Chapter 13:

Morning After

The Last Rae of Hope

I woke up on a thin cotton futon. Sunlight was streaming in from a small open window onto my face. I went to push myself up, except I couldn’t.

“Oww! Ow ow ow!” I greeted the morning angrily. Nora was already up and dressed in a gray cotton robe. I carefully looked at myself without risking elevating my head and saw I was wearing similar attire.

“Don’t worry, I was the one that helped you change.” Nora advised. “They didn’t see anything.”

“Thanks,” I said in relief as I vaguely recalled Nora dragging me back into the house last night.

“What hurts?”

“My everything. I swear even my hair hurts.”

“Maybe that’s all the lingering sickness coming out.”

“Sore muscles from breaking down the connective tissues between them,” I corrected with a sigh. “I’m definitely out of shape.”

“Too bad you can’t just do a simple training montage!” She started making some ridiculously dramatic fighting poses while dropping a catchy beat and repeating the word ‘Montage!’

I laughed, which was a big mistake. “Oh, my abs! I can’t see them, but I feel them!” I tried to stretch out my cramping core.

“When you’re able to sit up, I’m supposed to have you drink this.” She held up a glass bottle of dark amber.

“Okay. I’ll get there, eventually.”

“Take your time,” Nora said as she sat on the floor. “I think they’re going to be out for a while.”

“Good. So let’s go over the plan, then.” I rolled onto my stomach, trying to execute a cobra stretch.

“You actually have one?” she asked in an astonished voice.

“Hey now, sometimes I have good ideas. Just not… this time.” I lowered myself down to the floor again. “All I know is we’re not supposed to be here and someone’s making a big mistake.”

“Are you open to a suggestion?”

“I’ll listen, I suppose.” I wasn’t committing to anything yet.

“Let’s go along with them. At least until we make it to the holy city.”

“You think that’s what they’re going to do? Take us to Chairo?”

“Definitely. I heard them talking last night after you passed out. They’re all for getting the band back together and confronting his evil majesty.”

“You’re not actually suggesting we follow the plot line we concocted, right? We won’t be able to pull it off ourselves!”

“How about we meet with Relias like they want, tell him what really happened, and make a deal with him?”

“What deal would that be?”

“We tell him Euphridia is trying to reach him and if he can figure out how to send us back, we’ll pass on any messages he wants.”

“But… what if he doesn’t know how to send us back?”

“Let’s not worry about that for now,” Nora waved her hand nervously.

“What aren’t you telling me?”

“Lots of things. Trust me, let’s do it this way first. Plan B is a lot more dangerous.”

“Plan B?”

“It’s not ready for discussion yet.” I took her at her word and let the subject drop, being both slightly terrified and curious at the same time. An annoying charlie horse settled into my left leg and I switched my concentration to eliminating it. It was late morning before I could stand up without cramping terribly, and I risked it only because I had to answer the call of nature again. Nevermind the trouble I had trying to use the chamberpot! At some point, I drank the bottle she gave me, which seemed to contain salty, bitter water with some powdered, grassy herbs mixed in. She gestured to the corner of the room, where more bottles awaited me. Blech!

“Where’d they go that's taking this long?” I asked Nora as she set out some leftovers from last night.

“They’re washing our clothes. We’re supposed to stay inside until they come back.”

“I don’t think I could make it outside if I wanted to.”

I focused on eating breakfast. It wasn’t long before I saw Tetora and Aleph heading back to the house from the nearby window, though they hung our clothes on the line first before stepping inside.

“Good day, little one,” Aleph greeted me first, though Tetora was practically dancing to get in front of him.

“Time to train!” Tetora declared. “Let’s go now!”

“No way! I can’t move!”

“Nonsense!” He grabbed my arm as if to get me to stand and I yowled.

“Tetora!” Aleph barked. Tetora’s ears flattened and he let go of me quickly. “Sorry…” He sank to the floor, his tail curling under him. I reached out slowly and patted his ears a few times before I realized that might have been an incredibly rude gesture. Tetora, however, seemed content and chuffed happily.

“Nora wants to fluff your ears, too. Is that okay?” She had never said it aloud, but it was definitely written all over her face.

“Fine, but don’t tell anyone.” Tetora grunted sullenly.

I never saw Nora move so fast in my life. “Happiness!” she squealed as she joined me.

Aleph turned away with an awkward look on his face.

“Okay, we should stop now.” I said to Nora after a few minutes. Nora frowned, but pulled her hand back.

Aleph cleared his throat. “There is much we should discuss.”

“Yes,” I agreed. “First off, please believe me when I say I am not Raelynn.” There was a long pause.

“We… We believe you believe you are not Raelynn.” Aleph countered. “But you should believe us when we say you have the same features and voice of Raelynn.”

“I… can accept that much," I lied. "However, I have memories that go back to my childhood and none of them involve living in this world.” Just reading about it.

“Raeonna mentioned you had many wounds that were not properly treated,” Tetora challenged. “Is this true?”

I crossed my arms defensively. “I have some scars. Who doesn’t?”

“Where are they?” Tetora demanded. “I see some peeking out on your right wrist. How about your abdomen? Right shoulder? Above your left ear?”

I went rigid as he pinpointed each one aloud. “Nora! You said they didn’t see anything!”

“They didn't,” Nora reaffirmed. “They weren’t even in the house then!”

Aleph gestured curtly to Tetora to keep quiet. “Are you willing to share with us what caused such scars?”

Normally, I’d never tell them, as it really was none of their business, but the situation was anything but normal. “Someone… attacked me with a knife when I was younger.” I mentally braced myself for the forthcoming barrage of accusatory questions I had come to expect.

Aleph nodded. “I’m sorry such a thing happened to you.” He took a seat indirectly across from me. “We will not force you to talk about it.”

“Oh… I appreciate that.” What a good man! I mentally gave him respect +5.

True to his word, he moved on. “Raeonna asked me to teach you how to meditate. Are you willing to learn this skill?”

“I know… a little about it already. It’s not a bad habit to get back to now,” I considered.

Aleph nodded. “It will help draw out the solidified animus. It will take practice, however, so consistency will be key. If you agree, we will practice meditation together two times every day to start for about ten minutes. Once when you rise and once before you retire for the night.”

“Alright.” I agreed.

“Would it be alright if I joined you, too?” Nora asked too politely, throwing me off for a moment. Oh, because of what I said just now. It was a long time ago, and I'm over it, see?

“I don’t mind,” I said with a shrug.

“I will train you,” Tetora declared yet again. “When you can move properly again, of course,” he added quickly after receiving another look from Aleph. “I will walk you through the basic forms you were practicing last night.”

“Those were just the basics?”

“The most basic of basics!” Tetora laughed. “Do not worry, though. You can practice while we travel to Chairo.”

“Travel to Chairo?” Nora and I asked, pretending we didn’t know what to expect next.

“Will you allow us to introduce you to Holy Sage Relias?” Aleph inquired. “I believe his counsel will help you with your current situation.”

I glanced at Nora, and she nodded enthusiastically. “Alright, but only because you asked so nicely.”