I was meant to come here alone. I always should have come alone.
“You’ve gotten so big, Eve,” Dragomir said. He cupped Eve’s hollow cheeks with both hands, and as he did so, one of his fingers chipped off and fell away. It puffed into a heap of ash at his feet. He barely noticed. “So big.”
Eve shuddered, hunching. Her spine popped liberally at the motion, and she staggered into Dragomir’s arms, seemingly unable to support her weight anymore. He struggled to keep her upright, but his own body was no better off, and they collapsed in a tangle on the floor. The tower creaked, still threatening to fall apart from the hole Traveller had left behind in the wall, but it remained steady.
They breathed. Together, at last, they breathed.
“Daddy…” Eve’s voice sounded youthful yet pained, as though she was trying to force the old woman’s rasp out of her tone and was paying for it. “I knew you would… you would be the one… it hurts, daddy, it hurts…”
“I know it does, sweetie.” Dragomir smoothed her hair, leaving black streaks from his fingertips in the strands. “I know. But we’re almost done. Heh, sorry, I’m messing up your hair.”
“Always… wanted… you to… brush… my hair…” Eve croaked a little laugh. It was the first time Dragomir had ever heard her laugh. “Daddy, it hurts so… so much… please…”
Dragomir knew what he had to do. There was a little bit left in him, just enough to get the job done. Then all of the most spectacular threats to the world would be ended. But he wanted just a little more time, just a little more to enjoy this moment, this last moment, this moment he’d yearned for since the beginning of his days. The days he’d recorded -
Something bumped against Dragomir’s foot.
Straining, Dragomir looked. The diary was staring at him, a grumpy expression on its cover. There was a small tear in the side of its ‘face’, no doubt from the impact against the wall. It cocked a pencil-thin eyebrow at him, then swung open to a blank page. Words began to appear on the parchment.
“I… thought you ditched me for that other guy, buddy.” Dragomir coughed. “Eheh. Sorry. Eve didn’t mean it, right, honey?”
Eve shook her head, then buried her face in Dragomir’s chest. “Didn’t… mean it… Eve… didn’t…”
“She didn’t mean it.” Dragomir stroked her head. “You should go, dude. Get on outta here. I think… I think Dragomir can take care of you from now on.”
The diary wrote something else. The face appeared above the words, frowning at Dragomir, both puzzled and sad.
“He is. Not me.” Dragomir sighed. “I’m just… I’m just another Non, a guy without a name. ’n we both know it.”
The diary considered that, then snapped shut. It wandered over to Dragomir’s face, observing him carefully, its tail thrashing from side to side. It looked at the hole in the wall, then at the stairs, then at Eve, then back to Dragomir. Then, surprising Dragomir, it snuggled up against his arm, rubbing against him with the affection of a cat, and in that lovely moment Dragomir realized how profoundly he’d wronged the little creature in the last year.
“I’m sorry,” Dragomir said. He stroked the diary’s spine with a shaky hand. “I really am. Go tell my story, willya? I think some people will wanna hear it.”
Steeling himself, Dragomir grasped the diary by the spine, feeling his bad arm shudder with even this minor exertion. He lifted it, his muscles tearing, and with every ounce of physical strength he had left to him he hurled the diary towards the hole in the wall, where Traveller had fallen. He caught only a faint glimpse of the shock on the diary’s face as it flew, and even that was eclipsed as Dragomir’s arm exploded into ash, showering the floor with sooty black. The book, his book, his friend, sailed out into the open air and disappeared. He hoped it would hit Traveller on the head, but if not, he knew it would be fine anyway.
“Thanks, buddy.” Dragomir swallowed. “Thanks.”
He turned to Eve. She was watching him, her wizened face broken and defenceless, eyes wide, vibrant, and pained. There was an innocence to her, a childish spark that she’d lacked even as a baby, and Dragomir wondered just how lovely and loving a kid she might have been if she’d been given a normal life. He pictured her as an actual four-and-a-half-year-old, her pretty little head awash in unruly blonde curls, standing beside her proud, fierce mama, Libby’s heavy work glove nestled affectionately in her hair. More, he pictured two brothers, on either side of Libby, clutching their mother’s legs and staring up at her reverently.
He stood with them, his diary under one arm. He stood with them as a family, the family he’d always wanted.
“It’s.. time, daddy,” Eve said, coughing loudly. “Please… help… Eve…”
“I know.” Dragomir kissed his daughter on the forehead. “Just close your eyes. It’ll be over in a sec.”
Eve nestled her head into Dragomir’s chest again, hiccuping quietly. Dragomir closed his own eyes, breathing deeply, feeling the comfortable weight of his daughter slipping away as his body began to fall apart. His legs slowly crumbled into twin piles of ash, his remaining arm dissolved into the floorboards, his face and his hair transformed into sand. He felt it happening, knowing that if he tried to hold on too long he would lose his chance to free his daughter, and in that moment he realized he was seeing his final glimpse of the future, of a future mere moments ahead of him. He wasn’t sleeping, but Dragomir the Farsighted saw it all anyway, and for once, for once, he struggled to change what might happen.
It was, he realized, very, very easy. He just had to let go.
The final lock on Dragomir’s power fell away, released by his own hands, and the last of the Catastrophe’s might erupted from his decaying body. Swirls of pulsing green pixels exploded outward, engulfing father and daughter in a contained shockwave that rocked the landscape for miles around. The king’s tower would have collapsed under the pressure, but the glittering emerald orb of Dragomir’s final earthly act dissolved the masonry almost down to the base of the tower, leaving the stone that remained behind as smooth as glass. It took almost a day for the orb to dissipate fully, and it left a starry scar in the sky that would never disappear.
Dragomir thought he heard his daughter thank him in the final seconds. He was not, however, sure of it. He thanked her back anyway, and led her into the light.