddenly, without a word, Kirodiel literally pounces upon hyz challenger,
with hyz blade slicing down with bewildering speed. But Bayard has studied
well in hyz many practice bouts and especially upon the field of battle. Hy
doesn’t fall for this simple trick for an single instant. Hy fends off Ki-
rodiel’s first attack with ease.

So the patriarch attacks again. At each one of hyz parries Bayard feels hy
is striking stone. There is simply no give. Hy backs out of range and they
begin the usual circling of each other, testing with probing thrusts.

Kirodiel pauses and a sudden oxygen debt forces hym to draw hyz breath in a
sharp gasp. Bayard makes hyz own first attack then, a clumsy but forceful
pounding of blade-on-blade that starts to wear the White Beard patriarch
down.

The auxiliary noises of their fighting are the only sounds to be heard. A
resonant back-slide of steel-on-steel and CLASH! Nick, slide, and CLASH!
The Baron is moving Kirodiel back now but the Gerash lord’s defenses prove
more and more unyielding as Bayard sweeps hym closer to the far rail of the
ship.

When hyz back touches the rail Lord Kirodiel unexpectedly counter-attacks
with frightening violence. Bayard is a few moments gaining hyz original
stance at the cost of a few feet of ground. Bayard tries to prevent Kirodi-
el from circling around hyz to force hyz own back to the rail.

During the struggle the two combatants speak no word one to the other. Both
yeng would have found such a thing far too effete.

Bayard presses an attack. Lord Kirodiel counters with a deft flip of hyz
sword down along the back of hyz arm. It becomes a shield allowing hyz arm
to bear the brunt of the Baron’s blows.

Kirodiel is well beneath Bayard’s high two-handed thrusts and the Baron
realizes, far too late, that hy is dangerously vulnerable to a bloody touch
from the Gerash patriarch in the form of an elbow jab with hyz blade’s tip.
First blood to Kirodiel then, who savagely pierces the spleen of Bayard.
The Baron sinks to the deck with the shock of hyz wound.

Victoria sees this and flies the short distance over the rail to stand be-
tween Lord Kirodiel and his prey, holding the shard of Dragonthorn that is
little more than a knife, and would probably shatter against the steel of
Kirodiel’s blade anyway.

Joy in turn sees that and moves slowly into view riding Demonstroke, who
hovers on great flaps of his wings. At every instant the hellish mouth of
the beast is pointed directly at the cage of Queen Aurra.

The Baron Bayard is wounded and lies at Lord Kirodiel’s feet, but hy is not
unaware that sweet Victoria stands between hym and certain death on the
keen edge of Gerash steel. And hy thought her to be insanely reckless, for
she bore only the broken hilt-shard of the diamond blade known as Dragon-
thorn, and it would shatter once again should she attempt to block a single
blow from the White Beard patriarch’s blade.

But both Victoria and Kirodiel, and everyone else for that matter, are gaz-
ing skyward at Joy, who has appeared in the sky above the queen’s barge
riding on the shoulders of Demonstroke. Joy has caused the dragon’s deadly
mouth to aim directly at Queen Aurra, who is helpless, confined inside a
wooden cage on the ship’s main deck.

Victoria rushes into the sky bearing the remnant of Dragonthorn and sets
her flight path to lead directly at Joy.

For the first time Joy becomes aware that her niece has come to Barbelo to
stop her. B’nei eloah on b’nei eloah violence, but that is not unprecedent-
ed. As Ariel, after all, Joy’s first death in the skies over Luna had come
as the result of a Brushfire missile loosed by some other member of the
b’nei elohim. Perhaps it had even been Victoria did the deed.

Joy does not for a moment deceive herself that Yeshua will give her yet a
third chance. To protect herself, Joy causes the mouth of the beast to
drift away the queen and point instead at Victoria. A burst of white fire
from the belly of the orange sun over Barbelo roars out, and Victoria al-
ters her course directly upward to evade it. Like an arrow that has missed,
the flame strikes the house of the king of Menkant and sets part of it
ablaze.

Then Joy causes the dragon to rise into the sky and follow her niece. When
his flight path matches that of Victoria’s, he bends his snake-like head
and neck under his belly and looses a continuous blast of fire, and Joy is
thrown back against his collarbone as the acceleration mounts like a rock-
et.

By a supreme effort of will Baron Bayard stands again and draws hyz blade,
but hy is an honorable yang, and hy will not strike at his foe in hyz dis-
tracted fascination at the drama unrolling far above the queen’s barge.

BAYARD: Killing you wouldn’t be murder.

Kirodiel turns hyz gaze from the sky to the baron once more.

BAYARD: It would be atonement for allowing a monster such as yourself to
exist among us for too long.

The two yeng salute together once again in mock ceremony and the dance be-
gins anew. They circle, waiting for an opening.

