Chapter Thirty-Eight – This Is What Getting Isekai’d Does To People
“What’s wrong with him? Why is he not waking up?”
Reya’s anxious questions pulled him from the abyss of tar in which he felt his entire body succumbing. He fought to wake up. So like her, not to allow him a moment of peace. “Don’t you have better things to do? I thought goddesses always had something on their plates, building kingdoms and such.” He knew his attempt to joke would be overlooked. Reya didn’t know him to be capable of joking.
“Sebastian, thank heavens,” Reya cried out and pressed his head against her chest.
“You are suffocating me,” he protested, and his voice came out muffled. “Luna, help, if you’re around.”
“It looks like our boy is in pretty good spirits if he affords to jest in such a manner,” Luna said, but by the tone of her voice, she sounded relieved, too.
Reya finally released him, and Luna hurried with a cup of tea and a cookie. This time, he didn’t protest and grabbed both. He felt famished.
“You two should really stop hanging around my room. I’m twenty-two and perfectly capable of handling myself,” he said. Luna’s cookie, whether it was a charm or not, was sweet on his tongue, and the tea warmed his belly, giving him the much-needed warmth. “And I have a servant,” he said pointedly.
“You’ll be appointed someone else, as soon as you get better,” Reya retorted, her voice decisive and harsh.
“I am better, and I’ll have no one else but Pepin,” he insisted. “He’s the only one who knows how I like to take my bath. Also, he’s my betrothed.” It didn’t look like Reya had changed her mind during the few hours he must have been asleep. “How does it look not to have him by my side, especially now when I’m in this dire predicament?”
“You don’t worry about that. Your dire predicament is our worry,” Reya said.
“My dire predicament is having two women in my royal quarters day in, day out. Even as mothers, you are becoming a bit too overbearing. Have Pepin help me.” He hoped that it would eventually work if he insisted like it was his birthright to command Reya to do his bidding. And if it didn’t, which was much more likely to be the case, he would just get back on his feet and release Pepin by himself.
“When have you become so demanding? You’ve always been stubborn in your ways, but this--”
“Forget it.” Sebastian made an effort to get away from Reya and out of bed, struggling with keeping his balance once he was on his feet. “It looks like I have to do everything by myself.”
His throat was still parched, and there were so many things to do. First on the order of business was to find where Pepin was and let him go free. The kingdom had been without its prince for a while now, which meant that many people must be waiting for him to perform his duties as usual. Then, he would have to train the knights. Yes, plenty of things to do, and none of them was to think of Milo.
Or about the wound in his chest that didn’t want to give in. One would think that a goddess and a lady with charms would be at least capable of dressing a wound properly. Apparently, they were out of their depths, and he truly needed Pepin, who, among other things, was quite adept at dealing with such things.
“Your stubbornness will not convince me to release that traitor,” Reya warned him.
“Very well, then,” he said. “I will search for him on my own. But, now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a kingdom to run.”
“Are you sure you’re strong enough, Sebastian?” Reya asked.
The pain in his chest was coming and going. Sebastian put on a shirt while freezing his face into a mask. “You made me strong enough,” he said matter-of-factly while he adjusted the cuffs.
“Let’s allow him some time on his own,” Luna suggested.
Sebastian snorted. That would have been handy while growing up with a mother who only cared about his training, someone who would curb the goddess’s propensity for being overbearing and only in matters that interested her.
“We’ll visit later, Sebastian,” Reya warned.
He waved a perfunctory goodbye, and the women walked out of the room, leaving him alone with his thoughts.
And pain. Not the one affecting his flesh, but the one that ran deeper. To think that minstrels so often sang about the broken hearts he used to leave in his wake. Was there a song about his heart being split in two, impossible to mend?
“Guys, what are you going to do?” Tani whined as she grabbed both Milo and Kai by the hands and walked between them on their way back from school. “I mean, can you really just go back to studying, and by that I mean you, Milo, not Kai?”
