Some Storms You Just Cannot Prepare for
The storm blew in out of nowhere, or at least Pax wished he could say it did.
It actually had been building for a few days, the constant rain getting heavier, the clouds getting darker, the air getting warmer, the wind gusting sporadically. The water had gotten more roiled and the seabirds that sometimes took refuge on the ship had all but vanished.
Anyone with basic observation skills had known a storm was coming, but Pax preferred to pretend that it came out of nowhere. It felt more dramatic that way.
“Fuck,” Pax muttered to himself as he lashed the last knot to tie down the sail. They’d had to down it so the wind wouldn’t snap the mast, and despite Pax wanting to do it before the storm got bad, Natalie had insisted on keeping it up as long as possible for navigation. And since Natalie had been a sailor for decades and Pax for months, her suggestions trumped his. Which was only reasonable, and also Pax trusted that she had a lot of experience not letting ships sink in the rain, so there was that too.
Once he was done on the knot, Pax got to his feet, bending his knees to avoid falling over, and he nodded at Joel. “That’s it,” he shouted, having to keep his voice raised to be heard over the storm. “Go to the cargo hold and make sure everything is tied down properly.”
“Got it,” Joel shouted back, hurrying off as fast as one could hurry in this weather. Pax had made them take everything that was usually loose on the deck down to the hold and tie it all down so that the crates and barrels and everything wouldn’t bang around with the rocking of the ship and crack open.
They’d probably still lose some cargo, but that was okay. A little damage was unavoidable in a storm. More important was that they didn’t bang around and kill people.
Pax took a look around the deck to make sure it was clear, and nodded. Just as he was about to go report that, he saw Nate headed his way. “Sail’s tied down,” he said, as Nate looked at the knot himself. Pax wasn’t offended; on the contrary he was happy to have the second set of eyes to make sure. For himself, Pax watched Jade and Pig climb down the rigging on the mast from where they’d been helping tie up the sail.
Lightning flashed nearby, lighting up the sea for a moment as thunder tore right above them. “You should go in the cabin,” Nate said as Pax watched Pig and Jade. He was fingering his medallion. “There’s not much for you to do out here.”
Pax shook his head. “And get tossed around in there all day?”
“Better than getting tossed around out here.”
“Are you going to come in the cabin?”
It was Nate’s turn to shake his head. “I have to stay out here.”
“Then I do too.”
“I could order you.”
“I could ignore you. I don’t think you have time to punish me for insubordination right now.” Pax raised a hand, pointed at Jade and Pig. “The crew quarters!” he called to them. “We’ll call you if we need hands.”
Once they’d both run off, Nate sighed. “Okay. Crew needs to know their officers are on deck and you’re one of them, so just be careful and if it…” Nate was cut off by the ship rocking hard to starboard, pulling both of them from their feet and throwing them into a pile on the deck. “Hi.”
“Hi,” Pax said, as Nate helped him up. “This going to be a really long day.”
“Yeah,” Nate agreed, glancing over at the captain. “Going to go see if she needs anything.”
“What should I do?”
“Make sure nothing breaks, check on the crew every so often, and be careful,” Nate told him, patting Pax on the shoulder as he moved over to the helm.
“You be careful too!” Pax called out, and turned around to make an inspection of the ship.
It took longer than it should have to do that, just because the ship kept moving, rocking back and forth, waves coming up over the side every few minutes. The amount of water they were taking on was a bit concerning to Pax, but most of it just ran off the deck into the ocean again, so on the balance he figured it was probably okay. Hopefully.
After checking on the crew, Pax made his way back to the helm, where Natalie was still fighting with the wheel. Pax was never going to complain about how hard driving the ship again.
He saw this wave coming, from starboard again, and grabbed a rope to keep himself from falling over even as the Sparkling Wind was hit hard with water, rocking them again. Shaking water out of his eyes, Pax kept going, only noticing after a few steps that the ship was still listing. “What the hell?”
