Kid glanced at Black Star, who shrugged and proceeded into the room before he could be stopped.
"Hey, wait-" Kid followed him in.
"What is it?" Black Star asked.
The person's back was...bubbling? A thick black sludge appeared to be coming out. Black Star's eyes widened like saucers, but before he could do anything, two people sat up from the bed. More specifically, the thin person who had been lying on the mattress sat up and turned around in one creepy motion, eyes still shut, just as a vaguely human-shaped black mass exploded from their spine.
Even Kid cringed, assuming that he was witnessing this individual's gruesome death - or undeath. Comfortable though he was with the idea of death itself, he still found himself empathizing at times with particularly grievous bodily harm. He supposed it was part of the job, but it was one of his least favorite parts. Black Star swore loudly.
At that, the person whipped their head toward the two and snapped disturbed, sunken, cloudy blue eyes open. Messy purple-pink hair swept along the side of their face.
"How can they hear-?"
"The Son of Death is here," said the pink-haired individual in a monotone voice. They stood up, which made Black Star reach for the blade in his bag.
"Excuse me?" Kid asked. "What is your name and what are you doing here? We don't want to hurt you."
"This useless sack? Crona," informed the thing on the person's back, smacking them on the shoulder.
"Don't tell them things like that," Crona said, attempting in vain to ignore the black mass's abuse, which continued with much poking and prodding.
"I don't think your name is gonna make a difference," it answered.
"What are you doing here?" Kid persisted, addressing the thing instead this time.
"None of your business," it said. Crona proceeded toward the window.
"Actually, it is-"
"No," Crona said simply. The shape on their back became something else, then; a sort of whip that lashed out toward Black Star. Instead of hitting him, it wrapped around the blade he brandished, apparently not prone to being cut.
"No way," he said, hanging on angrily, gritting his teeth as though he were using them to hold it instead. "Get your own."
"Please don't force us to hurt you," Crona said forlornly. "Just hand it over-" They were interrupted by a force that snapped the whip backward.
"Stop immediately," Kid said coldly. He held his hand out in front of him, and the air between them shimmered ever so slightly with magic. Crona stared vacantly, then appeared to awaken abruptly.
"Ragnarok, open the window. We must go."
"Whatever you say, you failure."
Ragnarok punched the glass out of the window, and the combined form of the two escaped in a kind of half-leap, half-slither, leaving the two travelers to gape and wonder exactly what they had witnessed.
Over the course of the next year, Maka found her relationship with her scythe to be like a normal human one. Between the farmland, the forest she studied, and the nearby town, Blair had her working harder than ever before.
He grumbled like a disgruntled hen about being used to reap the grains, but when she tried to stop, he'd say no - he just liked to complain.
"Keep going. I actually enjoy being useful around here."
Maka suggested that they should go find Soul's family; after all, they would probably be worried sick about him. But in return Blair would suggest, unsubtly, that they should not go anywhere yet. She seemed to feel they were somehow unprepared, though she wouldn't explain how that preparation should go. Maka found this completely maddening and a year or two ago would have rebelled without a second thought, but by now she believed Blair knew what she was doing.
Anyway, Soul didn't seem very eager to return home.
"We can go any time," Maka told him one day on the way back from the fields. "She keeps hinting that it would be a bad idea to go but I'm sure Miss Blair won't actually stop us if we insist."
"Nah. Don't worry about it," Soul said nonchalantly. "I'm not in a rush."
"Don't you think your family is really worried about you?"
"Well, I do feel bad about that, but I've been gone for a long time now, right? I don't think a little while more is going to make a big difference."
"A little while could turn into years if you're not proactive, Soul."
"Ugh, please don't use that word."
She decided not to pry too much.
After months of not being sure about the best place to let Soul stay at night or when she went into Morsurb, Maka started to believe he needed his own room, if only out of principle. They agreed to turn the shed into a space more like a home. Blair did not oppose Maka building a fireplace, sealing drafty areas, and putting together a few pieces of furniture in place of some of her usual menial and social labor.
He stopped actively protesting, but for a while, Soul reminded Maka as often as possible that he didn't need her to do any of this - he was fine lying around anywhere, even if she left him outside leaning against the shed or the house. Really. That would be fine.
She wouldn't hear any of it.
At night, Maka would often do her reading and writing in there. The first time she left him there on his own, she came back worriedly after a few moments.
"What is it?" Soul asked.
