previous: Isekai ch17
“Jay?” I spoke the words out loud but no sound exited my lungs. I could remember holding his hand; the cold, the sharp metallic sting. ‘No, that can’t be right. Was I reaching for his hand? Or maybe this was all a dream? ‘You wish.’ Still, my mind, my world was going dark. This was free will, freedom of choice, my choice. To die, or not to die? To give all that I had for a cause I truly believed in (or rather a person.)
My heart was pounding, all I could feel was pain, but that was all I wanted to feel. The pain was life; hope, reality. This pain was the only way of knowing my body was still my own (despite how unreasonable that sounded.) Would I want to live as a vegetable; watching my life pass by like a movie on a screen? No, death would be preferable. ‘Even if that meant I would never see Jay again?’
For a moment there was darkness followed by a blinding light. At that moment the world ceased. I felt no breath, only a crushing weight upon my chest. My bones ached, and my lungs screamed. This did not feel right. Was I dead? If I was, then clearly, I had entered Hell. ‘Yeah, that sounds about right.’ For all the chaos I had caused, this was what I deserved. My blood felt painfully cold, a paralyzing discomfort shooting through to my bones, I was being held on the edge of death within a maximum level of agony. And then my eyes shot open.
I awoke in a bed, and for a moment I was too scared to move. This was all a dream (or more likely a nightmare.) ‘Or not.’
I could breathe again. The room seemed normal enough; white walls, with a single-window and door. I tried to sit up but was met with the tension of tight restraints on both of my arms. ‘Oh, fuck, not again.’ This was, in fact, a holding cell.
“I see you’re awake.” Dr. Thomas was standing over my bed. The older man’s arms were crossed. And there was a distinct look of annoyance plastered across his world-weary soul.
The sight of the doctor’s expressionless face initially brought about a sense of relief. He was my friend; my ally, someone I could trust. (And, at the very least he didn’t appear too pissed off at me.)”Tomas?”
“Yes, Marcus?” His voice lacked compassion.
“What happened?” I asked with caution. ‘How the fuck did I end up back here?’
“After the attack on our land, King Vlad initially tracked your dragon friend.”
“Oh.” I had to admit that course of action was more than justified, given the current state of the world. “Then what happened?”
“When King Javaon fled to the land of the Fae, your father pulled back his forces, opting to observe. If the dragon king had died at the hands of the Harpies, your father would have left him to his fate, knowing your sister had been avenged.”
“Instead. he will be brought here to stand trial, alongside you.”
“Me?” For a moment I was actually offended by the accusation. “Stand trial for what?”
Tomas seemed to roll his eyes. My lack of awareness becoming too much to bear. “For treason.”
“Oh,” I replied with a nod, swallowing the lump in my throat. “That sounds about right.” While that was a pretty bad situation, still, it wasn’t my main concern. “I could get sent back to the prison realm?”
“If you’re lucky,” his cruel comment came with a hint of sadness. “For now, get some rest.”
‘If I’m lucky?’ I knew he wasn’t wrong. King Vlad was a mentally ill user of dark magic. He could literally conjure up anything his wicked heart desired.
Panic set in. I needed a plan. With little resources at my disposal, I had to bet on the fact Tomas felt pity for me, and use that to my advantage. The only question was how? I opened my mouth to speak, and two words tumbled out. “Where’s Jay?”
“Of all the things you could ask?” Tomas shook his head, squinting his eyes with a look of pain and confusion. “You know I can’t tell you that.”
Tomas went silent. He crossed his arms, projecting an emotion I was not expecting. “Your questionable loyalty, for one. But more importantly, there is the issue of your,” Tomas shook his head, and chuckled to himself. “Nothing. It’s nothing.”
“Your clear infatuation with the dragon king.”
He was accusing me of being in a relationship with Jay? No, he was pointing out the obvious; I had a crush. “Do you trust me?”
