Chapter 39: Torment

From the worn leather-bound journal of Loral Ciriclight buried on a shelf of infinite books in New Tanaan

It was 3168 in the Age of Turmoil. Only a few months earlier we found that all of Norrath's lands had been folded closer, connected to they planar city of New Tanaan in the Plane of Knowledge. I remember how strange and wonderful it was traveling a short twelve steps between Felwithe and Halas, a trip that took six weeks by foot and boat. Now these portals have entrenched themselves into every aspect of our society, changing a thousand years of culture and economics by the removal of geographical boundaries. How quickly we have accepted these planar gateways and now treat them as a dirt path through the woods or an oak wheel on a cart. They are commonplace to us now and few of us can ever recall the world without them.

Now powerful adventurers have entered the Plane of Time. What changes will we find as hunters and treasure seekers begin tugging on the strings that tie together our past and future? The swing of an enchanted blade may sever the chain our very existence or release horrors beyond imagination. How can we possibly understand the ramifications of our actions? The life of a quarter of a million Erudites could be snuffed out like the flame of a candle.

Why do we go? I find myself asking this question often. Is it the will of Tunare? In the great balance of the outer planes, her realm and the hells of nightmare and disease cannot threaten each other. Is it the will of the church and the safety of Felwithe? I doubt the demons of these deep planes could comprehend such an intrusion. We cannot be sure the demonkind could survive in our world at all. The pollen of a flower may be as toxic to them as Trakanon's breath is to us. Is it the thrill of adventure that pushes us to these outer worlds? After seeing the darkness within some of these terrible places, one must question the sanity of such a motivation.

Few questions in life have simple answers. Many variables drive our actions. I cannot say why my friends and I entered the Plane of Torment but whatever the reasons, there we were.

I had seen the world of the banished in a vision some months previous, but I was unprepared for the feeling of sheer hopelessness as we beheld the horrible world. There are very real dangers in this prison world but it is the mental terror that is the most dangerous. Were it not for my stout friends, Stonehewer, Semidil, Kabbal, Juror, Vuldar, and Norque, I would have fled as soon as my eyes beheld the blood red sky and black sea.

The air in torment was thick and hot. Though breathable, our bodies revolted with each forced breath, rejecting the smell and taste of blood and decay. Faint screams, moans, and unsettling laughter rolled across the black water. The cells of Torment, rooms suspended from chains that led up into the red haze of the infinite sky, held beasts older than Norrath. Demons who spend their days within their own insanity, hating all life itself and wishing for the destruction of all life including their own. With trepidation our party took our first steps onto the first of hundreds of suspended walkways.

The deafening scream of the bloodravens was our first welcome to this hell. The psychic attack drowned out any ability to call upon our magical powers. The beasts flew on oily black wings. They stared at us with bloody eye-less sockets and filled our minds with visions of endless terror. They ripped into our skin with a power and ferocity far beyond their size. While our magical powers were limited, the blades of Stonehewer, Kabbal, and Semidil quickly cut down the demonic birds, their screaming fading along with whatever life force they had.

Within the mental screams of the eyeless bloodravens I heard the laughter of Xuzl. The demonic entity trapped in my shield showed me just how unprepared we mortals were to even think we could understand what we were seeing. The demon projected his feelings of elation woven into the thicker fabric of horror. Even with his tauntings, his protections saved my life.

The Kaniz Hunter and Boruk Ravager made up for their lack of subtlety with pure physical power. Like most creatures of the outer planes, their crude language was intermixed with telepathic visions of their intent to rip off our limbs and feast on our blood. To feel the pleasure these unholy beasts felt at the thought or our own torture is a mental paradox beyond what mortal minds should face. To see ones self as so alien a being is terrible indeed.

Thank Tunare that their physical forms were natural enough for blades and spells to combat. Kabbal's great axe cut into the hoof of one, breaking the bone at an odd angle above its twisted backwards knee. Far from defeated, the beast sunk its claws deep into Kabbal's thigh ripping into flesh and muscle. My own prayers to Tunare sealed the mortal wound and Stonehewer's blazing greatsword beheaded the demon.

With the finest elven swordsmanship, Semidil plunged his blades into the second demon's chest to the hilt. Semidil stared at the blazing red eyes of the demon, expecting the massive creature to fall over dead. The Boruk Ravager laughed and punched the warrior in the face, sending him skidding across the stone walkway. A barrage of magic assaulted the creature, waves of poisons, disease, and clouds of darkness engulfed it as both Juror and Norque chanted. The red eyes went white as blindness took over the demon. Stonehewer promptly beheaded the second beast, seeming to prefer this method of dispatching the demons of Torment.

We traveled for four days along the suspended walkways of the prison world. Succumbing to curiosity, I ventured close to one of these buildings and what I saw made me wish I had not. I do not know how demons come to exist, whether simply created by their god or perhaps the manifestation of imperfections in our own world. I do know that no natural force could have created the Constructs. The beast was a mass of pulsating veiny flesh. It dragged its weight with a number of swollen tentacles, each ending in a mouth lined with needle-like teeth. It had no visible eyes, but three of the larger tentacles turned my way and I heard a gurgling hiss. With uncanny speed for such an unwieldy beast the hideous creation attacked and it wasn't alone.

Kabbal severed three of the hideous mouthed tentacles from the beast with a swing of his axe. Daninulaer, my summoned hammer, smashed in the skull of another wolf-headed demon. A third, seeing it was out numbered, grabbed Semidil by his chain tunic and in a flash of black light, the two disappeared. Two more demons roared in and with the tentacle Construct still quite alive, our luck had run out.

Our astral lines snapped tight as the claws ripped into us. The lines dragged our spiritual projections back into the Plane of Tranquility. There was a moment of panic until we saw Semidil unconscious next to us. Mentally exhausted but safe, we ended our exploration into Torment the only way we could have, defeated. Other adventurers had been trapped, doomed to an eternity of pain and misery. We did return, however, with a tale to tell and a little smarter for the experience.

Two years ago the Shissar gave me the greatest gift I had ever been given and then ripped it out of my mind like a barbed arrow. For two days they injected sixty years of a life I had never lived into me. I fell in love with and married a woman who has never existed. Sometimes in that place between sleep and consciousness I can still feel her next to me, her hand draped across my chest. Then I awaken further and remember that she was nothing but a dark electricity burned into my mind and I weep. Sometimes I hear my son's laugh in the streets of the bazaar and I turn with a smile before my mind reminds me that he was never born. For two years I have had to struggle with the acceptance that none of it was real.

Sometimes I wonder if I have left the ancient laboratories of the Shissar warlocks at all. I wonder if I am still living my own life or living the sixty year lie they wrapped around me. One thing convinces me that the life I live now is real; I never questioned the one the Shissar fed to me. I enter the Planes for a few reasons, but there is one strong one I do not wish to admit. I go to the Planes because it is the only place that feels real. The surrealism of the outer planes wraps around me like the embrace of a mother and for just a moment I remember the feel of Elandra's hand in mine. That is usually just before the demons come.