Please Help Support CTTA By Checking Out Our Sponsers Products

I'm reminded of a line from the exorcist... "There's more than one of us in here."

Empty Vessels


A.  Carter


They fill us up like empty vessels.  They fill us up until we are as crazy as the people we host.  There is no fairness or choice; it is just the way it is.  And I am close to the end now.  What will become of me?  What will happen when I am full?  I can feel the madness coming...


Galesin watched him, fascinated by the haunted eyes, the manic fists.  Was he tainted or murderer?  The young man trembled with fear.  His eyes darted everywhere, looking, but seeing nothing.  His hands curled, uncurled, curled, uncurled in an unconscious mimic of his heartbeat.  The affirmation that he was alive.  For now.


Galesin drew a deep breath, resisting the urge to copy the strange ritual played out before him.  The young man's fingers curled more with each release, his movements slowing.  The darting eyes stilled, dulled. 


Galesin tried to appear calm, relaxed, in case he gave himself away.  He supposed being nervous was at this time normal, but he had to be careful nonetheless. 


The wait agitated. 


To distract himself, he looked around.  There were just four guards, each standing stiff in a corner, and the Overseer at his podium; writing.  The Justice System in all its resplendent glory: the old man, relaxed and patient, and a delay that appeared to be routine.


Without warning, the young man hurled himself at the door.  The room erupted with guards, shouting, pleading and desperation.  Then there was nothing but the heavy breathing of the guards, and the sobs of the man. 


Galesin lowered his arm from across his face.  Instinct, nothing more, he'd been in no danger.


This was not what he had expected.  None of this was what he had expected.  There was no dignity, no ceremony, just darkness, dirt and dread.


At last, the Conduit swept into the room.  A large man dressed in gaudy golds and bright, brash colours.  His presence rent the air with a heady perfume, and his voice filled the space.


"Let us begin."  No apology, no questions, no acknowledgements, just straight down to business.  "Read the charge."


The Overseer shuffled through the parchments on his desk and read:


"Keral, wood-worker, you are charged with crimes against the people.  You are charged with harbouring magic within your body that can be used to influence and manipulate plant-life.  The People's Court has been given the duty of removing you from society, and with you all risks that your taint might have caused at a future time.  You are not required by law to acquiesce with these charges.  You stand guilty and will be emptied."


Galesin found that he was holding his breath.  It was so formal.  So absolute.  It seemed incredible that he would get away with his intentions.


In front of him the Conduit nodded, and sought Galesin out with impatience.  "You.  Come.  I am ready."


Galesin knelt at his side.


"This vessel is empty," the Overseer continued.


"Ahh."  The Conduit smoothed his robe with pleasure and cleared his throat.  "Is this vessel clean?"


"Your letters boy."


Galesin produced his parents' testimony. 


The man took it and studied it.  "This vessel is clean.  Family and friends attest to the fact that he was born without magic.  There is no danger."


 "Good. Then let us get on with it," the Conduit responded.


Keral, the young man, began to struggle again, emitting a dull keening sound, but the guards took no nonsense.  Their practised routine kept him still.


The Conduit stood, arms raised, features composed.  Turning his hands outwards, he placed one on each head. 


"This vessel is filled, first time out of four."  The Overseer intoned.


There was a moment of stillness, before an intense, all consuming pain flooded Galesin's mind.  For a terrible moment he experienced flashes of a life, and a babble of sound.  He screamed, his voice echoed by Keral.  The pain crashed into his mind, through every fibre of his consciousness, connecting, invading, jumbling, debilitating.


With a flick of his wrist the Conduit severed the connection.  Galesin came to himself in a rush, shamed by his fear and pain.


The Conduit left.


Galesin looked over at Keral, and gasped. 


Keral was empty. 


He knew the theory, but to see it with his own eyes was horrific.  There was no terror or distress, just blankness.  Not the blankness of the numb, of those beyond fear, but the blankness of an empty shell.  The consciousness was gone, and with it all that made a man what he was.  He was now an instrument that breathed air and pumped blood, but had no meaningful connection with the world. 


The man's soul was inside him now, drawn out, and through the Conduit into Galesin, the empty vessel.  Galesin was now a living guardian for a man society had forsaken.  It might have been necessary.  It might have been worthy.  But it made Galesin shudder deep inside.  Whatever he'd been told, it didn't feel natural. 


He smoothed his tunic, and recounted his convictions.  He had come, not because his family asked it of him, but because another did.  One whom he respected and admired.  In appearing to uphold the system's values, he had actually come to show how wrong it was.  How that emptying those with magic into the bodies of rich men's sons was not an honourable way of avoiding societies distaste for execution, but a waste of valuable resources.  He did not believe that all people born with magic went crazy.  He did not believe that they all became a danger to those around them.  He had living proof that society was wrong.  He intended to show them.


He just wished he could stop trembling.


The guards lifted Keral to his feet.  


"Finished?"  A guard asked.  The Overseer nodded, "That one is for Lord Trananbury's re-birth.  He should be pleased.  I wouldn't mind getting a specimen that young when I get my vessel."


The guard leered.  "Young body, experienced mind; the girls will be queuing up."


"I hope so."


The guards laughed, and led Keral away.


Galesin realised that he still knelt on the straw-strewn floor.  He stumbled to his feet, wondering what happened next.


"Wait outside, one of the others will notice you and find you a bed.  Eventually."  The Overseer looked at him for the first time and grinned.  "Welcome to the Justice Building young man.  I hope you have a nice stay."  It was the chuckle in the back of the throat that really unsettled Galesin.


He waited outside.  No one passed. He was reluctant to disobey the Overseer's orders but after a time he was certain that it was pointless to stay, so he wandered down the corridor,


Galesin found his nerve starting to break.  He was tired, bewildered and abandoned.  It was all very well journeying into the unknown for your principles, but that was easy to forget when it appeared you too had been forgotten.