“Look at her, acting all grownup,” Kai said and pulled at one of his sister’s pigtails to get her attention. “And I’m studying, too,” he added, a bit defensively. “If I’m to provide for Pepin and the baby, I need to land a better job once school’s over.”
“Maybe if your grades are good enough, you could think of college,” Milo suggested.
“I wouldn’t go that far,” Kai pointed out. “Let’s just focus on graduation.”
“How about we also focus on finding a way to travel to Ifigia?” Tani said.
“Come on, butthead, it’s not like we know how to even start to do that,” Kai retorted. “Wait, actually, we have like thousands of websites that must be talking about things like that. We should start our own research, especially since now, we’re kind of specialists. I mean, who else can say that they traveled to an isekai kingdom and came back?”
“Exactly,” Tani hurried to back him up. “I mean, you two should still study since you have your finals coming up, but you could leave it to me for a while.”
“No way I’m just going to study and let a pipsqueak like you handle all the heat,” Milo intervened, pulling at Tani’s other pigtails.
Tani let go of their hands and brushed her tails down. “Hello, you need to get good grades or you’ll be grounded forever.”
“By the way,” Kai said, “how long are you grounded, Milo? For me, it appears to be indefinitely.”
Milo shrugged. “My folks are usually cool, but this time, they really went bananas. It’s true that I’ve never given them any reason to worry, but still. I mean, they’re talking in this grave voice when they address me like I’m supposed to be put in my place and never forget it. Dad forces me to sit down and talk to him about understanding my responsibilities ever single evening. Mom just tiptoes around, eavesdropping. I wonder how long this will take.”
“Mom is a bit more forgiving,” Kai said. “And it’s only been a couple of days since we got back. They’ll go easy on us if we don’t give them any more reason to worry.”
“And how are we going to do that?” Milo retorted. “I mean, there’s not a single moment when I’m not thinking of Sebastian.”
“Ha!” Tani said all knowingly. “Did you finally realize that you’re in love with him?”
Milo stiffened and pulled his shoulders back. Kai examined him from the corner of one eye. Leave it to Tani to ask all the uncomfortable questions. “I’m not in love with the guy, but come on, he must have sacrificed himself for us to get back. How do you explain that while he lay there, dying or something, we got hurled back to our world?”
“Let’s not be so negative,” Tani intervened. “You cannot know that Sebastian is dead. He’s not dead,” she insisted. “We would have had some sign if that happened. Do you see any sign, anywhere?”
“And what’s that sign supposed to be?” Milo retorted. “A sudden black hole in the sky?”
“You’d feel it,” Tani pointed out, “because you love the guy.”
“Did I ever tell you, Kai, that your sister is an annoying piece of work?”
“At least a thousand times, all in different ways. The thing is that we want to know what happened there, in Ifigia, right?” Kai chose the middle ground. Milo was still figuring things out, which meant that he was in a not-so-good place. At least Kai knew how he felt about Pepin. That little certainty was enough to make his head clear enough to make the right decisions.
“Ugh, too bad we cannot talk on the phone and compare our notes,” Milo said. “I’ll start my research on isekai stuff as soon as I get home.”
“I’ll do that, too,” Kai added. “And I suppose that butthead here will do the same.”
“You can totally count on me,” Tani said with determination. “If there’s a way to get there… I mean, of course there is. We just need to find it. We will find it.”
That was a good way to look at things, Kai decided as he exchanged one last look with Milo before saying goodbye. They had computers and the Internet and whatnot. Somewhere in the belly of that virtual beast had to be the answer to their burning question.
How does one travel to another world?
Sebastian sat stiffly on the throne, ignoring the throbbing pain in his chest, as nobles and peasants alike brought forward their grievances. As he had expected, the line of plaintiffs was quite long.
What he hadn’t expected was what was happening right now in front of his eyes. A young peasant girl placed a basket filled with mountain flowers at the foot of the throne. “We all wish you well, Your Majesty.”
She wasn’t the only one there with her arms full of get-well gifts. Sebastian accepted each one gracefully, wondering whether he had never noticed the people of Ifigia caring so deeply for him, or simply they hadn’t cared before.
