Like the rest of the Palace any sense of dimensions was practically useless - the diamond walls seemed to stretch to infinity yet could be crossed rapidly if one so desired. And even by the standards of this unearthly place, the beit midrash was one of the strangest. Even after many visits, staying here too long made Asher feel vaguely nauseous. The walls were lined with endless bookshelves, full to bursting with leather bound, musty volumes of Jewish texts. If you watched closely, sometimes you could see new volumes spontaneously appearing on the shelves, with the space on the shelf miraculously warping to accommodate them, as new books were written and composed by the great thinkers of the Jewish people. It was a disconcerting experience.
Yet the whole room, the entire palace in fact, was suffused with a faint but distinct glow, that seemed to emanate from all places at once - a light that Asher found to be gently soothing, almost like being held by a loved one. Today however, Asher hardly noticed it.
“Excuse me?” said Asher, his hands still shaking from their encounter with the demons but his fury hardly dimmed at all. “You’ll forgive me?”
“Absolutely,” nodded Virgo, turning to get a book off the shelf. “Since you defeated the nameless one I know you haven’t been at full strength - certain… weaknesses are to be expected and are best forgotten.”
“Don’t you want to know why I broke shabbat? Why I entered the demons’ temple and started a punch up?” Asher said, with a tone of exasperation that either Virgo couldn’t hear or was steadfastly ignoring.
“I’m sure you had what seemed like good reasons,” Virgo said, flipping through the pages of an enormous tome of tiny Hebrew text and beginning to look at it intently. “But now we should wait for the end of shabbes so we can make a real plan.”
“A real plan?” Asher said, too quietly, before striding over to Virgo and slamming her book shut. “I’m done!”
“What do you mean?” asked Virgo looking at him like a teacher might look at a misbehaving toddler.
“I’m done with your rules, your ‘education’ and I’m done with you. Once I get Mercury and Ostar back from the Sitra Achra, then I will be done with your Seven as well - you can find someone else to play malchut for you.”
“You can’t be done,” Virgo said, still not raising her voice, “you are one of the Seven now, manifesting the power of the shechina in the world. You don’t just stop doing that.”
“Well I am,” said Asher. “I’ve followed your instructions, I’ve tried to keep shabbat, keep kosher but for what?”
“You have powers beyond those of normal human beings.”
“And those powers are mine, why should I also avoid cheeseburgers? If there is a God, He’s just a joke.”
“You have no idea what you’re talking about, Asher,” Virgo said. “You should get some rest, we can discuss it in the morning.” She moved to open the book once more.
With a shout of rage, Asher reached his mind into the crystal bench on which Virgo’s book was resting - with a gesture of his hand, he divided it. Splinters of crystal flew across the beit midrash, the book tumbled to the ground. Virgo picked up the book, kissed it and put it back on the shelf. She took up the Staff of Moses and turned to Asher.
“Ashmedai was right about you - you have a lot of growing up to do. Where do you think this power comes from if not from God? Where does this palace come from or this staff? Where is the power of the words that I used to save us from the Lower Temple?”
“The power is in us,” Asher said, “not above us. I feel it from my heart, in my fingers.”
“Exactly, you have no idea what you’re talking about.”
“This is a waste of time. We should be out saving Ostar and Mercury while we can - while the demons are resting we should take the fight to them. That’s what they would do for us.”
“No they wouldn’t. Shabbat is a part of the fabric of the earth, Asher, if you disrespect that you turn your back on everything that Mercury and Ostar stand for. I thought you would have understood that by now.”
“I understand that you just want to sit and think when we need to act.”
“And you just want to act without a plan - tell me, how did that work out for you in the Lower Temple?”
“I was doing just fine until you showed up,” Asher said in a low voice, feeling his face flushing.
“Oh yes? It looked to me like you were about to get your ass served to you on a golden platter.”
“Is that so?” Asher paused for a moment, raising his arms into a combat stance. “You think too much, you need to control everything including me and you can’t get outside your own head.”
“And you are deeply arrogant, rash to the point of endangering everyone around you and the most frustrating man I have ever met.” Virgo span her staff in a figure of eight around her, stopping it just short of his head.
“And you are… you’re just…”
Asher thrust his right arm forward, knocking the staff away from him, and span his left around to swing at Virgo. She dipped the staff and moved with its momentum catching Asher’s left hand with her right until they were only inches apart.
“What? Cat got your tongue?”
They paused, breathing heavily, looking deep into each others' eyes.
Then their lips touched.