Samo closed his eyes and tried to pretend none of them were there. He was back at home with his mother, inside the small hut on their farm. The men shouting bids for him were just bleating goats and neighing horses. The hot sun on his bare body was the warmth of a fire, lit from wood gathered by his brothers and arranged by his father.
His exercise in pretend was successful until he’d been sold. At that point, his eyes opened and his head bent to the side to see the man who had bought him. His buyer’s skin was dark, like the inside of a felled log, which was still much lighter than the coal-black skin of most of the slaves in the crowd. The man wore a loose green cloth over his body, and white cloth was balled up over his head. He had a medium-length dark beard and light brown eyes.
He spoke to the man who’d been managing Samo up until that point in a tongue Samo did not comprehend. He would want to learn it fast, Samo supposed. His master’s voice was hoarse, quiet, and made it seem as though he spoke only with great pain.
Samo’s former handler guided Samo off of the auction block and into his new master’s carriage. There, he sat next to one of the other slaves who had been sold there, a woman he’d first seen on the raiders’ ship the day he’d been taken. Farther up, he saw a dark-skinned woman.
He turned to the woman next to him, and tried to think of something to say, if only for the sake of hearing words he could understand from someone other than that handler. He couldn’t think of anything, though. He looked down and closed his eyes again, trying to imagine that the tears hitting his feet were a gentle rain.
Samo’s muscles ached as he pulled the dull scythe toward him, his skin seared by the baking sun. He heaved for air and then fell forward into the wheat he was harvesting. He closed his eyes. He’d been doing this for seven years. He should be used to it by now.
Samo took a deep breath, grunted and stood back up, scything a satchel-full of grain. Sweat leaked from his brow to the ground as he carried the grain he had taken to growing pile of wheat near the barn
As he walked, Samo heard a horse neigh. He turned to see has master’s carriage leaving. That was the way to the market, Samo thought as he heaved. Samo kept walking toward the growing pile of grain and added his many strands of wheat on top of it. He turned around.
The grain field was sprawling, stretching far into the distance, halfway to the horizon. The whole field was dotted with workers, mostly dark-skinned men and women from East Africa, with the odd fairer-skinned slave mixed in, and still more rarely, pale men like Samo himself.
Samo walked toward the field of grain, heaving for air. His eyes widened, and it felt like his lungs were closing. He looked up at the sky. It was well past noon, though the sun’s heat was no more merciful for it. His work… his work would be done in a few more hours… yes…
Samo felt his face smack against the ground.
Samo awoke on a cot in a room he didn’t recognize at first. Was this his room? Things weren’t usually so blurry in his room. Samo blinked as he looked around. He was finally able to make out the vague shape of a woman standing above him.
The blurry image of the woman looked down at him. “Shh,” she said. “It’s okay.”
The world around him slid into focus as Samo held up his hand to rub his head, but the woman grabbed his arm. “Don’t touch the towels,” she said.
Samo tilted his head. “Wha… what’s going… what…”
He felt the woman pat him on the stomach. “Shh. You fell over while you were working. The heat had gotten to you.”
“I…” Samo still couldn’t see the woman very well, but her voice was soft and assuring. It made him relax. He put his hand back down, and lay his head back on the wet pillow below him. “How… long…”
“Master has forgiven you for your failure to work,” the woman said. It was an attempt to dodge his question, but Samo knew that if Master had come back before he’d woken up, it must have been several hours. “I even heard him say a prayer for you.”
Samo sighed. “I see.” His vision was clearing. He could now make out more about the woman above him. She had fair skin like his. Fairer, actually. Years of farming had tanned Samo’s skin. However, unlike Samo, this woman had dark hair and bright green eyes. She was dressed in garb that covered her more completely than anything Samo had worn since before. “Say, who are you?” Samo asked.
“I’m Georgia,” she said. “I’ve been looking after you, changing your towels.” Georgia stood up. “That reminds me. I should go get the healer to tell him you’ve woken up.” She looked down at him. “I’ll be right back.”
Samo nodded. He closed his eyes and thought. Georgia must have been a house servant. Perhaps that’s why he’d not remembered her. He felt water drip from his head.
Samo’s eyes snapped open as he felt his breath constrict. He heaved and huffed, but felt like he wasn’t breathing at all. He tried to gulp the air down, but couldn’t. He gripped the sheets on either side of him, trying to force air in. After a minute or so, he was finally able to. He took several deep breaths.
