Chapter 34 ∞ Dream
Life worked, not just mysteriously, but unpredictably as well—like taking a turn down an intersection, only to realize it was a dead-end. Setbacks happened every step of the way. One mishap after another would trickle down the lane like an annoying bump on the road. They were negligible though. One or two was fine, but if they popped up one after another, the car would start twerking harder than Rihanna. And that was annoying.
I was used to enduring the rough paths in my past life even though, in this one, I was very blessed—spoiled, really. I used to tell myself; if I couldn’t find that well-paved path that everyone else had the privilege of having, then I would fly. Because…why settle for the ground?
Then again, life worked, not just mysteriously, but unpredictably as well.
These thoughts occurred to me in a rewind as I appeared in that bright and white room with that antiseptic smell once more. A rhythmic beeping sang beside me in chorus along with pained respiring. Nevertheless, contrary to my expectations, I wasn’t exactly lying in the bed. Instead, I was standing in the corner of the room, watching my old self breathing through tubes I probably couldn’t afford. I remembered feeling like dying instead. Living was already expensive to begin with. Surviving? That was another story.
I moved closer to my bedside, watching my old self, waiting calmly for the second of my death. If this was a long time ago, I probably would have had a break down, but being able to see it all like this in retrospect and also taking my new life into account, I was able to handle it better.
It would be a lie to say I felt better though.
I stepped back when the stranger appeared, my bringer of death—my grimreaper. He wasn’t Amber. Amber, as far as I knew, served only as a guide to souls who’ve already left their bodies. This guy was human, made of flesh and bones. His hands, I would assume, worked to serve another.
And, today, it was asked to take my life.
I was now able to see clearer what he did. He had no needles. I probably would’ve died more peacefully if he injected something—but no. He began pinching my throat, fingers positioned just right to restrict my airways. However, he did it in a way that he would leave no bruises behind. My arms were broken so I couldn’t fight him off, settling with helplessly suffocating until everything went dark.
I saw how my body went limp, followed by the man hastily making his leave. My life went out with him. The heart followed. The monitor shrieked as though panicked at the sight of me dead—or dying. The nurses poured in through the door and the doctor prepared to revive me. They shouted and yelled in codes, their voices flat with calmness yet ironically commanding of urgency.
I sort of expected this sight, but I didn’t expect my mother to come crashing through as well.
So she did come.
“Tragic ending, huh?” a voice cued from behind me. “That’s a cliché way to die, isn’t it? Were you starring in a drama somewhere? This can’t possibly be your life?”
I turned to see Amber walking over with his arms crossed.
“My mother thought you were my father,” I told him. “I got three mothers, technically. I’m talking about number three.”
“Yeah. I heard. Funny. I can’t really have children.”
“Really?” I found my gaze dropping to that area. “So it doesn’t work? I remember throwing a kick. It wasn’t because of me, right?”
“You think you can break me?”
“I’m surprised you can be sarcastic at this point,” he told me.
“Did I sound sarcastic?”
Amber glared at me. “I don’t need you commenting on my fertility nevertheless. It’s not like we’re alive at all.”
“Did your we include me?” I asked. “Are you saying I’m dead?”
He shrugged as though he wasn’t really sure how to answer my question. “You’re alive aren’t you?” He turned to me with a brow raise before examining the situation before him. He watched the man exit the hospital room as fast and as discreetly as he could. “This is the reason why you were so traumatized you actually didn’t want to reincarnate?” he asked. “What did you get yourself into before you died?”
“Wrong place, wrong time. They pushed me off a building hoping I’d die. Well, I didn’t, so they came to finish the job,” I replied. “Ah, unfortunately, I was that casualty in a battle bigger than myself even though I was just doing my best in surviving in my own, small world. Small fish caught in a net for bigger ones, apparently. I was just trapped in the middle and couldn’t escape,” I said. “It doesn’t matter. I wasn’t such a lucky soul to begin with and my life was pretty…mundane. This was the most exciting thing that happened to me.”
“Yeah, I can see.”
“Why are you here again?” I inquired as the world around me faded into black, lost in oblivion like all the other memories.
The room, the nurses, the panic—they all disappeared.
“To slowly break you in on the reality. As of the moment, I can only appear before you when the moon cannot be seen. The energies of this world work like clockwork, after all. Tick tock. The sun rises, the moon sets; the sun sets, the moon rises. Just think about what will happen when death starts nudging into places it doesn’t belong. Thirteen years is a long time and I still haven’t recovered my full strength. I’m really worried about what the other side of this world has become.”
