As soon as he was sure the commandos were gone, Jake released his grip on Nava and Kohn.
The Uwazi Shield covering them ceased to exist, and they became visible.
Nava lunged at Kohn and doubled him over with a knee to the stomach. Jake regained visibility and grabbed her as she tried to hit the man again.
“Stop. We may need him conscious to answer some questions.”
“Oh, fine,” she grumbled. “I’m going to go find something heavy. No use hurting my hands on his thick skull.”
As she rummaged around the room, Jake smiled at Kohn.
“The Goetia Legion. I’m not impressed.”
“We were sent to retrieve you, not provide protection. While you wear the Ring, nothing can harm you.”
“Who sent you?” Nava asked.
“I’m not answering any questions from a non-believer,” Kohn said.
“Then answer mine,” Jake demanded. “I mean hers.”
Nava found a length of discarded radiator hose and thumped it against her palm. “Old-fashioned but effective,” she grinned as she stepped toward him.
“A history lesson first,” Kohn responded. “In Solomon’s last days, he isolated himself. No one knew why, but after forty years of Rule, he no doubt had reached the limitations of healthy physical and mental capabilities.”
“Solomon was tired and bored. He wanted out.”
Many factions coveted the Ring and its powers. Although Solomon was wise and used it with care, others waged never ending attempts to take it from him.”
“And here I am 3,000 years later and nothing has changed.”
“On the day of his death, Solomon summoned a Healer to his bedside. The Ring was missing along with the finger which bore it. Solomon had lost much blood and suffered in anguish from the pain.”
“I can’t believe he hid me. His greatest fear was his successor would use the Ring powers for evil rather than good. I wasn’t worried, but Solomon wouldn’t or couldn’t trust anyone.”
“He refused to say what happened. The Healer said he mumbled about the good of humanity. Then he was gone. The Legion failed to find where he hid the Ring.”
“Yes. It is a shame the poor devils had to wait until a person worthy of my powers came of age.”
Jake frowned and turned away so he could whisper to Smith without being overheard. “I thought you were the Interface, not the Ring itself.”
“I don’t know what you think you heard. English is my second language. I haven’t learned how to speak it like a native. Excuse me if my attempt at going from Hebrew to English isn’t up to your standards.”
Smith didn’t respond. Something about Smith’s attitude was beginning to worry him. One of his last statements was ’here I am 3,000 years later and nothing has changed.′ Kohn interrupted his thoughts.
“It was decided to wait. The Legion knew the powers of the Ring would be impossible to hide for long. With patience, it would reveal itself.”
“Who is the leader of the Goetia Legion?” Jake asked.
“I don’t know.”
Kohn’s head whipped sideways from the force of Nava’s rubber hose.
Jake was amazed she could be so physical and remain icy calm. She was winding up for another blow when Jake stopped her.
“You’ve made your point.”
“I can’t tell you what I don’t know,” Kohn slurred. “Meetings are never in the same place, and the Leader’s identity is always hidden.”
“Then how do you know he’s the Leader?” Nava demanded.
“The Leader wears the seal of Ars Goetia. He who wears it is the Leader of the Legion.”
“When and where is the next meeting?”
“I took an oath never to reveal a meeting location,” Kohn said just before the hose landed again.
“I think we ought to let the Prime Minister know we’re back,” Nava said.
“We will as soon as we confirm the identity of the man leading the Goetia Legion,” Jake whispered. “Now be quiet.”
“What do you mean man? It could be a woman. Probably is.” Nava said as she forced Kohn to remain hidden.
“You’ll see,” Jake replied as he stared at the back door of Jibar Safize Laspor’s flat.
“Isn’t it a small world,” Jake thought.
“I don’t feel comfortable around Laspor.”
“I know why. He’s been behind every effort to take you since I found you.”
“Why are we waiting? I can level the building in several ways. Some more subtle than others, but level it I can.”
“No,” Jake said. “I want to catch as many members of the Legion as possible. I need to stop the constant attempts on my life.”
"They will stop. One thing I can guarantee is your safety.”
Vehicles began arriving minutes later. Jake counted at least 30 people. He felt certain where they would gather.
“My friends, we are close to taking possession of the most powerful artifact on the planet.”
Laspor’s vault was crowded. The air recirculation system struggled to keep the air fresh and cool. Several people removed their coats as the temperature rose.
“Have you heard from the team in America?” someone asked.
“Not yet. Mr. Kohn reports to me as the mission progresses but has been silent for the last 18 hours.”
“Doesn’t that worry you? What’s going on?”
“Kohn will update me as necessary. The fact he hasn’t contacted me means there is nothing to report.”
