One evening a large ball of flame from the heart of Sol appeared over the summit of the volcano and illuminated the whole land of Anshar. When Hammon pointed this out to Lilith she said, “Such a simple trick! I can do the same.”

“But I didn’t do it.”

“Shemhazai, then.”

“Not at all.”


“There will come a moment when I cause the fireball to appear, but the link from my body as a sun will terminate over the mountain slightly delayed in time. I can do this because I have direct epistemic access to the past. I can see where to place the mouth of the link because I perceive time as a growing block. I did not have this view when I was Bat-El alone, nor as Hamon alone. It is a serendipitous talent that came with the union.”

“When you created the fireball was that something you chose to do, or were you somehow compelled to do it?”

“I chose to do it, because I can see two distinct tracks, the original one in which I did not create the fireball, and a new one in which I did. And I perceive myself to be on this track, the one in which I did.”

“I do not share this view of time,” said Lilith. “Even now after the union with El I see time only as an eternal now that changes. My epistemic ac- cess to the past is only through my own memories and physical records that I can examine.”

“Perhaps this ability arises when a female eloah joins with a world- dweller.”

“If the difference is sex-based, it could depend on the sex of the world- dweller. After all, I am a yan and you are a lan.”

Hamon shook hyz head. “I find that unlikely. The difference between yen and len is very small indeed compared the the difference between male and female elohim. Shemhazai is male. If he could be induced to taking on a living avatar as we have done, then I will have an answer.”

“If Shemhazai comes to share your ability to alter the past, then I will be unable to help you confirm it. My memories and any physical records I will have access to will change to conform to his chosen path such that I will have no way to know they have changed.”

“If Shemhazai attains the same ability to alter the past I will immediately detect it with my own ability, and my first action will be to undo the change. There is a safety margin. I required long investigation before I really understoon what my ability was.”

Lilith and Hamon had flown by avatar to Anshar many times but never before to the city of Adan where Shemhazai ruled directly. Hamon took Lilith to a park in the heart of the city that marked the place where humans were first brought to Kemen.

A statue of a cherub with a flaming sword stood over the eastern entrance. Hamon showed Lilith the ridge where the portal would open, and the field where Hebel grazed his bison. Paths laced through the grove where Kayin committed the first murder.

“Was it always this beautiful?”

“More so, then,” Hamon told her. “A thousand years ago the Deluge reached even these heights.”

“What is your plan?”

“There is no plan, Lil. Even now the Eyes of Shemhazai are moving to take me into custody.”

“Your plan is to die! Have you forgotten that Malphas pronounced your doom?”

“It will not come to that.”

“In the absence of your plan I say we go forward with my backup plan.”

Hamon narrowed his eyes. “Lilith, don’t do anything stupid. Better yet, don’t do anything at all!”

A squad of len surrounded them just then. Lilith was known to the captain, at the very least. He said, “Your pardon I crave, Your Majesty, but by the command of King Rimmon we must separate your companion from you.”

As he was led away Hamon called out, “Lilith! Just drop it! Do you hear me?”

Hy was marched through a veritable museum of torture to the lowest levels of Rimmon’s palace and left to shiver in a wet cell. The next day Malphas paid a visit. He moved close to the iron bars to look directly into Hamon’s eyes. After studying him quietly for a time he said, “Lord Shemhazai gives his regards, Bat-El.”

Hamon smiled. “I made no secret of the union, yet you came all the way to Salem to deny it.”

“Lord Shemhazai has learned that you put on something of a conjuring act just before he whisked Melchizedek to Earth. Only Bat-El could have timed things so.”

“Excellent, Malphas! So now that your master has come to believe what you condemned me to die for teaching, why do I remain in this cell?”

“Certain actions and non-actions will be required of you.”

“Shemhazai knows I can choose to end my life at any time. The disgusting instruments of pain you arrayed for me have no meaning.”

“A martyr is really the last thing we want, Bat-El. But Princess Lilith has her mind quite made up. Do you really think the Eyes are not aware of the preparations she has made for your rescue? You will be amazed when you see it. Sleeper cells, guards taken out with a head twist, secret disguises, body doubles, and safe houses from here to the edge of the city! But it is doomed to fail. We will catch Lilith in the act, scoop up key Fallen Angels and crush your whole movement in one night.”

