Fire and Ash

September 6, 2016
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Fire and ash. Soot and smoke. Dust and death. The words so linked together created chaos, destruction, devastation. In the middle of it all there was only one body. His hair a dark black, mixed with the grey of soot and the smell of smoke. His otherwise scarred cheek smeared with black. The light blue of his eyes a stark contrast against the faint orange and red glow of the horizon. Dark shapes of trees looked crooked and shadow-less against the horizon. Small embers of flame flew with the wind that caressed the black hair. He raised his arm. There was a laceration on his arm, a dark red welt looking like an animal claw scratch.  He looked around as if he couldn’t believe his eyes. The only place unmarked by the flames and destruction was where he stood. When he moved, the perfect light color of crushed grass beneath his feet stood out against all the soot and embers.
The realization of what had happened hit him like the flames that had destroyed everything. Transfixed in fury and frustration, he shook. His hands balled into fists to try and keep the tears watering in his eyes from falling to the ruins of the ground. Was this his fault? Had he caused the inferno that swallowed everything around him? The guilt bore deeply into his mind even though no memory could help him with his recollection. Abandoned, alone and bereft of memory a cold fist of misery around his heart, he waited, and waited, and waited until hope was no more.

A town in Europe
3 weeks later


The streets were empty, the stalls abandoned. A lone child ran across the street chasing after a ball only to be dragged by his mother. The ball was left abandoned on the other side seeming as alone and desolate as the street it was in. An old man walked slowly on one side leaning heavily on the termite infested stick. He stopped, covered his mouth, and was hit with wracking coughs. His shoulders were shaking with effort and his face was turning blue. When he moved his hand from his mouth, it came back stained in the deepest crimson. He passed by the closed door of the houses, the same wracking cough audible from most houses inside, the doors also painted red.
After an hour a young man appeared. His stride and balance so contradictory to that of the people who had recently passed it was as if a ray of sun had been seen after a long time. His black cloak covered his head but nothing could hide the heat that emanated from his body. He was surrounded by an eerie orange glow that contrasted deeply with the grey pallor around the street. No one was around and with no more options; he followed the street to the temple.
Low combined voices of a timid group could be heard from the temple steps. They cast furtive glances in his direction, whispering not so subtly about him. He struggled to smile as he approached them, “Nice day isn’t it?” They didn’t do much more than cast more cautious glances at each other. “Sure” came from one of the younger ones in the group. He clearly craved the life of an adventurer and by the way he looked at the newcomer’s attire, he had found one such example. Longing shone in his eyes as his friendly smile never wavered in its altruistic nature. He was nudged by one of his older companions and his smile faded a little. He looked ashamed for having spoken to the stranger.
“If you gentlemen are too uncomfortable in my presence, I could leave if you want” the young man offered politely, although in his mind all sorts of possibilities were going off. Did they know about the fire, the destruction? That he had caused it? He had barely been able to sleep the past few weeks, wracked by his guilt. Alarm was building up in his chest so fast that he could feel a ringing in his ears, his mind ready to face the accusations and the petrified glances. “No! It’s fine. You seem like a safe young man, we didn’t mean to offend. You can’t be too cautious these days. Only today a messenger came by screaming of a fire so immense that it burned the whole village…” the man continued, but the young man didn’t hear past that. The ringing in his ears was back and he blocked out effectively all the other horrendous details the messenger must have found. He didn’t want to relive the death he had seen, most of all he didn’t want these people to know what he had done. They would look at him with horror, with fear, tremble in his presence. He detested that feeling.

“…no one was left alive. All there was left was ash and dust.” The man finished. “Oh that is really tragic. I know there is plague here, I hope that this town doesn’t burn too” he managed to choke out. The men allowed him to ask them a few more cursory questions something that wouldn’t make it obvious that he was the perpetrator behind an entire village burning. They seemed more eager to talk to him now; having shared their troubles they seemed lightened of their burden. He left them, the rising feeling of foreboding leaving him, with each of their friendly goodbyes.
No one knew about his secret, at least not until now. It was only a matter of time though. The heat coming off of his body was a sure sign of his mutation. He couldn’t really hide it. It always encompassed his body making everyone else in the vicinity sweat in his presence without them knowing the source and without him feeling the heat. If only he had any memory of that night. He would know what exactly had triggered the mass scorching heaps of living flesh; maybe that would raise the guilt he always felt. Anywhere he went the smiling faces, even the sick faces of people with plague made him feel guilty. The rising pressures of emotion on his chest made him so damn guilty! He couldn’t look anywhere without feeling like he had caused the problems.
Before everything he had always been able to count on is family. But now they were gone too, and it was his entire fault. He didn’t want to think about his brother’s enthusiastic blue eyes, looking up into his own, wanting to learn some new trick. He could remember how he would jump up and down, unable to restrict all the raw energy of a 13 year old. His sister so small and innocent, always wanting to touch his hair. He knew that she liked doing that because of their mother. Both his parents had died when he was only 15 years old; he had practically raised his sister and had been a mentor to his brother. His hair was just like their mother’s though, and even if she didn’t remember much, his sister had remembered the feel of her hair. Sadly he would always indulge her, never forgetting that she would never know their parents the way he did.
But now he had probably killed them too. They were too young. Their eyes had not even seen the world enough to be robbed of it. No. he couldn’t think about them anymore, his eyes had already filled with tears, and there was no use. Nothing would bring them back. All he could do was move on and remember what he had done. He would remember, and in his memories they would jump towards him the minute he came back home. They would smile and laugh like they would never again be prone to do and with their laughter, they had taken his.
The young man sighed, shoulders moving up in a silent attempt to right himself. His tears receded and his will rebuilt. He moved on. Still he looked toward the horizon without the benefit that all men do. He had no more hope to give.

