Chapter 26:

Chapter 22. Vanishing Familiarity.

Another Story [Hiatus]

As I see Dirya's majestic crenelated walls fade into the dense forest of the western region, I cannot help but reminisce on how I felt when I first saw the place. It has been a week since then, although it felt like forever. The banners are now measly filtering its blue and white colors through the trees. This forest I never remembered seeing, it is probably because I was unconscious at the time when we passed by here with May and Olen. It feels somewhat eerie for me. There are still things I want to ask May about, but I am afraid of asking. This is because I do not want to startle her with a barrage of questions. I do not want her to reminisce about the past and look at it with fear. I do not want her to look at the past the same way I do. Pasts are scary but also beautiful. Pasts are full of glamour but also filth. It is a matter of filtering the past so that you can get the prettiest things you want to see, but in the process, you might encounter the ugliest.Bookmark here

Andri, Ono, and Liliana are having a friendly conversation while I look around and try to embrace nature.Bookmark here

"Oh, I remember this place. This place is where my mother and I stroll around and get some herbs for the medicines we produce!" says Andri while pointing off to a direction in the forest.Bookmark here

"Really? What kind of herbs do you pick?" Liliana asks him.

"It depends on the season. But we mostly pick henbane, dandelion, and lavender. Oh, not to mention Chaga, that one is available all year round."

"Excuse me, but what's Chaga?" Ono tries to join in the conversation.

"Oh! It's a miracle mushroom. It doesn't really look like a mushroom as it looks like charcoal on a tree - as if the tree was burnt. It is good as an antioxidant as well as detoxification. A very versatile and effective mushroom. It is hard to find, actually because it is only found on birch trees and not all birch trees have them," Andri points at a birch tree nearby, "only around one out of five hundred birch trees have them."

Ono looks at Andri in awe, but so am I. Andri knows a lot about medicinal plants. His knowledge also sparks the curiosity of Liliana as she is going to ask another question, but is interrupted by Maerten.Bookmark here

"Please brace yourselves. There's a hole up ahead," Maerten informs. He works for the Nolan family as an assistant but also does chores for them from time to time. He is a tall man with blond hair extending to a beard down his chin. His face is somewhat thin, giving off a friendly vibe.

Maerten is handling the horses pulling the cart we are all riding on. A slightly bigger and newer cart than what I rode on with Olen. Olen's was more old-fashioned, showing the wear and tear of usage over the years, being a merchant. Maerten's cart is being pulled by strong stallions who gallop majestically over the dirt road. Their coat both black and their hair braided beautifully over their necks.Bookmark here

As Maerten mentions, there is indeed a hole up ahead, but it is filled in with some freshly dug dirt. Our cart bounces a little causing us all to be aloft for a split second. The rest of the people just continue their friendly talk, though. It is only later that I realize that this little bump of dirt is the same bump where the giant stone landed, a week ago. To think that I would see it this way again. How a hole of such significance will just be covered by dirt. How some lives were in danger in that same spot and now seems to be forgotten. It shows that the people of the world are too small to make an actual change. It shows that the people of the world are actually too many for people to care about a single person.

I do not want to mention the hole and make a big deal out of it.Bookmark here

"Hey, Aura," Liliana tries to catch my attention, "don't you live close by here?"Bookmark here

"Yes, I do. Just around thirty ticks away now," I reply. I guess I have been too silent that they start to notice that I was dozing off.

"That's cool, we should stop by and see your house," Andri tries to insist. He probably wants to see where I used to live.

"Uh, I don't know," I reply hesitantly. I don't even know the state of the house. "But maybe we can just check."

"Great!" he replies.

The forest is somewhat getting more familiar to my memory, how some trees were always there, and how I saw them grow. How a certain boulder used to be there and how someone probably moved it to another spot. How a puddle of water turned into a small pond, now probably infested with some fish. This is the forest I know of. The forest where I grew up on. The very place where May and I used to walk around and gather herbs and other plants. How she would show me that a certain plant was poisonous and another delicious. How she would show me that a tree is dying and how another is still well and alive. A forest of memories, both good and bad.

Orma is close by and I can feel it in the air that this is home. The home where I learned how to deal with people in this world. The home where I made my very first friends in this world. The home where I learned to walk in this world. The home where I learned to speak properly in this world. The home where I pretended to be a new person in this world. The home where I tried living a new life in this world, and the home where I tried forgetting the life in that other world. And failed.

Andri continues his chat about medicinal plants and all these things he uses for making potions, the others seem to have taken a liking to him. I do not blame them, though. His knowledge of the area is indeed vast and deep and also enticing to know about.