It was Tranter who found him.  Galesin was standing in the corridor watching the others pass.  There weren't many of them.  None of them had acknowledged him in any way.


"You aren't dressed right," Tranter said with apparent glee.  "You must be new." 


"Yes."  To his embarrassment Galesin's voice cracked. 


"Oh dear, filled once already."  His voice softened.  "In at the deep end."


Galesin nodded.  "It was..." but Tranter wasn't listening.  He was already walking away.


"Wait.  Please don't leave me alone.  I don't know how this works."  He hadn't meant to say that.


Tranter grinned again.  "Been forgotten have you?  It's like that here.  Fill you up, and then leave you to it.  Come on."


Tranter found clothes and a blue-blanketed bed in a room with three others.


Galesin bounced on it half-heartedly and then sighed.  "Food?"


Tranter cocked his head, turned away, and said.  "I don't care."


"I beg your pardon?"


"What?"  Tranter refocused on him with difficulty.


"I asked for food, and you..." Galesin didn't want to appear rude but...


"Oh.  Yes.  Later, not now.  I'll come and get you."  He made the strange twitching movement again and finished.  "That is all right, isn't it?"


"Umm, yes." 


Tranter left without a backward glance.  He seemed preoccupied.


Galesin straightened his pillow and looked around him.  The room housed four men.  There were ten other rooms to the left Tranter had told him.


Two of the men in the room ignored him.  They were silent, just sitting on their beds, back to pillow, feet up, their minds elsewhere.  Clearly, this was a place for study and introspection, Galesin decided firmly.  It seemed a better conclusion than a place of complete, abject boredom, which is what it looked like.  The third man was tidying his bedside table.  It held a picture and a pile of letters.  Galesin watched with fascination, growing to unease as the man picked up the picture and reverently placed it on the bed.  He smoothed the covers around it.  He then picked up each of the ten letters, one at a time, and arranged them around the picture.  He gazed at them for a moment, then put them back in exactly the same place that he had taken them from.  He did it again.  And then again.  As he started on the fourth round Galesin shook himself in horror and turned away.  He sat, back to pillow, feet up.  He made a mental note to ask his Tutor to send him a book.  Several books.  Lots of books.  There had to be some advantage to being wealthy.


Curling up on his cot, he tried to assess his day.  He was here at last.  He was tired, alone and now hungry, Tranter had not come back.  He had been 'filled' with the consciousness of a tainted one and he had been ignored.  He had been ignored a lot.  He smiled to himself.  The worst part of it was that, at this point, he was undecided as to whether this was a good or a bad thing.


Galesin dismissed his thoughts, stretched out and prepared to wait.  He was fairly certain that something should happen during the night.  In fact he was here on the strength of it.  He just hoped he wouldn't have to wait too long.  Despite himself he dozed.


He was woken by a cry of pain.  And no one else heard it but him.


The cry came again, echoing.


Finally a small voice asked, "Where am I?"


Galesin did not answer the question, but instead responded with:  "Who are you?"


There was a pause:  "I am Keral."


Galesin sighed with relief and spoke gently.  No one on the outside was supposed to know about this.  But he did.  For months now, he had imagined how hard this conversation was going to be.  "You are the one who was emptied this morning."




"You were poured into me."


"But then how can I be here?"


"Because 'here', is in me.  You are in my head."


A pause.  "No."




"No."  Keral said it more firmly, as if that would make it true.  "I should be dead, not a prisoner.  Not in your head."


"The emptying is not death."


"More or less, having one's essence poured into another, to be carried and forgotten is pretty much like death.  There isn't supposed to be consciousness after emptying.  At least this is not what I was told."


"No, but it is what happens."


"This is impossible.  This is crazy.  I am inside you, for what?  For ... ever?   Am I only to see through your eyes?  Speak with your mouth?  What of eating, touching, smelling?  Are these to be done only by cajoling you?"




"Look in a mirror.  Move your hands.  Do something to let me know that my vision is yours."


Galesin raised a hand, wriggled it and, then held up some fingers.


"Four."  Keral acknowledged with finality.  "Your hand really is my hand, your voice is my voice, and your life is my life." 


"My life is my life, and you'll still have your voice.  Look.  You have to trust me.  This isn't as bad as it seems."


"That doesn't seem very likely."


"This was always going to happen.  Whether the authorities admit it or not, you were always going to get caught and you were always going to wake up inside a vessel.  But at least you have me."


"I feel better already," Keral sneered.


"I don't mean it like that.  Emptying is such a waste.  We pour a tainted person's life away and discard it, simply because the taint makes some go crazy.  We place them within vessels that are too frightened to admit even to each other, that the souls are there, lest they be branded 'tainted' too.  But I am here to change all that.  I have a purpose. I have been sent to show how we are worthy of respect and acceptance."


"We?"  Keral said.  "But you are not tainted."


"No," Galesin agreed.  "But I was always going to be a vessel.  I was always going to be locked away, housing sleeping minds.  It seemed like a waste of my life too.  Then he came and everything changed.  He says that we will be the greatest experiment that he has ever carried out.  At the same time, we will prove that 'the skilled' (he prefers this term over 'the tainted'), are not dangerous.  Through extending your existence we will show that not all of the skilled loose their minds and go on killing-sprees.  I know a man in his sixties who is still as sane as you or I."


"Vessels don't leave this compound."


"That has been arranged.  Now.  I want to sleep.  Will you let me?"




Galesin awoke to the sound of weeping.


"Please Keral, everything will be okay." 


His sense of Keral's distress increased.


