Ch. 37 – Heroes Never Die
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Chapter Thirty-Seven – Heroes Never Die

“What the hell is going on there?” Kai paced to and fro and tried in vain to climb the wall just like Milo did. “I’m totally hearing that scary ice goddess, and she sounds pissed!”

It looked like none of them could equal Milo in jumping abilities, and they were just as unsuccessful as Kai was. Even Tani was kicking furiously at the wall, frustrated about not being able to help in that kind of situation.

“I wish I paid more attention to my mother’s lessons now,” Galien huffed as he tried to make some of the ice melt, but with no visible results.

“Out of the way, children,” a voice announced.

“Luna!” Tani exclaimed. “How did you get here?”

“My son is in great danger,” she said, and without paying them no mind, she walked through the wall of ice like it was nothing.

“Did you see that?” Tani said slowly.

“Yeah, totally cool,” Kai confirmed. “Wait, we’re still trapped on this side!”


Sebastian could only hear what was going on around him. Shivers shook his body, and his eyes were closed. He tried to move, but he no longer controlled his body, not even his tongue, to beg for his beloved’s life. What had his powers ever served him if he couldn’t help Milo right now? By the sounds he could still hear, Reya still had her hands around the boy’s throat. He had to do something; he had to move somehow.

“Put him down immediately!”

He jolted at the sound of that voice. What was Luna doing here?

“Do not dare to intervene! Haven’t you meddled enough?” Reya hissed. A thump followed. “You hit me!”

Now, Sebastian could hear Milo struggling to gain back his breath.

“And I will again. Let the boy go. We must save Sebastian,” Luna said hurriedly.

“But this boy is the reason why the cavern cannot heal Sebastian anymore!” Reya thundered. “Out of my way, Luna! Don’t make me say it twice!”

“Reya, stop!”

Sebastian groaned, hoping that he could get through somehow. All that mattered was that Luna was helping him and trying to save Milo from the goddess’s wrath.

“Can’t you see, Luna? I need his blood!” Reya demanded.

“And I tell you that you won’t have it!”

Sebastian could hear Luna speaking in a strange language and understood right away. She had found the recipe for the curse. Of course, it was an incantation, not a thing one made. His strength was leaving him, but it would be all right. Luna would send Milo home, back to safety.

“Sebastian!” He heard Milo calling loudly. “Will I ever--”

He didn’t hear the rest.


“Oh, no, I think we’re traveling again!” Kai shouted as he felt his entire body bloating and squeezing and doing all kinds of crazy stuff that he couldn’t begin to understand. He really hoped that Tani and Milo were with him because it would be tricky to find an explanation for why they disappeared if he got home only by himself.

The next moment he opened his eyes, he was in his bedroom. And the next, Tani landed right on top of him with a scream. “Are you all right?” he asked and shook her.

Tani was lolling her head right and left. “Stop shaking me! And I think my ears are still ringing!”

“We’re home!” Kai shouted. “O. M. G. Somehow, we’re home! Wait, where is Milo? Do you think he got teleported to his home?”

“I’m here,” someone called groggily from under the desk.

Milo emerged from there, walking on all fours, looking rightfully dazed.

“We’re home!” Kai shouted again but then deflated right away. “We’re home,” he said again, but this time in a lot less cheerful voice. “And Pepin is there, in Ifigia. And Sebastian. Oh, no, what the hell happened?” he asked Milo.

Only then, Kai noticed his friend touching his neck gingerly. Milo leaned against the desk and groaned again. “What the hell, man? Are those finger marks?” Kai moved closer to examine the situation. “Did someone try to strangle you? Was it an Uxilan assassin?”

“More like an angry potential mother-in-law,” Milo said and winced as he rubbed his neck.

“What? She did this to you?” Tani scooted over. “Wait, did you just call her your mother-in-law?”

“Potential,” Milo pointed out defensively. “It’s just that,” he began quickly like he couldn’t spare another breath without sharing what was on his mind, “I knew Sebastian was doing something stupid, like sacrificing himself. And Conrad told us as much, that he was striking some kind of deal with that Uxilan ninja jerk.”

