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To Destroy a Soul
There are stories of magick and its sources. If one eats the heart of a virgin pure or kills the innocent by night, magick descends on the evildoer. Murder scores of people, the more the better, and the power to fulfill a whim, a dream, or a quest is within one’s grasp.
These are, of course, merely stories. The true way to obtain magick is to destroy a soul.
Scabarina had been searching through her libraries on how to destroy a soul for years. Books filled with heresies and gruesome illustrations, books stained with blood and full of incantations. She had killed many a magician and charlatan for these books, but none revealed the secret that was her quest.
The candle that illuminated the manuscript flickered, casting shadows in her dark room. Heavy black hair hung around her, a few locks fastened back, leaving the rest to fall lank. Green eyes, bloodshot from weariness, blurred through the writing. She shut the book angrily, her search giving only bitter fruit.
Screams filled her ears. The subject was breaking. She blew out the candle, watching the smoke curl in scintillating tendrils, caressing her fingers in phantom touches before following the sound.
She ascended the steps, mentally reviewing the experiment. Number 23, a young boy. She opened the door, and steam rushed into her face. Scabarina approached the cauldron, bubbling with water, looking at the boy inside, his blonde hair slicked to his face as he moaned.
“Had enough, yet?” she crooned, caressing his sweaty cheek.
“Mum!” he screamed. “I want my Mum!”
“I know, darling, I know,” she clucked. “You will soon, very soon.” She started singing a nursery rhyme as she added more wood to the fire that would be the boy’s death.
Thirty hours passed, and the boy’s soul was intact, as strong as ever. Scabarina knelt by the pot, and looked at the boy’s face. “What did I do wrong?” she murmured, gently shutting the eyes. She didn’t want to see the dead, glazed look. “Why don’t I have your soul?”
Five years passed, and Scabarina was no closer to her desire. She had perused books and gained a lesser skill of magick, with recitations and potions. But it was not enough to ease her lust. Scabarina wanted true magick, and so she studied the arts of torture, hoping to find one way that would deliver her a broken soul.
Scabarina personally attended all of her subjects. She had young girls raped, fathers tortured, pregnant mothers lost their children at her hand. None delivered her any soul, the tortures did not even crack one.
Raising a pomander to her nose, Scabarina raised her hand as she walked out of the room, signaling her servants to clean up the mess. Number 273 had just died. Scabarina had tortured an infant on the rack. Nothing, an empty waste of a specimen.
Scabarina stalked to the balcony off her laboratory. She looked down, idly wondering how long it would take to fall. Useless, of course. Number 58 had died that way.
How could one break a soul? Physical pain was nothing. It was not horrendous enough to touch a soul, like a twig trying to scratch iron. She needed a tool as strong as the soul, stronger, able to penetrate layers of flesh and character to reach the core of a person.
Scabarina sat on the floor, shutting her eyes. The cool air that swept down from the mountains lifted the stench of blood from her nostrils, and she could hear the wind’s soft thrush. She was gaining in years, almost thirty, with no magick at her disposal. No way to bring back her mother and brother, caused by the Choking Plague that came on the breeze twenty years ago.
The memory, thick as blood, washed over Scabarina. The black hovel, the coughing and swelling of the throat and face. Her mother’s face, swollen to elephantine proportions, gave her cheek a last kiss. The lips were papery dry, but massive. Scabarina survived, but her family did not.
Scabarina’s mind swerved to a new place. Her family’s bones on her back, she walked from magicker to magicker, all charlatans, begging them to bring flesh back on the stinking remnants. “Why do you seek this?” a crone demanded, her withered face smiling humorlessly. “Destroy a soul, and you will have the power. I don’t have the power nor the will to achieve it,” she cackled. “But you, with your determination and liking for blood,” a gnarled finger poked the skull in Scabarina’s outstretched hand, “you can do it. It would be nice to have a true magicker again.”
Scabarina shuddered as she opened her eyes. That woman was Number 143. Every bone in her body was broken, and her final words echoed in Scabarina’s head: ‘You are not even close.’ She had the body mutilated. It was wrong to make a decision in anger. She had relished the stinking flesh as she cried over the lost secret.
“I will destroy a soul. I must,” Scabrina whispered to the wind. It continued blowing, not swayed by her words. Scabarina lifted a hand, concentrating. Her face was hot from the memory’s fire and her sleeves hung limp around her once more. But when Scabarina plucked a stray thread from her skirt, the wind blew once more. She bared her teeth, demanding the wind stop at her command. This time, it continued.
Scabarina stood and gripped the balcony wall. She screamed to the wind. “I will have my soul! And then I will conqueror you! Your power is limited, but mine will be eternal. There is no limit to a soul’s strength. And it will be mine!”
When the only sound Scabarina could hear was an echo and the wind’s breath, she fled inside, contemplating a soul’s destruction.