“You are grossly underestimating Lilith and her Fallen Angels if you think you can just roll them up.”

“The Lord Shemhazai suggests a better alternative. If you agree to be pa- raded in a cage from here to Salem so the people may witness the humilia- tion of their would-be god, Lilith and her friends will have no reason to carry out their suicide pact.”

“I will die the moment you display me in a cage.”

“You must not refuse, Bat-El, because the alternative is Lilith, remember? Her plan?”

“That will require some backtracking on your part, Malphas. Have you for- gotten you pronounced my death for presuming to teach I am the living ava- tar of Bat-El? Now you would have everyone see I spoke truth after all.”

Malphas curled his lips. “The rabble have short memories.”

“I agree never to will myself to die,” Hamon said, “void if I am ever put to torment.” Is that all the Lord Shemhazai requires of me?”

“Your avatar must never again be seen in the lands ruled by King Rimmon.”

“I keep my avatar far to the north of this city. Does your king’s rule ex- tend beyond the ice wall?”

“You quibble, Bat-El. By ‘lands’ the Lord means that part of Kemen that is free of ice.”

“Very well. Is there nothing more he requires?”

“Finally, you must share with the Lord Shemhazai the secret of merging with a living lan, as you have done.”

“Very good! When my mother and father have sent Lilith home to Salem by portal I will comply.”

“You are in no position to make demands of your own.”

“How unfortunate for you, Malphas. I will now shed this container of meat, and when Shemhazai makes his inquiries he will be dismayed how close he came to learning the trick of having one of his own before your intransi- gence ruined the negotiations.”

“Hold! I will bring your request before the Lord himself!”

“No need, Malphas. It seems my father and I are suddenly back on speaking terms.”

The rumble of Bat-El’s avatar lifting skyward was heard even in the dungeon beneath the palace.

At a tall cataract in the foothills east of Salem Lilith and a squad of her Fallen Angels refreshed themselves before resuming their patrol. The water- fall completely obscured the sound and vibration of onrushing hooves until it was nearly too late. Not even Lilith’s hypersensitive mare gave warning of Adanite horselen racing up behind them. Only at the last instant, by some odd instinct, did Lilith unlimber her blade to crash against a mighty iron rod. She was knocked clean off her horse.

Still stunned, Lilith witnessed another Adanite horselan decapitate Imriel, her chief lieutenant, with a single stroke.

Lilith’s horse possessed the discipline to linger rather than bolt. Shaking her head clear and choking back her grief, Lilith mounted up once more. Four surviving Fallen Angels rallied around her.

Lumbering after the assailants at a full gallop, Lilith and her companions loosed many arrows while standing in their stirrups. They felled the lan wielding the iron staff.

Two other weaving len blocked with their own bodies arrows fired at Imri- el’s killer. This surviving attacker dove into a forest glade guarded by a large armed encampment of Adanites. Contrary to her every wish Lilith reared back on her reins to come to a stop and the other Fallen Angels con- formed to her movements. This soldier they had chased turned to face them. Seeing the identity of the lan who killed Imriel, the princess mouthed his name with all the bile she could summon: “Malphas!”

The track of burning villages around Salem had led Lilith to believe Mal- phas was ten leagues to the north. She guessed Malphas dragged his army here by forced march overnight, but that made her wonder how he knew to come to just this place. She took pains to keep her own movements equally mysterious.

As though in reply Demonstroke soared over the trees. Lilith was shocked to see the last dragon in Kemen had been brought to the fight, but he climbed high above and made no move to attack.

At a signal the Fallen Angels gathered close around the princess. She said, “Malphas pays for Imriel, life for life. You needn’t follow me. Hamon says my death will not be my death but he has made no such promise to you.”

But the Fallen Angels were of a single mind. The one named Raphaela an- swered for them all when she said, “Lead us, Your Royal Highness. For Imri- el!”

So heedless of the danger they all turned to face the enemy.

They sped forward to attack directly and not one yan held back. But Malphas ordered the canvas covering a cage to be removed, revealing Hamon just as Lilith entered the range of the enemy’s darts. She brought her horse to a halt once more.

Malphas said, “You can kill me from where you stand, Lilith, but Hamon would join me in death.”

