previous: Isekai ch2
I could remember Leo asking if I was sure, this was what I wanted. And then he started to pray. I expected to close my eyes and wake up back in Marcus’s life, but something kept me frozen in place.
Leo looked up, his expression one of dread. “This is bad.” The ceiling above us rippled with blue energy, forming shapes and then letters.
“The law of equivalent exchange.” Leo nodded as if he had expected this. “My direct supervisor was not happy with our meeting.”
“I’m sorry?” Was he about to be punished for allowing me a time jump?
“Don’t worry you’re about to experience your own personal hell. I hope it was worth it.” The manic laughter faded as I awoke in my new bed, in a new house.
Looking at my legs, I was taller, older. “I’m eleven.” Somehow, I knew that. Before I could wonder why, my mind was bombarded with the recollections of the past four years. My head was throbbing, and suddenly I felt sick. I gripped the wall to avoid collapsing to the ground.
Our new house was a beautiful two-story structure made from the finest wood metal and stone. With the support of the queen (supplying both the materials and labor), the structure had taken a little over a year to complete. And during that horrific year, we were forced to accept the hospitality of the queen, residing in the castle.
I suddenly fell to the ground sobbing uncontrollably. “Oh, dear God.” Every part of my body hurt, as the memories came flooding back. During that block of time, my father slept in the prince’s bed while I was forced to find my own accommodations. For the first few weeks, I slept around the castle, then I asked for a room. This was a mistake. the queen put me in a room on a different floor; a place in isolation where my father couldn’t hear my cries. This explained my blank/expressionless personality; Queen Emma had broken me.
Eventually I was sent to school with Becca and the older children. I forgot about my animals, my farm. I threw myself into physical labor, working long hours and sometimes sleeping in a field. I had several memories of my father attempting to teach me to work as his apprentice. I could easily make very basic shapes; flat triangles, rectangles, anything he asked. just as long as I could leave immediately after.
‘I took a piece of metal and made it flat.’
‘Your work lacks spirit, soul.’
‘That’s why it’s called work.’
‘I want you to design something, create something meaningful.’
‘Why? So, I can be like you?’
I was not inspired to learn from him or be like him in anyway shape or form. I was no longer a child, and he was no longer my hero. My heart filled with rage. I clearly didn’t share a bed with my father, since I had my own room. In fact, I was certain that I rarely ever saw him at all.
My relationship with Becca was all I had. We were two kids completely pissed off at the world. I exited the house, passing through the kitchen on the way out. Of course, he left me food which I swept in to my bag for later.
I also grabbed a package of matches and rolling papers. We found something to smoke; a strange leaf that (when dried) tasted like peppermint. With my equipment in tow, I easily climbed the rock wall, exiting the property line of the castle grounds.
Becca was already waiting, sitting cross-legged on the forest floor. “Hey Marcus, you got the stuff?”
“You know it.” I was 11 and she was 12 but there was a major difference in her appearance. She was taller, stronger, with a facial expression marred by time; she was no longer a sweet little girl, Becca was a soldier with dreams of escaping the hard life of a castle servant. “How’s the baby?”
In recent months., Becca and I had restarted our farm for stray animals; dragons, land turtles, butterfly raccoons and glow snakes. The latest addition was a baby phoenix that Becca rescued from a swarm of Nix. We fed them leftovers from our own meal rations until we had collected enough wild seeds to start a garden.
We worked hard to keep our small collection of animals safe, fed and out of view of the adults. It was our one slice of paradise, a place where we were no longer property of the royal family. This was our family, our home.
“How’s your dad?
“He comes around, but I don’t talk to him much.” Becca rocked the bird like a baby, stroking its cheek. “His loyalty is to the northern territories.”
“When was the last time he visited?”
She shrugged. “When was the last time your father donated blood?”
“Wow, no need to be cruel.”
“Sorry.” She shifted her shoulder, revealing a necklace made of twine.
“Is it safe to wear that around little pepper?
