by Eric Drewes
He screamed in pain as the lash ripped into his skin. Blood leaked from the wound, hindered by the near cauterization caused by the wicked heat of the leather. He lay in a heap, his body mutilated, his bones twisted from being broken, healed, then viciously broken again. He was hardly discernable from a mangled carcass, just meat and hair and blood on the cold stone floor.
His torturer towered over him. Its terrible form was twisted in his vision into a demonic and fearful creature from the searing pain throughout his body. It spoke to him, hissing through its sharpened teeth.
“Who are you?” it growled, spittle forming at the corners of its grinning maw.
The man cringed, his mind grasping for an answer. He no longer resisted by conscious effort. No, he surrendered his will to the torture long ago; he only refused to answer now because he couldn’t remember. He no longer knew who he was. Would it matter if he did?
He winced in anticipation of another lash but nothing came; instead, the creature spit a glob of filth on to the floor and stomped away.
The chamber grew quiet, his shallow breathing the only noise. He tried to think through the blistering pain. Why was he there? For how long? Forever? Who was he? What was he? No answers came, just the ebbing and flowing of searing heat moving like a fiery tide, the easing of pain serving only to increase the horror and agony of its return. He cowered there in the suffocating darkness. Never quite sleeping, he suffered constant fever dreams. In them, he was perpetually wrestling a horde of unknown foes, all matching or beating him in strength but never quite able to pin him.
It went on like this for hours until finally his torturer returned. In its hands was neither a whip nor a hammer, but instead a white-hot iron poker glowing fiercely in the darkness. No words were spoken this time as it strode forward and jabbed the rod into the captive’s arm. He did not scream, but just let out a low moan. The torturer kicked him onto his back then shoved the brand into his left eye, searing away the skin while sizzling flesh and tears and vitreous fluid into steam and ash.
Inside him, something snapped. He howled like an animal, this time not with pain but with rage. The torture had finally killed the man inside, leaving just a wild beast. Where his fractured bones, atrophied muscles and festering body failed him, the spirit of righteous indignation and revenge gave him strength. In pure rage, he somehow stood on broken mutilated legs and turned upon his demonic torturer. Smacking the poker from its hands, he leaped upon it and wrapped his hands around its neck. He squeezed mightily, causing foam to bubble up from its mouth as it struggled for air. Blood filled its eyes as it fought to loosen his grip. The creature's mouth opened and closed wordlessly, trying to speak. Finally, it managed to gasp something.
“Master…” it gurgled.
He heard the words but could no longer understand them; the torturer struggled against his supernatural strength to no avail.
“Master,” it moaned desperately, “please…”
This time, the words began to take form and meaning; they again had relevance as his mind returned to him with the rage fading. He loosened his grip on its throat. His victim spat blood unto the ground and smiled a deep and wicked smile.
“For long years we have awaited your return, Master! For long centuries we have thirsted for your power, command, and rage! For an eternity we have been unfulfilled, unsatisfied because the dominance of your will went unfelt. We were lost! But now, finally, you have returned to us! Finally, your furious and righteous presence has found its way home! Master, do you now remember who you are?”
The man grinned the grin of the ancient and eternal, his remaining eye glimmering with the energy of the infinite. He laughed the mad howling laughter of the true gods.
“Of course I do,” he said, as the universe shook with terror.