“In utter chaos, apparently,” I replied. “There were refugees flocking to Erindal for sanctuary. They can’t continue living in their side of the world anymore.”
There was only nothingness around me, but I was walking on the firm floor with Amber in a room that seemed thousands of miles wide. Our footsteps echoed, the sounds coming back to us with at least a minute of delay.
“Have you found out what had caused this?” I asked.
“Even if I did know, I don’t have the power to act,” he said. “I was far too…damaged. I protected your soul and then protected you. That took a lot out of me.”
“You protected my soul? How? You were trying to drown me in that…lake or river whatever.”
“Oh, so you don’t remember? Maybe you did inhale some of it after all.” He tilted his head to the side as he gazed at me as though I was some weird specimen. “You don’t remember being washed away by the river? Then after we were washed away into some…universe knows where…it suddenly turned into an iceberg scenario where we were both swimming in ice water full of wandering souls?”
“No. Of course you don’t.” Amber sighed. “Of course you don’t remember the important parts. No wonder you were so ungrateful. Well, I should’ve expected it because you were knocked out for the most part, but still.I expected you to remember something.”
“I do remember something,” I answered. “That biting cold feeling. I know about that.”
“Makes sense,” he replied. “But not enough.”
“How do we go about this, then?”
He gazed at me, his amber eyes boring holes in my face. “The easiest way is to show you. I don’t have that power currently, so wait for me in a month’s time. If only you hadn’t asked me to save that boy’s life, we wouldn’t be having any problems now.”
“What’s done is done, so shut up about it already.”
He clicked his tongue. “Why don’t you stop trying bringing up the past, then? Aren’t you a hypocrite?”
“Hypocrite? Whatever. You’re just a sore loser. Suck it up.”
Amber glared at me and lifted a hand with his fingers positioned to make a snap. I stared right back tiredly and waited for him to do something—probably magic me out of this horrible dream and send me back to my corporeal body?
And he did. He snapped his finger.
All of a sudden, I was waking up to a large explosion. With my heart pumping so fast from the shock, I knew I wouldn’t be able to return to sleep any time soon. Wide awake, I rose from my bed and trudged my way to the window with a displeased frown. I peered out to see smoke rising from the shed where Mistress Marga usually held her experiments.
As expected. This was another one of her epic failures. Until now, I couldn’t understand how that woman was still alive.
I heard my mistresses’ distant screams and groans of protest.
“MARGA WHAT THE HELL!”
Mistress Marga’s voice echoed out, “I’M OKAY!”
“NO ONE’S ASKING. GO DIE.”
My lungs couldn’t help but pump out a huffle—a huff and a chuckle? I didn’t know whether to be amused or annoyed, but since I was already out of bed, I might as well just begin poring over the book Mistress Lili had gotten me. I was looking forward to reading that one. Perhaps I would be able to learn more about Vervalden from a…local perspective.
Pulling the blankets away from the bed, I wrapped it around myself and slouched before my table. I couldn’t recognize the words before me at first but I soon started making sense of it. The benefit of death—something that transcended everything. He was talking about languages. After all, they were the biggest barriers.
The book tackled local traditions and expounded on the beliefs of Vertvaldenians towards the serpent, who they favored more so than the seven other entities. Nevertheless, they still did acknowledge the dragons considering they weren’t exempted from the Conduit business. Not to mention the dragons were a key part of the balance.
However, attaining the patronage of the serpent was a rare occurrence, but it almost always meant dominance over the other elements. What made these Conduits so powerful was their capability of wielding fire and also, in the rarest cases, neutralization. The serpent’s abilities boasted mainly of impenetrable defense, its weakness being only its tail which it lost in the battle against the seven dragons in the myths.
The only way to bring down someone with the serpent’s heritage was for the seven dragons’ elements to come together, which was why there was something called the Council of Dragons set to advise, oppose, and restrain the Warrior King. While having the serpent as a Deliverer wasn’t really a prerequisite to getting the title, almost all those who ever held the name were. The Council was established as precaution and as constant reminder that to every serpent, there was a tail.
“Huh.” My brow raised. “To every serpent, there is a tail. That’s an interesting punchline.”
Well, it made sense. No matter how powerful the serpent was, his losing his tail led to his defeat. Weirdly enough, it was what it used as primary means of offense as well.