Bayard lunges forward suddenly in a ferocious attack and forces hyz oppo-
nent to the defensive momentarily. Kirodiel’s counterattack focuses the
baron’s whole attention on the patriarch’s blade flashing forward in a
blur. Forced to give ground, the baron keeps speaking to attempt a distrac-
tion.

BAYARD: Frankly, I’m quite astonished that you’ve done so well, Gerash so-
called Lord. More than once Lady Haziel regaled us with tales of how you
held har captive much like you’re holding my mother, because you were
afraid of what another yin, Princess Khondiel, might do.

Kirodiel rewards hym with a prickly scratch from shoulder to left breast.
Bayard risks a glance down at the blood beading up there and in that moment
Kirodiel is in the air leaping high and aiming a foot blow at the baron’s
head.

Almost instinctively Bayard puts both hands together as a single fist and
sideswipes the offending boot. Lord Kirodiel sprawls badly and lands on hyz
back. Both yeng recover their stance but they have a renewed respect for
each other.

Victoria can only fly so high. She isn’t Hunky, after all, she can’t make
her own oxygen for her body to use. So she stops accelerating and tops out
at about four miles high, bending back toward Menkant in a broad arc. Joy
sees this, of course. Demonstroke stops his burn and brings his head for-
ward to bear on Victoria again. Short bolts of fire race out like tracers
from World War II fighter airplanes over Midway.

Victoria dodges randomly as she falls to avoid being struck by the fire.
When she has descended far enough to see individuals on the ships comman-
deered by Kirodiel she deliberately flies toward them to draw the dragon’s
fire, allowing Joy herself to set four of the soldiers ablaze. Then she
flies through an open hatch on the deck of a fifth vessel which had been a
cargo vessel, but now carries only troops.

The hatch clearly isn’t big enough for Demonstroke. But Victoria isn’t to
escape that easily. Joy commands the beast to burn his way through and make
the hatch bigger. Then Victoria and Joy are briefly together inside the
large hold of the ship as screaming men are crushed under the feet of the
thrashing dragon.

VICTORIA: This is the part of the movie where you tell me why you did it,
Aunt Ariel.

Joy lets Demonstroke open his mouth and answer for her.

Kirodiel and Bayard face each other anew, focusing on probing each other’s
defenses. Gaging the changes, at the same time seeking not to be changed.
Bayard, slowed by hyz wound, fights with calculated risks but never rash
ones. Kirodiel is rash, and attacks with supernatural speed. The blades
thrust just here, or there. Bait or blow? The combinations are infinite. It
becomes a game of looking for the opponent’s hesitancies through a net of
deception and decision.

Bayard tries to ignore the pain of hyz wound, but the whole point of pain
is that you cannot ignore it. Pain is a priority organizer. Yet one thought
keeps hym going. Victoria has become hyz highest priority. Bayard longs to
see how she was doing, but hy dares not tear hyz eyes away from the fight
for an instant.

KIRODIEL: You lousy cunt!

Bayard continues the high tension ballet. However, when Kirodiel described
the things hy will do to Bayard’s mother the queen when hy was finished
here Bayard does an unexpected thing: Hy throws hyz blade away.

Astonished, Kirodiel tracks the errant blade with hyz eyes as hyz training
required. In that split second Bayard blasts the White Beard lord with a
kick squarely and solidly in the face.

Then they are rolling and thrashing on the ground. Faces are punched. Fin-
gernails and teeth go for eyes and other soft spots. Kirodiel pulls the
classic move of aggravating Bayard’s wound, which makes the baron howl in
agony.

Briefly, just briefly, stopping the pain becomes a higher priority to Ba-
yard than Victoria is. And knowing that makes hym fly into a rage. Hy lit-
erally sees red, and isn’t entirely clear exactly what happens next. Hy
ends up kicking Kirodiel’s head again and again until Kirodiel’s son Hovan
and crosses the deck to restrain him.

HOVAN: Baron, stop. Please. You got hym.

Young Hovan, leaning over hyz father, confirms hy is dead. Yet there is no
anger. It has been an honorable death match, and the Baron has prevailed.
But Hovan is fully confident the expedition would yet attain victory. The
dragon Demonstroke remains the most powerful weapon of House Gerash.

The dragon sets half of the ship’s hold ablaze, condemning a hundred sol-
diers of House Gerash to burn alive, yet Victoria escapes by rising through
a second open hatch. Joy commands the dragon to exit the ship through the
same hole he has just made. Yet Demonstroke is less agile than Victoria,
and even as the dragon’s neck and Joy clears the burning hulk, Victoria
seats herself neatly behind her aunt, with the point of Dragonthorn resting
on Joy’s back next to a kidney.

