Now came the task of asking Becca to contact her estranged father. I had to admit I was more than a little worried. What right did I have to ask for so much of her? I guess I was about to find out.
Becca was sitting by the doorway, looking out a window. “You want me to use my pendant to contact my father.”
“How did you?”
“The chapel is not that big.”
“Right,” I muttered nervously. I could actually still see my father and Prince Tomas. There was no illusion of privacy. “Well, what do you think?
“How do we know he’ll be willing to help? He could just turn and leave, you know.”
I knew she had a point. Her father, like so many, seemed to be willing to sacrifice anything to be in the queen’s good graces. “If nothing else, it’ll be our chance to get out of here.”
“Yeah, I know,” Becca turned to me with a smile. “I never said we’re not doing it.”
After further discussion with Prince Tomas, a plan was made. As soon as darkness fell, we left the castle compound to start a signal fire.
To leave my father’s side broke my heart. “If this doesn’t work, we’re all going to die,” I muttered as we selected the perfect tree to climb.
“I’d rather die free, than live as a slave,” Becca said as she reached for my hand. “Right Marcus?”
Together we climbed her selected tree until we could see the stars.
At the top we both found a comfortable, stable place to sit, and lit a torch. I put my hand under Becca’s. “You’re going to light it, right?”
Becca nodded. “Just close your eyes and focus.”
I did as she asked, picturing in my mind a candle flame creating an SOS signal. But nothing was happening and soon the passing wind extinguished the light.
Becca muttered a curse word in a language I’d never heard of. “I didn’t want to have to use the whole thing.”
“What’s wrong?” In the darkness I had not seen what she added to the torch, I just assumed she burned her pendent. Most of it, anyway.
Becca appeared to be attempting to save a jewel-shaped piece. Did she truly treasure it that much?
I felt a pang of guilt. “Maybe it’s a one-use thing?”
“Yeah, that makes sense.” Her face went blank as she slowly moved her hand.
“Nothing.” It was clear she didn’t want to burn the last item her father had given her.
“We don’t have to do this.”
“No.” She shook her head. “If it works it’ll be worth it, right?”
With the pendant placed upon the smoldering ashes, I closed my eyes and pictured a certain gap-tooth purple dragon. ‘Leo, if you can hear me, just know that if this doesn’t work, I’m going to jump.’
“Marcus!” Becca’s voice squealed with joy. “It’s working!”
“It is?” My eyes flickered open. “I wanna see!” The sky filled with a menacing red glow. ‘What the hell had we done?’ I was about to lose my grip but Becca seemed confident.
“They’re coming!” she said happily.
‘Becca’s happy. This is fine. Everything is fine.’ With my focus on the sky, I felt myself opening my palms; relaxed, calm, peaceful. I fell from the tree, landing hard on my back. I could feel my consciousness slip away. (It was either that or the fact I had not slept in days.)
My eyes closed, as my field of vision was covered in a white light.
“Am I dead? “The sound of my voice revealed that I was back in my adult body.
“No, that would be too easy.” Leo sat cross-legged in front of me. Instead of being in an office or even heaven, we were on a hillside overlooking a rocky cliff.
Beyond the ledge, the ocean waves were punching the land like an angry demon who just caught his wife of ten years cheating with the pizza delivery driver. “What the fuck?
“What the fuck indeed,” Leo said.
I finally got a good look at my guardian angel. He wore jeans and a t-shirt, with his long hair loose over his shoulders. “What happened to your wings?”
Leo chuckled, moving his shoulder. “let’s just say I was given a formal write up from my direct supervisor. Apparently, I’m only permitted to give you access to skills and abilities from your past lives, not cheat codes to skip levels.”
“So, they took your wings?”
“A temporary demotion, nothing to worry about. I actually kind of like the look; feels a lot more human. Anyway, here’s a blessing to get you started.”
I awoke in a tent made of purple fabric. The roof was opaque enough to block the sun, while still allowing a decent amount of light.
Once again, I heard a ping, followed by a floating line of glowing text. ‘Finalizing skill: advanced knowledge of engineering, construction and metal work.’ I guess that could be useful.
“Marcus? Are you awake, Lad?”
I sprang to my feet. “Jay?” I emerged outside to the sight of a refugee camp. the was a sign carved in to stone. “What’s Corvona?”
“It’s our little slice of heaven,” Jay said with a near-comical level of confidence.
“Wow.” The colony was a series of tents and campfires. “Does this town have a forge?”
“Town?” Jay said with a snicker.
“I’ve just never heard anyone call it that before.” Jay offered me a container of (what looked like) water. “Drink, you need to keep your strength up.”
“Come on, Lad, your pa’s been asking about you.”
“He’s alive?” I asked in a whisper. Truthfully, I didn’t want to get my hopes up.
