The Life of a Renegade Isn’t Hard for the Reasons You’ve Been Led to Believe, They Have a Whole Mess of Problems Nobody Knows About
“None of you are to speak,” said Mom, as they prepared to leave the island. John wished he could be as excited as he normally was about leaving the island. Normally it felt like escaping a prison. This time his jailers were coming with him. “The Sorcerer King is volatile and easily angered, and I won’t have any of you setting him off with your idiocy.”
John didn’t need to imagine that she was directing that comment at him. She looked right at him as she spoke. John just made himself look fully at her, trying not to be afraid. Of Sorcerer King, of James, of her. And it worked. She rolled her eyes and shifted her glare to Dad. She wouldn’t hurt him. She needed him. John had stayed up all night last night, long after Dad had fallen asleep in his bed, writing spells. Combat spells, to give them an advantage over James, over someone who was way more powerful than any of them were, even together.
Mom said it wasn’t supposed to come down to a fight, that the Sorcerer King was going to trap him. But John would rather feel silly for wasting a night of sleep than be dead for being unprepared.
“You’re the one with the relationship with him,” said Dad, stressing the word ‘relationship’ just a little. Was mom having sex with the Sorcerer King? “We’re not interested in getting in your way.”
“Good,” said Mom with a brusque nod. She was shorter of temper than usual today, seeming just on the edge of yelling already. Dad said she was nervous. “Let’s go, then.”
They didn’t move. All four of them were standing in a spell circle, and Mom activated it as she spoke, teleporting them to the castle. Kay stumbled into John and John helped her up, and Dad clutched his stomach, but John just made a bit of a face. That had been a lot rougher than a teleportation spell needed to be, no buffer in it to account for changes in altitude or humidity, no atmospheric or light mimicry to ease the body into the new environment. Maybe he’d insist on writing the one to bring them home. There was no reason for travel to be that bumpy, and John was closer to the island then he’d ever been. He’d be able to get them back without anyone even noticing they’d teleported.
They’d appeared in a featureless, square stone room with a lone window overlooking some mountains that didn’t remind John of the Hyllars near Punjga at all, jagged and harsh and dark. Standing outside the spell circle on the floor was a tightly dressed boy with dark skin and an impatient expression on his face, who looked tall for his age. He had really cool boots, John thought, laced up over his pants all the way to his thighs. They even had a little heel on them. John wondered if he could get boots like that.
“Your Majesty,” said Mom, to the boy.
Oh. This boy was the Sorcerer King? That explained why he was dressed so nicely. John bowed, figuring at least one of them should be polite, since it obviously wasn’t going to be Mom. She had never even bowed to the centaur chief when John had been a kid.
“Can I assume you’ve told your family about the plan?” The Sorcerer King—his name was Samson, John had heard Mom say it before—said. He wasn’t looking at any of them as he spoke. “I’m not having them screw everything up because you were too stupid to tell them what was going on.”
Oh, wow. Nobody talked to Mom like that. And John could see that Mom hated it, the way she clenched her first, just slightly. King Samson must be really powerful—or have some good leverage—to be able to get away with that, holy shit.
“Yes,” said Mom, keeping her voice neutral even as she made a face. “I’ve informed them. Is everything ready on this end?”
“Yes, we’re just waiting for your son.” Did he really not see how she was looking at him? He still wasn’t really looking at them, or anything, actually, not that John was looking that hard. He was just kind of…oh, he was blind. Now that John was looking, his eyes were just kind of unfocused. John felt bad for staring, and tried to look somewhere else without seeming like he was avoiding looking, which would also be mean. He settled for looking at the king’s boots again. John wanted to wear those, preferably with nothing else.
Mom nodded. “I don’t suppose that James gave you a timeline for when he planned to arrive?”