“Her name is peppercorn,” she said with a smile. “And it should be fine, it’s a pendent from my father’s village. It’s coal that had been spiritually blessed by the elders. He said if I ever needed to call him for help, I could burn it.” She rolled the small rectangular pendent between two fingers, leaving behind a trail of ash. “Where ever I was in the world he would be able to find me.”
“Do you think it works?”
Becca suddenly froze.
“Shh! I think I hear someone coming.”
The queen and her soldiers came through the graveyard forest; once, sometimes twice a week to collect various ingredients; bones, rocks, soil samples, sometimes they even took eggs and live animal specimens.
They would usually not stay long; I had a feeling they all felt the same odd level of spiritual darkness that Becca did, a cold shiver that makes one want to run in the opposite direction. We quickly pulled a preset cord system that shielded our work area in a tarp (which we hand painted purple and black to blend in to the surrounding shadows.) For the past few months, this simple process had served us well.
Becca held the phoenix close to her chest, warming the enclosed area with its subtle glow. “Next time my dad shows up, I’m going to follow him. I don’t even care that I can’t fly. I’ll track him on the ground.”
“Anywhere,” she said, rocking on her knees. “Any place is better than here.” She looked around, examining every angle for light or sound. “I’m convinced he’s never coming to get me. He probably sold me to the Amanars as a slave, and he just visits to make sure I’m still alive.” That’s why I’m waiting for the right moment to call him. I need to be ready to run.”
Before I could form a reply, Becca reached for my hand. “I think they’re gone.”
“Can I come with you?”
“Um, maybe,” her voice dropped to the form of a question.
“I get it,” I muttered, with a knowing nod. “You just don’t want me to slow you down.”
Becca cupped her hand over her mouth. “Oh no, of course not.”
“It’s fine, really. I wouldn’t want anything to stand in the way of your dreams.”
Becca chuckled. “You are my dreams.”
There was no way I heard what I thought I heard.
She leaned over and kissed me on the lips. it felt gentle, sweet, the way a mother would kiss her child. It was actually kind of nice. And then Becca said the words that sent a shiver down my spine. “Was that your first kiss?”
I laughed awkwardly. Gripping my stomach, I was sinking my nails into my flesh, in an attempt to distract myself from the physical, emotional pain.
I pursed my lips, forcing a nod.
Becca reached forward, giving me a hug with the bird between us. “Queen Emma can’t hurt you, not while I’m here.”
Suddenly a heard the sound of a gun click. “You won’t fight, if you know what’s good for you.” the voice was deep, slightly warped as if the person was speaking through a modifier.
I nodded silently, unsure of just how many weapons were pointed in my direction.
I could hear Becca crying, as the baby bird was forcibly torn from her arms. I wanted so badly to comfort her, but to reach for her hand was too much of a risk. “It’ll be ok. We’ll be ok.”
We were cuffed and bags were placed over our heads. I’m not sure if the intent was to blind us, but I was easily able to see through the stitches of the fabric. We were led to a carriage connected to the back of a strange motor vehicle. The ride was terrifying but not completely unpleasant. That was, until they attempted to pull us out and force us in two different directions.
Becca screamed an ungodly screech that sounded more like an alarm then a twelve-year-old girl. The guards released her, letting her limp body fall to the ground. Becca shook off her head covering then (with her hands still bound.)
She immediately ran towards me and ripped off my head covering with her teeth. That was when I saw where we were; a town with cars, horses, buildings, and roads. A small crowd had gathered to watch the odd sight; a dozen castle guards attempting to arrest two preteens.
Several guards pointed their weapons. “If you try to run, we have orders from the queen to use deadly force,” said an intimidating male.
Then do it!” Becca shouted. “You’re just a bunch of pathetic cowards!
Before anything could happen, a different guard grabbed the weapon. “Get them back into the carriage, they can be housed in the wine cellar.”
Back into the carriage we went. At least this time we were unmasked and together. When we arrived, a pair of guards escorted us to the room filled with bottles and wooden crates. Our hands remained cuffed in front of us, limiting our ability to do anything more than sit.
