Kain watched the serpent fall as still as only a serpent could. But this stillness… It held notes of the dark ice of night, an element no serpent of spark and fire should be able to touch.
His lips twisted in a grimace. It was perverse what the Dai twisted their people into. Taking what the Gods had formed and blaspheming it to their own purpose, or worse, simply playing to see what they could get away with before Nature called their broken forms home. A cobra of fire with a heart of ice – even if Dev hadn’t said a word, he would have known the Dai’s influence.
Naj let himself fall automatically into the motions of his memories. He would not let himself rise from this place, lest the terror and passion of the now taint his thoughts. Li’Daea’s light had no place here, and the hawk burned with it. She had rekindled fire long forgotten in himself, but he did trust their use now. Later, he would walk in the light. Later, he would dance and laugh and sing with this hawk who swayed like a serpent. It was not lost on him that he, a serpent twice marked by Li’Daea’s fire, was asking the cold god of the griffics to help him free a raptor, so that she might dance again with Li’Daea’s light. Naj had no power here, no right to ask this, but it seemed the Dark God was willing to hear his plea in exchange for the many years this fire-blessed cobra had served in the name of night.
Naj opened his eyes and turned a gaze unseeing on the outside world. His vision swam with silver, lines of power tracing this way and that. He could see the echo of Nica’s performance earlier, the storm and the vines still hanging like ghosts in the air. Fainter lines traced other powers that had been used on this stage again and again.
They were almost invisible in the glare of the active spell that enveloped Nica.
Spidery threads crisscrossed her here and there, tainted with shadows of smoke. He let his eyes slide over them, not focusing on any one thing in particular, just letting the sight of it wash over him to see if any patterns presented themselves. One thread shone in particular, weaving itself in and out of the cocoon, only to exit it and shoot off into the ether. Farther from the cocoon, it dimmed and faded, lost in the darkness outside the glare of the body of the spell. Naj stepped toward it, letting it run just above his hands, examining it, but not touching it himself.
Echoes of the reality within Nica’s mind pushed at him, danced at the edges of his vision, called to him with screams and sobs and pleading, but he paid it no mind. If he’d focused on it, he could have shifted his vision to see into the prison her mind had become, possibly directly from her point of view, though most likely as a spectator, but it would have done no good. There was no precious clue to be learned from witnessing that, only distraction. Nica was fire to his soul, he needed ice. He needed cold, calculated distance, and he needed to hurry. The power the dark god had lent him would only last so long without a power source, and even as bountiful as his overfilled energy was, he was running out of time.
He turned his attention more directly on the single thread that disappeared into the nothingness. He could trace it back, but he had the feeling of enormous distance as he stared in the direction it had left, and he knew he had not the strength of soul to make that journey. Nor the time. Clearly, he was become more the child of Li’Daea if his thoughts kept returning to the passage of time in the outside world. The il’m was quiet, nothingness, eternity. Il’Dao was ageless and a thousand years was but a moment to the Dark God. But Naj didn’t have the strength of a thousand years to draw on. He was fading fast, whispers of his true serpent self showing through. In emotionless determination, Naj did what he knew needed to be done without giving his more passionate self a chance to object.
Naj reached outside him, seizing whatever power he found there. Most of the souls he touched were too young to be of any consequence, some almost weak enough to not even been felt. He reached out and brushed a mind cool and distant, and left a hook there to draw on if needed. It was not exactly what he was seeking, but if he needed still more power, he would need it with a quickness, so he made his plans now and laid them to wait.
Nat had barely closed the door to the downstairs when a mind brushed hers. She fell back against the door, eyes closing at the intrusion. Before she could protest, there was a small tug and it was gone again.
Her breath came quick and shallow, her amber eyes opening to stare at the stage curtains. Marie had said Naj and Kain had been fighting – was that what she was feeling? Surely not, she couldn’t fathom anyone being able to stand up to Kain. He might downplay himself, but she knew he was a force to be reckoned with.
And whatever she’d just felt had not been the big cat.
Which meant it must be Naj, but that… That alien brush had hardly felt like the serpent.
She pushed off the door, determined to find out what was happening. When she pushed aside the curtain though, she stopped cold, a gasp on her lips.
Naj brushed another power that wavered and flux, strong, but too inconstant to be of any use to him. This soul did not sit still, it would take more energy than it was worth to try and pin them down. He passed it by.
Most of his awareness, however, was drawn in by one shining soul.
