Even the blazing flame tearing apart the home of one of my very own children does not phase me. The cackle of the embers roaring to life as if to mock me. Daring to elicit a reaction.
My eyes feel dry and uncomfortable, but otherwise nothing comes to the surface. I feel no weight in my soul, no wrenching sorrow in my stomach, and above all my complexion does not falter. It has been many years since these old bones have felt anything but the emptiness that has invaded my very being. I can feel eyes on me from all around, bearing down and trying in vain to see within.
The shattering of glass, no longer able to withstand the inferno, causes my ear to twitch. Tuning in to my heightened senses the full picture of this atrocity unravels. Splintering wood that fuels the hungry flames, bricks spalling and risking further collapse with every moment, and most notably the undesirable scent of flesh. Black, crumpled flesh peeling away to cooking muscle and fat. Slow and never quite killing the nerves being assaulted. A truly horrible way to die.
No signs of life join the destruction before me. The work was over. A presence joins me to my side, announced long ago by the scent of alcohol, tobacco, and wet animal fur. His foot steps come to a halt just over my shoulder and he remains silent for a few moments, not out of respect of the tragedy, of course, but of me. It's not a respect I deserve, but perhaps that is the point of it all. My true punishment.
"You did not need to come, My King. You can trust us."
His voice is firm and without regret, likely a byproduct of the alcohol and tobacco. The smell of the vices are more recent than the accelerant that started the evening's events. I know what they can do to a man all too well.
He held his tongue for a while, looking between the flames, me, and the rest of the onlookers some distance behind. They were longing for approval over their deeds.
"My King, we-"
"Don't call me that," I snapped at him. Turning from the blaze to face the man, his shaggy beard and crumpled shirt stained from many vices, I look into his eyes. Pain-soaked resolve stares back. "I haven't been King for a long time."
"Well, technically, but-"
"No. Don't call me that. Lukas is fine, now."
He looked at a loss for words, turning away in shame. My gaze drifted back to the fire, feeling that whatever it is he had had to say no longer held any motivation. Part of me wants to talk, it has been a fair while since I have had a conversation longer than what it takes to buy cigarette cases in bulk, but there are no words appropriate here. A wall collapsed within the abode with a vibrating finality.
"You didn't need to come, we... we had it..."
He kept stammering on, trying to find the words he needed. Approval, or any sort of judgement for that matter, would not be coming. Not from me, at least.
"Jakob called me an hour ago. That is why I came."
My son, one of many, had rung me up some time ago, whether it was actually an hour I am as unsure of as I am of the passing of time in general, with mixed news. His wife had given birth to a child, a beautiful boy with bright, golden hair, and passed shortly after. I could feel the pain in his voice, coating it and choking him. But he remained firm, showing a strength rare in this world. One I never had.
When he had called me I was sitting on the porch of my cabin home smoking a cigarette. I have no idea how many I had smoked up till that point, and the countless empty bottles across the floor proved too much effort to take count as well. He wanted to cry, I could tell, but had a message he needed to deliver. And he would wait until the call was over to allow his grief to take over. He asked me, first, if I could see the moon where I was.
I could, and it was blood red. I knew exactly what he was hinting of. Our people were a deathly superstitious folk, remnants of our ancient traditions filtering through and refuses to loosen their grip on our lives. Even I feel their influences from time to time.
According to ancient traditions even predating me a child born under a Blood Moon would bring about great, untold destruction. Pain and anguish would wrack the land, shaking mountains in the wailing of children and soaking oceans in their blood. The fate of a Blood Moon Baby was always that of immediate death.
Looking skyward to the moon, stained with dire promises, I did but for a moment feel a twinge of something. Something ancient and dead, passing before it could be identified.
He asked me to come to his home to see him and his boy. Normally I would refuse, like I have done time and time again for my many children seeking my blessing, but I felt a pull to accept this one. I finished my cigarette, donned a proper assortment of clothing, and hiked down the mountain to the glittering lights of civilization.
I could smell the smoke from several miles away.
If I could say anything about my children is that they're quick. The community knew about the baby, could likely smell the impending birth months in advance, and there was no way Jakob could have hidden it even if he had wanted to. Another strength of my children, I suppose.
"Linus..! Linus..!" Someone called out, poorly attempting to mask their voice, to the man still beside me. He turned, seeming conflicted. He did not take pride in the murder of his own kin, but held a responsibility to his people to confront the darkness of the world. To respect the superstitions for what, and why, they are. The muscles in his legs flexed for a delayed moment as he prepared to return to his home, to heed the beckons of his family, hesitating only for the sake of his torn emotions. He would need more alcohol, and several hundred years, to get the pain to pass.
I know all too well.
Likewise the heat is quickly becoming too much for me to care for, and I turn to leave. I was too late to be of any help to my child. I let the sounds, smells, and vibrations of the blaze to wash over me. Charcoal, rubble, melted plastics, and cooked hair and flesh. The individual tiles, shattered and violated by heat, the furnishings of a home once enjoyed by a young couple expecting great joys, destroyed, and the very couple it once housed, unrecognizable. A true tragedy.