It was eerie to be aware of another's despair, and yet be unable to reach out and comfort him.  Galesin tried a few words, but was ignored.  As a consequence, breakfast, whilst consisting of the finest meats purchasable, was not a pleasant affair. 


With nothing else to do Galesin went back to his bed.  He sat on it, back resting on the pillow, feet up, and listened to Keral's sobs.  He did this for a whole day.  Then the next day he did it again.  How long he absorbed the sound he did not know, but eventually he became able to think around it.  He began to pay attention to his surroundings.  Two men sat on beds doing nothing.  The third was tidying.


Keral?  He tried yet again to reach the man in his head.


 Go away.


Galesin paused for a moment.  When he spoke, his voice was soft with memory.  Two years ago I passed my exams.  I became a healer.  I felt invincible.  I was going to change the world.  I had the skill, the determination, and the money to buy medicine.  There would be no more sickness, no more unnecessary deaths.


At first it all seemed to be just as I foresaw it.  But then more patients came.  There were more in need than I had time for.  I recruited others.  The standards dropped.  The patients began to die. 


On my twenty first birthday my sister came to see me.  She was ill, but she trusted me.  She stayed for three weeks, and she left in a coffin.  I couldn't save her.  She died in my arms.


I want this, Keral.  I want to be able to save lives, not watch them waste away before me.  There is this vast resource of minds and skills, all boxed up in this building, and I intend to make full use of it.  The man on the outside is going to guide the 'List-maker', the one who decides which vessels are filled by which tainted ones, to carefully choose those with knowledge that I can use.  We will show the people that they are wrong about the tainted having nothing to offer.  After all, this whole thing was the idea of a tainted one.


Keral was silent a moment.  I applaud the sentiment.  I just don't want to be involved.


They argued.  They grew tired of it.  They sulked and they argued.  It was all very wearying, but eventually they settled into an uneasy truce. 




It was over a month before anybody official bothered to find Galesin, and when he did it was to inform him that he would be filled again. 


The guard spoke as if Galesin were an idiot, barely looking him in the eye.  "Tomorrow you are to wait for the Overseer.  He will take you out of here.  We will capture the man.  You will be filled as soon as it is done.  Do you understand?"


Galesin stared at him, amazed at being spoken to so rudely.  The guard seemed to expect this. 


So, there is to be another of us then?  Keral observed dryly.


 I wonder what he'll be like, what knowledge he will have to offer?


Perhaps we should conduct an interview before we accept him.  


Galesin rolled his eyes.  Are you always this acerbic?


No, I've developed it especially for you.


"You will be very proud."  The guard continued.  Was that an order?  "He was a murderer."


"What?"  Galesin heard the echo in his head.


"Don't worry, we will have everything under control.  Just be quick that's all."




"I beg your pardon?"


Galesin was reeling.  "There has been a mistake.  Are you sure?"


The guard glared at him.  "Of course I'm sure.  Now stop fooling around.  What do you care what they put inside you?  You're just a vessel." 


Galesin bit his lip to stop himself answering.


Stop this.  Don't let him in with me.


"Umm."  Galesin had no idea what to say.  Keral was flustering him.  He needed to stay calm.  That was why he had been chosen, for his ability to stay calm.  "I thought criminals were always brought here?


"Not this time."


"This man, who did he kill?" As soon as he'd said it Galesin realised that this wasn't a good question, he wasn't sure he wanted to know the answer.


The guard frowned at him, clearly irritated by so many questions.  "Killed a priest, then drank his blood, claimed it would purify his own soul."




"Be ready tomorrow, early."




The guard frowned at him again, then shrugged and walked away.


Galesin sank back against the wall, his thoughts whirling.  What was going on?  How do we stop this?


Keral was no better.  Tell them you won't do it.  You said there was someone controlling the list.  Tell them they've got it wrong.


I don't know who it is.  There was no need for me to know.


Well, there is a need now.


There must be a reason for this.  He trusts me, I must trust him.  We can ignore the killer.


Like you've been ignoring me?


Shut up, Keral.  I need to think.


The only way out is to run.


I'm not running.


You're a fool.  You can't do this.


I'll do what ever it takes.


That evening Galesin could not bring himself to eat.  Tranter sat opposite him, waving his hands in the air to punctuate points that Galesin didn't listen to.  Tranter didn't seem to care, but did eventually observe,


"You are poor company tonight."


Galesin dropped his spoon on to the plate.  "Tomorrow they will empty a murderer into me."


"You poor sod."


"Tranter?"  For a moment he wanted desperately to confide in someone, but he knew that it would be too risky.  "Do you want my dinner?"


At the end of the meal Tranter placed a hand on Galesin's shoulder.  "Good luck tomorrow.  There aren't many who keep the killers in their heads.  I think that it must burn the soul to have one so near.  I'm sorry." 


They slept badly that night, Keral urging him to run.  Galesin trying to convince himself to stay. 


The Overseer came at dawn, before breakfast was served.  It was just as well.  Galesin wasn't sure that he could have eaten it anyway.  The only positive element to the situation was that Keral had finally been silenced by fear. 


Galesin followed the Overseer into a world of greys and dullness.  A few people moved on the periphery of his vision, but they had no meaning.  Mainly, there was cold, and mist and anxiety.  Galesin clung to the promise of a brighter future and tried not to shiver.


The Conduit stood in the alley, fussing.  "I'm cold."  He unfolded his elegant sleeves.  "Hurry up."


The Overseer nodded absent-mindedly, appeasement made by habit.  They stood in the silence and waited.  Inside there was alarm, shouting and commands, and then silence again.


"Come."  The Overseer moved them into the house with purposeful speed. 