Lilith rode a bit closer. Pikelen arranged in a ring brought their forest of spikes to the horizontal, yet not toward Lilith, but inward, toward Ha- mon.

Don’t sink to this, Malphas,” she called out in disgust. “I expect this from Rimmon but not unpossessed Gerash noblelen.”

She knew her words were empty. Hamon as a living shield curtailed her ac- tions quite neatly. In an instant she could summon a portal and whisk Ha- mon away to Earth, but Hamon himself would need to open a portal at the destination and hy refused to do so.

Malphas seemed to read her very thoughts. “Hamon is a noose around your neck, princess, and the closer you try get to him the tighter that noose will become. How easy it is to make you dance with a simple threat to Ha- mon’s life!”

Hamon shouted, “Lilith! Forget about me!”

Lilith’s eyes became moist as she shook her head with a sad smile. “Did you not know, Hamon? That is the one thing I could never do.”

Yet there was nothing more she could do on the field that day. Goading her horse, she turned and led the Fallen Angels back to the city.

When the War of Salem opened Melchiyahu’s army was the ordinary force while the Fallen Angels were throwers of knives, cutters of throats, and fire setters. But Malphas’ len perceived being swamped by leather-clad yen.

On a grander scale, it was Melchiyahu’s army that gained the victory in the first battle. But Malphas remembered only how Lilith got behind his left and assailed his supply trains. His flank was turned and he was driven down a narrowing ravine whose walls grew taller and his greater numbers were of no advantage. Malphas saw his army was in danger of being defeated in de- tail.

Flags of truce unfurled and Lilith rode into the lines of the enemy to see if Malphas had come to greater wisdom.

As Hamon watched from his cage a few paces away, Malphas said to Lilith, “Before this day, Princess, I never believed you were so valiant. Now I would have you working for me and not against me. You can destroy my army where we stand, but I fear something unfortunate might happen to Hamon dur- ing the scuffle. To keep him alive you will dissolve your band of yen dressed as warriors, ride at the head of my army, and go wherever elyonim and nephilim and men hold the god of Kemen in contempt.”

Lilith could burn Malphas where he stood with fire from the core of the star Toliman that was her true body as an eloah, but she agreed with Hamon, she must never reveal herself to be a seraph. It was a matter of opera- tional deception. The wise commander never revealed her true order of bat- tle.

“Would you really appoint me your general while holding hostage a peaceful lan that I love? Shemhazai would do better to shun pretense and send his dragon down to finish me and the Fallen Angels.”

Malphas was delighted to hear Lilith declare her love for the prisoner. “Then are the wild rumors true, Princess? Hamon must never fall outside of the watchful gaze of the Eyes of Shemhazai but he need not be confined to this cage. At a word from Rimmon you could go to him this very night.”

“And at a word from my father, ” said Lilith in reply, “every Salemite would flock into his army. Yea, the old, the infirm, the yen, even our dirks and our dolls. This war would grow so bloody that the whole face of the land would stink with the uncovered dead, and no one would be left alive to bury them. This, Malphas, must never come to be.” Then she turned on her heels and quit the parley.

Never was Hamon so proud of his first student. She had needed no prodding to do the right thing.

When Lilith had departed and Malphas knew he was not to die that day he returned to Hamon’s cage to gloat. “She knows, Bat-El. The things you love are always used against you. She knows!”

“Lilith does indeed know,” Hamon replied, “but woe to those who turn love into a weapon and dare to use it against the ones who do love. Beware, Mal- phas. Your doom comes into view.”

“Speak you in the role of my oracle, Bat-El?”

“It takes no divine foresight to guess this war will end badly for you.”

And another thing Hamon had come to realize filled hym with elation. Shem- hazai, who had united with King Rimmon, had made no attempt to alter events in the past. Hamon believed he had a monopoly on such manipulations. In that time and place it remained a power with limited scope, but his future daughter, he knew, would find it to be a weapon of surpassing strength.

Long before the war Lilith’s grandfather old King Gordiel hitched a wagon to a nearby tree with a knot so elaborate no one could fairly begin to un- ravel it. At that time an oracle said (or Gordiel said that the oracle said) whoever untied the wagon would rule all of Kemen.

