XI. The Asuras
I realize no one takes us, or our efforts to study these strange phenomena, very seriously. I resent being associated with clichéd bulletin boards full of 3x5 note cards connected with yarn, blurry internet videos and tiny gatherings in smelly study rooms at university libraries. I’ll set all that aside and offer my report, which summarizes some of what we know about a very obscure faction of supernatural creatures called “Asuras.”
The Asuras: Warlords of the Cosmos
For the few who do not already know, Asuras are creatures of great supernatural power who live hidden amongst mankind. They are ageless, free of disease, perfect in their bodily regeneration against any normal attack, and possessed of weird and unnatural powers that are seemingly used for nothing except slaughter and mayhem. There are fewer of them than of any other kind of supernatural creature we know about, but any one of them is a terrible danger to most possible opponents. They are masters of fighting, armed and unarmed, individual and in groups. They are particularly drawn to maiming, dismembering, decapitating and utterly destroying their foes—Asuras are frenzied enemies whose thirst for blood would be less unpleasant if they actually drank it like Vampires do.
Demons to Some, Devils to Others
The word “Asura” means “demon” or “demigod.” This is an appropriate name, as they are powerful supernatural creatures who appear to be human but are actually something else. They each have individual personalities, of course, but their consistent traits in common are all driven by violent emotions and urges—passions that they indulge rather than contain for very long. Eyewitnesses describe them as very charismatic, with an unmistakable presence that often verges on the frightening. One commenter explained that it did not matter if you were allied with the Asura or their opponent, because either way you were in the room with a raging fire that wanted nothing more than to burn something.
Also, it is notable that unlike most other supernatural groupings, the Asuras named themselves “Asuras.” Even they think of themselves as dreaded harbingers of doom. To be seen as daemons in the antiquated sense—forces of nature, tutelary (cautionary?) beings, storms of death and destruction and newness—is not a point of shame for these creatures. It is a point of pride.
Asuras’ powers are based in violence and chaos. No matter how peaceful they may outwardly appear to be, an Asura is a focal point of death and destruction. It is believed that their endless life cycle is fueled by disorder and upheaval—truly extreme scholars have argued that Asuras may have played roles in many of the most devastating events in human history for this reason.
Ace the Examination On The First Try
Apparently, Asuras forget what they are, from time to time. It isn’t long in these “brief lives” until they are met by a mentor—usually another Asura, but not always—who knows their true nature and “knocks sense into their head” to remind them of what their actual life is meant to be. It is an Asura tradition that this “rude awakening” should be in the form of a sudden and horrible death, a lethal test of sorts, followed by their inevitable resurrection.
Since Asuras are drawn to bloody wars and deadly conflicts, they are inevitably compelled to fight one another. The more mature and knowledgeable among them know that their instinctive drive to fight supersedes the cause they choose in these struggles, while the less developed still believe they are warring for purely human reasons.
Asuras have no society of their own because they can only recognize one another if they directly engage in battle. When that happens, they know that they have met someone like themselves, however they may conceive that likeness. (Two demigods fighting, grand figures of current history doing battle on the world stage, etc.) It is not until one of them dies that the other, consuming their soul, realizes what has truly happened.
This is not always successful, but not through any fault of the test subject. Again, Asuras do not automatically recognize one another, and false identifications do happen. There have been great mortal fighting women and men who have survived the Asura Death Test and gone on to be trained by an Asura mentor to be extraordinary combatants—though most other mortals accidentally tested simply die in awful ways. An Asura, no matter how incompetent, would “ace the examination on the first try.”
The Apex Predator With A Thousand Faces
One of the most impressive (and somewhat frightening) qualities of the Asuras is their repeating life cycle, which almost exactly resembles what scholar Joseph Campbell called “the monomyth,” or “the hero’s journey.” The impressive element is how clearly they answer the call to adventure, pass a threshold with helpers to face a crisis of death, transform and atone and return to an origin point… over and over and over again, over millennia.
The frightening element is how very much it appears that this “monomyth” is not a thing Asuras emulate, but a thing that emulates the life cycle of the Asuras. Do they guide the dream-destiny of humanity merely through their existence? No one knows.