My feet come to a quick halt as I take in deeper breaths and my ears twitch, unconsciously searching for something my mind has yet to inform me I have noticed.
I smell the burning flesh of only two distinct individuals, my children Jakob and Iris. But where is the baby?
I turn back, but this time, for the first time, taking in the full view of the street. The many houses, all in view of one another, of similar design, their many windows tinted orange and dancing with figures to weak of spirit to face up to their sins. I smell the many families within and hear their stressed breathing patterns.
But no baby.
My eyes settle back on the carnage, feeling in this moment that mine are the only ones paying it any sense of honor, and search the many details available to me. The burning sensation begins to return from staring into the flames and a longing to return to my own, numbing vices urges my feet onward. A bottle of something potent, its label in a language I never cared enough to learn, calling to me like the warmth of a jealous lover. The sorrowful embrace of solitude beckoning.
For a reason beyond my comprehension I kick the door of the burning home in, easily giving way in a shower of splintering embers. I cross the threshold into an inferno and absorb the memories it once held like the rays of an unforgiving sun. A rack for coats and wide brimmed hats, now broken in half and smoldering, an archway to my immediate left leading to a kitchen now overwhelmed in flame, and a cozy living space, now a wall of destruction and drifting flecks of burning fabric. There was so much potential to be had here that would now never be.
I am drawn down a short hallway, which is to be honest an accurate description of the house as a whole, to a room all the way down, the door leading within barely cracked open. Flames lick at the walls, feeding on them hungrily, but otherwise leave an open path for me to tread. Embers lick at my hair, never quite grabbing hold. The floorboards creak in protest of my invasion but would never dare to give way now. The smell of cooking flesh bears heavily from the end of the hallway and without hesitation I move towards it, descending deeper. The panicked voices of his confused children begin to reach from outside. They're quickly tuned out by the blaze.
There was a moment of resistance from the thin wooden door, as if it didn't want me to see what lay beyond, but something drew my on. It swung open with a creak before falling away from the hinges with a pop and another gust of embers, revealing the master bedroom beyond. The bed was fully alight and the form of the deceased Iris could easily be seen, a black outline against the bright orange consuming it.
What drew my eyes most heavily was the crumpled body of Jakob in the center of the floor between me and the inferno. He was face down with his back arching upwards and his arms curled down underneath him. He was clearly deceased, his clothing burning and his flesh cracking and blackened. But even still his body seemed to hold some sort of purpose to it. A will still present. Leaning down, my senses overwhelmed with an assault of different smells and sounds, the taste of smoke drowning me, I place a hand on the excruciatingly hot back of my poor child and tilted him over. His muscles were loosened from the heat but even still held firm.
But it was then that I smelled a new, sweet scent. Hidden away from him by Jakob's sacrifice.
Pulling at him with more determination his postmortem will finally gave in and fell to the side. His underside was in perfect condition, so tightly hidden away from the pain surrounding his final moments, and he held an oddly content smile on his face. Curled up his arms, and sleeping as if nothing were wrong, was the cherubic face of a child. Small tufts of golden hair danced on his head and his ears stuck out playfully. He bore many features common to my people, but also more than a few brand new. A purely unique being, and yet strikingly familiar.
I gaze upon the delicate form for some time, considering what it is that I'm even doing. I had sworn long ago not to interfere with the lives of my children. I did not deserve anything even remotely close to a relationship with them. They live their lives with a curse stemming from my sins.
My muscles long for their numbing vices once again and I am drawn to leave. It is but one child. The superstitions exist for a reason, and even I must admit that my cold existence is influenced by them even still. I should leave the child here. It's not my place.
I am no hero.
I turn to leave, my eyes beginning to glaze over from this accursed heat. I'll need a long bath when I get home. The hungry flames found their way to my hairs and will need to be trimmed.
An innocent whine, a cry choked by newly introduced smoke, breaks my thoughts. I cannot help but to look back. To the tragedy of my short-lived children.
To the opened eyes of a newborn staring up at me with an innocence that is truly unfair. A vibration courses through my soul like a pebble in a long dead pond and my instinct calls me to grip at my chest, but i don't. I cannot move, nor break the gaze of this child.
Eyes like pristine emeralds, cut up by beams of ocean blue. The lightest, golden streams feeding away from his pupils. Like the reflection of a perfect night sky off of a still shoreline.
I have only seen eyes so perfect once in my life, in all of my long life, and my heart aches with an emotion long thought dead.
Sadness, like many of the other more powerful emotions, erodes with time. It decays and eventually disappears. But the regrets always stay when you refuse to face them. And sometimes when something happens that forces you to face those regrets, to look them in their beautiful, judgement free eyes, those dead emotions get dredged up.
And so, with a conflicting pang in my soul and singed hairs I am no longer paying any mind to, I took to the back entrance of the home and disappeared into the night. Back to my own abode in the mountains. Away from the prying eyes, and noses, of my children.
They won't hunt for a baby they think is dead.
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