Monday 30 July 2012

Radiance 25 - Iniquity, Transgression and Sin

Two hours later, the last three of the Seven were standing outside the excavations, watching the last tourists slink through the gates and wander off through the old city. And somewhere, deep under the earth, under rock and stone, lurked the Leviathan, the primordial chaos, waiting to rise and submerge the earth once more.    “You know,” Asher said conversationally, “that we’re about to break into the Western Wall.”
    “Uh-huh,” Virgo said with a nod and a small smile.
    “The holiest site in Judaism.”
    “That’s right,” said Rahko.
    “Just checking,” said Asher. “I suppose we should get on with it. A little cover, perhaps?”
    Virgo nodded, “They all come for violence,” she chanted. “Their hordes advance like the east wind, gather prisoners like sand.
    As the verse reached its end Asher felt the wind picking up, carrying the sand around the old city like mist. The effect was far from total but it ought to hide their movements from the more casual observer.
    “Damn,” Virgo said, “that verse should have worked better.”
    “I think none of us are quite feeling ourselves,” Rahko said. “Without the Palace to support us, I feel my power waning.”
    “All the more reason to get on with it,” said Asher, “let’s go.”
    As tourists and local Israelis hurried past them, Asher, Virgo and Rahko ran towards the Western Wall tunnels, with Asher opening the way for them, finding the gaps between the doors and widening them.
    “I should have done this last time I was here,” muttered Virgo, “can’t believe I missed it.”
    And then they were in the tunnels, running like the tide.
    “Rahko? Are you getting anything?”
    “Yes,” he said, “we must go lower. Here!” He stopped and gestured to the sand-strewn ground.
    Asher knelt, and began to divide the earth from itself. “I can’t…” he grunted through gritted teeth, “it’s not working…”
    Then he felt a warm hand on each of his shoulders, as Virgo began to chant again. “As soon as he finished saying all this, the ground under them split apart…” she sang. “And the earth opened its mouth…
    Asher felt the rock begin to give beneath him, as the work of millennia came apart under his hands. Closing his eyes, he concentrated all his energies, and the earth divided and divided again. Soon the three began to sink into the earth, coming to rest many metres below the tunnels.
    “Good work, Asher,” Virgo said, patting him on the back.
    “Don’t speak too soon,” warned Rahko, “we have company.”
    Asher rose and looked into the near darkness that surrounded them. Talons, teeth and claws began to coalesce out of the shadows, laughing and gibbering.
    “Demons,” he muttered.
    “We don’t have time for this,” Virgo said. “We have to stop the Sitra Achra from raising the Leviathan.”
    “Find Ostar and Mercury and we find the Sitra Achra,” Asher said.
    “I can sense them,” said Rahko, “down the tunnel - this way.” He gestured off to their right where the tunnels began to slope rapidly downwards.
    “I’ll hold back the demons,” Virgo said, “you two get down to the Leviathan. The ritual must be stopped.”
    Asher nodded, Rahko smiled grimly.
    Three creatures of shadow lunged at Virgo, who fought them off with a few well-placed kicks but more were coming all the time and the tunnel was shaking as they came. “Go, now!” she shouted.
    “Good luck, Virgo,” Rahko said.
    A quick blast of water cleared the way, and Asher followed Rahko as they ran, the horrific sound of wailing and inhuman screaming filling the tunnel behind them.
    “She’ll be fine,” said Rahko without slowing his pace.
    Asher hoped he was right - he had lost too many friends already.
    Lower and lower they descended and Asher felt the air around them grow cooler as the walls and floor became slick with moisture. Rahko’s words buzzed around his head like flies, the prophecy of the Leviathan rising, the end of the world, his own death. No, he had to stay focussed on the present - and anyway, the idea that Rahko’s words were bound to come true seemed too far-fetched, even after all he had seen. Asher was in control of his own destiny, and would die in his own time.
    “I told you they would come,” whispered a voice like a serpent, hissing in the darkness.
    “No you didn’t,” croaked another, a woman’s voice, deep and venomous, “I told you.”
    A burst of flame revealed the speakers who stood ahead of Rahko and Asher blocking the way. They had the appearance of women, alike in height, build and general appearance - Asher recognised them instantly from the dybbuk’s memory as Samael’s wives, the angels of sacred prostitution, Lillith and Naamah. One was dressed in black leather, her face painted white as ivory. The other wore swirls of blue silk, her face painted green as the ocean.
    “Well, here they are,” said Lillith, dressed in black, “and now they will have to die.”
    “Oh yes,” agreed Naamah, leering at Asher through pointed teeth, “it’s been ages since we killed a master of Malchut.”
    In an instant, long curved swords appeared in the angels’ hands, smoking like a dying fire in the flickering light.
