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The Torturer's Friend

Summary

Within the confines of the dread black tower, the torturer, Yorek comes face to face with the ghosts of his past. And his present.

 

one

The dead have no place here, save for the bitter sea and the bleak long depths below. Within the cold stone walls I remain, Yorek the Torturer. Yorek, the seeker of truth and the finder of secrets. Yorek the damned.

Through all the cruelty and the suffering, I never knew what fear was, not like my frail guests. I never felt the choking, suffocating realisation of mutilation. Never felt the cold breath of finality on my skin, but now things are very different. Now came the voices. They passed along the cold stone walls and travelled with the salt-hewn breezes that found their way through the cracks and veins of this great tower. A malevolent chorus moving seemingly on the wind to and from unknown places with free reign. At times it sounded like they called my name, beckoning from far away. The weak of mind would almost believe such things, yet I knew better than most the truth of mortality. No this was the result of trickery, and my mind is set on justice, and retribution.

I have never dared to venture to the upper levels of the tower to find this truth, but instead crept along the corridors just below. I was always careful to stop short of the Overseer's quarters high above. Only misery and silence would be found there and I would never give him cause to suspect I was aware of his game. Would the time come when I would have to do away with him? This would be a problem indeed. After all, I remain in service by the will of the Overseer and given opportunity to apply my skillful trade. It is not a tie I would sever on a whim, but should it ever come to it I would not hesitate to apply my knowledge on the most twisted of bones.

Within these walls I have my own place. A place where I am safe, and where I alone am master. Just like the torture chamber, itself  so often misunderstood. I must admit I always found it amusing that such a place could make one man feel so at home, feel so in control and so empowered whilst making others… less so. The fact that so much horror and death could sit so well alongside such positive feelings made me hopeful. I always thought if that were possible then there were truly no heights to which a man could ascend. But that was then. Once the only sounds in the dungeon were healthy screams of agony and cries for mercy, but no more. Somehow it had all stopped, seemingly without warning leaving my workshop empty and silent. And many of my memories, they have become shrouded and distant. The reach of the Overseer was long, and with some unclear purpose. I must admit his reasoning was beyond me. A torturer without guests to warm my racks and soften my whip, what other purpose would I now serve? My mind seemed constantly bent on the thought, sometimes to the point that I almost believed none of this was real. Then perhaps the Overseer sought to drive me mad? What a whimsical thought it was that the Torturer, in my apathy and ignorance had at long last become the tortured.

And here once again it comes, shaking me free of my thoughts, effortlessly moving from place to place somewhere outside these cold walls, or was it within? Would it ever stop? would I finally discover the truth of all this? I couldn’t be sure, but that sound was elusive indeed and needed to be dealt with. Easier said than done. The moment I leave to investigate it becomes silent. Not immediately but it seemed to fade with every step I take up that winding stair and toward the very top of the tower. Every footfall a greater waning until there was silence. Just one more secret in a place where secrets held more value than gold.

    The tower was built by the remnants of the old ruling empire, long since fallen into the idle ruin of civilisation. The entire region now became a pale, lifeless corpse of itself which had no place for someone like me it seemed. Not officially at least. So here I stay, hiding away from a society that inevitably had succumbed to the yolk of its own laws and bureaucracy. Weakness and pacifism were its legacy and also its destruction. I want no part of it, as it now turned its head away from the cruel realisation of barbarism. The very reason why this tower is hidden away, sat upon the waves like an ancient monument to what men would do for power and coin.

The tower itself stood only a short way from the rugged shore, rising out from the depths of the ocean and framed against the sky high above. The only way to shore was a low stone bridge, the only means of transporting guests on their one-way journey. The winding coastline ahead made colossal jagged shapes like the  shattered corpses of long dead leviathans that fell away into the strange ever present fog. In fact, it may have been a trick of my mind, but I could never seem to remember a time where clear skies were visible, nor feeling the warmth of the Red King upon my face. This fog it seemed obscured much, even memory.

