Description / Abilities
Usually a sword is supposed to be a simple straightforward weapon. This Soulsword however is more than the average blade and shrouded in layers of mystery. A magical weapon, just as the name implies it was connected to Illyana Rasputin’s very soul. Though its appearance is that of an old-fashioned sword, the Soulsword is not really a weapon in the physical sense and the extent of its powers seem to depend on the user. When Illyana (and occasionally Kitty Pryde) wielded the sword, its chief ability was to disrupt magical spells and beings, quite often permanently. In the case of Illyana it was usually accompanied by an Eldritch armor of unknown origin covering Magik's left shoulder, chest, and arm (although the armor would grow to cover more and more of her with each appearance). The Soulsword can also release a non-supernatural being from a magical spell that it is under, though not necessarily every spell. Moreover, it is capable of physically injuring and even killing a supernatural being such as a demon or a magic-user.
Under normal circumstance the Soulsword doesn’t injure non-magical beings (although shortly before and during Inferno Illyana – and in turn the sword – had grown so corrupted, that this changed. The one non-magical being the Soulsword could physically injure was Kitty Pryde, alias Shadowcat, even when she was using her phasing power to become intangible. This is probably connected to the fact that Kitty and Illyana shared an undefined bond that seemed to make Kitty the receptacle of her best friend’s magical powers whenever she was incapacitated or had renounced her magic.
While Illyana seemed to be afraid to access the sword’s full power, knowing that the use of even more magic would further corrupt her, the sword’s power was still undeniable – the Soulsword is so potent that to wield it seems to more or less guarantee mastery over Limbo.
When Amanda Sefton / Magik II took control of the blade she also used it to store souls, conjure teleportation discs - something Illyana never had to do, since teleportation was her mutant gift - and conjure and channel spells. It is unknown, if the capabilities of the sword actually change with the user or whether Illyana also had access to these sides of the sword but didn’t want them or didn’t know how to access them.
Chronologically speaking, the Soulsword made its first appearance when the sorceress Margali Szardos showed it to her daughter Jimaine in a vision, explaining that the sword was the emblem of her eventual destiny. Before Jimaine who was entranced by the blade, could touch it, the demon sorcerer Belasco took it back, stating that someone else would lay claim to that weapon first. Paradoxically, at that time the blade did not even exist. [Excalibur # -1]
The person Belasco was referring to was a child named Illyana Rasputin. Years after that scene with Margali and Jimaine, the six-year-old Illyana was abducted from Earth by the demon sorcerer into another-dimensional Limbo where Belasco himself was a prisoner due to the displeasure of his dread Lords. Illyana was to become his apprentice and his tool in freeing the Elder Gods. Illyana was a prisoner in Limbo for seven years, while almost no time passed on Earth (due to Limbo being a place outside the regular continuum of time and space). Among the few non-demonic denizens of Limbo there were also some elder surviving X-Men from an alternate timeline. One of them, Storm, had become a sorceress wielding white magic who tried to counter Belasco’s corrupting influence on Illyana. Several times Illyana tried to break Belasco’s hold on her soul by emulating Ororo. As proof of her freedom from Belasco the sorceress has created an acorn from her very soul and then planted it in the ground letting it grow. Illyana tried time and time again to do the same but failed. Finally, after she had openly rebelled against Belasco and was banished to the harshest corner of Limbo as punishment, Illyana grew to realizes the reasons for her failure. Ororo had created life to reaffirm her old values – Illyana who had just been a child when she fell into Limbo had no values to return to. All she could claim for herself were innocence lost and a burning desire for vengeance. Fueled by her fury she took a part of her soul to create a weapon instead – a glowing silver sword (looking like a lightsabre) which was the ultimate expression of her magical power. Using it, she overthrew Belasco, though she chose to spare him at the last moment. [Magik #1-4]
After she returned to Earth, seven years older, Illyana first tried to forget her experiences in Limbo. However when traumatized she unthinkingly drew her blade striking her friend Kitty with it – something that should not have been possible as Kitty was phasing – a first hint of the link between the two girls. [Uncanny X-Men #171]
When the demon S’ym attacked her following Belasco’s wishes Illyana once more manifested the blade hurting the demon with it. As a result S’ym swore to be her servant and Illyana reluctantly took control over Limbo. [New Mutants (1st series) #14]
During the New Mutants’ battle against the Demon Bear, Illyana’s sword changed appearance: suddenly it looked like a traditional medieval sword with a broader more ornate hilt, instead of its previous lightsabre look. Also, from this point on, the manifestations of the sword were accompanied by the growing armor of unknown origin. The sword showed its potency in the battle against the Demon Bear, when it proved to be the weapon to beat the creature and release the two people who had been magically changed into it: the parents of Magik’s teammate Danielle Moonstar.