About a minute later, Samo heard Georgia and the healer, a tall dark man with a scraggly grey beard, enter the room. The healer walked to his bedside, where Georgia had been standing before. He looked down at him, placing his hand the wet rag on his forehead. “How are you feeling?” he asked.
“I…” Samo began. “I’m… well I er… I’m still hot.”
“We’re all hot,” the healer said.
“No… not like that amount of… hot.”
The healer moved his hand from Samo’s forehead to his chest. “I see. The man who brought you to me said you sometimes have trouble breathing.”
“Oh, that? It’s… it’s nothing…”
The healer shook his head. “I heard you just a moment ago. That was not nothing.” The healer looked down and closed his eyes. “You never should have been put to work in the fields at all. How was it that the healer before me allowed it? I would have recommended you be kept in the house as soon as I first saw you spasm.” The healer sighed, changing the towel on Samo’s stomach. “Regardless of why it was ever permitted, I’ll council Master to take you out of the fields.”
Samo’s eyes widened. “Re… really?”
“Yes. How long have you been having these problems?”
“Since… since I was… since three years ago sir. No wait, four. The physician here then… he was a free man. He… he didn’t like me. That’s why he allowed it I think.”
The healer took a deep breath. “I see.” He closed his eyes and shook his head. “In any case, it’s only a matter of time before you die if you’re made to labor like that. I’ll advise master as such. You should either be serving inside here, or be sold to another owner where you could do such work.” Samo looked away from the healer and at Georgia, than back. “Hopefully, he’ll heed my council. If not, may God have mercy on you.”
Georgia nodded. “May God have mercy on you.”
Samo leaned back. He closed his eyes and smiled. It would be much easier if he didn’t have to work the fields; that much he admitted. He looked back up at Georgia. “Inside…” he said. “That’s where you work?”
Georgia nodded. “Yes.”
Samo smiled. The healer looked down at him and smiled as well. He turned to Georgia. “Continue as you were. Change his towels. Never let them grow hot.”
Georgia nodded. “Yes, sir.” She looked back down at Samo as the healer left.
That night, Samo dreamed of Georgia. His dreams did not center on her subtle face, nor her full breasts, nor her curvy thighs. Instead, he dreamed that the two of them were at the church where Samo had gone as a child, reading from the books there.
When he woke up he didn’t realize the dream was over at first, She was there, sitting patiently, reading. Samo looked at her. “You can read?” he asked.
Georgia turned around and looked at him. A hint of a smile appeared on her face, making more than a hint of one appear on Samo’s. “Not well,” Georgia said. “My father was the physician here before the last one, so he had to be able to, and Master let him teach me on the condition I read from the Quran at least as much as I read from other books.”
Samo tilted his head. “Do you?” Samo’s master was a devout man. It’d been to master’s frustration that Samo had not yet converted, but since the day of the raid which had taken him, Samo had not had any faith.
Georgia sighed and sat down. “Just now, I was reading over some instructions pertaining to making a certain cure.”
“I see. I’ve always wanted to know how to read.”
Georgia tilted her head. “Have you, now?”
Samo nodded. “Yeah. I… when I was younger, and even now when I can, I’ve always liked to learn things.” When he was a child, Samo had fantasized about being some kind of scholar, not that that was likely. When he first came down here, he heard about certain Arabic universities. Until he was about fourteen, he used to dream about someday escaping and going to one.
“I might see if Master will stop me from showing you a bit.”
Samo beamed. “Really?”
Georgia nodded. “Really. Oh, that reminds me; Master heeded the healer’s council. He will let you be servant to one of his sons.”
Samo tilted his head. “Who?”
“Ayman,” Georgia said. “His thirdborn. He’s to turn thirteen during the moon after next. He was go be given a slave then, but master decided to give you to him now instead. He’s been waited on his whole life, of course, but you’ll be the first slave to be especially his.”
“I see.” Samo’s eyes looked down a bit, and he took a deep breath. He lay back. “When will I begin working?”
“Tomorrow. The healer believes you’ll be well enough to work by then. Can you sit up?”
Samo moved his arms and legs a bit, to see how mobile he was. “I think I might be able to,” he said. He placed his hands flat against the bed and flexed the muscles in his stomach. He grunted, but he rose. He took a few deep breaths. His eyes widened. He thought it might be an attack. He felt his breath constricting, but then it stopped. He turned to Georgia and saw her looking at him, bug eyed. “False alarm,” Samo said.