Another ten years, with another 300 lives destroyed. Each subject was precious: Scabarina had to find the perfect subject, personally obtain the person, and then perform the experiment. There was no end to her counterfeit funds or her ignorant servants. A mere death threat and a paltry magician’s act bought their services, no matter the gore. Her will continued for years, fueled by dreams and nightmares.
Emotional torture was now in vogue. Priests forced to forswear their god, fathers choosing which child should live and which should die.
A particularly fine experiment was when Scabarina persuaded a young girl-archer to shoot dead bodies wrapped in canvas, sure that proper aim would buy her freedom. Each body was revealed as a family member, very much alive before their murders. The girl had collapsed on the floor, screaming. Scabarina drove the deaths into the girl’s conscience, relishing each tear and sob. The girl had been left alone in a dark cell for three days, starving and screaming for mercy. Scabarina had waited on tenterhooks, fingers clenched, nails scratching her palm. The girl had begged for death and Scabarina denied it, forcing the girl to live with her pain. That experiment took place three years ago. The girl was kept in a cell, whimpering like a dog, insane.
Scabarina would go to the room sometimes and stare at the thing. She groveled and muttered, drool trickling down a lip. No mind was left in the body, just a woman who housed a terrified child. If there was ever a soul that could have been broken, it was this one.
Scabarina locked the cellar door, blinking at the daytime light. She trekked back to her manor, servants stepping out of her way. Scabarina’s hair was lank and greasy, waving in tandem to her steps. It reached down her back, uncut for years. Such trivialities did not bother her. If she was comfortable, it was beneath her concern. Her dress ripped and stained, the large skirts hampering her movements. Pale face, bitten nails, hollow eyes. As she stalked back indoors, she noticed her hair and skirts rippling. She stopped them with a thought. She could feel time creep, shadow her steps and snicker in doorways. Almost forty and no closer than when she was fourteen, innocent and so much younger.
Lost in thought, her teeth gnawing her lip, she absentmindedly stepped into the library. Every experiment, every subject was filed. Notes, meticulously neat and clean, were empty of truth after years of research. Even the one completed earlier this morning yielded no answers: a teenager asked if he killed his mother. Every time he answered ‘no,’ she sliced his flesh him. When he answered yes, she produced the mother and had him kill her. He died crying.
Scabarina stalked to the notes on the desk, written neat and clear. Not a hint of blood on them. The acrid smell that was ingrained in her, like a favorite perfume, did not permeate the paper. She picked up the sheet.
‘Subject asked if he killed his mother. Subject answered no. Subject was stabbed with a large knife in the left forearm. Question and answer repeated multiple times, and the subject was cut in the following order: above the right eye, the left hip, mid-back, the bottom of the right foot…’ She set the sheet back down. She ought to have mentioned how the boy cried. It would have made the report more complete. She shut the folder and placed it on its proper shelf. Time to plan the next one, 783.
She contemplated the years. Too many had passed by. In all 782 killed, how is it that not one soul cracked? Perhaps number 1000 is the one. Perhaps some cosmic force was counting how many lives she took, waiting for her to reach the secret goal. Perhaps she ought to start a war. Thousands killed on the battlefield, a hundred thousand vultures’ feast. A war would deliver her so many dead, so many wounded for torture, and so many orphans to torment. A war may be the key.
But how to start one? And how to keep track of it all? The paperwork would be enormous. A secretary would be an absolute necessity.
Possibilities and thoughts flitted through her mind as she hiked upstairs. She had left both corpses in the room when the experiment had finished; anger had blinded her and she left before she could do damage to the laboratory.
Opening the door, she walked in. The carnage smelled, but the flies had not yet come. She picked up the bloody knife and wiped it clean. It was serrated and bright, catching the sunset that seeped in through the balcony. She walked outside, examining the blade. It had killed so many, but still remained whole. Not a knick in the blade, not a spot on the handle. Of course, it was well taken care of. Scabarina used the knife hard and treated it well. It was the best in the market. It had not changed over the years.
She tossed it back and forth in her hands, entranced how it reflected the light. She waved it around in her hand, noting the grime entrenched in her fingers, making the knife seem all the brighter.
She laid the flat side of the knife on her wrist, smiling at the coolness. She could feel her pulse throb and for fun she pressed the tip on the vein. It was a deadly kiss, and she waited for something to happen. One hand to slip, or another to tremor slightly. A shout to startle her, a thought to shock her, or a tear to make her thrust.
Nothing happened. She looked up and squinted at the sunset, her hands still in place. The wind blew against her, but she was too tired to make it stop. It was merely an illusion, anyway. The wind would always be blowing. She would just dull her senses and make her hair and clothes heavy enough to withstand it. She never stopped the wind; she only stopped herself from blowing away.
And in that moment, Scabarina’s soul was destroyed. In her shock, the knife pierced flesh, the blade passing through artery and bone. She collapsed on the floor, her eyes wide open and a knife in her wrist, as her skirts blew freely for the first time in thirty years.