Malphas knew of this prophecy, of course. When he was within sight of Salem he found the wagon and beheld what the people called the Gordian Knot. For long hours while the army made camp he took his own turn at it.

This Malphas continued to do until a hashmal of the Eyes of Shemhazai ar- rived on the scene. He looked askance at what he took to be a move to usurp the power of Rimmon himself.

Malphas took great offense at the insinuation. “Am I to believe the Eyes of Shemhazai give any credence at all to the babblings of local would-be seers and prophets?”

“What you believe or what the Eyes believe matters not one whit, Lord Mal- phas. What the rabble in aggregate believes is entirely another matter.”

“Then you may be pleased to report to King Rimmon I am thoroughly satisfied this knot is secure and the wagon is going nowhere. Have your len lash Ha- mon’s cage to this wagon and arrange the army on the slope along every side.”

Lilith padded out her ample curves and applied false facial hair to offset the soft yenish features that belied her status as commander of the most fierce brigade on Kemen. Also, with the change that came with her horns, she could speak in a deep baritone at will.

This along with an eidetic memory and other sundry skills were part of what Hamon called the standard toolkit for B’nei Elohim.

Lilith dressed as one of the poor farmers in the vicinity of Salem who had been pressed into menial service at the business end of a whip but were not made part of the army. She drifted among the soldiers ladling out water and calmly taking much abuse. In the very center of the camp she noted the wooden cage that had been Hamon’s drafty home for much too long.

The cage was covered with a canvas to keep Hamon from freezing to death. It would not do, as Malphas knew well, to break the single thread keeping him- self and his whole army alive.

Lilith could swagger with the best of them. The guards permitted her to attend to Hamon. She climbed up onto the wagon and appeared between the canvas and the cage with a stoneware pitcher of water. For light she donned a lamp on a green head band made by Bat-El herself, a gift from her daugh- ter from early in her discipleship.

The brilliant white light of the headband came from the body of Bat-El her- self, Hamon once told Lilith, down an intangible thread finer than a spid- er’s silk. The canvas covering his cage was thick enough that no light es- caped to betray the princess. He was overjoyed to see her and willing to overlook the beard. For the benefit of the guards nearby she grunted, “Here’s your filthy swill-water you clutty bastard!” But she framed her thoughts to say “THE KETTLES ARE SECURE ABOARD THE SHIPS.”

“Hold the ladle still you bafty hoach!” muttered Hamon, getting into the spirit of their little game.



“Take the water or leave be, you sputtering ball bag!” Lilith grunted for the benefit of the guards. To Hamon she handed over her head lamp and asked, “WHY MUST I TO BRING THIS TO YOU?”

“You smelly half a loaf!” He blurted. He took the pitcher because he real- ly was thirsty and he drank half the contents while marveling that even mind-to-mind communication was subject to misunderstandings. Then he said, “THIS ARTIFACT IS UNIQUE IN KEMEN. NOTHING ELSE SAYS ‘LILITH WAS HERE’ WITH NO MISTAKE. I WANT MALPHAS TO KNOW YOU CAN GET TO ME AT ANY TIME.'”

Lilith nodded, now seeing Hamon’s plan in full. For the guards she said, “Keep your stinky grabbers inside the cage!” She took back the water and climbed down.

The city of Salem proper lay on a rocky island across a narrow strait of the Aramel Sea, which made it such a hard nut for land armies to crack. At dawn twelve warships emerged from the seaward side. To the soldiers of the Adanite army it was evident something was wrong with them. They pitched in the water after the manner of toy rocking horses, and the sea behind them literally boiled, sending clouds of vapor skyward. Their sails were all furled and their rows of oars remained idle.

One of the ships broke off from the squadron and raced ahead to the shore. Just before landfall it heaved back once more, and with a final burst of boiling water beached itself on the sand like one of the aquatic mammals of Earth. The sea swirling around its immersed aft end slowly cooled.

Shemhazai chose to make this vessel an example for all the others. His dragon Demonstroke flew low along the shore from the north and set the wreck ablaze to the great joy of the entire Adanite army.

