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 (5 page)

BOOK: The Legend of Asahiel: Book 02 - The Obsidian Key
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“In their arrogance, a sect of Finlorian magi, commissioned by Sabaoth himself, created a rift beneath the city of Thrak-Symbos within the tunnels of their dead, at a point where the veil between this realm and what they believed to be the realm of departed spirits was at its thinnest. Thinking to open a doorway to their gods, they instead breached a realm of chaos such as never before had been imagined. From this rift poured the Illysp.”

Torin blinked. He had never heard of an Illysp. He had no notion of what they were. But he was fairly certain that he had no desire to learn.

This sentiment must have been scrawled across his face, for Darinor addressed it almost immediately. “Do not bother to envision these denizens,” he said, raising his lacerated hands, “for they are unlike anything you may have encountered before.”

Torin was not sure whether to be relieved by this, or horrified. It was decided a moment later as Darinor finished his pronouncement.

“They’re far worse.”

The young king’s stomach growled with hunger—or perhaps in response to the slow dread boring its way through the pit of his belly. He didn’t bother trying to hide his unease from Darinor, but waited for the other to take delight in it.

But Darinor, it seemed, was past any hope of delight, even at Torin’s obvious discomfiture. “In their natural state, the Illysp can best be described as spirits, lacking bodies material to our plane. When first unleashed, they had only limited mobility, like a foul scent in dead air.”

“Then how…?” Torin began, before Darinor waved him off.

“They quickly overcame this limitation by clinging to the mind of a host creature—whatever crossed their path—where they lingered like a thought unbidden. Slipping from mind to mind, they learned to travel as might a swarm of flies among a herd of cattle, dancing from host to host. They even learned to influence their hosts through the power of suggestion, with silent promptings to lie, thieve, and kill, thereby carrying out their innate desire to spread mayhem and violence. As with any undesired thought, these urgings were not easy to dispel.”

“I don’t understand,” Marisha admitted, stealing the words from Torin’s lips. “Mortal beings have always been tempted. Were these so much harder to resist?”

“They were,” Darinor assured her. “But what the Illysp really craved were bodies of their own, that they might touch the physical world and sample for themselves the sensations of flesh, in order to participate fully in the hateful
activities for which they were bred and to exercise dominion over others. It was not until they learned how to obtain these bodies that their true horror was exposed.”

Torin’s heart slipped into the chasm that his stomach had become. “Possession,” he presumed grimly.

“A suitable term. Although still not quite what you think. For it required a dead body, a mortal housing from which the living essence had already departed. Presented with a coil thus abandoned, an Illysp could infuse itself therein. After a brief incubation period, the original essence returned, but as a prisoner in his own mortal shell, subject to the whims of the controlling Illysp. A collection of memories, a consciousness, and nothing more. Upon waking, the Illysp consumed this former consciousness, laid bare its knowledge and experiences while retaining its own, and made this the vessel of its destruction.”

Torin glanced at Marisha and wondered right away if his eyes were as wide as hers. “Could they be killed?”

“In a manner of speaking. For an Illychar—as it was known once it had taken physical form—did not live in the traditional sense. It did not require nerves, a brain, or vital organs. It functioned via a form of innate memory. Like the phantom pain of an amputated limb, an Illychar retained whatever abilities were inherent to its chosen vessel in life. It breathed, though its lungs needed no air. It moved, provided the muscles and ligaments required to do so had not completely rotted away. Its body may have contained blood, but it sat stagnant in its veins. Since it did not require the functioning of organs, it did not have to feed, and was subject only superficially to the ravages of time. Left alone, an Illychar would live forever.”

The harsh words resonated from his chest as if from the grave. Torin gripped tighter the Sword’s hilt, reflexively seeking its placating warmth, and saw that Marisha’s hand was clasped firmly about the Stone.

“But this innate memory worked both ways, making an Illysp-possessed creature as susceptible to injury in death as in life. Even an eviscerated carcass, if pierced by an arrow where a vital organ had once been, might fall over dead. Not due to visible injury, but to what that injury would be if the creature were still alive. It was as though the mind understood—not the physical mind, but that of the deepest body or soul. For even a headless corpse could be resurrected to stumble around again; the same rules applied when the brain wasn’t there. It was all about perception, the primordial sense within.”

