“I’m so sorry, my sweetie.” The woman who claimed to be my mother sighed. “I sent that woman to comfort you. I couldn’t imagine that she would actually make an attempt on your life. First the poisoning, then this. Truly, this castle is full of snakes.”
We were sitting at a table that had been set up in my room. It was done with the snap of a finger by this Queen. There was now tea and some strange biscuits set on the tray and she was enjoying a cup as if we did this regularly. It took the help of a servant, but I managed to sit next to her. One nearly-naked servant stood by ready to pour more tea, and the other stood nearby, ready to catch me if I fell. Both seemed to be made of sterner stuff than the one who had been caring for me. They didn’t flinch at all and their movements were impeccable.
“Mother, do I have any other… harem members, I should be concerned about.” I asked, my eyes twitching over calling this strange woman mother.
“You currently have two left. The first has been around slightly less than the first. She is more docile though, so I believe she will not attempt to kill you.”
I could only take a sip of tea to keep from grimacing. “Fantastic.”
“There is one other.” She said, not noticing the tone of my voice. “She has never met you before She came in about a month ago, and I have been keeping her at a distance. She does not know about your poisoning. However, the delaying tactics are getting a bit much. She’s a very… well… she’s a Bule, and very vocal about her displeasures. You would need to train her with a firm hand to make her obedient.”
“Train her? She’s not an animal…” I said.
The woman gave me a blank look like she didn’t understand what I meant in the slightest. Sighing, I picked up one of the biscuits and bit into it. It tasted dry to me.
“What of my fiancée?” I asked. “Do I have a woman I’m going to marry?”
The Queen dropped her spoon that she was using to stir her tea and silence permeated the room. I finally looked up to see the stern look on her face. However, she didn’t seem able to meet my eyes for very long. She lowered them and sighed.
“Your job as a prince is to create an heir. You must produce a male offspring. The sooner, the better.”
I could only cover my mouth and hide a wry smile. Regrettably, I had already lucked out and had every male offspring I could. It’d be a miracle if I produced one in the next fifty years. Then again, that was another men, in another world. Was I even in the same world anymore?
“Are men… rare?” I asked, a spike of nervousness shooting through me.
The Queen blinked as if completely surprised by my question. “My son, you are exceedingly rare. Men are only born once for every thousand offspring. In our entire country, there are only a few thousand men.”
I let out a low breath of relief, my stomach feeling like it was dropping to the floor. This world was the same world. No, I still didn’t know that for certain, but it was a lot closer to being true than a moment before. At the very least, this world had the same rules as my last world, but what were the chances I reincarnated to two different worlds with the same problem? That had to mean I was in the same world that Clyburn was in. I still wasn’t going to mention Amaryllis. That was giving away too much information to this woman, and I didn’t trust her.
Breathing slightly easier, I continued to question this woman while she was still forthcoming with answers. “You were saying? I must create a male offspring? How is this related to the woman I marry?”
I realized that if this was a world where men were rare, it’s possible I wouldn’t get married. Except, this culture already distinctly had something known as a harem. Why bother with making a distinction if there was no wife? Furthermore, how else did this woman become queen, if not for marrying my, well, his father? I wasn’t ready to associate myself with this new personality yet, especially since I contained none of his memories.
“Right…” Mother gave me a gentle smile. “As the prince, you have no official requirement to marry. I myself was your father’s concubine before I became queen. I am Queen now because you are the prince and I am your mother. When you have a male heir, you will retire into the council and work alongside your father and grandfather.”
“My father?” My eyes widened a bit.
I supposed there was no reason I wouldn’t have a father in this world. Even my grandfather was still alive.
“Yes… he is most eager for you to join him in the council.” Mother smiled. “In the case of your father, he did indeed marry me, and we continued to produce children for a while after. However, we have little to do with each other in all but name now.”
“So, I will marry the woman who gets pregnant with a male baby?”