She didn’t seem relaxed as she placed her hand on him. He smiled. He took his arm away from the hand and took it into his. She looked down at the hand, and then up at him. “You say you’ve always wanted to read. How much do you know of how?”
“I’ve seen words,” Samo said. “I don’t know how the shapes move into sounds.”
Georgia looked at him, and then down at the document she’d been reading. She got up and sat next to him on the bed, holding the scroll in front of him. “You see this shape here?” she said, pointing to one of the squiggles on the page.
Samo looked down at it. “The one that looks kind of like a scythe?” Samo asked.
“Yes,” Georgia said. She moved her finger to a different place on the page. “Now, do you see this here?”
“Yeah,” Samo said. “It’s the same shape.”
“Exactly,” Georgia said. “That shape is called a laam. It represents the ‘Lla’ sound.” She looked at him. “And that’s how all of the sounds work.” She looked back at the scroll and pointed to a different shape. “This shape represents the ‘Rra’ sound, and this one is the ‘Sha’ sound. Every sound has a shape, and the words are made by taking the sequence of sounds for the word you want to write and putting the shapes for those sounds next to each other in order.” Samo looked at the scroll, looking for more shapes he could see in more than one place. “There are basically twenty-eight shapes,” she said. “It’s a little more complicated than that of course, but that’s the basics of it. To learn to read, all you have to do is memorize which sounds go with which letters.”
Samo looked down at the page. “I… I think I can do that.”
“Most can,” Georgia said, smiling.
Samo stared at the page. It was still an enigma of squiggles to him, but for the first time, he was beginning to truly believe it might be more someday.
Georgia stood up, taking the scroll away from Samo. “For now,” she said, “I need to sort this, and then I should change your rags.”
Samo looked at her. “Right,” he said.
Samo sought out Georgia as soon as Ayman’s daily schoolings began. The boy did not need to be attended during such lessons, and so Samo was free to speak with her.
When Samo reached the medicine room where Georgia worked, he took a deep breath outside the door. When he entered, however, he was greeted by a smile. Samo smiled back. “Hello,” Georgia said as Samo closed the door behind him.
“Hey,” Samo said. “Are you free?”
“I can talk,” Georgia said. “I need to crush these leaves.” She put some leaves in a weird bowl and started crushing them with a stick thing. Samo sat down. “How is the boy?” Georgia asked.
“As you would expect,” Samo said. “And I mean that in the negative sense.”
“Ooh,” Georgia said.
“Yeah,” Samo said. “I mean, he’s not … that bad. He’s just young, and spoiled as any child of his wealth would be.”
“I see,” Georgia said.
Samo looked down. He thought. He looked back up. “Hey, Georgia?” he said.
“Yesterday, you said that Master had allowed you to learn to read so long as you read the Quran at least as much as you read other books.”
She nodded. “Yes?”
“I asked you if you did. I… I don’t remember what you said.”
Georgia looked at Samo. She sighed. “I’d say I read it about half as much.”
“Oh. I see.” Samo smiled. He was happy to learn that she wasn’t devout. “Are you--”
“I see.” That made Samo smile even wider. He sat back in his chair. “I’m sorry to ask such difficult questions.”
Georgia looked up at him. “Oh, it’s fine.” She smiled. “When does Ayman retire for sleep?”
“One hour earlier than Master. Why?”
“He won’t require you then, correct?”
“Good.” Georgia looked down at her bowl of now thoroughly crushed leaves. She dumped the powder into a jar. “I spoke to master about teaching you reading, and he did not object. I’m given no other duties at that time in case I’m needed to assist in some medical emergency. Unless such a thing occurs, I will be free. Come down here and I may teach you.”
Samo beamed. “I will,” he said. “I most definitely will.”
Georgia smiled. “I am glad to hear it.” She put another bunch of leaves into the bowl and crushed them. “I am still practicing the craft myself, but I look forward to teaching you.”
Samo looked down at the scroll in his hand as he sat waiting for Georgia to arrive, if she would. Ayman’s fifteenth birthday had been a difficult affair. Beyond the fact that the boy was as immature as he had been when Samo had first been given to him, (perhaps it was from shouting at him to behave that his master’s voice had grown hoarse), another slave, a dark skinned woman, had collapsed in shakings while cutting bread. Georgia had announced that the wound on the woman’s arm was not likely to be fatal as soon as she saw it, but it still required attention. She had later told him to wait and practice where they typically did while she helped the old healer to clean the woman’s wound.
