This is a work in progress story I’m in the midst of outlining.
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Soul Transfer was not a spell I wished to be an unexpected recipient of. I also didn’t want to find myself blindfolded, bound in rope, floating who knows how high in the sky at the time I registered that baritone phrase flitting through my head. I could only hope that whoever transferred into my body didn’t land Gregory on the floor. I was in the middle of a Grande Jete and Gregory was going to catch. Whatever jerk took over my body had better be thanking me I’d been stretching for weeks to get that split perfect. Finding myself suspended, blindfolded, with blistering cold air rushing across my face, I wished I had left my tendons tight to spite the bastard.
At least I got a wish I had wanted since I was young. And I didn’t need surgery for it, or god knows how many years of therapy and hormone shots and waiting to reach the end of my professional career as a ballet dancer to transition. People ask that asinine question on social media of what you would do if you woke up as a different gender one day. Well. I’ve had the wrong equipment since the day I was born. I know that. I stand in front of mirrors for too many hours a day to recognize the stranger staring back at me as not quite right. You know what? Waking up as the correct physical sensation is pretty epic. Save for the probably going to die in five minutes part. And the general screaming. And really hoping I wasn’t about to die. That wasn’t how I thought I’d get this dream of mine.
The next weird thing to discover about myself in this new, precarious position I find myself in, outside of wondering if I will hear the words Soul Transfer again and end up missing my step and breaking my ankle, is the fact that I can reach a phenomenally high octave. I discovered this upon hearing a twang and subsequently plummeting to earth. I call it earth. I hit a variety of foliage and partially impaled several small twigs into my arms and bruised my ribs pretty good on the way to molded undergrowth and that cold slime of decaying leaves.
I guess when life wants to drop you into life, you just roll with it. Or fall with it. Now, the big arms and low muttering echoing against my side and being flipped over a shoulder and trounced about from the cold undergrowth to a sunny spot. That was outside of my five minutes of expectations I had come to with my new life at this point. Was I to anticipate my archenemy or my hero? Oh wait, what about frenemies? That’s a thing. My heart was quite certain it still was in the mood to pursue the I’m Going to Die train of thought. My brain was trying it’s hardest to convince it that there was the optimistic potential for this person to not be evil. Then there was the rest of my body that was floundering to not get banged about.
There’s this concept that time stretches when you’re scared, when you’re blind, or when you are experiencing something intense. Time doesn’t do any of that. Time’s a construct, an invention. No. What’s happening is you’re flipping out and thinking way too many things and that makes you feel like time slows down because you usually don’t think of that many runaway bunny paths at once. And time had slowed way down for me. There’s also the bit where the flip goes from way too much thought to numb empty brain-case where all you become aware of is the air escaping your lungs. I could not tell which one felt slower. I’m willing to say neither are pleasant, repeatable experiences I wish to be readily subjected to again in the near future.
About the time I had finally gotten used to the warm sun on my butt, the uncomfortable bobbing of being turned into a sack of meat and bones, and my abductor/savior’s belabored breathing was about the time I got chucked to the ground, this time, less wet than the forest floor.
“Seriously though, can you get the blindfold off first?” I asked while they hacked away at the encasement of ropes keeping me from crawling away like an inchworm. My abductor/savior, we’ll call them a/s for short, grumbled back something unrecognizable and I ended up with a sinking suspicion that whatever the other guy, who I will lovingly refer to as that asshole who Soul Transfered me did, they sure didn’t give me my babel fish. Look. I’m trans, well no, that got fixed with that spell, never the less pan, indifferent, and I’m still struggling with reminding myself during frustration and anger not to view the outer appearance of a person and assume a gender. Even that asshole who shoved me into a body that I’m not going to complain about right now. Everyone does deserve the respect of their preferred pronoun being recognized. Even when we hate them. And I could currently say I hate them. But it’s more of a hate love. I distinctly don’t like the fact this happened without my permission, but I’m also pretty okay with at least one factor of this outcome, for now. That may be reassessed in short order once a/s gets the blindfold off me.
Getting my arms bound to a tree on the other hand. Now we might just switch a/s to abductor instead of a/s. “What are you doing?” I demanded of my captor. Again, a babel fish or a techno-translator button would have been nice. Still nothing I could understand of tenor voice drop over here. A swift, forceful kick to the nuts did the job of getting the offender to unhand me when they went to town trying to cut my tunic to ribbons. I realized it was a tunic because it went a lot further down to cut than a shirt. The texture was also atrocious in hindsight. Some type of coarse material. Wool had to be out. That stuff was way to expense to consider affording, but something in that category of ungainly itch.
