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Time and Tide


Gone. Not coming back.

Well, I'm back, and it's barely been a week. Perhaps I've forgotten how to stop.

Here's a story of a time beyond the end of times, featuring ghosts, pirates, gods, tyrants, poets, sea monsters, librarians and other strange creatures of the new world. It's light-hearted (and indeed patently absurd), but there are some moments of violence. People will be hurt, at times quite badly, and some of them may die. One or two of them might swear, too, but not too strongly. There's the tiniest smidgeon of implied sex -- an occupational hazard of having a story start before the protagonist is conceived -- but nothing more salacious than that, and certainly nothing in any way explicit. At one point in chapter thirteen, one character remembers the death of her daughter, too -- not totally directly, and not graphically, but there are a couple of paragraphs devoted to her thinking about it.

Right. I think that covers all the warnings. If I think of more that are necessary, I'll come back and edit them in.

New chapters will be infrequent, since they're long and I'm pretty busy this year, but I'll aim to update once a fortnight. I'll fail, of course, but that's what I'll aim for.


One: The Song of the Librarian
Two: The Amazons and the Parabola of Milk
Three: In the Teeth of the Wind
Four: Old World Blues
Five: The Remembrance of Maxim Veselov
Six: Under the Decks and Above the Law
Seven: The Remembrance of Archie McLeod
Eight: The Song of the Pirate Captain
Nine: The Long Shadow of the Dead
Ten: Sky High
Eleven: Blood and Data
Twelve: Vir, Virtus, Virtù
Thirteen: The Remembrance of Zinnia Mallory
Fourteen: Longer Shadows
Fifteen: The Scruffy-Feathered Wings of Inspiration
Sixteen: Deeper Coils
Seventeen: Of Gunsmoke and Teeth
Eighteen: The King and the Questioner
Nineteen: Threshold Guardians
Twenty: Two Ways of Looking at a Holo-Bird
Twenty-One: The Bad Chapter
Twenty-Two: The Remembrance of Unit HBN-ED13, Designation “Edie”
Twenty-Three: The Devil and the Deep Black Sea
Twenty-Four: Down
Twenty-Five: The Woman of Many Twists and Turns
Twenty-Six: The God of Dark Places
Twenty-Seven: The Armada of Those Who Run
Twenty-Eight: Thunderbolt Steers All
Twenty-Nine: In Memoriam (Incomplete)
Thirty: The Remembrance of Sapphire
Coda: A Sea More Sunless
A Note on the Text and its Author
Last edited:


Gone. Not coming back.

Tethys Edict 1.2: Until the state of emergency is over, the Principal's word is law and must be regarded as final in any given situation. In the absence of the Principal, the right of rule defaults to the Administrators.

Everything started when I met the ghost of the Founder: but wait, what does that mean? I'm writing in one world and you're reading in another. You're probably wondering why I'm starting a work of history with a ghost. And if you aren't from Tethys, then you may well be asking about the Founder too. You might even be one of those fortunate people who live on the Heights, to whom natural light is nothing special and the Great Sunrise nothing more than a particularly pleasant morning. How are you going to understand me – me, who still can't even go outside for very long without hurting my eyes?

Drown 'em, this is a terrible start to the story. One sentence in, and we're beset on all sides by questions. I think, on consideration – and I'm leaving my considerations in the manuscript, because it will help you to understand what I'm saying if you understand me and my thoughts – that I'd better make a small digression here, and explain that first sentence.

So: let's begin a little before the beginning, and make things clearer. First question: who am I? On the face of it, that's a pretty easy one to answer. I'm Avice Amrit dol' Tethys. But who's that? What does the 'dol' Tethys' mean? How do you pronounce 'Avice'? I can answer that last one quickly enough; I get it a lot. You say it like Oldspeak for bird, avis. But now I'm starting to see that we're stuck in more questions, more stories, because to know what 'dol' Tethys' means you have to know about the city, and to know about the city you need to know about the Founder and the making over, and to know about the making over you need to know about the Once Dead God …

Wait. You probably know about the making over already, at least. It's fairly hard to miss. I suppose I could start there – but I can't do that; that's five hundred and forty-eight years ago! I'm trying to write everything down, yes, but not that much everything. I'm only one person, and if I can help it I'd rather not spend my whole life on this.

The more I think about it, the more daunting this task seems – trying to capture all this history on paper, with only pen and ink to help me. I may well be the only historian in the world, and I'm awfully biased, because I was a central character in a lot of this. Yet by the same token, there's no one else qualified to do it. I'm the only one who was present right the way through.

Honestly, I'll be surprised if I manage it, and even more surprised if I do it well enough that you understand it. I've written before, of course. I'm the pirate poet, after all – although that's another thing I've got to explain to you. But I've never written anything as big and intimidating as this. It's more than a simple matter of beginning, problem, crisis, resolution. No, I've got to be a teacher as well as a writer, and I'm really not sure I'm cut out for it.

But there's no getting away from it – I've got to start somewhere, after all, and I think that that first sentence is probably not the right place. There are just too many questions. So, if I go back – let me see – twenty-one years, that ought to do it. It's before my own story begins, but that's all right: to know my story, you have to know me. And to know me, you have to first go back a couple of decades, and know about librarians and pirates.

My father was a librarian; my mother, a pirate. From the one, I inherited the thickness of my hair, the colour of my skin, a taste for stories and a prize set of silver forks; from the other, the colour of my hair, the thickness of my skin, a taste for adventure and a pair of ormolu duelling pistols. All of this combined to make someone very unlike most of the other people in Tethys: taller, darker of skin, redder of hair, more prone to finding trouble, and perennially dissatisfied. Perhaps this last had something to do with the fact that my mother's duelling pistols were of course very, very illegal, and so were immediately confiscated by the Administrators when they and I arrived in the city. I'm not sure I ever forgave them for this, and in fact it may have indirectly set me on the course that eventually delivered me to this desk.

But I'm getting ahead of myself again. Back to librarians and pirates: it's a little-known fact that there isn't much difference between the two. Librarians, at least in Tethys, are never quite happy: there's one library, a vast and cavernous chamber located off the left-hand spur from Founder's Atrium, and it has exactly thirty books in it. Without these on hand in sufficient quantities, and unable to be reallocated owing to an old law stipulating that there must always be multiple librarians on duty, the city's librarians prowled about their little domain in a permanent ill humour. Most of Tethys' books were kept in the Museum of the Forgotten, and so we weren't supposed to remember they existed – but it was hard for the librarians to forget the very objects on which their profession was predicated. Especially when there were five of them and only coffee rations enough for two.

Pirates, as I'm sure you know, are also fairly vicious. In a one-to-one fight with equal weaponry, I'd probably bet on the pirate, just because they'd have the experience – but it would be a close call; you'd be surprised at what years of pent-up literary frustration can achieve on the battlefield. So was my mother, by all accounts: she and my father met at the height of the Pirate War in the twenties, when the corsair-queen Beatrice the Shark gathered several sea-lords beneath one banner and attempted to plunder Tethys. The last great battle of the war took place in the city itself, when the Shark sent saboteurs disguised as repair crew to tear open the plating of Underridge Atrium and rammed a boarding vessel straight into the breach. There was fighting up and down the length of the city; pirate footsoldiers, wading knee-deep in flooded corridors, put pike and pistol against the curved swords and flechette-guns of the Tethys sergeants. That was when the Tethys manectric were wiped out. Centuries of inbreeding had left our electric watchdogs unhealthy at the best of times, and the rising water drowned many of them before the pirate sharpedo that burst in with the flood even got close.

Underridge Atrium is at least a mile away by tunnel from the library, but as more pirates arrived, the fighting spread – and by the time Beatrice the Shark at last made her fearsome appearance through the smoke and water, snapping her filed teeth and waving her famous dragonbone cutlass, one group of invaders had made it all the way to Founder's. It was too well-defended for them to take alone – the abyssal barbaracle from the repair crews were being pressed into action there, and they shrugged off pistol-shot like confetti – so they ran on ahead, and invaded the next room they came to.

Poor pirates! They never knew what they were letting themselves in for. In they went, five seadogs and a withered old saltwater ludicolo with its dish carved into patterns, and the librarians, underworked, coffee-starved, hungry for a good story even if they had to tear it out of the pirates with their own bare hands, met them with a will. Bookcases were overturned. People were crushed. One librarian, my father recalled, leaped headfirst into the mouth of the ludicolo, which was so surprised that it let her lodge her shoe in its throat and choke it to death. She, he told me, later became Head Librarian, and was awarded the Order of the Mu for bravery. Whenever I went to the library after that, I tried to find the courage to ask her about it, but a woman who can put a shoe inside a ludicolo is not a woman to be trifled with, and my nerve always failed me.

And as the battle raged all around him, the startled pirates wondering whether or not they'd have been better off taking their chances with the barbaracle, my father ducked behind the issue desk to dodge a bullet and found himself face to sword with the most beautiful woman he had ever seen in his life.

Since my mother did not immediately run him through, I can only imagine she felt something similar.

My father leapt to his feet and aimed his sword at her breast. She parried with hers, and shot his hood off. He feinted to her left and struck the pistol from her hand with a well-aimed throw of a nearby date stamp.

“You're very good,” my mother said, with a grin that made my father's blood roar in his veins louder than the ventilation.

“I'm very angry,” my father replied, although he too was smiling now.

He thrust and slashed and drove her out from behind the counter and into the Military History section; she collapsed a bookshelf and forced him down the aisle into the Biographies. He tripped her on a loose floor panel he knew of, and pushed her into Literary Fiction. She, regaining the advantage with a clever feint, sent him back through Biographies and into Handicrafts.

“If you wanted to be shown around the library, you should have asked,” said my father, who was twenty-four and cocksure with love and suppressed energy. “I work here.”

“Why would I do that?” asked my mother. “All the shelves are empty.”

That reminded him of the banality of his daily existence, and my father renewed his offensive with such ferocity that my mother was driven into Philosophy.

“Not bad,” she said, giving him that grin again.

From there, the fight moved into Epic Verse, and then to Love Lyric; my mother raised an eyebrow, and asked if my father was trying to tell her something. In answer, he drove her towards Thrillers & Adventure, and she replied with a ringing blow of her sword that temporarily disarmed him and saw him dive headlong into Erotic Fiction for his weapon. She waited for him to get back to his feet, and once he had the two of them sword-fought their way into the Head Librarian's office, and locked the door.

It was not what you might call a conventional courtship.

Beatrice the Shark lost the war that day, as you might already know: she was killed, after surviving seventeen flechettes, nine sword wounds and a severed thumb, by the captain of the sergeants in a terrible duel on the Grand Staircase. She had her revenge, though; the fight cost him his leg, and, once septicaemia set in, his life. Her dragonair was never accounted for, but rumours abounded for years afterwards of a monstrous serpent living unseen in our maintenance ducts.

The pirate army, routed at last, was in part driven off and in part taken prisoner, and the war itself, aside from a few final skirmishes at sea, was over. My mother, her comrades in arms killed by the librarians, emerged from the Head Librarian's office too late to make her escape with the rest of the crew, but in the confusion my father was able to smuggle her to the docks in a spare Tethys uniform, and put her on a vessel bound for the Hollow. They never saw each other again, but the few minutes they had stolen were enough. Already, one thing was leading to another, and by the time my mother had wheedled, cajoled and hijacked her way back to her own ship, the mass of tissue that would one day become Avice Amrit dol' Tethys was coalescing in her belly.

There are three gods of the sea: Tempest, Tide, and Tooth. Tempest is the old god – as old as mountains, they say, although frankly I'm not sure that means much any more, even now. It beats its wings in the dark, and sea and sky roil their answer. Tooth is the young one, born out of the void after the world was made over. It rends its prey with tooth and tentacle, and it hunts endlessly through deeps and shallows alike.

Tide is the most important, the middle child – the Once Dead God, we call it. When the Prophet brought it back to life, it swelled into godhood and made the world over in its own image. This is, we are told, a good thing.

When baby Avice – although I wasn't Avice back then, not yet; I wasn't even Avery – turned up at the docks in an escape capsule, it was not alone. Locked in there with me were: a package containing my mother's duelling pistols, one of which had a chip in the handle from where it had been struck by my father's date stamp, and both of which were immediately confiscated by the authorities; a sealed envelope bearing a single cryptic sentence; and, of most immediate importance, a round silver token stamped with the writhing tentacles and gaping jaws of Tooth. Once I had been retrieved from the water, found to be alive and well and taken to the harbourmaster, this became of great interest. Before I could be entered into city records and thereby become eligible for care by the city government, my dedication had to be established.

Things are different now, with the power of the sea gods waning day by cloudless day, but then, just a couple of decades ago, it was considered dangerous to have people around who weren't dedicated to one god or another. Most parents played it safe and dedicated their children to Tide – safe, because you could be sure that Tide wouldn't take much of an interest in their affairs. No one was sure what it was up to in those days, but it was certainly busy, and as long as everyone kept praying it seemed to stay that way, which suited us. For the more adventurous parent, willing to take a chance or two, there was Tempest – and Tempest, as everyone knew, could read minds, and noticed when someone was dedicated to it. Sometimes this made no difference. Sometimes it led to a fabulous run of good luck. And sometimes, as with all gambles, it went spectacularly wrong.

My father, as it happens, was dedicated to Tempest. I'm still not sure now whether what happened to him was good or bad – but that story will come in its time.

I, on the strength of that token, was dedicated to Tooth without delay – though not without a little trepidation on the part of the harbourmaster, who spoke the words. Tooth is a hunter and a death-dealer, and though it has always been venerated in Tethys, it doesn't sit neatly with the city's civilised self-image. I suppose it was my pirate mother's way of keeping hold of me: a vessel of sea-thieves is no place for a baby, it's true, but with the tentacle-mark of the pirate god tattooed on their wrist, a baby might bring some of the buccaneering spirit back with them into the city. As it turned out, my dedication was much more important than anyone, including my mother, knew.

Bad luck successfully warded off, the harbourmaster turned his attention to the letter, which was more difficult to interpret. It read, in neat round letters:


There was no such position, of course, but my mother didn't know my father by any other name. To the harbourmaster, it was incomprehensible, and he was relieved to be able to turn me, my letter and my token over to the Administrators – and, on their request, the illegal duelling pistols as well, which, being of some value, quietly found their way into a display case in the office of Administrator Monica Rachel dol' Tethys. The envelope was read, the librarians were summoned – in batches, so as not to contravene the laws about leaving the library unstaffed – and questions were asked about who this might refer to.

My father told me that when he entered Administrator Monica's office and saw me, his blood ran cold.

“I knew at once,” he said. “There was no denying whose child you were.”

There were two brown-skinned librarians at that time, so it couldn't have been that which tipped him off; I didn't yet have enough hair for him to recognise the red, either. I'm still not entirely certain how it was that he recognised me. Perhaps, knowing what I know now, it was Tempest, intervening in the life of its dedicatee – but that's pure speculation. That might sound an odd thing for someone who believes in ghosts to say, but there it is. You've got to put some boundaries on reality, after all, or you'll wake up one day like the last high priest, who believed in everything to try to come closer to the gods and ended up climbing out of a window to escape the malevolent life hiding behind mirrors.

Anyway, the point is: he recognised me, and the Administrator noticed. Hard not to, really; he was the only librarian in the room who froze on seeing me, and answered her questions with a stutter. Calmly, she dismissed his colleagues, and invited him to sit down.

This is the single most frightening thing that can happen to you in a Administrator's office. If they don't want to keep you long, they let you stand, they talk from behind their desk without really looking at you, and they dismiss you. Simple. If, however, they want you to stay – well, then they ask you to sit down, in the chair opposite their desk that has the back angled so that you can never get comfortable in it, and they lay their papers aside and look at you with the inscrutable eyes of power.

They never ask you to stay unless there's something wrong. And taking a member of an invading pirate army into a back room for carnal purposes in the middle of a battle to save Tethys is something the Administrators do, in fact, consider wrong.

“You are unmarried,” said the Administrator.

“Yes,” agreed my father. This could not be denied.

She laid her papers aside and gave him the Administrator look. She had held her office for twenty years, and had refined the look into something truly awe-inspiring: my father, young and still fairly callow, turned to jelly inside his uniform.

“What, then,” she asked, “is your relation to the child?”

There was a silence. The ventilator sighed. The lights hummed.

“I'm not sure,” replied my father evasively.

“Well,” said the Administrator. “Perhaps this will help.” She picked up the token on its silver chain. “One token to Tooth.” She put it down, and took the envelope in its place. “One letter. Sealed. On the front: 'For the library guide'.”

For the library guide: oh, my mother knew how to probe a man's memory! Immediately, doors burst open in the back of my father's head, and words tumbled out of them and rolled through his head to escape at his mouth before he had even noticed:

“If you wanted to be shown around,” he murmured, “you should have asked.”

The Administrator raised her eyebrows.

“Well,” she said. “Now we're getting somewhere. Clearly this means something to you. Would you care to explain?”

There was another silence. Something drifted past the Administrator's window.

“In all honesty,” my father told her, “I wouldn't.”

The Administrator sighed in a manner that made it clear that he was about to experience something incredibly unpleasant.

“I mean,” he cried, almost starting from his seat, “I'll look after the baby – no need to worry about that – I accept responsi―”

“If you listen to yourself,” said the Administrator, “you will notice that you are doing anything but accepting responsibility.”

My father quailed. The chair dug maliciously into his spine and edged him forward on his seat.

“What is your relation to the child?” asked the Administrator.

He told her what he thought, and her mouth compressed into a taut, dangerous line.

“I see,” she said.

“Yes,” he replied forlornly.

“I didn't ask for you to agree.” She looked at him for a while, then handed him the envelope. “Read it,” she said, and he did. Then she took it back, read it herself and, satisfied that it both confirmed his story and contained nothing dangerous, gave it back.

I suppose I ought to copy it out here. It isn't long, and I still have the original to hand – but don't expect great literature; my mother was a pirate, not a poet, and though she could read she never had a head for spellings.

Library guide [the note began], I'm sure you can apreciate that a working ship is not a good place to rase a child, & so at my wits end I've sent mine to you, since you assissted in the making. I hope this does not cause you too much trouble [she added, a little late], & I sugest Avery as a name. Tho' as it is right that a father should have a say & as I am like to prove a poor mother, I leave the final desicion to you. Remembering you fondly and wishing you luck,

This is how my father first learnt my mother's name, and that she had been promoted since their liaison the year before. I can tell you now that she was Captain of the vessel Sea-Goblin, as her gentilic suggests, and that at the time of the Battle for Tethys she had been first mate. An unwise toilet break and a concealed manectric had cost her captain his life in the same battle, and once she returned she found her old crew enthusiastic about installing her as his replacement.

My father knew none of this, of course. All he knew was that the woman with whom he was, in his own way, still in love had sent him a baby from the high seas, and that this was not going down well with the Administrators. It's harder to say what he felt. I imagine it was mostly shock and fear, and that his enthusiasm for fatherhood came along later.

“We'll have to find a new Junior Assistant Librarian,” said the Administrator briskly, sticking a sheet of headed paper into her typewriter and tapping something out. “Take the child to the Registry Office with this; you can have the citizenship paperwork done this afternoon. You'll have to vacate your rooms by lights out, as we'll have to move the new librarian in immediately to comply with the staffing law.”

My father stared. Librarianship was a terrible job in Tethys, of course. But it was his job, and despite its shortcomings, he, a dyed-in-the-wool lover of the written word, was very much attached to it. It was also considerably safer than many other jobs – and judging by the way the Administrator had received his tale of couching with the city's greatest enemy of recent years, he wouldn't be being transferred anywhere more pleasant.

“But …”

“Once you've packed your personal effects, you should present yourself at the sergeants' station,” the Administrator continued, without turning to look at him. “I'll let them know to expect you.”

My father's eyes couldn't go wider, so his jaw dropped instead.

“I'm being arrested?” he asked, leaning forward in disbelief.

The Administrator hit the carriage return and rolled the document from her typewriter. Her eyes met his as she pressed it into his hand.

“You have committed treason,” she explained, as if talking to a very small child. “Unless of course you can think of a reason why you haven't?”

To his credit, my father pulled himself together just enough to give the matter some thought, but of course there wasn't much he could say.

“I only did it,” he suggested hopefully, “for love.”

“Love,” repeated the Administrator, raising her eyebrows. “Drown 'em, you really are a librarian, aren't you? Do you really think that counts as a defence?”

“More a hope than a thought,” my father admitted.

“And not without foundation,” came a voice from behind him. “Historically speaking, of course, it's one of the best there is.”

Startled, the pair of them looked up, and Aranea Cavatica dol' Tethys entered my father's life.

Aranea Cavatica dol' Tethys! I can't think about her without a sigh, remembering what she did for us and what happened later. She was my father's lawyer, and while my mother was off ransoming merchants and punching sea-monsters she became a sort of aunt, too. Aunts, you see― but not now. I'm still on librarians and pirates. We'll leave aunts for another chapter.

Aranea, like me, bore the tentacle-mark of Tooth on her wrist – in her case by accident. When at the age of ten she had been brought to the temple to get her god-mark, the officiating priest was Oliver Saturnine dol' Tethys, the one who tried to believe in everything and to the detriment of his health succeeded. This was before he started believing in the monsters that lived behind mirrors; his current belief was that he received spiritual communications from the gods, and as he tied down Aranea's arm for the tattoo he was struck by what he thought was a missive demanding he dedicate her to Tooth. Distracted by the task of calming Aranea – no child receives their god-mark happily – her mother never noticed that she hadn't been dedicated to Tide until the end, when Oliver raised his hands to the dome above and cried the traditional invocation to Tooth: “Let thy will be done, O monstrous, O mighty!”

From that day, Aranea could never shake the feeling that there was something following her. It started that afternoon, when she was sitting at home with her wrist on ice: a sinuous presence, half-glimpsed in the reflection of the window, that vanished when looked at directly. At night, it would slide eerily around her room, slipping from curtain to cupboard to the space beneath the bed, and during the day it would leer at her from behind the ventilation grates, though never when she was looking. By the time she came to study law, she was convinced she had been chosen by Tooth for some unknown enterprise, and came to view the mistake of Oliver at her god-marking as divine intervention. Thus she continued in her career, a secret zealot ready at a moment's notice to turn and follow the watching god to the end of the world.

Until, at the age of twenty-six, she received her omen.

On the day my father was summoned to the Administrator's office, Aranea had received her Approval for Work from the Administration in Edict House. Long years of study had at last paid off – as it inevitably did for criminal lawyers, since there were so very few of them in Tethys, and the Administration was always looking for some to replace the current ones before they died of old age.

Walking out of Edict House, diploma in hand and the coming celebratory party in mind, Aranea was heading back to her rooms near Chimney to call her parents when she saw a curious pair of civil servants walking past. They bore guns, a letter, a cradle that looked remarkably like half an escape capsule, and, most remarkable of all in the governing district, a baby. It was hard to tell which of them found their burden most distasteful; the one with the guns was holding them both at arm's length, in a plastic bag, but the one with the baby looked about ready to break down and cry, perhaps because his charge did too.

And the silent, slithering presence that had followed Aranea since childhood reared up behind the ventilation grille set into the side of the corridor and glared at her with eyes like midnight water.

“Let thy will be done, O monstrous, O mighty,” murmured Aranea, and the eyes behind the grate vanished.

She stood there, transfixed and trembling, watching almost without seeing as the civil servants walked past. Tooth's messenger, its angel, had given her a sign. It was time, she knew, to fulfil her destiny.

Abruptly, her limbs came unstuck, and, all else forgotten, she hurried to catch up with the party bearing the baby. Behind her, she felt the sinister presence closer than ever, and she walked the faster for it: no one wants to be judged disobedient by a god, and Tooth is a particularly bad god to be on the wrong side of. There was once a man, Damien Samuel dol' Tethys― but never mind him. It's three o'clock already, and I'd like to get on to my own story by the end of the day.

“Excuse me,” Aranea called, practically jumping in front of the man with the baby. “Excuse me, what's going on here?”

The man stared. So did the baby – it's my earliest memory, in fact. Aranea in her Tethys uniform, her left hand decorated with the opal ring of a lawyer, a certain wild look in her eye that told you she was probably not entirely in her right mind – and a faint darkness around her, as if her presence made you aware of another, larger presence lurking nearby. Maybe it was the look, maybe it was the presence, but the man with the baby chose to answer her, if only peremptorily.