The one they found was a bird of a man, almost skeletal in his thinness.  The zealous gleam in his eye betraying the sickness in an otherwise harmless-looking form.  Despite his fragility he struggled with fury.  The guards sweated under the strain.  It took time to wrestle him down to his knees, so the Overseer read the charges over the top of the furore, regardless of whether the man was listening to them or not.


"Mordant Crael you are charged with crimes against the people.  You are charged with the murder of three men....  You stand guilty and will be emptied."


Mordant stopped for a moment and looked Galesin in the eye.  "You don't look like much.  I'm not sure about this."  Then he grinned and began to struggle once more.


The Conduit gazed at him with distaste, re-rolled his sleeves, as if to prevent contamination and, flapped his hands significantly at Galesin.  Galesin's mouth was dry.  Not like this.  Was it really going to be like this?  In this squalid place, with a man so angry that his sinews stood out? 


The Overseer turned a steely gaze on him.  "Now."


The words propelled Galesin to his knees.  He heard a faint whimper in his mind, and wasn't sure which of them had made it.


"This vessel is filled for the second time of four."


The Conduit lifted his hands; he barely touched the criminal.


The life, when it came, came as before in seconds, leaving Galesin breathless.


Keral was silent.  Galesin could feel him casting about, panicking.  But he presumed that, it would take time for the consciousness to reassemble, just as it had last time.


The Conduit was gone.  The murderer empty.  Just as before the contrast was startling, all his fervour and power gone.  But it hadn't gone.  It was inside Galesin.


They sat on the edge of the bed and waited.  Galesin's fingers plucked at the blue blanket.  Keral coughed.  Irregular, dry coughs.


Nothing happened.  Exhaustion threatened.  Galesin nodded off.  Woke, shook himself.  Nothing happened.  He drifted again, not noticing when he curled up on the blanket.  Nothing.  He slept, rough wool against smooth skin, and then he awoke to the sense that there was another.  One that analysed and waited and knew.  Galesin went cold.


Who are you? he asked in terror.


I am death.  The man's thoughts pervaded Galesin's mind, seeping, caressing, poisoning.  I am pain and fear and ending.  I am watching.


Frantically Galesin reached around the terrible voice.  Where was Keral?  He found him huddled in a corner of his mind, so tightly spun upon himself that for a moment Galesin could not get his attention.


Help me.  Fear cracked Keral's voice.


Can he touch you?  Does he feel physical to you?


I don't know.  Keral sounded frantic.


To me he is just a voice.  Is he more than that to you?


I don't...


Find out.


He could kill me.


We'll do this together. 


Galesin felt Keral begin to uncurl his consciousness, cautiously probing out, until he sensed Keral hit a barrier, a barrier that it could not pass.


What is that?  Galesin asked.  Is that him?


I don't think so.  I think it is you.


Am I keeping you separate from each other?


I think so.  There was relief in Keral's voice.  He cannot touch me.


Thank goodness.


Can he touch you?  Keral asked. 


No more than you can I guess.  I suppose we can't stop him talking and we can't reduce his presence, but it seems he can't hurt us.  He is after all only words.  


If it was possible to sense menace, then sense it they did. 


I am here forever.  Mordant said.  I will show you the way to redemption, until blood is your only drink and flesh your only meat.  You will come to see the world as I do.  The way that it is meant to be seen.  You will learn.


Galesin shuddered.  He is only words. 


Galesin and Keral grew closer.  Next to them Mordant hovered.  To their relief he seemed to be easily bored and often distracted, his thoughts plaguing him, running in circles, tying him in knots.  Mainly, this kept him so occupied he forgot about Galesin and Keral, but the two lived in constant apprehension of the times when he did awake. 


Mealtimes were the hardest, when he descried their eating of animal flesh, when all around was a veritable feast of much greater potency, humans. 


He spoke when they sleeping until Galesin would scream through gritted teeth and deep black circles ringed his eyes.  He spoke when Galesin was eating, making him sick, until his clothes hung from a skeletal frame.  And he spoke when others came near them, until they dreaded the company of even Tranter.  Galesin found himself repeating a set phrase in his head.   "It is worth it.  It is worth it."  And hoping that that would be enough.


Keral said that they would go mad.  Galesin couldn't truly deny the possibility.




And then the Overseer came again.  They were to gain another.  A Tutor.  He was an old man.  He had hidden his taint for years.  Neither Galesin nor Keral could hide their relief.  They had to admit that they were looking forward to his presence.  Another voice against Mordant.  Another voice of reason. 


Keral was horrified by their feelings.  I shouldn't feel like this, should I?  We will be complicit in the taking of another mind.  I hate this life; I shouldn't want it to happen to another.


You could teach me instead of fighting me.  We could make this worthwhile.


You and I don't share that belief.  I should be arguing against your compliance, not allowing it.


Galesin shook his head.  I can't pretend that any of this is easy.


Of course, on top of their mixed feelings, there was also the thought that they were to go outside.  Galesin was reminded how much their isolation contributed to their tension.  Seeing real people should bring a sense of proportion to it all.  Help him to ignore the feeling that other people's freedom was being bought at the expense of his own.  But it was not at all how he remembered it.  He had changed so much. 


Stepping outside was terrible.  A cacophony assaulted his ears. Keral withdrew instantly.  Galesin was so used to the Justice Building's sense of solitude and introspection that, instead of being exhilarating, the sheer volume of people was breathtaking.  Smells of drains, horses and food assailed him.  Voices, sharp, teasing, and smooth, rolled over him.  Colours clashed and battered him at every turn.  In minutes he was exhausted, and frightened.


They were taken to a tumbledown house, which had been grand in its day, but was now a neglected shell.  A single candle burnt in an upstairs room. 


A different Conduit stood just inside the doorway.  He had the same thick torso as the other, the same dark hair and the same haughty expression.  He ignored Galesin and spoke to the Overseer.