The same town in Europe
3 days later


There was a knocking on his door as he was getting ready to leave. His cloak was once again on his back, the hood hiding his face. He had just been about to open the door when the timid knock was heard from the other end. 
His face was once again drawn in the mask that he had made perfect in front of the mirror the other day. The boy was about to knock again, his fist raised in preparation. “Oh…umm my brother wanted to talk to you sir. I’m not sure about what exactly but you might want to hear him out anyway” he recited as if he had rehearsed it a few times. “Yeah sure, I’ll be right down” he grabbed the small amount of possessions he had in the room and walked out.
Waiting at the bottom of the stairs was the boy he had met at the temple. As he saw him, he gave him a hesitant smile. The boy’s hair was wind swept as if he had recently run really fast. “I just wanted to let you know that since you will be travelling a little more, you should know the one responsible for the destruction of the village we were talking about the other day. In case you meet him on the road or something, you can avoid him. That sort of person really isn’t worth meeting I reckon” by the time he stopped speaking, his heartbeat was in his hears. The rushing of blood through his veins just became even more pronounced. He could physically feel the temperature in the room rising and in increasing alarm he tried to control the feeling. The feeling that he was losing control of his emotions had overridden him. His skin started to smoke. Steam was rising from his shoulders; his cloak was getting too hot, his skin turning red.
“Are you feeling alright sir? You seem a little bit unhinged?” the boy was saying. “No, I am fine, what do they say about the perpetrator?” he managed to force his mouth to say. “Well a messenger came by yesterday from the next village with news. He said that a middle aged man had been bragging about single handedly destroying the whole village. He was at the pub and had been into his cups for quite a while. The messenger says that the man claimed he had done this for revenge. Apparently the head of the village had somehow insulted him a long time back, so he had gone into the village in the dead of night, while everyone was sleeping and the dogs had been put inside. He took a torch from one of the houses and lit everything up. The crackle of the fire was symphony; the dying screams a comfort, the heat of the fire making everything real. He said that he made sure one person survived. Seemingly he laid the boy down in the middle of all the wreckage to make it look like he did it. I would hate be that boy, imagine the guilt he must feel, knowing he did all of that damage. That he was responsible for his family’s death. For everyone else’s as well. Thinking about it he fits about your age. Anyway I just wanted to say that I hope you have safe travels and never meet that guy in your travels” he smiled but it didn’t register in the young man’s head.
He hadn’t done it! He wasn’t responsible for all those deaths, his family’s death. Euphoria spread through him like the plague that seemed to be going around. Elation couldn’t even describe the feeling in his arms, his legs, his heart, everywhere he could feel. But another second of thought left him with rage. Rage so profound that he was consumed by the fire that had killed all those people Nothing compared. Nothing ever would or could. The red haze over his eyes clouded the clear sense of reason. As of their own accord his hands wanted to lift every article of furniture in the room and release it as painfully as possible into the person responsible. It was so unbearable that his skin was crawling with indignation and righteous fury, trying to choke whoever got close enough. 
“Did the messenger give a description of the man?” he asked the boy who was watching him curiously by now, his features arranged into a mixture of awe and fear. “Well yeah, he said the man had really dark eyes, like deep pools without conscience. His hair is as dark as his eyes, possibly even darker. He has a limp on his right side and a really deep voice. Olive skin, much like the rest of us around here. Not much else I can tell you really, except that he seemed to really like his drinks. I would suggest that you avoid the pubs on the way if you want to avoid him” the boy shrugged. “Thank you for that, I owe you. Ask if you ever need anything. That meant more to me than you will ever know” he spun around with the force of a hurricane walking out of the gray stone building so fast, the boy stared after him wondering whether he was real at all.
The young man walked. He wanted to run, to scream and shout, and to find this man who had killed his family. Guilt no longer tore at him. Instead it was the ever blinding effects of vengeance. For the first time in a week, he had purpose. His strides were longer and filled with expectation. His face once a permanent mask of apathy, turned up into a small sinister smile. He was going to do this, and then he would be free. He would find this limping bastard and make sure that no one else ever had the displeasure to see his face again. For the first time in a week his heart was filled with hope.