“Official business,” he said. “Administrator Monica Rachel dol' Tethys.”

“What kind of business?” asked Aranea, vibrating slightly with excitement.

At this point, the man with the guns interjected.

“What my esteemed colleague means to say,” he said, “is that it's none of your business, Legal Apprentice Aranea Cavatica dol' Tethys.”

He had read her name badge – still unchanged; Aranea wouldn't receive her new one until the next day. She glared, but it would be useless to protest. Without her new badge, she couldn't prove her status – and without that these men, simply by having been in the employ of the city for several years, were several notches above her on the social scale. Seeing her face, the man with the guns flared his nostrils in a dignified sort of way and swept off in the direction of the Administrator's office.

Aranea lost no time. A lesser woman might have taken a moment to fume, but not her; she had a divine order to fulfil. She had saved her ration of intercom minutes for months to allow a ten-minute call to her parents on this, her graduation day – but the memory of the serpentine angel blew all such resolutions clean out of her head. Minutes later, she had sprinted back to her quarters and put a request to the operator for the direct line to Administrator Monica's secretary.

“Hail,” she said when it connected, trying not to sound out of breath. “Is this Faith Gerstein dol' Tethys?”

Faith Gerstein affirmed that it was.

“If I wanted to know what the Administrator is doing right now,” asked Aranea, “how much would it cost me?”

Faith Gerstein did a few calculations, and came up with a price of fifty credits.

“Then you've just earned fifty credits.”

In which case, Faith informed her, the Administrator had just received word of a mystery baby that had turned up floating in an escape capsule by the docks, accompanied by a letter addressed to someone working at the library, and she wanted to get to the bottom of it. There was a pause, and through the scratching of the static Aranea heard a door open and close. After a further pause, Faith added that it seemed like the Administrator had found the person responsible.

“Can you keep me updated?”

Faith could, for an additional twenty credits. Aranea winced, thinking of her bank account, but acquiesced – and so learned, a few minutes later, that my father had been accused of treason.

There it was, she thought: this was what Tooth wanted. She had to save this librarian. Why or how was unimportant. All that mattered was that her omen at last pointed to something.

“How much,” she asked with mingled trepidation and exhilaration, “would it cost if I needed to get into the Administrator's office right now, but I couldn't prove I had urgent business to the sergeants on guard?”

Faith thought about it, and decided on sixty more credits.

Aranea closed her eyes and wondered briefly if she had a hundred and thirty credits. Then, casting her concerns aside, she agreed – and so, broke, terrified and out of intercom minutes for the whole year, hurtled across Chimney Atrium, past Faith and the guards, through the doors and into the Administrator's office.

“And not without foundation,” she said breathlessly. “Historically speaking, of course, it's one of the best there is.”

There was a long and chilly silence.

“Thank you for your input,” said the Administrator, in a tone that was anything but grateful. “Who are you supposed to be?”

“I,” replied Aranea, “am his lawyer.”

“He hasn't been assigned one yet.”

“I'm pre-empting the decision.”

“You don't appear to be Approved yet.”

“I graduated earlier today.”

“You don't get to choose your clients.”

“I'm on a mission from a god.”

The Administrator sighed.

“I don't even know what to say in response to that one,” she said. “You're persistent, I'll give you that.” She sighed. “How did you even get in here, Miss … Aranea, is it?”

“I have my ways, Administrator,” replied Aranea, with a sudden surge of confidence.

“Oh, of course. Bloody lawyers and their ways.” The Administrator took off her glasses and pinched the bridge of her nose. “Do you even know this man's name?”

Aranea paused. My father, who had spent the past few moments trying to process the fact that he seemed to have recently acquired a lawyer on a divine mission, jerked out of his stupor and took advantage of the Administrator's closed eyes by mouthing his name.

“Omar Lee dol' Tethys,” pronounced Aranea with confidence, and my father winced.

“Founder preserve us,” murmured the Administrator, and returned her glasses to her nose. “Aranea Cavatica dol' Tethys, this is Amar Singh dol' Tethys, Junior Assistant Librarian.”

Aranea's face fell, but she could still feel the slippery presence at her back, and with Tooth watching her she wasn't going to back down.

“Hail,” she said. “I'm pleased to meet you, Mr Amar.”

“Hail,” he replied faintly. “Likewise … are you really a lawyer?”

She showed him her hand, and the opal on her middle finger.


“You know, I don't need another problem to deal with today,” said the Administrator abruptly. “Fine. Miss Aranea, you can have the case, if you really want it. I'll authorise you – it doesn't make the slightest bit of difference to me who oversees this. But,” she added, giving her the Administrator look to forestall any cries of joy, “if I ever hear your name in connection with anything untoward again, you will be taking minutes for the Committee for Public Esquivalience for for the rest of your life. Do I make myself clear?”

Aranea nodded vigorously.

“Yes, Administ―”

“Wonderful. Now get out of here and take your client to the Registry Office to fill out the child's paperwork. I'll send sergeants with you.”

And so it began: another great partnership, longer-lived than that of my father and Captain Siobhan, and with similarly far-reaching consequences. Aranea didn't even know exactly what treasonous thing my father had done yet, but it didn't matter. She was on a mission from her god. My father was on a path to safety.

And I, the little nameless child in his arms, was finally on my way to becoming a citizen of Tethys.
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Gone. Not coming back.
AVERY AMRIT DOL' TETHYS, said my first name badge, pinned to the red blanket I was wrapped in. My father might not exactly have been a man of the world yet, but he knew enough to know that it was a wise idea not to contradict a pirate captain when it came to naming her firstborn. Not that he expected to see her any time soon – but you never knew. Pirates had to retire at some point, after all, and it wasn't as if anyone here would remember her from the war by that point. Except for my father, of course.

As you might have guessed, the name didn't stand forever. I've already introduced myself to you under another, and I'll get to the how and why about the change in due course – right now, my father is still in prison, and you and I need to see him through this trying time.

After I had been signed in, registered and assigned a birthday (it was needed for religious rites, although I still don't know the exact date of my birth), my father was escorted back to prison and I was taken to the Children's Dormitories, where I would have access to a wet-nurse and other essentials for a child of my age. I haven't much to say about the Dormitories – they were as dormitories are in Tethys, places in which to dream of one's own quarters – and anyway that doesn't matter yet. It's enough to say that I was safe and in good hands, while my father was still very much in hot water.

For Aranea had no idea how to save him. Certainly, she was going to; that was a given, since Tooth had commanded her and she was its loyal servant. But after learning the facts from my father in the interview room at the Chimney Atrium sergeant's station, she still hadn't been able to come up with a good defence. He'd abandoned his post at a critical moment, that much was clear. And yes, it was romantic, and it had resulted in an adorable baby, and she liked a good love story as much as the next person – but it was still very much illegal. And since she had burst into Administrator Monica's office and made a scene, she was fairly certain that Administrators presiding over the trial were going to be coming into the courtroom with a less than neutral bias.

And she didn't even have her new name badge yet.

Aranea chewed her lip and walked back to her quarters to look through her copy of Edicts of Tethys. On her way into the building, the porter congratulated her on graduating, and reminded her that she had a week to pack before she was moved out of her student accommodation.

“Great,” she said to herself, without thanking him. “Something else to do.”

The porter raised his eyebrows and turned back to his paper. Aranea, barely registering the offence she had caused, went up to her room and started reading. There was a lot of work to do – and she doubted there'd be much time in which to do it. Four hours later, she conceded defeat for the day, and offered a prayer to Tooth before bed in the hope of receiving guidance. In the moments before she fell asleep, she thought she could almost see those night-black eyes and midnight coils spreading out before her – but consciousness slipped away too fast for her to be sure.

Meanwhile, my father sat in prison and worried. Perhaps you've noticed already, but Aranea was the kind of person who alarms people, and my father, in his current mood, was particularly susceptible to alarm. When the two of them had sat down in the interview room to talk through the situation, her eyes had kept darting into the corners of the room or over her shoulder, as if she suspected invisible spies of lurking nearby. And she was barely even qualified. And how had she even known that he'd been arrested? Especially since she hadn't seemed to know why he'd been arrested?

“Then,” said my father, partly to himself and partly to a phosphorescent crustacean that was crawling across the outside of the window, “there's the fact that she's on a mission from a god.” He shook his head. “Or … you know, maybe I should just ignore that.”

The crustacean swept its glowing blue antennae back and forth, and my father took the gesture for one of encouragement.

“Well,” he sighed. “Well … storm's teeth, I don't know. She's dedicated to Tooth, I saw on her wrist, so maybe she's not – not all there, but – well, so's Avery,” he countered. “But, you know, pirates and all that.”

He continued in this way, his sentences broken and mostly nonsensical, and in the end the phosphorescent crustacean, apparently bored, crawled on and disappeared beyond the window frame. By then, my father wasn't in much condition to notice: he had got onto the subject of his newfound status as a parent, and had created whole new topics for himself to worry about. Was he going to be free to be a father? If so, would he be a good father? Did he know anything about being a father? Did he even want to be a father? What would Avery think of him if he lost this trial and spent twenty years on the other side of Gaoler's Bridge?

The answers to some of these questions were answered readily enough by the strength of his feelings: yes, he did want to be a father, as was evidenced by the fact he was terrified of not getting the chance to be one. He had known who I was the moment he had set eyes on me, and I was burned too deep into his mind and heart already to be dislodged. The names of Amar Singh dol' Tethys and Avery Amrit dol' Tethys were as firmly love-knotted as those of himself and Captain Siobhan Niamh dol' Sea-Goblin.

That clarified things for him. Clearly, he needed to get out of prison and start figuring out how to raise a child without accidentally breaking them physically or emotionally, and that gave him a productive focus for his worry. Following some kind of logic as skewed with fear as Aranea's was with zealotry, he spent the next four hours turning over everything that he believed could possibly go wrong, and at last fell asleep some time after lights-out, exhausted by anxiety.

Lights-on found him a little clearer-headed. After a night in prison, the situation seemed less like an absurd nightmare and more like reality, which was far easier to deal with in a rational manner. He'd also had some time apart from Aranea now, and this had done wonders for his nerves. For the last five years, my father had done nothing but pace around in the library and occasionally vent his smouldering frustration at its inadequacies. As a result, when it came to overpowering people like her, he found he needed to be introduced to them in small and incrementally increasing doses, in order to build up a tolerance. A few hours away from her, he found, made the prospect of another meeting all the more bearable.

He needed it, too: Aranea continued to unsettle. She came at irregular hours for irregular meetings, always looking over her shoulder and interrupting him without meaning to. Had their relationship been one of straightforward antagonism, my father could have held his own – as I've said, Tethys librarians are formidable in combat, and that applies as much to argument as to fencing. But, pinioned by worry and disconcerted by her eccentricities, my father could do little but take his chances to question Aranea when they came. Gradually, he learned about her – about her outstanding record at the law academy; about how she had followed an omen and bribed a secretary to find out about his case; about the divine presence that stalked her. As he received the information, my father was put more at his ease: Aranea was odd, but she was explicably odd. He could categorise her now in his head – and if there's one thing guaranteed to calm a librarian's troubled soul, it's a good hour spent in methodical categorisation.

For her part, Aranea found that as time passed and preparations for the trial progressed, she liked my father more and more. He was perceptive, quick to understand difficult points of law, and even, when he could distract himself from his gloom, funny. Well-read, erudite and surprisingly accepting of her convictions regarding destiny, my father made Aranea remember how pleasant it was to talk. She started to wonder at which point she had started to place more value on fate than friendships. She had had friends, she remembered. But one by one, she had alienated them, and when they left she hadn't bothered to look for them.

I wish so much that she had remembered what she learned back then.

But more of that later. My father worried, and Aranea worked. She trawled the fifteen volumes of the Edicts; she foraged in the record of past trials kept in Edict House. She made plans, proposed measures, drafted counter-measures – and all the while she knew that none of it was any good. It was an open and shut case: my father was, according to the letter of the law if not the spirit, undeniably guilty. Even on the eve of her move to her new home, the date of her official entrance into the adult world, Aranea's thoughts slid in a decidedly unfestive direction. Her suitcase stood by the door, ready for her to walk into a new life – but, she reflected, if she didn't figure things out soon my father's suitcase would end up in storage for at least twenty years.

You can imagine, then, that it was a tired and somewhat snappish Aranea Cavatica dol' Tethys who a fellow resident found making cocoa in the shared kitchen that evening.

“Have you heard the news?” asked the resident, Celine May dol' Tethys, who was almost insultingly cheerful.

“No,” she replied, hoping fervently that Celine wouldn't take this as an invitation to tell her.

“I have to tell you,” said Celine. “It's amazing. One of the librarians, yeah, he's been arrested, and you'll never guess why …

Aranea could, as it happened, but it didn't matter. She had tumbled headlong into a realisation – a realisation so incredible she failed to notice that she'd just poured three-quarters of her cocoa ration on the floor.

She liked a good love story as much as the next person – and that meant that the next person liked one as much as she did.

Celine went on with a heavily embroidered version of the story, but Aranea heard nothing but the tone – admiring, yearning, wondering. It was a tone that asked if pirate captains really did that sort of thing, and, if so, where Celine could get a dashing pirate captain of her own. It was a tone, Aranea realised, that belonged to a public who were in the mood for a love story.

“Gwahm,” she mumbled, and dropped her spoon.

Only one year had passed since the Battle for Tethys, and the need to repopulate was still strong – indeed, the entire Underridge area was shut down for lack of residents. Naturally enough, this had led to the distribution of an unprecedented number of pink tickets, those invitations of citizenship to the not-yet-conceived. Couple after childless couple received permission to reproduce, and, slowly but surely, pregnancies began to make themselves noticed. The promise of new life hung in the air and, despite its wounds, the city felt almost festive: pedestrians whistled in the corridors, ballads sprung out through the windows of the Founder's Arms, and dormitories and private quarters alike came alive with passion.

And, as love stories blossomed all across Tethys, the legend of the librarian who had fallen in love with the pirate was growing.

Over the next few days, it mushroomed, and Aranea followed its progress in delight and astonishment. After a few retellings and embellishments, the story had all the right qualities: there was forbidden love, dazzling swordplay, a battle of wits, a sea monster to be slain (that was the main addition), and, best of all, a child to seal it all off with, uniting the lovers in one flesh as they never could be again. Sentimental, yes, but also salacious – and at a time when there was so much repopulation to be done that even couples who already had one child were being considered for tickets, sentiment and salacity were everything the people wanted.

Add one canny lawyer to the mix, coaxing and cajoling, and within a week the first feedback forms started to appear in the suggestion boxes in the Atria. After two weeks, Aranea was able to report to my father that the public was on his side. After three, she barely had to do anything at all – the campaign to see my father free had gained so much momentum that it was self-sustaining. On the night before his trial, Aranea learned to her satisfaction that even my father's prison guards had put in requests that the case be dropped.

My father, for his part, was confused. It was hard to see public approval from inside his cell, despite what Aranea told him, and he only grew more bemused when he started receiving letters. Just a few at first, expressing the writers' hopes that he would soon be free, and then more, and then, by the last week, so many that it would have been a full-time job to read them all. It was a miracle that some of them had got past the censors; more than one person had clearly been quite carried away by the legend that had sprung up around him and Captain Siobhan, and certain letters proposed certain things that made the blood rush to my father's cheeks. Were the public really on his side, he wondered, or were they on the side of the fictional Amar Singh dol' Tethys, the bearded giant with the mighty sword? In the end, perhaps, it didn't matter. They wanted him out of jail and reunited with me, and that was what counted with him.

It was what counted with the Administration, too. The rulers of Tethys always did like to let the public have its way when it didn't matter – and what did it matter, really, if one Junior Assistant Librarian got away with a minor act of treason? It hadn't harmed the city. There was no real need to make an example of him. And obliging the strange, tenacious new lawyer might win them a useful ally. She certainly seemed to have a way with the populace.

Or so I speculate. There's no record of what the Administration thought, but knowing what I know now, I can certainly guess at it.

At any rate, that was how it ended. The trial was a farce; the five Administrators presiding melted, or appeared to melt, before Aranea's earnest entreaties, and one of them, Maurice St. Laurent dol' Tethys, was observed to shed a tear when she made a particularly soppy point. The Administrators retired – spent an hour on lunch – and returned to give their verdict: taking into account the circumstances, Amar Singh dol' Tethys was not guilty of treasonable desertion of his post.

Seconds later, as the newscom broadcast the judgement across the city, thousands of lovers burst out into a cheer so loud that you could hear it echoing faintly around Founder's Atrium a week later. The sergeants took my father out into Chimney, they and he beaming so wide it would have been hard for a stranger to say which of them it was that had just been acquitted, and my nurse handed me over―

―and my father's eyes lit up as he tried to figure out how to safely hold a baby―

―and Aranea felt the dark presence that had been with her for sixteen years lift from her shoulders―

―and as my father kissed me for the first time ever, she stepped forwards and asked him to marry her.

I've just noticed that the sun's going down. How long have I been writing? Hours, it must be. My hand aches and my coffee-pot is empty. Let's just check – 'sflukes, I've been here all day! That's definitely enough for now. I think I've made a good start, although I might have written a little more about librarians than I did about pirates. Well, nobody's perfect, and it's only my first try. We can come back to pirates, maybe, if we get a chance – though we still need to get to me meeting the Founder's ghost, now I come to think of it.

Tomorrow, maybe. For now, I've got to stretch my legs and give my fingers a rest. And then I'd better see what Edie is up to, as well – but if I keep listing my evening activities, I'll never get around to them.

Well – goodnight, then. I'll see you, dear reader, in the morning.
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Sike Saner

Peace to the Mountain
Ugh, I am already madly in love with this setting. It seems like we've only just begun to scratch the surface and yet I'm already in love with it. It's just that vivid.

Wonderful narrator, very engaging. Yes, Avice, leaving your considerations in was a good call. I think that's part of why the setting already seems so rich: we get to see their actual subjective take on it. And I like it when they start to ramble a bit; all those little digressions promise more fun little details about the world to read about.

I'm trying, meanwhile, to identify Tooth. Which is maybe impossible, or else I'm going about it from the wrong angle, or else it's obvious as frell and Tooth is laughing a bubbly sea monster laugh at me for not getting it and I'll be laughing along when it suddenly becomes clear. Who knows. I mean, apart from you.

Hell yes I will continue to follow this. Already looking forward to the next bit.


Gone. Not coming back.
Ugh, I am already madly in love with this setting. It seems like we've only just begun to scratch the surface and yet I'm already in love with it. It's just that vivid.

Wonderful narrator, very engaging. Yes, Avice, leaving your considerations in was a good call. I think that's part of why the setting already seems so rich: we get to see their actual subjective take on it. And I like it when they start to ramble a bit; all those little digressions promise more fun little details about the world to read about.

Thank you! I spent ages trying to get Avice's rambling right (it's got to seem unstructured, but not lapse into total incoherence) and it's really gratifying to know that I've managed to hold it all together. It's also great to learn that my choices about the setting have worked -- Avice originally described lots of it in something closer to objective detail, but it didn't feel right, so I cut and edited a lot of that down into subjective impressions. That then left me wondering whether there was enough setting left in there, so I'm relieved my hunch seems to have paid off.

I'm trying, meanwhile, to identify Tooth. Which is maybe impossible, or else I'm going about it from the wrong angle, or else it's obvious as frell and Tooth is laughing a bubbly sea monster laugh at me for not getting it and I'll be laughing along when it suddenly becomes clear. Who knows. I mean, apart from you.

There's no secret about Tooth, but I did cheat a bit in finding my third god. After coming up with the Old and Once Dead Gods, I found I'd run out of sea legendaries that the people of Tethys could conceivably think of as 'younger' than the others (they're wrong about the ages, of course, but then, they've forgotten a lot), so instead I picked something that doesn't usually live in water, but which is very adaptable and probably doesn't really need air to stay alive.

But that's enough about that: Tooth, as you might imagine, has a significant part to play in this story, so I'll leave it alone for now.

Hell yes I will continue to follow this. Already looking forward to the next bit.

Thank you! I'm looking forward to it as well -- it's really refreshing to write something so ... ebullient, I guess is the word I want, after all that serious, restrained stuff I wrote for Foxes. Like stretching your legs after a long plane flight.


Gone. Not coming back.

Tethys Edict 75.2.1b: Hoods are mandatory, and must conform to the specifications laid out in the following diagram (75.2.1c).

Everything started when I met the ghost of the Founder: but we still aren't there yet! I really must try and get there by the end of the day – but wait. I mustn't be too hasty. I figured largely in this, yes, but it's never just one person who makes history. There were other people involved as well, and every one of them was crucial. I've got to be sure to do their stories justice too, if I'm to fit everything into this book that belongs in it. It would just be wrong to leave out my father and Aranea and all the rest.

So! The pot is full of coffee, the sun is shining through the blinds, my spectral crew is keeping our vessel running – in short, the time is right for me to put pen to paper, and tell you what happened next.

Firstly: my father declined to marry Aranea, of course. How could he have said anything else? More to the point, how could she have expected he would say anything else? She knew his story better than most – she'd heard it from his own lips. If there was anyone in Tethys who could be certain that my father was still in love with Captain Siobhan, it was her. And yet she asked him if he would marry her. Why?

I think, and I have no proof, but I think she was afraid. She felt the eye of Tooth lift from her the moment my father stepped out of prison, and for the first time in sixteen years she was truly alone. She had fulfilled her destiny before she was even twenty-seven, and now she faced the prospect of another fifty or sixty years to fill. I can't imagine what that was like – I never had a destiny. I came to change history the old-fashioned way, through a set of embarrassingly convenient coincidences. Take what I wrote yesterday, for instance. Do you think I don't know how absurd it all sounds – how unlikely? Yet that's what happened. Life, in my experience, just is absurd and unlikely. Coincidence is rife.

But Aranea believed very strongly that she was marked by fate, and now her fate was done. I don't blame her for reaching out for the nearest human contact that she could find. Neither, as far as I can tell, did my father. Sensing something was amiss, he tactfully avoided saying no and took her hand instead, trying hard to look gently reproachful. I can't say if he succeeded – I'm not even really sure how you'd look gently reproachful, if I'm honest – but Aranea got the message, and just as quickly realised how out of place her question had been. She nodded briefly and turned aside, silently cursing her stupidity.

“I should let you get back home,” she said. “I have some – er – paperwork – to do, anyway.”

They parted then, and didn't meet again for two days. My father, once back in his rightful place in the Junior Assistant Librarian's apartment, did think about calling her on the intercom – but, unable to work out whether Aranea needed a little time alone or a friendly voice, he decided in the end to do nothing, thinking he might make things worse.

Aranea really did have paperwork to file, but she couldn't concentrate. She kept looking around the room for her unseen watcher, seeking out spies in shadows that remained resolutely unsuspicious. Her apartment was horrifyingly empty with just her inside it, and it seemed to her that the space gave her thoughts far too much room to grow, to billow out of the confines of her head and press with the evidence of her own fear and regret up against the walls. Tooth was gone. Her purpose was past. And she had alienated Amar Singh dol' Tethys with her ludicrous question, why had she done that, why oh why, all it had done was leave her more alone than ever because now even Tooth's messenger was gone …

And so it went on. She would sit down at her desk, tick a couple of boxes, then be distracted by the emptiness and search her room frantically for anything that might be there to share it with her, then calm herself, fill in another segment of her form, write a sentence or two of the report – only to jump out of her seat again, half-convinced she had seen something behind the ventilation grille. In the end she gave up, and went down the Grand Staircase to Founder's Atrium in the hope that the crowds would fill the empty space around her. It worked, after a fashion, and after an hour or two her mind began to clear. She wandered, watching people move and thinking nothing at all, a person-shaped gap in the throng, until her feet hurt and lights-out drew near. Pedestrians began to go home and the corridors to clear; only a few people worked during Tethys' simulated night, and they were mostly dockers or repair crew, whose work rarely brought them to Founder's. Her thoughts beginning to return, Aranea left before the Atrium could empty out and leave her stranded in its enormous vacancy, and crawled into her wardrobe to sleep. In there, she reasoned, there was less space and so less emptiness. Perhaps she was right, or perhaps she was simply exhausted from her walking. Either way, she was soon enough asleep.

