Down. Moving slowly, smooth stone on her hands and knees, she crept through the darkness without a mage light to guide her. There was no need for light in this place. Dark. Close. The air didn’t move here. Her tiny body fit easily within the space. For most others, the tight squeeze through the tunnel could bring forth the terror of collapse or entrapment, the panic of being buried alive, but to her, the press of earth brought comfort.
It would be wrong to call this place a treasure-trove. No glittering gems or gold rested in this vault of secrets too precious to reveal, too frightening to forget.
“It is locked away,” he’d said, “But it would be better if it were lost forever.” She understood his meaning when he reminded her of her hunger.
The tunnel around her eased into a brick-lined cavern. She stood warily in the claustrophobic space hewn from living rock, lit by a faint phosphorescent glow. The only object here was a warded box, sealed by blood and death. With a twist of her fingers, the morpheme opened at her command, revealing the contents. Objects both fine and humble shone within, afterimages of deep, violet deathlight trailed away with every eye-blink.
Her chorus of many souls whispered softly in her mind, their voices overlapping and urgent. “Respect respect, these things are not for you, guard your eyes, child, leave them for your betters, do not touch, do not peer, do not see, do not disturb, only what was offered, what was given, what is yours, what is lost…”
He’d promised her sustenance, but not blood. Not this time. This was just for her, a delicacy he could not partake in. She imagined the transaction: a tortured warrior seeing freedom from past sins, worried that someone may force the dead to speak. Or perhaps vengeance against one who should be destroyed utterly, body and soul. In truth, it didn’t matter either way. He wanted it gone. She was hungry.
A small crystal had been set aside, slightly apart from the other objects. It flickered with a faint light of its own. This was his gift, her momentary pleasure. Delicately, she plucked the crystal from its place and closed the lid with a decisive clang of metal on metal. She dutifully remade the rune-lock, adding a tiny filigree to mark her passage, as if he didn’t already know her whereabouts.
She cupped the crystal in one hand, cradling it close to her chest. She could hear the faint, embittered whispers of a woman’s faded soul within. Her fingers caressed the facets, pulling, picking, prying at the sorcery that bound it, opening it just a crack. She moved her hands close to her face, shushed the vestigial soul within, her voice as gentle as a new mother speaking to her babe.
“Peace… Shhhh…” She whispered, “No more suffering, no more strife.” The soul within had certainly once known tenderness, even love, no matter who she had been, or what circumstance had brought her to this prison. She would not deny her now, in this final act of kindness.
Coils of darkness spread from her fingers, weaving a spider’s web of deep purple strands that beckoned the woman’s soul from the prison she hated. “Leave it behind, come to me,” she whispered, “Find stillness here, find peace.” She lowered the crystal, her right hand poised above it, fingers spread, weaving threads of magic in the air. The soul rushed for freedom with a faint sigh.
Gossamer strands ensnared the wisp as it rose. The sigh shredded into a wail of misery. The soul shredded like a swarm of pinprick flies caught in her web. She drew it in, consuming and transforming it until it ceased to be what it was, and became a part of her. Her eyes flared blue in the dark, her hands drew back, pulling the substance of the soul into herself. Tracers and afterimages flickered on the walls, revealing the hidden wards and sigils within.
She dropped the empty crystal to the stone floor and crushed it beneath her heel.
Another voice joined the chorus of the dead.