"Make it quick man.  I have a dinner party."


The Overseer nodded as he strode past, and ascended the stairs.


Only moments later he called down.  The Conduit swept up.


An old man stood at the end of a corridor.  His back was straight, his shoulders set and there was a cold, clinical challenge in his eye.


He is not scared.  Keral observed with wonder.


He wouldn't be.  Galesin tried very hard to contain his joy.  He's the one.  The one who planned all of this.  It is time for him to join us.


He's coming in here?  He's crazy.


Shh.  We'll talk later.  Galesin realized that they were still stood in the doorway.


"Hurry up."  The Conduit snapped. 


The guards hung back, waiting.  Waiting for whatever it was that this old man was going to do.  He clearly unnerved them.


The Tutor looked each of them in the eye, as if assessing their worth.  His gaze paused on Galesin and he winked.  He turned to the Conduit.  "Well?"


The Conduit blustered.  "Read him the charges.  Get him on his knees."  His tone impling that all were at fault but him. 


Galesin winced.  This was embarrassing in front of this calm, white-bearded man.  Intelligence shone from his eyes, and a slight twinkle, of ... what?  Excitement?  Expectation?  Galesin had to stop himself from smiling.


"Hevermann, truth-speaker, you are charged with crimes against the people.  You are charged with harbouring magic within your body that can be used to see inside a man to expose his truths.  The People's Court has been given the duty of removing you from society and with you all risks that your taint may have caused at a future time.  You are not required by law to acquiesce with these charges.  You stand guilty and will be emptied."


Hevermann knelt without being asked.  Galesin knelt opposite him.  The old man was watching him, greedily, and Galesin could not break the gaze.  The Conduit stood to one side, quicker in his movements than the other.  Perhaps it was the location, perhaps it was unease, or perhaps it was the dinner party.  Whatever it was Galesin felt the hand on the top of his head within moments of kneeling.


The Overseer spoke.  "This vessel is filled for the third time of four."


The fire seared through him, and even though he was ready for it, he still cried out.  The old man did too.  There were images of the house, a wife, children, and the babble of voices running at high speed.  Then darkness.  Galesin stared into blue, blank eyes.  Empty.  The Conduit left muttering, but Galesin just stared at the vacated shell of a man.

It was a stark reminder of what they were doing.  They had better be right.


Galesin lay awake again that night.  He could feel Keral doing the same, though neither spoke of it.


The voice when it came held not shock, or anger but, curiosity and excitement.


I was right.  I knew it.  I was right.


Galesin grinned.  Thank goodness you are here.  I thought that you had abandoned me.


Keral spoke out.  I want an explanation.


He was the one on the outside.


The List-maker?


The director of the List-maker.  Hevermann corrected.  I have told him which type of people to put into Galesin.


This is all your idea?




Galesin interrupted.  I was beginning to worry.  They gave me a murderer.


Mordant.  Yes.


You did that on purpose?


He was one of my pupils too.  We will need him before the end.


Why? What can he offer a healer?  


Hevermann paused.  His knowledge of anatomy is incredible.


That's because he has tasted each part.  Keral paused.  That was a joke, and I don't want to know if it isn't. He changed the subject.  Why would you do this?


I am a truth seer. I saw a vessel once, and I saw that he was not alone inside his head.  Galesin became my student and I knew that he was destined to be a vessel.  It was easy to convince him that we could adapt the system to better use.  Why keep the vessels isolated when we could use them?  Of course there is another reason for Galesin to be a part of this.  His reward if you will.


Galesin's grin broadened.  I can't believe it's actually going to work.


It will.


Keral muttered with annoyance.  Now what are you saying?


Galesin is skilled.




I prefer the other word.


You're mad.  That's impossible.


There is no madness in me. 


We are born tainted, it just takes time for us to loose control and get caught.


We are born skilled or not, yes.  But it does not always manifest itself as we reach adult hood.  In just a few of us it can take its time.  Most people have discovered their gift by twelve or thirteen.  They are old enough to hide their skill at this age if they are clever.  Even vigilant parents can miss the signs, so it can be years before they are caught, as was presumably the case with you.  But in just a few people the skill takes longer to appear.  I was one of those.  By then no one was looking for it in me, so it was easy to hide.  Galesin is like me.  His skill has not shown itself.


But he was born clean.


I've just explained.


Keral changed tack.  It is against every rule to put tainted ones into a tainted vessel. 


Short-sighted bigotry.  They don't want tainted ones to live at all, so of course they don't want them to be vessels.


That is all?


Of course.


This is incredible.  A vessel with magic and knowledge.  Why has this never happened before?


It has, but it is extremely rare.  It was always by accident and easily hushed up.  The Justice Keepers are careful, they don't take vessels until they are in their mid-twenties and even then only from trusted families who have proven their commitment.  It has taken me a long time to find one like Galesin. 


Galesin grinned.  My parents would be horrified if they knew.  They would be the first to turn me in.  But I am excited by the prospect.  When do we begin?


Tomorrow.  The old man chuckled.  I want to get used to my surroundings first.


Breakfast was bacon.  Keral loved bacon.  He wanted Galesin to take three pieces.  Hevermann it transpired hated it.  Mordant had other ideas.  Galesin nearly choked as they wrangled in his head.  It would have been comical if it hadn't been so real.


Galesin needed air, he went to the garden, which to his relief it was empty. 


This is a good place to begin.  Hevermann observed.  Just keep still.  I need to concentrate.  All four of them stilled, even Mordant appeared curious.  There. 


