All Stories Have Two Sides and if You Spend Enough Time Dealing with One, You’ll Eventually Hear the Other
“It’s really nothing to worry about,” Pax explained to John, who was the only person on the ship with less sailing experience than him and therefore was obviously far more worried than he was. “This happens sometimes because as you may be aware, ships are transported across the ocean through wind, and sometimes the wind fails to blow because wind is, of course, a natural phenomenon that is reliant on various natural factors that are not always present and is also a lifelong, very spiteful enemy of mine, and sometimes it likes to go off and plot my demise. As a result, sometimes ships are becalmed, and it’s really nothing to worry about.”
John nodded along as Pax talked. “Yes, I understand that. Also you keep saying not to worry in a way that makes me think you’re very worried.”
Pax fixed him with a flat expression. “That’s just because you haven’t learned to properly interpret my encouragement yet. You’ll get there. But in the meantime, how much effort on a scale of none to world-ending would it take you to magically create wind that could blow the sails for us?”
John looked up at the sails as if considering, which he’d better actually be doing. “A lot more than you probably think,” he said after a second. “A gust of wind isn’t a big deal, but sustained blowing of wind strong enough to move a ship? It would be a lot easier to make a current because the ocean wants to move even more than air does, but even then, that’s a lot of effort, and a lot of brute force. I could do it, but not for a very long time before I’d pass out.”
Define a very long time for us, Nate asked, quite politely. He’d gotten better at being polite to John now that Pax was also being polite to him.
“Like…an hour, at the most,” John said, holding his elbows in a half hug. “And then I’d be useless for most of a week. I’m sorry, it’s just not an easy thing to do.”
Pax sighed, and cleverly avoided the joke that was by all appearances right there in front of him, but which was in actuality far beneath him. “It’s not your fault the laws of reality don’t align with our specific needs, don’t worry about it. And I mean that this time. Sharon?”
“It would be no easier a task for me than for him,” said Sharon thoughtfully, also looking at the sails. “Perhaps harder, even. I’ve no doubt I could summon more magic in terms of brute force and get the ship moving for perhaps a few hours, but that would be it.”
“Louis is coming back,” said Denver, leaning on the rail.
Louis’s large form approached them, rocking the ship with the gusts from his wings, before he shifted back into a more shippable size and landed on the deck. He was breathing harder than Pax usually saw him, and shook himself all over. “It’s not just us,” he reported, sitting down on the step to the helm. “There’s no wind for kilometers in any direction.”
Leaning on the wheel, Natalie nodded. She looked up at the cloudless sky for a moment, then looked at Pax. “What do you think?”
“You know better than I do, as does Nate.”
“Consider it a learning experience.”
Everything was a learning experience, but Pax could do that. “I don’t think we should worry. Sometimes the wind doesn’t blow. It’ll be back in a day or two and if it’s not, then we can work out getting Sharon and John to move us a few kilometres at a time.”
That’s what I’d do too, Nate agreed, hand on Pax’s back.
“Right,” Natalie agreed. “That’s the right call. Tell everyone to sit tight. Cedric, get out the wine. We may as well all get drunk tonight.”
“Can do,” said Cedric, moving to leave the helm.
“Captain.” That was John. He was looking over the port rail, at the water. “There, uh, something there?”
“What kind of something?” Natalie asked, as they all moved to see what he was looking at.
“Well…it looks like a waterspout and feels like something that could kill us.”
Pax couldn’t speak to the second thing, but it did indeed appear that a waterspout was forming just off the side of the ship, the otherwise still water frothing and bubbling in one spot, causing ripples that were rocking the ship just gently. Pax took out a knife, and felt Denver do the same. “The Sea King?”
“No,” John said, shaking his head. “It’s definitely not him. The Sea King’s never been this subtle in any of his lives, and this magic is…slippery. I don’t recognize it at all.”
“I do,” said Sharon, sounding not nervous in the way the captain never sounded nervous. “Not specifically, but in general. It’s a merperson. Their magic is quite distinct.”
