previous: Isekai ch 7
The curser appeared in my line of vision, glowing like a beacon from heaven, ‘Item box, contents= one hundred twenty known items.’ That did not seem correct. I would have remembered hurling over a hundred items into my personal black hole. Or maybe not. I had been leaving in a hurry. Most of this stuff probably wasn’t even mine. ‘Oh, well.’
I assumed this worked like a computer. ‘Sort by food.’
With no other options, I shared what little I had with my cellmate. We rationed the food, and saved fresh toilet water in the few containers I had collected. Tomas was telling the truth; there was an unseen force that brought a single plate of food into our living quarters. ‘Once a day?’ I’m still not entirely sure about that.
I would like to say once a day, because the tray only ever seemed to appear when we were both asleep. Tomas and I, we tried to keep each other awake by sharing stories. He was born to a humble family of faith healers, a fate that forced him to find his own way.
“I was the only one of my siblings to leave the church,” Tomas spoke those words with a sense of pride. “I spent a few years as a beggar, a soldier, a chef, among other things.” He worked on forcing a splinter under his nail. “This was my go-to way of waking myself up on time.”
“That’s pretty hardcore.” I choked on my breath, holding back the urge to laugh.
“I know, I know,” he said with a smirk. “But if you knew me then I’d look like just another resident of the streets. If I never got in to university, I think I’d likely be talking to trees.”
“How did you get into university?” I asked, genuinely curious as to how someone who grew up in a cult went on to medical school.
“That’s a story for another day.”
“Now it’s time to sleep.”
“Sleep. Sure.” The four walls were made of ice-cold stone while the floor was made of a strange soil that was forever uncomfortably damp. I needed to make a bed.
I sat up, making sure my cellmate was asleep. ‘Item box.’ I aimed my hand at the space just in front of me. “What can I use for a bed?” I needed something solid.
“You’re right, that’s dumb. Metal would only make things worse. Search wood.”
“Crap.” This could not be going worse.
“You’re funny.” I thought for a moment, rocking on the balls of my feet. “What about bone?”
Thankfully there were only three items to go through. No, not items, “Three categories?” I moved my hand, miming the action of opening the file tree. There were dragon teeth, bone scales and composite ore. Why did I have dragon bones?
My first assumption was it was a gift from Jay. He had an ‘item box’ space of his own. Was it possible he could send me supplies? Maybe he knew I was in trouble? ‘If I could make contact.’
I shook my head before allowing my heart to proceed any further. “No, he’s not your father. The world doesn’t owe you a father.”
Blinking back tears, I opted to remove a sample of the dragon bone supplies. The teeth were perfect isosceles triangles, and the ‘bone scales’ appeared to be a stone-like material cut into long boards. Perfect for building a bed, or maybe even an escape.
Using the contents of my item box I had been able to make a bedframe. I started by constructing a rectangle large enough for a twin-sized mattress to rest on (not that I had a mattress or bedding of any kind.)
Tomas blinked his eyes having awoken due to a growl of hunger in the pit of his stomach. “What are you working on?”
“A way for one of us to sleep comfortably above the dirt.” Ideally, while the other was working on a plan.
“You’re working off the assumption that whomever has to reside on the ground will not be able to find rest?” Tomas seemed to see this as nothing more than a game.
“You can use it first.” I offered. I sat cross legged on the structure. It was actually pretty comfortable. I stood, making sure my new creation would hold weight, before jumping off. “You want to try?”
“Sure, why not? We’ve got only time.” Tomas sat up, carefully reclining on the bed. The materials creaked as they settled into the ground. “Nice job.” He started to find a comfortable position, shifting his weight, stretching his muscles. To see him so relaxed was actually kind of nice. He seemed genuinely appreciative of my work.
I sat on the ground with my legs crossed, fully willing to give up the bed. “I’m glad you like it,” I said to break the silence, but somehow my words made it even more awkward.
Tomas sat up. Upon locking eyes with me he immediately relinquished the bed. “It’s very well made. I’m sure your father would be proud.”
“You can stay there a little longer.” I didn’t want to offer to share. I needed to make that clear. “I’m going to look around; scout out all the possibilities.”
“Alright then, I’ll try to get some sleep.”
The cell was uncomfortably cold. I tried to visually map out the area, but the size and shape seemed to change based around what was illuminated by the meager lighting. The only thing that seemed to be consistent was the water source (and now my new bed.)
‘Damn, it’s freezing in here.’ My hands started to hurt. Moving around was using too much energy, calories I did not have. Soon I started to develop a cough. ‘Great, just great.’ I’d been sick before, but right now I was sincerely wondering if this situation was better or worse. My nanny would let me stay in bed, giving me strong-tasting medicine that allowed me to sleep the hours away. Now that I think about it, the taste was oddly similar to what Queen Emma would give me. Except Emma’s medicine was served in a wine glass, making it that much creepier. ‘At least I had a source of heat when I lived at the castle.’