“I more than trust you. And you know that.” He stayed at the opposite side of the room, pacing in no particular direction. It was as if he feared getting too close.
The years I’d spend with Tomas flashed before my eyes. At the time it didn’t feel like years. I guess that was why I took his friendship for granted.
At the worst moments of our lives, we found the strength to trust each other (or at least I did, I was just a kid.) ‘What the fuck are you talking about! If it wasn’t for your powers, both of you would still be in the prison realm!’ My inner voice was right, this was bullshit. My hands involuntarily jerked against the restraints. This caused a surge of pain in my back and shoulders. ‘You need to stop doing that, if you want him to take you seriously.’
I turned my head to catch a glimpse of the rope. I was clearly in Dr. Tomas’s office/lab/workspace (or whatever) but were these his restraints? or something gifted to him by his lover?
‘No, King Vlad would do so much worse, and you know that.’ I found myself laughing out loud at the thought.
Tomas turned to me. “Are you alright?”
“As alright as I can be.” Vlad would have had me handcuffed to a wall like something out of a medieval dungeon. ‘No, way too uncreative.’ A pit of spiders? That might be more of his style. ‘Unkillable zombie spiders who would dine on my flesh just enough to cause unbearable pain.’ Actually, that seemed more like Queen Emma’s style.
I could imagine King Vlad trapping me in a water pipe with no walls to grip, and no visible bottom. I would be forced to tread water until I surrendered myself to a merciful death by means of drowning. I couldn’t even remember the last time I’d been in water. I imagined I was a strong swimmer, but after a dozen or so hours, I would likely succumb to exhaustion. ‘Whatever.’
I sighed, opening my eyes to the sterile white ceiling. “Tomas?”
The good doctor had moved to a table in the far corner, and appeared to be making a cup of peppermint tea. (Or, at least it smelled like peppermint. It could have very well been a sleep aid, or even narcotics.) “Yes, Marcus?”
“Could I trouble you for some water?” My request was met with an eerie silence. “Please?” I shook my head, chuckling for a moment at my pathetic predicament. “Never mind, you don’t owe me anything.” Not even friendship or compassion. “Sorry.”
Tomas pursed his lips, closing his eyes as he took a sip of the pungent tea. “That’s where you are incorrect; I do owe you my friendship, my concern.” He took a seat near my head, offering me a spoonful of the tea. “Lift your neck as much as you can. It’s not much but it will keep you going.”
“Can you tell me what to expect?” I asked. It seemed like a perfectly reasonable request.
“I honestly don’t know.” Tomas sighed. He nervously scratched at his neck. “I don’t know how to explain it.”
Tomas turned to look at me with an apologetic expression. “You will be forced to fight for your freedom.”
“What?” Seriously, what did that even mean? Like Mortal Kombat? Is that what was happening?
Tomas turned to the door. “That is all I can really say. I’m sorry. You will be led to the arena in due time.” With that, he left.
“Arena?” I looked up at the ceiling, attempting to close my eyes to sleep. In the darkness, I saw a strange chart; a series of markings drawn with a glow in the dark neon green ink.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8’
“What the fuck?” What did it mean? And why was it burned into my vision? Before I had a chance to think about it, I experienced a sudden rush of cold under my back. It started small, the size of a hand, then quickly grew to the shape of a doorway. ‘Oh fuck.’ There was some sort of hole forming under me.
“Dr. Tomas?” Even if he heard me, I doubt he’d return. ‘This is okay. You are okay.’ And then I was sucked through a portal, landing in a metal box. My arms and legs were now free. I looked around for a source of light.
As I stood up, I could feel the entire space shake; somehow, I was in a floating cage. Was there a door? ‘There had to be.’ I looked down at the floor. There was an embedded lock, requiring a six-letter password combination. What was more terrifying was the mark carved above the lock; a single number, ‘4.’ This was going to get messy.
