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 (9 page)

BOOK: The Legend of Asahiel: Book 02 - The Obsidian Key
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When the doors had closed, Allion offered a weary smile. “Best sight I’ve seen all day.”

Marisha blushed. “I’d thought you would assemble the Shield and hold ceremony for Evhan’s promotion.”

Allion sighed. “I would, if I knew for certain I’d be here in a day or two to conduct it.” Marisha came forward to take his hands, and a measure of the weariness drained away. “Please tell me you’ve talked him out of this.”

“I haven’t tried,” she admitted. She touched his hands to her cheek in fond greeting before releasing them.

“How can you not?” The words sounded more cross than he’d intended, resounding in the empty hall.

“Because I believe he must do this. For all of us.”

Allion was taken aback by her commitment. “And what makes you so certain?”

“Because I believe in my father.”

“Your father.” Allion snorted, and again made a note to have these stark stone walls softened with flags or tapestries. “You don’t even know the man. How can you trust him?”

Marisha took his hand and led him over to a bench beneath an arched alcove. When both were seated, she stared intently into his eyes.

“Because he is the only one we
can
trust. The only one who can guide us in this.” She hurried on to cut short his protest. “There is much to learn about him, yes. With all the time we’ve lost, much that I may never know. But of what I remember, my father is a kind and devoted man, self-sacrificing and honest.

“Much like you,” she added, and Allion squirmed in his seat. He turned away, but she squeezed his hands, then forced his chin back around to face her.

“He may seem impatient and headstrong,” she continued, “and with no tolerance for foolishness. But that is only because he is unconcerned with what others think of him. He is concerned only with what needs to be done. My mother used to tell me as much. It was the reason he left us. To see to the greater good of mankind, no matter his personal desires.”

Her eyes fell, and her hands withdrew into her own lap. Allion wasn’t sure whether to reach for them, or to let her be.

“I will not yet say that I understand,” she said, her voice unusually timid. “Perhaps I never will. But I’ve always known this much. He left us out of respect for my mother’s wishes, not his own. He did what he had to then, and I’ve no reason to believe he’ll do otherwise now.”

Allion gulped. The argument, in and of itself, was not enough to allay his fears. But the way in which she made it, the conviction in her posture and in her eyes, was much more difficult to discount.

“And you’ll not leave him,” he presumed, “even if it means letting Torin go off alone on this dangerous venture.”

“Especially because Torin is going off on this venture,” she replied. She quieted for a moment, during which Allion thought he detected the briefest
tremble. “I deserve an opportunity to learn who my father is. I deserve to learn who
I
am. This may be my only chance. And Torin will be safe in the hands of those you’ve selected, will he not?”

Allion let loose a long, slow breath. “I don’t know.” How could he? He’d done his best to assemble what he thought would be a good mix. Men like Cordan, of the City Shield, whose cunning and loyalty were without question. Men like Bullrum, of the Legion of the Sword, whose strength and determination put to shame those of an ox. But when it came right down to it, he’d only known these men for a few months. “The only way to be sure would be to accompany him myself.”

“And you’re still considering doing just that.”

He gave her a sullen look, but did not bother denying it. Even without his comment regarding the hasty manner of Evhan’s promotion, she knew him well enough to sense the truth.

“You gave him your oath.”

“I most specifically did not.”

“Then you would leave me here alone, under my own care and that of a man you do not trust?”

Allion measured carefully his response. “I believe you’re quite capable of defending yourself,” he said, smiling bravely.

“I appreciate that. And yet you do not believe your best friend can do the same?”

“I…It’s different. Jarom—” He caught himself, having accidentally referred to the man by his childhood name. “Torin and I have been looking after each other for as long as I can remember.”

“I understand,” she said, and he believed her. “But I think you must, just this once. I think you should respect his wishes. Do not set aside your natural impulse, only follow it in a different way. He needs you here. I need you here. The entire kingdom needs you here.”

Allion held his breath as he gazed into her pleading eyes. It was difficult to see her like this, lacking her customary playfulness and confidence. Something about her father’s return had scarred her more deeply than he yet realized, leaving her—leaving all of them—dazed and uncertain. Always the first to lend aid, she now seemed to require it. Or maybe she was merely challenging him to find his own strength, as she so often did with others. Either way, he could deny her nothing, and ached with the truth of it.

“In any case, if you were to leave, you would be putting me in the awkward position of abandoning my father or breaking my oath.”

“What oath?”