But something was amiss. The hulk was ablaze, to be sure, indeed the pyre sent up a great tower of smoke, yet the screams of any len trapped inside could not be heard. And it proved to be no deterrent at all. The eleven remaining ships of the Salemite fleet went on to beach themselves in like manner.

Then Malphas sent two of every three len of his army forward, but he kept a third part of them to safeguard the cage holding Hamon. Boarding the ships, the soldiers found no crewlen within.

Belowdecks each ship had two large bronze tank, with pipes leading aft, but none could puzzle out their purpose.

Hashmal Bezaliel said, “This has all the makings of a trap, sir. Melchiyahu invites us to cross over to the city where some unpleasantness lies in wait.”

Malphas said, “I deem your counsel to be good. We will not take his bait, but we will take his ships, and assail Salem at a time of my own choosing, not that of the king.” And he ordered many of his len to take the oars.

One-third of the Adanite army stood idle. Another third took to the ships. The final third heaved the vessels off the sand with raw muscle power.

Two wings of the army of King Melchiyahu emerged from thick woods to the north and south where they had lain hidden even from the dragon. The Sale- mite army and the Fallen Angels closed on the beach like the jaws of some huge beast.

The bronze kettles in the ships flooded and tipped half the oars of all eleven ships entirely out of the water.

Some of the ships tried to paddle further out to sea, others tried to re- turn to the beach, most of them just twirled in place. All of them caught fire. Nothing restrained Bat-El after Shemhazai set a precedent with the attack by his dragon. And this time screams were most assuredly heard.

But the Adanites on the shore had simultaneous attacks on their left and right flanks to worry about. Malphas ordered len to cart Hamon in his cage down off the hill toward the center of his lines.

Yet the battle showed no sign of letting up. Hamon as a shield was effec- tive only against Lilith as a weapon. And the dragon was no help on the field, lest Shemhazai destroy his own forces along with the Salemites.

Malphas scanned the chaos and spotted Lilith fighting her way toward the hill behind his army where the wagon remained tied up. A sudden fear gripped him. Could Lilith solve the Gordian knot and inherit the promise of the oracle to rule all Kemen? He moved to cut her off.

Alone on the summit they both dismounted and squared off with swords in hand.

“Have you come to answer for Imrael?” she taunted.

“I will never allow you to test the oracle of the Gordian Knot!”

“This?” She pointed the tip of her blade at the wagon. “My grandfather was either half-mad or his knot is the most famous practical joke on Kemen.”

This only elicited a flurry of clashing swords. Lilith drove Malphas back and said, “I live in Salem. I could have tested the oracle at any time!”

Lilith’s logic didn’t seem to penetrate. Instead, Malphas lunged forward. His blade slashed Lilith’s bare midsection and he attained first blood.

She feigned shock at the injury and slowed her dance. Malphas saw that and let his guard wither for just a few heartbeats, but it was enough. Seeing her slim opening, Lilith let fly a ferocious kick of one booted foot to his face and Malphas was laid out cold with his sword separated from his uncon- scious hand. Lilith tossed it out of reach.

With her prey lying helpless Lilith briefly considered making an end of him Before she met Hamon Lilith would have done just that, to avenge Imriel. Far better to let Malphas live and explain this defeat to his god.

She glanced at the forgotten wagon fastened to a tree on the hilltop and ran to it instead. She flipped the drawbar up to the seat. Like everyone who came before she made no headway with the knot. Adanite skirmishers, she saw, were climbing the hill to aid their commander.

With no time to lose Lilith simply hacked at the knot with her sword until it fell apart. The wagon was free, but she was certain grandpa didn’t have that solution in mind when he created the knot.

Gravity made the wagon roll downhill. Lilith jumped up onto the seat and took the drawbar to steer it. The sound of her wheels drew the attention of the Adanites. They gaped at the horror rushing down upon them faster than any horse could drive it. All of the len fled as her gamble played out.

Hamon saw what she was trying to do. He flattened himself against a side of the cage that he guessed would avoid a direct impact.

Lilith’s wagon collided with enough speed to shatter both the cage and the wagon to splinters and she was unceremoniously dumped on her ass. But some- how they both survived the collision. Lilith was more bruised than she had ever been in her life but Hamon was free of the cage and the enemy was scattered into isolated squads.

Raphaela came to Lilith’s aid.

