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The three components of the sentient, conscious individual are the body, the mind, and the soul. Each aspect of the individual must be present for true consciousness to exist[1]. Interactions within this triad lead to the development of personality and provide a mental-spiritual fingerprint for tracking organisms — for instance, the homing ability of “magic missile.” Without the existence of all three components, many spells cannot be correctly cast. Ironically, it is through experimentation with the bonds between these components that much early spellcasting was developed.

Body: The physical component of the individual, required for interactions with the material plane.

Mind: The mental abilities that allows an organisms to follow logical reasoning and solve problems, as well as the ability to make complex connections.

Soul: The spiritual energy that powers a sentient being. The only component of an individual that does not decay over time. Cannot exist in isolation. Cannot be destroyed.

[1] Elves claim to have no souls, but the fact that most magic affects them in a manner similar to other organisms indicates that this is a cultural concept rather than magibiological fact. Further reading and research is unavailable to those not in a Court.

  • excerpts from Chapter 4 of THE SEARCH FOR MEANING: DEVELOPMENTS OF SENTIENCE ON OUR PLANET, C. Cooper Ph.D, J.B. Kang MD, B.J. Bluejeans Ph.D, K. Tebi, other contributors. Required reading for Magecraft 161, “Biosocial origins of spellcasting.”

#

Barry floats the lich idea by Lup when they’re eating lunch at a cafe. Neither of them recognize the food — that’s par for the course. Each world’s flora and fauna — and subsequently, meats, vegetables, dairy products, spices — are a little bit different. But cafes are the same everywhere. Low to mid-grade chitchat, a nice sonic curtain that blocks out any would-be listeners. No need to blow a spell slot, even.

Lup listens attentively as Barry stumbles through his idea. He’s aware that this sounds bad. Becoming a lich, ripping souls out of bodies, those are the sort of thing that get people locked up, back on their original planet. Or worse — though unless you cross that line in the sand you never learn what “worse” means. They need more firepower, though. And becoming immortal beings made of magic would be a hell of a coup. He explains his reasoning to Lup, and he loves her just a bit more because she listens without judgment until the end.

“So, it’s just a thought,” he says, trailing off. In daylight, out loud, he feels kind of silly for suggesting it.

“No, it’s a real great idea and all that, babe,” Lup says, cutting herself a forkful of what looks vaguely like eggs benedict. “But it’s not gonna work. I don’t have a soul.”

“What?” Barry asks, looking sharply up. His eyes meet hers. She smiles.

“Elves don’t have souls, honeybunch. C’mon, everybody knows that.”

#

A soul is an affectation. A soul is an appendix. A soul is an ancestral trait in the phylogeny of sentient beings. You don’t need a soul. What does it do for you? A soul makes your laughs warmer, your smiles brighter. A soul is why you’re crying, darling, oh, no, no, nothing is wrong. A soul is the catch of breath when you hear the first note of a symphony. A soul is the press of skin against skin. A soul cracks the mirrorglass flatness of feeling, breaking open into fissures, exposing the red heart underneath.

That’s just poetry.

A soul is energy. It’s force. It’s electric lightning spinning through your limbs. A soul can be repurposed. A soul can be recycled. A soul is unnecessary.

If portioned out correctly, a soul makes for excellent fuel.

#

Lup stands very still as Barry scans her. He’s borrowing the equipment from the city’s university (it’s always nice when the world they land on has infrastructure), and they’re holed up in an out-of-the-way lab in the biological sciences department, door locked, blinds drawn.

She’s not wearing a shirt. He’s moving the device carefully across the whole of her torso. Clothing often interferes with accurate imaging, and nine times out of ten, the soul core is concentrated somewhere between the clavicles and the pelvis.

“You’re not gonna find anything,” Lup says.

“Trust me,” Barry says, and Lup doesn’t say anything back. He finishes scanning her and then it’s just waiting for the printout. Lup buttons up her shirt. Barry fixes her collar because she always leaves it weird and she wrinkles her nose at him.

The printer dings. Barry picks the scan up and brings it back to where Lup is sitting on a lab table, a tolerantly inquisitive expression on her face.

It fades as soon as she sees the printout.

“I thought you knew,” Barry says. Lup stares at the scan with an expression that Barry, despite their long years together, cannot read.

She touches the plasticine surface of the picture. Here is the white burst of light between her ribs that proves that she’s like nearly every other creature on Twosun, three-parts complete. Lup’s is a little duller than most, but souls are like hair color, eye color, the size of hands — variation is normal.

“They take it from you, you know,” Lup says. “It’s the last thing they take.”

“Your soul?” Barry remembers the rumors that percolated among the higher-level academics and students alike — that elves didn’t have souls, that elves were variants of liches, that elves were from a different plane, one that spit out monsters that looked like people. The sort of stuff easily dismissed as low-grade racism, except for the fact that all the elves Barry knew claimed not to have souls, and then they’d laugh and say “can’t explain that one, Bluejeans, sorry. You’re not an elf.”