I landed in an area that looked like a cross between an octagon cage (the ones made popular by the UFC) and a stage in a BDSM-themed sex club. All around were naked men and women engaging in every possible sex position; male, female, solo, group. Some appeared to be in pain while others looked like porn stars (putting on a show for the sake of others.) And in the middle of it all, was a throne.
I immediately recognized King Vladimir. He no longer reminded me of my father. He wore his hair long, flowing over his shoulders. With his blonde facial hair and thick beard, he looked like a certain Nordic God. Next to him was a female figure. She appeared to be made of live smoldering lava. It could have been his wife or my mother, but I’d bet anything King Vlad made a deal with the devil.
Now it was a matter of my first opponent. Would it be a foot soldier, a monster? Or would my hosts go for the more deprived approach? A second cage floated above where I stood. The bottom was labeled, ‘5.’ The number was written in fresh black paint. When the trap door swung open, the metal actually spat freckles of black pigment, like a soft shower of rain.
Now I had to wait. The female figure did not fall down right away, but when she did, it was obvious who she was. “Emma?”
She landed like a cat, dropping on her hands and knees in a way that seemed too elegant for a creature of her status. “Marcus? Is that you?”
That was when I noticed how quiet the room was. With all the people, all the movement, there was no ambient sound. “Are we supposed to talk?”
“I think we’re supposed to fight,” she said with a giggle. This was all a joke to her, likely because she had an ace up her sleeve. “I mean, like really? What even is this?”
“I don’t even know.” I looked towards King Vlad and his companion. Were they going to offer up any instructions? What if we opted not to fight? Was there anything they could actually do to us?
Emma looked at me with a smirk. “We need to fight, so I can speak to you about what I fear is going to go down.”
I searched my body for a weapon. There was none. ‘What was I meant to do?’
“Don’t worry about me,” The young, beautiful witch said as she landed a firm kick to my stomach.
“Damn bitch!” I fell to my knees, lowering my head as if in pain. “Really? Was that necessary?” I wasn’t naive; it was necessary, we needed to put on a show. And I needed her to come to me.
Emma gripped my hair, pulling up my face. “This is the part when I make it up to you.” she motioned to her inner thigh. Sure, enough there was a pocket knife strapped to her leg.
“Are you going to die?” By that I mean; was Queen Emma Rose Amanar about to allow me to kill her?
Emma replied with a confident smile. “We don’t die, remember?”
“Oh, right.” My mind paced back and forth between comfort and terror. She was looking for an easy way out.
“Maybe in the next life, I’ll try not to be a pervert, but no promises.” She gripped me between my legs, giving my (very flaccid) genitals a squeeze. This was met with applause. The queen was truly mad (in every sense of the word.)
I moved my face towards her, making sure to glare with wide eyes (as if attempting to intimidate her.) I growled, giving my best warrior impression. “What is going on here? How do we get out?”
“Your father’s doppelganger is a dark magic wizard.”
‘That’s very bad.’ I opened my mouth to speak but no words came out, only pure unaltered panic.
“Always has been. They were two halves of the same soul.”
“Um, what?” That could not be true.
“King Vlad only existed after your father’s death.”
“How is that possible?”
“Time is not linear. Whenever someone dies, there is a part of reality that unfolds like the petal of a flower.”
I had no response.
“And that’s where I might have fucked up.” She slammed her head into mine causing me to fall to my knees.
“Fucker!” I gripped my head as an intense wave of pressure punched me in the face. My eyes were throbbing, but I knew I needed to stay focused on her words.
“There is a balance of power in this world and by killing your family I allowed that energy to become something it was never meant to be.” She handed me the knife. “Do me a favor and make it quick.”
This was disturbingly easy. It had to be a trap. ‘More of a trap than the Hell arena?’ I had to stop myself from laughing as I reached for the blade; I had nothing to lose, and everything to gain.
