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Fate Worse Than Death / Literature

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  • In Ancillary Justice this is how most people view the Ancillaries, typically calling them corpse soldiers—not that anyone debates their efficiency or loyalty. When a planet is conquered, anyone who tries to fight and isn't killed or who makes trouble until the planet is officially annexed is rounded up and either executed or surgically altered, including alterations to sever their connections to the past identity, and put into cryogenic storage until an AI needs to replace an old body.
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  • In Dark Shores the Maarin are not afraid to die to keep their Dark Secret but what really frightens them is the perspective that their bodies will be buried underground, as that would stop their souls from going to afterlife.
  • Choose Your Own Adventure:
    • "The Mystery of Chimney Rock": Several endings saw either the main protagonist or one of his friends turned into a mouse note , locked in an airtight closet or trapped elsewhere in the house, or accidentally breaking a china cat and its angry owner note  making him pick up the pieces only to find he can never begin to clean up the broken pieces.
    • "The Abominable Snowman": One particularly frightening one sees the protagonist and several other teenagers accidentally stumble on an illegal poaching operation, but before they can leave, they are taken hostage, forced into a freight elevator down a long shaft and forced out at the bottom level; the protagonist and his entourage are left for dead, and indeed, the book describes how it got very cold... and then (in a few days) very quiet.
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    • "The Time Warp": One ending has the protagonist literally stuck in a time warp: "Oh, no! You're stuck in a time warp! (turn to page -number-, quick!)" *flip* "Nothing warps the human brain faster than a time warp. (turn to page -number-)" *flip back* "Oh, no! You're stuck in a time warp!"
    • Other endings see the protagonist suffer particularly brutal fates: Being put in the rack and then suffering extreme torture for many hours before finally dying; being eaten alive by a squid or shark; being tied up, beaten and gagged and finally tossed overboard by pirates; being taken (as payment for a debt) prisoner by two spirits, one of which takes a rib from the protagonist's body while keeping him (the protagonist) conscious; being thrown into a swamp and the remains not found for several decades (until a drought dries up the swamp); being polymorphed into a tree without losing her (protagonist) consciousness; and being transformed into a lost soul and being forced to revisit, and take part in, moments of great violence from the past — Pearl Harbor, Gettysburg, etc. — forever.
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  • In Cell, those who disobey the orders of the Phoners are given "a fate worse than death, then death". We get a demonstration of what this means when a couple of jerks exploit the Apocalypse Anarchy to try to kill the protagonists (and succeed in killing the cutie amongst them) even when the Phoners explicitly said to leave them be. The Phoners get the jerks and brainwash then into crucifying themselves.
  • A theme of Book XIII of the Confessions is that true death is not bodily, but spiritual. Once separated from the Font of Life, men become marked by Pride and Lust as their souls enter an abyss they cannot escape from alone.
  • In Tom Deitz' "David Sullivan" Series, the Sidhe are vulnerable to iron, which contains "the fires of the world's first making". The "Death of Iron" that the Sidhe suffer is said to leave a permanent mark on the soul of the weaker willed, causing the spirit, and any replacement body the Sidhe might build, to constantly burn and reheal for eternity, without any hope of recovery. In the second book, Fireshaper's Doom, we are introduced to the Horn of Annwyn, a weapon which summons otherworldly hounds, which consume not only the body but the soul. In addition to being incredibly painful, this death not only prevents the Sidhe from returning to life, but also denies mortals an afterlife. The Horn brings about the Karmic Death of Fionna, Ailill's twin sister when she tries to use it to avenge Ailill's humiliation at the hands of the protagonist.
  • In Dragon Bones, Oreg was made into castle Hurog. With the side effect of being permanently enslaved to whoever the rightful owner of the castle is at the time. And he's immortal unless killed by his owner. A Wizard Did It, so there's no getting out of obeying any order. Oreg suffers pain even if he tries, and doesn't suceed to follow a command he was given. His fate can be tolerable when his owner is, but as There Are No Therapists, he suffers the accumulated trauma of being mistreated by at least a dozen sadistic owners. Oh, and he is a pretty young man, which some unsavoury men no doubt found very convenient. He is inherited by Gentle Giant Ward at the beginning of the novel, so there's no on-screen violence against him ... if you don't count his flashbacks. Ward can see them.
  • The Reynard Cycle: Lady Moire commits suicide after being raped by a tribe of Chimera in Reynard the Fox. What finally sent her over the edge was the realization that she was pregnant with a Chimera child.
  • Star Wars Legends:
    • In The Truce at Bakura, the Ssi-ruuk are a species that powers its technology by ripping out one's life force and implanting it in a machine. These souls are in constant agony for the remainder of their short existence.
    • In Luke Skywalker and the Shadows of Mindor, Lord Cronal finds out firsthand what happens when the human body is directly exposed to hyperspace. Being disassembled on a subatomic level and being conscious through every second of it isn't pretty.
    • Dark Lord—The Rise of Darth Vader expounds on how Vader believes death would have been preferable to his imprisonment in his suit, incapable of walking, talking, eating, or seeing on his own. As he grows stronger in The Dark Side and overcomes his depression, however, he comes to see the suit as merely an outfit, no longer limiting him.
      Above all, he thought: This is not living. This was solitary confinement. Prison of the worst sort. Continual torture. He was nothing more than wreckage. Power without clear purpose...
    • In Star Wars: Kenobi, Orrin Gault survives when his landspeeder falls off a cliff, is taken by the Sand People, and put to work maintaining a vaporator to provide them water. When he realizes that he's been wrapped up in Tusken bandages, he resolves never to speak again, lest his voice confirm that he's become one of them. No one expects him to survive for very long.
  • Animorphs:
  • Breaking the truce of the Floating Market in Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere will leave you wishing you were on the other side of your own sword.
  • The Malazan Book of the Fallen:
    • Getting stuck in Anomander Rake's sword is the definition of this Trope. You spend eternity pulling a giant wagon while being pursued by a storm of pure chaos. No breaks, no mercy. Insanity is for the lucky. Until it gets broken, screwing with everything. That's how many people were trapped in it, some for more than 300 000 years.
    • The barbarian Barghast in Dust of Dreams have a cruel tradition that is called Hobbling. It is practised on female outcasts and entails cutting off the front half of their feet in order to make their gait hobbling. It also means a complete loss in status, meaning the female in question is required to "lift her backside" to anyone man or woman (or, in fact, campdog) who wants her without complaint.