I looked around, hoping to find a means of escape. “What do you think they’re going to do with us?”
The door reopened, followed by the sound of delicate footsteps. The queen presented us with two covered bowls, one in each hand. “I made this dish special, just for you.”
I already knew what it was. she had killed at least one (if not all) of our animals. “I don’t want it.”
“All the animals on my land are my property.” she leaned in close, whispering in my ear. “Including you.”
Before I could respond I heard the clank of Becca removing the lid to her meal. She was frozen, looking down at the bowl. To the untrained eye it looked like chicken soup, but the queen was kind enough to leave the head of the baby phoenix floating in the middle.
“Becca?” my voice trembled. Her expression was one of apathy.
I watched in slight revulsion as she forced herself to pick up a leg, pulling off a piece of meat, putting it to her lips and swallowing it. The way she locked eyes with the queen was courageous, admirable. it was enough to get the queen to leave us alone. once Emma was gone, Becca snapped the bone in half. Then, much to my horror, she moved the bone to her wrist, making a long cut down her arm.
“What are you doing.”
“I want to die.” Becca’s voice was empty, cold.
Queen Emma just giggled. “That can be arranged.” She stood up, making a point to pat Becca on the head. “I’ll see you tomorrow.”
I stayed silent until the queen was gone. I could hear her shoes moving further and further away. Soon we had a moment of silence for our animals. “Were you serious?”
Becca shrugged. “I don’t know.” Her expression shifted from stoic strength, back to that of a little girl. “I don’t have anyone.”
“You have me.”
Becca blinked tears from her eyes. “Thank you.”
The next day we were brought before the “council.” I had seen castle employees get in trouble before. The meeting was usually not mandatory but today, the queen wanted to send a message. Instead of handling the matter in-doors, she opted to set up a stage, along with a blood covered chopping block that she stood atop of. “Thank you all for taking a break out of your day to be here. All of you are my family. and I am sure you all are aware of how fortunate you are to reside within the safety of the castle walls. I love each and every one of you which is why I cannot tolerate theft, vandalism and insubordination.”
Becca and I sat on our knees, with our chained wrists in front of us. Due to the weight, we were forced to sit like a pair of dogs awaiting punishment. “We didn’t do anything!” I shouted, scanning the crowd for any sign of my father.
“You and your little girlfriend used land resources that were,” the queen paused to clear her throat, “I mean ARE the property of the royal family, to pursue your little hobby. Your actions stole valuable work hours, time that is also the property of the Amanar household.”
“Our time is your property?” That made no sense, unless we were expected to serve the castle at all hours of the day.
The queen ignored my question. “Is there anyone who wishes to speak for the accused, before I render an appropriate punishment?”
It took a few moments for my father to make his way to the front of the crowd. “Please, Emma, I beg of you, they’re just children.” he lowered himself to one knee. one could assume his struggle was due to his prosthetic leg, but part of me knew better: there was something very wrong.
“What gives you the right to address me by my first name without my God given title?”
“Forgive me.” He glanced up at her. The way they locked eyes; the answer was obvious.
Prince Tomas had been standing off to the side. His face was locked in a glare, as if he had been hoping that my father would not have made it to the mandatory meeting.
“Fine, Vladimir. if that is what you wish. I sentence you to 200 lashes.
Castle guards, wearing the very armor my father created, grabbed him by his arms, dragging him onto the stage. He was forced to his knees, his hands cuffed behind his back. The queen placed his head on the chopping block, as if preparing him for a beheading.
I started to sob. She wouldn’t kill him, would she? Would the queen punish him just to hurt me?
“Becca, please shield his eyes,” my father muttered through labored breaths.
This caused the queen to signal a separate set of guards to drag me to the front. This was my punishment, I had to watch. My father’s clothing was cut from his body as the queen picked out a weapon. I was confused as to why the queen, herself, would administer the brutal punishment, but her face said it all. This was her idea of fun.