Although abandoned for a time, others came and found a use for the Tower once again. People who were pleased to find me dwelling in its dark recesses and were not afraid to put me to good use. Eventually it became a place for the retrieving of information. Within these walls the unfortunates confined were tortured by my skilled hands and nightmarish machines until their screams of submission echoed down every hallway and filled every dark corner. Then, once again they would be returned to the gloom of their cells to heal and to rest until the doors were unlocked and my shadow fell upon them once again. And what information did I, Yorek wish to extract from the snapping of bones and the rending of limbs? The answer was simple. Valuable information. The kind that would see them dead in the outside world should they choose to share it. Not an easy thing to give up then. Their secrets burdened them greatly and it fell to me to see them released. Every day they would wake in agony, every day they would bleed and scream and plead with voices that fell on deaf ears. I even began to question myself; did I actually enjoy that cruelty? Did I long for the screams and the chance to bend a man's will and shape it as I wished? To tear out a confession as if it were a tongue? Yes I enjoyed what I did. My skills in this trade were well earned and to not apply them to their fullest would be an injustice. An insult no less to all I had learned and from those who had taught it. In this tower of agony everyone did their very best.

The torture chamber was situated just above sea level. The great well at its centre, a convenient place to dispose of all the unwanted leftovers of my work. In a messy job like mine it always paid to tie up loose ends, or bury them completely. Fires here once burned hot and bright and machines turned and snapped and crushed and the cries of the pathetic and the broken could be heard rising to the cell floors above, giving those imprisoned there a never ending taste of expectation; more pain and finally a merciful release. Of course, for the particularly stubborn ones, this was far from the truth. What more could be said of a place where the silent were the most unwelcome guests of all.

Above the cells were the living quarters, both for myself and the tower boy Irem. Each reflected quite adequately our respective positions. The boy had little more than enough room for a bed. A cramped and bare hole, more than big enough for a boy and far more than I thought he deserved. My own chamber was a little different. There I slept comfortably on soft sheets and my own fire lit the much larger room in a relaxing glow where the comforts and rewards of hard work were evident for all to see. It was a difficult job to do for some but I always had a curious talent for detachment. Especially when my endeavours were so fruitful. Life, and a little death were a very acceptable contrast for me. Other things were not so.

    The boy Irem skittered and sneaked here and there, fixing and cleaning and collecting things. He collected secrets too. In a trade where they had a high price loose lips and an eager ear were a very dangerous and profitable combination indeed. I knew I was being watched from the shadows here and there. I also knew that tales were spun eagerly and taken back to the Overseer. Sometimes I slept late, sometimes I drank wine and sometimes the odd golden tooth was extracted for more than just information. And it all found its way to the withered ear of the Overseer. When I was first discovered, living in the deserted tower like some rat, barely alive, the Overseer decided that the headsman’s axe was not for me. He saw something inside me, something most people overlooked or simply attributed to a form of sickness. In many ways the Overseer was more twisted than I could ever hope to be and held more secrets than all of his clients combined. A solitary, rarely spoken man whose black eyes said what his words never could. He was cold and without humour, interested only in calculating pain and suffering to the fine measure of a coin. And all without so much as a smile. Something they could never say about Yorek the Torturer. I smiled and laughed often, even amidst the screams and the pleading I had always shown I was a man of high spirits. I always thought it to be my responsibility to spread a little mirth wherever I could, after all I would never wish to appear unhappy in my work.

I had now seemingly confined myself to the lower chambers of the tower. Its high and twisting stair took its toll on me of late, not physically but a strange aversion to leaving the screaming rooms had taken hold. In simple terms a kind of fear I could not explain in depth, but one that was always there. Fear of something more than the old, twisted ghoul who was always fixed to his desk; a human scowl no less. Thankfully he never came down to the lower chambers. Afraid of bearing witness to such atrocities yet still being comfortable all the same to orchestrate them.

And so the sound returned again. From somewhere above it circled the corridor or was it from the walls outside even? Was this even the work of Irem the tower boy? Would he even dare provoke me in my own place of work? He was warned long ago never to meddle in the affairs of his betters, and a good scar was placed on his back to remind him. There was no more trouble after that, at least not until recently. He was wily that boy, like some pup hardly able to contain the throws and energy of his youth. Yet the child had a love of simple pranks that were designed to annoy and mock me. Many times I was tempted to do away with that itch. There were plenty of ways to do it after all. Many places to hide the body of a boy, but the risks involved were far too high. In my haste I could unwittingly bring about my own demise, or at least be stripped of all future opportunity. Great care had to be taken, and perhaps in time an “accident” could be arranged. For now I would have to bide my time and wait.

