Due to the graphic nature of this chapter, reader discretion is advised. Post behind the jump.
I once knew a dwarf a long time ago who had a sword stuck straight through him. This isn’t terribly unusual in and of itself. Countless dwarves have died with swords stuck through their middle. The difference was that this dwarf lived. Not just lived as in survived, but actually carried on with the business of living with a sword sticking out either side of him. It was one of those flukes that can only happen on a battlefield. As he told the story, it was during the Second War and he and his unit were fighting one of the several groups of rebels that had popped up in the Arathi Highlands. He’d just taken what would have been the fatal wound, killed his attacker and was on the edge of death when a healer’s spell hit him, repairing the damage with the sword still in his middle. Thus restored, he went on to finish the battle. Afterward, the healers wouldn’t leave him alone. What had happened should have been impossible; he should have been dead. Yet, he lived. After much examination, it was determined that removing the sword would probably kill him and since it had healed solidly enough that it didn’t move around when he did he was content to leave it be. He said it was a little uncomfortable and he had to get used to sleeping on his side, but for the most part it didn’t bother him. He also never had to buy another drink for the rest of his life.
I mention this story because it highlights one of the great truths of our modern era: you can survive just about anything with the right application of magic.
I say this because it had occurred to me while I lay curled in a fetal ball, whimpering quietly to myself. The day’s session was finally over and, as usual, there wasn’t a mark on me. As it turned out, Arkenhill was good at something after all. He was the very rarely seen fourth type of artisan, one who uses the very best tools available because his work requires it. I can’t even begin to describe the things he did to me. I was usually too busy screaming or crying or locked in horrified silence, the pain exceeding even my ability to vocalize it, to notice the particular intricacies of what he was actually doing.
Part of me almost admired him because he was so good. He was as dedicated to his craft as I was to swordsmanship. The rest of me, of course, recoiled from this idea in utter revulsion, largely because that elevated him into the ranks of humanity. There was nothing human left in him, if there ever was to begin with.
He went about his work with meticulous precision, his face betraying nothing more than dedicated concentration. I could tell he hated me. I could see it in the savage triumph in his eyes every time he wrenched another scream from my flesh. He never let his hatred override his calm, meticulous work, though. Nothing I could say ever shook him, not that I was ever able to get much out before the screaming started. By the time he paused to take a meal, calmly supping while I quietly bled on whatever device I had been attached to that day, I was usually too hoarse to manage anything more than a whisper, even if I had enough of a mind to come up with a barb or quip. This was a completely different person than the mildly ineffectual, incompetent buffoon of a noble I’d slapped around in his own manor not too long ago.
Every time I started to look like I was fading, the healer would come in. She was extremely skilled and immensely powerful and easily able to bring me back from the brink of death with what appeared to be little effort. Nether, I’m pretty sure she’d brought me back from the dead once or twice. Every day, while Arkenhill fastidiously cleaned and polished his tools, the healer would undo the damage of the day, restoring everything back to whole. More than once, she regrew my teeth back into my head after Arkenhill had smashed them with a hammer. The hammer had hurt but not nearly as much as having my teeth grow back did. I’m pretty sure that was the point.
I wasn’t entirely sure how much time, how many days had gone by in that damp little cellar. Time gets skewed when you don’t have a point of reference. My only point of reference was the coming and going of Arkenhill and I had the suspicion he wasn’t working according to any clock I’d ever heard of, but again it was hard to tell.
At first, I thought he might be working toward interrogating me, trying to learn what I, and hence SI:7, knew about the Twilight’s Hammer’s plans for Stormwind. That helped a lot early on, gave me something to focus on. Resisting. Giving nothing up. It didn’t matter that I knew fuck all. I wasn’t going to tell him that. Apparently, he figured this was the case and he knew just where to apply pressure to cause the worst wound. After the third or fourth session, while the healer was putting me back together, he said without looking up from cleaning his tools, “You’re probably wondering just why you’re here by now. No doubt, you’ve assumed that I want something from you. Information, a confession, whatever.”
I didn’t have enough in me to do much more than shift my one whole eye in his direction. The other was sealed tight in swelling the healer hadn’t addressed yet.
“Allow me to dispel that notion for you,” he continued, finally looking up from his polishing cloth, a look of mild distaste crossing his face as he laid eyes on my ruined body, “You are here for nothing other than my pleasure. Oh, I’m sure it was a great comfort for you to think that your being here served some sort of greater purpose. That you were important enough for the Hammer to take enough of an interest in to want to know what you know.
“Sadly, for you, this is not the case. You have been a pestering fly, to be sure, but ultimately, what you do or don’t know is utterly immaterial to our goals. Nothing can stop our plans at this point. Not you, not all of SI:7. The entire Stormwind Army couldn’t stop us at this point,” he signed theatrically and put on a patient, indulgent smile, “No, Mr. Drake, I’m afraid the only reason you’re here is for my pleasure. And I mean to keep you here for a long, long time.”
Before I could respond, the healer ran her none-too-gentle hands over my broken ribs, robbing me of breath and forcing a strangled scream at the same time. She was powerful and skilled, able to perfectly repair the smallest damage with virtually no effort at all but she wielded that skill and power with all the delicacy of a sledgehammer. The healing magic would hit me as if I’d slammed into a wall of ice from the back of a horse at full gallop. It repaired the damage but did very little for the pain. I suppose that was probably the point.
