The Last Rae of Hope
Tetora began packing essential items for our trip. Aleph was sacrificing some of his older clothes to patch up the rucksacks we needed to contain all our items. It was then I noticed that all of their clothes appeared somewhat worn and patched.
“What have you two been doing since Raelynn left?” I asked carefully. I was still trying to emphasize that we were separate people.
“Maintaining your shrine,” Tetora responded. “Guiding pilgrims.”
“Pilgrims?” I blinked.
“They come to the altar to pray for Raelynn’s return.” Aleph noted.
“Sometimes they ask you to do ridiculous things for them. Like making someone fall in love with them.” Tetora snorted derisively.
Nora laughed. “If she could do that, wouldn’t she use that power for herself first?”
“Hey! Watch it or I’ll steal that future husband of yours and go to space myself!”
“You have someone you are in love with?” Tetora, misinterpreting our conversation, dropped a plate. “I do not approve! You are too young to, well, not anymore but… No! We disapprove, right Aleph?”
“When she is ready to introduce us to him, we will gladly welcome him with open arms,” Aleph said gently. He looked at me with a suddenly sly grin, holding up the gigantic needle he was using to sew. “That way, it will be easy to dispose of him if he does not meet our standards.”
“Okay, first, no! There is no one I’m in love with. Nora’s future husband is still theoretical at this point, and I’m too busy just trying to live a normal life. Which is not working out for me very well at the moment, all things considered.”
“Falling in love is not a normal thing to do?” Aleph asked in a more serious tone.
“Oh. Well. Yes, I suppose it is, but…” I had tried going on a few dates, but it was just an awkward experience all around. Reading about romance was a lot less complicated than actually trying to engage in it.
“She has very high standards.” Nora noted.
“Good.” Tetora approved. “No one is good enough for my gold dragon.”
“Maintaining the shrine… what else?” I tried to steer us back to the original topic.
“Protecting this village.”
“What will happen when we leave?”
“Our senior trainees will take over. Do not worry, they are masters in their own right. We just dislike telling them so.” Aleph smiled.
I looked out the window. I saw some other villagers walking around, glancing nervously at our house. None of them appeared to be fully human.
“Are the others… scared of us?”
“They fear most full-bloods. Please do not take it to heart, little one. Life is hard for them.” Aleph apologized.
“Full-bloods?” I turned to Nora.
I saw Tetora scowling darkly. “Wait. Is beastmen the right term?” I asked.
“Please use the term hybrids.” Aleph murmured in a restrained voice.
“Sorry. The story used that other term. I swear I’ll say hybrids from now on!” Nora criss-crossed a finger over her heart.
“Yes. The story. Please tell us more about it.”
“The Last Rae of Hope. It’s a fantasy novel from our world that talks about Raelynn’s travels through Speranza. Until she left, that is.”
“The title is rather ominous… or perhaps it is auspicious.” Aleph tilted his head back and forth for a few moments before speaking again. “Who authored such a story?”
Nora and I exchanged a look. I was about to speak, but Nora cut me off.
“Her pen name is Euphridia, but her real name is Eura Abrams!”
“Why did you tell them her pen name?!” This was just going to make it harder now. Even I was having trouble with the growing pile of coincidences.
“It’s the truth, though, right? She might actually be–”
“She didn’t look like a goddess!” I interrupted angrily. Why was she taking the wrong side of the argument? “She looked like… well no, I wouldn’t say she was a normal person but… I mean… would a goddess really wear such an outdated skirt suit? The shoulder pads might as well have been stolen from a football player… and…” I wasn’t even able to convince myself at this point.
“Raelynn.” Tetora put a hand on my shoulder and it was the final straw.
“No! That is the one point I will not concede! I am Rachel! Rachel Emily Smith!” I shook off Tetora’s hand. “My mother is Maura Smith. I had a normal childhood until well, you know… but I got better. I transferred to a new high school, met Nora, studied hard, and graduated college with a Bachelor’s in business administration!”
Needing to stretch, I stood up and paced awkwardly and angrily. “All I wanted was a normal job. Pay off my debts. Do a little good for the world while I’m at it, or at least not make anything worse by being there. But I don’t know the first thing about fighting supernatural beings hellbent on world destruction! The best I have are some corporate buzzwords like synergy, and all they’re good for is empty talk in executive meetings!”