The Queen sighed, gently pursing her full lips. “You, my baby, I know are a bit different from other men. I never expected you to fall for just any woman. It was at that point that I started grooming someone just for you. She was to be your perfect wife, trained to serve you in every capacity.”
“Was?” I caught the sense of loss in her voice. “What happened to her?”
“Two months ago…” The Queen had a sad look in her eyes. “She tried to poison you, my prince.”
“R-really?” I gasped.
“She was your sister. I thought she would be the most loyal and most obedient. But in the end, she was the one who poured poison into your cup and watched as you chocked nearly to death.”
She wasn’t just my fiancée, she was also my sister? A flash of a young Hannah slipped through my mind. I didn’t hate the girl. I didn’t even feel afraid of her. Hannah had also done some questionable things. What could I say, I had a weakness for sisters.
“Where is she now?” I asked quietly.
“I had her put in the dungeons. She remains there until this day. I awaited your fate to decide her punishment. However, now that my son is alive, I think it is most suiting if you decide the fate of your sister, don’t you think.”
No matter how much I tried to reject it, images of my sisters from my old life were flying through my head. Were they okay? What were they doing now? If they got wind of my death, they could be crying their eyes out right now. Hannah would assuredly do something destructive, while Madison would hide in her room and become a recluse. What about Rose and my children? They would grow up without a father!
No… that was normal in this world. They’d likely grow up more normal than most. Mako! My hands tightened on the cup. I hadn’t thought of it, but Mako had a contract with me. Upon my death, Mako’s life would be…
“Oh, my sweetie!”
The glass had shattered in my hand. Shards of it dug into my flesh and it was bleeding onto the table. The guard nearby was almost instantaneous with the cloth and the woman who called herself my mom immediately had my hand, picking out shards of glass without a care for her own sake. I could only wait while she fixed me up.
If I was truly dead, then that meant that Mako’s life would have similarly been harmed. Wait, but it was also a soul-binding spell. My soul, if that’s what I could call it, was still on this planet. I didn’t know for certain if Mako was dead. There was some room for doubt. With that, I started to relax at least a little bit. A maid instantly brought out a bowl and my hand was cleaned and bandaged in a moment.
“Is there some problem with having your sister in the dungeon?” The Queen asked worriedly, not realizing where my mind had gone a moment before.
“Ah… actually, if it is not too much trouble, I would like to see my sister.”
The Queen paused, but then slowly nodded. “Yes… I suppose after being poisoned, you don’t want to beat around the bush much longer.”
I actually didn’t have any anger towards this sister who poisoned me. I didn’t have any memory of her or my previous life. The more things I found out about it, the more I wondered if that might actually be a blessing. In a way, her murdering my former host’s body only paved the way for me to come here, and wiping his memory stopped me from executing some of the same cruelty that he had. Would I have still been me if I had his mind mixed with the other two?
That was a terrifying thought I hadn’t considered with Clyburn. I sort of just was one day, a cross between the 35-year-old man and the 12-year-old boy, neither mature nor innocent. Did that mean that the real Clyburn, the one that would have lived that life, was gone? And what about the 35-year-old me? I had always taken it for granted that I died.
As I considered these dark thoughts, the Queen made some hand movements towards the maid staff. There seemed to be an entire language that she was able to speak through gestures. This one had them cleaning me up and getting me dressed to leave. I was stripped in front of that woman, bathed, and then dressed in silk garments. The maids were extremely thorough, but I made sure to avoid looking at them, as they were still almost completely naked in garment.
Luckily, I had experience with this in my old residence. Being forcibly washed or dressed, let alone watched by women, wasn’t something that phased me much anymore. I had been raped in front of a crowd of man-hating WRA members, I could deal with being looked at in uncomfortable situations. As for my mother, she wore a stern expression that didn’t even give me the opportunity to complain about it. Well, they were getting me ready to see this sister of mine, so I didn’t have any complaints.