A soothing begging cadence of pitches elicited from abductor and the blindfold finally came off. Well, hello god. I at least got the full view of every romance writer’s dreams. Wide shoulders, dark hair, square jaw, chiseled features. You know the routine. Now, the accusatory look of pain and begging forgiveness that meshed together that made me feel a touch guilty at bringing abductor down a peg didn’t need to seep in.
That and the fact this body type was playing mean with the rest of me. Not something I wanted to learn how to control immediately. Thanks heart, you can go shut up about the sirens of ‘you’re going to die, you’re going to die, you’re going to die by this blob of handsome, but you’re still going to die.’ I realize I’m probably going to die, go tell it to my second brain, ‘cause it definitely has a mind of it’s own and is not welcome here at the moment.
“Fucking hell, let me go, you dick!” I struggled with the rope holding me to what turned out to be a rose quartz colored tree. The translucent pink was interesting. The ropes, those were futile.
Abductor returned a series of comments, eyebrows drawing up in confusion. The individual in the plate mail and ornate standards pointed toward my hands and then mimed a series of hand gestures. Question rise at the end of sentences. That left me trying to follow along with non logical idea. The hand gestures looked like a bunch of anime spell casting signs. I got isekai’d didn’t I?
One would think the rose quartz tree and the dollop of easy on the eyes would answer that as a definitive yes. The iridescent quintessential European style dragon with full wings. That did it. That answered all of my pressing questions. I was in a different world. Which left a whole hell of a lot of other questions, none of which were going to be answered by the individual who insisted on pointing at my hands. “They are stuck to a tree, Morgan. Stuck to a tree. If you want them, you’ll have to untie them. Also, explain to me about the dragon. And why it’s three feet tall, and acting like a labrador.” I took my panic down a couple of notches. Side note, I tend to call a lot of people Morgan. It’s my go to gender neutral name, rather than assuming sir or ma’am or xerster. I find titles like that more sarcastic. Maybe not the most polite of things to do, but I couldn’t outright keep calling tall, dark, and good looking abductor or dick. I mean, I could, but it wasn’t going to do much for either of us.
For want of a better name, Morgan crept over to my side, continuous with the gestures, and the calming, quieting tone, at least, I was hoping it was that type of tone. I watched warily as they cut away one of the ropes, letting my left hand free. They brought up their hand to block their face almost immediately and ducked. Most people think I’m weird with my body language observation. Morgan was breaking every running list of what to expect from a person I have constantly scrolling through my head in preparation of interaction with people. One hand free, I went after the other rope to get it off. There’s something to be said about Morgan’s efficient knot tying skills, and why they depend so heavily on their knife. The rope wasn’t going to come off if I wanted it too. Which I desperately wanted to.
This is where everything started going haywire in my brain. My brain is pretty haywire to begin with. World doesn’t quite process like everyone else’s does. It really wasn’t processing correctly now. Little blue sparks were flicking away from my skin like electric water droplets. I stopped struggling with the rope to fixate on the randomness I was seeing. Rose quarts trees, labrador sized dragons, armored Morgan. Those seemed relatively unassuming with this transpiration. I glanced in Morgan’s direction. “So, why’ve I gone all sparkly, Morg?”
Morgan had backed up a good several paces from me at this point and the red dragon puppy had sat back on it’s haunches, spread it’s wings out wide, and was emitting a low hum, resulting in a lime plasma transparent shield of some kind around Morgan. Clearly neither human nor beast was about to help me out of this situation. While studying my sparking fingers, I noticed a bit of black smudging on my chest under my tunic. Grass green tunic. Shelve that. The grass here was redolent amber. Gold embroidery. My chest was just right for once, save for the sigils I found beneath the ribbons of wool. “What is this?” I demanded, realizing I probably would not receive an answer. Warped circles and zaggy lines radiated all over me. I rubbed at the lines, the soot coming away on my finger tips. Which made Morgan even more agitated.
“No, wait, what are you doing?” Morgan asked.
I met their eyes, a deep hazel shade, at that question before flicking back to the sigils. “What do you mean what am I doing.You’re the one that bound me to a tree. And why do I understand you now? Who the hell are you and where am I?” I rubbed my hand against khaki leggings in an effort to dispel the soot that was leaving my skin feeling dry and brittle.