Samo squinted a bit, muttering the words to himself as he read.
“Every soul will taste of death. And you will be paid your reward fully on the Resurrection Day. Then whoever is removed far from the Fire and is made to enter the Garden, he indeed attains the object. And the life of this world is nothing but a provision of vanities.”
Samo looked up at the door as he heard Georgia enter the room. He put the scroll down and looked up at her, smiling.
She looked back down at him, smiling too. “The healer dismissed me,” she said. “He retired himself as well. The woman’s wound will be monitored, but he does not expect it to become infected.”
“That’s good,” Samo said.
“He has commented on the degree of time we spend together,” she said. “The healer, I mean. He says there are rumors that we’re fornicating.”
Samo looked at Georgia. He stood up and drew close to her, touching her waist. She smiled and held him in the same place. “We are not,” Samo said. He had wanted to, but he had known such a thing would be imprudent. It was only for a free man to violate a slave outside of marriage. Samo would be punished fiercely for it, and Georgia’s fate would be still worse.
“Yes, but if master comes to believe otherwise, it would be dire.”
“I see.” Samo looked down at his feet. He gripped Georgia’s sides with either hand.
“There is a solution, however.”
Samo looked up at Georgia, eyes wide. “What?”
Georgia smiled. “It is permissible for a slave to marry, with their master’s permission.”
Samo looked up at Georgia. He smiled, feeling a warm joy overwhelm him. “Georgia that…” Samo had wanted such a thing for over a year now. “…I would love to.” Samo looked at Georgia. He hugged her. She hugged him back.
“Would Ayman consent to it?” Georgia asked.
“Most likely,” Samo said. “I think if we asked them, he and master both would be thinking about little slaves we would make for them, who would be a part of their wealth.”
Georgia looked down even as she hugged Samo. “Little slaves…” she pulled away and looked him in the eye. “Is that something you want to give them?”
Samo looked down, smiling, crying with joy. “With you, I do.” He hugged her, squeezing her tight, his face on her soft, firm, full breasts. “I love you, Georgia. I have loved you for two years. Free or slave, our love should bear children. I would not mind that shackles swing from my wrists forever if you were there with me.”
Georgia let out a noise that was half a joyful sob and half a giggle. “Your argument is persuasive. I will speak to master of it. Perhaps you could speak to Ayman as well. If they allow it, we will plan to wed shortly.”
Samo looked up at Georgia. “Yes,” he nodded. He sat back down, next to her. “Yes, I would love that. I shall speak to him.” Samo’s heart beat with joy as he held her close.
Ayman had said yes. Samo beamed. Ayman had said yes. It had been as Samo expected, but his joy nonetheless flew to the distant stars when it was confirmed to him.
He entered the room where he and Georgia met every day. He saw her sitting, mixing some powders for an herbal remedy. She turned to look up at him when she heard him enter, and he saw her eyes. Instantly he knew, and what had once been his joy fell back to the earth. Still, he asked. “Did master…”
Samo looked down. He closed the door. Perhaps it had been too much to expect. He looked up at her. “I see.” He sat next to her. “Did he say why?” It wasn’t all that common, truth be told, for a house servant to marry.
Georgia shed a tear. She nodded. “Yes, he said why.”
Georgia looked away. Samo looked up at her. He placed his hand on her thigh. “Georgia--”
“I’m to be sold.”
Samo sat back. His eyes went wide as he looked up at her, her head still turned away from him.
“Master said I had become experienced enough in the healing arts to be sold to another house for a high price.” She looked down. Samo heard her sobbing. “I asked if you could be sold too, but he said Ayman would never consent to that.” That was the truth, Samo knew. Samo turned away from her and looked down at his feet. Tears fell from his eyes and splashed onto the wooden floor below. He clenched his fist, balling a bunch of his clothing in it. He seethed, but he knew there was nothing he could do.
He turned to Georgia and hugged her from behind, wrapping his arms around her stomach. She folded her hands on his. Samo closed his eyes and looked down.
Samo lay in his quarters, on his side, his eyes wide open. He looked at the blank wall across from him, mere feet away. His pillow was wet with tears. He looked at the wall, and then down at the wooden floor below it.
Samo tilted his head. His eyes widened. How on earth did that get there?
On the floor, there was an object. It was a book, Samo realized. It was the biggest book Samo had ever seen. It was dark blue, but with a silver skull on its cover.