What is known is that they savor the truth and legends of heroes and fighters of every land and time. This is meant quite literally: Asuras are known to actually feast upon battlefields and martial tombs, from Achilles to Miyamoto Musashi to George S. Patton—edifices from the wreckage of a WWII panzer tank to the grave of the bodyguard of Jefferson Davis. The right or wrong of a warrior’s life is irrelevant: Only their mettle matters.
To be clear, the Asuras do not open graves and devour the rot and muck they find inside. They enter the presence of these tombs and enter a kind of torpor they call “meditation.” In that state, their will draws forth the essence of a dead person and—for want of a better description—“chews” upon it. To the Asura, this is contemplation of “a hero’s exemplary qualities.” Actually, they are gnawing on the psychic bones of others who have gone before them, draining the meaning and power from their spiritual identity and adding it to themselves.
This may have been what Asuras originally were: Psychic bottom-feeders with teeth that grew sharper over time. In time, a parasite or a scavenger may become a predator—it is nothing much more than a loss of patience and an increase of aggression that affects such a change. We of the SECRET SOCIETY AT SAN CIPRIANO UNIVERSITY believe that something very similar to this process occurred with the Asuras at some point in the long-lost past. It would explain the way in which they consume the power and consciousness of others.
But this is conjecture. We only know that now they are among the most deadly beings ever to exist in the world, and that their power is usually underestimated until it is much too late.
A Ballet of Death; A Weapon of Choice
Asked why they use cutting weapons and tools (from swords to chainsaws) so often, an Asura once held up his manicured fingernails and said, “Because these claws suck.” It is understood that the Asuras have a weakness in the energy centers of their bodies—their chakras—and that dividing their chakras in the correct way will shatter their existence once and for all. It is a very hard thing to do, because they are incredibly skilled, agile and tough, but it is something they are supremely well equipped to do themselves.
It has been said that Asura combat is gorgeous to behold. Sometimes it takes the form of incredible Eastern martial arts, sometimes Scandinavian berserking, sometimes cinematic swashbuckling, or a thousand other manic outbursts and acrobatic displays. There is a method to the madness of Asura fighting: It is theatrical and effective all at once. There are some who believe that the tandava dance of Shiva as that god destroys the universe is merely a representation of the Asura battle-spirit in action.
The outcome of battle for the Asura? A feast for demons, not crows.
A Book of Five Kinds of Spiritual Cannibalism
The Asuras may draw forth the energies of dead people (heroes, fighters, strugglers in any cause) to sup on their courage, conviction, skill, residual life force. They may engage in a kind of “practice dance” that churns the universe around them and lets them drink the ethereal energies of the world itself. They may rip open their own veins and drink their own life force in an act of strength that feeds upon strength, becoming even stronger. And they most often indulge in two other forms of psychic vampirism: The consuming of others, both mortal (or undead) and Asura.
This last is a simple matter. When the Asura attacks, they may choose to drink the soul of their enemy through a medium of contact. (The weapon of choice that links them, physically, unlike a bullet or bomb.) Such a weapon may darken and give off an eerie sobbing noise as the Asura uses it to spiritually eat his/her victim alive. Against another Asura, a perilous storm will envelope both combatants, reaching its crescendo as the winner attains final victory.
Again: It is vitally important to remember that the Asuras must claim each other’s spirit upon winning a battle, but they can claim anyone’s spirit in other battles as well. Cheap fantasy novels have been written about feckless magical warriors who claim souls through the blades of their swords—the authors may have been inspired by rumors of the Asuras, who can indeed do this very thing.
The Voice In My Head Says It’s Time To Kill You
Asuras have “mentors.” (This is entirely separate from their awakening mentor, who leaves them shortly after they remember they are Asuras.) Each of them claims to have some sort of guidance, be it a mysterious friend that no one else ever meets, angels who come to them in visions, or most often, the voice of a dead friend or family member who always has timely advice. After reading the many centuries of secret journals regarding Asuras, and making our own observations, we believe that these mentors do not exist outside the Asuras’ imaginations.
This is a bold claim in a world where spiritual entities are a known fact, but it is true. No supernatural authority—be it psychic, ceremonial, ghostly, elemental or what have you—that has witnessed an Asura’s “secret communion” with their “mentor” has ever described it as anything more than a person talking to themselves. No being capable of perceiving auras or other vibrational planes has reported the actual appearance of a “mentor” to an Asura. And on a purely psychological level, these “mentors” appear to always reinforce (even through opposition and contradiction) whatever an Asura already thinks, feels and wants to do.
