Apocalypses Are Always Messiest When They Don’t Work Out
There were rather a lot of people fleeing the vicinity of the tower, which was probably because clouds were swirling above it and also it was glowing a little bit, which in Pax’s personal experience, towers didn’t usually do unless something was rather impressively wrong.
The tower was glowing blue, which created a striking and unique visual against the orange sky. Pax considered it for a moment. “So,” he said. “We know the torture cult is headquartered here. We also know the spell circle that was transcribed as a number puzzle on an abandoned Enjoni ship is carved on the ceiling of a secret sex room behind the governor’s office. We know the torture cult is trying to summon their evil torture god. And we know the general rules of reality, such as the sky being blue and towers not glowing blue, are not currently functioning in the area around this tower. What can we surmise from this?”
That the cult is using the tower to cast its evil torture god summoning spell? Nate asked.
“Very good, full marks, Nate,” said Pax, nodding once. He started towards the tower. “So our goal will quite simply be to get into the tower, find whomever is casting the spell, and stop them. Apocalypse solved and we can all go home.”
“I like this plan,” said Louis, nodding. “It’s way easier than Pax’s normal plans.”
That was because Pax had neglected to mention the forty-seven intervening steps to Louis, whom he’d figured would find them confusing. “Apocalypses tend to be fairly scripted so I anticipate we don’t have a lot of time, so rather than climbing the tower, I’d like to ask that we either fly or magic up to the correct floor. Louis?”
“No offence to Louis, but John can teleport us up there faster than Louis can transform and have us all climb on him,” Sylvester said.
“Of course you can, baby. Pax, what floor do we need to get to?”
Pax looked at Louis, but Denver had already taken his hand. “The seventh,” he said, pointing at it. “Preferably near that window.”
“I, I don’t know if I can…”
“You can do it,” Sylvester said, tone very calming. “Just give him a second.”
Pax nodded, pulling Robin and Denver over with Louis. “The others should be here in that second. When we go in, there’s a long hallway that has a door on either end. The one on the left is Governor Nuorn’s office. Robin is pretty sure she’s the one leading the torture cult.”
“Or at least that she’s in it,” Robin agreed. “There’s probably going to be a bunch of cultists and shit up there, so knives out.”
Denver nodded and took some out, and Louis just flexed his arms. Good enough.
“Hey,” said Jacob, joining them with Ignatius and Matthias, with Roberta just behind them. “Heard there was an apocalypse. Looks pretty apocalyptic.”
“Yes,” Pax concurred, waiting another second for Cyrus to join them. Once they were all together, he said, “I’m not going to go over everything I already explained, you can surmise it for yourselves. John is going to teleport us up there so we can fight the cult that’s trying to destroy the world.”
“I don’t think they’re trying to destroy the world,” Ignatius corrected. “Their spell actually seems like it’s meant to move the world. Or maybe move another world closer to ours.”
“The effect of which would be…” Roberta pressed.
“Uh. The destruction of the world, probably.”
“They call their ritual the Joining,” Robin muttered, arms crossed. “They’re joining our world with another one?”
“I guess that’s how their god gets here,” said Toay, taking notes.
“Okay.” John clapped his hands to call them all over. Except when he was done clapping, they were all standing just a centimetre above the floor in a long hallway. Toay was the only one who didn’t land on their feet, which wasn’t their fault, they were inexperienced. “Sorry,” John muttered. “I misjudged the distance.”
“It’s not a problem,” Pax promised, following Robin down the hallway while Denver helped Toay up. The tower was shaking and there was an ominous light coming from under the left door. “I’m given to understand that teleportation is very precise and a one-centimetre variance to a space you’ve never been before is very impressive even before acknowledging that there are this many people. Let’s go.”
“There was a compliment hidden in all those words,” Sylvester assured John as they walked.
“I heard it.”
Pax rolled his eyes and tried the glowing door. It was unlocked. “Everyone ready,” he muttered, and then pushed it open just slightly, peering inside.
The room was empty. “Shit,” Pax said, going inside. “Shit.”
“A trap?” asked Cyrus, rolling a knife in his hand.
“No,” said Ignatius. “They’ve triggered the spell already. That’s why everything is so fucked up. Their god is already here.”
“I’m afraid it’s worse than that,” said Sharon, just casually coming out of the secret tunnel to the sex room as if she’d been there all along, which Pax supposed she had been. “He’s already here and he’s bringing his world with him. If he’s allowed to merge with the host they have planned for him, it will destroy everyone.”
“Not to undercut your dramatic entrance, but Pax already established that,” Robin told her. “Can you guys break the spell?”
“It’s extraordinarily complex and uses magicks I’m barely familiar with,” Sharon began.
“We’ve got this,” said Sylvester, patting John’s back. “Come on. We’ll figure something out and if we can’t, then brute force will do it.” He pulled the two stones out of his pocket that Pax had once tried to steal from him. “Take this, John. And Ignatius, you take this one.”
“I thought you’d given those to Gavin,” Pax said.
Sylvester shrugged. “I didn’t. You guys keep watch for cultists.”
