21: The Temple of Healing

Does this lump look weird to you? Itero said as he held up his shirt for the Devourer to see. Below the grey hairs of his armpit, the flesh bulged out and stretched his wrinkled skin tight.

You know, The Devourer said, All of you look like a weird lump to me.

I’m serious. I think it’s growing, and it’s becoming tender.

Let me see. Well, it certainly does look weird. Let me see the other side so that I can compare.

Here, Itero said and pulled up the other side of his shirt before removing it entirely. It looks asymmetrical to me, but then again, I’ve to twist and turn to see over my shoulder.

It does look weird, The Devourer said again. The other side seems entirely normal, or, as normal as anything on your hideous appearance could look. It’s probably nothing, but in all seriousness, you should get someone more knowledgeable to look at it.

The street torches glowed with a faint yellow light that reflected from the by the rain turned wet cobblestones. There were few people still out on the streets this late, and most of them stood lingering in groups by the alleyways. Further down the road, a salesman peddled roasted pieces of meat as the gutter children watched with hunger in their eyes.

They entered the Temple of Healing, where the sick stood waiting along the walls. Some with broken limbs contorted into impossible positions. Others had gashes in their skin. A mother held her emaciated infant close as it vomited a pink mixture of milk and blood onto her clothes. The healer’s apprentices walked between the waiting, trying to assess who needed their help more. A man with the stump of his arm covered by a bloody cloth was chosen to come with one of the apprentices down the corridor and behind a curtain. The mother with the infant begged for help but was ignored as a young woman with burns covering most of her body was carried away on a stretcher. Blood and yellow liquid trickled through the cracks in her charred skin.

An acolyte swept the floor of the waiting room before he wetted a rag in a bucket of water and threw it on a dried puddle of blood on the floor. The cloth turned red as he rubbed it against the blood. He put it back into the bucket and cleaned it and wrung it out before putting it on the puddle again. This time he rubbed it hard against the floor until l the entirety of the blood was gone.

It looks like we’ll be waiting for a while, The Devourer said.

I won’t be dead just yet, Itero said and sat down on an empty marble bench and looked himself around. The high dome ceiling was covered in religious motifs. Mythical monsters and the heroes that slew them as young maidens looked on. Old men with grey beards stood around a child and his mother, holding their staffs toward the sky. A particular painting caught Itero’s eyes, a young girl clad in white with a long braid that almost touched the ground stood in front of a white mountain. She seemed to be speaking to some monster of a man standing naked on all fours. On the ground between them lay a black spherical object that the woman in white was pointing at it.

What do you think it is? The Devourer continued.

I don’t know, Itero answered. I’m not a healer. My grandfather had a lump like this for many years, didn’t hurt him a bit. Then he had it removed. It was just a lump of fat. Didn’t do any harm, almost felt bad for removing the poor critter.

The Devourer laughed and looked up at the painted ceiling and said, Beautiful art they have here. I guess that’s what they use the gemstones for that they charge for their services. That and whores. Probably heighten the morals of the sick that are waiting.

The whores?

No, The Devourer laughed again, The paintings.

Perhaps.

At midnight an apprentice led them down the corridor and through a curtain into a small room where an old man sat reading at a desk. His beard was so long it almost touched the pages. He looked up at them and said, Do you have gemstones?

Some, Itero answered.

Some are all that’s needed for an assessment, The healer said and rose from the chair. What’s troubling you?

This lump, here, He said and lifted his shirt.

The old man came closer and looked at the lump. It’s not natural, He said, Not supposed to be there.

I figured that much, Itero said.

The healer poked and prodded at it as Itero winced and clenched his teeth in pain. It’s the consumer, The man said and went back behind the desk and sat down in the chair. It’s the consumer, He muttered. It has to and can be removed. Luckily it’s superficial and not attached to any of the underlying structures. The prognosis is good, but as you surely know, it’ll cost you. Not a fortune, but the surgery isn’t cheap either.

How much are we talking? Itero asked.

Twenty-two gemstones, The healer answered.

Twenty-two, Itero repeated, Twenty-two is more than I have.

That’s unfortunate. I’m sorry. Usually, we could arrange for you to work off the depth as an apprentice but considering your advanced age, it won’t work. I’m truly sorry.

I’m sure we can come up with some arrangement? The Devourer interjected.

Both of you are too old for an apprenticeship I’m afraid. It’ll have to be money.

We’ll be back tomorrow, Itero said, bowed and left with the Devourer in tow.

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