She woke late the next day with a cramp in her leg from being curled up all night, and fell out of the wardrobe with a strangled curse. For an instant, all was forgotten – and then the pain passed, and Aranea found herself once more awfully alone. Coffee and a cold shower kept her concentration intact for long enough for her to complete the paperwork relating to my father's case, which was now overdue, and by eleven she was on her way to deliver it to the clerks of the Administration, in the Hothouse. She didn't stay long: the Hothouse is the most northerly point of Chimney, and you can feel the heat of magma there from behind the walls. Tooth felt even more distant there, among the chambers of warm stone, and Aranea soon left for the cold steel and glass of the city beyond the Staircase.

Today, though, she found she couldn't wander as she had previously – she was a lawyer, not a labourer, and the perambulations of the day before had left her exhausted. At noon, Aranea returned to her room to mope and shiver in her loneliness, which she knew very well was a childish way of dealing with the problem but which, somehow, she didn't have the energy to deny herself.

The following morning, however, necessity drove her out. You must understand, you weren't really supposed to eat outside the refectories – the average citizen's weekly rations didn't actually contain any real food, only coffee, cocoa, fungal syrup, rum and so on. Certain people – Administrators, the masters of the industries, the higher-ranking civil servants and the district heads – had a few extra items, like wine and the semi-mythical substance known as tea, but even they didn't have enough to enable them to eat apart from society. And while there was a thriving trade in black-market food, Aranea had never troubled to acquaint herself with it. She never would, not until the incident with the milk that revealed the secret Moll Kathleen dol' Tethys and I had been keeping.

But let that come in its proper place: at this point in time, I had never even seen a bottle of cow's milk, let alone a parabolic arc of it, and Aranea hadn't eaten since the day before yesterday. Hunger won out over self-pity, and drove her to the Chimney refectory. Like all Tethys refectories at half past seven, it was crammed with breakfasting citizens, and the combination of food and company lifted Aranea's spirits. By the time she had put herself outside a brace of sausages and two cups of strong black coffee, she had progressed so far as to start interrogating her emotions. What was she doing, wandering around sulking? So Tooth was gone! It hurt, yes, and it was abominably lonely, but other people remained. People who were better conversationalists, and to whom she probably owed an apology. If she was to break out of her fugue, she decided, over a second helping that drew a disapproving look from those seated near her, she would have to make an effort.

And that meant that it was time for a trip to the library.

The librarians had received my father with celebratory coffee and very quiet cheers – it was, after all, a library, and even at times of rejoicing there were rules to be enforced. His story had given them much to discuss over the past few weeks; they had debated what the significance of this or that element was, how my extraction from the escape capsule was a metaphor for birth, and how the fact that my conception and the Shark's death happened at the same time stood for how even in war the seeds of new life were sown, and so on. All librarians are of course readers, and for several weeks they had been reading the legend of the pirate and the librarian.

My father, who hadn't yet engaged anyone to look after me, had brought me with him, and the librarians wasted no time in reading me as well: the brown of my eyes, they affirmed, was a sign that one day I might travel out of the city and tread on dry land; that splodge of a birthmark on my arm was, they claimed, shaped like the Founder's face (although no one knew what the Founder looked like), denoting a historic future might be in store for me; the precise cuteness of my tiny toes, neither less cute than baby cuttlefish nor more cute, was doubtless an indication that I would grow up to be as cute as an adult cuttlefish.

All librarians are readers, but, as you see, not all of them are particularly good at it. There weren't a lot of books around to hone their critical skills on – although they did know forbidden stories, passed down by word of mouth from librarian to librarian, that were supposed to have been consigned to the Museum of the Forgotten. I spent a lot of time in the library when I was young, and I heard them all firsthand. I remembered them, too. Stories are harder to kill than most things, especially when told in libraries.

I would, however, have made a bad audience for their stories if they'd told them back then. That day, they offered only interpretations, which my father listened to and nodded at as if they made sense. It was in the midst of these strange, prophetic readings that Aranea arrived.

The sound of the library doors opening was unusual enough to break up the librarians' discussion immediately, and for a moment they silently fought over who would get the privilege of actually doing their job with a real live visitor – until Aranea stopped at the desk, looking at my father, and everyone realised that this young woman was not looking for a book.

“Hail,” she said, hesitantly.

“Hail,” replied my father.

There was a pause, in which all of the librarians did them the courtesy of retreating behind nearby bookcases, to give at least the illusion that they weren't eavesdropping.

“Sorry,” said Aranea at last. “I made things weird.”

My father considered.

“I think,” he said, “they were pretty weird before.”

Aranea smiled.

“Friends?” she asked.

“Friends,” confirmed my father. “We can forget about it for five years, until it seems funny instead of awkward.”

“Sounds like a plan,” said Aranea, and went to hug him – only the issue desk was in the way, and it didn't really work. But that was all right: one of Tethys' great partnerships had been cemented now, Aranea Cavatica and Amar Singh dol' Tethys, and nothing would split it for the next eighteen years.

Honestly, looking back, I'm not sure I can believe how lucky I was to have them.

I mentioned aunts yesterday, and I think now's the time to say more about them – because Aranea Cavatica dol' Tethys was, from that day forth, an aunt. It's a common misconception that aunts become aunts by being the sister of a mother or father, but I'm positive that that isn't the case. Aunts are born, not made: some people are hard-wired with a latent auntness at birth – an instinctive ability to, when a friend or relation has a child, transform into a fount of indulgence and authority and latch firmly onto the child's affections.

Such was Aranea Cavatica, although she didn't know it. I did have another, more 'legitimate' aunt, my father's sister – but his family were always rather cool to him after they found out about his liaison with my mother. It was one thing to hear about such things in a story, as the rest of the city had. It was another to have them occur your own family. Polite society, or at least, the kind of polite society that my father's family liked to imagine they belonged to, didn't approve of such things.

So we heard little from them, except for infrequent, awkward and always rather short visits to their quarters that my father undertook out of a sense of filial onus, and in their place his friends stepped in – that is, the librarians, and Aranea.

After her extraordinary feat of public manipulation during my father's trial, the Administration seemed to want to make her its own, and filled up her schedule with some of the choicest cases going, but when she did have free time, everyone knew that you wouldn't find her alone. You probably wouldn't even find her at home, unless she had brought me and my father over. Our company saved her from the raving loneliness of a life without destiny, and in return she threw herself into the business of raising me with a vengeance. If she had a free day, she would pay for shuttle tickets and take the pair of us across the city, to places my father hadn't visited for years and I hadn't visited ever: to the Civic Museum, where they preserved those parts of the past that citizens were permitted to remember; to the zoo, where the last sceptile in the world clung tenaciously to life beneath a sun lamp; to the Tabitha Wentworth Memorial Viewing Dome, a miracle of glass where you could stand and see the blank, terrifying vastness all around you. (That last one wasn't especially popular, but the Administration kept it running in the hope of one day recovering the lost technology that had gone into building it.) At first, these trips were more for my father's benefit than mine, but after a few years of growing I started to take more of an interest. I would ask questions, and Aranea, who by then had argued many more cases, would use all her lawyer's skill to avoid answering them.

“Where did the septill come from?” I would ask, as we stood on the other side of the bars at the zoo. ('Sceptile' is a hard word for a toddler.)

“An egg, probably,” Aranea would reply, interlacing her fingers. “It's a lizard, after all.”

“But where did the egg come from?”

“Another sceptile, I guess.”

“But what place did it come from?”

“The egg, or the sceptile?” Aranea would ask, and on we would go for as long as my childish patience could manage, at which point my father would interrupt to forestall a tantrum.

“I think it's time for ice cream!” he would say, with a warning twitch of his delicate librarian's fingers. Then, in a low whisper: “Aranea, do you have to do that?”

And Aranea would grin unapologetically and go to wave a sheaf of credits at the ice cream vendor.

Another time we would be in the Civic Museum, looking at the wailord skeleton hanging from the ceiling, and, glancing shrewdly at the size of the door we'd come in through, I would ask:

“How did they get it in here?”

And Aranea's fingers would lace together, and her grin would flash at my father above my head.

“I expect they carried it,” she'd say, as he let out a sigh.

“But how did they carry it?”

“In their arms?” she'd hazard. “Probably it took a few people.”

“But how did it get in here?”

“Through the door, I guess.”

And then, as always, it was time for ice cream.

There was one time when I got the better of her. We were visiting the synthesis plant, where amid the city's farms and greenhouses enormous machines spent every hour of the day converting fungal sludge into chemicals and medicines. Looking out over the factory floor from the viewing port, I turned to Aranea and asked:

“How does it work?”

Her fingers, already rising to lock together, faltered. My father shot her a look of triumph.

“Some things,” he said, with just a hint of smugness, “not even your Aunt Aranea knows.”

“It's – well – something the Founder had installed,” she sighed. “No one knows how it works any more. We're just glad it does, and that it fixes itself when it breaks.”

After that, Aranea's games of avoid-the-question were always less interesting to me. She didn't know everything, apparently – so if she was trying not to give me an answer, then maybe she didn't know it anyway. I still played along and asked my questions, but now it was a game, not an argument, although I always took care to fake some frustration so that my father would intervene with ice cream. I had enough pirate blood in me to know how to cheat.

Speaking of my father – I've not said much about him, have I? When I sat down this morning and read what I wrote yesterday, I realised that Aranea dominates a bit – and so far she seems to be doing it again today. I think this is probably because she was, if I'm being brutally honest, more interesting than my father, on account of her being so much weirder. Not that I can talk: I speak to dead people and have made friends with a bird made of light. But she was weird, and as she got older she just got weirder. That makes for a good story, and so I find myself putting the emphasis on her, cutting up history in the name of your interest, dear reader. I suppose I could write more about my father – but then, wouldn't that also be a distortion? I mean, if I made it my mission to give all the characters in my story equal weight, then this would be a rather dull book, and I don't think either of us want that. And anyway, if I tell everyone's life in as much detail as I tell my own, I'm going to have to devote what is essentially another book to each of them, and then in turn to all the characters who turn up in their lives, and then to those in their lives, and, well, like I said, I don't really want to spend the rest of my life doing this.

I'm not even sure I've got enough paper to write all that.

Right. Let's agree, just for now, that objectivity is difficult and I, a mere novice historiographer, am probably not going to be able to provide you with it. Maybe I'll figure it out later. I hope I do. But at present, I have a story to tell, and it would be remiss of me to abandon either it or you here, before we've even got to me changing my name. So: I was saying that Aranea's oddness made her interesting, and therefore she's taken up what is perhaps an unfair chunk of the narrative. I also said, an hour or so ago, that she and my father had entered into a partnership, and whatever impression I might have given of the roles they played, that description remains accurate. They were both major presences in my life – indeed, my father was the bigger one, as you might expect. Aranea did do more than just divert me, of course; she loved me as much as anyone. But it was my father who got me up in the morning and put me to bed at night; it was my father who took me to the refectory; it was my father who comforted me when I was hurt, who held my hand in crowded corridors, and, most importantly of all, who told me stories.

In the library, where he and the other librarians related from memory the stories of books that had been banned; at home, where he spun tales of pirates, sea-monsters and ziz-lords; out with Aranea, where he took the marvels we saw and made up lives for them – wherever we were, my father was a fount of narrative. He taught me to read, too: the plaques at the Civic Museum and the zoo, the simpler books in the library, even the labels on our ration packets were grist to his mill. By the time I was six and ready to start school, I was even starting to write my own stories. They were mostly nonsensical, and always illegible, but it didn't stop me. Pencil gripped like a spear in my hand, tongue pinned between my teeth, I'd scribble out in a series of spikes and loops that passed for handwriting the adventures of the vessel Dragonite, which sailed under the authority of Captain Avice. This captain, if I remember right, did such things as uncover treasure from before the making over and slay orcas – but I can't be sure; it was a long time ago, and I no longer have my notebooks. I had to abandon them, along with so many other things, when I fled the city.

No, it would be wrong of me to say that my father was less important than Aranea. She gave me a lot, but she was always an aunt, not a mother. My father, on the other hand – he was a father, with all the intimacy that that suggests. He was a far better parent than he had ever expected he would be, and, in those last few days before the Procedure came for me, he was just as good a friend. Had he been anyone else, then all the pirate blood in the world wouldn't have made a difference: I would never have become who I am now. I might never even have left Tethys, let alone seen the ending of the rain.

From that perspective, I suppose you have him to thank for this history as well.

With the skills I learned from Aranea and my father, you could be forgiven for thinking that I'd excel in school. You'd be wrong, but you wouldn't be alone in making that mistake.

Everyone, I believe, has something wrong with them – many things, in fact, but frequently we have one that dominates. Aranea had the unshakeable loneliness that drove her to fill her days with work and people and take pills in order to sleep at night. My father was silently pining for my mother, unable to put the memory of her face out of his mind. And she in her turn had that deadly obsession with the Red King, with all the sorrow it would bring. So of course, it's only to be expected that I should have my own wrongness, and back in those days mine was that I was a girl.

I don't mean that that was a disadvantage in Tethys – why would it be? All human beings are very much alike in the eyes of the ocean, as the old saying goes – but in my particular situation, it caused me some difficulty. For a start, I myself didn't know I was a girl, which as you can imagine was far from ideal. Nor did anyone else, which made working it out rather trickier than it needed to be. The whole thing was very unsatisfactory.

I'm being flippant, but like all jokes, it's simply pain viewed from a great distance. When I was thirteen, I―


Excuse me.

This is all in the wrong order. Let me try that again, but with better attention to the chronology.

They thought I was a boy, did I mention that? I suppose not. I like to hide it from myself, even now. Again, I find myself rewriting my own history, cutting out the sons and boys and replacing them with children and kids … Nevertheless, if I'm to tell you the truth, and I promise you that I'll try, I must inform you that my mother, my father, Aranea – the whole city thought I was a boy. And little Avery, knowing no better, supposed that they were probably right.

My first six years of school were good – promising, even. I could read already, which both impressed and alarmed my teachers; I had a reasonable grasp of mathematics; I had a knack for retaining information, even if I didn't quite understand it yet. In short, I was – despite my freebooter mother, freethinker father and frankly odd aunt – the sort of pupil the schools wanted. I was good enough to go on to higher education, but not so good that I'd start asking unwanted questions. With all that Aranea and my father had taught me, I think I probably could have done, but both of them had made me promise not to get into trouble with my teachers, and I was too afraid of disappointing them to disobey. That was a good thing; if I had been on the Administration's radar back then, I might never have got the opportunity to meet the Founder's ghost.

So, all was well, except that it wasn't. Throughout those first six years, as I said, I accepted what I was told that I was – but after that, sometime between turning twelve and thirteen, things changed. Whenever I was alone and without distractions, I would feel an acute but unfocused sense of dissatisfaction creep over me. It was odd, but I could stand it, and all continued as normal for a while – only now it wasn't just Aranea who had trouble getting any rest at night. After lights-out, when everyone was asleep, I would get up and stare at my mirror in the dark, letting the shadows change the shape and tenor of my face. Sometimes it didn't work, and I found only the face of a twelve-year-old boy. Sometimes, though, when the faint light and my mind were both in just the right place, I saw something different. I didn't know what, not then, but it was perfect, and inexpressibly sad, because I knew it wouldn't last. I would look at my reflection for as long as I could bear, squeezing every last bit of magic that I could out of it, and then return to bed with a heavy heart, knowing that whatever I had seen could never exist in the harsh light of day.

Did my father notice a change in me? Did Aranea? I don't know. If they did, perhaps they simply thought I was growing up, and of course they weren't wrong – or not very wrong, anyway; you and I, dear reader, we both know that no one is ever really grown up, only more used to the life that has settled around them. Or perhaps you don't. I have no idea how old you are. There's a slim possibility that this has become the authoritative history of our times and you're a child being forced to read this in school, I suppose. In which case, you can take comfort in the fact that I was in your position once, only I had to read the Complete History of Tethys – of which a large number of pages, ironically, were to be found in the Museum of the Forgotten.

But I'm being flippant again, and worse, digressing. Back to the me-who-was-not-Avice: whether my guardians noticed or not, after a few months it became apparent to those who saw me at school that something was not right. I had to let my guard down sometimes, after all, and I hid my dissatisfaction so entirely at home that it had to came out elsewhere. I argued with a teacher about the incompleteness of the Complete History when she took it upon herself to correct something that I knew to be true about the Battle for Tethys. I lost my focus in Mathematics and watched the tide of my marks ebb slowly from day to day. I even got into a fight with my friend, Moll Kathleen dol' Tethys – but I'm glad that I did. Without that, and her, I might simply have sunk deeper into my dissatisfaction, and found that eventually my control of it broke. I dread to think what that might have led to. Whatever it turned out to be, it would have been bad, and perhaps I might not have come out on the other side unscarred.

What a lot of debts I seem to owe – and how fragile the thread of history is. Let the duelling pistols be forgotten at sea – have my father a touch less enthusiastic – keep me just a little calmer that day I fought Moll – and who knows where I'd be.

I look up through the blinds at another cloudless day and the mewing wingull above, and I think: who knows where any of us would be.

Mary Kathleen dol' Tethys was sea-born: her mother and her father had both been sailors when they met, and had been on a trading mission at the Sunken Gardens when she was born. In fact, her mother went into labour when they were in the town itself, among the diving bells and salt-pickled trees; if she hadn't been so quick to get back to their ship, Moll might have ended up a dol' Sunken Gardens, and been forced to apply for Tethys citizenship like any other immigrant. The law was strict about that sort of thing. But Tethys' vessels were city territory, and so, thanks to a technicality and her mother's adroit negotiation of the Sunken Gardens' elevator network, Moll just about qualified.

Perhaps you think I'm setting you up for the claim that our maritime origins united us from the first. I'm not. Merchant sailors and pirates are not good friends, and as soon as we started school Moll was my sworn enemy. I discovered this on the very first day, when in the twenty-minute break between our Language and Numeracy classes we students were mingling in the playcourt. Moll had, I remember, laid claim to a ball, and was about to start some game; along with several others, I went up to her and asked if we could play.

“You can,” she said, “and you, and you, but not you.”

I stared. Around us, the other children stared too, although more because they sensed a showdown coming than out of solidarity.

“Why not?” I asked. Or – let's be honest – I probably whined it.

“Your mum's a pirate,” said Moll haughtily. Everyone knew that: my father's fame had diminished with the years, but his story was still remembered.


Mine's a sailor,” she went on, holding the ball away from me. “And my dad.”

“So?” I persisted, still not understanding.

“Sailors hate pirates,” she said, and kicked the ball away. The other children ran after it, and she followed. I was left to glare at their retreating backs, and form a rival game with another group.

That was how we started out, victims of a rivalry that neither of us understood. As the years progressed, however, we both started to realise that it was getting in our way. Like librarians, sailors know stories they ought not to, picked up in their case from distant ports, and like me Moll had grown up on a diet of secrets and rumour. Her parents were never as dissatisfied as my father – they had seen enough of the outside world to know that Tethys was, for all its shortcomings, the only place around where you were guaranteed food, shelter, and education, to say nothing of the low likelihood of being stabbed there. Moll never picked up any resentment toward the city from then in the way that I did from my father. (Here honesty compels me to admit that I'd also found out about the duelling pistols by that point, and was full of righteous six-year-old indignation.) But she loved stories, and she had an inkling that the Complete History was not quite as complete as it claimed, and when she wasn't at school she ran wild around the docks and got in fights with the other harbour brats, and so by the time we were ten the two of us were starting to realise that the pirate/sailor feud was getting in the way of something that might be worthwhile. Not consciously – we were ten, after all, and neither of us would grow into our potential for self-reflection for some years. It was more that we would see each other across the playcourt, or the classroom, each in our own separate groups, and wonder if instead of me having the climbing frame and she the monkey bars, we could both have either.

I'll admit that that's not a likely basis for a friendship. But as they say, gyarados start off as magikarp, even the huge benthic ones with eyes the size of shuttles, and so it was with us. We agreed to exchange territories for a day – stopped glaring – declared the playcourt common ground – and somehow, without anyone quite noticing the change, Moll's group and mine were mixed up and we were friends. Once we'd go that far, we decided to go the whole way and be good friends, too, for whether it's pirate or sailor blood you have in you, it gives you a taste for adventure. I had a promise to keep about not getting into trouble with my teachers, true, but that didn't mean I couldn't get into trouble with other people.

In the afternoons or on Quiet Days, we would head south from Founder's and take the shuttle to Long Hill Atrium, around which the docks bulged like remoraid hanging off a mantine: miles of confusion, of sailors, labourers, foreigners, bureaucrats, pokémon and even a couple of seagulls that had somehow found their way down here, all making plenty of noise and practically begging to be explored. To Moll, whose parents those days managed a trading office at the docks, and received handsome salaries from the Administrators for the profit they brought the city, this was home. To me, coming straight from the library and my father's apartment near Founder's, it was a new world. I'd been around the city before on Aranea's days out, but never here – probably, I realise now, at my father's insistence. As he said later, he always knew I would leave Tethys. He just wanted to see me grow up first, before the ocean seduced me out into strange waters.

Here in this merry chaos, we built a history upon our friendship. We taunted the vigoroth carting freight, for the pleasure of watching them howl and weave around us; we climbed up the ornate façade of the harbourmaster's office and made faces in the window; we followed the foreign traders around and marvelled at their clothes, all so different from our Tethys uniforms. I joined in the feud Moll was nursing with a gang of sailor's kids – her group stood for the sergeantry of the Tethys corvettes, and the others for the pirate hordes, or sometimes, if we lost the coin toss, it was the other way around – and we would swordfight with bits of scrap for control of this square or that street, that jetty or this airlock. I came home scratched and happy, and my father would sigh, but he would smile as well.

“Were you pirates today?” he'd ask.

“Sergeants,” I'd answer. “And there was a houndoom that was the sea-monster.”

So it would go. He worried, of course, but he understood that I was sensible enough not to get myself killed, and that if he forbade me I'd probably go and do it anyway. I was, he told himself, my mother's son. That always makes me smile when I think about it now. Close, I say across the years, but not quite there! I was my mother's child all right, but not her son.

Which reminds me, I'd better hurry up and get to that. As I said, Moll and I were friends – best friends, I suppose you could say, although she would ever admit it, and out of respect to her neither would I. Everyone, as I've said, has something wrong with them, and Moll's flaw was that she could never back down from a feud. She could cease to actively pursue it, yes – we were friends, after all. But even when we were the closest pair in school, she maintained that we were permanently divided by our parents' professions. When I attempted to beat up Palomin Jonas dol' Tethys for having the temerity to break her heart (attempted, because I failed, and came away with a black eye for my trouble) – when she avenged the destruction of my notebook by two of the dock kids – it didn't matter what we did for each other, she would never admit that the rivalry was dead. We had been enemies once, for the most ridiculous of reasons, and now we had to remain so, in name at least, for all eternity.

Writing this now, it's funny to imagine what we must have looked like: two children, clearly devoted to each other, one protesting vehemently that they were mortal enemies and the other nodding and going along with it so as not to spoil her fun. We were utterly ridiculous, and totally inseparable.

And now Moll doesn't even remember my name.

Well. Let's not mope. All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well. I read that somewhere, and it sounded to me like a promise. I can only trust that the gods, or the sea or the world or whatever, will keep it.

Back to Moll. On the day we fought, she knew something was coming. Looking back, it was clear that I hadn't been myself for months. My longing for whatever I saw in the mirror at night was growing faster than my control over it, and it was slithering out of my face and into the words of others now, too. Every 'he' was a knife; every 'boy' a hammer blow. It hurt most of all coming from my father – my father, who had until then been a constant and unwavering good in my life; my father, who called me 'son'; my father, who noted with pride how much I looked like him when he was my age …

Enough. What matters is that my problem was swelling like a monstrous long-legged parasite in my gut, big enough that I started to have an idea about what it was I wanted to see in the mirror, big enough that I had trouble reining it in – and big enough that people started to notice. Not long before my thirteenth birthday, I started to disengage. It took so much effort to keep myself together, and you understand I could see no alternative – barely had the conceptual vocabulary to even think about it, let alone talk about it, and I just―

Forgive me. I'm getting incoherent. Now you see why I was being flippant earlier: the curse of the historian is to revisit past events, no matter how dark, and a joke is about the only armour you can take back there with you. Maybe I should take out my thoughts from this – but no, no; I said I would leave them in here and I won't go back on my word. I can't fit in everything, but I can at least fit in myself, as fully as possible.