“As to that,” Sharon said. “For a spell like this, typically they’d require some sacrifices. I’m not sure where those would be, but…”
There was a loud not-sound that shook the windows, and Pax looked out. There was a pillar of blue light coming from the harbour. “Shit,” Denver said, peering out. “There’s a lot of ships out there.”
“A lot of Imperial ships,” Robin muttered. “Shit, Imperial ships. Nuorn’s planning to kill the Imperial prince.”
“I mean would that actually be bad?” Louis asked.
“Yes.” Cyrus sighed. “It would start a war and Enjon wouldn’t win. We’re going to have to save the little fucker.”
The window exploded outward, and Pax glanced at Sylvester. “What? Stop fucking chatting and go do it. Louis can fly you all there. Go.”
“We got this,” Ignatius promised, looking at the stone in his hand. “We definitely got this, wow.”
That was a tone of voice suggesting that Ignatius probably had this on his own, but Pax nodded, gesturing for Louis to go. He jumped out the window and then there was a whoosh of air, and there he was, very large for them to climb on.
Denver went first, and they all followed. Toay hesitated. “I understand that you’re concerned about flying,” Pax told them. “But I’m afraid we don’t have time for you to hesitate any longer.”
“I’ll…stay here and observe the magical portion,” Toay decided. “I’m sorry.”
“No need to be sorry, everyone has limitations. Please take good notes on the magic so you can describe it to me later.”
Being on Louis’s back was fairly challenging, and also probably fairly difficult for Louis, seeing as there were eight people scattered across seven bodies. But he had spines they could hold onto so they did, and once they were ready, Denver, seated up near his head, leaned down and said something to him. Louis veered south and carried them off, the harbour speeding into view.
It was indeed crowded with ships and many of them were on fire, which, in Pax’s considerable experience as a sailor, was bad. Most of the ones that were on fire were Imperial ships, which was less bad, however. Louis, quite presciently, flew towards the largest ship, which had a more elaborate eagle on its sails and a lot of flags everywhere and a blue aura around it. It was crowded with people, many of whom were now looking upwards at the large dragon overhead. Lots of them wearing blue, Nate noticed.
Pax nodded, thinking that if he ran a cult, he might focus more on destroying the world and less on brand recognition. Louis veered to the side so they could leap down and they did, landing in a group on the deck. Louis shifted forms and landed behind them.
This got everyone’s attention for some reason, and the various people in blue robes and the various people in Imperial uniforms all turned to stare at them. “Hi,” said Pax, deciding in a split second to speak Gronnde, because the Imperials all had weapons and honestly, the chances that they were going to misunderstand and attack were variable, whereas he was quite certain the torture cult would attack them either way. “We’re here to help, don’t stab us.”
Several of them were huddled around a young boy, who appeared not to be dead, so that was good. “Kill them,” said a woman in a blue robe, in Eesk. “Kozna needs the sacrifices anyway.”
Several cultists advanced on them, which was a mistake, and Pax’s siblings snapped towards them, knives out. With the exception of Denver, none of them had been explicitly trained to kill people, and Denver had been practicing nonlethal combat, so Pax really only felt bad for the cultists who made the mistake of thinking the unarmed Louis was a good target. Behind them, several more cultists were ominously chanting and doing magic, which was unfortunate since none of the magic users had come with Pax’s group.
Oh, well. Pax could beat a pack of cheaters with one knife tied behind his back. Hey, Pax, Nate said, pulling Pax’s free hand up to take the medallion off.
Trust me for a minute, okay?
And Nate made Pax move to force the medallion into the hand of an advancing cultist, who immediately went stiff and still, then slack, then smiled like Nate smiled. “I’ll be right back,” he said, turning around and heading to the chanting cultists.
That was a useful power, Pax thought, deciding not to consider the ramifications of Nate’s ability to simply possess whomever he touched, because Nate was a good person who wouldn’t use that power for evil.
The blue magic the cultists were doing was lashing out at the Imperials, knocking them back and also dismembering them in quite grotesque fashion. Pax wove his way through their diminishing numbers, grateful that the cult still hadn’t noticed that his family was far more threatening than an evil empire. He got in between the prince and his two main bodyguards. “Hi,” Pax said to him. He was tan-skinned, had dyed red hair that was long on one side and nearly shaved on the other, and was younger than Pax had expected. The empress had three sons, he thought, so this must be the youngest of them. “I’m Pax. Can you swim?”
“I said, can you swim,” Pax said, using a different verb with the same meaning just in case. “Are you able to mobilize through water without drowning?”
“Of course I can swim,” the boy said, voice a little high. “Who are you?”
“I’m Pax, I already said that. Please order your guards to go below deck. The cult is only after you and I don’t believe they’ll keep killing everyone if you’re not here.”
“Where would I go?”
Pax sighed, picked the boy up, deftly avoiding the two guards. “We’re going to throw you off the ship.”
“What the fuck? Put me down! Guards!”
The guards were following Pax, but so was the cult. He’d gotten everyone’s attention, which was doing wonders for his family’s ability to continue disarming all the cultists, and also for Nate, who’d reached the magic users and had shoved the medallion into one of their hands.