Galesin felt a click, literally, as if someone had turned something on.  There was a strange seeping sensation in his mind.  He felt it change.   Without it moving, the garden fractured before his eyes.  Fragmenting into tiny pieces each one with possibilities of its own.  Without turning his head, he found he had an awareness of the whole space, not just that in front of him.  Gingerly, he reached out with his hand and watched himself pick a rose.  Both hand and flower, looked like a mosaic to him now.  He nudged the myriad pale pink parts of the rose with his mind.  They floated as if they rested on water, moving outside their accepted pattern.  


Galesin, concentrate.  We are not alone.


Galesin's world resolved itself into its normal guise, as if slotting into place like a jigsaw.  He had a strange shaped bloom in his hand.  He curled his fist to hide it, and smiled at the passing guard, hoping he didn't look guilty.


Hevermann barely waited for the man to go before he began again.  You must work on your skills.  Mixed with my ability to see to the heart of things, and Keral's knowledge of plant compounds, soon you will be able to heal with nothing more than your mind.


Galesin gazed down at the mangled rose resting on his palm.  There was a black spotted blight on its leaves.


 The plant is sick.  The black spots shouldn't be there.  Keral observed.


Galesin smiled, and rearranging his mind he restored it, this time letting the blight drop to the ground.  How can I ever thank you, Hevermann?  You have given me the most wonderful gift.  We'll be able to make such a difference.


Keral snorted.   If we don't get caught.


The plan is to make getting caught no longer a problem, by proving that the 'skilled' are useful.  Galesin reminded him.


 Look, this is all very laudable, but didn't it occur to you that we could have done this just as well without being bonded?


Eventually we will be able to choose.  Hevermann agreed.  But this does have its advantages.  We are completely loyal to each other, it would be impossible for one to betray another while we co-exist in the same space, but mainly it is for speed.  Residing together like this we can operate on an instinctive level, beyond speech.  For a healer, that type of interaction is invaluable.


I suppose.  Keral paused.  Hevermann?  Do you ever wonder what has happened to your body?  I mean, do you think about where it is?  Is it being fed?  Has someone else occupied it? How much did he pay?


I try not to think about it.  Though, of course, a body of my age is a lot less likely to have been re-used than yours. 


Thanks.  That doesn't help.


Galesin spent a week learning how to use his 'taint', exploring his ability to manipulate his surroundings.  He even learned how to sent ripples through the very fabric of the world.  And, of course, he worked at ensuring that everything looked exactly the same after he had finished, as it did when he had started.


That night Galesin screamed himself awake; images of death and butchery sharp in his mind.   He threw back the tangle of sweat soaked bedding in horror, expecting to see blood. 


Where did that come from? 


You won't listen when I speak, deliberately talking over me with 'him', but I have a duty to enlighten you.  You must learn to see the world as I do, or your soul will be damned.  I cannot allow it.  There are many ways to teach.




Galesin shuddered.  Even his dreams were no longer to be safe. 


Don't let him get to you, Galesin, Keral said in a moment of strength.  We will sleep in shifts, watching over each other.  We will not be bullied.


Galesin felt the tension easing with Keral's words.   Of course.  You are right.  I'll take the first shift.


Mordant's activities apparently didn't bother Hevermann.  His determination seemed indomitable.


Now, I want you to walk around the building so that I can see if there are any other vessels with dormant skill like you. I don't hold out much hope but we will see. 


Galesin started in the writing room.  There were usually three of four people in there at any time, and he thought he could sit still and concentrate without appearing odd.  Of course, in the Justice Building, odd was relative.


He held the quill over the paper, and let Hevermann do his thing; see truth in the people around them.  The first man they touched was conversing with two others in his head, a random conversation that seemed to have no meaning.  The next was calmly writing about farm management to his brother, the two voices in his head contributing in a rational and companionable manner.  The last held the quill over the page, not touching it.  Words poured out regardless.  He was writing with his mind.


He's skilled.  Hevermann hissed.  Get out, we don't want him to sense us.


What do we do now?  Galesin asked.


Keep looking, then we'll concentrate on your skills again.


In the end, they found precious few others, but Hevermann claimed to be content.  Life became slow, Galesin began to fret.  Are we doing the right thing?  This life might be dull, but it is hardly desperate.


Then they were woken by a guard hammering on the door.  "You're to go to the refectory, join the others."


"What's happened?"


"Tranter went mad, sneaked into one of the dormitories and strangled four vessels.  Kept ranting on about doing them a favour, and carrying out justice 'from orders in his head'.  Whatever that means.  Why can't you people ever keep a grip on your sanity?"


If only he knew


Galesin left his room.  Poor, Tranter.  He'd been waiting to be filled with his usual glee.  This time it had clearly gone wrong. 


We should have said something.  Galesin said eventually.  Let him know that hearing voices was normal, that we had a plan.


He might have given us away.  It wasn't a risk worth taking.  Hevermann felt.


It might have been for him.


Galesin was stopped by a group of vessels gathered in a courtyard, someone had scrawled a message across a garden wall:


...They use us up like empty vessels.  They use us up until we are as crazy as the people we deal with.  There is no fairness or choice; it is just the way it is.  And I am close to the end now.  What will become of me?  What will happen when I am full?  I can feel the madness coming...


Tranter, he presumed.  The usual mess.  The needs of the vessels always came last, but not for long.  Not for long. 


They waited in the refectory dutifully.  Keral laughed.  Poor sod.  Poor all of us.  He needn't have sneaked into the rooms to kill them.  All he had to do was put a sign on the door.  We'd have been queuing for the privilege.


That's not funny.  And the truth of it was that it wasn't.


Despite his new found conviction it was weeks before Galesin went out again. But now he was prepared to wait, if that was what it took.


Again, they were to get a murderer.  Mordant stirred in the back of their consciousness, muttering.


