Guiltless

On the 11th of January 1937 Johnathon Ignes is born. He is a suitable weight, in good health...but different from all the other babies in the ward, because he is born immune to guilt. 2 years and 235 days later, worldwide war breaks out.
Sent away as an evacuee, Johnathon grows up away from his mother, and meets Erebus, a cheeky paperboy. Erebus too, has no guilt, and under his influence, Johnathon grows up into a monster.
This is the story of how that monster, became a leader.
- The prequel to 'Souls' (but will make sense if you haven't read it) -

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53. Chapter 52

Johnathon woke up before Adele, and not wanting to disturb her, he gently lifted up her arm and removed it from around his waist, slowly getting out of bed. He silently dressed in the bathroom, and left her to sleep. When he came down the stairs, he saw that the only other person out of bed was Eloise. She jolted when she saw him, as if his presence had taken her by surprise.

“Are you alright? You seem a little jumpy this morning.” He observed, getting himself a glass of water. Eloise couldn't hear him through the sound of her fingers drumming against the tabletop. “Eloise? Hey, Eloise? Look at me.” Johnathon took her by her shoulders, forcing her eyes to meet his. Eloise went stiff, then relaxed. Her expression was defeated, as if she was, in that moment, hopeless.

“I’m sorry, I’m just a little anxious this morning. Have you seen Gael?” Eloise spoke faster than usual, her nerves forcing her words out like bullets.

“Not since last night, why?” Johnathon tried to keep his response brief to avoid concerning Eloise further.

“We had a talk last night...he was pretty upset, I’m worried I might not have been empathetic enough.” Eloise tried to word it right, her brow creasing.

“What did you talk about?” Johnathon asked. Eloise looked away, down to where her feet were.

“I chose Kris as the leader...but I never chose Gael,” she paused, looking up again, “I just thought that Kris would have raised him to be a good leader too, that Gael could do it, but after last night I knew I was wrong. Gael isn’t the rightful leader of the Wild Souls.” Eloise wandered away, her head in her hands. Johnathon took the information in, gaining an understanding of what it all meant. His mind went back to many years ago, when he’d overheard Rebecca and Kris arguing over the pregnancy.

“Is it because Gael’s a crossbreed?” Johnathon guessed.

“You know about that?” Eloise spun around, shocked.

“I overheard an interesting conversation a few years back...” Johnathon shrugged.

“Gael doesn’t know about any of that, but yes, a lot of his deficiencies towards being the leader are due to the nature of his birth. He has much less instinct you see, he can get nutrients from the soil all he likes, but he feels no urge to do so. Without instinct, he can’t understand the urges of the other Wild Souls, and thus, he cannot lead them.” Eloise explained, shaking her head as if she thought it were a great shame, “I didn’t talk to him about his true mother last night though, I talked to him about not being the rightful leader.”

“Well surely Gael can stay in the position until you find the ‘rightful leader’?” Johnathon suggested, “That way you’d let him down easy.”

“That’s just the thing...I’ve already found the rightful leader. That’s what upset him most I think, it must have been quite the blow.” Eloise bit her lip, her eyes apologetic.

“Eloise, who is the rightful leader?” Johnathon spoke quieter and slower, trying to ease the information out of her. Eloise looked out of the window, her breaths strained and fretful.

“Leo.” She confessed.

“Leo? How old is he? Twelve?” Johnathon failed to see how such a young boy could do such a tough job.

“He’s sixteen Johnathon, and I know he’s the rightful leader. Last night proves it, the way he solved the population problem and reassured everyone was pure genius. Not to mention it was all his idea, I was speaking to Tao afterwards, and he told me Gael had nothing to do with it. In fact, Gael’s been locked up in his room for weeks still grieving his father…” Eloise began to babble, as if she had to convince not only Johnathon, but herself too. Johnathon half-listened to what she was saying, getting a little bored of her list of reasons. So Leo was the rightful leader, why was that such a big deal? Surely Gael and Leo being cousins meant it would be easier for Gael to pass over the role? “...So you see, it’s really quite simple.” Eloise finished, but her face was still undecisive.

“Filling Johnathon in?” Tao appeared at the top of the stairs. Johnathon was thankful to see he hadn’t changed too much. He had a few creases in his face, but he didn’t seem to have aged much over the past eleven years. Plus his personality was as harsh as ever. “I have to admit, even I was a little surprised. Leo is still a very fresh mind, and an extremely youthful spirit, but I can see why Eloise has chosen him, and I am very proud of him.”

