The man stood paralyzed in the center of the circle by a minor charm. I inscribed the last symbol and the circle closed. He deserved worse than what I was about to do to him I reminded myself. With a heavy sigh, I took another step down that familiar paved road.
I began by drawing the man’s breath out of his lungs and sealing it in the first jar. His mouth flapped open and closed as he tried in vain to take in air. Next, I pulled the water, just the water, from his body. Blood dried in his veins, organs shriveled in his torso, skin contracted around tough, dry muscle. The water flowed through the circle into jars; as each one filled, its lid snapped shut and sealed. The husk of a man stood in the circle just beginning to collapse when I sundered him into a fine dust. This I let fall to the floor. The man’s spirit hovered anxiously over what had been its body only seconds before. A moment passed before it spoke.
“Am I dead?” it asked.
“Yes.” It darted towards me and stopped suddenly at the edge of the circle.
“I can’t reach you.”
“No,” I said plainly.
“Why did you do this?” It flung itself back and forth across the circle looking for a way out. The dust pile shifted and spread from its movements.
“I was paid. Five hundred gold for the breath of a man. Seven hundred for the waters of a man.” It pressed against the point closest to me.
“Why me?” it wailed.
“You were cheap. For only two hundred gold I bought you from the executioner. You only had one more night left in any event.”
“I was a criminal?”
“Yes.” I paused and began to explain. “Death, even from losing one’s head, is slower than what I did to you. The longer a spirit clings to a dying body the more of the person stays with it. You are nearly pure spirit with only the bare traces of humanity in you. When I release you, you will be free to do as you will. Harm me and I will dispel your energies.”
“Why leave me like this?”
“The flesh is weak against desires and willing to compromise the spirit’s morals. Now you are nothing but spirit with a chance to be something other than human. It’s a small kindness to balance the evils I’ve done.”
I scuffed my foot across the circle, breaking it and freeing the spirit. It moved to hover near me. A spectral hand reached into my head. It was inexperienced at robbing a person’s mind, searching through my childhood for information on who it had been in life. I guided it to three days ago when the executioner had recounted the man’s crimes for several minutes in graphic detail. The spirit recoiled.
“But what about the evil I’ve done?” it asked.
“It’s up to you to balance that debt or not,” I said and began packing the sealed jars in a crate. The spirit floated over the loose pile of dust and began to gather it.