Monday 2 July 2012
Radiance 21 - Judgement on all flesh
“The days of the Seven are almost over - for among them lurks a traitor. When the depths rise, when the Bound One wakes, then this world shall come to an end and Asher son of Eliav will die.”
Rahko stopped speaking, the blue glare gradually faded from his eyes, leaving them to return to their normal grey glitter.
Asher looked around at the other faces standing around the crystal fountain at the heart of the Palace of Understanding - Rahko hung his head under the woollen cowl of his hood and breathed deeply, saying nothing. Li’s eyes were darting to each of their faces, burning hot and angry, red hair coiling and twisting about her. Virgo seemed deep in thought, brow furrowed, tossing the Staff of Moses from hand to hand.
“This is impossible, Rahko,” Virgo said, not looking anyone in the eye. “We have averted this prophecy - Asher is powerful, he embodies Malchut, these words cannot be true.”
“And yet they are, my friend,” Rahko said softly, shaking his head, “I am so sorry. It seems that our friend Eliav gave his life for nothing.”
“Really,” said Li testily, eyes now blazing towards Asher, “at least now I know I was right.”
“What do you mean?” Virgo asked.
“Asher is the traitor,” Li declared, sparks beginning to burn from her fingertips.
“You can’t possibly be serious,” said Rahko, raising his head enough for his eyes to be seen above the sparkling water.
“How can you not see it?” Li said, advancing towards Asher, who took an involuntary step backwards. “He has no faith, he profanes the sabbath, he has not even said kaddish for his father. He denies God and God’s justice.” She held her left palm towards Asher and a small flame burned in its centre. “Now I shall remove him from the equation.”
“Put your hand down, Li,” said Virgo, stepping towards her with her staff gripped in both hands.
“Sounds good to me,” Asher said, still reeling from Rahko’s prophecy. It was surely ridiculous, he told himself, and yet Rahko’s voice had been so different, like a million voices speaking in a unified whisper. Still and small yet louder than the waves. Could this be the word of God?
“Use your head, Li!” said Rahko, holding up his hands in a calming gesture, “why would Asher betray us?”
“Why would you think otherwise?” Li countered. “His mother lives in Netanya, the very spot where we believed the Sitra Achra were based - his love for his mother has sent him over to the other side. Maybe it happened when he bonded with that dybbuk or maybe that was all just a show put on for our benefit. And why should he not betray us? He has no law to hold him to the true path. Now, give me your support and I shall remove this traitor from our midst.”
“No, you do not have my support,” said Virgo, positioning herself just between Li and Asher. “Tell me Li, where were you when Mercury and Ostar were captured? You were meant to be watching them and yet, at the crucial moment you were gone. That seems rather convenient.”
“Come on Virgo, don’t let his looks cloud your judgement,” Li said, her lip twisting with anger, “we’ve worked together for a hundred years - don’t turn on me now for this traitorous upstart.”
“Look, I think we need to all just calm down,” said Rahko, still not moving from his spot beside the trickling water, “this isn’t going to help our friends. I’m sure that Li has a perfectly innocent explanation of where she was when they were captured.”
“Well?” said Virgo.
Li said nothing, the flame in her hand burning brighter.
“Li, I haven’t done anything wrong,” Asher said. “We’re all friends here, let’s work out how we can help Ostar and Mercury instead of threatening each other.”
“No, we are not all friends,” Li said, “the word has come down from the Most High that there is a traitor among us, and I will not allow him to jeopardise our mission.”
Gouts of flame burst from Li’s open hands, racing towards Asher - with a flick of her staff, Virgo absorbed the impact and deflected the brunt of the attack away from them. Still, a rush of heat swept over Asher who dropped instinctively into a combat stance, low centre of gravity and hands defensively before him. Virgo’s staff span before her, weaving back and forth in a figure of eight.
“I knew that this had happened with some of your predecessors, Li, but somehow I never expected it of you,” Virgo said.
“You do not understand me at all,” said Li, circling carefully around the room, leaving footprints of crimson flames as she went.
“You’ve crossed the line,” Virgo responded, “and now you need to be dealt with.”
“Stop this now,” shouted Rahko, “we can talk it out.”
