Stowaway, 86

All Long Journeys have Detours, and Sometimes Those Detours Are to the Bottom of the Sea

Ao3 Link

“Take care of the ship while we’re gone,” Natalie said.

“Don’t worry, Captain,” Cedric said, standing at the helm. “Sharon and I have everything under control.”

Sharon nodded. “Don’t worry. You do what needs doing down there.”

“We will,” Pax promised. “We’ll be back shortly, though possibly shortly in a calendrical sense.”

“Just keep the ship safe,” Natalie said with a nod. She hugged Sharon. “Cedric knows what to do. Don’t worry.”

Sharon hugged Natalie back. “I won’t. Everything will be fine.”

Natalie nodded, and stepped back. She, Pax, Denver, Louis, John and Sylvester were leaving the ship with Kein for a few days to go to his house under the sea to see the mysterious thing he needed to show them, which he’d tried being ominous and ambiguous about for a few minutes before Nate had called him on it and he’d given up and told them he wanted them to meet some merpeople royalty to talk about the Sea King.

None of them were dressed to meet royalty, at least not by human standards. Kein had told them that their clothes would be too much of an impediment under the water, too heavy and bulky. Though Pax had wanted to disagree, and had in fact disagreed, he’d been forced to admit that Kein was the expert on underwater locomotion—for now. So Pax was wearing a pair of smallclothes and only two harnesses on his thighs. Natalie was also in her smallclothes, a small brassiere that seemed designed to show rather than contain her cleavage and even smaller…Pax wasn’t even sure what it was, but it was covering her sensitive regions and not much else. Both parts had frills around the edges, suggesting that the garments were decorative rather than functional.

Yours are bright red, Nate had reminded him when he’d noticed that.

That’s different, Pax had insisted. He just liked bright colours, and he hardly wore smallclothes these days anyway. Besides, these are functional, too. If foreign diplomats saw the portal ring, they’d get the wrong impression and assume that I needed artificial restraints to control my reactions.

You did get pretty excited when Kein mentioned that he lived near an underwater combat museum.

That’s different too, my interest in knives is purely scholarly.

Denver, of course, was naked but for two harnesses on his arms. John had opted to be naked as well, giving Pax a full view of every single tattoo and piercing on every part of his body, which Pax could admit were well done, especially the large, stylized tattoo of the island on his chest and back, which looked like it was done by the same artist who’d done the small set of glyphs just above his penis. Nate didn’t like his piercings, especially the ones in his dick, but Pax thought they suited him.

Louis was obviously naked, and so was Sylvester, which Pax thought was rather rude, considering he’d specifically asked him to come for extra backup.

“Are you ready?” Kein asked, standing near the railing.

Natalie looked at the four of them. “Reservations?”

“None,” Pax said, though he had many. If Kein decided to kill them under the ocean, nobody would be able to stop him. But that was why they were bringing John, Sylvester and Louis. They’d be bringing Sharon too, but being under the ocean was bad for her and Kein’s magic wasn’t compatible with hers.

It was interesting, Pax thought, that the spells he’d done on them to allow them to go under the water worked on Louis. Dragons were magic-proof, but Kein hadn’t had any problem enchanting him as well.

“I think we’re all fine,” Denver said, waving a last goodbye to Persephone, who squawked back.

Let’s go, Nate said, and Pax nodded his agreement.

“Okay,” said Natalie, turning to Kein. “Let’s go.”

“Thanks for inviting me,” Sylvester said, patting Pax’s back. “This is really fucking cool.”

Pax nodded. “I invited you because you’re an extremely capable wizard and we may need magical support that we can trust.”

“Right, I get that. But it’s also fucking cool.”

Pax smiled. “Yes. It is that. I admit I did think you’d enjoy being a part of the first interspecies delegation to the bottom of the sea.”

“I do. And it’s cool we’ll get to hang out, too.”

Pax nodded. He was looking forward to that too.

Kein was doing something that was making water rise up to the level of the railing. He stepped over, standing on the water. “Join me,” he said, holding out his hand. “I promise it’s quite safe.”

Without looking at the others, Natalie stepped over the rail onto the water. Pax followed her with Nate, surprised to find the footing quite firm. Denver tried to step over next, but Louis held him back, coming over himself first before helping Denver and then John over. Sylvester vaulted over the rail, standing with them.

“Don’t sink my ship while I’m gone,” Natalie said to Cedric, at the helm. The rest of the crew was there as well, and she looked at them. “Keep the Coral Witch clean, you lot.”

