Monday 9 July 2012

Radiance 22 - Those slain by the Lord shall be many

    Grey desolation spread for miles - dust, and ash, and bone. Withered and dry.
    The sky too was grey and lifeless, with nothing stirring the air, until even the border between land and sky was impossible to discern - if any such border existed. It wasn’t like an overcast day, when the clouds obscure the blue beyond - but as if all colour had been leeched from the sky itself. There was no sun, no moon. And a ringing silence filled the void, louder than thought.
    Where was this place? What had happened?
    He remembered falling, falling so far that he knew he would die before he ever hit the bottom, so far he wondered if there was any ground to catch him at all or if he might just fall until the world ended.
    There had been an explosion, something had ended - glass shards everywhere - and then the black space falling away. He looked at his hands - dusty and shaking - and noticed slivers of crystal embedded deep within but there was no blood, and there was no pain.
    Now only grey sand and dirt, perhaps the powdered bones of long-perished creatures. And here he was.
    Asher, he thought to himself, my name is Asher - perhaps I am dead.

    A strange thought to be able to have, yet it was all there was inside his head beside the silence. It was, in an unexpected way, not discomforting. Perhaps he could just curl up in the sand, and go to sleep; perhaps he would see his father again.
    Yes, he had been thinking of his Dad as he fell, the feel of day-old against his cheek, the smell of his father’s aftershave. When so much is lost, it was strange what he clung to. Asher had thought he knew his father well, understood what drove him, his loves, his passions - but it turned out he had been entirely mistaken. All the time Dad had been leading a second life in the shadows, and Asher had had no inkling at all. In the end, perhaps you never can really know another person, not even one’s own parents, not even one’s own self.
    A small movement caught Asher’s eyes, the first he had seen in this dusty world. A tremble in the near-flat dust that caused a slight trickle, as if something tiny was stirring beneath the earth.
    And then Asher realised that he wasn’t standing on dust, or ash, or bone - but tiny shards of clay, grey and dry and brittle, long-since crumbled into its component particles. It was as if a million jars had been fashioned, left to dry, and shattered before they could be placed in a kiln. Where was he?
    Another trickle of clay, larger this time, spread itself across the surface, running like a tiny stream in the wilderness, quickly followed by a second nearby, and then another. Quickly, ripples began to spread across the clay in all directions, making the ground seem to shake and quiver.
    Not knowing what he was doing, Asher began to run. Easier than sand, he seemed to be making quite rapid progress across the shifting landscape, though everything looked the same wherever he turned.
    A hand burst from the clay powder, almost translucent in the wan light, reaching and grabbing at the earth, pulling a spectral arm behind it. Pale faces, twisted, screaming and silent, spilled forth from the dirt, their black, lifeless eyes scouring flicking back and forth across the landscape, until every eye spotted him - a lone spot of life among the phantoms of the dead.
    There was nowhere to run, no hope of escape, as hordes of ghostly figures clambered from the clay dust and gazed hungrily in his direction. All of humanity was represented - men and women, fat and thin, young and old, all shades of skin washed to uniform grey. Every mouth lolled open, every hand reached out to him, reaching and pleading, but not a sound escaped their lips as the dead shambled towards him.
    Asher collected himself and sought to channel his energy to his hands and fingertips, stand his ground as he had against the dybbuk, but no power came. He scratched against the edges but found too many to grasp - everything here was an edge, a particle, removed from everything surrounding it.
    As the insubstantial hands closed about his skin, their touch as cold as the grave, Asher felt himself coming apart, limb from limb, thought from thought, molecule from molecule. He had no strength to resist the numbing cold, no power to command - this was it.
    Then a warmth infused his head radiating down his spine, through his arms and legs. The shadowy hands pulled back, their owners retreating.