I started to disengage. I played sergeants and pirates with less enthusiasm, then with still less, and finally none at all. I made excuses to Moll and came down to the docks only a couple of times a week. Instead, while my father thought I was with her and she thought I was at home, I found new places to explore – places where for an hour or two I didn't have to worry about letting anything slip, and where I could be alone with my yearning and my lack. On Corridor 13, there was a bulletin board that had been carelessly placed over an old maintenance access hatch; when no one was watching, which was often, you could easily lift the board aside and slip through into the tunnels.

Here, there were no windows, and no lights unless you turned them on yourself. The walls were threaded with pipes and cables, the floor was splotched with water and oil, and the hum and hiss of power and air supply were always audible. In this dark and lonely place, far from the regular patrols of the repair crew, I lingered, imagining my life withering away into an endless string of gloomy vigils―

But as I said, let's not mope. Keeping to the facts, then – my distance, my odd disappearances, my occasional aggression – you can see how Moll could notice that something was wrong. Really, it's a wonder she didn't notice before: after Aranea, she was the most perceptive person I knew. Probably what clinched it for her was my thirteenth birthday. When, as was the custom in those days of sea gods, my friends and family gathered at the local shrine for the ceremony of thanks to my guardian deity for another year of life, my mind was obviously wandering. Normally, I was proud to be dedicated to the oddest, least respectable god, and honoured it with pleasure – but that day, I couldn't help but think that Tooth had been a bad choice, that I was going the way of so many other of its dedicatees, to ruin. Moll can't have been the only one to notice it, but she was certainly the only one who knew that I wasn't coming out to play any more. With those two clues to go on, she could be sure that something was up.

On the next Quiet Day, when work was relaxed and leisure encouraged, Moll invited me down to the docks for a particularly special occasion.

“There's a monster hunter arrived yesterday,” she informed me. “He's got a dragalge he shot as long as the playcourt. We can go see that.”

“Mm,” I said, and her eyes narrowed ever so slightly.

And he's got all like harpoons,” she persisted. “And pistols and swords and all kinds, and a cape made of sharpedo skin what if he even brushes it against you, you get cut.”

I sighed.

“Sorry,” I told her. “Aranea's taking me and my dad to the Viewing Dome.”

Moll made a face.

“The Viewing Dome,” she said. “The Viewing Dome. What's there even to view, is what I'd like to know. A whole lot of nothing, really. Just water. And maybe sometimes an eel,” she added thoughtfully.

“Yeah. Well. There's tomorrow,” I suggested, with a flash of guilt.

“Tomorrow?” Moll perked up. “Oh, well, that's all right, then. The monster hunter will still be there tomorrow, and it's another Quiet Day. Meet you there after lunch?”

It struck me then that she wore her body with a fantastic ease, and I had to fight to keep from turning away in envy.

“Yeah,” I managed. “After lunch.”

I never got a chance to keep that appointment. Moll was suspicious enough to keep a covert eye on our apartment, and when Aranea conspicuously failed to call, she left with a face set like stone. Her friend was a liar – and this was, in one sense, all right. Everyone knew pirates were liars, although you'd have thought that the librarian in him would have balanced that out a bit. But he wasn't supposed to lie to her. That wasn't right. Nor was the rest of his strange behaviour In fact, there was a whole lot about it that wasn't right, and Moll would figure out what 'it' was if it killed her.

She seethed all afternoon, calmed down in the evening and went to bed starting to feel concerned; in the morning, however, her anger returned and she took the shuttle to Founder's with a grim set to her jaw and blood in her eye. All the practice she had had at maintaining a fake feud came back to her; she carried this real grievance to our quarters with the skill of a person twice as old as her and far more maligned. Even my father, when he answered the door to her knock, was slightly taken aback by the sight of her, and he was one of the people whom Moll could usually deceive without trouble.

“Avery,” he called. “Moll's here.”

That penetrated even my sick apathy, and I considered for a moment not answering – but how could I? Moll would have to be faced at some point, and I could hardly refuse to see her now without revealing to my father that something was wrong. So out I went, and we greeted each other pleasantly enough while my father watched. We carried on that way for a while. Moll made me wait until we had taken the shuttle down to the docks before she started her offensive.

“You didn't go to the Viewing Dome yesterday,” she said flatly.

“No,” I agreed. I knew it was the wrong thing to say, but I couldn't think of anything else.

“'No'?” she repeated, and I could hear a white-hot passion in her voice. “Is that it? 'Sflukes, is that it? You lied, Avery, and it wasn't even to a grown-up or someone, it was to me.”

She used her words like stilettos, sinking each with calculated malice into my weakest points. I would have done the same in her situation. Thirteen-year-olds are vicious creatures.

“And how many other times, anyway?” she continued, relentless. We were going nowhere, really, just wandering through the labyrinthian back paths of the docks, and her voice was rising in pitch and volume like a war machine grinding into action. “On Monday? And last week? And the week before that, and before that―”

It went on, growing louder as the bustle of the docks grew fainter and the traffic thinned out. I made no attempt to leave, or even to reply – I couldn't. I had to concentrate all my efforts on holding myself together, on not breaking up and billowing out in wild fragile sheets like a splash of milk in coffee. Maybe my passivity made her angrier. I'm not sure. I remember very little of what she actually said. All that I can recall with any certainty is that her voice grew louder and louder and its teeth bit deeper and deeper and my skull wavered for a moment between the pressure inside and outside before finally Moll grabbed me and it exploded and in the safety of a deserted alley I shoved her off and into the wall.

Did I just do that, I wondered, and I saw in Moll's eyes the answering question: Did he just do that?

The next moment our shared confusion was gone and all rational thought with it, and in a welter of childish tricks we fought, and Moll hooked my leg in hers and I hit the floor of that tiny corridor with a thump.

It was for the best. If I'd won, we would never have had said what we did next.

“What in all blood,” said Moll, staring down at me. I said nothing. “What in all blood is wrong with you,” she said, tired. “That's all I want to know, Avery.”

And at last, my self-control utterly shattered, distracted from my own mind with pain and the bizarre realisation that I'd just fought Moll, I was able to circumvent the thoughts that clouded it and give her my first inadequate answer:

“I should have been a girl.”

Moll stood very still for a moment, because that was how Moll showed surprise, but after that she sat down against the wall and helped me up to join her. It was eerily quiet where we were. The docks were busy even on Quiet Days, of course, but we were far away from the waterfront now, in the tangle of rarely-used passages that separate the traders' warehouses from the electrical substation, and the sound of industry was little more than a faint rattle down the hall.

We sat there in silence for a while, just getting our breath back, and then Moll spoke.

“In the Hollow,” she began, “my dad met a man in a tavern. He'd been all sorts of things before he got old, like he was a trader and a monster hunter and an adventurer and even a priest for a bit, and he'd seen practically everything there was to see in the world ever. And what he never saw, he'd heard about, 'coz when he was going around, see, he collected up all the stories from everyone he met.

“This man, he told my dad a story he'd heard in this tiny town way out west, inside a floating ball of coral. They said to him that there was an island, somewhere on the other side of the world, what was big enough for a town and a forest, and that because it was so big everyone was always trying to take it over. But they never managed to, 'coz the people who lived there, these people called the Amazons, they were such good fighters and boom, they'd blow them up before they even got to shore half the time.”

Here, Moll paused, considering how best to frame the next part of her story.

“And the thing about the Amazons,” she said eventually, “is that they're all women. Like no matter what shape they are, even if in Tethys they might have been called a man, they're still women, all of them. Sometimes when people visited their island they'd be confused, 'coz they'd think some of them were men, but if they said so the Amazons just laughed because to them, the visitors seemed so dumb. And then – well, the rest isn't so important, but it seems to me, y'know, that if you're a girl you're a girl and drown what the visitors to the island say. If you see what I mean.”

She looked at me. My librarian blood roared: I did see what she meant.

“You gonna say something?” she asked, after a good minute or two had passed.

“Thank you,” I murmured, and hugged her.
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Gone. Not coming back.
And that is the fulcrum around which my life swung – the fateful moment when the person who would one day be Avice Amrit dol' Tethys found a story with which she could understand the unease in her heart. It didn't happen overnight, of course. It's not like someone gave me a king's rock and bang! suddenly I evolved. I was still divided from myself. But I could understand what I felt now, and I could talk to Moll about it, and little by little things began to change.

Later that day, when her parents were out, Moll took me back to their apartment (they were lucky enough, like my father and me, to have private quarters), and lent me one of her spare uniforms. Then, in her mirror, I saw for the first time in daylight what I had previously only ever glimpsed at night when the shadows changed my shape: I saw Avice in the mirror, looking back at me startled with the change.

“You know,” Moll said, joining me, “it suits you.” She grinned. “You are like your mum. A pirate girl.”

Words like those are tiny things, but they go in your heart and stick deep. I don't have to reconstruct what Moll said to me during those days. I remember all of it as if it were yesterday.

Days passed, weeks passed, and the changes in me continued apace. Moll and I spent more time apart from the other children, where we could talk freely and I could grow in confidence. We came to the docks still, to keep up appearances and maintain contact with our friends, but not so often. Instead we would take the forgotten maintenance door I'd discovered and explore the viscera of the city, pleasantly terrified by every unexplained creak or rumble; or we would search the corridors behind the Grand Staircase for the Museum of the Forgotten, which we never found; or we would go down to Garden Atrium, and show the local kids why we of Founder's were best. When we did that, I would wear Moll's spare uniform and introduce myself as Avice, and they would know no better. I became an expert at clipping my name badge to my sweater just high enough that it was half covered by the fold of my hood. Technically it was a minor crime, and once I was questioned by a sergeant – but thankfully it looked just enough like an accident for an apology and an adjustment to get me out of it.

Have I got ahead of myself again? I think I have. One moment I'm Avery, the next I'm Avice – you'll want to know why I abandoned the name my mother gave me, and rightly so. The answer is quite simply that I had to break with the past. At that time, when no one but Moll knew who I was, it was important to me that I could differentiate myself from Avery. Renaming myself did just that, and thus turned that old self into nothing but a cunning disguise – a mask I wore in order to avoid having to talk about this with anyone. I could keep myself together at school and at home if I told myself that the reason everyone thought I was a boy was that I was so very well disguised.

As for why that particular name? Well. I told you words stick deep: like Moll said, I was a pirate girl, and so was the Captain Avice of my early stories. And anyway, I always had liked the name.

I went on like this, steadily growing more and more confident, for a month or two – and if it hadn't been for the milk, maybe I would have gone like that longer. Maybe not: I expect puberty, which had not yet got properly under way for me, would have caused me some issues. But that, just like the question of whether Tempest ever spoke directly to my father, is speculation. I've said it before and I'll said it again: you've got to put some boundaries on reality, and in this case, reality was firmly bounded by thirty litres of parabolic milk.

It was all the fault of Balthasar Arnold dol' Tethys, a minor criminal whose schemes weren't much less unusual than his name. He had, at one time or another, been a forger of flechettes, an importer of unlicensed paprika, a purveyor of foreign poetry, and a cultivator of psychotropic slime moulds. His last scheme, an attempt to crossbreed one of Tethys' abyssal barbaracle with the normal coastal variety, had ended in a horrific failure when the former, assuming that its mate would be as tough as it was, accidentally broke it into little pieces and then fled in terror, tearing a hole in a steel wall in its haste to get away. With two expensive animals gone (or ten, I suppose, if you're pedantic) and a wall to replace, Balthasar needed a new racket to cover his losses. He decided, however (and it may well have been the only sensible decision he made in his entire life), to try something a little less ambitious this time, and smuggle food for the black market instead.

So, on that fateful day, he went down to Garden, spoke to certain corrupt operators at the synthesis plant, and filled two large rubber-sealed briefcases with illegal milk. He thought of this as his masterstroke: no one, he was confident, would suspect anything of a man walking briskly along with a couple of briefcases. Such a man (his reasoning went) would simply look like any other citizen with an office job. It apparently never occurred to him that most people don't carry more than one briefcase, or that he could just as easily have filled a bag with cartons without going to the trouble of constructing special milk-bearing briefcases. Balthasar was not, as the Administrators presiding at his trial soon found out, a particularly good schemer. Unfortunately for him – and semi-fortunately for me – he persisted in the belief that he was a criminal genius, and so that afternoon found him coming out of the shuttle station at Founder's with a mental pat on the back. All had gone according to plan, no one had stopped him, and now he just had to cross the atrium and he'd only be a corridor away from the drop-off point. By his calculations, he was about fifteen minutes away from a cool six hundred credits.

At the same time as Balthasar was entering Founder's Atrium from the south end, Moll and I were crossing it from the east. We had just been to her house, where I had cast off my Avery disguise and become myself, and were on our way down to Garden to show the kids there that we were better at pirates and sergeants than they were. (It wasn't just our practice at the docks that gave us the advantage. Founder's is central; Garden, something of a backwater. According to the logic of all cynical urban children, that made us better.) That meant taking the shuttle, and so while Balthasar headed north, we headed south.

As Balthasar stepped out of the station and Moll and I wormed our way through the crowds around the Founder's Arms, Aranea stepped off the Grand Staircase at the north end of the atrium. She was heading south, to the corridors on the west side of the court that would take her to the library, where she had become a regular visitor and a frequent sharer in the librarians' conversations.

None of these paths should have crossed, and had we gone as the eel swims they wouldn't have. Aranea should have cut diagonally across from the Staircase and left on the first corridor she came to, in order to avoid the crowd; Moll and I should have gone straight from Corridor 19 to the mouth of the shuttle station, taking a path parallel to Aranea's; Balthasar should have gone almost straight north and taken the little exit just to the right of the Staircase. These three paths do not intersect.

But! Life isn't so simple, and neither are crowds. Moll and I curved out towards the middle of the atrium to take advantage of the cool air by the central fountain – Balthasar found he was too closely hemmed in for his liking, and moved a little to the left to avoid his precious cargo being jostled – Aranea had to go around an area where the floor was being resurfaced, and was forced almost directly southward as a result.

Thus, Moll and I were walking along the east side of the fountain when―

And Aranea was just arriving at the north side of the fountain when―

And Balthasar was on his way around the west side of the fountain when―

The milk thief tripped.

Even then, he might have salvaged the situation. Had he taken as much care of his briefcases as he did of his face, perhaps nothing would have happened – but now I'm being too harsh on him. Anyone who trips naturally flings their hands up to defend their face.

Hands that, in Balthasar's case, were holding two fifteen-litre milk containers that collided in midair with such force that they burst open.

And as he fell, the milk rose – rose up over the fountain, borrowing his momentum with infinitely more grace; rose up in a beautiful white arc that shone under the strip lights; rose up, and up – and fell.

On the other side of the fountain, I had just enough time to hear Moll cry out in surprise before the parabola of milk ceased to be a parabola, and started being a puddle – a puddle focused with the inevitability of fate on my face.

Have you ever, dear reader, had thirty litres of milk fall onto you out of nowhere? I'm going to assume that you haven't, and I'm also going to suggest that you don't go and seek out the experience yourself. You're drenched instantly. You squeal faintly in shock and surprise. A helpless, panicked voice in the back of your head starts jabbering and won't shut up: what is this? milk? Really? Milk? Like what? Why milk? Where'd it come from?

And as you wipe the milk from your face and look around, trying to find in some corner of the room an explanation for what has happened, you see your aunt arrested mid-step a little way off, staring at, and looking almost as shocked as, you.

“Storm's teeth,” whispered Aranea, through the sudden silence. “Avery?”

It was not how I'd have chosen to reveal to my family that I was a girl. I don't know how I would have done it, but it probably would have been drier, and not in the middle of Founder's Atrium. But I look back on it now and I thank Balthasar for prompting me. Thanks to him, thanks to his clumsiness and his milk and his utterly absurd ideas, I was forced to explain myself to Aranea – and then, a few hours later, to my father. And because of that, we were able to notify the Administration via a goldenrod Special Feedback Form only a few days later; and the case reached some abstruse committee I hadn't even known existed just a day or two after that; and soon enough the whole civic machinery was in full motion. So it came to pass that, eventually, I received the first batch of all those many, many little bottles of pills that would accompany me through life, cooked up by the sorcery of the synthesis machines to help me align my body with that of the Avice I sometimes saw in the mirror.

Because, to put it plainly, they got it. My case wasn't unique. People like me have, I'm reliably informed, been around since before the making over and for thousands of years beforehand. There's even something about us in one of the Edicts – a supplement to the one about all citizens having a right to request assistance meeting their needs, I think, number fifty or something.

Of course, it wasn't an entirely smooth process. My father did, for instance, drain almost all of his weekly rum ration that day. He and Aranea were tormented for weeks by the thought that they should have noticed sooner and stepped in to help. I myself teetered in a strange, delirious place between freedom and fear for a while, especially when I returned to my old haunts with my new uniform and name badge, and knew that people were staring.

And I was secretly alarmed, too, that no one had ever mentioned gender trouble to me before. I wanted to know why this sort of thing wasn't taught in school. It could have saved me, and doubtless others, a lot of pain. That was the thought that started me on the road to poetry – that why. That was when I started asking the kind of questions that the librarians whispered behind closed doors: why did you need a licence to write poetry? Why were so many things painted red? Why was there a museum that commemorated everything we weren't meant to know?

But let's leave whys for tomorrow: they led me towards the Founder's ghost, and that's far too big a topic for me to start so late in the day. Now, as the sun dips towards the horizon, let's give my younger self a break. We've put her through rather a lot today, and she and I both need to take a step back before we deal with what comes next.

Time to stretch my legs, I think. I don't know how I've managed it, being cooped up behind a desk like this for two days in a row. I'm not as mobile as I was, and won't be until my leg heals, but I've never been one for the sedentary life. In that, as in so many other things, I am my mother's daughter.
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Active Member
I am liking this. Interesting choice of narrative style, I don't often read things setting something as a history/historical novel. I wasn't expecting the narrator to be transgender, either, but it enhances the story rather then feeling shoehorned in. (My apologies if I've offended anyone, I honestly don't mean to) So far it's very intriguing and I can tell that there's a very good story lurking nearby.

On the other hand it doesn't really seem too much like a Pokemon fanfiction to me - more that you're telling your own story and the backdrop of Pokemon is an irrelevant detail, a frame for the story. Of course I could be wrong given that it's only two chapters in, but that's my opinion. I eagerly await future chapters of this most intriguing story.


The Ghost Lord
Welp, it's 5 AM and I can't sleep so I decided to read this fic because what you said about it in the Mafia intrigued me.

And once again I'm echoing other reviewers. XD

Like Sike, I'm in love with your setting and narrator. I'm a sucker for post-apocalyptic stuff (especially post-post apocalyptic stuff like yours), and this is one of the sorts of takes on such a setting I really like - The inhabitants have picked themselves up and moved on, and the old world is literally the stuff of legends.

And a Lemony, transgender narrator/protagonist with both aspects being handled really well? Yes, please.

However, like Terry, I'm sometimes left wondering "wait, is this still a Pokemon fic?" Not really helping are the occasional references to real-life animals, which just enhance the confusion.

I'm assuming Tempest is Lugia and Tide/The Once Dead God is Kyogre. (If so, totally naming my Alpha Sapphire Kyogre Tide.) I'm also assuming Tooth's identity is a plot twist, so I'll hold off asking about it for now.

I also have a theory Tethys is what used to be Pacifidlog, but feel free to deny that. :p

Overall, I very much like what you're doing so far and will definitely try and make time to keep following it.


Gone. Not coming back.
Thank you for your comments! Let me address your most pressing concerns first.

On the other hand it doesn't really seem too much like a Pokemon fanfiction to me - more that you're telling your own story and the backdrop of Pokemon is an irrelevant detail, a frame for the story. Of course I could be wrong given that it's only two chapters in, but that's my opinion. I eagerly await future chapters of this most intriguing story.

However, like Terry, I'm sometimes left wondering "wait, is this still a Pokemon fic?" Not really helping are the occasional references to real-life animals, which just enhance the confusion.

This was an impression that I thought these first two chapters might give -- you see, Pokémon are important in this story (in fact, it's kind of a trainer fic, if you interpret the term loosely), but since I started telling Avice's story from right back before she was conceived, it's taken me a while to get to the point where they come into the story, if you see what I mean. If you're willing to trust me for just a little longer, you should start to see more of their involvement in Chapter Three, and from then on they'll only become more heavily involved. I'll leave it to you to judge whether or not it starts feeling more Pokémonish (Pokémony? Pokémonal?) as it goes on. If it still doesn't, then by all means do tell me, because if so it'll mean I need to do some serious editing.

As for the real-life animals, well. It's sort of an unavoidable problem with the Pokémon world that it has like a hundred and fifty species of animal in each region, many of which appear to be high up on the food chain -- and that's just not credible. Besides, the fact that the Pokédex assigns each Pokémon a name that's often based on an animal (Pikachu is the 'Mouse Pokémon', Swinub is the 'Pig Pokémon', and so on) in the games has always implied to me that regular animals exist alongside Pokémon but are just not particularly relevant to the protagonist; otherwise, how would you even be able to understand those terms? You're welcome to disagree with me there -- it's just one possible interpretation of the games' narrative inconsistencies, after all. I can certainly understand how it could be confusing in the early stages of this story, but I can't see a way around the inclusion of regular animals other than either adding Fakemon (which is usually unhelpful) or ignoring the issue (which is a bit of a cop-out). Hopefully, though, as the story continues, the way things fit together will become clearer. If not, again, do tell me, and I will put my editing hat on and see if perhaps I can find a better way past the problem.

Like Sike, I'm in love with your setting and narrator. I'm a sucker for post-apocalyptic stuff (especially post-post apocalyptic stuff like yours), and this is one of the sorts of takes on such a setting I really like - The inhabitants have picked themselves up and moved on, and the old world is literally the stuff of legends.

And quite a legend, as we'll see! If the relationship between the new and old words is your bag, I think (I hope) you'll like Chapter Four, where there will be Exposition, Mythography and Science, not necessarily in that order.

And a Lemony, transgender narrator/protagonist with both aspects being handled really well? Yes, please.

Thanks. Avice is ... an ambitious creation, let's put it that way. I had to come up with a way of conceptualising gender that was a) intelligible to readers, b) sensible, and c) different in some ways from the modern Western kind, because after all the world of Tethys is in many ways not like our own. That also meant working out a narrative of self-realisation for Avice that would take recognisable elements from trans narratives and twist them gently into something slightly different, but plausible and not offensive. Which was a lot of work, and I'm super happy to hear that it's coming along OK.

Besides, there aren't a lot of trans protagonists around. I wanted to do something to remedy that, and yet still stay in genre fiction territory. No reason why you can't be trans and go on adventures, after all. And Avice has plenty of those to talk about.

I'm assuming Tempest is Lugia and Tide/The Once Dead God is Kyogre. (If so, totally naming my Alpha Sapphire Kyogre Tide.) I'm also assuming Tooth's identity is a plot twist, so I'll hold off asking about it for now.

Not quite a plot twist, but certainly something I'm holding off on revealing, mostly because I, like Avice, am addicted to hinting at things and keeping you waiting for them. We will, though, meet at least two and possibly all three of these so-called gods in time.

Oh, and yes, you're right about Tide and Tempest. There doesn't seem to be any point in hiding that.

I also have a theory Tethys is what used to be Pacifidlog, but feel free to deny that. :p

We'll see if you're right in Chapter Four. (... which had better be good now, right, because I seem to be selling it quite hard.)

Overall, I very much like what you're doing so far and will definitely try and make time to keep following it.

Thanks for your patronage! I'll bear in mind your remarks and try not to disappoint.

I am liking this. Interesting choice of narrative style, I don't often read things setting something as a history/historical novel. I wasn't expecting the narrator to be transgender, either, but it enhances the story rather then feeling shoehorned in. (My apologies if I've offended anyone, I honestly don't mean to) So far it's very intriguing and I can tell that there's a very good story lurking nearby.

I shouldn't think you'll have offended anyone. At least, you haven't offended me. Representation of marginalised groups is always good, but there are more and less aesthetically satisfying ways of achieving it (just as there are more and less aesthetically satisfying ways of incorporating anything into a story), and I take your comment to mean that as you see it I've taken the more aesthetically-pleasing route. Which is good to know, because I like my stories to fit together nicely.

