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Phlebotinium powered by deeply unethical means in literature.

  • In The Acts of Caine book Heroes Die, Ma'elKoth spends the life of his devotees when using combat magic. Unlike most, he is aware of the cost; when he gives Berne a smidgen of that power to use, he reminds the man of the human cost, and he uses this fact against Pallas Ril.
  • In American Gods we encounter one small Midwestern town with none of the problems of the young folk moving away and aging populace and unemployment, crime, and drugs that plague the region. Wanna know what the town's guardian god has to do to keep Lakeside the "one good town in these parts"? Three guesses, and the first two don't count. Child sacrifice. Somewhat averting the full trope, none of the townspeople actually knew of this, and considered the missing children to be lost and perished in the woods, or 'winter runanways'. Anyone who figured it out had an unfortunate 'accident' before they could tell.
    • Not only that, but hundreds of years ago Hinzelmann, the town's protective deity, was himself a child sacrifice by and for his tribe. He achieved his godhood by being raised in complete darkness, never knowing light or love, till one night when he was six he was taken out, pierced by swords, and his body smoked over a fire. The sacrifice he extracted for his continued protection of the town was one child every winter.
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  • One Animorphs book has a controller who's discovered a way to avoid returning to the pool every three days. He eats his fellow Yeerks, killing lots of human controllers to get them.
  • In John D. MacDonald's Ballroom of the Skies, the galactic government deliberately keeps Earth impoverished and war-torn ... because that toughens Earthpeople spiritually to the point that they make good recruits to run the galactic government.
  • In Black House by Stephen King and Peter Straub, the "Big Combination" is a gigantic city-machine powered by the slave labor of abducted children, and their collective screaming can be heard over the roar of the machinery from miles away.
    From outside comes the clank of the Big Combination and the screams of the children who march, march, march on their bleeding footsies, running it.
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  • In The Black Wind, a novel by F. Paul Wilson, the titular "Kuroi Kaze" or "Black Wind", a hideous black cloud that kills all living things, is powered by a child's death. Preferably a "mixed heritage" child (i.e. a child of mixed race.)
  • In The Broken Earth trilogy by N. K. Jemison, the node stations that quell earthquakes across the Stillness are powered by lobotomized powerful but uncontrollable orogene children .
  • The Book of Skulls by Robert Silverberg: Four friends somehow hear about a cult that offers immortality: applicants must be in groups of four, one of whom must commit suicide, and one of whom must be murdered by the others. The survivors get to live forever. Or so they've heard.
    This would also count as Immortality Immorality for people who go into it knowing (or at least believing) it to be for real, and not just a wacky story.
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  • This one is Older Than Radio. In The Brothers Karamazov, Ivan uses a thought experiment as a metaphor for the problem of suffering. He asks his brother Alyosha, a novice monk, if he would create a world of peace and happiness for everyone, under the condition that he has to torture one child to death. Alyosha says no.
  • Cavern, by Nicholas Morine, has everyone's negative emotions taken via a device in their skull and placed on one individual. Significant civil unrest would ensue should this ever stop happening, and the city lives close enough to the line that they might not be able to weather it.
  • In the Chanters of Tremaris trilogy, the Palace of Cobwebs, a beautiful and delicate structure that looks like it's, well, made of cobwebs, is the home of the Emperor of Merithuros and his court. Unbeknownst to its inhabitants, the Palace cannot actually stand and must be continually chanted into being, day and night, by five children, all of which have had their legs broken and never set properly so they are unable to escape.
  • David Mitchell's Cloud Atlas contains a sinister example. One chapter is set in a dystopian future Seoul where there are many clones, called 'fabricants', that are treated as subhuman slaves. The main character, a fabricant herself, discovers that the fabricants' only source of nutrition, Soap, is manufactured from clones. They literally consume themselves.
  • In L.E. Modesitt Jr.'s Corean Chronicles, the Alector's Magitek is powered by draining lifeforce from lesser beings; everything from their life-extension, to weaponry, to transportation, to buildings are created and powered wtih lifeforce. Alectors cultivate and destroy entire worlds, planetforming them with indigenous and introduced life forms, up to and including "inferior" humans (who they refer to as "cattle"), solely for their life energy.