When Raphaela was satisfied Lilith was not in mortal danger she said, “The enemy no longer has a unified army. They are fleeing by platoons and squads. Shall we cut them off?”

Lilith said, “No, the king has left one route open, inviting the enemy to retire. The trickle out the back door will become a flood. We must never engage in slaughter for the sake of slaughter dear Raphaela. It is enough that we have won the field today.”

“Happy is the city that thinks of war in times of peace!”

Sarathiel rejoiced, and said, “Happy is the city that thinks of war in times of peace!”

“Happiness has nothing to do with it, Raphaela. The clash of arms is the worst experience the dwellers of Kemen can ever experience.”

“And Your Royal Highness, what of the vainglorious thrill-seekers who claim to love warfare?”

Lilith said, “They are either lying and have never tasted actual combat, or their mind has failed them.”

But something more pressing weighed upon Lilith’s mind, the well-being of her husband. She hobbled over to the big pile of sticks that had been his cage.

“No more adventures for now,” she told Hamon while they each made certain the other was not seriously hurt. “I’ve cracked a rib, for one thing. And I am thankful for the gift of shunting the pain away. But this battle would have been unnecessary if you had just let me carry out my plan at Adan.”

“You would have been killed.”

Lilith touched the halo made of horns she now wore. “But you have changed me, and unleashed a warrior yan in Kemen who does not blench at the thought of death.”

“I would unleash an army of them. But tell me, why did you throw away ever- ything you’ve worked for since you met me?”

“I don’t understand what you just said.”

Hamon held up one end of the wagon’s rope. “I’m talking about the Gordian Knot. I’ll admit, cutting it was probably not what the oracle intended, but now you are destined to rule all of Kemen. Fate! The unreformed Lilith must return.”

“‘Must she? Do you think Shemhazai will have his way forever?”

Hamon slowly shook his head.

What if the oracle was really saying the spirit of the new Lilith will take over Kemen? The Lilith who changed –” her eyes brimmed with moisture and her voice broke, but she went on. “The one who changed on that unforgetta- ble day when she first heard you speak.”

The last word was a sob. She regretted the wasted years.

Hamon ran his hand over Lilith’s side and somehow took the underlying pain away. Lilith no longer had to use her new talen tto dull her agony enough to breathe deeply.

Hamon straightened up from his examination of Lilith’s injuries. He played the oracle just then, perhaps as a kind of postscript to the seer inspired by (or perhaps hired by) old King Gordiel. He said, “It will take many cen- turies to play out, my beloved, both here and in the other world. But you broke through more than just my cage here today. If every person in every age becomes willing to do for each other what you did for me today, then love won. Don’t you see? Once and for all, love won!”

Avram means “the father is exalted” which glorified Terah rather than his son. In the ritual sealing the covenant with Bat-El Melchizedek changed his name to Avraham, which means “father of many nations”.

When Avraham’s own son was fourteen years of age Melchizedek said, “Take now Yishak and go to the hill country. There you shall make of him a burnt offering upon one of the mountains that I will show you.”

At first Avraham searched the face of Melchizedek, thinking it to be a bad joke.

Avraham was tempted to refuse outright as he did once before in Harran, but he remembered the covenant. Melchizidek says this Bat-El now requires the life of his son? So be it.

“Let my word be true. I will obey my God, even though I find his demands to be hateful.”

When all was ready Avraham left his flocks grazing on the plains nigh to the coast. There he left his wife and all his servants. With Yishak at his side he was led by Melchizedek into the hills that overlooked the Salt Sea.

On the first night Melchizedek told Avraham to look at the stars and asked if he could count them. “So shall your descendants be,” said he.

Avraham got the point. He already possessed many animals and servants and great riches. He did not place his hopes on obtaining a better second life. The only new thing Bat-El could give Avraham was the assurance that his name and his blood and the memory of him as a faithful servant of the liv- ing God would be carried into the indefinite future.

They saw no game along the way, so when they drew near to the designated place and Melchizedek pointed out the hill to them, Yishak asked, “Where is the animal for the offering?”

Melchizedek said nothing. Avraham could not bring himself to lie to his son. “God himself will provide the offering.”

Yishak was excited to see what God was going to bring so he ran ahead up the hill with youthful energy.

