Curse of Torpor
A Song of Sins Story
I felt the torpor through my body when I woke up inside of my worst nightmare.
In a naive wish, I truly thought my little scheme was going to defeat Avaritium. But how could I beat the Ruling Sin in his own game? If I found a loophole in his contract, he could just rearrange the rules as he desired. He hadn’t risen to the position of Ruling Sin for nothing.
I woke in the dungeon of Avaritium’s castle, my friends were nowhere to be found. My body was so tired I could barely move, but my senses were aware of what was happening around me. Avaritium was close, I could hear his laugh from afar, the same infuriating cackle way he used to do when I was a teenager and did something he deemed stupid.
Looking around, I sat on the floor of the dungeon, seeing a Soul Jailer right in front of my cell. Throughout my life, I’ve seen many sinners being thrown here and feared the day Avaritium would do this with me. Well, that day had finally arrived…
Or not quite.
I had flashes of memories, things that didn’t quite add up. Lienn had pierced her blade through Avaritium’s chest, I’d seen it with my own eyes. The castle crumbled into a pile of endless contracts, nulled by my actions. There was no way all this structure was still up, or that he was still alive, laughing at me.
“I’m always in your head, Eve, if it wasn’t for me, you would be nothing,” I heard Avaritium’s voice inside my head. But I knew something was off.
“You are dead, Avaritium! I saw it! I’m not in the Plains anymore.”
When the thought crossed my mind, as soon as I could bring myself to believe it, I was free from the nightmare.
No more Plains of Endless Greed, I was in the Dreamlands of Eternal Sloth. I remembered while I saw the scenario around me change completely. I wasn’t in Avaritium’s cells anymore, but right in the middle of the Dreamlands, in another domain: Desidia’s, the Ruling Sin of Sloth.
At that moment I was aware I was still inside a nightmare, just not mine.
The Dreamlands were a devastated place, full of horrors crawling in every corner. The sinners had nowhere to go or a place to live like we did in the Plains, they survived as best they could, by hiding in the ruins of fallen kingdoms and running away from the terrors of the Dreamlands. But they can never do it for long… Mortals perished quickly in the Dreamlands, being consumed by the Curse of Torpor. I had a few days before I would end up lost like that.
This nightmare was inside Desidia’s castle, but not in her chambers, only a few selected cultists could get in there. I was in a ritual room, a place reserved for the Horror Summoners to call upon nightmares, a dangerous and deadly task. Around me, there were some Priests of Slumber, murmuring magical words for the ritual that was about to begin.
But my eyes were focused on the person in front of me, kneeling down and shaking in complete fear. It was a familiar sight, a sorcerer tiefling, his head down with an expression I had not seen cross his face before. I knelt in front of him, pitting his situation.
“Zaloth,” I called, trying to get the tiefling’s attention. “Hey! Listen to me…”
He lifted his head and stared at me, with frightened eyes. Zaloth didn’t seem to recognize me. Inside his own nightmare, it was hard for the tiefling to focus on my words.
“Who are you?” he asked.
“It’s Eve… Eve Fargrace, remember me? The human you found in the dungeons yesterday, don’t you remember?” he shook his head. “Come on, you even tried to kill me, I thought I’d be more memorable than that-”
As I was saying that, the Priests of Slumber around us started chanting, and their voices were slowly getting louder. Zaloth hid his face in his hands, moving back and forth.
“I don’t want to be here, I want to leave…” he lamented. “But I can’t. Once one is in the Cult of Slumber, they are forever cursed… No! We are blessed to guard Desidia’s rest…”
“No, listen,” I held his hands, lifting his chin up so he could look at me. His eyes were fierce and cold the first time he found me in the dungeons, when he thought I was an infiltrated agent sent by Desidia. But now his eyes looked frightened, the stare of someone trapped in an endless nightmare.
“You already escaped the cult! You refused to be part of the summoning ritual and fled. No one ever did this before you!”
“You are crazy…” he breathed heavily and the chanting was getting louder. In the darkness of the room around us, with light coming from just a few candles, I saw eyes opening and monstrous fingers starting to crawl out of the shadows. Was this how the ritual worked? No wonder Zaloth fled, it was terrifying. “Not me… no… I never did anything great, how could I flee without being captured and punished?”
“Come on Zaloth, self-pity doesn’t suit you. Where is the confidence you showed yesterday?” I got up, reaching out my hand in his direction. “Come with me, this isn’t real, we are trapped-”
“ALL ARE BLESSED WITH A NEW LIFE IN DESIDIA’S DREAMLANDS!” the priests shouted at me in unison.
