Author Susanna Shore
Paranormal and contemporary romances, light mysteries

 

My Happy Time Loop Fail

Chapter One         Chapter Two

Chapter One

My fourth time loop was different. For one, it didn’t begin with a rebirth, which was a huge relief. I’d been reborn three times already and had gone through my entire childhood and adolescence four times, my original life included. Being a helpless toddler with the memories of a grown man was a unique kind of torture that I definitely could do without.

For another, this time it was painful, unlike the births. Of course, one could say the pain was suffered by the woman giving birth to me, my original mother the first time, and my second mother the other three times. But while I’d retained all my memories (well, most) of all four of my lives, being born was the one memory I’d been spared from, so I didn’t know if it was painful or not.

I’d so far also mercifully been spared from remembering the pain of my deaths, but not this time round. The excruciating agony of a sword piercing my heart followed me back in time to this moment. I clutched my chest and doubled over, letting out an anguished groan that wouldn’t end.

Someone next to me jumped up, but I was too wrapped up in my misery to even react to the sudden movement. My head was in a swirl and I was barely processing what was happening, let alone paying attention to where I was. In my mind, I was dying on the battlefield where I’d been fighting for the kingdom of Laruna for the past seven months.

Well, I died in a swordfight arresting a traitor, not in a battle, but I couldn’t process that heartbreak either.

“Lisl, what is wrong? Have you been poisoned?”

Gasping for breath, I struggled to recognise the voice, the not being dead taking my attention. Male, deep, authoritative. Treacherous.

Jonus, Duke of Korinne. My best friend in three of my four lives.

The man who killed me.

Traitor.

Somewhere at my feet, a dog was growling. Blinking, I recognised my mother’s small lapdog, Sundrl, and the familiar sight made me realise that I wasn’t where I’d been only a painful heartbeat ago. I was home. Her head peered up from under layers of fabric, her black eyes fixed on Jonus with fierce determination. It was as if she knew what he had done—or would do—and was determined to defend me.

Good girl.

Slowly, too slowly, the pain subsided. Breathing became easier, and I could sit up again. An arm wrapped around my shoulders and a glass of water was held in front of me. “Here, drink this.”

I took the glass with shaking hands. Jonus helped to steady it, and I managed to drink without spilling the water all over me.

“Shall I send for the healer?” Jonus asked, voice solicitous and full of concern.

If I hadn’t only moments ago died by his hand, the memory blazingly clear, much more so than after my previous deaths, I would’ve said yes. Now, I pulled away from him and his arm dropped from my shoulder. It was a struggle to remain civil, but he didn’t yet know that I knew he would kill me. And I couldn’t reveal that. That was the one thing I’d learned during my rebirths: keep it to yourself.

What I hadn’t learned before was that Jonus couldn’t be trusted.

I turned to face him, putting some distance between us. Not easy on the loveseat we were on. His face was the same it had been mere moments and a time-loop ago during our swordfight, handsome and proud, with powder blue hair combed back and dark honey gold skin glowing health, his light blue eyes clear as the sky and not twisted by the hatred I’d seen there in my last moments. He wore his regular King’s Guard uniform, which had to mean the war hadn’t started yet.

Maybe I still had time.

Speaking of time, I needed to find out the exact date I’d returned to. I had plans to make, war to stop—a duke to kill.

Maybe I should act here, now, and kill him before he knew what was happening. Surreptitiously, I made the gestures for conjuring a dagger, but nothing happened.

Baffled by the failure, I let the intent to conjure go. I was dizzy and disoriented. That had to be hampering my magic. Moreover, Jonus had a sword. I might fail and die, and despite having been reborn several times, I couldn’t be sure it would happen again.

I definitely didn’t want to experience the pain of dying on a sword again.

He smiled, the look full of tender concern that was alien despite several lifetimes of knowing him. “Are you sure, Lisl? My healers are the best in land.”

I blinked, the name he was calling me, and our closeness on the seat, finally registering.

Lisl. Not Petl. My sister’s name.

I stared at my hands still holding the glass. They were small and delicate in white lace gloves I’d never worn in my several lives. Women’s gloves. Startled, I almost upended the glass, and I put it hastily on the small table in front of me.

As I did, I saw that the fabric covering Sundrl was the hem of a silk dress that without doubt was being worn by me, and above the skirts, squeezed in a tight corset that I now realised was the reason I couldn’t breathe properly, was a chest of a woman. My chest.