“Wait. What have you been saying? I thought you were casting some long ass spell, Wallace!” Morgan bristled. “If you aren’t going to torch me, I’ll let you free.”
“What do you mean torch? Not directing the sparkly fingers at you. Wallace? Wait, this body’s name is Wallace?” I’m not sure what was more nauseating, the color of my leggings or the fact my name was Wallace. Bad combination of sounds if there ever was a series of sounds mashed together. Save for the weird crooning sound of the dragon when Morgan went around it’s little barrier. Thing sounded absolutely pathetic.
“You are Prince Wallace Mark Demare or did that fall from the Wraith sprain your brain?” Morgan asked, coming over to release my other hand.
I rubbed at my wrist to return circulation, the sparkly fingers dissipating. “Yo, I’m a prince of nothing. I got switched into this body. My name is Lacey McNamara and your prince is not occupying this husk at the moment. Grant it, I rather like this husk, but you’ll probably want to find somebody to switch us back.” I explained.
Morgan flopped on their butt, their metal armor clanking. The blank expression, that I could relate to. The one that said all the lightbulbs had just turned off. “He really ran off and left this world like he promised.”
“Is he liable to come back?” I asked. “I don’t mean to rush things along, but I kind of was in the middle of practice for a performance tomorrow night and if he got switched into my place, he sure as hell isn’t about to perform anything properly.”
“What do you remember of what happened? When did it happen? Was it back when the Raturdash captured you? You knew I’d come for you, why didn’t you just wait for me to get you down?” Morgan begged, grasping my hands, pulling my attention.
I tugged for freedom, not liking the close proximity. “First off, Morgan, let’s make sure you remember I’m not your you. Call me Mac if you must, but I’m not Wallace. Second, space. Thanks.”
“Why are you calling me Morgan?” Tall dark and confused asked, letting go when blue sparks zinged off to fizzle in the air.
“What else am I going to call you at the moment? Abductor and dick are off the list. I still don’t even have a proper pronoun for you for my internal monologuing. Can we get that fixed?” I shoved my hands under my armpits to keep them from being touched again.
“Abductor?” Morgan’s voice pitch went up a notch. “Wait, dick? Well, no, you’ve called me that enough times.”
“Name?” I asked again.
“I’m your stepbrother, Rowan, ring a bell?”
“I’m not Wallace, ring a bell?”
“Oh. Right. Okay. Um. So. Wallace is my stepbrother. You’re in Wallace’s body,” Rowan explained.
“Pronoun?” I asked.
“The one you prefer people using when referring to you?”
“Uh, he, I guess? That’s never been something someone’s thought to ask me,” he surmised.
“Is it the one you want?” I asked.
“I’m not sure I understand?”
“I’m just trying to play nice by societal dictates on how I’m supposed to treat people and not misgender them. I’m good with any pronoun outside of it, thank you. Now where am I and why am I occupying your prince’s body?” I pressed “Also, where can I go to get this gunk off of me? I don’t like the textures. It’s bugging me and I’d much rather not deal with the wool crap.” I rose unsteadily in the body that was about a foot taller than my regular form. Oh was I going to be a clutsy new born giraffe or what?
Rowan grabbed for me before I could crash to the fossilized tree sap coloured ground. I sagged against his height, and worked to keep my stomach in it’s place as the world around me spun in an unyielding kaleidoscope. “Your world is freaking weird, Rowan. Not meaning to diss on it, I’m just not used to the idea of see through trees.”
“See through? What do you mean by that?” Rowan glanced around at the couple of trees in the courtyard I found myself in. The bricks were swimming blocks of glass and water, glowing black creatures slithering between the edges.
“Everything? Like what’s with the things in the walls? They have three hearts. They’re ticking away like tiny red meteors.” I tried to explain, but the longer I stared at the strangers, the worse my head felt for it.
“The walls are stone. They’ve always been stone, Wal-Mac. Sorry. Uh. It’s grey. That’s all I’m seeing. Here.” He led me over to an archway that led into a part of what turned out to be a castle complex. “See, they’re solid.” He rapped his knuckle on the see through blue blocks. The little black creatures, their bright yellow eyes too big for their slender little heads, dashed away, their red hearts pounding. Waves bounced around, sending light rays dazzling about the courtyard, shimmering through the grasses and trees.
