1. We have moved to a new forum system. All your posts and data should have transferred over. Welcome, to the new Serebii Forums. Details here
    Dismiss Notice
  2. Be sure to join the discussion on our discord at: Discord.gg/serebii
    Dismiss Notice
  3. If you're still waiting for the e-mail, be sure to check your junk/spam e-mail folders
    Dismiss Notice

Time and Tide

Discussion in 'Completed Fics' started by Cutlerine, Jan 26, 2015.

  1. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine Gone. Not coming back.

    It depends who you ask. Ask Maxie why there are ghosts, and he'd probably answer: remembrance and regret. Archie would probably say sin and guilt. None of the others agree, either, but the common elements, as will become increasingly apparent the more ghosts are introduced, are memory and pain -- whatever you want to make of that.

    Thank you for reading, and for commenting! It's always encouraging to hear from readers, and as a bonus it gives me the chance to air bits of my own interpretation of the story so far. Which is always fun. For me, anyway.
     
    Last edited: May 15, 2015
  2. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine Gone. Not coming back.

    EIGHT: THE SONG OF THE PIRATE CAPTAIN

    I wol now synge, yif I kan,
    The armes and also the man
    That first cam, thurgh his destinee,
    Fugityf of Troy contree,
    In Itayle, with ful moche pyne
    Unto the strondes of Lavyne.

    ―Geoffrey Chaucer, The House of Fame


    I think perhaps I spent too long out there last night. I'd forgotten how my leg aches when the cold gets into it, and now I'm stuck inside looking out at the sky (slightly overcast; still pleasant) and waiting for the painkillers to kick in. Thank Tooth for synthesis machines!

    Still. I have it on good authority that I'm healing as well as can be expected, so let's lay that aside. Yesterday, we left

    Dear reader, something extraordinary has just happened. And I mean that literally: extra-ordinary, from outside the bounds of the normal. Are you ready? Here it is: we have a visitor.

    But Avice, you say, you're in the middle of the ocean! Yes, and that's part of why it's extraordinary. The other part of the strangeness is that our visitor has, so far as anyone knows, been dead for over five hundred years.

    OK, so that's actually true of most of the people on this vessel. I'll give you that. Let me clarify. Our visitor has been extinct for over five hundred years.

    Strange, I know, but I wonder … pokémon are capable of extreme transformations, we all know that; apart from evolution, there's the whole business of the making over and what it did to them. Dozens of species changed, just like that, to adapt to the new world: camerupt learned to swim and sableye to dive, and thus we have our roaming-isles and sea-goblins. We all know that pokémon can change utterly in no time at all, if they need to – and yet that they don't always succeed: witness the manectric, the primeape, the murkrow. Whatever forces drive their mutations, it isn't cut and dried. I'm reminded of the article on an old pokémon called klink in this encyclopaedia; it says that according to the research of one Professor Aurea Juniper, klink simply appeared in the world at one point, without going through the usual process of evolution. Species pop up, and, sometimes, species vanish.

    And sometimes, it seems, they return.

    You see, that interruption just now was caused by Edie bouncing in excitedly and getting me to follow her up the conning tower. I didn't see what she was trying to show me right away – but then I looked again, and I saw: perched on a metallic protrusion on the left-hand side, adjusting the feathers of its chest as casually as if it had never been extinct, was a murkrow.

    I stared. The murkrow looked up and cackled at me through the glass. Then, with what I could swear was a wink, it spread its wings and flapped off to the north.

    Is it a sign? Are the times changing? I mean, murkrow aren't albatrosses; you don't find them far out at sea. There must be something out there, and not far off – something where before there was nothing. I've asked the others to keep an eye out for islands, just in case. We could have a – what's the word again? – a picnic. They have those in the books I've been reading lately, though the concept didn't survive the making over. I don't think I'm going to be able to properly replicate one, to be honest – there's a lot of old-world food and drink involved, stuff that I have to look up in the encyclopaedias or else ask the ghosts about, and which I can't reproduce – but hey, if we really do find land, we might as well give it a shot. It's a rare enough occasion that no one's going to be too bothered about whether or not the food is up to scratch.