Emma pressed her lips to mine, her tongue forcing open my mouth. I reached for her hand, anticipating the softness of her breasts. Not that I wanted to grope her, but the way she was shoving herself down my throat, I just assumed this was one last attempt to display her sexual domination. (In a way I was right.)
I could feel that I was inhaling something; a thick dense fog similar to cigarette smoke. This was not smoke. This felt different, it had a taste of flowers and south Asian spices. She did something to me; latched on to my soul, to escape this place. ‘Great, just great.’ She was hitching a ride with me. I was about to attempt to speak to her when I finally looked down. ‘Oh, ok. This is ok.’ At the sight of her corpse, I wanted to vomit.
I assumed that when I killed her, her body would vanish in a pull of smoke. That would make this feel more like a videogame and less like eternal damnation. Nope, she was just a dead body, with a massive bloody wound below her ribcage. I had eviscerated her, just like I’d always dreamed of.
I felt confused. Why did the sight of her corpse make me feel so uneasy? This was what I wanted ever since I was a child. This bizarre feeling of remorse made no sense.
The arena started to shake. I locked eyes with King Vladimir. He stood up and proceeded to give me a standing ovation. His mind was truly gone.
And yet mine was filled. ‘You’re my ticket out of here, so don’t fuck this up.’ It was Emma’s voice.
‘Your body is dead.’ I replied in my mind. Maybe I was wrong? Was that why no one was declaring the match over? Someone gripped my arm, yanking me backward. I was pulled upward like a puppet. Higher and higher into the darkness of the sky. Oddly, I was more focused on the lack of pain, than anything else.
I could see the separate floating arenas; they were like birdcages hovering over an endless abyss. ‘Why was I going up?’ The searing pain suddenly gave me something new to focus on. Someone was trying to pull me up, to rescue me, but clearly, they were not supposed to.
I heard a very clear string of profanity. This was followed by a hand placing a single item inside the pocket of my jacket. I landed on a cold, tile floor. The entire space was covered in screens; flat surfaces, similar to the background of a retro era videogame. Round two of four was about to begin, but for whatever reason, I had no opponent.
With nothing else to do I searched for whatever was in my coat. It was a token; a plastic pressed coin with the word, ‘token’ embossed. I looked around for a reason for its existence. There had to be a reason. Either that or this was absolute bullshit. ‘Maybe I was meant to eat it?’
“Please don’t eat it,” said a voice from inside the coin. It sounded like a cheap toy given away with a kid’s meal (or part of a cheap toy.) My body hurt too much to stand, but I was able to crawl to the corner wall. While looking for a place to sit, I couldn’t help but notice the seams in the wall, between each screen panel. These were open wounds, hungry for something to grasp. What if I was wrong? What if I was meant to keep it? I gave the item a squeeze, hoping for a second clue. No, it was my choice, my decision to make. I opened my hand letting the coin fall.
It made a sound similar to an arcade machine. And then the screens started to flicker. This was like a training stage from a fighting game; a blank palette from where anything could be placed.
I saw a box and then a tree, followed by the sound of rushing water. The background was filled in with a beach scene, with a certain guardian angel sitting on a throne that was clearly inspired by a stereotypical lifeguard tower. “Leo is that you?”
“Certainly not David Hasselhoff,” my guardian angel paused for a moment, placing a finger to his chin in deep thought. “Has David Hasselhoff appeared in any videogames?
“Probably?” I was actually getting a headache. ‘How the fuck should I know?’
“I’m sure it had to be something on PlayStation, I can’t imagine he’d be used in a Nintendo game,” Leo replied, leaning back in his chair he looked way too comfortable for my liking.
“I guess, I was never really a fan,” I muttered, hoping to move on to a more crucial topic.
“Oh?” Leo asked, sarcastically. He was running his fingers through his hair like a surfer fresh out of the waves. “I thought you were from one of those eastern bloc countries where he was popular.”
“You mean Germany?” I had never set foot in Germany (as far as I knew.)