I found myself moving closer and closer to Tomas. I was tired, so very tired. My eyes wanted to close, my bones wanted to rest, to die. ‘I want to die.’ My head hurt, my body hurt, and for whatever reason I felt nauseous.
‘Why just why?’ I pulled my knees to my chest. ‘Just let me sleep.’ I felt a sharp pain in my side. ‘Yeah, I’m going to die.’ I closed my eyes, desperate for sleep, death, or just rest. I begged my mind for a happy thought, something to carry with me into the next life. Try as I might, I could not recall a time when my father cared for me when I was sick. Was that why I was in so much pain?
Somehow my mind found darkness. Unfortunately, it was not death.
I awoke resting in the arms of my roommate. For a fraction of a moment, it felt weird. He was holding my hand, rubbing my back. “Be still, it’s alright.”
“No, please no.” This was something Queen Emma Rose had done, and just thinking about it made me want to scream. But I could only cough. My chest was pounding, my lungs burned. ‘Make it stop, please make it stop.’
“Get some rest, son.” Tomas stopped patting my back. Maybe he assumed I was having a panic attack. I could leave if I wanted to, but Tomas was warm.
“Thank you.” All I wanted was to be warm.
Tomas closed his eyes, giving the appearance of returning to sleep. Leaning against his chest I could hear his heartbeat. The distinct sound was something to focus on as we slept huddled together for warmth.
“Tomas?” I asked, speaking directly to his heart.
“Do you have any family?” Of course, he does, idiot! “I mean, is anyone looking for you?”
“No,” he said in an oddly happy tone. “For that I am grateful.”
“Grateful to be rid of your toxic family?”
“Yes,” he said with a sigh. “I left behind my life to serve King Vladimir, Vlad, Val…” The way his voice drifted off betrayed a truth that seemed all too familiar.
“Did you love him?”
Tomas choked on his own spit. Clearly, he was not prepared to be called out. “One could say I admired him.”
“Admired,” I said with a scoff. “Are those words one in the same?” I wanted to hold back, but my anger was clear and seething. Before Tomas could respond, I found myself engaged in yet another coughing streak. It started as a tickle; a normal cough that could result in spit, or subside on its own. And then it got much worse. I started to choke, with my diaphragm punching me in the chest over and over.
Tomas sat up, moving towards the water.
“Don’t bother, I can’t hold it down.” All my coughing led to a sore throat. The very idea of attempting to drink the icy water caused me to vomit bile into my mouth.
Tomas stood up, and walked the cup to a nearby light. “Perhaps, we can use the candles.”
“Wait!” How had he been in here for hundreds of days without trying to move the candle?
Tomas turned to me. “Wait?”
“Just give me a second. Item box: search for match!” My eyes felt fuzzy, blurring in and out of focus as I searched for the magic curser. I assumed it to be a combination of illness and lack of sleep which caused me to attempt my magic trick out in the open, regardless of who was watching.
Tomas picked up a nearby cup, filled it with water. “Did you say you have a match?”
I looked down at my hand, the match had appeared in my open palm. Unfortunately, there was no place to strike it. “You can hold it to the candle.” The idea was brilliant.
Tomas lit the match using the candle, and then placed it inside the wooden cup.
I retrieved a metal plate, allowing us to create a mobile, self-sustaining light. Placing it on the floor in front of us allowed for a rather unique source of light. While not as powerful as the immortal candle flames produced by magic (or perhaps an unseen fuel source,) our little light felt like a glowing ball of hope. This was tangible heat; a passionate warmth, something I thought I’d never experience again. I held my fingers over the flames, letting the fire lick away the cold from my fingertips. “Ouch.” I drew back my hand, sucking the soon-to-be blister. ‘You’re such a damn idiot!’
Tomas smiled, revealing perfectly white teeth. “Pain is just a way of knowing you’re still alive.”
The quote hit a little too close to home. “Tell me, why are you still alive?”
Tomas raised an eyebrow, searching for a hint of sarcasm. “I’d say the primary reason is the lack of blades and rope. Unless you want to check your item box.”
“You could drown yourself in the water source.”
Tomas scoffed; he was clearly choking back laughter. “I guess something had been holding me back.”
“You already tried, didn’t you?”
“I have hope; faith in a higher power, if I was meant to die, I would be dead already.”
“So, in your mind, hope illuminates the hallways of Hell?”
“I think of this place more like purgatory; we’re waiting to see how the scales will land.”
“And how long are we meant to wait?”
“Only God can answer that, son.”