    • On a more humorous note, a member of Onearm's Host suffers this fate daily. Ormulogun, the great Imperial Artist, earns his living by creating brilliant works of art for posterity to accurately record the conquests of the Malazans. He is cursed to be accompanied by an immortal, unkillable toad demon, Gumble. And Gumble has a very specific curse to visit upon Ormulogun: Gumble is an art critic. The toad long ago drove the artist mad from the unending critiques of his work, but Ormulogun cannot stop making art.
  • Harry Potter:
    • Dementors have the power to steal a person's soul (via a sort-of Kiss of Death) without killing them, leaving them technically alive, but in a permanent vegetative state. Word of God has it that they're an allegorical monster representing clinical depression.
    • Quoth Hermione Granger in Philosopher's Stone:
      Hermione: I hope you're pleased with yourselves. We could all have been killed — or worse, expelled.
    • Aside from agonizing pain, overuse of the Cruciatus curse can lead to severe psychological trauma. The Aurors Frank and Alice Longbottom, Neville's parents, were driven permanently and irretrievably insane by prolonged exposure to Cruciatus.
    • Though he doesn't experience this trope directly, it's eventually learned that Voldemort's greatest weakness is that he cannot conceive of a worse fate than death, meaning his obsession with becoming immortal renders him vulnerable to other, equally or more unpleasant fates; see the "King's Cross" chapter of Deathly Hallows for the one that he fell prey to after his death. This is lampshaded by Harry Potter himself... in the first book. "If you're going to be cursed forever, death's better, isn't it?"
    • Whoever creates a Horcrux and dies without true repentance which would restore his soul, will have the pieces of his soul, mutilated and trapped in limbo for all eternity, unable to pass on. Tom ends up suffering from this fate and true to this trope, it will never end. He has sealed his fate in a way that would be too horrific to consider if it could happen to anyone nicer.
    • This is the moral of the tale of the Deathly Hallows, and that of the Master of Death. If one cannot accept the futility of escaping death or accept the passing of a loved one, death will be a grueling bastard. However, if one accepts death as an inevitability, and that there are far worse fates than dying, death will greet you as an old friend. The Master of Death, the one who gains possession of all three of the Deathly Hallows, does not become immortal, but instead accepts that death is inevitable, and does not fear it — like Harry.
    • During their duel Order of the Phoenix, Dumbledore fires a spell at Voldemort that causes no damage to a shield but produces a "chilling", gong-like sound. Voldemort mocks Dumbledore for not going straight for the kill, but Dumbledore calmly replies that there are other ways of destroying a person.
    • Nearly Headless Nick at one point implies that being a ghost isn't that great either. He became one because he was too afraid to cross over into the afterlife and chose a hollow shadow of existence instead. Nick has had a long time to reflect on his mistake.
    • And even with all that, there is still the standard "life in prison" fate, which Gellert Grindelwald suffered after his defeat at the hands of his former best friend Albus Dumbledore. By the time Voldemort shows up to squeeze out info from him about the Elder Wand, Grindelwald had been imprisoned in Nurmengard for fifty years, an emaciated shell of his former self, wallowing in his regrets over his many crimes and wondering if he was ever right. To top it off, the only person who still cared about him, and arguably the only person he ever cared about in general, had died several months prior. When Grindelwald tells Voldemort that he "welcomes death", it's because he didn't have much to live for anyway.
    • Unicorn blood is said by Firenze to curse those that drink of it with a "a half life, a cursed life, from that moment the blood touches your lips."
  • Lady Lilith of Witches Abroad is condemned to run on and on, endlessly, through the mirror world, until she finds the one that's real. This is a fitting fate because it reflects the mirror magic that Lilith used to make so many people miserable, and because it is easily escapable if only she knew herself thoroughly — Granny gets the same fate but escapes it immediately. When asked to find 'the one that's real'; Granny indicates herself, not any of the reflections.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire:
    • When Jaime thinks a prisoner is lying to him, he mentions, "We have oubliettes beneath the Casterly Rock that fit a man as tight as a suit of armor. You can’t turn in them, or sit, or reach down to your feet when the rats start gnawing at your toes. Would you care to reconsider that answer?”
    • What's become of Theon Greyjoy in A Dance with Dragons. After being captured by one of the worst Sadists in the setting and tortured for a year he's an emaciated wreck, who's forgotten his own name and is obsessively devoted to his torturer. His sister is sent a piece of his skin and thinks that she prefered when she thought he was dead.
    • The Black Cells underneath the Red Keep are ordinarily bad enough to count, given their nature as the most secure, least enjoyable dungeons available in King's Landing. Then Qyburn is put in charge of them and, well, wow. Any prisoner he takes care of will beg for death until they physically can't anymore. If they're "lucky", they will, eventually, die. The unlucky ones might well... not die.
  • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy:
    • The Total Perspective Vortex gives anyone who has to go into it a momentary view of the entire universe, and themselves in relation to it, resulting in insanity through loss of all sense of self-worth. When Zaphod Beeblebrox goes into it, it doesn't work, because the universe he's in is actually a simulated universe, created specifically for Zaphod. This makes him the most important thing in the universe - as he always thought to be - so he is immune to the Vortex's effects.
    • How Vogon poetry is treated.
      Ford: If we're lucky, it's just the Vogons come to throw us in to space.
      Arthur: And if we're unlucky?
      Ford: If we're unlucky, the captain might be serious in his threat that he's going to read us some of his poetry first...
  • Room 101 in 1984, where prisoners are tortured with their greatest fear and psychologically broken.
  • In the Doctor Who Past Doctor Adventures novel Palace of the Red Sun, the Sixth Doctor essentially inflicts such a fate on dictator Glavis Judd and unscrupulous journalist Dexel Dynes, when the Doctor sets things up so that they are sent over five centuries into the future; Dynes is relegated to making documentaries when he considers himself an active news reporter, and Judd is sent to an insane asylum filled with people who think they're him, last shown starting to doubt his own identity.
  • In Dearly Devoted Dexter, the main villain's treatment of his prisoners qualifies as this;he essentially reduces his first victim to a state described as a "yodeling potato", where the man has had his limbs, genitals, ears, nose, lips, eyelids and tongue completely removed from his body, leaving him to scream in mumbled agony. Technically he hasn't 'killed' his victim, but people wonder if what he has done to them can even be defined as living.
