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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63. Chapter 62

As well as helping Johnathon around the house, Erebus advised him in leadership issues. It was one thing to raise a child, but to lead a race of people at the same time was too much. Erebus earned a new form of respect among the Soul community, and even earned himself an invite to the next ASNM.

10/08/2001:

“We’ll be back tomorrow morning at ten by the latest.” Johnathon assured Bethany, handing over Dmitri. Once again, she’d come to his rescue and agreed to care for him whilst he was busy. He’d told her it was a business trip, which was sort of true. Erebus and himself were on their way to Felicity’s house for the annual soul negotiation meeting.

“Don’t rush, take all the time you need.” Bethany smiled warmly, cuddling Dmitri in her arms.

“Thank you, I really appreciate it.” Johnathon bowed his head, turning and heading back into the car where Erebus was impatiently waiting.

“Finally,” Erebus sighed, “How long does it take to pass over a one year old boy?” Johnathon chose to ignore him, his only response was a subtle shake of his head. “So,” Erebus continued to speak, “I hear nowadays ASNM is a private affair.”

“Eloise thought it best to keep it between the people in charge, rather than have a houseful of people.” Johnathon briefly explained, not really in the mood for chit chat.

“And everyone listens to Eloise…” Erebus trailed off, bitterness infiltrating every single one of his words. Johnathon resisted the urge to laugh, Erebus’s grudge against Eloise was quite humerous. He supposed when you introduce Erebus to someone who can do no wrong it would probably not go well anyway, but it didn’t help that Eloise wasn’t fond of Erebus either. In her eyes, Erebus was only a setback, getting her to agree to let him attend had been quite the ordeal. It had been Leo’s idea to invite him, and Felicity had agreed. They thought that since Erebus was helping Johnathon in leading the Dark Souls, he should be able to attend the negotiation meeting. Together they’d swayed Eloise to allow it. Both Peter and Johnathon had stayed out of it, remaining neutral, mainly as neither cared if he came or not. When Erebus had found out about the invite, he’d hidden his joy well. He’d simply grinned and said about time I got some respect around here, but Johnathon could tell that behind the laid-back facade Erebus had been more than just pleasantly surprised.

The journey to Felicity’s house wasn’t too far, she lived in the outskirts of a nearby city, and they arrived in just over ninety minutes of Johnathon driving in silence whilst Erebus muttered away from the back seat.

The door was answered by a short blonde girl in a loose floral dress, who Johnathon automatically recognised as Angelica.

“You’re the ill man.” She pointed up at him, recalling the last time they met at the hospital.

“Angelica, that wasn’t him, that was his wife, remember?” Felicity appeared behind her, picking her up and parting from the doorway to let them through.

“Oh.” Angelica realised, dropping the matter in a way only a child could.

“Hello Felicity.” Johnathon greeted her, stepping into the house.

“Hello Johnathon, come on through.” She led them into the living room. “Erebus, so glad you could make it.” She made sure to welcome them both.

As it turned out, everyone else had already arrived. Eloise gradually made her way around the room, catching up with them all and examining the household, whilst Leo sat by the window quietly, and Peter stood awkwardly not quite knowing what to do next.

“Ah, finally.” Eloise noticed their arrival, “Shall we begin?”

“Whenever you’re ready.” Erebus lounged on a nearby chair, his lax attitude intensifying the room. A small sigh escaped Eloise, ruining her firm facade, but she quickly regained herself.

“Well, first of all I’d like to thank Felicity for hosting this year, even though the crowds isn’t what it used be, I still really appreciate it.” Eloise got rid of the formalities. Once she’d finished speaking her smile stiffened and she closed in her posture, biting her lip. “I’m afraid this may not be the joyous party we’re all used to, this year, it seems some actual negotiations have to take place. We have seen a lot over the past twelve months, rebel activity has risen by a concerning seventy-two percent, and the hunters are getting a lot more skilled as they years go by. These two things are completely ruining our image, we want the general public to side with us, not the hunters...and yet, I fear this image problem is beyond the point of being able to fix.”

“What’s caused this sudden rise in activity?” Leo asked. Johnathon received an odd sensation from hearing the sound of his broken, deeper voice. He was in his thirties by that point, and officially a man, barely a hint of the cheeky childish tree-hugger remained within him, replaced by pride and respect. Upon hearing his question, Eloise turned to Johnathon.