When they finished, I was placed in a wheelchair which looked a bit fancier than standard, with some unnecessary weaving and cushioning. I sat and it was one of the maids that pushed me while the Queen walked beside. The hallways were decorated much like my room, covered in an assortment of beautiful rugs and extravagant art. We occasionally passed others that worked in the castle, but once they noticed our group, they would all fall to their knees and lower their heads, not looking up again until we had passed. Even my old life hadn’t been at this level of worship. I didn’t know how I felt about it.
We headed to what appeared to be a lift. I wondered vaguely if it was a magical lift or a mechanical one. Knowing this world, it was likely a combination of the two. It probably was just a standard pulley system, but it was powered through the use of magic. The elevator took us down, and I could tell it was more than a few flights of stairs before we reached this place. This must be the castle’s dungeon. As soon as we rolled out, I could feel the oppressive damp coldness. It was a place I really didn’t want to find myself.
A little sister of mine had been placed in this dungeon for two months. I couldn’t imagine the condition she was in. We headed down the corridors where there were cells after cells. The castle didn’t seem to house too many guests, thankfully, so this sister of mine must have been one of a few exceptions. It was about a two-minute walk when we finally reached the cell and stopped. I was immediately turned to face the cell.
The smell was not particularly pleasant, and I could tell that prisoners weren’t afforded basic plumbing. I didn’t see a bucket either, but I didn’t want to dwell on the repercussions of that too long. Squinting into the darkness, I saw a small form curled up in the corner. It was a girl who looked about 14 or 15, with black hair, pale brown skin, and a few features that reminded me of her mother. I immediately reached out, but when I saw the maid next to me, tense, I dropped my hand from reaching the bar.
Finally, the girl realized she had company as she looked up. “M-mother?”
Her voice came out in such a light and mournful tone, that it instantly melted my heart. The girl herself was very filthy, but in her prime, she would have been pretty. I couldn’t help but lean forward.
“Sister…” I spoke softly.
She was squinting her eyes, the light of the lantern in my sister’s eyes was too much and she had them covered. “Brother? Brother… you’re alive.”
“Hmm… no thanks to you.” The Queen spoke up bitterly.
“No… Mother… I didn’t… I wouldn’t…” The little girl crawled across the filthy straw floor and grabbed the bars. “Please. I didn’t mean to.”
“Didn’t mean to poison the prince?” her mother’s voice turned disgusted. “I have no daughter!”
“No!” the girl cried, her hand reaching out.
Her fingertip almost touched my knee. A maid suddenly moved, bringing down a wooden dowel which struck the little girl’s hand with a crack. I jumped a little at the movement. The hit might have broken her hand, but the maid did it so casually to a daughter of the queen. The little girl let out a shriek and pulled her hand back. Tears began to race down her face as she sobbed miserably. This was the face of the girl who poisoned me? How could I believe such a thing?
When she finally calmed down enough that her sobs were low and mournful, watching us without any more hint of the hopefulness she had a moment before, I decided to speak up. “What is your name, sister?”
It might have been something I should have asked the Queen earlier, but it wasn’t something I was focused on at the time.
“My prince?” She asked, clearly confused.
“You insolent child!” Her mother snapped. “He asked you a question!”
The girl’s eyes panicked but she quickly nodded obedience. “K-kemala… my name is Kemala.”
I nodded thoughtfully. I wanted to talk to this girl, but I realized very quickly that between this woman who called herself my mother and the maids, it was impossible. I wanted to calm her down and get to the bottom of it, but they seemed to be full of so much hate and anger that they didn’t even give her a chance to talk.
“Bring her to my room,” I said, sitting back and giving a cool look.
The woman named Mother looked uncertain. “My prince… as for that…”
“And bring me my tools,” I added, giving her a look.
The Queen relaxed. “So, you’ve decided to give the punishment with your own hands. Very well, my son.”