“I was thinking more like Kazakhstan, or Moldova.”
Was this really happening? I felt a rush of heat, causing my eyes to water. Was this even Leo? “No, I think that’s Borat.”
“Sacha Baron Cohen!” he said with a smile. “Truly the greatest actor of his generation.
“Yeah, I guess.” My hands felt clammy, sticky. This had to be a trick; something to make sure I lost the next fight. “I’m not a fan.”
“Well, how did you know that if you’re not a fan?”
“I think all Americans know that David Hasselhoff was a famous singer in Germany and Sacha Baron Cohen made a bunch of movies that parody foreign cultures.”
“True. So, does that mean you can recall being an American?”
This was my opening, to ask about the little girl on the beach. The sentences formed in my mind, but the words refused to come out. ‘Damn it, Emma.’ I took a breath; like it or not, this was my reality. I could only ask cryptic, meaningless questions. “Why are you on a throne?”
“Why not?” To show that he was just joking, Leo did a backflip off the chair.
“This isn’t funny.”
“Then what is it?” Leo tilted his head like some kind of doll. He reminded me of a Hindu deity, the ones that seem all too happy flaunting their multiple arms and terrifying faces.
I was at a loss for words. I wasn’t afraid of dying, or death. I’d seen proof of the other side. But that had never been the true source of fear. “Where’s Jay? Is he one of the eight?”
“That’s what you want to ask me?”
“Oh look, here comes your next opponent.”
I looked around unsure of what he could be referring to. The arena looked exactly the same. ‘Teleportation, you idiot!’ I spun around to see what appeared to be a Valkyrie. she had long blonde hair worn in elaborate braids.
Her face was covered, but I knew it was her. “Leah?”
Her mouth was visible, her lips the color of freshly killed meat.
“Who did you kill to get here?”
Still no reply. she opened her mouth revealing her metallic teeth and a distinct lack of a tongue. Did she bite off her own tongue? ‘Yeah, let’s go with that.’
I looked over her shoulder, desperate to see Leo. Even if he wasn’t real.
‘Oh, he’s very real.’ Leah’s voice could be heard directly in my mind. ‘You’re just that stupid.’ She lunged at me, revealing a sword that had been attached to her back. It was a blunt object that seemed more like a club; thick heavy, and rather dull. The ‘blade’ hit me in the face. If it had been an actual, functional, sword, I would have been dead. Instead, I felt like my head had been hit by a massive tuning fork (or maybe the Liberty bell.)
‘Dear brother.’ She grabbed me by my neck, lifting my entire body. ‘Did Daddy tell you never to hit a girl?’
Her words brought to mind an image of my father. ‘My father, NOT King Vlad!’ My father was a humble man, a good man. My mind filled with whispers, like a swarm of bees inhabiting my skull.
My father suffered from panic attacks. ‘He did?’ Whenever he tried to sleep, he would see the faces of my dead sisters. There was no reason why Emma killed the infants in front of him. Yes, there was; power, fear.
I almost forgot Emma’s soul was hiding within my body. Her consciousness seemed to be leaking into my own. ‘Was there any reason why those infants should have lived? Why did I inherit that fear?’ I owed Leah nothing.
I kicked her in the chest. My legs were longer, I was bigger, stronger, more powerful. And I owed her nothing. “I.” The first kick brought her to her knees. “Owe.” The second kick made contact with her reconstructed head. “You.” I picked up her weapon, holding it over my head. “Nothing!”
I struck her over and over. I could hear her helmet crack like a thick metal egg. The sound became softer, wetter. Soon there was nothing left to strike. Somehow, eventually, the blade hit the ground, striking the animated screen. That was when the sword broke. The ripple of energy shook the room, shutting off the screens one by one until I was left alone in the darkness. This was what I deserved.
This was where I belonged. And then the floor opened up. It was time for round 3 of 4.
next: Isekai ch19