18: One More Friend

He coughed out seawater and rolled onto his side. The starlight reflected off the wet stones upon which he lay shivering. His body was covered in small frozen droplets that fell off his skin when he moved and curled into a ball in a futile attempt to stay warm. He soon closed his eyes and died. The first thing he saw when he opened them again was a bearded face studying him.

Good morning, The bearded man said, I’m guessing you’re confused? Cold? You usually are. Could you stand up for me? We’ve to get you into the warmth.

He bent down and took hold of his arm and helped him onto his feet. Then he led him to a cabin at the edge of the forest, a stone’s throw from the beach.

Who are you? The Devourer asked.

I’m your first and often only friend, The old man answered. Can you prop yourself up against the wall while I open the door?

Inside the cabin, a fire burned in the fireplace, and a bowl stood waiting on the table. The old man pulled out a chair for the Devourer to sit. He fetched a thick wool blanket from a bed in the corner of the room and swept it around his shoulders. Then he filled the bowl with steaming hot soup and sat down at the opposite side of the table.

I assume you’ve questions. Many questions?

The Devourer warmed his hands on the bowl and said, I know too little to have any questions.

Half the time you say that.

What do you mean?

About half of the times we’ve done this, had this conversation. You’ve been washed up on this beach eleven times about which I know. Out of them, I’ve found you five of which you’ve survived four. You’ve been washed up on that shore time and time again throughout three lifetimes. I haven’t been able to find any reliable sources stretching further back than that. But as far as I know, you’ve been doing this since time immemorial. There are mentions of someone or thing like you in old texts and even older paintings in the caves. You usually have two arms though.

Silent the Devourer gazed down into his bowl.

We usually begin with the most fundamental, The old man continued, I’m Itero, and you’ve gone by many different names, but you could start with Nihil. It’s the one you seem to prefer. I don’t know where it comes from, but as I said, that’s what you like calling yourself. Others have and will call you many different things, of which most aren’t flattering.

The Devourer looked up from his bowl and asked, Why?

Because you’re a monster, Nihil, you’ve committed many heinous crimes. And I’m afraid you will commit many more before the end of times lets you rest in your destruction. Perhaps its the nature of things, maybe it’s what the gods wish.

What now? The Devourer said and adjusted the blanket.

I want you to remember. I believe it’s the only way to break the chain of events. Somewhere deep in your mind, there’re memories of what was before. If we only could get those back to the surface, we could spare the world a lot of suffering.

How are we going to do that? They’ve faded, withered. There’s nothing left of them.

I have a plan, Itero said and rose from the chair and went over to a bookshelf. This, He said, Is books, old books from a different world that have been. I think you can read them.

Haven’t we tried this before?

No, I’ve only had these for twenty years or so. I got my hands on them after you last visited.

Visited, The Devourer chuckled and took a spoonful of soup to his mouth.

Here, Itero said and pulled out a book from the shelf and came with it to the table where he put it down before the Devourer. I would very much appreciate if you could avoid spilling any of that soup on it, He said and moved the book further away from the bowl. It took me close to ten years to get these. I had to bribe the Master Chronicler handsomely. Now eat, read, and remember, friend.

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