“Tao, have you seen Gael this morning?” Eloise inquired, hoping maybe the uncle knew the whereabouts of his nephew.

“No.” Tao spoke sharply, “He’s probably crying in his room.”

“How very empathetic of you.” Johnathon commented, not pleased by Tao’s lack of concern.

“You can talk.” Tao growled, glaring at him. Johnathon, unaffected, decided to leave Tao to his thoughts, and Eloise to her fretting.

He went back upstairs to Adele, who was awake by that point, and they began to pack their bags again. He still planned to be gone by the afternoon. He told Adele about the leadership fiasco, and couldn’t help but smile when he immediate response was to say ‘poor Gael…’ and go on about how rotten these past couple of months must have been for him. They spent the rest of their morning socialising, and Adele fit in perfectly (as always) people seemed to think she belonged there more than Johnathon did. Lunchtime came, and there was still no sign of Gael, not that anyone besides Eloise seemed all too concerned. Gael had been so distant since Kris died that people had gotten used to his absence. He was like a vase of flowers, Tao said, he ‘was there when the place had to look nice’.  Johnathon was just washing up his plate when Eloise came up behind him.

“Can I have a word in Kris’s study?” She requested. Johnathon nodded, and headed there quickly. When he stepped inside he found this was not a private meeting. Felicity, Andrew...and Leo all stood there. Felicity was twiddling her thumbs, feeling on edge and uncomfortable. Andrew was looking around, dumbfounded, he didn’t have a clue what was going on. Neither for that matter, did Leo, who’s creased brow showed just how out of place he felt in the study. A few moments later Eloise entered, walking over to the desk to address them all. She took a deep breath in, preparing herself, and before one of them had a chance to ask her half a question she spoke.

“Gael is missing.” She announced, not making eye contact with any of them.

“What?” Leo stood up, anger edging into his voice.

“He’s gone, I don’t think he’s coming back. He’s run away Leo.” Eloise broke it down, essentially repeating the same fact twice.

“What do you mean he’s gone? He wouldn’t do that! He’s the leader now, he has to stay and help.” Leo’s denial was almost pitiful.

“It does sound unlikely…” Andrew trailed off, proving that he did not know the truth about what was going on. Felicity look at him the same was Johnathon did, proving that she did.

“Last night I had a talk with Gael, and I think I upset him. You see, Gael’s not the rightful leader,” Eloise began to explain, “Leo is.” Leo’s cheeks flushed and his pupils constricted, he almost stumbled backwards in shock.

“Me? But I’m...and he’s, well...are you sure?” Leo’s breaths grew shorter and more frequent, Eloise bowed her head.

“I’m certain.” She reached out her hand to put on Leo’s shoulder, but he brushed her away.

“Gael has left because I am to take his position, is that correct?” Leo spoke clearer this time, as if no emotion was inside him, only rationality. He sounded a lot more like his father. Eloise, faced with Leo’s back, sighed.

“Yes.” Eloise confirmed.

“This is my fault…” Leo didn’t finish his sentence, and Johnathon realised why his back was turned. He was crying. He didn’t want them to see him cry.

“It’s not your fault,” Johnathon intervened, “It’s Kris’s.” Eloise looked at Johnathon in a way that said ‘don’t’, but Johnathon didn’t always do the right thing. “Gael is a crossbreed. His mother’s not Rebecca, his mother’s some normal called Clarissa.”

“Kris had an affair?” Leo turned back around, his eyes were puffy, but his tears had halted.

“Yes. It ended with Gael’s birth.” Johnathon nodded.

“Does Gael know?” Leo was coming back into himself, his tone was back to normal, and his priorities were suddenly selfless again.

“No, not that I’m aware.” Johnathon was pleased to see Leo had calmed down slightly. The room fell silent for a while, everyone expected the other to speak next.

“I’ll do it.” Leo decided, “And my first action will be to try and find my cousin.” Eloise smiled and nodded, as if she had expected this reaction. Leo moved to look out of the window, as if the trees were calling to him. “When we were children we used to see who could climb those trees the fastest, and I would almost always win. One day our fathers watched, and when Kris saw Gael lose, well, he was disappointed to say the least. Gael refused to come back inside, and for a whole week he camped out under the trees. When he came back indoors, the first thing he told me was that he’d never climb another tree ever again. Gael’s just hurt, and confused, he’s gone to camp out under the trees, he’ll be back soon... I’m sure of it. And if he’s not, then I’ll look for him, I owe him that much.”

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