And here it comes. A gentle creak of the chamber door gave it away. Irem was watching again, but he did not enter. Not immediately. Then down he crept, his bare wet feet that were usually slapping against the cold stone steps were strangely silent. I knew he was there however, no matter what new tricks he had learned. Irem was no more than a brat, and still had some way to go until he learned his place. He looked more like one of the prisoners that once graced the chamber with his dark mass of thick black hair which stood out in all the wrong places. He was thin, not weak but had about him some sense of the wild. Yet something had changed of late. Now, he skulked in the upper chambers, amusing himself with his petty torments. His presence here was one mistake I was going to make tim regret.

“What do you want down here, boy?” I snarled through gritted teeth. “Come to play your tricks again have you?”

There was no answer, unless Irem’s new trick was silence? My anger rose quickly.

“What is it, I asked you? Bringing along those ghosts you’ve sought to drive me mad with?”

Again no reply, only an empty darkness now stood beyond the door. It seemed that cowardice had finally gotten the better of him. Irem wanted a chase and I was going to give him just that. I moved forward quickly, surprising even myself at my speed, fury though is an explosive fuel. I quickly reached the heavy door but even as I threw himself through and onto the torch-lit stairwell, the boy had already gone. Still, his options for escape were limited and if needs be i would hunt every crevice and explore every corner of this damned tower. Maybe a slow hunt would be more than enough to teach this rat a lesson?

I passed the dark, heavy door to my right. This was my own chamber. He wasn't there for sure. Only I held a key for it and the child did not have the whit or the skill to pick his way past. In no time at all I reached the top of the stair. A circular corridor lay ahead, winding around the entire tower up and up, eventually leading off to the top floor. Though the thought of nearing the domain of the Overseer filled me with a kind of dread I could never explain, but exacting my revenge was far more important. Suddenly the great wailing was around me. It came at me from the darkness, an assault on my ears and my soul. Now louder and harsher than it had ever been before. I could do nothing but sink to my knees and place my hands over my ears. It was as if the very foundations of the tower were crumbling and the waters below began to shift angrily. Though no stone fell, no water rose to devour me. Yet this was no trick or simple illusion, wit was real and with me in this place. Though I could not see it, it was everywhere.  I was utterly caught in a moment of searing terror, wondering if this is how the world, my own world would end. Then it was over. Silence fell, heavy and loud leaving my alone and on my knees in the shadows. Fear had now become my greatest foe, and although through all the years of agony and wailing this was the first time I had ever known it myself. As the fear slowly faded along with the sound I felt almost foolish. Cowering on the cold stone floor like some dog, a hapless victim of some dark will. I had no explanation for what had just happened, but it was clear that the menace that had haunted me for so long now seemed to have some purpose and will all its own. It was apparent also that though the brat was guilty of many things, this seemed beyond him. This was something else. Muttering some curses under my breath, heavy tongs still in hand I made my way up toward the highest point of the tower. Up those final steps toward the Overseer, all the while listening to every sound and every silence.

Finally, I reached the upper chamber. There I would see the twisted form of the Overseer, sat behind his great desk and mulling over his paperwork no doubt. His contracts of blood piled high on one side and stacks of coin on the other. All around tall windows with coloured glass give way to gloomy and dismal vistas, a fact which spoke much about the man himself. For the rest of the room, it was filled shelf to shelf with books of various description. The Overseer was a man of study, not one for people. Not like myself. He was a man of business who was always best at home in his workplace, always hunched like a parasite over his desk. Much to my surprise this was not the case on this occasion. Looking around I could see no trace of him, but my gaze was drawn instantly to the open door that led to the roof terrace. Finally, I had found the child in his hiding place. No more shadows and closed doors. No more hidden jokes and lies. And no more running. I had heavy tongs that would put a stop to that. And then movement beyond, and down he came into the candlelight like a thief, bold and brazen.

“So, skulking around again? Hiding in the corners of the Overseer’s study now are we?” said I jested. The boy did a curious thing. Something new, and something infinitely disturbing. He smiled.

“The time for hiding is past, Yorek the Torturer” he said. “Time to step out into the light at last.”

“We? You're the only one hiding boy. I never hide from the eyes of strangers, and especially not lowly boys who forget their place.”

