“Leave. Now.” Even as Isaiah spoke these two words, he could barely breathe. Shackles gripped his throat, tightening and tightening until he choked with rage and fury. He panted, gasping for breath and struggling to loosen these chains.
“Leave,” he repeated, his voice barely steady. “I have nothing to say to you.”
“Then just listen. Please.”
Isaiah would not meet her eyes; he did not want to give her the satisfaction of witnessing his weaker side. However, they were of neither sorrow, for they brought only pain, nor joy, as he, in all his fifteen years of life never had the luxury to enjoy.
Lies and deception amounted to nothing.
“I don’t want to listen either,” Isaiah snapped. “Whatever you wanted to say; you said it eight years ago or have you really forgotten?”
The waiting room was utterly silent save for the flickering tube light on the ceiling above. Isaiah stared down biting his lips as he saw the woman’s shadow shifting between his feet. He tugged at his upper and clutched his jeans, trying to control the trembling within.
“I know that I have no right to ask of your forgiveness,” the woman continued anyway, irritating him even more. “I don’t even deserve it. All the despair and pain you suffered all your life is because of me. There is nothing I regret more. If I could go back and change it, I would even if it meant giving my life but the truth is, I can’t. None of us can change the past, the torture I put you through. You have every right to be angry but at least… at least look at me so that I can see you and tell you…”
“I TOLD YOU TO LEAVE!!!” Isaiah shot up, flames birthing to life in a circle around his feet. The anger and fury was so deep that it manifested as mana coursing through his veins, the source of all mystic arts. A good mystic knew how to control it but right now, he was far from ‘good’.
Isaiah exhaled, still not looking at her, “Get. Out.”
He would rather die than face her lies. The woman began sobbing as she walked out of the room, closing the door behind her. Once silence prevailed, Isaiah sat back down, head held in his hand as it began to throb. The pain was so sharp, so piercing that it finally broke the veil he tried so hard to keep.
The tears followed soon after.
. . .
‘No matter what my sweet, I will always be here for you.’
Little Isaiah yawned, taking in the cool night air. Despite the dim light, drowsiness pulled at his eyelids. He did not want to open them either; he was too lazy. The boy could have gotten back to sleep but a certain absence around him brought unease to his nerves.
“Mama?” He called out; no reply. This was concerning enough to finally make him open his eyes and look around the bedroom, searching for her, only to find out that he was all alone. It was late into the night as the curtains, pitch black, were drawn on the windows.
Yawning, little Isaiah sat up, his drowsy eyes resting on the door. What caught his attention was it being left slightly open. This was odd as mama always made him close it. Just as in all children, curiosity flared up in this little one’s tiny heart and so, he wore his slippers and proceeded to investigate. He loved exploring in fact; so much so that mama often scolded him for going through her drawers. Then, he would be put on a five minute timeout.
Hushed voices could be heard coming from downstairs, fueling his curiosity even more. He nearly stumbled on top of the stairs thanks to his small legs but held himself just in time. He was distracted, thinking about his mama. What was she doing up so late? Was everything alright? Most things a child would never understand but little Isaiah was different. He could see through his mama’s sweet eyes and it made him sad. He wished he could do something, anything to cheer her up. She was the only person in the world who protected him, cuddled him and kissed him.
She was the best mama in the world and yet, it was unfair that he hurt her inside.
The voices, coming from the lounge grew louder. They were inaudible to his distant ears but he knew they stopped when he entered and blurted out, “Mama? What are you doing?”
She turned towards him, dressed in a black abaya from head to toe. Her pale, rosy cheeks reflected the softness in her kind expression but with it, there was something else. Maybe it was the sadness but little Isaiah could not tell as this time he saw… nothing.
However, she was not alone.
Behind her, a tall, thin man with long, white beard and wearing robes of the same black color as the abaya, emerged. He circled the boy, watching with glee and contempt. Little Isaiah, feeling uncomfortable, did not like this old man.
Thankfully, his eyes left the boy and pointed towards mama; nodding at her before stepping aside. She gave no reply but instead, stepped closer. Mama was not herself. The boy’s heart skipped a beat. “What is going on?”
Maybe it was just him but her hand trembled. She quickly hid it behind herself. “You… You are a big boy now and strong even. I think it is time you had your own home.”
“But this is my home.”
“You will get a new home; better than this I promise.”
“Will you come with me then?” The promise of a new home with mama seemed very exciting.
She did not reply. Little Isaiah frowned, “Mama?”
She exhaled, her breath shaky, “I… I can’t come with you.”
The boy’s heart sank, “But why? Did I do something wrong? Was I a bad boy? Then I am really, really sorry! I promise I will be a good boy, just come with me! I don’t want to be alone.”
