Chapter XIV

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Arabia, 788 B.C.

PIANKHY DID NOT BELIEVE the first few reports as they came to him, but eventually he had to turn aside from the command of his forces and investigate. "Sea monsters in the forest; it is absurd." He was more than a little angered by these rumors because in the end, it was just another distraction from the battle, from inevitable martial glory.

But he could not ignore them. Too many trusted lieutenants had reported these things. The looks on their faces—stark fear—were most compelling.

He stalked over scorched earth to the rear, the areas where his legions had trampled on their way to the breached walls of Ke'elei. The battle had reached a turning point; all that lay ahead was the mop-up, the final kills. And now he had to divert his all-too-valuable attention to look into children's tales.

"There, my general," a lieutenant said. "It writhes."

Piankhy looked below them to a clearing where his officer pointed. Indeed, there it was, tentacles slashing out in a large radius, its head as big as three chariots side by side—a beast from the depths of the sea, sickly pink, glistening, terrible. Beneath the monster sprung up foamy fountains of seawater, lifting his men from their feet, drowning horses, and tilting the battle in favor of the sea gods. Piankhy now felt for the first time in his life the tangible seizure of terror. It was a stricture about his throat. His eyes began to water as he said, "Are there more?"

The lieutenant replied, "Yes, my general. Many."

* * *

URIEL COULD NOT KNOW it as she involuntarily spread every molecule of her power throughout the substrata, but there would be unintended consequences for what was happening. She did not know what had manifested in her son, Qiel, how potent his gift was—especially when motivated by fear and revenge.

She did not know, for instance, that her son had drawn near, that he was close to losing control. But even if she had known it, there was nothing she could have done to prevent what happened; she was a puppet on a string. This she would nevertheless lament in the centuries to come and blame herself above all others—if Ke'elei were to fall, the powers of darkness would need to conjure up the perfect storm. She helped to provide it.

She wouldn't have called it liquefaction as scientists in the 20th century would do, but in this case, a name for the phenomenon was irrelevant, semantics. Combined with what Qiel was capable of doing, what he was indeed now doing above ground—calling the seas up from the depths of the earth, those immense gates El had opened in the Great Flood—Ke'elei's destruction was imminent.

In short, her power to dissemble was hijacked by the overwhelming power of the Bloodstone. When she had taken herself apart and blended with the Stone in her attempt to steal it, the damage was total and immediate. She became an automaton, a slave. And the stone held the bit, the bridle, and the whip.

The moment had arrived.

She had deployed herself in a radius of several leagues in the bedrock under the city. Now with a single thought, she triggered her power, and every particle of earth she touched came unglued. As gravity called the mass downward like sand in an hourglass, Qiel called the sea upward from below.

It would create a sinkhole leagues across, and it would devour every man, angel, and demon within reach of its jaws.

* * *

ABOVE GROUND, URIEL MOVED as a shadow. She could feel the ground begin to tremble underfoot. The Brotherhood's main force had breached the city wall in three places, not the least of which was the main gate. The barbican was now engulfed in flames. Demons flew, dropped from the sky, and took the city from above. The angelic army was growing weak and would soon be overcome.

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