  • The Cosmere:
    • Mistborn: Hemalurgy, one of the three core magic systems, works on this principle. Its use involves trapping a portion of someone's soul in a metal spike and then sticking the spike into someone else, endowing the recipient with superhuman abilities via the stolen life-force (what, exactly, is transferred depends on the kind of metal the spike is made of and where it's placed on the recipient's body). Oh, and so far as we know, it's not possible to do this without it being fatal to the unfortunate "donor". The appendix to The Alloy of Law hints that maybe, just maybe, the transfer doesn't require the donor's death (Harmony did alter the laws of magic, after all), but there's no evidence to it yet.
    • In Elantris some Dakhor magic includes techniques that requires sacrificing their own practicioners, for example for teleportation.
    • In Warbreaker, all magic is powered by Breath. Each person has one Breath, the loss of which saps creativity, harms the immune system, and can lead to mild depression. People can voluntarily give their Breath to others, so poor people often sell theirs to the rich. Most magic takes upwards of 20 Breaths to accomplish, and some people have more than several hundred. The "gods" of the series, the Returned, each need to consume one Breath per week or they die. The donor is often a child since their Breaths are considered better than that of the elderly.
  • David Drake has two separate examples in one book, in Cross the Stars:
    • A settlement of Kettleman Bubble houses, which are luxury dwellings that can produce anything the people in it ask for, and use anything organic (but non-human) as raw material. The problem arises because Kettleman was a raving racist bigot who had a very narrow definition of "human" — it didn't include Italians, for instance...
    • The Alayan space drive, which is based on warping the perception of objective reality in a sentient mind, eventually driving the "fuel" mad and useless.
    "Any sentient mind will serve the purpose," said the Alayan. "Any mind with a grasp of reality and the ability to change reality through fantasy, if you will. We direct the fantasies so that they become real . . . and the vessel moves in objective reality through the pressure of the subject's mind. Unfortunately, that mind moves as well, in a psychic dimension from which it cannot be retrieved. We could use ourselves as subjects, but we do not do so while we have minds aboard which are not ours. That is the main value for which we trade."
  • In Harry Turtledove's Darkness Series, a high fantasy take on World War II, magic is charged from people's lifeforce. This leads to several scenes of soldiers charging their magic wands with their recently dead comrades, and eventually to the Germany-equivalent nation Algarve to round up Kaunians (people with blonde hair who they are highly prejudiced against) for mass killings to give its armies a major magical boost at the proper moment. This leads the USSR equivalent to retaliate by killing criminals and eventually just lower class citizens for its attacks, while the Japan equivalent uses volunteers from its armed forces.
  • The Dark Tower: In Wolves of the Calla, it's revealed that the bad guys' captive psychics are being fed a substance to boost their powers. That substance is withdrawn from the brains of kidnapped twin children, one from each pair, leaving them mentally slow, unnaturally big and doomed to die young.
  • In Timothy Zahn's Deadman Switch, a planetary system is discovered that's full of extremely valuable minerals, but there's a field around it that shuts off FTL travel, so there's no practical way to get in. Unless, as it turns out, you have a freshly dead corpse in the navigator's seat. No, this doesn't cause people to write the place off, don't be silly. They just start using convicted criminals.
    • It's slightly more disturbing when you realize the other consequences, like the fact that the initial research team only got there because while investigating the "cloud" their navigator had a fatal heart attack, or and once they figured it out, they had to draw straws for who would die so they could make the return trip.
    • Nor is that the only time that's happened, when a ship lost the second criminal they were going to kill to get out. It's also implied that the central government is doing all it can to insure a large and continuous supply of death-penalty convicts, even convicting people who don't deserve it.
  • In Simon R. Green's Deathstalker series, the Darkvoid Device turns out to be one of these... powered by Giles' own son.
  • In Dragon Bones, castle Hurog is literally powered by a forsaken child. The man who built the castle wanted it to be self-repairing, and in order to achieve this he killed his own son and the forsaken child remembers "When I woke up, I was the castle". He still has a human body - it amused his father. Oh, and he's slave to the holder of the title of Hurogmeten. The current holder of the title is nice, but others ... weren't.
