239 The Boy Faces his Burdens*
Rassa crashed through the orchards towards the lake, ignoring the pain as he tripped on roots and was whipped with low-hanging branches. He'd already had to wait until his parents had fallen asleep, he couldn't wait any longer. He had to see Surai. Surai would be able to fix this. Or at the very least, tell him what had gone wrong.
He burst through into the clearing where the lake was, looking towards the rock where he usually found Surai. Only she wasn't there.
"Surai!" called Rassa.
His voice echoed out over the lake. But only the sounds of the crickets and other animals and the slight breeze in the trees greeted him. Rassa called again.
He spun in place, trying to see through the dark. His foot hit the cool water and soaked through his boots and clothes quickly. He took another step out, the water coming midway up his calves as he turned and splashed towards the rock where she usually sat.
"Surai! This isn't the time to be like this. Something's happened! I need help, Surai!"
Rassa trudged around the rock, then on top of it as if he was trying to get a better view through the darkness. He hadn't felt so useless in years with this human vision.
But as the echoes of his call vanished into the distance, he let reality set in. She wasn't here. Right now, in this moment where he needed her to answer his questions, she wasn't here.
Rassa sat down on the rock, defeated as he stared out over the lake. What was it she'd warned him the last time he'd seen her?
"You're the only one in this illusion, Rassa, the consequences in here are yours to bare alone".
Was this what she'd meant? Rassa doubted things would be so simple with Surai. After all she'd created such an elaborate illusion for him. An illusion. This was just an illusion.
"You have manifested light as your shield...if you can blow out the candle, I'll consider your decision made".
He hadn't listened. Not really. If he had he would have hesitated at the consequences. Because even if he had blown that candle out that night, he'd never truly let his burdens be carried away. He'd taken it as his own escape. His own way out of the inevitable.
"I told you to choose between the man and the monster, not the boy and the burdens".
His burdens were a part of him too. His burdens meant that the family he had made for himself was still there. That they were still with him. They were burdens he should have been happy to bare. Had he really run from them so easily? So shamefully?
No, not easily. He'd seen his parents, had witnessed and felt how they'd treated him. As human. As normal. And his life here had been normal. Exactly what it would have been had he never stepped foot in that cave. Had he remained the boy.
Rassa hadn't been a boy for a very long time. And now, as reality crashed down on him, he realised that no illusion would ever make him that boy again. No matter how much he wished for it. No matter how much he ran from the burdens. The boy had died in that cave.
But Aegin and Ebony, Falla, Iah and Sharli, Kit...they were all still alive.
The dreams had never stopped. They'd changed or gotten easier to push away, but they'd still been there. Blowing out the candle had done nothing for him. His decision had never been made. How long had he been here? Rassa stood quickly. For him it had seemed like over two years had passed since he'd awoken here. He'd celebrated the birthdays and the passing of seasons. Had the same amount of time passed in reality? Or had his dream come true? Had he pushed reality aside so much that whilst he pretended he was the boy his family was growing old?
Had they even been alive to begin with?
Horror struck through Rassa as he realised that he'd never actually confirmed if Aegin and Ebony were okay. He was sure that he'd pushed them to the surface, but they'd been in the middle of an attack from three pirate ships. Had they survived that as well as the ocean? If they had what had happened to them? Had the pirates taken them and sold them off as slaves? Maybe made them become part of the crew? Maybe they'd been left to starve with no supplies in the middle of the ocean.
Oh gods. This was what Surai had meant.
He was alone in this illusion. The consequences of staying in here...of abandoning his family like that...it was his fault.
Shame rested heavily on his shoulders as he stared at the surface of the lake that reflected the night sky above. That sky had been a solace for him once. It was silent now. As if even it couldn't bare to watch him bury his head in the sand any longer.
"I'm sorry," Rassa whispered into the darkness, then scoffed to himself, "Not that an apology will achieve much at this point. If an apology could solve the world's problems there likely wouldn't have been a war between Chaos and Order to begin with. But I am sorry. Sorry that I ran from my burdens rather than faced them. That likely wasn't what you saw in me. I could promise not to do it again, but I think we both know that's unlikely. I seem to be good at running from what I'm afraid to face. So instead I'll promise to face it instead. When I find myself running, I promise to turn and face whatever I am running from. Even if I'm sure I won't be able to handle it alone".
Rassa found himself reaching back over his shoulder to rub the scars on his upper back. The remnants of his Life Lines.
"Or maybe that was another thing I was running from," Rassa admitted, "Maybe I will be stronger when I don't have to handle it alone".
He turned back to look at the moon, then its reflection on the water, "Alright Surai, you win. I'll prove it to you. I'll prove my decision is absolute".