I took a big breath before continuing my rant. “What am I supposed to do? Tell the demon king if he wants a value-added experience that promotes his long-term viability, he needs to demonstrate his ongoing commitment to global quality improvement?” He’d at least want to see the numbers for that strategy, and I didn’t have them!
Absolute silence. I knew 'execu-speak' probably meant even less here.
“I can corroborate her story, at least from the point where we met.” Nora said lamely.
“You’ve met my mother, too. Don’t forget that!” I snapped.
“I have met Maura Smith.”
“You… don’t think she’s my real mother, do you?” Nora was forever commenting on how different the two of us were. Why would you question this again now?
“I don’t know what I think.” Nora admitted.
“How would you feel if I said that about your mother?!” I screamed before thinking it through.
“Heh… I mean, biologically, you’d be right, of course, but…” Nora had tears in her eyes and suddenly, I regretted everything.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry! I wasn’t thinking right! I would never, ever really mean that!” I threw myself down on the ground in front of her.
“This situation is hard on the both of us, you know?”
“Yes,” I gasped out from the floor.
“We’re in another world that we thought was just a fantasy, right?”
“Right,” I agreed again.
“We might never see our families again. Especially if we keep ignoring the big issues right in front of us.” Nora put her hand on my head. “So rather than argue and withhold information from the people who can help us make sense of the situation, why don’t we try to work together in a shared reality where we can make meaningful decisions?”
“After all, aren’t we dynamic problem-solvers with a proven track record that thrive in a fast-paced environment?” Realizing she was using her resume’s ridiculous tagline, I snuck a glance at her face. She was smiling now and had previously wiped the tears away. “Sorry, I still don’t know how to work the word ‘synergy’ into the mix.”
“No one really does.” I also wiped my tears.
“So… let’s just fake it until we make it, okay?” I froze stiffly at her words. Hadn’t I told him I was going to do just that?
“Rae?” Nora blinked.
“As, as you said.” I needed to change the subject because I wasn’t able to devote another second to those other thoughts. I turned to the other two, who had watched our exchange in concerned silence. “Look, you don’t have to call me Rachel,” I sighed. “But please call me Rae. That’s what the people closest to me do.”
That night, Aleph walked us through our first meditation session. I struggled to silence my thoughts as he guided me through a progression of relaxation techniques, but I knew that was a common problem and practice was the only way to get better. After our session, I had even reserved some hope that I wouldn’t have that dream again, but one meditation session isn’t a panacea.
Please… I can’t die here. Just let me hold on a little longer. Not here. Not here.
I saw a bright light in front of me and I lost hope. However, I soon realized that this light was different. It was harsher, overly white, and slightly off center. Some sort of soft, glass-like mask over most of my face also obstructed it. I felt air blowing into my nose and onto my cheeks. My eyes could finally open, but everything was fuzzy. I didn’t have enough energy to keep them open for more than a few seconds at a time. Someone in a long robe of white was holding a small silver box and talking to it.
“Rachel Emily Smith…” His voice faded in and out as I fought to stay conscious. “... sustained multiple lacerations and puncture wounds from an apparent knife attack... unknown downtime…. CPR performed on scene… endotracheal intubation… treated for hypovolemic shock… subsequent acute infectious process…. successfully extubated but remains very drowsy… continue to monitor...”
I struggled to pull the mask off my face with my left hand. My right was bound to a splint. The man paused and walked over to me.
“Hello Rachel. My name is Dr. Williamson. Do you know where you are?”
“Rachel, you’re in the hospital. Your mother is here too. I’ll have the nurse let her know you’re awake.”
“... Mom?” How I desperately wished that could be true.
Dr. Williamson put his hand on my left forearm. “It’s okay now, Rachel. You’re safe.”
“Yes. I made it here.
Olethros: I ran the numbers. There’s no return on investment.
Rae: What numbers did you use?
Olethros: Current quarter projections.
Rae: Well, if you think about the big picture–
Olethros: Circle back once you come up with an actionable plan. Execu-speak is useless on its own.
Rae: ... Which one of you taught him the word ‘execu-speak’?!
Nora: He used ‘circle back’ too. He’s coming along nicely!