Pub somewhere to the West

7 days later

Loud noises were being made. Cheers were called from time to time. The bar maid was on her feet constantly, serving one patron then quickly moving to another. The owner smug in his earnings sat in a corner observing the drunken mix of men. The room was not overly big or overly ostentatious either. But men tended not to pay attention to such details, especially when their bellies were full and alcohol flowed like water. The furniture was shabby at best and the company in the room, little more than field workers.
The young man sat at the table. His hand wrapped around a cup still full of a drink he had neglected. His posture was stiff and his blue eyes were focused. The scars on his face were no longer hidden as his hood was pulled back. No one would have noticed anyway, the light was so dim that it cast dark shadows across his face and they were too busy watching and listening to the man who was the center of all attention.
The man was waving his arms around. Spinning in a circle and limping in the process, he was basking in all the attention; he declared at the top of his voice that he had single handedly destroyed a village. He was so proud of himself, he did not notice the avid gaze of the young man or that he had clenched his fists into tight balls. He didn’t even notice the dramatic increase in temperature of the room, but others did, although they did not know its source.
He was too drunk to care and too proud to notice. He was as the messenger had described him: Eyes as black as his soul, hair even more so. The limp was noticeable even in this confined space and the olive complexion was not a rarity. He looked like he belonged in the room more than the young man who as always had the cloak around him. The orange glow around him was dismissed as the torches playing tricks and the taught expression attested as a day gone wrong.

No one paid any attention to a barely turned adult. There was more interesting gossip to be heard, all the waggling tongues made for great entertainment. None were more entertaining than the bragging drunkard sitting in the thick of it.
The night wore on as many passed out. The money ran dry and eventually so did the alcohol. The bar maid finally had a chance to rest her feet, only to be called by another final  customer. The young man still sat in the same spot observing the limping man who was stumbling towards the door. The man stumbled and almost fell, mumbling in a drunken stupor, swaying dangerously close to the ground. He grabbed his cloak tossed a few gold coins at the bar and left, opening the door in a blast of cold wind.
Not wanting to lose the lead, the young man followed suit pulled up his hood and followed the man into the cold, dark night.
It was a very beautiful October night. The stars and the moon were shining bright in the sky, illuminating the way for the young man to follow. He never stumbled thanks to the pale white light. The wind was cold but not as harsh as it would be in later months. The shuffling walk of the limping man was not hard to follow, his limp made him slow, his drunken state made him loud. He was slurring through a lewd song as he walked towards the forest.
The young man found him squatting into a bush. No words were spoken between them as blue eyes met black. Orange flame flickered in the surrounding as if a switch had been turned on. They flickered dangerously towards the pair glaring at each other. The young man watched him, memorizing every detail of the face that had caused him misery, guilt and devastation. All that had been wrong suddenly seemed right.
The wind picked up, the flames burned higher. The limping man whimpered in evident fear, but the young man did not waver. The ground shook, lightning flashed, but the young man did not waver. The flames had towered over them both, encompassing them; the young man did not waver. Elements clashed, forces colliding; the young man did not waver.
The fire leapt forward completely engulfing the body of the vanquisher of a whole village. The crackle of burning flesh was a symphony; the dying screams a comfort and the heat making everything real. He watched on as the body disintegrated, as it turned into nothing but ash and dust. As if their job had been done the flames disappeared, leaving the young man alone staring at the pile of ash. His life came at a standstill after a few minutes of slow action.
The wind blew colder, wracking coughs hit him. He covered his mouth and struggled to breath. His hand came back covered in blood. He smiled at the justice of nature. Now he had hope. Now he was truly free.

A few months later when both the remains of a person and a body were found nothing could be said about their deaths. The mysterious deaths were reiterated in every village and every town. Gossip flew faster than Pegasus on a warm day. A boy in Athens was told much the same as everyone else among a group talking outside the temple. He didn’t think much about it until he was sure he heard a little girl’s voice in the air say “Nathan, you’re here! I missed you so much brother!” and the voice along with a more familiar voice floated away in an orange glow. The boy was sure he had imagined it, there was no way it was the young man he had met a few months ago. Yeah that was impossible. Shaking his head the boy walked away, the whole time thinking about the man who had echoed misery and whose promise would never be used.

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