“Dmitri.” She confessed, “Well, sort of anyway. Dmitri is the reason they’ll give if you ask, but really, they’re just using him as an excuse- or a scapegoat.” Johnathon’s face darkened and Eloise sat down beside him, placing her hand on his lap. “I did warn you…” she trailed off.

“If you’re trying to guilt trip us love, it won’t work.” Erebus cut in, misunderstanding the reason behind Eloise’s words.

“It’s not you and Johnathon I’m worried about,” Eloise looked Johnathon in the eye, “Has Dmitri shown any other dark signs since my last visit?” Guilt. Was the first thing that came to mind for Johnathon. His son was still young, and it was near impossible to tell if he had guilt or not. “If he has guilt Johnathon, it will be his curse. He’s already killed his mother, what do you think being the scapegoat for thousands of rebel attacks will do to him?”

“It’s not only normals they’re attacking,” Peter stepped forward, “Dark Soul rebels have being going after other Souls too...we can’t allow that to happen.”

“What do you expect me to do about it?” Johnathon snapped, losing his temper. Everyone in the room took a small step back, but Johnathon regained himself, and buried his head in his hands. “My tactic since the beginning has been to ignore the rebels, so not to aggravate them. If I try to stop them, they’ll only do more. They do it for entertainment, they want to put on a show, ignore them and they’ll get bored.”

“We can’t afford to take that risk, the death count is too high.” Felicity piped up, her tone hesitant and her general demeanor shy. Looking around at all their raised eyebrows, closed posture, and tight lips...he realised with a sense of betrayed horror that they were all afraid of him. They were frightened of what he might do as a result of their arguments. Once upon a time this would have filled Johnathon with a strong sense of power, but instead, it stripped him of the power he thought he had. The Soul community was built upon mutual understanding, unity, and trust...did they no longer trust him?

“What do you suggest we do about it then?” Johnathon’s next line of speech was much more tactical, he used the word ‘we’ to link them all, and share out the responsibility.

“That’s the first of our negotiations.” Eloise revealed, standing up and moving to the centre of the room. “I know that Johnathon is still the rightful leader,” she began, addressing them all, “But sadly, I am the only one on the planet who has this vision. Therefore, we need to find a solution that maintains his firm authority, but shows a deep understanding of the issues being brought up.”

“I understand what you are saying,” Leo nodded, “We need to make him seem strong through his next move, but also, dare I say, apologetic.”

Erebus burst out laughing after hearing Leo’s words, and even Johnathon couldn’t suppress a chuckle. The idea of Johnathon apologising in it self was funny, but the idea that anyone would believe it was hilarious.

“Wrong choice of words Leo…” Peter trailed off, patting him on the back, “But I agree with the gist of what you are saying. We cannot do nothing, that will only make them angrier. However, we can also not portray Johnathon as weak.”

“Okay then Mr Smart,” Erebus turned to Peter, “How do you suggest we do that?” The room once again fell silent, with only understanding, and no imagination, they were all left dumbfounded.

“...elect a deputy.” Felicity quietly suggested, confidence absent from her words.

“A deputy?” Eloise seemed to like the idea.

“Yes, don’t you remember? When I first came to power I had a couple of deputies to help me, and it made the world of a difference.” Felicity expanded upon her idea, raising the volume of her voice.

“Yes...yes it did,” Eloise nodded, “It’s actually a very good idea. Not only would it appear to lessen the power Johnathon has in a positive way, but it would also help Johnathon by giving him more time with Dmitri.”

“People would see him as less of a dictator…”

“It would all seem a lot more fair…”

“Faith would be restored…”

All around the room murmurs of agreement rose up, and even Johnathon seemed to be able to accept the possibility. He didn’t like the idea of a threat to his power, but the thought of spending more time with his young son overcame any pride that lay inside him.

“Who?” And just like that, the moment was over. Everyone looked to Eloise, who applied the pressure she was now under down hard on her lower lip.

“I’ll start looking.” She promised them, sighing out a small smile. The other leaders grasped at this small strand of assurance, their shoulders relaxing in relief.

Then, from the back of the room, a small yet obvious cough erupted, and Erebus raised up his hand.

“What about me?” He suggested, his eyes glinting with hope. Johnathon sank, knowing that the next few minutes were not going to end well...

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