C3

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C3 - BELIAL

Princess Khondiel is a particularly knotty problem for Belial.

One time King Gordiel of Aramel heard a strange story from the other world, thousands of years old, involving a certain King Gordius of Phrygia, and he was inspired by the similarity in names to duplicate the tale on Gorpai as a sort of kingly whim. Early in his reign, King Gordiel hitched a wagon to a hilltop tree with a knot so elaborate no one has ever been able to untie it. At that time an oracle said (or was commanded by the king to say) whoever unraveled this Gordian Knot would rule the entire world of Gorpai.

Before his possession Israel had heard the famous prophecy, of course, and when the Army of Belial drew near the city Belial-Israel found the wagon and laid his own eyes on the legendary knot. For several days, while the army dug in along the lower slopes of the hill, Belial tried to undo the knot, but to no avail. Very well, since the wagon was not going anywhere soon, he had his men lash Talishi's cage to the wagon of old King Gordiel.

At a beautiful blue pool in the forest ringing the city, Khondiel and a squad of her Fallen Angels refreshed themselves, then assumed their usual mode of riding slowly on their horses while they patrolled the perimeter of the city for intruders. A nearby torrent of water was so loud that Khondiel found it hard to hear her chief lieutenant, Imriel, speaking to her. She told Imriel to repeat what she had just said a bit louder.

And Imriel said, somewhat louder, We should be back to the ferry by nightfall, having made a complete circle.

The waterfall completely blanked out the sound and vibration of onrushing hooves until it was nearly too late. Not even Khondiel's hypersensitive mare gave warning. Suddenly Gerash horsemen raced up behind Khondiel, Imriel, and the others.

At the last instant Khondiel's sword was brought out, only to crash against a mighty iron rod. There were sparks and Khondiel was knocked clean off her horse. Another horseman decapitated Imriel in one smooth motion. Khondiel was stunned, and grieved for Imriel, but her horse had the intelligence to linger with Khondiel rather than follow her instinct, which was to bolt.

Shaking her head clear, Khondiel mounted up again. Imriel was dead but four of her Fallen Angels survived the assault, and they rallied around her. Lumbering after them, she recognized their battle standard and mouthed the vile name of their general with all the contempt she could muster: Israel! She did not yet know it was Belial come in the flesh.

Khondiel chased the cavalrymen like the cold wind that presaged the long Gorpai winter. Khondiel's companions loosed many arrows even from a full gallop, and one of them slew the iron staff wielder. Two others who blocked Israel from harm also fell, so no one remained to run interference while Talishi slowly closed in on her target fleeing through the woods.

But Belial was too far ahead. Soon he reached the safety of a high, nearly treeless hill guarded by a large armed encampment which was intensely fortified. Contrary to her every wish Khondiel reared back and brought her horse to a stop, and the other Fallen Angels conformed to her movements.

Khondiel scanned all the banners and standards of the army arrayed above her and recognized this as the main bulk of the enemy's army. But every indication she had from the path of burning towns said Israel was still twenty thousand strides to the west. He must have led his army on a forced march all night. But how did he know to come to precisely this place? Belial, Khondiel muttered, answering her own unspoken question.

Belial ordered that the canvas covering Talishi's cage be removed, and Talishi was revealed to Khondiel. It was the first time the princess had seen her teacher in many days, because she had grown unable to bear Talishi's endless humiliation. Now Talishi was flaunted before her in this place.

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