He cradled the hot teacup in the palms of his hands, the pads lightly touching the porcelain. The morning was bracingly crisp and the chill seemed to pierce right through the cathedral windows in front of him. A light dusting of frost crystals coated the glass.
They were remote from the city here in Terrenmeda, but not in the middle of the mountain range, yet still plenty high enough for winter to wrap her freezing arms around their home early as the late-year storms passed through.
No one else was awake. Just him. A big house like this felt extra empty in the predawn hours.
Soon, there would be one less person here.
He felt cold from more than just the weather. The taste and heat of his drink didn’t really touch him. Normally, he loved tea.
This is just temporary, Temochi thought. Then it will be up to me to fill the shoes of my mother.
The worst part had been trying to explain to his little sister what was going to happen.
No one else wanted to take responsibility, apparently, and so she had put her nose where it didn’t belong to get the answers she wanted.
It still hurt in his stomach, dull and throbbing.
He couldn’t really accept their new reality: the cruel nature of it, worse, the slow nature of it.
Devil’s Mouth. Firekiss. A disease that was both painful and incurable, brought on by unknown causes. Not contagious, but that was little comfort now.
First, the tongue grows tender. Then, the mouth turns bright red and blisters form all around it. Next, the gums break and bleed copiously. Fluid drains from the mouth.
Eating becomes difficult. In the end, impossible. The airways swell shut. Death comes after that.
He needed to get his sister up for school soon, get her ready. It used to be his mother’s job but now it was his.
Temnochi put wood in the fireplace and lit it, to take the nasty nip out of the air. In another half-turn, it would be warm inside.
He walked down the door and knocked on Blucini’s door.
He pushed open the door and saw a big lump on the bed, covered in multiple blankets and no visible limb or head. He pushed the lump a little. It softly groaned.
“Go ‘way, Nochi.”
“You need to get up. If you’re late, I’m late.”
Some kind of indecipherable grunt.
“Is your bag packed?”
“Trick question, I already know it’s not, so pack it. What do you want for breakfast?”
One corner of a blanket lifted.
“You want quail on bread?”
“Okay, if you don’t get up, I am going to tickle you.”
His sister erupted out of the pile of blankets, shrieking, and sped out of the bedroom.
He wished he had that kind of energy in the morning.
An explosive series of coughs from a distant bedroom told him his mother had woken early.
Temnochi went back to the dining room table. Teacup left on the table, now cold. It was still mostly full.