Too bad none of them had a remedy for what was ailing him. The poison of Uxilan was still alive inside him, and he knew it. The only uncertainty was when it would finally do him in for good. That meant that he had to find a way, and quickly, to discover where Pepin was, as well as the unborn child destined to sit on the throne in his stead. Securing a future for Ifigia was among the most important priorities at the moment. Reya had her limitations, and she couldn’t use Luna to create another heir as far as he knew. Unless she could summon another Lelian out of thin air, the Shimmering Cavern was of no use to her for making another ice prince to satisfy her ambitions.
There had to be a reason why Reya hadn’t decided to simply order Pepin’s execution. Lelians were incredibly rare. On the one hand, his powers must have been depleted the moment he had offered himself to carry Kai Martin’s child. But on the other, he was still a Lelian. Reya had plans of her own, and Sebastian wondered what they could be.
Pepin no longer had the shard, or the goddess would have found it already. But could the shard survive without Pepin’s love and care? Sebastian remembered Reya's lessons on how an heir to the kingdom was supposed to be cared for. While they were all the Lelian’s responsibilities, Sebastian hadn’t backed away from acquiring the knowledge involved in the process.
“Your Majesty, would you like to take a break?” One of the eldest councilmen approached him carefully.
He must have slumped in his throne, prey to complicated thoughts and the pain that lived inside him. With unrivaled effort, he straightened up again. “No,” he said abruptly. “Who is next?”
It had been a long and demanding day. Sebastian took off his coat and felt his chest. Through the fabric, he could feel the wound continuing to ooze that tar that it appeared to be made of.
“You’re far from healed.”
He jumped at the sound of that voice. “Conrad,” he said stiffly.
For some reason, his concubine was there, splayed on the bed in what looked like scanty clothes. He had wondered briefly where the captive prince could be, but he hadn’t expected to find him there, in his quarters, and worse, his bed.
Conrad moved out of the bed and came to him. He pushed Sebastian’s shirt away and examined the wound with a frown etched on his face.
“What are you doing here?” Sebastian asked and batted his hands away. “I don’t require your services.”
Conrad scoffed and pulled him by the shoulders, forcing him to walk toward a chair so that he could collapse in it. “Don’t let my lack of clothes fool you into thinking that I’m coming to your bed with the intention of offering services we shouldn’t name.”
Well, at least they had that. Conrad appeared in no mood to entertain him, and Sebastian surely didn’t want to be entertained, to begin with.
“It was the only way to fool your beloved goddess into allowing me to see you. She appears to think that you need the distraction. Not that it made her happy, by the look on her face.”
So, Reya was still there, around the palace, probably annoying the hell out of every living soul.
“However, she put together this outfit for me, and even told me that I should do my best to ensure that you forgot a certain someone.”
“Too much info,” Sebastian said and waved.
“You do sometimes speak in that strange manner,” Conrad remarked.
“Indeed. I don’t really know why.”
“It must be because it reminds you of your beloved.”
Sebastian groaned and let his head back. He had grown into a weakling, both in soul and body. But if Conrad was there, he could ask a few questions. “Since you’re not here to entertain me, much to my relief, the question still stands.”
“Galien worries,” Conrad said directly.
“Ah. Of course. Tell him I’m fine.”
His cousin had to be back to Kelonia by now, busy with ruling over his own duchy.
“You’re not fine, and I’m not going to lie to him,” Conrad retorted. “I suppose that I am here to offer my services, only that not those that pertain to my abilities between the sheets.”
“Thank goodness for that,” Sebastian grunted. “I’m in no shape to enjoy a man’s body, as you can easily see.”
“And luckily for me, I have no time to indulge in desiring you as I used to,” Conrad replied promptly.
Of course. The thing they didn’t have was time. He didn’t have time. “Do you happen to know Pepin’s whereabouts? Reya treated him as a traitor and had him locked somewhere, but she’s adamant about not letting him go free.”
