All About Soul (Short Story)

This is the second of two stories I have selected for this purpose that comes from the MUniverse, the setting of Tales of MU. Like the previous one, it is not part of the main storyline but a separate story that stands on its own. If you enjoy this story, you can show your appreciation either by sponsoring more installments of Tales of MU on its dedicated patreon, or supporting my writing in general on my author Patreon.

All About Soul

By Alexandra Erin

Anno 0, The Township of Phale

Will had made it halfway across the town when the beam of light fell across his handsome, well-formed face.

“You there!” the voice called. He froze. “Halt right there!”

The light bounced around as the figures approached him. When it fell off his eyes, he was able to catch a glimpse. There were two of them. Town guards? No, he could see the distinctive red leather armor. They were Legionnaires from the garrison. They carried pikes, and one held a lantern-like enclosure for the magical light, funneled into a tight shaft by the snout-like opening.

“Blast me with ballistae and butcher me for bacon,” the one with the light said, playing its shaft of light over his forehead, over the pair of symbols there, the Tree of Life and the Circle of Will, Unbroken. The runes, which had once been mere indentations in flesh and bone, had been filled with the purest shining silver.

“That’s the delivery boy for the silversmith,” the other soldier told his mate. “Little late to be going messages all about town, isn’t it?”

“That it is,” Will answered. “Sir.”

“Maybe his master gave him something to deliver to us,” the light-holder said, nudging his fellow in the ribs. “How about it, clayface? Did your master give you a little something for us?”

“What sort of thing might he have given me?” Will asked.

“He’s a silversmith, ain’t he?” the soldier replied. “So it would have to be something silver.”

His expression unchanging, Will reached inside his vest and pulled out five glittering silver coins.

“Is this the delivery you were expecting?” he asked.

The greedy soldier reached out his hand, but his partner restrained him.

“That’s only half of it,” he said. “Do you have the rest?”

Will counted out another five coins and dropped the lot into the eager hands. He nodded deferentially.

“Good evening, gentlemen,” he said. “You are a credit to our emperor across the sea.”

When the more eager of the two murmured a garbled good evening, Will took that as his leave and hurried off down the street, leaving the larcenous pair to exclaim to each other over their good luck.

“Poor dummy, probably doesn’t know he’s been robbed,” he heard one of them saying.

Will ignored it and pressed on through the dark streets, heading towards the towering stone cathedral that was the oldest building still standing in Phale, the Temple of Holy Khersis. The inside was lit with hundreds of candles… actual candles, blessed by the monks who fashioned them but unenhanced by magic.

One candle flickered dimly behind a pane in the cleric’s booth in the confessional. Will took a deep breath and headed, with a sense of reverence and dread, for the other door. Once inside, he found the matches and lit the corresponding candle, then knelt before the partitioning screen.

“Hear me, Father,” Will said respectfully.

“I hear, my son.”

“Pardon me, your grace,” Will said, in mild surprise at the voice. “I had not expected an audience with the Father Episcopus.”

“My pardon is yours for the asking, my son. The Father Confessor complains of a sore throat,” the Episcopus said. “But we are all one, in the Arms of Khersis.”

“I apologize for taking your time, your grace,” Will said. “I have not come to confess, but to ask a question… about the state and disposition of my soul.”

“You are a golem, are you not?” the Episcopus asked.

“I am, your grace,” Will said. “But… meaning no disrespect, however could you tell?”

“There is a marked quality about your voice… a hesitancy and preciseness about your speech, as of–forgive me, my son–an actor who has learned his lines either incompletely, or too well,” the holy man said. “I have noticed this often, when speaking to golems.”

“And… does your grace often find cause to speak to my kind?” Will asked.

“They are a common fixture in many of the households I visit,” the Episcopus said. “But, I meant no offense by this observation. It is merely another sort of accent, I suppose.”

“I shall school myself to be rid of it,” Will said.

“It is no fault against you,” the Episcopus insisted. “But, come… wherefore would you speak to me?”

“Your grace, I am the servant of one William Barker, the silversmith. I am his property, bought and paid for, but I am treated well enough for it. He has taught me his trade and intends to present me to the guild as his apprentice. I think of him as a father… though it would by no means be proper for me to call him so,” Will said, his voice taking on a pained quality as he admitted the last. “Yet, I was made by the hand of another man. I have two fathers upon the frame of this world… but, I wonder… do I have another?”

“My son, I begin to divine the drift of your thought,” replied the Episcopus. “Speak your question, I pray you, and I shall do my best to answer it.”

