Villain, 87

“Some new faces here today,” Cassiopeia said as the meeting began.

Sam finished sitting down, putting his hands on the table. “I’m not going to waste time introducing you to each other,” he said. “If you want to know each other’s names, learn them when I’m not here.”

“We were speaking before you arrived, Sorcerer King,” said Mathilda the dragon, who wasn’t part of Ramona’s colony of dragons. She was from somewhere else in Kyaine, and had been an ally of his family since before Solomon had been born.

“I don’t care,” Sam told her. He wasn’t sure Mathilda was actually useful to him—she’d been the one who’d given Solomon the dragon artefact that had let them control some dragons to attack Three Hills, but it didn’t work anymore and she didn’t have anything else to give him. She’d insisted on having it back because it apparently looked pretty on her table or something, so Sam had given it to her so she’d shut up.

“Nor do I,” Mathilda informed him. “I was recently told of the importance humans place on small talk and was attempting it. But I see you take after your father, so let us begin. What do you want?”

Villain, 86

“You must come visit Castle Tempest sometime,” the Sea King told Sam as they walked through the halls. “It is quite nice.”

A year ago Sam would have thrown the Sea King at something and insisted he must not do anything. “Fine.” Sam had doubts about how nice a castle made of seaweed could be, but he doubted that any castle that was actually useful was particularly nice. His wasn’t. On the other hand, a castle called Castle Tempest wasn’t even useful, what with the Sea King’s forces being a fleet. At least Sam’s castle was named after a throne, according to what Henry had told him the other day. “Do you have a navy yet?”

“I am rebuilding it, yes. I have recalled my surviving navy from earlier in the year and many of my most loyal crews have been made into my personal captains, but they are few in number. I have begun recruiting again and am searching for other avenues to find new marines.”

“What other avenues are there?” Sam asked. The world only had so many boats and so many pirates in it.

Renegade, 10

“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.”

Villain, 67

“It’s ready,” Sam said, leaning against the wall.

Henry leaned beside him. “Good. It’ll let you spy on him?”

“Yeah.” Henry hadn’t liked the idea of sending Giacomo back without any way to know what he was doing. So Sam had enchanted a ring for him to wear. He would even let Giacomo wear it on his finger, just to be nice. “How long do you think before he tries to betray us?”

“A while. I think he’ll stay with us as long as he knows it’s in his best interests. And as long as he knows that not staying with us will get him hurt. I think he was telling the truth. He has no loyalty to anyone but himself. As long as he thinks that allying with us is good for him, he’ll stay allied with us.”

“We’ll make him understand that betraying us is a bad idea.”

Others, 19

G’djeck Castle was too dry. He knew this not just in skin, where he could feel the dead wind. He knew this not just in his mind, where he could hear the almost-whisper of this fortress’s long-dead name. He knew this in his bones.

All places that were not on the sea were too dry for him. Ever since he had been ripped from his home, he had felt like he was breathing naught but dust, walking a desert world that could never belong to him.

The sea was out there, calling to him. He would return to it someday. The Sea King knew this. Soon, even. He would press the Sorcerer King to make good on his promise of a portal, and begin rebuilding his fleet. Soon his tide would rise, and the world would fear him once again.

Villain, 64

“Dear Henry,” Henry read to Sam. “Good news. You’ll be delighted to know that Lord Hans has convinced the queen of the need to pursue an aggressive agenda to reintegrate Ech’kent into the greater body of Kyaine, and is working out a plan to kill the Sorcerer King once and for all. It is my hope that soon we can be reunited. Love, Geoffrey.”

Sam listened to the letter. He’d heard enough letters from Henry’s idiot cousin to be able to parse what this one meant. “So Hans has betrayed us.”

“Sounds like,” Henry agreed.

Sam thought about that. And about what he was going to do about it. “Okay.”

Villain, 62

“Everyone had better be out of the castle,” Sam said, hands out in front of him. “I’m not listening to bitching later that someone was inside and got crushed.”

“Yes, your Majesty.” Derek was a little behind him, sounding excited. “Everyone’s out. I made sure.”

“Daisy and the baby are at the back of the crowd,” Henry said in Sam’s ear.

“Okay.” Sam took in a breath. He was less annoyed with Henry now. Or rather he was still annoyed with him, but he felt better over all since he’d talked to Todd. Which was certainly not a thought he’d ever imagined he’d have, but there it was. “Everyone better fucking watch, I’m only going to do this once.”

Villain, 56

“I am surprised,” said the Sea King, sounding less surprised and more annoyed, “that you did not simply execute these rebels of yours. I would have.”

“I don’t care enough about them to want them dead,” Sam told him. He’d just spent an hour explaining everything that had happened to the Sea King, as if he owed him any sort of explanation. He thought he was doing very well in staying patient for no reason. “And they don’t pose a serious enough threat to require their deaths.” It had been a few hours since their sentencing. Sam was content to know that they were still entertaining the guards. He had a lot of guards, after all.

“Given the scope of the attack, it seems like they pose a rather substantial threat, in fact.”