I froze in shock. Apparently, there was one more difference in this loop. I hadn’t been returned to my own body.

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Chapter Two

In hindsight, my first life was a fairly ordinary one. I was born as Henry Sanford in the early twenty-first century Oxford, England. I had a lawyer mom, a banker dad, a two-years-younger sister, and a Labrador named Speedy—which she wasn’t—that we’d had since I was twelve.

(Incidentally, after several loops in time, Speedy was the only thing I truly missed from my first life, or the idea of her. There weren’t dogs like her in this world; they were working dogs, like sheepdogs or hunting dogs, kept in our country manor and at the hunting lodge in the mountains, or lapdogs like Sundrl, though she was cute too.)

My first family had a nice house on the outskirts of Oxford in a good neighbourhood. I’d just turned nineteen and had been admitted to Magdalen. (I had the brain for it and a dad who pushed.)

On my last night before the term began, I was returning from a party at my mate’s, heavily drunk. In my defence, I’d recently broken up with my first proper girlfriend (she didn’t want a long-distance relationship when she moved to London to attend LSE, only to post pictures on Insta a week later with her new boyfriend, Nigel-the-arse, with whom I’d had a great rivalry since primary school), and had spent the evening watching my best mate make moony eyes with his boyfriend he’d just moved in with.

Anyone would’ve got sloshed.

Feeling miserable for myself, I wasn’t paying attention to my surroundings and was hit by a car. I’m not sure which of us was in the wrong place, and I didn’t exactly have a chance to find out.

Next thing I knew, I was being born. Well, I became aware the moment right after it, still reeling from the events before and believing I was Henry. The shock cleared my head—only it wasn’t my head anymore. I inhaled to let out a mighty scream.

“Good boy, you cry,” the nurse holding me said as she cleaned me, although I didn’t understand her at the time, because she wasn’t speaking English. But she said the same thing the other two times I was reborn, and by then I’d learned the language, the natural way, by living in this world.

For some reason my soul, or whatever it was that kept being reborn, retained the memory of the language and other knowledge, and the memories of all the lives I’d lived. I found it amazing, but the rebirths were bizarre enough, and I didn’t waste much time pondering the whys and the wherefores after the first one.

I was named Petl, and I was the first-born child and only son and heir of Pelil, Viscount Wlathel. Not that I’d ever outlived my father so far. We lived in Laruna, a prosperous kingdom in an alt world reminiscent of mid-nineteenth century Europe, but without the Industrial Revolution, which made the air cleaner and life slower.

As a new-born with nothing else to do but eat, sleep and poop, yet with a mind of an adult, I’d spent my infancy observing and thinking, and I’d adjusted to my new existence by the time I emerged from the nursery.

Learning there were different worlds hadn’t fazed me much, after the initial shock, having read a few mangas where people found themselves in a completely different world. (I wasn’t much of a reader, I was more a numbers guy, but my girlfriend loved them, and I’d read them to learn what she liked. Fat lot of good that had done to me, as she’d dumped me anyway.)

I wasn’t in any book world that I’d read about; I learned that much already during my infancy, more’s the pity. It would’ve been helpful to have prior knowledge of where I was and what was going to happen. Nothing I’d learned in my first life carried far in this world and I’d spent my first childhood here being like any child: learning.

Some things were the same. Humans looked like they did in my original world with their body-shapes, sizes, and genders. No pointy eared elves or goblins as far as I knew. But there were great differences to Earth too that came close to fairy-tales. Skin colours varied from pale like mine—Petl’s and Lisl’s both—to light brown like my father’s or darker, and to completely unique colours like Jonus’s dark honey gold, pale pink and light blue or green, with various features and hair and eye colour combinations.

There were the slanted purple eyes of the royal family, and other unique eye colours like gold and silver, and hair colours including pink, blue, or green in addition to those found on Earth. People across the ocean had a darker blue or green skin too with white, gold or silver hair among the colours found here, but the distance was vast and difficult to cross, so there weren’t many people from there in my country.

But as odd as I’d found these colours during my first childhood here, like my own pale pink hair, the biggest difference by far was the ability of the people here to do magic.

Other things were similar to Earth too. The architecture of the capital, Tohlk, reminded me of Vienna (we’d visited there one summer with my original parents), with stately buildings lining wide boulevards and pleasant parks, and the countryside was much like that of France. Most animals and plants were exactly or nearly the same as in my original world. A horse was a horse and a cat was a cat. Some fish, which there was plenty of, as this was a seaside kingdom, might have been different, but I hadn’t been an expert on those in my first life, so I couldn’t be sure.