However this adventure also proved that the blade had limits and apparently couldn’t break every kind of spell. While Illyana had successfully used her sword to cure two innocents, Sharon Friedlander and Tom Corsi, who had been turned into demons by the Bear she couldn’t undo the first part of the enchantment, which had transformed them from Caucasians into Native Americans. [New Mutants (1st series) #19-20]
When Illyana was briefly driven mad by the curious omnipotent Beyonder and turned into her evil self – the Darkchylde- the blade turned black corresponding with her soul’s state. Kitty Pryde grabbed the sword (something no other could do) and used it on Illyana returning her to normal. [New Mutants (1st series) #30]
Further proof of the link between the two girls was when the Beyonder cured Illyana of her magical side – and the Soulsword, Illyana’s magical effects and her responsibility as guardian of Limbo automatically passed onto the inexperienced Kitty. Illyana was forced to take the magic back to save Kitty from the threat of the demons who had used that chance to free themselves from Limbo. [New Mutants (1st series) #36]
When the Beyonder momentarily killed the New Mutants and erased them from everybody’s memories the blade and the armor once more passed to Kitty, who could still remember her friend. [Uncanny X-Men #203]
When Limbo became infected with an alien techno-organic virus S’ym and other demons openly rebelled against Illyana. In a final gesture of defiance Illyana pushed the Soulsword into the ground. The result was surprising: Apparently she could – at least for some time – exorcise the place with the sword. As long as the blade was in the ground Illyana was free of her dark side– and Limbo became a lovely uncorrupted place, with the demons kept at bay. [New Mutants (1st series) #50]
However she was forced again and again to take up the blade to fight and the corruption spread in herself as well as Limbo. As the corruption in Illyana grew her sword also manifested a darker side, also altering non-magical things it touched in demonic ways. [New Mutants (1st series) #64-70]
Shortly afterwards during Inferno Magik lost control of her sword as she had lost control of her realm. While the blade had been untouchable to others before now suddenly the demon S’ym could tap into its power and took it from her. Following the advice of another demon named Nastir’h Illyana fought S’ym for the blade and unleashed its full power thus turning into the Darkchylde and unwittingly creating a permanent opening between Limbo and Earth. Trying to undo all this Magik cast her final spell and apparently reverted to the six years old, she had been before Belasco had corrupted her. [New Mutants (1st series) #71-73]
Her magic had to go somewhere though and the sword once more transferred to her best friend Kitty Pryde, who didn’t want it. At first the sword was stuck in a stone outside Excalibur's lighthouse, and Kitty tried her best to simply ignore the weapon. [Excalibur #8, 11]
Apparently the nature of the Soulsword had changed – now anyone could touch the blade, but only Kitty could remove it from the stone it was stuck in. At a later point Kitty’s “doctor” Dr. Doom paid her a visit and convinced her to use the sword to pave a way for them to Limbo (an ability the sword hadn’t displayed before, possibly because it wasn’t necessary). Doom claimed the Promethium in that dimension could solve the world’s energy problems. Kitty fell for his ruse, and soon Doom wrested the sword from her thus becoming ruler of Limbo and very soon she, Excalibur, the West Coast Avengers, Doom, and Darkoth, a man whose life Doom had destroyed and who now lived in Limbo, were embroiled in a battle. Doom intended to plunge the sword into the very heart of Limbo, as a result of which every grain and every creature native to the place would revert to Promethium. Excalibur finally left the sword to Darkoth who took control over Limbo with it. Since he was just searching for inner peace, Limbo changed to mirror this state and seemed empty. [Excalibur #37-39]
The peace lasted only shortly. There was more to the magical weapon that had been apparent before. A sorceress named Shrill wore an eye made of mysterious “Soulsteel” and she claimed that the Soulsword was made of the same metal. Whenever the Soulsword was drawn on Earth it caused her unspeakable pain. She tried to get the weapon from Darkoth, but instead it quietly incorporated itself in Kitty again. Not used to magic, Kitty grew slowly corrupted by its influence, finally drawing it and wanting to kill, until Excalibur knocked some sense into her. Shrill however wanted the weapon destroyed if necessary over its owners dead body, and there was another sorcerer named Gravemoss, a disciple of the Winding Way (same as Margali, the mother of Kitty’s teammate Amanda Sefton) who also wanted to obtain the sword and use it to kill those ahead of him on the Winding Way. Gravemoss possessed Nightcrawler to attack Kitty from the outside, but he was defeated as Kitty remembered the sword’s capabilities and used it to exorcise Gravemoss from her friend, effectively killing him. Amanda Sefton then convinced Kitty to give her the Soulsword, magically severing the link between Kitty and the blade, and turned the weapon over to her mother Margali for safekeeping, a mistake that would come to haunt her. [Excalibur #83-85]