“Your grace… do I have a soul?” Will asked.

“The pages of the Librum are silent on this score,” the Episcopus said after a reflective silence. “But… there is a line of thought, and a common one at that, that only a creature invested with a soul would think to worry about possessing one.”

“I have heard that reasoning,” Will said. “It is what my master the silversmith told me, when I put the question to him. Yet, I am afraid it will not do for me. You see, your grace, I am an honest man… or an honest creation… but I did not come by this honesty as a gift of grace, nor did I learn it. I was made honest. I could have just as easily been created curious, and if my maker–my mortal maker–had so desired that I should be curious about the state and disposition of my soul, then so curious would I be, the question of that soul’s existence unanswered.”

“Have you some reason to believe your maker would have played such a cruel trick?” the Episcopus asked.

“None, your grace,” Will said. “Nor do I believe such to be the case. Nevertheless, this example shows us how it is possible to be curious about one’s soul and yet have none.”

“You seem most unwilling to be swayed,” the Episcopus said.

“I am unwilling to be taken in,” Will said. “I am an honest creation…”

“Please, do call yourself a man.”

“I am an honest creation, your grace,” Will said, “and am unwilling most of all that I should lie to myself.”

“I see,” the Episcopus said. “And what if I were to tell you that I find your unwillingness to accept less than the full truth on the matter of your soul an excellent indicator of the presence of one?”

“That will not do, your grace,” Will said. “For the same reason as I have previously indicated. My honesty was created within me. It is no credit to me.”

“I see,” the Episcopus said. “Well, suppose that we were to approach it from the other side. Why should you not have a soul?”

“Only the gods can make a soul,” Will said. “Is it presumptuous of me to suppose you would agree to that premise, your grace?”

“No,” the church father said with a wry chuckle. “I will grant you that.”

“Very well,” Will said. “Then surely golems must lack souls, as we are made by mortal wizards and not by gods.”

“True enough,” the Episcopus said. “But consider… it is not just wizards in workshops who may create new life. Man and woman come together and perform this miracle on a daily basis. Surely, you will grant that they are not ‘compelling’ the gods to give up a soul, and yet, each new child is born with one.”

“Surely, your grace,” Will agreed. “And yet, there are couples who go without child for years, or longer… but not for want of trying. So, it is no difficult thing to see how the gods are notcompelled in such a case, but grant each new life license… and a soul… as they see fit?”

“And do you not see the hand of Lord Khersis at work in the creation of a golem, as in the birth of a child?” the Episcopus asked. “Is that act not as susceptible to failure as any human endeavor?”

“It is, your grace,” Will said. “But, when I look at the base uses many golems are put to, I can little believe that Khersis has taken a direct hand in the effort, nor that he has cast his eye over it in approval.”

“Do you mean to tell me, my son, that an enchanter could create one like you, in opposition to will of Lord Khersis and the other denizens of the heavenly realms?”

“Forgive me, your grace… but much can be and is done in opposition to the gods of good,” Will said. “It is not so strange that wizardly arts could transmute dumb clay into living flesh against the will of the gods, but it is inconceivable that such life could be imbued with a soul without the cooperation of the same. Therefore, it seems to me that we must allow that wizards have the power to petition the heavens themselves in demand of a soul… or else conclude that I and those like me possess none.”

There was silence from the other side of the screen.

“Forgive me, your grace,” Will said. “It was not my intention to blaspheme.”

“I heard no blasphemy,” the Episcopus said. “You merely spoke your thoughts, which seem to me bent most strenuously against blasphemy. You resist the conclusion that you have a soul, because you cannot see how to accept this without insulting the gods. Does that not speak to you of some spark of inner grace?”

“Your grace, it does not,” Will said. “You are most patient to speak with me, but I will not be satisfied with any less than a true test on the matter.”

“A test… for soulhood?” the Episcopus asked. “That’s a most extraordinary proposition.”

“Your grace… have you ever heard of a golem being raised from the dead?” Will asked.

“There is a certain story of a murdered duke, with the only witness–a golem–also slain,” the Episcopus said. “It’s an old tale, and likely apocryphal, but they say most of the old stories have a grain of truth within them.”

“Indeed, but in that story, it is the golem’s worldly maker who brings the creature back to the semblance of life,” Will said. “I have always taken it to mean that the physical damage was repaired and the magic of animation was simply applied to it again. To my knowledge, there has never been a case where a golem, rendered inoperant, has been restored to animation through divine means… through the rejoining of body and soul. Is this because no one has ever had cause to try it, or because there is no soul to call back?”