Pax leapt off the ship with the prince as it rocked dramatically, and hit the icy water with a gasp. “It’s very cold,” he said, holding the prince with one arm.
He was flailing, but swimming, keeping himself afloat. “What the…”
“Fuck, yes, I know. I’m saving your life, you see. Is that an Imperial ship over there? Let’s swim to it, it probably doesn’t have torture cultists on it.”
“I’m going to have you executed for this.”
“It will not be the first time my name has appeared on the Imperial execution registry,” Pax said. “In fact, one more and I think I get a free disembowling.”
“Who are you?” The prince demanded, teeth chattering. At least he was swimming.
“I feel I’ve explained that sufficient times. Oh.” Nothing in the harbour was moving suddenly, not the water or the ships or anything. There was no sound, either. “Time appears to have frozen. Curious.” With a little manoeuvring, Pax was able to pull them out of the water and just stand on it, walking the prince the rest of the way to the nearest Imperial ship that wasn’t on fire.
“If time is frozen, why aren’t we?” the prince asked, scowling.
“I’m immune to disruptions in time,” Pax explained. “Long story, but when I was a baby I was rammed by this elk, which knocked me into…”
“I would like it if you could…”
“If you’re going to interrupt me, just go up the ladder, please.”
There was no ladder, but there was the side of a ship, which Pax climbed up and lowered a ladder down for the prince to climb up. Pax sighed and looked around. “Okay. You stay here. I trust that you can use your Imperial powers to convince everyone here that you’re in charge. I’ll just pop back over to your flagship and deal with the cult, which is probably mostly dealt with by now, to be honest.”
“You’re…a very strange person,” said the prince. “But you saved my life. Thank you. I’m Evander Magna Demna Aergyn, imperial prince.”
Pax bowed, but only a little bit. “I’m Pax, like I said.”
“I owe you a debt. Name your reward, and…”
“Convince your mother to stop trying to take over Narwhal Junction and the rest of Enjon,” Pax interrupted. Evander blinked. “Failing that, I’ll think of something later and show up at an inconvenient time to demand it of you. I’m sorry to be rude, but I really do have to go. Have a good day, and get a blanket and a change of clothes so you don’t freeze to death.”
And he hopped down the ladder, hurrying back to the flagship. He climbed back up the side, found many dead Imperials, many injured cultists, and his siblings all appearing fine.
In the middle of it all was a pale young man with undyed red hair and bird wings holding a strange device and frowning. He looked up at Pax. “You’re not supposed to be moving.”
“Neither are you,” said Pax, moving a little closer. “Also you’re not supposed to be here, which I am. And by ‘here’ I’m quite certain I mean ‘here in this world.’”
The man smiled, looking at his device. “You have a natural immunity to temporal event horizons. That’s weird. Have you ever been in proximity to an object called the Involuted Clock?”
“You have bird wings, which in my opinion is weirder,” said Pax, deciding not to answer the question. He spotted Nate on a sitting cultist, went to stand near him.
“Not really. I’m Gallian. I represent an organization called the time mafia. We could use someone with your abilities.”
“All criminal syndicates everywhere could use someone with my abilities,” Pax told him, waving a hand. “Not interested.”
“We’re not actually a criminal…oh. The joining matrix is broken.”
There was a pulse that felt red and was definitely coming from the tower, and time started moving again, the ship rocking, people being loud. Gallian was gone.
All the cultists stopped moving, but normally this time. “The Joining…has failed,” the woman in charge—Governor Nuorn—said, faint.
“Ah, excellent. We can all stop stabbing each other, then. Guards, arrest these cultists,” Pax said, waving at them. “Your prince is on that ship over there, he’s fine.”
Nate came over and handed Pax the medallion, the body he’d borrowed fainting as he did. Having magic powers was kind of cool, he said. Even if it was cheating.
Cheating is fun sometimes, Pax was forced to admit.
“Hey, thanks for the help,” said Robin, as all the cultists and Imperials kind of started freaking out, clearly not sure what to do. “This was kind of an easy one, huh?”
“Yeah,” Pax said with a nod. “It was good to get back into the swing of things with it, though, seeing as there are more serious apocalypses coming soon.”
“Look, if you two are going to make out, do it quickly,” said Roberta. “Because I’m pretty sure we’re about to be arrested.”
Quick, make out with Robin, it’ll give the Imperials an actual reason to arrest you, Nate urged.
Pax rolled his eyes, and did not make out with Robin, which was probably a mistake. The Imperials attempted to arrest him. He explained in detail why they were wrong to do so. They did not listen. He did not care. They took him to a prison cell. He broke out.
The world was saved. Pax still wondered, though. If the spell had been designed to bring two worlds together for the purpose of this one apocalypse, why had it also appeared weeks ago on a ship so far in the south? It shouldn’t have been needed on any ships anywhere, just here in the city.
Unless, he thought, looking at Governor Nuorn as the Imperials took her away, this hadn’t been the Clan of Kozna’s only plan to summon their god.