If Asuras’ mentors are nonexistent, as we believe they are, this is somewhat alarming. These Asuras are powerful supernatural entities who are drawn to taking dangerous action in our world. The near certainty that they are also deeply psychotic is gravely disturbing.
Goals Are Optional
Asuras have human-like feelings and thoughts, and imagine that the causes they support are the reason they fight. But this is not the case. They simply fight. It does not matter if they win or if they achieve their ostensible goal, because battle and destruction are their actual purpose. From this perspective, Asuras can only “lose” if everything becomes peaceful and non-violent—a situation they would never permit to happen.
On at least three occasions, historical observers have recorded situations in which Asuras fought courageously for a human or supernatural faction and led the way to victory—only to switch sides and prop up the defeated foe shortly afterward, aiding in their renewed conflict against the Asura’s former allies, friends and family.
Visions of War
To the extent that Asuras have any abilities resembling what we might call “psychic powers,” they are all focused on fighting. Rather than being able to read minds, they have ways to make their minds too painful or difficult to be read—rather than foreseeing general trends, some can predict an opponent’s combat maneuvers, or grasp all the factors in a battlefield at once.
The only prophecy I know of that the Asuras have given forth is a very strange one, and it relates directly to their emphasis on all things martial. Several Asuras have each looked broadly into the future and seen a war coming between creatures that others have identified as “gods.” Some are old gods—the famous names found in mythology and modern neo-Paganism. Others are strange gods unknown to most, such as a mysterious nameless Goddess of the Night who is outcast by all others.
But the name that appears most often in the rare Asura prophecy is something called “Technomachia, the Child of Lightning.” They are vague about it, less out of uncertainty than out of haste and “other priorities.” The most important element to know of this being is that they say its minions are made insane by its furious, mechanistic drives, and that it is purportedly a “new god” or “god emergent.” They claim that the coming world will be shaped in no small part by a war this new deity triggers when it matures (“Technomachia” is always referred to as “it”). Their explanation of what “Technomachia” is can be boiled down to “living language, reason given shape, machines and logic, purpose and order.”
They do not elaborate on this being, or how a god can be born out of the collective human mind. They also do not fear it, as birds riding a wave of wind on the crest of a storm do not fear the lightning and thunder that follows in their wake.
It’s A Sort of Sorcery
It would be impossible to list all the powers that observers have seen Asuras utilize. All of them are ageless, immune to disease, regenerate their material bodies and have the capacity to die by any means and return phoenix-like to the living world for an apparently infinite number of times. This and their affinity for combat and weapons—every Asura is a devastatingly swift, skilled and powerful user of a vast array of armaments—are well known to outsiders.
However, their weird capabilities do not end there. Asuras have demonstrated powers ranging from telekinesis to animal command (ravens, panthers, mastiffs, etc.), energy projection to teleportation, and much, much more. Each Asura has a certain number of such bizarre, numinous abilities at the beginning of their lives, and then as they destroy the physical bodies of other Asuras they adopt their victims’ powers into their own arsenals. (“Eat the heart of the lion, gain the strength of the lion.”) In time, an Asura becomes godlike, a figure of an unknown mythos with exalted, promethean gifts that no normal opponent can face and survive.
The Asura Singularity: A Universe In Their Hands
With each passing century, there have been fewer and more powerful Asuras. As they destroy one another, their powers and personalities merge more fully, and the survivors carry many voices and memories in the back of their minds. It can be truly said of the Asuras: “My name is Legion, for we are many.”
Their nature is to be drawn to calamity and risk; their power screams to be used, and an Asura can never, ever retire to perfect peace and calm. Whether they are villains or heroes or something in between, the power that courses through their nerves sings to them forever of their place on the great stage of reality. Because this is true, the Asuras believe that they are drawn together more and more with each passing year.
In fact, there is a persistent belief (among Asuras and those who know of them) that one day all Asuras will be joined together in one immediate knot of fate—one last grand conflict that will leave at most a single survivor, or perhaps none at all. This “Asura Singularity” is the fear and joy of all Asuras, especially as (some say) the aggregated power of the Last Asura may be enough to change the course of all life, everywhere… not merely in one vibrational plane of the universe, but every plane.
