Read The Legend of Asahiel: Book 02 - The Obsidian Key Online

Authors: Eldon Thompson

Tags: #Fiction, #General, #Fantasy, #Epic, #Fantasy Fiction, #Quests (Expeditions), #Kings and Rulers, #Demonology

The Legend of Asahiel: Book 02 - The Obsidian Key

BOOK: The Legend of Asahiel: Book 02 - The Obsidian Key
4.79Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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THE OBSIDIAN KEY

B
OOK
T
WO OF THE
L
EGEND OF
A
SAHIEL

E
LDON
T
HOMPSON

MATT BIALER

for leading the crusade

when there was nothing but a dream

Contents

Chapter One

The winter storm tore across the land, ripping and snarling…

Chapter Two

Torin ducked beneath the swinging sword, close enough to feel…

Chapter Three

Torin blinked in the tomblike stillness that followed. He gaped…

Chapter Four

The answer to that had seemed obvious enough.

Chapter Five

A shower of sparks cascaded over his naked arm, covering…

Chapter Six

More often than he could remember, Xarius Talyzar had killed…

Chapter Seven

Faldron awoke to the dim light of a guttering candle.

Chapter Eight

Despite the foul weather, muddied roads, and host of doubts…

Chapter Nine

No sooner had Torin stepped aboard the Pirate’s Folly than…

Chapter Ten

For the better part of a week, the Pirate’s Folly…

Chapter Eleven

Allion gaped at the severed heads, his stomach churning with…

Chapter Twelve

A steady drip from the ceiling hammered against the top…

Chapter Thirteen

The old man shuffled as quickly as his ancient bones…

Chapter Fourteen

With the colored sands burning in his nostrils, Soric inhaled…

Chapter Fifteen

The climb to the wizard’s stronghold took longer than expected,…

Chapter Sixteen

Soric’s gaze swept the stone tablet, marking carefully each dusty…

Chapter Seventeen

“I assume you’re permitting this,” Xarius hissed, perched again in…

Chapter Eighteen

Kell’s muscles burned. Though strong winds and a misty rain…

Chapter Nineteen

“I knew early on,” Soric said, “what was to become…

Chapter Twenty

“Well?”

Chapter Twenty-One

A stiff wind filled the sails of the Raven’s Squall,…

Chapter Twenty-Two

Those rains continued without slackening as Torin trudged westward along…

Chapter Twenty-Three

Allion’s head hung low as he slouched over his work…

Chapter Twenty-Four

A sharp sting, followed quickly by another, jolted him from…

Chapter Twenty-Five

Evhan, captain of the City Shield, stood at attention before…

Chapter Twenty-Six

Clouds wrapped the sky, a blanket tucked round the heavens…

Chapter Twenty-Seven

An actual trio now, Torin and his companions eased their…

Chapter Twenty-Eight

A geyser of sparks billowed skyward as Allion poked and twisted…

Chapter Twenty-Nine

Catching up with the madwoman they believed to be Necanicum…

Chapter Thirty

When Torin finally slept, he dreamt of Marisha.

Chapter Thirty-One

The rains returned during the night, blowing out of the…

Chapter Thirty-Two

The walls of Atharvan were etched with scars the adorning…

Chapter Thirty-Three

The promise of battle chilled the air.

Chapter Thirty-Four

The snow fell throughout the night. By daybreak, the land…

Chapter Thirty-Five

Allion peered ahead through the tangled growth and saw only…

Chapter Thirty-Six

Upon the crest of an endlessly shifting wave, Torin rolled…

Chapter Thirty-Seven

“Through here, sir,” the soldier beckoned.

Chapter Thirty-Eight

Allion thumbed the fletching of the arrow nocked loosely to…

Chapter Thirty-Nine

Torin rocked gently in his saddle, listening to the rain…

Chapter Forty

He could not escape the screams.

Chapter Forty-One

The next time Saena came rapping at his door, when…

Chapter Forty-Two

He was still berating himself the next morning, when he…

Chapter Forty-Three

Bloody axe or no, there was something odd about the…

Chapter Forty-Four

For Torin, it was like marching through a dream—scuffing…

Chapter Forty-Five

“How do you know I seek the Vandari?” Torin asked.

Chapter Forty-Six

Torin clamped down against an impulsive flurry of brash denials.