“And the Illysp?” Marisha croaked. “What happened to the Illysp when its body was slain? Could it not simply inhabit another?”

“No. Once an Illysp selected a coil, it was bound to it, inheriting its weaknesses along with its strengths. Convince an Illychar of its death, and the Illysp within was dispelled and could no longer sustain itself.”

Torin found it odd that they continued to speak of these creatures in the past tense, as if their threat were far removed. For if that were so, he would not be here listening to this.

“Then they can be fought,” he said, seeking assurance.

“They can, and they were,” the gaunt-faced speaker rumbled. “Seizing the carefully preserved bodies of Finlorian dead, they rose up against Sabaoth and his people. With the influence of his Crimson Sword, the high king held them back for a time. But an Illychar was generally swifter and stronger than its host was in life, its physical attributes heightened by its savagery. They sensed pain, but ignored it, and were thus difficult to bring down. Furthermore, it was soon learned that a slain Illychar, while freed forever of one Illysp, could be possessed by another and reanimated again. And again, and again—forever, as long as an Illysp remained to claim it. And the number of Illysp in pure, spirit form was without end.”

As he went on, the great figure seemed to lose some of his bluster, as if bent with resignation beneath the weight of his own account.

“Had Sabaoth known how to command the Sword’s full fury, catastrophe might yet have been averted. But he did not, and pressed by the ever-increasing numbers of his parasitic enemy, he was overcome, killed, and possessed himself.”

The man stared at Torin pointedly, as if the words alone were not enough to impress upon him the horror of this threat.

“After that, the Illysp spread far and fast across the land of Tritos, as this island continent was named at the time. Many fled across the seas, counting themselves fortunate in that it seemed the Illysp did not care to follow. But many more stayed to fight a violent struggle for dominion of these shores. The Illychar ranks swelled with orcs and goblins, trolls and ogres—no creature was safe.”

Trolls and ogres.
The names resonated clearly in Torin’s mind, shedding grim light on his morning’s encounter with Rogun.

“The Finlorians were without hope. But at least one group refused to surrender, a warrior sect made up of a handful of those descended from the first mortal wielders of the Swords of Asahiel during the Dragon Wars. It was this sacred company, the Vandari, who had been responsible for the preservation of the blades ever since, and who could not abide that their king and captain—along with one of the divine talismans—remained in the clutches of the enemy.

“They journeyed far to the south, farther than almost any other had dared by sea, to reach the distant shores of Sekulon, the birthing grounds of man. For there dwelled the order of the Entients, self-proclaimed shepherds of mankind, who possessed the only other known Sword of Asahiel. The Vandari made their pleas for assistance, or at the very least, for the loan of the talisman. But the Entients refused. Man was a fledgling race struggling for survival, and the Entients, as overseers, were too obsessed with matters of their own to lend aid to outsiders.

“Only Algorath, a prominent member of the order, took pity, urging his fellow Entients to reconsider. But they continued to vote against him. Unless the threat spread to their lands, it was none of their concern. That by then it might be too late was an argument that fell on deaf ears.

“In response, Algorath left the order, stealing the Sword and traveling with
the Vandari back to Tritos. While evading pursuit, Algorath led a renewed resistance against the Illychar swarm. In a desperate attempt to turn the tide of war to their favor, Algorath confronted Sabaoth himself. During a battle that pitted Crimson Sword against Crimson Sword, the true power of Algorath’s blade was somehow released, shattering Sabaoth’s Sword and immolating the high king himself.

“In the aftermath of this conflagration, Illysp and Illychar alike were driven back into the tunnels from whence they had emerged. But the rift remained. The best Algorath could do was to trap them there, deep beneath the surface. With the aid of Finlorian magi, the Vandari fashioned an altar over the exit and set upon it the Dragon Orb, a talisman of great power. Through it all they thrust Algorath’s Sword—now the last Sword of Asahiel—the key to a lock meant to contain the Illysp forever.”

