The Warmth of the Hearth

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A Casualty

Luke opens his eyes and he finds himself surrounded in darkness. The air is cold, and he feels nothing but the ground beneath his feet. Sand, he thought as he attempts to move through the sinking landscape. All of his senses go numb as he walks blindly, looking for a clue as to where he is.

He spots a faint movement in the corner of his eye. Luke snaps his head towards its direction, and spots another. More movements follow as the air around Luke grows thinner and colder. In front of him, a ghostly hand appears, causing him to flinch and fall over. More spectral arms rise from beneath him, pinning him to the ground.

A face materializes on top of him, an old man with rotting skin and missing eyeballs. Smoke surrounds him, as if he himself was made of mist. The specter opens its mouth, as if to scream something, but all it could manage is a soft whisper that was barely audible. “Fresh manna… must consume manna…” Its voice sounded like hundreds of voices speaking as one, as he grabs Luke’s face with an open mouth.

Luke panics, struggling to get out of the grip of the countless ghostly hands below him. He feels his strength wane, his manna threatening to leave his body, as if it were being sucked away. Just as Luke was about to pass out, a bright white light fills his vision, blinding him. He hears sizzling as he feels the hands disappear, setting him free. A warmth overwhelms him, and he senses nothing but calm.

“Bearer of the hearth, open your eyes.” A warm female voice calls him, and Luke feels comfort in the entirety of his being. He opens his eyes, flinching from the sudden brightness. When his eyes settle, he sees the scenery for the first time. A dark purple mist engulfs the landscape, with sand blowing as gusts of wind pass. The sky was painted in black, like the night sky he has grown accustomed to seeing. However, instead of stars, he saw wisps that seemed to resemble the ones he had just encountered floating across the sky. He searches for his savior, scanning the area around him. “Behind you, my dear Luke.”

Luke turns around as he hears the voice, a melody that seemed so familiar yet so unknown to him at the same time. He sees a middle-aged woman, pale-skinned, sporting bright orange eyes. She had long black hair, and she put on a smile that warmed Luke as he looked at her. Her wrinkles were undoubtedly present, but they were unnoticeable as she makes her way towards him. Luke opens his mouth to speak, which he found unexpectedly dry. “Who are you?”

The woman simply continues to approach him, stopping only when they were face to face. “It is understandable that you don’t know me, although it feels strange to have to introduce yourself to your own son. My name is Anais Laisren, a pleasure to meet you.” She chuckles, her smile never leaving her face.

“Mom?” Luke mutters, tears brimming in his eyes.

“Hello Luke.” She responds, her smile visible though her eyes show a look of longing.

Luke rushes to hug her, which she happily receives. “I have so much to tell you! You have to meet Carson and Eli, and you gotta see all of the stuff I’ve do---” His voice cuts off, a realization dawning upon him. “Am I dead?”

His mother puts her hand on his cheek, her smile now gone as tears are seen on the side of her cheek. She quietly nods, putting her head on his chest. Luke is distraught at the fact that he was in fact, dead. It was a hard pill to swallow, something that seemed so out of this world. He embraces his mother once more and puts her in front of him to face her.

“So, what now? Is there a registration form that I have to fill up?” Luke laughs, trying to reassure his mother that he was okay. If being dead was okay.

His mother doesn’t seem to be happy however, as she conjures a bright white flame. She condenses all of it onto the tip of her finger and puts it on the tip of his forehead. “I’m afraid it is not your time yet, my dear Luke.” She kisses his cheek and continues to pour out all of her manna onto her finger, filling Luke with so much warmth inside of him. “You were a casualty, an unexpected variable in their war.” She pauses. “This may be the last time I’ll ever see you again, my son. Know that I am so proud of you for making it this far.” Her body glows, and it slowly dissolves into hundreds of tiny elusive butterflies that disappear into the sky.

“Wait! What do you mean?!” Luke desperately tries to get ahold of her, failing with each try. He desperately tries everything but his heart wavers, knowing that there was nothing he can do.

“All of your questions will be answered soon, my love.” She says as her last ounce of manna leaves her. “Farewell, my dear Luke.” In an instant, she bursts into a thousand butterflies that surround Luke, before disappearing.

Luke falls on his knees. He has lost his mother again, after seeing her for the first time in his life. He sobs silently, knowing that he was alone once more.

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