Samo stood up from his bed. He looked down at the object. What was it? He hadn’t seen it around the house before but… oh crap! It looked really valuable. It probably was something from somewhere around the manor, or else maybe something a guest left behind. If someone came in here and saw it, they’d think Samo had stolen it!
Samo leaned down and picked up the book. He needed to put it back where it belonged, wherever that was, before anyone saw him with it. Samo felt himself breathing heavily. He took the book under his arm. If he was to learn where it went so he could put it back, he had best read it. He left his quarters and took it downstairs to the first room he could think of where he knew there was a candle and where no one would be: the medical room, where he used to meet with Georgia.
Samo carried the book to that room. It was the middle of the night, so he was able to move about undisturbed. When he reached the room, he sat down and, with a little effort, lit the candle next to him. He opened the book to its first page, hoping to find a title, or perhaps an owner’s name.
There was nothing on the inside cover, but the first page had some text written on it.
“On Soulless Ones”
On Soulless Ones? That was a strange… it didn’t matter. Samo thought. This clearly wasn’t a medical text. Perhaps it was a religious text? Samo turned the page. Maybe there was more information.
“I A description of the soulless ones.
“II On the process of becoming a soulless one.
“III On the spells common to all soulless ones.
“IV On the spells unique to one or some soulless ones.
“V On the other properties unique to one or some soulless ones.
“VI A list of soulless ones.
“VII Questions and answers.
Samo looked down at the page. He’d seen tables of contents in a few books before, but they always had page numbers next to them. Wasn’t that the whole point?
It didn’t matter. Samo turned the page. He wanted to see what this book was so he could figure out where he needed to put it.
“This tome is a collection of facts about the soulless ones, undead beings of supreme magical power. The object you hold in your hand is not the tome itself, but a gateway to it. By turning the page with any intent, you summon to you the page you wish to see among the countless pages making up the actual tome. In addition, you may turn to the Q&A section and write in a question directly. If the answer to your question pertains to this book’s domain, it will be provided to you.”
Samo tilted his head. What in the world could this be? He was confident that magic did not exist. Still, who would orchestrate a joke like this? This book was covered in giant blue gems. It was absurd to imagine someone spending that much money on a joke… or indeed, on any book. Despite himself, Samo turned the page, specifically intending to see that Q&A section.
He saw it. He gasped. Two boxes, with a feather quill next to them. He picked the quill up. His hand shook. He’d never actually written before, he realized. Still, he tried to hold the quill firmly and form the letters.
“How did this book end up in my room?”
“This tome is sent from the Underworld to those who it is believed will be most likely to make use of it, and in ways which will accomplish the ends of whichever actor in the underworld sent it. In your case, as in most, that actor was the Underworld itself.”
Samo’s eyes were wide. The book had responded… and it was for him. Keeping out of trouble was still on his mind, but his curiosity had now been peaked. Samo picked up the quill again.
“What does one use this book for?”
“Primarily, to become a soulless one. After that, to learn about other soulless ones.”
“What is a soulless one?”
“Please turn the page for the beginning of this tome’s explanation.”
Samo took a deep breath and did.
“I A description of the soulless ones.
“Soulless ones are those who have, through magic, cast their spirits into objects in order to gain the power to accomplish their dreams. They walk among mortals in the forms they once knew, but must reveal their true forms, those of dead and deathly creatures, in order to cast their magic...”
Samo thought. Accomplishing one’s dreams. That was what the book had been sent here to do for him. He wanted to marry Georgia. He wanted to have children with her. He wanted to spend the rest of time with her. Plus, if he could have whatever he wanted… he still wanted to run away to those universities he knew about. He would leave this place. He would learn with her, forever. Perhaps she would become a soulless one too. Yes, that was what he wanted. Samo turned the page.
“…which they must do regularly, as they must sustain themselves on the souls of the living, which only magic can scythe. Such devoured souls are the method by which soulless ones increase in power. They are not destroyed, but rather, they linger with and serve the lich who ate them. It is by commanding these that soulless ones animate the dead.”
Samo’s eyes widened. He read that paragraph a few times. He looked down. That… was awful.
Samo closed the book, but then opened it again. He thought, and then he clenched his fist. The people who wanted to sell Georgia like a piece of cattle were awful. The man who’d nearly worked him to death in the fields was awful. The men who were working the slaves serving right now were awful. He’d seen the states many of the slaves had been reduced to. Georgia had told him stories of the worst things she’d seen. There were plenty of estates just like his throughout the world. There were plenty of wicked men and women who deserved no better than what that book had just described. Indeed, it was a rich irony.
