excerpt from Troy Dennings's Pages of Pain

I open my eyes, and the Lady of Pain is there-not just watching, but stalking the Hunter up the teeming streets, with the clamour of forge hammers ringing in my ears and the stink of hot slag scorching my nostrils. She is tall and serene, a statuesque beauty of classic features, with sulfurous eyes and a cold, callous air.. A halo of many styled blades surrounds her head, some notched and pitted, others silver and gleaming, but all keen edged and tainted with blood. The hem of her brocaded gown sweeps along the grimy cobblestones, but never soils.

My gray-swaddled denizens bustle by, blissfully unaware that she-no, I-that I walk among them. Only if my feet break touch with the ground will they noice me, and I am careful to keep my shoes on the street. Better for them to see the Lady of Pain when the have offended me, when the feel the fear eating thier bellies and hear the death gods calling their names.

Whenever my denizens brush againts me, tiny white welts rise on thier skin. Before my eyes, these blisters swell into thumb-shaped pods. They begin to grow more slowly, then sprout dozens of hooked spines. As the crowd mills about, the barbs catch hold of anything they touch, and the husks pass to fresh carriers. They continue to enlarge and soon latch onto someone new, then someone else after that, and it is not long before a sea of bulging pods is spreading steadly outward around me.

My denizens continue to bustle about their business. They cannot see they pods, nor feel the extra weight, nor even smell the fetid reek tha clings to their bodies. Only I perceive the husks, slowly swelling and turning emrald and gold and rudy and jet; only I see them oozing yellow ichor and starting to throb like hearts.

Thus are the four Pains spread through the multiverse- agony, anguish, misery, and despair-- to ripen in burst and bring low the mighty and the meek alike. From whence they come, I do not remember. It may be that I create them myself, or that they rise from some hidden place deeper and blacker than the bottom layer of the Abyss, where smoke hangs thick as rock and death is the sweetest memory. I can only say there is a void in my chest where I once had a heart, and from it springs all the suffering in the multiverse.

At first, the Pains are like a kiss, hot and breathy and welcome. They reach out with long cajoling fingers and make my bones hum with delight. I warm to the touch and, though I know what must follow, yearn for more. My flesh tingles and flushes and shudders, and the more my ecstasy builds, the more the void pours forth. It fills me to glutting, sates me with honeyed rapture until bliss rolls half a turn and becomes sweet agony. Then my body nettles with a blistering itch no ointment can heal. And the greater my woe, the more scalding the anguish that seethes from the empty well inside. I boil in my own sick regret, and I cannot staunch the flow. It billows up in white plumes and blanches my bones with sorrow; I burn with the shame of a thousand evils I cannot recall, and still the well pours forth. It fills me as fire fills a forge, until I must burst or scour myself clean on the swarming streets of Sigil.

They are a gift, these Pains.

Pain can force fathers to forsake their daughters and heros to betray their kingdoms. It can change the hearts of tyrants, or subdue the lands of proud and vicious warriors. It is pain that makes wives hate husbands and immortals beg for death, and only pain can that can shackle whole planes to the will of a single lord.

And so the gods send their hunters; they thirst for the Pains as flames thirst for tinder. The wicked ones would make a weapon of suffering; they would spread it among their enemies and brandish it over the heads of thier comrades. And worse would the good ones do; they would drive torment from the multiverse altogether-destroy misery if they could-and end forever all suffering and despair.

Frauds and fools, every one-and the good ones more than the bad. Like quicksilver, pain slips from the hand that would grasp it and divides before the blow that would cleave it. Without the Pains, the multiverse can endure no more than the wind can blow without the air. Suffering breeds strength from weakness, it hearlds new births, it guides all beings through life. The dead soar to oblivion on black wings of anguish, and even pleasure spings from the same well as agony. To shun pain is to lie stillborn forever.