The weapon she chose to use on him was a whip with a noticeable blade at the end. The first strike broke the skin of his back. My father’s mouth remained uncovered; she wanted him to scream, beg, but somehow, he held back his cries even as the second and third cut deeper and deeper.
I wanted to tell him to look at me, to focus on something, anything, other then the pain. My lips opened, but no words came out.
By the tenth strike, Queen Emma started to move faster. Each one of her hits resulted in deep gouges that took out chunks of flesh. At strike 57, he could no longer silently power through the pain. tears welled up in his eyes. At just over seventy strikes, he started to convulse, coughing up blood.
“Someone help him!” I shouted. “Please! He’s having a seizure!” The way the crowd looked at me, it was clear that was not a common word used in this land. “Please, he’s dying!” I turned to the prince, who was looking on like a coward.
It was then, I was hit with a sickening realization. He was called Prince Tomas, but she was Queen Emma Rose Amanar: she out ranked him.
The crowd remained silent. Was her power really that revered, to the point where no one dared speak?
I shouted one last time, knowing it would make little difference. “If you care about him at all you will stop this!”
The queen turned to her husband. “Do you care?” She handed him the weapon with a devious smirk. “Please, show me.”
Prince Tomas took the blade. for a brief moment he held it to my father’s throat. Then immediately used it to release the cuffs, allowing my father’s broken body to fall to the floor.
My father’s body was still seizing, laying on his side, he was struggling to breathe.
I was screaming, with no sound. In fact, the entire scene went silent, moving in slow-motion. A few of the other staff stepped forward, led by the on-site pastor. They courageously took possession of my father’s body, unwilling to leave him to die. The queen looked disappointed but allowed them to simply leave.
I was still restrained when Ms. Lucy grabbed my arm. “We need to get out of here while we still can.”
Ms. Lucy took Becca and I to hide in the servant quarters while the men took my father to safety. After the ordeal, we met up with the men at the schoolhouse/chapel. The men had come to an understanding with Queen Emma; in the event of my father’s death or incapacitation, his body was to be surrendered to her. (Although if he was to make a full recovery, he would be permitted to return to work.)
My father lay shivering under a thin blanket. he was placed on his side, to allow his wounds to be bandaged.
“Papa?” Free of my handcuffs, I rushed to his side. His eyes were closed. When I attempted to place my hand to his forehead, his body shivered with visible pain. “What’s wrong with him?” I asked aloud to no one in particular. I assumed this was the work of Queen Emma’s sadistic dark magic.
“Your father had been receiving treatment at the clinic in town,” the pastor explained.
“Treatment for what?”
“Depression, fatigue, chronic pain. But even he knew his condition was not entirely the result of physical illness.” He motioned for another man to watch over my father while guiding me to the backroom.
The pastor’s office was nothing more then a storage closet, but it offered a measure of privacy. “Please, take a seat.”
“No, thank you.” The only place to sit was on the piles of boxes and other scrap materials. I preferred to look him in the eyes.
“Your father learned what happened to you at the hands of the queen.”
“Really.” I felt cold, sick. This could not get any worse.
“She’d done the same things to your late mother.”
It took every ounce of strength to not collapse from emotional exhaustion. “What do you know about my mother? Papa told me she was someone from his village.”
“He likely told you a version of events appropriate for a child. In truth your mother was hand selected by the queen to act as your father’s breeding partner.”
I understood. “Because we’re all just livestock.”
“Your mother gave birth to three baby girls over the course of three years. The queen took them, did God knows what to their bodies and blood.
Your father was only allowed to keep you after your mother’s unfortunate death.
You were all he had left, and the queen managed to destroy even that.
“What? My spirit, my soul?
“She destroyed any love and respect you had for your father.”
I nodded, as I got up to leave. He wasn’t wrong.
Becca was by my father’s side. “The queen did something to him,” she said as she examined my father’s back. “I’ve treated open wounds, this isn’t normal.”