Avraham said to Melchizedek, “When we reach the top you will help me re- strain my son.”

When they caught up with the boy on the hilltop Yishak called out, “Father, there’s nothing here!”

Avraham had a length of rope and was tying loops in it. He said, “Join me here son, and help with this.” Yishak promptly obeyed his father.

Thus distracted, Melchizadek took the opportunity to seize the boy. Yishak didn’t cry out at first because he didn’t understand what was happening until Avraham and Melchizedek had lashed him securely to a flat boulder that would serve as the altar.

After that Avraham didn’t need to work up the will to slay his own son, he was actually in a hurry to do it. Every instant the helpless Yishak lay in mortal terror of his own father tore at his heart. Avraham couldn’t stand it. He raised his blade…

Melchizedek was barely in time to restrain him. He shouted, “Enough! Do not harm the boy!” To be certain, Melchizedek used the Killing Relic to cut the lad free once more.

Yishak ran off to a safe distance and turned to face his father.

Avraham’s face twisted as he worked through a storm of dark emotions. He seemed to arrive at an answer. “A day of testing?”

Melchizedek nodded in the affirmative. “This day will not be forgotten while cold and heat, seed-time and harvest remain. For God Most High knows you will not even withhold your only son from him.”

Avraham longed to embrace Yishak but he saw how the boy stood well away. Trust, once betrayed like this, could never return. “Could there not have been another way?”

Melchizedek said, “It would be difficult to explain the full background of the controversy. It is enough for you to know the enemy of man has made certain claims and God Most High has chosen you and your descendants to show them to be false.”

Avraham lamented, “What I dread most of all is answering the hard questions of Sarai after Yishak has spoken to her of all this, which he doubtless will.”

Just then a portal appeared on the hilltop. With the crack of a whip a ram rushed through.

With a smooth stroke of the Killing Relic Melchizedek separated the head and body of the animal after it emerged from the bubble, that Avraham may not be proven false in what he had said to his son.

He said, “Farewell, Avraham of Harran! One day other servants may be sent as God Most High commands.”

In the audience hall of Melchiyahu one lamp alone was burning to give light. Melchizedek had forgotten how day on one world could be night on the other, and he wondered how that could be.

Melchizedek went to the wing of the palace where Princess Lilith lived, as she was quite nocturnal. When he drew near to her chambers he saw servants going out with wet linen and going in with dry and he wondered if he really wanted to go any further. The worst fears of Melchizedek materialized when he found Lilith to be nude from the waist down with each leg held high in the air by servants, debauched even by his sister’s standards. But Hamon was also present amid the flurry of activity.

Lilith spied him approaching and smiled broadly. “Deck, you’ve come! And just in time!”

Hamon said, “The head has breached. Push, Lil! Push!”

Melchizedek remembered little after that, only that it was all very liquid. Afterwards he realized to his surprise that he, a warrior and prince of the city, had fainted.

When he was revived the newborn was already skin-to-skin against its moth- er. She said, “Deck, is Leliel not beautiful?”

“I see there have been many changes this past year.”

“Who more worthy to wed an ophan of Salem than a Seraph?” replied Lilith, affirming what Melchizedek had long guessed about Hamon, that he was great- er in glory than any king. She regretted the necessity of keeping her own status as a seraph from her brother. “And Deck, in your absence the city has withstood war!”

He said, “Beloved sister, you are the most valiant and hardy yan I know, but unless I am still unconscious and dreaming, just moments before you went through one of the most difficult and painful experiences possible in this world and did not once cry out.”

“I gave Lilith a number of wedding gifts,” Hamon said. “One of them is that she can set aside any pain, if she so chooses.”

“Yet pain is the not enemy most people think it is,” said Melchizedek. “A ‘gift’ such as that leads only to a short life.”

“That is true, Your Royal Highness, but only if the gift stands alone.”

“There are things it is well Shemhazai not discover until it is too late,” Lilith explained as she nursed Leliel. “Not the most refined torment could wrest them from me.”

“Avraham proved true in the testing,” Melchizedek revealed.