“It may also mean he’s been compromised and can’t report,” someone else said.
“It is doubtful a boy with no idea how to use the Ring could possibly overcome the squad sent to retrieve him,” Laspor responded.
“That boy, as you call him, saved a number of powerful politicians at the Army Base from snipers. The Prime Minister made him a member of the Shin Bet security team. My guess is Jake knows more about the powers of the Ring than you think.”
“He might stumble upon a power by lucky guess, but he doesn’t have the knowledge of the Seer. Only he knows how to unlock the Ring’s full potential.”
The wall embedded with the vault door began vibrating.
“What’s going on?” someone asked as the vibrations became more pronounced.
“I don’t know,” Laspor said as he pulled his cellphone. “The house security team hasn’t reported any problem.”
“Have you ever had this happen before?”
“No, and my security is not answering. Something is wrong,” Laspor said.
“Are we safe?” someone shouted.
“The walls are solid concrete with six inch steel cores, and the vault door weighs 2 tons,” Laspor said. “A tank couldn’t get in here.”
The oscillations became stronger, and sconces on either side of the vault door fell.
“I don’t think it’s a tank,” someone yelled over the clatter.
Pieces of concrete fell off the walls around the door. Its edges turned orange as they heated.
“The door can withstand blast furnace temperatures. Please remain calm,” Laspor said as he inched away. “It would require the facilities of a steel mill to harm it.”
With a shrill squeal, the door moved.
“There are 8 six-inch pins locking the door in place. Whoever is trying to open it is wasting their time.”
The door jerked as something pulled on it. The orange color of the melting steel became more intense. Glowing, melted steel globs fell off the door in showers of sparks. The radiant heat burned blisters on the people standing too close.
With a resounding thunk, the vault door jerked free of its locking pins. Instead of crashing to the floor, it floated away from the door frame.
Jake stood in the opening with Kohn handcuffed to Nava.
“Sorry we’re late, but the door was stuck,” Jake said.
Without warning, 3 people nearest the door frame burst like water balloons. A wave of frightened screams grew louder as two more people exploded.
Jake’s grin faded as it dawned on him Smith was causing the mayhem.
“Smith. Stop. I need them alive!”
“Jake, what is Smith doing?” Nava screamed.
More people died as their heads ripped off their bodies. The people inside the vault didn’t know whether to run toward Jake or away from him. It made no difference. They died in many gruesome ways, but die they did. At last, only Laspor remained.
Nava and Kohn backed away from Jake. Kohn began a scream that ended with an abrupt snap as his head twisted 180 degrees.
Jake brought his ring hand to his face and shouted, “Smith, stop killing people. What are you doing?”
“I just eliminated a major threat to your safety. You can thank me later. Right now we need to question Laspor.”
“You killed all these people. Why?” Jake shouted.
“As I said, they were a major threat to you. Any other course of action would keep you in constant jeopardy. I did what was necessary.”
Nava unlocked her handcuff and glared. “You have no control over Smith. I know it now.”
“Quiet, Nava. For your own good, please be quiet,” Jake said. Nava looked angry but had the sense to back down.
“Smith, I will determine what threat exists and whether it needs your intervention.”
“As you wish, but my eons of experience cannot be ignored. You don’t have the wisdom to make such decisions.”
“I am the person chosen to wear the Ring. You will follow my orders,” Jake blustered.
“Very well but your protection is my chief priority. I will always default to protecting you from any threat I perceive.”
Laspor cringed as Jake neared him.
“You’re safe from Smith,” Jake said. “I have control of him.”
“What have you done? Laspor wailed. “These people meant you no harm.”
“Smith didn’t think so. He’s protective by nature.”
“Who is Smith?” Laspor asked.
Jake frowned. He’d heard the same question from Kohn.
“Never mind. Why does the Goetia Legion want the Ring?” Jake demanded.
“Whoever wears the Ring is destined to rule the World.”
“That’s nonsense. The World is so much more complex now than it was 3,000 years ago, it would be impossible for one person to rule it,” Jake snorted.
“Don’t insult me. With the Ring at your disposal, you are more powerful than you can imagine.”
“When I first saw you wearing the Ring, I knew you were unfit to possess it,” Laspor muttered.
“Based on my first-hand experience, Jake has thwarted every attempt you’ve made to capture him. I’d say he has proven the opposite,” Nava said.
“Nothing like facts. Her status as Number One Queen Contender just got higher.”
“Don’t exaggerate. The Legion has only made one attempt, and it ended in failure. You did us a favor by eliminating Kohn. His incompetence was a Legion death sentence.”