“All thanks to the aid of Prince Tomas.” Jay continued walking down the path of tents, towards the entrance to a cave.
“Prince Tomas? Is he here?”
“Praise the fucking Gods for that,” I didn’t mean to say that out loud.
“He was a very brave man. He’ll likely suffer greatly for his decision.”
“And you?” I asked, if only to change the subject. “I mean you had a peace treaty, right? Where does that leave you and your people?”
Jay let out an exhausted sigh, like a parent dealing with a misbehaving toddler. “My people can kiss that goodbye. No worries though, we’ll just need to be prepared.”
“War is none of your concern. At least not for the moment.”
“Welcome to our forge.”
My eyes went wide; this was the place where the tribe actually lived. The underground caverns held thousands of dragons. “This is amazing.”
“Yes, well more about that later. Right now, let’s find your pa.” Jay led me down a stone hallway lit by warm, glowing candles.
My father was sitting up in bed, leaning forwards as a tan skinned human female bathed him. He looked up, locking eyes with me. His vision was back.
I ran to his arms, burying my face in his shoulder. “I can’t believe it. I can’t believe you’re alive.”
The nurse gently moved my hand from my father’s shoulder. “Please, be careful, the wounds are still very raw.”
“Sorry.” I could feel a moist, oily substance emerge from my father’s back. “Is he still bleeding?”
“His body is attempting to process the toxin,” she explained.
My father took a breath, sitting up taller. He flexed his shoulders. “I’m fine,” he said with a pain-stricken groan. “Better than before anyway.” He swallowed hard, forcing down any discomfort. “I’d just like to spend some time with my son, please.”
Jay nodded. “I’ll search for some food.”
“Thank you, Jay,” he said with a nod. “This is all very kind of you.” My father pulled the blanket over his chest, motioning for me to move closer.
I could feel the beat of his heart, the breath in his lungs. I didn’t want to cry, but at that moment, the four years I’d gained felt like a bad dream. I was still a small child who needed his father’s love and protection.
My father flinched, causing an involuntary spasm in his hip.
“My leg.” He shifted the blanket allowing me a view of his amputated limb. It was clear that after the initial removal, he had sold pieces to the queen.
“I wanted so badly to keep you safe,” his voice quivered as he spoke. “So, I gave away the only thing I had of any value.”
Jay reappeared with a tray of cups and hot food. “You’re safe now, that’s all that matters.”
I was starving, reaching for the food faster than anyone else.
“I know the plight of your people,” Jay explained. He helped my father take a single spoonful of cereal-like mush, followed by a sip of a reddish-pink tea. “I am ashamed for not having done something sooner.”
“It’s not your fault.”
“A wise man once said, ‘All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.’ Over the past few years, I’ve had a lot of time to think about the choices I’ve made.” His eyes spoke more than words could ever say. “If you excuse me, I need to check on my only daughter.”
“Thank you.” I took over the task of helping Papa eat, but he seemed more in need of rest.
“Could you get me another blanket please?”
“You’re such a good boy. God blessed me with such a good child.”
“Thank you, Papa.” Except I wasn’t a good child; I was a hurtful, cruel person. I could have given him strength, encouraged him to flee. We could have started out on our own, taking up work wherever we landed. I would have loved to be poor, starving, living day to day training under my father. He would teach me how to be an artist, a fighter. As long as we had each other we would survive. Maybe we could have even found happiness.
The nurse reappeared with a series of syringes. She placed down the tray, looking over her tools. “Do me a favor and move the food tray.”
“Yes, ma’am.” I moved quickly, not wanting to upset her. “Sorry, ma’am.”
The nurse looked up at me and smiled. “You don’t need to address me so formally. You are the guests of the king.”
She proceeded to administer the injections in to my father’s back, working from his neck, down to his lower spine.
“Is that dragon blood?”
“The treatment needs to mix with the blood. As a non-dragon, he’ll likely suffer some degree of adverse reaction, but anything has to be preferable to his current condition.”
“The medicine is going to hurt him?” This seemed accurate to the mentality of the dragon culture, but still a little disturbing.
“Yes, it’s going to attempt to destroy the infection without damaging too much of the surrounding tissue.” She took a moment to pat my arm. “I assure you it’s perfectly safe.”
“Oh, so it’s like chemotherapy?” I asked.
“Yeah, sure.” The nurse chuckled, patting my head. “Whatever that is.”
“Thank you for your help.” Was I a doctor in a previous life? Or maybe a paramedic? I probably just watched too much television. I stayed by Papa’s side for what felt like hours, while he slipped in and out of consciousness. I attempted to make myself comfortable, holding his hand until I fell asleep.
I awoke hours later, under the cover of darkness. The nurse (or other hospital staff) had turned off the light. “Papa?” My father’s body was deathly still, but somehow, I knew he was awake. “Maybe when you recover, we can leave this place, travel east, set up a shop. Just the two of us.”