“No. Just that it will be sometime today.” That, thought John, was just like James. Even when he’d been little he’d never committed to having anything done on time, least of all his chores. It had used to drive John crazy, because he’d always done his chores right away, and he and James hadn’t been allowed to go out and play together until both of them were done.
“I see. So we could be waiting here for hours,” Mom said, obviously looking for a reason to be annoyed besides the way the king had spoken to her. And when Mom wanted to be mad, talking about one of her kids usually did the trick. “Assuming he comes at all.”
“He’ll come.” King Samson sounded pretty sure of that. John wondered how he’d convinced James to walk into a trap. He didn’t think James was stupid, so King Samson must be pretty smart.
“If you insist,” Mom said, biting back a sigh. Was this how she always talked to the Sorcerer King? They both must really need each other, John thought, since they put up with each other when they clearly didn’t like each other.
The room had a heavy, dark wooden door, which opened just then, admitting a boy who was…completely naked, except for a few leather straps on his chest and a metal cage on his dick that looked really heavy. “Excuse me, your Majesty,” said the boy, in a quiet voice. He was shaking a little, eyes on the floor, hair hanging in his face. He was scared.
“What?” said King Samson, sounding irritated at the interruption. Did he make all his servants go around naked and in cock cages? Maybe John could work here for a week sometime. It might be worth it to try and fix the obvious rift between their families.
The boy moved forward a little, shuffling rather than walking, standing awkwardly, as if not quite on-balance. “Derek told me to come get you, your Majesty.”
The king sighed. “I have to go deal with something. I’ll be back shortly. If James appears, do entertain him until I get back.”
“Of course, your Majesty,” said Mom, and King Samson left them in there, banging the door shut behind him.
They stood there together in silence for a minute. John resisted the urge to hug himself or lean on his dad. Something felt funny.
“He’s younger than I thought,” Dad said, after a second. “He’s Kayla’s age.”
“He’s what we have to work with,” said Mom, still irritable.
The castle shook, and John yelped, reaching for his dad’s hand. But it was just one small rumble and it stopped. “What was that?” he asked. It couldn’t have been James, right?
“Not an earthquake,” said Mom, going over to the window. “And not James, I didn’t feel any witchcraft.”
“It must be an attack of some kind,” said Dad, hand on John’s lower back. “Castles don’t move on their own.”
“No fucking kidding,” Mom growled, stepping back from the window as a shadow passed overhead. “There’s a dragon out there.”
Oh. “We should go home,” John said, heartbeat picking up. “Dragons resist magic. If there’s one attacking the castle, King Samson won’t be able to stop it and neither will we.” John did know a spell that could theoretically penetrate a dragon’s magic resistance by slightly inverting its biological structure, but he’d never used it on an actual dragon.
“Don’t be stupid, we’re not going home. It’s Samson’s spell, not mine, so I can’t take us back. And anyway, this is our only chance to catch James while he’s not expecting us.”
“It’s not going to be our only chance to do that,” Dad said. “There will be other chances, Jocelyn, when we won’t have a dragon breathing down our necks.”
“You don’t know that, and if we leave now, we won’t have Samson on our side when we confront James. He never leaves the damn forest, which means he’s always with my mother and sister and her little shits. He’ll be at his weakest here, and we’ll have allies . Not to mention that if we fuck off now, we don’t just lose our ally, we make an enemy of him. Trust me, we don’t want that.”
“You’re afraid of them,” John realized suddenly, whispering it even as he said it aloud, because he knew he shouldn’t say it. “You’re afraid of both of them, Samson and James both.”
Mom turned the full force of her glare on John, who stepped back. “Not all of us are as cowardly as you, son.”
John felt himself shake, but he took a deep breath. “But you are,” he said, not backing up any further. “You’re stuck between them and you’re not as powerful as either of them and James hates you and Samson doesn’t like you either. You’re afraid of them.”
“Shut the hell up, John,” Mom warned, and the castle shook again. John told himself that, mad as she was, the castle wasn’t shaking with her anger.