“Yeah, that’s not what I’m seeing here, knight,” I quipped, touching the block. My hand slid through it into a thick, cold liquid. My skin shimmered in the blue. The little creatures scurried toward me in excitement. They twisted and wiggled around my hand and I pulled one clear as fast as it took for Rowan to put substantial distance between himself and me. “So, what are the weird black newts?” I held my hand up for him to look at it.
His color said he was about ready to wretch as the slimy thing desperately tried to escape my grasp. I shoved it back into the brick where it scurried away to hide in a writhing mass of others like it. “So, what am I not seeing and what are you seeing?” I turned back to him, ringing the drops of liquid off my hands from the creature and the bricks.
Stammering, he worked to compose himself before giving up. He ushered me through a pair of cobbled courtyards, past a blacksmith forge and stables and into the great hall of what looked to be a see through 12th century castle. “Where the hell did you go, Wallace, and who the hell did you leave in your place?” he muttered under his breath as he pressed me up the stairs, through a maze of hallways and up through a tower.
At intervals, this tower contained a series of floors, each one crammed with books and a pedestal to set them upon. The hide binding on each one wiggled and stretched at my passing. The smell of the creatures used to create them left the rooms smelling of a barnyard. “I’d like to know where your Wallace went too. I’d like a refund. He sees some weird shit.” I muttered back as we entered the top most room where a bedroom, a blocked off corner led to a chamberpot and larger bathing tub, and a cloth covered mirror. A massive swirl of brilliant paint in concentric circles and stars burst across the rose quartz floor boards.
“Everything still strange in here?” Rowan held tight to both of my shoulders, trying to get me to look at him. A sinking pit inched it’s way through my chest at the affront to my personal space while I glanced about the room. A set of maids were working in a different room way below the tower. The hills spread out around us. The sun ticked past noon, throwing rainbow sparks through the foliage. It was too much.
“Let go,” I hissed. A clap of thunder in the distance and he was plastered against the far wall where the black newts crawled out of the water bricks to hold tight to the man in plate armor.
“We’re taking that as a yes,” he swallowed, his face going sallow.
“What is Wallace, and where am I?” I clung to the shreds of my tunic if only to have something to hide my nervous fingers in.
“He thought he could become a wizard,” Rowan admitted as the black newts let him slide down the wall.
“Thought, more like was. He’s awful powerful.” I stalked off to a table with a pitcher and basin. Hunting around, I found a wash cloth and pulled my tunic off to wash off the black smudges.
“You’re not him. He’s never been able to do more than make fire drops. Grant it, that can be terrifying when most of your flooring is based on grass. You just pulled a Mander from a wall. You trapped me with a word, and not a spell. You didn’t summon anything through chants or wards. He’d memorize for days to get fire drops. Who the hell are you?” Rowan demanded.
“I’m a ballet dancer from New York! Well, from the midwest. This was going to be my first season as a backup dancer.” I pulled the sheet from the mirror to see if I had gotten all the black soot off. What I saw looking back at me was not what I had expected.
Me. The skin me. Not the real me. The me that had stared back at me in the mirror since I was little. The expression, that serene one on the verge of laughter. Tracing the mirror edge, the surface rippled and fingers touched. “You seem happier on that side,” the mirror me whispered, the one that’s grin would crawl into it’s eye when I would stare too long.
“Wallace,” I hissed at the twisting maleficence.
“Didn’t take you very long to figure it out. Rowan there with you, I see,” the woman in the tutu strutted on point, clumsily I might add.
“You’re seeing this idiot in the mirror, right, knight?” I couldn’t tear my gaze away from the dressing room mirror.
“What are those lights?” he pointed out the fluorescent bulbs ringing a set of mirrors across from my mirror. There I stood, the masculine me, the prince in little more than a pair of braise and chausses, trapped in the mirror behind the woman in the tutu. “What is she wearing?”
“You know it’s a one in a billion chance to find your soul mate?” The woman in the dressing room mused.
“I sure as hell am not your soul mate, you fucking banana,” I gritted my teeth.
“And why not? Your soul fit into me just fine, and I you. I rather like this body. It feels better than the one I was in before. And you? Do you not like your new one?” she tiptoed around bags of gear, petticoats, tossed undergarments.
“Enjoy the cramps, bastard. You’re expecting them in two days. And I’m not telling you where the ibuprofen is,” I seethed.
