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Despite the quiet of the words, their utterance boils my soul in shame and regret. Tears burn my cheeks as they trace pathways to the soil below, telling of the fire that brought me to this moment. They preach my story, drop after drop, without saying a single word.
My eyes meet the dilated pupils of the child before me. A young boy, who offered himself to the ways of Nikaram in hopes of gaining favor with Sirli. He is crying as well. The tears scar his features for different reasons than mine, but they amount to the same end. The Overseer hovering behind me, urging me to do what I know must be completed if I am to gain my Divinity. The knife clutched in my hands, itching to draw blood and paint the ground in crimson. Loyalty to our god and leader, to Sirli, cradled like fire in my heart. The wound of betrayal pulsing in his.
“I can’t,” I gasp, words desperate. The boy is a loyal follower of my same god, the god who demands I steal soul after soul just to seal my own promotion. To grant my Divinity.
I can feel the Overseer’s displeasure at my words without even turning to face her. “You will.” A pause. Her hand is firm on my shoulder, turning me to look into her narrowed eyes. They are pale. Hollow. Void. Her own soul isn’t in there, anymore; her Divinity is. I almost envy it.
She frowns, regarding the tears scalding my skin, brushing one away with a light touch. Balancing the droplet on a single fingertip, I catch the unmistakable glimmer of a smile dance across her lips. “After all, he prayed for redemption. This is forgiveness. You are serving Sirli.”
The zeal that I have learned to cultivate lifts in my heart, recognizing the emphatic truth in her words. It was the boy’s choice to make the vow. It is my homage to steal his soul in the name of Sirli. Yet, for some reason, the thought doesn’t stop the torrent from streaming down my cheeks.
Taking a shaky breath, I turn to face the boy. His feet are bound in chains, hands wrapped in leather straps. A ragged cloth gag winds through his mouth, muffling hopeless whimpers. Between the bindings dangles a lone pendant, draped delicately over the skin of his neck, depicting winding metal curves that interlace to frame a crescent. The seal telling of his loyalty to the ways of Nikaram.
It was his choice to devote his soul to serving Sirli. This is my choice, to fulfill my vow and become an Overseer. I thought, once, that I truly wanted to do this. There is the chance that I still do. Perhaps even enough to complete the task before me. Maybe.
The knife is cold in my hands, a sharp reminder of the task that I choose to ignore.
“Do it,” the Overseer coos from behind, watching the struggling child with unyielding eyes. “You’ve taken so many souls already. You are close now.”
I have to bite my tongue on the question that brands my loyalty with inklings of distrust. Close to what? My hand has claimed soul after soul, grinding away my humanity and ushering me ever closer to Sirli’s presence. Never do I question my orders. I know that I never will, regardless of my doubts. But even now, prepared to scavenge just one more innocent, I wonder. Close to what? What happens when I arrive? The Overseers don’t speak of their trials, for they are sworn to silence. Sirli has not answered, for he knows that I will find out for myself. It is a mystery I am obliged to solve, for no one else will.
I step towards the boy and crouch down next to him, the soil moist against my knees. Even with the gag, his breath is hot on my cheeks. Somehow, he has stopped crying, eyes challengingly lucid as they stare me down. Did he realize why he must die? Is that what has calmed him - knowing that this is his redemption?
Yes. It is. It has to be.
I wish I understood how.
“You are close.” The Overseer’s words are cold. She slinks around me, stopping behind the boy. Kneeling in the soil, her hands hold the child’s frame and force him into a bow. Exposing a frail, vulnerable neck. Her pale eyes flicker up to meet mine. “It’s almost over.”
“I know,” I whisper, words nothing more than a quivering breath. My hand reaches towards the boy, pressing the blade of the dagger against his skin. He doesn’t struggle, or whimper, or make so much as a sound.
And so it is in silence that I steal the final soul.