“I’m not your son.” I got up, trying my best to choke down another cough. “I’m going to find a way out of here; one way or another.” I would find a weakness in the room, and if not, I’d find a material sharp enough to hit the reset button on this shitty game.
Tomas threw up his hands and walked away. And by that, I mean he took a seat less than ten feet away; far enough to give me space, but close enough to look at me with an expression of pity.
“I’m going to try something,” I tried to sleep with my arm completely submerged in the enchanted toilet water. My theory was that the ice-cold water would keep me partially awake, but as expected, my idea only resulted in me waking up with a soaking wet arm and a massive headache.
“Why does this never work!” I leaned back, hitting my head on the rock-like surface of the wall.
“I could always try the water,” Tomas said from our sleeping space.
“I guess it couldn’t hurt.” I wanted to ask why he had never tried to exit via the water. Or perhaps he did try and already knew it was pointless?
After the next meal of cereals and flatbread we switched places. I watched as Tomas attempted to lower his arm into the water. “Oh, holy hell that’s cold.”
“Sorry I forgot to warn you,” I said with an unintended chuckle. At the moment I assumed I was immune to the cold or perhaps a stronger magic user.
“No, I knew. I’ve known for a while now. Just part of me hoped it wasn’t as bad as I remembered.” Tomas took a handful of water and splashed his face. “Don’t worry, it’s nothing I can’t handle.”
“I’m sure.” I nodded, forcing a smile. All we had was each other.
Of course, nothing changed; I fell asleep, food appeared, I woke up in physical and emotional pain. Except somehow Tomas had rolled on to his stomach. “What the?”
My heart raced; Tomas was face down in the water, completely unmoving. With an incredible speed and strength, I pulled the man out, rolling him onto his back in one swift motion.
“CPR!” I shouted to my unseen guardian angel (or anyone else who might be listening.) “Instructions on how to perform CPR?” I hoped an answer would appear, in the form of a text prompt; but nothing happened. ‘Really?’
Apparently, I needed to wing it. I punched Tomas in the chest over and over, until he started to cough. But I didn’t stop.
Tomas was squirming, his muscles convulsing in a way that I did not think was possible for a living creature. Was I killing him? Was I meant to kill him? Did I want to kill him? My hands tensed, causing a sharp pain to tear through my arms. In a moment of clarity, I glimpsed at his chest; there was a massive bruise with possible broken bones. Only then did I stop. “I’m sorry.”
Tomas slowly sat up, spitting blood. “You need not blame yourself for my actions.” He rubbed his eyes, shaking his head at his own stupidity. “Cold, so very cold.” The pain was evident in his eyes. Even if he would not die of hypothermia he would suffer, because that was the point of this place.
I opened my item box again, this time by just waving my hand. “Search for articles of clothing.” There were a few things that once belonged to my father. Somehow this included a leather work jacket and apron. ‘How the hell was this in here?’ Did someone return to the Amanar estate and retrieve my father’s work clothes? Was there more?
I returned my attention to Tomas, placing my father’s clothing over his body like a blanket. “Why have you stayed here so long?”
Tomas shook his head, smiling in disbelief. He looked like a damn lunatic, but in truth, there was no reasonable answer. “I guess the answer is, because I’m still alive.”
“Really?” I was suddenly reminded of my father’s favorite saying. “Pain is just the ability to know you’re still alive.”
Tomas crossed his arms over his chest. He pursed his lips in, what was clearly, a failed attempt to diffuse his smile. “Those words,” he chuckled. His eyes drifted to a state of eternal bliss. “Pretty much sums up the meaning of life. We struggle through pain, just to make memories of more pain. And for what? For an unseen God to pass judgement on the nature and quality of our suffering. It’s all just too humorous.”
I put my father’s jacket around Tomas’ shoulders. “We just have to find those glowing dots of hope; like a needle in a haystack.”
Tomas nodded. I could see a hint of truth in his tired expression.
I rested my head on my friend’s arm. He actually smelled like my father’s workshop. “That’s what I used to tell myself when my father would leave me.
“When he would leave for Prince Tomas?”
“Yeah,” I said with a slight laugh. It was ironic that the one person I considered a friend bore the same name and likeness to the man who destroyed my family. “What kind of person does that? What kind of sick fuck claims to love someone and treats them like a…” My hands trembled I dug my fingernails in my palm until I felt blood.” A sex slave?” I cut into the deepest part of my hand. “No, a piece of livestock. That’s all my father was.” I held my wound to Tomas’s lips. “It’s all I am.”
Tomas seemed hesitant to take my blood, but once the liquid touched his lips, his hunger took over. With tears in his eyes, he licked and sucked. My blood flowed freely, the healing properties, allowing him a much-needed release from the endless agony.
“This Prince Tomas; while I agree he has committed a crime against you and your family. Do you think you could find it in your heart to forgive him?”