“Unfortunately, I have no such information, but I will do my best to acquire it.”
“Conrad, with all due respect, you’re ill-equipped for gathering intelligence on the matter. You’re a soldier through and through, as I well remember.” Sebastian let his eyes travel down Conrad’s body. Wasn’t it an incredible thing that his loins no longer filled with anticipated pleasure when he looked at such a magnificent body?
“Yes, but I can travel to Kelonia without being seen and have Sir Galien look into it. I can act as liaison between you and him.”
“Sir Galien? Just earlier, I heard you drop the honorific.”
Conrad stopped and grimaced. “I certainly did not. The wound on your chest might be affecting the way you remember things, Your Majesty.”
Sebastian shook his head. He was in no mood to contradict Conrad. “Why would I need someone else to talk to my cousin?”
“You don’t know, but your goddess forbade Ga… Sir Galien from coming here, and no one from the palace is allowed to go to Kelonia.”
“Why? Does she think him responsible in some manner of what happened?”
“She only has suspicions. But her sister was here, demanding to see you, and she denied her.”
Fiana, his aunt, was a goddess with an even more legendary temper than Reya. Sebastian had understood from a young age that the two didn’t see each other eye to eye well, but it looked like the ice goddess didn’t trust her own family at all.
“Uxilan did this to me,” Sebastian said matter-of-factly. “Why would Galien be involved in any shape or form?”
“Ah, your goddess doesn’t think of that, either. But she was extremely furious to learn that Galien harbored your chosen in his palace. In her eyes, it appears that such a thing is both condemnable and unforgivable.”
“Galien did only what I told him to do,” Sebastian said sharply.
“And yet, your goddess and mother expected him to run to her the moment he had learned something like that about you, having decided on a chosen that was not approved by her.”
In all truth, for years, he had thought Galien to be on Reya’s side, too. Regardless of that, his cousin had proven nothing but helpful and understanding of his situation, as unfathomable as it was, such as falling in love with a high school student from another world.
“When you see Galien, you can tell him that I very much appreciate his role in everything. But how do you know so much, especially about conversations that must have taken behind closed doors, such as those between Reya and Fiana?”
Conrad appeared slightly uncomfortable for a bit. “Sir Galien cared to keep me informed of what transpired between his mother and yours. I’m not the kind to eavesdrop.” The captive prince set his chin high as he said that. It made Sebastian wonder what uncomfortable things he might have been subjected to by Galien. His cousin was a trickster by nature, and while he knew no details about what was happening between Galien and Conrad, he could only suppose that his so-called royal concubine couldn’t have been spared.
“You and Galien,” Sebastian said suddenly. “What is going on there?”
“Nothing,” Conrad said, a tad defensive and taking a small step back. “I am still your loyal servant as promised.”
“I don’t recall you being so accommodating toward me.”
“A lot of things changed. You defeated Uxilan, Your Majesty, and rid the world of great dangers.”
Conrad surprised him by taking a knee and bending his head.
“You can stand, and just call me Sebastian. Seeing how many embarrassing things you must know about me by now, it would feel a little grating to keep this pretense of formality.”
Conrad stared at him but didn’t change his position. “Galien must have said a thing or two. Not that I necessarily believed him,” he added hurriedly.
Sebastian narrowed his eyes. “What could he have possibly told you?” By embarrassing, he thought of his current position, wounded and weak, not of whatever Galien must have run his mouth about. “Speak,” he ordered when he saw that Conrad chose to remain silent.
“Some imagined incident concerning a certain flower supposed to grant the person eating it, um, certain benefits concerning his stature and ability to handle diplomatic conversations,” Conrad said, stumbling on his own words.
Sebastian gasped in disbelief. “He did not dare,” he said.
“He swears that he didn’t know it would have such an effect,” Conrad added in an appeasing tone.