“Don’t lie. Counting the Central Park, Sauerbrum and Manzur failures, your attempts to take the Ring have all gone sideways. Kohn can’t be blamed for every flop,” Jake said.
“What are you talking about? Central Park, Sauerbrum, Manzur?”
“Don’t deny your involvement. Ever since I met you, I’ve had nothing but trouble.”
“Kohn would have advised me if he employed anyone else.”
“Jake, why don’t you use the upside down split trick on Mr. Laspor? He needs to be more open with his answers,” Nava suggested.
Jake was considering her suggestion when Smith responded.
Laspor flipped so fast, his head brushed the floor. There was a ripping sound from between his legs, and he screamed.
“The last guy ended up in two pieces. You better talk,” Nava said.
“The Legion had nothing to do with anything except the NYPD. They were supposed to deliver you to the Israeli Embassy. You would be transported here where your training to use the Ring would take place,” Laspor groaned.
“Put him down, Smith,” Jake ordered.
Nothing happened. Laspor’s groan became a scream.
“Put him down!” Jake yelled.
Laspor turned upright but collapsed. He tried to stand, but his legs wouldn’t support him. Nava slid him a chair.
“Someone else wants the Ring,” Jake said.
“Yes, but who could it be?” Nava asked.
“I don’t know, but I better learn what I can about the Ring powers. Laspor said my training would take place here. I think it’s about time I met my teacher.”
Mt. Nitai was a foreboding blister on the northern Israeli plains. Especially after midnight.
Laspor led as they picked their way up the slope. The cave entrance was hidden by boulders. Impossible to find without a guide.
Squeezing through the entry, Jake was surprised at the decrease in temperature. As he went deeper into the cavern, he shivered.
Laspor flicked off his flashlight when he saw the first torch. The passageway opened into a large cavern. An old man sat cross-legged near a fire-pit. The sight reminded Jake of his experiences with Avner so long ago.
Sitting down with a grunt, Laspor motioned for Jake and Nava to join him. The old man said nothing.
“How amusing. Set the stage with a cave, flaming torches and a resident monk. What next? Fake levitation?”
“Seer Koffka, I present Jake Goddard, the one who found the Ring,” Laspor said.
Koffka remained silent. Jake was fidgeting when the old man performed a complicated motion with his hands and said, “I sense the Ring. Show it to me.”
The smell of sulfur bit at Jake’s nose as the Ring tightened. Looking around, he saw no evidence of the precursors to Smith’s handiwork. He reached toward Koffka, and the Ring contracted to the point Jake could feel his heartbeats. A strong breeze fluttered Koffka’s long hair. He grabbed Jake’s hand and peered at the Ring.
Laspor turned and ran. Nava started after him, but Koffka said, “Let him go.”
The breeze grew into a wind, and thunder rolled outside the cave. Nava’s eyes widened, and she moved nearer Jake as lightning struck near the cave entrance followed by Laspor’s dying scream.
Koffka flicked the ring. “Cease your tantrum, or I’ll stop it for you.”
Koffka never looked at Jake. His words were directed at the Ring.
Instead of calming down, the windstorm increased to a howl. Dust swirled. Koffka reached under his shirt. Pulling out a medallion, he covered the Ring with it.
The storm died. As soon as the dust settled, Jake looked at what Koffka had used. It was a Star of David overlaid with a cross.
“Much better,” Koffka said. “The powers of the Ring must be tamed from time to time, or they will dominate. When the Archangel Michael conceived the Ring, he thought he could create something with a few of God’s powers but without God’s wisdom. What a putz.”
“Who are you?” Nava asked.
“I am Micah Koffka, humble teacher of Ring lore.”
“This is a cave,” Jake said.
“Where else to teach about the powers of the Ring? In a nice urban center with plenty of people around to kill and things to demolish?”
“How can you know anything about the Ring? It’s been missing for 3,000 years,” Jake said.
“I am the 5th Seer of the Goetia Legion.”
“You would have to be over 500 years old if you are the 5th Seer in 3,000 years,” Nava said.
“You don’t understand. Only four of my ancestors were Seers. I am the fifth. Lucky me. Born with a psychic knowledge of Ring lore and forced to wear this necklace. At least it works.”
“So you live in this cave?” Jake asked.
“Are you kidding? I live in a condo in Tel Aviv. I only came here after Laspor told me he was delivering you.”
“A condo?” Nava blurted.
“I may look old, but I’m not senile,” Koffka replied. “Now, let’s see if it has settled down.”
Removing the medallion from the Ring, Koffka sniffed. “No sulfur smell. Seems the Interface got my message.”
“You know about Smith?” Jake asked.
“Only by reputation.”