    I'm reminded of the first time I walked out above the water. It wasn't dry land – I didn't reach that until much later – but rather the ship-town of Cormac's Mourn. The Mourn started out as a lightship, shining lamps above and below water to ward ships away from the reefs (and the sea-monster) beneath it, and later on other ships were bolted onto it to form a kind of raft-city, similar to Old Town but without an atoll to support it. That was long after the sea-monster itself was dead, of course. No one but the lightship crew lived there while the monster reigned at Cormac's Mourn. It was a gyarados, they say – one of the vast ones from the very deepest parts of the ocean, pale and blind and thick around as a corvette, that had somehow found its way upwards and never managed to get back. Or it may have been a monstrous octillery, rooted to the reef and wrecking ships with pulses of water to get at the crew within. It's difficult to say now. I spoke to several people about it, but the only thing they could agree on was that by this point whatever history there was has turned into legend.

    The approach to Cormac's Mourn was easy enough, since the reefs themselves have long since been covered over with the mass of ships and rope bridges, but we were all tense. I had my father's warnings about the dangers of the world outside Tethys ringing in my ears; Archie had experience of these things; Maxie was simply nervous – about the only one who was calm was Edie, who seemed to have become a good deal less skittish now that we'd left the city. Knowing what I now do about her history, I think maybe she was remembering past adventures. Long years of solitude had taken the edge off her taste for the unusual, sure, but setting the Museum in motion again, fixing the parts of it that threatened to break under the strain of unexpected use, seeing the sky … I wasn't the only one whose spirits were restored, that's for sure.

    None of us knew where to start looking for ideas about saving the world, and we agreed to put it off until we'd addressed the more urgent issue of taking on supplies. That left us free to do other things – to read, in my case (this time without Maxie's gentle censorship), and to try and figure out how my mother's duelling pistols worked. Not that I was any good with them: there weren't enough bullets for me to waste any practising. But we were leaving the safest place in the ocean, a place where violent crime was virtually unknown, for a town of pirates, thieves and sailors on shore leave. I wanted to know that, if it came to it, I had some way to defend myself – whether or not I was actually capable of making use of it.

    Besides, it was something to do, and I needed that. Acutely aware of the widening gap between myself and Tethys, I was trying hard not to think of those tablets. On the second day, I gave in and counted them: enough left for a week. How far were we from Cormac's Mourn, I asked Archie.

    “Rate we're going,” he said, “four days, maybe. It's not far.”

    Four days – but then what? What was I expecting to happen in four days? There weren't any synthesis machines there. That technology was lost with the Devon Corporation, as far as the world beyond Tethys was concerned. If they even knew about synthesis machines at all. I had a feeling that history was told differently out here – differently everywhere, in fact; there was probably a history to be told on the decks of pirate ships, a history to be told in the ziz-marches, a history to be told in kadabra-dens. And those histories are out there still, of course, balanced against my own. There are as many oceans as there are people in it.

    Leaving off the philosophising and resuming the worrying: what, I wondered, was I supposed to do? The question was almost dizzying. For a variety of reasons, I didn't want to talk to Archie or Maxie about it – mostly, I have to say, because I'd always kept this part of me to myself. It was only natural; I never met another person like me in Tethys, and I was always aware, from all the subtle and not-so-subtle clues that even the friendliest citizens gave to me, that I was not like them, marked as different. Of course I ended up trying to shut away that which was different about me into the most private sphere of my life. A bad habit, yes, but that's how the Administration works. Citizens of Tethys can't help but be ashamed of the ways in which they aren't ideal citizens, from their less-than-perfect productivity to the secret resentment they bear the authorities. That's how you keep so many thousands of people under your control – that, and your secret police, your blank-badged visitors in the night. It takes a long time to kick the habits of the city, and it takes help too, of a kind that neither Archie nor Maxie were able to give. They're sweet, both of them, in their own way, but when all's said and done they're most comfortable in the company of men like themselves. I had to find someone else to help me work my mind loose from Tethys.

    There were other reasons it felt awkward to ask them. None of us had ever talked before about what I was, and if a group of people keeps quiet about some sensitive topic for long enough, they all eventually become too embarrassed to mention it at all. I presumed that they'd noticed what I was, but, sensible as they (mostly) were, they didn't want to bring it up, and accepted me as I presented myself, no questions asked. So now we were in a position where I felt unable to talk about it too.

    And yet the more I thought about it, the more I realised that I had no option. Who else might be able to help me out? Edie would have been willing, but she wouldn't have understood, not before our stay in Jonah's Respite, or maybe not even the Hollow. Maxie, for his sins, had a wide range of knowledge, and Archie knew the ocean like the back of his hand. They were the only ones who might be able to assist me. So, after putting it off for a full twenty-four hours (I will stare into the eyes of gods with equanimity but Tide help me, I cannot deal with awkward conversations), I went to speak to them.

