Here’s the thing about excruciating pain. It hurts. More than you think it’s going to. You can barely believe it. A whirling, hot vortex, sucking every bit of your attention down towards it, into it, until you and the space where your fingernail should be are one and the same.
But then, as the pain billows out like tarsmoke, filling the corners of your body, you begin to lose track of what hurts and what doesn’t. You forget what it even feels like not to hurt. And just like the kobold drums, the pain becomes background noise, just another blank surface for new sensations to be applied.
Sensations like screaming. Your screaming. Mahani’s screaming. An amphitheatre of kobolds screaming. The entire colony of panic-bats currently pouring in from the Elseworld through a crackling portal all screaming in a hallucinogenic chorus. Sensations like the cool, grassy air drifting seductively in through a welcoming and easily-climbable chimney. Sensations like the thick hunks of cast iron locked tightly around your wrists and ankles, grinding against your bones, bolting you firmly to a 800 pound cast iron operating table.
Sensations like anger.
Chael opened their eyes, tears blurring and streaking the chaos around them. Panic bats flew around in a twisting, living cloud. Kobold’s held hands over their ears, trying to flee, some already succumbing to the bats’ famous aura of terrifying figments and paranoia. Mahani was already halfway up the wall, gripping the rough flagstone with a steaming, white-hot summoning glove, yelling down at Glig, worry and dread splashed all over her face. Glig wasn’t listening to her. He wasn’t moving. He was standing over Chael, holding the pliers, inspecting the shackles, completely expressionless.
There were a dozen ways Glig could have put on his little show. Ways he could have made it seem like he was torturing Chael without actually doing it. He could have put a thumbscrew on them and just not tightened it enough. He could have made them drink poison or covered them in scorpions. Chael was immune. Glig knew that, and the kobolds probably didn’t. He could have even pulled out one of Chael’s teeth. The rotten one in the back. Chael would have paid him for that. But he didn’t. He was either too dumb to figure out how, or else he wanted Chael to suffer. And he had done a pretty thorough job of proving he wasn’t dumb.
Chael looked up at Glig, “W-why — “
Glig pinned Chael’s next finger down.
“Glig!” yelled Mahani, “What are you doing! We need to — “
“Listen to me, Glig.” Chael said, through clenched teeth, trying to breathe, “I don’t know what’s going on in your head, but this? This right here? This is stupid, okay? Whatever you think I am, you’re wrong. I’m not the bad guy here. That stuff that happened to you, to your mom — “
Glig clamped the pliers down onto Chael’s fingernail.
“Glig, don’t!” screamed Mahani.
“Listen, Glig. Listen. I’m on your side. I’m trying to help you, okay? Do you know where I was headed before the kobolds got me? Something called The Apocalypse Vault.”
Glig’s eyes flashed with recognition briefly, and he looked sideways up at Mahani. Chael started talking faster.
“See? Yes. See? It’s like, a machine, okay? Ancient. Built by your ancestors and my ancestors together. It creates a barrier between your home and mine. Divides it. Keeps us from killing each other. But it’s breaking, okay? There’s these cracks now. In the last few generations. Openings that crusading idiots can march through whenever they want to do something stupid like raid your marsh. And I’m going to fix it. Okay? It needs a new godstone. A power source. And I found one. And I’m going to go there and fix everything once and for all so you and your family will never ever see one of me ever again, okay? And — “
Glig let go of Chael’s finger and turned away.
Chael exhaled. They looked around the amphitheater. Kobolds everywhere were losing it. Running, screaming, cowering, attacking each other, vomiting or some combination of those things. Only the shaman was paying any attention to them. Chael could see him crouched behind a barrel, hands over his ears, terrified, but watching unerringly as Glig placed the pliers back on the rack.
Chael caught their breath, “Okay, okay…Thank you. Thank you, Glig. We can talk about the fingernail later, for now just get me out of these—”
Glig turned around holding a hammer and chisel.
“Glig…” said Mahani.
“Uh, okay that might work. Just be careful when y — “
Glig pinned down Chael’s finger again, the same one he had already pulled the nail from, and positioned the chisel above it.
“No, no, no, no, Glig, no. Listen. I told you —
“Glig!” shouted Mahani. “Why are y — “
The steel tip of the chisel hovered above Chael’s finger, floating a half inch from the exposed, raw flesh. Glig clenched the handle of the hammer.
“Listen, you freak!” Chael spat, “I told you already I’m not like them, okay? Those death angels. I don’t do what they do. I can’t do what they do. Get that through your lumpy skull because— “
Glig let the cold edge of the chisel brush Chael’s nailbed. Chael howled.
“Glig!” pleaded Mahani, “Let’s just go, okay? We need to go. We need to get you home. Please. Think about your family.”
Glig raised the hammer above his head. “Breep.”
“You worthless animal— “
But then Chael felt it. The feeling of cold metal going through their flesh. No, wait, the feeling of their flesh going through cold metal. The feeling of letting go. The feeling of falling. The feeling of falling through the metal table, through their shackles, through the solid stone floor, through the earth, and landing in the tunnel below.
I love you for reading this. It actually means so much to me. I love writing, and knowing people are enjoying what I do makes it so much better. You rock. Now go reward yourself with a Netflix binge, you little bookworm.