    “Hey kid.” A familiar voice shattered the silence. “Glad I’ve still got some of the old power. Still, didn’t expect to see you here just yet.”
    “Dad?” Asher said, spinning around. And there he was - a sparkle still lit up his eyes, though his hair and beard had long since turned to silver and wrinkles had invaded the so familiar face. But gazing at the ashen suit that his Dad was wearing, it was obvious that this was not quite the father he had known, for Asher’s eyes slid straight through his body.
    “Yes, kid, it’s me. Well, more or less - to be honest I’ve been better.”
    “Am I dead?” Asher asked.
    “No, I don’t think so,” his father replied, half-smiling and brushing back his hair with his left hand, the way he always did when nervous. “But don’t ask me what you’re doing here.”
    “Where am I?”
    “Well, it, uh… it has a few names.”
    “Such as?”
    “Well some call it Gehinnom, or Hades, or Sheol, or…”
    “I’m in hell?”
    His father furrowed his brow and half-nodded his head. “Well, kind of, it’s sort of complicated.”
    “I expected hell to be hotter.”
    “You’ve been watching too many movies, kid. I thought Virgo would have taught you this stuff by now, you see, there isn’t really any hell, no eternal damnation, no cackling devils - just Sheol, where the spirits suffer their sins and await their spot in heaven.”
    “I don’t see much suffering,” Asher said, looking around at the shuffling spirits all around them.
    “No, you wouldn’t,” Eliav said quietly, looking down at his feet.
    “But why are you here?”
    “Waiting my time, like everyone else, no one stays more than a year.”
    “Hey, so your time must be almost up,” Asher said.
    His father half-smiled again, “not quite - I spent some time among the living - just left your mother, in fact.”
    “Mum? Where is she?”
    “Your mother’s on a long journey, and I’m afraid you can’t help her, not where she’s going, but I expect you will run into each other before the end. Look, kid, there’s so much to tell you and I don’t know how long we have,” his father gazed intently into his eyes, the piercing brown eyes the only speck of colour in this lifeless world.
    “I want you to know that I’m sorry, sorry for everything. I should have been a better father for you, I should have told you the truth from the beginning.”
    “Dad, it’s alright, I know. Virgo told me.”
    “I should have taught you better, given you the tools you needed to take your place on the Seven. You have an amazing power, Asher, a power I could never even have dreamt of - you will succeed where I failed.”
    “What power, Dad? You aren’t making sense.”
    “The music, kid,” Eliav said, his voice becoming an urgent whisper as his eyes began to fill Asher’s whole field of vision. “The rhythm that beats inside your heart, the melody of your soul - Asher, you pulse with the time of the universe, of reality itself. I know they say that you are going to die soon, even here among the dead we hear things, but I don’t believe it.”
    Asher’s head began to swim as he lost himself in the deep pools of brown and black of his father’s eyes.
    “The beat you hear is God’s music, let Him in, Asher, let Him in and save everything.”
    Asher felt a pull deep within him, as if a giant hand was gripping his heart and lifting him from the pit of sheol.
    His father’s voice was only a whisper now. “I love you, Asher… always.”
    Asher found his eyes opening. He was lying flat on his back, staring at the starry sky. Sounds of cars and distant sirens filled the warm night air  - he was back in New York City. With a pained effort, he sat up and saw the glittering blue eyes of Rahko gazing at him from beneath his hood.
    “Asher!” Rahko said, leaping to his feet, “I was beginning to worry we’d lost you.”
    “Me too,” said Asher, rubbing his eyes to try to clear his head. “Virgo? Li?”
    “Gone,” Rahko said sadly, “I don’t know where, or even if they’re still… with us.”
    “Then it looks like it’s up to us,” Asher said, clambering to his feet. He caught sight of the flecks of crystal caught inside his palms, though he still felt no pain - he would deal with it later.
    “What can we do?”
    “We’re going to find Ostar and Mercury, free them from their captives, and teach the Sitra Achra a lesson in humility.”
    “Excellent,” said Rahko smiling, “where do we start?”

    Eliav looked up, though the featureless grey sky revealed no trace of Asher, nor did the clay dust show any evidence of his presence.
    “And pray for me, kid,” he whispered to himself, “pray for me.”


  1. I think that, from a purely literary viewpoint, this is the best chapter so far!