There was heat, there was passion there, but it lay like a shimmering heatwave over layer upon layer of unyielding stone. The core of this power was immense, unmoving, and dark. Most importantly there was weight. This was a soul that understood the press of ages, and a soul whose song sang of power and untold strength. This was the power he needed, and he claimed it without a thought.
Diving back beneath the surface into the depths of his mind, he drug the powers he’d claimed with him. Later, his serpent’s soul would mourn for what he’d done to his friends. Later, he would apologize and face the shame of it, accepting if they chose to exile him from their nest. Even in raptor society, where much was excused in the name of power, what he was doing was done only in the most dire of circumstances, but the quiet part of him agreed that these were indeed those circumstances. But the serpent in him was too passionate to ever excuse the crimes he was committing against his fellow dancers. To invade another’s soul, to violate them in a way that mere physical rape never could – well, he’d deal with that after they’d saved Nica.
He returned to the place where he could see the demon’s magic, and reached out again until he found the singular thread. Armed with real power backing him up, he examined the thread to see what it would tell him. He reached out with a tendril of power, taking special care not to actually touch it himself, and sent a probing thought into it.
It dissolved like a wisp of smoke.
He stood, confused for a moment that such a thing would occur. He had felt the immeasurable power as he’d examine the line before, this should not have been a thing so easily broken. The demon that spun this was far beyond Naj’s skill and power level, and yet this single thread had dissolved at the slightest touch.
As his thoughts moved from line to cocoon, the power chased the dissolving spell through the many layers of illusions heaped upon it. It would have taken lifetimes to unravel if he’d had to have started from the main weaving. They had all been unspeakably lucky that Naj, with his years of study in demon magic, had been the first to make the attempt. Like spider silk, the web would have simply ensnared any attempts to probe it directly. Those desperate to assist Nica would have strengthened the demon’s hold, adding mortal power to the demonic aura that held her. Each hand would have made the spell more solid, more real, until an actual web of lies had bound her so thoroughly it would never be broken.
But to a demon, or those versed in them, the signature had been clear. The thread to unwind the spell had shone bright and clear against the chaos, but Naj had expected it to take much more effort to untwist. This…
This almost called to mind the practice of his earliest days, when demons who worked willingly along side the Dai had made weavings so simple that even the children they taught could unwind them. It was… well, almost insulting to be offered such a spell now. It was negligible, like an after thought. What had the demon meant by it?
But there was no time to consider it. Like the thread that had tied it to its master, the strings of the cocoon were unraveling and dissolving. Satisfied that the work he had been called to do was complete, the borrowed power of Il’Dao abandoned him, and Naj found himself sucked back to the here and now with frightening speed.
He gasped as his soul slammed back into his body, physically reeling at the force with which he hit. Instantly, his mind processed that he had been sitting still and cross legged at Nica’s side, breathless and unmoving. The power of the dark god had sustained him, as it did any raptor drawing on magics for extended periods of time. But as soon as that power had abandoned him, his soul rushed back to his body to nourish it. Naj felt gray at the edges of his vision, and more drained than he had the first time he’d been with Nica this morning, but as long as he held perfectly still he would not crumble. His heart beat frantically to pump oxygen back into his starved chest and limbs, the beginnings of dizziness and nausea curling around his brain. Before slipping into unconsciousness a thousand thoughts reeled through his mind as his soul caught up with him. What have I done. How long was I gone. I’m sorry, I’m sorry oh Nine Gods forgive me my friends forgive me but most importantly Is Nica ok?
As you may have noticed, today is not Asylum’s normal update day. That’s because, as of today, Asylum is on hiatus.
I’ve spent the past month trying to figure out how I want to do this, and I feel this is the best way. I’m about 10 chapters in to a revision of a Asylum that’s more streamlined, better paced, more in character, and much more coherent. Publishing Asylum to in an online format was always meant to be something that kept me interested in the project, and it has done just that. So much so, that my interest in continuing Asylum as moved beyond the scope of a web novel.
I want to get Asylum properly polished, trimmed, and in its best format. After working with this blog, I really believe this (new, streamlined version) is something I can query with, and I’m going to do just that.
I’ll keep this blog updated with progress reports, one liners, further tidbits of interests, and calls for beta readers. If you love Asylum and want to see where it’s going, hit me up. I am always looking for a fresh pair of eyes to go over my work.
It’s been fun. I can’t believe it’s been a whole year. Asylum has come so far, and has farther still to go. Thank you all for your support. I can’t wait to meet you all at future book signings!