Again, came the curious grin. An innocent yet defiant statement.

“You hide from yourself, Yorek.” It was a startlingly inappropriate response. One that sapped all the tolerance I had left. Then, the final insult came as Irem turned and quietly made his way back up the steps and through the door. Such a reckless display of arrogance and confidence would normally have me upon him, but this was so out of character. Another lesson devised by the Overseer perhaps? He would stake his life on that. My anger subsided and was replaced by a feeling of dread once more. A creeping shadow that waited silently in the darkness somewhere, ready strike without warning. Carrying my growing fears with me I followed, hopeful now of some answer to this strangest of situations.

For a moment my eyes were blinded by the daylight, but slowly I could make out the unmistakable figure of Irem standing by the low wall which surrounded the tower roof. He seemed to be looking out to sea, waiting for something or other. At the edge of the flat stone roof was another figure. It sat on a chair, motionless and silent. I recognised it immediately as the Overseer, but it could not be. This pathetic wretch was nothing more than a withered husk, a petrified and rotten shell of the once master of the black tower. I found myself unable to move, unable to comprehend it. He was long dead, far longer than could be possible. Had it really been this long since we last met? Long enough for a man to turn almost to dust? Had he been taken by some kind of pestilence or even a curse?

“Time passed by so quickly” said Irem. “You barely notice it Yorek, until it's gone.”

My mind was clouded now, full of doubts and questions. And suspicion; that was there too. Doubt always had a place, doubt was good. Doubt sometimes kept you alive.

“What have you done, boy?”

“Done? What do you think I have done, Yorek? I am just a boy. A boy only good for errands and whipping. Not a Torturer like yourself. I have done nothing, but you Yorek. What have you done?”

Then another realisation made itself known to me. One that I had cast aside only moments earlier.  Now it hit its hammer blow home with startling clarity. This boy, though resembling the one I knew was indeed someone else. Had to be someone else. This was not the Irem I knew, he had been replaced somehow. Stranger still were the silent footsteps he made, how a certain grace found itself in his subtle motions and how the bright light of day shone through his pale skin more than it ever should..

“What do you want, boy? Tell me and have done with it?”

“The time has come” Irem whispered.

“Time? Time for what?” I asked.

“A reckoning.”

Irem began to move toward me, but I remembered the heavy tongs. They could work well for me as they had done many times in the past. It had broken many things, snapped the strongest bone and twisted the toughest will. How much more effective would it be on a boy's skull?

It took only a moment to make my decision. A quick and final spasm of unbridled fury and those tongs flew through the air, yet met no flesh nor bone. It continued its arc until it pulled me from my own feet, sending me sprawling to the floor. In dazed confusion I realised that I had not missed my mark. I had not been overly anxious or clumsy. My weapon of choice had simply moved through its target like it was never there. Fear, now fully realised gripped me tightly. My mouth was open but no sound came out. The wind, as if in answer to my anguish rose up like some great chorus, louder and stronger as the phantom boy moved impossibly through the air as if he were one with it.

“Away, away from me!” I screamed in revulsion. And then, from beyond the tower walls came the sound once again. This was the wailing I could hear from my torture chamber and which had tormented me for so long. It had been here all this time, waiting for me, and it did not come alone. Through the corner of my eye, I saw movement from the the tower walls. First one, then another and another. Clutching hands, fleshless and long dead began to claw their way up from down below, seeking and finding their grip on the weathered stone. I reeled back in abject terror, desperately scrambling to my feet despite the weakness in my limbs. First hands then arms and bodies, bloated and broken horrors that were once human but no more. Now only human ruin, barely held together by their own rot and wailing that familiar song from tongueless mouths and watching me with sightless eyes. These were my victims, once familiar in the torture chamber they had become my legacy and my undoing. As this pitiful mass came shambling toward me some dark corner of my mind was still alive. Able to think through the mire and to react. Now I tried desperately to focus on one thing, not the horror before me and not the wailing chorus of coming death. Now my thought was only of survival, and this thought alone was enough to spur me into action. I threw himself back through the doorway, down the stairs and through the open study. I thought that if I could get down to those heavy wooden doors and open them in time I could escape to the bridge beyond. So, down I went, falling and sliding with no other concern other than escape. Down past the cells and the screaming rooms. Finally, to the huge door with no sign of pursuit. I moved with ragged desperation and released the heavy locks, my hands slipping in panic until at last they finally opened. A storm like no other raged where moments before there was none. High winds which came from all directions took every breath I made and strong, angry waves rose and fell against the stone walls almost with purpose. In that moment where realisation came upon me, I was instantly broken. Broken like the bridge I saw in the distance, my one hope of escaping the madness upon my heels. The strong, sturdy stone bridge which withstood the rage of the waters for so long was now gone. Shattered hopelessly by some unseen hand.