“Their entrances aren’t usually this dramatic either,” Pax reflected. Merpeople appeared sometimes, being that it was the ocean and that was where they lived, much like how sometimes dragons appeared on mountains or cows appeared in fields or humans appeared in brothels. But usually they just poked their heads out of the water or swam alongside the ship. This was all a bit much.
Pax appreciated it, honestly. It was fitting.
The bubbling water bubbled over into the waterspout John had predicted, rising five metres or so in the air and then bending down in a way that waterspouts generally didn’t. Louis grabbed Denver as Pax pulled John back, trusting everyone else to also step back with him, which they did. The water hit the deck, making all their feet and also everything else wet, but Pax didn’t care so much about that as he did about the merperson standing in the water. The spout collapsed on itself, making a wave that rocked the ship, but not so much as to take Pax’s carefully trained sea legs out from under him, and certainly not so much as to prevent him from keeping his knife steady.
They were tall for a merperson, almost the same height as John. They were skeletally thin, with scales of a dark green that faded into black on their stomach, face, and inner arms and legs. The fins on their arms, legs and spine looked sharp but probably weren’t, but their teeth and claws probably were. Their eyes were big and round and closer to the sides of their head than the front, and turned in their sockets, taking them all in. “Greetings,” said the merperson in very formal Gronnde. Merpeople lacked secondary sexual characteristics that were recognizable to humans, and didn’t have clothes or hair either, and nor did they have the human gender binary as Pax understood it, though they did have gender.
“Welcome to the Coral Witch,” said Natalie, inclining her head through the steam that was dissipating from around her and Sharon. They weren’t wet, at least not anywhere Pax could see. “What can we do for you?”
I recognize him, Nate muttered.
The merperson blinked, a clear film sliding over their eyes and back as they looked around. “Your vessel is named the Coral Witch?” they asked. “That is…apropos, for those who would combat the Sea King. In this, we would be allies.”
“You’re an enemy of the Sea King,” Pax said, putting his knives away. There wasn’t much point in having them out against a magic user anyway, not that that was stopping Denver, which was fair, because sharing an enemy didn’t make them allies. “That’s very interesting, considering we don’t know much about you, including, up until very recently, that you existed. Considering you have substantial magical power and could have helped us in our various confrontations with him.”
“Yes,” agreed the merperson with an inclination of their head. “I apologize for not introducing myself sooner. I have been watching you since your battle at the Sea King’s castle. My name is Kein. I am the Sea King’s husband.”
“I wasn’t aware the Sea King was married,” Pax said cautiously. This was throwing his claim about being the Sea King’s enemy into question.
Oh, my God, said Nate. I saw him. In one of the Sea King’s dreams.
Kein nodded. “More specifically, I was married to the man who became the Sea King. His name was Devon. When he became possessed by the Regalia, I…lost him. I am the one who killed him, the first time.”
“You’re the Coral Witch,” Denver said quietly.
“That’s right. It was many centuries ago,” said Kein. They lowered their head. “I am ultimately responsible for his becoming what he did. I led him to the Regalia. I made the Regalia, in fact. And when the time came, I was unable to destroy it.”
“You made the Regalia?” asked Natalie, arms crossed.
“Yes. Out of my father’s bones. It made me immortal.”
“How does that work?” John asked, suddenly seeming very interested. “What kind of spell would you carve into bones that would allow immortality? It would have to be some kind of recursive nodal structure, right? With a semistatic component to prevent further aging after the cessation of necropotentiality?”
“That is an extremely dangerous line of questioning,” said Kein, shifting from foot to webbed foot. “Were I you, I would calm your curiosity before it drives you to make the same terrible mistake I did and curse your father to eternal suffering. In any case, it only worked for me because my father was possessed by an ancient spirit. That spirit, my father, and Devon have all merged to become the monster called the Sea King.”
“Right, the Sea King is a kairotic amalgam of three souls,” John agreed, nodding. “Or four, rather, if you count the trace elements of Nate.”
“What? Explain.” John tended to use a lot of complicated verbiage when talking about magic and tended to just assume that everyone was following him. It was one of the few things about him Pax could genuinely sympathize with, but not when it came to Nate’s situation.