    You know, I just wrote out the whole conversation as I remember it, but perhaps it isn't necessary. I ought to start cutting down, I suppose – you can't put everything into a book, no matter how much you want to. Let me just cross that out … Briefly, I managed to stammer out that I was going to run out of pills; everyone, embarrassed, fumbled for a solution; Archie suggested the synthesis machine; I replied that I'd thought of that and that it obviously wasn't programmed to make my tablets, a statement with which Maxie agreed; Archie suggested the machine could scan the tablets; Maxie said had he seen the synthesis machine, and we were lucky it didn't fall apart when you sneezed at it; Archie retorted that it had to scan things somehow, it wasn't a bloody IKEA desk, you couldn't just make it up if you'd lost the bloody instructions; I latched onto the one word in all this that I recognised and asked if Edie was able to do the scanning; and both of them stared at me as if I had suddenly grown antlers.

    Neither of them spoke, and as the silence deepened I felt the blood rush to my cheeks.

    “Sorry. Um, I don't know what I'm talking about, I just thought―”

    “No, Avice,” said Maxie, “you thought absolutely right. We're just … surprised.”

    Archie laughed and shook his head in amazement.

    “More like embarrassed,” he corrected. “Christ. We're the ones who're supposed to know this stuff. Yeah, Avice, that's right. Back in the day, porygon came with a full sensor array as standard. D'you remember―”

    “―the Mars landing, yes, I remember.” Maxie smiled briefly. “1995. That was a good year.”

    The atmosphere shifted for a moment, and then they seemed to remember I was there, the memory slipping away back into the past.

    “Well, to get to the point,” he said, “you're in luck, Avice. Edie should be able to scan them as she did with the locks in Tethys and have the computers process the data.”

    And there it was: my Giant Problem, solved. Just like that. You have to laugh, really. I certainly do. The universe has a funny way of deflating us just when we get to the point where we confront our fears. Personal nightmares are meaningless on the cosmic scale. Kind of comforting, don't you think? I mean, kind of sad, because by extension the growth you achieve by overcoming those nightmares and indeed you yourself are also meaningless, but still. Kind of comforting. I went off to find Edie with my heart lighter than it had been in weeks; I even forgot, for a few minutes, to miss home. I was going to be OK. I would have my pills, and I would be free, and everything was going to be OK.

    That was the approach to Cormac's Mourn, dear reader. Tension, nerves, and the strangest, sweetest relief.




    Mirrored sunglasses, big boots, leather jacket, pistols on hips: these, my younger self hoped as the Museum came in to dock, would make her look sufficiently piratical for people to not mug her, or worse. She was wrong, I can see that now. Between my washed-out skin and my accent, you knew I was from Tethys right away, and no amount of bravado or blue clothing was going to alter that. Besides, my hair was wrong. What with the hoods and all, hairstyles in Tethys tend to be somewhat basic. Pirates, as if to flaunt the freedom to bare their heads, always have style. And I, who'd never done anything to my hair before other than brush and (on rare and rebellious occasions) plait it, most definitely did not have that.

    “It's so big,” I noted, staring out of the window. “This is nothing like the Tethys docks.”

    “And look,” said Maxie, equally fascinated. “These ships, these people – God, I've been away a long time, haven't I?”

    At the helm, Archie chuckled indulgently. We must have looked like excited children, staring out at the Mourn. But you couldn't blame us for being interested; have you ever seen the place? A great tangle of metal and wood, bolted together near the core and connected by chains and rope bridges further out, a whole artificial forest of conning towers and wheelhouses converted into homes and businesses; it started at the centre with the spire of the old lightship and seemed to melt into the ships coming in to dock at the edges, growing and shrinking with every vessel that arrived and left like a ditto sending scraps of itself off to explore cracks in a wall. And the people! There was colour and motion everywhere: the blue of pirates shone from a hundred different garments, all of them unique, and in between there were other clothes such as I'd never seen outside the Museum's hold or the Tethys docks – green robes, white coats, sealskin and sharpedo-hide, flashes of yellow from the sashes of visiting prospectors. I even saw a couple of Tethys sailors, name-badges off and hoods down on their shoulders to celebrate their temporary freedom from the civic authorities. Above their heads the wingull and the fiercer herring gulls mewed and fought each other for scavenging rights in the soft, cool rain; below them, shadowy under the water, enormous chains cut the depths into segments, rooting the town to the reef beneath. And there was something else down there too, something huge that swam side to side like a fish or a snake but infinitely slower …

    “Good God,” said Maxie, staring. “Is that a steelix?”

