The “sea” of Aramel is a lake fed by melt water from a barren and twisted land, a low gravelly pass where the northern and southern sheets of ice came together as one. In the year following the return of Prince Melchizedek Adanite forces seized once more the land approaches to Salem. The city, built upon an is land a league offshore, was completely isolated.
The penultimate stroke of the war came when King Melchiyahu was discussing this development with Hamon and the lords of the city.
The king was speaking in the center of his audience hall where twice his son had been taken by portal to Earth. The mouth of a bridge in reality appeared once more. The king never had a fighting chance. Malphas struck from behind, removing the sovereign’s head with a single swift stroke of his blade.
MALPHAS: [Sentence pronounced and carried out!]
The sphere of distorted light snapped out of existence, leaving the usual crater. The king’s body and his head rolled separately therein.
Melchizedek was first to reach the bleeding remains of his fa ther and was overcome with grief. He called for aides. Lilith met Hamon with pleading eyes but there was nothing he could do.
HAMON: [I knew our enemies had this weapon in reserve, but there is no defense. I have given much thought to a deterrent]
In other circumstances Lilith would spend many days mourning the death of hez father with all the people of the city, for she loved him dearly, and he had been a great king, but there was no time, as nature of his death spoke of an ongoing attack. Instead of bewailing the death of her father Lilith stood up straight and cried out to the assembled lords,
LILITH: [The king is dead! Hail Melchizedek, king of the city! Long may he rule!]
The noblemen of Salem moved from their seats in the audience hall and sank to their knees near the crater where Melchizedek and three servants, with infinite care, arranged the body and head of the dead king on a bier with some degree of dignity. Lilith and even Hamon joined them in genuflection.
With a word of command Melchiyahu was carried away. The new lord of the city rose to the acclaim of those assembled before them who shouted, as though with one voice, “Hail Melchizedek King!”i
The new king held out a hand in the direction of his father’s receding litter and inquired of Hamon.
MELCHIZEDEK: [Will this, too, be the manner of my passing?]
HAMON: [Not immediately, Your Majesty. Emperor Rimmon now expects to receive messengers from Salem suing for peace]
LILITH: [Excellent! Then he will not anticipate another taste of war!]
HAMON: [No, Lil, your own lieutenant has told me the forces mov ing in the field are five times greater than what came against Salem before]
MELCHIZEDEK: [Fivefold, or a hundredfold, or half, for as long as I reign as king of this city none shall face the enemy in the field]
LILITH: [Your Majesty, we have ships enough to carry all the people of the city away]
MELCHIZEDEK: [But where would they go, Lil? There’s a hundred small coves scattered around the Sea of Aramel where clans of fisherfolk barely survive from what little they catch and what lesser still they trade. The vale of the Dashok is too rocky to grow crops]
HAMON: [Even so, Your Majesty, release one seaworthy craft, at least. I would send spies up the Dashok to the ice bridge. Malkuth maintains a fortress there by the same means he sent Malphas to murder your father here. It blocks any movement west. The enemy has me at a disadvantage. He knows precisely where the ice cave lies under the surface and I do not]
LILITH: [If my brother and liege-lord is willing, Azarael and Jael would be perfect. They’re hunters and they’re ghosts]
MELCHIZEDEK: [Your spies shall have their barque and what prov ender they need. But what think you, sister mine? Shall I abdicate the throne?]
LILITH: [Rimmon could never stomach me as queen, dear brother, and a successor more to his liking would be despised by all the dwellers of this city. Yet a siege would be far worse]
MELCHIZEDEK: [Then, beloved sister, the time has come for you and your Fallen Angels to quit Salem or become unwarlike for all the days you live in this city]
LILITH: [My brother and liege-lord, my fighting yen have sworn a solemn oath their hand shall ever cleave to the sword]
MELCHIZEDEK: [Then where shall they go, Lil?]
HAMON: [“Sire, with my avatar I can whisk Lilith and Laylah to my home in Anshar far in the north. But King Galizur of Rumbek boasts he will welcome anyone cast off from what he terms ‘the unlovely lands ruled by Rimmon’]
Melchizedek could feel events rapidly accelerating toward a con clusion he had no wish to see, but no way to alter, even with his power as king.
