The thing that Rohane couldn't quite wrap his head around was how a day that had started off so ridiculously boring had ended so terribly messed up. A day that had started so alike the rest, in the backwoods fields behind the sleepy town of Trestin, he found himself in a situation entirely out of his control.
The young Blumaroo was now laying on an old wooden bench, one leg hanging over the edge of the seat. The bench overlooked the fields, but Rohane was on his back looking up at the sky while he tried to make sense of what had happened earlier that day. The brightest constellation, the Sleeper, was already slightly visible in the dusky space above.
That morning had begun just like any usual morning in Trestin town.
Rohane had been taking meticulous care of the sword that he had inherited after his father’s death. He had never known his father and wasn’t given the sword until he had turned twenty-one. The first thing Rohane always did when he woke up was to check if the sword was still in its rightful place. Its place being a long, low box under the creaky bed of his room at the local inn. He had been staying at the inn since his mother had refused to tell him anything about his father. Whenever Rohane brought him up, it seemed as if she was downright frightened – there was only a hunch of the expected sadness. The sword, to Rohane, had been a very intriguing inheritance and had elicited a ton of questions from the Blumaroo’s young mind, but his mother simply refused to talk about why his father had had such a sword. That is, until he had pushed her buttons long enough for her to finally cry out: “I don’t want you to become like him!”. That was when he moved out. He was old enough anyway, so he thought.
Rohane treated the sword like an artefact. He would gently take it out of the box and sit with it in his lap, wondering what his father had been like. It wasn’t as much his father’s past that had interested Rohane, so much as his own future. He simply knew that he was destined to do something greater than stay here in Trestin. He felt as if his father’s past was the key to his future. He expected that it would teach him something very important about himself. Important enough to finally do what he had wanted to do for the longest of times – and that was to leave Trestin. But all he had was the sword and the small amount of coins he had saved up by doing odd jobs around the town.
After checking on his father’s sword, Rohane usually had breakfast at the inn and afterwards would go and visit his friend Rupart. Rupart was the son of Pongoras, the village potion-maker, and he and Rohane had grown up together. They were of the same age and had gotten themselves into a lot of trouble growing up. Those days were over, though. Rupart’s father had always made it clear to the young Kyrii that he would one day take over his father’s business of making potions for the village. Rupart had begun practicing the craft since Rohane moved out of his mother’s home.
“Hey, Rupart! What are we working on today?” the Blumaroo asked as he entered the shop.
“Oh, just one of those potions – you know, of the healing kind.” The Kyrii answered without looking up at Rohane. He was checking if he had used the right amount of ground Plain Lupe claw. He took pride in his work. That, and he didn’t want the potion to backfire on the traveller who used it.
Eventually, Rupart sneaked a glance at his Blumaroo friend.
“I know your area of interest is swords and you’re only showing interest in my work to be polite.”
“What are you talking about? Everything new and slightly pointing towards adventure interests me. There’s not much else to be interested in around here – you ought to know that.” Rohane sat down on a bench in Rupart’s workshop.
“I don’t understand why you keep bringing up adventuring out there, beyond the borders of Trestin ... It’s dangerous! There are Aishas and Lupes roaming the fields, and quite possible even bigger and scarier monsters,” Rupart said with a sigh. “Look, I just don’t want you to get hurt because of your unquenchable thirst for adventure.”
Rohane rolled his eyes.
“You’re beginning to sound like my mother.”
He looked out the window, towards the horizon at the end of the road. Then he drew near Rupart, speaking excitedly. “You could join me, you know.”
“Not this again,” Rupart complained.
“No, think about it! It would be just like old times!”
“I can’t! You know I can’t. I have duties here,” argued Rupart for about the fifth time.
Rohane was opening his mouth to provide a counter argument, when Rupart’s father, Pongoras, entered the room.
“Keepin’ Rupart off his work again, are we?” He gave Rohane a stern look.
“Dad, he wasn’t doing anything,” Rupart started. But Pongoras waved his hand dismissively.
“I was on my way out,” Rohane shrugged, greeted his friend and left the workplace. He never knew when Pongoras was being serious or not, and felt it was better to leave Rupart to his work.
Rohane wandered back to the inn on Trestin’s dirt roads to fetch his father’s sword. The owner greeted him with a nod when Rohane swung open the heavy door. He ascended the worn steps to his room, excited to think about what he was going to do that afternoon. He had taken up the habit of training his sword fighting skills when he wasn’t visiting Rupart or trying to earn some coins.