“No more talk,” said Li, “I am through with it.” She whirled around, sending pulse after pulse of fire hurtling towards both Virgo and Asher, each stronger and more focussed than the last.
Asher felt the edges of the flames, focussed his energies on diffusing their strength - preparing for his own offensive. Virgo deflected some into the walls of the palace, ducked low to allow another to sail over her head. Sweat began to bead on Asher’s forehead.
He leapt high above the flames and aimed an open-handed swing at Li, aiming to knock her to the ground - but Li expected the move and met him with an upward thrust of flame. It was all Asher could do to stop the flames piercing his skin, and he went flying into the wall with a loud crack.
“And the light of the wicked shall be put out, and the spark of his fire shall not shine,” intoned Virgo, weaving the Staff of Moses before her. “The light shall be dark in his tent, and his lamp shall be put out with him.”
The flames guttered around them, faded to nothing, leaving Li glaring angrily.
“Your power is great, Virgo,” hissed Li, “but you forget that I am a higher power!” She closed her eyes, holding her hands over them, before bringing them down in a single thrust. Suddenly a pillar of fire surrounded her, coruscating flames that were almost to bright to look at, while inside Li’s silk robes were unsinged.
As Asher leapt back to his feet and braced himself for another attack, he felt a blast of cold sweep over him. A tidal waves of ice water was rising in front of Rahko, getting taller by the second, roaring and foaming - with a wave of his hands Rahko sent it before him, sweeping across the fountain chamber and into the pillar of flame.
Vast clouds of steam instantly filled the room as fire met water, battling for dominance. Now both freezing and boiling by turns, Asher looked about him pondering his next move.
This fight was pointless - he didn’t believe that any of them were traitors, and the longer they fought the more they were putting Mercurcy and Ostar in danger. No, if the Seven couldn’t work together then Asher would simply have to find them by himself - reaching his mind out, he felt for the edges of the Palace of Understanding, the borders between here and the physical world. He teased open the gaps and prepared to reach through.
“No!” shouted Li, exploding with a burst of fire. The water evaporated in an instant accompanied by a loud crack that Asher couldn’t place, as he, Virgo and Rahko were knocked to the ground. With his concentration broken, Asher lost the border - he tried to reach for it again.
“You will not escape, traitor!” Li said, and Asher realised she was nearly upon him. “You will burn for your crimes.”
He aimed a kick towards her outstretched arms, putting all his might behind the blow but Li stood unmoving, black flames surrounding her, lapping at her gown.
The water was rising again, spreading from the fountain and trickling to every corner of the room but Li’s gaze was unwavering as she aimed her hand and shot black fire towards Asher’s prone form.
Only the Staff of Moses, speeding across the room from Virgo’s outstretched arm saved him, absorbing the flames and lying burnt and broken on the ground.
“The strength of his steps shall be weakened, and his own counsel shall cast him down,” Virgo chanted, continuing the scriptural verses as she lay in the spreading pool of water.
Li hurriedly looked down but not fast enough, the water gripped her feet and hurled her into the air.
With a burst of fire she caught herself and floated a dozen feet from the ground. “You are all deluded,” she declared, eyes flashing red and black. “Must I defeat you all?”
“No,” said Rahko, flying towards her on a bubbling sphere of water, steam and ice. “Only me.”
Together, Rahko and Li crashed into the wall, sending shards of crystal spinning across the chamber. They bit into Asher’s arms and hands, stinging his flesh as he shielded his eyes.
“Get out of here,” shouted Rahko, “I will hold her.”
“Asher, listen to me,” said Virgo rising from the floor but looking strangely small without her staff in her hands. “Together we can end this - you need to follow my lead.”
He looked at her and didn’t know what to say. Every instinct was telling him to flee, and yet perhaps Virgo was right. Together they were enormously powerful, as he had discovered in Columbus Circle and the Lower Temple - but after everything she had done, the lies, the manipulation. Asher hesitated.
And before he could make up his mind, he saw an enormous crack spreading through the walls of the palace.
“It’s breaking up,” he began to warn Virgo, but the words were lost in the sudden tumult as the crystal walls shattered around them. Louder than thunder, shining with the light of the universe, the Palace of Understanding exploded in a cataclysm of fire, water and glass.
For a moment, everything was too bright for Asher to see, then the darkness rose up and swallowed him.