The four of us walked together now, our eyes alert for additional predators.
“Is Raeonna still there?” Tetora asked tentatively.
“I’m not sure.” Are you?
Do not bother me right now with useless prattle.
“Uh, I think she’s busy.”
“I see.” He sounded disappointed for a moment, but then he snorted happily. “To think I received such praise from Grandmaster Raeonna!”
“It sounded to me like she was criticizing you,” Nora remarked.
“Haha, yes, but if that is all she had to say to me, then I know I am doing just fine!”
“Your lack of humility is your biggest concern!” Raeonna said through my lips.
Tetora turned to face me. “I knew you were still there, Grandmaster!” He bowed to me, or rather her, respectfully.
Raeonna had me point to my body. “This one is weak, and many chakras are impacted. The solar plexus chakra is almost completely blocked. Past wounds were treated improperly, allowing animus to solidify in the viscera. There is lingering sickness in the connective tissues and humors as well. You will need to teach this one meditation and training. I will demonstrate the proper exercises to start with shortly.”
“It will be as you say, Grandmaster,” Aleph also bowed to us.
“Hmm. Tiger and Ox together,” Raeonna mused, glancing at Aleph. “You have overcome your incompatibility. It is good to know that those believing themselves to be the authority on others’ relationships are once again woefully ignorant.” Aleph and Tetora exchanged a long, somewhat apprehensive glance.
Then we looked at Nora. “Do not seek a mortal master, mage. They will try to limit your understanding under the deceptive guise of tutelage. Life experience is your teacher for now.”
Did you just tell Nora she didn’t need guided instruction? You’re just going to let her do whatever comes to mind with dangerous magical explosives? Do you even know her?!
She will be just fine. It is you that worries me.
Great. Just great.
We reached the village just before true darkness overtook the sky. I was hesitant to agree that it was indeed a village. There were only half a dozen wooden huts with thatched roofs scattered about in the dirt, tied together with lines to hang linens. We entered one of the larger ones, where Aleph and Tetora lit several lamps to light up the interior. The wooden floor creaked slightly as we walked across it.
Raeonna sat us down on the floor in front of a long, squat wooden table. “I have little time. Partake of a small meal with proper devotions, but do not linger in grand conversation. This body must train before my parting.” Raeonna then let me go for the moment. I saw Aleph and Tetora heading into another room. Given the sounds from there, I guessed it was the kitchen, and they were preparing dinner for all of us. I could hear them whispering excitedly, but I could not make out what they were saying.
“Say something else mysterious and commanding!” Nora exclaimed, looking me in the eyes.
“Uh, I can’t! She’s taking a break.”
“Oh good, you’re back,” she sat beside me. “What’s it like being possessed by a fallen hero from the past?”
“Um. Disconcerting? That’s the right word, I think.”
“Thought so. Do you let her take over, or did she just sort of…”
“It’s weird. It feels like… she’s shoved me away from the microphone while I’m on stage.”
“She seems rather direct.”
“Nora, I don’t remember anything about her in the story. Did I forget something important?”
“Mmm…” Nora looked towards the kitchen momentarily, then leaned in to whisper. “The Last Rae of Hope only briefly mentioned Rae’s past lives. All it said about Raeonna was that she trained a lot with the different beastmen clans before attempting to defeat the demon king.”
“Her nickname would have been Rae too, huh?”
Nora nodded. “A recurring theme between all the legendary heroes.”
“No need to make them distinct, huh?” I kind of felt bad about that.
“I mean… they’re all supposed to be reincarnations of the first hero, so…”
I sighed loudly. “This can’t be real, you know. We’re drunk. This is a fantastic virtual reality environment, and we can’t pull off our headsets. We’re alternate reality substitutes. We fell and hit our heads. We’re dreaming. We were hit by truck-kun. Tell me which scenario or scenario combination this setup is!”
“I don’t know Rae. I remember walking up a mountain and going through a portal.”
“Eura pushed you, and I held your hand, right?”
“Yeah,” Nora answered.
“I’m definitely not Raelynn.”
“Maybe… maybe not.”
“You’re kidding, right?” I blinked.
“I’m just saying we should keep an open mind about everything.”
“Any more open, and your brain’s going to fall out! This isn’t real!” I shouted, just as Aleph and Tetora carried in a tray of small dishes.
“This must be very confusing for you,” Aleph said quietly as he portioned the food for us. It mainly consisted of vegetables, though here and there, some dishes were sprinkled with little bits of meat.
“That’s an understatement. I’m just a normal person, not a hero. I don’t belong here.”
Tetora grabbed a pair of chopsticks and went directly for the meat on the dishes before him. “You are Raelynn Lightbringer.”
“No, I’m Rachel Emily Smith,” I responded.
“Gold dragon, born in the year 3500.” He shoveled rice into his mouth.
“Uh, Cancer, born July 10th, 2000.” I ate some seaweed from a soup bowl.
“You are 22 years old.”
“No, I’m–” I stopped. “I am 22 years old,” I conceded.
“Um, Rae…” Nora whispered. “You’re also a gold dragon.”
“How do you figure?”
“Chinese zodiac. 2000 was the year of the gold dragon. You know... natural, straightforward, uh, prone to continually changing emotions.” You just had to add that last part.
“How do you all know this?”
“But specifically for my birth year?”
“Dragons are cool?” I couldn’t argue with her logic on that one.
“What are you then? A rabbit, right?” I remembered learning that from a chopstick wrapper.
“Earth rabbit.” Nora clarified.
“What does that mean?”
“Intelligent, independent, calm, hard worker. You know, just awesome all around.”
“They always list at least one negative trait. Fess up; which one is it?”
“Um. Sometimes, we appear arrogant. Because of all the awesomeness.”
“Huh. Imagine that.”
Eat faster, talk less.
As soon as I was done eating, Raeonna took over again without even bothering to mention she would do so. She simply stood me up, waved curtly for everyone else to follow, and walked me through their house to the backyard. It was less an actual yard and more of a flat dirt pit.
I don’t have time to tell you what these are. Just let your muscles learn them. Forget words. Tetora will explain later.
I stepped out and started striking different poses as I worked my way across the field. Here and there, I noted I would punch, block, or kick with various swift movements. She would stop often, shifting my stances and pulling an arm or leg back into more solid stances before starting again. Tetora and Aleph had brought some lamps outside so we could see the ground in the dark.
Relax. You are making this more complicated.
This feels awkward!
You are unbalanced. Lifting weights alone does not satisfy the requirements for good overall health.
Maybe it’s just the alcohol?
There are no traces of alcohol in your body.
We practiced for what felt like hours. I was getting exhausted, and I knew my muscles were fatiguing. Even if I didn’t see the purpose of my fighting movements, I could tell I was slipping. She finally stopped at one point and sat me down in the dirt.
I will be gone soon.
Wait, you’re leaving?
I need a teacher! You saw those things in the woods, right? I don’t have the first clue how to defend myself!
You need a proper teacher. Not a fake like me.
A fake? They don’t just hand out the title Grandmaster, you know.
I’m an exception. My biggest regret is that I selfishly took knowledge from my masters and did not give back to the next generation. However, if I can set you on the right path… I can finally move on.
Raeonna was silent for a moment but came back with a commanding voice.
Meditate with Aleph. Train with Tetora. Teach them who you really are. Do not die prematurely. Live the life you want without too many regrets.
I swallowed heavily. Thank you for your instruction, Grandmaster.
Hahaha! You will not be so thankful tomorrow! Good luck, Rachel. And then she was gone.