“Ha! I knew those guys looked like ninja jerks!” Kai intervened. “Sorry, tell us everything.” Both he and Tani sat on their knees, all eyes and ears, leaning toward Milo.

Milo fell quiet and looked down. “I’m not totally sure, but Sebastian looked like he was… very sick.”

Tani surprised Kai when she grabbed Milo by one arm. “What do you mean, very sick? Was he dying? But he cannot die! He’s the hero, right? Kai, tell him. Tell him that heroes never die.”

Kai didn’t have the heart to explain to his sister the true meaning behind that phrase. Heroes never died because they remained in the minds and hearts of people, even after they passed away. And Milo just didn’t dare to say it out loud. Or maybe he just didn’t know, and they had to settle for that.

“Stop it, butthead,” he said and pulled his sister back. “If Milo says he only looked sick, he must have been. An Uxilan dagger diet might not be easy on anyone’s belly,” he added. “But Luna was there, and I bet that she can make him better.”

“I think she saved us, that lady,” Milo said. “She smacked the ice goddess so hard over her arm that she dropped me.” He looked away. “Just that Sebastian, he was no longer moving,” he whispered. “I called for him, but he just lay there. And then, we were all back.”

They all hung their heads low in sorrow. Kai could contradict Tani for hours, but that didn’t change anything. And the worst part was that they couldn’t find out what had happened. Maybe never. Or was that something that could give them hope?

“Come on, guys,” he said, trying to sound a lot more cheerful than he felt. “We don’t know anything. And that’s a good thing,” he added quickly. “As long as we don’t know for sure, let’s not cry like stupid people.”

He was about to offer more encouragements when the bedroom door flung open, and a very disheveled mother walked through it. “There you are! Where have you been?” she shouted.

“Um, we played video games at Milo’s,” Kai said quickly. Oh, shit, shit, shit, just how long had they been gone? A day? Maybe two? It didn’t feel that long…

“Kai Martin, don’t you dare lie to me! Milo’s parents are worried sick! Milo, call them right now or I will!”

Milo froze for a moment, but then he jumped to his feet. “I will, I will, but--”

“No ‘buts’, young man,” Kai’s mom said sternly. She had dark circles around her eyes, and her hair was unkempt. “And no, there’s no time for you left to come up with some crazy lie that you can share while trying to fool us!”

“We got isekai’d!” Tani shouted.

“You got what?!” Their mother shouted so loudly that Kai worried she might burst something, like an eye or a vein, all very frightening possibilities.

He grabbed his sister and covered her mouth. “Mom, we’re very, but really, truly, very sorry,” he said cautiously. “We just went on a little adventure,” he tried to smooth things over.

“For four days? Without your phones? Without telling me? The police got involved, they’re questioning everyone--” She stopped and took one deep breath while running her hands through her hair as if she was trying to steady herself. “We’re going to talk about your little adventure later. Now, I have to put some very worried people’s minds to ease. Milo, go. Your parents are out of their minds.”

Milo moved quickly and gestured a hastened goodbye at them. Their mother walked out and slammed the door shut. A moment later, she opened it again. “I hope I don’t have to say it loud and clear. You’re both grounded!”

They were both startled when the door slammed again behind her.

“We are in deep shit,” Tani said slowly.

“Yeah, sis, you can totally say that,” Kai agreed.


“So,” their mother sat at the kitchen table with a notepad open in front of her, “we need to establish some ground rules.”

The questioning was starting. Kai held Tani’s hand, clammy and cold as it was, and exchanged one look with her in a last attempt to convince her not to say the word ‘isekai’ again.

“From today until you graduate, you’ll only know school and home, Kai. You’re allowed to have your phone with you, but not when I’m at home. And I’m taking your computer, too.”

It wasn’t that bad, Kai tried to be philosophical about it. He didn’t think he would be able to get back to his life as usual and start playing video games again, not while knowing Sebastian could have sacrificed for them to be able to get back to their world, and Pepin was waiting for a baby.

