Pain exploded through Asher’s body as he felt at least two ribs fracture under Samael’s fists.
The creature of stone and flame had emerged from hiding once the Leviathan had begun to rise and seemed to be taking great pleasure in hammering Asher’s prone form - and he found he had no fight left to defend himself.
“Ha!” Samael laughed, deep and growling. “Is this the one who has been causing us so much trouble?” A powerful kick lifted Asher crashing into the stone wall. “This mewling whelp is nothing. I will rip out his heart as I did his father’s.”
“Perhaps he could be of use to us,” whispered Ashmedai to Rahko, that somehow managed to carry above the growing roar behind them, reverberating around the cave until the very walls themselves were beginning to shake. “We may have need of his skills in the new creation.”
The king of the demon’s disguise had nearly dropped completely, leaving only the many-taloned shadow creature that Asher had fought so long ago on the streets of New York.
“Samael, stay your hand a moment,” said Rahko, “Ashmedai is correct. After all he has done for us, Asher at least deserves the chance to join the winning side.”
Samael shrugged his enormous shoulders, gave Asher one last kick in the stomach, and took a step back. The pain was nearly overwhelming but at least he had a moment to catch his breath. What had he done? He was supposed to save the world, wasn’t he? And Virgo… Where was she? “Well, my dear master Malchut,” began Rahko amiably, in the same tone he had chatted on the plane to Israel, as if nothing had changed between them, “you’re probably quite angry right now, and I understand that. I forgive you for it. But you must understand my reasons why I have done what I did, and when you understand perhaps you will see the path of wisdom and join us. After all, since your exorcism of the nameless one, we have an opening in the Sitra Achra for malchut, and with the final destruction of the Seven, we’re the only option available.”
“You betrayed us all,” spat Asher, through blood and gritted teeth, “Virgo, Li, Ostar, Mercury. My father! The whole world. What makes you think I’ll join you now?”
“Because you were blinded by the Seven, the wonders of the Palace of Understanding and the beautiful lies of Virgo - but the truth, Asher, the truth will cleanse you.”
Rahko lowered his hood and gazed deeply into Asher’s eyes, fixing him to the spot with his gaze.
“Let me tell you a story Asher, a true story though perhaps it never happened. At the dawn of time, when the earth was unformed, there was only God and the Leviathan - opposing forces of the storm against the deep, order against chaos. And they fought one against the other, striving for supremacy in the newly born creation. Finally, God stood triumphant above the great sea creature but He knew that without the life-giving powers of water, without a small amount of of chaos, the world would never support life. So God imprisoned the Leviathan at the centre of the earth, and set a ring of watchers to guard it eternally. But one day, God knew, the Leviathan would rise once more bringing about the end of the world and the era of the messiah. Thanks to you, we’ve made that day a little earlier than planned - and I don’t see the Son of David anywhere.
“You see, the world is broken, Asher, surely you know that. Every day we strove to keep the world going, protect it from evil, but for what? So that men of flesh and blood could perfect new and clever ways to murder one another? We fought day and night for the Holy Blessed One, but where is He? Where are the fruits of His actions?
“When the Nazis killed my father, my brothers, my cousins, my aunts and uncles - where was the Seven? Where was God? No, the world needs a fresh start, to be returned to the primordial chaos which gave it birth. Once the Leviathan has made the planet formless and void once more, only then will there be peace, only then will there be proper balance.”
“You were meant to manifest chessed, Rahko - compassion!” shouted Asher. “Please, stop this before it’s too late.”
“Asher, you still understand so little. This is an act of compassion, the greatest act of mercy - the human race is a rabid dog that must be put down. And anyway, it’s already far too late.
“But where were we? Oh yes. I must apologise for the treatment of your friends. I knew that Virgo would never see things my way, and while they remained united the Seven would always have proved a potential threat. Of course, had you only come to Netanya when you were supposed to, back when you first joined the Seven, a lot of unpleasantness might have been avoided. But for once in your life you had to be patient, didn’t you? Ah well, not to worry.”
“This is madness,” Asher said, closing his eyes. Death was coming soon now, that’s what the prophecy had said, and it seemed as though there was no way of avoiding his fate. He had failed everyone, his father and mother, Virgo, Ostar and Mercury - death seemed a welcome release.
“No, Asher,” Rahko said, “the world is mad - we are deeply sane. So now you must make your choice. The Palace of Understanding has fallen and with it the light of Wisdom, the Staff of Moses has been destroyed, the Seven are dead or lost, and soon the entire planet will be laid waste. Will you recognise the truth and join our cause or do you prefer the oblivion of death?”
Asher closed his eyes. The floor was shaking like a minor earthquake now and the roar of the rising water was deafening.
“I will not join you, Rahko,” he said quietly, opening his eyes once more and rising unsteadily to his feet. “You will have to kill me.”
“Such a shame,” Rahko said.
“Not really,” said Samael smiling broadly, revealing rows of blackened teeth. “I’ve been looking forward to this for some time.”
But before he could move, a burst of flame erupted before him, creating a wall of fire between Asher and the Sitra Achra.
“No!” shouted Samael.
“Time to go,” whispered a warm and familiar voice in Asher’s ear as Virgo and Li materialised in the dark beside him. An instant later and the cave was left far behind.