    “You wouldn't've thought it of them,” called Archie from his chair, “but yeah, they adapted pretty well. Good at holding their breath and the pressure doesn't faze 'em. They eat the seabed and people mine the steel off their spines to repair the settlements.”

    “But don't they rust?”

    Archie shook his head.

    “More things in heaven and earth, Maxie,” he said, which I think was meant to mock him, and glanced up through the window. “Look alive. Here's our permission.”

    The signal-lights on the former freighter we were coming in to dock with flashed: blue blue blue, all clear, come in. I grabbed the bag we'd filled with a few lesser treasures and swung it onto my shoulder.

    “How lucky you are,” said Maxie, watching. “Enjoy it, I suppose, or try to. I know it's daunting.”

    He wasn't coming with us. Someone had to keep an eye on the Museum, after all, and it wasn't going to be Archie, since I needed his knowledge of the Mourn. We could have left Edie, I suppose, but Archie had suggested, and I'd agreed, that having a pokémon with me would make me look less of an easy target, especially such a strange one as her. Besides, Edie seemed excited about going outside – and I was still a little angry at Maxie. I wasn't going to pass up such a good opportunity to punish him in some way.

    “Yeah,” I replied. “You have fun in here.”

    He refused to rise to the bait, and turned back to the window.

    “I'd make your way up on deck now,” he said. “I'll take the controls here.”

    “You know how to―?”

    “Archie, I've been here five hundred years, I know how to work the bloody docking clamps,” he said irritably. “Go and take Avice on her shopping trip.”

    Archie raised his eyebrows at me behind Maxie's back.

    “I guess we'll leave you to it,” he said cheerfully, getting up. “Come on, then, Avice. See how you like your first taste of a real surface town.”

    Edie joined us out on the main deck a moment later, fresh from whatever maintenance task she'd been working on. There were a lot of things to attend to back then, as I've said – the natural consequence of starting up ancient machinery and hoping it would work as well as when new. The rain fizzled and steamed where it touched her, which was faintly alarming, but she seemed to be all right. It's just some kind of waterproofing, I think, to stop her projection being disrupted. Or something. Listen, I don't do computers. That's why I'm writing this out by hand. Well, that and the fact that it seems a shame to let all this ink go to waste.

    The Museum's flank bumped gently against the dock and locked in place with a buzz that made my teeth vibrate. Clearly Maxie did know how to work the magnetic clamps after all. With some trepidation, I climbed down the brine-wet ladder and set foot for the first time in a settlement other than Tethys.

    “Hail,” said a bored-looking man in a waterproof cape and a spectacularly ugly hat, who was sitting at a desk set up under an awning by what had once been the freighter's bridge. “Are you the captain of this vessel?”

    “Um, yeah,” I answered. “I am.”

    He looked at me incredulously for a moment, then caught sight of Edie following after me and returned his attention to his papers, apparently uneasy.

    “Name?” he asked.

    “Uh,” I said. “Mine or the ship's?”

    His brow furrowed in a way that somehow managed to convey both perplexity and condescension.

    “Yours.”

    “Avice Amrit dol'” – drown it, I should have thought about this earlier – “Museum.”

    “Museum. Right.” The man paused, then shrugged. “Is that the name of your vessel?”

    “Yes,” I answered. It seemed the easiest thing to say.

    “The Museum, Captain Avice Umreet dol' Museum, docked fourteen hundred twenty-four,” recited the man to himself, making me wince when he mangled my second name, and then held out his clipboard. “The docking fee is seven c. kites a day, to be paid in full on departure. Sign here, please.”

    I took the offered pen and signed with a dexterity that made him raise his eyebrows. Not many people with the penmanship of a Tethys Legal Apprentice come to Cormac's Mourn.

    “Well,” he said. “Enjoy your stay in Cormac's Mourn.”

    That seemed to mean the conversation was over, so I walked away in the direction of a bridge that led deeper into the town.

    “Not bad,” said Archie, keeping pace beside me. “Keep your bag close here. Next ship's crowded. Don't want anything stolen.”

    “What's a c. kite?” I asked quietly, stepping onto the bridge. It was wobbly and the planks wet with spray and rain; between them, I could see the waves lapping at the hulls of the ships around me. To someone who'd never trodden on anything but steel or stone, it felt horrifyingly fragile. I had to fight to keep cool and make it across without stopping.

