previous: Isekai ch5
A figure stood at the edge of the water; a female with long hair, her body created from shadow. “Oh, my dear Marcus, you’ve grown into such a fine young man,” the woman’s voice sounded digitized, with a noticeable echo. “Beautiful like your mother, and tasty like your daddy.” She started to dance to an unheard song, swaying her hips, as the wind caught her hair.
The woman laughed, taking a step closer. With her face bathed in moonlight, her identity was unmistakable. “That’s Queen Emma, to you.”
I wanted to tell her she was not my queen, that she no longer owned me, my family or the remains of my people. The words boiled in my guts, begging to erupt like a volcano of profanity. “Yeah, um, sorry, your highness.”
“No worries.” She took a step closer, reaching out her hand. “The years start coming and they don’t stop coming.”
“What?” I recognized those lyrics from a famous earth song, one that defined a generation.
“Dead to the rules, so I hit the ground running,” she said with a giggle. “I think that was the next line. I really did love that song back when I lived on Earth.”
When you lived on Earth? My Earth? Did she have someone like Leo guiding her? That would certainly explain a lot. “What are you?”
“There was a reason why my dear husband was able to convince me to visit my parents; I come from a long line of powerful beings. We have plans, thousands of steps ahead of everyone else.”
“That didn’t answer my question.”
“I knew my husband was going to try to help you and your father flee. Poor Tomas, really did love your father. Our marriage was one of political convenience.”
Still didn’t answer my question. Was she a witch? A time traveler?
“Your daddy was so beautiful, I watched him make love to your mother. Then I invited him into my bed.”
“With Prince Tomas?” I don’t know why I felt the need for clarity.
“Yes, Tomas was there but your father, he made love to me and only me,” she giggled, pressing her lips to my ear. “While I choked him with a leather belt.”
Emma moved closer, putting her arms around me like a lover. “The months when you lived in my castle were so much fun.”
Looking down at her hands, I could see my body; I was in my adult form, the perfect age for her to harvest my meat, blood and bones.
“My favorite memory was when his heart stopped. The poor man was sick with fever, but I was hungry. I had my dear husband tie up his lover, presenting him like a buffet. I rode your daddy, forcing optimum blood flow, and then I started cutting him. Once I found the right veins, he bled so beautifully.”
The words stabbed at my heart, but I lacked the courage to stop her.
“He started to gasp, plead. I could see the horror in his eyes. Your daddy knew, if he died in my bed, I would defile him, devour him, until there was nothing left to bury or burn.” She was having too much fun. “Just know. You have a place by my side.”
“No thank you.” I violently shook my head.
“You’re not going to scream. ‘No! never?’ Declare how I’m so evil, heartless? I’m surprised.” She ruffled my hair like a nanny or an older sister. “I guess I’ll just have to wait until you wake up.”
This is a dream, it’s all a dream.
However, when I awoke, I found nothing had changed.
“Papa!” I struck my father in the chest over and over, praying for some kind of movement. There was nothing. His body was cold to the touch. He had died in his sleep.
I screamed but no sound came from my throat. Instead, I fell out of the bed, crashing to the ground. I no longer had feeling in my legs, I was trapped.
Thankfully, this finally caused Becca to awaken. “Oh?” her attention was shifted from my father’s dead body, to the fact that I was on the floor. It was clear she was trying to make a decision as to what to do next. Becca moved in slow-motion, placing her hand upon my father’s wrist. “Your dad, He had been sick for a few days. He started sweating really bad, as if his body was trying to burn away the pain.”
I gripped the bed, to stand up, my weak legs, fueled by anger. “Why didn’t you tell me?”
Becca’s focus was on my father, stroking his face like a mournful child. “I was bringing him Inca tea to help with the inflammation. the doctors here are not well versed in human illnesses but I think his immune system was just too weak.”
My hands balled into fists. “Why didn’t you tell me?” This was not a pet this was my father.
“He asked me not to.”
“Of course.” Because if I had known, I could have done something.
“He could no longer hold down solid food and was struggling to breathe. Yes, your blood, bone or whatever, your sacrifice could have eased his pain for a few more days, but he didn’t want to take anything more from you.”
My whole body hurt. “Get out.”
“Marcus?” Becca reached for my hand, squinting her eyes to force out tears.
My childhood best friend left without argument, but once she was outside the room, I could hear her crying. With the door left wide open I could hear the nurses speaking in hushed tones.
Instead of coming inside to examine if Papa was actually gone, they were talking among themselves. My favorite nurse looked in, she shut the door before walking away. Moments later I could hear her talking into what I assumed was a phone (the dragon people didn’t have phone lines, so I had no idea of what it could have been.)
I went back to my father’s side, resting my head on his open palm. I said in prayer, asking an unseen God for help. The door creaked open.