"It's just - what if something happens? Can I hear you from the house? It's about a hundred paces away." She glanced out the window toward Blair's home.
It took Soul's metallic voice some time to respond, as though he'd been thinking it over. Finally, he answered, "Maka, I'm an object. I don't think anything's gonna happen to me. Just make sure you don't leave the fire going and I'll definitely be fine out here."
"Let me see if I can hear you from my room," she insisted.
"What, if I yell?"
"That's pointless," Soul said flatly.
"No, it's not!" Maka ran for the door. "Count to fifty - slowly - and yell as loudly as you can."
He supposed he didn't have any other choice.
Maka dashed for the little hut, for her room. She was just starting to wonder whether she couldn't hear him after all, or whether he'd decided to be an annoyance and fall asleep instead, when she faintly detected his bored, deadpan voice coming from the shed.
"Maaaakaaaaa oh no oh dear I am in trouble please I'm getting into farm trouble wake uuuup how long are you planning on staying in your room I can't keep yelling forever-"
Maka ran back to meet him. "I can hear you, but probably not loudly enough to wake me up," she said.
Soul's one visible eye frowned. "Well, I don't know what else you're gonna do. I'll be fine."
"You can't shout any louder?" she asked, biting her lip.
"No, unfortunately. Volume control is hard without vocal cords. And lungs."
She left him arranged in as human-like a manner as she could in the makeshift bed and told him to yell anyway if he needed help. He fondly called her an idiot and reminded her that objects don't usually need bedtime care.
Maka paced around in her bedroom for a solid half-hour before going to sleep.
He was wrong. Soul was not, for all intents and purposes, an object. She remembered something Blair had told her once, advice from an old-fashioned, curmudgeonly witch whom Blair always remembered with fondness: evil begins with treating people as things. She could not treat Soul as a thing. That was how witches went Bad, started cackling and cursing people and using human-sized pots.
She fell asleep wondering what it must be like to be stuck inside an object and was filled with a newfound curiosity about her new friend's former life; she even had a vague dream about eating breakfast with his family. He was there, but she could never seem to see what he looked like.
She woke up early the next morning. The mist still hung above the grass, and Blair was nowhere to be found. Though Soul would be annoyed about being woken up at this hour, Maka had to go check on him.
As she approached the shed, she felt strange. Something intangible was coming from the inside. She felt nervousness well up in her chest and did her best to quash it, reasoning that she had no way of knowing this was a problem at all. The sensation was foreign, but it was also warm and not unpleasant.
As she got closer, she realized the intangible feeling was getting stronger; finally, she opened the shed, anxious about what she might discover-
The eye on Soul's scythe was closed, and the strange feeling had gone away. Maka felt a twinge of disappointment about being unable to solve the mystery. But if she sought it, thought of him and his past and wondered what he would be like as a person, she could find the sensation again. It originated with him; there was a faint bluish light shining from somewhere in his metal body. Somewhere at the back of her awareness was an otherworldly hum, and she was not sure if she was hearing or merely imagining it.
"Soul?" she said gently. He did not respond, and neither did the light.
Much to her relief, there was some incoherent mumbling, followed by, "No. That was not a full night. Go back to bed, Maka."
She elected to ignore his whining. "Soul? Why are you glowing?"
He may have been limited in his facial expressions, but his consternation was palpable in his sleepy voice. "What?"
"You're glowing blue."
"Wait, what? That seems..." He sounded a little more awake. "What is it?" he asked, concerned.
"It's..." Maka walked toward him and tried touching the bluish glow.
"WHOA," Soul shouted.
"What?! What's the matter? I'm sorry!"
"It's okay, it was just - strange. It was weird."
"How was it weird?" she asked, extremely worried.
"I dunno. Like..." He thought, and she was afraid he had faded to unconsciousness before he finally answered, "I guess it's like really being touched for the first time since I became a scythe. I forgot how that felt."
"I don't feel like that when people touch me," Maka said doubtfully.
"Well, I don't know. It felt- ah, never mind." He trailed off awkwardly.
"I pick you up all the time, though." She furrowed her brow.
"This is different for some reason."
"I'm sorry," she said. "I won't do it again."
"It wasn't bad," he replied in a hurry. "I was just startled."
"Hmm." Maka thoughtfully cocked her head to the side. "If I think really hard about you, or if I try to see it, I can see the glow. But if I don't choose to see it, it disappears."
