I awoke in a place surrounded by fire. I was a small toddler, crawling over the bodies of the dead. In the distance, I could see a light, with a male figure who looked like the long-haired God from the painting in my grandma’s house.
“You’re going to be alright.” The man reached out his arms, lifting me to his chest. “I’m going to take you someplace safe.”
We walked to a place beyond the walls; a place where people of all ages and nationalities were gathered around desks and tables made of clouds while children played in pits of sunlight.
My savior lifted my small body in his arms, as he took a seat at a desk of his own. “Well, this incarnation didn’t work out too well.”
I was confused by what he meant.
“What are we going to do with you?” he smiled sweetly, revealing a gap in his front teeth. It was actually kind of endearing. “Given your background, I think we need to try a full isekai.”
“Isekai?” the word was foreign to me.
“Reincarnation, to a place where magic exists.”
As opposed to Earth? “I’m sorry, what?”Before I could get an answer, I opened my eyes in the form of a new baby. I knew this because I recognized the blurry vision, combined with the lack of motor control. Wait, why did I recognize this? I’m a baby. How am I so self-aware?
I was born into the new world, my mother had apparently passed during my birth, leaving me to be raised by my father. I learned, from hearing the world around me, that my father Vladimir, was a blacksmith. He was a tall strong Nordic man who worked long hours crafting all manner of items, from weapons, to armor to odd toys respected by the lord of the manor. We lived in a massive castle in (what looked like) the English countryside.
In my first years of life, I was often very sick. The lord of the manor assigned a nanny to care for me during the day, so Papa could focus on his work. Miss Lucy taught me the basic laws and rules of the castle. And when I was old enough, I could apprentice under my father.
As a toddler, learning to walk and explore, I couldn’t help but notice that Papa and I were the only people with fair skin and blonde hair. Everyone else had olive skin (some even darker) with black or brown hair. Papa said it was because we were special; we were worth keeping.
We didn’t have much. After a long day of work, he would come home and cook a meal of rice, beans, and any other cheap surplus grain; just enough to keep our stomachs full until the next day. At night he would hold me close in the small bed we shared. It was enough to keep me warm and allow me to sleep through the night.
Sometimes he would tell me stories about my mother. She was a baker back in their small village; a kind girl with a lovely heart. She vowed to wait for him. And if he was to die in battle, she would devote her life to serving God. Papa would always weep, speaking about how much he missed her, and how much of her he saw in me.
I’d always assumed he stayed with me through the night, until one day I awoke from a nightmare to find him gone.
I made my way out of bed, my small body falling to the ground with a soft thud. One of the wild dragons had been asleep on the foot of my bed. The purple creature was the size of a dog. It turned and looked at me with its gap-toothed grin.”Do you know where my papa is?”
The creature nodded, pointing its head towards the back exit.
I followed the dragon to the next building, a windowless barn that Papa told me was used for storage. I was not allowed to go in there, as it was filled with dangerous tools. He would often say, if anything ever happened to me, he could never forgive himself. His tears were worse than any beating. Every part of me wanted to go back to bed. He’d likely be back by the time the sun rose in the magenta morning sky.
I could hear sounds; multiple male voices, gasping, moaning. My child brain assumed this meant violence and pain. If my father was in there, he needed my help.I slowly approached the door. There was no way I could open it, but I was hopeful there would be a crack in the thick wooden plank. (I figured I could work from there.)I could barely see anything in the darkness, until a man with a lamp came into view.
My father was naked on a wooden table. He was tied up with his arms over his head, but his legs were spread allowing him full motion of his lower body. Someone was touching him, moving an object inside of his backside; stretching him, hurting him.
I could hear my father gasping, pleading. “Please I need the gag.”
“No,” said a deep male voice, whispering in the darkness “I kind of like it when you make noise.” A hand touched my father’s lips, coaxing out his tongue.
“Come on, man.” My father licked the man’s fingers, kissing each of them in turn. “My master, my lord. Marcus is asleep next door. Please think of my little boy.”
The other man chuckled. “Your beautiful son. I bet he’s going to grow up to be just like his daddy.”The figure placed the lamp down, illuminating their faces. That was when I saw who it was; Prince Tomas, the lord of the manor.
The older man lifted my father’s chin to kiss his lips.
He got down on his knees taking my father’s cock in his mouth. He was touching him in a way that made me shiver.
“I think you’ve had enough time with the toy.” He removed the long, metallic device with a slurp. It had been inside him, but now it was the prince’s turn. Spreading my father’s legs, he penetrated him. “Tell when you’re close.”
My father arched his back, revealing his throbbing, erect shaft pressed against his tight stomach. “More please.”
The prince was fucking him hard, banging into the table with every thrust. “Come on, man, show me how much you love me.”
