They looped back around to the concept of soul damage.
“Is it possible,” the Black Lotus mused, “for you to fall afoul of a practitioner of outlawed soul magics? You said you were unable to soul-journey, but it is also possible for such renegade sorcerers to capture a soul directly from its housing of flesh.”
“I suppose it’s possible,” Çrom said. “Sooner or later, though, damage to the soul shuts the whole thing off and kills the body. That’s where it all ends for most people but starts over for me. Any attempt to remove the soul for experimentation just resets me, like possession. Messing around with the soul while it’s still in my body is basically a different kind of torture. And I know for a fact that a good torturer can keep me alive more or less indefinitely, with the added bonus that if they mess up, they get a fresh new victim to play with. At that point it just becomes a question of how much damage a body or a soul can take before dying.”
“I do not think interference with your soul is the answer,” the Black Lotus said, much to Çrom ‘s relief. “We already know a lot about the mechanics there, from your undeath and possession experiences.”
“If you say so,” Çrom replied. “Are you in a position to do any soul-messing anyway?”
“Absolutely not,” the Black Lotus said with another weird-cute smirk. “That would be against the law despite the waivers you have signed.”
“Understood,” Çrom said with a solemn wink.
“Are you aware of the case of Quintox Lelhbron?”
“Wasn’t she revealed as a fraud?” Çrom asked.
“She was revealed to not actually belong to the Lelhbron line,” Lotus clarified, “and much of her credibility and all of her mystic and commercial patronage was lost. But her work was creditable.”
“Afraid I haven’t really looked into it,” Çrom admitted.
“It is unlikely to have a bearing on your situation,” Lotus admitted, “except I suspect that her final proof was – by complete coincidce – a crude mortal attempt to replicate your precise form of immortality.”
“Quintox had perfected an anatomical fabrication method that was said to have been stolen from the near-mortal Firstmades when they made their own new incarnations,” Lotus said. “It was not quite so specialized or high-quality, but she was able to create operational Molran bodies and nervous systems into which she could soul-travel at will.”
“Creating a line of incarnations for herself,” Çrom said.
“Yes. She managed to extend her life almost thirty thousand years in this manner,” Lotus said, “well beyond the destruction of her original flesh. The official story was that she died when her original body did, due to some mystic connection that Firstmades understand but we mere mortals do not. Her experiments caused a lot of outrage among the Brotherhoods.”
“But you have the unofficial story?”
“The truth was, she went into hiding and eventually succumbed to … simple exhaustion, really,” Lotus said. “The majority of her existence was dedicated to the process of generating and perfecting her next body, since she never really got the fabrication working smoothly due to interference on numerous levels. That, and the soul-journeying concentration required to remain linked to her new body, it was not as solid a connection as the body one is born in. At some point she must have weighed up the benefit of living if all she could do with that life was to prepare the required materials for prolonging it … and she decided it was no longer worth pursuing. Her journals also spoke of a profound psychological weariness due to extreme age.”
“You had her journals?”
“I studied her secret writings, the continuation of her work after her supposed death,” Lotus said. “Most of her experiments took place when the Elder Accords were in their infancy, before the Corporation was fully forged. There are more constraints on such things, now. But I believe that your case is similar – you are moved to a fresh body, the only difference being that the mechanism for producing the flesh is not centralised into a machine the way hers was. And that her soul and mind continued to age and change and grow weary, while yours seems to replenish as completely as your flesh does.”
“Not quite so completely,” Çrom said. “I still get weary … I just don’t get to opt out of reincarnation the way Quintox did.”
The Black Lotus nodded. “That, too, may explain why you retain memories up to a point, but not a perfect record that could not possibly fit into a human brain. I know the story of another famous Lelhbron.”
“You know a lot about immortals,” Çrom joked. “Know your enemy, I suppose.”
“In a sense,” Lotus said, although she avoided his eyes. “As a healer must study injuries and disease, so must a killer study the undying.”
“Did this other Lelhbron spend thirty thousand years brewing up clone after clone to possess?” Çrom asked, although he already suspected what Lotus was going to say.
“No. This one was attempting some higher and absolutely forbidden magic, and his soul was torn in half,” she replied.
“I’ve heard this one,” Çrom said. “He became unable to die, and unable to feel emotions. Or something like that. So he messed with Ghåålus-level stuff, and wound up with an even crappier version of immortality than I got.”
“‘Crappier’?” she repeated in amusement.
“I suppose it’s always possible that the dread Ghåålus left room for me to mess around trying to find a way out of this, and wind up punishing myself by making my eternity so much more unbearable,” Çrom conceded. “But I have a strong suspicion that any change I make to my own circumstances would be temporary. And the punishment sufficiently dreadful that I would never even think about doing it again.”
Lotus tilted her head. “You have not wondered if perhaps, if you must endure until the end of days, that an eternal existence without fear or hatred, boredom or love, joy or pain … would be preferable to one with all of these emotions?”
Çrom didn’t even hesitate.
“Not once,” he said.
– Posted from my Huawei mobile phone while sitting in the carpark after hours.