    “Copper kite,” replied Archie. “It's a measure of weight, really – as much copper as would weigh that much. You get copper kites, silver kites, gold kites. They use them to work out the exchange between different goods. No credits out here, lass.”

    We stepped onto the next boat, some kind of former submarine with the top shorn off to leave a level surface, and I hugged my bag close to my chest as the crowd pressed in around me in a crush of colour and smell. Tethys' population was kept strictly under control with the pink ticketing system. I'd never been somewhere so crowded – or with so many different peoples represented. Pale skin wasn't nearly so common here as back home, I noticed with interest, and for the first time I wondered where my father's ancestors had come from, to bring with them their touch of colour to the usual Tethys pallor.

    Fortunately, I wasn't squashed. Edie, alien and visibly fizzing, kept people at a reasonably wary distance, although she was clearly nervous at being around so many new people and things, and stayed close to my ankles. (Maybe only I could see it. It takes a bit of practice to read the expressions in a porygon's eyes, after all.) Archie fared less comfortably: no one could see him, and so they kept walking straight through him without noticing. From my point of view, it made him look like he was flashing in and out of existence, bits of him continually disappearing into and reappearing out of passers-by.

    “Where are we going?” I asked, pausing in the middle of the deck.

    “Head for the spire for now. We'll find somewhere to sell the stuff on the way.”

    I don't know if Cormac's Mourn, or any other places like it, still exist – or, if they do, whether or not you've been to them. It's a strange place, dear reader: walking along shoulder to shoulder with pirates with cigarettes and tattoos; traders with bags and pouches; prospectors with yellow sashes and makeshift armour that constituted a sartorial language only they could read; and pokémon too, big web-pawed mightyena or glossy camerupt and torterra, smaller versions of the roaming-isles that swim around the oceans like fragments of the old world seeking long-vanished continents. All of this while the town undulates on its chains and ropes with every wave that passes beneath it, vessels as disparate as stolen Tethys corvettes and rusty Old Town freighters bobbing on the water's surface. I didn't feel safe, exactly – I mean, I was nineteen and fresh out of home, and here I was surrounded by men, women and others who took pride in being able to call themselves the scum of the sea – but nor was I entirely afraid. Something in that chaos, amid the smell of reconstituted diesel and the chatter of conversations in innumerable languages, felt like home. Once, I remember, passing along the deck of an ancient-looking barge of glass and bone that must have been seized from kadabra, I saw two pirate women at a table in a canopied bar. They were talking and feeding a tame wingull with a red ribbon around its ankle, and I suddenly had the impression that I had been there before, or somewhere similar, watching from a distance a red-haired woman and her crewmate feeding a ship's mascot …

    But! We should leave that for now. Today is the day I finally get around to telling you about pirates, as I never quite managed to in that first chapter – but not just yet. There's a little further to go before we can rejoin my mother.

    “Hey,” said Archie. “Have a look over there.”

    We stood on a decrepit old freighter, its deck roofed with an oily tarpaulin that magnified the sound of the rain into a rattling roar. Above the open doors leading belowdecks was a sign that proclaimed, in slightly butchered Tethysi, that this was the entrance to the MORN TRADER'S MARKIT – WEST SHIP.

    “'Trader's',” I muttered to myself. “How much space does one trader need?”

    Archie raised an eyebrow.

    “I'd keep that to yourself if I were you,” he said. “Not too many schools outside Tethys, lass.”

    I nodded, chastened, and we went down into the market – which, as it turned out, was the entire vast hold of the ship, gutted and divided up into shops and stalls. Apparently even that wasn't enough space, however. Halfway down the right-hand wall I could see something that looked like a primitive version of one of Tethys' corridors, fused crudely with the steel and leading off, presumably, to the EAST SHIP.

    “Not quite Tethys,” said Archie, as we made our way down the last few steps to join the crowd. “Leakier, for one. But there's no such thing as thoughtcrime here, so there's that.” He squinted out over the heads of passers-by – like Maxie, he was taller than most. I think that the people of the old world had a better diet than we do now, or perhaps the weight of all that water just squashes us down a bit. Whatever the reason, they seem to have been, in general, taller than us. “A'right. Over there. Follow me, and keep an eye on Edie.”