  • Dortmunder: In Good Behavior, not even Tiny's Cut Your Heart Out With A Spoon threat scares Dortmunder as much as the prospect of spending forty years in a cellblock with Talkative Loon and Dirty Old Man Wilbur Howey.
  • In the same vein, Patrick Bateman from American Psycho commits some of the most sadistic and gruesome tortures ever conceived by the imagination. Bateman intentionally keeps his victims alive longer, just so they can experience more agony.
  • So do some characters in Michael Moorcock's Elric of Melniboné saga and The History of the Runestaff saga. Meanwhile, Prince Gaynor the Damned is subjected to a horrible eternal punishment after he, the former Champion of the Balance, falls from grace and is forced to serve the Lords of Chaos.
  • In Samuel Taylor Coleridge's Rime Of The Ancient Mariner, Death and Life-in-Death gamble for the Mariner. Life-in-Death wins, to the Mariner's sorrow.
  • Stephen King:
    • The short story "That Feeling, You Can Only Say What It Is in French"note , which depicts a despairing woman caught in a time loop that ends in a horrid plane crash. Evidently she is dead and in Hell, and Hell is repetition.
    • 1408. The protagonist is tortured by a "fucking evil [hotel] room" (think the hotel from The Shining but concentrated) before setting himself on fire, escaping, and possibly destroying the room to boot.
    • King's The Stand gets brought up a lot with this. This quote is a good one, in the crucifixion scene of one of the Vegas' characters. "There were worse things than death. There were teeth."
    • Desperation: "You said 'God is cruel' the way a person who's lived his whole life on Tahiti might say 'Snow is cold'. You knew, but you didn't understand. Do you know how cruel your God can be, David. How fantastically cruel? Sometimes he makes us live."
  • The novelette A Colder War (Go now! Don't read the spoilers, read the story! It's free!) by Charles Stross details an alternate-history Cold War where the Soviets have retrieved the sleeping Cthulhu and entombed it in a silo as the ultimate weapon of Mutually Assured Destruction. Things get out of hand, and the protagonist, a few politicians and a small military force are all who manage to escape, through an eldritch stargate, to a dead, frozen world. The story ends with the tiny shellshocked population, going through the motions in a domed compound under an alien sky, unable to do anything. And it is implied that he may never have escaped at all. And they are the lucky ones. Those who were left behind at Earth were swallowed up by Yog-Sothoth, and exist for eternity as a part of its being, conscious but unable to do anything.
  • The Laundry Files. Apart from the countless characters who end up with their souls destroyed and their bodies possessed by demons, creative ones include:
    • Being brought in another dimension, turned into an undead, impaled on a stake, and left forever conscious and unable to do anything except staring at a pyramid containing a sleeping Eldritch Abomination.
    • Having his soul eaten by, well, the Eater of Souls.
    • Having a wicked apocalyptic cult injure your spinal cord to make you paralyzed and then use your womb as a living tool to breed true believers.
    • Being subjected to one of the various nazi-designed torture machines designed to fuel black magic rituals that use pain as a power source.
    • Having his bones subjected to a horribly painful occult treatment and then used as components to build a magical violin which acts as a powerful occult weapon. (The last step is lethal but the others must be performed when the subject is still alive).
    • Living with the terrible "medusa curse", a genetic mutation which makes you (unwillingly) kill living beings you look at by turning them into stone statues.
  • Obviously, the book A Fate Totally Worse Than Death (which was later filmed as Bad Girls from Valley High), in which three murderous teenage girls known as "the Huns of Cliffside High" begin to to age rapidly, and believe themselves to be cursed by the ghost of the girl whose death they caused the year before.
  • "My Name is Legion" by Lester del Rey, published in 1942: A scientist (implied to be Jewish in the story) invents a time machine that, instead of moving a person through time, brought future versions of himself to the present and gives him full control over the "clones." The scientist uses his machine to summon hundreds upon hundreds of Hitler "clones." Nearly a day after the machine is first used, the oldest of the Hitler "clones" confronts Hitler and the scientist and spouts off nonsensical gibberish about things like trying to run away only to be brought back again. Hitler shoots him dead. The scientist then reveals that, as was his intention all along, Hitler is now condemned to relive the same 24-hour period over and over again from a different point of view until he finally finds himself staring down the barrel of his own gun in his final moments.
  • There was a short story in one of the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction anthologies of the 1980s about a protagonist (and everyone around him) being trapped in a "Groundhog Day" Loop that got steadily shorter, from hours to minutes and then mere seconds, until he couldn't even get to the end of a thought. The sequence always started over exactly the same, with him being trapped on a traffic island, and the drivers of the cars around him likewise going in circles forever and ever... the protagonist speculates that Earth may have fallen into a travelling singularity or that Time has actually ended because the universe was imploding, but essentially they are trapped in hell, going insane, and no hope even for death to deliver them.
  • Cordwainer Smith's A Planet Called Shayol centers around a prison planet where people are infected with a healing symbiont that works so well that not only does it make infectees immortal, but it also causes them to grow extra organs and limbs, which are subsequently harvested for transplants.
  • The Wheel of Time:
    • Losing the ability to channel the One Power is considered a fate worse than death, as channeling is shown to be quite pleasurable and addictive. One character who temporarily loses the ability to channel compares it to losing the sun. The general rule is that the person will lose the will to live, and die. One character was famed, as having brought a country to his knees, and the next book has him guarded by one girl, whose job is to prevent him from committing suicide. At least one Black Ajah sister ends up having a shield, which prevents her from channelling, placed on her that's tied off (self-sustaining) into infinity, meaning she can still sense the One Power but will likely never touch it again, and another ends up as a slave to the Shaido Aiel with her inability to channel being enforced by an Oath Rod that a Wise One used on her demanding complete obedience; she ends up being marched naked through the snow, used as a pack mule during the Shaido's march back to the Aiel Wastes.
    • When Tuon claims her imperial title, she sentences Suroth, who tried to order her death, to Go-Go Enslavement as a Da'Covale. Suroth's only thought is of the knife in her bedroom that she now can't use to cut herself.
    • The legendary Torture Technician Semirhage specializes in this and gets sexual pleasure out of torture; some captives were known to gnaw their own wrists open when they learned that they were in her custody.