"Maybe you're nuts," Soul said frankly. When she was quiet for a few moments too long, he added, "Ah, just kidding. It's probably some kind of special ability. You should go tell Miss Blair about it."
She stood, looking uncertain. "I think it's - Soul, I think I'm seeing your soul."
She was completely surrounded by idiots.
Medusa, the second Gorgon sister - well, the second in birth, the first in intelligence - sat back against her chair, holding her aching forehead.
Uberwald in general was full of idiots, the Igors being the absolute worst. While the humans here did have a passion for experimentation she could really appreciate, they always seemed to be followed around by the vile Igors. She wasn't willing to work with anyone like that.
She could use them, sure. But to be in the same room as one for too long? No.
Right now, though, the most stultifyingly brainless creature in Uberwald must have been Medusa's own little sister, Shaula. The third Gorgon. The one for whom no brains had been left by the time she'd been born.
Shaula had a little obsession with wanting to kill Death.
Medusa didn't think she would do anything to ruin their plans, at least not before it stopped mattering anymore, but she'd be damned if it wasn't annoying.
She could sense the other idiot coming into the castle. Arachne. Her older sister, not quite as stupid as Shaula. This was not an accomplishment.
"Sister?" the woman called up the staircase, voice cloyingly sweet.
"What is it?" Medusa called back, equally cloying.
"You have a visitor," Arachne purred, not fooling anyone.
"Ah, good. Send him up." She knew exactly who it was going to be.
There was no further comment, and Medusa's visitor arrived a minute later. Most men were, she found, highly intimidated by herself and her sisters, but this one sauntered in calmly.
"What do you want?" he asked, as though she'd annoyed him by her summons.
This took her aback. Certainly nobody ever said things like that. But he seemed smarter than the rest; there was something different, something sharper in his soul. Other obvious differences included a massive screw through his head and some scars crisscrossing his face, although those were a little less unique in Uberwald than elsewhere she'd been.
"Well, I guess since we're getting right to the point," Medusa began to his infuriatingly bored face, "I heard you know how to project bits of your soul outside your body."
The man twisted his lips. "It's a rather crude way of saying such a thing, and not entirely accurate. But I believe I am the man you are looking for, yes."
"Doctor Franken Stein."
He nodded. "That's my name. Don't wear it out."
Medusa schooled her face into a less-annoyed, more charming expression. "Good, then. I have a proposition for you."
"What is it?"
"I'm sure you've heard of our experiments, right?" she said.
"Maybe something," Stein said casually. "I'm afraid I'm not completely up-to-date on the news, though."
"Many years ago, my sister began her experimentations with shapeshifting, ultimately looking for reliable ways to move conscious human souls to objects in order to pause aging. I became interested when she appeared to have some success combining living creatures-"
"I have an appointment in twenty minutes," Stein interrupted, glancing at a pocket watch.
Medusa scowled. "Fine. We're looking for methods of controlling souls remotely. Think you can give us a hand?"
"Probably not. I'm sorry."
"We have payment," Medusa offered. She hadn't counted on him agreeing to do it just for fun anyway.
"Oh? And what is it?" Stein asked, slightly more interested.
"Unlimited bodies, as well as our protection," she answered smugly.
Stein pondered for a few moments. "Let's talk."
"I saw Crona there," Stein said when he arrived back at the Patchwork Lab.
Kid nodded, looking up from where he fixed some tea. "I had a feeling they were related to the Gorgons." After their first meeting, the Gorgons seemed to have left the city immediately, which meant the pink-haired individual had probably alerted them of Kid's and Black Star's presence.
"Crona is definitely a spy. The poor kid's not very good at it, but they were feeding bits of information to Medusa about the suspected locations of, ah, objectified people." Stein had never quite caught on to Kid's terminology. "But the biggest new thing I learned was that all these people as objects? That was actually an accident."
"What?" Kid asked incredulously.
"Yes. Well, kind of. Apparently they were going after Ankh-Morpork, but the ley line they targeted took the magic the wrong way, and it ended up jamming and traveling Hubward."
"That's a little stupider than I'd expected, especially from Medusa," Kid said, frowning.
"Well, it was just an experiment. They certainly seem to have learned a lot more than we know."
"Did you learn anything else?"
Stein shrugged. "Eh, not really. Medusa kept flirting with me. It was strange."
Kid made a sympathetic face.
Hey everyone, thanks for your patience and for reading! This whole thing is a bit of an experiment for me. I'm aiming to eventually make it coherent. Hope that happens the way I want it to. Eventually.