MELCHIZEDEK: [Then so let it be]
HAMON: [Your Majesty, I can never adequately thank you for your service to me in the other world. I have made far greater demands on you than you ever did of me]
MELCHIZEDEK: [There has been a spring and a summer in this city. It lasted far longer and tasted far sweeter than anyone here ever dared to dream]
LILITH: [If winter must now come to Salem, may the flowering we have known take root outside of the lands trampled by House Ger ash]
HAMON: [Your Majesty, will you not reconsider my offer, that Lilith may not be parted from you forever?]
MELCHIZEDEK: [It is very tempting, most especially just now. Yet as time wore on I think would become alien to the living, like a stone smuggled into a nest of eggs]
The king saw how Lilith grew supremely unhappy at these words.
HAMON: [Then Sire, think on the refined cruelty of the Eyes of Malkuth, and what you will suffer should you fall into their hands. Your sister accepted the Change and not even the pains of childbirth could daunt her. At the very least you could die at the moment of your own choosing]
MELCHIZEDEK: [I fear no torment by the enemy. Every moment I re main alive in the hands of Malkuth he risks having me snatched away by my sister, or so he would fear. No, Hamon, my end will be quick]
Melchizedek saw Lilith’s tears were flowing freely. He was moved to drop the airs of a king and embrace her as any brother would embrace a sister he always loved.
MELCHIZEDEK: [I regret the years I had to admire you only in my thoughts]
LILITH (sobbing): [Oh, Deck, this parting is bitter. Bitter!]
Melchizedek held her gently apart.
MELCHIZEDEK: [Hamon told me your Leliel is the first born of the B’nei Elohim. The children of the gods! How very fortunate you are!]
But like the shadow of a cloud passing over the white sun Melchizedek saw how they were inflicting torment upon themselves as cruel as anything devised by Malkuth by letting the necessary parting linger too long. So at his command Melchizedek was arrayed in his finest raiment. He donned a jeweled cloak and his father’s crown. Then he led his weeping subjects to the lower levels of the city, and Lilith longed to follow, but Hamon gently stayed her, and taking Leliel they went another way.
A lone craft neared the near shore of the Aramel Sea, thronged with the enemy, yet no darts flew. Rimmon himself awaited. The living avatar of Malkuth expected Melchizedek to send forth an underling as messenger, bit was the king of the city himself! Message received. King Rimmon ordered weapons free. As Melchizedek foresaw he died quickly in a storm of arrows. By the end of the day the city was pacified by the cruel Eyes of Malkuth and would never again know a ruling monarch.
Azarael and Jael of the Fallen Angels slinked their way through caves and tunnels in the ice far to the west of Shalem. Only three of Rimmon’s soldiers ever discovered them. Their bodies were left to be found in such a way that their deaths could be explained as entirely accidental.
There the women discovered the enemy’s main storeroom of meat and grain. Not even Binah knew the exact location of that cache where it lay under the ice, but she always knew the position of Lilith’s headband.
Azarael left the artifact inside a container near the center of the cache in such a way that it would not likely be discovered, even if the storeroom were actively being drawn down, which to her eyes it was not.
After that she and Jael moved some distance away. They went far down one of the tunnels radiating from the central space like wheel spokes, there to remain until such a time as they detected (as Hamon described it, using what he warned was extreme under statement) a disturbance.
“This is not a suicide mission,” Hamon assured Lilith’s two spies when he briefed them. They would not have to wait for long. Hamon took Laylah home to Anshar but Lilith rejoined the main body of the Fallen Angels where they camped east of the pass.
Lilith’s spies could live upon the bounty of stores but it was always cold. Fortunately they had a nice remedy that never seemed to get tiresome. In the cozy little rat’s nest they made for themselves Jael slipped nude between fur blankets and purred to Azarael to come to her.
When the Fallen Angels forced the entrance of the ice cache the Adanites fell back in good order to the central chamber while dealing out fire. There they made a stand that seemed impossible to break. As the Fallen Angels emerged from each tunnel the ene my commander, Bezaliel, shifted soldiers to meet the threats as they appeared. Lilith found it impossible to attack the core simultaneously from more than a handful of tunnels since the cross tunnels were few and the enemy knew them well.
Raphaela spied a drop of water rolling down Lilith’s cheek. Her lieutenant was shocked at the sight of this, and steeled herself to rebuke her queen. It was one thing to feel despair during a battle, it was quite another to allow that despair to be visible to underlings. But then a large drop of water landed square on Raphaela’s own head. She looked up to see many such drops were falling from the dimly-illuminated ceiling of ice far overhead. As she watched, the drops became a true rain.