It was common knowledge, a communal headache amongst the faculty — elves refuse to explain; elves refuse to outline; elves refuse to divulge any real magibiological information.

“I need to get Taako,” Lup says, and runs out of the lab.

#

Taako knows that he doesn’t have a soul. He knows this the way he knows that the sky is blue, that there’s one sun and two moons in the sky , that cooking makes him feel good and magic makes him feel alive and when people applaud him, when they love him, that’s the best feeling in the universe.

But there’s also something missing, he knows. There’s an ache in his chest some nights, a niggling in the back of his mind. Something about him is wrong. All of that can be explained by the fact that he doesn’t have a soul, and he knows he doesn’t, because when he reaches back in his memories there’s never a time that he doesn’t believe it. He knows he gave it up, sure as he knows that he’s an elf.

He doesn’t talk about this. It doesn’t make scientific sense. But you can’t help what you believe, Taako figures, and as long as he doesn’t tell anyone, nobody’s gonna call him out for being nuts.

#

Sentient life on Faerun is presumed to have developed because of interactions between the Astral and Material planes, through which discrete units of empathic-psychic material known as souls bonded to the biological organisms evolving on Faerun at the time. In recent years, research has shown that souls can be bonded to mechanical devices while still retaining aspects of their core personality.

Astral: related or referring to the astral plane or to the empathic-psychic material derived from the astral plane.

Material: related to or referring to the prime material plane, physical objects and materials.

Soul: a discrete unit of empathic-psychic material which contains all the information necessary for an individual’s personality matrix. Cannot be destroyed except under extreme duress. Necessary for sentience. Functionally indestructible. Can be used as currency in some realms.  

  • excerpts from “Mechanobiological Interactions with the Astral Plane,” published in the Journal of Magibiological Studies. S. J. Tiggs MD, K. Flair Ph.D, L. Miller.

#

Taako’s using mage hand to steal snacks out of the vending machine. He’s got two glowing limbs up in between the glass and the snacks. It looks like a simple grift but Merle remembers Lucretia saying that all the appliances on the moonbase have anti-magic tampering wards on them. He’d told her that seemed like overkill and she’d arched an eyebrow at him. Looks like the Director was right, though, because as much as Taako enjoys playing the fool, he’s also expertly disabled the wards to get some free fantasy cheetos. Watching the guy contort his magic to pull out cheap snacks  is weirdly entertaining.

Taako catches Merle watching him and freezes.

“Quit lookin’ at me like that. S’not like I’ve got a soul on the line. Little bit of stealin’ never hurt nobody.” Taako rolls out quick as anything, cancelling the mage hand as cool as you please.

Merle rolls his eyes. As if he’d be the first to chastise anyone about stealing , of all things — for a man of god, he’s an awful cleric — but there’s nothing in Pan’s teachings about theft anyway.

“Calm down, kiddo. It’s just me,” he says. “It’d be a bit hypocritical of ol’ Merle to tell you off for stealin’.”

Taako grins, fleeting, and applies himself back to it. “Keep watch for me then, will ya?”

“Sure, if you grab me some fantasy Oreos,” Merle says, walking over to keep an eye on the crossways hall. “What were you saying about souls?”

“Elves don’t have souls,” Taako says, absently, attention preoccupied with getting snacks.

Merle’s brow furrows. “Yeah they do. Everything does.”

“I don’t,” Taako says, cheerfully, and then manages to knock down a package of cookies, followed by two bags of cheetos. “Score!” He bends to scoop the snacks out of the machine and turns back to Merle.

“What’s this about you not having a soul?” Merle asks.

Taako’s face falls. “Shit, was that out loud? Never mind, nothing! Look, just, just forget I said anything, okay? Don’t worry about it!”

Taako’s holding the package of fantasy Oreos out like it’s a lifeline so Merle takes it and says, “Okay, Taako.”

#

“They can’t take you back, if you’re a lich.”

“We can’t go back, anyway, uh, babe, don’t know if you noticed but our world literally got eaten.”

“Shut up, Lulu, I’m trying to be meaningful and shit! All I’m sayin’ is... that’s good, right? They can’t get you.”

“What about you?”

“S’like you said, our world got eaten.”

“Moot point, then, babe.”

“Yeah. Guess it doesn’t matter.”

#

The elf shows up without warning — elves always show up without warning.

Magnus, Barry, Lup, Taako and Davenport are on a jaunt back to their home plane. Barry is here to visit his mom and introduce Lup (and by extension Taako) to her, and Magnus suspects it’s going to be all sorts of emotional, and the three of them are going to return wrung out — in a good way. Magnus and Davenport are here because after a century-and-change of answering to nobody, the IPRE wants a full debriefing of what happened, exactly, and Davenport wants a distraction so that he doesn’t have to give the entire shpiel.