“The oath I made to my betrothed, our lord the king, to keep you safe while he is away.”

Allion choked on a sputtering retort. He did not know whether to cry out in indignation or to laugh. Marisha’s charming expression decided it.

“I suppose I should have seen that coming,” he chuckled in defeat.

“Then it is agreed. Each of us will have the other to look after them.”

Allion shook his head. It was the inevitable decision. As badly as he wanted
to refuse this forced regency, the sense of duty instilled in him by his parents and others would never allow it. He was too well versed in doing what was expected of him to simply abandon his appointed role. Toss an obligation to Marisha into the mix, and he no longer had a prayer.

“Where
is
the conniving scoundrel?” he asked.

“Still in council, last I checked.”

“It’s late. Think we should attempt to rescue him?”

Marisha leaned her head upon his shoulder. “I warned him not to expect a quick briefing. I think at this point, Torin is best able to rescue himself.”

With the scent of her hair in his nostrils, Allion was less inclined than he might normally have been to disagree. “I hope you’re right,” he said instead, closing his eyes against the absurdity of it all. “I hope you’re right.”

F
ALDRON AWOKE TO THE DIM LIGHT OF A GUTTERING CANDLE
. The assassin watched him squint and squirm, then finally lurch up to lean upon a powerful elbow.

“You,” the armorer acknowledged, peering across the bedside table to the black form of the visitor seated there. “Have you brought my payment, then?”

Xarius was impressed. Any normal man would have pissed his breeches to find himself so intruded upon. Especially in these hours of waning night, when a man’s strength was at its furthest ebb.

In response to Faldron’s question, the assassin shook the heavy contents of a leather purse. The sound had a remarkable effect on the other’s wakefulness.

“First, we must discuss your trail,” Xarius whispered.

The armorer scowled. Xarius could almost see the other’s senses at work, testing the air of this unexpected meeting. It was unlike the assassin to reveal himself so openly. Even though his hooded face was kept clear of the candle’s aura, the fact that he’d lit one at all, in addition to the time and manner of his coming, was unusual enough to elicit concern.

“What trail?”

“The trail of your spies,” Xarius explained. “Those who delivered this information to you. And any others with whom you may have shared it.”

Faldron growled. “My sources are my own business. You agreed to that going in.”

“And you’re certain they know nothing of me?”


I
know nothing of you.” The armorer snorted. “Save for your unnatural interest in the king.”

Xarius set the coin purse upon the table, massaging its contents with his gloved fingers. “And what of your spy on the roof?”

“What spy?”

“You were not to include any observers. That also was part of our deal, was it not?”

Faldron was indignant. “What game are you playing? I know nothing of this.”

An honest response, of course. Xarius already knew the truth about Zain. But he was enjoying watching the armorer sweat. “Then you are not as adept as your reputation would indicate.”

The burn-scarred smith was running out of patience. “If you don’t like the way I do business, why don’t you find someone else from now on, eh? Why not deliver that payment and be on your way?”

“One problem.” Xarius twisted at the pouch’s drawstrings as if distracted by his thoughts. “If I can’t silence your informants, I’ll have to silence you.”

The other laughed. “You think you’re the first to threaten old Faldron here? I’ve been around a long time, lad. Watch yourself, and you might live to say the same.”

“Your source,” the assassin repeated. “I’ll give you a count of three.”

Faldron laughed again, nervously this time. His eyes flicked momentarily to the far side of his bed.

“One…”

The laughter persisted.

“Two…”

With a practiced lunge, the armorer reached down with a quick swipe and produced a crossbow, cranked and loaded, that hung from the outer bed-frame. With a fluidity that belied his size, he leveled the weapon and sent its bolt screaming toward the assassin, all within two beats of a steady heart.

But Xarius was already gone. Two steps up and along the cornering wall dropped him atop the oblivious armorer, where the shorter of his two sabers slipped easily through the center of the man’s windpipe and pinned him to his headboard.

The assassin knelt there for a moment as the powerful smith coughed and sputtered, rage flashing in his eyes. “A fine blade indeed. Rest assured, I will put it to good use.”

Faldron tried to spit, but succeeded only in dribbling more blood down his chin. Before long, his eyes lost focus, and his helpless struggles ceased.

Xarius waited a moment before freeing his weapon with a single smooth tug. His switch to the heavier sabers was yet another consequence of that last confrontation with his former guildmate, Kylac Kronus—a duel the other had won only as the result of a broken blade. In response, the assassin had sought out the best swordmaker Alson had to offer to forge him a new set—he who now slumped lifelessly in his own bed.