Basically the equivalent of Achilles’ heel in this world, I suppose, but it wasn’t like Achilles used his heel to defeat his enemies.
“Evy? Are you awake? Breakfast is almost ready.” Mistress Lili’s voice rang behind the door.
“Yeah. I’m up.”
“When you’re done, go and wake up the two other kids. Okay?”
Recalling those two abominations made me groan. “Why me?” I whined.
“Come on, darling. You know what you promised,” she said. “You know they’re always excited to see you, right?”
I stuck out my bottom lip. “Fine.”
I read one more page from the book, catching an interesting bit that begged me to continue reading. Apparently, there was a catch to the Council of Dragons—there was no Conduit for Kaliya, the dragon of death. Until now, that is—but it wasn’t like anybody knew that. There was never a precedent of a living person housing the blessing of death, as that would mean chaos. There was no way life and death could exist in one body, after all. It was one or the other.
Usually, these people would rely on other sources to wield death’s energy. And it meant sacrifices. They wouldn’t normally go for it, leaving it as a last resort. Nevertheless, it was crucial. After all, in order to sever the tail, Kaliya had to make difficult choices. One was the giving up of his life, which also, weirdly enough, took him to the peak of his power.
That was why whoever stood for Kaliya in the Council of Dragons was considered a proxy. They could be just an ordinary person or a Conduit. They were tasked, however, to fulfill their responsibility should the need come for it—make the sacrifice.
That was kind of harsh though, wasn’t it?
Either way, the book was basically saying that Kaliya was enough to take down the serpent from cloud nine to ground zero—heaven to earth, at the expense of the life which he never really needed.
“Looks like I have nothing to fear, then,” I told myself. “Except death?”
I shook my head.
I then reluctantly left the book on my table and rose to get ready for the day. I proceeded with my routine—a warm bath followed by selecting from the lineup of clothes in my walk-in closet. After finishing up, I proceeded to knock on the rooms of the two doofus-es and wake them. It seemed they have slept through the explosion last night. Or maybe they woke up and went back to sleep right after.
I took a deep breath. “RISE AND SHINE, PEOPLE! THE SUN IS UP! GET YO ASSES OFF YO BED!”
Chapter 35 ∞ Ejected
A couple of months passed by in a breeze. Life in the House of Oblivion rolled on without a hitch. We were all preoccupied with our own stuff. The two other doofus-es had found the crafts they liked—Erenol with dancing and Maun, surprisingly enough, with swordsmanship. He apparently found a liking to a one-edged sword called bolo. I heard Mistress Veronika say that, once he mastered it in its one-handed style, he could on move on to wielding two. By the looks of it, it wasn’t long now as he was quite talented. The progress he was showing exceeded expectations, but Mistress Veronika was pleasantly surprised.
On the other hand, I had also begun my training with archery. It wasn’t Mistress Veronika’s specialty, but she set me up with the basics to get me started. I did, after all, buy a bow. What use did it have if I didn’t know how to use it? My progress had been slower compared to Maun, but I was still progressing—which was, at the end of the day, all that mattered.
“I wasn’t wrong,” Mistress Veronika said as I released the arrow and landed on a good spot on the target.
It wasn’t bullseye, but I think if there was a scoreboard, I would’ve hit nine points out of ten. Maun and Erenol were watching like the supportive baby ducks they were, clapping their hands to cheer me on with every good release while expressing disappointment at every failure.
“You do suit this more than swordsmanship,” she continued. “This progress is better compared to what you’ve had with the sword the past six years. Either way, don’t think it has gone to waste. Most archers will have to enter close combat at some point. When the enemy moves in, you can defend yourself at the very least.”
In this, I agreed with her, but a part of me was thinking of how she was saying this to justify what useless lessons I’ve gotten.
“You’ve got to do some self-study though. I can’t teach you in this very well because bows aren’t my specialty,” Mistress Veronika said.
That’s what she said, but she was good enough to teach me the basics and some of the more advanced stuff. It might not have been her specialty, but that didn’t mean she wasn’t familiar with it. Mistress Veronika was that type who didn’t claim she was good at something unless it was what she knew she was one of the best at.
I lowered my bow and wiped the sweat of my brow. Steadiness of the hands was one of my worst enemies in this game, but I was getting the hang of it. I knew how to play musical instruments with the help of my mistresses though, so it helped very much with my coordination and focus. I also had to improve on the speed of my draw and release. Once I develop a good habit and familiarize myself with the craft more, doing it would become like second nature to me.