They kissed once then twice, the men exchanging passionate breaths. My father’s lips parted and he spoke one line that shook me to the core. “I love you with all that I am.”
My child mind caused me to freeze. I ran back to my room, our room. Leaning against the door, I sobbed. I knew what I saw, or at least I had an idea.
“You know what you saw,” said a nearby voice. The dragon slithered up to me, like a wolf stalking its prey.
“Did you just talk?”
The creature rolled its eyes in a very human expression.
“What do I call you?”
The dragon placed its head on my lap, looking up at me with innocent eyes. “I like to go by Leo.”
“Hi, Leo. I’m Marcus,” I said petting his head, “But I think you already knew that.”
With Leo cuddling close like a stuffed animal, I somehow managed to get back to sleep. I awoke the next morning in my bed. Cleary my father had returned.
“You awake, boy?” shouted a voice from our kitchen area.
“Yes. Papa.” I could smell fresh coffee, chocolate, and bread.
“Time to get up.” He walked to my bedside, offering me a cup of hot cocoa with cinnamon. “Time to start the day.”
“Papa?” I took a sip, because I was actually very hungry.
My father put his arm around me, patting my arm. “You’re a good kid.”
Burying my face in his chest, I couldn’t help but cry. Unfortunately, this show of emotion betrayed what I had seen the previous night.
My father knew it too. I could feel his heart pounding as he swallowed a deep sense of shame. There was a moment of silence. He took a breath, possibly to give him a moment to think of what to say to such a young child.
“Papa?” I reached my small hand to his cheek, brushing away a single tear. “I love you.”
He cupped his hand over his mouth. After a moment, he turned to me, looking into my eyes. “Marcus, lad, you listen to me. I need you to be brave.”
I nodded, expecting him to continue.
Instead, he patted my back. “Finish your breakfast, your nanny will be by to get you.” That was all he said before leaving for work.
“Yes, Papa.” I left the bed and finished my food at our kitchen table. Soon my Nanny came to get me for morning chores.
“Come along, Marcus, to time to waste.” She took my hand as we walked in the direction of the stables.
“Ms. Lucy,” I said in a meek voice.
“I saw daddy leave during the nighttime.” There were already tears in my eyes; fear, sadness, and concern.
The fact that her face went pale didn’t help matters. “Oh dear.”
“What’s wrong, Ms. Lucy?”
“I always feared this would happen.” She stopped in her steps, diverting to a direction opposite of the castle grounds. “You were going to find out when you came of age.”
“Find out what?”
Her voice stuttered. “We need to find a place to sit.”We found a remote hillside and only then was she willing to tell me a brief tale. “I’ve told you the story of how your father came to live here.”
I nodded. “You said that Papa met the prince during the great war, and they became friends.” That was the abridged version I’d heard as a bedtime story. The prince admired my father’s work as a weapon and arms designer and offered him a job.
“That wasn’t the entire truth.”
Through an awkwardly told story, I learned the ‘truth.’ Apparently, the prince and my father were much more than friends. They’d met on the battlefield, during the capture of Porta Luna Island. The prince had been mortally wounded, and separated from his men. My father, a skilled sniper, had located him.
He had been told to capture any high-ranking enemy soldiers alive, so they could stand trial. It would have been so easy, and likely garnered him medals and prestige. Yet instead of turning the politically powerful soldier over to the leaders of the Nordic army, my father kept him hidden. He made a boat out of driftwood and took the prince to a remote part of the island.
My father essentially went AWOL, abandoning his post to care for the enemy soldier. even though he knew that meant he would likely never see his wife or any other family again.
“That was how they discovered the healing properties of your father’s body.”
“What do you mean?”
“Everyone born into this world has a quirk, something that makes us special. for your daddy, it’s his,” she paused awkwardly pursing her lips. “His body; his blood, his flesh his…you know what I mean.”
“Blood?” My father had deep scars all over his body, but I just assumed it was from his dangerous line of work.”Originally it was blood, sometimes flesh.”
“What?” My horrified look caused her to backpedal.
“Your father was a hero, willing to sacrifice anything to allow the Prince to survive.” I could tell she didn’t want to mention the sex, but clearly, that was what I’d witnessed. “As a reward Prince Tomas offered your father a place in his home, he even offered to send for your father’s wife.”
“How did he send for her?” I asked. The question seemed innocent enough. “How did he know where to find her?”
Lucy could have lied; she could have easily told me that my father gave clear instructions on how to find his wife in their Nordic village, and by the grace of God she was still alive. Instead, she stuttered. “J-Just know that when you come of age, you will have to take your father’s place.”
Those words said to a child seemed odd, even cruel. We didn’t speak for the rest of the workday. After a long afternoon of dusting and sweeping, I took a nap under the starry sky. A flock of dragons flew overhead. ‘Leo?’ None of them landed. I’d never felt so alone. Crossing my arms over my chest, I cried myself to sleep.
