Sunday 22 July 2012

Radiance 24 - Slow to anger

    The phone rang, and rang.
    Eventually, Asher hung up, slid the phone back into his pocket, and sat down on the bonnet of the rented car (that Rahko had somehow hired for free after sharing some jokes with the owner).
    “She’s not answering,” he told Rahko.
    “Maybe she’s out?”
    “Maybe,” Asher acknowledged. Your mother’s on a long journey, Dad had said, and that Asher would see her again before the end. Odd indeed, as his mother wasn’t exactly into travelling, especially long distances. She had yet to visit him in New York, though she often spoke about it as a plan for ‘next year’ or ‘next springtime’.
    Rahko put a hand on his shoulder, gave him the briefest of hugs. “I’m sure she’s okay,” he said, “Emma can look after herself.”
    Asher smiled, “Yeah, I know. It just seems weird to be here without seeing her.”
    “Well, once we rescue our companions and smash the sitra achra, we’ll come back and take her out for tea,” Rahko said smiling.
    “Sounds great,” said Asher, wanting to believe it would all be so simple. Since the fight with the dybbuk everything seemed to be slipping through his fingers, drifting away like clay dust in the breeze. “So this is where you last saw them?” Asher asked.
    Rahko nodded. They were standing between the falafel place and the scribe’s shop on the streets of Netanya, with only the faintest hint of a sea breeze to alleviate the overwhelming waves of heat and humidity.
    “I guess we follow them,” Asher said, feeling bursts of unease exploding in his stomach.
    “Be ready for anything,” said Rahko, as a ball of spinning ice materialised in his right palm.
    Asher nodded and moved towards the decrepit entrance. It had been less than a week since the fight with the dybbuk, since Ostar and Mercury had entered this shop and never emerged, but it felt like a vast gulf of eternity. Between the battle inside his memories, the time he spent unconscious and his journey to Sheol, Asher was beginning to have very little sense of the passage of time - it all was beginning to blur together, a slow mulch of experience.
    He brought himself back to the present, and strode boldly forward, Rahko just behind.
    “The loud way or the quiet way?” Rahko whispered.
    “Quiet - at least for now.” Asher whispered back, reaching a hand out to the door and feeling with his soul for the edge of the lock that lay inside. Nothing moved. He tried again but with no greater success.
    “Let me,” said Rahko raising a rime-crusted hand to the doorframe. Asher watched the impossible frost spread across wood and peeling paint, cracking like glass - the door swung open, trailing meltwater along the hall.
    Asher peered through the doorway, saw nothing, and stepped through, sensing Rahko’s cold presence behind him. The hall was lit by a single bare lightbulb that barely illuminated the narrow passage. The air was dry, stale and close, pressing in on all sides; within moments Asher was drenched in sweat.
    He gestured for Rahko to follow him and advanced down the hall towards a spiral staircase at the back. ‘So far, so good,’ he thought, pausing at the iron railing.
    “What are we waiting for?” whispered Rahko, gazing down the stairs.
    “The loud way,” Asher answered, “on three. One, two… three.”
    With a roar, Rahko burst down the stairs in an explosion of expanding ice as Asher charged behind him, channelling all his energy to his palms. There was no one there - just a small room, piled high with scraps of paper and parchment, bottles of ink, and all kinds of feather quills.
    Asher frowned, and gestured to Rahko that they should split up and search the entire building, but within a few minutes it was clear that whoever had been there had long since gone. The building was deserted and, apart from the scribal artefacts, completely empty.
    A black rage began to boil in Asher’s chest. With a shout, he knocked a huge stack of parchment to the floor. “There’s nothing here!”
    “Calm yourself, Asher,” Rahko said, laying a gentle hand on his shoulder, “we will find another way. Perhaps more word will come from beyond the curtain.”
    “No, I can’t wait anymore. The answer’s here, I know it. I have to find them, Rahko, I have to.”
