Going Under (86/141)

CONTENT NOTE: Entry depicts torture and suicidal thoughts.

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When Nik was thirteen, he had attempted suicide.

He’d tied a stone about his ankle and jumped from the footbridge into the river that cut through his father’s estate in Anverlee. At the time, he’d thought it would be quick and painless, but it hurt, as if his lungs were on fire and then he was choking on water and that hurt more. He’d panicked and was making a futile attempt to untie the rock when Jill fished him, rock and all, from the river. She had seen him take the plunge from a hilltop and been racing to his rescue. He’d begged her not to tell his parents, and she’d agreed on the condition that he swear, first, never to attempt suicide again, and second, to seek his great-grandmother’s help immediately. Nik had always been grateful for her intervention.

Until now, when he would have given anything for death, for release from this nightmare.

The pain from his hands was driving him to madness: he could see the knots of trauma growing in his own mind, in flashes as he tried desperately to distract himself from the inescapable agony.

The process had become horrifyingly familiar: Brogan would hammer one burning hot needle after another under one of Nik’s fingernails. Eventually, Brogan would pry the fingernail itself off with heated pliers and move on to the next finger. He’d completed the cycle on three fingers of the left hand and then switched to the right. It did not seem possible that such a small part of the body could cause so much pain. The worst of it was that it wouldn’t kill him, that it was unbearable yet he had no choice but to bear it. Nik would have done anything to make it stop, would have begged, pleaded, sold himself, denounced the Savior, confessed to any crime, if only it would end. But even if Mrs. Brogan’s disorder had been in his power to diagnose, Nik could not have discovered it under these conditions. He was unable to focus on anything beyond the agony, the horror of what Brogan was doing to him. His face was streaked with tears, he had soiled himself, vomited at the smell of his own burning flesh. Brogan had stopped for that last, briefly, to remove the gag while Nik had been in danger of choking to death, then stuffed it back in as soon as Nik finished retching. Nik had stopped trying to suppress his nausea after that, hoping for another respite or, even better, death. It had worked a couple more times, but unfortunately there wasn’t enough left to choke on any more and dry heaves barely made Brogan pause. The torturer only muttered to himself about Nik’s ‘cursed stubborn pride’, or an occasional lunatic outburst like, “Do you think I want to do this? This is your own fault! You could stop this any time you want!”

Nik prayed through the tears, pain, humiliation: for release, healing, death, he hardly knew what. He could feel the Savior’s presence only dimly, the love of a god as powerless as he was. If you loved me, you would end this, he thought bitterly. Why do you need me to see there’s a problem with her? Why can’t you just heal her? Just this once, this one time, find it for me, please, please, I beg you, heal her! He opened himself to Mrs. Brogan – none of this is her fault – and let the Savior flow through him, feeling again the keen edge of the Savior’s grief. Hah! Your grief! What about us? He held the channel open despite the additional discomfort of his god’s sorrow, as if forcing the Savior to look. Look at her! Look at me! You’re our god do something! The undirected power swirled through them, the sense of grief swelling with it, and something under it that the Savior was shielding him from. Nik was past caring, hurt and lashing out at the only thing left to him. Does it bother you? Then I’m glad! You deserve this! If it wasn’t for you, for this fucking curse-of-a-Blessing, I wouldn’t be here! Look at us!

Power washed over them like a growing storm, and then there was an awful sense of a dam breaking, a terrible flood of emotions not his own, an overwhelming, unfathomable mixture: horror rage love desire determination hope need pain GRIEF

—it was too much, unbearable, a tidal wave covering his mind, and Nik was drowning.

§

Nik regained consciousness still tied to the chair, raw fingers oozing. His mind felt strange. He could not feel the Savior’s presence and he shied away at even the thought of the god, terrified by the memory of that last encounter. Brogan was at the table, looking at a sheaf of wet papers. Nik didn’t want to move but an involuntary whimper escaped anyway, and Brogan looked up. Nik flinched and avoided his gaze.

“You just don’t care how much I hurt you, do you?” Brogan said. “Too proud to stoop to help a poor old woman. I’m almost impressed, you bastard. I’ve seen better men than you break sooner.”

I am broken, you lunatic. Nik would not have spoken even if he could have. Nothing he’d said so far had done anything but provoke the madman. Fresh tears leaked from reddened eyes: even without new torture his hands felt as if they were on fire.

“Well,” Brogan said, “we’ll see how it is when it’s someone you care about who’s suffering.”

Nik stared at him. No. No, you can’t have – no one else would have walked into the arms of your bully boys like I did—

The torturer gave him a black grin, and slapped the wet pages against the table. “Oh yes. We’ll see how long you last when it’s your pretty little betrothed begging for mercy.”

Her contract. It was in the pocket of my coat…Nik closed his eyes as Brogan rose and strode from the room.


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