To See a Soul
On my eighteenth birthday, I found out that my best friend had no soul.
I tried to tell him—
"Hey, Irving. You know how there's a little spark of the divine in all of us? Yeah, not so much for you. The rest of the world is made of ensouled beings with free will, but you're just a blob of meat that talks."
—but I just couldn't figure out how.
Really, it explained a lot. Why he had no magic of his own. Why he'd always been so dull and unoriginal. He was a thing of lines in a world of circles.
And he was my best friend.
"I just don't know what to do about it," I growled to my dad as I paced in our living room. The mud-brick house was cramped but cozy, its only furnishings a few cushions thrown around a low dining table. "What purpose does my Blessing serve?"
"Mmf." Dad slurped up an absurdly long noodle. To his eyes, he glowed with an inner light—my power informing me that he, like everyone else in the village, had a soul. "If it gets you to stop hanging out with that boy, I'll say it's served enough of a purpose already."
"Oh, shut up," I said. "We've been given these powers for a reason, Dad. There is a Plan for us—I just need some help to figure out where I fit in it."
"You'll find out where you fit in eventually. I'll give you a hint: It's not with Irving. Blasted kid's never done a thing worth the air he breathes," Dad said. "Now sit down and eat your noodles. I worked very hard to—"
I screamed in frustration and slammed one fist on the table, sending soup sloshing everywhere. "That's enough! I just found out that Irving—that my best friend—doesn't have a soul, and all you can think of is your damn soup!" I kicked the table angrily—immediately regretting it—and stormed out, hoping my aching foot made me look righteously outraged instead of silly.
Dad stood up, expression stormy. "Young lady, you will come back here right this instant—"
I wished we were rich enough to afford a door so I could slam it, but I made do with stomping into the snowy night, snatching a clean, warm fur from where it was hanging by the doorway as an afterthought.
"Layla! Layla!" I heard Dad growl, "Blasted girl!" I heard Dad's pace quicken, and I sprinted away from him, away from the village of cheerful, ensouled people. I ran, and I ran, and I ran, until I reached Irving's house.
He lived alone—if what he did could be called living. The cave he'd turned into his home was dark and cold; trees were scarce in the Wintervald, and he couldn't afford a fire. All he had to warm him were his own two hands.
He looked up at my approach, black eyes dull in the winter night. Still, he managed a smile. Despite the utter darkness, his teeth somehow gleamed.
"Heya, Lay. Thought you'd be at home in a storm this thick," he said.
"Yeah, well, so did Dad. That's just about the only thing the two of you have in common." I remembered the furs I'd taken from our house and handed it to him. "Here. I got you a clean blanket. Give me the old one, I'll wash it out for you."
As he took the blanket through the storm, Irving's hands glimmered. I frowned. Was that a trick of the light?
Irving carefully folded and handed me the blanket he had wrapped around himself. It reeked of sweat, but that was nothing a little bit of washing couldn't fix. After a long beat, Irving said, "You know, Lay, you don't have to do this."
I frowned. "Do what?"
"Take care of me." He sighed, eyes downcast. "I've never done anything to deserve it. Doubt I ever will."
I shivered. "Irving, don't speak like that."
"It's true, though. Isn't it?" Irving met my eyes. "Look me in the eyes and tell me it's not true. Tell me I'm anything but a—a parasite. A leech on your existence."
I clasped his hands in his. "Irving. You are absolutely right. You have never done anything to deserve my help. And you never have to. I choose to care about you, okay? Not because of anything you do, but because of what you are. And if you're keeping score, or tracking debts, well—don't worry about it, okay? You're only human." I hesitated, then continued, firmer this time. "You're human. That's all that matters to me."
Irving's eyes glimmered. Was that a tear in his eye? How could I even see his face in the darkness of the cave?
And then I realized. I looked down at our intertwined hands and gasped. A pearly, shifting iridescence had streamed out of my hands, like radiant mist, and coursed through Irving's arms, warming his chest and igniting behind his eyes. Irving's eyes followed mine, and I knew he could see it too.
He could see me giving him a little piece of my soul, just to keep him warm.
"Ah." I chuckled.
"What is it?" Irving asked.
"My power isn't just to see the misfortunate." I grinned. "It's to give. Or... or maybe they're one and the same. I see now. I see where I fit into the Plan."
A distant shout rang across the Wintervald. "Layla! If you're with that degenerate Irving, I'll put your head on a stick for the whole damn village to see!"
Irving pushed my hands away—but the piece of my soul I'd given to him still glowed within his chest. "Go. Take care of yourself, okay?"
I nodded. "Will do. See you around, Irving." I paused before I left, looking back.