Well. Thank you both for commenting, and reminding me not to get caught up in Avice's digressions and so get too far from the Pokémonish bits. And thank you to everyone else who's been reading, too.
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The Ghost Lord
As for the real-life animals, well. It's sort of an unavoidable problem with the Pokémon world that it has like a hundred and fifty species of animal in each region, many of which appear to be high up on the food chain -- and that's just not credible. Besides, the fact that the Pokédex assigns each Pokémon a name that's often based on an animal (Pikachu is the 'Mouse Pokémon', Swinub is the 'Pig Pokémon', and so on) in the games has always implied to me that regular animals exist alongside Pokémon but are just not particularly relevant to the protagonist; otherwise, how would you even be able to understand those terms? You're welcome to disagree with me there -- it's just one possible interpretation of the games' narrative inconsistencies, after all. I can certainly understand how it could be confusing in the early stages of this story, but I can't see a way around the inclusion of regular animals other than either adding Fakemon (which is usually unhelpful) or ignoring the issue (which is a bit of a cop-out). Hopefully, though, as the story continues, the way things fit together will become clearer. If not, again, do tell me, and I will put my editing hat on and see if perhaps I can find a better way past the problem.

No problem! That's a perfectly valid explanation.


Gone. Not coming back.

Tethys Edict 594.2: All citizens have the freedom to speak as they will without fear of reprisal; however, it is required that they also consider the effect of utterances before speaking them.

There's blood on the wind this morning. I went up on deck for a walk before it got too bright – I've got my sunglasses, of course, but twenty years at the bottom of the sea leaves your eyes pretty weak even behind protective lenses – and I could smell iron underneath the salt. Far off, very far off, the keening wind is building.

I'm glad I went up. Ghosts don't have much in the way of a sense of smell, even allowing for the effects of the Museum, and if I hadn't smelled the wind we wouldn't have known it was coming until it got here. As it is, we can dive now and hopefully get deep enough to avoid it completely.

The keening wind: do they still have that in your time and place, dear reader? Perhaps you live outside its path, or in some blessed era after it has ceased to blow. Count yourself lucky if you do. You'll never hear its wail, or see the haunted blood flow past. Even sea-monsters dive deep when the keening wind blows. Nothing is safe; the bitterest rivalries disappear until the world is calm again. Whoever you are, whoever is with you – when the keening wind blows, you help each other. That saved my life once, when Virgil―

Virgil. We'll meet him today, actually. Let's see; where did we leave my younger self yesterday? Somewhere dark and dire, I think. Hopefully we can be a bit more cheerful today – after all, life may be a grim business but you can't deny it's also pretty ridiculous.

Take how I got from whys to poetry, for instance. I wrote yesterday that I started thinking of questions, and that made me a poet. You see, I couldn't actually ask anyone these questions, since they were the sort of thing that could earn you a visit from the nameless agents of the Committee for the Correction of Curiosity, and the CCC was not, despite the dubious nature of its existence, an institution to be crossed. Whether or not it was actually real, it was certain that the Administration had a way of noticing those people who started asking undesirable questions, and that those people would then either stop asking, or be transferred to new jobs elsewhere in the city. It was equally certain that, if you were to take the shuttle to the place where they were now supposed to work, you would not find those people there.

Already at thirteen I was aware of these facts – hard not to be, when your family consists of librarians and an eccentric lawyer – and I knew better than to speak my mind. Still, I didn't want to forget my questions (in those days, I didn't know how the Museum of the Forgotten worked, and I suppose I was a little afraid that the Administration could somehow delete them from my mind), so I wrote them down. This was a dangerous move, of course, since it left proof, but I was confident I could hide one little notebook – and anyway, I had come up with an idea that would leave my seditious curiosity undetectable: I would write them as metaphors. Thus, 'Why is everything painted red?' became 'Why are the corridors full of roses?'

Look, I never said they were good metaphors.

Anyway, after a time I became fascinated with metaphor for its own sake, and I began to arrange them into little thematic groups, and then I thought about how they sounded – and so, by the time I was fourteen I was starting to write poetry. This, of course, put me right back where I'd started in terms of danger – poesy was even more heavily regulated than other literature in Tethys, because we had few really competent readers of verse and so the Administrators were never quite certain whether or not a given poem was seditious – but by then I couldn't stop. I had, years after I'd stopped writing the tales of Captain Avice (and years before I'd begin writing the tales of another Captain Avice), rediscovered the sheer pleasure of creation.

Like I said: ridiculous. But that, as they say, is life.

The fourteenth, fifteenth years of my life went by with increasing smoothness. I grew into my mother's resilience, and ceased to give much thought to my detractors. With poetry to pour my questions into, and a public identity in alignment with my private, I was able to regain my control in school, and became once again a more or less model student. My teachers told me they would recommend me for the academy if I wanted to apply, since I was the kind of person that could easily go on to become a civil servant or a lawyer; thinking of Aranea and the way her status protected her from enquiry about her eccentricities, I decided that that would be a good idea, and started preparing for the examinations accordingly. Everything, in short, seemed to be getting better.

And for me perhaps it was – for me and Moll, growing out of pretend sea-battles and into furtive, serious discussion about sex, love and the mysteries of the city; for my father, who the Administration grudgingly promoted to Senior Assistant Librarian after his immediate superior climbed out of a window; even for Balthasar Arnold, who after he got out of jail went on to land himself a legitimate job in the repair crew administration. I earned my epithet then, the pirate poet, when I broke the secret of my versification to Moll; she in her turn earned hers, the champion in the making, when she became one of the rising stars at the trainers' school. It was a peaceful time, a good time – for us.

But not for everyone. Not, for instance, for Aranea. She was still so lonely … ah, no, it would be jumping too far ahead to tell you about it now. It wasn't until I was eighteen that all that came to a head, and that leaves several years of the academy and the trainer school and Virgil to cover first. I can't very well leave it out – if Moll's application to become a trainer hadn't been accepted, I'd never have met Virgil, and in turn I would never have become a sort of trainer myself. I'll have to tell you that first, at least in brief – but mark my words, we'll definitely get around to Aranea immediately afterwards.

So: Moll the trainer! When we left school at sixteen, most of my friends were Approved for Work and sent off to their first work assignments right away, according to their liking and ability. Some – rather a lot, in fact – applied for a place at the trainers' school, but she was the only one I knew who was successful. I went off to the academy, and that was that. Our little group was shattered by a few strokes of a bureaucrat's pen, and most of us, I suppose, never saw each other again.

Moll and I, though, were too close to be broken up so easily. Besides, the academy and the trainers' school were, for complex legal reasons, technically part of the same institution, and were situated together on the north edge of Long Hill Atrium. They even shared accommodation spaces, in order to economise, and so the two of us ended up living just a few hundred feet from each other, separated only by two other dormitories.

My father was sad to see me move halfway across the city, I'm sure, and I was a little sad to leave him – but he knew it would have to happen at some point, and I for my part was aquiver with teenage excitement. I was going to live away from home! Moll would be nearby! I was going to be de rigeur and cosmopolitan, even if I had no idea what either term meant!

We have to laugh at our younger selves, don't we? And we do so in the full knowledge that, five years from now, our future selves will laugh at us, and how we thought we understood things. I don't know when that cycle stops. I'm only twent―

Why is it so dark in here? Oh, yes: the water's coming up the window-glass. We're diving.

I'd almost forgotten about the keening wind.

Let me get the lights – there. Where was I? Right. Moll and I, away from home and a little giddy with the freedom of it. I got a typewriter and started learning about the city's intricate filing system; she got a wurmple called Chubb and started learning how to clear his gluey silk off her bed. He was a placid, incurious animal that showed a marked disinclination to train; I lost count of the times I went down to the training yards to write up an essay while Moll made him practice his moves, and instead watched for forty-five increasingly uncomfortable minutes as she slowly lost her temper with him.

He'd perk up in an actual fight, though: a gleam would come into his dull little eyes and he would rear onto his tail, waving his body back and forth in an attempt to intimidate whatever zigzagoon or azurill he was up against. I'd come and watch those real battles whenever I could, because at moments like that all the animosity between the two of them would vanish and they would act almost as one single creature. Moll was a natural – everyone said so. The silk that so troubled her in everyday life became her bread and butter in battle. No one expects a wurmple to be very mobile – but only because no one expects a wurmple to be an accomplished trapeze artist either, swinging from walls and ceiling on silken threads and attacking from the air.

Everyone except – and here is the point of this digression – Virgil.

He wasn't called Virgil then, of course. He had a proper name back then, but I can no longer remember it. No one can. When he took on that fateful job, they took that from him and gave him that Oldspeak word in its place. I've done my reading, what with all the time I've got. I know who Virgil was, although even with the help of my ghosts I don't understand everything that he wrote or that was written about him. I don't believe his employers did, either. I think they just thought it had a ring of authority to it.

Poor Virgil. I can still find it in me to pity him, you know. When I think about how he was before―

More of that later. We'll call him Virgil and leave it at that.

Virgil was a trainer too, and the other great star of the school. I'm told he was brilliant in class and excelled at practical demonstrations; I can't say for myself, because I only ever saw his battles. I had my own classes to attend (law, geography, mathematics, history, natural philosophy – nothing exciting), but for Moll I made time to watch the practice tournaments that they held in the courtyard on Quiet Days. I always cheered for Moll, of course, but on the day that Virgil ended up in the same tournament as her I almost hesitated for a moment.

It was the final, and Moll was just giving Chubb a last minute pep talk while he chewed a leaf and ignored her. He hadn't had much competition so far – a zigzagoon that he'd hoisted into the air and slam-dunked into unconsciousness; a taillow that lost its air superiority in a flurry of silk-matted feathers, and so on. He was complacent, and who could blame him? His trainer was excellent. Maybe all those stories had fired her imagination; maybe she had always been this way and had just never had a chance to show how smart she was – I don't know. But Moll was good, and Chubb, in his dim little caterpillar way, knew it.

What he didn't know was that Virgil was also good.

I'll admit it: when he stepped out into the middle of the courtyard, we were all staring. Not because he was attractive (although he certainly was; seriously, that hair), but because he looked like a boy who knew what he was doing. His mudkip, a quiet little thing with feet that went plop on the tiles, practically swaggered at his side. A murmur went through the gathered onlookers – where had this guy come from? We hadn't seen him in the other fights. Had his all been in another yard?

“He's gonna win,” said Natalie Brie dol' Tethys, one of my classmates.

I gave her a look.

“Who made you a prophet?” I asked, although I too had an uneasy feeling about this luxuriantly-coiffed newcomer.

Natalie snorted.

“Don't need to be a prophet,” she said. “Look at him.”

I did, and I'm ashamed to say that I spent so long doing so that I missed Moll's reaction to his entry. I could enjoy the sight of him, back then – and, well, I did. I was pretty callow. Moll had had boyfriends, and a couple of girlfriends; I'd had none, and chose not to ask myself why.

The teacher, a sallow man with a nose like a pickaxe, announced Virgil's name, the one that is now gone, and he and Moll took their places. She looked suspicious, I remember, and I don't blame her. Chubb seemed not to care, but I may be doing him an injustice. He was only a wurmple, after all. They're not really known for their perceptiveness.

“Mary Kathleen dol' Tethys and ―――― dol' Tethys,” said the teacher. He bounced slightly on the balls of his feet as he spoke; even he, it seemed, was infected with the disquiet. “Combatants: Chubb, wurmple; Augusta, mudkip.”

There was a pause. Virgil's eyes flashed with good humour; Moll's shot back a look of distrust. We in the crowd were utterly silent.


As soon as he had finished speaking, Moll snapped a word and Chubb reared into life, spitting a line of silk at the ceiling. Moments later, he was hauling himself up and into the air, swinging forward and aiming another jet of silk directly at Augusta―

Who was suddenly not there.

The silk splotched harmlessly against the floor a foot from where the mudkip was currently squatting and Chubb, surprised at his own inaccuracy, almost lost his grip on his line of silk. He slipped – slid down a few inches – and swung about in a wild loop before getting back under control.

Moll glared at Virgil.

“What?” he asked.

She didn't answer.

“Chubb. Concentrate. Reposition.”

Chubb chittered his response and prepared to fire another silken cable at the ceiling – but just as he let go of the old line for the new, Virgil cleared his throat and Augusta shot him neatly out of the air with a jet of water. Landing on his back, he hissed and wriggled, struggling to right himself as the mudkip bounded closer―

“Roll unroll!”

The familiarity of old routine kicked in and Chubb curled up into a tight ball, then uncurled sharply, dislodging as he did so a fine mist of pale dust from his skin that settled over Augusta's face like a toxic shroud. Croaking with dismay, she paused to lick her eyes – only to find, of course, that licking a wurmple's shed scales is the last thing any sensible person ought to do. A protracted and rather undignified coughing fit ensued, in the course of which Chubb regained the safety of the ceiling via a third line of silk and we in the audience started to lose faith in the handsome newcomer.

“Nice,” said Virgil, whose cool attitude seemed slightly cracked. “You're, uh, pretty good.”

Moll raised her eyebrows.

“Yeah, I know,” she said. “Chubb! Sting it!”

A flick of the little grub's tail sent him wheeling off to the left; for an instant, his feet suckered onto the wall above the announcer's head – and then with a mighty kick he swung down towards Augusta, barbed tail extended and glittering with drops of venom, gathering momentum with every second―

“Jump,” said Virgil, and half a second before Chubb's spines would have embedded themselves in her neck Augusta leapt over his tail and knocked him clean out of the air. The two pokémon hit the floor in a frenzy of biting and fin-slapping, and the silk, still caught in Chubb's claws, went with them. Chubb threw off Augusta and rolled on top of her, she did the same to him, and before either of their trainers could do anything about it, the two of them were so firmly stuck together by the glutinous cord that neither could move.

“Really?” asked Virgil. “What, can't win so you're trying to force a tie?”

Moll almost stepped into the yard to slap him, but remembered just in time that entering the battle space would forfeit the match.

“Me?” she replied, incredulous. “What are you doing, deliberately getting them tangled like that?”

“Oh, right. Like it's my fault―”

“Who in all blood else am I gonna blame? Your command got us into thi―”

“I think we'll call it a draw,” interrupted the teacher, as cheerily as he could. “Well done, all. If you could―”

Quick as a flash, Moll and Virgil stopped arguing with each other and rounded on him instead.


“A draw?”

“Come on, he totally has to forfeit―!”

The teacher, wincing visibly with the impact of so much teenage vitriol, cleared his throat.

If,” he repeated, more forcefully, “you could just separate your pokémon, then that will be all for today.”

The crowd, mumbling with dissatisfaction, began to disperse. I remained – and so did Moll and Virgil, standing over their furious, immobile pokémon like two mortal enemies sat opposite each other by a well-intentioned but clueless dinner host.

As the old saying goes: there are no rivals like trainer rivals. Back before the making over, I've read, when a trainer journey was a literal thing rather than metaphorical, those rivalries could get pretty intense – there are more accounts than you'd expect of trainers setting pitfall traps to snare their rivals en route to another town. And even in Tethys, where the floor was made of ceramic and steel and there was only one Gym, trainers took their rivalries seriously. That match was the start of one such rivalry. From that day forth, Moll and Virgil, Chubb and Augusta, were at each other's throats. Neither of them would ever win out over the other; sometimes, in fact, when they had their own private practice matches, the contest would go on for so long that both pokémon gave up out of fatigue. Personally, I think they didn't want to beat each other. If the endless contest to see who was the better trainer was ever resolved, their whole relationship would have fallen apart. And though they professed to hate each other – Moll never could drop a feud, remember – neither of them wanted that.

You see, I always knew they'd end up friends, even before Virgil started to join us on our days off every once in a while. How could I not? Once upon a time, I'd been Moll's rival, and the same had happened to me. Virgil, as a skilled trainer, was always going to remain her competitor, but that didn't mean he couldn't also sit in the Civic Gardens with us and eat ice cream, or join in one or two of our conversations. He never quite got as close to either of us as I did to Moll – I never dared tell him I was a poet, and Moll always sought me out first and him second – but still, there was a time then when our duo became a trio. Even Chubb and Augusta made friends, after a while, and when a few months later he started evolving and hid himself in his cocoon, she ferried him around on her back. Which, in case you've never seen a mudkip carrying a silcoon, was almost offensively cute.

It probably seems to you as if I've got distracted here. How does this, you're asking, get us closer to me meeting the Founder's ghost? Well, it doesn't. But I'm telling you this for a reason. I want you to know, dear reader, that this was what we were, before everything started – that this was what Virgil was, before he was Virgil. We were just kids, with all the ludicrous rivalries and what have you that that entails. He was just a kid. I want you to know that, and I want you to remember it, even if I don't recount all the details as I did with Moll. There will come a time when I will tell you about my first official pokémon battle – when Edie and I faced off against Virgil and Augusta, when Virgil betrayed me, and himself, and showed that he had lost more to the authorities than just his name. There will come a time when I will be writing about Virgil and all I'll remember will be what he did later. I'm only human, after all. When that happens, dear reader, I want you to remember for both of us: there was a time before that.

I can hear the wind now, as I heard it that time when Virgil and I found shelter in the bunker. It's fainter, true, but you can't mistake the keening wind. It howls like mourners, grief-stricken, hungry. If I get up, and press my face against the glass, eyes turned up – yes, there it is; above us, where the light ought to glint on the surface of the water, I see only restless, shifting darkness. Little particles of red drift past, torn off by the waves from the main body of the wind. Some of them will fight their way back up to the surface. Some will eat a nanometre or two of the ship's hull before fading out of existence. Some will spiral away into the dark and never be seen again.

Maybe I'm getting morbid, but I hope it's forgiveable. Everyone is uneasy when the keening wind blows.

One of my father's great misfortunes is that he lost every woman he ever loved. My mother returned to her ship, and eventually went down to the bottom of the sea with her great enemy; I left Tethys on my quest; and Aranea disappeared into the shadows one morning and never came back.

Those good years weren't good for her, you see. While Moll acquired a rival and I a friend, while we played and learned and grew, she was sinking deeper into her own quiet despair. She never told us – not about the loneliness, not about the sleeping tablets, not about all that time she spent pleading in the dark for Tooth to return. Oh, I'm sure she was genuinely happy when she was with those she loved – we were a distraction, after all. But alone, she was … different. I can't say how with any certainty; when at last I found out the truth, it was not in any coherent form. I do know, however, that Aranea, for all her love and laughter, was still pining for her destiny.

While my father was bouncing around his new, larger quarters – while Moll and I were swapping theories about the CCC – while Virgil pushed his handsome face into our lives – while all around her, the city bustled happily on, Aranea was increasing her dosage of sleeping pills, battling the emptiness of the night. Sometimes, they didn't take at all and she would spend the whole night roaming restless through the city, prowling by the night clerks at the Hothouse or trying to lose herself in the endless motion of the synthesis machines.

And then, quite suddenly, the angel of Tooth returned.

It happened when I was eighteen, I think – unless it reappeared earlier, and didn't ask her to follow it straight away. But given how haggard Aranea looked in those last few days, I don't think it could have come much sooner. If it had, she would have been calmer, and able to sleep – and at the time of her disappearance she definitely was not able to do that. That was when my father started to notice the lines deepening on her face and the grey expanding across her hair; she was only forty-six, but at the end, I'm told, she looked like she was was in her fifties.

Yes: I was told that. I wasn't there. I hate that I missed it, but what could I do? I was a student at the academy, and so naturally I was in my dormitory there on the evening when the porter came in to tell me my father was on the intercom.

“Ava,” he said. I'd never heard him sound quite as he did then before – didn't even know that he could sound like that. “Aranea's gone.”

And so she was. She had been visiting at his apartment; he had gone to the kitchen to make coffee; he had come back; she was gone. Her bag was still by the table, with the keys to her apartment in the pocket.

She had simply disappeared.

There was a search, of course. Citizens did not just disappear in Tethys, and the Administration was in no mood to lose one of the best of its few criminal lawyers. For a few days, her quarters and ours were swarmed with sergeants in search of clues; for weeks more, the tramp of jackboots in the maintenance passages echoed round the city from beneath floors and behind walls. At the time, there were even rumours that they had opened the Museum of the Forgotten and searched with blinkers among the stacks of forbidden knowledge – though I knew she wasn't there. We still remembered her, after all, and not just because of the paperwork she had left behind.

I wanted to join the search myself, but my father stopped me, telling me that Aranea wouldn't want me to take leave from the academy at such a crucial juncture. (I was three weeks away from the entrance exam for the law specialisation.) He was right, but it didn't stop me thinking he was a hypocrite when I found out he had been spending his nights hunting for her too. It was wrong of me, of course, but I was eighteen, and you know what that's like … I'm glad I told Moll and Virgil about it. Between the two of them, they kept me from saying or doing anything I might later have come to regret.

Aranea. Despite all my efforts to be fair, she's come to dominate this early part of my story. She saved my father, when he stood in danger of being taken over Gaoler's Bridge; she saved me, when the tension between the mask Avery and the Avice underneath was shattered by a parabola of milk. It has always seemed a pity to me that she spent so long hunting for her lost guardian angel, while never once seeing that she herself was one for us.

I suppose we never do see ourselves clearly. Something that I should be worrying about in this history, perhaps.

After a month and a half, the sergeants found her sweater, name badge still attached, caught in the teeth of a desalination engine. It was torn and bloody, and when they brought it to the Administration the search was at last called off. The verdict was given with typical Tethys euphemy: Aranea Cavatica dol' Tethys, the system judged, had climbed out of a window.

They weren't wrong, but they also weren't right. Aranea had actually taken the old saying more or less literally: on that morning, in the few minutes between my father leaving the room to make coffee and returning, she had left the apartment, overridden an airlock and blown herself out into open ocean.

It should have killed her, of course – the pressure difference between the city and the bottom of the sea is tremendous – but it didn't. She knew it wouldn't, because she was Tooth's instrument engaged in its work, and it would not let her die; she was right, but for all the wrong reasons. The pressure didn't destroy her because she was not alone when she left. She had an accomplice in her escape, a powerful creature born and bred in the bowels of the sea and hooked out in its youth to serve as the elite bodyguard of a mighty corsair-queen; a monster before whom sky and ocean parted, who commanded purple fires and hurricanes and knew the secret art of bringing humans safely through the crushing dark of the benthic zone.

For Tooth's messenger was never anything of the sort, unless Tooth subcontracts its angel-work to mortals. It was the fabled lost dragonair of Beatrice the Shark.

Jump back nineteen years: Beatrice the Shark and Captain Laurence Egenya dol' Tethys are crossing blades on the Grand Staircase. The Shark is a giant in Tethys terms, at five foot six; her teeth are filed, blood mats her clothes, her eyes flash as she swings her dragonbone cutlass towards her rival's head. The Captain is a citizen born and bred, short and solemn, but he is stout and holds his own. She lunges – he parries – the dragonbone, preternaturally sharp, almost slices the tip of his sword clean off. He ducks under her next blow and backs up a step, trying to take the high ground. The Shark pursues, heedless of the flechettes that some other sergeant has just fired into her back; in the chaos all around them, a nameless pirate cuts the nameless citizen down. The Captain lashes out with his sword and opens up a new wound on her arm, but the Shark barely even notices. She seems a force of nature, an extension of that same ocean that is perpetually trying to grind Tethys into the seabed, and as the Captain retreats up the stairs before her assault, his blows grow more and more desperate. How much blood does this woman have to lose?

At last the Shark's uncanny sword breaks his own in two, and the Captain staggers with the force of the blow. He fires his last flechette, but to no effect; the Shark, unfazed, rams one massive elbow into his chest. The Captain falls – the Shark raises her sword to finish him―

Silently screaming a prayer to Tide, the Captain forces the wreckage of his sword into the Shark's belly, and feels it slide up and under her ribcage until it can go no further.

When she dies, the Shark looks more surprised than anything else. Her last words will be reported to the Administration and recorded in the Complete History of Tethys:

“Really? Him?

Behind her, something squeals piteously, and in a blast of violet flame dispatches the sergeants it is fighting. The dragonair bounds forward, half floating and half slithering, and coils briefly around its mistress as she falls. But there is no saving her, not now that the cutlass is slipping from her hand and her eyes going blank, and as the Captain takes up the dagger strapped to his leg to finish the job the dragonair turns eyes like midnight water on him and paralyses him with a look. It strikes with surgical precision, taking out the tendons and leaving his leg permanently useless – and flees, disappearing into the chaos.

