“You know you don’t have to do this.”
Vie frowned at the older woman. “Don’t make this more difficult than it already is. Sahrinad is the only home I’ve ever had; do you think I’d leave if I had a choice?”
“You’d be safer here than anywhere else,” said Rikimi. “You know how well Sahrinad’s fortified, and nowhere else in the world can you find so many magicians.”
“These things are powerful, Rikimi. They’ll break through every defense we have in five minutes, and every being on the island will be dead, magic stolen and souls ripped to shreds. They’re going to get me, there’s no real hope of avoiding it, and I can’t bring them down on everyone else.”
“I know. I wanted to be sure you know you’re not being kicked out. This is your choice.” She hesitated. “I’ll miss you, Vie.”
Vie forced a grin. “I’d have thought you’d be glad to see me leave.”
“Oh, you’ve always been trouble, but never the bad kind, really.”
Rikimi gave Vie a stern look, the same look she‘d given Vie so many times over the years. “You know it’s not your fault.”
Vie shrugged. “It would be, if I stayed and let Sahrinad be destroyed.”
“Knowing what we do, it would be, yes; I’m glad you’re able to take responsibility for that. I just find it difficult to believe that your fate is inevitable.”
“Every seer and oracle in Sahrinad’s seen them suck my life force out of me, no matter what course of future they’re seeing. Everything that’s been seen, or heard, or thought of, or prophesied says its unavoidable, whatever I do,” said Vie, her voice tinged with suppressed anger at the unfairness of it. She hesitated. “If it turns out not to be, if I find a way to beat them somehow… I’ll come back.”
“You don’t really have any hope,” said Rikimi, mildly surprised.
“I don’t know. I don’t think I’d be able to survive if I didn’t have at least the smallest shred of a chance of ever coming back here.”
“Well, I’ve never put much faith in prophecies.”
That comforted Vie more than anything else had, and she embraced Rikimi awkwardly and stepped onto the ferry.
Vie had no idea where to go. She’d been barely more than a child when she came to Sahrinad, and her memories of life outside the island were foggy. It wasn’t so isolated that she didn’t know of the outside world--which countries were where, what the landscape was like, how to get from one place to another. But she didn’t know where she wanted to be, except on Sahrinad.
Somewhere isolated, she decided, to limit the damage as much as possible, so when the ferry landed she walked west, away from the nearest town and the roads twisting around it.
Vie tried, as she’d been trying, to come up with a way to stop them, but her mind would only show her the fate she knew she couldn’t avoid. They--no one knew what exactly they were, and they had no name--would swoop down on her and steal magic, leaving her weakened but alive, and then her soul, killing her, or worse. She couldn’t hide from them, couldn’t fight them, couldn’t trick them. The most she could hope for was to be their only victim.
She passed a stand on the side of the road. She knew she should hurry on so as to avoid risking the person working at it. But she wanted that one last bit of human contact.
She needn’t have worried about that. As she approached, it became quite clear that the person selling whatever was being sold was not at all human. The being--Vie couldn’t tell its gender--had aqua skin, shining white antlers, and huge feathery wings. Being from Sahrinad, Vie had of course seen nonhumans before; but this person was different. She somehow felt that it wasn’t just not a human, but wasn’t a mortal at all.
“Hello,” Vie said, because she could at least have one last friendly nonhuman interaction before they found her. “What are you selling?”
“Whatever I have, or whatever I need…. But from you, I think I will be buying.”
“I’m sorry, I don’t have anything to sell.”
“I have seen you in my scrying dish, being devoured by kashiu jalt.”
“A lot of people have. Is that what they’re called?”
“It’s what I call them. It means soul rippers, in some language or other.”
“Do you know how to stop them?” Vie’s heart beat quickly, though she told herself she knew the answer would be negative.
“You cannot defend against them, or hide from them.” The being paused. “I wish to buy your soul.”
Vie jumped back. “What? But… how? And won’t that kill me?”
“No, I will take good care of it for you, and sell it back to you when you’re ready. You can consider it a kind of pawning. As for how, we simply agree on the deal and I will take it from you, very gently.”
“Sell it back to me… you mean, once the… soul ripper’s are gone?”
It wasn’t that Vie didn’t know better than to sell her soul, but surely selling it was better than having it stolen. “All right,” she agreed. A shimmering white antler touched her forehead, and she felt… something, and then she felt nothing. She was conscious, she felt no pain, or even numbness, just nothing. She could see and hear and touch the world around her, but it could not touch her. Nothing mattered.
“I’m sorry, I know it’s rather terrible.” Vie didn’t know whether that was true. It just was.
She left, and continued walling, and eventually stopped walking and lied down and did not sleep. The sun was beginning to rise when they came.
Had she been able to feel, she would have felt fear, but as it was they simply were there. They picked through her mind and sucked out her magic, and as she felt it draining away she knew it was a good thing she couldn’t feel. When it was gone--when the magic that had been so much of her life was gone--they dug deeper, searching for her soul. Vie squeezed her eyelids together. When she opened them, the sun was up, and they were gone.
She walked back to the stand on the side of the road. The being touched his antler to her forehead again, and her soul trickled back in, and she began to cry.
“Thank you,” she said, and still crying, headed back to Sahrinad. By the time she stepped off the ferry, she was almost used to feeling again, almost able to deal with the loss of her magic, almost able to believe that she had escaped the inescapable.