“Marcus? It’s me, Jayden. Can I come in?” The king had arrived. I knew I couldn’t say no.
Jayden closed the door behind him. He didn’t try to touch or console me, instead opting to keep a safe, respectable distance. “I made an announcement to shut down traffic through the pier for the next few hours. We can take your father to wherever you think he’d like to go.”
I knew he wanted his body burned, to send him far away where no one could harvest his bones. I also knew that, clearly, Queen Emma could just attack from anywhere. There was no place safe. “He wanted to be cremated, but I don’t even know how, or how long that would take.” I bit down on my tongue in a failed attempt to displace my pain.
“I’ll go with you.”
“And leave your people under the rule of the three horsemen of the apocalypse?” In my grief I could not think of a better insult regarding his cruel sons.
Jay sighed, crossing his arms. “I do apologize for their idea of ‘fun’ and/or ‘team-building.’ Their actions do not reflect the values and culture of my people.”
“I’ll take your word for it.” I turned to Jay, I needed to look him in the eyes. “Did you know he was dying?”
“I will not lie to you. I’ve been in communication with the medical staff, so I was admittedly privy to slightly more information than you,” Jay seemed genuinely apologetic. Your father had always been very sick. The queen poisoned him with nerve toxins, likely to increase her ability to harvest materials from his body. He was already starting to go blind, next he would likely be paralyzed.”
“Ok.” I forced myself to nod, after all Jay was not the one who caused any of this.
“The final result would have been a permanent comatose state where he would feel nothing but pain due to the rampant tissue damage. My greatest hope was to make him comfortable.”
Bullshit! “He was getting better!” I shouted; it took every ounce of strength to hold back my tears. There was no way my father had been faking all the progress he’d made.
“True, but his recovery was slow; he had lost so much, there was very little holding him to this world. I know you would have gladly given your life for his. There is nothing I can say to convince you it would have been a fruitless effort. You are a kind, sensitive, soul, much too good for this world. Unlike my kin who would have gladly watched me die, before throwing a massive celebration of their newfound nobility.”
I chuckled at the thought. I could picture his mafia gang of heirs throwing a massive party, fueled by all manner of drugs and wickedness, but I also had a feeling that would align perfectly with what Jay would have wanted for a funeral.
“All we have is the here and now. All I can promise you is that I will do everything in my power to keep you and your father safe.”
“You won’t try to steal his bones to make healing potions?”
Jay realized where my comment originated. He cupped his hands to his face. “They seriously said that?”
“Not your sons, it was one of their wives.”
“Well, you have my word, I will protect your father’s body and when we return, I will have a long talk with my heirs.”
“How do I know I can trust you?”
Jay raised an eyebrow. “I take it you didn’t mean to say that out loud?”
Now I really wanted to crawl in to a hole and die. Out of all the people in my life, Jay was the one who least deserved my anger. “Sorry.”
“You know, I think I know a way.” He closed his eyes, lifting his hand. I watched in awe as he walked along side of the bed, the motion of his fingers causing a blanket to appear over my father’s body. The fabric was red, shimmery silk. And it was all originating from Jay’s palm.
“Is that like a spider web?”
“I guess so.” He said looking at the final work. “I never thought about it like that before.”
“Does it come from inside your hand?”
“No, it actually comes from something called an ‘item box’.”
“Item box?” why did that sound familiar.
A green line appeared across my vision blinking like a curser on a computer screen. ‘Initializing item box: Personal interspace transport device, current contents= 0.’
“Do you see writing?” Jay asked. “Some sort of neon green color?”
“I see little things every so often, it’s been happening ever since I was a wee lad.”
“I see things sometimes. I think I just got offered a powerup.” I walked to my trunk and searched for something to test my ‘item box.’ It would ideally be something I wouldn’t mind losing. My hand shot straight to the letter; the last known words of Prince Tomas. I crumpled the paper into an unrecognizable ball and tossed it at the curser. As expected, the item vanished, and I had no idea how to get it back. “Wow.”
“Yeah,” Jay said with an approving nod. “Fun, right?”
“I guess ‘fun’ would be the correct word.” Turns out Jay and I had more in common than I’d thought.
“Let’s head to the pier.” Jay carried my father’s wrapped body like a bag of flour; over one shoulder with minimal effort.
We arrived at the room of portals, and as Jay promised, it was empty of traffic (for the time.) I knew I needed to make a selection. “Can you find the place we went to before?”
“Um, I think so.” He looked in the direction of the portals, coaxing them to line up like files. “I need you to hold my hand, and try your best to remember the location.”
I did as he asked. I could see in my mind, the happiness and joy on my father’s face. The cold winter-like setting felt so different from anything I’d ever experienced. “There.”
The portal came forward, offering itself to me. Sticking close to Jay, I made my way through. Even if it wasn’t the exact portal, it seemed good enough.
