27: The Dying Man’s Wish

The lump is back, Itero said to the Devourer as he closed the door behind himself. Itero sat at the table, slumped over a bowl of porridge, poking it with the spoon.

Are you sure, The Devourer said as he sat down opposite him.

Yes. Quite sure. I’ve had it for some time. The pain is becoming unbearable. I cough blood. I’ve trouble breathing.

So that’s why you haven’t smoked your pipe. Why haven’t you told me? We’ll have to have it removed again then. It went well last time.

I didn’t want you to worry. We don’t have the gemstones.

I’ll play a Seeker again.

The Master Chronicler doesn’t need your services anymore.

There may still be books untranscribed in the Academy.

I’ve been there and talked to him, he doesn’t need you anymore. And I’ve been to the Temple of Healing. They told me its incurable, it has spread everywhere. Maybe we could transplant those things you’ve in your blood. Perhaps they could save me, Nihil.

We don’t know if it would work. It could kill you as well.

We have to try, Itero said. I can’t stand this pain, I’m choking on my own lungs, Nihil. I don’t want to die.

I’m sorry. I can’t do it, The Devourer said as he turned his gaze down at the table.

Please, Itero sobbed as tears ran down his wrinkled cheeks. Please give them to me. Let me live. I’m not done with this world.

You don’t know what you’re asking for. You don’t know how it is not being able to die. The pain of seeing everybody you love pass as the wheel of time keeps on turning and crushes you beneath. Again and again, without mercy, it’ll happen to you. This that you experience now, Itero, it could happen to you thousand times over. And that’s if it’s even possible to do. I’m sorry, but I can’t sentence you to everlasting life.

Go! And don’t you come back! Itero yelled. You aren’t my friend. A friend doesn’t leave another to die because he doesn’t want to share his gifts. You want to be unique! Is that it? I’m just a stepping stone for you. Soon you’ll go over to another and then another. I gave my life to you. Now you must give it back to me.

The Devourer left the cabin without saying a word. He took the canoe and went down the river to where it met the sea. The giants were still there. Floating high above the ground as their tentacles dipped into the sea. Now, most of the eggs were gone, and the empty deflated shells lay useless on the tussocks. As he passed one, he saw maggots wriggling in the remains of one. He looked up at the giants again and noticed the small ones clamoring onto the backs of the grown.

For days he sat in the canoe sunken into thought as the water carried him through the delta and out into the sea. Only then did he start paddling his way back upstream. A couple more days went by before he reached the cabin. He pulled the canoe onto land and tied it to the stake in the dirt. Then he stopped and looked out at the lake and the birds that congregated on it. He picked up a stone and threw it at them as hard as he could and watched them fly away against the sunset. The last sun danced on the waves left behind on the surface.

Walking the path to the cabin took longer than it had ever before. Both in mind and reality. Every step was like preceded by a measured thought followed by a decisive decision. The windows glowed with a faint yellow light. He stopped in front of the door and took a deep breath as his heart pounded like it had not done for millennia. It was quiet on the other side of the door. He opened it and stepped over the doorstep. Itero lay in his bed, looking straight at him as he closed the door behind himself. The fireplace had died, and the only heat and light came from a candle by the bed. He took a chair from the table and placed it by the bedside and sat down. He held the old man’s hand until he died.