“Make a scene, Magnus,” he’d instructed. “Something loud. Run in here and grab me.”

Magnus nodded seriously. “I’m great at loud.”

So now Magnus is sitting in the hallway, waiting for the perfect moment to grab Davenport and book it, when a beautiful elf walks up to him, deliberate footsteps echoing down the hallway. Magnus squints at him. He’s tall and dark-eyed and smiling. He’s wearing elegant robes patterned with the glittering yellow crystals of the Summer court.

“Magnus Burnsides?” the elf says.

“Yup, that’s me,” Magnus says. “Who are you?” Where had the man come from? Rhetorical question – he’s used to wizards being all sorts of weird. There was a year that Taako refused to use doorways. The four months Lup floated everywhere. Barry’s eternal mouse-skeleton messengers.

“Amari,” the elf says, and smiles. “Could you by any chance, point me in the direction of the twins? Or your captain.”

“Taako and Lup’ve talked about you,” Magnus says.

Amari beams. “Did they?”

“Yeah. Nothing good,” Magnus says, though that’s a lie. When the twins talk about Amari it’s never mean, though it is often accusing. Amari let us skip training to sleep in. Amari brought us bracelets from the outer islands. Amari was gone for two decades playing war-games against the winter court and when he got back he showed us how to use their weapons. Amari is the one who took us, when we were kids and not yet elves.  

“They were always little hellions,” Amari says ruefully. “Court’s gonna be a madhouse after Taako gets back.”

“Back?” Magnus asks, thrown. “They saved the multiverse. They live in a different universe . What do you mean, back?”

“Once you start something, you can’t not finish it,” Amari says, and he shrugs like that explains everything. “You can’t help but grow up.”

“They’re ours ,” Magnus says, and squashes his desire to say “and you can’t have them.” From the smile playing at the corner of Amari’s mouth, he can read the unspoken lines. “They’re, like, adults,” he says instead.

Amari shakes his head, but doesn’t elaborate.

Magnus scowls. Taako and Lup are his best friends. Taako and Lup are his family. Taako and Lup were taken from their homes and turned into elves, and it doesn’t matter that this happens to all elves, or that it’s the only reason Magnus was able to meet them. It matters that stealing children is wrong.

“Why did you take them? And don’t bullshit me,” Magnus says. “You stole them. You literally kidnapped them!”

Something in the cast of Amari’s face changes. He stands straighter. He looks colder. He takes a step back and looks down at Magnus.

“If you saw something beautiful,” Amari says, and that’s the fervor in his voice back again, all pretense stripped away, and Magnus is abruptly reminded that this is the first time in a hundred years that he’s talked to a proper elf. “If you saw something beautiful and you wanted to keep it, and you knew you could make it better, that it would be better with you, that you could make it perfect, wouldn’t you take it? You’re a craftsman, Burnsides.” Amari smiles at Magnus and it makes Magnus want to punch him in the face. “You know exactly what I’m talking about.”

Magnus doesn’t have an answer to that.

“She’s gone,” Amari says, and his voice is light again, speaking like it makes him sad, the way that breaking a favorite tool makes Magnus sad. “He’ll be back.”

Amari steps back.. “Well, if they’re not around now — say hello to them for me, won’t you? Don’t tell them this, but they were always my favorites.”

#

The use of the soul as a battery to power the century-long transformation is perhaps the only reason that elves as a race have been able to propagate ourselves. The soul (commonly known as the third aspect of sentience) is, in actuality, an evolutionary quirk that has passed into obsolescence. By kick-starting the soul’s engine in youth, elves gain

  • excerpts from an essay written for “Elven History 201.” Taako & Lup. Unfinished. Hand-written. Never turned in.

#

Taako takes Angus for ice cream, and that’s how Angus knows that Taako has lost it. Taako doesn’t do fun outings. Magnus does fun outings. Lup and Barry do fun outings. Carey and Killian do fun outings. Taako doesn’t do fun outings. Taako does “wakes Angus up at two in the morning for surprise magic practice.” Taako does “barges in on Angus’s class and kidnaps him even though Angus is teaching the class.” Taako is a force of vaguely benevolent chaotic energy in Angus’s life and both parties know this.

Angus is curious enough to play along. Taako takes him to a fancy ice cream parlor somewhere in Neverwinter’s shopping district, one with 45 hand-churned flavors that, according to the sign in their window, “taste like a dream.” It’s pretty good ice cream. Angus gets apple-mint with whipped cream on a cone. Taako gets a double scoop of raspberry sorbet and double-chocolate madness drizzled with more chocolate in a cup. Taako pays. Angus stares at Taako as he hands the cashier a few gold pieces.

