85 The Innocent becomes the Guilty*
It had been many hours since Rassa had recovered his Life Line. In all that time, Rassa had only made it as far as the entrance. When he'd gotten to the mouth of the cave, having walked there straight from the laboratory, all Rassa did was look up at the full moon high above his head, then sit down and watch as the night passed by.
It had been so long since he'd seen the sky. If not for the memories he had experienced through Victor, Rassa was positive he would have forgotten what it looked like. In those hours that he'd watched the night sky, Rassa had had some time to consolidate his thoughts. To look back on all that he had done and all that had happened to him. It had terrified him, and for a moment, he had reverted back to that terrified boy who had begged the darkness not to consume him. The boy who had waited uselessly in a cage he could have escaped to get the recognition he desired from a people that would never see him as anything more than a monster. But only for a moment.
He'd once boasted to his father that if he could overcome his fear, it should not be hard for everyone else to overcome theirs. But not everyone was brave enough to do so. That had become abundantly clear now. There were plenty of cowards in the world. And plenty of individuals that would take advantage of his naivety. There was no place for him to be that boy anymore. But that did not mean he should instead be the monster that had slaughtered nearly the entirety of the mine behind him without a care in the world. That was not how he wanted to live his life. Even now, Rassa could still smell those that were left, frozen in silence and fear and unwilling to leave their hiding spots for fear of the horror they had seen and heard falling on them.
Rassa closed his eyes and took a deep breath. If not the naïve boy, nor the murderous monster, then a middle ground needed to be found, one which he was satisfied with.
With this decision, Rassa heard the unmistakeable sound of someone approaching him from behind. From the movement and sound of her breathing, Rassa ascertained it was a she, and that she was terrified of him. Yet she approached him anyway. When Rassa came into view, she paused and let out a shuddering breath, as if preparing herself. Rassa did not turn to face her, but he was impressed. Impressed that she'd managed to move this far where others had chosen to hide. Impressed that she had the courage and bravery to face him.
She chocked on her fear, letting out a light cough, then she began again.
"Will you...let us live?"
Us. She was concerned about everyone in the mine, not just herself. Rassa had heard no negotiation or attempt to persuade her to come out. She'd done this on her own. Rassa glanced back over his shoulder.
What he found was a young woman around his own age, her straw coloured her half fallen out of what once would have been a neat single braid down her back. Her skin was a light brown, and her eyes a piercing green. If not for her attire that clearly indicated a lower status, Rassa would have thought she was a warrior with the resolve and courage that he saw in her eyes. She did not turn away as he met her gaze, she did not falter in fear, she only looked at him as if he were her last hope, and that, if he failed her, she would accept her fate.
For a moment, that look floored Rassa, he did not know how to respond. He'd spent so long seeing the looks of those who wished to cause him harm, or who blatantly feared his very existence. He hadn't realised that he missed what it felt like to have someone look at him as something, anything else.
"What's your name?" Rassa asked.
"Ebony," she replied after a moment of surprise.
"Well, Ebony, I won't kill anyone else here tonight. I think, at least for now, I've satisfied my anger," Rassa said.
There was a long silence as Rassa looked up at the night sky, then Ebony spoke again hesitantly. As if she knew it was not her place but also acknowledged that it needed to be said, "I may not be privy to everything that happened to you down there, but I do know that you have no reason to feel guilty for what has happened tonight. It might have been excessive, but you have earned your freedom from it".
"Though I do not believe it, thank you for saying so," Rassa said, "You can tell the others inside that they can leave without fear of being harmed".
Ebony retreated, but before she could turn, she noticed Rassa climbing to his feet. She watched with wide eyes as he stood, his huge wings pulling in close to him from behind. It surprised her that despite the blood, gore and filth that covered him, his figure and beauty did not seem to be in the least bit marred. On the contrary, he appeared like a remorseful god of war. The silence between the two was only broken by Rassa's small and ever-so-slightly amused smile.
"I hope it won't be too much trouble, Ebony, but is it possible for you to point me in the direction of a bath? And perhaps some clothes?"
Ebony's eyes widened as she realised her blatant staring at his naked figure. She turned her head away hurriedly to give him some form of dignity. No doubt he was in no mood to be stared at, though she'd heard far more horrible things had occurred to him in the bowels of Jerrica.
"I...right...follow me then".
After Ebony left Rassa in a washroom with a woodfire running to heat the water, Rassa finally had the warm bath he'd been desiring since the villagers in Cordon had thrown rotten food at him all those years ago. He washed and scrubbed for hours before he finally felt some semblance of cleanliness. He even awkwardly managed to clean his wings and after that was done, he cleared his mind enough to allow his wings to meld with his shadow. After all, they were rather bulky, it was impractical for him to walk around with them constantly.
As Rassa went to venture off and find some clothes, he found Ebony waiting for him in the attached bedroom, a pile of clothes beside her. She turned her back as he entered, allowing him some privacy as he appraised the clothes there.
"What are you still doing here?" asked Rassa.
"I...I have nowhere else to go," Ebony admitted, "All I can do is stay here until my master returns".
Rassa frowned as he pulled on the clean clothes offered to him, dark brown trousers and a beige cotton top. He pulled on a pair of leather boots before he grabbed the thick and heavy jacket.
"You can't stay here," Rassa said, "Jerrica will cease to exist in a little over a day's time".
Ebony turned to face him in surprise.
Rassa turned to the dresser beside the bathroom, he searched through the draws for a moment before he uncovered what he was looking for, and he threw the coin purse to Ebony.
"That should be enough to get you started elsewhere," Rassa replied.
Ebony looked at the purse surprised.
"I can't take-"
"Believe me, your master isn't going to miss it," Rassa replied as he slipped the jacket on, "Thank you for your help. If ever the day comes when I can repay the debt, I'll do my best".
Rassa went to walk out of the room, then was stopped as Ebony touched his arm.
Rassa turned quickly, pulling out of her hold so fast his movements blurred. Ebony flinched, realising that touching him was a bad choice on her part. He looked almost surprised he had reacted that way, but schooled his expression and straightened his posture quickly enough that Ebony had to question whether or not she'd seen the vulnerable look in his eyes.
"Sorry, I...Can you take me with you?"
Rassa frowned, "What?"