Long and Complicated Climaxes Require Long Debriefings after the Fact
“It’s a good thing we took a shortcut here,” Gavin said, crossing his arms. The fleet admiral, Elias Aerchon, an old man whose uniform was torn at the sleeve, looked slightly chastised, which was a not unfair reaction to Gavin crossing his arms. “Since it transpires you’d not have been in Pelican Bay when we came to help.”
“Apologies, your Highness,” the admiral said. “But there was a rather pressing situation involving a dangerous magic-practitioner. Not to mention the fact that we didn’t know you were coming.”
Gavin sighed, looked away. “There is that. You might also have mentioned that had you not left when you did, my people wouldn’t have had a way out of the castle.”
“I have every faith that you’d have managed to commandeer a pirate ship, your Highness,” the admiral said. He smiled Gavin. “Nonetheless, I am pleased that it all worked out as it did.”
“Yes, me too,” Gavin agreed. “Thank you for your cooperation. I realize I was not being very rational.” Apparently Gavin had been ‘a bit intense’—Sully’s words—about getting the admiral to do as he’d ordered.
“None of us is rational when the people we care about are in peril, your Highness.”
“No, we’re not.” Gavin sighed. “Okay, speaking of which.” He turned, looking at the guy who’d stabbed Owen in the arm, standing there with a tall lady in a loose shirt, who gave the impression of being just as in charge as the admiral was. “You’re dating the Sea King? How’s that going?”
The young guy started to glare at Gavin, then stopped. “It’s going very well, actually. Our relationship has never been stronger.”
“My son Nate is the one wearing the Sea King’s Regalia,” the woman explained. Her name was Natalie and she was the captain of the only non-naval vessel here. “It’s possessed him.”
“The Sea King possessed him,” her first mate clarified. His name was Pax. “That’s an important distinction because it abrogates responsibility from Nate for all the evil Sea King things that the Sea King—not Nate—has been doing. Abrogate means to do away with. You seem like you probably know that, your Highness. I was defining it because I’m not sure your ox-friend here knows. The point being that the Sea King is a malevolent consciousness who was allowed to form when the Regalia came into contact with one another and he’s taken over Nate’s body, so don’t make the mistake of thinking that it’s Nate who’s evil.”
Owen blinked at Pax. Just because he didn’t know what the word abrogate meant didn’t mean he was going to stand here and be insulted. “You talk too much. Just get to the point.”
“The point is incredibly nuanced, Sir Ox, and I don’t want to distill it and risk missing out on important details that would lead you to stabbing my boyfriend again.”
“Which would lead to you stabbing me again,” Owen said. His arm was still sore. Lillian had said that Pax’s knife had been enchanted to block magic, which had made the wound hard to heal.
“Which would lead to me stabbing you,” Owen mused. “So yeah, I can see why that would be bad.”
Pax smiled at him now. “You could try.”
“I’m very good at stabbing things.”
“Me too. Should we have a contest? Oh, wait, we already did and I won on account of you got stabbed and I didn’t.”
Owen didn’t like Pax very much. He was the kind of person whose personality would be improved with a few punches to the head.
But then again, Owen had been trying to kill his boyfriend earlier, so he could cut Pax a little slack for the stabbing.
“Anyway,” Gavin said, getting their attention back. “The Sea King got away. And he took your boyfriend with him.”
“Sorry about that,” Owen said. He meant it—it sucked.
“Only part of him,” Pax said, reaching into his shirt and pulling out an iron medallion. He took a breath. “Nate’s soul is in here. The Sea King has his body—which is still bad, don’t get me wrong, I quite like Nate’s body and I do think we ought to retrieve it soon—but the important parts of Nate are in here.” He said that and then frowned, a blush staining his cheeks.
“Well, that’s weird,” Owen said.
“Do you see me judging your relationships?”
“I meant,” Owen said patiently, “how did that happen?”
“Pax’s knife cuts souls,” Natalie explained.
“One of my knives, I have several. Listen, I don’t suppose the mysterious voice you heard at the end of the battle told you where it was taking Nate, did it? Because that would be useful.”
“No,” Owen said, shaking his head. He very much wanted to know more about that voice.
“The magic it used was very powerful,” Mathilda told them. “He could be anywhere.”
“Great. So we have no leads on the Sea King,” Gavin said.
“Not quite.” That was Cal, who’d been quiet for a bit now. Once they were all looking at him, he made a face. “That creature, that entity. I’ve met it before. Around the end of last winter. It was possessing a dead body in a swamp and it attacked us. It was trying to steal a magical stone, which isn’t important except that we were there for the stone on the orders of the same man who sent us after the Regalia.”
“You think that thing knows Theodore?” Cal’s boyfriend Mick asked.
Cal shrugged. “I think they have more common interests than you’d expect from strangers.”