A chorus of ‘yes, sirs’ and salutes followed, and Natalie nodded, gesturing at Kein. The waterspout descended, waves splashing them, doing that annoying thing where they made the bottom of Pax’s smallclothes wet but not the rest of them. Beside Pax, Louis was holding his breath, so Pax took the hand that wasn’t being held by Denver. “It’s okay,” he promised.

Louis glanced at him. “I know. I’m not worried.”

Yes, he was. Pax and Denver had both tried to convince him to stay behind because it was obvious that going under the water scared him. “I know. But I think Denver is, and you know how he is, always pretending he’s okay. Maybe you could hold him until you’re sure he’s okay.”

Louis looked at Pax, probably fully recognizing what he was doing. He nodded, let go of Pax’s hand, and pulled Denver into a hug, which Denver returned. Pax smiled at them. John was hugging himself, and Sylvester took his hand. Natalie put a hand on Pax’s shoulder, and Nate put one on his ass. He really was glad for the portal ring, and not just so they could make a quick exit in case Kein turned out to be lying.

They went beneath the water. Pax pointedly didn’t hold his breath, but he did shut his eyes.

Immediately Kein’s spell started working, a brief tingle washing over Pax’s skin. Pax breathed in, and nothing was wrong. He nodded. “Everything’s fine,” he told everyone, voice burbling a little, distorted under the water.

Natalie sighed, also nodding. Sylvester had an arm around John. Denver kissed Louis, and suddenly grabbed his horn, making him gasp and getting him to breathe. “We will be moving very rapidly,” Kein told them. “Please hold still.”

They held still. A bubble of sorts appeared around them, and the light flickered and moved, rapidly getting dimmer. There was almost no sense of movement; in fact, Pax felt a stillness, a solidity so firm it had to be artificial. “This is a very interesting spell,” Pax said, watching the dark water, trying to find any proof that they were descending. It just got darker and darker, which Kein had warned them would happen. His spell had included an element that would let them see in the low light on the bottom of the ocean, as well as a few modifications to make sure they didn’t get crushed to death by the unfathomable pressure or freeze to death because of the unfathomable cold of the bottom of the sea.

Nobody answered, and Pax realized it was because none of them could hear him, his words carried away at high speed. Pax had not been told that he’d lose the ability to be heard during this process, but that was fine. A moment later that was the end of it, the darkness snapping away, the artificial stillness fading, replaced by a wavering current that was totally unlike the waves he’d grown accustomed to above. They were standing on sandy ground, in a field of luminescent, tubular plants that swayed back and forth, the stalks swaying more and more in their direction with every movement. One brushed Pax’s chest, and Pax touched it, hoping it wasn’t dangerous.

In front of them was a stone dome, wrapped in a spiral of glowing colour, a gentle, pulsating purple that was more calming than it should have been, coming as it was from something so obviously alive. The dome had a few small holes in it. Windows, Pax thought. “This is your house?”

“It is,” Kein told him. “I prefer to live away from the city.” He gestured to the left, and Pax turned.

They were floating on top of a cliff, which was an interesting experience in an environment where falling wasn’t a danger, and below them was a large network of the same kind of gentle lights that were wrapped around Kein’s house. Arranged in a series of interlocking spirals, it went on for kilometres, bigger than any city Pax had ever seen. In the centre was a huge series of domes growing out of each other, glowing brighter than anything else. They all came to stand with Pax on the edge of the cliff, looking down at the city. It’s beautiful, Nate said quietly, and Pax nodded.

“What’s it called?” Sylvester asked, hand on Pax’s shoulder again.

“This is Nilmeain Kasar,” Kein said, swimming over to join them. “The capital of the Imperium of Ran Errevir. Come inside my house; the journey will have taken more out of you than you think. Once you’ve had a moment to recover, I’ll take you to see the Emvel Prime. He’s waiting for you.”

“The Emvel Prime is like, the king, right?” Denver asked, as they moved awkwardly towards Kein’s house. Moving underwater was really rather challenging, but they managed it. “Should we be keeping him waiting?”

“It is fine,” Kein told him with a nod. “I warned him that it would take some time. He is not expecting us until later.”

“So this Imperium,” Natalie asked. “Is the political entity that has dominion over this part of the sea?”

“That’s right,” Kein said. He swam higher, clearly aiming for the top of the dome. They followed him, more slowly. “Like your domains on land, my people are not united under only one leader. Ran Errevir controls the territory under the seas you habitually sail, but there are other imperia, and we will need to speak with some of their Primes as well, as their territories encompass the areas you will need to sail over.”