John sat down on the floor, reaching into his bag and pulling out some paper and ink he’d brought with him just in case. Sitting gave him an excuse not to look at Mom anymore, but without seeming like he was trying not to look at her. “If we’re staying here, I have to put together some spells in case we have to defend ourselves from the dragons,” he said, by way of excuse.
“We’ve got shield spells,” Kay said, edging closer to Mom.
“They won’t be strong enough,” John told her. “They never are. If you come over here I can show you how to strengthen yours. Dragon fire isn’t just hot, it has an antinominal power and an acidic chemical structure that take a lot to block using conventional spell structures, but I know a trick that makes it more efficient.”
“What, because you’re an expert on dragons now?” Kay sneered.
“I defended a village near Pungja from a dragon attack once,” John explained, only noticing a few seconds later that the room had gone quiet. He looked up.
“You could have mentioned that at some point,” Mom said, glaring.
“You didn’t ask. You’ve never asked what I did while I was there. It’s not my fault you don’t care about me.”
“Of course it is,” Mom growled. “You’ve spent your whole life making it impossible to care about you.”
That hurt but John pretended it didn’t, methodically working on his spells. “That’s enough, Jocelyn,” said Dad. John couldn’t help but smile to himself. “He’s trying to help get us out of this mess safely. Do you ever pause to think that people would be more willing to help you if you weren’t such a catastrophic bitch?”
“Excuse me, you pathetic little…Johnathon, stop laughing.”
John hadn’t noticed himself start to laugh, but he didn’t stop, giggling as he wrote his spell. “It’s true,” he said, not able to hold it in. “You are.”
“Don’t you start, you spineless piece of shit.”
“You’re spineless,” John said. “You don’t stand up to Samson, you’re afraid of James, you’re hiding from grandma. All you ever do is sit around making plans and being mean to people who can’t hurt you, because you’re too much of a coward to actually do something.”
“You little shit.” Mom strode forward and whipped out her hand to smack John, magic infusing the blow.
She struck the shield John was making, designed to hold off a dragon, and it snapped back at her, slamming her against the far wall. John giggled again, looking back down at his work. He started on the spell that would let him bypass draconic magic resistance, which John was pretty sure was anchored in their bones.
Kay went over and helped Mom up, was pushed away. The castle shook again, worse this time. Dad crouched beside John. “Is there anything I can do to help, baby?” he asked, after a minute.
“No, I’m okay,” John said, caught up in working. This wasn’t that hard. And…Dad couldn’t help him anyway. None of them could. John was too much better than them. He didn’t need any of them, not for this. “I’m going back to Pungja after this,” he said, raising his voice so Mom would hear. “I’m going to study and live there. I’ll come back and visit sometimes. You can say you’ll kill me if you want, but we both know you’re full of shit.”
Mom laughed, a harsh sound. “Would it have killed you to have grown up like this five years ago?”
John ignored her, went back to work. Something rippled through the air, and he looked up. “Did you feel that?” he asked Dad.
John was silent for a second, assessing what he’d felt. A power not unlike his, but…louder, maybe. “It’s James. He’s here.”
“He was supposed to appear in this room,” Mom growled, standing up. “So we could attack him before he got his bearings.”
“So Samson lied to you,” said Dad. “Imagine that.”
“Shut up, Kyle.”
“No, you shut up, Jocelyn. I want a divorce.”
This time, the shaking was accompanied by an obvious explosion, masonry falling, the floor rumbling. “Oh, shit,” John said, grabbing his spellwork and falling back, letting Dad pull him as the floor started to collapse.
“Fuck,” he heard Mom say. The wall was giving out behind her, collapsing. It was going to crush her. John reached out a hand…
And let it drop. Let it crush her.
“Mom!” Kay’s magic burst through the room, blasting the rocks away before they could kill Mom, pulling her over to the safe part of the room. John looked away, letting Dad hold him.