“Now you sound like a proper wizard there. I have no idea what you’re spouting off about.” She settled onto a stool in front of the mirror to preen.
“Reverse it. Put me back. I might find this body acceptable, but you didn’t ask and I sure as hell didn’t say yes to this whole soul transfer thing!” I was liable to grind my teeth into powder at this rate.
“Can’t do that, dear. You see? There’s this thing with soul transfers. You have to die to do it.” She smiled, pink lip gloss reflective under the dressing room lights.
“Die?” I asked skeptically. “So, what are you saying, this is heaven or something? I’m not finding my golden brick road.”
“It took me forever to find that spell, and figure it out. Count yourself lucky. Now we both get a second chance.” She snapped her clear plastic straps to relieve the red welts forming in her shoulders. “Now, explain why all of your clothing feels awful.”
“Died. Come back to died there for a second, honey. You get to live in hellish clothes if you’re going to continue being the me everyone expects, so just deal with it. I’m processing the died part. What the hell do you mean died?” I poked at the mirror. The glass rippled beneath my fingers.
“You know. That thing where your brain and heart stopped functioning? Yeah. If you have a soul mate, you’re likely to be able to swap places with the right spell when the soul leaves the body.”
“I died?” I tried again.
“You and me both.”
“You were bound up in rope floating off into nowhere before your stepbrother got me down!”
“Rowan’s good like that. I think you both will get along well.”
“So, if I find a way to die again, we’ll both switch back?” I asked.
“Nope, it needs to be a pure accident, and unintentionally planned.”
“You just said there was a spell for this. You distinctly said Soul Transfer in my head.”
“I see you wiped away my spell.” She pointed at my bare chest. I looked down at where the sigils had been. “Hey it had to be an accident. I didn’t say I wasn’t prepared for one.” She shrugged, pouting her lips.
“I’m going to kill Wallace, Rowan. That all right by you?” I turned to the man standing next to me.
“I’m not sure how you’d be able to do that.” He was accepting this too easily.
“Like this.” I drove my hands into the mirror and encircled my soul’s original body’s throat and dragged her back to the mirror. Sadly I couldn’t pull her through. Her head made a wonderful thunking sound on the glass though.
“Oye, lay off, you angry Pendragon! I can’t come completely through the mirror and you can’t come over to this side! Why are you such a vulgar fiend! I thought you were dainty, lovely, rather serine. What did I exchange my soul with, a pit of lava?” she demanded.
“You exchanged it with someone who was barely on the verge of civility at any given moment, you quack wizard! Put me back!”
“But we’re soul mates. We fit! I can’t put you back, you already had your one death shot. You die again, there isn’t another soul mate to transfer to. That’s it. You die. Caput. No more wheels, heavens, reincarnations. Now that last one is arguable, but you have to get your soul wiped clean.”
“Great, some useless heap of judgement factory resets us. Ok. So this is my body now then. Not yours. No longer yours. I can do whatever the hell I want with it and you don’t get a say in it anymore, right? Is that what I’m getting out of this? You set some kind of seal on yourself and the moment you died you switched bodies with me because I what, missed and Gregory dropped me and I died?” I qualified.
“It is now entirely yours. You got a free pass to be someone else. And yes, Gregory tripped, snapped his achilles and now I’ve got a wonderful sore spot at the base of my neck.” She cracked her neck for the emphasis.
“And how did I die then, this body that I’m standing in, not the one you’re occupying.”
“Got me. I got caught. I always was a sickly child. The doctors said it had to do with miasmas and that my heart never quite worked like it should. Who knows. So, best suggestion is tame that temper if you want to keep the old thumper running proper.”
“Am I going to end up seeing you every freaking time I look in a mirror?” I was tired of this person and amazed Wallace had been helped into living as long as I think my new body was.
“No. Just that one. It hooks into anywhere where I have a mirror though, so you can usually find me if I’m near anything shiny,” she told me.
“You. You’ve been watching me all my life?” Outrage is a funny word. It doesn’t actually define that gulf of cold hatred that seeps into your bones. Or maybe that was the drops of frozen water sweating out of my skin.
“Not all of it. Just in the last year or two when I found the spell. It’s what’s on the back of the mirror if you spin it around. Found it squandered away in dad’s horde. Have you met the parents?”
“Have you met mine?”
“No, can’t say that I have.”
