“What did I say about waking me like that?”
“Don't!” The two speak at the same time.
“Yet you dare disobey my orders? I sentence you both to.... TICKLE TORTURE!”
Shrieks and giggles fill the room. After a short while I bring the two of them in close for a hug, and give each a quick kiss on the cheek.
The two in question are Tali and Tate. They are a pair of demi-human twins, a girl and boy respectively. They are half-goat, a little over 2 years old, and were adopted by Charok and Alsantset a few weeks after the festival. It turns out that there are a large number of demi-human orphans running around.
The reason there are so many orphans has to do with how demi-humans are born. A demi-human is the product of one human parent, and one Ancestral Beast parent. An Ancestral Beast being a creature that has lived long enough and become smart enough to take human form. So, technically bestiality? I don't know. Human enough I guess.
While they have “evolved” into a human form, with human intelligence, Ancestral Beasts still have a tendency to obey their baser instincts. When an Ancestral Beast looks at a demi-human child, who can take more than a year in order to learn how to walk, the Beast's instinct after a few months is that the child is so weak that there's no way for it to survive. So they abandon the child, as they believe it would be a mercy compared to living as a cripple. Of course, the child is healthy, and could only be considered a cripple compared to the child of two ancestral beasts.
The other side of the coin is when a demi-human is born from a human woman. Usually the Ancestral Beast daddy doesn't stick around. Sometimes the child is killed, or abandoned just because it's different. Not all are as understanding or accepting as the people of our village. I'm glad I was found by them. Amber eyes are an oddity, and most people in this world react badly to things like that. Small favors. Hence, the abundance of demi-human orphans. They're the lucky ones.
Of course that's just a generalization of the situation. There are many humans and Ancestral Beasts who happily raise their demi-human children with love and care, sometimes even working together. Those families, unfortunately, tend to be the exception, as opposed to the rule. Almost all of the demi-humans of the village are abandoned children found by the villagers. Taduk and his daughter were apparently the exception, having arrived together.
I also asked about demi-humans having children, but they are all unable to have children, even with another similar demi-human. Due to their genetics, I guess. Like Mules. Or is it donkeys? Either way, this means that the number of families looking to adopt is fairly high, so things seem to more or less work out.
It's been 6 months since the festival. I've been living with Charok, Alsantset, Tali, and Tate. We've become an incredibly close family. Although they aren't technically old enough to be my parents, even in my new body, Charok and Alsantset have shown me nothing but love. They both retired from the banner, giving their spots up, in order to raise their family. They treat me like a little brother, and I treat them like older siblings. I've also grown incredibly attached to the twin terrors, due to just how adorable they are. They both have the softest hair and tiny little nub horns growing out of their foreheads. They love to run around and make mischief, gnawing on limbs and fabrics. It's adorable.
I send the twins out and wash up. When I step out into the dining room, Charok and Alsantset have breakfast waiting for all of us. Alsantset is smiling, carrying Tali on her lap, while Charok mirrors her with Tate. I sit down and eat with them, spicy fish, rice gruel, and egg wrapped dough fritters, all made fresh.
When we finish breakfast, I wash the dishes, Alsantset takes the roosequin out for exercise, and Charok takes the kids out to play. When everything is done, Alsantset and I walk over to the training field.
After retiring from the Company, Charok and Alsantset needed to find new jobs. While they both had a decent amount of wealth from their time as mercenaries, it wouldn't last forever. Charok naturally became a cook at the best restaurant in the village, and Alsantset took over the martial training of the young children, as the previous trainer joined the banner. Charok works afternoons and early evenings, while Alsantset just works mornings. As for me, aside from the mandatory martial training, I'm also studying with Taduk. He retired from the banner as well and is living on the outskirts of the village.
He taught me to read, write and speak properly. Apparently, I wasn't the well spoken individual I thought I was. My language skills are definitely not a cheat. It's just leftover memories from this body I inherited. Which fits with the rest of my reincarnation experience. One star, would not recommend.
The problem was that whenever I spoke, I would think of the sentence in English, and then speak the sentence translated word by word. That led to some odd grammar and word choices when I spoke. I even told them the wrong name. I went from English:Rayne, to a phonetic equivalent of English:Rain, to the Language: Rain. I don't really know how to fix it, but whatever. I'm Rain now. Technically, Falling Rain. Whatever. Roll with it. Thankfully, it fits right in with their hippy-granola naming structure. I have a much better grasp of the language now. Everyone stopped speaking to me like I was an idiot.
“How are you faring in regards to finding the State of Enlightenment?” Alsantset is always asking, always pushing me to improve. While it is a little tiring, I know it's because she is concerned about me, and wants to help me to be strong.