    “Let’s take them down quickly,” said Asher, gathering his energy, “shouldn’t be too hard.”
    Naamah threw back her head and laughed - two arms became four, four became eight, each holding a sword of midnight that whistled as it cut the air.
    “On second thoughts…” said Asher.
    “When I say run,” whispered Rahko, “run like hell. And don’t look back.”
    Asher nodded, breathing deeply, beads of moisture pooling down his spine. Around Rahko the air seemed to thicken and quiver like the surface of a pond as the two angels of prostitution advanced towards them.
    “Run!” Rahko shouted, hurtling towards the two women in a tidal wave of energy, sweeping Lillith off her feet and into Naamah. But Asher barely noticed as he barrelled through the fray, forcing past water, blade and angel. He heard a sharp cry as he ran, felt the swish of dark blades across his skin but kept on going, feeling the blood mingle with the sweat and condensation before the pain truly kicked in.
    And then he was through. His left leg must have been bleeding from a dozen places and each step sent a spark of pain leaping up his thigh but he ran and ran, descending deep into the earth, leaving the sound of blade and ice behind him.
    The ground began to turn to sludge beneath Asher’s feet, forcing him to slow his pace as the tunnel became even steeper. He hoped that there were no more obstacles but there had been no sign of Samael, who was probably raising Leviathan even now.
    The tunnel began to open up, and Asher could make out cowled figures up ahead. The low hum of a chant drifted over the crash of waves and the writhing of a monstrous beast. This had to be the pit of the Leviathan itself.
    Moving cautiously now, Asher crept along the edge of the wall and approach the cavernous chamber that stretched out into the darkness. Hundreds of hooded figures surround the black pit, chanting in a language Asher didn’t understand. And there were Mercury and Ostar, suspended by their wrists from wooden stakes. He couldn’t see Samael but didn’t need to - he could end this right now.
    Asher reached out into the darkness, felt the waves of energy that were linking all the chanting creatures together, binding one to the other in a rising crescendo of force. It was getting stronger all the time, pulsing in beat to the thrashing within the pit. The power throbbed inside his head, building up pressure within his skull - but he was stronger, he could feel the divides.
    Using all his concentration and the last thread of power within him, Asher reached out and divided the circle of energy.
    Immediately, the robed figures began to shriek and melted away like shadows before the sun. The sound of crashing breakers began to subside - the Leviathan had ceased to move.
    Without thinking, Asher rushed into the chamber and began to free Mercury from her bonds. She was awake but only barely, and Asher had to catch her as the ropes finally broke.
    “Asher…” she breathed.
    “Yes, it’s me,” he said, “wait here, I have to free Ostar.”
    She managed to support her own weight, though her arm shook uncontrollably, as Asher proceeded to cut Ostar down as well. Through swollen eyes Ostar seemed to recognise him and smiled.
    “Sitra Achra?” he asked weakly.
    “Dealt with it,” Asher said, “but now we have to help the others, I left Rahko and Virgo back in the tunnels - they need our help.”
    Insubstantial golden armour began to shimmer around Ostar’s hulking body but it was clear that he could not sustain it for long. Mercury was finding it hard to even remain standing. “I’m sorry, Asher,” she whispered, “I have no strength.”
    “Then it’s a good thing we’re here,” Rahko said triumphantly, bursting into the chamber, smiling broadly. At his side was Virgo, darkly bruised but standing strong.
    “You’re okay!” Asher said.
    “We are,” agreed Rahko, “and you did it! You stopped the sitra achra.”
    Virgo said nothing, only walking over to the pit and glancing in.
    “Let’s get out of here,” said Asher, “it gives me the creeps.”
    “Good idea,” Rahko said. “Virgo, can you help me carry our comrades?”
    She nodded and moved to support Mercury while Ostar leant heavily on Rahko’s shoulder. Asher turned back to the tunnel ready to leave.
    Then the sound of screams made him turn back.
    A blade of ice, slick with blood, had burst from Ostar’s chest, his eyes rolled lifelessly in his chest. A talon of shadow and obsidian had clawed through Mercury, as the edges of Virgo began to blur together and meld with the shadows all around her. As Asher watched, she sprouted spindly wings and extra limbs, her eyes became pools of black, until there was no doubt in his mind. Ashmedai stood before him, and beside him a grinning Rahko, still clutching Ostar’s mangled body.
    Rahko laughed and dropped Ostar with one hand into the mud.
    “Thanks Asher,” he said smiling, as a roar of water and foam began to grow from the abyss behind him, “you know we couldn’t have done it without you.”

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