Chapter 1: Into the Harrowing

Thayne has trained within the walls of the Grey Citadel since he was a child. Now on the verge of manhood, he's sent into the nightmare world of the Harrowing to hunt the soul of a serial criminal. He must survive the ordeal and return to the safety of the Citadel – only then will he find acceptance among the Quel'ra Order. But there is more to the Harrowing than its role as prison for the deranged and the criminal, it is also the site of a tragedy centuries-old and holds dark secrets that could shake the Quel'ra Order to its core.

The Testing

The chamber had seven, even sides, and gleamed black in the low, flickering light. The dim radiance issued from the flicker of a single, ornate candle flame. Kneeling to either side were two robed figures, their faces hidden in shadow, the color of their raiment impossible to discern given the light. The two had sat in that stone-like posture all night, never once moving. Now, they were joined by five others. Thayne, who knelt before the candle, couldn't see these newcomers from his position, but he sensed them.

It was Morgrim who spoke with a voice raspy from ill-use. It was rare the Jailor uttered anything aloud and the effect was chilling.

'Come with me, initiate.'

Thayne rose immediately, his knees flaring in protest at the sudden maneuver, but he silenced the pain quickly – such weaknesses were not tolerated in the Grey Citadel.

Morgrim led him out of the Chamber of the Light, down a hallway of stonework lit by dim torches. At the end of the hall, a large, oaken door stood sentinel, two statues flanking the portal. One portrayed an angelic female, her breasts bare and eyes raised toward the heavens. She bore in her hands a balance, and she was carved from white marble. On the other side stood a demoness, this one completely naked save for the iron, spiked shackles that bound her to the wall. The demoness was made of black marble and the expression on her face was bestial and cold as the void all at once.

The door opened, and within was something from a nightmare.

Morgrim led Thayne into the chamber beyond and as they walked within, a faint glow began to issue from an orb positioned on the ceiling. Below, rows of stone chairs were rooted as though they'd been carved from the floor they stood on. On each, an emaciated, drooling figure sat with atrophied muscles and vacant eyes.

Morgrim's voice was that of a haunt in the nightmare chamber, Thayne could not help think of him as a zombie lord standing before his mindless subjects: 'What do you sense in here?'

He should have noticed much sooner. Chagrined, Thayne answered: 'Nothing, Lord Jailor. Nothing at all. Yet they breath?'

It was true; the sunken chests rose and fell, rose and fell, shallow but noticeable to those looking close enough. They were hollow though, these men: no emotions, no thoughts, no resonance of a soul. These were but empty shells, meat and water with none of the light of life to burden or exalt them. To Thayne, it was a horror on par with sudden blindness. He'd spent his life feeling what others felt, hearing the resonances of their lives, and now the silence was unnerving.

Morgrim stood before a particularly large specimen with a bald head and horribly ugly features. A bulbous nose had a line of snot running from it, dried into a scabby mass.

'These are the darkest criminals under our care. We've banished their souls to a place we name the Harrowing. Some power there sees to their punishment. Their sins revisited upon them time and again, until their sentence is done. Yet nothing's forever, no crime deserving an eternity of torment.'

Morgrim placed his hands on the shoulders of the large, seated figure.

'This is Gelian. The Accursed. He's broken, a monster beyond redemption. There are those that hurt and hurt, and cannot stop themselves. This is one such, and now Gelian's sentence is complete. His time's due. It's your task to enter the Harrowing and kill him. Once done, his link to this body will be severed and it will wither into nothingness.'

Morgrim was clearly uncomfortable speaking and stopped as soon as he could. He gestured toward the far wall. There, sitting on a well-carved, polished wood stand, was Thayne's Soulsword. Newly forged and bright, too clean, with none of the runes of an initiated Quel'ra, the deadly sharp weapon called to Thayne – though faintly.

He knew he was to take it. Thayne lifted the sword from its stand, admiring once again its perfect balance and the seeming impossible lightness of its alien metal. A black, banded scabbard was propped against the wall as well and Thayne sheathed the weapon carefully before strapping it to his back.

Morgrim sat in a meditative pose and Thayne knew he should mimic it. He felt the Jailor in his mind, and his soul left his body, following Morgrim through its Mystic pathways to the strange place called the Harrowing, where his destiny, his Testing, lay. The journey was similar to the Vision-trance, and images assaulted his psyche from every direction: sights, scents, sounds; distracting, beckoning, some even begging. They promised him all the mysteries of the universe decoded, a chance to see as God must see in his ivory tower. All times one, all places one.

Thayne had been trained well and knew this was a trap.

The mortal mind couldn't hold such wonders, and chasing the infinite possible futures through their byzantine trails was an exercise in madness. More than one Mystic wanderer had lost their way seeking such fool's gold.

He focused on the Jailor and found the path.

Thayne was suddenly in a place far from the stone tomb of drooling, empty zombies. His body felt real to him, as though not just his mind and soul had made the trip but that the flesh itself had somehow followed. He reached behind him and felt the Soulsword strapped to his back. Its gentle weight was soothing. More so once he took stock of the place he found himself.

It was a world of ruin, where the sky even seemed tired of itself, yet was too angry to give up the ghost. His senses were assaulted with that oppressive anger, everywhere it seemed, a hate so vast it couldn't be contained and yet, underneath it all, hurt and sadness, and most of all: despair. It was the last of these that disturbed Thayne the most.

There were trees around, blackened and twisted and sick, the claws of wights reaching for the cancerous sky to drag it to earth – perhaps to be devoured by some unseen maw. Truly, this felt a place of punishment, a purgatory of judgement.

Morgrim spoke for the third, and final, time: 'Seek the Accursed. Find him and execute the sentence he's brought on his own head. Bring justice and you will take your place among us, among the Quel'ra. Then and only then you will be called back to the Grey Citadel.'

Morgrim vanished, and Thayne was left on the alien, windswept plain to his own devices...