The ceiling began to glow with a light of its own and a steady thunder grew. Lilith ordered the Fallen Angels to disengage and fall back into the tunnel. The roof of the ice cave glowed or ange before exploding, with the more fortunate Adanite defenders killed by house-sized chunks of ice and the less fortunate ones boiling alive.
The avatar of Binah drilled into the supply cache with all six engines skewed, spouting fire from the heart of Sol and turning the ice directly to steam.
Falling ice melted to water, the water boiled away, and the bodies of len were crisped by raw flame until even their ashes were scattered away.
Lilith and her lieutenants walked to the ragged end of several tunnels and looked down, trying to comprehend the chaos of the scene below even as the avatar abruptly fell silent.
Far across the chamber at the entrance to another tunnel stood Azarael and Jael, both quite safe. The applause of the two women echoed across the newly quiet space.
Lilith dropped to the lowest level and spoke to the inert ava tar. “Hamon, if Laylah is in there with you, you’re dead. And if you left her alone in Anshar where Malkuth can get at her by portal you’re twice as dead!” The avatar of Chokhmah began to shrink before her eyes until it was a white faceless figure with a head, arms, and legs. It said, “Do give me some credit, Lilith.”
Lilith had quite forgotten that Binah could fly her avatar perfectly well without anyone riding inside.
Word of the civil war raging within House Gerash had long reached the ears of King Galizur, who dispatched his son Barachiel to the frontier in the event the Adanites took their family squabble across the mountains that marked the border. On the flats that lay before the precipitous front of those high lands Lilith took counsel with Prince Barachiel while the Fallen Angels halted in their march a mile behind her.
LILITH: [Your Majesty, I regret to say my father and my brother were slain by their own kinsmen on a single day. Even as I speak the city of Shalem is trampled by the Eyes of Malkuth and the forces loyal to King Rimmon of Adan]
The prince was dismayed by this news. House Larund had not al ways acted kindly toward Shalem, but for the whole long reign of King Melchiyahu the Brown Beards had counted themselves for tunate that fair city lay between them and the Adanite zealots who infested the west.
BARACHIEL: [How could this come to be?]
LILITH Hashmal Malphas killed my father in a most cowardly way. He appeared even as Hamon tells me Emperor Rimmon has appeared before you, by a bridge in reality only the Seraphim can summon. He appeared behind my father’s back and struck off his head without warning. He left no chance for the king to defend him self, but I will avenge my father]
BARACHIEL: And your brother Melchizedek? How did he die?]
LILITH: [Melchizedek knew Emperor Rimmon had brought overwhelm ing force against his city, and a siege was immanent. He deemed, correctly, that no edict the emperor would likely impose upon the people of the city for their long defiance could be worse than their starvation. He went willingly to the enemy camp and Malkuth swears he died quickly and cleanly]
BARACHIEL: [I have heard that Malkuth himself is not needlessly cruel. But the same cannot be said of the Eyes of Malkuth]
LILITH: [Emperor Rimmon has already appointed a governor over the city, and he has levied a heavy tax. The Eyes of Malkuth multiply almost as fast as do the mournful edicts and the check points, and none may depart. And yet for all that, Rimmon has utterly failed, because a daughter and a granddaughter of King Melchiyahu remain alive, and both have slipped away from his grasp. Binah holds forth that I am a cherub and the Queen of Salem in exile. Rimmon comes for me and Laylah and my consort.”
BARACHIEL: [Do you seek safe haven, Your Majesty? I would gladly extend welcome for you and your family to live with us on the island of Sealiah, and if that is not to your liking you may dwell anywhere in the lands subject to King Galizur. This am nesty he has already declared, to redress the deeds of his fa ther when King Gordiel was taken into exile]
LILITH [I thank you, Prince Barachiel, but the Adanaites are also pursuing a host of other exiles. Truly, you have already discerned this host, now standing some distance from us. Were we to do nothing to stave off the war that must follow, your father would no more welcome them here than Rimmon would relish their return to Shalem.”
BARACHIEL: [Queen Lilith, if war comes to House Larund, know that the men and women of this land hold ourselves to be exiles also, and Binah to be our only God. We will never turn away any who embrace her]
LILITH: [I thank you, Prince Barachiel, but if war comes it will not stop at Sealiah or even Rumbek. Rimmon means to overawe the kingdoms of Kemen one after the other before they can unite to stop him. Think on this when next he appears before you as a merchant of arms]