  • The Dresden Files: Many forms of Black Magic rely on torture and death to power them, with the Darkhallow in Dead Beat being perhaps the most extreme. It involves the sorcerer killing enormous numbers of people (in this case, everyone within a several-mile-wide bubble of downtown Chicago) with necromantic energy, then consuming all the ghosts in the area to achieve godlike power.
  • The villain from The Expedition into Inferno (written by one of the Strugatsky Brothers) figured out that the brains of sentient beings are significantly more powerful than any existing computer (despite the fact that he is an advanced alien and novel takes place in the future), so he decided to kidnap sentient beings, extract their brains and turn them into a living computers, in order to sell them. Brains retain their personalities and memories, but don't have any means to communicate with the outside world and thus can't tell customers that they are living beings, trapped inside the computer. On top of that, in case of any malfunction, customers are instructed to push a specific button which, unbeknownst to them, inflicts horrific pain on the trapped being.
  • In Mike Carey's Felix Castor series, the Satanist Church of the Americas, under the command of Anton Fanke, create "sacrifice farms" in order to have a regular supply of forsaken children for precisely this purpose.
  • In The Fifth Season, an orogene's ability to quell minor earthquakes is a completely instinctive response—they don't need to be able to think. The Sanzite Empire, ever resourceful, lobotomizes intractable or inconvenient orogenes and uses them as a seismic stability maintenance network.
  • In the Gemma Doyle trilogy, someone without power of her own can get a warped version of it by performing a sacrifice. This is what Sarah Rees-Toome/Circe and Mary Dowd/Virginia Doyle try unsuccessfully to do to Carolina, what Felicity almost does to a deer, and what Pippa does to Wendy's rabbit, Wendy (unsuccessfully), and Sahira/Mrs. McCleethy. This is either part of the reason for her corruption or a result of it.
  • In The Bitter Kingdom, the third book of the Girl of Fire and Thorns trilogy, Elisa discovers that the power source the Inviernos have been protecting is the previous Godstone bearer Lucero, kept on the edge of death in a decayed, twisted state. The Inviernos needed access to a place of power to stay alive, so they found a way to make them out of living Godstone bearers, originally using their own children before getting the idea to seize them from other countries.
  • The process of "artificing" in Glory in the Thunder involves taking a human soul and giving it an artificial body. For the less scrupulous practitioners, forsaken children are the easiest souls to come by...
  • The magic in The Godslayer Chronicles series by James Clemens, AKA James Rollins, runs more or less off this concept. Magic is derived from the blood and other bodily fluids (Humors) of the Hundred Gods, beings from another plan of existence that arrived in the world after theirs was shattered. The Gods are revered above kings in all things and freely give their Humors to the people, but all is not well. When the Gods arrived in the world they were wild and mad with their power. Only by spilling their own blood upon the ground were they able bring their power under control, but in so doing they became forever bound to the land in which their blood was spilled. Attempting to do so, or for a Rogue God to try entering the realm of one of the Hundred, results in a painful death.
    • The 2nd book in the series, Hinterlands, takes things further with the titular Godslayer. The Godslayer is a sword which fell to the world alongside the Gods, and is revealed to be the weapon which shattered the Gods' world. It is however an incomplete weapon, and only coating its blade in the blood of a complete God can its true power be wielded. No complete Gods exist after the shattering of their world though. That is until it is learned that Dart, a young girl with an invisible demon dog that follows her around, is in fact the offspring of 2 Rogue Gods and is complete. Only her blood can power the Godslayer.
  • In The Golgotha Series, Professor Zenith abducts children and converts them into living batteries for his inventions.
  • In The Gone-Away World by Nick Harkaway, the world has been polluted by "Stuff" which responds unpredictably to human thought. Normal life is only possible in the neighborhood of a pipeline that pumps out the counter-agent, called FOX. The main character eventually learns that FOX is created by exposing stuff to the minds of people who have certain very specific brain injuries, which almost inevitably lead to their rapid death. The brain injuries are specific enough that the corporation running the pipeline has to abduct people and inflict the injuries themselves in order to insure a sufficient supply of FOX.