“After graduation, you will find work,” his mother continued. “And you’ll continue to be grounded even then.”

“Until when?” Tani asked.

Kai squeezed his sister’s hand. She was supposed to remain the free agent, not to bring the wrath of a worried mother upon her head.

“Until I say he’s no longer grounded,” their mom said promptly. “As for you, young lady--”

“It wasn’t Tani’s fault,” Kai intervened. “Milo and I got this crazy idea that we should live without technology for a few days, and then I thought of getting Tani weaned a little off her phone and basically kidnapped her.”

“Couldn’t you have done that without leaving home and skipping school?” Their mom questioned.

“It was a more complex experiment.” Kai gestured wildly to emphasize his explanation. “We needed to reconnect with nature.”

Their mom pinched the bridge of her nose, mumbled something to herself, and let out a long deep breath. “I don’t buy it, Kai, not for one moment. But now, come here, the two of you.” She gestured for them to get off their seats and come closer.

As soon as they were close enough, she caught them in her arms and hugged them tightly. “Don’t you ever scare me again like this. Do you understand me?”

“Yes, mom,” he and Tani said at the same time.

“But you’re still grounded,” she warned them. “And you still owe me the truth.”

“Yes, mom.”

“Now, go. I’ll have dinner ready soon. Ah, both of you, bring me your phones. I’ll not have you chat about your adventures with your friends, when you don’t want to say anything about them to your mom.”

Kai breathed out in relief. Well, for the moment, it had been easy. But his mom would surely question them more later when she caught them alone. She was that kind of investigator, trying to catch them tangled in their own lies.


“How was it, with your parents?” Kai asked Milo the soonest they met in school the next day. As he had expected, his mom had tried to approach him and Tani separately so that she could discover the truth. The only problem was that the truth was unfathomable, and they couldn’t just say what had happened to them over the last days and to him, Kai, even longer than that.

“Ugh, don’t ask. They took my phone,” Milo said. “Actually, you don’t have to ask because I’m going to tell you everything. They don’t buy it that we went on a little paragliding adventure.”

“Paragliding? I told my mom we went to the hot springs,” Kai moaned.

“And I told mom and dad we wanted something exciting. Doesn’t paragliding mean exciting? I thought you said that one time,” Milo said and shook his head.

“Ugh, my mom now thinks we wanted to reconnect with nature. Well, she doesn’t really buy it.”

They both sighed at the same time.

“It’s not like we can tell them the truth,” Milo pointed out. “They’ll never believe such a crazy thing. I’m not even sure I believe it. Are you sure I didn’t dream getting dragged to a fantasy land where I rode on the back of a dragon and kissed an ice prince?”

“You kissed an ice prince?” Kai was suddenly all eyes and ears and forgetting about his own predicament.

The bell announcing the start of their classes interrupted him. Milo was suddenly very eager to get back to the classroom.

“Saved by the bell,” Milo offered with a strained smile.

“Not over, dude, not over,” Kai warned him.

He plopped down on his seat and took a look around. It was so weird to be back after living in that land of adventures for what felt like a lifetime. He somehow felt bigger than his high school uniform. His eyes fell on Chet, and the guy stared at him for one moment for a deer caught in headlights and then hurriedly looked down. Kai frowned for a moment, and then he remembered. He was, supposedly, a badass who had smacked Chet in the face with a pole or something. That was a good reason to grin.

“Mr. Martin, we’re surely glad to have you among us again. Tired of fighting dragons?” Mrs. Marwin asked and grinned.

What the hell was that? Did she sound almost… friendly? Math was one of Kai’s biggest known enemies, and it wasn’t like… Oh, wait, Milo had told him about Sebastian doing great in school in his stead.

“Actually, I’m done fighting dragons. Now I’m riding them,” he replied promptly.

He expected the class to burst into laughter, as usual when he was talking about video games, completely unrelated to what teachers wanted to hear from him. Yet, instead of that, everyone turned in their seats, and a collective gasp of surprise came out. What on earth had Sebastian done to these people?