Kemala’s eyes widened. “W-wait… brother… no! No! Please… Kemala loves her brother. Kemala didn’t… please… don’t!”
I looked away, feeling a wave of guilt as I didn’t meet her eyes. “Take me back up. I’ll be waiting.”
“B-b-b-rother…” Kemala broke into tears, a puddle formed under her as she shook with fear.
I felt like vomiting. This was the effect that the prince’s tools had on women. This little sister who was raised to be my wife likely knew what the tools meant more than anyone. They meant rape, torture, death… I felt dizzy and I just wanted to get out of there. I thought the world I was in as Clyburn was dark and unforgiving. Somehow, I had ended up reincarnating in a world that was even worse.
The only way I could survive was to be as hard as them. I had to become one with the monster, without becoming the monster. Thus, I maintained my cold expression as the maid silently brought me back to my room. The tools were brought in only a few minutes later. The woman I refused to call Mother stood nearby.
“My son, are you sure you’re ready for this?”
I gave a smile, putting in a look of madness. It was the same look I had seen on the eyes of Hannah the night Tinya died. It was the same madness that was in Angela’s eyes every moment of her existence. It was the same madness of Dibya Monic. Now, I was the one who looked mad.
“Of course, mother. It will be… relieving.”
The Queen gave a gentle knowing smile. “Very well, my son, but if at any point you feel you cannot continue, just call for a maid and she will finish the job.”
Finish the job. That would be, killing my little sister.
“Of course…” I laughed with just a tinge of insanity.
To any normal person, they would have been unhinged by this, but to the maids and the Queen, they almost seemed relieved. Was my former self truly so mad? I sat in the dimly lit room and considered those thoughts as I waited for the terrified child to be brought before me. Kemala was carried into my room. She had a black eye now. It was possible she had fought as she was dragged up here. Now, she hung lifelessly between two maids, who dumped her on the floor at my feet. She flopped down on the ground without any energy as the maids stood to either side.
“You may go,” I said, causing the two maids to look at each other questioningly. “GO!”
My screech made them both jump and then flee the room. I let out a breath after that. I had no clue how my predecessor truly acted. I was only going by my own guesses and the nonverbal cues I had been getting from those around me. It seemed like the more I acted like the old me, the more these people dropped their guard. I rolled my chair up in front of Kemala and then slid out, ending up on my knees. The girl herself was bowed down, in a position not completely unlike the workers who prostrated themselves to us as we headed down to the dungeon.
I reached out my hand, and Kemala flinched like a frightened animal. My hand and my tools were a source of fear for this girl. They were a source of fear for any girl in this fucked up location. Very gently, my hand fell on her head, and I gave her three distinct pats before pulling my hand back. Kemala kept her eyes closed for a while, but after a minute passed, she opened them and looked up at me, confusion on her face.
“B-brother…” her voice still hopeless, but sounding too weak to fight back.
I reached out and touched her arms, tugging them up. Understanding what I wanted, she rose up, and ended up in a position kneeling, just like mine. We were both on the floor, kneeling and facing each other now. If anyone saw this, they wouldn’t know what to think. When her eyes finally looked to my face for the first time. I gave a gentle smile. It wasn’t filled with insanity or hatred. It was the most comforting I could be. It was the smile I had mastered after years of teasing my sisters and mother.
Kemala shook, too scared to take the bait. How evil of a brother had I been? Even this she thought must be some kind of trap. Thus, I decided to take things the next step.
“Kemala, I… I…” I reached out and put my arms around. “I just… wanted… I… wanted…”
With this small shaking girl in my arms, everything I had been through the last few days came flooding back. The death of the entire crew. Charlie. Brooke. My own life. Everything I knew was gone, and this new life was stranger and scarier than anything I ever thought possible. A tear started falling from my cheeks. No, I started completely bawling. It was stronger and more violent than anything I had done in Morgan’s lap a week or so ago.