  • The Harry Potter books have at least three, all done by Voldemort:
    • Using the blood of a unicorn can keep you alive, but you have to kill a unicorn to get it. This also curses you for life, for causing the death of a pure creature, although the specifics of this curse are never explained; Firenze simply refers to it as a "half-life, a cursed life". Voldemort (who's already no longer fully human nor fully alive, which may well have rendered the unicorn's curse redundant) only uses it as a stop-gap on the way to his true goal.
    • The spell that restores Voldemort to full power requires the bones of his dead father, the flesh of a servant (Wormtail's hand) and the blood of an enemy (Harry).
    • Using a Horcrux to store your soul requires murdering someone for this explicit purpose, and splits your own soul apart, due to it being twisted and warped by the cruelty of the act, leaving the other part in the Horcrux. Voldemort did this repeatedly.
  • The Hero Is Overpowered But Overly Cautious:
    • The holy sword, Igzasion, is supposed to be the only weapon capable of killing Geabrande's Demon Lord, but it can only be made through the sacrifice of Elulu, due to her being a dragonkin who absorbed energy from the human world.
    • Gaeabrande's Demon Lord developed Chain Destruction, a device that can kill the real souls of summoned heroes and gods. He harvested the negative emotions of countless priests that he tortured in order to make it.
  • In His Dark Materials we find out in the last book that the Spectres (intangible soul eating wraiths and the series' Eldritch Abominations) are actually made by using the subtle knife. Much to the horror of Will, who has used the knife countless times since he obtained it.
    • A more direct example from The Golden Compass was cut from the movie version: Lord Asriel was required to kill a child in order to power the Applied Phlebotinum (as a death by separating a child from their daemon unleashes energy on par with nuclear fission), and much to Lyra's horror, the boy happened to be one of her friends. She spends the better part of the The Amber Spyglass going To Hell and Back to try to make up for it.
      • That scene was still filmed and can be see on YouTube. It gives us the chilling line from Lord Asriel, "The life of one child does not matter. Not when freedom is at stake."
  • The Hunger Games: The grisly games are viewed by the Capitol as bringing the country together and helping everyone come together (and acknowledge who's in charge).
  • This is also one of the plots of The Illuminatus! Trilogy, where many of the aging higher members of the Illuminati intend to become transcendentally Illuminated, that is, immortal disembodied spirit-beings, by using a carefully-honed piece of rock music played by four of the five Illuminati Primi to reanimate a legion of SS stormtroopers sunk at the bottom of Lake Totenkopf in Bavaria by Hitler - also an Illuminatus - as a secret weapon. The old second world war era Nazi zombie superweapon will be used to kill the thousands of people attending a huge concert, so that the energy released by their slaughter can be absorbed by the illuminati and used to achieve immortality. They're stopped when Sex awakens the goddess Eris whose apple of Discord throws the zombie Nazis into disarray, and they are finished off by the porpoise allies of the Discordian leader. Yeah, it's an odd book.
    • Being the chessmasters that they are, the four Illuminati Primi also have two other backup plans to achieve the same thing, should their primary plan fail: one involves magically inspiring the creation of, then stealing and releasing a powerful biological weapon known as "Anthrax Leprosy Mu"; the other is intended to trigger a nuclear war between the US, USSR, and PRC by creating a three-way Bay of Pigs-style escalation of the Cold War in a small African nation.
  • In Interworld by Neil Gaiman and Michael Reaves, the ships used by HEX and the Binary to move between worlds is powered by the life essence of captured Walkers. At least in the case of HEX, they first boil away all unnecessary parts, such as your body - while keeping you magically alive through the entire process.
  • In Kane novel Bloodstone Shenan's priestesses use a sorcerous artifact to counteract the titular Bloodstone (a sentient and malevolent construct created by a long-forgotten race). It is powered by human sacrifice — virgins brought up in the Shenan Temple specifically for this purpose (even though human sacrifice has been banned by the rulers of the country).
  • Similarly, in the David Brin novel Kiln People the Big Bad's plan depends on killing millions of people in a nearby city with bio-weapons, then using the released death energy to achieve godhood.
