237 The Unexpected Visitor*
*Eldovian year 1713, 7th day of the 8th month*
Rassa was running. Running so fast that the wind seemed to part for him. The scents of the forest permeated the air, soothing and invigorating him as he ducked and weaved around trees, over rivers and through valleys. He paused on one side of a meadow filled with flowers. It was beautiful even in the light of the full moon high above. He barely even flinched despite the exertion. Energy flowed through his body, a part of him. He was powerful here. Powerful enough to do whatever he pleased.
Rassa waited on one side of the meadow, watching with an unnatural stillness. So much so that when the animals in the meadow stirred, suddenly aware of a threat to their moment of peace, they retreated towards him. They dodged around him, running into the forest and disappearing from sight. The reason why revealed itself shortly after. On the far side of the meadow, a group of people slowly approached. They wore white clothes and masks that covered their faces. Even with those masks though, they felt oddly familiar to Rassa.
Rassa waited in the shadows of the trees, waited until they had gathered in the centre of the meadow before he approached.
It took them a while to notice him. His footsteps so soft and ethereal that they barely made a sound. He came to stand before two individuals in the centre, noticing how aged their hands looked, how hunched their stature was as they leaned on each other for support. His own words broke the silence, though he hadn't expected them.
"Why do you wear masks?"
There was a pause as the group looked at one another, then the woman before him spoke, her voice so warm and familiar, if a little worn from age.
"You've been gone so long, we feared you'd forgotten".
Rassa titled his head to the side, curious, "Forgotten what?"
The woman who had spoke reached up and slowly removed the mask that covered her face. At first, Rassa couldn't recognise her despite how familiar she looked, then he met her eyes. They were piercing green, a colour he'd never forget given he'd first seen them on a night just like this one.
"Ebony?" he asked.
His gaze turned to the man beside her as he removed his mask, but the lavender eyes told him all he needed to know.
"You did forget, didn't you?" asked Ebony sadly as Rassa switched his gaze between them, "You always forget when you're alone for too long".
"Forgotten what?" asked Rassa.
But he already knew the answer before she said it. He could see it right before his eyes though his being refused to believe it. Refused to believe that his family had...had grown so old and frail.
"We aged, Rassa. I don't think we can go with you anymore," Ebony said, "We could barely keep up when we were young, now...we are human, Rassa. We are not like you".
Human. Rassa never realised how much he despised that word until he heard it from her old and thinned lips. He couldn't help it as the words tumbled out of his own lips.
"I'm sorry," he said, "I'm so sorry, I lost track of time, I-"
"It's okay, Rassa," Aegin smiled, understanding in his gaze as he looked at his friend, "You didn't want to share the burdens you held. And you've proven you can carry them alone".
Could he? Rassa wasn't so sure.
"I...How did I prove it?" asked Rassa.
Ebony and Aegin looked at each other, a little confused before they turned back to him.
"You didn't come back, Rassa. Do you not remember?" asked Ebony.
Rassa opened his mouth to ask what? What was he supposed to remember? Suddenly another voice dragged him away. He fell back, drawn into a pool of white, eyes wide as he watched the others in the group from a distance as they removed their masks. All old, all too human.
"Rassa?" his mother's voice roused him from his sleep, and he opened his eyes just as his mother opened his bedroom door, "Rassa, come on, get up. You'll be late into the fields if you keep sleeping".
Rassa sat up, rubbing his eyes, "Yes, mother, I'm getting up".
Anna watched him for another moment before she pulled the door shut again, and Rassa heard her footsteps retreat across the cottage.
He sighed, pulling his feet from under the covers as he moved to get ready for another day. The remnants of the dream haunted him, but he pushed it to the back of his mind. The routine of the day always did that. It always pulled him into what mattered. His family, his home. Those he cared about dearly but had been taken from.
Routine was routine though. It had been fine for the first few months, Rassa just grateful for the feeling of being human again. For the people by his side. But as the months had turned into a year, and then two, Rassa had begun to wonder what it was he wanted from this life. He loved his parents, and of course his friends, especially Jane who he'd missed more than he'd originally thought. But that nagging feeling of the world outside of Cordon held him back from taking any step forward in his life. So he kept to the routine, and time dragged by.
Rassa dressed and washed his face, taking a small breakfast from his mother and the lunch she'd packed for him before wishing her a good day with a kiss on the cheek. He walked side by side with his father down to the fields, talking of everything and nothing as they went, smiles on their faces.
He set to work, checking the growth of the seedlings and weeding around them. Some of the faster growing crops were nearly ready. Another week or so and they'd be harvesting it. The first harvest of the season.
"Rassa!" called his father from two rows over.
Rassa raised his gaze to his father expectantly.
"You got any water left?"
Rassa pulled his water-skin from his belt throwing it over to his father. It was getting warm. They'd have to start bringing more than one water-skin soon lest they spend too much time running back to the well for refills.
Phillip caught the water-skin, and Rassa watched him for a moment before something caught his eye behind his father.
There, on the road going into Cordon, was a carriage drawn by two horses, several figures sitting on and around it.
"Is the Baron expecting guests?" asked Rassa as Phillip threw his water-skin back to him.
"Guests?" asked Phillip. Rassa pointed at the road behind his father who turned to look, "Not that I'm aware of, but you never know. Maybe they're prospective Merchants? Ever since Derrick stopped coming every summer we've had to take the food to sell ourselves".
Rassa nodded, thinking this was reasonable. He'd learned not long after his arrival here that Derrick, Falla's father, had stopped coming to trade with Cordon. No one was sure why, but some speculated it had something to do with Falla.
Rassa turned back to work, glancing every now and then at the carriage as it approached. It was only about a hundred metres away when Rassa looked up to check its progress and froze, eyes widening.
Those figures...he knew that uniform.
Rassa scanned those present, his eyes straying to one of the figures that rode on the back of the carriage, his posture that of someone half-asleep. But Rassa knew differently, and he stood in shock at the recognition that washed through him.
Aegin. Aegin had come to Cordon.