“This Theodore might know something, then,” Gavin said.
“Aren’t we getting a bit off track?” Owen asked. This was getting complicated.
“No,” Natalie told him. “Because the Sea King represents a huge threat—the collected power of everyone here is not insubstantial and he overpowered all of us. That shadow is our only lead on him—and Theodore might be our only lead on the shadow.”
“We’ll go see him,” Gavin said, sighing. “Where is he?”
“Merket,” Cal said.
Gavin made a face. “I’m not going up there for the winter again. We’ll summon him to Pelican Bay when we get there and talk to him. One of the benefits of being royal.” He smiled at Pax. “We’ll get your Nate back.”
Pax nodded. “I know. I very rarely fail at things and I suspect you’re the same. Between the two of us we’ll probably be fine. I guess everyone else will be there too. They can hold our coats.”
“Works for me. Actually, on that note,” Gavin said, pointing at Cal. “Answers. You promised them to me at the Citadel. Who the fuck are you?”
“I told you,” Cal said, shrugging. “I’m God. It’s kind of a long story but the short version is that the Catechism worships this guy named Nathen only they’ve forgotten his name, and I’m the reincarnation of Nathen. That’s why the demons and angels are all fucking around with my life.”
Well, that wasn’t the most insane thing that had happened to Owen today. “You don’t look much like God.”
“Because, what?” Cal asked. “You’ve seen him before?”
Owen had no rebuttal to that. “Fair enough.” He was a little put off by the idea that God was just a guy. He wasn’t sure what to think about that just yet.
“Calvin is telling the truth,” Bartholomew said, coming up behind him. Owen had forgotten he was there. “Which he really shouldn’t be, the more people who know about this, the more people are in danger.”
“People are in danger anyway,” Sully told Bartholomew. “They have a right to know why.”
“Yeah,” Bartholomew agreed. “They do. I’ll be leaving shortly. I need to report all this to the archangel. But we’re very concerned about the Sea King, and I think he’ll be very concerned about that shadow as well. You’ll likely have our aid in combatting him.”
“Your aid is dubious at best,” Pax grumbled.
Bartholomew smiled. “Every effort will be made to defeat the Sea King without hurting Nate, you have my word.”
“Bartholomew wouldn’t lie,” Sully told Pax.
“He did tell me his name was Augustus Drake for several weeks.”
“Well…he’s a bit weird.”
“Thank you for the resounding support, Sullivan,” Bartholomew said with a roll of his eyes. “Can we talk?”
Sully nodded, and the two of them went off to discuss something. Weird immortal supernatural shit, probably.
“This is turning into quite the coalition,” Gavin said. He sounded proud. “The crown, the navy, God, some angels, some demons, some dragons. I almost feel bad for the Sea King and company.”
“Don’t make the mistake of underestimating them.” Pax and Natalie had with them a lady wearing a full-body veil, who Owen had assumed wasn’t going to say anything. But nope, there she was, saying things. Teach him to make assumptions. “The Sea King is very powerful—and I expect that shadow is as well. And the pirate lord is nothing to scoff at either. From what I can tell, he’s got very powerful magic behind him. Even with most of his ships captured, he’s dangerous. All three of them are.”
“Do you know what kind of magic?” Mick asked veiled lady.
“No, I’m afraid not. There was too much going on for me to get a good sense of it.”
“It felt like necromancy,” Lillian said quietly. “I was distracted during the fight. But it felt like necromancy to me.”
“Necromancy doesn’t blast holes in people and walls,” Gavin said.
“It can,” Lillian disagreed. “If it’s used properly.”
“You must not count me as part of your coalition,” Mathilda said to Gavin. “As a warning. I have things to do and I cannot sit around for months—if you wish to fight the Sea King again, you may call me, but I will only be staying with you until we are off this wretched ship and I can fly home.”
“Flying over water is hard,” Louis added.
“Too bad,” Owen said, wondering why that was. “Having you around is useful.”
“I know. You are also useful. For a human.”
Owen snorted. “I try.” He liked her, despite her dragon-ness.
“It shows.” Mathilda turned back to Gavin. “I want my Sceptre back, but I am a busy person. I will give you the means to call me when you need my help again. I trust this will be sufficient.”
“Yes, it should be,” Gavin said. “Thank you.”
A hand on Owen’s shoulder got his attention, and Darby was standing there in a coat someone had given him. Don’t forget me.
Owen smiled. I won’t. You want to go home? I’ll take you. He didn’t know where Darby was from, but he’d get the kid home.
I can help. Fight. Darby signed something else rapidly, which Owen missed.
Slower? Owen asked.
“He said he’s from too far away to get home,” Pax interpreted. “And he’d rather stay and help you than return anyway. I think he likes you. For some reason.”
“Did you have to add that last part?”