  • In The Laundry Series by Charles Stross, many of the Laundry's weapons are made this way. Standard issue Hands of Glory are sourced from political prisoners in China (they tried using chimpanzees for a while, but there was less bang for the buck and animal rights activists got involved). The construction of the Violin that Kills Monsters required the torture and murder of twelve innocent people. (They investigate the feasibility of making more like it, but "Just owning the necessary supplies probably puts you in breach of the Human Tissues Act of 2004, not to mention a raft of other legislation.") The ritual for binding the Humanoid Abomination codenamed TEAPOT calls for the blood of babies.
    • It says a lot about the tone of the Laundry's setting that some positive examples of this exist. Ungern-Sternberg, for instance, constructed something called the "Wall of Pain" from the undead, crucified bodies of war prisoners in order to create a quantum-observer effect that would prevent the Sleeper in the Pyramid on the Dead Plateau from rising.
    • All of the above are actually the protagonists' tools. What the bad guys get their powers from...
    • Then there's what happens to the young, virginal (in one case 3 year old) riders of Unicorns...
    • The Atrocity Archives: The Holocaust was part of a Summoning Ritual to bring an Eldritch Abomination to the aid of the Nazis. In true Cosmic Horror Story style, the thing they were trying to bind to their will was just a teeny, weeny, eensy bit more powerful than they had suspected. They were stopped, but a modern day cultist opens a portal to a reality where they succeeded. Hilarity fails to ensue.
  • In the MR James story "Lost Hearts", Mr. Abney has cut out the hearts of two homeless children he took in, as a ritual to give himself eternal youth. He plans to do the same to his own orphaned nephew to complete the ritual, but the ghosts of the first two children get to him first.
  • Blood Lotus from Stormdancer, first book of The Lotus War. In order to keep fields from being rendered unusable after two or three years, a fertilizer made of mammalian blood must be used. Now that most forms of animal life have been driven extinct, prisoners of war are used.
  • In Devon Monk's Magic on the Storm, Shame finds the nursery the hardest part of the hospital — all that life that could be drawn upon. Allie is relieved that he assures her he wouldn't, because she would fight him over it, and she doesn't want to fight him.
  • In C.S. Friedman's Magister Trilogy, magic is harnessed by making use of one's life force. While normal witches wind up prematurely aging and dying while still relatively young because of this, the Magisters themselves figured out a workaround for it. Simply put, they link themselves to the life force of some complete stranger elsewhere in the world. The mere mortals have no idea that they're being used by the Magisters, believing that people who are linked in such a way are suffering from some horrible disease that even a Magister is not able to cure. Needless to say, fledgling Magisters have been hunted down and killed by their teachers in order to keep that little fact a secret.
  • The system of magic in Dave Duncan's A Man of His Word series (and the follow-on series A Handful of Men) is based on "magic words". The words are not used to cast spells, simply knowing them gives magical power, and each word increases that power — up to four. The hero, Rap, at the beginning of the series knows one magic word: his long and complex True Name, of which "Rap" is an extremely shortened form. Partway through the series, it is revealed that the magic words are the True Names of Fairies, who are tortured to force them to reveal them after which they die. Rap and his companions also accidentally discover that if someone who actually knows what his own heart's true desire is meets a fairy, the fairy is compelled to reveal its True Name to him — and die.
    • There's also a contingency plan in case a powerful group of magicians appears — use the above described technique to quickly create enough sorcerers to beat them.
  • In the Mithgar books, a mage literally has to give of their own soul to work their magic, causing them to age dramatically (though they can then go into stasis for extended periods to recover lost youth). Black Mages, on the other hand, find this process cumbersome and inconvenient, so they power their magic with other people's souls, generally wrenched from them through acts of tremendous mental and physical cruelty. As this process is implied to become somewhat addictive, there's a reason most Black Mages end up insane.
  • In the Myst novel The Book of D'ni, the beautiful realm of Terahnee is secretly sustained by the ceaseless labors of millions of mind-numbed slaves, kept out of sight in underground warrens. Atrus is horrified to learn his own innocent request that an entertainment device be run at high speed has killed dozens of men and women, worked to death to power an apparatus he'd assumed was engine-powered.
