The Crimson Soul, Ba, is contained in the heart and liver, and thus it nourishes and irrigates every corner of a living being. The blood knows each hair and bone and speaks with all as equals and the Crimson Soul, a diligent scribe, remembers each conversation between blood and flesh and stores them within itself. In this way the Ba records and remembers everything that has ever befallen a creature, a faultless and living record that is more complete than the recollections of mere ‘consciousness’.
The Ba is the most faithful of the Four Souls, and after death it remains in the corpse until every trace of the body has crumbled away to dust. Those who know how to speak with the Ba can extract secrets from a fragment of bone, a lock of hair, a dried droplet of blood no larger than a grain of sand. The memories of the living body the Ba contains are so exacting that a perfect replica of a long-dead person can be constructed by those that possess even the smallest fragment of them. It is said that, in eras long-faded, journeymen of the Guild of Philosophers were required for their Masterpiece to construct such a replica of their own body, using just a drop of red blood, and that once this homunculus came to sapience they would debate with it before the Arch-Lectors of the Guild, the original and the replica putting forth their cases for which was the ‘real’ Master Philosopher. The loser of the debate, it is said, was put to death, and the winner awarded the staff and robe of a Guildmaster.
No discussion of the Crimson Soul would be complete, however, without reference to the mocking-bear itself, the monstrous Alzabo. This creature has a central place in the study of the Ba and the soul-memory of a living being, for the Alzabo’s unusual physiology makes a mocking horror of the Red Soul contained in dead flesh.
In form the Alzabo is somewhat like a bear and somewhat like a wolf, with long fur that varies in colour between poppy-red and a deep, dried-gore brown. The beast’s maw is wide and toothsome, its fingers long and dextrous, and its claws sharp as daggers. It has one eye that is white and unblinking, and one eye that is set into a tumorous facial-growth that Alzabo-hunters refer to as the beast’s ‘mask’, for it resembles a human head. When the Alzabo reaches maturity, this facial-growth develops a fully functional second mouth, through which the creature is able to articulate the speech of mankind.
For many years the Alzabo was believed to be a parrot of human speech, which it used to lure victims into its ambushes. It was only when the nature of the Four Souls was fully understood that the true horror of the Alzabo revealed itself: the creature is not merely a hunter and devourer of humanity. It is a prison for the Crimson Soul, able to extract a life’s worth of memories from the victims it consumes and hold them forever inside its own monstrous heart and blood. The plaintive human cries and prayers the Alzabo emits are no mere imitation; the beast is reliving the memories of those same unfortunates who met their fate in its jaws.
The horror does not end here, for once it has eaten of one victim, the creature has knowledge of the location of their abode, their family members, and furthermore remembers that it is important to go there. Alzabo therefore have a reputation for devouring entire family lines, and they are persistent in stalking those closest to their last victim, driven both by hunger and by a powerful remembrance of love. They are highly intelligent, quite capable of understanding human speech as well as mimicking it, wielding all the guile and wisdom of their victims but untempered by their mercy. Their agile paws can easily open doors and windows, and they are known for their ambushes, that take place within darkened bedrooms or in the privy. This primal scene of terror is represented in an ancient Vaarnish folktale, in which Little Blue-Hood travels through the badlands to visit her elderly grandmother. Upon reaching the darkened house, the girl hears her grandmother’s voice calling to her from the four-poster bed, which she approaches, remarking nervously that her grandmother’s teeth seem so much bigger than they used to be.
The story has several endings, of course. In one version of the story, three vigilant goatherds hear Blue-Hood’s cries and cut her and the grandmother out of the Alzabo’s swollen belly with their knives. An older, and less popular, variant ends with Little Blue-Hood’s mother waking by moonlight and hearing the voice of her daughter echoing from the depths of a well, crying for help.
Written in homage to the late Gene Wolfe, who hopefully wouldn’t mind one of his most terrifying creations being unleashed onto Vaarn.