“No! You didn’t do anything…”
Tears rolled down little Isaiah’s cheeks as he clutched his mama’s waist, begging endlessly, “Come with me mama please! I won’t do it again I swear! Just tell me what it was and I will stay away from it…”
“Stop it Isaiah.”
The boy would not let up. He jumped on her feet, wailing loudly. “Why?! Why?!Why?! Why?! Why?!”
“Stop it Isaiah please.”
“No! Tell me! Tell me why you won’t come with me! You said you would never leave me!”
‘ENOUGH!” She shoved him onto the floor, face red. Isaiah looked at her, watery eyes wide with horror. “Mama…?”
“You want to really know why I won’t come with you?!” She screamed, looming over him like a demon. “Because you are my curse! When I see you, I want to scratch my eyes out and jump from the top of a bridge. You disgust me and your face, his… face revolts me even more! I am giving you away so that I don’t ever have to see you again!”
“Why…” Little Isaiah sniffed, “Why are you saying things like that? You said…”
“ What I said were all lies just so I could make you happy. You are a burden on my shoulders, useless and pathetic. There were so many times I wanted to strangle you but I couldn’t. No… I refused to drop down to such a level. Leave today, alone and without me because I don’t need you. Leave quietly so that I can finally have my peace. Come in front of me again, and… Just know that no one is protecting you anymore.”
Little Isaiah froze, his tiny heart shattered into a million pieces. He watched, throat constricted, as his mama turned her back to him. He watched silently, without stopping his tears from flowing, as two men entered and dragged him away, far from the woman he once knew.
But mamas always loved their children. Then, why? Why did this have to happen to him? He was innocent wasn’t he?
Why did everyone hate him?
. . .
Joseph rubbed his chin as he briskly walked across the narrow hallway, cloak swinging along the rhythm of his steps. Outside, he could hear the crowd cheering in anticipation as the semi- finals proceeded without delay. Suddenly, his shoulders grew heavy, almost dragging him back.
It was a burden he bore and it was what he utterly despised.
As the ‘Chosen One’, it was his duty to prove his divinity at the ‘Tournament of Power’. “It is for the sake of the greater good”, the Pastor had emphasized. Maybe it was his duty but he never asked for it. He only participated because he could do so much as a member of the Circle; honorary mystics committed to helping the people of Xander.
His childhood dream.
He worried though that his affiliations might only be a hindrance to his dream but life was unfair and right now, someone else had it far worse.
Joseph found Mother Aaliyah alone in the hallway. He sighed in relief and rushed over to her side, “There you are Mother! I’ve been looking everywhere for… Wait, are you crying?”
She quickly wiped her face but even then she could not hide the deep red in her eyes.
“You went to him didn’t you?” Joseph guessed, regretting not keeping a tissue with him. Her silence was the answer. “Why? You know your health is getting worse but still, why put yourself through all this?”
“I… just have to.”
Joseph glared ahead, blood boiling. Mother Aaliyah caught his eyes and clutched his arm, shaking her head, “You are a kind child Joseph. You care for me and try to make everyone happy but he is no different either. He is kind is his way. If someone really is cruel then it is me…”
“Don’t say that! You had no choice.”
“Just promise me! Promise me that you would just let me bear it, that you would not interfere. This is not your burden to share.”
However, even for the Chosen One, some promises could not be kept. Once he had guided Mother Aaliyah to her seat in the stadium alongside her fellow priestesses, he excused himself. No matter how divine, even he needed to empty his bowels. It was not that unbelievable.
Fortunately, Isaiah was still in the waiting room. His overwhelming mana pushed down on any unwanted guests. Both mystics glared at each other.
“You made her cry,” Joseph accused bitterly.
Isaiah mused, “Ah, the Chosen One; the hero who comes to save the day. Here to confront the man who hurt your dear?”
“Wow you are really this dense huh. This isn’t about me.”
“Oh? Then is it about me?”
“No; it is about the truth.”
. . .
Her son slept soundly. Aaliyah smiled, wrapping the blanket around little Isaiah and kissed him softly on the cheek. “No matter what my sweet, I will always be here for you,” she whispered; her words dissolved into empty air.
Not long after, a soft knock interrupted her. Groaning quietly, Aaliyah answered. It was the housemaid. “Pastor Dietrich is here to see you Mother.”
Dread coiled around Aaliyah’s chest like a Python choking its prey. She dismissed the housemaid and dressed herself into an abaya. Before leaving, she could not resist glancing back at her baby boy. She kissed him one more time, holding back the tears that followed.
His life would only become more difficult with the choice she was about to make.