Samo needed little more convincing. He turned the page, willing to see how to become a soulless one.
“II On the process of becoming a soulless one.
“If one wishes to join the ranks of the soulless ones, one must first consider carefully if this is truly what they wish to do.”
“Many have cast out their souls, and the vast majority of them come to regret it later. To give up life, and yet remain in this world indefinitely, is no small prospect, and you should remember that whatever it is you seek to preserve will nonetheless parish eventually, and you may still yet have to live without it.”
Not if he could convince Georgia to become a soulless one like him. He knew she loved him like he loved her, so that should be no trouble.
“If you are sure it is what you desire, the process of becoming a lich is not very difficult. You need merely place the object into which you desire to place your soul, called a phylactery, on the blank page at the end of this section, and then say the incantation on the page next to it. Once you do this, there will be no going back.”
Samo turned the page. He saw the incantation, and the blank page next to it. He looked up from the page for an object he could put his soul into. He saw a feather quill on the table. He smiled. It was symbolic of his intentions, he supposed. He picked it up and put it on the page, before reading the incantation. “I call upon the power of the Underworld to cast my soul into this object, so I may become a being of death, disease and decay.” Samo immediately felt nauseous. He bent down and opened his mouth. Nothing came out. He heaved again, and again, hard, as his body fought to reject something deeply lodged in him.
When his soul finally flew out of his mouth, he saw through its eyes as he flew into the quill. His body was hunched over limp when he re-entered it.
Samo took a few deep, shocked breaths as he sat up straighter. He smiled. He looked down at the book and laughed, trying to keep from doing so too loudly. He opened the book back up to see precisely what powers he had. He saw a page of information about himself.
“A lich of knowledge. An angry lich. He thirsts for understanding, of the universe around him. He has been oppressed for most of his life, and intends to take revenge on those responsible.”
“Soul Count: 0
“Unique Powers: The moving of decay on written material, the moving of the false beliefs of mortals, the theft of knowledge from both the living and the dead, and the implantation of false beliefs in mortals.”
Samo smiled. Those really were the skills he’d want if he was to learn with Georgia forever.
Samo stood up, carrying the book with him, straight to his master’s chamber.
The door was unguarded. Samo did feel the slightest guilt over what he was about to do, but it vanished as soon as he opened the door and saw a young dark-skinned slave girl in master’s bed. Samo shut the door behind him.
He had shut it too loudly, he realized, because both Samo’s master and the woman woke up.
They both looked at him with confusion for a moment, the slave girl more so, as she did not recognize Samo, whereas Samo’s master clearly did. The old man’s eyes were wide as he looked up and down Samo. He could see Samo’s intent on his face. “Help!” he cried, in his hoarse voice. Samo grinned and shifted into his true form. His cry was far too quiet for anyone to hear.
Samo’s master screamed as soon as he saw Samo’s true form. Samo looked his master in the eye, as the slave on the bed next to him shuddered and shivered. A sweet, floral smell came from both of them, one which made Samo salivate.
Samo held out his hand. He’d start out by using his power. “There’s no one who would come for you,” he said.
His master’s eyes widened. He stood up from the bed. He ran toward Samo. Samo grinned. “That’s a bad idea,” he said. His master stopped moving. Samo smiled. Countless whippings he’d received came back to his mind. Orders he’d received, either from this man, or from those this man had ordered.
Samo turned to the slave still shuddering in the bed. As sweet as her fear smelled, he felt sorry for her. “You have nothing to be afraid of,” he said. She calmed down a bit, but not completely. Merely believing that you had nothing to be afraid of did not by itself eliminate fear. “You should come here and take my hand,” Samo said.
The woman stood up. Samo’s master was crying and pleading for mercy in the corner. He would soon be given the mercy he deserved, the same he had given Samo. The woman reached Samo and put her hand in his. He inflicted her with a head injury to knock her unconscious. It would last only for a few hours, and cause no permanent damage. There was no need for her to see what was about to happen.
Samo turned to his master. The scent of the man’s fear grew. Samo took a deep breath, inhaling the intoxicating aroma.
“S… Sss… Samo,” his master said. “I… please, you must understand, I did not wish to sell her to spite you, and I have changed my mind! Georgia… you and Georgia, I free you both, right now! Simply do not harm me or my family--”
Bavandersloth smiled. “It’s too late for that.”