“No…” was the only word I could muster. The only word fitting in that moment.

And then escape came suddenly into mind once again. A rabid, final desperation, washing away all thought and reason, allowing only a mindless singular obsession. In his madness I turned my bulk back toward the tower, unsure of what to do when I got there but knowing all the same I could not stay outside. This was like no storm at all but an angry, vengeful force bent only on my own destruction. But I was no weak figure and would not be swatted aside, even if the hand was a powerful one. Almost in answer the winds rose up with even greater ferocity; now blankets of ice-cold rain stung the air like glass, and down it came, slicing and freezing my skin, forcing me back further to the water's edge. Even my desperation and fear could not help me muster the strength to go on, no matter how hard I fought.

I was almost in the grip of the cold oblivion awaiting me, then they came. Figures just within sight, formless shades of the once living shrouded within the grasp of the storm. There were men and women, seemingly moving with the wind and treading water as if it were as solid as the earth. And then another, different from the rest. A broken, twisted shape that once instilled fear even in me. The withered form of the Overseer now moved closer. It stared momentarily with long dead eyes, its face little more than an expressionless mask. Then without warning it was taken, higher than all the others, up and up, rotating in circular motions and silently turning to dust until nothing more remained. Then came Irem.

“Where are you going, Yorek the Torturer?” he said. “Nowhere to run, you know. Nowhere.”

I froze, unable to muster the will to fight through my fear any longer. There would be no more running, no more fighting. I had little choice now other than to submit to the inevitable.

“What do you want? Why do you haunt me?”

“You are the last one Yorek, and without you we have to endure this dream too.”

I had no idea what Irem was talking about, and no longer cared. Terror had taken its toll and all I wanted in thet moment was an end.

“Then let me go so I may redeem myself” I lied. “Isn’t that what you all want?”

Irem shook his head. “But where do the dead go, Yorek?”

Suddenly the storm died down. The mountainous, angry waves became calm and serene. The great winds no more than a whispered hush. But those dark figures remained. I looked around, hardly believing the transformation that had taken place. hardly believing anything. With barely any strength left I stood, my gaze drawn to the waters below where my own reflection broke and formed again into view. And as those waters finally rested I came face to face with something I did not recognise. A withered, broken thing, a mere shadow of the former Torturer of the Black Tower called Yorek. This reflection reminded me of the creatures in the tower, rotten and decayed beyond any resemblance of humanity.

“What dream is this boy that I find myself in? What torture?”

“We have dreamed together for a long time Yorek. I with you, and you with me. The Torturer and the Torturer’s friend. Together we dream the dream of the dead.”

It was as though his words were somehow carried away on the breeze. I could hear them, but they grew ever distant. My mind was now a wailing maelstrom of memory and confusion, real and unreal. And there too was denial. I tried desperately to think of some other reason, why the black tower was strangely empty now. Why the machines that were once so busy had long ceased their work. How the once powerful Overseer was now nothing but dust and memory. Looking back at the high walls of the tower one last time, I saw only a decayed ruin, long since spent of its power and malice. Only the lower section now remained, flooded and washed almost out of existence by the sea. As once it supported death, it was now the home of new life. Life that grew in abundance upon its sea-polished stone. Life which had many forms and lived by the bounty of the waters and the grace of every inbound wave.

Irem now stood close, tears of blood running down his pale cheeks. Now in the silence of the eternal moment, I finally understood.

In the misty light of day as the sun burned down on serene waves and the old ruin of a once great tower, amid a host of spectral watchers, I the ghost of the Black Tower fell to my knees in prayer.

Irem smiled one last time. “Tell me, what do you pray for for now, Yorek the Torturer?”

Hands clasped tightly together and head bowed down low, I spoke one final word.

“Forgiveness” I said.