“Just joking,” he said and made a small placating move with one hand.

It looked like his classmates were pretty disappointed to hear that. Everyone turned back to their notebooks, and for the first time in a long while, Kai actually paid attention to class. If he were to provide for Pepin and a baby, he needed to get better grades and land a better job than scanning items in a supermarket. Just in case they ever tumbled to this world, he had to be prepared, even if that meant learning math.


The first thing he experienced before opening his eyes was a pleasant smell. It reminded him of something from his childhood, but he couldn’t pinpoint it and tie it to a particular memory. Then, as his senses came to him slowly, he realized that it smelled like freshly baked cookies. Which could only mean one thing…

“Luna?” he called weakly, hating his voice and the eagerness in it right away. Eagerness for what? To reach out for someone? When had the ice prince of Ifigia ever needed someone’s help?

“You’re awake!” A rustling of clothes, and someone was rushing by his side. “How are you feeling, Sebastian?”

“Milo,” he whispered. “Is he… gone?”

Luna placed a cool hand on his forehead and then felt his cheek, too. “I found the incantation you left for me. I examined it for traces of anything foul. Milo and his friends are gone, so they must be back to their world.”

“Reya… didn’t hurt him a lot, I hope?” His voice continued to be unsure and reedy, belonging to a weak and sick man.

“I couldn’t let that happen. He was fine.”

“You could just ask me that directly,” another voice intervened with a huff.

Sebastian’s eyes snapped open at the sound of Reya’s words. He looked confused at the two women, side by side, both staring worriedly at him. He groaned as he tried to sit up and refused the helping hands that jutted at him right away from Luna and Reya. “How long have I been asleep?” he asked, trying to hang on to unimportant things just so that he could postpone a little all the explanations Reya was probably waiting for.

“A few days,” Luna replied. “You shouldn’t strain yourself, Sebastian.”

“Don’t coddle me. You’re not my real mom,” Sebastian retorted, falling back on memes from the other world as a measure of postponing the inevitable for the time being.

A look was exchanged between Luna and Reya that he didn’t miss. The fog in his mind began to dissipate. “What?” he asked, using a rougher tone than he intended. “What are you two conspiring together again? Wait,” he said, suddenly aware that the short glance between the women was loaded with a hard-to-miss significance. “You two…”

Luna put a hand on his shoulder and forced him on his back. He was that weak that he couldn’t oppose a woman. “Yes, we two want you to get better.”

Sebastian caught Luna’s wrist. “You were the one to have me? She didn’t just…” his words trailed off as his eyes moved between them.

Reya stepped closer. “We had you together. Yes, Sebastian, I did have a Lelian, I do still, and it’s Luna.” She didn’t sound entirely comfortable saying that, but Sebastian couldn’t care less about her feelings at the moment. “There, now you know.”

It hit Sebastian, the smell of those freshly baked cookies, with all the memories he hadn’t been able to recall. Throughout his childhood, on the rare occasions he fell sick, that smell had been part of getting better, along with a gentle hand on his forehead and a tender smile. “A bit too late for me to celebrate having two mothers,” he mumbled.

Luna must have cared for him during those times. She must have been that person he didn’t recall well at the moment.

“It’s never too late,” Luna retorted.

Sebastian winced as he tried to laugh. “I’m not a child anymore, and it would have served to know I had someone to run to with a scraped knee.” He felt the need to be slightly vindictive, and it didn’t suit him. As usual, what suited him was to get out of that sick bed and see about the kingdom and its needs.

“You did exactly that,” Luna said promptly. “I just had to make sure you didn’t remember.”

Sebastian let his gaze travel to Reya. “Why?” he asked her directly.

The ice goddess granted him the majesty of her profile as she stood erect and set her chin high. “It was not a secret for you to know.”


Both women gasped at the rudeness of his reply.

“Well, I did pick a few things while away,” he commented.

“Yes, about that,” Reya started. “Imagine my astonishment when I discovered that your chosen is some boy--” she spat the word with obvious disgust.

