24 The Graves*
The next day, Rassa avoided Jane. He didn't want to, they'd been friends for as long as he could remember and the last thing he wanted to do was hurt her feelings. But the strange craving he felt after she'd kissed him had scared him. It'd been a long time since he'd felt that close to losing control.
As those in the orchards took a break for lunch and ventured back to the edge of the Orchard to eat together, they were witness to the Merchant carts pulling into town. From a distance, Rassa watched as Falla, whom had been absent with her family for several months now, stepped down from the carriage. She was adorned in finery as always, and looked around her, revealing that her face had thinned slightly. She no longer had peaches for cheeks, though she was still very pretty. Rassa tilted his head curiously, she'd certainly grown up.
He took another bite of his lunch as Diggory stepped up and greeted her, a smile on his face as he did so. Clearly he was happy to see her as well. From her mannerisms and behaviour, her family had clearly paid for etiquette classes whilst they were away.
While Rassa was more than capable of listening in on their conversation, he suddenly became very aware that Jane had approached and was sitting down next to him.
"I'm sorry if what I did yesterday wasn't appropriate," she spoke softly.
Rassa paused in his eating, not daring to turn to her, then took another bite before he replied.
"It was unexpected, that's all".
Rassa frowned, not knowing what else she wanted him to say. He could hardly tell her that she'd smelled very yummy and he'd been very tempted to drain her dry. That'd hardly be the answer she was fishing for.
He asked back, turning to face her.
Jane's expectant look dropped as she blushed and turned away, "Nothing".
Her eyes drifted to where Falla and Diggory were talking.
"Falla looks pretty," Jane commented.
"Falla always looks pretty," Rassa said, "Though she does look more grown up than a few months ago".
Jane said nothing, though Rassa could practically feel her reluctance to continue on that subject. Clearly this change had not given him the ability to understand girls.
"Am I pretty?" she asked.
Rassa frowned and looked at her. That's what she was looking for? A compliment?
"You're a girl," said Rassa, as if that explained everything.
Jane frowned, "What's that supposed to mean?"
Rassa rolled his eyes at her defensive attitude, then stood and picked up a basket, "All girls are pretty in their own way".
Jane didn't know whether to feel flattered or terrified. If he found all girls pretty then what would distinguish her from everyone else?
It had been months since Falla had stepped foot in Cordon, but she was grateful to be back. She certainly didn't mind her father's business and the travel associated, but it was nice to come home, and that's exactly what Cordon was to her. It'd been nearly half a year since she'd been back, and she was more than ready to spend some time with her old friends.
So when she spotted Rassa walking home that evening with the hood he'd come to be known for pulled up to sheild his eyes, Falla didn't even attempt to hold back. She stepped forward and flung her arms around him.
"I missed you!" she grinned.
Rassa was frozen stiff before he cleared his throat, "Ah, hey Falla, it's been a while. Have you been well?"
Falla stepped back, "Of course! I hope you have been well too".
Rassa nodded, a small smile appearing, though it seemed half-hearted. Nothing like the cheerful Rassa she remembered.
"Is something wrong?" asked Falla.
Rassa looked up at her, "Well...not with me, but the town is a little nervous right now".
Falla tilted her head in confusion, "Oh? How come?"
"A monster appeared in the forest," Jane cut in as she arrived, "It drained the blood of two deer. Nothing left but the puncture marks for a pair of fangs".
Falla's eyes widened in shock, "Oh my gosh! Is everyone okay?"
"Well...it hasn't hurt anyone in the village...yet," Jane said.
"The Hunters are trying to find its hide out in order to chase it away but they've been unsuccessful so far," Rassa cut in, "So, just be careful, we're not allowed to go into the forest without supervision".
Falla nodded in acceptance, "Fair enough. I hope everyone stays safe".
There was a short silence then Rassa moved to walk away, "Anyway, I should get back home. It was nice seeing you again, Falla. See you tomorrow, Jane".
The two girls waved as he left, then Falla turned to Jane, "What's wrong with him?"
Jane looked surprised, then shook her head, "I don't know what you're talking about".
"Oh please! We both know that's a load of cr*p," Falla scoffed, her ladylike demeanour disappearing along with her love interest. Jane rolled her eyes, same old Falla.
"I don't know okay, he won't tell me," Jane said, "But it's gotta be something to do with that creature, he was fine before we discovered of it. Now he's...guarded".
"You don't think he knows something, do you?" asked Falla.
Jane smirked, "Don't be silly, he might be smart, but what would he know that we wouldn't?"
Falla frowned, "Well there was that time when he suddenly turned pale and his eyes became overly sensitive to light, not to mention that mark on his back that practically everyone pretends not to see".
Jane's smile faded, "He would have spoken up if he knew something Falla. You know he cares for everyone here".
"Maybe that's why he's not speaking up," Falla reasoned.
Jane sighed, "Look, Falla-"
Jane stopped, spotting movement from the edge of the forest out of the corner of her eyes as the hunters emerged all at once. The looks on their faces quite the opposite of victorious. She turned to listen as one lady stopped the Hunter Marcus and asked what was wrong. What had they found?
"Graves," Marcus had replied, "Countless graves".