    • Mesaana tries to use the reality-shaping properties of the World of Dreams to reshape Egwene into a slave and winds up trying too hard, snapping her own mind and leaving herself the permanent mental equivalent of an infant. Interestingly, this fate is FAR worse than death for her specifically, since the Dark One might have been able to reincarnate her if she'd just died.
    • Moghedien ends up in one of these in A Memory of Light; at the end of the book she gets captured by a sul'dam, and is likely to spend the rest of her very long life enslaved with a Restraining Bolt as a damane. The same happens to Elaida.
    • At one point, Perrin's forces are interrogating a captured Aiel renegade. Some of the more unbalanced members of the coalition are attempting to break him by burning him with hot coals, but the prisoner refuses to talk. Perrin steps up and uses his axe to cut off the man's hand. While initially the Aiel prisoner simply shrugs off the new pain, Perrin explains that if he did not talk, his other hand would be cut off the next night, followed by his feet on the following nights. If he still refused to talk, he would be left in a town somewhere, thoroughly crippled, with a sign so he could beg for money to survive. The prisoner gave up everything he could immediately.
    • Rand accidentally gives a Cruel Mercy version to Lady Colavaere: rather than execute her for murder, he strips her of her lands and titles and exiles her to a small farm, which causes her to commit suicide at the earliest opportunity. A fellow noble explains that it would have been kinder to let her die as a noble than force her to live as a peasant, which leaves Rand, a former Farm Boy, completely aghast.
  • Inheritance Cycle:
    • Eragon's punishment for Sloan is to be consigned almost to a Flying Dutchman curse: forced "To Walk the Land Alone", driven by a constant compulsion to seek out the land of the elves, there to remain "even unto your dying day", living with the knowledge that he can never see, touch, or talk to his daughter Katrina ever again, and that she is with Roran and happy, without him. Towards the end of Inheritance, Eragon, having forgotten about Sloan, accidentally ends up bringing Katrina to where Sloan is wandering; he feels so guilty for this that he restores Sloan's sight.
    • The fate of the dragons belonging to the Forsworn: in the Banishing of the Names, they were stripped of any means of identifying themselves—given names, nicknames, true names, titles, until they could not even make 'I' statements since these named themselves, nor could they be called dragons. Reduced to little more than animals, the spell obliterated everything that defined them as thinking creatures, until they descended into complete ignorance. As Arya herself says, "The experience was so disturbing, at least five of the thirteen, and several of the Forsworn, went mad as a result."
  • The Dresden Files:
    • The traitorous Winter Knight Lloyd Slate suffers a particularly gruesome example of this at the hands of Mab—he's entombed in ice, crucified on a tree of the same, until he's almost dead from frostbite and exhaustion... at which point Mab takes him out, feeds him, heals him, and takes him to bed with her, only to return him to his torture when he wakes up. Lea mentions the possibility that if Dresden continues to refuse the title of Winter Knight long enough Mab might kill Slate when he's completely and utterly broken... that is, when he's gone so completely insane that he starts to look forward to his crucifixion with joy because of the kindness Mab shows him after she takes him down. When he is seen before his death, he is a shell of the man he was: eyeless, skeletal, scarred, and covered in tattoos in various languages all meaning "traitor".
    • When Harry meets Titania after killing her daughter to save the world (not even Titania denies it was necessary) Titania states clearly that she can make all what Mab has done seem like a kindness compared to the horrors Titania can unleash.
  • In Dan Abnett's Gaunt's Ghosts novels, Soric is handed over to the Black Ships. Hark finds him several books later, cries (which all the deaths have not drawn from him), and at his request, kills him.
  • The fate of Zedar, sealed in rock forever, in The Belgariad.
  • The Tamuli:
    • The fate of Zalasta and Baron Parok, burning in frozen time forever.
    • Aphrael notes that, while immortal, gods can suffer this trope. Their power comes from belief; a god who loses his/her worshippers becomes just an empty, shapeless voice that wails through the world like the wind.
  • Star Trek Expanded Universe:
    • In Peter David's Vendetta, a throwaway character achieves Warp 10 (the Star Trek term for infinite speed, meaning you occupy all all points in the universe at once). She ends up trapped into thinking she's almost at Warp 10 forever.
    • In "The Brave and the Bold", the villain Malkus was trapped for 10,000 years in the instruments of his handiwork. After the events in the novels, he's trapped for considerably longer.
  • The fate of Gladys Prismall if the player arrests her in Murder at Colefax Manor.
  • In Jeffrey Sackett's Mark of the Werewolf, Janos Kaldy becomes the eponymous werewolf every full moon, whose only purpose is to dismember and eat people, and turn self-serving priests into werewolves themselves. He spends three thousand years attempting suicide, which is hampered by being immortal and Nigh-Invulnerable no matter which form he's in. He and Claudia get better. Neville doesn't.
  • "The Boy Who Couldn't Die". The main character gets one of these for not doing enough research.
  • The Edge Chronicles:
    • Anyone who wanders into the Twilight Woods is immortal as long as they stay there. However, the woods also make any unsuspecting travelers go insane, and despite the immortality, you can be very much hurt, more or less rotting away while unable to die or even go comatose, and also completely insane and lost. In the series, this fate is inflicted on some characters, with no evidence as to if they ever escape, except Tem Barkwater, who makes it out due to Shrykes capturing him.
    • The prisoners in the Tower of Night. They are imprisoned on ledges inside the Tower, waiting for a trial that will probably never come. Many seem to have lost their sanity. Rook is told by one prisoner to shove the door open, when he does the prisoner falls of the ledge and thanks him, saying he lacked the courage to jump.
  • Carrie Vaughn's Kitty Raises Hell deals out such fates to three of the villains (which for two of them is deliciously karmic): the ifrit, the vampire priestess, and Nick, are tricked (in the case of the first two) and outright thrown into Grant's magical cabinet. All of them are presumably doomed to be trapped in this world's version of Cthulhuverse, imprisoned, tortured, or otherwise driven mad, forever.
  • In one of Simon R. Green's Nightside novels, John and Suzie confront some demons. In an attempt to intimidate them, the demons show them their lunch: a young woman, half consumed, yet still conscious and suffering. Recognizing this trope when she sees it, Suzie immediately shoots the woman in the head, then proclaims there are some things she won't stand for.