Chapter Forty-Seven

As the darkness of the deepening tunnel closed round, Crag…

Chapter Forty-Eight

Allion closed his eyes and let the warmth of the…

Chapter Forty-Nine

Rain fell and winds gusted, prompting Allion to pull the…

Chapter Fifty

Despite his heavy heart, Torin could not deny the twinge…

Chapter Fifty-One

The fire in the hearth hissed and crackled, its logs…

Chapter Fifty-Two

They raced onward in a ragged line—Allion, Marisha, and Torin,…

Chapter Fifty-Three

Torin had learned as a child to dislike tight spaces.

Chapter Fifty-Four

Side by side, the trio of friends staggered into the…

Chapter Fifty-Five

Torin looked on until it was finished, mesmerized by the…

Chapter Fifty-Six

The sun slipped slow and sullen from the bedding of…

T
HE WINTER STORM TORE ACROSS THE LAND,
ripping and snarling like a caged beast set free at last. Its howling breath wailed in his ears. Its frigid claws raked his skin. The darkness of its maw enveloped the earth, rendering deliberate progress a fool’s dream.

Grum looked again to his battered compass, scraping at the ice that shielded its surface. Its needle swung uselessly, drawn in random circles. He shook the instrument, cursing it to the smelter of Achthium’s Forge. To the west were the Skullmars, the treacherous peaks from which they’d been blown off course. To the east, the tempest of the sea. Or so he assumed. The world around him had disappeared, its planes and edges forced together in a hazy smear. Head bowed, eyes squinting against frenzied gusts of windblown earth, he could scarcely spy the ground beneath his feet, let alone even the largest of markers that might guide him home.

He risked a backward glance to check on his companions. He could see but one, Raegak, tethered to him at the waist in their makeshift line. Beyond that, the rope stretched into the swirling void of pelting ice and strafing winds. He could only hope the others were still there, knowing that to become separated now would mean dying alone in these frozen wastes.

Not that remaining together afforded great consolation. Truth was, they were hopelessly lost, miles from the safety and comfort of their subterranean home. And even if home lay just around the bend, were they to stumble half a step to the left or right, they might pass right on by without ever knowing it.

Raegak glanced up, eyes hollow, snow clinging to his beard. Grum looked quickly away, hiding his compass within a gnarled fist, determined to mask his dismay. He was
toifeam,
leader of this expedition, and by Achthium, he would see them through.

To accentuate this silent oath, he crammed the worthless compass deep into a leather pouch. At that same moment, the earth fell away, and he found himself scrabbling against a clutching blackness. Chunks of ice and gravel skittered beneath his feet, while a shower of snow cascaded about him. Everything seemed to be sucking him down, down into some depthless—

A sharp tug caught him about the waist, folding him violently forward and snatching the wind from his lungs. For a moment he slid downward again, before coming to a lurching halt. Curtains of snow slid past as his companions
struggled with their footing above. He hung there, twisting in the abyss, before reaching up for the lip of the pit, where Raegak, stout legs braced against the earth, bent down and offered a leather-wrapped hand.

Moments later, Grum huddled with his companions around the rim of the breach, peering into its depths. Should it prove to be the shelter that saved them, he would forgive himself his fright from the fall. Nevertheless, he had lived in these mountains long enough to know not to trust them. Such clefts might become fissures descending hundreds, even thousands of feet—or if not, might open into the den of some surly creature in no mood to share its home. Even the most foolish of his kin knew better than to enter such an opening without knowing what lay within.

Producing a flint and steel with frozen hands, Grum worked to light the pitch-coated head of a thornweed firebrand. But no sooner did the sparks flare to life than they were borne away by shrieking flurries. Grum persisted, ignoring the stiffness setting into his unmoving joints, lips pressed tight in a determined frown. At last, feeling the hopeless stares of his comrades upon him, he slipped his flint back into its pouch and motioned for Raegak to put the torch away.

He regarded each of his companions in turn—Raegak, Durin, Alfrigg, and Eitri. Friends for more than a generation, they held a shared understanding, their faces reflecting hopes and fears that mirrored his own. They would have to risk it. To prolong their exposure any longer would be fatal.

After a few quick signals, each began working loose the knot that bound him to his companions. Grum alone left his intact, for he would be lowered first. Only after assuring himself of the relative safety of this hidden cave would the others follow. With any luck, nature’s wrath would expire by morning and allow them to begin the task of finding their way back from this wayward trek.

