Arrhynsia - World of the Adenshur Scrolls

Lowest Bidder

by Terry Cassis inspired by the World and Story Soul Jars by Amélie I. S. Debruyne and used with her permission.
The problem with preserving your soul from the curse of eternal damnation in a soul jar, is the obvious vulnerability of your soul once you're dead and in it. It isn't like you can just unmake the rest of the world to keep your soul safe. No one has that much power, not even the gods, damn them for this interminable mess anyway.   Tratheki fretted constantly. He should have spent more time and money when he was alive on the strength and quality of his jar. The shyster who sold it to him had kept fussing with it as though he had never made one before decorating it with complicated intertwining patterns on the inside in addition to the customary mediocre portrait of Tratheki on the outside. "It should be pretty" the fussy little mage had insisted, rather than making it strong against the ravages of time.   Amateur.   And now Tratheki kicked himself for having been shortsighted and stupid, ridiculously, profoundly, stupid. Whatever had possessed him to go with the lowest bidder and procure a pottery soul jar of all things? Never mind that almost all soul jars were made of pottery or glass. Never mind that gold soul jars were prohibitively expensive - worth at minimum twelve times the cost of the materials for a plain one, with ornamented jars being even more expensive. He should have gotten a gold jar, then he wouldn't be worried like this. He wouldn't be jealous of Antella in his small plain gold jar sitting there smug and serene and safe on the same shelf right next to him. He had mocked Antella in life for all the extra long hours of work, the straightened circumstances he had endured to get himself a gold soul jar. "Antella's Vanity" Tratheki had called it while he lived.   Stupid.   So here he sat in his pretty, cheap, porcelain jar. Just one more jar in a line of jars, on a shoulder-high shelf, on a wall of jars, in an unnumbered tunnel, in a dark catacomb with thousands of other relics deep beneath the throne room of his sixth great cousin twice removed, with only one thing on his mind.   Earthquakes.   Tratheki wasn't worried about grave robbers - the mausoleum was extremely well protected from living beings. The door was locked with a hundred different locks, and there were multiple doors between this room and the outside. Every step of the place was trapped with poisons and magic. Coming into the mausoleum spelled certain death for the living. Tratheki himself had seen to that for this corridor before he had died. He had taken steps. The very magic of the world itself would have to fail for the living to enter this room. No, there was no threat from people to his eternal rest. But an earthquake? An earthquake had no need to trip a spell or open a door. An earthquake could shatter his cheap jar in a moment and doom his spirit to the curse of that eternal abyss prepared especially for his family by the gods. Tortured forever.   It preyed on his mind.   He did wonder about his jar sometimes. Though he had been here thousands of years now, no one else had ever spoken to him. No one else seemed to even be here. He wondered if he was supposed to be able to reach the others. It would be nice to talk to someone some time, but the others just sat there silently almost as though they were asleep, except that here in the darkness, no one snored.   Should he be asleep? It would sure be nice to be asleep, then he wouldn't be so worried about earthquakes. Stupid cheap-ass jar. But he really had only himself to blame for his unquiet spirit. What did he expect buying a pottery jar from the lowest bidder?   Well, he wasn't asleep. In fact, he actually seemed to be able to look around a bit and was fairly conscious of his surroundings. He'd done his best to investigate the tunnel from where his jar was placed, and he had visited it before his death, of course. It was a boring kind of place, but then what was he expecting? A noise?   A noise!   There shouldn't be a noise!   Was it an earthquake? Tratheki was terrified. He had never been in an earthquake, had only heard stories of the devastation they wrought. But what else would make a noise? What could possibly make a noise in this place?   The noise went on for a long time, echoing through the room, but his jar did not move. Tratheki was relieved. Maybe earthquakes were not so bad after all. But the noise went on and on, and that didn't seem very earthquake-like from what he could remember. Tratheki tried to locate the noise, and was startled to discover that that it came from the door.   The door? Someone was at the door?   No. That was impossible. It would take longer to disable the locks than humans would ever spend. The lock spells took mage level magic to disable, and the physical locks were unpickable and unbreakable. The defensive spells would instantly kill anyone who might approach them. No, whatever it was could scratch at the door for millenia. He was safe behind the door.   Eventually, Tratheki grew used to the noise at the door. Sometimes he almost forgot it was there while he went back to worrying about earthquakes. It went on a pretty long time, even to him, and he had been in the mausoleum for thousands of years. But it never went away. It just stayed there. A noise at the door in the darkness, lulling him to sleep, though he could not sleep. Had never been able to sleep. Stupid cheap jar.   A squeek preceeded the intruders, as the door opened, and for the first time in a thousand years, light entered the tunnel and cast a shadow across Tratheki's soul jar.   How? How did they escape the traps? The spells? The locks? How...   There were two of them, living - no, they could not be. They were... something else. Dead souls in bodies, and not bodies like living bodies but like his soul jar. They were dead souls that were like him, awake, except their vessels moved and responded to their thoughts. Why were they here? The dead have no use for the dead. What was happening?   Tratheki remained silent and withdrew terrified into his jar. They would kill him, they would steal, they would desecrate, they would...   They walked forward into the tunnel, all his careful spells untripped by the dead constructs. One stopped in front of him and reached towards him.   No! No! Leave me alone! Let me - Tratheki cowered away from the reaching hand -   that picked up Antella's jar. They didn't want him. He felt relief flood across his spirit, and for once in his death, was thankful for that lowest bidder and his cheap pottery soul jar.   "Gold!" said the dead man gleefully. "Lookie here, Jilreah, we got ourselves a gold jar."   The other one hissed at him in a whisper, "Leave it be, Hershel! We have orders. If you take it and try to sell it, she'll find out and hunt you down. The Mistress gave us a job to do, and taking random jars isn't part of it."   "She didn't say not to."   "She wants the souls dingbat. We've got our orders. Let's get the jar we came for and get out of here. This place gives me the creeps."   "I don't see why. It's not like we're alive or anything. Neither are they," Hershel grumbled but reached out to replace Antella's jar on the shelf next to his.   "Have you paid any attention at all to this place? It's booby-"   A loud crash echoed through the catacombs as Tratheki's soul jar was knocked off the shelf and fell, shattering into pieces on the stone of the mausoleum floor.   "Clumsy oaf! You broke the thing. She's not going to be happy. You better not break the one we came for," said Jilreah impatiently.   "She doesn't need to know if you don't tell her. I'll put it back the way it was and no one will ever know."   "Just hurry up. I want out of here."   Hershel knelt and gathered the fragments of the soul jar, trying to piece them back together and put them back on the shelf.   "Hey Jilreah?"   "What?" his companion replied, obviously annoyed.   "These bodies the Mistress made and stuck us in?"   "Yeah?"   "Didn't - I mean, what was the name of the guy who invented that spell? Wasn't he some really famous mage or something?"   "Yes," Jilreah replied. "It was Elodronrin the High Mage, or that's what they say. He's probably buried in this crypt somewhere may his soul rot in the seven hells. What I wouldn't give to rest in peace. Why?"   "Oh, never mind. It's nothing. Give me a moment."   He looked down at the signature on the inside of the large pottery shard that he held in his hand. "Elodronrin" it read. He finished re-assembling the porcelain soul jar so it looked whole from the front, then, satisfied that no one would suspect it had ever been broken, he turned and followed his companion deeper into the misty darkness of the abandoned mausoleum.
    This story was inspired by Amélie I. S. Debruyne and her Summer Camp 2022 article Soul Jars set in the City of Amathus. Check out her article:  
Soul Jars
Item | Sep 13, 2022