“Yeah, you’re gonna have fun with that. I’ll find you when I need you.” I pulled the sheet over the mirror and sank to the floor. Burying my head in my hands I worked to push the anxious foreboding in my gut out if only to save myself from the fluttering in my chest. “You’re taking this well,” I muttered at Rowan.
“If I think about it too long, I’m probably going to have a nervous breakdown and I don’t have time for that right now, so we’re just going to let this happen, have you make it for your sister’s birthday party, and pretend nothing is wrong. Then I’m going to abandon you for a couple hours, slip down the pub, and wash this whole mess out with a large keg of ale and come to in the morning having forgotten all about this nightmare.” He replied.
“Take me with you. I need something to wash out this nightmare.”
“Nope, you get to deal with Priscilla yourself. She’s your blood sister.”
“Her name’s Priscilla?”
“Who the hell was given permission to name people in this country?”
“That would be the archdioceses, and he doesn’t much like you.”
“I don’t much like him either.”
“Then you’ll get along just fine in this family.”
“I’m not sure that’s reassuring.”
“Wasn’t meant to be.”
“You’re not joking. You’re seriously going to just leave me here?” I hissed between my teeth. Rowan and I stood in front of a pair of imposing doors. Laughter and the timbre of feet and music scratched along my nerve endings.
“Priscilla hates my guts. Hate’s Quimer. Hate’s everything that isn’t flashy. She only barely tolerates you because you make fire drops for her. Wait, no, well, Wallace makes fire drops for her on her birthday as entertainment.” Rowan pushed strands of dark curls from his face.
“A. You aren’t allowed to freaking be handsome. B. Is she a spoiled brat? C. What are fire drops? The weird blue things I do when you’re in my face?” I tugged at the neckline of the new wool tunic I’d been forced into.
Rowan coughed at the comment. “Wait what?”
“Spoiled brat. That’s what she is, isn’t she?” I glared at the massive smithed hinges.
“That’s not what you first said.”
“Handsome. Not allowed. Too many inputs, I can’t take you in the midst of all the noises and textures and dealing with crowds. How many people are in there? Who am I supposed to be talking to. What about these parents?” Questions crowded out my senses. The world was turning into a pinpoint throb behind my breastbone.
“Handsome. That’s what I thought I heard you say. You’re my step brother!” He quipped.
“Body is. Mind is not. There’s the distinct word ‘step’ involved too, so other than your parent and this body’s parent shacking up to make good ol’ Prissy pants in there, you and I ain’t got anything in common. Might as well let you hate me now for finding you fuckable. Would rather not face that pain later.” I shrugged.
Rowan smothered his face in his hands and sighed. “We’re coming back to this. I am not mentally prepared for it. Mom and dad. You can figure that out pretty quick. They’re gonna be dressed the best out of everyone. Save for Priscilla.”
“Is there any way to drag them out here so I don’t have to go in there?” I fiddled with the wrinkles of my tunic. “And who’s your parent and who’s mine?”
Rowan paused, listening to the clamor on the other side of the doors. At least he could make heads or tails of what was going on. “My mom, your dad. Reason’ you’re the prince, and I’m just a paladin.”
“Wait, so you actually are older than me, like I thought?” I paused.
“That’s your qualifier for being a prince? Age?” Rowan raised a hand as if to protect himself from a miasma.
“It was a wild guess on how the royal lineage worked. I mean, we could go with patrilineal, matrilineal, parent’s choice, prophecy. As it is, am I supposed to be heir apparent, or Priscilla, or you? I’m a prince. You’re a paladin. That doesn’t actually mean I’m gonna be king one day necessarily. I mean, we kinda just figured out I died and got swapped, so, there is that.” I was stalling, and he knew it.
Rubbing the bridge of his nose, Rowan sighed. “Get your butt in there, Mac.”
“Nope. I go in there, I’m coming out a peasant.” I planted myself firmly so that the doors couldn’t be opened out toward me.
“The hell you mean by that?” Rowan snapped.
“I walk in there, I’m telling them I’m not me. I’ll tell them about the soul switch spell.” I crossed my arms.
“Why would you even do that? That makes no sense! You have a palace. Money. Access to books. Why would you go throwing all that away? Don’t people wish to become you?” Rowan rounded on me, grasping me by the shoulders.
“No touchy!” I hissed, sending him down the hall.
Raising his head from the floor he waived in surrounder. “Sorry, forgot. I’m stuck. A bit of help here.”