    We followed, deliberately slowly: there was so much to see! Edie was fascinated, and I have to admit that I was too, by the abstruse electronics in the window of MIKES ELECTRICALS; and next to it, in the more eruditely-named A BEVY OF BEASTS, it looked like you could buy all the cages and harpoons you'd need to set yourself up as a monster hunter; and over there, just visible between the prospector and the lady in the cloak, that was a bookshop, of all things, a place where you could actually walk in and buy books as if there was nothing dangerous about them at all …

    “Watch it!” growled Archie, and I turned, heart thumping, to see a young man pulling his hand away from the space where my bag had been moments ago. Some instinct made me put my hand on my pistol, and Edie played a short burst of menacing music; glancing between us, the pickpocket seemed to decide that he'd made a mistake, and melted hurriedly back into the crowd.

    After that, I spent less time looking at the shops and more time watching the crowd. Perhaps it paid off, or perhaps other potential thieves had seen the first one fail and didn't fancy their luck. Either way, we made it without further incident to the store that Archie had spotted from the stairs, a tall, tin-walled place called SALVADOR'S SALVAGE.

    Salvador, as it turned out, was a swarthy brick of a man, short, bald and almost cuboid, who greeted my entrance with undisguised suspicion. I might have turned and left right then if I'd been able to think of a way to do it that wasn't too awkward. Since I couldn't, however, I glanced around at the various odds and ends on the shelves, trying to convey that I was, contrary to appearances, a seasoned prospector, and approached the counter.

    “Hail,” I said, gruffly. Probably too gruffly, looking back on it. I must have sounded like I had a sore throat. “You take salvage?”

    “Yes,” replied Salvador. “Do you sell it?”

    I ignored the pointed incredulity in his voice and took a red and white ball from my bag.

    “What about something like this?”

    Salvador looked like he might be about to choke, but he held it back.

    “That's pristine,” he said, staring at the ball. “Looks like it came out of the factory yesterday.” His eyes returned to mine with disconcerting speed, a little uncertain now. Trying to see if he'd misjudged me, I suppose – and if so, what else I might be capable of. He spotted Edie too, for the first time, and drew back very slightly.

    I perched my sunglasses on the top of my head and affected a sardonic, world-weary smile.

    “I've got three of them,” I said, as if perfectly-preserved poké balls from before the making over grew from barnacles. “Plus a radio and two alarm clocks.”

    I spread it all out on his counter, and felt vaguely reassured by the naked greed in Salvador's eyes. Not much had survived the making over intact. Even less survived in such good shape as the contents of the Museum.

    “I'll give you six s. kites for the lot,” he offered, and Archie cleared his throat behind me.

    “He's taking the piss,” he said. “Ten gold.”

    “I was thinking of a little more than that,” I said, and Salvador's eyelid twitched. He must have known they were stolen, and was hoping I'd be green enough to part with them at his price. Let's not be too hard on him – I was that green, after all. If I hadn't had Archie with me, I'd probably have taken the offer. “How about ten gold kites?”

    Salvador laughed and shook his head.

    “You're selling brine, kid,” he said. “Tell you what. Since you're clearly new at this, how about I give you a special rate? One g., an' that's the best you'll get anywhere in Cormac's Mourn.”

    “Don't,” began Archie, but I was getting into the swing of this now, and I went on before he could finish.

    “Tell you what,” I said sweetly, “since you're so good at misjudging people, I'll be forgiving about how you've misjudged my items. Let's say six g.”

    Stung, Salvador curled his lip, but Edie chose that moment to flicker (some of the rainwater had got into her after all) and the shock of seeing an apparently solid animal temporarily disappear seemed to make him reconsider our relative positions, and the nascent sneer turned into an ingratiating smile.

    “Let's not either of us do anything we regret,” he said. “Sure we can come to an agreement. How does three g. an' six s. sound?”

    “Now we're getting somewhere,” I replied. “Maybe make that four and five and we can talk.”

    Salvador considered, and held out a grubby hand.

    “You got a deal,” he said. “An' I wouldn't normally, but seein' as how these are such fine pieces …”

    “And as how you're such a sweetheart,” I finished dryly, shaking his hand. “Sure. As you say.”

    As I left, my bag now mostly empty but for a small sack of red metal nuggets (each one weighing more or less one copper kite), Archie patted me on the shoulder.

    “Not bad,” he said. “I'd have pressed him for five, but that was a good deal. They teach you that in Tethys?”

    I snorted, but I was pleased.

    “Nah,” I said. “I learned that from a friend.”

    I fell silent then: I had echoed Moll's speech, I realised, as well as her ideas about haggling. All too suddenly, the weight of the distance between us settled on me, and I found myself wondering if I had been forgotten yet.