A silence fell in the room, all of them breathing, well aware of what had just happened.
But it didn’t last long. Emerging from the dust were three long centipedes, like the ones on the island. What were they doing here?
And then one of them reared up in front of Mom. And spoke. “Hey, Tipsy. Guess what I know that you don’t?”
“What the fuck?” John asked, staring at it. That was no bug. On the island, they were just scary bugs. But here, there was a whole different energy wafting off it, something dangerous and evil.
Also it was talking, so that was fucked up.
“Don’t have time for your games, monster,” Mom snapped at it, getting to her feet and brushing dust off her clothes. “I’m busy.” She didn’t sound surprised. This must be some servant of the Sorcerer King. A demon, John thought. Sorcerers summoned demons.
“You’re looking for your bundle of joy, I know,” a bug shouldn’t be able to sneer, but the one in front of Mom did. “Should I bring you to him?
“I’m making no bargain with you.” Mom headed for the door.
“Consider it a gift.”
John felt it, the demon’s power coalescing into a spell before any of them could do anything. “Wait!” John said, reaching out, his own power coming to the fore to counteract it, but it was too late. Mom was gone, teleported away.
And then, an instant later, so were they.
They landed in another room in the castle, the window way higher on the wall. John coughed as he pushed himself to his feet, taking a second too long to realize that this room was also filled with power. Power he recognized.
“Ah, look who’s come to visit,” said a smooth, evil voice. The Sea King looked like a handsome western boy younger than John, with the strong chest and arms of a sailor, a pretty face and bright eyes that were currently looking down at John, amused. “I suppose you’re a distraction, but you’re an amusing one, so I’ll allow it. For now.” He was wearing a crown, necklace, a brace, some rings, and holding a sceptre made from bone. Those were where all his power was, where his soul was. John could feel it from here, the way they all connected to each other, to him.
John backed up, pushing Dad and Kay away from the Sea King. “Stay back,” he told them, told the Sea King, told everyone. This was dangerous, fuck.
Behind the Sea King were Constantine Hammerhead and Alanna. The two pieces of John’s soul, stolen by the Sea King. They looked good, intact. John’s eyes lingered on them, before sliding from Hammerhead back to the Sea King. Did they resemble each other or was that his imagination?
“Restrain them,” said the Sea King, holding out a hand. Magic curled around them, for all that he’d just ordered his people—John’s people—to do it. “This should be most interesting.”
“No,” John said. The Sea King was powerful, but John was no fucking pushover. He ripped through the Sea King’s hold, stood up. “Don’t touch them.”
The Sea King smiled. He was pretty, but John barely saw that. “Surely you realize by now how badly you are outmatched by us, necromancer.”
“It doesn’t matter how powerful you are,” said John, hoping his knees weren’t shaking as obviously as he felt they were. Behind him, he could feel Dad’s power working, softly. That was good, John wouldn’t be able to protect him as he crafted his own spells. It was harder when they weren’t there on paper for him to work out, but he was trying. “Nobody’s unbeatable.”
“I welcome your challenge to my supremacy, then,” said the Sea King, reaching out for John. “You would be only the latest and least of those I have bested in single combat.” Power assailed him, and John’s dragon shield snapped into place, blocking most of it, though he was still pushed back. “Impressive.”
“Magic isn’t just about power,” John whispered, still working on spells. “It’s about ideas. And I have a lot of ideas.”
Behind him, Kay vanished with a pop. “What?”
Dad stood up. “Sent her home. Can’t have you guys in danger. Your turn, John.”
“No.” John faced the Sea King again. “You go. I can handle this.”
“I’m not leaving you here, John.”
John nodded. “Then stay behind me.” Hammerhead and Alanna were flanking them, but John kept his eyes on the Sea King. “This is my soul I’m fighting for. It’s my responsibility.”
The Sea King was still smiling, hammering John’s barrier. “You know your shield cannot endure forever, powerful though it may be.”