“Not faring at all, Sister. I'm stuck.”
“You should not worry so. It can take years. It will come. You started much later than the others. Do not rush yourself, little Rain. You are trying too hard. All will come in time.”
That pet name. I don't really like it, but she means well. Not her fault I'm an older dude in a kids body. Even thinking it makes me feel skeevy. We arrive at the training field, and I help set up. All the children 16 and under come here to learn, every day for 4 hours in the morning. Then, after lunch, they have 4 hours of study, depending on their chosen path. It's an efficient process, but not very flexible. Most children are expected to follow in their parent's footsteps, so you end up with firm delineations in class. There are the artisans, the farmers, the soldiers, and the politicians. No one seems to mind though, and there have been cases where an individual was so bad at their current path, that they would be traded off to a different profession. Everyone contributes, and there are no homeless or destitute. Socialism HO! The most popular job is, of course, the soldier. Everyone dreams of fighting and being strong.
The children start arriving and naturally split into two groups by age. There are close to 200 in total, and two-thirds of them are demi-humans. I move and stand with the younger children. No helping it, they start learning early. I'm 6 years behind schedule and I can't keep up with children my age. I don't mind it though, I feel more comfortable around the younger kids. I feel awkward around people my 'own age'. I don't really fit in. I mean, they're children. It'd be weird if I did fit in.
A clap from Alsantset, and we all begin demonstrating the Forms. There are eight forms in total, all named after animals, Tiger, Deer, Wolf, Mantis, Snake, Oriole, Bull, and Bear. Each form is a series of 30 - 75 movement exercises, from punches and kicks to stretches and balance. They also have some ridiculous names, like 'Tiger stalks the dragon' and 'Bull dances in the grass'. The movements, done correctly, are supposed to 'forge our bodies into weapons' and 'be the basis upon which your martial arts are built'.
I was extremely skeptical at first. I thought it was ridiculous. It was a bunch of slow, choreographed, interpretive dancing. How is that supposed to teach me to fight? Then I tried it out. I couldn't get through a single form before running out of stamina. I mean, I had spent months doing hard labor, but I didn't last 5 minutes into the first form. It's the first real mystical thing I experienced here. I thought the movements were just a bunch of hand waving, leg raising, arm swinging bullshit. Sure they can build muscle endurance, flexibility and balance, but the movements drain you more than it seems possible, like you've been sprinting full tilt instead of twirling in place. It doesn't make any sense to me, and no one can explain it.
Demonstrating the Forms isn't just about following the movements either. It's knowing when to take a breath, how deeply you breathe, where you place your feet, the tilt of your head, the angle on your elbow, how you exhale. The list goes on. You start awkwardly, needing to think about every step, every breath, every turn of every joint. It's as mentally demanding as it is physically, if not more. You find yourself out of breath, or the strength just leaves your muscles. Your arms feel like iron bars, or your legs like jelly. But slowly, after weeks of practice and repetition, your body realizes what you're trying to do, and it adapts. Not all at once, but bit by bit. A breath comes organically, a muscle relaxes, a balance correction occurs, and the movement becomes natural.
When that happens, you feel as if you could do the forms in your sleep. You could read a book while doing it. The movements eventually become less exhausting, and more invigorating, as if you're drawing energy from them. At some point your mind clears, and everything, you, the movement, and the moment, all combine, like you're there in your body, but you can sense things you shouldn't be able to see, like you're looking at yourself from third person. That mindset is called the State of Enlightenment.
The State of Enlightenment serves as a state of mind, for combat. While in the state, you can think more clearly, and act and react more quickly, making it suitable for combat or other high stress situations. Bullet time almost.
I touched upon it I think, just briefly, after 5 months. It was like a dream, fleeting, ethereal, but it felt right. Comfortable, safe, warm. It was reassuring. Everything was different, like I've been looking through a cloudy film, and for the first time seeing more color, higher definition, a wider perspective. I felt like I could count the grains of sand in the hourglass, or the hairs on the back of my neck. Only for just a moment. Then I lost it, and everything was normal again.
When I asked Alsantset about it, she was ecstatic. They don't tell you about it beforehand, because there is no easy way of verifying if someone has truly reached it. Knowledge of the phenomenon leads to many believing they've reached it, when in fact, they haven't.
I haven't been able to reach it ever since though. I'm worried she's disappointed. I might've gotten her hopes up. But she's right, it takes most people years. I have only just begun. Being able to maintain the State of Enlightenment is one step on the martial path. I intend to take it.
I will never be made a slave again.
For that, I need to be strong
I only need this first step. The rest will come.
I continue to demonstrating the Forms, slowly, one movement at a time, relishing the strain of my muscles, searching for Enlightenment.