Once more Galesin and Keral questioned Hevermann's motives.  He tried to explain,


 we can't walk outside whenever we please and we won't be taken out to meet anyone other than murderers or the skilled.  By this point I knew that we would want to see if your healing abilities really worked.  So, before I was 'emptied', I directed the List-maker to find someone who was ill, and had a generally unsavoury character.  You know the type, fists first, questions later.  I didn’t want our first test to be on a skilled one, I thought that would over complicate matters.  So hence our current mission.


The Overseer directed them to a warehouse on the edge of town, their imminent addition apparently hid there.  The place was huge. 


"We'll find him, by splitting up,<?I>  he said.  He is violent and fast.  There won't be much time to hold him, so go with the Captain and keep up."


They moved through the gloom, light slicing through the dark from windows at intervals.  There were no signs of habitation anywhere.


The Captain stopped.  "Okay?  I'll leave you now.  Let me know when you are done."


What does he mean?  Galesin asked as the man walked away.


He was bribed to leave us alone.  How else can you heal our quarry?  The guards were hardly going to seize him, and wait while you did your thing.  Fracture your vision.  We need to find him, preferably before he finds us.


Galesin began to reach out with his mind, but stopped in horror.  The man was behind them.  Turning he yelled out in fear.  The man was inches away, dirt covered, and at one with the dark.  The only light came from the fire in his eyes and the gleam of his blade.


Galesin's reactions were instinctive, and they had nothing to do with healing.  With a sweep of his hand he spoke to the boards on the floor.  Grow.  Tendrils of wood sprang out, entangling their legs.  Both of them fell to their knees, the knife clattering to the ground. Galesin paused, but there was no time, there was a second knife in the killer's hands.  Galesin swept up the first and stabbed, straight through the heart.  Both froze, the man's face went blank, and without a sound he slid off the blade to crumple on the floor.


Blood began to spurt onto the wood.  The writhing, living wood.  Panicked Galesin used his mind to banish the tendrils.  "So much blood.  Who knew there'd be so much blood?"  It pooled around his knees.  Slipping he rose.  Unable to take the situation in, he stood staring down, watching it create rivulets at his feet.


The Captain came running.  He gazed down at the dead murderer.  "Is this what you intended?"  He asked with a smile.


"He came out of nowhere."  Galesin stuttered.  "He tried to kill me.  He was so close."


"All right."  The man's voice was soft and soothing.  "It's okay.  Look, he'll be no loss to society.  He was a brute, by all accounts, and to be honest this was the most likely outcome.  Don't worry, I'll make sure that it looks good in the report."


Galesin backed away, horrified by what he had done.  "I want to go back."  Suddenly the real world was a terrifying place.


"Fine.  Let's go."


Galesin ran out into the sunlight and stopped in an alley.  Ignoring the Captain, he sank to his knees; robes splayed around him, he pressed clenched fists into the ground through the fabric, deliberately bruising his knuckles in the gravel.  Lost in the horror of his actions, he screamed out his anger and desperation until its echoes threatened to drown him.  Slowly the realization came to him that the fabric was damp, he pulled his fists away, they were covered in blood and it wasn't his.  For a terrible moment, he felt the urge to taste it.


Retching, he was sick.  What have I done?  What have I done?  The words ran over and over in his head, until he could be sick no more, and his body stopped shaking.


Finally he drew a deep breath, aware now that Captain watched him surreptitiously from the end of the alley.  He needed to at least appear in control.


Congratulations.  Mordant's voice seeped through his consciousness.  You have become a man.  I always knew that you had it in you.  It was just a question of time.


I didn't do this, you did. 


But we are one now, your actions and my actions are all accountable to you.  Whether I co-ordinated it or not, you did the deed.


How is this possible?  What actually happened?  You used me.  Worked through me.  You are no longer confined to me are you?  Any of you.  What have we done?


Exactly what we meant to do.  Hevermann sounded calm and in control.


Instead of locking the taint away inside of me, we have set it free.




So, it has lead to us killing a man.




Galesin gaped, then wary of the Captain watching, he closed his mouth firmly. Are you telling me that this doesn't bother you?  You're not worried that Mordant is no more contained than I am?


Bother me?  It is what I intended.  I'm sorry Galesin.  You are the tool.  Mordant is the Partner.


What are you saying?


That you are young, impossibly naive, and completely controllable.  Just as I knew you would be.  I could have convinced you to do anything in the name of healing.


You knew?  Galesin said.  You knew that you would be able to channel your gift through me?  You knew that Mordant would be able to kill using my hands? 


Of course.  After all, I bet my life on it.


But why?  Why do you want to kill?


I am an experimenter.  I am after the ultimate experiment.  Hypothesis:  Can I make a world where the tainted are the norm and the 'lacking' are to be reviled?  Can I fill them up with those skilled people who are old or dieing and give them the extended life and, most importantly, keep their skills alive?


Method:  Take one tainted vessel.  Fill it with allies and trust to the greed and arrogance of the Justice Keepers.  Trust their unwillingness to question the rituals and their rush to do the job.  Trust their snobbery in expecting the 'best families' to be untainted.  Trust their decision not to tell about the waking minds so that they will get their vessels, and their immortality. 


I will create an army from those who have been reviled and abused.


Conclusion: It is time for a new order, where NOT containing magic will be punished.


You're crazy.  Galesin was horrified.  That is why the Justice Keepers are so careful not to put the skilled into tainted vessels,  He was beginning to see how he'd been tricked.   It only takes the madness of one to infect the whole.  That is why you wanted filled vessels, not just an army of tainted ones.  This way you have control.  I can't let you do this.


You can't stop me.


Galesin struggled for words.  In truth he had no idea what to do. 


We could not go back to the Justice Building.  Keral suggested quietly.