Somehow, my papa found me and carried me to bed. I could feel him kiss my forehead, his rough stubble caressing my skin. “You be a good boy, don’t go running off like that.”
“Please don’t go.” And then he left, again. I’d like to think he paused outside the door, truly considering his decision. Maybe he was in as much pain as I was. Maybe he didn’t have a choice. Yeah, that was probably it.
‘Why am I here? How is this any better than living and dying on Earth?’ I buried my face in my pillow in an attempt to sleep (or perhaps suffocate myself.)
“You’re right,” said a calm male voice. “In your many past lives you were a great warrior, philosopher, and scholar; someone truly worthy of the army of heaven.”
“Well, right now I’m only six!” I punched the side of the pillow. I was too angry to think. “Why can’t I just jump off a roof?”
The man placed a hand on my back, soothing me like the child that I was. “You can. I’m not sure what that would get you since that would technically be suicide.”
“An unforgivable sin?”
The hand recoiled, transforming into a small claw. “I have no idea; I just know that you have quite the journey ahead of you.”
I turned my head to see the dragon curled up by my side. It was a slight comfort, but he was gone when I awoke. My father’s side of the bed was empty, but warm. He had returned but chose to leave early for whatever reason. He left behind some crackers and cold coffee. ‘Must have been an important project.’ With my father already gone, I left to go in search of Miss Lucy. I assumed she was on her way, perhaps it was just early.
Suddenly I heard a sound; an explosion followed by the screech of a flock of birds, dragons and even insects. It sounded like someone had opened a door to Hell. A girl I recognized as one of the apprentice groundskeepers came running.”Becca?” I blinked the sleep from my eyes. “Is that you?”
Becca was not much older than myself. She was a full head taller (which was why she didn’t have to stay with a nanny) and often referred to me as her baby doll. “Marcus, your father is hurt badly, you must come.” She scooped me up in her arms as she ran.
Over the hill, I could see my father’s workshop. There was no fire, but somehow the building had collapsed, destroying the area around the forge. My father was stuck under a large piece of wood that used to be part of the roof. But how? That was the real question. This was too clean to be an accident.
“Where is everyone?”
I saw a woman in blue walking towards us. “Queen Emma.” My first instinct was to stand up and get a better look.Thankfully Becca was there to set me straight. She placed her hand on my back, coaxing me to kneel. “We must never make eye contact with the lady of the manor.”
“But why?” I had never seen Queen Emma in person, only through photos and other official press releases, did I learn of her majestic beauty. She always seemed regal and kind. Her olive skin seemed to be kissed by the sun, making her appear as if she was a woman of the people. That was the farthest from the truth.
As she walked over, I could see her shoes. Pristine blue metallic high heels, something that the average person would not wear outside the castle walls. Somehow, she was not sinking into the soil. Perhaps these shoes were meant for outdoor use.
The woman lifted my face, forcing me to look into her dark, menacing eyes. “You look so much like him. It’s honestly disgusting.”
‘Did you just call my father disgusting?’ I opened my mouth to speak, but Queen Emma forced my head down, nearly slamming me into the dirt.
“Your kind should have died out during the reaping.”
“The reaping?” I asked in my innocent child voice.
“Do you know where milk comes from?”
I did. “The animals.”
“Do you know what happens when an animal can no longer give milk?”
I shook my head.
“That animal would have outlived their usefulness. Much like your father.”
Becca motioned for me to stay down. She gripped my hand, as I swallowed my rage. Eventually, the Queen grew bored of our silence and continued on her way.
Becca stood up, breathing a sigh of relief. “I knew she’d leave once we stopped reacting. She’s always been like that.”
“She’s always been mean?”
“Queen Emma has no powers of her own, beyond her royal linage.” Becca picked me up and carried me closer to the site of the accident.
My father’s leg was broken in a way that did not allow him to be moved. If this was any other member of the staff, my father would be the one called to rescue them from the wreckage. But who does one call upon to save a hero? The castle crew would need to send for a doctor to amputate Papa’s trapped limb.
“Marcus, my dear boy,” his voice as little more than a whisper.
“Papa, I’m here.” I was crying so hard I could barely breathe. I stayed by his side until I heard the sound of horses approaching.
Becca held me close, burying my face in her shoulder. “Close your eyes. I’ll tell you when he’s safe.”I forced my eyes closed, but I could still hear the doctor ordering my father to bite down on a leather strap. I could hear the sound of breaking. Was it wood? Bone? I didn’t want to know. Soon he fell quiet. My father had lost consciousness.
“Get him to the servant quarters,” shouted a male voice.