    • More precisely, it was another member of his expedition, Marrim, who made the request.
  • The Wamphyri in the Necroscope series use humans to build their warships, chthuluesque warbeasts, homes, plumbing, etc.
  • This is given chillingly realistic form (if you ignore the economics of it) in Never Let Me Go, where the characters are clones kept to provided transplant organs, and are so conditioned that they don't even think to fight the system.
  • In the Nightfall novels, the Hitman with a Heart protagonist and other characters in the universe are some form of metahuman (like the mutants of the X-Men). Sorcerers in this world gain their powers by murdering these mutants and stealing their innate power, and the magic involved results in the slain being trapped in torture for all eternity. Thus, sorcerers are by nature evil in this universe, and the villain of the first novel is an Evil Chancellor who has become very powerful by killing a number of metahumans.
  • In the Nightside, Forsaken Children are fairly standard-issue sources of power for villains. In Nightingale's Lament, for example, John Taylor discovers that the Nightside's electrical grid is running off energies from a murdered man's spirit, who'd had solar powers in life. As he'd also been a close friend of John's, Taylor sets the spirit free, blacking out most of the Nightside. Passing references to ambulances powered by human pain are used simply to set the mood of the neighborhood.
    • In the opening sequence of Just Another Judgement Day, Dr. Frankenstein uses counterparts from another dimension to provide the local party people with eternal youth through an arrangement similar to Dorian Gray's.
  • In Chris Bohjalian's The Night Strangers, the tincture that adds decades to your life requires blood from a "traumatized" twin child. It's not supposed to be Human Sacrifice, but the ritual works out that way both times the users try it.
  • The Utopia in Ursula K. Le Guin's short story "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" is literally powered by a forsaken child. There's a child in a closet below the city who is starved, cut off from all social interaction, fed gruel, and forced to live in their own filth for the entire duration of their life, and without them, it's not stated how, but the entire utopian civilization above would collapse. The implication is that it's literally impossible to contribute in that society without literally and consciously forsaking this child, because not only do they power the city, it's a rite of passage to show them to children so that they learn how exactly their society runs.
  • In the Otherland series, the network is quite literally powered by a forsaken child. And not the whole thing either. Just his brain and its incredibly strong Psychic Powers.
  • In the Paradox Trilogy, humanity was facing potential annihilation from Eldritch Abominations called phantoms. An alien race, the lelgis, taught humans how to create weapons effective against the phantoms — but only at a terrible cost. Plasmex-sensitive children are kidnapped from their homes and are transformed into "daughters", powerful psychics capable of killing phantoms. Daughters only survive a few years before going insane and dying, and protecting all of humanity's many colony worlds thus requires a steady stream of human sacrifices.
  • Percy Jackson and the Olympians: Implied with the creation of Luke's sword, Backbiter, half Celestial bronze (harms beings with magical capability, cannot harm mortals) and half normal steel (harms humans, cannot harm immortals or mythical creatures) so he can slice up humans, gods, and everyone in-between. Such a forging was considered impossible until he did something to make it possible. Percy is repulsed just by being around it, saying the aura is cold and wrong. And we never find out exactly how Luke accomplished it.
    • A hint is given in the fourth book, when Backbiter is shown being reforged by the telekhines into Kronos' scythe, and they state that it needs "another cooling in blood to fuse the metals".
  • Employees of The Pilo Family Circus are paid in bags of mysterious powder that, when melted down and drunk, can grant wishes. It's later revealed that every grain of this powder was once part of a human soul, extracted from the Circus' audience.
  • L. Jagi Lamplighter's Rachel Griffin: In The Raven, the Elf, and Rachel, Human Sacrifice is required to power a spell. But not just any sacrifice will do. One family tried to offer up The Unfavorite, but was told she would not work because they didn't love her enough. Since the spell has been cast in the Back Story, elsewhere, it means there are people willing to sacrifice those they love to power it.
  • John Varley’s Red Thunder trilogy: Jubal, the Shrinking Violet genius Manchild, is the only one who can clap his hands and create otherwise free energy. He gets a Gilded Cage that is bigger than most, the whole Falklands.
