367: Next to Nothing

The ship was really taking a beating, lurching from side to side, throwing us all around the cabin. You had to wedge yourself against something to prevent being smashed against the hull, and then shift your bodyweight as the ship tilted back in the opposite direction.

There were a fair number of us in the room, so it was unavoidable that we’d end up using each other for support, actual support, not that emotional nonsense. The only person who didn’t seem that concerned was Biadet but she was already in a bit of a state so a little rocking and rolling didn’t bother her.

Laney had her arms around my neck, which might sound a little saucy if you were inclined to think along those lines (which, I don’t know, I just get the feeling you are), but it was more of a headlock from behind with one leg slid under my armpit to apply stabilising pressure against the wall opposite.

If you saw it in a movie, you would expect her to run her leg up the wall, do a backflip and break my neck. Followed by endless articles about how Hollywood was finally making roles for strong women. The movie still wouldn’t make any money, though.

Richina was standing in the middle of the cabin, shuffling from side to side. Her approach was to match the ship’s movements and get into some kind of synchronised relationship with the sea. Unfortunately for her, Damicar took up an entire corner she would have liked to use, and she kept bouncing off him.

Damicar looked apologetic, but every time he put out a hand to steady her, he couldn’t figure out where to hold her that wouldn’t be considered inappropriate and let her just slam into him.

Where had the sudden weather come from? I couldn’t see it being a coincidence. The one person who I’d been told had this kind of ability was the guy Legion from the Council, although that information came to me second-hand so it might have been complete rubbish — anything I hadn’t learned from personal experience, I maintained a level of scepticism about.

I hadn’t considered it to be that great an ability. Very useful if you were holding a barbecue, and maybe nice for background lighting effects, but would a bit of wind and rain really bother anyone?

Stupid, I know. Obviously, storms are nature’s WMD, and there are probably a bunch of other devastating outcomes you could arrange if you had control of the elements. I was thinking too much in terms of what use that kind of power would be in my hands.

If the Council didn’t approve of my commandeering their boat and going against their orders to stay put until they decided what to do next, I could definitely see them summoning a storm to put me in my place. But that would risk destroying the ship and killing us all. Which might not be a big deal to them, but they had genuinely seemed to want my help. Now they knew Peter was on the loose, wouldn’t they need me more? Quality cannon-fodder doesn’t grow on trees.

It might not be the Council, of course. It only started once I decided to go after Richina, so it could be someone protecting her. Maybe Arthur, maybe even Wesley. So basically I’m saying it could be anyone and I had no clue what was going on.

My usual way of handling these things was from the side. Head on and direct were not my favourite approaches. Far away and from the shadows was much more my tempo. But this felt very much like it was aimed at me. I was the main recipient of this marvellous award, and now I would be expected to stand up and give a speech.

Laney clung to me harder. Some might say unnecessarily so. It was like being hugged by barbed wire.

“Can you ease off a bit there, Your Royal Highness?” I managed to spit out.

“Fear not, I have you in my protective embrace. No one will harm you.”

No one except her. I struggled to get out of her grasp and used the momentum of the swaying ship to aid me. We were being thrown around by large swells and the ship sounded like it was about to break apart.

The rise and fall was stomach-turning and rectum-clenching, but then I’d been around Laney long enough to be used to feeling that way.

Once I got myself free of her — she exclaimed loudly and tried to reapply her hold but fortunately couldn’t hang on — I shot across the room and smashed into Richina. We ended up on top of Damicar, which was a soft landing.

“Get off me,” mumbled Richina from inside Damicar’s welcoming belly fat. She was liable to drown even before the ship went down if I hadn’t done as she asked.

I backed off, allowing her room to breathe. Her recent nonchalance had somewhat disappeared since I’d announced what I planned to do to her. The fact that it had thrown her off her game only made me more convinced it was the right way to go.

“Damicar, take this.” I handed him the hair I’d taken from Richina. “Give it to Mrs Somya. She should have a doll ready.”

I’d already ordered a batch of various dolls I thought might come in handy. Richina wasn’t a regular person, so I anticipated some difficulties. But that was why I planned to go in and do some light surgery on her. She wasn’t keen.

“It won’t work,” she said, the look in her eyes suggesting it was more a hope than a belief.