His master’s eyes widened. “Wh… what?”
Bavandersloth stepped across the room, slowly, savoring the moment as he approached his master. “I loved her. I think you knew that. I wanted to start a family with her. A small family, just the two of us and some children, and I was content with the prospect of this family serving yours for as long as it lived.” Bavandersloth reached his master and stood over his slouching form. Bavandersloth smirked. “But you didn’t care about that. You cared not for my love for her, nor her love for me.” Bavandersloth grabbed the man by the neck of his garment and pulled him up, lifting him off the ground and looking him in the eye. “You took that family away from me,” Bavandersloth activated his power, “so I took yours away from you.”
Bavandersloth’s master cried. “N… Noo… Nooo…” He looked down. A shower of tears fell from his eyes.
“Yes,” he said. “I went door to door, cursing them. As you can see, I’ve acquired some demonic powers, and I damned them all. All of your wives, your children, even your littlest baby, they rot in hell now.”
Bavandersloth’s master struggled and wept. Bavandersloth put his finger to the man’s neck and made a gash run down his back, like a dull claw-mark, making the man scream in pain. Bavandersloth slashed the man’s vocal cords as well. Hoarse voice or no, it was still possible his screaming would eventually wake someone up.
“Everyone and everything you love will suffer forever now, in a manner graver than God himself could devise for you. And now, you will join them. I’ll put you too far away to contact them, too far away to comfort them, too far away to love them, but just close enough to hear them scream.” Bavandersloth ripped open three more gashes on the man.
The Soulless One inhaled the scent of the man’s fear. Implausible as they were, this man truly, in his heart, believed every word he was saying. Good. Bavandersloth had only a few minutes, so for justice to be achieved, all of the suffering, all of the pain, all of the ripped apart families, all of the dead and exhausted workers, the punishment for all of that needed to be contained in just these few minutes.
With his thoughts, he broke the bonds holding the man’s skin to his body, flaying him slowly. He started with the man’s finders, pulling the skin off each one like the edge of a glove, and then moved up each arm. He couldn’t work as slowly as he would have liked, as he didn’t want the man to die. Still, the man’s face seemed as though he was in incomprehensible pain.
As Bavandersloth pulled the man’s skin from his arms, and then torso, and worked his way both up to his head and down to his legs, he heard a low, impotent moan, the vain attempt of a man without a throat to scream in agony. Tears overflowed in the man’s eyes, until Bavandersloth flayed the nearby skin away from them and blood poured onto his pupils.
Finally, when Bavandersloth sensed the life draining from the man, he willed the scythe to appear in his hand, and it did. He plunged it into the wailing creature’s torso, just as he did when he harvested grain for him. He ripped the soul out and put it in his mouth.
As he chewed, he moaned with pleasure at the soul’s meaty taste. He closed his eyes, savoring its flavor, before finally gulping the thing down.
Bavandersloth took a deep breath. He thought. If he left the body there, it would horrify all who heard of it. He and Georgia would be searched for no matter what, but perhaps their pursuers would be more dedicated if they saw what was left of the slaver. As delicious as their fear would be, it would not be the best thing for Bavandersloth pragmatically.
However, there was a flip side to that. Fear might keep make it so no man was willing to chase after them. Indeed, that might be the best thing. Bavandersloth turned around and left the corpse as it was, walking away.
When he reached the slave girl, he picked her up and set her down outside of the room. Hopefully, she wouldn’t see his handiwork. There was no need for her to be so scarred.
Bavandersloth took his disguised form and headed to Georgia’s room, stopping at a basin to clean himself a little. With the book from before still under his arm, he entered her sleeping chamber to awaken her.
He shook her. “Georgia,” he said. “Georgia. Georgia, wake up.”
She did, groggily looking up at him. “Wha… what is it?”
“We need to go.”
“I said we need to go, now.”
“You… Samo, no. An escape attempt is… what is that you have under your arm… wait, why do you have blood on your face.” Georgia gasped and looked up at Bavandersloth, bug-eyed. “Samo, what did you do?”
“I’ll explain later. Right now, we need to go.” He took his true form, causing her to reel back. “I promise you we’ll escape. I love you, Georgia. Please, I need you to trust me.”
Georgia looked at him, and then down at the floor, before standing up and taking his hand. He lifted her up in his arms and ran away with her.