As a man he knew love once. He knew a woman, and she was – and is – a witch. They come to salt her one day in his second life. The hateful mob beats her with impassioned fists, and then transfigures her in a flash of divine retribution in the name of their demon-headed gods. Later, the Xerashi inquisitor chops her into pieces; sells the fortune of white salt to Ainoni traders. The curiosity is how each hacking blow made the world seem less, made his crumbling ties diminish until his first life’s memory is a naught but a fog, a haze in his artifice of eternity. Where there should be impossible heartbreak there is only a growing emptiness, not unlike the oblivion he will come to experience.
It is a welcome foretaste.
He knew sickness, once. He was dying, dying and the woman who was a witch, a beloved woman whose name he cannot recall (now after and before her death alike), sought to save him from the hungers of demons and gods alike. She took him in her arms, laid him in a circle he now knows was stained with accumulated sins. “I will make of you a new body, one carved of wood that will last beyond the ending of the world.” She whispered, cradling his failing body. “I may be damned but I can give you this, my love.” There was light and there is darkness beyond all darknesses.
He cannot feel the multitude of sensations in his second, soul-bound existence. He blinks false eyes and he sees the world as ghostly angles and truths; he sees light where bodies should be, shining according to the merit of their souls. He watches a cat wander towards him. He tastes the feeble soul, lets a feeble spark of consciousness pass through and above him. He wipes blood from himself in clumsy pantomime.
He knows the absurdity of his form, trapped as he is within a body like an artist’s dummy. And yet still he sates himself, continues his existence even though he can see it through to a bitter finality. This, he realizes in an uncommon moment of revelation, must be the experience of a god.
Later by one hundred years that is as a second, he sees sorcerers singing in the vault of the sky. Coiled ethereal dragons are swept away in a furious cataract of plasma. Saurian maws drown in holy water. A heartbreaking song as death comes swirling down. Wards – he knows they are wards somehow, sees them with an animata’s perspective – crumple under successive cracking waves of hatred and righteousness, a song so beautiful it must be God’s own and yet he does not understand… how can God be singing? God is shattered, a thousand warring pieces engaged in their own peculiar internecine violence.
He has never heard a song that did not offend.
He would weep, but for the falseness of his eyes.
One autumn day in what men now call Kian, he sees the child pick him up, throw him against the ground with a child’s customary disrespect. “Servant!” The caste-noble daughter screams, and a terrified slave girl all dressed in Nilnameshi purples comes for him. She cradles the doll in her hands. “Was this among your things, Aisa dearest?” She asks, frowning. “This does not look like one of yours.” She frowns, carries the doll away amidst weeping protestations.
The animata cannot say he is ungrateful – he knows his time is soon. “ab Pasha!” The servant calls. “Kas’anafira, I found something.” He wonders if this second death will be release. He awaits anxiously the oblivion of his soul.
All instants ultimately converge within a single instant, as they must. A snakes’ tongue licks his stained and beaten exterior, smooth tongue so close it can almost taste his soul. “Fane has decreed this… thing a demons trick. A tool of witches.” The bound soul struggles against the human grip which drags him from the floor, plucks him as a carpenter would pluck a splinter. “A Wathi doll.”
“What shall we do, your holiness?” The human voice is rough, Kianene, speaking a bastard dialect of a tongue he remembers from his human life. “Burn it? How did a demon’s toy find itself among the satrap’s daughter’s playthings? Especially a man as pious as Kas’anafira ab Pasha…” The doll knows, if they care to ask. Let them phrase it in a way that is meaningful, a cant that would unseal his soul and spill forth the knowledge within. Let them not destroy him without understanding… But he is not praying, because there is nothing Outside worth praying to. He is only begging in silent desperation, realizing in the end that his soul cares. It does not long for death as it did in the decades of ceaseless tedium. Oblivion draws a limit, a terrifying limit in an existence that should be measureless.
“Silence, Faisal.” The unblemished, unmarked priest commands. “These old governors… still they are steeped in idolatry, in their false ways. Cast the doll, and the texts, into the fire. Leave no record of their existence. Cull these hateful things, that they might not tempt the eyes of the righteous.” The doll offers mute protestations, knowing these infidel men cannot hear the screams of his soul. Ever are men blind to what lays beyond. Save the one who calls him Wathi. The priest, he knows can see with his own pair of false eyes. The snakehead priest sees the fear and destroys him nonetheless, such is his fanatic hate.
The snakehead licks cold lips.
There is no sensation of warmth in the fire, merely one of unraveling, of instants coming to pass in actuality. For the first time since his death, he knows that his life is the past, that he stands upon an infinite precipice beyond which lies nothing.
A human heartbeat passes, and he is unaware of the nothingness he becomes.