“The bleeding,” she took my hand, hovering my palm over the bandages. “It’s not supposed to be this warm.”
My father was burning with fever. It didn’t take a genius to figure out what happened. If he slipped in to a coma, the queen would want his body; she would likely have a way to keep his heart and brain alive, just enough to harvest his flesh and blood for the reminder of his life. The thought made me sick. “That demon of a woman is always one step ahead of us.”
I slept by his side with my head on his chest. his heart was so weak, I knew if I didn’t hold on to him, the fever would take his life. And it was all my fault.
During the night, I found myself unable to sleep. The room felt unbearably cold. “Papa?”
My father was awake, his eyes blinked, staring up at the ceiling. “Marcus? Are you there?”
“I’m here, Papa. I’m so sorry.”
He was reaching for my hand, unable to turn his head. His eyes blinked rapidly. “Marcus?” Tears welled up in his eyes. “Where are you?”
“Can’t you see?” I knew the answer, and it made me want to kill myself.
He shook his head. His expression a mix of pain and fear. “At least you’re alive. That’s all that matters. That’s all that ever mattered.” He swallowed a lump in his throat. “I can remember the moment I first held you. I wasn’t allowed in the room as your mother bled to death. I could hear her crying. Lilya, her name was Lilya.”
I wanted to tell him I found her body, I knew how badly she suffered, but the words that came out of my mouth were even worse. “And what about my sisters?”
He shook his head and soon started to sob. Papa cupped his hand over his mouth, turning away from me. Certain he was going to cough or vomit, I put my arms around him, to keep him from falling off the bed. “I’m sorry.”
“Stop saying that, boy. You’re just a child. You have nothing to be sorry for. I’m the one who failed you.”
“Did you get to hold my sisters?”
He shook his head. “I hope to see them in the next life.”
I cried harder than I ever had but my tears only healed surface wounds. I wanted to blame the queen; she poisoned him, cursed him, something, anything that could explain why he was so sick. I knew the truth. It was me. My love wasn’t enough to save him,
Over the next few days, my father’s mind and body continued to decay. He suffered from crippling pain; to the point his hands no longer functioned. Not only was he unable to feed himself, he could no longer work. It was only a matter of time before Queen Emma came for him.
Becca and I took turns standing guard. It was easier for us to risk our lives instead of risking the entirety of the community. Night after night we lived in fear.
It was four days before Prince Tomas had the courage to pay my father a visit. I was surprised to see he came alone. “Did your master let you out of your cage?
The older man nodded, pursing his lips as he walked around the room. “I deserve your ridicule.” He was unable to even look in my father’s direction.
“Tell me, your highness, what would have happened if my father didn’t stand up for me? Would your wife have butchered two children just to prove a point?”
“No,” he replied calmly.
Tomas knelt by my father’s bedside. “There was no way your father would have allowed that to happen.”
He wasn’t wrong. Despite his weakness, my father was a good man. “You could have stopped this.”
“I know,” the prince muttered as he held my father’s hand. “What about you? can you not weep for him?”
I knew this was a tongue-in-cheek attack on my healing abilities. “Get out.”
Tomas turned to look at me, but he did not move. “You are every bit as strong as he is.”
“I have no tears left to cry.”
“I should probably just tell you why I’m here,” he said, still gripping papa’s fingers, awaiting a response from his lover’s dying body.
“I assumed it was because you were sent to bring him back to her.”
“After much drama and insistence, I convinced my dear wife to take a trip to her mother’s homeland.”
I snorted, holding back laughter. “What does that mean for me?”
“Emma holds a telepathic connection to this place. The only thing that can override the signal is when she’s in the presence of someone even more powerful.”
“What are you saying?”
“I need you to get your father someplace safe. You will have a small window to leave the castle grounds without her noticing.”
“I’ll need to talk to Becca.” I clearly could not do this alone, and there was only one person I knew I could trust.
“I’ll stay here until your return.”
I had no choice but to trust his words.
next: Isekai ch4