Galesin considered.  Deny Hevermann his vessels.  Get rid of the Captain and hide, was it possible?


We could kill him and taste him, Mordant suggested happily.


It was pointless.  The authorities would find them, and who knew what Mordant could achieve in the meantime.  Galesin had to face the fact that Mordant had just used him to kill, and had infected his dreams in the past.  It was entirely possible that Mordant could get him to commit murder when he was asleep.


I have to talk to the Overseer.  He must be made to understand what has happened.  I must be sure that this can't happen again.  He will empty us into another; untainted vessel, and then you will be contained, just as you should have been.


Not going to happen.


You are just a voice in my head.  You cannot stop me.


Oh, but I can. 


Finding the Overseer was easy.  He was in the emptying chamber, the dirty, straw littered room that Galesin had first seen him in.  It felt like a lifetime ago.


The old man looked up at him frowning.  "You are in the wrong place."


"We, I, need to talk to you."




No.  Mordant began to whisper.  I can use you now Galesin, your skill is mine to manipulate.  I wonder how the ability to 'fracture' can be adapted to kill?


Galesin ignored him.  "The minds that we are given ..."  Mordant made Galesin's hand twitch.  Galesin looked down, distracted.  Keral encouraged him. 


Galesin tried again.  "The minds, they aren't dormant.  They wake up.  They talk and influence us."




"It's true.  That is what happened to Tranter.  The murderer inside, he was the strangler, not Tranter."


Mordant flicked the hand, A wave of fracture sped across the room, leaving a ripple of broken straw in its wake.  Hevermann spiked Galesin's mind.


"Nonsense."  The overseer repeated, his face set.


Galesin concentrated, folding his hands firmly; he could feel Mordant trying to break down the barriers that separated him from Keral. 


"But I can hear them."


Hevermann spiked again, deeper, harder, practice making him more proficient.  Galesin cried out in pain.


The Overseer continued doggedly.  "This is all just your imagination.  You only think you should hear their voices, and so you do."


Galesin struggled to remember his point, and to find an answer to such absolute denial.  "No.  I'm telling you.  They are real.  They are insane.  I am tainted and through me they can destroy you all.  You must have me absorbed, and then they will be contained.  Then you'll be safe."


The Overseer looked at him patronizingly.  "You are lonely, missing home.  You should write to your family.  Otherwise you might go mad as Tranter did."


Galesin opened his mouth to protest again, then closed it.  You win.


Guards entered the room.


"Seeing as you are here.  You can be the vessel for Tranter."  The Overseer said.


Galesin blanched, the implications were terrible.  "No.  Tranter is a madman, with a killer inside.  You'll be handing him straight to Hevermann.  And you'll overfill me."


The Overseer shrugged.  "Tranter's presence will mean nothing.  He will be your fourth."  And turning he went back to the podium.


"I won't do it." 


The guards looked to the Overseer.  He nodded once.  They crossed the room.


Galesin ran, but there was nowhere to go.  They grabbed his arms with professional ease.  Images echoed in his head from the day when he had both watched them do it, and felt them do it, to Keral.  They wrestled him down to the ground, and Galesin had no thoughts of dignity and duty, there was just anger and terror and pain.


The Conduit swept into the room.  He wouldn’t care.  Galesin knew him for what he was now, a theatrical popinjay in gaudy colours, allowing himself his every desire.  And he knew the Overseer, his greed blinding him to the plight of those he sentenced every day.  And he knew the victim, waiting to be emptied terrified and desperate, expecting justice but getting vanity.  The system was only as good as the people who ran it, and the people who ran it were not good at all.  But the system was necessary, and that was the worst part.


The Conduit lifted his hands into place and opened his mind.  He swept the tainted one out and began to pour it into the clean.


Hevermann exalted, and, grasping both Tranter and the Conduit's minds, swirled them into their own, it was too much.  It was way too much.  The barriers between consciousnesses broke, and they flooded into one another.  Hevermann had absolute control.


He moved.


He took Galesin's taint and fractured the building.  The collective mind spilled out.  The stranglers need to kill, fashioned ropes of air within the fracture which travelled through the walls for three rooms around.  They killed over twenty guards.


Galesin tried to wrestle some type of control, to pull himself out of the mêlée.  He was horrified.  His own naivety had led to this.  His own skill was causing it.


But it was hopeless.  Hevermann manipulated them all.


There are others that we can enlighten.  It is time to test my hypothesis.  It is time to see if the skilled can take control.  Hevermann spoke clearly into the mind. 


Yes.  The others answered, and went to find those vessels that had been filled and sent to The Residence.


Gather the equipment.


They stopped the first vessel they passed.  The Conduit and the old man reached in and read the truth.  The Conduit was happy to oblige.  After all, what else was his ability but a taint of its own kind?  He had become the List-maker.


They continued building their army, gathering those precious few with magic, stealing and dividing the contents of those who didn't.  Pull the weeds.  Leave only the perfect blooms.  The plant lover knew how to be ruthless in such matters.


Cleave the flesh and taste the souls.  The killer knew how to achieve it.  A trail of empty, unskilled bodies charted their progress.


And Hevermann's voice rang out over all of them, analysing, directing, commanding. 


Hevermann.  Galesin's voice was faint.  You have your answers.  You have to stop.


Galesin failed to make himself heard.  He wondered how long he could hold onto his own sanity, as he drowned in a sea of unreason.


Hevermann was strong. 


Hevermann knew what lay ahead.


It was a shame, but he was pretty sure, that in order for his new experiment to reach a conclusion, there would have to be blood.


Galesin twitched a finger.  Galesin clenched his fist.  Galesin lifted an arm, and focusing every ounce of his conviction, he placed his fist over his heart and fractured.