“His name is Milo,” Sebastian interrupted her. “And yes, he is from a world completely different from ours. Therefore, no need for you to fret. I will never see him again.” As he said that, a sudden pain squeezed his chest. He felt it and found the ragged edges of a strange wound. Of course, the last revenge of Uxilan; he appeared to still carry it with him. “I gave you the heir you wanted,” he added quickly. Reya couldn’t know that Pepin actually carried a baby that belonged by half to a different world.

“Oh, that,” Reya commented in a vexed tone and began tapping her foot. “I’m still mad at Luna for taking part in this charade. I’m well aware now that your servant, a mere Lelian, thought himself clever enough to fool a goddess.”

Sebastian strained against the growing pain in his chest. “What did Luna have to do with anything? And what have you done with Pepin?”

The goddess scoffed. “What we do with traitors in these lands. He’s under lock and key.”

Sebastian felt anger rising. “Did you destroy the shard?”

“Well, that’s the thing. He hid it, the scoundrel,” Reya said. “And I cannot rid Ifigia of him until I learn where that rogue child is.”

“Release Pepin immediately,” he demanded, trying to make his voice sound as it used to.

“He tried to fool you into accepting his bastard,” Reya said. “With Luna’s help,” she added pointedly.

Sebastian ignored Reya and looked at Luna. “How can you allow this injustice?” he asked through his teeth.

“She’s lucky I care for her so much,” Reya replied instead. “And you, as well. Were you anyone else, I would have sent you both to the lands up north, just to see what it means not to have my protection any longer.”

“Protection?” Sebastian ignored the hollowness in his chest. “Maybe I don’t need it.”

“Oh, is that so?” Reya turned on her heels. “Should we see how that works out?”

Luna stopped her by holding her arm. “He’s very weak still. Do not get him upset more than he already is.”

Reya pulled her arm free. She and Luna no longer seemed thick as thieves as he had always known them to be. “Enough, Luna. I believe it’s time for you to learn your place. I need to be alone with my son. Be gone.” 

Much to his dismay, Luna looked down. She offered him a last apologetic smile as she walked out of the room.

“What would you have me do, Sebastian?” Reya started.

“Stop this nonsense,” he said. “Release Pepin or I will. And accept the child. His soul is part of the Shimmering Cavern. You know what that means. His birth right is to sit on the throne of Ifigia once I’m gone.” He felt his chest again as that almost unbearable pain blossomed once more. That might happen too soon. An unborn child would inherit the kingdom.

“He is a bastard!” Reya shouted, turning on her heels and making her long dress swish over the polished floor. “I would not have you made into a mockery--”

“A mockery?” Sebastian mustered all his strength, and it wasn’t enough to confront his mother. “Who would have the courage to say that the heir is not my child? I suppose you and Luna can at least keep your mouths shut about it.”

Reya stared at him like he was growing another head. Never before had he gone against her in such a fashion. “How dare you?” she hissed. “I’ve gone through so much to make Ifigia into what it is today. To make you into a ruler deserving of its beauty.”

Sebastian sighed and dropped against the pillows. It looked like he had to take it, all of it, lying down, as much as he disliked the notion. “Did you ever ask me if I wanted this honor?”

“We are born into duty,” Reya replied. Her voice had the weight of ice covered by frost. “We do not question it.”

“You are a goddess. I’m nothing but a mortal, as you cared to remind me so many times before. You made a choice for me, and I don’t want it anymore.”

“And what do you want? That boy?”

Sebastian closed his eyes, too exhausted to argue with his mother. He needed to save his strength if he were to save Pepin and the child. “Yes, I want that boy,” he murmured petulantly as his eyelids grew heavy. “Not that he’s a choice I could make.”


His mother’s alarmed voice forced him to make an effort to open his eyes and offer her a meek smile. “Now, I need to sleep, whether you like it or not. Don’t make any rash decision concerning Pepin. I’ll never forgive you,” he warned in a whisper.

Reya’s hand was cool on his forehead, and it felt good. He didn’t say anything as she sat by his side and pulled his head into her lap. The world of dreams beckoned again.