“It’s nothing to freak out about,” John said. “The Sea King was possessing him long enough that he’d started to absorb his soul. Since he’s clearly intact, it was probably just a small amount. Souls regrow as long you don’t lose too much of one at a time.”
“Okay, that’s something we’ll be talking about at a later time,” Pax assured John.
I don’t feel like I lost part of my soul, Nate muttered.
“His current host was named Nate,” Kein said, nodding to themselves. “I haven’t met him in person since he possessed his new body. You knew Nate?”
“Yes. He’s my son.”
“I am deeply sorry for your loss, and for my part in it.”
“Nate’s not lost,” Pax said. “We recovered his soul. The Sea King only has his body right now. That’s what we’re going to fix.”
“I…see,” said Kein, one eye angling down toward Pax’s chest. “The Sea King must be stopped at all costs before he destroys the world. In my observations, I have determined that you are capable of doing this.”
“Your observations,” Natalie said, crossing her arms. “How long have you been spying on us, exactly?”
“There is a great deal of magical power concentrated around your crew. It makes you easy to see, especially when you keep coming into proximity to the Sea King, whom I have been monitoring since his reappearance. Surely you would do the same to anyone you found to be tracking your son.”
“I would have introduced myself sooner, and with more proof of my intentions,” Natalie growled.
“Again, I apologize. But you will need my help. He is more powerful than you realize.”
“I know exactly how powerful he is,” said John, shaking his head.
“I also used to think that. Trust me, you need help.”
“And you can help us?” Pax asked. He was skeptical of this. Not that Kein could help him, he had no doubt that was true if only because the Sea King’s magic was different from everyone else’s, and if Kein had made him then he would be the only expert in the world on that magic. But Kein was another person who had motivations Pax didn’t know and who didn’t care about Nate.
“I can. I must first show you something, however. Tell me, are any of you competent swimmers?”
10 thoughts on “Stowaway, 85”
So Kein finally shows himself. And is as shady as ever.
Yep, he’s just as sketchy as we all thought he’d be!
What does “kairotic” mean in this instance? Google is giving me the Greek root “kairos”, meaning the right time to say or do something, and a term in rhetoric for making the right statement at the right moment. But that doesn’t seem to fit the context.
Kairotic has a secondary meaning that’s used in academia that describes informal spaces where connections are made. I sort of jumped off that definition and when it appears in talk about necromancy (John’s used it before), it refers to a sort of underlying space between the formal structures of magical spellwork that causes things to function that on paper seem like they shouldn’t work. Good necromantic spellwork leaves a good amount of kairotic space because it can operate as a failsafe if something goes wrong.
Hope that’s clear! Thanks for asking!
Oh, shut up, Kein. John clearly has a better understanding of the mechanics of this than you do. Don’t project your shortcomings onto him.
But if Kein doesn’t project his shortcomings onto John, he’ll have to face them himself! And besides, John is great at having other people project their shortcomings onto him, he’s been doing it his whole life!
But yeah, it’s pretty clear that John knows what he’s talking about, and Kein arguably doesn’t, haha.
Does the Sea King even want to destroy the world? Even if he does, he’s gonna have to get in line.
Honestly that’s not on the Sea King’s agenda, but yeah, if it were he’d be fourth or fifth in line at the very best.
I’m getting the impression that Kein is…a bit of a narcissist. Or maybe that’s not the right word, but…
He has to make big, dramatic entrances that show off how powerful and special he is.
His problems have to be big and grandiose, so solving them isn’t just cleaning up his own mess but saving the world.
He has to be the only one who REALLY understands the Sea King. Anyone else who thinks they do is just making the same mistake he did in underestimating him.
He has to play an integral role in subduing the Sea King: he can’t just watch someone else do it, even—especially—if it seems like they don’t need his help. (Seriously, what can he do here but provide backstory and exposition?)
If not a narcissist, then he’s definitely a massively self-centered drama queen.
😀 I’m very glad you picked up on all of that. Aside from providing all the backstory and exposition, there doesn’t seem to be a lot Kein can do that several other people aren’t already doing, and we only have his word that it’s really so much more complicated than they think. I definitely think he’s pretty self-centered, though there may be a bit more to it than that. Maybe.