I turned to yell at them to shut up, Zaloth was already scared enough. The cultists held hands with each other and chanted together, finishing to summon the nightmare I saw among the shadows. The cultists’ chanting guided its actions, and the aberration jumped in my direction. Faster than I could think, I grabbed my lute and beat the nightmare back, making it retreat a little, while it let out a shrieking sound. It was a horrendous creature, looking like an insect, with many arms and a body similar to a worm. I wasn’t the best at fighting one on one, but I would do it if I had to.
In response to my attack, the chant became louder, it was very loud by that point, and I could barely hear my own thoughts. The nightmare became more powerful and larger with the priest’s magic controlling it. I was ready to use the magic in my lute to do something, but someone stood in my way.
Zaloth got up and stopped between me and the nightmare. With an open hand, he conjured a lightning bolt, destroying the aberration in front of us and hitting a couple of cultists behind it to boot.
That one choice, to stand up in defense of another, made the whole nightmare dissipate before our eyes. Zaloth came through in the end, and I owed him big time. Of course, I wasn’t about to tell him that. The priests and their damned chanting disappeared into thin air, there was only me and Zaloth on an open field. A new nightmare, from another dreamer.
“Do me a favor,” Zaloth said, looking tired, “don’t mention this to the others.”
“Don’t worry,” it was good to hear some pride in his voice again, “your secret is safe with me, but we are even now.”
Zaloth smirked at me and took a deep breath. I looked around. We weren’t in a simple open field, but in what used to be a war zone. There were many dead bodies left on the ground, some already being scavenged by carrion beasts. Blood stained the grass in shades from bright red to really dark brown, and the smell of the place was revolting.
“Last I remember, we were approaching the Hag’s hut, inside the swamp…” Zaloth said. “How did we end up here?”
“I just remember feeling very tired, I think we were caught by some sleep spell and got trapped in our nightmares.”
“This is bad…” Zaloth sighed. “This means the Curse is spreading in our minds. If we don’t find a way out fast, we might become nightmares ourselves.”
I was somewhat aware of that. Inside Avaritium’s library, I’ve read some about the other realms within the Land of Sins. Anyone who got trapped in the Dreamlands could become a nightmare eventually, mortals usually lasted longer when they were part of the Cult of Slumber, but their existence belonged to Desidia.
Being controlled by a Ruling Sin was never a good thing, but I was starting to suspect that Avaritium wasn’t the worst of them.
“We need to move,” I insisted, walking forward. “Let’s search for Shiama and Ivoro and get the hell out of here.”
We searched the bodies through the battlefield, afraid we would find one of our friends already fallen in battle. Fortunately, they weren’t among the dead bodies left behind by the bloody conflict. In the middle of the fallen, there was a woman standing still in heavy armor, all stained with blood. She was a fell, an ashen one, and was staring around with big wide eyes, her face betraying shock and terror.
From afar, we could hear the sound of battle, mortals falling to terrible demons. But Zaloth and I knew it was just a nightmare, fueled by Shiama’s fears, and she was right in front of us now. If we were fast enough, we could still save her.
“We were fooled, the demons tricked us, we are all dying, our order is a farce…” Shiama mumbled, seeming not to be aware that me and Zaloth had approached her.
“Shiama?” I called, but she kept mumbling and ignoring me. “Shiama, it’s okay, this is all a nightmare…”
“Snap out of it!” Zaloth screamed in her ear. I slapped his shoulder, how could he be so careless? But it worked in a way. Shiama looked at us, finally realizing she wasn’t alone. “What?” Zaloth said. “The order isn’t known to talk nice with their knights and we don’t have time. She listened!”
“Yeah, fine, try not to be too insensitive for once,” I rolled my eyes and then focused my attention on Shiama, who stared at us with tears in her eyes. I never imagined that I would see her so vulnerable. The knight I had met had seemed stable and centered… She had been our shield and our blade so far, and now…
“Shiama, we need to get out of here, this is not real.”
“In the beginning, I also thought so,” Shiama said, “but it’s the truth. My order was ruled by a demon all along. We thought we were serving the greater good, but we were actually just paws in a conflict of demon’s egos. None of us will survive…”
“This is in the past,” I insisted, touching her shoulder and feeling her shiver within her armor. “It already happened, you already survived and now you are trying to leave the Dreamlands with us.”
“The Dreamlands? Oh no, I wish this was a dream, but it’s not. I won’t leave until the battle is over, a knight can’t flee.”
“You fled, Shiama,” Zaloth said. “You left the battlefield because there was nothing worth fighting for.”
“I would never do that!”
Her voice came out distorted, indicating the nightmares were getting stronger inside her head. I gave Zaloth a look, hoping he understood I wanted him to shut up. We couldn’t lose Shiama, not just because fighting her nightmare form would be certain death, but because I refused to lose someone to Desidia’s aberrations.
“Shiama, you did the best anyone could do,” I insisted, hoping the nightmare inside her wouldn’t take full control while I spoke with her. “If you won’t fight for yourself, fight for us! Will you abandon us now that we need you the most?”