“Forgive him?” The idea seemed so outlandish. ‘Why should I? Why would I?’ I forced myself to look Tomas in the eyes. I wanted to react with anger, but what came out was the truth. “Yeah, I guess. After my time in here I can sympathize with the need for a friend.”
Tomas had tears in his eyes. He released my hand, bowing his head. “I’d left behind everything; my life, my work. All to devote myself to King Vladimir and his family.” He swallowed the salvia in his throat, choking back the raw emotion. “I like to tell myself I devoted my soul to a higher power. For my suffering I will be rewarded in the next life.” His body heaved, the sobs releasing like a tidal wave. “Now I know, that’s just another way to alleviate the pain. There is nothing after this; nothing I deserve.”
I placed my hand over his, for no other reason than that I could. To feel another human being was to know love, sanity, hope. I understood. My fingers moved on their own, gripping Tomas’ hand. “Love kept them strong.” What my father and the prince had; it was an oasis of calm in an otherwise cruel world, something I desperately craved. I lifted my hand to my friend’s emaciated jaw, turning his face. “We’re getting out of here.” There was one thing we hadn’t tried, but I needed his full support.
“Does this new idea involve the use of your magic?” Tomas asked in a whimsical breath.
“Yeah,” I said with a laugh. “Pretty much.’ My mouth hovered over his, I looked deep into his eyes. “Do you trust me?”
Tomas nodded; his eyes were filled with emotion. “I trust you.”
There was truth to my words, and purity to my thoughts. ‘Item box.’ I kept my focus on his eyes, his touch. I knew I could call upon the item box at any location; closer to the ground (for stealth,) or high in the sky (for a sneak attack), but never had I ever tried to summon it for the use of travel.
We kissed. United as one. Maybe this could work. Or maybe we’d both come through as a melted human chimera, or a ball of bloody flesh. Did it matter? Anything was better than an eternity of darkness. The portal opened and we gripped each other’s hands. There was no suction; we needed to somehow force ourselves through the portal.
We landed in each other’s arms. I was still gripping Tomas, sinking my nails into his arms. I didn’t even realize my eyes were shut. Did we seriously just travel through the item box? Actually no.
“What?” I opened my eyes to see a clear pool hovering above us. It was circular, like a hole cut through the fabric of time. Who was speaking? Was there someone on the other side of the portal? I reached up to touch the surface. This would be a mistake.
Time froze, locking my body in place with a tense, jolt. I couldn’t breathe, there was a rush of terror but not pain. My hand moved on its own, swiping the surface like a modern touch screen device. Thankfully it worked. Soon I was scrolling through image after image. I forced my finger upward ever so slightly, causing the broadcast to stop on a single feed.
The first scene was of King Jayden, he was walking around what appeared to be an office. The walls were made of shimmery polished stone, catching the natural light, similar to the inside of a temple. ‘Was this a temple?’ There was no sound, but judging by his facial expression he seemed very upset; emotional, on the verge of tears.
My hand trembled, causing a ripple in the surface. This changed the image to a view of the Amanar castle. The frame panned upward, towards the window. Queen Emma was hosting a party; a room filled with drugs, magic and beautiful people. She turned, looking directly at the camera before closing her curtains.
“Marcus!” the voice was familiar; a friend, a female. Tomas and I had landed at the feet of Queen Emily. “Marcus! Oh, thank God.” She helped me to my feet, cupping her hand over her mouth with a look of shock.
I opened my mouth to speak, but upon seeing Tomas, Emily rushed to give him a hug. ‘Sure, we can always talk later.’
Suddenly the portal rose behind Emily, right where I could see it.
There was an image of King Vladimir and he looked pissed. I knew he was headed this way (since he’d obviously know the layout of his own castle.) “Where are we?
And then I caught a glimpse of my own face. I looked tired, frail, and significantly older. I lifted my hand to my mouth. ‘What the hell?’ Was this really my face? I had a full mustache and beard. In all honesty, ‘full’ may have been an overstatement, but that did not change the fact I was looking at a stranger. ‘How much time had passed?’ I turned to Emily. She didn’t look much different. Her hair was longer, pulled back in a braid, but her face seemed the same.
“Marcus look out!” Emily shrieked.
I turned just in time to catch a punch to the head. A large figure struck down my weary body. I could hear him breathing like something out of a horror movie, but I was no longer afraid: I was pissed.
I looked up to see King Vladimir standing over me. This was absolute bullshit. I stood up, and without a second thought, pulled my arm back for an attack of my own. ‘Why are we the same height?’
The king caught my hand with his ungloved fingers. I assumed his intention was to break my bones as a show of dominance, but when our hands touched, I felt a jolt. It was a raw painful energy that shook me to my core. And I know he felt it too.
next: Isekai ch9