“I know,” said John. Now he smiled at the Sea King. “But I also know that I have something you want.”
“Oh? Do entertain me.”
“These two,” John said, gesturing at Alanna because she was closer. “They’re good servants, right? You like them.”
“I admit, you performed an admirable feat in constructing them, piteous as your ability to control them turned out to be.”
“I can make more. As many more as you want.”
“Quiet, Dad.” John knew what he was doing, the spell coming together in his head. It tasted like white wine and fruit.
The Sea King paused. “The last you spoke to me, you needed these two back because they were your only creations.”
“That was a while ago now,” said John. “Do you think I’ve done nothing since then? You’re just some jewelry that’s forgotten how to grow. I haven’t even started changing the world yet.”
A silence washed through the room as they stared each other down. And then the Sea King nodded. “I will require a fleet of such sailors,” he said.
John tried not to smile. “As long as you can provide the corpses. And you’ll let my family go, and give me back those two.”
“My Lord,” said Hammerhead, looking at the Sea King. “He’s lying.” Traitor.
“Perhaps,” said the Sea King. “But very well. I shall allow your father to go free, but I will keep these two and you will remain here until you’ve proven you can indeed do as you claim.”
“Fine,” said John. The terms didn’t matter. It was the agreement that mattered.
“It’s okay, Dad,” John said. “I know what I’m doing.” He took a step forward, held out his hand to the Sea King. “Deal?”
“Very well,” said the Sea King. And he took John’s hand and shook it.
John’s spell took hold as soon as they were touching. A modified form of what he’d been prepared to use on a dragon, it turned the Sea King’s power against him for just a second, enough to expose the exact matrix that kept the pieces of his Regalia tied together, tied to him. His soul was in so many pieces, precariously and tightly knitted together by the jewelry in a tangle that couldn’t be untied. Not just one soul, John realized, as power coursed through him. Four souls, merged together. No wonder he was so powerful.
“What is this?” the Sea King demanded. “What deception have you wrought, necromancer?”
“I’m not just a necromancer,” John whispered, power pooling in his chest. “I’m John of the Orange Witch Clan.”
“And I,” said the Sea King, pushing back against John’s magic, his essence trying to right itself. “am the whole power of the ocean, you fool.”
John nodded, just once. “I know.”
John didn’t push, didn’t try to use brute force. That didn’t work on the ocean, he knew that full well. Instead, as that power pushed against him, he gently took it and anchored it to his own, letting his power seep into the Sea King’s, finding the cracks and fissures and strings that kept him knitted together. The Sea King was smirking, obviously thinking he was overwhelming John, that John’s power wasn’t enough to stand in the face of the ocean, but John wasn’t trying to stand against the ocean, he was swimming in it, using the waves and tide to his advantage, just like his dad had taught him. He just needed another few seconds, just enough time for his spell to take hold, and then all he had to do was…
“John!” Dad pulled him away, breaking John’s physical connection with the Sea King. “Are you okay?”
“Dad!” John struggled, reaching out. He needed to dive back into the Sea King for the last part of the spell to take effect. “I’m fine. Let go, I need…”
“It’s okay, he’s not going to hurt you,” Dad said, touching John’s face. Looking at John and seeing someone else.
“No, listen! I’m…”
“You’re going home.”
“Fuck, no, you can’t!” John just needed two more seconds. All his power was directed at the Sea King, he couldn’t move his dad off him.
“It’s okay, baby boy,” Dad said softly. He kissed John. “I’ll always love you.”
“No, Dad, wait!”
But Dad didn’t listen, and John was hit with his spell, teleported away.
He landed in a pile of snow, and jumped up, freezing. “Fuck,” he said, stumbling forward. “Fuck, fuck, no!”