“Understood, mistress,” I said and paid my respects by bowing.
My lessons came to an end and I turned to see Maun walking over with a bright smile. Now that he’d gotten some meat between his bones, he looked far more pleasant and, well, healthy. His silver-violet hair was tied neatly at the base of his hair and his previously wary and cautious eyes have finally taken on a carefree shine. The mistresses had taken to dressing him up and had shopped for some pretty clothes for him to wear. I didn’t know whether it was the act of shopping that gave them the pleasure or if it was seeing the sheer bewilderment on his face for getting so many gifts. The boy’s innocence had a way of getting to everybody.
“Evy! Evy!” Eren stood straight up beside Maun with the same smile as though they had colluded together to do something.
“What is it?” I asked, pulling on the collar of my clothes to wipe my face.
Erenol had that annoying grin that thinned my patience. I looked at the both of them exasperatedly and repeated, “What is it?”
These two were already used to my ‘impatient bitch’ attitude. I wasn’t exactly a sweet cake. Although I put up a show for my mistresses while growing up, much of my old personality were resurfacing.
“Show her! Show her!” Eren nudged Maun.
Maun revealed a wood bracelet to me. I realized the two were already wearing one. They dangled loose on their wrists. The knots were a messy twist, with the two ends of the strings sticking out conspicuously like bunny ears.
“What is it?” I asked.
“Maun made it!” Eren enthusiastically told me.
I took the bracelet with raised brows, raising it to my face to examine the craftsmanship. It wasn’t very impressive. The lines were clumsy at best. There were little faces carved into the beads. One character had no mouth, one eye larger than the other. The other one had long hair and a smile so huge it actually reached their ears while the eyes were drawn in thin lines. The last one had a…nonchalant face. The eyes were huge circles with exaggerated lashes and a straight line for a mouth.
“Let me guess,” I began.
“This one’s Maun,” Erenol pointed to the character with no mouth. “This one’s me.” She tapped over the bead with the girl with the large smile. “And this one’s you.” She pointed to the last bead with the nonchalant face. “IT’S THE THREE OF US!” she yelled.
“I know that, doofus,” I replied.
Why was this so weirdly accurate?
“What do you think?” Erenol asked.
Maun looked at me expectantly.
I looked at the bracelet, sighed, put it on, and pulled the other two under my arms to drag them inside. They struggled under my grip, Erenol screaming to be let go while laughing as I continued verbally expressing my dominance.
“I don’t know how you did this, but I’m definitely not making this one face all the time!” I yelled.
“But you are!” Erenol protested.
Maun threw me a sign that seemed vaguely like, “Sorry!”
I looked over my shoulder and found Mistress Veronika gazing at a distance with a frown. She held the bow in her hand in a grip so tight I saw her knuckles turning white, fingers trembling as they clenched even tighter. If the bow wasn’t so flexible, it might’ve already snapped. Nevertheless, she stopped when she felt my gaze and pulled over a mask of calmness and smile.
I found myself mirroring the look on her face, a mask of my own to hide my worry while my senses tripped over the undercurrent of secrets that grazed by. I knew my mistresses were hiding something. In fact, they were hiding a lot of things. I knew their entanglements with the worsening affairs of the kingdom were more dangerous than they made it to be. Moreover, my involvement with it and their taking care of Erenol had tipped them over a road of no return—what kind of path it was and what it led to, I wasn’t sure. I wasn’t aware of their struggles, even though I got a hint of it. They didn’t tell me anything. I knew, however, that in order to indulge me and protect me, they had sacrificed their neutrality.
Undertaking the political currents of the kingdom was basically balancing on the tip of blades.
I turned away and pursed my lips, the smile falling from my face. Even if I tried to step forward, what sort of ability did I have to help them? While I did have the knowledge and wisdom of my past life, I was still a child. There were certain limitations to what I could do at this age.
I decided to spend the rest of the day with Maun and Erenol by reading stories—partly because they wouldn’t leave me alone. In spite of how I hated being disturbed, I grew to enjoy their company. But that didn’t mean I didn’t like being alone. I wanted to have a quiet reading day by myself because I wanted to finish the book that Mistress Lili gave me. Technically, I already finished it. I was just going through it a couple of times more to make sure I didn’t miss any details.