  • Warhammer 40,000
    • In Gav Thorpe's novel Angels of Darkness, one of the Fallen, captured by the Dark Angels, tells his torturer his full story (as he claims to be true). He is told that he will not be killed. He will be carefully tended and kept alive, imprisoned and able to listen the scream of Luther, who is also alive and imprisoned forever. By the end of the novel, his torturer is convinced that he is right, and when sending off his final message, asks that someone tell the prisoner that he was not wrong — but he also knows that they will not deliver such a message.
    • In Space Marine Battles, sergeant Kennen is sentenced to the worst punishment Crimson Fists have to offer: not execution, but conversion into a servitor. Essentially, he's fated to be turned into lobotomized Wetware CPU and hardware framework.
    • At the end of the Shira Calpurnia novel Legacy, one of the main characters goes mad with grief after finding his family butchered and has his badly-damaged ship attempt a warp transit. The warp engines fail, as does the Geller Field, and daemons get hold of everyone on board.
  • Cthulhu Mythos:
  • His Dark Materials: Being separated from your daemon, or having your mind and soul eaten by a Spectre. Later, Lord Asrael and Mrs. Coulter are doomed to fall forever with the Metatron without ever dying.
  • John Carter of Mars:
    • A Princess of Mars, when John Carter saved Dejah Thoris from Attempted Rape, and they try to escape, she tells him:
    "If we make it, my chieftain, the debt of Helium will be a mighty one; greater than she can ever pay you; and should we not make it," she continued, "the debt is no less, though Helium will never know, for you have saved the last of our line from worse than death."
    • In The Synthetic Men of Mars heroine Janai tells the narrator, Vor Daj of Helium, that he is fortunate to be a man, all he has to fear is death. As it happens she's dead wrong.
    • In The Gods of Mars, this is considered the fate of any Thern female captured by the First-Born pirates that frequently raid the Therns domains, assumed due to them never taking any males alive. As discussed by Phaidor:
    "I can only guess since no thern damsel of all the millions that have been stolen away by black pirates during the ages they have raided our domains has ever returned to narrate her experiences among them. That they never take a man prisoner lends strength to the belief that the fate of the girls they steal is worse than death."
  • The fate of children caught by the Other Mother in Coraline seem to be this, given they thank Coraline after she rescues them even though they are still dead.
  • In The Princess Bride, Westley threatens Humperdinck with this in his To the Pain speech.
  • In Deltora Quest, this happened to Doran many years ago. Namely, he became the Guardian of one of the very thing he sets out to destroy in the first place, a Sister.
  • In The Silmarillion, Maedhros is hung from a cliff by his right hand for years. Being an elf it would never end, until a force of arms broke one of the links that was keeping him trapped, such a link would only be of the chain or his own body that prevented him from. Morgoth also inflicts this on Húrin, by cursing his children and forcing him to watch as the curse destroys their lives.
    • Ar-Pharazôn, the last king of Númenórë, and his army are ghosts buried forever under a landslide just outside Valinor, unable to rest in peace or leave the world, though human souls are designed to leave and remaining forever eventually becomes unbearable torment. One wonders if he'll have learned his lesson about immortality by the time the world ends.
    • Morgoth may have marred every aspect of Arda and the physical world that it belongs to, but he has no power at all in the rest of Ea which lies beyond the doors of Night. He has been left imprisoned and mutilated there till the end of time, the only concrete thing drowning in the nothingness that he embraced.
    • As for the fallen Maiar who have been seduced to his service in exchange of power, they have nowhere to go if they lose their physical avatars that keep them anchored to the physical plane. They are more or less reduced to powerless shadows of malice, both incapable to reincarnate themselves and unworthy to return to Eru through death like all mortals will. This is best demonstrated with both Sauron and Saruman who make a last futile attempt to cling on to something. Sauron spends his last moments looming over the Free People but the hand that he manifests as, gets blown away and dissolves into nothing.
  • Jean-Paul Satre's No Exit sticks three unrelated individuals in a room without any means of escape. They are not only dead, but each person can't tolerate one of the others and can't be tolerated by the third. Hence, they will drive each other mad for all eternity.
  • Dragonlance:
    • In Dragons of Spring Dawning after Dark Action Girl Kitiara finally captures her romantic rival, Laurana, she decides to torture Laurana to death and then have her soul given to the Death Knight, Lord Soth, so the innocent Laurana will suffer in undeath for all eternity.
    • Raistlin, after becoming a dark God and killing all other Gods and destroying the world, will be unable to create anything new, and since he is immortal thereby will continue existing alone in the void forever. Thank mercy for time-travelling twins that can warn you beforehand.
  • In Rainbow Six, Clark orders the survivors to remove all of their clothes and walk into the forest without any of civilization's aids, then leaves them behind, telling them that if they want to commune with nature so much, they should go commune. As Chavez wryly points out, even he himself— with all his equipment and training (Ranger School, among others)— would have a tough time surviving in such an environment. Let's see these sheltered folks enjoy the deadly jungle.
  • Dematerialisation (the process of having your physical body destroyed while within the Twilight, either as a consequence of being killed within it or spending too long in it so that it drains all of your energy) in the Night Watch (Series) is implied to be worse than regular death. Whereas the Others are unsure of what becomes of regular humans after death, they do know that dematerilised Others are forced to linger in the Twilight as impotent and possibly mindless shades, and meeting such a shade is traditionally accompanied by wishing that they may eventually find peace. The "worse than death" part comes from the fact that a sentence of being hanged is considered preferable to dematerialisation, implying that Others killed through regular means don't linger in the Twilight, and that this is considered better. And since it appears that all Others can live practically forever without succumbing to age or disease, and are virtually immune to natural weapons, that the ultimate fate of all of them is to dematerialise.
  • Harlan Coben novel Gone For Good features an ex-pimp named Louis Castman; when hearing that one of his girls is going to run away and elope with a client she has fallen in love with, he brutally disfigures her (and as repeatedly mentioned, not just her face) so that her fiance won't want to be with her anymore. It works, but before the guy sees the poor girl he shoots Castman in the spine, rendering him unable to move anything below his neck. The girl, now broken and miserable, keeps Castman alive for as long as possible in a room sealed with cork, with nothing to do at all, just stare at pictures of her when she was pretty. He comes to wait longingly for ex-girls of his to come over and humiliate him, because it's better than lying immobilized in a cot and soiling yourself, with no one to hear you scream.
  • Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's Travels provides the "best" example of a fate worse than death— eternal life without eternal youth.
  • E.E. Smith's Lensman: Grey Lensman - The Eich and the Overlord who have Kinnison captured debate how to deal with him— kill him immediately, or infect his limbs and his eyes with a fungous growth that will demand their removal, and then suck his life-force almost dry:
    "Which is worse: to find and bury with full military honours a corpse, however mutilated, or to find and have to take care of, for a full human lifetime, a something which has not enough functioning intelligence to swallow food placed in its mouth."
  • Glen Duncan's I, Lucifer has Lucifer faced with the prospect of being left alone in the infinite void once God destroys existence in armageddon. For all eternity. Unless he finally repents.
  • In Neuropath, a device is implanted in Frankie's head that stimulates the part of his brain that causes fear, meaning that he is in permanent agony which nothing can stop.
  • In The Berkut by Joseph Heywood, Hitler is captured alive by the Soviet Union at the end of the Second World War. Stalin has him imprisoned, naked, in a hanging cage deep in a sub-basement of the Kremlin. The cage is too small for Hitler to stand or lie or even extend his limbs fully. He is thus unable to sleep for more than a short time before the pain from his joints wakes him. He is never allowed to leave the cage, even to urinate or defecate, and is not allowed to wash, so he is forced to live in his own filth. One leg and the other foot become infected and later have to be amputated to keep him alive. Over many years he degenerates into a senile bestial creature. And Stalin visits him every week to gloat.
  • Quantum Gravity: In Chasing the Dragon, Tath is attacked by angels in his domain, so they can't kill him. This does not stop them from trying.
    Malachi: But how did you best them?
    Tath: I am not sure I did. They left me here when it was clear I couldn't be killed. I healed too fast. [voice breaks, turns away] Better to die in those circumstances, Malachi.
  • Quaid, the antagonist of the Clive Barker short story "Dread", in his efforts to understand dread and find a cure for his own, breaks the mind of someone whose trust he had earned, and then casually tosses the poor kid aside. This young man then returns to pay Quaid back, unintentionally personifying Quaid's deepest fear. He then proceeds to slowly carve the villain up with a fireaxe, aiming his strikes so that his victim doesn't die quickly.
    Quaid knew, meeting the clown's vacant stare through an air turned bloody, that there was worse in the world than dread. Worse than death itself. There was pain without hope of healing. There was life that refused to end, long after the mind had begged the body to cease.
  • Conan the Barbarian:
    "He told me what he was going to do to me!" she panted. "Kill me! Kill me with your sword before he bursts the door!"
    Oh, Ishtar, why was I not slain? Better die than live to see our queen turn traitor and harlot!
  • The Land of Oz books by Frank Baum reveal later on that the Wicked Witch of the West was subjected to this when Dorothy melted her. No less fitting a fate for the Witch, of course.
  • The Legend of Drizzt:
    • Matron Baenre has a fate worse than death in store for Drizzt Do'Urden in Starless Night, having him tortured almost to death, then magically healed, and then tortured almost to death again, ad infinitum, for centuries. Made more horrifying when it's mentioned that the same fate has befallen others, who aren't lucky enough to get rescued as Drizzt finally is. Then there's what happened to Dinin: being turned into a drider, a repulsive creature whose very existence is torment.
    • Maestro, second book of the Homecoming trilogy, gives us our first onscreen drider transformation: The victim is strung up until their legs have swollen to form the spider torso and then their bones split up until the drider has aquired all eight legs. The transformation process is so painful, that the drider emerges with no memories of their former lives, because they could not stand remembering the pain.
    The new identity of a drider was the only defense from memories too awful to be survived.
  • The Hunger Games:
    • All Katniss wants to do is to get out of the arena alive with Peeta. After she tricks the Gamemakers into letting them both live, Haymitch warns her that she has upset the Capitol. This leads to her realizing "It's so much worse than being hunted in the arena. There, I could only die. End of story. But out here Prim, my mother, Gale, the people of District 12, everyone I care about back home could be punished..."
    • The consistent theme of former Victors living horrible lives of drunkenness, substance abuse, or being driven mad by the trauma of what happened in the arena. Oh, and some of them get forced into prostitution, like Finnick.
  • Kushiel's Legacy gives us, in the third book and through the second trilogy, the Mahrkagir who inflicts all manner of sexual tortures on his harem. A lot of his harem kill or starve themselves to death, with an added psychological component for Phedre, who is cursed to feel all that pain from someone she hates as pleasure.
  • In Everfound, Squirrel gets this. He is touched by a scar wraith which erases him from the universe, no afterlife, nothing. It's a bit odd since most of the characters are already dead.
  • Or rather 'undeath' in The Witch Watch. An abomination could have their head cut off and buried underground and you "could dig his head up today and still find him screaming for release."
    • The people who crossed Lord Mordaunt were threatened with a fate worse than death.
  • Vorkosigan Saga:
    • Discussed and deconstructed in Barrayar when Cordelia and Drou find that Princess Kareen (who used to be married to a sexual sadist) has seemingly sold out to the Pretender:
      Cordelia: What was she supposed to do, throw herself from a window to avoid a fate worse than death? She did fates worse than death with Serg.
    • In Captain Vorpatril's Alliance, Tej intends to jump off of a twentieth-story balcony to avoid a fate worse than death (namely, being captured by her family's enemies). Ivan comes up with an alternative plan (that she marry him, thus becoming a Barrayaran Vor and thereby gaining ImpSec's protection) and is a little irritated that she apparently has to think about whether his plan is actually better than jumping off a balcony.
      Ivan: I am not a fate worse than death, dammit!
  • "Inconstant Moon", a short story by Larry Niven, has the protagonist and his girlfriend resigned to their inevitable deaths as the sun goes supernova. Then they realize that the sun isn't going to explode. It's "just" a solar flare, an extremely destructive but feasibly survivable disaster. They struggle to obtain food and supplies to weather the storm. At the end of the story, the protagonist surveys the destruction left behind by the flare. In a moment of cynicism, he actually wishes the world had been destroyed by a supernova. Life had been so simple when he thought he was doomed. The story ultimately ends on a hopeful note, as the protagonist wonders whether their descendants will rebuild civilization someday.
  • Being an oar-slave (or a harem member) in The Sea Hawk.
