Lith’s mind wouldn’t have spun so fast not even if his little brother Carl suddenly resurrected in front of him. At least in such case he would only experience two conflicting feelings: disbelief and joy.
Instead, his thoughts were subverted into a chaotic maelstrom. Nurture and nature were clashing like never before, uncapable of finding a common ground.
– “I have to save him. I have dedicated most of this live saving strangers, even when they could not afford to pay. Hating humans is all right, but a two years old kid?
My biggest gripe with children is them being noisy and obnoxious, hence I never wanted to have kids of my own. But killing one is another matter entirely. What will happen to his parents and siblings if I let him die? Will they by scarred by their beloved’s death, like it happened to me?” –
This was the reasoning of his healer side, the one that had been raised with love and affection by his family over the past twelve years. Its arguments were solid, Lith had experienced first hand the pain of loss, the suffering of a mother that could only watch her daughter die slowly.
He was unwilling to make someone else go through such experience out of mere egotism.
– “It’s no big deal. The weak are bound to suffer and are always the first to die, It’s the law of the jungle. I don’t know and don’t care for him. Saving him would be reckless. First, I would show Kilian that I am capable of healing the parasites on my own.
Second, this kid is not like me. If he gains any sort of power, he will become a threat to himself and others. There are countless risks and no rewards. Good deeds never go unpunished, if I help him, I’ll pay the price.” –
The arguments of his ‘human’ side were solid as well. Lith actually didn’t care about strangers, he never did. When he had helped them in the past, there was always a hidden agenda behind his actions.
He was no hero, he had killed countless times and never lost a single night sleep.
While his mind was frozen, his body acted out of habit, taking the child from the guard’s arms and placing him on the table to evaluate his conditions. The number of parasites was low, the child was so magically weak that they couldn’t thrive in his body.
Yet twenty-two worms were enough to downgrade the mana core below the red level. It wasn’t black, he wouldn’t turn into an Abomination. The core had shrunk to the size of a pinhole, turning completely grey. Only a few deep red streaks remained, while the rest was losing its density.
The grey parts were foggy, not because of the toxins, but because the core was falling apart.
– “There’s no reason to argue, you dimwits.” Lith’s logical side chimed in, shutting up every other voice in his head not with feelings or pessimism, but with cold facts.
“Unless his core possesses outstanding recovery abilities, he is as good as dead. The most merciful thing we can do is put him out of his misery.” –
Lith would have expected that not having a choice anymore in the matter would make him feel relieved, instead it only made things worse.
– “There are so many things that I still ignore. Maybe I’m wrong, and the kid can still be saved. It’s the first time I encounter a situation like this, I can’t be sure unless I try. On the other hand, this is a unique opportunity to experiment on what happens when a core turns grey.” –
His inner conflict lasted barely a few seconds, but to those present, Lith seemed to have stopped for hours.
“Is there something you can do?” Kilian’s voice was dispirited. Knowing Lith, he assumed that all was lost. It was only a matter of time before plague started to reap the youngest among the infected.
“Don’t you know light magic’s first rule? If the patient is still breathing, there’s always hope. Why are you doing nothing?” Nindra wasn’t a healer, but she had great respect for them, as for Lith.
She couldn’t believe the situation was beyond his abilities. Before meeting him, she had already resigned to live her last days in captivity. She was aware that without a cure, the plague or the Kingdom would have sooner or later killed her.
He had given her hope.
Lith had no answer to their questions, torn apart by his selfishness and the desire to become a better person. Someone real, that his loved ones could be proud of, instead of the mask he used to deceive the world.
He started sweating profusely, yet he felt a cold sensation in the pit of his stomach, like needles were prickling him from the inside. His guts twisted in a painful knot.
– “Solus, what should I do? I never wanted for any of this to happen, there is no contingency plan.”
“It’s not something for me to decide. I’m your companion, but the life is yours. I know that it’s probably the scariest situation you’ve ever encountered, there is no lying or killing your way out of it.
The only thing I can tell you, is that whatever you’ll choose, you’ll have to rethink your way of life. After all our talks about changing and growing as a person, it’s time for you to decide if you just feel empty or if you really are empty.
Whatever you’ll become, I’ll always be by your side.” –
Those last eleven words were all he needed to hear. Solus knew him, the real him, but she had never judged or shied away from him. She knew every dirty secret he had, everyone of his shameful thoughts and flaws, yet she wholeheartedly accepted him.
Lith decided it was time to become worthy of such affection, instead of basking in its light giving it for granted.
– “I don’t really know if this kid can or cannot become an Awakened one. The only thing I know, is that I can’t avoid taking hard decisions only because I’m scared of the consequences. If I really want to become a better person, I must at least try being one!” –
Not even five seconds had passed since Lith had completed the diagnosis. His hands started to form fake seals, while his mouth pronounced random latin words, while Invigoration swept away the toxins.
After Nindra’s and Garith’s treatments, it was all too easy. Not only the parasites had been unable to multiply, the lack of nutrients had also prevented them to form a cocoon, leaving them exposed, easy prey for the dark tendrils.
No one collected the toxins, that went wasted, but nobody cared. It took Lith several minutes to completely cleanse the body, and the effects were visible at the naked eye. The blue veins first deflated and then disappeared, the kid’s skin regained some of its colour, yet remained terribly pale.
“I should have cleansed his system. The parasites are still there, though.” He lied, to protect his secrets. If the kid survived, Lith had to avoid at all costs that another healer examined him, adding him to the rooster of his patients.
That way, he could always pretend to have cured him bit by bit, instead of in one go.
“Then why he is still unconscious?” Kilian asked.
“Because there is no telling what damage his body sustained. I did all I could, now it’s all up to him.” Aside from avoiding mentioning the mana core’s status, Lith had told them the truth.
– “Using light magic or giving him some of my life force is useless. His body is in perfect conditions, the problem it’s the core. How is it going, Solus?”
“Not good. Even after you took out the toxins, the mana core has yet to show any sign of recovery.” –
“Bring him back to his parents. There is no point in keeping him here.”
“His parents aren’t in the last tent, nor in any other.” The soldier explained.
“We never managed to found them, they are either dead or have run away when everything started.”
“I don’t want to leave him alone while he is still like this. Do you mind if we postpone your treatment to tomorrow?”
“Not a problem.” Nindra replied, afraid to touch the kid’s hand and worsening his conditions. She was still infected, and had no idea how the plague spreaded.
“Mind if I keep you company?” Lith shook his head, and soon started pacing around the little tent.
He started to rack his brain, trying to find a way to infuse mana into the kid’s body without harming him, but to no avail. Lith knew from experience that sending mana straight into the core was akin to poisoning it.
According to Solus, making his own mana circulating into another’s body via Invigoration never harmed it, but it also did not affect the core either. During the cleansing progress, the world energy that Lith had pumped into the little body had not been absorbed, no matter how close he brought it to the core.
Maybe it was because it still retained Lith’s mana imprint, but the mana core ignored it, refusing to draw nourishment from it. An hour passed, and the another, until the core turned completely grey before disappearing like a puff of smoke.
– “He is dead.” – Solus told as soon as she saw the child’s life force disappear.
Lith passed the news to the others. His voice was calm and collected, but inside, he was in anguish, questioning how much was the parasites’ fault compared to his own. Maybe if he had not hesitated, things would have gone differently.
Maybe he was just a monster, and didn’t deserve to be loved.