No dragons or other interesting creatures, which was a bit of a let-down. Maybe on the other side of the ocean.

The alphabet wasn’t the Latin one I was used to, or any other previous world’s alphabet like Japanese—not that I was familiar with those—and I’d had to learn my letters like any child. Numbers and maths too, which I’d been good at during my first life, were different—to an extent—so I had to learn those as well.

Geography, rudimentary though it still was in this world, as the Age of Exploration had only begun a century ago, was completely different, but the world was round with vast oceans. Laruna was located roughly at the same latitude as France maybe, though it wasn’t as large, with the climate to match. No equivalent of British Isles though. History, obviously, was different, as were religions. In Laruna and the neighbouring kingdoms, there were many options for worshipping, much like in Ancient Rome, with many different temples scattered all over Tohlk and in every country village worth anything. The main god of the pantheon was Sedr, who was mostly responsible for weather, and my parents favoured Tiamta, the goddess of wisdom, which I thought was an excellent choice.

The traitor next to me was named after Jonus, god of war. What a waste of a proud name.

There was no technology. There was magic. Mages could conjure everyday innovations like lighting without gas or electricity (which didn’t exist in this world), and healthy sanitation without indoor plumbing, which were then sold on a commercial scale. Medicine was handled by magical healers, and personal disputes were solved with swords, as were the wars. There were no firearms or artillery, but mages had created magical assault systems with energy blasts, if not quite as destructive. I knew; I’d spent the past seven months in warfare.

No innovation existed that would replace horses, and there were no widely available communication devices, though mages had a system for long distance communication among themselves, pairs of magic imbued crystals that connected only to one another and needed the ability to do magic to use.

The lack of movies, phones, and the internet had annoyed me for a couple of years during my first life here. Nothing was worse than having an earworm you couldn’t check anymore. But I soon learned to make the most of what this world had to offer. I’d missed my family at first, but the memory of Henry’s life faded and I learned to love it here better.

It wasn’t the lack of modern Earth knowledge that killed me the second time—or the failure to adjust to this world either, for that matter. My second death was as stupid and needless as my first. On my fifteenth birthday, my best friend Jonus—the future Duke of Korinne currently sitting next to me—and I snuck into my father’s wine cellar and indulged in his finest selection. Then we thought it would be a good idea to see which of us could climb higher.

I won. I also fell harder and farther, from the roof of the corner tower of my father’s town manor.

My second rebirth was as confusing as the first. Being trapped in an infant’s body with an adult’s mind was excruciating, and there wasn’t even the novelty anymore to make it tolerable. But once I was over the worst, and had gained some autonomy over my body, I set out to do better this time round.

I knew this world now—fifteen years’ worth of it anyway—so I breezed through school. I skipped the birthday celebration that killed me the previous time, and lived to be accepted in the military school at seventeen. I graduated with honours at twenty, and made it into the King’s Guard, an elite company that guarded the sovereign’s life.

Jonus, again my best friend in this life, was accepted there too, and we spent a night out with our friends to celebrate. We got really drunk, and I woke up dead in a ditch. So to speak.

Drowning was the last thing I remembered before being reborn again, and the primal scream this time was to clear my lungs of the water that was no longer there.

My fourth childhood, third in this world, was an absolute drag. Eager to get out of it, I got through school even faster, entered military school at sixteen, and graduated at nineteen. This time I didn’t enter the King’s Guard but went to the Academy instead, an institute of higher learning where they trained mages. Not everyone was accepted there. You had to have aptitude for magic to get in, which I turned out to have. Best decision of my several lives, because magic was where the power was.

I avoided all drunken escapades, which earned me a nickname Prude, and didn’t die in a stupid accident. Then a war with the neighbouring kingdom, Aglalia, broke out when I was twenty-two and about to start my last year in the Academy. I hadn’t seen it coming, as I’d never lived that long before. But since I was an officer and an almost-graduated mage, I was sent to the battlefield.

It was as horrifying as you’d imagine, but I did all right at first. Then things started going wrong for our kingdom. We couldn’t understand what was going on, until I found out to my utter shock and horror that Jonus, my best friend in this third life here as well, was a traitor. The heartbreak pushed me into a mad rage and I attacked him.

I lost.

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My Happy Time Loop Fail is published on April 28th. You can preorder it on Amazon, iBooks, B&N, Smashwords and Kobo.