But the Black Lotus had plenty more questions and cross-examinations to perform before she was ready to even start killing him.
“What about coma states?” she asked. “I assume that if you are placed in a coma, you remain that way until such time as your body wastes away, and then you die and return.”
“Yes,” Çrom said. “Comas, medicated fugue, stasis … ugh, stasis,” he shivered. “That’s the worst. Humans aren’t that good at dealing with cold storage anyway – our cells are just a little bit too flabby – but there have been a few peaks in the technology over the years. Sooner or later, though, I would die in there – and come back. And still be in stasis. And you know what the stasis chamber shows?”
“A momentary glitch in your bio-readouts,” the Black Lotus said.
“How did you get out from what I assume was a very unpleasant period in storage?” she asked.
“Last time I remember?” Çrom looked at the ceiling, thinking about it. “Unearthed by a team of plucky archaeology students trying to find something unique to write about the ruins of Gal Badin Laar, the City of Unquiet Ghosts.”
“It would seem they got their wish.”
“You’d think,” Çrom agreed lightly. “But they were actually sensible enough to know they couldn’t write me into their report – not after they tried to capture me and I was forced to throat-punch one of them. She was alright,” he added, as if the Black Lotus would care. Professional territorialism, maybe, he thought. “Anyway, they wrote about the stasis chamber which was apparently still operational, and that led to a deeper excavation of the GBL power grid, so I guess ultimately they won.”
“And if you live long enough?” the Black Lotus asked. “Simply live. Do you age, die as an old man, return as young as you appear before me now?”
“I don’t seem to. I stay pretty much like this,” he gestured self-deprecatingly to the Çrom Skelliglyph suite in general, “but my brain gets stupider. Too much junk in there. It makes me inattentive, and makes my body clumsy.”
“And eventually this catches up with you and you get yourself killed,” the Black Lotus said admiringly “Very tidy.”
“Tidy,” Çrom echoed. “Wait, how young do I look to you now?”
The Black Lotus raised an eyebrow almost invisible amidst the grime and miscellaneous hair. “Too young,” she replied. “What of possession?” she went on before he could press her on that remark. “The Firstmades’ art of soul-journeying?”
“Never mastered it myself.”
“And yet, you can be possessed?” she asked. “A usurping soul can take control of your body? Your soul displaced? Usually, when a skilled soul-journeyer possesses the untutored, the displaced consciousness simply blacks out, returning to awareness when control is relinquished to them with no memory of what their body has been used for.”
“Party time,” Çrom said flatly.
“Have you experience with this?”
“It’s happened to me a few times,” Çrom allowed. “Funny thing, I’m pretty sure it just kills me straight up. Like … like tampering with a security lock might blow the explosive charges, or somesuch. The possessing soul is bumped back out the second my soul is dislodged, or they leave of their own accord since I’ve heard it’s pretty icky to try to possess a corpse. They go back to their own bodies or go looking for another one or die themselves, for all I know or care. And I wake up with a new and rather unpleasant form of death to remember.”
“Unpleasant?” the Black Lotus tilted her head, the same inquisitive animalistic motion she had made before. “I have always imagined it to be among the more preferable ends. By all accounts soul-journeying and possession – being possessed – are painless.”
“Try having an out of body experience and being strangled by the universe itself, while watching your own body die just out of the reach of your invisible grasping fingers,” Çrom advised. “Then we’ll talk.”
The Black Lotus nodded thoughtfully. “Very well,” she said. “The removal of the soul is tantamount to death, regardless of the skill with which it is done. What of the change in state?”
“Your body may not age in the standard way, but it does change,” the Black Lotus said. “You collect memories – too many of them for your brain to effectively handle, but you do remember things from your past lives. You are not completely renewed, or else you would return to life with no memory of anything that had gone before.”
Çrom nodded. “My brain chemistry and synapses all hold their shape when I start over,” he said, “even if the bullet hole is removed.”
“Yes. And in the same way, your physiology changes over time. If your origin is as antique as the ballad and the myths suggest, the human species has changed much – and by all accounts you would either have been freakishly malformed then, or ought to be freakishly malformed now. And yet no mention is ever made of your divergence from the human evolutionary path.”
“Right,” Çrom nodded. “I guess I lose a bit of brow-ridge and arm-length and body-hair each time. It’s not something I can control, though.”
“And even within your own single lifespans,” the Black Lotus continued, “you can take damage, earn scars … these vanish with your resumption, but they last until death. Yes?”
“I – yes,” Çrom said. “And I could tell you some really fun stories about people testing that shit, too.”
“Perhaps later,” the Black Lotus said. “For now, I am wondering if changes in state occur only to the body, or if any can be wrought upon the soul.”
“Possession kills, and death for you is not permanent,” the Black Lotus said. “You cannot become dead – but can you become undead?”