It felt like dying and resurrecting a hundred thousand times over and over again. It started with a shock of electricity, then a pain that settled deep into the bone, followed by an agony and a death wish that everything would end, to the moment when you are numbly dangling on the razor thin edge of life and death, and finally to the awakening by the jolts of pain produced by the wires snaking around you. Screaming had become pointless, there wasn’t energy left in any of us to be spent screaming. Our bodies only tensed as the electricity coursed through our limbs. I had thoroughly become familiar with their screams of pain. This wasn’t the way I wanted to remember them; I wanted to remember their kind smiles, the sound of their laughs, and the taste of their lives.
I saw Apex’s head dropped to his chest and didn’t lift it, not even when the next wave of electricity came. Kobish walked to Apex, grabbed a handful of his metallic hair, and jerked it back, examining his face like he was some kind of expendable object. Visp saw too, and his eyes were staring murderously at Kobish, as were mine.
“Well, well, he lasted longer than I expected.” Kobish said. “Take them to their cells. Two hours of screaming were enough for this session. I will make sure the next are shorter but more painful. If any of you give them morphine or drugs I will torture you myself.”
Kobish walked out of the room.
His attendants quickly came to free us from our restraints. Apex had to be dragged from his chair and be carried out of the room. They unstrapped Visp and me, ordering us to stand. I pushed my deaden body out of the chair, only to collapse to the floor.
“I said stand!” a guard hollered at me, slapping me with the back of his hand across the face.
“Don’t do that to her!” Visp yelled, straining to get free from the other guards’ hold. He received a blow to the stomach, which silenced him.
I stood on wobbly legs until I was eye to eye with the guard. His eyes were malicious, full of hatred and mocked superiority. “I will kill you the first chance I have.” I seethed. Before he could lay another hand on me his companion took hold of him.
“Come on, Master Kobish wants to torture them himself. Don’t incur his wrath by disobeying his orders.”
The guard looked at me. “If I had my way, you would’ve been dead a long time ago. Now get out of my sight!” He gripped my shoulders and shoved me out of the room.
I stumbled into the hallway blazing with bright white lights. Now that the restraints weren’t on me, the rush of tastes flooded faintly into my mind. I could feel Newt with Shard several stories above us, they were in the same room and not too much movement was going on. I could feel Xander with Tiamone. I couldn’t take my time to register the other tastes because Visp had collided with me on his way out. Our bodies were a tangle of limbs as we hit the wall.
“Hey,” he whispered before the guards pulled him to his feet. “Are you okay?”
I wanted to shout, “No, I’m not okay. I want to die but they won’t even allow me that!”, but instead I forced a nod. He nodded back in response.
Anger bubbled in me, his treason raw in my heart. Maybe this wasn’t the best place to think about failed romantic incidents, but thinking of the pain and the torture that would come later on wasn’t helping my sore heart either. I had thought myself beyond beautiful and it secretly made me proud. But that pride became my bane. Unconsciously, my mind wandered to Newt and how Visp had pleaded with Kobish to let her go unharmed. He didn’t plead for me. I gritted my teeth to stop the flow of these thoughts. How could I think of having Newt go through this? What kind of inhumane creature was I to demand pain from others?
We were thrown into three adjacent cells with metal bars as walls. Apex was already lying face down on the filthy floor. Visp sat, with his back against the wall. I lay curled on the floor next to Apex’s cell, my eyes on him. What had happened back in the torturing room? It was like he had suddenly become a different person, a murderous one. My thoughts drifted back to a memory of something similar, of his father: the one who wanted to strike him and the one who wanted to protect him, in one single body. I never told Apex I had witnessed that.
“What do you think it’s going upstairs? What is Newt doing?” Visp asked from across the cell.
“I don’t know Visp,” I answered, keeping my annoyance away. We were tortured; it was just fair to give him hope. “Maybe security tightened. Maybe Newt is okay since Shard is with her.”
“Shard is with her?”
But I didn’t want the conversation to go there. “It hurts still,” I said. “But the pain is receding.”
Visp nodded. “I think I felt it less than you and Apex, since I chose lightning as a power. I’m sorry that we were all dragged into this... it should’ve just been me...”
“Shut. Up.” I said. “Don’t you ever say that again. We all take the fall.” I could feel tears in my eyes and I blinked them away. “We better rest; we don’t know when they’ll be back for us.”
We heard the footsteps after two hours of dead silence. Kobish was standing between our cells with two guards at his side.