  • The immortality ritual from the Repairman Jack novel The Haunted Air requires annual child sacrifice to keep up.
  • In the Revelation Space Series, the Lighthuggers that travel between solar systems use Conjoiner Drives, a form of Lost Technology that allows continuous 9.8m/s^2 acceleration with no fuel required, making interstellar travel possible. The drives are powered by a wormhole leading to a star, which is sustained by the brain of a Conjoiner volunteer; the exercise is something like a challenging game. After an amount of time, the Conjoiner brain can be replaced by another volunteer and the Conjoiner re-integrated into their society, but its never seen and several lighthuggers have been in continuous operation for hundreds of years, - or in the Distant Finale Galactic North, thousands - even taking into account Time Dilation.
  • The Rivers of London series has demon traps, massively powerful magical explosive devices that unleash psychic and mystical trauma that can range from a land mine to a tankbuster. They're made by torturing a living being to death in a very exacting manner. The Faceless Man tends to use dogs, but other practitioners — such as the Nazis — used humans. Often.
  • In David Farland's The Runelords series, anyone can acquire magical upgrades to their senses, strength, intelligence, speed and so forth with magical "endowments." The catch? Endowments don't create ability, they just transfer it from one person to another. So you can have the strength of two men, but in order to provide it there's got to be another man lying in a bed somewhere who's too weak to even raise his own arm because all his strength is being funneled to you. To receive an endowment of wit (intelligence) is to literally convert someone else's brain into an extension of yours. Now consider that nobles often have dozens of endowments...
  • Schooled in Magic: Mountaintop's wards turn out to be powered by the expelled students, who are also made into the zombie-like Proctors when they've been drained of all magic.
  • In the end of the second series of the Second Apocalypse sequence, it turns out that all that was needed to awaken the dreaded No-God and bring about the titular Second Apocalypse was the soul — technically the DNA — of a member of the Anasûrimbor line. When Anasûrimbor Kellhus is unwilling to cooperate, his enemies use his eight-year-old son Kelmomas, who hates Kellhus for being too strict, to defeat him, then promptly turn around and stuff Kelmomas into the No-God's sarcophagus to allow him to rise again.
  • In the Secret Histories series by Simon R. Green, specifically in The Man With the Golden Torc, Edwin Drood uncovers his family's greatest secret: each Drood's magical armor was created through the sacrifice of his or her twin sibling as a baby.
  • Actively defied in-universe in the The Ship Who... series, which features starships that are run by deformed children encased in electronic "shells" since infancy: Only children born with untreatable disabilities whose quality of life would otherwise be very low are chosen for the process, they receive a pretty good salary and if they earn enough money they have the option of buying out their assigned ship and becoming freelance. (Buy-outs are expensive but attainable, especially given how long shellpeople live.) Most of the "shellpersons" we meet are happy enough with this arrangement; it may not be ideal in some ways, but there are worse alternatives.
  • Lightbringer, Azor Ahai's sword from A Song of Ice and Fire, which the smith tempered by plunging it into the heart of his beloved, killing her horribly.
    • Most major magic in the Ice and Fire universe seems to have some element of this: a repeated statement is that "only death can pay for life" when performing blood magic. That includes draining the life force from unborn children, burning people of "a king's blood" alive, and less deadly examples, such as taking the faces off dead people in order to magically assume their identities.
  • In The Spirit Thief, it eventually turns out that the Relay system serving as the radio equivalent is powered by a water spirit who's trapped in glass since the moment it's created, meaning it doesn't know that it's possible for it to split into more spirits, producing the effect akin to quantum entanglement. When he discovers it, Banage explicitly compares it to locking a child in a closet for its entire life.
  • Star Wars Legends: The Truce at Bakura involves a race of aliens who steal sentient minds to operate their weapons. The entechment souls both power and controll the systems they arehooked up to, leading to unbearable misery as your soul is sucked out to power the guns you are forced to fire. And since souls are a finite power source, the Ssi-ruuk are constantly looking for more people to subject to the same process.
