Authors: Terry Goodkind
“You can only get a soul,” Richard finally said in answer to the unspoken question, “by being born with one. It is forged into a person at their creation. It's an inherent part of them, a living connection to everything in this world and the next as shown in the lines of the Grace. It's their link to existence.
“Good or bad, kind or cruel, for better or worse, whether they want it or not, the soul they were born with is theirs from the instant of the ignition of that spark at their creation, through life, and on into the world of the dead. In the most basic sense, it is the sum of who they are, the distillation of everything they are. They can neither give it away or lose it or have it stolen from them. That soul is a part of them and can't be separated from them, either willingly or unwillingly.”
The man smiled. “If that were true, then how do you explain the existence of the half people?”
“You were born without souls.”
“Not in the beginning. In the beginning the half people started life as you did, as people born with souls. Their souls were ripped out of them to create weapons, to create the half peopleâthose without souls.”
“Yes, but that was done thousands of years ago by Emperor Sulachan and his wizards, wizards who had powers none of us today have or can fully envision.”
“But they did it. They took souls from people who had them.”
Richard gestured to the south, toward the Old World, where Sulachan had originally ruled. “Sulachan's violation of the nature of life was depraved. It was not a simple plucking of soul from someone. It entailed great effort of many wizards with long-lost powers and dedicated to Sulachan's perverted task.
“None of those original half people could give their offspring a soul because they no longer had one. They had lost their connection to the Grace. Their offspring were born without a soul and can only bear offspring of their own without a soul.
“The only soul those original half people could ever have would have been their own, if Sulachan were to somehow reunite them. But those people are long dead and gone. Their descendants, like you, can't ever gain a soul by any means because none ever belonged to you.”
“As those with souls die,” the man said with confidence, “that soul flees the body as it begins its journey to the world of the dead. After all, the bodies that rot in the ground no longer have souls. Their souls left them. So, souls can flee the body of their host.”
“That part of them that is their soul leaves them at death to go through the veil as the Grace shows,” Richard said.
“And we can capture the soul by eating the living flesh that the soul is still bound into. If we consume the living, then at just the right instant, while their soul still resides in their flesh and blood, as they die we will have that warm flesh and blood inside us at the exact instant the soul departs the dying flesh of that host. Since we are living that soul that is within us will bind to us. It will have found a new, living host and we will then possess that soul.”
Kahlan shared a troubled look with Zedd. It was about as sick a belief as she had ever heard.
Richard was shaking his head. “No, you can't. You can't, because that soul, that essence of who the person is, that spark they were born with, doesn't wander around looking for a new âhost,' as you put it. That isn't at all what happens. When that person dies, their soul, being part of the continuation of the gift, follows the lines coming from the spark of creation and passes through the veil into the underworld.”
“Not if we capture it first as they are dying.”
Richard watched the man without showing any emotion to the revolting idea. “It doesn't work that way. Someone else's soulâwho they areâcan't reside in you. It can't be trapped or take up residence in someone new. At death it is bound to the underworld.”
“We will have your souls for ourselves,” the man said with the confidence that only unshakable, irrational faith could provide.
While Kahlan wasn't entirely sure of what, exactly, constituted the soul, she knew enough to know that in these people wishing took the place of reason. It wasn't possible to reason with people who were irrational. That was what made irrational people so profoundly dangerous.
The half people had dreamed up an entire belief system around what they imagined a soul was, how it behaved, and how they could get one for themselves. They invented the entire belief system out of wishes. They wished it to work that way, and so they believed it must, simply because they wanted it to.
In a way, they didn't have the ability to listen to reason because they weren't human in the conventional sense. They looked more or less like normal people, but they weren't. They were a different kind of human. In some ways, without a soul, they had more in common with animals than people, with little more than the reasoning ability of a predator.
They were hungry, they hunted. They hungered for a soul, they hunted them. It was action based on need alone.
Richard stared at the man for a long moment before speaking. “And do you know any of your kind who have ever gained a soul by capturing it from a person they ate? Has it ever worked even once? Have you ever seen it actually succeed?”
He hesitated a moment. “I have not seen it yet, myself.” His chin lifted a little, but not enough that Commander Fister's knife cut his throat. “If I had, I would have fallen on the man who accomplished it and I would have eaten him in turn to get that soul for myself. I need one for myself. I am entitled to a soul.”
“Who sent you?” Richard asked, abruptly changing the subject from the dead end of blind belief.
The man's chest puffed up with pride. “Our king and emperor, Sulachan. He came back from the world of the dead. His soul returned. You are the bringer of the dead. Your blood brought him back. I was there. I saw it happen with my own eyes.
“If I do not first gain a soul for myself, our king will help us to be complete.”
Richard folded his arms over his chest. “And how do you think he can do such a thing? How can he make you complete?”
“He is a spirit king,” the man said, as if that said it all. When Richard only stared, he went on. “He can bridge worlds. He has proven that by returning from the dead. Now that his spirit has returned to the world of life, bridging the veil, he will bring the worlds together and unite them. The world of life and death will be together in one worldâno longer separated by the veil. I will be complete when he does.”
“How is that going to make you complete?”
“In life, you must have a soul to be complete. When life ends the soul continues on through the veil into the world of the dead.”
He fell silent again, again seeming to think that should explain it all. Richard frowned in realization.
“I see your problem. The way things are now, after you die you can't go on to the world of the dead because you have no soul to go there, no soul to make that journey. Without a soul, there is no underworld for you, no going beyond the veil to the eternity beyond. Without a soul, when you die you will simply cease to exist.”