I slouched and dragged myself down the hall to where Rowan was plastered. The little Manders were all over him. “Oye. Beasties. Get off him.” The black newt creatures swiveled around to fix me with their golden orb eyes before scuttling back into the water stones.
“Now you’re talking to Manders. Yeah, mom’s not going to believe this. Well. I mean, she will if you go pulling one out of the wall again. Priscilla will have a fit. Did you call her Prissy pants?” Rowan rolled over to stare up at me.
“Spoiled brat. Yeah. I hate dealing with people who expect me to be something I’m not. It feels wrong and exhausting. Did that enough back home. I’m no prince, Rowan.” I squatted down on my heels next to him. “So what am I supposed to be?”
“Successor.” He sat up, laying his hands on his knees to study them. “Maybe not,” he muttered.
“How so?” I cocked my head, wondering about the tack-on addition.
“You know what you said about a prophecy?” He stood and brushed himself off.
“Nope. Not doing it. I ain’t no hero. Not gonna be some prophecy King Arthur. Can’t do it. Can’t make me.” I rooted myself to the ground. The Manders came out of the floor to slither over my feet.
“If I say it’ll get you out of the party?” He bribed.
“Yeah, no. You want me to be some kind of prophecy and money hasn’t worked and you’re thinking I’d do it to get out of a party? I’m not an idiot.” I held fast.
“Not what I meant. Though, the fact you didn’t fall for that shows you really aren’t Wallace at all, Mac. What I meant is, if I show you a book about this prophecy, I can get you out of the party. Not like it will get you out of other responsibilities.” Rowan tried again.
“Let me guess. Some old witch came across some omen that prophesied there’d be a person who would reveal great powers this world had never seen before and it would be some second coming. There’d be demons. This person with powers would take out the big bad guys and become some top dog that would reform the entirety of the cultural and political system. Peace would spread across the lands. Yad yad yad.” I guessed. The sallow green on Rowan’s face told me I probably hit the mark.
I grabbed Rowan’s hand and turned him to the hall leading towards the kitchens and the rest of the castle keep. “Show me this prophecy so you don’t feel completely shamed for this.”
“But. Wait. How did you? You’re not…?” Rowan blubbered.
“Where I come from, this is called an Isekai trope. Who’s the evil thing that’s leading to the kingdom’s downfall? Why is it evil?” I motioned for him to start leading the way.
“You’re scary. You know that, right?” He turned us down a narrow hallway that led to a damp staircase.
“That’s not news to me. Now, what’s with a ruling royal class if there’s some prophecy? Placeholders? Wouldn’t it just be bizarrely convenient for a royal to retain their position by their child being the prophecy?” I slipped on a stone stair and slid onto my butt. The Mander rose to keep me from breaking my coxis and turned themselves into a tidal wave slide that took me to the base of the stairs.
“Wal-Mac! Are you okay?” Rowan’s voice echoed down behind me. I found myself in a cobbled dungeon like room.
“Yo, you keep Druagr down here or something? It’s creepy!” I called back up. The water walls still hadn’t solidified into any type of grey stone like Rowan kept telling me. Due to being underground, they were a dark cast though, which wasn’t exactly pleasant in it’s own right.
“Definitely not. The palace has been blessed by the archdiocese to keep away those creatures. Why? Find something?” Rowan emerged from the staircase.
“Nope. What’s down here anyway?” I got up off my butt and followed Rowan to a rack of torches. He lit one and pointed me towards a hallway that shot off from the room back toward the great hall.
“Most of Wallace’s darker works he acquired. Feels weird talking about him in past tense with you standing right here.” Rowan drew up to another door. He took a ring of keys from a pouch at his hip and flipped through the stack until one fit the door lock. Swinging in with a creak, the door revealed a black hole. Popping my head around the frame, I found a series of ruby clear wooden crates, each bearing a gold painted magic seal. Leaning down, I peered through the crates to see what each contained.
“What am I looking for? Scroll, book? This one’s got a whole human skeleton in it,” I pointed to one box. Rowan paled at the comment.
“Thin book. Dark blue, leather bound, old.” He crept into the room after me and avoided the chest with the skeleton.
“This one’s got clothes and a book.” I motioned him to one burried under a stack of five chests, all filled with cast iron cooking pots and pans. “Didn’t make this either.” I went to try lifting the first of the boxes and found it outrageously heavy.