  • In Steel, by Carrie Vaughn, the villain crafted a sword by quenching it in the blood of his own daughter.
  • In The Sword of Truth books, in order to get into the world of the dead and back alive, you had to (minus the incantations): 1) brainwash a young boy into complete loyalty. 2) Kill him by making him drink molten lead. 3) Cook, mash and eat his brain, heart and testicles. 4) use the boy's spirit to travel there and back again - and woe if the boy's spirit doesn't remain loyal all the way through...
  • The heroine in Lynn Flewelling's Tamír Triad is hidden from a King Herod-style massacre of the innocents by a Gender Bender spell powered by sacrificing her twin brother at birth, an act of necromancy so horrific it has consequences that last for years and eventually causes all of the witting participants to meet untimely and grisly deaths.
  • The science fiction novella "Thor Meets Captain America", by David Brin, is not about Superheroes. It proposes that the Nazi death camps were an attempt to practice Necromancy on an industrial scale, and it is set in an alternate world where it worked; the unprecedented amount of deliberately imposed death and suffering has brought the Norse gods to reality, on the Nazi side. The invasion of Normandy was completely destroyed and a stalemate ensued. Fortunately for the Allies, the invocation was so authentic that Loki the Ever Contrary defected. The most depressing part is that this still makes more sense than the real version.
  • Tamora Pierce's Tortall Universe: The Protector of the Small series has a literal example. The killing devices are powered by the souls of murdered children. The devices are killed by opening the head, which is when a small, white, ghostly form comes out and blows away, sometimes asking for its mother or crying. Sometimes the killing device itself will ask "Mama?"
    • It's said that the mage who makes the devices doesn't need to use the souls of children. He just likes to.
  • In the Towers Trilogy, the titular floating Mage Towers rely on enslaved Radiants as power generators. They are kept alive as long as possible, and even after death their ghosts are imprisoned to continue providing power.
  • Undefeated Bahamut Chronicle:
    • Elixir is a drug that gives people special abilities and is produced from the life energy of living beings. It can technically be taken from nonhuman animals, but Elixir has more effect the closer the life energy source is to the user. Consequently, the Elixir seen in the series is produced from humans.
    • Fernyiges is an autonomous Drag-Ride that runs on the energy of humans, eventually killing them. It normally keeps its power sources inside its body but can temporarily move them to its surface as human shields.
  • In Venus on the Half-Shell by Kilgore Trout (Philip José Farmer, NOT Kurt Vonnegut), the interstellar drive works by painfully draining the Life Energy from beings in another universe. The faster you went, the louder the wailing you heard coming from the engines. At the end of the novel, the last being dies, ending interstellar travel permanently.
  • In the Vorkosigan Saga by Lois McMaster Bujold, there is House Bharaputra, a clan/business on the disreputable world of Jackson's Whole. They specialise in cloning and genetic engineering, and most notably provide a rejuvenation program for the very rich: clone them, brainwash the clones so they won't fight it, then transplant the brain of the original into the clone.
  • Myrddraal swords in the Wheel of Time gain their exceptionally lethal properties from an exceptionally unpleasant process. After being quenched in a black river that would be lethal even to the rock golems that make them, they're finished off with a human soul. They are implied to require regular "topping up".
  • Animating the dead in The Witch Watch requires taking the life force of a human. Magical healing requires it as well.
  • Vernor Vinge's Zones of Thought: In A Deepness in the Sky, the Emergents' society is driven by the Focused; people who have had their brains reconfigured to make them obsessed with a certain subject, making them super-competent at that but unable to function in anything else, putting them in a sort of intellectual slavery. One of the main characters envisions using this to create the kind of orderly interstellar empire that, due to a lack of Faster-Than-Light Travel, has always fallen in the past, but in the end, realizes the human cost is too much.
  • Tomb Tapper by James Blish. A rocket crashes onto the United States, and a scientist who has developed the technology to receive mental images from people buried in tombs is brought in to see if he can learn something about the pilot. At first he thinks it's an alien, but then realises those Dirty Communists have used an eight-year old girl to pilot the rocket on a Suicide Attack. The scientist then goes and smashes up his equipment so he'll never be asked to do this again.


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