I tried keeping count of the sessions, so I would have some kind of way of marking time, at least, but lost count after a dozen or so. The constant yo-yoing extremes made it hard to focus on anything other than the pain and the cessation of pain. I knew days were passing, I just had no idea how many. I tried to keep track of the timed Greklar came with his funnel and bucket of runny porridge. Arkenhill intended to keep me around for a long time and wasn’t going to give me the opportunity to simply starve or dehydrate myself to death. I resisted at first, but Greklar proved very skilled at getting my mouth open and forcing the narrow end of the funnel into the back of my throat. There was no swallowing, he just poured the runny porridge right down, directly into my stomach. A couple times, I thought I might have seen a hint of sympathy in his dead yellow eyes, but it must have been a trick of the light. Tracking feeding times did no good, either, as they were more or less random. Sometimes I’d get fed once, others I would still be partially full from the last feeding when Greklar came with the next.
I have no idea how long it had been since I’d been brought down here. I couldn’t even begin to guess. I was starting to doubt if I’d ever had a life before this. Before this endless cycle of soul-breaking agony and mind-numbing release. There was a moment, though, a moment that will forever stand sharp and crystal clear in my mind. I could feel myself balancing on a knife’s edge. To one side, an eternity of pain and not-pain, slowly breaking me down until my entire world consisted of those two states. To the other side, sweet, sweet oblivion and never feeling anything ever again. It would be so easy to give up. To just slip over the side and vanish into the darkness, never to be seen again. As I felt another hammer blow pulp another finger, the pain at this moment almost secondary to the decision resolving itself before me. I could feel myself letting go, starting to slip off the edge and into warm nothingness.
A patient, understanding smile caught me just before I slipped off the edge forever.
Saya sat in the grass, smiling perfectly as she braided a wildflower crown. The smell of warm salt air was on the breeze, carried up the bluff overlooking Southshore. Summer wasn’t far off now. I sat myself down in the tall grass next to Saya and sighed in contentment.
Plucking a long blade of grass, I chewed the end for a bit before leaning back on my elbows and staring up at the sky, a few fat, lazy clouds languidly making their way to where ever it was that clouds went.
“I’m not really here, am I?” I said with the unique clarity of vision one only has in dreams.
Saya continued smiling, saying nothing and weaving the stems of the wildflowers into a shape that was familiar, but couldn’t possibly be what it looked like.
“I don’t see why I can’t stay here forever, or at least the next little while,” I said to the sky, laying back with my hands behind my head, “I mean, you’re here and I’m here and what else really matters?”
Saya swung her leg over my hips, straddling me with that wicked grin she would get. She lay the woven stems of the wildflowers on my chest and leaned down to kiss me. She never reached my lips. The dream started to fade in the time it took her lean down, but I heard her voice as clearly as I had ever heard anything before in my entire life, “There’s bloody work to be done.”
My eyes fluttered open. Just that seemed to take all the energy I had. I didn’t understand what I was seeing at first. Arkenhill stood a short way off, the small thorium hammer loose in his hand. Another cultist stood nearby looking nervous and for all the world like he had been the poor bastard to draw the short straw and deliver the bad news. Whatever it was, it made Arkenhill bark something at Greklar and sweep out of the cellar, the orc close on his heels.
For the first time in what felt like ages, my mind felt clear. That was less of a blessing that it might have otherwise been, as I could feel every little ache and pain that Arkenhill had inflicted so far today. I wasn’t sure if my vision had been real or the wishful fantasy of a dying mind. At the moment, it didn’t much matter. Saya had just given me permission to do what I do best. I just had to figure out how to get out of this chair.
For today’s session, Arkenhill had put me in a large, sturdy chair with thick leather straps on the arms, legs and across the chest. It was his preferred platform for when he wanted to work on my hands. Knowing my reputation as a swordsman and a thief, he knew how important my hands were to me. Breaking them wasn’t enough. He would smash them until they were no longer recognizable as hands.
The ruin of my left hand seemed to stare back at me from the bloodied anvil it rested on. My left arm was completely free, but with the useless lump of flesh and crushed bone at the end of it, I wasn’t going to accomplish anything with it. The chest strap prevented me from leaning down far enough to get at the strap on my right arm, which really did nothing for my mood. I wasn’t in much kind of shape for any kind of real escape attempt, anyway, despite this being my best chance. Just the effort of trying to get at that strap on my right arm took all the energy I had and sent all new shocks of pain flaring all up and down by body and set me to gasping and sucking wind.
I sagged in the chair. I didn’t have much other choice. Just holding my head upright was more than I could manage at the moment. The spirit was willing but the flesh was spongy and bruised. Concentrating on my ever-expanding collection of aches and pains, I didn’t become aware of the other presence in the room until it was almost upon me. I dragged my head up and locked stares with a pair of luminous green eyes I never would have expected to see again in a million years.
06 August 2012
Due to the graphic nature of this chapter, reader discretion is advised. Post behind the jump.