He…he had to go back. He’d go back and kill the Sea King and get his dad and…he couldn’t. He couldn’t set up the portal, couldn’t teleport back. He couldn’t find the endpoint of the spell, couldn’t find where he’d just been, couldn’t find…
Dad had put a barrier around it, so he couldn’t get back. So John didn’t come and try to rescue him. He thought he was protecting John. He thought…
“Dammit, Dad,” John said, sitting down in the snow. “You fucking idiot!”
Dad hadn’t even sent him home, what the fuck was this? He was just in some random snow in the middle of nowhere, exhausted and cold and alone, and his dad was back there in the castle, maybe dying or worse.
No. No, Dad wouldn’t die. The Sea King wouldn’t kill him as long as he was a lure for John to come back and make him a fleet. Right? John had to hope the Sea King was as arrogant as he seemed.
John stood up, looked around. There was a hill there, and he climbed it, freezing. He needed to get somewhere warm. He had to find a way back to the Sorcerer King’s castle. A boat, ideally, that way he was most likely to run into the Sea King. On the ocean. Where he was at his most powerful. John had barely stood up against him in an arid castle just now.
He couldn’t do this. John was all alone, had nobody to help him, nobody to support him, nobody to hold him.
Would it have killed you to have grown up like this five years ago?
No. No, he couldn’t think like that. He had to do this. Nobody else would save his dad. Nobody else cared about him.
It’s okay, baby boy. I’ll always love you.
“I’ll always love you too, daddy,” John said, into the wind. He would, always. But Mom was right, even if only about one thing. He had to grow up. If he’d been less of a baby back then, things might have gone differently. He couldn’t make that mistake again. There was too much at stake this time.
John loved being a baby, but he couldn’t sit and wait for someone else to fix this for him. His daddy didn’t need a baby right now. He needed a grown fucking adult who could do what needed to be done to come and save him before he got hurt.
And John was going to be that adult. He was a world traveller and a genius and a member of the Orange Witch Clan, and he was going to rescue his father.
There was a big city down there, surrounding a big bay. He didn’t recognize it, but it had what he needed. He’d go there, he’d get a boat and he’d go save his dad. John took the first step towards the city, feeling for the first time in months…no, in years, that he was doing something worthwhile, important. That his life had purpose.
That he had purpose. That it had a direction, that he was moving towards something, instead of running or hiding from something.
And now that John knew where he was going, nothing in the world was going to stop him, and nobody in the world was going to get in his way. No matter what he had to do.
8 thoughts on “Renegade, 10”
Get rekt, Jocelyn.
Thank you, I couldn’t possibly agree more with this. And thanks for reading the story, I appreciate it! 😀
My, Jocelyn is having a bad day. And we already know it’s only going to get worse from here…
And finally, John realizes just how skilled he really is.
(Aaaand Kyle fucks everything up. Again.)
Yep, this is only the start of Jocelyn’s bad day, she hasn’t even been stabbed yet!
I am proud of John for finally having that moment. It was hard earned and he more than deserves it, I think. He also deserved not to have Kyle ruin everything, but hey. Ruining everything is the only thing Kyle’s good at. 😀
Thank you for reading! I really appreciate it!
Dammit Kyle! You know your son is a gazillion times better than you are at necromancy, maybe consider listening to him when he says he’s got this under control!
Yes, but that would require Kyle to have things like “situational awareness” and “self awareness” and “common sense,” all of which we know he lacks pretty intensely. 😀 Thank you for reading, it means a lot to me!
Is Kyle ever going to find out how badly he fucked this up? Because a very vindictive part of me wants to see his reaction to the knowledge that his big Heroic Sacrifice(TM) did nothing but snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.
That’s a very good question. I think John might be the only one who truly realizes what a fuck-up that was–the Sea King knows he was under attack, but I’m not sure he realizes the extent of it. But I also very vindictively hope that Kyle gets smacked down with the knowledge of just how much he Ruined Everything today, haha.
Thanks so much for reading and commenting! It means a lot to me. 😀