Somehow Andri and the rest are getting excited, I understand only a few moments later why. We have reached Orma. The almost-rotten log cabins that dominate the area as well as the generous dirt street just going through the town where hundreds of people go through every week. The very same street where I used to play with neighboring children, wrestle a bit, and do all those stereotypical things little boys do when they were young. Of course, I have to learn all of these things, for I was somewhat 'uneducated' in everything that includes men's daily life.

"Where did you live, Aura?" Liliana asks, pointing at some log cabins.

"Just right over the corner," I point at the direction near the mountain up ahead, "over there."

The horses continue to gallop towards my place. My group will probably judge my living conditions back then as I do not have anything to brag about. But I do not let it get me down. I have other things to worry about, for I am more concerned about the condition of the place. I still have some unanswered questions, but I guess I will see it for myself.

As I near the place, and see the familiarity of the structure ーthe logs neatly piled as walls as well as wooden panels for windows, not to mention the roof shingles slightly coming off from the weather. It is all so familiar to me, not only the physical but also the memories; how we asked Olen to replace some of the shingles, which he never did. How May and I repaired the door, but never actually managed to. Eventually, we ended up asking a carpenter to fashion us a new door.

Outside the house, the fruits I planted this spring are still there, the strawberries, tomatoes, and the blueberry bush right next to it. I do not see any sign of our animals, though.

"This is it," I point at my place.

"Wow, it's amazingly," Andri hesitantly starts, "plain."

"I think it's nice and cozy," Ono said.

"Maerten, can we stop for a bit?" Liliana orders.

"Ah no, it's alright, we can gー," I try to say, but cut off.

"Maerten, can you?" Liliana orders again to muffle what I just tried saying.

"Yes, ma'am," he affirms while pulling on the lead making the horses stop.

"Well, why don't you check out the place?" She signs me to step off and go check out my home. Liliana’s clear eyes and intent stare gave no room for misunderstanding; this is a command rather than a simple question. "Don't worry, we have some time."

I nod at her request, step down from the cart and pace myself towards the house. The closer I look, the more sounds I hear coming from the place. The closer I am, the more familiar it all seems to me. As I am just one step away from the house, the door seems to have opened on its own. Not entirely, for it is actually opened by someone behind the door. It is a young woman, with her hair tucked inside a traditional hat, I soon noticed that she is a peasant working on the fields nearby.

"Sorry, sir. How can I help you?" she asks me in a friendly manner while holding the door slightly open, only to show half of her body, though. "I am afraid I do not have anything to sell."

"Ah, no. I am sorry." I reply. I do not know what to say. Who is she? I cannot possibly ask that, though. Although, "Do you know the people who lived here before?"

"No, sir. Do you need anything with them?" she asks again politely. "Are you perhaps on a search for them?" she is starting to get scared as she slightly positions the door almost closing it. "We just received this house because the previous owner abandoned it, so did the people of that house," she points at the house on the opposite side ーOlen's and Ilya's house.

I am startled with what she just said, "Excuse me?" I start to panic. "Please tell me more!"

Probably sensing my eagerness and got caught off-guard, "I'm sorry, sir. I do not know much," she closes the door completely.

I look back at my group's direction and they all seem to be worried about what just happened before their eyes. I try to shake their reaction off and start to pace myself towards the house on the opposite side. I need to know what happened. I cannot leave this place without knowing exactly.

As I pass the group and ignore their worried gaze, "Hey! Where are you going?" Liliana asks in a concerned but also aggravated manner.

"Are you okay‽" Andri asks, who also steps out of the cart and starts to follow me. Andri grabs my shoulder as he tries to find out what I am hurrying for, "Aura! Tell me what's going on!" he demands, but I keep quiet.

He let go of my shoulder and starts to follow me to the house instead.Bookmark here

As I reach the house, I start to knock violently at the door which was then opened by a man, "Hello, what can I do for you?" his voice seems to be very agitated that someone would knock violently at their door. His face is somewhat aged and dirty, probably from working. He has white hair and eyebrows. The number of wrinkles on his face somewhat count how old he is, probably. Not to mention his fingernails clearly having that usual dirt stuck in them. It’s normal to see them outside the walls. I only realized this when I actually arrived in Dirya. People are more conscious of their appearance there.

I cannot bring myself to speak, but as I draw a deep breath, "Sir, I am sorry," I draw another deep breath, "Do you perhaps know what happened to the previous owner of this house?"

"Oh, sir. Didn't you know?," he tells me, but as soon as he realizes that I am wearing my uniform with its badge neatly pinned, "My bad! I see you're not from here," he corrects himself. "The previous owners of this house were both killed a few days ago," he finally says. "The lord of the townー”

I collapse at what I just heard. "Sir!" the man at the door says in concern as he sees me collapse on my knees.

"Aura!," Andri blatters my name repeatedly as he sees me collapse. Liliana steps off as well from the cart and starts to run towards my direction, "Aura!" they all say in unison.Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.