Jay was looking around “Let’s find a place to make camp. How about by that river?”
The location was nearly at the bottom of the cliff. “Isn’t that kind of far?”
“No, a few hours maybe.” He turned to me, holding out his hand. “Stick with me and you’ll be safe, I promise.”
I was not expecting Jay to carry me, along with my father’s corpse, but he did. We landed in a spot near the river, under the shade of a large tree. “I have gear I can pull to make a camp site. I’ll just need you to gather some firewood.”
“Ok, sure.” It would be another chance to test my item box. I collected wood, all while staying within the line of sight of Jay’s campground. When I had too much to carry, I closed my eyes, clenching my fist. ‘Item box?’ Nothing. ‘Summon item box? Please?’
That successfully coaxed the cursor out of hiding. ‘Finalizing item box: contents= 1 miscellaneous paper item.’
That made sense.
‘Remove item? Or add item?’
“Both?” I replied out loud.
In response, the curser opened an unseen rip in the fabric of space, and dropped the single crumpled paper ball. ‘Please insert additional items.’
Not wanting to throw the firewood I picked up, I gently lifted each piece, offering it to the curser like a sacrifice. I moved about half the amount before attempting to carry the rest.
Jay, meanwhile was removing tent poles, tarps and many pieces of scrap metal from a floating portal of his own. “I brought my tools, maybe you can make something out of these pieces.”
“Sure, thank you.” I knew what I had to make; a coffin, a boat. I started with a sketch in the dirt, mapping out my ideas. I looked at where Jay had placed my father’s body. Did I need to measure? Or could I just start to assemble a frame? Those were the words on my mind, but what came out of my mouth was very different. “Do you think he’s with Prince Tomas?”
Jay had been setting up a shelter. He stopped, taking a seat on a folding chair (that I assumed came from his ‘item box.’) “I take it that bothers you?”
“I’d rather he’d be with my mother and sisters, or maybe with grandpa in a place that looks like his real home.” In truth I had no idea if Prince Tomas was even dead. It was possible that Emma just banished him.
“You know that’s not really up to us.”
“I know.” I took a seat looking at the pile of items Jay had laid out. In addition to building supplies there was food and containers for water.
I held the crumpled paper in my hands. “I never gave him the letter.”
“I figured,” Jay said with a shrug. He took out a pack of cigarettes. He snapped his fingers creating a small flame which he used as a lighter.
“Maybe we can burn it with the body, so he can have it in heaven.” That sounded perfectly reasonable.
“Sounds good,” he replied casually, as if I’d just asked about lunch.
“You’re not upset?”
“Why would I be upset?”
I shook my head, searching my mind for an answer. “I don’t know. I’m sorry for bringing it up. Just forget it.”
Jay got up from where he was seated. He walked over and placed a comforting hand upon my shoulder. “You can talk to me.”
Could I? “I feel like he loved Prince Tomas more then he loved me,” the words spilled from my lips before I even had a chance to think. “I was never meant to be born; I was just a byproduct of their livestock farm.” It was the truth, if Queen Emma had her way, if my mother had survived to produce more pure blood Nordic children I would have been killed for parts, the same as my sisters.
Jay nodded, taking a long drag off his cigarette. “I want to show you something.”
“Show me what?”
He approached my father’s body, removing the blanket just enough to reveal a scar on his shoulder. “Have you ever noticed this mark?”
“That wasn’t from the punishment he took for me and Bella?”
“No,” Jay lifted my father’s shoulder, showing me the difference between the scars on his back and the odd blue-purple mark on his shoulder. “This is the slave mark assigned to him at the post war encampment. Your mother likely had one as well.”
I moved my hand to my own shoulder. I already knew I had never been branded or marked, but I needed confirmation.
“He made sure you would be born free.”
“Except for Queen Emma.” The memories started to boil over; I could remember how she touched me, what she forced me to do for her. The fear and terror made me want to vomit. She was still alive; she still wanted me for her collection. I pulled my knees to my chest. “I’ll never be able to survive; she’ll hunt me down, not even to kill me.” That would be too easy; she wanted me to live as her partner, her property.
“Anyone alive can be defeated.”
“Even God?” I asked with a note of sarcasm.
“Do you consider her to be a God?”
I could tell Jay was trying not to laugh in my face. “Can I tell you something?”
“You’ve seen her in a dream.” It wasn’t even a question.
“How did you know?”
“Lucky guess,” he said, while casually assembling a campfire. “I mean you haven’t left the colony and I’d know if the wicked queen paid us a visit.”
“Right.” I didn’t know what else to say. I felt a level of fear that cut straight to my soul. “Is she like us? A reincarnated soul that has access to…” the word was not coming to me. Super Powers? Ethereal Abilities?
“As far as I know, she was born to the Amanar Royal family only after they consulted a gypsy healer. Her parents had been unable to have a child, and there were rumors that the king was already taking a mistress. If the lover gave him an heir before his wife, well you know.”
