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Being a wartime refugee on a planet in the middle of an ice age is rough.

Talishi stumbled west with the defeated forces of House Antero, Bellon, and Larund for weeks before she shook off her own self-pity over the loss of her precious Khondiel and realized there were injured people around her who needed the knowledge and skills of a healer. So she began to carry her own freight long before reaching the first major Antero city of Jelaket.

The ranks of the stragglers began to thin, but the bulk pressed on across the heart of the West Lands to the Antero capital of Vaska. As they drew near, the Red Beard patriarch sent trains of supplies to aid their march. In the city, Lord Gudrun greeted Talishi courteously enough, but many things remained unspoken between them, such as her failure to foresee Belial's intervention with his avatar, and she quickly discerned that she was simply not welcome to stay. It would be fruitless to explain that the precognition inherent in the elohim pertained only to their stellar lives, and prophetic powers failed altogether when an eloah was united with a nephil. She made preparations to leave with the much diminished Larund detachment.

The Brown Beard folk who remained behind at Rumbek were given a very rude introduction to the Law of Belial that governed House Gerash. This law seemed deliberately designed to contradict the teachings of Talishi at every point. A yin shall not speak to any yang in public, nor labor for recompense, nor own anything; she is property herself, Belial said.

For three days nephilim were permitted to eat, on Larunday, Anteroday, and Bellonday. On the fourth day, or Saladay, they were permitted to eat a double portion. But on Gerashday they were to eat nothing, and drink only water. This was the fast appointed by Belial. Only soldiers on campaign were exempted. And soldiers, as it happened, were almost always on campaign.

The worship of Belial consisted solely of giving a fourth of one's income to the Eyes of Belial priesthood at the local shrine.

The biggest change, however, was in the way dirks attained adulthood. At the Age of Initiation, dirks entered the rites of the Cupel system of testing. He wagered his sister in a fight to the death with another dirk. The dirk who survived this combat took the sister of his opponent and his own sister to be his wives, and he attained the rank of angel in the Army of Belial. Incest was institutionalized. Belial knew Gorpai itself and subsequent trials by combat would automatically weed out any genetic defects resulting from such close unions, and the benefit was a strengthening of those traits which did survive. Nephilim evolved much faster than humans.

In the lower echelon of the Army of Belial a soldier could advance from angel to archangel to principality based on his valor in combat and the ability to lead larger and larger units. To attain the middle echelon of the Army of Belial he wagered his two wives against the wives of another principality in the second ritual killing of the Cupel system. The yang who survived took the two wives of his opponent, retained his own two wives, and was designated a power, the equivalent of a commissioned officer.

From there, the ranks of virtue and dominion were reached, again through leadership and merit on the battlefield. To attain the upper echelon of the Army of Belial he wagered his own four wives against the four wives of another dominion in the third ritual killing of the Cupel system of testing. The yang who survived the final combat therefore ended up with eight wives and was appointed one of the ophanim, the lowest officer of flag rank. Above that were the ranks of cherubim and seraphim.

So it was that House Gerash and all the nephilim they conquered were trans- formed into a soulless machine for the further conquest of Gorpai. But the habitable portion of the icy planet was but three narrow strips along the equator, which offered the combined area of no more than one of the larger nations of Earth, like China. Belial took no thought to what he would do with his living war machine after there were no more lands to win.

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Strangers In Paradise