    ♪, said Edie, sensing my disquiet and scaring the life out of a passing sailor, and I patted her head.

    “Yeah,” I answered. “Thank you, Edie.” I cleared my throat. Time to move on. I could be mawkish later. “Right. Supplies, then.”

    Archie shook his head.

    “Leave them for now,” he advised. “Get them on our way back to the ship, otherwise whoever delivers them will leave 'em sitting on the dock in the rain. You'll need to be there to help load.”

    “OK,” I said, wondering exactly how much help he thought I was going to be. “Then … uh, where would we go to find out something about our, um, quest?”

    He considered this for a moment.

    “I don't know,” he admitted, a moment later. “Let's get out of here first, though, find somewhere less crowded. Pub, maybe. Somewhere we can sit down and think.”

    And drink, I added silently. Walking around a place like Cormac's Mourn made you pretty jumpy. A nip of whatever it was they drank there (rum, if you're wondering, although no one from Tethys would recognise it as such) wouldn't go amiss.

    We made our way back upstairs and out into the rain, then crossed a few more terrifying rope bridges that brought us to the deck of a crippled submarine, the cabins of its upper levels knocked through to form one long, low-ceilinged bar room. The tower of the lightship, I remember, loomed over the vessel next along to starboard, and it gave me goosebumps to think that we were a stone's throw away from a seat of power that recognised no Tethys law at all.

    The pub wasn't particularly crowded, which was, as I know now, a blessing: smoking is unheard-of in Tethys, but it's pretty popular outside the city, and when a pub's chairs start to fill up with people its air soon fills up with smoke alongside them. I handed over one of my pieces of metal to a surly publican for a cracked mug of something that purported to be grog but which tasted rather more like ships' fuel than rum, and took a seat at a table by the least-stained window. Edie, who seemed not to like this place for some reason, fluttered into my lap and stayed there, keeping a suspicious eye on the room at large.

    “Well,” said Archie, dropping into the chair opposite me, “my sense of smell's not what it was, but Christ alive, Avice, that does not smell good.”

    I wiped the rim of the mug with my sleeve, sipped, and winced.

    “Tastes pretty much the same as it smells,” I admitted. “Have you thought of anything?”

    “Nope,” he said. “I mean, it'd be worth asking around in a place like this – sees a lot of traffic, I'm guessing – but you'd need to know what to ask, first. Can't just go around asking people if they know how to bind Kyogre or lower the sea levels.”

    “I guess not.” I scratched Edie's head distractedly. It was becoming increasingly clear to me that this was going to be even more difficult than I'd thought. Not that I'd thought it wouldn't be difficult, but I'd hoped we would at least have been able to find a way to get started. “So … what's the question?”

    Archie shrugged, raising his palms to the ceiling.

    “Your guess is as good as mine. I guess what we want is a library or something, somewhere we can look for knowledge, but the kind of information we're after is mostly gone these days.” His face was expressionless. “Probably for the best, given what I did with it. But it'd be good if we could get our hands on some of it now.”

    “Well, do you know any libraries?” I asked. He sighed.

    “No,” he said. “Not reall―”

    “Got a minute?” interrupted someone, and I looked up to see a woman about ten years my senior standing by the table. She wore a curved sword on one hip and a gun across her chest, and had woven blue threads into her hair: definitely a pirate, I thought. At her side padded a huge old arcanine, its stripes faded and its mane silvered with age.

    “What is it?” I asked, suspicious.

    She pointed to the silver token hanging from my neck.

    “Where did you get that?”

    I frowned, and Edie stiffened beneath my fingers, humming faintly as she charged her energies. Hopefully it wouldn't come to a fight – I had little confidence in either of us when it came to defending ourselves – but it was some comfort all the same to know that she was ready.

    “What's it to you?”

    The woman was quiet for a moment, narrowing her eyes.

    “Red hair,” she said, half to herself. “And about the right age …” She took a breath, fingers tapping nervously on her belt. “Strange question,” she went on, “but was your mother the captain of the vessel Sea-Goblin?”

    And now, dear reader, it's time I turned away from my story for a moment, and made good on a promise I made back in the first chapter. I said that I'd talk about pirates and librarians, and then I only said anything about librarians – well, now we're going to even the score. Let's go back again, twenty-one years and more, and I will tell you the story of my mother, the pirate captain Siobhan Niamh dol' Sea-Goblin.
     