Later on, the Captain will die. They will call it septicaemia, but you can never be certain where powerful pokémon are involved. Dragonair store energies inside them that let them fly and change the weather: who can say whether or not those energies, poisoned with hate, can turn a man's leg to rot? However it happens, he will die, and the dragonair will not be seen again until many months later, when a freshly-Approved lawyer named Aranea Cavatica will look at a ventilation grille in Chimney and see a pair of dark eyes looking back.

I can't explain the slithering presence that Aranea felt for the first twenty-six years of her life. It probably wasn't some tentacular angel, but more than that I just don't know. It may simply have been her imagination – an encounter with a mad old priest brandishing a tattoo needle certainly has an effect on a child of ten. It's possible that Oliver Saturnine dol' Tethys' odd zeal, combined with the pain and her parents' fury at the misdedication, might have put the idea into her head. All I know for certain is that, when she thought she was receiving a message to save my father, Aranea was in fact seeing the grieving dragonair left behind by Beatrice the Shark.

That's not to say she was wrong. Gods rarely work directly, as I'm sure you're aware; Tooth might have been guiding Aranea to save my father through pushing her and the dragonair together at a crucial moment. But you know how I feel about dangerous speculation, dear reader; sometimes it seems to me that I never shut up about it! There aren't a whole lot of facts to go on in this case, I'm afraid, what with my not being there, Aranea disappearing and the dragonair being unavailable for interview, as it were, and so we will have to speculate a little bit – but only a little bit, I promise.

So what was the dragonair doing in the year between the Battle for Tethys and Aranea's call to fate? My guess is that it was mourning. I've got an old pokédex here, and it says on the third page of notes that they're very intelligent and sensitive creatures. Apparently dragonite are as intelligent as humans! It makes you wonder, doesn't it, whether if we had pokémon powers we'd have bothered with this civilisation thing. Perhaps we'd all be like dragonite, flying around and helping people.

Anyway. Digression. I was saying that I think the dragonair was in mourning, and that when it was done – I know, it's a hazy sort of theory, but I'm honestly not sure what a dragon might consider an appropriate period of grief – it emerged from wherever it had been hiding to see what it could make of the place in which it now found itself. It slithered up through the vents, and seconds after Aranea saw the civil servants and their unusual cargo walk by, it saw her.

And at that moment, it chose her.

Yes, it sounds odd, but how else am I to take it? It saw in her something worth protecting, the materials from which it might fashion itself a new mistress. The dragonair wanted a human to guard. Aranea, sharp, witty, loving Aranea, was the best it could have hoped for.

But it didn't go off with her there and then, obviously. It was eighteen years later when Aranea actually disappeared. Why such a long gap? Again, I've not got much to go on. My guess, however, is that the dragonair didn't want a repeat of the situation with the Shark. It wanted power before it committed. It would go away and evolve, it thought, and if Aranea was still there when it returned, it would join her.

Evidently, it took it nearly two decades to grow old and tough enough to do it. This pokédex says that dragons grow very slowly, their life cycles playing out over hundreds of years. Perhaps I ought to be surprised at how quickly the dragonair evolved, rather than how long.

At any rate, it managed it, and it came back. Was it down there all along, striving to grow in the bowels of the city? Or did it slither out into open ocean, to test its teeth and its powers against the titans of the deep? The only one who could say would be the dragonair itself – the dragonite, rather, because once it came back it was no longer Beatrice the Shark's dragonair. It was Aranea's dragonite, and she and it knew that as soon as it pushed aside the grille on the air vent in my father's living-room.

I can imagine them now, staring at each other while my father whistles by the coffee-pot next door. I can imagine the dragonite's barbels waving to and fro, describing familiar arabesques in midair. I can imagine its neck snaking back and forth, and Aranea realising what all of those serpentine movements meant: that this sea dragon was Tooth's emissary, an angel of the deep.

What choice did she have, then, but to go with it?

It or she must have replaced the grille once she climbed up in there. If he'd been listening closely, my father might have heard a shuffling or a clanking as Aranea crawled away behind the silent dragon – but he wasn't. He had no reason to be. He was just making coffee.

Then what? Aranea and her dragonite made their way to an airlock somewhere, I expect. They got it open somehow, in spite of the security measures. And then she climbed on its back and they left Tethys forever.

That's how it must have happened. There's no other way out of the city – you either take a submarine or a pokémon carries you. Humans were never meant to live down there beneath all that crushing water. Only pokémon make it possible – the abyssal barbaracle, exuding stone and steel to repair the city's shell; the slugma, bolstering the geothermal power plant tucked underneath Chimney; the wailmer, who can somehow bring humans and pressurised air with them out of the city beneath the weight of the ocean. The dragonite could do that too, I suppose, and so it took away Aranea.

I don't think we'll ever know how she felt about it after the euphoria of being called by Tooth wore off. I'd hope she missed us, at least, even if she was aware that that chapter of her life was over, and that she could never come back. When they found her sweater, her name badge was still pinned to the front. I know now what that meant. Without that badge, she was no longer a lawyer, or a dol' Tethys. She knew that she had left the city for good, so she left the city's badge behind her.

Thinking about it like that, I guess I ought not to have introduced myself as a dol' Tethys either. It's just how it is for the women of our family, I think. Tethys simply doesn't stick with us.

And now let's draw a line under that, dear reader: no more speculation. We leave Aranea making her mysterious way up through the water, naked arms clasped around the neck of her dragonite, and return to Tethys, where there's a good deal more in the way of hard facts. Here, my father returned from the kitchen, stared, put down the coffee and called Aranea's name. When, after several silent minutes, it was clear she was no longer around, he was more concerned, but still not panicking – she could have been suddenly called away, after all, although it was unlike her to just leave without telling him. He waited an hour or two and called her home and office without result.

The next call he made was to the sergeants.

The call after that was to me.

Like I said, it was distressing at the time. One moment, Aranea was there, the next she wasn't – and I'd missed all of it. If my father hadn't said what he did, I'd have left the academy on the spot to search for her, exams be drowned. As it was, I sat there and worried for weeks, until after the exam I took my two days' leave and went home just in time to overhear my father speaking to another librarian on the intercom about the search. He said enough for me to realise that he was engaged in the search himself, and I went straight back to the academy, seething with rage. I don't know what I meant to do about it. I'd probably have come back again and had it out with him if Moll and Virgil hadn't been around to stop me. It wouldn't have been a good idea; one big public argument would probably have been enough to get me expelled on grounds of gross unfitness for future duty. (The Administration never did see the point in educating people who were likely to start causing trouble when they were granted office.)

But they held me back – literally, in Moll's case – until they'd extracted a promise from me not to do anything I'd come to regret. I never did talk to him about it. Later, when I was calmer, I couldn't muster enough belief in the justice of my cause to maintain my anger with him.

That was that. The first few days of frantic hunting gave way to the slower, more methodical search of the next few weeks; those weeks became months, and eventually they found the bloodstained sweater. By that time, even I had come to accept that we weren't going to find her. I didn't believe she was dead – it seemed impossible to me that she should die – but I reckoned that if she didn't want to be found, she wouldn't be. She was too clever for that.

So I say, but you've seen a little something of the girl I was, dear reader, and perhaps you can guess that I didn't quite give up. I moved on, yes. I started my training in Tethys law, and soon discovered it was possibly the most boring thing in the history of the world, but that didn't matter. I did it for the sake of having something to do, and because it might lead to better things later in life. I moved on. We all did: my father spent more time with the librarians, and the few people he knew outside their limited circle; Moll was fast-tracked onto the Gym training scheme, as it was plain to see she was going places, and spent three days a week with the Leader, Nekane Emilia dol' Tethys; Virgil took the Civic Duties specialisation and started learning how to turn his skill with pokémon to the public good. I made friends and contacts among the law students; I went out to drink and dance with them, and with Moll and Virgil, in the evenings of the Quiet Days. Sometimes I went home and chatted with my father and the librarians who had once interpreted the story of my life. The wound of Aranea's loss scabbed over and began to heal. I moved on.

And yet.

Occasionally, I'd reuse old tactics from the time of my first struggle with my gender: I'd tell my friends I was visiting my father, and let him believe I was still at the academy with them. Not often, you understand, but sometimes, when the memory of Aranea itched, I would take a torch and slip through an unguarded access point into the maintenance tunnels. Down there, in the dark and the crypt-close air, I spent an hour or two searching for a woman I knew wasn't there – just long enough to exorcise the memory of her for another few weeks – and then return, sombre-faced but at peace again, into the flat light of the public corridors. As therapy, it certainly had something to recommend it. I mean, it did work. After a while, I was less troubled by thoughts of my vanished aunt, and went searching less frequently. I guess that eventually I'd have stopped searching altogether, even if I'd never stumbled on the city's great secret.

For that was where it started. I've taken you back twenty-one years in time – twenty years before that moment in the tunnels, where my story began; I've told you about pirates and librarians and aunts and gods, about Amazons and criminals and milk, about Administrators and the mask Avery, and now I think – I hope – that you know and trust me well enough for me to talk to you about ghosts.

We're in deep water now, dear reader – literally, in my case, as the ship dives ever deeper to escape the deadly breath of the keening wind, but you too are going somewhere dark and deep. From here on, we're plumbing the secrets of the old world and even of the making over itself. I don't think I've much writing time left for today, but let's try to at least get this started this evening, and properly too. My story – our story, I should say; we are all caught up in it – is a big one. It's only right that we do it justice.

Are you ready? I'll be honest, I'm not sure that I am. It's one thing to live through something – you don't have much choice about that. The thing happens, and you just have to deal with it. But to write about it, to stake your claim as narrator and say, no matter how qualified, this is what happened … That's something different. Like I said right at the start, I'm not sure I'm cut out for it.
However, I also said that there's no getting away from it, so! Let me arm myself. A fresh cup of coffee. A new nib on this pen. A deep breath and a clear head.

On we go, then. Before I lose my nerve.

Picture it, dear reader. Picture me, in the dark of the maintenance passage, visible only by the light of my own torch. Picture me at nineteen – still a girl, but also a woman, at least as I saw it then. (You know how it is.) My skin was brown, though not as brown as it is now; my hair, red, and sometimes generously described as curly – more accurately, you might have said it was 'not properly straight'. You can see it when you picture me: that day, I'd slipped my hood rebelliously down onto my shoulders and tied back my hair in a loose braid. Why not? No one would see me down there, after all. I had never even seen a maintenance worker in those passages before.

Do you see me? I do. I can look back through the years and see that day from outside my own body, a silent witness to past discovery. I remember the way the wall was covered in droplets of condensed water, and the little puddles of oil that threw back the torchlight in iridescent waves. This place, I could see, hadn't been visited for a long time. I wasn't surprised. It was pretty deep, and I'd been through a lot of passages that looked unused on my way here. I wondered why it hadn't been sealed off to save air. Perhaps, I thought, they'd just forgotten. Experience had shown me that that was by no means impossible.

I wandered on, flicking my torch back and forth to reveal any puddles before I stepped in them. A few steps on, the beam illuminated a narrow passage branching off to the left, and I flashed the light down it in idle curiosity.

At the far end, a light flashed back.

Well, you can't show a librarian's daughter a mystery and expect her to leave it alone. A few seconds later, I was down the passage, and could now make out the heavy glass sheath that had reflected the torch beam. Odd, I thought. Such sheaths normally covered the buttons controlling―

An airlock.

I stared.

“Huh,” I said. What was an airlock doing down here? It was a bizarre place to have access to open ocean, and I couldn't imagine any ships ever docked here. The top edge of the glass panel had a centimetre-thick line of dust on it, and the airlock door itself looked incredibly old-fashioned.

I looked around for some clue as to what I might be looking at, and found a sign above the door; when I shone the torch on it, though, I saw it was far too rust-eaten to make out. I squinted ferociously at it for a while, trying to pick out even one letter – was that an S, or just a curling flake of metal? – but had to give up.

I twisted my mouth up pensively. There was no security lock, which meant this didn't lead out into open ocean.

It also meant that it did lead somewhere else.

“I shouldn't go in,” I said. “It's probably abandoned for a reason.” My free hand wandered up to the glass panel. “Could be alarmed,” I went on. “Like, maybe I press the button and the sergeants come running.” I slid the panel up and sent a finger of dust floating to the floor. “I don't even need to know what's behind here,” I said to myself. “And it's probably nothing exciting anyway.”

I glanced behind me. No light, no sound: no one. I was utterly alone.

“If it's alarmed, I run,” I told myself, and pressed the button.

For a long moment, there was no noise but the hiss of air being moved about. Then the door slid open with the groan of long disuse, and I stepped into an unfamiliar airlock: panelled in ancient white plastic, yellowing with age, and lit by a circular light of unfamiliar design.

I gaped. The synthesis machines could produce plastics, it was true, but the technology for fashioning them into anything like as complex as this had long since been lost. Tethys was a city of glass and steel these days, and of faux-wood synthesised from the hardier fungi. And all of that meant that this place must be ancient – older, perhaps, than the city itself.

The overhead light changed colour, and with another groan the door opposite me opened. As I passed through it, more lights turned on overhead, and I could see that I was in a short corridor more or less identical to the one I had just left, leading onto – well, dear reader, leading onto the very room in which I am now sitting: a bright little room with a chair and a writing-desk of real tropical hardwood, and a glass-fronted cabinet of curiosities on the far wall.

There was also a man made of red light sitting in the chair and staring at me.

As you might expect, I stared back.

He took off his spectacles, polished them, and put them back on again.

“Yes,” he said, with an accent I didn't recognise. “I think – you can see me?”

I nodded slowly.

“Were … were you not expecting me to?” I asked tentatively. It probably wasn't the first thing I should have asked, but it was the only thing I could think of.

“Most people can't,” he said. “Although I confess I'm not entirely sure when it was that anyone actually came here to try.” I had to struggle to make out what he was saying; he was speaking Tethysi, but it was not a dialect I'd ever encountered before. He pronounced the 'ss' in 'confess' like a single 's', instead of as a 'sh'.

“Oh,” I managed. “Er – OK.” I paused for a moment, trying to figure out exactly how I had got from a walk in the maintenance tunnels to talking to a man made of light. I was aware of the physical processes involved – press button, step into airlock, wait, step out, go down corridor – but more seemed to have happened than that. Somewhere along the line, I had stepped out of the everyday world and into another, where people were translucent and red and apparently often invisible.

“Er,” I said again, more confused than ever. “Er – who are you?”

The man blinked.

“You don't recognise me?” he asked.

“No. Sorry. Should I?”

He sighed.

“Does the name Maxim Veselov mean anything to you?”

“No … ?”

“How about Maxie?” he asked hopefully. “People did call me that. Sometimes that was the only name they knew me by.”

“Sorry,” I said. “Still nothing.”

Maxie's face fell.

“Really,” he said. “It's that bad, is it? This is what five and a half centuries in a place like this does to one's memory, I suppose.” He stood up, and I saw for the first time how tall he was – too tall for a Tethys citizen by far. “Well, then,” he said. “I do have one name that I think you might know. I assume people here still talk about the Founder of Tethys?”

I hate to leave you in suspense, dear reader, but I'm being called. And anyway, by the time anyone reads this I'll have finished up the whole book, and you can just turn to the next chapter to learn what happened next.

It's Maxie who's calling, actually – the Founder, that is. I think he wants to know if I think we're deep enough yet to escape the keening wind. They can't see it properly; it takes living eyes to make out the specks of red.

All right, he sounds irritated now. I'd better go. No need to wait for me – just turn the page. I'll be back before you know it.
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Active Member
I have formed a theory on the naming. The first two are the personal and family names. The second is a specific word, different to each country, that can tell you a person's nationality, and finally Tethys, or the city of the person's birth, as the last. Thus, say, Vallis Merrain dol' Krilith. (personal, family, country [Hoenn], city)


Gone. Not coming back.
I have formed a theory on the naming. The first two are the personal and family names. The second is a specific word, different to each country, that can tell you a person's nationality, and finally Tethys, or the city of the person's birth, as the last. Thus, say, Vallis Merrain dol' Krilith. (personal, family, country [Hoenn], city)

More or less! People in the place where Hoenn used to be tend to have two first names -- Moll Kathleen, Avice Amrit, and so on -- and then there's a dol', standing for an 'of', followed by a demonym or gentilic, as in 'John of Gaunt' or 'Cruella de Vil'. (That last example only works if you assume de Vil's ancestors actually came from a place called Vil, I guess, but you see the point.) There's no real concept of a family name, although as I've tried to imply, there may be traditions of naming running through a family -- though the true significance of those names may have been lost to time and the restrictions placed on knowledge by the Administration (think of Amar Singh dol' Tethys, for instance). In the place of surnames, the city or ship or whatever that the person is aligned with takes over -- hence dol' Tethys, dol' Sea-Goblin, dol' Sunken Gardens. Avice's situation is a tricky one. She's got a bit more thinking to do before she works out how to approach her own name.

Sike Saner

Peace to the Mountain
First of all: transgender WOC main protag = hell yes.

Second: HI MAXIE.

It's strange: I knew this was some sort of post-Hoenn-games bad future kind of a thing, but for some inexplicable reason I wasn't expecting anyone from Aqua or Magma to be involved, at least not anyone I'd recognize. Even though I have played Ruby more times than I can count. Even though I knew there'd be ghosts in this thing, with all the doors that opens.

Idk if Aranea's still alive at the time of Avice writing all this down, but I am, at least, sure (or at least hopeful) that I'm following well enough to say with confidence that yeah, she totally survived her underwater dragonite ride. Now of course I get to wonder just what, exactly, she was called to do. I'd imagine there's an interesting story there.


Gone. Not coming back.
First of all: transgender WOC main protag = hell yes.

Thanks! I've been sidling closer and closer to writing a protagonist like this for a while, since there aren't enough of them and I like to read about people I can relate to. Race matters less in Tethys, since a) the Administration has had a homogenising effect on the city's culture, and b) as we've seen people there tend to see class (as in closeness to the city's power centres) as much more important than race, but eh. We don't live in that world, so it matters to readers. Including the reader who's writing it.

Second: HI MAXIE.

It's strange: I knew this was some sort of post-Hoenn-games bad future kind of a thing, but for some inexplicable reason I wasn't expecting anyone from Aqua or Magma to be involved, at least not anyone I'd recognize. Even though I have played Ruby more times than I can count. Even though I knew there'd be ghosts in this thing, with all the doors that opens.

Most of the reason I chose to write about someone who sees ghosts is to anchor the story firmly in the events of RSE, yeah. The ghosts Avice meets will all be of the old world, and they'll all be people we know and love. (Or at the very least that we know. I'm ... less than enthusiastic about a couple of them myself.) I expect they'll all have their own versions of what happened when Kyogre woke and how that led to Avice's world.

Idk if Aranea's still alive at the time of Avice writing all this down, but I am, at least, sure (or at least hopeful) that I'm following well enough to say with confidence that yeah, she totally survived her underwater dragonite ride. Now of course I get to wonder just what, exactly, she was called to do. I'd imagine there's an interesting story there.

I don't think I'd be giving anything away if I said we hadn't seen the last of Aranea. Avice may be writing her story a bit prematurely: not everything is over yet.

Thank you all for reading, and for commenting!
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Gone. Not coming back.

Tethys Edict 210.3.1a: Anything placed into the Museum of the Forgotten, tangible or intangible, mechanical, intellectual, literary or otherwise, will immediately be removed from the memory of any citizen or body of citizens.

I'm too excited to wait. Right now, I am sitting in my bunk with the lamp on and my ink-bottle balanced on a book by my hip. It's somewhere around midnight, and really I should be asleep – but tomorrow is just too far away for me to put this off until morning. I'd still be at my desk, but the ghosts insisted I go to bed. They're taking this whole 'invalid' thing a bit too seriously, in my opinion. I mean, as long as I don't run any races, my leg's going to heal whether or not I'm awake, isn't it?

Oh, no, that sounds too harsh. I shouldn't complain about it. It shows they care, and I think the idea of injury is especially horrifying to them, since so many years have passed since they were last capable of being wounded.

Well, speaking of ghosts! Let's pick up right where we left off.

I stared. Things had just got very strange very quickly, and it seemed they were only going to get stranger: this man was―

“The Founder?” I asked, incredulous. “You're – you're the Founder?”

“As I live and breathe,” he replied, and when I didn't laugh he sighed. “A joke. I do apologise. I was no good at those in life, either.”

“And … you're dead,” I said.

“Correct,” replied Maxie. “You didn't think I'd still be alive, did you?” He held out a hand for me to shake. “Let me start over. Maxim Veselov, leader of Team Magma, Founder of the city of Tethys, approximately five hundred and fifty years deceased. You can call me Maxie.”

Tentatively, wondering if I would go straight through him, I shook his hand. It was surprisingly solid, but didn't feel like flesh. Too cold, and too hard.

“Avice Amrit dol' Tethys,” I answered. “Er – Legal Apprentice, I guess.”

Maxie frowned.

“Naming conventions have moved on, I see,” he said. “Which of those do I call you by?”


“Avice. It's a pleasure to meet you, Avice, and I mean that wholeheartedly. This” – Maxie waved a hand at the room – “is not somewhere that very many people visit. I think you're the first proper visitor I've had in, oh, two hundred years or so. Has it been that long?” he added, distractedly. “Good God … it's a wonder I haven't gone mad. Perhaps I have – but never mind about that. Avice. Can I ask you a question?”

“Sure,” I said. It was easier than asking him how any of this was possible.

“What brings you down here?” He folded his arms. “I'm somewhat out of touch with affairs up in – do you call it Chimney, these days? – yes, in Chimney, but I'm almost certain that the Museum of the Forgotten is supposed to be out of bounds.”

My eyes widened.

“The Museum of the Forgotten?”

“Yes. You didn't know?” Maxie smiled and went to the far door. “Would you like to see?”

The Museum of the Forgotten! How could I resist? Certainly, I was a little terrified – I'd heard the stories, you know, as we all had; about how the Museum stole memories, how anything that spent too long in there vanished from history and all – but I had heard the other stories too, the ones that librarians tell each other in secret. I had heard about the books to be found here, telling the history and legends of the old world; about the thinking engines, machines like those that ran the synthesis plant; about the plastic eggs, into which pokémon could be implanted for easy transport when there were difficult journeys to be made. Reader, you may have noticed that I seem to know a lot about the past; well, I've been writing this with the stuff of the old world piled up around me, books and pokédexes and other things I haven't yet figured out what to call. You might call me a historian now. All that had to start somewhere, and that somewhere was there – in that room two years ago, curious, confused, and with a voice that seemed to have disappeared.

I nodded mutely, and Maxie raised his eyebrows.

Really,” he said. “You're that kind of person, are you? Now that – that could be useful.” He opened the door and beckoned me. “Come on, then,” he said. “Down here.”

Almost without thinking, I followed Maxie out into the hall, and down a flight of iron stairs into the belly of the Museum.

“Here we are,” he announced, flicking a switch on the wall. “The graveyard of history.”

Fluorescent lights of a kind I didn't recognise clunked on, one by one, and the Museum appeared: shelves, cabinets, mounds of the past, stretching out to the left and right all the way to walls that seemed as far apart as those of Long Hill Atrium. Teetering stacks of books rose to implausible heights, held in place by yellowing string; ranks of exotic clothes, in colours and materials I had never seen before, swung to and fro on metal bars; heaps of shoes, engines, models, devices for which I had no name and no point of reference crowded in all around me, five hundred years and more of history pressing in on my vision at every turn.

I had to grab hold of the doorjamb so as not to fall over at the sight of it.

“'Sflukes,” I whispered, trying to look at everything at once and failing miserably. “I mean – just – drown 'em …”

Maxie smiled again.

“I didn't quite expect that,” he said. “But then, it's been a long time since anyone came here who was brave enough to see this place. Do you know, when those policeman types bring things down here, they wear masks with tiny eye holes so they won't accidentally see anything intellectually stimulating?” The savagery in his voice brought me out of my trance, and with some effort I managed to stop looking at the Museum and start looking at him. “They're fools,” he said, bitterly. “Fools. When I brought you people down here, I never – I mean, I only―”

He twitched his fingers, curling and uncurling them with some suppressed emotion, and sighed.