With the thickness of their gloves—and the fingers within numbed almost beyond use—even this simple task proved arduous. Doubled over, they picked at the iced ropes while quivering lips muttered private oaths. Grum watched them for a moment, until a flicker of motion drew his attention down into the hole. He leaned forward, peering intently, but saw only the void. He was about to shake it off as a trick of the storm when it came again, just a hint of movement, of something even darker than the ink in which it swam, shriveled and twisted, almost like—

He fell back as the thing shot forward, blinding in its swiftness. There was a flap of wings, a splash of blood, and a terrible cry that just barely resounded in the din of the gale. By the time Grum had regained his balance, Raegak knelt in the snow, his empty shoulder socket gushing. Already, the thing had moved on. An ebony claw seized Alfrigg by the face. He screamed as barbed nails gouged his flesh, tearing free chunks of skin and even an eyeball. Before he, too, had fallen to his knees, a silent Durin lay gasping, his throat flayed wide.

Grum brought his pick-axe up just in time to deflect a strike from the whirlwind that pressed him. It hit him like a sack of gravel, and off he flew into the blizzard, the pick-axe sailing from his grasp. He caught a glimpse of
red-bearded Eitri, battle-axe drawn, peering up at a shapeless mass of whipping black tendrils—like a shredded pennant snapping in the breeze. Raegak, the iron bear, was rising to his feet. Then the battle scene vanished, devoured by a roaring curtain of ice.

Down an invisible slope he flew, skidding headfirst on his backside. His fingers clawed desperately, leather gauntlets plowing the frozen earth. As before, however, he jerked to a halt almost before he realized what was happening. This time, the rope bit into his skin, wedged into a seam of his woolen garments. He grimaced sharply, then reached immediately for his own battle-axe, his first and only thought that his companions needed him.

That changed when the rope about his waist gave a sharp tug. He sat up, seeking to find his feet, when another yank threw him down once more. He knew straightaway by the strength of the force that it was not his companions who were at the other end, hauling him back.

Panic seized him. Instinctively, he gave up trying to free the unwieldy battle-axe and reached instead for his smaller hand-axe.

It slipped from his belt as the creature snatched his ankle with a crushing grip. Grum felt his bones splinter, and he arched his back in agony, letting loose an involuntary wail. His enemy pulled, dragging him up toward the lip of the hole that moments before had tempted him with salvation. Summoning his strength, Grum bucked at the waist and brought the blade of his weapon down hard. A shriek rang out, and, as the creature recoiled, Grum aimed a second strike at the length of rope that served as his tether. It split at once, curled up against the edge of a stone and cleaved by the diamond-edged sharpness of his blade. As his enemy leaned in, more carefully this time, Grum gave a shout and hurled himself out of harm’s way.

The fire in his ankle erupted as he bounced and rolled down the mountainside. The slope wasn’t steep, but the icy conditions would not allow him to slow. Nor did he try. Using gravity as his ally, he clenched his jaw and rolled onward, as far and fast as his god would allow. He gave no thought to where he was going. His only prayer was that whatever he had uncovered would not give chase.

He should have known better. The Skullmar Mountains, even at low elevation, comprised some of the most unforgiving terrain found above or below the earth. Though impossible to gauge, he doubted he had covered even a hundred paces before the ground beneath him once again gave way. This time, there was nothing to halt his descent as first the fall, and then frigid darkness claimed him.

 

I
T WAS THE LIGHT THAT WOKE HIM,
illuminating a world both foreign and familiar. A world without color, sound, or smell. Yet it remained, somehow, a world of pain.

Numbed, yes, though not so fully that he was dead to its touch. It coursed through him in shallow waves, radiating from one area in particular. Drawn down the length of his body, his gaze fell upon the region of his lower left leg.

Understanding, creeping along a pace or two behind, leapt forth like a thief from the bushes. Although packed loosely in fallen snow, his shattered anklebone lay exposed enough to reveal the truth. His memory flashed back in an instant to the secret cave, the sudden struggle, his rolling flight from the savage creature that had ambushed them all.

And after? He opened his eyes, realizing only then that he had closed them against the onrush of mental imagery. His colorless prison he now recognized as a crevasse, a scar in the surface-earth whose floor was filled with a mattress of snow. This bedding had saved him, unless he missed his guess, for the rift’s opening stood at least two dozen feet above where he now lay. The breach itself had been plugged by a wedge of ice and boulders, sent skidding after him as part of the small avalanche he had no doubt triggered. A fortunate turn, really, for the natural barrier had sheltered him from both beast and storm—the only explanation as to why he still drew breath.

