Imperial Princes Don’t Give A Shit If You’re Trying to Decompress After a Hard Apocalypse
“If you ask me,” said Pax, whom nobody had asked, “the Clan of Kozna’s plan had too many steps, was unnecessarily complicated and was poorly explained overall.”
“Since we’re still here to talk about it,” Jacob said, cleaning one of his knives. “I guess so.”
“I know so.” Pax did know. “Why did they summon their god in the tower using a sacrifice ritual that was powered by deaths occurring in the harbour? Why was there a second ritual to bind the god to this world, which was taking place underneath a church a half kilometre away from both those places? All of these different rituals could easily have been one ritual that took place in one place.”
“Maybe they thought splitting it up would make it harder for people to stop?” Cyrus asked. He’d been writing something for a few minutes, which Pax supposed was probably a letter to Klaus. This seemed wholly unnecessary since Klaus was doubtless present in Narwhal Junction, being that he was omnipresent and Narwhal Junction was included in the realm of omni, which was the name of a large jellyfish that had long ago consumed the world, including its northernmost continent.
“Well, that clearly didn’t work,” said Pax, shaking his head derisively. “Honestly, they should have anticipated that several loosely connected groups of people would try to stop them simultaneously. They were trying to end the world and there are many groups of people who live in the world, and all of them are at least loosely connected, if only by their connections to said world, and are therefore motivated to work together to save it.”
Clearly you should run the next apocalypse, suggested Nate. You’d do a much better job than these fools.
“I mean clearly,” Pax said with a roll of his eyes. “I have priorities beyond ending the world, however. Not that all apocalypses are oriented around ending the world, of course.”
“Plus I think the next few apocalypses are scheduled already,” Robin said, laying back on the bed. They were in Robin’s very nice house in the Horn District, which Pax understood was actually Wally’s house. There were children’s toys everywhere, but they were mostly put away, except for the ones Pax’s siblings were fiddling with. Proper decompression was important enough that he didn’t even make an eldest sibling joke. “Including the sequel to this one, right?”
Pax sighed. “I don’t think they actually registered that one with the committee, but yes.”
“One transcription of one spell circle on one boat doesn’t necessarily mean the ritual will be recreated in the future,” Ignatius told him. He was inspecting a toy horse very carefully. “Maybe it was just a backup.”
“A church did fall on the cult leader’s head,” Robin put in. “And if we assume Nuorn was the second in command, she got arrested. Which does put a cramp in any future plans of theirs.” He paused, thinking probably the same thoughts Pax was thinking. “But of course we shouldn’t take that to mean that the cult is gone forever. Cults have a way of not being gone forever. And Mads says he doesn’t think their god is actually dead, just gone.”
“And gone never means much when it comes to gods,” Cyrus muttered, tapping his quill. “They’re always somewhere and they’re usually waiting to come back.”
“In this case I’m forced to hope that’s true,” Pax said. “Even if it does mean Kozna might arrive again someday.”
Denver patted Pax’s shoulder. “Cal will be okay.”
Pax nodded. He hadn’t even known Cal was in Narwhal Junction, but he had been on the front line of one of the three fights, and apparently he and all his friends had disappeared during the fight with Kozna. Nobody knew where they were, but apparently a mysterious time travelling clock had appeared and—presumably—time travelled them away. “I’m sure he will, because one of the scheduled apocalypses that is coming up is his, and he’d better arrive for it or else I’ll be forced to judge all of humanity’s actions against a scale weight made of bones and that just doesn’t fit into my aesthetic.”
“I can do it,” offered Jacob. “Assuming you can’t get Cal back.”
“He’ll come back,” said Louis, who was holding Denver. Pax knew he was very concerned about Joey, which was fair, especially since time travel wasn’t really the kind of problem that could be coerced with violence or sex into doing what was right, which made it the kind of problem dragons were less than ideal at handling calmly. “They’ll be back soon.”
“I do kind of wonder,” muttered John. He had seemed uncomfortable being here, but he was sitting with his head against Sylvester’s leg and playing with some building blocks and that seemed to be making him feel better. “The spell the cult was doing, it brought that other world closer to ours. For a minute they were almost the same, metaphysically. Maybe that’s where they all went.”
“In which case,” Sylvester said, playing with John’s hair. “We could theoretically recreate it and try to pull them back.”
“We’d have to be able to sense their souls specifically,” John said with a sigh. “Which would be easy enough except I don’t know them.”
“Cal almost definitely has a really big soul,” Ignatius said. “If that helps. Is there a risk that we’d be inviting Kozna back?”
“Yes,” John admitted. “Also doing the spell might destroy the world for real this time.”
“Hm. Maybe we should work on that before we try it again,” Ignatius said. “I’m really not happy with how much of shutting down the last spell was just brute force.”
“You have a lot of brute force, though,” John said, with a shocking lack of blush on his face. “It’s very impressive.”