“Do excuse me,” he said. “It's terribly lonely down here. One gets so bitter.” He cleared his throat. “But now I have a guest. How should I … yes, I suppose that first. Will you be staying long?” he asked. “I think we might have some questions to ask of each other, of course, and you may want a tour of my lodgings as well, but unless things have changed dramatically in the last few decades, you probably aren't supposed to be here. I wouldn't want you to get caught. I don't know what the so-called Administration might do to you, but I'd bet rather a lot that it might be more than a rap on the knuckles.”

I didn't understand all of what he'd just said, but I'd got enough to bring me back to reality. How long had I been wandering the corridors? An hour or so, I thought. And how much longer before I had to be back? I was supposed to be joining some other Apprentices for a study session at six. My watch said it was a little past four now, and I wasn't sure of my way back. I'd have to leave in less than half an hour.

“I can't stay long,” I said reluctantly. “They'll notice I'm gone. But – oh, storm's teeth, there's so much I want to say!”

“You and me both, believe me,” said Maxie. “How long can you stay?”

“Not more than twenty-five minutes.”

His shoulders twitched, but did not slump. He always carried himself very well, did Maxie. Still does. I'm not sure if ghosts can even get back pain, but I can't imagine Maxie ever does.

“That's no time at all,” he said. “The Museum, as you call it, takes at least forty minutes to see in its entirety – and if you wanted to look at all the things in it, you'd need weeks.” He sighed. “Can I at least speak to you a little before you go?” he asked, not quite able to suppress the plaintive note in his voice. “There's a room behind the study upstairs with a sofa that's hardly uncomfortable at all, and I'm sure I can find you something to drink. And it would be a very efficient use of your time,” he added. “If you only have twenty minutes, you'll find out more from me than from poking around in all that.” He waved a transparent hand at the Museum.

It was a good point that he'd made – but more than that, I'll confess, I pitied him. Once you've been speaking to one for a few minutes, ghosts start to seem rather more normal than you'd expect, and already I was seeing him less as an unexplained manifestation of the supernatural and more as a mournful and very lonely man. I couldn't really refuse him this.

“All right,” I agreed, and with one last longing look at the Museum I followed him back upstairs to what I now know as the captain's quarters. On the other side of the study, as promised, was a relatively spacious cabin, and well furnished too, with a sofa, table and chairs, and a curtain that screened off the bed I'm writing from. I can glance over to my left and see by the lamplight the very sofa I sat on that day. Maxie was right: it's hardly uncomfortable at all. In some respects it's actually more comfortable than this bed, but there isn't room to lie down on it.

“Excellent, excellent,” said Maxie, once I was seated. “Can I offer you a drink? No? Well, I suppose there isn't time, anyway. I'm certain there must be something drinkable left in here even now, but I wouldn't know where, and it would take me a while to find out.” He sat opposite me, straight-backed, and gave me a look over his glasses that made me faintly uneasy. It was only much later that I realised it was the great-great-great-grandfather of the one in use by Administrators, preserved in a state before its conversion into an intimidation tactic. In Maxie's hands, it was useful for far more than mere intimidation, as I was to discover. “Now,” he said. “Where should we start?”

Good question. There was, I thought, just so much to discuss. But there was one question that seemed to demand an answer right away.

“How are you still here?” I asked. “Are you a ghost?”

“I presume so,” replied Maxie. “Some sort of a lingering presence, anyway. I've always thought of myself as a memory, if only because of where I am.”

I nodded slowly. OK: a ghost. I supposed there was nothing to say that it couldn't happen. Was it any stranger than Aranea's angel, or a man saved from jail by an erotic legend? (Now you're starting to see why I keep on saying that life is absurd.) If anyone was important enough to hang around as a ghost, I guessed, the Founder would be – but that raised another question.

“OK, but why are you here? You're the Founder. And this is …”

“Where memory comes to die,” he said. “Yes.” He was silent for a moment, and I wondered if I should have kept that particular question to myself. “Why do you think I'm here?” he asked at length. “Why is anything in the Museum of the Forgotten here?”

It didn't seem to be a rhetorical question.

“Uh … because it's meant to be forgotten,” I said.

“Close. Who's doing the meaning?”

“What?” I'm used to his dialect now – all the ghosts speak the same antiquated Tethysi – but that was an unclear sentence, and back then I just couldn't parse it. “Who's what?”

Maxie sighed.

“Sorry,” he said. “I assumed, since you're obviously as curious as the proverbial cat, you would already have thought about … well. Never mind. The reason things are put into the Museum is because the Administration decides that they ought be forgotten.” He paused significantly, and I started.

“But you're the Founder―”

“And as such I'm much too dangerous to be commemorated. Do you know why I first brought people down here?”

There was a long silence. I'd always thought the reason was 'so that they didn't drown', but I had a feeling that that might not be what Maxie was after.

“I rest my case.” He looked at me over his glasses again. “Has it ever occurred to you that this is a ridiculous idea for a city, Avice? Why not live on a boat, or an artificial island, or somewhere that isn't at the bottom of the sea?

I hesitated. It hadn't.

“We were never meant to stay here,” said Maxie. “We weren't even meant to― but you're running out of time. Let me just say that it's a considerable blessing for those who rule Tethys that I and my ideas are forgotten.”

This was outright sedition, and it made my spine tingle with excitement. I'd never heard revolutionary sentiments expressed in anything above a whisper before. Was that really only two years ago? It doesn't seem possible. My nineteen-year-old self seems so young and inexperienced. I suppose I still am young and inexperienced, but still, a lot has happened in those two years. I've sailed to the end of the world and back; I've spoken to gods and danced with kadabra; I've been arrested and beaten up and taken prisoner and worse. It's quite the resume, now I think about it, although I doubt any Tethys employers would be very impressed by it.

I'm joking, of course. There's only one Tethys employer, and it has no need of resumes.

“Can I ask you some questions?” said Maxie. “My news of the city is somewhat outdated.”

“Oh,” I said, blinking. “Uh, sure.”

I told him about the Pirate War and the closure of Underridge, which was at that time being prepared for reopening, and then, at his prompting, about a series of topics that seemed wildly unconnected to me: milk rationing, the latest Edicts, the state of the sergeantry, foreign trade, poetry.

“Interesting,” he said. “And what of yourself? You're a Legal Apprentice, yes?”

I was, and told him moreover that I was also a poet, which made his eyebrows rise extraordinarily far up his forehead.

“That answers for a lot,” he told me. “It's always the people on the margins who find their way here. Those who already have suspicions about the city. Poets, thinkers, librarians … others.”

There was a question hidden in there that I could hardly fail to notice, but I chose not to answer it yet; I'd only known Maxie a few minutes, after all. I responded instead to something else he'd said, and told him my father was a librarian and my mother a pirate.

“It sounds like there's quite a story there,” he replied. “I can't imagine two people less likely to even meet.”

I considered for a moment.

“It was a pretty weird meeting,” I said thoughtfully. “The High Librarian choked a ludicolo with her shoe.”

“Er. All right. What― Christ, the time!” He jumped up. “You must get going,” he said. “But one more thing before you do – when you leave the Museum, you'll start forgetting about it. That means about this visit – and about me.”

“What? But―?”

“I haven't really left enough time to explain,” said Maxie, ushering me back into the study. “Sorry about that. Just try to remember. Try very hard, or you'll never remember to come back, and I don't think either of us want that.”

“But won't I wonder where the time went?” I asked.

“I'm sure you will,” he said. “And I'm sure you'll rationalise it somehow, just like my last visitor who forgot and never came back, and the one before, and the one before. Why do you think there's no lock on the door?”

I stopped and turned to face him.

“How am I meant to remember, then?” I asked, and it came out a little more pleading than I meant it to. I want to feel bad about that, but I can't. I had just found the Museum of the Forgotten and met our deceased Founder, after all. That's hard information to give up willingly.

Maxie's face softened slightly. It was then, I believe, that he really started to feel the contrast between his five hundred and seventy-eight years and my nineteen. I must have seemed such a child to him – someone totally unready, despite her promising parentage and favourably revolutionary predispositions, to be thrust into his strange half-world of memory and intrigue.

“I don't know,” he said, his voice clear of the usual bitterness. “I wish I did. Please, if you can just try …” He ran out of words, and shrugged. “I'm sorry. This is a harsh place.”

It really was. It was also brutally efficient: when I stepped out of the Museum a few seconds later, after an awkward goodbye, I hadn't even reached the end of the corridor before I caught myself wondering why it was half past four already. By the time I'd turned the corner, I no longer even knew why I was horrified to find myself think that. And by the time I'd reached the next turning, I was just thinking that next time I should keep a closer eye on the time. I didn't want people finding out that I was still searching for Aranea, after all.

Yes, I forgot. Just like that. There was no great battle over my memory – the whole thing was over before I even realised it was happening. I don't blame myself; I gave the Museum its power over me without knowing what I was doing, and there's no tougher enemy than the one that lives in your own head.

So life went on, more or less. I watched Moll battle, I wrote my essays, I composed secret poetry. If I thought of the Museum, maybe it felt a little more relevant than before, as if the idea of it had solidified somehow in my head, but of Maxie and his junkyard kingdom I remembered nothing.

I know now how the Museum works: you don't remember it because you are told that you won't remember it, that it's impossible to know anything inside it, that even to think too much about the contradiction of 'museum' and 'forgotten' poses a danger to your memory. Back then, Tethys was so alone – a bubble of steel and glass at the bottom of the sea. Foreigners came no deeper into the city than the docks, and their ideas never got any further than the port taverns. Our sailors went abroad, it was true – but they were cycled in and out of service, kept at home for months in between each voyage. The system was truly monolithic, and in its vastness it was unassailable. Even the Administrators were trapped in it – I seriously doubt any of them knew how the Museum worked, or that the Founder was down there. All they knew was that the way their predecessors had done things was the way that things were done, and in this tautologous way the city persisted, motionless in thought and imagination. Oyster-like, Tethys rooted itself to the seabed, closed itself in a shell of stagnation; oyster-like, it trapped internal threats inside a pearl, burying them in the Museum.

I learned this much later, from Maxie – for as you must have worked out by now, I did eventually come back. I'm here right now, although I'm not sure I'd call it the Museum any more. It's a bit more free-floating than it ever was before, for one thing. Then again, it does still carry that touch of magic, firming up ghosts and binding memory. Maybe in some way it is still the Museum. Stranger things have been known.

Anyway, that's by the by. As I was saying, life went on, and I kept on not remembering. Days passed – weeks – and nothing changed. I can only imagine how Maxie felt when each day ended and I didn't return. He must have been used to disappointment, but still … I remember the look on his face when I eventually did come back. It was so much more than just relief.

But a week before then, a week before our reunion and a month before my first meeting with the Museum's curator, I didn't even know his name. I wasn't even thinking about the Museum – I was thinking about Astrea Francesca dol' Tethys, another Legal Apprentice with whom I was supposed to be preparing a presentation that week, and who I didn't much like on the grounds that she didn't much like me, either. I can't think what I'd done to irritate her – exist in the same city as her, presumably – but whatever it was, she and I did not get along, and our project wasn't exactly progressing well. That morning, coming out of the shower, I was wondering if maybe I ought to give in to her demand that we include the 496 case study so that she'd have to grant my counter-demand that we reference the Yellow Edicts. (Don't ask. Both of those are much more boring than they sound.) And from nowhere, in the middle of doing so, a thought popped into my head:

Huh. The librarians were right.

It was so odd that I stopped halfway out of the shower, utterly nonplussed. What were the librarians right about? And why was my brain shying away from thinking about it? When I tried to puzzle it out, my thoughts seemed to move around the topic in circles without actually approaching it. Curious and by this point fairly irritated, I raised the towel to my head to dry my hair – and saw on my arm the splodge of a birthmark that the librarians, all those years ago, had said looked like the Founder.

It did look like the Founder, I realised. And I knew that it did because …

I dropped the towel, stepped backwards in shock and slipped on the tiles, landing back in the shower with much more force than I was happy with. I had discovered one of the fundamental rules of life – that epiphanies are best had outside of the bathroom, something that I'm told a man called Archimedes discovered several thousand years before me – but though I'd hit my elbow and made my arm numb and though I would later find exquisitely painful bruises on my side in more or less the same shape as the tap, I was filled with wonder and delight: I remembered the Museum!

As soon as it came, however, my elation passed. Would I forget it again? I had to write it down! I scrambled to my feet, grossly underestimated how painful my leg was and fell over again; with that second blow all the pain seemed to come into focus, and I took the second attempt at getting up at a more sedate pace, punctuated by a steady stream of oaths that would have shamed Moll's parents in their sailor days. I scribbled THE FOUNDER'S NAME IS MAXIE in the condensation in the mirror with my finger, hoping that would do until I got back to my dormitory and could get some paper, then dried myself as quickly as my new bruises could stand. When at last I was dressed again, I realised I had to remember something, and had a moment of panic when I couldn't recall it – but then, as the mirror steamed up again, my writing came back into view, and the memory returned. I wiped the message away carefully, in case anyone else should read it and get suspicious, and limped off as fast as I

Sorry about that! There are, if your edition of this doesn't reproduce them, three ruined pages and several hours between my last words and these. I got maybe a little too excited last night, and in my haste to write everything down I knocked over the ink-bottle. Among the casualties were: several hundred words of this history; my bedsheets, which will probably bear the mark forever; my leg, which will probably bear the mark for days; and all the clean dressings on my wound, for destroying which all the ghosts are furious with me today.

There's no one like a group of quintacentenarians to make you feel like a naughty child.

Anyway. I swore, very loudly, and in my efforts to get up and out of bed attracted their attention – not to mention their wrath. I should have been resting! I shouldn't have had the ink so close and in such an unstable position! And so on and so forth. Honestly, I feel about six. They're right, of course, but they don't have to be so condescending about it.

Or maybe I'm being too harsh on them. They're old, after all, for all that they still look young. (A nasty thought: the youngest of them wasn't much older than me when he died.) And they've long since lost bodies of their own that can be harmed. It shouldn't surprise me that they're so protective of mine – the only living body between us all on this ship.

They'll come around. I'll apologise to them. I should have waited until today before starting to write. If there's one thing I've learned over the past two years, it's that there are times to make a stand and times to back down, and this is definitely not the time to make a stand.

But I'm getting off the point again. It's morning now, and the keening wind, as far as I can tell, has passed. At least, the lamps are showing no sign of red above us, so we're tentatively heading for the surface. We'll see sunset tonight. I'm back in my study, with a new bottle of ink and a freshly-bandaged leg, and you, dear reader, are wherever you are now, probably silently judging me for my impatience. Don't be too harsh. I've learned my lesson: historians, especially wounded ones surrounded by overprotective ghosts, have to take things slowly.

Picking up where we left off: I'd remembered the Museum, and as I wrote down everything I could about it in the back of one of my poetry notebooks, I knew I had to find a way of getting back there, and for a longer period of time. I needed a day or more to learn a little about what was down there – and about what the Founder was up to. Sure, I was inexperienced back then, but I could tell when someone had an agenda, and he certainly had one. He wanted to be freed, of course, and he wanted company, but there was more to it than that. Whatever his plan had been, the one that made him so dangerous he had to be forgotten, I was absolutely certain that he still wanted to carry it out.

All this meant that I had to get down there again, and my chance came at the next Quiet Day. I told Moll and Virgil I was off to visit my father – it was his birthday next week, but since my schedule meant I would miss it, visiting him now made perfect sense. (Before you start accusing me, yes, I did actually visit my father to celebrate the birthday rituals another time. I'm not quite that bad a daughter.) They accepted the story, since they had no reason not to, and just like that I was free. I could have told them, I suppose – or I could have told Moll, anyway. I didn't share secrets with Virgil like I shared them with her. But I didn't. I wanted to learn more first, and I wanted to make sure that the Founder's plan wasn't something bad for the whole city as well as for the Administration. There was a chance, after all, that he had been trapped down there not for some noble ideal but for some genuine crime. If he had, I promised myself, I would leave and let the Museum do its work on me. I would not be the one to destroy my home city, no matter what I thought of its government.

So off I went, back down through the corridors to the place where I thought the Museum was, and luckily I was more or less right – it took only about twenty minutes of confusion before I managed to find the turning again. I pressed the button, stepped through the airlock, and almost collided with Maxie, who had started out of his chair in surprise.

'Sflukes, if you could have seen him then! He hadn't even dared hope I might find my way back, I could tell. He kept taking off his glasses and putting them back on again, as if he wasn't sure whether or not I was really there.

“You've returned,” he said, after a minute had passed in rather awkward silence. “You …” A little twitch ran through him and he drew himself back up into his habitual composure. “Excellent. We've much to discuss. First, I think, the grand tour!”

The Museum, as I learned then and you must have worked out already, was a ship: Maxie's ship, in fact, the Alcmene from the history books, which bore so many people to safety to Tethys when the waters were rising.

“I've no idea why they called it that,” Maxie told me. “It wasn't mine. I took it off a – a friend of mine after he died. He'd made some … interesting customisations, as you'll find out if you ever see this thing from the outside. Anyway, it isn't really the Alcmene now. It's just the Museum.”

It was an impressive vessel, even back then when it sat lifeless under the city: big enough to transport a small army, which was I suppose one reason why Maxie's friend took it, and still in good shape. We saw the bridge, the cabins, the engine room, and all looked old, but definitely still functional. Even the glass over Maxie's sarcophagus, in the little crypt at the back of the ship, was intact and free from dust. Beneath it, his corpse lay in state in a glass-topped sarcophagus, nothing now but bones and a tarnished pair of spectacles.

“It's rather hard on the ego, watching yourself dissolve over the years like that,” he remarked, as we looked at the fatal crack in his skull. “But there I am: the Founder of Tethys, the reason that so many people survived the end of the world, slowly crumbling into dust in a glass case.”

I stared, fascinated. Perhaps you think that's morbid, but really, there's nothing so very bad about bones. There are a couple of hundred of them inside me right now, and inside you too. It's a Tethys thing, I think. We never were very concerned about bits of dead body. Possibly the old civic anthem had something to do with it: We will give our blood and sinews, and all that.

“How is this place still functioning?” I asked. “Shouldn't it have fallen apart by now?”

“It should,” he agreed. “You have Edie to thank for that. She built a rough replica of one of the synthesis machines you have in Tethys, and scavenges stuff for it to turn into supplies. Keeping the Museum functioning is her life's work.”

“Edie?” I looked up from the bones, surprised. “You're not alone in here?”

“In a manner of speaking,” said Maxie. “Edie is the Museum's curator. She tolerates me mostly as an exhibit, I think.” He sighed. “She can see me, but she isn't human. How can I explain … I don't suppose you know what a computer is?”

“Nope,” I answered. “What is it?”

“Er … we'll leave that one for the time being,” he said. “I don't think I can explain it without demonstrating. For now – well, Edie is suspicious of people. When people bring things down here, they haven't always been kind to her. I don't know what they think she is, but they clearly think this is the best place for her. The first few times she came out to greet them. That was before they started throwing things.”

It didn't surprise me. I thought I might have thrown things, if an unknown computer or whatever rushed up out of the depths of Tethys' forbidden Museum. Not that I told him that.

From there, we moved on to the Museum proper: the vast quantity of stuff that had accumulated in the ship's hold. This is a history, not a catalogue of the Museum; there just isn't space for me to detail everything this place contains. But I do have a catalogue – scrupulously maintained by Edie for the last five hundred years – and I can copy out some entries for you. 'Pokédex, slightly worn, three (3)' – well, you know about them. I was consulting one yesterday about the dragonair. 'Hoenn Year in Review, 2014, ed. by Jasper Monkwood, one (1)' – the number of books that had the word 'Hoenn' in was enormous. I think it was actually a criterion for banning: if a book referenced in any way the name of the old country, the Administrators shoved it in here. I'm almost tempted to call myself Avice Amrit dol' Hoenn, just to rub in what I've done.

Actually, that's not a bad idea. Dol' Hoenn. Something to think about.

But back to the catalogue. 'Chest containing six (6) dresses, three (3) scarves, one (1) pair white heeled shoes' – believe it or not, these were some of the most exciting things the Museum had to offer. I'd spent my whole life in one – well, two, I guess – suits of clothing: the uniform of Tethys. The only time I ever even saw any other clothes was when I was at the docks and there were foreigners about. And here were all the styles and colours of the old world, clothes I'd never even heard of in cuts and shapes utterly unfamiliar to me – can you believe, dear reader, that I didn't even know what a dress was until then? They weren't part of the uniform: the knowledge was dead. It seems incredible now even to me, sitting here wearing the third of the six dresses this catalogue entry mentions. (It's purple. Not red, not black, purple. It's amazing, and if I were a less serious historian I might have to paste a picture into the book to show you.)

'Pokémon Centre computer, five (5)' – one of those brought Edie over, I think, stuck in a corner of the old box network as a few roaming lines of code. 'Teapot, porcelain, forty-seven (47) – do you know how many teapots were thrown in here after tea became the sole preserve of the city elite? More than I know what to do with. 'Ink pens, nine thousand seven hundred and twelve (9,712)' – I don't even know why those were banned! What was so dangerous about stationery? Why were we only allowed ballpoints and pencils in Tethys? 'Collected Poems and Translations, Veronica Forrest-Thomson' – all right, I'll stop. I could go on. There's so much in here, so many treasures and secrets and fragments of the glittering world of sun and solid earth that reigned before the ocean closed over it. That day was my first look at it all, and the first time that I realised what we'd lost – worse, what we had thrown away.

“This one's probably of some interest,” Maxie said, picking something small and oblong up from a table. “It tells you more about the old world than anything else here.” He handed it to me, and one side of it lit up with a string of letters and numbers:

Monday 5th December

“Almost perfect,” he said. “It should give you the year there, but it seems it can't calculate it. It was never designed to last this long. It wouldn't have without Edie's help.”

“What is it?” I asked him.

“Do you still have the intercom?” he asked. I nodded. “It's that, but in your pocket, and potentially to anywhere in the world,” he said. “It can capture images, too – like, er, a perfect drawing, or a memory – or record sounds, and send them across the world too. Text, as well. It also allows access to a great shared storehouse of information, connecting users right across the globe.” He sighed. “Or it did. The people and places that maintained the network are long gone now. Er – are you all right?”

I wasn't. I was actually crying a little – silly, yes, but imagine what it must have been like then! Everyone connected, across continents, across worlds; imagine the conversations, the loves, the art that was made. Imagine the stories.

And imagine us, our Tethys, the greatest city in the known world, throwing all of this away, leaving it to rot in the ashcan of history.

I imagined, back then, and it felt to me like we were killing ourselves.

I expect that's how Maxie intended me to feel.

But let's leave his crimes for the proper time. I put the phone down, and Maxie patted me awkwardly on the arm. As reassuring gestures go, it was pretty dire, but I did at least get the point.

“Sorry,” I said, blinking hard and dabbing at my eyes. “I just, uh – it's a lot, you know. A lot to take in, and a lot to have lost.”

He nodded solemnly.

“It is,” he said. “But it doesn't have to stay this way.” He motioned me over to a corner between two bookcases where a couple of antique chairs had been laid out. “You're the first person ever to make it back here,” he told me, sitting down. “I don't know why, but I'll take it as an omen of something rather special.”

“Something special,” I repeated, not quite comprehending.

“I'm forgotten because I'm dangerous to Tethys as it is,” Maxie said. “I'm forgotten, Avice, because I never intended to leave the human race at the bottom of the ocean. I had a plan, when I was alive – a plan that was nearly finished when that blasted starmie put a hole in my head.” For an instant, then, I thought I could make out a gaping wound on his brow – but it vanished as quickly as it appeared. “I had all the materials ready,” he went on. “I have them still, actually, or at least they're within the city. All I had to do was to put everything in motion.”

“Put what in motion?”

Maxie gave me a look so long and so severe I started to wonder if he hadn't wanted a prompt.

“To end the flood,” he announced, at length. “My plan, Avice, was to bring back the land.” He leaned forward, eyes alight with passion. “And now that you're here, I think I might at last be able to do it.”