Sophisticated magical artefacts that house the souls of the legendary mages-kings and the imperial family for their eternal slumber. And all of those soul jars are lying in the abandoned mausoleum below Amathus...



Cover image: by Frank Bach

Comments

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Master Demonwolf141
Demonwolf Harbinger of Doom
19 Oct, 2022 13:36

I love the way this is written, transitioning from the POV of Tratheki to the soul-bound dead. The idea of souls lined up on shelves in jars also reminds me of a book a read a while ago, the Library of Souls. I think it's the third or fourth book in the series of Ms. Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. The little signature at the end about Elodronin, really cool name btw, made me chuckle too.

May Your Tongue be as Sharp and as Quick as Your Sword, and may we meet in Debate instead of War. With respect, Demonwolf
Grandmaster tlcassis
Tlcassis Polgara | Arrhynsia
20 Oct, 2022 02:57

Thanks! I loved Amélie's idea of the soul jars - but I started thinking about what would it be like to be a person actually in one - and so Tratheki was born - and Elodronin the whole time was using him as an experiment to develop a new spell... The story just begged to be written!

Humans! My shortlisted competition entry for "On the Shoulders of Giants"   My Short stories for Spooktober
Master Demonwolf141
Demonwolf Harbinger of Doom
20 Oct, 2022 12:22

I love it! I can't wait to see what you write next!

May Your Tongue be as Sharp and as Quick as Your Sword, and may we meet in Debate instead of War. With respect, Demonwolf