Two adventurers had made camp outside of the village, choosing a small glade in the forest to keep out the locals’ sight. The elder, a spry and mischievous Magus at his prime, plucked up his pack as he clambered out of his tent. His childhood friend, a Ranger a mere few years younger, was simply watching the last few embers burn out as she hand fed the remains of a coney to her ferret.
“I’m gonna head on in, see how the folks are doing,” he informed her, shouldering his pack. “You’re sure you don’t want to come along?”
The woman didn’t even bat an eye. “I’m sure, Ashiru,” she replied calmly.
He frowned. “Not even to see what’s changed? You haven’t been back in-”
“Eleven years, I know. That doesn’t make me any more welcome.”
“You still haven’t told me why that is, Shen.”
Thus, she still refused, falling and keeping silent.
Ashiru heaved a sigh. “Well, if that’s how you’re gonna be. I shouldn’t be too long. Stay safe, all right?”
Though hesitant to simply leave her be, the lad began his trek to the village, cutting through some bushes to an old, well-beaten path. As his shuffling and footsteps receded, Shen quietly gave her little pet the last piece of meat. There were so many things she hid from her old friend that she simply couldn’t explain to him. Namely because she didn’t have any answers. But the one thing gnawing at her was the question of Why. Why she was cast out in the first place. Why her kin never bothered to contact her. Why they ignored the dozens upon dozens of letters she had sent trying to reach out to them.
The coals were smothered by fistfuls of earth and Shen quickly gathered her things. She had to know. The answers were but a small trek away.
Hood up, head down, her ferret friend hiding within her hood, the Ranger slipped out from the trees and made her way to her old hometown to observe. Yes, a decade had certainly changed the village, yet perhaps Shen had changed just as much. None of the locals gave her more than a passing glance as she meandered along the side streets. They didn’t recognize her. As thankful as she was for this, she felt her heart sink. Being forgotten altogether felt worse than the outright hatred she was accustomed to. For the moment, she tried to quietly pass this off as an improvement.
Still, Shen continued her wanderings. There were a few more homes built that looked sturdier than their predecessors. A small Market had been erected to welcome traveling traders; a surprising move, considering the Elders’ reluctance to so much as speak with outsiders, let alone allow their business here. Though a schoolhouse was built to bring education outside of the Elders’ manor, something was amiss as class was dismissed.
Strangely, she saw far fewer children than expected. In fact, despite the vaguely familiar faces simply growing older, there were fewer people in general despite the new structures. These familiar ones didn’t look particularly healthy, either. Not something her father would have allowed: he was the town’s herbalist and medicine man. Surely, the locals would have benefited from his herbs and mixtures, as they had so many years ago.
Shen felt a knot in her gut. Something wasn’t right. She had to get home.
Her stride picked up as she cut through several backyards. Village expansions or not, she still knew every route back home by heart. Shen was thankful she was taller than these bushes for a change; it made it easier to push through. In mere minutes, her father’s herb garden behind her old home was in sight.
Or at least, the remains of it.
Much to Shen’s dismay, the garden was left fallow and wilted. No one had bothered to touch the old planters in ages. Entire panes of glass were missing from the neighboring greenhouse. Cobwebs and withered vines had taken over the frame. This wasn’t like her father. He was far too passionate about his craft to simply let it fall to the wayside like this.
There was smoke coming from the chimney. Someone was definitely inside. Her steps faltered as she carefully avoided the planters’ rotted wood and rounded the house altogether. The rest of her home was as familiar as ever. Whoever lived here still maintained it. At last, she found the front porch and tentatively drew closer to the door. Heart pounding away in her throat, she did something she often dreamed yet greatly doubted she would be doing: Shen raised her hand and rapped upon the door of her old home.
Inside, there was an unfamiliar voice. Male, muffled, confused. Neighbors don’t tend to knock in this village: they know one another all too well. Yet he was not the one who answered. The door was pulled open to reveal a blue-eyed reflection of who the Ranger could have been in her future years. The woman’s long, dark hair had many streaks of gray. Her long face was riddled with premature wrinkles, perhaps due to stress. As ever, the apron tied tightly over her simple gown had a few spools of thread and a few scraps of fabric stuffed in their pockets.
Despite the time passed, mere age couldn’t fool Shen. “Mother? Where’s Papa, is he home?” she meekly asked.
What she had hoped for was a happy reunion. Joyful tears and a bear hug nearly suffocating her despite the bliss. What Shen received instead was a cold, disapproving scowl of disgust.
“Illana?” called the unfamiliar voice. “Who is it, darling?”
“No one, dear,” the tailor replied calmly.
She promptly slammed the door in Shen’s face, leaving the ranger stunned.