Rohane knew his mother wouldn’t approve of his handling the sword. He remembered the look on her face when she was obliged to hand it to him on his twenty-first birthday. It was Neopian law, and Rohane’s mother had to obey. She wasn’t pleased.
Obviously, he still cared about his mother – she was the only family he had left, after all. He didn’t want her to know of his goal. And it was a small town full of people who had little to do and a lot to say. That’s why he had explored and carefully chosen a training spot at the edge of Trestin, where villagers rarely ventured. There was a small clearing in the forest that lies adjacent to the dangerous fields. He had stumbled upon it during his many walks around town – It was a beautiful place and he felt at home there.
Rohane paced the way to the clearing faster than he normally would have, one hand firmly grasping the handle of the box. He took up his usual spot opposite of the old scarecrow that he had ‘borrowed’ from a local farmer. He meant to bring it back before he left Trestin to set out on his adventures. “With or without Rupart,” the Blumaroo thought with a smudge of bitterness. But he couldn’t be angry with his friend, who had – unlike Rohane himself – succeeded in making peace with the prospect of leading a comfortable, yet monotone life in Trestin. Rohane removed the sword from its casing and got into an attack position, ready to release his frustrations on the poor scarecrow.
That’s when he heard it.
A long, loud groan emerged from behind the trees and bushes that stood closest to the fields.
Rohane, who had placed himself with his back towards the trees and bushes, felt every hair on his body rise, and remained frozen on the spot. “Did I just really hear that?” he said out loud, with a tone as if he was questioning his own sanity. He focused on the sounds around him.
Then he heard it again – louder, closer now.
Was it a Plains Lupe that had dared roam a little further from the fields and closer to the town? Rohane didn’t know. All he knew was that if he didn’t turn around and used his skills to protect himself, he might not live.
Without lowering his father’s sword, he turned around and faced the bushes. What he saw was ... nothing. At first.
But there it was again – the sound. Rohane noticed how his breathing quickened. Whatever it was that made that noise, it was advancing towards him.
Rohane now heard the rustling of leaves. His grip on the handle of the sword tightened. The fear made him increasingly focused, but another sensation emerged in Rohane: confidence. This was it. Fight or die. The sword began to feel like an extension of his own arm.
The groaning and rustling got louder and louder until, after what seemed like ages, but was only seconds, out of the bushes burst forth ... an old man?
Rohane dropped his sword just in time to catch the wounded man. It was only moments later that he recognised him as a villager whom he had worked for, once or twice the past months. He must have encountered something terrible beyond the borders of Trestin.
“Are you alright? What happened?” tried Rohane, but the man would not respond. Rohane was searching the face of the victim for a sign of life, when suddenly the man opened his eyes, grabbed Rohane by his collar and screamed “It is coming! It is coming!”. Then his body went limp again.
Rohane didn’t pay attention to what the man was saying. Instead, he ran back to the town centre and sought the help of Rupart, who quickly followed him back to the clearing with a bunch of potions, clattering in his bag.
Rupart seated himself next to the man, grabbed one of his potions and let a few drops fall into the mouth of the wounded fellow. “I can only do so much. These potions are not very strong and will not fully heal him. We have to take him back to Trestin to recover from his wounds.”
Rohane, who had been on his knees at the other side of the body, looked up at Rupart and nodded.
Night had fallen over Trestin. The dark was like a heavy blanket that lied over the town. Rohane was still laying on the wooden bench. The young Blumaroo hadn’t moved from his position. Other constellations had joined the Sleeper in the sky.
“It is coming.”
The words hadn't seemed important at the time, but they were all Rohane could think about now. He tossed and turned them around in his head, like a coin in the paws of the sneaky Skeith Snargan. Anxious to discover the outcome.
What did the old man mean?
Next to Rohane, on the ground, was the box containing his father’s sword. The box hadn’t been carefully closed and any passerby could see the shiny metal of the blade reflect in the light of the full moon. Only there was nobody around.
Rohane let out a sigh while he slid off the bench and opened the box. He took out the sword and held it upright by its hilt. While he was staring at it, he remembered the way he felt when he had stood in the clearing in the forest. He and the sword had seemed one. One against whatever evil had been fast approaching. Rohane looked at his own distorted image in the blade. Then he turned his back to the town and set off into the open plains. Determined to protect the peace in Trestin and the lives of its villagers.
The choice had always been his, and his alone.