“Do they also know we’re coming?” Pax asked. “It might be easier to ask them to come here so we can all talk together.”

“I do not have that measure of authority,” Kein explained. “But the Emvel Prime can do this once we’ve spoken with him. Come.”

“What’s the Emvel Prime like?” Natalie asked, as she reached the top of the dome with Pax. “What can we expect from him? Does he want something from us? What is his motivation for wanting to fight the Sea King suddenly?”

“I don’t know,” Kein said, and in Pax’s estimation, he seemed annoyed. “He would not tell me. The previous Prime was never concerned with the affairs of those above the waves. But the new Prime is the one who ordered me to come speak with you.”

“Ah,” said Pax. “So that’s why you decided to break your silence now.”

“Exactly. In here.” Kein tapped his foot on the top of the dome, and a light spiraled outward, a piece of the dome retreating into another, leaving a circular opening. A door.

“How does that work?” Pax asked, approaching it. “Is there a lever or switch, or is it magic?”

“Touching the tile in the centre activates it,” Kein said, which was not at all helpful, but Pax could figure it out on his own later. He floated down, and Pax and Natalie went with him, the others following.

The room below was circular, but much smaller than the dome, which made Pax think there must be other rooms also opened by hidden panels. It was lit by yellow and white lights on the walls and floor, and contained a small table, some shelves which mostly seemed to be filled with little carved totems. There was also a shark circling the room, and five merpeople standing there. Two of them were large, holding spears with long serrated tips, and watching them carefully. Two more were not holding spears, with vaguely luminescent patterns painted on their skin and vaguely snotty looks on their faces. The third was smaller than Denver, spines longer and not as sharp looking as the others, covered in even more intricate patterns, colouring mostly pink, and was watching them less carefully and less snottily.

Before Pax could tell Kein that it was rude not to tell them he had other guests, Kein crossed his hands in front of his face, leaning forward. “Prime,” he said. “I wasn’t aware you’d be visiting.”

The big two were clearly guards, and Pax didn’t imagine that the Prime would have brought his child to an important meeting with strangers, so the little one was the Emvel Prime. He bowed as best he could given the circumstances, as did Natalie and the others.

Sure enough, the boy looked at them, but spoke to Kein. “I’m tired of waiting for things to happen on your schedule, Kein,” he said, also in Gronnde, which surely wasn’t the merpeople’s language. How they were able to speak when they breathed through gills was a mystery at the moment. The higher tone at the end of the sentence was harder to hear under the water. “Not all of us are immortal.” He didn’t move, but it was clear when he started ignoring Kein. “Welcome to the Imperium of Ran Errevir, sailors. I am Alse Nonth-Mel, Emvel Prime.”

“I am Natalie anNadya, Captain of the Coral Witch,” Natalie said. “It’s an honour to meet you, sir.”

“Yes, I know. You’re in command?” the Prime asked, eyes flicking briefly to Louis and then back. “Very well. There’s no time to waste. You need our help to defeat the Sea King.”

“The way I see it, you need ours,” Natalie said.

“Excuse me?” The Prime asked, rising off the floor a little. The shark was swimming around all of them, brushing against Pax’s leg. It was long and striped.

“If you could do it, you’d have done it already. You’ve been hiding down here waiting for someone to solve this problem for you. Clearly it’s not just a problem on the surface if you care about it, which means you need it solved and can’t do it yourself,” Natalie said. “I’m happy to work with you, Prime. But I’ll thank you not to treat me like a servant.”

Everyone was quiet for a moment as the Prime stared at Natalie, but Pax was in agreement with her. This sort of bravado worked on rulers, in his experience. Behind Pax, Louis made a quiet, appreciative noise.

The snotty two merpeople started talking to the Prime, not in Gronnde this time but in their own language, which emphasized clicks and stops, Pax thought. It sounded pronounceable to him. Given a few weeks of immersion he could probably learn it. The Prime cut them both off with a few words, and inclined his head slightly at Natalie. “You’re right, of course, Captain. The Sea King imperils us all and I do need your help, just as much as you need mine. Probably more.”

“Right,” Natalie said. She smiled. “We’re happy to help, and happy to have allies.”

“Good, me too. Now.” The Prime looked at them, surveying them all in turn. The shark swam over and circled him, and the Prime stroked its back. “Which of you is going to get me pregnant?”

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2 thoughts on “Stowaway, 86

  1. Um? What?

    …on second thought, I don’t know why I’m surprised.

    The above was my thoughts on reading the closing line of this chapter. Also, probably, the thoughts of most of the characters upon hearing it.


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