“The queen would have been replaced.” And possibly executed.
“According to legend, the baby girl who would be Queen, was born dead. It was only with dark magic she survived. I don’t know if that’s true, but you have to admit it fits.” Jay placed a metal grill atop of the fire, followed by a kettle. “Do me a favor and grab some river water.”
“Sure.” I brought him some water and Jay proceeded to cook a stew of (what looked like) dried meat soaked in tea.
We ate our meal, while discussing the logistics of creating the funeral pyre. Jay helped me assemble the frame, making sure the final design would be large enough to hold both the body and the material needed to start a decent fire.
Soon I was starting to feel physically and emotionally exhausted. The moon was high in the warm night sky, and the shelter Jay had built looked just so inviting. “I think I need to sleep.”
“Sure, go ahead. I’ll keep working from our current plans.”
There was no bedding, but after scrunching a bunch of leaves under a piece of cloth, I felt comfortable enough to close my eyes. I drifted off, while staring at the campfire. So, it was no surprise when I found myself in a fiery vision of Hell.
I could see images of my father as a young soldier. He was wounded, exhausted and scared. In the distance was another man, Prince Tomas, leaning against a tree. His hand was over his stomach, holding in the visceral remains of his internal organs.
And there was a boat. My father had no reason to go for the boat, much less take this other man with him, but he did. The two slept side by side, offering words of comfort and prayer. They were two lost souls in search of a way out.
It started with a touch, holding each other close to survive the bitter cold. Tomas was the first to make a move, he turned his face kissing my father’s forehead, down his nose to his dry cracked lips. They were sharing their pain; and through that shared agony they found strength.
Suddenly I felt a rush of cold. My eyes slowly opened, to see Jay speaking to a strange figure in the shadows. Did he put out the fire? Why? The answer was obvious; he was attempting to hide my location.
“You’re not welcome here, Emma.”
“Really, Jayden? Is that anyway to greet your old friend?”
“Since when are we friends?”
“I allowed you to live the last time you paid me a visit. I think that’s worth a pound of meat, maybe some bones.”
“I’m not letting you destroy the body. If you wanted the ability to harvest Nordic flesh and blood then maybe you shouldn’t have completely annihilated their species.”
“You know that’s not true,” she replied with a giggle. I could see her put her arms around him, holding Jay in a flirtatious embrace. “Come on my sexy little blue jay, where is the boy?”
Why did she call him a blue jay?
“Marcus is safe,” Jay replied with confidence. “Because he’s far away from the likes of you.”
“Fine,” she said, taking a step back. “I’ll just have to wait for the day he returns to me of his own freewill.”
“Or I could kill you.”
“You could try.”
“I could fight you one on one without the aid of your personal guards.” That explained why Jay was so injured after Becca and I first came to the dragon settlement.
“Maybe another day.” Emma laughed. She cupped his face, pulling him close for a deep passionate kiss. This was a strategic move. The queen ended her interaction with a friendly hug. She glanced over Jay’s shoulder looking me in the eyes. I could even catch a hint of a smile.
The scary thing was that she wasn’t wrong. I hated her, but there was a part of me that hated Prince Tomas even more. The idea of taking his place as ruler of his kingdom, it left me with a vague sensation of happiness (followed by anger and shame.)
Thankfully Emma left without incident. The next day I didn’t speak to Jay about what I’d witnessed. “I think we need to just burn the body,” I said nervously while taking a sip of my breakfast tea.
“You still want to finish the boat, right?” Jay asked.
I wasn’t sure if he was disappointed because of the time and materials we’d already used, or the fact that he had been genuinely enjoying our little camping trip. “We can set him on fire, combine his ashes with the wood and soot and then light it again when we send the body up the river.”
Jay nodded. He sighed, looking up at the morning sky. “You saw her.” He got up, looking at the frame. “I think your idea is a good one. It would be a way to keep his remains protected.”
Jay moved the body to the metal framework, so that the encasement would catch any and all debris. He started the fire with just wood and coals, placing my fathers wrapped remains atop of the still developing flames.
I stood over the fire, watching the white smoke dance into the sky.
Jay covered the body in leaves that smelled of medicine and herbs. “This will make the fire less noticeable.”
“What should we do now?”
“Talk, pray, whatever you like.”
“Okay.” I knelt before the fire, appearing as if I wanted to pray. “Hi, Papa. I guess this is goodbye.” I looked at Jay, who awkwardly turned away from me, in an effort to offer some level of privacy. “I’m not upset at you, I never was. I love you, and I know you only ever wanted to help people, because that’s the kind of man you were.” I shook my head. “The man you are.” He wasn’t gone. Nothing was ever truly gone. “May you rise like a phoenix.”
next: Isekai ch 7