“Some might argue that the best response to such a curse, rather than breaking it, would be to spend eternity thwarting the dread Ghåålus and His minions at every opportunity,” Lotus said, rather than getting to the point. “Continue the good work that earned you the curse in the first place.”
“Good work,” Çrom chuckled. “Thwarting the dread Ghåålus and His minions at every opportunity is a great way to spend eternity being dunked in lava over and over again. One of the simplest and worst ways to go, by the way,” he added. “That’s why it’s so popular in the various Hells. And to make it even better, you don’t really need to do anything to get lava. Most world-types make their own.”
“You continually deflect,” Lotus accused. “You can no longer even conceive of the possibility of enjoying life, of utilising the eternity you have been granted for something – for anything – of value,” she jabbed at him with a dirty, ragged-nailed finger. “You didn’t come here for death, Sorry Çrom Skelliglyph, because you already knew I would fail. You came here to cry about how sad it is you get to live forever.”
“If you’d ever experienced death and been forced to continue living with the knowledge-” Çrom said hotly.
“-I wouldn’t be such a little baby about it,” Lotus retorted.
“Maybe not the first time, or the second, or the ten thousandth,” Çrom replied. “How many times would you last, Black Lotus?”
“I don’t know,” she snapped. “But my legend would not be about a sad and hopeless fool walking across the urverse and getting killed every time he stopped for a sandwich.”
Çrom spluttered, did his best to summon up further indignation, and failed with another chuckle. “Alright,” he said. “I’m sorry I can no more grant you immortality than you can grant me death. If there was a way for us to swap places, I’d jump at it,” he waited what he felt was a reasonable length of time for her to suggest there was a way, then went on when she merely sat and watched him. “Can you kill me permanently, or not?”
“I can,” the Black Lotus said. “I believe, through this discussion, that I have discerned a way.”
“I’m all ears.”
Lotus looked at him as if he was the crazy one. “I am not going to tell you,” she replied. “The price you have promised me is insufficient.”
“Let me guess,” Çrom sighed. “You somehow suddenly know how to thwart the dread Ghåålus’ curse and end my life-”
“I have suspected from the start that there is a solution to your problem,” Lotus said. “The questions you have answered, and the stories we have shared, have convinced me I was right all along.”
“Only you’re not going to tell me until I find a way to make you immortal.”
“Oh, no,” Lotus said. “I would not insult you with such a transparent ploy.”
“I am not going to tell you because I think you’re right about one thing,” Lotus said. “The dread Ghåålus has mapped out your eternity and any plan we come up with will fail … or you yourself will kill it in the cradle.”
Çrom blinked. “You think hiding it from me will hide it from Him?” he asked. “That’s … novel, I’ll give you that.”
“I’m just getting started. You might be right about the safeguards protecting your curse, Sorry Çrom Skelliglyph, but you are wrong about everything else,” the Black Lotus declared. “You are going to see the wonder and opportunity of your immortality. You are going to embrace eternity and find new purpose. You are going to stop seeking a permanent end.”
“And that’s when you’re going to kill me,” Çrom concluded.
“And that’s when I’m going to kill you,” Lotus smiled.
Çrom stared at her, tried to laugh, failed, and slumped.
“I just … look, I’ve tried, okay? It might be a function of simple organic physics. My brain is only configured to deal with one lifetime. One and done. I haven’t got immortal brain, or even super-long-term project brain. I’ve got a plain old dumb mortal brain, over and over and over again.”
“You are wrong.”
“I’m wrong about being tired?” he blinked. “Look, I’ve been around long enough to see that nothing is really permanent,” he tried again. “Everything eventually dies, or crumbles to dust. Only I go on. Only grief is forever.”
“You are wrong.”
“Grief, and a handful of miserable eternals who I can look at and see my own weariness looking back at me. Yes, even in the ones who are happy. I can see the weariness behind the joy with which they fool themselves, the play they use as a distraction. Why do you think I avoid them?”
“You are wrong.”
“It doesn’t matter if I am,” Çrom snapped. “In another hundred or hundred and fifty years you and your opinion will be gone, and I’ll still be here, and ‘I told you so’ won’t make me feel any better about it. Nothing will make me feel better then, and nothing will make me feel better now.”
“I know something that might,” Lotus said.
“Now now,” Çrom raised his hands. “What was I just saying about my inner monkey?”
“Enough to reveal to me that you still have one,” Lotus’s smile turned sly, and she reached out and grasped his wrists. Her grip was surprisingly firm. “And that will more than suffice – for now.”
– Posted from my Huawei mobile phone while sitting in the carpark.