    “We will, we’ll find them but you need to be patient.”
    “Don’t you see? That’s the problem. It was being patient that got them into this - because I held back, all those months ago, because I made you wait, Mercury and Ostar are at the mercy of Samael.”
    “It’s not your fault, Asher, the decision was not yours alone.”
    “No but I made it,” he said looking down at the papers strewn across the floor, spidery Hebrew letters written on every available inch. “They were my teachers, my friends. They saved me from Ashmedai before I knew anything - and I let them walk into the viper’s nest. They tell me I’m supposed to save the world but I couldn’t do anything… I’m useless.”
    “Asher, don’t say that,” Rahko said, grasping both his shoulders and locking Asher’s gaze with his glacial eyes, blue and cold and burning. “You are vitally important, the power inside you is remarkable - perhaps it is the world that is wrong. We can find the answer - together, you and I, we can find our friends.”
    “I don’t even know where to start,” Asher said despondently.
    “Perhaps you are looking in the wrong place,” interrupted a warm, familiar voice.
    Asher whirled around to face the stairs and smiled broadly. It was Virgo, wearing her red and gold robes as she had when the Palace fell. Though her clothes were torn and ragged, marked with dried blood, her eyes were bright.
    “Virgo!” Asher shouted and ran towards her.
    She took a step backwards. “Asher, Rahko.” She said, her tone a little cold.
    “Are you okay?”
    “Yes, I’m fine.”
    “How did you get here?” Asher asked.
    Virgo sighed and leaned heavily on the bannister. For just an instant, she seemed deeply tired, almost beyond endurance, and though she soon recovered her posture her eyes could not hide her exhaustion.
    “When the Palace fell, I fell with it - I don’t know for how long. I guess I must have been thinking of you because I woke up just upstairs and heard your voice.”
    “I’m glad you’re okay,” said Asher, responding to her body language by taking a few steps back. “We were worried but didn’t know what to do. We figured we had to try to recover Ostar and Mercury. By the way, what happened to Li?”
    “Li?” Virgo asked, raising an eyebrow.
    “Last I saw,” said Rahko, “the two of you were still fighting, while the palace collapsed around you.”
    “I lost her,” Virgo said, “as the darkness came she whispered something, a black flame engulfed her and she vanished.”
    “I have a feeling that we haven’t seen the last of her,” Asher said.
    “Indeed not,” Rahko agreed, “we have unfinished business.”
    “Well Virgo, you said we were looking in the wrong place,” said Asher, “what do you suggest?”
    “The letters hold the secret,” Virgo said with a smile. “The Staff of Moses may be lost, the Palace of Understanding gone, but I am not without power.”
    She inhaled deeply, closed her eyes, and began to chant: “Your testimonies are wonderful; Therefore my soul keeps them.”
    And as the Hebrew words drifted from Virgo’s lips, a wind began to rise in the corners of the room, spinning around the walls, lifting the pages from their places. As Virgo’s chant grew louder, the wind rose higher and faster, until all the pieces of parchment span like leaves in the autumn.
    “The opening of Your words give light - gives understanding unto the simple.”
    The letters began to glow as she spoke, seemingly random at first but then a pattern began to emerge.
    As she reached the end of the verse, Virgo’s voice raised into a huge crescendo - before falling away to nothing. And as she ceased to chant, the pages hung in the air all around them, frozen in place, glowing letters forming words and a message captured in ink and light.
    “The Bound One,” whispered Rahko, and the words of the prophecy, forgotten in the fight with Li and the fall of the Palace, suddenly came rushing back to Asher. The Bound One wakes…
    “Who is the Bound One?”
    Virgo shook her head, “no, it isn’t possible.”
    “The prophecy does not lie, Virgo,” Rahko answered. “If they are in Jerusalem, at the centre of the world, then it can only mean…”
    “What?” Asher asked.
    When Virgo answered, it was little more than a whisper. “They’re going to free the Leviathan.”

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