(One alarming possibility is that if life exists on alien planets, then there may be Asuras of many apparent “species” across the cosmos—all of them looking like the dominant local life forms, but actually every single one of them is really an Asura.)
If the Asura Singularity is a reality, then it could be that the Asuras will unite in one place in all the cosmos at a single time and finish their great pattern of war and change. If this brings about the concentration of power they expect, then—some say—if there was no greatest and most universal god before that point… then there will be such a deity in its aftermath.
Asuras are few and far between, for they are women and men of Destiny. Their power can be devastating and their sense of isolation can be harrowing. But they know they exist in a universe with the most tenebrous powers, and so they venture boldly where no mortal would easily dare to go.
The character of Slayers is so similar to that of Asuras that it is a shame their nature is so different—but a mortal drawn to bloody-handed adventure is quite different from an immortal, and the highlands of the supernatural are less perilous to one who cannot easily die. Slayers feel a mixture of envy and admiration for Asuras, and must resist the urge to become part of a retinue to a powerful Asura (who will not resist the urge to have good guns and swords at his/her back, if they’re honest and worthwhile).
Adepts are drawn to Asuras like a moth to a flame. The archetypes of Mentor, Advisor, Ally and Partner loom large in an Adept’s mind and spirit when they encounter an Asura—some think that the concept of an Adept, especially one with a certain mirth, can be an invaluable mage to rekindle the dimming matchstick of an Asura’s adventuring spirit.
Outsiders are unclear on what exactly is going on between Shapeshifters and Asuras, but both sides seem to have an almost instinctual relationship—no, more of a matter of natural laws, or more simply, oil and water. Shapeshifters are living things that apparently cannot die, having arisen in the earliest prehistoric times… and Asuras certainly give off the impression that they’re something very similar. Whatever their two real natures may be, both factions rarely seem to even realize that they reflexively work against one another.
The Necromancers are set completely off their moorings by encounters with Asuras. Their plans for the world are all built around death and resurrection, and they can’t seem to pin down exactly what Asuras are, and how they fit into the great scheme of things.
There is an uneasy interaction between the Asuras and the two groups (two sides of the same coin?) known as the Djinni and the Messengers. Asuras mix with both factions freely and casually, and both factions strive to convince the Asuras to help them in their causes—but these alliances nearly always end in advantage to the Asuras and chaos for the Djinni and Messengers.
The Time Engineers—ostensibly strange visitors from a far-off future—have alluded to a “nine nines possibility” that Asuras are integral to a “great disaster” they wish to prevent. This puts them and their allies, the Benevolent Society (weird pan-Asian monsters), at odds with the Asuras. But all the bizarre technology the TE can muster doesn’t seem to be quite enough to carry the day.
The Unquiet Dead have very limited interaction with Asuras, and it is generally peaceful. The ghosts of the past are sometimes their companions and rarely their tormentors.
Vampires and Asuras do not commonly interact, but when they do, the outcomes are spectacular. Both kinds of creature are voracious consumers of life, and their respective gifts do not cancel one another out—they actually annihilate each other! Whatever animates Vampires has a desire to eat whatever animates Asuras—and vice versa. When this sort of action occurs, both the Vampire and the Asura have been known to spontaneously combust or even explode!
Blood Dolls are only found in the company of Asuras who have chosen to see themselves as shadowy rogues and bloody-handed warriors of the underworld. Blood Dolls, who are hapless at the best of times, find themselves swept up in the passions and adventures of Asuras, and the Dolls’ connections to the Vampire world soon lead to fatal confrontations.
Fate seems to draw Cultists and Asuras together only on rare occasions, and then only at climactic moments. Because Cultists seek to utterly and immediately change the world, and Asuras do that naturally, the secret threads of circumstance and coincidence tend to rocket them into head-on collisions whenever the two factions are anywhere near one another. Fortunately, this is not very often.
The Loa Masters are careful schemers and spinners of webs. Asuras are like blazing coals thrown through their well-woven plans, leaving nothing but destruction in their wake. This is why Loa Masters avoid Asuras at nearly any cost.
The Lords of Eternal Darkness harbor a bitter hatred toward all hero figures, and this reaches frenzied heights when it comes to the Asuras. However, centuries of catastrophic encounters have given the Lords a crippling fear of the Asuras, and even at their most powerful they will tend to panic and lose resolve if they face an Asura (or worse, more than one).