When I wrote my sections of "Glimpse of the Abyss", it was my third time working with editor Will Hindmarch. We had a discussion about the tone of the book before I started writing, in which he expressed some concern that my previous work on the Feng Shui gaming line had been a little too comedic. (Personally, I still feel that when your writing assignment involves cyborg monkeys with names like "Orango Tank" and "Furious George", you can only get so dark, but I understood his concerns.)
So as a result, I made a conscious effort to write pieces that were a little darker, and a little more horrific. However, Will wound up leaving Atlas before the project was completed, and a few of the bits wound up being cut. One, in particular, I quite liked--the entry was on an order of nuns called the Sisters of Mercy, who believed that since the afterlife was better than this world, it was their duty to usher as many souls into it as possible before they had to suffer too much from the misery of day-to-day existence. The fiction section that showed their indoctrination was cut, though--possibly due to space issues instead of tone issues, I really can't say. I'm well aware that a lot of considerations go into taking a rough draft and turning it into a finished book, and I don't second-guess my editors. But I did think the piece was worth sharing here. So, enjoy!
Um...just as a slight warning...it was written as something dark and creepy. If you're not into that kind of thing, there's nothing wrong with waiting for Monday, when I will no doubt post another terrible pun.
The First Precept
Mother Amanita Virosa, the 78th Mother Superior of the Sisters of Mercy and the thirty-fifth to bear that name, kept her eyes firmly fixed on her charges. Her arm moved up and down with a mechanical pistoning gesture, lashing out again and again with the whip, but she ignored the girl she was beating in all other respects. The lesson she was teaching that girl would be remembered through a thousand scars. The others learned through the wisdom she imparted.
“Little Sister Eluria has the privilege today of learning the First Precept.” Mother Virosa spoke in a sing-song, rhythmic cadence with the smack of leather against flesh serving to keep time. “And the First Precept is thus: Life Is Suffering.” Eluria hadn’t done anything wrong. She just happened to be the one that the Elder Sisters picked out of the class today. Now they held her in place in an implacable grip as the whip lashed into her flesh.
“And since Life Is Suffering, it follows that all those who live cannot escape it.” The other Little Sisters watched in absolute silence. One started to turn her face away as a particularly hard blow landed, but caught herself. The punishment for living was a whipping. The punishments for actual wrong-doing were far more terrible. “We cannot escape suffering through our skill, nor through our strength, nor through virtue or wickedness. The only way to escape from suffering is to die.”
Tiny trickles of blood now worked their way over the welts in Eluria’s flesh. “Death is the only escape from the pain of existence. Death is the only blessing that grants us release from the suffering we must endure. Death, blessed death, wonderful death…” The whip was wet with blood now. “Death is the only mercy the Creator has granted to us. And the instinct to survive is his greatest curse.”
The Mother Superior stayed her arm. Eluria flinched nonetheless, her body now conditioned to expect the blows, and the rest of the class tensed in the unexpected silence. Mother Amanita walked around the two Elder Sisters and stood in front of Eluria, still facing the class. The Little Sisters could not see Eluria’s face, only the mass of torn and bloody skin that made up her back. But they all saw Mother Amanita grasp Eluria’s chin firmly and lift her head up to meet her gaze.
“Does it hurt, Eluria?” The Mother Superior’s voice was calm and neutral. Eluria, by contrast, was barely able to gasp out a “Yes!” through choked sobs of pain.
“Does it hurt, Eluria?” Again, the neutral voice, no more emotional than asking the time in Peoria. Again, the choked and gasping confirmation.
“The pain will continue, Eluria. I will continue. There is no escape, Eluria. You know that, don’t you?” Eluria tried to nod, but the Mother Superior’s grasp held her head in place. Eventually, she gasped out another yes.
“Then I will ask you The Question, Eluria. Do you want to die?” One Little Sister had pressed her fingernails into her palm so tightly that she’d drawn blood, so intent was she on not looking away. She didn’t notice. Eluria’s response was barely audible. “We didn’t hear that, dear,” Amanita said. “Do you want to die?”
Eluria’s response was a scream this time. “YES!”
The two Elder Sisters let go of her arms at the same time as the Mother Superior let go of her chin, and Eluria crashed to the flagstones. “Remember this moment, Eluria,” the Mother Superior said, looking down at her. “The Creator has delayed his Mercy to you, that you might grant it to others. You are the bringer of blessings to all human-kind, that someday you may receive it yourself.” She looked up at the class once more. “Thus it has been since the Beginning of our Order, and thus shall it always be.”