“My son, the rite of resurrection is the holiest and rarest of sacraments the temple can administer,” the Episcopus said gravely. “It is never done without great need, and great desert.”

“I understand,” Will said. “And I understand that, though my need seems great to me, it may not appear so to others. Of course, there is one other small barrier to this test: I am still alive.”

“Indeed,” the Episcopus said. “And, as you have given this matter much thought, I am confident you have realized that anything you did to correct for that problem would render you outside the grace of the sacraments.”

“I do,” Will said. “But that is a problem which time itself may happily solve.”

“Do golems age as do men, then?” the Episcopus asked.

“We do not,” Will said. “But we do eventually find an end, as everything does. Your grace, it is commonly known–though not commonly spoken of–that the temple regularly performs the rite of resurrection for men of worth and importance, who have done good things for the temple and the community?”

“I hope you are not suggesting that this most sacred and holiest of miracles is something that can be bought and paid for,” the Episcopus said, bristling slightly for the first time since Will had entered the confessional.

“I mean no offense, your grace,” Will said, with great sincerity. “It is just that, today my master has told me he intends to name me as heir in his will, bequeathing to me all his property, his business, and his place in the guild.”

“Such a will could never be honored.”

“It would not be honored today,” Will said, an undeniable quaver of excitement creeping into his voice. “But never? Who knows, save the gods, what wonders the next day might bring? Our new proconsul speaks bold words to the emperor across the sea, and the men in the street talk openly of revolution… of… Republic.” The last word came out as a sort of sigh.

“I do not think they speak as openly as all that,” the Episcopus said. “But… I have heard whispers.”

“And… if this Magisterion brings it about, if these fractured lands become a nation where each manmay have a voice… then why couldn’t one who was made property, be made free and own property?” Will asked. “And if that happens, and I become a…. a man of means, then I would be entitled to the same privileges as any other man in my position, would I not?”

“I cannot say that it would not be so,” the Episcopus said. “But a silversmith, however skilled, is still a tradesman. It’s a far stretch from there to being the sort of man who may… do what you speak of.”

“I do not intend that it should happen overnight,” Will said. “But, golems do not age as men do… I may have decades or longer to increase my wealth, to improve my position.”

“I fear that is the very fact that shall weigh most heavily against you when it comes time to press your suit and claim your inheritance,” the Episcopus said. “But, allowing that it shall come to pass, you must realize that I will likely not be Episcopus here or in any worldly province when the time comes, so what I say to you now will have little bearing on the matter.”

“I realize that,” Will said. “And I know that nothing you say could stand as a guarantee… but still will I ask your blessing for this endeavor.”

“If I will not? If I cannot?”

“If you tell me no, if you say as a man of the cloth that this is an affront to reason and morality, or an act against the heavens… then I shall think no more upon it.”

“It seems a serious thing to take the holy rite of resurrection and turn it to a purpose such as this,” the Episcopus said. “Particularly as you propose to undergo it following a long and prosperous life… there are so many who die so young… but… to speak plainly, it is a better use than many of the well-to-do individuals to whom you have referred would put it. But, have you considered the implications if you put your plan into effect and… it fails?”

“If I fail, I will be no more,” Will said. “But I will not have lost anything. There will not even be anything left of me to be conscious of the failure.”

“But… what of others of your kind?” the Episcopus said. “If the results are made public, might it not be too much for them to bear?”

“I have considered that,” Will said. “For myself, I can choose to say that it is better to know… but how can I make that choice for others? If I can arrange the matter thusly, I shall have it kept secret, unless I should prove successful in my attempt. So, what say you, your grace? Is this not a worthy plan?”

“My son, I say to you that I have met men of my race whose possession of a soul was more doubtful than yours,” the Episcopus said. “But the winds of change do indeed blow across our land, and if nothing else, such a spiritual proof might doubly prove useful in securing material rights for those of your kind. I can find no fault with your plan. You have my blessing.”

“Thank you,” Will said. “Your grace… will you now hear my confession?”

“I will.”

War broke out between the provinces and the Mother Isles the following winter. Will, the silversmith’s servant, was given permission to enlist and fight alongside the revolutionaries. He served in a regiment under Proconsul-Turned-General Magisterion, and died in the Battle of Moncarre.

The Father Episcopus of the Khersian temple in his home town of Phale petitioned for the rites of resurrection to be administered.

This request was refused, as were so many others during the war years.

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