Any joy wrought by this discovery quickly faded, however, as he thought of his friends. He had to assume they had perished, far from their homes in the shadow-earth, made to face death out of doors like a pack of wild dogs. He shut his eyes in pained remembrance: Raegak, bairn of Raethor; Durin, bairn of Nethrim; Alfrigg, bairn of Adwan; Eitri, bairn of Yarro.

And Tyrungrum, bairn of Garungum, he added harshly, tacking his own name to the list. For if he did not haul himself from this hole quickly, it would become his cairn. Dwarven flesh or no, he could not survive these elements forever. If the cold did not claim him, his hunger would. As it was, he ran the risk of being buried alive if he could not dig free before the next layer of snow fell.

Tentatively, Grum lifted an arm from where it lay half-buried in powdery snowfall. He reached first for his face and then his head, feeling along its growths and protuberances, tracing the signature collection of bone spurs that marked him unique among his people. At least a handful of those spurs—along with his nose—were frostbitten, he was sure. But that was the least of his concerns.

Somewhat encouraged, he shook free his other arm and worked now to pat along his chest and each of his gnarled limbs, making sure all was intact. It took more than a steep fall to damage a Hrothgari, he thought heartily. His brightening mood, however, lasted only as long as it took to haul himself into a sitting position, at which point the pain in his crushed ankle flared to agony. He gritted his teeth, waiting for the body-stiffening waves to subside. Eventually they did, though he shuddered to think of how it would feel once he had thawed.

First things first, he reminded himself, forcing his eyes open and his head back. At least the storm had passed. The sun shone brightly through cracks in the ceiling of his shelter—and through those covered areas where the ice and snow was thinnest. Water dripped here and there, mostly to catch along cavern walls already wet with moisture. It occurred to him that his roof might melt suddenly and dump upon him. But then, that would be almost too easy.

He cast about for his hand-axe, remembering belatedly that he had let it
go early on after making his escape, so as not to carve his own hide during his frantic tumble. His pick-axe was gone as well. All that remained to him was the hefty battle-axe—strapped to his pack—that he had been unable to free in the fight above. A poor climbing tool, but it would have to suffice.

As he reached around to grip the weapon’s familiar haft, he recalled his final vision of Eitri, axe in hand to face certain death. In another time and place, the image might have brought tears to his eyes. But time now was his enemy. He would pay tribute to his comrades and beg their families’ forgiveness later.

Biting down against a pain made worse by the slightest of movements, he shifted his pack from his knotted shoulders. When at last he had shrugged free, he paused to catch his breath. He then brought the pack around in front of him, careful to set it to the side and not on his lap. He paused momentarily to admire the bag’s straps and buckles, not one of which had failed him.

Then he went to work.

Like it or not, he had to do something about his leg. He didn’t need to see beneath his boot to know that his toes would be purple with blood loss. Judging by its mashed appearance, the limb was lost to him, if not now, then by the time he dragged it back to Ungarveld. But fresh wounds were often deceiving, and he preferred that a surgeon make the final determination—not to mention any amputation. Still, he could not have it flinging about, threatening his climb at every pull.

After some quick rummaging, he pulled free an unguent, then changed his mind and took three long draughts from his mead cask. Only then did he dip his fingers in the salve with grim intent. Rather than cut away his boot and leave his foot exposed, he reached carefully inside the padded interior…

A mere brush against the damaged area was like bathing it in molten metal. His resulting bellow echoed in the confines of the narrow cavern and within the canyons of his throbbing ears.

The noise, as much as the pain, gave him pause. He bit off his own scream—nearly taking his tongue off in the bargain—and shook his head, which swelled with the unreleased pressure. As spasms wracked his body, he listened intently, fearful of what monsters the outburst might bring down upon him.

But as the moments passed, and the only sounds remained those muffled by the closeness of his icy tomb, he began to relax and think clearly once more. Had the creature from above wanted him, it would have sniffed him out the night before. His trek had taken him into the southern reaches of the Skullmars along the eastern coastline. His friends were dead. Just who did he suspect might hear him?

BOOK: The Legend of Asahiel: Book 02 - The Obsidian Key
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