"I have something to tell you," Jof whispered, blood trickling from the corner of her mouth. "You will want to know."
"Then tell me," I said, stabbing my knife into the wooden table in front of her. "I am listening."
Her eyes followed a red drop as it slid down my blade and spread itself into the splintered grain of the wood. “You care about these people.”
"I have no need of your personal insights," I said. "I want information."
"That’s what this is. Don’t you want to know what happens to these citizens when we take their bodies from them?"
Something inside my chest grew tight. “Where do they go?”
Her eyes glittered dark and evil in the lantern light. “To our city. Fire and death and suffering. This place is a paradise in comparison. Why do you think we come here?”
I touched the handle of my knife. “Is it worse than the dark tower?”
"That is where I am taking you tomorrow." I stood up. I had grown so weary of the games Mazikin played during these interrogations. I had grown weary of becoming a monster just to keep up. "Or shall we leave now?"
"We can," she said quickly, "but that means the woman whose soul occupied this body will never be free."
"What?" I said it so loudly that Jof flinched.
"You can free her." She ran her hand over her dark hair, over the deep brown skin of her stolen face and body. "This woman, she suffered in her life, and she suffered after she ended that life, and now, she suffers even more. No way to die, no way to escape—unless you kill this body here."
"You are lying."
She grimaced. “Then take me to the tower. Destroy this woman’s chance to be free.” She stared at me. “You could free her, Malachi. All you have to do is kill me.”
"But then you will come back," I said.
"Maybe, maybe not. That is up to the Queen. But what is not up to her is the liberation of the woman’s soul. That is in your hands."
My hand closed around the handle of my knife and I pulled it from the table. “If you come back, I’ll hunt you down.”
"We know." She bowed her head. "All of us know that. But if you put me in the tower, you are condemning her for eternity."
She sat very still while the longing grew inside me. When I was in a place of fire and death and suffering, how much would I have given to have someone release me? Hadn’t I thrown myself on the fence in an effort to release myself in the only way I knew?
Jof might be lying, but what if she wasn’t?
She breathed her last breath in that moment, right before I cut her throat. I spoke my prayer over her body, but it was not for her. It was for the woman she’d taken, the one she’d condemned. I imagined her face, smiling and free. I imagined her walking into the Countryside.
I washed the blood from my hands. I think I will sleep better tonight than I have in a long while.