The tip of the knife was plunged into his ear.
It was an odd sensation. Sure, there was pain, incredible, exquisite agony, but that stopped at the surface of things. Below was the sensation of cool steel severing skin and sinew, and the sudden warmness of leaking blood stood at such sharp contrast to the metal. Below even that was the deeper understanding that a vital part of him was being destroyed, that he was somehow forever… compromised. Never to be whole again.
All these feelings. All these stark impressions. He couldn't help but find them fascinating, even as he wreathed and squirmed against his bonds.
"Do you see what I meant now? Do you understand?"
The stranger loomed above him, her masked face half hidden in shadows. The long beak of her mask hovered slightly above his forehead, threatening to poke out his eye if she leaned any closer.
The stranger raised a gloved hand to her chin and rubbed it thoughtfully. "Not quiet yet, I see. Not to worry, we'll get there yet. Hold steady now."
With that, she plunged a second blade into his other ear. This one was serrated, and he could feel each of its each teeth massaging his auditory canal as it slid towards his eardrum. Again there was pain, and again he could sense something beneath it. Something… else. A lesson?
As he considered this, he screamed some more. Some things could simply not be avoided.
"Do you see now? Do you understand now?" There was a hint of imploring in the stranger's voice, the very slightest tremor in her voice.
"Yes! Yes, the pain! What does it tell you, beloved? What does it mean to you?"
He could feel hot tears streaming down his lacerated cheeks. Those had endured the woman's treatment earlier. The salt stung as wetness dripped over barely scabbed wounds.
"Tears! No no no, not tears! This teaches us nothing! This means nothing! Completely within established parameters, utterly normal! No cure, no cure!" The woman was now pacing around the dim chamber, obviously vastly irritated. He wished he could help her, wished he could take the hurt from her voice. But all he could do was to bemoan his own. It was shameful.
"We were so close! So close! All of this, all of it for nothing!"
With that, the woman returned to the chair he was tied to and carefully drew out both blades from his ears. He was surprised he could still hear her with all of the damage. His vision was dimming as pain threaten to overwhelm his senses utterly.
"You sleep now. We'll continue tomorrow. Knives obviously inefficient, should've known, should've known. Too hung up on traditions, was not thinking clearly. My fault, my fault. You sleep now."
Darkness swallowed him, and relief from the pain. Why did he find it so… disappointing?
He did not know.
Session Note #1213-A-55
Today's experiments have been an utter failure. Beginning to fear I am losing my touch, and perhaps more than that. Must retain grip on what I am. Believed old ways will reinforce this, was mistaken. Must attempt something new tomorrow, must advance, not retreat. Must not become like Surgeon. To lose identity and meaning, to find enjoyment in what should only be necessity. It is good that they have taken him, locked him up like the animal he now is. Lost all awareness of what he is doing and why, believes he has succeeded without understanding in what. "He is the cure", Hah! His conduct shames us all. To dabble with the dead… no, must not think of this further. Only the work matters, yes, only my labor.
Must not forget this lesson, yes. Tomorrow shall be something new. This one will be cured.
"Wake up, wake up! Time to try again now."
Cold water splashed against his face, and he awoke with a startled gasp.
"Yesterday was a failure. My fault. Something different now, different. Hold still."
The masked woman was there again, holding some sort of vice in her gloved hands. He did not struggle as she inserted his head into it. He was strangely giddy, almost excited. He did not know why.
"Good, good. Improvement, no squirming. Very proud. Open mouth now."
He did, felt her inserting something into it. He could not see what it was, but he felt it slide down his throat. It was dry and chalky, almost like a big pill.
He could feel something was wrong right away. His eyes began to burn and tear, his skin was itching terribly, but the very worst of it was his throat and stomach. They felt as dry as ancient bone, as if they have never sensed the touch of water. He tried to scream, but his vocal cords were like dried leather straps, unresponsive and useless.
"Dehumidifying, new technique. Very modern, very modern." She was leaning close to him again, peering closely into rapidly drying eyeballs. "What do you feel?"
"No, no talk. Not important, I can see myself. Focus on sensation, see through it, see below it. Focus."
He tried. This pain was nothing like what he experienced yesterday, nor any of the countless days before it. Though the pain the blades inflicted was a layered thing, it simply could not compare. This agony rang in every cell of his body, the desperate need for moisture radiating like the sun's heat through every tissue. He could imagine individual cells drying out and dying, could almost smell his skin dissolving into coarse powder. Such sensations!
"Excellent! You are close now, very close now!"
Yes, she was right! He have never experienced such a thing before! His awareness of his own body increased to level he has never even imagined possible. Everything was pain, and he was everything! The world itself was crumbling around him, reality torn away and mulched and refined. All of existence shared his agony at this very moment, and so he was one with it, one with all. The world was his! All of it was worth it, all of it was worth it! Just like he was promised, like-
His body collapsed on itself. With no moisture at all left in it, he crumbled into a pile of desiccated skin and empty, crumbling organs. His last impression was that of the masked woman reached for him in dismay, desperately trying to stabilize his dying form. He tried to reach for her, to tell her that everything was alright. To thank her for all she did for him. But his mouth no longer worked, and his tongue was a black, shriveled thing in it. It was too late for that. He was going away now. The world was drifting away from him, all sensation and pain leaving with it. He hated to see it go.
As he died, his only regret was that he was never able to tell her what she did for him.
Session Note #1213-A-56
Lost patient 1213 today. Unfortunate side-effect of new therapy, could not be avoided. Prior to death, patient showed promising signs of deepened understanding, though the rapid degeneration of his speech capabilities prevents me from making a more accurate assessment. New dehumidifying treatment possess necessary depth of sensation, but may prove too rapidly lethal to be viable. Must attempt again with next patient, this time without attempting the knives first. Possibly weakened patient 1213 too much prior to last experiment. Must learn to avoid old habits, attempted knives too many times, inefficient. Must learn to control more primal urges, that is the way to madness. Must not become like Surgeon, must not go too far away, must not believe in my own righteousness. Retain purpose.
Still, today was progress, must not regret progress. Patient 1213 showed advanced signs of positive mental assimilation towards end of treatment, another positive sign. All effort goes towards the cure. Through pain, understanding. Through understanding, peace. Through peace, healing and enlightenment. I must always remember what I am, and why I am here for. Do not let guilt consume me. Do not become like Surgeon and find relish in my work. Work only for understanding, peace, healing, enlightenment. Remember that I am Therapist.
Remember that I must make them become the cure.