  • The entirety of Mogworld has Jim trying to kill himself as he has become an immortal zombie. So has everyone else, and a lot of people aren't too happy about it.
  • Hyperion Cantos:
    • A symbiote called the cruciform makes his bearer immortal (you don't age and you resurrect in case of violent death) but gradually affects his body and mind, ultimately turning him mentally damaged. It also causes excruciating pain if you try to remove it or to run away from the remote village where it comes from. In the first book it is revealed that Father Hoyt, wears two cruciforms, his own and his former master Duré's, enduring twice the pain.
    • After receiving his cruciform, Duré crucified himself to a Tesla tree (a local lifeform generating electrostatic discharges powerful enough to cause thunderstorms) in an attempt to die. He spent years tied to the tree, being constantly electrocuted, killed and resurrected by the cruciform, as well as tortured by the symbiote itself for trying to get away. He finally manages to die... but in The Fall of Hyperion, years later, he finally resurrects when father Hoyt dies.
  • In The Divine Comedy, the punishment for betrayal of hosts/guests is regarded as this, because your body is still alive, but possessed by a demon while your soul is cast into a frozen hell, lying on your back and almost completely buried in ice (your face is the only part not in the ice).
  • In the final book of The Saga of Darren Shan, Sons of Destiny, Evanna mentions that if the laws of the universe are broken and the monsters were released from their confinement, it would make Darren's millenia of suffering in the Lake of Souls seem like a pleasant walk on the beach.
  • In Stephanie Burgis's A Most Improper Magick, when Elissa chides them for leaving her knocking in the hall — why two people saw her — Angeline derisively calls it A Fate Worse Than Death.
  • The House of Night: "What Darkness can take take from some one who walks with Light can change your soul." Darkness has the power to break a soul and rip out the Humanity from it. It's so bad that both Stevie Rae and Stark asked Zoey to kill them, rather than continue to live as they were.
  • The real adventure in The Horse and His Boy begins after Bree warns Shasta that the nobleman who’s trying to buy him off his adopted father is a horrible master, saying “Better to be lying dead tonight than go to be a human slave in his house tomorrow.”
  • In Coda, people who are declared Exaunts are permanently deafened by the Corp. In a society based around music, this is one of the worst things that could happen to you. It ends up happening to Anthem's girlfriend Haven.
  • Frostflower and Thorn has multiple instances of this, from being stoned and hung (forced to swallow sharpened stones and then strung up helplessly by the armpits while the stones shred the bowels of the condemned person) to becoming a Sex Slave. Needless to say, going up against authority requires a good Plan B.
  • The Holders Series involves this for every single one of the Objects in almost every variety of torture imaginable. Everything from And I Must Scream to Mind Rape, and worse. Made particularly bad because most of the time there's no way to avoid failure.
    If you should hear another shriek coming from anywhere around you, close your eyes and pray to the gods that your death will be a swift one.
  • In Tom Clancy's Dead or Alive, Yasin (The Emir) is prepared for death but not for interrogation by a team from The Campus using succinylcholine, which, when administered under the right circumstances, produces all the symptoms of a massive coronary without actually killing the patient - in particular, the most excruciating pain imaginable. This can be repeated over, and over, and over, as many times as it takes.
  • I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream: Being trapped by an evil supercomputer that has made you immortal just to torture you endlessly. And in the ending turned into a gelatinous blob that can't possibly end its life, to be tortured for all eternity. There's a reason this is the Trope Namer for And I Must Scream.
  • The demon Barbatorem in Pact specializes in inflicting this on its enemies. An expert surgeon, it can keep even the most crippled person alive, on the brink of death, but it's true ability is spiritual mutilation by splitting victims into separate people representing different aspects of themselves who are then compelled to destroy one another, leaving the survivor a broken piece of a whole person.
  • In Mistborn: The Original Trilogy kandra who truly transgress are first deprived of bones (rendering them a barely mobile mass of flesh), thrown in a pit for ten generations (a single kandra generation is a hundred years), and only then will they be executed via acid bath (to be fair, it's quite difficult to kill kandra any other way).
  • The Night Land and Awake in the Night Land have monsters that not only can kill the body but also Destroy the soul.
  • Becoming factionless, who live in poverty and are ostracized, is considered this by most of the characters in Divergent. Subverted in Insurgent, when Tris gets to interact with them.
  • In Jeramey Kraatz's The Cloak Society, the Gloom. Which drains you into a husk without superpowers or intelligence enough to speak. In Fall of Heroes, Lone Star explicitly says that he does not know whether this or death is worse.
  • In the Mythos Academy books, The Dragon, Vivian, gets one of these. Gwen, the main character, whose mother Vivian murdered, uses her psychometric ability to force every bit of suffering she's ever experienced in her own life, or through others via her abilities, into Vivian's mind all at once. Vivian is left a broken shell, curled up in a fetal position begging for it to stop. It's implied that this condition is permanent.
  • MARZENA: Instead of Your Mind Makes It Real, if you die in a dream or a virtual dream, you'll wind back time and be forced to relive the sequence over and over until you manage to resolve it (like a video game). Truth in Television, in that this is what happens to people who suffers from psychological trauma.
  • In the Nameless War series the ultimate fate of the civilian population of Junction Station is to be used as lab samples as the Nameless attempt to discover an efficient way to eradicate humanity.
  • Dora Wilk Series: the vampires invoke this with the Tomb of Anna Batory, an archaic - and currently outlawed - punishment. The Tomb is basically a horizontal iron maiden in which the vampire is chained to the floor and locked up, with spells to keep them alive - forever.
  • Villain from "The expedition into inferno" (written by Strugatsky Brothers ) build a buisness by kidnapping sentient beings,turning them into living computers and selling to unsuspecting aliens, who just thought, that they buying new, more advanced technology. Not only his victims condemned to spend the rest of their lives as immobile, but fully sentient machines, without any means to tell someone, what they actually are, but villain also included the button, meant to inflict horrific pain, and instruct the customers to push said button several times, if computer start working incorrectly.
  • In Neal Shusterman's series Unwind, being Unwound is this. To elaborate, A teenager gets cut into individual pieces. those pieces are grafted onto other people. Even their brain. This was all done against their will, and the parts of their brain retain consciousness while in another person's head. Some parts can remember the terror of their Unwinding. Some can't, and don't understand where they are, why they can't speak, and why their thoughts aren't their own. They're stuck like this until their receiver dies.
