186 The Choice is Given*
*Eldovian Era 1710, 28th day of the 12th month*
Rassa's couldn't sleep. He'd lain awake for hours ever since Jane had brought him back from the lake and insisted he get some more rest. Rassa didn't want rest. He wanted answers.
First the foremost, where by the gods was he? Was he dead? Cause that would explain an awful lot. Though what it wouldn't explain was how real everything felt. Where were Aegin and Ebony? If they did exist. Had he left them to drown? He hoped that wasn't the case but he still feared the worst. How long had it been since he'd been drowned by that Inktress? Days? Weeks? Months? Years? There was no way to tell. But he knew the longer he remained in the dark about what was going on, the longer they were in danger. At least if they were real.
Finally, when Rassa was sure that everyone was asleep, even his father whom he'd heard entering later in the night. This version of his father seemed more content than ever to live the farming life he'd made for himself and his wife. It was a stark contrast to the warrior he'd known before. The man who'd tried to protect his new family from the past he'd left behind yet had to choice but to turn to when things got bad. The Phillip of this timeline had never needed to do that. He'd always been content. For some reason, it annoyed Rassa.
Still there was no need to dwell on that now. As it was, nearly everything that Rassa had encountered since he'd woken up had played out like it could have had he not been turned. Everything except that woman by the lake in the orchard. At least Rassa assumed it was a woman. She had to know something.
He snuck out, his years of training and hunting still ingrained into his muscle memory despite his lack of physical advantages. He'd forgotten how slow humans were, how utterly weak and fragile. It was the first time since he'd woken up that he felt angry that his body was now a reflection of that humanity. He'd relished his mortal state when he'd awoken. Been joyful to know his mother again. To hear with human ears and taste with a human tongue. Now those senses seemed little more than a hindrance as he left the village behind and entered the orchard, relying on memory more than his sight to navigate.
The moon was not very full tonight, so the fruit trees only severed to block what little light the moon was willing to cast. Finally, after tripping on roots he'd underestimated the size of a couple of times and slipping on rotten fruit more times than he'd care to admit, his clumsy human body made it to the side of the lake.
Despite the lack of moonlight, Rassa could see her plain as day as she leaned over the edge of a large rock that jutted out over the water. She was pointing her finger into the water, moving it and watching the ripples in the surface. He golden hair was braided down to her tail bone, and her body wrapped in a simple dress that had it not been clean would have looked like a rag. Rassa watched her for a moment before he approached. He wasn't stupid enough to think she hadn't noticed him, so he didn't bother trying to conceal his presence as he walked up to her. He honestly wasn't sure whether or not he could conceal it anyway.
"I was wondering how long you'd take to show up," she said as he came within a few metres of the rock.
"You know me?" he asked.
She glanced at him and nodded, "Of course".
"How?" asked Rassa, "Because I don't remember you".
"Of course you don't, this is the first time you've met me," she said as she sat up, turning to face him fully.
"Then how do you know me?" asked Rassa.
She smiled in amusement, "I've met you before".
Rassa frowned, annoyed at her spinning words. She seemed to sense that and sighed, clearly unimpressed by his unwillingness to play along with whatever game she was playing.
"Your corpse of a body was dropped on my doorstep so to speak," she said, "Those black Life Lines of yours were quite the conundrum to those who found you, but to me…not so much".
Rassa's frown slowly faded, "You're a Vampi-"
"Oh gods no," she said, her nose scrunching in disgust, "But I do walk a path of Chaos".
"Which one?" asked Rassa.
"Do you even know any apart from your own?" she asked with a roll of her eyes.
"Pride," Rassa replied, "The one that Order became when-"
"I would not speak so casually of that path," she said, "Of any of the paths really, but that is of little concern to you right now".
Rassa raised an eyebrow, "And what do you think my concern is?"
She smiled again, then swept an arm around her, "I would have thought that was obvious".
Rassa released a breath, "Then are you going to tell me how my corpse of a body as you so put it, ended up here…and somehow human again?"
She shrugged, "I thought it was more fun to watch you squirm for a while, but I suppose that might be a little too cruel".
Rassa said nothing, though it was clear from his expression that he agreed.
"My name is Surai," she said, "I live in the Fairy Forest of the Southern Continent, and I usually prefer my solitude".
Rassa frowned, frustrated. He didn't much care who she was, he wanted answers.
"Why? Why am I here? What in the world have you done to me?!" Rassa shouted. Surai frowned at Rassa from where she sat beside the lake. She seemed mighty unimpressed by his attitude, and she turned back to face the serenely calm lake as if ridding herself of the bother.
"I granted your wish," Surai replied.
Rassa frowned, "What wish? I was drowning in Whaler's Strait, then I'm here. Suddenly in my birth village, though it's not Cordon at all because I'm human and the cave never existed and I'm engaged to my childhood friend. This is not my life, unless I had an incredibly elaborate dream for the past thirteen years".
"Isn't it?" asked Surai, "When you were being dragged to the depths, your thoughts were only for your companions. That they survive without you. By extension, you wished that you'd never met them, because then they wouldn't have been exposed to the danger they are thanks to you. I only gave you what you wished for. A life where you'd never changed. Where you remained that boy from the village that chased rabbits into the woods and kneaded bread with his mother. So, I suppose, the question you should be asking, is why aren't you satisfied?"
The question floored Rassa. It was true, while he'd been trying to accept his Vampiric self, he'd always, somewhere in the back of his mind, wished that he was normal. Wished that he'd never entered the cave. Surai, whoever she was, had granted this wish, yet he'd so far spent his time questioning it rather than living how he had always wanted.
"Is it real?" asked Rassa.
Surai shrugged, "It is as real as you want it to be. You can stay here and live out a human lifetime if that is what you want. But you are conflicted, and it will never remain as it is if you are conflicted. So, I will give you a choice. A choice that will only be completed when you prove that your decision is absolute. You have lived your life constantly at war within yourself. Too stuck in what it means to be human to embrace the fate given to you. So, Rassa, what will it be? Will you choose the man, or the monster?"
"Why give this choice to me?" asked Rassa, "What are you?"
Surai grinned, "Right now? I'm just a young widower seeking refuge far from life in the cities. But then, in this place, I am whatever you think I am. We'll meet again Rassa. I'll leave you to your decision now".
Then Surai gradually seemed to fade from existence, as if she was never there to begin with. Rassa stood in place, utterly dumbfounded. So it wasn't real. It was just some kind of dream or illusion. Yes Surai had assured him that if it was what he wanted, he could live here for the rest of his life. As a human. He could live the life he should have had. The life he'd always wanted but had never been capable of having since he'd stepped foot into that cave.
Regardless of Surai's intentions, she'd given him an opportunity here. An opportunity he would otherwise never have had.
He could be human here. He could cast aside the burdens and tribulations that came with his vampirism. He could let Aegin and Ebony live their lives without the danger his presence had constantly caused them. Rassa looked down at his reflection in the lake, as dull as it was in the dim light. His face didn't have the same paleness or sharpness that he was used to. His features still grown-up, but softer. Less vicious and haunting. After a moment, Rassa allowed himself a small smile. He'd been given this opportunity, the least he could do was take advantage of it.