“I’m not sure any of us have the capacity to bring them back safely at this time,” Pax summarized with a sigh. “Unless the criminal time travel bird man comes back to help.” Pax didn’t see that as being likely. Gallian hadn’t been there because of him, but presumably because time had frozen, which had probably been because of either the time travelling clock or Kozna himself.
“I can’t believe you got an offer to be in a group called the time mafia and turned it down,” Roberta said, shaking her head. “You loser.”
“Their compensation package wasn’t particularly competitive,” Pax explained, thinking but not saying that at least he’d been recruited by the time mafia, which nobody else had. “If I were interested in being a time criminal, I would create a start-up time crime enterprise, which would possibly be called Crime Time Sublime. You would all be invited to join, of course, as would your various partners.”
“I don’t think Wally would be good at time crimes,” Robin said. “He’s not very good at normal crimes.”
“Isn’t he an advocate?” Matthias wanted to know. “Don’t you kind of definitionally have to be good at crimes to be an advocate?”
“Apparently knowing about the law and being good at crime aren’t the same thing?”
“Seems fake,” said Pax, at the same time as all his siblings.
“You guys are hilarious,” Denver said, looking at the door just before there was a knock on it.
Before Robin could allow or deny entry, the door burst open and two large Imperials walked in, flanking the door. Everyone took out knives, except for Louis and John, who growled and prepared to throw a block, respectively. “All rise for the entry of His Imperial Highness Evander Magna Demna Aergyn.”
Nobody rose, and His Imperial Highness Evander Magna Demna Aergyn entered the house anyway, looking a little sheepish. He had a hat on. “Brutus,” he said softly to the man who’d said that. “We’re undercover today, remember?”
Brutus cleared his throat. “My sincerest apologies, Your Radiance.”
Evander sighed and turned to the room. “I would like to apologize.”
“Permission granted,” Robin said.
Evander blinked at him, looking around the room. He cleared his throat. “For your arrest on the Red Sun. You will all be pleased to know that I’ve spoken with the inquisitor and had the charges against all of you dropped, given that you were there to save my life.”
“We weren’t, actually,” said Louis, echoing what Pax and no doubt everyone else had been thinking. Pax had learned years ago in the salt flats of Bet-Haren that no merchant worth his salt interrupted a client who was improving his bargaining position. “We were there to stop the cult.”
“It…amounts to the same thing,” Evander said. It didn’t seem to take much to throw him off. He looked away from Louis with a little embarrassment on his face. “In any case, you all have my gratitude. I mean, the gratitude of the Imperial family.. We’d like to assure you that the members of the cult will be dealt with appropriately.”
It was interesting, Pax thought, how the Gronnde phrase meaning ‘dealt with’ also sometimes meant ‘dismembered.’
“In consultation with Enjoni authorities, no doubt,” Robin pressed.
Evander shrugged. “The crime was committed on Imperial property, against an Imperial prince.”
“By Enjoni citizens.”
“Enjoni citizens are Imperial citizens.”
“Hm,” said Robin. “I don’t personally care what you do with an evil torture cult, but I’m also not from here, so please consider the political ramifications of executing Narwhal Junction’s governor before you do it, okay?”
“And also maybe consider that they wouldn’t have tried to kill you if your family wasn’t so consistently awful to the people here,” Sylvester suggested.
“I…I’m the one who was nearly killed!” Evander said, putting his foot down. “It’s not my fault that those barbarians stormed my ship and tried to murder me!”
Pax, can I drive for a second?
With Pax’s mental consent, Nate stood them up. “You’re right,” said Nate. “It isn’t. And nobody’s saying it is. What we’re trying to say is that there are things you can do to make sure it doesn’t happen again.”
Evander was looking at them strangely now, which to be fair was probably because Pax’s accent had changed a little. His eyes were watering like he’d been thinking about crying, but he wasn’t. “Executing the criminals is a deterrent to other criminals.”
Nate held in Pax’s sigh. “Sure. We really appreciate you coming out here to thank us in person, Your Grace. I’d like to walk with you out of the Horn District if that’s okay.”
The guards tensed, but Evander nodded. “You saved my life, I trust you. I actually came to offer you specifically a job as my bodyguard.”
Nate smiled. He really was much better at this than Pax was. “I’m honoured, but I can’t accept. I’m not an Imperial citizen.”
Nate was, in fact, an Imperial citizen, and Pax was six Imperial citizens, but that was fine.
“That doesn’t matter. I’ll bring up the average competency of my citizens and make you one. I can do that, I’m a prince.”
“I know. How about we talk about it on the way? I think I’m more useful to the Empire as a free agent.” Nate gestured at Robin, who got up to come with them. John was glancing between them all, but said nothing.
Pax had to admit, as skilled as his family was at literally everything, they could use some work at relating to a scared child. So he let Nate help with that as he and Robin escorted Evander safely out of the Horn District, and just settled back to watch the professional at work.
It was nice to let someone else do all the hard work for once.