The man stared off for a moment before answering. “That is why I must have a soul. Those with souls were born lucky. We are entitled to have a soul.”
“So you think you are justified in killing people because you want their soul for yourself?”
“Of course. We need a soul, so we must kill to get one.”
Kahlan was right. These half people were less than human. Without a soul they had no empathy for others. They didn't feel for their victims, or feel any guilt at killing. Without a soul they couldn't. They were predators, remorseless killers after prey. They felt no empathy for that prey, any more than a wolf felt sorry for deer it took down. It was simply prey.
She understood now that there was a larger purpose than she had thought behind the depraved desire to steal a soul. It wasn't merely a blind hunger for a soul to fill a void within themselves. It was a hunger to have a soul in order to do what humans could doâgo on to the underworld after death.
Having no soul denied them the eternity of the underworld. The world of life was a brief spark in time compared to an eternity in the underworld. They were desperate to escape the fate of ceasing to exist at death. They invented a belief they thought would allow them to live on in the underworld, basking in the warm light of Creation. In a very real way, these people worshiped death because it seemed like a better world to them, a world without end. Theirs was, in a way, a religious quest.
Without a soul, they couldn't do any of that. Without a soul, death meant they would go out of existence like a candle flame being snuffed out. For the half people, having no soul meant that there could be no eternity among the good spirits. To the half people, having a soul meant gaining immortality.
In a way, she felt a twinge of sorrow for them, except that they were willing to kill to get what they wanted.
Kahlan knew that Richard didn't want her asking anything because it would draw the man's attention to her, but she couldn't help herself.
“Sulachan can't give you a soul,” she said, “and without that spark of the gift within you, he can't take you to the underworld. You are bound to this world, but only for as long as you live. There is nothing there within you for him to take to his realm after you die. He can do nothing to help you after you die. So why would you follow him? What is it you think he can do for you?”
His dark eyes fixed on her. “Once our king unites the world of life and the world of the dead, there will be no need for a soul. Death will no longer be an end for us.
“Once you die, your soul goes to the world of the dead. In that way you are able to bridge both worlds. Without a soul we cannot go on to the world of the dead.
“But once the worlds are united into one, both worlds will be one, together, not separate. We will already be in the world of the dead as well as the world of life. All those like me will be able to exist in a single world of life and death bound together. It will be all parts of the Grace in one united world without end.
“Our king has promised that in such a world, once life and death exist together, I will be complete and have no need of a soul in order to go on to the underworld. I will already be there without needing a soul to make that journey, to cross over. There will be nothing to cross over to. We will be there.
“Once the world of life and death are brought together into a third kingdom, a kingdom of both life and death in the same place at the same time, Sulachan will rule over it all for all time in the eternity of that world brought together into one.”
It was a profoundly disturbing concept. The very fact that after three thousand years Sulachan had returned from the world of the dead showed that the idea made a perverse kind of sense, at least to Sulachan and the half people.
Kahlan didn't believe that it could actually work, but she knew that they did.
It was troubling that it had been Richard's blood that had enabled the occult conjuring to work and bring Sulachan's spirit back from the dead.
But most troubling of all was that with such powers as Sulachan possessed, the very attempt to make such a delusional scheme work could very well destroy the world of life.
In that sense, there would be only one world.
An eternally dead one.
“How did you find us?” Richard asked, changing the subject again.
For the first time a sly smile came to the man. “We tracked you.”
“How did you track us?”
By his tone of voice, Kahlan didn't think these people read footprints on the ground. Apparently Richard didn't either.
The man's smile turned murderous. “Some of us haveÂ â¦ talents.”
Zedd frowned, no longer able to contain himself. “Talents? What sort of talents?”
The man's eyes turned up to the old wizard. “Some of us are spirit trackers. It is an ancient ability passed down to us from the first half people that Emperor Sulachan created. Now that he has returned, he has use of us. He sent us to track you.”
Richard paced as he thought about the unusual claim. “You expect me to believe that you can track people by sensing their spirits?”
“I do not expect you to believe anything,” the Shun-tuk prisoner said. “You asked, I told you. We are spirit trackers. It does not matter to me what you believe.”
“So you're saying that some of you can track spirits,” Richard asked, “that some of you have that ability to sense them and follow them?”
“The Shun-tuk are not all the same. Some of our ancestors were created with abilities forged into them. Among the Shun-tuk there is a variety of abilities.”
“Abilities,” Richard repeated in a flat tone.
Kahlan knew that such abilities created out of people were all too real. After all, she was a Confessor, an ability that had been created in the first Confessor, Magda Searus. That ability had been passed down to all the offspring of Confessors.
“Some of us were born with different abilities than others among us, just as some of you are gifted, while others of you are not.
“Spirit trackers can sense the presence of souls. Because we can sense souls, we can track them, much like a wolf can smell his prey and follow its scent. And like a wolf following a scent of a particular animal, we can distinguish between spirits. We can sense individual spirits and follow their essence. Once we found you, we did as we were commanded.”
“Not exactly. You failed,” Richard pointed out. “You failed even to kill the one man you had down and by himself. How does your spirit king treat those who fail him?”
“We did not fail. We tracked your spirits as instructed.”
“Tracking us would only be part of your orders. I'm sure you were instructed to kill us or bring captives back, much as you captured all these people here once before and brought them to Sulachan.