He looked up at the helm, saw from Natalie’s posture that she’d noticed too, and turned to run below deck.
He didn’t get all the way there. “Hull breach!” Tyke shouted, racing up from the crew quarters. He saw Pax, ran to him, out of breath. “Hull breach, that wave buckled the hull, we’re taking on water.”
Pax fought down the wave of cold that hit him. “Get buckets, start bailing us out. There’s spare wood in the cargo hold, cover the spot that’s buckled. I’ll get Nate.”
He wasn’t sure what Nate was going to do, but Tyke nodded and ran off, looking a little ashen. A hull breach in this weather was really bad, Pax thought. Another wave like that could easily make it worse. They weren’t going to be able to fix it with conventional tools, and…
Biting his lip, Pax changed course, ran for Sharon’s cabin. He banged on her door, knowing she was in there. “Sharon!”
The door was pulled open, Sharon in the act of pulling her veil on. “Pax? What’s wrong?”
“I’m sorry,” Pax said, shaking his head. “I need your help. There’s a hull breach. I don’t think they can fix it in time.” As he spoke, another wave rocked the ship, and the listing got noticeably worse. Lighting struck the sea again. “Please.”
The Sparkling Wind was Pax’s home. He couldn’t stand by and let this happen to it.
And Sharon seemed to understand that, or maybe she felt the same way. “I’ll head below deck right away,” she said, stepping out of the room and heading there without hesitation. Pax’s heart warmed. “You have to report to Natalie, yes?”
“Yeah,” Pax said, nodding. “I’ll come down once I have.” And they shared a nod, hurrying off in different directions.
“Report, sailor,” Natalie demanded as soon as Pax was in hearing. She was in consultation with Nate at the helm.
“Hull breach in the crew quarters, Cap’n,” Pax said, out of breath. Nate looked stricken. “Those last two waves have us taking on water.”
“There are repair materials and buckets. Organize them into crews, and…”
“I sent Sharon,” Pax interrupted, and Natalie looked at him for a moment while lightning struck much closer to the foreground that Pax would like.
Natalie nodded. “Nate, go check up.”
“Yes, sir.” Nate gave Pax a smile and left the helm, hurrying off.
“Good call, Pax,” Natalie said, keeping the wheel steady with both hands.
“I try to make those every so often. Shit.” There was another huge wave coming for the ship.
“Grab the helm, it’s a bad day for a swim.”
Pax did as he was told, and the two of them braced themselves to withstand the deluge of water. When it passed, they straightened and Pax’s eyes went downwards to the deck, where Nate had been knocked over. “Nate!”
“Help him up!”
Pax didn’t need to be told twice—or once—and he ran to do just that. Nate was picking himself up already, coughing, so Pax worried less. The deck, he noticed, wasn’t listing anymore.
Pax was three steps away from Nate when he noticed them.
“Oh, God…” Pax stopped, looking at the deck. The wave had washed them aboard. Jade’s necklace, Pig’s brace. Two rings. And right in between him and Nate, the crown.
“Pax…” Nate looked up, then down, eyes widening. “Fuck.”
“We have to get them off the ship,” Pax said, trying not to panic. There was nothing to panic about. “Right now.”
Nate nodded, grabbed the crown and stood, going for the necklace. Pax turned and grabbed the brace, one of the rings, prepared to toss them overboard. The other ring was over near Nate, so Pax went to the rail to toss them overboard, casting a glance at Natalie, whose eyes were on the water.
The brace and the ring pulsed in Pax’s hand, and Pax felt…satisfaction.
He turned, saw Nate standing there on the deck, looking up at the rainclouds. The Crown on his head. “Oh, no. No, no.” Pax hurried over there, tossing the other pieces aside. “Nate.”
Nate turned, looked at Pax. He smiled. “Pick those up for me, will you?”