“I hope you’re rested. The next session won’t last long, I promise, but the pain and the wound and the scars... I cannot promise they won’t be imprinted, like a curse, in your mind.” Kobish said. The guards unlocked the cells and dragged our bodies out and down the hallway, through the white halls smeared with our hopelessness, and into another room. I wasn’t sure of the time, it tasted like midnight.
They strapped a barely conscious Apex to the metal chains of the wall and chained Visp and my hands behind our back on either side of Apex. Kobish stood before us, a brass knuckle on both his hands and we braced ourselves for the blows. But they never came, instead, Apex doubled over. Kobish had buried his fist deep into Apex’s abdomen, punch after punch followed.
“Stop!” I screamed to the top of my lungs. “Stop!” I fought against the chains, thrashing and making the effort to get in between Apex and Kobish’s fist. The more I pulled against the chains the tighter they got around my arms and chest. I could barely breathe because the chains were too tight on me. I could see Visp in the same situation. Apex was coughing out blood mixed with bile. Kobish hit him on the head, leaving a deep gash behind. Apex’s body sagged but his wrist restrains kept him up.
“You bastard, I will-” Apex hissed before Kobish fist collided with his cheekbone.
Apex’s pain was like a spear through my heart, but I couldn’t look away. I never looked away from his pain, not once, I owed him that. One of the rules that made me proud to belong to the slums was that we never leave our comrades to suffer alone. Instead, our gazes are fixed on them, willing courage and strength to seep to their battered bodies.
After twenty minutes of Apex’s agonies, it was Visp’s turn and Kobish made us watch him cough up blood, bend down in pain, and droop his head several times. Visp’s skinny frame was bloodied, with his skin raw in several places and his eyes dimming from consciousness. When they unchained Visp, he dropped to his knees.
“Pathetic,” Kobish spat. He turned to look at me and his stare was enough to make me recoil in disgust. “Chain her.”
Apex tried to come in between me and the guards, but that only merited him another blow to the head.
“Apex, stop, please, I can take it,” I reassured him. The guards pushed me up the wall and chained my wrists. Kobish smiled as he wiped his brass knuckles from Visp’s and Apex’s blood. It was a stare contest that lasted for five minutes.
“I can break you and you won’t be severely wounded because you can regenerate,” he said, coming slowly at me. “But the pain...we never found something to counteract the pain that the subjects felt. The day we do though, it’ll be a breakthrough, we can create invincible soldiers that do not feel pain or fear death.” He pulled back his hand and threw a punch to my left side, breaking my lower rib in the process. I screamed, bending over my cracked rib to shield it from pain. I could feel tears forming in my eyes as I gasped for air.
“That hurts, right?” Kobish asked. He studied my body, judging his next punch. He found it with my right knee. I heard my knee cap shattered under his knuckles and the pain was excruciating. “You’ve made quite a name for yourself Miss Lockhart. Your parents weren’t very happy to hear we had you in our compounds. The idiots thought letting you go would be as easy as buying you from us. Besides that, your uncle has been a liability to us, very distressed for your safety it seems, but we got rid of him. In fact, we can demonstrate with you how he died.”
He protruded a dagger from his vest and threw it at me, encrusting it on my left shoulder, just inches above my aorta. Blood oozed from my wound, staining my skin, pooling around my feet. Kobish dislodged the dagger. I let a small whimper.
“Of course, we could repeat this thirty times like we did with him, but would be wasted on you.” He continued talking. “Your escape attempt in the arena got us worried too, for a while we thought you could make it out.” A punch to the stomach. “Then your incompliance to fight your opponent from yesterday made some people really angry, we seldom have that.” Another one to the side of my head. “And the escape attempt staged by your area mates here, was the last drop.” One just below the chin.
My body hung limply on the chains. Kobish tucked a finger under my chin and lifted my face. “Do you have anything to say to that?”
“Yes.” I slurred. “They are not my parents.”
Another blow that would surely leave me a black eye.
“My parents died in a car accident.” Visp’s voice was barely above a whisper. He didn’t even seem conscious, yet he was talking, more to himself than anyone else. I was lying on the floor, curled next to Apex’s cell, straining to hear his faint breathing and tasting his delicate heartbeat. “It happened so long ago.” Visp continued.
I dragged my body to my knees and hands. My body was healing itself slowly, unlike Visp’s and Apex’s, but the remnants of Kobish’s fury were still visible. I crawled and lay next to Visp’s cell and pleaded with him. “Visp, tell me your story.”
I waited for the answer that never came.