That seemed enough to go through her head. Shiama looked right into my eyes, and I could finally see the fell I’d met in the Dreamlands. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Before I could say anything else, Zaloth gestured at the battlefield around us, and how it had begun to dissipate, much like Zaloth’s nightmare before this one. Shiama was herself again. She had conquered her fears for us.
Three of us were free, there was only Ivoro left.
“How are you feeling?” I asked Shiama while she touched her armor and sword, making sure everything was real.
“It could be worse. Thank you,” she bowed her head to me to say thank you in her stoic way.
I nodded before looking around, while Zaloth was already investigating the place. We were in a cemetery, full of old tombstones, dry trees, and plants all around us. We could barely hear any sound, not a living soul near us. When I closed my eyes to focus, I heard someone crying from afar.
Gesturing for Zaloth and Shiama to follow me, we ventured into the cemetery until we saw a slothfolk kneeling on the floor, hiding his face in his hands, sobbing and crying. I stared at Zaloth and Shiama, not quite sure how to approach Ivoro.
“One of us should talk to him while the others stand guard,” Shiama said, lowering her voice. “He seems too vulnerable to face three unknown people, if he gets scared, the nightmare may take advantage of that.”
I considered asking Zaloth to go, after all, he knew Ivoro for longer than I, but he was as emotionally sensitive as a rock and as cuddly as a cactus, so I stepped forward again. I am the bard, after all, and I think this sort of stuff is in the job description somewhere.
Ivoro hadn’t noticed our presence, too absorbed by his own sadness. When I got to his side, I saw two tombstones that seemed quite new, with names I did not recognize.
“Hey, Ivoro, it’s me, Eve,” I said carefully, kneeling by his side. “It’s time to go. I’m very sorry for the ones you lost, but this isn’t real.”
“How would you know?” he cleaned the tears that rolled down his eyes. “My master died trying to teach me his ways, and now my parents are dead too. I should have never left them…” and he started to cry again, barely able to talk.
I was going to argue that this might not be true, but I didn’t know for sure. Even if I cared for my new companions, I barely knew these people. So I did the only thing that crossed my mind: I let him cry. Wrapping my arms around his shoulders, I let Ivoto hold on to me while he cried his eyes outs. Shiama and Zaloth seemed confused, but something told me this was going to work. In the little time we spent together, I heard Ivoro talking about his family with tenderness, always very mature.
Sometimes we just need to cry before moving forward. Sometimes you need a friendly shoulder to rely on for a bit before you can stand on your own two feet again.
Fortunately, I was right. When I heard Ivoro’s sobbing getting lower, the environment around me dissolved. The tombstones vanished right in front of my eyes. Seeing that my plan worked and we were back in the Dreamlands themselves, Zaloth and Shiama approached us. Ivoro cleaned his face and got up, as if nothing happened, and smiled at us.
“Thank you for helping me, Eve, I needed that,” Ivoro said. I smiled at him, it was good to see everyone safe and sound. Or as much as it was possible in the Dreamlands. We still had the Curse of Torpor to deal with, and we were still trapped in the Dreamlands.
We were finally in someplace I could actually remember. Before being trapped inside our own nightmares, we were exploring the swamp, searching for the Timekeeper Hag, but ended up caught in her foul magic. According to Zaloth, we had to destroy a magical hourglass to get out of this literal nightmare. Desidia had made a deal, long ago, with the Hag to keep her domain, which made her enter a state of eternal slumber, an endless dream. To wake her up, and destroy the shackles the Dreamlands had on every single mortal here, we needed to destroy Desidia’s hourglass in a powerful ritual inside the Ruling Sin’s chambers.
As usual, I had a plan, even if my companions weren’t completely aware of it yet.
“Granny Cuckoo, I wish to speak with you right now! I have an offer.”
My companions weren’t with me, I was all alone, in front of the Hag’s hut in the middle of the swamp. I took a deep breath, I trusted the Timekeeper Hag would at least listen to me. Those demons loved to make deals, thinking they could fool any mortal.
As I suspected, the door to the hut opened by itself, and I understood this as an invitation to get in. I trusted I could at least leave the hut alive, even if my plan didn’t work. With each step I took inside the house, I thought of possible escape routes to use if I needed.
The Hag was waiting for me in the middle of her living room, which seemed far bigger on the inside than it looked from the outside. The creature was a deformed aberration, made of clocks and little eyes in what was supposed to be her face. Thousands of hourglasses were exposed on the shelves around the room. Among all the demonic objects, some of the hourglasses called my attention, being bigger than the others and emanating foul magic through the room. Desidia’s hourglass had to be one of them.
I greeted the aberration as politely as I could, “I came in peace and with an offering. I have information about a rogue cultist who used to be part of the Cult of Slumber.”