“No,” Pax whispered, approaching. “No. Nate. Please take that crown off. It’s dangerous.”
“Don’t be stupid. After all this trouble, you think I’m going to take this off?” Nate’s smile widened, and he bent over, picked up the Necklace, clipped that on as well. “These belong to me, after all.”
“No, they don’t,” Pax said, stomach twisting as he drew his knife. “No, they don’t, Nate.” He approached, reaching with his free hand for the Crown. “Please.”
Nate grabbed Pax’s arm, put a hand on his chest. “Who’s Nate?”
And he pushed, tossing Pax back like he was made of paper. Pax sailed through the air, landing with a crash on the deck, sliding the rest of the way to the rail. The breath left his lungs as he struck the wood, but Pax gulped it back in, scrambled to his feet. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Natalie coming down from the helm, drawing her knife.
Nate had wandered over a few paces, picked up one of the Rings. And then a few more paces, to get the second one, and the Brace. And he put them on, one at a time, adorned in bone by the time Pax and Natalie reached him. “We have to get those things off him,” Pax said, struggling to keep his eyes on Nate as Nate held out his arms, eyes shut. Natalie nodded, grim.
The rain rippled around Nate, seeming to go quiet even as it fell harder, and Nate opened his eyes with a frown. “Where’s my Sceptre?” he asked, looking around. “It’s not in the water. I need…”
Pax ran at him, intending to go low, leap and knock the Crown off first.
Nate didn’t even look at him, just waved a hand. Pax flew backwards as if struck by a whale, landing in a pile again. He saw the same thing happen to Natalie, and Pax let out a cry involuntarily. This wasn’t Nate. Nate wouldn’t do this to them. This was something that had taken Nate, taken his body. They had to take it back.
There was a flash of fire as Pax stood, and Sharon was standing there, arm out. “Who are you?” she demanded, looking at Nate. “You are not the first mate.”
“Not for a long time,” Nate agreed, raising his own hand. The rain coalesced around him. “Mate, captain, king. What comes after that?”
The wind rose to a scream, and the water around Nate surged at Sharon, and it exploded into steam. Lightning struck the mast, struck the deck, tearing up the boards. Pax watched the mast crack, not able to breathe. Explosions rocked the air between Nate and Sharon, and the Sparkling Wind shook with them.
Natalie’s hand fell on Pax’s shoulder. She was bleeding from a cut on her face. “Now, while he’s distracted.”
Pax nodded, trying to compose himself, and the two of them ran at Nate, knives drawn, prepared to strike him. To hurt him. To stop him.
The deck exploded underneath them and they staggered backwards, falling down. Nate smirked at them, then knocked Sharon back with a gesture. “Fire. You’re out of your element, and I’m bored.”
He threw out his hands, and lightning struck everywhere, tearing the ship everywhere it hit.
“Nate, no!” Pax screamed, getting to his feet as the deck heaved underneath him. “Don’t. Don’t! This is your home! This is our home! Don’t do this!”
A huge crack opened in the deck. The mast collapsed, falling backwards. Nate looked at Pax, no emotion, no love in his eyes. “Who are you? Who do you think you are, you little nothing, to talk that way to the Sea King?”
Pax was hit by another whale, and this time he flew up and back, and he wasn’t going to hit the deck when he landed. He heard screaming as he was tossed away from the ship, heard wood cracking, heard wind. And he watched, as he flew back. Watched the ship fall apart, torn to pieces under the Sea King’s onslaught.
The Sparkling Wind cracked apart, the pieces already being overtaken by the water. People were abandoning ship, jumping into the sea. The Sea King was there in the middle, Nate’s body hovering, arms out, the storm swirling around him as he destroyed Pax’s home, as he took away everything Pax loved.
All that, Pax saw in a few seconds as he flew through the air. He got to see his world destroyed, and that was the last thing he saw before he hit the water and everything went black.
And the last thing Pax thought was Nate.