“Maybe. We’ll see.” There’s nothing quite as aggravating as acting reasonable and open to suggestions when you’re clearly an unreasonable person who is about to override everyone else’s wishes.

“Are you sure about this?” said Damicar, which was a little surprising. He wasn’t normally one to question my choices. Well, not out loud. Everyone questioned everything that came out of my mouth through the involuntary language of eyebrows, but I couldn’t really blame them for that.

“I wouldn’t say sure, but I think it’s worth seeing if the doll will work on her.”

“No, I mean sending me to see Mrs Somya. I don’t think she likes me.”

It filled me with a kind of glowing satisfaction to know Damicar’s first concern was with his own suitability for a task. Someone else could do it better. Carve it in stone and put in on my grave.

I could have tried to bolster his confidence, convince him everyone loved him and wanted to be in his company. The way the human ego works, it would probably work. The boost in confidence might even make people like him — and thus a monster is created. I’d seen too many teen movies where the nerd boy finally got to hang with the popular kids and forgot all about the nerd girl who always liked him. Who was played by some stunning Hollywood teen actress in glasses.

I checked the room in case any of these girls were secretly Rachael Leigh Cook. Sadly not.

“She looks at me like she’s thinking of ways to torture me,” said Damicar glumly.

A very specific kind of paranoia. How can you not like a guy who assumes his death won’t be enough to satisfy most people.

“It doesn’t matter if she doesn’t like you,” I said to Damicar’s concern-drenched face. “It’s just a transaction. Be polite and efficient. Everyone will be glad to see you if you have a reputation for always leaving quickly.”

Perhaps that was just my experience, but it seemed to give Damicar the encouragement he was looking for. I am available for motivational speaking engagements, very affordable prices.

Damicar stood up and stumbled from one side of the cabin to the other. Getting to Mrs Somya would be a job in itself. Damicar squatted down and waddled towards the door. A low centre of gravity was the answer, it seemed. Although, I’d never seen any sailors walk around the decks like that, so maybe he was just a fat idiot. Nothing wrong with that if you get the job done.

Richina was unhappy but too distracted by Damicar’s waddle to say anything. See? Maybe the boy was in fact a genius (he wasn’t).

The ship lurched and heaved, and I nearly followed. Seasickness had never been an issue for me — not that I’d spent much time out on the water — but this storm was really smacking us around. When the ship rose up it became hard to breathe and when it fell back down, it was like my stomach was trying to climb out of my nose.

There was a sharp knock on the door before it opened just enough to let a sailor push his head through the gap. He looked at serious risk of slamming his own head with the door.

“Captain wishes to see you on deck, sir,” he said to me.

I was about to ask why, but he was already gone.

“I want you to stay here,” I said to Richina. “Watch her,” I added to Laney.

“Where are you going?” asked Laney. She’d obviously heard what the sailor said, it was more of a demand for reassurance I was coming back. She really was quite attached to me. Like a parasitic infestation.

“To see the Captain. Maybe there’s something I can do to stop us bouncing around like this.” I had no idea what that might be, but I didn’t mind leaving the room for a bit of fresh air.  I needed to get myself into the right frame of mind to perform unspeakable acts on Richina, which was hard to do with her glaring at me.

Once I switched into the adjacent world, I’d be fine. The swaying around would stop and the dirty looks wouldn’t be able to follow me around the room. I crouched down and waddled out of the cabin.

It was actually easier keeping your balance in the narrow passages below decks. You could use your hands on both sides to stay upright. Stairs were a bit harder to manage, but you spent so much focus on putting one foot in front of the other, you forgot to be terrified of the ship sinking.

Sailors ran around, occasionally stopping to wonder why I was walking around like Groucho Marx. A lot of them had buckets of water, which they were taking to the nearest porthole and throwing out. Were we leaking?

The wind grew louder as I emerged topside. Water slapped me repeatedly in the face (I probably deserved it on some level). I couldn’t tell if it was rain from the heavens or spray from the swell. I grabbed the nearest upright thing that looked like it might support my weight and looked out across the water.

The most striking thing wasn’t the size of the waves or the lightning flashing over and over in quick succession, it was the fact the storm was localised to the ship. A few metres on either side, that was it. Outside of the typhoon circle, the sea was as calm as a porn star at a table read.