My father nodded. His dry cracked lips formed a slight smile as he spoke. “You wish to work with me?”
“Yeah, of course.” I could hear the happiness in his voice. “I wish to learn from you.
For a moment he could breathe again. “Maybe.”
“Maybe?” that was not the answer I was expecting. I assumed he was still angry at me, disappointed in my choices.
My father reached for my hand. “If I get better, you have my word, we will travel the world.”
“Thank you, Papa.” Apparently, I had started crying.
My father lifted his hand. With his rough, trembling fingers, he brushed a single tear from my cheek. “From this bed I can at least still teach you the basics of art and design.”
As my father rested, I went about foraging for materials to create a wheelchair. Although I had been blessed with basic knowledge of wielding and design, the dragon kingdom had little use for wheels or even chairs. There were spare tools I was allowed to use, but even then, I was certain I was going to fail this task badly.
Since the forge was within walking distance of the hospital corridors, I was able to set up a workstation next to a nearby exhaust vent.
I managed to create a decent chair out of scrap metal and other materials. And then I heard Becca’s voice.
She was using her shape shifting powers but it was clearly her. She was with two older boys doing things that someone her age should not be doing. For a moment I was afraid for her; maybe she was being attacked. Then (after wiping her mouth) she started smoking, sharing her stash (what used to be ‘our’ stash) with her new friends.
I quickly turned away, attempting to focus on my project. But before I could even start on my frame, I heard tapping on the metal grate.
“Hi, Marcus,” she said casually, with the cigarette still in her mouth.
“What are you making?”
My mind went blank for a moment. “A wheelchair.”
“Your dad doesn’t have a wheelchair?” she asked, taking a drag off her cigarette. “He’s missing a leg after all.”
Why the fuck was she talking like that? “We had to leave everything behind,” I said calmly. she already knew my story; she knew what my father and I were fleeing.
“So, who let you use their tools?”
I froze, realizing I had not thought to ask. I had been too tired from foraging for material; metal, plastic, rubber, anything I could use to construct a chair that would at least stand up under its own weight.
I shrugged. “If I break anything I’ll pay for it.”
“Whatever,” she said taking another drag. “Daddy’s rich, he doesn’t care. And he likes you. You’re like the child he never paid for.” She chuckled, her hatred for him was evident. “Just don’t tell him you saw me.”
“That’s fine.” I could hear her walk away. I somehow managed to build a chair out of scrap wood, and four metal wheels but had no clue. I had been at the task for what felt like hours, ignoring the heat, until I finally felt like falling asleep.
I awoke to a dark figure spinning the wheel of the miraculously fully assembled wheelchair.
“Hello?” I could tell by the fauxhawk that it was Jay, but there was something off about him. He seemed hunched over, mutated in a state that left him more beast than man. “Jay is that you?”
Jay scooted backward, resting his weary body against a nearby wall. “Yeah, it’s me, mate.” The king nodded breathing an unsteady sigh. He seemed depressed; not angry or sad, just deeply, emotionally defeated.
I moved closer, taking a seat by his side. “What’s wrong? What happened to you?”
“I bring word from the Amanar territories.”
“The queen?” I asked, taking a seat by his side.
“Yes, Emma Rose has returned and by God she is pissed. That’s why I went alone, I couldn’t risk the lives of anyone on my team.”
Now I was curious to know the extent of his injuries. However, before I could look closer, he tossed a thick envelope onto my lap. “What’s this?”
Instead of replying, Jay got to his feet, walking around in a semi-circle. Apparently, it was up to me to open it. It was a series of scrap paper. First was a letter my father had written to Prince Tomas from the refugee prison. “Was this from after the war?
“I did not read it. I know it was just meant for your father’s eyes only.”
“Oh, ok.” I opened it and opened the first page.
I pray this letter finds you.’
The message was clearly in my father’s handwriting; it was faded but legible.
‘The prisoners at this location are forced to forage for water and fight over scraps of food. As result I’ve grown very weak. I cannot in good consciousness fight women and children for the chance at a bit of stale bread or rancid meat. I fear the day will come when I can no longer fight. As such, I would like to use what little power I have at my disposal to ask for mercy.
I wondered how he managed to sneak this letter to Tomas. Did he have connections outside the prison walls? Or maybe it was given to Queen Emma when she came to select her livestock.
‘I’ve made a friend in here, her name is Lilya Kernakivic.”
My mother? It had to be.
‘Like many, she lost her family as well as her husband and newborn child. We were in the same cell, and I comforted her as she went in to labor, giving birth to a beautiful little girl who did not survive the night. We wept together, and then she offered me her breast to stave off hunger.”
She saved his life. It all made sense.