Torin was consumed by a dire fascination. It was all so real to him. For he had seen the Sword unleash its flaming fury more than once, and could imagine easily enough the titanic struggle between Sabaoth and Algorath. Not only that, but he had viewed and felt the magic of the lock that had kept these Illysp from his world, there in the catacombs of Thrak-Symbos. He even understood now, at least in part, the blade’s curious appearance as it held that lock together: its crimson radiance masked in gleaming obsidian while its inner fires were diverted through this “Dragon Orb” and its altar. Only after being drawn had the obsidian key been fully revealed as the Crimson Sword. By then, the lock was no more. A construct of divine majesty designed for a single purpose. Reduced in an instant to shards and rubble—by his own hand.

Marisha sensed his torment, coming over to crouch beside him. One hand slipped around his stooped shoulders, while the other took comforting hold on his arm.

“Why?” he murmured, staring at the Sword. “Why would the Entients have assisted me in—”

“The Entients?” Darinor snorted. “Doddering fools. Did they have a hand in this?”

“They spurred me on my quest,” Torin said, feeling no less responsible, “planting dreams and suggestions in my head, even sending me a map so that I would know where to begin. I didn’t know it at the time, but afterward—after I retrieved the Sword—they met with me. They wanted to witness the blade for themselves and to learn all about the manner in which it was found. In return, they told us—”

Darinor was shaking his head. “I might have known. How a mere lad such as you could even begin to seek out the Sword was a mystery I could not fathom. That the Entients spurred you on explains a great deal.”

“But how could they have done so?” Torin replied, ignoring the inherent insult. “How could they have succored me in this, knowing the truth?”

“Because they did
know the truth,” Darinor snapped. His eyes were wide, his brows raked, his chin tucked into his beard, giving him the stern and ruffled look of a great owl. “Like all others, they knew only what they were meant to know.”

“How can that be?” Marisha asked, coming to Torin’s defense. “Are they not avatars of the human race?”

“Self-proclaimed,” Darinor scoffed. “The true avatars were the Ha’Rasha. The Entients are descendent only, the progeny of those demimortals who bred with mortals and have been doing so for ages since. Each is more human than avatar, though together they have long played at being more than what they are.”

The truth hit Torin’s lungs like a ball of flaming pitch hurled through a ship’s sails—first piercing, then devouring. Although it made sense, it shocked him to have to relinquish such a long-standing belief.

“Still,” Marisha insisted, “they knew of the Sword, the Vandari, the Illysp—everything. How could they have forgotten?”

“First off, even by the standards of the Entients, this all took place roughly ten generations ago.”

“But older legends persist today,” Torin argued, cutting the other short. “Even among the mortal races, there would be myths, memorials, festivals of remembrance.”

“Second,” Darinor continued unabated, “no sooner had the war ended than the cover-up began. So terrible had been the struggle, so widespread the devastation, that the Finlorians elected to continue the exodus that most had already begun. Few cared to wager their lives against the odds of an Illysp escape. So the Vandari warded with magical snares the catacombs in which the sealed pit lay, then unleashed a series of earthquakes and landslides that buried the entire city. After that, they took flight with the rest of their people, leaving their ravaged lands to those who would emerge eventually from the high mountains or from deep within the earth—or later, from across the tempest seas.

“But even this was not enough. Algorath and the Vandari agreed that no one should learn what had happened, lest some fool brave the dangers set for him, unearth the seal, and draw the Sword, destroying the lock. So they changed the stories, misleading those who would pass the legend down to their descendants. Elven historians left formal records of a great and natural cataclysm of the earth. Bards and minstrels helped to spread this false word. Few knew the truth to begin with, and over the course of centuries, this revisionist history replaced that of actual events—even among those whose forebears had lived through it. Only the Vandari, along with Algorath, preserved the knowledge of what had really transpired, as a necessary safeguard should it ever happen again.”

“And what of the Entients?” Marisha reminded him. “Surely they kept records of their own.”

Darinor sneered. “For his betrayal, the Entients struck all records of Algorath’s existence. His studies remained, but in altered form, his deeds and learnings attributed to another. To hide the further embarrassment of having the Sword stolen from them, they modified their writs and journals in such a way as to obscure the fact that they ever actually possessed one of the talismans. Since Algorath had obtained the blade and brought it to the order, and
had also removed it again, it was easy enough to do this. All that was kept were general writings and images concerning its legendary powers and ancient history.

BOOK: The Legend of Asahiel: Book 02 - The Obsidian Key
7.66Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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