It at least confirmed this was a magical intervention. It was like a cartoon where a depressed person walks around with a rain cloud hanging over only them. I wondered if I jumped overboard and swam outside of the circle if the storm would follow me or stay with the ship. I decided I wasn’t curious enough to try it.

Both captains were standing by the ship’s wheel. The sailor hadn’t actually said which one wanted to see me, but it didn’t really matter, both were under my command, at least for the time being.

“Can I help you with something?” I shouted at the top of my voice to be heard over the howling wind.

Captain Nokes ignored me. Captain Somya pointed behind me. “We are being pushed back.” He didn’t even have to raise his voice and I could hear him perfectly clearly.

I turned around and only then noticed the island was still there. It was a lot smaller, it wasn’t like we hadn’t moved, but we were within swimming distance. Basically, we weren’t being allowed to leave.

“Should we go back?” I screamed.

Captain Somya shook his head. Then he pointed up at the sky. “Talk to them.”

I looked up but there was no one looking down. Still, what could it hurt?

“Hey!” I screamed at the sky. “What—”

Captain Somya’s large hand appeared in front of my face to get me to stop. Just as well, my throat was already burning. “From there.” Now he was pointing at the ship’s mast, the big one in the middle.

I don’t have a fear of heights, not the kind that makes people start shaking when they see a ladder, but I do get a bit queasy when I look down from a great height. Right now, I was at the bottom looking up. Things didn’t seem so bad.

It was still pretty windy though. “Up there? Why?”

“It’s closer.” He said it in such a bland toneless manner it sounded completely reasonable.

When I met with the Council and they resurrected the ship, the view had been from above, like they had a camera on a drone. If they were watching right now, it might actually mean it would be easier to converse with them from up in the crow’s nest.

The sails were furled, and I could see sailors running along the yardarms. They seemed unaffected by the winds. There was a ladder running up the mast, and also a lot of rigging which would catch me if I fell. Maybe.

I made a snap decision and went up.

It might seem a bit out of character, especially as the ship was all over the place, but if they wanted me dead they could have wiped us out. I wanted to talk to them.

It was a harder climb than I thought, the ladder was wet and slippery and I almost fell a number of times. I made it though, and I think the fact everyone below stopped to watch and offer their support was a very nice gesture. Okay, they were taking bets on how high I’d get before I fell to my death, but it was still showing an interest.

The crow’s nest was empty. It was also very unsteady. When the ship leaned to the side, I was like an egg being tipped out of an egg cup. I squatted and kept a low centre of gravity.

“Hey!” I called out. “What the fuck are you doing?”

It was a bit quieter up here, so maybe Somya knew what he was talking about. Didn’t mean I’d get an answer, though.

“Listen, you stupid fucks, if you want to piss me off, you’re doing a great job. Just remember, everyone else thought I had no chance against them, too. And what happened to them? Now turn off this storm and let me do things my way.”

I paused to allow them to acquiesce to my demands. As you might imagine, nothing doing.

“This is your last chance. Don’t blame if I have to add you to my naughty list.”

The problem was, what could I do to them? I had no idea where the Council were, even. Under Peter’s control, for all I knew.

“Well?” I said like my threats counted for something. “Are you going to cut this shit out? At least give me an answer.”

There was a distant rumble. I looked out across the water and saw a wave rise up, a wall of water. It was huge, taller than the ship.

I started scrambling back down, lost my footing and fell. I tried to grab what I could as I shot past and managed to snag my leg in the rigging, which nearly pulled my knee out of its socket. I hung there watching the wave approach. Below me, the sailors were too focused on me and their possible winnings to notice death surf towards us.

And then something smashed into the wave, sending it crashing back down. A dragon.

But it wasn’t a regular dragon, this one had a sleeker shape, bigger wings. It was a female, I could tell even though I had only seen a female dragon in flight once before. It had kind of stuck in my memory, though.

There was a rider, too. I recognised him by the shape of his head, even while I was hanging upside down. I know that isn’t normal, but neither was the shape of his head.


He was alone on the neck of the dragon. And then I realised he wasn’t. The dragon had hair on the top of its head. Curly red hair. Not often you see a ginger dragon.

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