Having your soul destroyed hurt. Everything hurt. Unlike when he’d had a body, William could now safely say it was literally everything. His soul hurt, and that was everything. Actually, when William thought about it, it wasn’t so bad. The mere fact that he could think about it made everything better than expected. Actually, it felt a lot more like being dead than having his soul destroyed. If all he had to do was live with this pain for the rest of eternity, he was glad at what he did. Saving humanity was worth it.
Then, William felt something. It was like a pain in his chest, but he had no chest. Everything already hurt, but this was different. Instead of merely being charred, scarred lumps of pain, he felt like there was a part of him that was whole… and then was being eaten. It was like worms were eating his heart, though he had no heart. Instead, it was the core of his soul. Though William had no practical experience in being eaten by worms, that was all he could describe it as. He felt that whatever was in him was wiggling around, and he didn’t like it one bit.
He did what he could to stop it, though he didn’t really have any energy left, so it was kind of like throwing a damp cloth on a volcano. Still, he felt the wriggling worms weren’t that strong either… and they struggled back against him. They were still winning, though, and from his center, they spread out, moving through all of him. Even so, they gradually slowed down. Their tunnels in him felt like both emptiness and great pain at the same time, and William already had thought he couldn’t feel more pain. Still, when they stopped moving, it became a throbbing pain instead of a sharp one.
William was beginning to think that being like this for eternity was perhaps no longer worth saving humanity. It was selfish, but since he could only perceive himself, whatever there was left of that, that was what he thought. Still, knowing his selfishness, he tried to grit his teeth and bear it. He had no teeth, so that became harder, but he accepted his lot in… well, it wasn’t life. Having his soul destroyed wouldn’t even technically be death… but it certainly wasn’t nonexistence.
Then the tunnels that the worms had burrowed into him seemed to light on fire, burning up places that William had presumed didn’t exist. Places that didn’t hurt… but now did. Ah, so the pain could get worse. William knew it was selfish, but now he felt like subjecting himself to this fate for eternity was definitely not worth saving humanity. Not that he could take it back, but if he did it again, he would probably think about it more carefully.
Everything that formed William was pulverized, eaten, or on fire… or some combination of those. He wasn’t sure how long it continued for. Did time even have meaning anymore? It could have been seconds or hours, but that didn’t feel right. It seemed to continue on for eternity. Days was too short. Years… it was certainly at least years by this point. Not that William had counted on his nonexistent fingers, but surely, it must have been years.
Still, he was gradually getting used to the pain. He hadn’t even known it was possible, but apparently people could even get used to unending torment. Then William realized. He was dead. That much was obvious, but the point was that he was dead… but his soul hadn’t been destroyed. He couldn’t say much more for it, but he realized eventually that he wasn’t growing used to the pain, but it was fading.
The process was slow, but eventually the fires died down. The pain faded, but it was replaced with nothing. William couldn’t feel anything, even numbness was inadequate to describe it. William decided to take back what he said about not saving humanity. He would at least consider it if given another chance… but only if they asked nicely.
William had never really experienced being dead before. He had experienced dying, and then perhaps a brief moment of death… but then he was alive and being born. Now, he was dead. Possibly forever, his soul stuck in a state of limbo, not destroyed, but incapable of bringing a body to life.
Though it wasn’t painful, William still found it highly unpleasant. It was boring… and there was only so much thinking one could do without writing it down somewhere. That… and William’s memory was kind of spotty anyway. He knew about writing… and there seemed to be some languages he knew. What was that… four? One for each of the human countries? There had been four human countries, right, or were there five countries? There were demons, too, he had seen them. He had even talked to one. Was one of the languages the demon’s language? That would mean he didn’t speak all of them then.
He knew he was William. That point stuck strongly. He was also dead. He had died… fighting the Demon King? Destroying the Demon King. That was how he got into this mess. Still, he felt okay about it… besides the boredom.
There was nothing he could do though. It wasn’t like he could read, or talk to anyone, or even move his body. He had nothing, except his soul, and he wasn’t even sure if it was fair to say he had all of one of those either. What could he even do with that?
Well, he could cultivate. Maybe. Did that require a body? William thought it might, but on the other hand, he recalled something to the contrary. He’d died before, and kept his cultivation… or some part of it perhaps. Thus, it might be tied entirely to the soul. He remembered his cultivation technique. Rotational Soul Pressure. Well, pressure sounded bad, but the soul part sounded feasible. He sunk his consciousness down into his very center. He was looking for something undamaged… or at least a place that had a spark of energy to get him started. As he explored, he fathomed at how big his soul seemed. He knew that its scale was somewhat relative, and it seemed to be bigger or smaller as he wanted to perceive it at a certain level, but it still felt big. Big, and full of rubble and burnt bits, and empty space that didn’t even seem to be a part of him.
Author’s note: I’ve had this part (or at least the vague idea of it) planned for a long time… Approximately since the beginning of the story, though of course the details became refined over time. Just want to say that this has always been the plan, and I didn’t chicken out on killing William. It would be a different story if it ended there, and it wouldn’t be bad, but it wouldn’t be this story.
Also, though I implied the end of the series, I only ever said “the end” to sneakily refer to the end of William’s second reincarnation. That series of books would fall under the overarching title of “Second Time” and this will be “Third Time”… but I don’t actually use those titles in public because spoilers. Sorry for tricking people into thinking it was the real end (but only a little sorry)