All the Hag’s little eyes were staring at me. It was a sickening sight, but I stood my ground, hoping for the best.
“Tell me more, child,” the Hag answered. She had no mouth, but I could hear her voice inside my head, which made everything worse.
I needed to be careful with my words now, I couldn’t put anyone in danger, “It’s a man who ran from the cult, he wants to wake up Desidia, if no one stops him, the Dreamlands will cease to exist.”
“You silly mortal,” she made a sound I believed was like a husky laugh, “no one can go against the cult or Desidia without her hourglass.”
“Maybe, but this cultist bragged about knowing a ritual to force Desidia out of her slumber, powering another hourglass with magical energy coming from nightmares,” I stepped forward, I needed the Hag to believe me. “I can stop him and do you a favor, but I need to bargain some hours with you.”
The Hag’s little eyes measured me. She was suspicious, and I couldn’t blame her. She didn’t know me, but she knew I had escaped her nightmare trap within the swamp.
“What do you want in exchange, mortal?” she asked with her distorted voice. “A place in the cult?”
I smirked at the Hag, “I don’t wish to serve any Ruling Sin ever again, I want to take their place. What I ask in return is a way back into the Plains of Endless Greed. Avaritium was defeated, and now the throne is empty, I want to take it for myself.”
The silence fell around us in the room. I could sense how the Timekeeper Hag wasn’t expecting my words. How many times has she seen a mortal wanting to take the place of a fiend? Well, in the Plains that wasn’t very uncommon, and that was my bet.
The Hag let out that weird sound that seemed like a distorted laugh. “Mortals are funny little things… No wonder you grew up among greed… Fine, better stop this foolish one. You have 24 hours, little human,” the Hag said, “for your reward, you need to do a little more than that. This cultist you talk about… Horror Summoner Zaloth, right? I saw you two at the swamp. Stop him and bring him back to the Cult of Slumber,” the sound of her evil laugh filled the room, “they’ve been wanting to punish him for a while now. Do those things and I’ll send you back to conquer your throne.”
I took a deep breath. I didn’t want to mention Zaloth by name, even by pretending he had betrayed me. But the Hag wouldn’t lend me the hours if I denied it, and of course I couldn’t fool her completely. But I was sure I could make this work, if I warned Zaloth, we both could run away in time before the Hag could demand that I finish my part of the deal.
“Yeah, fine, I agree.”
The Hag moved, grabbing something from inside her cloak. When I looked at it, I could see a small hourglass, which seemed fragile, but emanated more magic than any other object in the hut. Could that be the right hourglass? With a gesture, the Hag transferred part of its magic to my lute, “Play your instrument thinking about the moment you want to return to, you will be there in no time. Do the same to come back to the present.”
I left the hut before the Hag could change her mind. I walked for a while before seeing Ivoro’s wisp, a little magical trick he had for guiding people through the dungeons in the Dreamlands. We agreed he would use this to help me find the way to their hideout after I was done.
“How did it go?” Zaloth asked as soon as I stepped near their improvised camp.
“She enchanted my lute, we can go back in time. Look, Zaloth, she knew about you. I promised I would give you back to the cult, but I won’t. If we leave before Cuckoo realizes she was fooled, it will be alright.”
“Don’t worry about that Eve, we will be far from the Dreamlands before she decides to come after us,” Zaloth gave me a reassuring smile, not very typical of him, but I appreciated it anyway.
“I must confess I thought you weren’t going to convince the Hag, Eve,” Shiama said.
“Well, I lived with Avaritium my whole life, and no demon had a silver tongue like his,” I sighed. I disliked the influence Avaritium had in my life, but at least it was useful for something. “Besides, if you truly think about it, when we defeat the cult and Desidia, the only member left will be you, Zaloth, so if I want to keep my part of the deal I only need to give you to yourself… You know?”
The three of them stared at me like I had said the craziest thing, and maybe I had. That’s what happens when you grow up in a place where all lines have hidden meaning.
“This is complete nonsense,” Zaloth said, “but as long as it works, I don’t care.”
“Well, anyway, we have 24 hours. We use my lute to go back a few hours in time, when the Hag trapped us in the nightmares. She was distracted, so we can grab Desidia’s hourglass from her and move forward.”
Ivoro turned his head to Zaloth, “Are you sure you can destroy the hourglass?”
“Oh please, I was born to end this damned place,” Zaloth joked.
While my companions got ready for our next task, I looked towards the horizon, where I could see a glimpse of the highest tower from Desidia’s castle. I would never want to take Avaritium’s place, the Ruling Sins should be stopped, not replaced, and I wanted to leave this hell. I just hoped the Hag wouldn’t realize this in the next couple of hours. Desidia would get a little visit from us really soon, her eternal dream was about to end.
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