“Yes.” Pax signed at Darby really fast, and Darby signed back. “He says you’re strong, and he wants to help you.”
“Figured we’d adopt kids someday,” Gavin muttered. “Not quite what I had in mind, but okay.”
Owen blushed. “He’s a trainee, calm down.”
“So you’re saying yes to him, then?” Gavin asked, smiling.
Owen sighed. Of course he was. Okay, he told Darby. You can help. But do as I say.
Owen somehow doubted that—Darby reminded him of himself—but he’d take it for now.
“If there’s nothing else pressing,” Cal said, yawning. “Some of us have had a very long day coming at the end of a very long few months and would like to rest.” He’d stepped closer to his two guys, in touching distance.
“I can offer you all rooms on the Coral Witch,” Natalie said. “I know the admiral is about to do that, but he’s got at least five dozen prisoners in addition to his own crew now.”
They had rounded up all the pirates who’d remained—some had gotten away, a lot had sank—and they were all currently in chains in the bellies of naval ships. Still, Aerchon looked perturbed by that. “It seems far more appropriate for the prince to remain on the Queen Geneva,” he protested.
“Captain Natalie is right,” Gavin said. “Your people are packed to the rafters already. I don’t want to kick half your crew out of what’s left of their space. I’ll kick her crew out instead.”
Owen would rather stay on the naval ship, but he also didn’t really care as long as he and Gavin had a bed. And it was the same bed, that was very important.
“Very well,” the admiral sighed. “I admit to the wisdom of this. Still, we will talk again soon, your Highness.”
“Yes we will. Thank you again for your help, Admiral.”
Aerchon saluted Gavin, and that was that, mostly. The big group sort of broke apart into smaller groups, Gavin talking quietly with Natalie and her veiled friend. So Owen wandered off, noted Edwin hanging back with Erik. Of course he’d stayed quiet through all that, but still. “A sea serpent, huh?” Apparently he’d killed one that had appeared with the kraken. Cut it right in half.
“Yep,” Edwin said, smiling nervously with a glance at Erik. “And I didn’t even need a little boy’s help.”
“Oh, there’s your confidence,” Owen teased. “I was wondering where you’d been keeping that.”
“Had to clean the snake brains off of it, that’s all,” Edwin said, with a chuckle. “Also, I’m going to bang Louis, so. That’s basically the same as slaying a dragon, I think?”
Owen glanced at Louis, talking to Joey and Travis. “Yeah, I think so.” He patted Edwin on the back. “Good job. And thank you for protecting Gavin.”
Edwin shrugged. “It’s my job.”
“I know. You should be proud. Both of you,” he added, including Erik.
“I…” Owen had already turned away when Edwin spoke up. “I named the sword, by the way.”
“Yeah?” Owen smiled, turning around and crossing his arms. “Let’s hear it.”
“Monstersbane,” Edwin said, blushing a little.
“Oh, wicked,” Owen said. That was cool. Not as cat-themed as Owen had hoped, but it fit. “I like it.”
“Whatever,” Edwin said, shrugging and not making eye contact.
“Now you can help me name mine,” Owen added.
“I was hoping to do a whole mid-battle banter thing where we named our swords together in the heat of the moment, but you took forever so now you can just help me with mine later.” Owen gave Edwin one last smile. “But I like that, good job.”
And he headed over to the plank leading to the Coral Witch, to decide how precarious that was going to be. It didn’t look too bad, as long as he didn’t fall. Pax was there with his blonde friend, the one missing a bit of his ear. Pax looked at Owen, arms crossed. It wasn’t as intimidating as when Gavin did it. “I’m consenting to you staying on my ship only because the captain already did and also because I don’t dislike you as much as it might seem, I know you were only doing what you thought was right. It’s just that it was wrong and you didn’t know.”
Owen snorted a laugh. “Good thing I had you to stab some sense into me, then. Sorry about Nate. If I’d known there was a normal person in there I wouldn’t have tried so hard to kill him to death.”
“Normal is pushing it,” Pax muttered, fingering the medallion. But he smiled. “Anyway, I have to go clean out some cabins for you and your people. You look good at carrying things. Come carry things for me.”
“People earn their keep on my ship,” Pax told him, crossing the plank with ease, his friend following. “If you want a room you have to help me take all the junk out of it first, that’s how it works, come on, Sir Ox, it’s not as heavy as a kraken.”
Owen rolled his eyes, following Pax with a little less grace, but making it. “Next time I’m going to stab you back.”
“You’ll get used to that feeling,” Pax’s friend said, and Owen just shook his head. He followed after them and did their lifting, just grateful that they could do this, because it was all over—they were all safe, at least for now, and that was what mattered.
Now all Owen needed was food, Gavin, a bed and then a very important combination of those last two and everything would be perfect again.