Bring back the land! Maybe it seems absurd to you now, dear reader – maybe you now live in a world of verdant forests and sunny pastures – but right then, untold fathoms below sea level, having never even seen the sun, I was struck dumb with the ambition of it. There was no land, not any more – or at least, there were only a few islands, the remnants of what had been the tallest mountains before the making over. To bring it back – to have again all the things that you could only really have on dry land – to have buildings, real farms, trees, cows, songbirds, manectric, sunflowers – to have cars, telephones, space rockets, fireworks – to have sunsets and sunrises, and the stars and the moon …

Well, to have all of that would utterly destroy the hold the Administration had over the city, and also Tethys' economic mastery of the known ocean. Perhaps that was why they had first left the Founder to be forgotten, even if in later years they ceased to remember why they had done that or even that they had done it. I believe now that it is apathy and fear that kept Tethys in the dark so long – apathy, fear, and the curse of forgetting. But in the early days, it must have been greed, and when Maxie told me I assumed right away that it still was.

“They're trapping us here,” I said slowly. “The Administrators are … they did this?”

“They took advantage,” Maxie answered. “Archie McLeod, the man you call the Prophet – he did it. It was a – a terrible mistake …” He shook his head slowly. “Do excuse me. It was a hard time to be alive. I will tell you, at some point, but – not now.”

I detected a slight crack in his voice, and didn't dare press him further. I just nodded and filed the name away for a future date. It's a good thing I did: the pause gave me a moment to think, and now that I'd recovered a little from the shock I could think of problems with Maxie's idea. Tide, for instance. It had made this world, and presumably it wouldn't be too happy with those who changed it. Was it even right for anyone to work against it? It had destroyed our old world, yes, but it seemed to govern this new one well enough. As gods go, it wasn't too bad. Surely there was a reason we were taught that the making over was a good thing?

“OK,” I said, slowly. “OK. I … I would have to think about this.”

Maxie nodded.

“Of course,” he said. “Of course. And I wouldn't expect you to make a decision until you were better informed. Better educated, too. But I think it's best to be honest with you about what I hope to achieve.”

Honest, he said. He was never quite that, but I suppose he didn't lie, either.

“My proposal is this,” he continued. “Keep coming here, learn all you like about the past and my plans for the future, provide me with a little company – and when you've learned enough, whether you help or not is your choice. Does that seem fair?”

It did. Whatever happened, I would learn secrets that had gone undreamed-of for centuries. I could definitely see my way to indulging Maxie a little for that kind of reward.

“Sure,” I said. “Deal.”

He smiled.

“Excellent,” he said, and got up. “How much longer can you stay today? There's a world in here, and we've barely scratched its surface.”

So began my second, secret education: the one grabbed in snatches at night and on odd Quiet Days. I couldn't come too regularly, of course, or people would get suspicious – and anyway, I kept forgetting. The Museum's curse still held me, though every time I returned its grip grew a little weaker. I must have been seen or heard a couple of times sneaking through the maintenance corridors, too, because as time went on there seemed to be more activity in that part of the network – and not just routine repairs, either. On my fourth visit I glimpsed a sergeant patrolling with a torch, and only narrowly avoided being seen; on my sixth, I was spotted by another and chased for five minutes through the passages, the ringing clatter of shoes on metal drawing what must have been every sergeant under the Staircase into the chase. Thankfully, I was young and springy and still at heart the same child who'd climbed up the façade of the harbourmaster's office with Moll all those years ago, and managed to stay half a corridor ahead until I got to the safety of the Museum. There I darted through the airlock and the sergeants were on the verge of following me until they forgot how I'd disappeared, and turned back in case I'd slipped down a side passage.

“That sounded close,” said Maxie. “Everything all right?”

“I hope so,” I replied. “I don't think any of the sergeants saw my face.”

His nostrils flared with distaste.

“Sergeants,” he said. “We used to call them grunts. Not very kind, perhaps, but that's what they are. Catspaws of the Administrators.”

These narrow escapes couldn't last, of course. The sergeants may have been grunts, but they were also persistent, and they knew something was up. Weeks passed, and the number of them patrolling the corridors grew. I got better at avoiding them, but I also got cocky – well, can you blame me? Like I said, young and springy. They never even came close to actually catching me, and the Museum's amnesiac spell always protected me in the end.

I was a fool. I should have looked at it from their point of view: here was a mysterious trespasser, no memory of whom remained once she had disappeared. That's enough to set alarm bells ringing in the head of those in the know. It means that that trespasser is entering the Museum of the Forgotten. It means that one of Tethys' most entrenched laws is being broken.

But what did I care? I was too busy having fun. I learned about the city's founding: how Maxie had led an organisation named Magma; how, when the waters began to rise, he started to bring people to the safety of the Magma headquarters, which was buried deep in the flank of a great mountain; how, when it looked like even that mountain would be swallowed by the ocean, he had a sealed dock constructed outside it and brought the Alcmene there on the crest of the rising waves. The Magma base, he told me, was what we now called Chimney, after the name of the drowned mountain. The dock was extended, and eventually became the Grand Staircase and Founder's Atrium at its foot; by the time that was done, Maxie had been killed by a starmie that had gone berserk after floating through a sunken city and sampling human garbage never intended to meet its stomach. The Alcmene was shunted into a new dock, more out of the way, and slowly Tethys settled in to life as powerful city-state, and to half a millennium of forgetting.

And I met Edie, too – and what was more delightful than that? I loved her on sight, and I love her still now. I understand, now, what it is that keeps Moll and Chubb together underneath their antagonism. Pokémon predate our sea gods, but I wouldn't be surprised if they had their origin in some other divine designer: they complement humans too well for chance. They and we bond like nothing else in nature.

It was while Maxie was telling me the Museum's history that she drifted into the room that day, watching quietly for a little while before drawing near. Maxie had told me to be careful not to alarm her, so I kept talking with him as she approached, but my eyes were on her. I'd never seen anything like her: she didn't seem to be made of any material I had ever seen before, and I even had doubts about whether she was real. She was almost like an incredibly skilful drawing that had been made on top of reality – a sketch of a simplified bird executed in long lines of brown and green.

After a little while, she emitted a strange chiming sound, like the noises a pokédex makes if you were to make them into a little tune, and an oblong speech bubble materialised above her head with a question mark in it. I couldn't help but jump then, of course, but Maxie held out a pacifying hand.

“She's a hologram,” he said. “As I explained. This is how she talks.” He turned to Edie, who was looking back and forth between us and blinking rapidly. “Edie, this is Avice. Avice, Edie.”

I crouched down and held out a hand. Edie hesitated for a moment, then drifted closer – and, to my pleasure and surprise, let me rub her head.

“Hail, Edie,” I said, grinning uncontrollably. “Hail … you're pretty, aren't you?”

She made another electronic jingle, though this time without emitting an icon, and pressed her head against my palm.

“Aw … ! How can I touch her?” I asked, glancing up at Maxie. “You said she's made of light.”

“Hard light,” he said. “We had some wondrous machines back then. Porygon like Edie here are some of the finest. Well – porygon2.5, I suppose. There was an upgrade code here in the Museum that she found and installed, and I tried to edit her myself a few hundred years ago. I'd got sick of red and blue, as you can imagine, so I wanted to switch her to greyscale … unfortunately, I got the code wrong and now she's stuck looking like a swamp.”

I'd forgotten what a swamp was since he last told me, but I didn't ask him for a reminder. Edie had my whole attention now, not least because she had just closed her eyes and manifested another speech bubble – this time with a heart in it.

That, I think, is the exact moment that I was lost.

“Oh, drown 'em,” I breathed. “You are horribly cute.”

“ … originally part of the box network,” continued Maxie. “There were porygon installed for …”

Edie blinked again, and chimed happily, bouncing up and down in midair. I wondered what must it be like for her to see a friendly face after all these years. How could anyone throw things at her? She was so warm and soft and eager to please.

“Hey,” I said, noticing something behind her head. “What're these line things?”

Maxie raised his eyebrows.

“Have you been listening at all?”

“Yes, of course,” I said. “But I might, um, need reminding.”

“It's her barcode,” he said, shaking his head. “You can see the code on it: ED13. That served her for a name, I suppose, before the Museum. I believe that back then, she worked in a computer, helping to maintain the box― a complex global trade network. Somehow, the hard disk she was stored on ended up in here, and she gave herself a new maintenance job, and you're still not listening,” concluded Maxie, as I continued to babble at Edie. “Honestly. Five hundred years and even without the internet, teenagers are still going to pieces over cute animals …”

Some things, it seems, not even time and tide can wash away.

Edie's life before me had been several hundred years of quiet, industrious maintenance. In the early days, she had crept out of the Museum and downloaded the designs for the synthesis machines into her memory. That was the sum total of her experience outside the Museum for the past five hundred and fifty years. After that, she'd spent a few years cobbling together and modifying her own synthesis machine so that she could produce spare parts for the Museum, and then the rest of the time she had spent in silent maintenance. My arrival, with all the love and enthusiasm of youth, was something she had never even dreamed of, if porygon can dream.

When I arrived at the airlock, she would be waiting on the other side, fluttering her wings with impatience. She followed me all through the Museum, brought me items from the collection that she thought I would like, sat on my lap while Maxie talked to me of the old world, and of its death. It felt curiously familiar, and I couldn't place why until I thought of Moll and Virgil. Chubb, by then an iridescent beautifly, had a habit of latching onto the side of Moll's shoulder and resting there, quivering slightly with contentment – and Augusta, who was beginning to swell into a marshtomp, climbed into Virgil's lap in just the same way. I hadn't ever really wanted to be a trainer before, but when I thought of that I got it. Pokémon weren't like people, or even like other animals. When one day Edie flickered, beeped and flashed a speech bubble reading NEW USER REGISTERED, it touched me in a way I'd never known. I had loved people before. I loved Moll, and my father, and Aranea, and for a brief and regrettable period I loved a loathsome boy named Kenneth Arthur dol' Tethys who called me monstrous and who I pushed into a pile of chairs for his trouble – but I had never experienced that strange bond between human and pokémon before.

As you can see, I was happy, and really, I find it hard to blame myself. I was being inducted into this strange and wonderful world, rich in secrets and adorable artificial pokémon. And I haven't even mentioned the music, though it made me cry in astonishment and wonder, or the magic of the audiovisual recordings that Maxie showed me, or the way that it was me, me, Avice Amrit dol' Tethys of all people, who got to see it all. I was happy, and I got complacent.

And that, of course, meant that I got caught.
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Gone. Not coming back.
It was long after lights-out, and since I had no business being abroad at that hour I would have been in trouble whether or not it was discovered where I'd been going. The sergeants were on patrol, of course, but I knew I had the advantage of them: I had a perfect mental map of the corridors around the Museum, and they didn't. It was as if they didn't even dare to remember where the Museum was, and forgot the passages all around it just to be safe. That's probably a large part of why I stayed out of their clutches for so long – that, and the fact that they were mostly fairly unfit. A sergeant's job doesn't involve a whole lot of running.

But that night, there was someone else in the maintenance corridors – someone who had an ear in the sergeants' rumour network, and eyes on my own little life. Someone with the information and the perception to notice that I was always visiting my father when the sergeants complained about nocturnal trespassers. Someone who, that night, knew just enough to follow me.

And so, just as I was turning the corner to the Museum's little side passage, that someone grabbed my arm.

“Avice,” he said, and my heart nearly burst out of my chest.

I turned, very slowly.

“Virgil,” I said, although I didn't. I said his real name.

He shook his head, very slowly.

“Not tonight.” He tapped his chest, and I saw that his name badge was gone, replaced with a blank piece of enamel. “Tonight, I work for the city.”

I'll admit it: I was terrified. With a blank badge, he was no one – not a citizen, not anything at all; a visitor had no badge and a citizen had a name badge, but at that moment Virgil hovered in legal and existential ambiguity. He could do anything at all and it would take both a lawyer and a philosopher to work out if a crime had been committed – and since he was doing it in the service of the Administration, they would decide in the end that there hadn't. I yanked on my arm, but Virgil was always much stronger than me, and his grip stayed firm.

“There's a reason I haven't been able to say exactly where I've been training,” he told me. “The sergeants are good, Avice, but you must know that the city needs more than them.”

“Must know?” I asked, trying to be cool. I don't know if it worked. Probably not. I was shaking pretty badly, which is always something of a giveaway.

“You don't hide your poetry well enough,” said Virgil, and I knew then what he meant. Of course I must know. I was a poet, and therefore a subversive. And gods below, the Administration knew

I swallowed.

“Let me go,” I said. “Or I'll―”

“No, you won't,” he said. “And anyway, I don't want to – to do anything like that.” His voice slipped a little towards the end, and I took some comfort from it. This was still my friend, even if he was also working for the Administration. He didn't want to hurt me if he didn't have to. “Look,” he went on, taking a deep breath, “I hear what the sergeants talk about, Avice, and I also know that when they report someone sneaking around down here, it's always either after lights-out or when you're visiting your father.”

“I'd figured that much out, thanks,” I said, and Virgil gave me a look. Apparently he didn't consider this an appropriate time for sarcasm. Obviously, he didn't have any experience of positions like mine: I've found, in the course of my quest, that a little sarcasm goes a long way to soothing your mind when someone's holding you at metaphorical knifepoint.

“I haven't told anyone, and I don't want to,” he went on. “You're – well.” We were both silent for a while. My heart sounded incredibly loud. “Go back home,” he told me, moving between me and the Museum door and thrusting me back towards the main corridor. “Don't come back, Avice. I will tell them, if I have to.”

He sounded like he was trying to convince himself as much as me.

“You don't know what's going on,” I told him. “Virgil, in there―”

His fingers clamped over my mouth before I could finish.

I don't want to know!” he hissed. “And why in all blood would you want to, either? Avice, please! Things are forgotten for a reason!”

Poor boy-who-was-not-Virgil! He was so scared, I remember. Even the slightest hint of what lay behind that airlock sent him to pieces; his eyes flashed bright with terror and his breath was as fast and ragged as mine. 'Sflukes, what were we doing? Children, playing at a game whose rules were set by people much older and more cunning than we were. I could have gone down a path all too like his, if Maxie's grip on me had been as secure as the Administration's on him. I might be writing a very different story right now. One of fire and blood, and a world twice ruined.

I must remember that, when I get to that bunker and my first sight of the keening wind. Things could have been so different.

“Just leave,” said Virgil, taking his hand away. “Leave and don't come back.”

There was nothing else I could do. He stayed there, at the entrance to the passage, and watched me walk away until I was out of sight. For all I know he stayed there till lights-on. I certainly wasn't going back to check, not after what he'd told me. The Administration knew about me and my questions, my poetry – or at least Virgil did. That knowledge hung over me like the sword in the old story, ready to fall at any moment. Whenever they chose, or whenever Virgil chose, I could be arrested and led over Gaoler's Bridge. Or worse, I could receive one of those quiet, blank-badged visitors, and quietly drop out of the lives of everyone I knew.

Back in my dormitory, I took my notebooks from the hole bored into the side of my mattress and wondered what to do with them. I couldn't throw them away, not without being sure I'd already destroyed every word. Someone might find them, and they might recognise my handwriting. I could put them in an airlock and eject them into open ocean, I supposed, but the only airlocks I had access to were the ones on the Museum's docking ports, and I didn't dare go back there.

I swore softly, so as not to wake anyone else up, and slotted the books back inside my mattress. If it came to an arrest, it wouldn't even matter whether they were there or not. I'd be taken anyway.

That was a long night, both in and out of the Museum. In my bed, I lay awake and worried, and only fell asleep half an hour before lights-on, when a few early risers were starting to wake around me; in the Museum, Edie zipped back and forth in the corridors, jingling in agitation and occasionally emitting exclamation marks. Maxie trailed awkwardly behind her, trying to convince her that I'd most likely just had to go back to avoid detection, but she'd have none of it. If her human wasn't there when she'd promised to be there, something bad must have happened, because obviously nothing less could have stopped me from coming.

She didn't get any calmer, either, because I didn't go back.

It wasn't just the threat of being discovered and Tempest knew what else. In fact, if that had been all, I might have gone back. But Virgil – Virgil, Moll's rival, my friend, our companion – Virgil was my enemy. And that frightened me. He'd been fairly secretive about what he was doing, exactly, but we'd expected that. Everyone knew that Tethys' legal personnel were privy to a few more secrets than the rest of us, and in consequence they were ordered to keep quiet about much of their training. I myself had already found myself having to deflect questions about parts of my own course. So it had all seemed so normal when Virgil had started to avoid talking about the course he was on beyond saying he was with the sergeants. So normal then, and now …

I stumbled through the day in something of a daze, unable to concentrate on anything but the gnawing dread in my gut. Virgil was not who I thought he was, and the threat of prison or worse loomed large in my future. I couldn't cut Maxie and Edie out of my life just like that – especially not Edie. I didn't know then how worried she was, but I knew she wouldn't be taking it well. All those years of solitude and occasional violence had left her an anxious little creature; she'd waited a month before even daring to believe I would neither hurt her nor forget to return to the Museum, and now, after gaining her affection, I'd abandoned her. Maxie would be concerned too, of course, but he was old and cynical. He'd be all right. Not like Edie.

Ten days passed; I missed my next two appointments at the Museum. I turned in two utterly awful essays, failed a test and was summoned to a meeting with my tutor, who looked at me with concern over her glasses and asked if there was anything wrong. For a moment, I contemplated telling her that I was secretly considering resurrecting the old world and that a close friend had found me out, but in the end I decided against it. She might have thought I was mocking her.

“No, nothing,” I said, and smiled as best I could. “I think I might be sick.”

She remarked that I did look a little unhealthy, which given how little sleep I'd been getting was probably true, and asked me to take things easy for a while. I told her I would do my best and left to try and shake off my thoughts by watching Moll down at the training yards.

When I arrived and found the chamber she was in, Chubb was just finishing off a delcatty whose trainer looked more resigned than displeased. I was pleased to note that it wasn't Virgil. We hadn't met since that night outside the Museum, and I wasn't looking forward to the day when we did.

“Hail,” said Moll, as the other trainer made his way out. “What'd your tutor want?”

“If anything was up,” I told her. “You know, because of all the failing.”

She paused in the middle of holding out her arm for Chubb to land on, hand dangling at her side.

“And?” she asked.

“And what?”

“And is there anything up?” Chubb alighted on her wrist, folding his glossy black wings upright, and she transferred him to her shoulder. He was much less moody now, and seemed to draw solace from his own beauty. Iridescent isn't the rarest colour morph, but I think we can all agree it's one of the prettiest.

“No,” I said.

“You can't lie to me,” said Moll. “It's literally impossible. You're too used to telling me stuff.” She hopped up onto the back of one of the viewing benches, dislodging a strand of hair from behind her ear; Chubb flicked out one barbed leg and brushed it back beneath her hood. “Sit,” she said. “And before you say it, I've booked this room till five.”

I closed my mouth and sat down next to her.

“I do know you've been hiding something,” she said, and her voice was so carefully calm and cheerful that I knew it had been bothering her. “And you do look like crap, so clearly it's eating you.”

I hesitated.

“Do you know who Virgil works for?” I asked.

Her lips tightened.

“No,” she said. “I have a feeling I don't want to.”

“It's like the CCC or something,” I continued, regardless. “Not just the sergeants.”

She was silent for a long time.

“I kind of guessed,” she said. “I didn't say, because you don't see as much of him as I do, and I thought … it would bother you.”

“What's that meant to mean?”

It was a lot sharper than I intended, and I regretted it instantly. Chubb's antennae instantly straightened out, battle-ready.

“It means,” Moll said, voice still carefully level, “that I know what kind of person you are, Avice, and you know I know, but Tide's sake, you got to know that isn't me.”

I should have taken a moment to think. Moll was right; it was all in our blood – all in stories that began long before we were born. In me there were pirates and librarians, Amazons and lawyers, electric birds and ancient ghosts; in her, sailors and the hardships of life at sea, the mad rush to attain a daughter's citizenship, the knowledge that outside Tethys you weren't guaranteed food and safety as you were here. All the stories that had poured into her meant she could not help but respect the city, even as she saw its sins. All those in me had left me unable to see anything but the grime of its underbelly. We are all of us held in the web of our stories.

But I didn't think, because I was nineteen and certain I was right, and I might have gone on to say something regrettable had Moll not forestalled me with a question:

“How do you know, anyway?” she asked. “'Cause I get the feeling it's more than just Virgil bothering you.”

That froze me for a moment, and in that moment all my hostility evaporated into the relief of an imminent confidence.

“I'vebeengoingtotheMuseumoftheForgotten,” I said in one long rush. “Andlasttimehecaughtme.”

Moll stared. Whatever she'd been expecting, it hadn't been that.

“You … what?” She wobbled and nearly fell off the back of the bench. “The Museum of the Forgotten?

“Yeah,” I said. “Um. I was going to tell you, but.”

“But it was the Museum of the Forgotten,” she said. It seemed difficult for her to stop saying it. “The Museum of the Forgotten …”

She looked a little wobbly again, so I held her arm and guided her down to the seat before I went on. I told her about hunting for Aranea, and finding Maxie instead; I told her about his quest to raise the land; I told her about Edie, and the endless labour of keeping the Museum in order.

When I was done, the relief had already worn off, and I was trembling with anticipation. Moll was my closest friend in all the world, but she was also six months away from becoming an official Gym Trainer. Even if she hadn't been the loyal citizen that she was, her sympathies had to lie with Tethys.

“'Sflukes,” she said, after a long pause. “Like, I always knew you – but this …” She shook her head. Chubb, sensing her agitation, pressed one long foreleg against her cheek. “This is trouble,” she finished at last. “I don't know what to say.”

I nodded.


We sat in silence for a little while. A thousand tiny noises rushed in to fill the gap: the hiss of the air vent, the sound of distant voices. The low creak of steel beams twisting in the currents.

“Avice,” said Moll. She didn't sound like herself, not at all, and it made me feel cold. “If you go back, they'll kill you. You do know that, right? Actually kill you.”

Her fingers were tight on my arm. It was horrifying: Moll was never afraid. She was utterly fearless; we were once called up before a minor Administrator for climbing on the statue above the harbourmaster's office and even in that uncomfortable chair, with the Administrator gaze turned on her at full blast, she didn't so much as flinch.

But of course she was afraid; we all were, really, even those of us who believed that Tethys was the best place to live in all the known ocean. It wasn't possible to be unaware of the price we paid for our security. I felt all of that through her fingertips, digging into my arm like teeth, and I my heart shrank in my chest.

“I know,” I answered. “I know. I'm not going back.”

I thought it was the truth. I really did. That night, I put the Museum out of my mind and went out with Moll and a few of her friends instead, stamping out the fear with dancing and synthetic rum. We came back happier, or at least less aware, and went to bed with light heads and lighter hearts.

But the pirate and the librarian were still in me, and the ancient ghost and the electric bird, and the Amazons and the lawyer and everything else, and when you have inhaled such stories as those, it's not so easy to work your way free of them. I had meant every word of it when I told Moll I wasn't going back, but what I didn't know was that it was no longer my decision to make.

For that night, while I slept, the Museum woke, and it came hunting for me.

I can see the sunlight above us now. The keening wind has passed after all. We can't be far from the surface. I feel a longing for light now, after writing so much about those dark, stark chambers under the ocean. But there's not so much of my time in Tethys left to relate now, I think. There's Maxie's plan, of course. There's the arrival of the ancient mariner. And there's the machinations of those blank-badged agents … but all of that tomorrow. I can't stay down here any longer. I should go and apologise to the ghosts, and find Edie, and together we can watch the light as we break the waves and come back into the air.

If it's a clear day we might even be able to see Tethys from here.

At least this time I won't be going alone.

This is a week and a half late, and I'm so sorry for that! I was just so busy during the last couple of weeks that there was hardly any time to write at all. I realise that this chapter is a little rougher around the edges than the first three, too, but I felt that since I was so very late I owed you all an update (and an explanation) sooner rather than later.
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Active Member
I can not help but love the story and characters. And I'm absolutely fascinated by the story. The obvious denouement is the return of Hoenn/end of the Administration, which leaves the all together more exciting question of how we're going to get there.

Though I wouldn't be surprised if the denouement was something else.


Gone. Not coming back.
I can not help but love the story and characters. And I'm absolutely fascinated by the story. The obvious denouement is the return of Hoenn/end of the Administration, which leaves the all together more exciting question of how we're going to get there.

Though I wouldn't be surprised if the denouement was something else.

Thank you! I'm so glad you're enjoying it. I don't know how much I can respond to the rest of what you said without giving anything away, so rather than risk spoiling stuff I think I'll just settle for a general 'thanks for reading! and for commenting!' kind of sentiment.

Thanks also to everyone else who's reading. You guys are great.