Pastor Dietrich waited patiently in the lounge. He seemed thinner than their last meeting; an aftereffect of a restricted diet and a willing castration to detach himself from all worldly desires.
“Salve Mother Aaliyah,” he stood up and greeted politely, bowing his head.
“Salve Pastor Dietrich.”
“So, what is your answer?”
Aaliyah took a deep breath, mustered her will and replied, “No.”
The Pastor was taken aback, offended even. “Do you realize the weight behind your words? The consequences of your choices? As a priestess, your blood is reserved only for the Oracle and yet, you share it with a child. A child!”
“Who is my son.”
“An illegitimate son. Did you forget how brutally he was forced onto you?”
“How dare you suggest that I blame Isaiah for my pain and your incompetence?!” Aaliyah was enraged, but she would let her emotions take over so easily. “With all due respect Pastor Dietrich, take advantage of that incident against me or my child one more time and the world will know of your cowardice that night.”
The Pastor fell silent but not out of surprise. His eyes reflected neither emotion nor intimidation but only a dead calm as if a graveyard at night.
“I wanted to spare you from reality but so be it,” he spoke at last, whispering as he stepped closer. “That boy is an abomination and abominations deserve no love whatsoever. It is a sin for even the parent to look at them let alone care for them. It is a sin but not unforgivable. The choice you are making with the free will I gave you will destroy you both. However, you no longer have that luxury because this case does not end here. You, a priestess, swore a vow of celibacy but you are not pure anymore. The punishment for such betrayal is death.”
“Then take my life and leave my son alone.”
The Pastor grinned, “You are mistaken. It is his death that has been decreed. You will be shamed but you are bound to service. Punishments are made for you to face justice and what greater justice is there for the perpetrator to lose something she cares for.”
Aaliyah gasped, hands clasped around her mouth, “No…”
“Yes. As Pastor, it is my duty to ensure that righteousness prevails. You never noticed it but when your… son was born, I placed a seal on him. All it takes is a snap of my finger and the sentence will be carried out. Automatically, the world will know of your sins and you will suffer even more. About my cowardice though, who do you think they will listen to? A man who only strives to guide them or a mere woman who gave birth to a bastard?”
“I can and I will unless you repent. Let him go and he lives a life without you, alone as is deserved but without any interference. No one has to know the secret. I do not want to stain my hands with blood after all but it is a sin I will live with if that is what is necessary.”
“By the Oracle…” Aaliyah went into complete shock, her legs trembling uncontrollably as the tears were finally let loose. “Do you have even a shred of humanity in your heart?”
“I do Mother Aaliyah,” the Pastor replied, “but only for the Oracle.”
. . .
“LIES!” Isaiah growled. His body was trembling from the cold that engulfed him whole. “ALL LIES!”
Joseph shook his head, “No; they are not.”
“What would you know? You are the boy she replaced me with! You would always make excuses for her!”
“These are not excuses. She could never replace you because you are her one and only son. Only because of that she chose to sacrifice her happiness for you. She loved you and she will always love you. Not a night goes by when she doesn’t cry for you. I’ve seen it and I’ve seen how it painfully affects her health. You must know too. It’s obvious and even then you choose to abandon her, hurt her.”
Love… What was love even? He had chosen to forget its meaning for it was all a lie. It was a temporary illusion. Realizing that made his path only clearer. He did not come to the tournament to win. He came, to shatter the dreams of a savior. Isaiah just realized the deception.
He broke down in laughter, “Of course. I am the villain here. I abandoned her! I hurt her! See? You have proven your point. I am so intimidated that I don’t know how I can deal with our upcoming match anymore.”
“Yes, maybe this was my purpose but all that I have said is nothing but the truth. You take it however you want to take it. I have done my part.”
Isaiah covered his face with his hands hiding that alien feeling within. What was this heaviness in his heart? It was as if a stone was tied around it weighing it down. His conscience screamed at him, at the hatred that had guided him. Why? It was the only thing that gave him purpose. He could not lose sight of it; not now of all times.
Yet, where once he knew, he was completely lost again. The haze and the clouds returned, suffocating his soul, but even then, a part of his purpose lived on.
“Oye!” he called out to the mystic who turned his back on him.
“Don’t think that this changes anything between us. We are not just rivals in a tournament, we are enemies. The rules be damned, I’ll come at you with the intent to kill. The world will see how divine you really are.”
It was this purpose that desperately fought on to survive but what was it really? Was it real or was it fake? The doubts surrounded him, imprisoning his mind in an endless, empty void.
Only the match ahead could free his purpose now; however it may come out.
Joseph glanced back, eyes full of determination, “Good. Because I won’t hold back either.”