  • In The Goblin Emperor, Csevet explains that he "dislikes" Eshevis Tethimar because the man molested him when he was fifteen and had him deliver a message. Not knowing that the man who had grabbed him was a noble, Csevet bit him, which prompted Tethimar to suggest a game of "Fox and Hounds" to his friends. They did not not manage to catch Csevet, if they had, he tells Maia, death would have been the best thing he could have expected.
  • Gravity Falls: Journal 3: Ford would rather be shot with a death ray than look as emaciated as Tesla when he's in his seventies.
  • In Renegades, at the end of the second book Donna is stuck in her butterfly swarm form, unable to reform back.
  • Magisterus Bad Trip has falling, the euphemism for dying in the virtual reality game where most of the action takes place. A player who falls is forcibly logged out for 24 hours and cannot interfere with financial transactions in the game. This means that they can very easily lose all their money and fall into debt. If a top player falls, their enemies will gang up on them and keep forcing them to fall, meaning that they effectively can no longer play and so remain in debt.
  • In Darkness Weaves Back Story king Netisten Maril finds out that his wife Efrel has been cheating on him and plotting to kill him. He sentences her to be dragged by an enraged bull through the streets of his capital. This is meant as Cruel and Unusual Death but being Eldritch Abomination, Efrel survives — but is heavily mutilated, a living wreck with ruined body, with only one eye to remind of her former beauty.
  • In Infinite Jest watching the titular film puts the viewer in a catatonic state where they only want to watch it over and over. Removing the film just makes them beg and plead for it to be turned back on. All of the organizations investigating the film treat viewing it as a death in the line of duty.
  • The Riftwar Cycle:
    • During the Serpent War, Pug is allowed a choice between death and life with the curse that everyone he has ever loved will die before him. He later regrets choosing the option that let him cheat death for a time.
    • The final fate of treacherous nobles who betray the Empire of Kesh described in Prince of the Blood certainly qualifies, even if it does involve physical death... eventually. What makes the sentence so terrible is that it is meant to destroy the traitor's soul (or, at least, cause them to be forgotten by the gods and their nation and lost to oblivion) after a long line of painful humiliations and tortures including excommunication from the Keshian afterlife, all reference to your name in the public record being replaced with "a traitor" and your name being forbidden to any noble children for the rest of time. Carrying out the rest of the sentence involves several days of starvation, exposure and being whipped naked through the streets before being castrated then thrown, bound and bleeding, into a crocodile filled swamp. Suffice it to say, after this sentence is declared once against the leader of the conspiracy against the Empress in Prince of the Blood, most of the other traitors were happy to be let off with the option of Seppuku, a quick beheading (the ultimate shame for soldiers in Keshian culture) or maybe, if the Empress was feeling merciful in their particular case, exile.
  • Xandri Corelel says early in Testing Pandora that she'd rather die than be returned to her Abusive Parents.
  • Ward: When Dinah is questioned about the impending doom that she's been trying to prevent from behind the scenes, her answer involves this:
    Dinah: As things stand now, there is an 81.6% chance of total extinction of humanity, across multiple worlds. Of the remainder, 15% of the outcomes are worse. The remaining 4% aren't too pretty either.
    • Later in the story, we see a vision of what those 15% entail: the Simurgh usurping control of parahuman powers and enslaving the human race via a combination of mind control and future sight. She then causes all of humanity to constantly fight and war with each other in a variety of horrific ways designed to inflict maximum suffering (because she believes that suffering will give her the most useful information)... lasting for at least 4 billion years.
  • In The Neverending Story:
    • You risk this with even the first gate leading to the southern oracle. It is guarded by a pair of sphinxes who might let you pass if you're lucky, because who they let pass appears to be completely arbitrary. If you're one of the unfortunate many who they won't admit, they will gaze at you, sending out all the riddles of the world for you to solve. This paralyses you until you either solve them all or die from starvation and dehydration.
    • You do not want to end up trapped in the City of Old Emperors. You become a mindless creature without memory or ability to speak, performing ridiculous meaningless activities forever.
    • Stay away from the Nothing, or you'll get what the Bark Trolls did. Even Gmork, magically chained, refused Atreyu's offer of food, preferring to die of hunger before the Nothing could get to him.
  • In Larry Niven's short story "Bordered in Black", two astronauts explore a planet orbiting around Sirius B (incorrectly represented as a blue-white giant in the story). It has limited life - one of the main life-forms being a seaweedy substance with a ripe cheesy smell choking the oceans, and appears to be edible. The electric blue sky seems to be constantly filled with lightning strikes at various levels. From space, before landing, the astronauts noticed that one of the continents seemed to have a thin black border all around it, and they finally land on that continent to see what it was. They approach the black border from some distance inland, and see skeletons lying in the parched landscape, some covered with leathery skin. As they get closer to the water, they see what the black border is. The black border was people: black-skinned people, 7 and 8 feet tall: they crowded the shoreline, endlessly struggling to reach the water in order to reach the seaweed - there were too many people for all to be able to reach it at the same time. It appeared that natural selection had favoured tallness to enable the people more easily to reach the water, climbing over other people if necessary. The explorers had already walked past the results of people who lost this struggle to access the seaweed. They had bred out of control, presumably because they had nothing to do but try to feed and to breed. They had no technology, no science, no clothes, no tools - nothing at all. They observed that the people formed layers, based on distance from the water: the strongest people were in the front, weaker ones behind them, and then there was a layer of dying people. The discovery sent one of the astronauts out of his mind, and he never recovered from the horrific discovery. The story does not explain where these people came from, or how they came to be there; but one of the astronauts speculates that they may have been put there centuries ago either as an experiment of some kind or simply to breed them.
  • Isaac Asimov's "Risk": One of the problems with the experimental spacecraft is that any animal that goes through hyperspace loses all higher cognitive functions, sitting in their own waste and refusing to take any action, even eating. Gerald Black, who is chosen to risk this fate, is terrified of it.
  • The Ferryman Institute: Ferryman who break one too many rules (or break the really big ones) are sent to Purgatory. It is compared to being put in solitary confinement in a sensory deprivation chamber, the ferryman's thoughts slowly driving them mad. Sanity Slippage is said to kick in between a few months to even a few hours of being there.


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