‘Holding me in her arms she told me stories of her home village. She was a third-generation baker with dreams of owning her own shop. Her home over looked the seaside, with the most beautiful sunsets. Like so many, her life was uprooted through no fault of her own. What keeps survivors like us going is the hope. Maybe we’ll see the light of day again but if not, we will reunite with our lost loved ones in the next life.’
I paused, rereading those lines. My mother had been more than just an assigned mating partner; he genuinely loved her. For reasons I could not explain, that fact made me feel happy; the idea that the relationship he had with my mother was not the same as what he had with Tomas (and Queen Emma.)
‘I pray that I meet you again, Tomas. In my dreams, I wish only to hold you in my arms, as we make love under a sea of stars.
May your life be blessed,
Attached to the letter was a newer piece of paper. It was less yellowed but clearly ripped and crumpled from a larger text.
‘I hope this note finds you. I no longer have need of your letter, and I fear if I was to keep it, it would only be destroyed upon my death. Right now, I am awaiting my execution. Rest assured I am dreaming of the day I will find my way back to your loving embrace.
Lord Tomas Amanar.’
Technically the note was not addressed to my father, but I did feel a level of guilt over reading those words. I looked at Jay who was now leaning against a wall. His stance was more human-like.
“How did you get this?” I asked as I put everything back into one package, shoving the contents under my shirt.
“The good prince tossed it at me as he told me to leave.”
I wanted to ask more questions, but there were too many to count; was the prince dead? Was the queen coming here? Or had the queen moved on to something even more terrifying? “Are you black Irish?”
I forgot; Ireland was not a thing in this world, oh well. “Nothing, never mind.”
“You mean people from the north with darker features?”
My chest froze. “You know what that means?”
“I’ve been to the nation of Ireland. It’s a rather posh place, with some odd creatures.”
“Are you?” I was about to ask more but he seemed intent on moving the wheelchair up to the medical ward. He was walking so fast I could not keep up. I soon lost sight of the dragon king as he disappeared down the corridor.
I assumed he was heading to my father’s room, so I opted to just meet him there. I stopped outside the door, listening to their conversation.
“I’m just going to help you stretch a bit,” Jay said in his thick Irish accent. “Just tell me if it becomes too painful.”
“Have you seen my boy?”
“Yes, Marcus is doing well. He should be by shortly.”
There was a pause. I could picture my father nodding in agreement, unable to hide the tears in his eyes. “You’re a good man, you’ve done far more than even God ever requires,” he swallowed hard, choking down what little moisture he had in his throat. “Please take care of my son. Help him become a strong, compassionate person, someone who can live up to their potential.” He closed his eyes. “I don’t know what I’m saying. Just, don’t let the world break his spirit.”
“I’m sure you’ll have plenty of opportunity to tell him yourself.”
My father went silent. There was a weak chuckle followed by whisper-like sobbing. “I doubt he’d take advise from me, not after all that’s happened.”
I felt sick. I took a seat leaning against the door, unable to face him. ‘Did he think I blamed him for what the queen did to me?’ How could he think that?
‘How could I make him think that?’ What kind of horrible monster could do that to a man who had been through hell and back? Suddenly the door opened, and I fell backward into the room.
Jay stood over me. “Marcus? What are you doing? Come on in, I was about to show your dad the gift you’ve worked so hard on.” He reached for my hand with the biggest smile.
“Sorry, I was just tired.”
Jay held me close in a partial hug. “Whatever you choose for the letter is up to you.” My regal friend guided me to my father’s bedside placing my hand upon his.
“Hi, Dad,” I said softly, as to not startle him. “I thought you’d like to try to get out of bed, this place is starting to feel like a tomb.
He sat up, placing weight on his arms. “A wheelchair? You made a wheelchair all on your own?”
“Kind of, not really.”
Jay spoke up, “Hey, why don’t you two check out the pier?”
“The pier?” I asked. I assumed that word implied being near a body of water. “Is it far from the cave system?”
“It’s actually inside the cave system.” Jay chuckled. “There’s a series of exits used by my people; like a pier without water.”
“You mean an airport?”
Jay shot me a confused look. “Not really, but it’s quite a sight to see. I usually don’t show this to outsiders, but I’d love to make an exception for you and your pa.”
“Thanks, I’d like that.”
He helped get my father into the new wheelchair. Thankfully it functioned on the first try. I volunteered to push the chair while attempting to keep up with Jay. I assumed we would be going upwards towards an exit point, but that was a gross underestimate.
Jay led us through a series of corridors (all of which seemed to be on flat ground, so we were not going up or down.) A few of the corridors required a key that Jay had around his neck.
“How much further?” I asked, exhausted after what felt like hours of walking.
“Climb on my back, I’ll push your father’s chair.”
I agreed, if only to get to the ‘pier’ faster.
next: Isekai ch5