Two texts for Itras By.
The Soft Assassins
In her old age, Amanda Wistfulbottom decided it was time to leave. She called on her butler Henderson to end her life.
"Certainly, Madam", Henderson replied. "How would you like to go?"
"Softly, Henderson", she sighed, weary of a life too long and filled with too much boredom and disillusionment.
"Certainy, Madam", the butler said again.
That night the butler drew his mistress a hot bath, scented with lavender. Lit candles around it. A string quarted played low, melancholy tunes in the side room. Amanda knew what was to come, and waited.
"Read me something first, Henderson", she said. "Before you kill me."
"Certainly, Madam." Henderson produced a tiny book, an autobiography of a well-known adventuress. It was an old favorite of Amanda's; a book she had loved much in her youth, and now nearly forgotten. She reveled in the memories, hearing the stories both as dear recollections and new exciting adventures.
When the third chapter was done, she sighed. "Oh, Henderson", she said. "But it is time you let me go, isn't it?"
"I already did, Madam", said the butler. And Amanda felt the calm of the slow-acting poison making her drowsy, stopping her breath and heart, as she sank into the warm water.
The Soft Assassins are experts in the gentle kill. Founded by Henderson, with the fortunes inherited from Amanda Wistfulbottom, they assist in killing those who need a soft death - for themselves, or for others they love. They can be recognized by their gentle, neutral smiles; their anonymous and servile natures; and the scent of lavender that always seems to surround them wherever they go.
Once, there actually was Nothing here. Close to the eastern edge of the city, a small area - the size of a big park, or a cluster of houses - contained absolutely nothing: No ground, no air, no laws of nature.
It couldn't last, of course.
A few adventurers. A couple of explorers and scientists. A drunk woman looking for a place to sleep. An ape on the run. They came to the Nothing, on purpose or by accident.
At first, they simply disappeared, never to be found again. There were rumors; friends or family knew that the Nothing had swallowed their loved ones. Members of the Guard had seen someone enter the Nothing and not come out again.
But in the Nothing, "never" doesn't exist either. And so they came back. After a fashion.
Those who return from the Nothing come back not according to the laws of time and space, or those of identity and causality. They just come back. Sometimes they appear before they disappeared, with eyes like grey mist. Sometimes they come back in the wrong body. Sometimes they come back without a past, all memories of them erased, desperate to find someone who recognizes them. The Nothing has touched them, and it doesn't give back.
Some stay in the Nothing. It is populated, but who knows by how many souls? The Nothing is neither finite or infinite. Scholars claim it would take millions of years to cross it, while at the same time, it is tinier than the needlepoint eyes of a drugged arachnid.
If you meet yourself on the street, in a back alley, in a café; if you hear yourself talking about a life you don't recognize -
You may be about to enter the Nothing and come back. To a different life. A different existence.
Will it be you? Who are you when you're someone else?