“Here, matchstick, move.” Rowan pulled me away from the boxes and got the stack disassembled.
“Matchstick?” I scoffed.
“Fits better than Strawman. Remind me to keep you away from the armory.” The paladin extracted the main box in question and set it in front of my feet. “No key hole?”
“Nope, but there is a mechanism built into it.” I flopped to the slimy stone floor and regarded the complex gear bundle holding down the lid. True to fact, there was no key per say, but a path of colored lines that circled the top of the box that looked like a twisted Tsuro game. “Strawman was your nickname for Wallace?”
Rowan scratched at his neck and grunted a positive reply. “Do you really want to be called Mac? I mean, well. It’s my father’s name, and I think mother will feel weird if I start calling you that.”
I stalled my tracing as the labyrinth distorted on the lid. I had gone down the wrong path. “You’ve probably told Wallace your whole history or at least she knew most of the stories through other information. Is the name a tender topic?”
The paladin sank to a chest to watch me wipe the tile locks back into their jumbled pieces. I stood up and traced the tiles with my eyes this time instead of my fingers, waiting on the labyrinth in my head to turn over. Rowan replied when I started tracing again. “Um. Well. Yeah. Father was your dad, I mean Wallace’s dad’s best friend. He died of a battle wound a few weeks after you were born. Your mom died in childbirth. Somehow this seemed to make sense to the king that he could marry my mom so he would be taking care of his best friend’s wife and it just seems really odd when I have to talk about it. Mom never got over my dad. She took up the title because your dad said he could pay for her health and future that way if she would raise you. Then along came Pricilla.”
“That sucks. That sucks all the way around. You sure it was a battle wound?” I asked.
Glowering he regarded me under thick brows. “What do you mean by that?”
I shrugged, making it through half the locks this time. “Meh. Enough stories I grew up with. Guy kills his best friend to get his girl, or wife. Sounds sketchy to me on first hearing it.”
Rowan rose, crowding my working space. “You don’t know what you’re talking about!”
“No. I don’t. I just have no emotional connection to either of these people. So, coming at the story from a logical point of view, I would question if the king sent your dad into battle just so he could have your mom. If the way some of these monarchical societies work, she probably didn’t own the house she lived in and she had no job with which to support herself without ending up on the street doing something she’d rather not.” The lock clicked free and the lid slid sideways.
“He wouldn’t! He’d never…” He sank back to his crate, horror dropping his shoulders as he buried his head into his hands.
“That didn’t take long for you to doubt.” I pulled out a set of cloaks, tunics, and leggings, all in black. Rowan, rendered mute, stared at my feet, blinking here and there with a small shake of his head and a rise of his shoulder as thoughts tumbled around in his brain. Near the bottom of the chest, I extracted the thin little tome. The gilt lettering had worn clean off. What was left behind held minimal clues as to what the title had been once upon a time.
Flipping the binding open I found worn velum and hand sketched illustrations. The script was jagged and hurried, quil splatters and redactions. I slowed, a sense of foreboding running up my spine. Setting the book away I went to the clothing, holding up the tunics one by one. They would have fitted Rowan’s frame with a bit of room. They would swamp me.
“This prophecy, Rowan?” I asked, setting away my assumptions and the tunics to hurry through the book.
“That prophecy.” He nodded to the book, though his gaze lay fixated on the black linen.
Glancing across the pages, my gut dropped. “Where did this prophecy come from?”
Rubbing one thumb with the other, the man opposite me drew in a breath. “A witch.”
“More please.” I motioned him to cough up what nerve racking detail was buried in his chest.
“One that came to my father before he married. She made him write it all down over the course of a week while he was trapped in her hut during a blizzard. That was her exchange for sharing her food and her home.” Rowan turned his focus to the book.
“This is no hero’s prophecy.” I handed it to him. He took it carefully, his thumb sliding into a worn indent.
“It is a prophecy.” He held the book to his chest, inhaling the smell.
“Why did Wallace have this hidden in a chest?” I asked.
“He didn’t. This is Wallace’s storage chamber. I asked him to hold onto my dad’s old chest when mom gave it to me on my fifteenth birthday. Dad used to read the prophecy to me. Then, when he left the last time, he put it away in the box. I haven’t seen it since I was six.” Rowan’s fingers were turning into a death grip on the leather binding.
“I’m not the villain of this story.” I slid the lid of the box back into place and sat down.
“No. I am.” Rowan met my eyes.