I also liked this book very much.
Hence, at their insistence, I ended up doing one of those storytelling scenarios with enraptured kids crouched by my knees. It was weird, because I would only usually see a grandmother or a mother in this position. Considering my past life’s age, I might barely qualify—for a mother, that is.
Pretty soon, the windows drew close and Aunt Safia, my blind babysitter, came in to take care of us for the night. My mistresses, after all, were going to be on duty. It seemed she was delighted with getting to take care of more kids.
Good for her.
I was in a better mood now knowing I could have some more time to myself. Since Aunt Safia was there to watch over Maun and Erenol, I knew this was the opportunity I was waiting for to finally get some alone time. Moreover, this opportunity hardly came by these days. In the past few months, while I had gotten used to having two more roommates, it still drove me to look for spaces I could hide in to get some much-needed alone time. There were some books I preferred reading by myself—almost all books, really. I had a better shot at visualization and focus when it was all peace and quiet.
As I sat in the privacy of my locked room, basking in the quietness of it, I grew a little uncomfortable at the thought that suddenly passed my mind. Contrary to Amber’s saying that he would be back in a month, he still hadn’t shown up in spite of it being already way beyond that. To be precise, the last time he’d shown up was over six months ago. Half a year was a long time. I was starting to wonder whether we were experiencing the same pace of time.
“Whatever,” I muttered and tried to return my focus on my current activity. Nevertheless, it found a way to worm back to my attention as the feeling of discomfort grew once more.
I was probably just stressed.
I rubbed my forehead and decided to take a bath instead. Only warm water could comfort me now. Warm baths were my refuge and kept plenty of my worries at bay. The water was like a shield wherein I could comfortably tackle and ponder over my problems. It cleared my mind and helped me think better.
As soon as I managed to fill up my bathing pool, I slipped inside and sighed. The hot water stung at first, but it was very refreshing. Most of the turmoil I was feeling inside floated away with the steam and my mind began running on a clear track. The bathroom cradled a very dim, golden light that helped ease off the assault on my senses. The lavender scent filtered through my nose and weightlessness came over me as my nape hit the curved ridge of the pool.
I let a huge bout of air leave my lungs.
Only that it wasn’t only air that actually left me.
I found myself spiraling forward as I exhaled. In shock, I turned and found that I had actually ejected out of my body.
“What in the freaking name of all things holy…” I muttered, eyes wide as I regarded my corporeal body currently passed out in the pool. I seemed stable for now. My body was in such a position that I probably wouldn’t drown by accident. “What the heck is this? Astral body projection?”
I was just a shadow. A formless one. I tried lifting my hands to my face but found I couldn’t even see myself! What exactly was going on? In fact, I tried touching myself, but my hands passed through where my stomach was supposed to be.
“Welcome to the realm where you don’t belong!” I heard someone exclaim. I whirled around to find where the sound was coming from. “Our next stop is to see just how bad we messed up. Destination number one; Vertvalden! Or what’s left of it, at least.”
After spinning a couple of times, I found that I could see a very faint Amber standing behind me. I shrieked. If I was joking, I would have said my soul literally jumped out of my body. However, wouldn’t that be telling the truth more than exaggerating stuff?
“Good god, you scared me,” I said. “What just happened?”
“You know. Classic astral projection. Out-of-the-body experience?” he pointed out. “I did say I was going to show you, didn’t I?”
“I thought you were going to show me in a dream! And that was supposed to be six months ago! I’m not prepared!” I exclaimed in horror. “But what is this? Just tell me—what is this? You literally had my soul leaving my body while I was taking a bath? What if I drown?”
“Don’t worry. You won’t die unless it’s your time already,” he told me.
“That’s not comforting.”
“And, technically, you can’t drown. Right now, you’re currently dead.”
“Just kidding. You’re alive and breathing. Your thread hasn’t been cut. So long as your soul maintains a connection to your body, it won’t die. It’s just…inanimate. Like an empty doll.” He shrugged. “I only had the time and power to do this now. Things fell behind schedule. I overestimated myself last time. I went dormant far longer than I expected. It’s better overprepared than underprepared though, so buckle up. You’re in for a ride.”
Suddenly, I was whisked away. The floating and weightlessness made me want to gag, only to realize I actually couldn’t. I settled with shrieking. After all, human beings weren’t built to fly. Then I realized I was just a soul.