Margali, mad for power, used the sword to kill all of the magicians ahead of her on the Winding Way. She then gave herself a new body and joined the London Hellfire Club as their Red Queen. However, when Margali tried to tap into the power of some ancient demon trapped beneath London, she was overwhelmed, and when Excalibur severed her from the interface, she and the Soulsword were captured by Belasco, Magik's onetime mentor and once again ruler of Limbo in the absence of any other to challenge him. [Excalibur 98-100, 103]
Belasco also planned to use the Soulsword to gain power, but was eventually defeated by Margali (who had come to her senses), Amanda and Nightcrawler. While the others left, Amanda stayed as guardian of Limbo. The Soulsword, which had been knocked off of Belasco's tower during the battle, broke through the surface of Limbo in an armor-coated hand, perhaps signifying Magik's return. [X-Men Unlimited #19]
The result of that apparition was never revealed, instead Amanda took both the name of Magik, the Soulsword, and the role as Ruler of Limbo that came along with it. In Magik II's hands, the Soulsword's shape has changed a little, and the more experienced sorceress has increased its functions to include storing souls in it and drawing spells and stepping disks in the air.
The destiny Margali once promised her daughter has been fulfilled as she now bears the weapon and the responsibilities that come with it. [X-Men: Black Sun #1-5 & X-Men: Magik #1-4]
Origin and Theories
There is however some confusion regarding the swords origin, caused by later writers not knowing about or ignoring earlier stories. Originally it was created by Illyana in Magik #4, but then it was said it was made of the same metal as Shrill’s Eye, and it was also seen in a precognitive vision of Margali in Excalibur #minus 1. A possible explanation for the first is that perhaps Illyana was subconsciously tapping into this “soulsteel” when creating her sword or perhaps all metallic objects made of “soul energy” naturally have some kind of aversion towards each other.
Then there is the question how the Soulsword could appear in a vision to Margali years before it even existed – not to mention the fact that Belasco held it and chronologically at that time Belasco wasn’t even in Limbo, but still frozen in ice in Pangaea (an off-shoot of thee Savage Land). The most logical explanation to that conundrum can be found in the nature of Limbo itself. Time moves differently in Limbo and all points of time can be accessed from it. So quite possibly, it was the Belasco from around X-Men Unlimited #19 that Margali was seeing in that vision, as he held the Soulsword at that time. As for Belasco’s claim that he is the original owner of the sword, well, demons (even wannabe demon lords) do have a habit of lying, or the blade’s history is even more complicated and mysterious than is known at the time.
Yet another idea might be that Belasco doesn’t appear at all in Excalibur #minus 1, that it all is an illusion based scenario created by Margali in order to make her daughter stay at the circus and continue her magical training as at the time she was toying with the idea of leaving together with Nightcrawler.
The appearance of an alternate version of Illyana Rasputin among the dimension-hopping Exiles, too wielding a Soulsword, has only added to the confusion, but also gives room for further speculation. When the Exiles met the X-Men of the main Marvel Universe this Illyana lost her blade to Archangel, but easily conjured up a replacement for herself. Shortly afterwards she revealed that her Soulswords are very rare items and part of “Bata’s Circle”, hidden in a deep corner of Hades. Is that Illyana totally different from the one who died ? Or could it be that way back when Illyana tried to create a weapon, she subconsciously reached out and pulled one from Bata’s Circle, bonding it to her soul ?
Another potential problem might be the blade left with Archangel. What will happen when Amanda, the current wielder of Magik’s Soulsword, pays her former lover Nightcrawler a visit and teleports out of Limbo. Can the two swords exit near each other, or will there be a similar feedback effect like with the blade and Shrill’s eye ?