The next torture sessions were more personalized, only a paper-thin glass wall separated each of us. But the rooms weren’t sound insulated. I could see Visp strapped to a chair with a helmet on his head. His eyes were opened but distant. He was muttering incoherence, his eyes widened, and his whole body writhed against the restrains. He was screaming,
“No, let her go! She didn’t do anything, it was all me! Stop, hurt me instead!”
I shut my eyes. I knew how they were torturing him: by implanting images in his brain and breaking him psychologically by taking what he most cherished in this world. I didn’t dare say her name. Apex was given a different treatment; he was fighting against untamed dogs that tear at his body and bit into his wounds. He had killed two already.
Glass shattered around my feet; I jumped out of the way and snarled at Kobish, who at the same time threw another one.
“Kneel,” he said.
He snapped his fingers and another dog was pushed into Apex’s room.
“Kneel.” Kobish repeated.
I glowered at him and lowered to my knees, the shards of glass burying themselves on my knees and shin. Kobish advanced and took my hair in his hands.
“Such a beautiful hair and such a beautiful girl, if you had stayed in Earth you could’ve been a happily married girl by now.” He yanked my hair back, forcing me to meet his hungered gaze. “But since that’s not the path you chose to follow, I think this hair is useless.” He produced a blade from his vest and placed it along the soft curve of my nape. He sliced his blade, cutting hair and skin alike. I screamed out as his blade finished slicing the base of my skull, a handful of silky blonde hair next to me.
“I was never trained as a barber, this should be fun.” He produced a kerchief from his pocket and tied it around his eyes. He hacked at my head and hair like he was a farmer with a sickle hacking the fields. Clumps of hair and blood flew everywhere. When he was done, he ordered me to lie down. He pulled my shirt down, revealing my ivory skin just above my breast. He then inserted the tip of his blade on my flesh and carved out the word “Whore”. He watched as my blood spilled and my skin regenerated, leaving a pink scar where the tip had grazed. He cut me again and again, each with time different names until the session was over and he was a blur through my tears and blood.
Back in the cell, Visp lay prostrated on the floor next to my cell. Apex was sitting in the middle of his, looking at me. I was sitting cross-legged, my lower back plastered against the wall, with my hands on my face. The wounds where the blade had sliced were healing slowly. I sobbed, one hand shielding my tears from the others and the other touching my head where uneven hair -shorn short- remained. I continued to sob and could faintly hear what Apex had said to Visp,
“Even with her tears and short hair, I swear she’s the most beautiful girl I’ve ever met.”
The next session, Apex and I were shackled in a room full of water. Visp was strapped to a chair above us, with the helmet again. He looked gaunt and haggard from the terrors of his mind.
“This will be the last session before your team fight which is in less than six hours.” Kobish said. “Hopefully you learned the lesson and take it to your grave because I doubt any of you will survive after today.” He snapped his fingers and Visp’s helmet started glowing, sending grim images to his mind. He started convulsing and screaming at once, he was begging, running, shaking his head like a mad man. Then he released lightning from his hands, through the wires, and into the water. Apex and I hollered in pain.
Kobish laughed. “How does it feel? To have a friend torture you?”
Visp was screaming more, thrashing more, and releasing more lightning at the same time. Apex and I had fallen to our knees, the water plus lightning driving us insane with pain.
“Visp stop, it’s not real!” Apex shouted between spasms of pain.
Visp was clearly in pain; whatever Kobish was feeding into his mind was strong and dark. And that’s when I wondered what was behind his goofy smile and friendly demeanor, what was in his past, who were his demons. My thoughts were drained away by my screams.
One hour later, Visp was panting on the chair, his helmet out of his eyes. His gaze was hollowed and pained as he looked at Apex and me, lying on the water, barely conscious.
“I did this?” Visp choked, gulping down the smell of burnt flesh and hair. “I...I’m sorry...”
We were dragged back to our cells. Visp crawled to my cell and took my hand in his.
“Lorrie, please forgive me, I didn’t mean to cause you pain. Or Apex.”
I flinched at his touch and he pulled away.
“I know you didn’t want to hurt us,” I said. “Whatever was in your mind, it’s not real, please remember that.” I reached out to him and in the process my heart forgave him for his rejection when I kissed him. Maybe there was still a chance for us. We went through the torture together and we grew stronger on each other’s pain.
Visp nodded hesitantly. “Maybe.”
We lay down next to each other, holding each other’s hand. Maybe Visp could grow to love me.
After an hour, each one of us was in separate cells, waiting for Newt to come and heal us before our team battle. I finally had a few minutes of silence to myself, a silence I welcomed after spending 24 hours listening to pain and ragged breath.