The agonized entity known only as Torturer finished laying his tools out in preparation for his next guest. He had emptied his chests and racks, examining the blades, spikes, and needle brands to ensure they were sharp when necessary, dull when desired, and always slick with the filth and tears of previous suffering. Some of his victims survived long enough to become infected by the dirty instruments, but none of them lived long enough to die from it.
He wanted all of the tools handy, for his next guest was important indeed. Advance sentries had reported sightings of Jeraziah himself, the ridiculous, self-important King of the Legion. Lord General Maliken had dispatched Tressa the succubus to seduce his only son, lure him deeper into Hellbourne territory and finally to this cave, where his screams would echo as he spilled every truth and secret within his head and heart.
Torturer fondled a heavy set of pliers with sawtooth jaws, imagining how the King’s agony would be embedded in the cold stone, haunting the cave the until the end of days. The ceiling was black with soot from pools of oil burning in crevices along the jagged walls, for this was the Torturer’s favorite workshop outside his Hell’s Keep dungeon. The floor was tacky with blood and viscera which never seemed to dry, instead clotting with the fur and singed hair sometimes pulled out by his guests’ own hands.
He set the pliers down and listened—someone approached. Tressa had taken longer than usual to bring this one in, but with the haughty Jeraziah, he who prided himself on abstinence from all things enjoyable, this was to be expected.
Torturer faced the cave entrance and waited. His first wave of pleasure always came when his guests realized who they would spend the rest of their short lives with. The footsteps drew near, and his guest finally moved into the firelight.
Torturer’s anticipation soured into confusion. “You?”
“Me,” the Blind Prophet said.
“Oh, you’ll do until Jeraziah arrives.” Torturer floated toward him, smiling. “Even the most pious cannot resist the succubus, eh?”
Oddly, Tressa had not taken his weapons or stripped him of his clothing, as she typically did with her victims. The Blind Prophet stepped fully into the cave. The succubus’ compulsion was strong, for he showed no sign of fear or hesitation.
Torturer said, “If only your followers, your sheep, could see you now. Just another man, slave to his base desires.” He lifted an iron wedge meant for splitting firewood that worked even better for spreading ribs until they cracked. “Though if you think your shame is torment enough, you are mistaken.”
“Listening to you prattle on is ample misery,” the Blind Prophet said.
Torturer stopped, uncertainty clouding his ethereal face.
The Blind Prophet drove his bladed staff into the stone floor and pulled a thick, ancient book from his satchel. “I am here to collect you, not entertain you.”
“The…the succubus does not hold you?”
“She holds the light of Sol within her. And because of this, she need hold nothing else.”
Torturer could not remember what fear felt like. What he did know: this Blind Prophet was not here to die in anguish.
He was a threat.
Torturer had no guards or assistants in his cave. His guests were always gravely injured, too weak to fight back, or controlled by daemon magic when they arrived. For his pleasure, he preferred the magic removed once they were bound by his chains—his chains!
Torturer summoned the harrowing links with needle-sharp tips from thin air and drove them toward the Blind Prophet, who shot his arms forward as if he could catch the incoming assault. The cave was bathed in heat and light as blazing phoenixes flew from his palms. They swooped and dove, cutting the chains into glowing fragments that fell to the cave floor and sizzled in the bloody mire. The divine birds circled the Blind Prophet, searching for more threats, before fading into pale sparks.
“On your deathbed,” the Blind Prophet said, “you made a pact with the daemons. Eternal life, you begged. And they gave it, as I can see. An endless life of agony and hate. Tell me: would you accept those terms again?”
Torturer lifted a heavier chain from a hook on the wall. This one would not be sliced by mere bird wings—it had been forged beneath the Scar and tempered with Valkyrie blood.
“Do not bother begging with terms of surrender, priest. I take no prisoners.”
The Blind Prophet’s eyes flared. “I offer you nothing, wraith! I follow the path of Sol, who has brought me here. He has use of you. If he did not, I would leave you a mere heap among your severed chains and be free of this foul pit. Now answer me true. Would you accept the daemon terms again, if they were offered?”
Torturer hesitated. Lord General Maliken had many spies who moved in endless forms. If this were one of them, sent to test his loyalty…but Torturer could sense pain, and this Blind Prophet held more pain within him than any living being he had ever encountered.
No daemon would carry such a burden. It intrigued Torturer, for pain was his trade.
The Blind Prophet asked again, “Would you?”
“No,” Torturer whispered.
The Blind Prophet nodded. “Then Sol was right to send me. The daemons left you with no physical body. They corrupted you into the embodiment of pain, but you feel nothing. You are free of hunger, fear, and cold. Yet when Anubis Pharaoh offered you a corporeal form in his attempt to summon Ra, you embraced the chance. Tell me why.”
“I wanted to feel again,” Torturer said. “Something. Anything.”
“Pain is pure,” Torturer said. “It is not clouded by emotion. I envied my victims, for they experienced something I never could. I wanted to feel the pain.”
Torturer shuddered. “Yes. It was…exquisite.”
The Blind Prophet said, “And the pain within me. You can sense it?”
“Please. Tell me how you hold so much. How you carry it, yet it does not crush you beneath its weight.”
“Unconditional love,” the Blind Prophet said. “Kindness and compassion toward all things, no matter how they treat you. No matter how they respond, if they do at all.”
Torturer dropped the heavy chain. “Kindness?”
“Open your heart to the suffering of all things. Allow it to break, again and again, at their helplessness. Seek them out and lend them succor. Then find those who tread upon them, and offer them your full heart as well. I promise you, this will bring you all the pain you could want, and more.”
“All I want?” Torturer said.
“Even more important, child of Sol, is what else it will bring you.”
Torturer gasped. “Tell me, please.”
“A desire to end the pain.”
“Yes. For everyone, without prejudice or envy.”
“But…if the pain is gone, I won’t feel it anymore.”
The Blind Prophet offered a warm smile. “Child, there are feelings other than pain. This, I promise. Do you wish to experience them?”
“I do,” Torturer said.
The Blind Prophet bowed his head, then read aloud from his book. The flames along the cave walls grew and burned with tongues of yellow and purple.
Torturer’s vaporous body began to harden and become flesh. He screamed and his hands clutched at his armor. “Stop! You’re tearing me to pieces!”
“You are being remade,” the Blind Prophet said. “This is what it feels like to care.”
“I cannot take it!”
The Blind Prophet did not look up from the Grimoire of Power. “If that is true, then you will not. You will die.”
Torturer collapsed to his hands and knees. Knees now made of skin and bone, blood and…nerves. He could feel! Seedlings rose from the crusted gore that coated the bottom of the cave and blossomed into wildflowers, filling the dank cavern with the aroma of life.
The Blind Prophet continued to recite the words of Sol as Torturer’s tainted armor shattered and was replaced by a golden sunburst, iron flower petals, and vines reaching toward the heavens.
When the Blind Prophet was finished he fell to one knee, the Grimoire clapping shut to contain its power. When he lifted his head, the sight before him jolted him to his feet.
“Thank you,” Kindness said. A white-gloved hand flew to her mouth in shock. “Why do I sound like a woman?”
“Because you are one,” the Blind Prophet said. He threw his head back and laughed.
Kindness considered this. She was not upset or judgemental. “Interesting. I wonder why Sol would do this.”
“My child, it was you who chose this form. For reasons known only to you and glorious Sol, this is how you shall redeem yourself.”
Kindness took his hand and pulled him toward the mouth of the cave, careful not to step on any of the fresh young flowers.
“Come then,” she said. “There is much to do.”