Kemala could only sit helplessly as I desperately clung to her, crying wordlessly. This was something I couldn’t do with her mother, who I didn’t trust. It wasn’t something I could do with the harem, who was afraid of me. It wasn’t something I could do with anyone, yet this girl, just by being here at this time, brought it all out of me. My tears fell and drenched the front of her dirty rags. After a minute or so, her hand rested on my head, and just how I had patted her, she was now patting me.
I wanted to stop. I wanted to just get over it and move on, but I needed this. It was twenty minutes by the time I finally settled down. I finally started sniffling, and moving a bit.
“B-brother… please don’t hold me.” Kemala spoke when she thought I had calmed down enough. “I’m dirty and I smell.”
I blinked and then stuck my nose into her neck and took a big sniff. Kemala tightened her neck and pushed me away. Her face was completely red now and she was very flustered in a cute expression completely unlike the fear and deadpan from before. Her eyes showed disbelief and extreme embarrassment. The force of her push was enough that I stumbled back onto my butt, bumping into my wheelchair and causing it to roll away.
“Ah! B-brother… I’m so sorry!” Kemala jumped to her feet.
Even though her movement was wobbly from weeks in the dungeon, she stumbled to the wheelchair. It had bumped into the tray table with my tools, and as she grabbed it and pulled it, the sheet covering the tools came off, and they immediately jingled and glinted with malicious light. Kemala froze as her eyes locked on to the tools.
That was right. My strange behavior earlier might have caught the girl off guard and perhaps even made her come out of her shell for a momentary lapse, but she had been brought to this room to be killed. As for my crying and sniffing, that could all be just the fact I was crazy and unpredictable. However, I was clearly hurt, and without my wheelchair now. Meanwhile, the glint of a knife was a few feet away from Kemala.
Since it came to this, I decided to take the gamble. “You could do it, you know.”
Kemala spun back to me, her eyes widening. “Wh-what? I don’t know what brother means.”
“That knife. You could take it, and kill me. If you were wondering. There are no guards, and I’m as weak as a baby. A girl earlier tried to smother me with a pillow. If you killed me, there is a chance you could escape this room.”
Strangely enough, the expression on Kemala’s face wasn’t temptation or fear… it was anger.
“I would never!” Kemala shouted. “You’re my brother… and… and… even if I die, it’s because my life has always been yours!”
She pushed the wheelchair over to me, her eyes seeming to have regained some passion after facing death. Perhaps after two months in a cell, I had reminded her of why she existed. She was raised to be mine. How could someone like that betray me? I had thought the tale suspicious from the beginning, but I still wanted to hear the words.
“You didn’t poison me, did you?”
Kemala shook her head emphatically. “I didn’t! I wouldn’t!”
As if to punctuate this point, Kemala helped me back up into my wheelchair. Once she did that, she fell back down on her knees, lowering her head docilely once again.
“If you didn’t do it, do you know what that means?” I asked.
Those words caused Kemala to look up questioningly, not sure where I was going with my question.
“It means that someone else in the castle did,” I explained. “And they’re probably still loose.”
Kemala’s mouth fell open as if the thought never came to her. “Brother… you’re in danger! What do you need me to do!”
This girl was so one-sidedly straightforward, that it was really refreshing. She reminded me a lot of Charlie, except Charlie would be looking for a way to con me, while Kemala only seemed to want to help.
“I need you, sister. Mother can’t be trusted. I wouldn’t put it past the maids either. You’re the only one I trust. We need to work together.”
Kemala immediately jumped forward, her hands on my lap and her head gazing up at me like a loyal dog. “I’m yours!”
“Good…” I nodded. “Then the first thing I must do… is to give you a sponge bath.”
As it turned out, Kemala’s screams and pleas did fill the hallways, but when the finally settled down and the maids entered their room, they found Kemala completely untouched. Well, not exactly. She had an expression as deadpan as before as if the spirit had been sucked out of her. What new forms of torture had the Prince devised? The maids would never be able to guess.