A small cloth was used to wipe the blade clean, then discarded over the body of the victim. After that, Xarius stepped away. Although the night was failing, there was time yet to track down Zain—maybe even one or two more who might know of him. But that would be an unnecessary risk. The deaths of Orru and Faldron would likely serve as warning enough to their lesser informants. And by the time Zain or someone else discovered these bodies, the assassin’s quarry would be beyond help, and Xarius himself long gone in pursuit.

He did not intend that either of them should ever return.

Besides, he still had preparations of his own to make. Horse, provisions—nothing drastic, but neither was he one to wait until the last minute.

Retrieving his abandoned coin purse, he blew out the lone candle, then slipped outside like a stray breeze that had found its way at last.

 

T
HE SUN HAD NOT YET RISEN
—its faint promise a mere blush in the eastern sky—when it came time for Torin to say good-bye.

They met beside a rear gate of the palace grounds, at the edge of a hilltop cemetery overlooking the city below. Stephan and Pagus joined Allion, Marisha, and Darinor as those who would be remaining behind, come to bid farewell to Torin and his six-member expedition team. A ring of distant guardsmen, led by Evhan, the newly appointed captain of the City Shield, saw to it that they were otherwise undisturbed.

“Before the thaw, would be nice.”

It was Darinor who prodded, but Torin was slow to react. In the frosted gray mist of predawn, the world had taken on a ghostly quality, causing him to wonder if the entire episode were naught but a dream staged somewhere in his mind. Given the whirlwind of these events, he found it difficult to think clearly. There had been no sleep, for when finished with the Circle, he had gone to his most trusted servants, Stephan and Pagus, and explained all with his apologies. After that, he had met with both Marisha and Darinor and accepted from them the Pendant. When finally he had completed these preparations and thought to lie down to rest, the dawn—and this moment—was virtually upon him.

Now that it was here, it felt as though all the hours of explanation and debate had never taken place. Had he truly given thought to this course?

“I wish you would reconsider, my lord,” a sullen-faced Stephan pleaded. Torin did not recall having approached the man, and yet stood before him, watching the breath that clouded from his chipmunk face while impish breezes rouged his already reddened cheeks.

“I leave the palace in your good hands,” Torin said, giving his devoted seneschal a warm embrace about the shoulders. “See to it that you treat your regent as well as you’ve treated me.”

Stephan nodded, then lowered his eyes and tucked his chin into the high collar of his fur coat.

“And you, Master Pagus,” said Torin, moving on. “I trust you will be the first to give me a full report upon my return.”

The boy herald also looked glum—angry even. Nor did he brighten when Torin tousled his hair.

“Stephan is right,” Allion asserted, ignoring the throat-clearing cough of the renegade Entient behind him. “You don’t have to do this.”

The sky had begun to roil overhead. Ashen clouds billowed, and the mist thickened. Flitting breezes coalesced, converging in larger streams to form a blustery wind, and a distant clap of thunder echoed across the land.

“Let’s hope you are both right,” Torin agreed. Allion’s frown deepened, but he accepted Torin’s hand and allowed himself to be pulled into a one-armed hug. “If not, remember to look after her, and yourself,” the king added quietly.

And then, suddenly, it was Marisha’s turn.

“Don’t worry.” She smiled. “I’ll keep them all in line. And anyone else who needs it.”

Torin laughed. “I know you will.” He was serious then, and saw that she was too. For a moment, he did not know what to do. He might have kissed her, but he was keenly aware of the presence of the others—most notably her stern father looming over him from behind her shoulder. Despite all that they had been through, all the time they had spent together, it would have been their first. And while this would seem the perfect time for it, it also seemed the worst.

Behind her encouraging smile, Torin saw a similar strain within his lady’s eyes, but could only imagine what she was thinking. At last, feelings overcame confusion, and they fell together in a clinching embrace.

“You can do this,” she whispered in his ear. “Have faith.”

Yours will be enough,
Torin thought, and held her tighter. Ultimately, he was doing this for her—like everything else, with an eye to their shared future. Although torn to be leaving, he swore silently to achieve his goal, rectify the error of his ways, and return to the newfound glory of his life. A glory that did not exist without her.

“I’ll be back before you realize I’ve gone.”

Marisha sniffed and pulled away. “Too late.” She placed her hand upon his chest where her Pendant hung, safely buried beneath the layers of wool and leather. “You carry my heart with you.”