“That is so,” said Hamon, “but he has little love for a god who demanded the life of his son. Still, I suppose a man might remain loyal to a god he actively hates. Even now he and Yishak are offering the animal I sent to them. But come, Melchizedek, your task is done. Let your mind be at ease and rejoice with your sister. You have a niece! Tomorrow we shall see your father and speak of what has befallen Salem in your absence.”

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 Melchize- dek Adanite forces seized once more the land approaches to Salem. The city, built upon an island 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 as he cried, “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 father and was overcome with grief. He called for aides.

Lilith said to Hamon, in the secret tongue El and Bat-El had once devised between themselves, “Shemhazai commanded me to summon a portal for Malphas. I had no idea he would use it to kill my own father!”

Lilith met Hamon with pleading eyes but there was nothing he could do.

“I knew Shemhazai had this weapon in reserve,” he said, “but there is no defense. I have given much thought to a deterrent.”

“Shemhazai must know that such actions carry eternal consequences,” Lilith said. “Never again will I aid him to summon a bridge.”

Then, instead of bewailing the death of her father Lilith stood up straight and said to the assembled lords, “The king is dead! Hail Melchizedek, king of the city! Long may he rule!”

The noblelen 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!”

The new king held out a hand in the direction of his father’s receding lit- ter and inquired of Hamon, “Will this, too, be the manner of my passing?”

“Not immediately, Your Majesty. Shemhazai now expects to receive messengers from Salem suing for peace.”

“Excellent!” said Lilith. “Then he will not anticipate another taste of war!”

Hamon shook his head. “No, Lil, your own lieutenant has told me the forces moving in the field are five times greater than what came against Salem before.”

“Fivefold, or a hundredfold, or half,” said Melchizedek, “for long as I reign as king of this city none shall face the enemy in the field.”

“Your Majesty,” said Lilith, “we have ships enough to carry all the people of the city away.”

“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.”

“Even so, Your Majesty,” said Hamon, “Release one seaworthy craft, at least. I would send spies up the Dashok to the ice bridge. Shemhazai main- tains 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 disadvan- tage. He knows precisely where the ice cave lies under the surface and I do not.”

“If my brother and king is willing,” said Lilith, “Azarael and Jael would be perfect. They’re hunters and they’re ghosts.”

“Your spies shall have their barque,” said King Melchizedek, and “what provender they need. But what think you, sister mine? Shall I abdicate the throne?”

“Shemhazai 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 worse.”

He said, “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 replied, “My brother and liege-lord, my fighting yen have sworn a solemn oath their hand shall ever cleave to the sword.”

“Then where shall they go, Lil?”

“Sire,” Hamon said, “With my mother’s aid I will whisk Lilith and Leliel to my home in Anshar. Shemhazai could hardly object. It solves a number of problems he has, the biggest one being Lilith herself. But King Galizur of Rumbek boasts he will welcome anyone cast off from what he terms ‘the un- lovely lands ruled by Rimmon.””

Melchizedek could feel events rapidly accelerating toward a conclusion he had no wish to see, but no way to alter, even with his power as king. With a sigh he said to Hamon, “Then so let it be.”

“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.”

“There has been a spring and a summer in this city,” said Melchizedek. “It lasted far longer and tasted far sweeter than anyone ever dared to dream.”

“If winter must now come to Salem,” said Lilith, “may the flowering we have known take root outside of the lands trampled by House Gerash.”

Hamon said, “Your Majesty, will you not reconsider my offer, that Lilith may not be parted from you forever?”

“It is very tempting,” said Melchizedek, “most especially just now. Yet as time wore on I 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.

“Then Sire, think on the refined cruelty of the Eyes of Shemhazai, 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 said, “I fear no torment by the enemy. Every moment I remain alive in the hands of Shemhazai he risks having me snatched away by my sis- ter, 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. He said, “I regret the years I had to admire you only in my thoughts.”

Lilith could find no words other than to merely sob, “Oh, Deck, this part- ing is bitter. Bitter!”

Melchizedek held her gently apart. “Hamon told me your Leliel is the first born of the B’nei Elohim. The children of the gods! How very fortunate you are!”

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 Shemhazai by letting the necessary parting linger too long.

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 Shemhazai expected Melchizedek to send forth an underling as messenger, but no: it was the king of the city himself! Message received. King Rimmon or- dered 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 Shemhazai and would never again know a ruling monarch.