The Torturers Guild
I’m wakened by something I’ve never felt before. It’s like someone has driven a pick through my big toe. For a few seconds, I’m nothing but a bright spot of pain. Then I blink into being. Stone walls, slick with damp. The rank smells of mould and piss. A metal chair pressing into the bones of my bum. A horizontal slit of a window: late afternoon sun glares into my eyes. My head droops to my chin. The big toe of my right foot is a swollen, purplish globe. The toenail looks like it’s about to pop off. There is a loud clang. A shadow blocks out the glare from the window. I lift my head and wait for my eyes to adjust. Before me is a sight to inspire terror in even the bravest soul: a towering figure, clad in armour, topped with a helmet bearing a morbid, metal grin. A woman’s voice creaks from the depths of the helmet. “I hunted you for a long time, Kadot.” I move my lips. Something like a whimper comes out. “You fled from your home. I chased you through the cities of Helna. I tracked you across the wild plains of K’rntha. For days on end, I thought only of you.” The Torturer steps forward, placing the steel-capped toe of her boot on my swollen toe. “Your sin was greed, Kadot. At my hands, you will endure the eight-hundred-day ritual.” Two rows of needle-sharp teeth float before my face. A gloved hand, smelling of fuel, cups my chin. Soft as a wing. She leans her full weight into my foot. Red dots fill my vision as my toes crush to pulp. “I’m not hurting you, am I?” “No,” I gasp, and then pass out.
I am a prisoner on Dolor, the wretched planet of the Torturers Guild, where foul fumes rise ceaselessly from toxic lakes. My cell is one of millions within Dark Horn, a gargantuan prison built inside a mountain range. Over centuries, the wings of Dark Horn have pushed through the earth like worms, spreading from one mountain to the next, and deeper into the ground. My Torturer tells me that from Dark Horn, you can travel by pneuma-chute to any prison on Dolor. She tells me that the planet itself can be regarded as one enormous prison complex, filled with the scum of every civilisation. Millions of souls, trapped on Dolor, to be renewed by the knights of her guild. There is a trembling in her voice as she says this. When the sun is not in the west, I can press my eyes to the horizontal window. The sky is heavy with blood-coloured clouds that trap the toxic fumes rising from the planet’s surface. Opposite me, I see a cliff, pockmarked with window-slits. I imagine other prisoners, pressing their faces to their windows, gazing back at me. No moment passes without pain. I now have only two toes left, and no fingernails. I am trying very hard to convince myself that my fingers are unnecessary.
Day two hundred and sixty-four. I am being transferred. Dark Horn is over capacity, so I’ve been selected for reassignment to a smaller facility. My Torturer carries me to the pneuma-chute, as one would carry a lamb. The bones in my feet have been broken so many times that they cannot bear any weight. I let my head loll back in her metal-clad arms, counting the fluorescent lights on the ceiling that flicker on and off as we pass beneath. I’m strapped into the pneuma-pod. My Torturer climbs in with me. “You’re not escaping me that easily.” I start to weep.
Day six hundred and seventy
I no longer have a body. My Torturer arrives every morning, and applies various tools to my torso and limbs, but I no longer feel the pain. Sometimes, she places drops of liquid on my lips. I think they are poisons, for they make my thoughts spin, and sometimes beautiful images of Helna flash in front of my eyes, and sometimes I vomit. My Torturer peers at me closely, and types things on her tablet. I hope I please her.
Day seven hundred and thirty-nine
She is unhappy. I can tell because she is not being careful with removing my last finger. She is usually meticulous, patient, drawn-out. But today she tears it off. She hurls it into the corner of the cell. Then she removes her helmet for the first time. Black hair, brown eyes. A strange, cold fury. After she is done with me, I hear someone berating her outside my cell. Then there is a loud thump, the sound of a body hitting stone.
Day eight hundred
Torturer asks me, do you want to leave? I shake my head. No, I want to stay with you. Torturer asks me, are you still greedy? I say no, you have saved me.
Author: Grace Chan