At his daughter’s request, Darinor had explained better how the linking magic worked. Ripples, he had said, caused by the rhythmic squeezing and heating of the intense aura of divine pressure surrounding both seal and Pendant—fueled in both cases by the power of Asahiel. These pressure ripples were like waves of sound attuned to the same frequency, and formed a specific pattern between the two nodes. When the Sword had been removed and the seal broken, the shift in that pattern had caused a resonance in the Pendant, much as matching sound waves generated by marching soldiers might cause a bridge to collapse.

Of course, these vibrations existed on a scale that were beyond untrained senses. Had Darinor been wearing the Pendant, he would have sensed the trouble at once. Instead, he had relied upon the latent enchantment of his piece of the Pendant’s chain, which, while lacking the constant power of Asahiel, could be used much like a musician’s fork and tuned to the same magical frequency. It was this that would enable the renegade Entient to track Torin’s movements, just as it had enabled him to locate his daughter. And it was for this reason that he would not allow Torin to leave the heartstone Pendant behind to protect its rightful bearer.

Nevertheless, Torin considered again doing that very thing before he surrendered the idea and forced a confident smile. “I will safeguard it more dearly than my own,” he swore, squeezing her hand.

Marisha nodded and stepped back, reaching for Allion’s arm. They would be fine, Torin assured himself. They would protect one another as he had made them promise.

“May fortune favor you,” Darinor offered.

Torin ignored the man. Was that meant to be encouraging? All it did was
remind him that not even the mystic could be sure as to whether or not the Finlorians still existed, or in what state. How could he possibly be expected to succeed in this?

“It’s not too late to join me,” he challenged at last, his eyes never shifting from Marisha.

“It is you who sought the glory enjoyed by heroes of old. Now’s your chance.”

“I sought no such thing,” Torin snapped, wrenching free to glare at the other. “I’d have much preferred to remain nameless in all of this.”

Darinor’s smile was slow and sardonic. “Those who wish to remain nameless do not fetch a Sword of Asahiel from the ruin of time. In any case, it is too late for regrets. And if I were to guide you, who would stand guard against this scourge you’ve unleashed?”

Torin looked morosely away, his attention drawn by an aged cemetery groundskeeper who had come forth at this early hour to collect dead leaves from beneath a skeletal tree. The swirling breezes continued to strengthen, and the old man, wrapped in his coat and scarf and fingerless gloves, was having a difficult time. If he had noticed their gathering, he did not seem interested by it.

Torin, however, was struck by the correlation. His world was like that pile of dry leaves caught in a gust of wind—just when he had gathered up its pieces, they’d been scattered once more. And yet there was no help for it. It was his job, and he would see it done.

Squaring his shoulders, he faced Darinor directly, his features somber but resolute.

He turned then to the members of his expedition team, those few brave souls who had agreed to see him through this madman’s venture. Sacred blazes, he wasn’t even certain of their names. Trustworthy and capable, he was sure, else Allion would not have selected them. Men to whom he could entrust his life.

A sudden pang gripped him. He would trade them all, he realized, for the one who wasn’t there. Kylac Kronus, the boy who had been raised an assassin but had become his friend and mentor—who had saved his life more than once—would not be with him this time around. Never one to sit idle, the warrior youth had been gone for two months already, having wandered off to parts unknown within days of his and Allion’s triumphant arrival. Were he here, Kylac would be leading the charge—in which case Torin would feel much better about their prospects.

As it was, he was on his own.

“Give my regards to Nevik,” he said to Allion. He hoisted himself into his saddle, there to join his waiting men. “And to Kylac, should the rogue show up again.”

The regent dipped his head. Of course he would do those things, Torin thought, and realized abruptly that they had moved beyond words that needed to be said.

Still, he sat astride his mount, staring at those gathered—at Marisha in
particular—until another thunderclap shook the cathedral of the heavens. As he looked up, the first rains of the new day began to fall. He glanced over to where the groundskeeper had been raking leaves a moment ago, only to see that the old man had gone.

Drawing his gaze from the grave-covered hillside, Torin gave a final wave of farewell, then pushed through the open palace gate and started away through the mist and the rain.

 

R
OGUN’S WAR ROOM WAS CHILL AND DANK,
pinned deep enough beneath the city that it might have been used as a cold cellar. The general liked it that way. The frigid temperatures kept him alert, his mind sharp and focused.

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