Sebastian knew precisely what effect Galien remembered. He had been forced to sit through an entire day dedicated to welcoming delegations from all corners of the kingdom with his manhood at full mast, all the while dressed in relatively tight-fitting clothes. It had been an ordeal to endure. And at the end of it all, Galien had even dared to laugh and tease him over making a fantastic impression on the delegates. Sebastian was sure the diplomats hadn’t dared to comment on his state only because it would have meant going against the goddess who had made their blessed homes and coveted positions in the kingdom possible.
“I do not wish to learn anything more about what that good for nothing cousin of mine decided to share with you. And just stand already. All right,” he said quickly, “if it is possible for you to move unhindered to Kelonia and back, tell Galien that I need him to find Pepin and the heir to Ifigia. It is a matter of life and death. I will do my part, although I doubt Reya would have decided to keep Pepin in the dungeons here.”
Conrad stood erect like a soldier. “I will find Pepin for you, Your Majesty… I mean, Sebastian.”
“Good. Do so.”
Conrad made a move to go out the door. “Sebastian, about your wound--” he started.
Sebastian waved sharply. “We all do what we must. My wound is mine to bear.”
Conrad nodded and walked out without another word.
Sebastian slumped further in his chair. At least, he had allies. Reya was the embodiment of stubbornness, and Luna was at her beck and call. Galien and Conrad had to do for now.
And Fiana, he remembered. His aunt had power just as much as Reya, and she couldn’t be easily contained, certainly not like Galien, who was a mere mortal.
For now, he would rest a little. Too bad the only thing playing in front of his eyes as he closed them was how Milo had kissed him that last time. At least that pain was sweet, not bitter like the one in his chest.
The knock on the door didn’t surprise him. His mom came every evening to have a soul talk with him. Apparently, their parents, both his mom and Milo’s folks, believed them to have rebelled against bullies by their sudden disappearance as a warning that they were free beings who could do whatever they wanted. That was all some weird stuff that a bunch of psychologists specialized in teenage angst had told them.
Well, it had to do as well with how Tani, against his advice and any better judgment, had blurted out at their mom again that they had been isekai’d. She had also been caught lurking forums filled with people who claimed to have been hit by trucks and living a life of adventures in other realms.
“Is it about Tani?” he asked her directly.
His mom nodded and sat on his bed. “People told me she witnessed how you hit some kid with a stick over the face. And now she’s making all these things up. Did you hit that kid, Kai? That bully?”
Technically, no, so it wasn’t lying. “No,” he said promptly. “I have no idea why people say that. She didn’t witness anything traumatizing. But you know, she’s a teenage girl,” he added, full of importance as if he were some specialist in young girls’ behavior. “Next month, she’s going to say that the cutest guy from BHS is her soulmate and have you shopping together for her wedding dress.”
To his relief, his mom laughed softly. Ugh, good, she was buying it. Sorry for throwing you under the bus, Tani. At least, I’m not throwing you under truck-kun.
“I still wish you could tell me the truth,” his mom said. “About your disappearance. Your story and Milo’s don’t match up. We, the parents, talk to each other, you know?”
Well, they should have thought of having a bulletproof story to tell their parents before they got reverse-isekai’d. Now, there was that, and Kai couldn’t tell his mom that he was actually some sort of dad to an heir to the throne in a fantasy land. And that he would become one soon. He had no idea still how those things worked.
“Trust me, mom, you wouldn’t believe it,” he said without thinking.
His mom grabbed his shoulder and turned him toward her. “You should be the one to trust me.”
Kai just shook his head. “It has nothing to do with bullies, I swear. You have nothing to worry about.”
“I’ll always be right here,” his mom said. “Whenever you feel ready to tell me about it, because it surely feels like it changed you all.”
“What do you mean?” Kai asked, surprised by her words.
His mom brushed his hair out of his eyes and kissed his forehead. “You suddenly seem wiser and you’re really applying yourself. Milo’s parents say that they have never heard their son sighing so often or saw him daydreaming. And Tani, well, I suppose that she might just be a teenage girl, after all,” she joked. “Good night, baby.”
“Good night, mom,” Kai replied.
Sure thing, they were all changed. That was what getting isekai’d did to people.