VICTORIA: If you choose to commit suicide, dear aunt Ariel, you are just
seconds away from True Death. Or you can decide to live, and we can talk
about whatever it is that you think is your problem. So what will it be? I
recommend you live, because if you die it’s really going to smart.

For an answer, Joy tries to slam her right elbow back into Victoria’s face.

VICTORIA: Then I guess my daughter is right, and you really are Jill.

So with a shrug she presses the jagged tip of Dragonthorn smoothly into
Joy’s back and deep into that kidney.

Disabling pain.

Joy’s scream of agony is inhuman. The only mercy she receives is her in-
stantaneous death after she falls five hundred feet to thud like a sack of
wet garbage on a cobblestone city street.

And Demonstroke, free at last of Joy’s overweening control of his move-
ments, doesn’t much like having Victoria crawl up his neck to get within
striking distance of his head. He thrashes as violently as he can to shake
her off, but she holds on for dear life. Dragon fire doesn’t help him, he
can’t very well aim his mouth at his own head. And his arms are too short
to swat her off.

When Victoria has shimmied high enough to reach, she buries the fragment of
the diamond blade in the dragon’s brain.

Demonstroke falls to the surface then, and if his brain had been working
any better he would have thought to give Victoria a parting spray of fire
on his way down, out of spite. Because that was the sort of dragon he was.
When the dragon Demonstick falls from the sky and in his death throes bel-
ly-flops upon the river Sabik, and the last embers of hope for House Gerash
have been thoroughly extinguished, Baron Bayard turns to Hovan the son of
Kirodiel.

BAYARD: Now carry out the terms of the death combat and release my mother
Queen Aurra from har captivity, and get your ships hence, for neither shall
you bring Lady Haziel into a cage once more.

Then Hovan nods hyz head once, and bows, and orders hyz yeng to cut the
ropes that secure Queen Aurra in har confinement.

With as much dignity as sha can retrieve, sha emerges from the cage and
moves to within a few paces of har son, but har gratitude and pride in Ba-
yard cannot be contained, and hy sees that.

Then from the air Victoria alights on the gopherwood deck of the queen’s
barge and in the same movement is swept into the arms of Baron Bayard Sala.
Both are overjoyed that the other has prevailed against their respective
foes. Gently, gently, the baron embraces Victoria, and though hy winces
with the pain of hyz wound as she squeezes hym back, the fact that she did
squeeze hym back was a very encouraging sign to hym.

BAYARD: Victoria, is it possible for a mere nephil to fall in love with one
of the b’nei elohim?

VICTORIA: see no reason why not. As I’ve told you before, we b’nei elohim
are mere human beings or nephilim ourselves, with a few fancy tricks up our
sleeves grounded in what you call alchemy and natural philosophy.

BAYARD: I am very relieved to be reminded of that. Thank you! For now I can
say with utmost confidence that I have fallen irretrievably in love with
the b’nei eloah named Victoria.

VICTORIA: Then there must remain only one more thing for you to say, Ba-
yard, so let me hear it. Come on, you’re among friends. Lay it out there.

BAYARD: Victoria, will you consent to become my wife?

VICTORIA: The thing seems to be written in the living stars. But let me ask
a question of you, Bayard, and of your mother, and when I have your an-
swers, then you will have mine.

BAYARD: Proceed with your questions, Victoria, but beware, I cannot foresee
any that would deter me from what my heart has already resolved to do.

Victoria catches the eye of the Queen.

VICTORIA: Is it safe to say, Your Highness, that with the whole House of
Sala now moving at your command from their cities to many thousands of
scattered faith assemblies, that there is no longer, in a real sense, any
kingdom for you to rule, or for Baron Bayard to inherit?

AURRA: Alas, Victoria, that is true, and were you to marry my son and had
your heart set on the title of Baroness, I’m afraid it would be little more
than a figment, just an empty title. Our society is being profoundly trans-
formed even as we speak. The irony of the situation is not lost on me, of
course. For most of hyz life I have sharply rebuked my son for hyz taste in
commoner women. I was trying to guide hym to wed one of the Highborn, and
now at the very end I find that the very word Highborn is a sound without
meaning.

VICTORIA: Thank you, Queen Aurra. And for my part let me say that my abil-
ity to fly, which is the biggest thing that sets me apart from humanity as
one of the b’nei elohim, is not a power that can be sustained outside of
the land of Haaretz, save it be on Earth. Soon I must lay this power down
again, and if I stay in the west of this land I will be little more than a
commoner woman, something that might interest the Baron of course, but I
had thought you might have an intractable objection to that.

AURRA: Victoria, you are far too modest! You have killed the dragon called
Demonstroke and brought an end to the world war on Barbelo. Such a deed,
which will be memorialized in songs for ages to come, makes you entirely
uncommon.