“Sir, are you alright?”

“I’m fine,” Taako says, glancing at Angus quizzically. “Go pick out some seats, pumpkin.”

Angus does, because half the trick with Taako is waiting him out. He picks out seats near the large plate-glass windows at the front of the shop so he can people-watch. He licks his ice cream and watches women shopping, men on dates, groups of schoolchildren walking home from school.

Taako slides into the seat across from him. “Good choice, kiddo.”

“Thanks,” Angus says. “So what’s goin’ on, sir?” He’s not all that good at waiting. Fortunately, neither is Taako, who sighs heavily and takes a bite of his ice cream. He stares pensively out of the window. Angus is pretty sure it’s mostly for the aesthetic.

“Listen, pumpkin, if me or Lup ever start acting weird and talk about taking you somewhere, you go grab Barry or Magnus and tell them we’re bein’ bananas, and that the elf practice stuck way fuckin’ harder than we thought.”

“Elf practice? You mean you were so bad at being elves you had to practice?” Angus says, cheekily. Taako rolls his eyes and glances back at Angus.

“Stop sassin’ me, D’jango. I’m, I’m fucking serious for once, alright kiddo? If me or Lup ever tells you to come with us and we’re acting creepy , just don’t . Just say no! Don’t go places with creepy elves.”

“But sir, you’re always a creepy elf,” Angus can’t help but say.

Taako scowls. “Agnes, what did I say about being serious?”

“Well sir, you can’t tell me to take you seriously when you’re not explaining anything,” Angus points out.

Taako shakes his head. “It’s not important, kiddo. It’s stuff from our home plane. Stuff the voidfish didn’t broadcast.”

“I’d like to know, though,” Angus says, using his most earnest expression.

Taako doesn’t speak for a long moment. Then he does.

#

Lup kept the printouts of her and Taako’s souls in an envelope at the bottom of her clothing drawer. She made copies, even. Sometimes she takes them out and stares at them — the dim blankness, the grey-white silhouette. She didn’t know that they would still be so bright. The two of them were with the Summer Court for sixty years. But souls are powerful. It takes a century to use them up.

Sometimes Lup takes out the printouts and stares at them.

She can never go back. She knows that. Never back to the — sunlit clearing, dancing, promises, you’re-going-to-be-a-warrior-one-day-darling. There’s her soul, all wrapped up in Barry’s now, a shining cord between them that sustains their physical existence. But Taako could. Taako could go back to — bright laughter, mead flowing like water, you’re-going-to-be-so-powerful-honey.

None of the elven adults Lup remembers had lovers that lasted more than a night. None of them seemed to want to.

#

Taako is making waffles when Kravitz comes into the kitchen.

“What’s the occasion?” Kravitz asks.

Taako shrugs, glances over his shoulder, smiling. “Iunno, felt like it. Get started on the coffee, sweetcheeks.”

Kravitz smiles back and does as he’s told. The kitchen is quiet except for the sound of water boiling, the waffle iron hissing. It’s very pleasant, Kravitz thinks. It’s still novel to wake up and eat breakfast.

Taako breaks the silence. “You know, first thing I thought when I saw you was ‘oh shit, this guy’s gonna bust me for not havin’ a soul.”

“What?” Kravitz says, thrown by the nonsequitor. He looks over at Taako.

Taako looks back and shrugs. “So, elves back at home don’t have souls, right? That’s like, a fact, that’s fuckin, uh, what’s the word, empirical.

“But you have a soul,” Kravitz says, visualizing a horde of soulless elves, walking like puppets with cut strings. He’s seen the results of necromantic experiments — cleared labs, men with eyes like hollow holes, women who stared at the wall unless ordered to move. “Sentient life doesn’t exist without a soul.”

“Souls don’t work the same way back where I’m from, reaper boy,” Taako says. “They’re just energy. You know how me and Lup checked outta elf practice? That’s why we’ve still got’em.”

“Oh,” Kravitz says. This is a strange conversation to be having, he thinks, surrounded by warm Sunday sunlight, the vanilla-almond scent of baking.

“It’s there, right?” Taako says, and he’s playing it off like a joke, but there’s a thread of worry that Kravitz now knows how to read. He stands up, walks behind Taako and folds his arms around him. Taako leans imperceptibly back.

“Being a reaper gives you some perks,” Kravitz says. “I’d know if you didn’t have a soul, love.”

“Yeah?” Taako says.

Kravitz nods, raises a hand to Taako’s chest, between his breastbone. He closes his eyes. There is the heart, blood pumping. The soft wind-roar of breath. The tension of muscle against bone.

“Yeah.”

This close, Kravitz can feel-sense the soul in Taako’s chest. It’s dimmer than is usual, but within reasonable parameters. It glows like a jewel, like an ember — a bright and precious thing.