Becca gently whispered in my ear, “They’re going to move him onto the gurney. And then we’re going to follow them.”
I was sobbing uncontrollably. She lifted my body carrying me like a stuffed toy as she walked behind the entourage. Soon we arrived at the servant barracks. We were small enough to go unnoticed, hiding under one of the nearby beds, as the grownups worked.
After what felt like years, the doctors finally left.
“Mr. Vladimir, Sir?” Becca spoke softly as she emerged. “I’ll get you some water.”
She set me down on a nearby chair. The doctors had done all they could, the rest would be up to him.
I watched as she moistened a clean cloth and dripped the liquid to my father’s lips.
Each drop allowed breath to return to my father’s lungs. “Marcus?” His eyes flickered, unable to focus.
“I’m here, papa.” I laid beside him, letting my tears fall onto his exposed skin; his shoulder, his arm. In addition to his broken leg. He had minor injuries; burns, scratches and other open wounds.
My body froze in absolute horror as the droplets from my eyes were healing him; wounds closed, bleeding stopped, even the skin itself looked to be cleaner. What did this mean? Was I just like him? Was the prince going to eat me? I stopped crying as I felt my chest tighten. I was having a panic attack.
Becca rushed to my side. “What’s wrong?”
“I don’t want to be special.”
“We’re all special,” she replied, like an older sister attempting to raise my spirits with a commonplace generality. And then she stroked her hair. Her once dark locks changed to light yellow. “See, I can look like you.”
That was enough to hold my attention. “Can you look like a dragon?”
“No, silly,” she said as she changed her eye color to match mine. “Well, maybe if I practice more.” Becca rubbed her hands together, causing her skin to lighten. It was like she was holding a ball of magic in her hands. “Right now, all I can do is change my hair, my eyes, and if I really try, I can do my skin, but it’s really difficult.” Becca laid in bed, on the opposite side of my father’s body.
“You’re really special.”
“We can be special together.” Becca reached her hand across Papa’s chest, gripping my wrist. “Since I don’t have a mommy either.”
“Why don’t you have a mommy?” I asked, genuinely confused. I’d never met her parents, I just assumed they were on staff somewhere in the castle.
“Same as you,” she replied, stroking my fingers. “We were created by the prince.”
Before she could continue, my father’s hand rose with superhuman strength. He gripped her wrist, narrowly avoiding the unwanted action of striking her in the face. “I apologize, my dear, please go back to your own bed.”
Becca nodded. “I’m sorry, sir.” She quickly scurried off without even saying goodbye.
With Becca gone my mind went to the Queen. Her words were cruel, spiked with hatred. Did she cause this? Was she trying to kill my father? If so, why?
Suddenly a figure entered through a side door. He wore a long coat, with the hood pulled over his face, but I could tell right away who it was. “Do I need to bow?” I asked my father.
”The hooded man quickly shook his head. “I won’t be here long.”
“Ok, sir.” I nodded innocently.
Prince Tomas lifted his hood, greeting my father with a passionate kiss.
My father’s hand reached for his lover’s face, affectionately holding him close. The two exchanged looks of silence with their mouths hovering dangerously close. I had a feeling that if I wasn’t there, the two would have gladly continued their lovemaking.
Instead, they simply exchanged nods. Tomas seemed truly remorseful, his expression offering promises of change. My father responds in kind.
And then Tomas leaves, just as quietly as he arrived.
I want to ask questions, but I know better than to express my discomfort. Instead, I yawned, cuddling against my father’s arm. “I love you, Papa.”
There was a long silence.
“You listen to me boy,” my father said, pulling me close. “You ever wonder why no one looks like us?”
“Ms. Lucy said it’s because you met the prince during the great war.”
“The war that our people lost. Once the Amanar family took over, our tribes were sold off as slaves. While it is true, I met the prince prior to the defeat he had to buy my services, outbidding many who would wish ill upon us. We are fortunate to be where we are and we must always be grateful.”
“Ok, Papa.” I shut my eyes, desperate to fall asleep in my father’s strong arms. ‘Why did he have to fall in love with the prince?’
I awoke back in the cloud-covered office. I could see Leo (in his angel form) look up from his laptop.
“Leo?” What I heard was not a child’s voice. I looked down at my body. I was wearing shimmery clothing like a steampunk angel. “Whose body is this?”
“You, Marcus, at your full potential. If and when you die in this realm it will become your heavenly form.”
“If and when?” I asked with a snicker. “Thanks for the confidence boost.”
Leo shook his head, running his fingers through his hair. “All creatures die. I was just saying that we have a space for you once your work is done.”
“No more being reborn?” I was not convinced. My mind was an ocean of memories from hundreds of lives.
“You know I can’t promise you.”
“That’s what I thought.” It was time to wake up.