VICTORIA: Thank you once again, Your Highness Queen Aurra. And so I am led
to ask my question of the yang who has asked me to become hyz wife. Bayard,
would you be willing to quit this world forever, and dwell with me on
Earth?

BAYARD: Victoria I would eagerly follow you right out of this world if you
consent to marry me.

VICTORIA: I do consent to marry you Bayard! But I warn that it will be ab-
solutely bewildering to you at first, and you will find yourself to be what
we frequently call a ‘fish out of water’. For we do not merely live on the
surface of the Earth, but in the skies above and in the ground below.

BAYARD: I am full willing, Victoria, if the Queen will give har blessing.

And hy turns to face hyz mother, who at first thinks to roll har eyes, but
thinks better of it and nods har head yes. Then the Baron, filled with hap-
piness beyond hyz capacity to bear, fall to the deck of the queen’s barge
in a dead faint from hyz wounds.

—————————————————————————
HAZIEL: I have done everything I can.

Haziel has tended to Bayard and restored hym to consciousness.

HAZIEL: Hy has lost very much blood and I marvel that he still slew Kirodi-
el. Do not permit hym to stand on hyz feet until we have taken hym downriv-
er to Yeshua, who can provide a temporary blood substitute.

AMBE OMPHA: Lady Haziel, there remains a slight problem with carrying out
that order.

Ambe points to many of the Gerash nobleyeng and officers who remain stand-
ing on the deck of the barge all around them.

Queen Aurra stands forth to confront them.

AURRA: Your dragon is dead.

And the yeng muttered aye, for the queen speaks a truth.

The Queen catches the eye of Hovan just then.

AURRA: You have killed my husband.

And Hovan’s eyes fall. Hy nods in assent and says aye.

AURRA: You are in my realm with a greatly diminished force, and the long
road home will be much longer if you must fight your way there. The war is
over, young Hovan, do you not agree?

HOVAN: I do agree, your Highness.

AURRA: Then get yourself and your yeng to another one of my boats and de-
part this land!

When evening falls and the queen’s barge has reached the place where the
rivers Sabik and Arhena become one, Haziel climbs, somehow, to the top of
the highest mast where few would dare to follow har, and there sha medi-
tates on many things. Victoria, returning to the ship from a night flight
she took for the sheer pleasure of it, sees Haziel sitting in that precar-
ious place and asks to join har.

HAZIEL: By all means, Victoria, please make yourself as comfortable as you
can.

Victoria knows that no one can overhear them.

VICTORIA: Aliwe told you, didn’t che? That you and Yeshua find a way to
win.

HAZIEL: Aliwe told me things that would have been perfectly safe for our
companions to overhear on the way to the Catwalk. But I obtained the de-
tailed update directly from hem in the way that you and the other b’nei
elohim already know so well. Yes, we found a way to beat Thaumiel, both my
daughter and I.

VICTORIA: Can you tell me about it?

HAZIEL: It’s a very curious thing, Victoria. It is like I have a splinter
of wood that bears a tiny flame, and I must walk that small flame to a
great pile of wood and kindle it to keep my loved ones from freezing to
death, yet it is windy, and I dare not do the slightest thing to let the
flame go out.

VICTORIA: I think I understand what you mean. Even after Aliwe assured me I would
defeat Demonstroke, I did not relax my guard for a single instant. It still
required the utmost effort.

HAZIEL: That is precisely what I’m trying to convey to you.

VICTORIA: Lady Haziel, will I meet my daughter Aliwe again?

HAZIEL: You will, after that big bonfire really gets going. But if you and
Bayard have a child, even a jist child, che will not be the same Aliwe. Not
even if you name hem that.

VICTORIA: I understand. Aliwe already said as much.

HAZIEL: I will go with you and Bayard to Earth. It’s very strange, you
know. My real body is the sun that warms the Earth and drives all life and
movement there, but in this body, as Haziel, I have never been there.

VICTORIA: And will you return to Barbelo someday?

HAZIEL: Just once, as an important part of that successful way Aliwe spoke
of. I must save this planet from a second deluge, many centuries from now.
As Haziel I will not survive it. But Aliwe tells me the other Chokhmah, the
one I must soon merge with once more, is already making arrangements to
live in another body.

VICTORIA: Please do not make that into a habit, Lady Haziel. We have seen
what serial possession has done to one among us named Jill.

HAZIEL: I will not make that mistake, and Aliwe told me that the other
Chokhmah is making arrangements to deal with that problem as well. However
Thaumiel is about to fall into that trap, beginning when Hovan arrives back
at the capitol city of the White Beards. I knew long ago there would be no
real joy in bringing Thaumiel to defeat. Imagine contriving a total victory
over your bitter lifelong enemy only to discover that the fellow, in the
end, was in the advanced stages of dementia.