    Last edited: Jun 10, 2015
  3. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine Gone. Not coming back.

    Of her early life I know very very little, and to be honest I'm not sure that anyone knows much more. I assume she was born at Jonah's Respite, where whatever corsair-queen or buccaneer-lord has currently seized power keeps their piratical court, but of course she might have been born at sea. Some pirates are, though I'm told it's not considered good luck. If you start your life with your feet on solid ground, the pirates say, it increases your chances of ending it the same way, and not killed in a sea-battle. I suppose it doesn't matter. My mother took the gentilic of her ship, and if she died it was at sea. That's all I know.

    What I know of her starts with the duel in the Tethys Library. As you know, she escaped the city in disguise, and by hook and by crook she clawed her way halfway across the ocean and back to the Sea-Goblin – but not before a stop in Old Town, where, in the floating market, a ragged urchin tried to pick her pocket and was seized by the ear for her trouble. I think perhaps my mother made a point of befriending people by fighting them, because after a brief scuffle in which the urchin and her growlithe tried and failed to set my mother on fire, she lowered her fists and gave her a piece of silver.

    “You know,” said my mother, “I'm thinking my ship's gonna need a few more crew members after that fight. And there's more to be said for being a cabin girl than a pickpocket.” She grinned – that same grin that made my father's blood roar, a grin which, in some deep recess of my mind, I almost think I can remember. But perhaps I'm imagining it. Memory and fiction have an uncanny habit of mingling like that in the back of your head.

    To the point: the urchin stared, considered, and said nothing. Perhaps she suspected a trick. But whatever she thought then, I know for a fact that when my mother left port for Jonah's Respite that night, it was not alone. She had a cabin girl, and a new ship's mascot, in tow.

    Do you remember when I said that everyone has something wrong with them – some problem, some flaw, that affects everything they do? My mother's problem was the Red King, and it started on that trip. Three days out of port, the King made his first appearance in her life, and from that moment forth, they were deadly enemies. Red, you see, was my mother's signature: her hair, by all accounts, was red, curly and voluminous, and she wore as a sash a strip torn from the Tethys uniform she'd disguised herself in for the rest of her life. It was a joke, in part – what pirate wears red? – but it was a badge, too. She'd fought in the Battle for Tethys, and come out not only unscathed but pregnant. Pirate or not, that's the sort of feat that commands respect. It takes a certain guts to conceive a child on the battlefield itself.

    So when the King appeared, surging up out of whatever submarine trench he had been hiding in for all those years and into history, she felt an immediate connection. It's not unusual for a deep-sea gyarados to reach such an immense size – lots of things turn out gigantic at the bottom of the ocean, after all. But what was unusual – what was, in fact, entirely unheard-of – was the fact that instead of blue or grey, the Red King was a deep, rich scarlet.

    The old pokédex says that this isn't impossible. Apparently, one in every thousand magikarp or so is born with golden scales, and although these magikarp don't usually survive – stand out in the crowd and you get noticed by predators, I suppose – they do gradually darken to the standard magikarp red if they manage to mature into gyarados. One reportedly went on a rampage in the north of a place called Johto in 1999, if that name and date means anything to you. (It means very little to me, even now that Maxie has explained it.) You have to wonder how the King survived. Did he hide down there in the dark until he was bigger? How did he ever hunt anything, being so visible?

    At least, I have to wonder how he survived. My mother, when he came out of nowhere and tore off the side of the ship, was a lot more concerned about killing him. While most people were rushing to the escape capsules and the lifeboats, she had to be dragged off by the urchin she'd recruited; she couldn't take her eyes off the great hump of red scales cruising alongside the doomed vessel. It took a bite on the calf from the growlithe to get her attention, and even then she looked back as she ran – looked back, and saw the Red King's enormous head rising above the waves, his great dark eyes staring straight into hers.

    I can hear your objections already, dear reader. Doesn't this all sound rather familiar? Isn't this just the story of Aranea seeing the eyes of the dragonair behind the ventilation grille, only now it's set on a sinking ship and the sea serpent is seen over a ship's railing instead? Yes, it's occurred to me too. What are the odds that all of the mother figures in my life were undone by an obsession with serpentine dragons? Aunt Aranea and her dragonair, Captain Siobhan and her gyarados, Ziz-L― but we'll get to the third one later, when the time is right. Two is enough for now – and unlikely enough anyway without complicating matters. I have no defence, either. I can only fall back on my old excuse, and say again that life is absurd. If you try too hard to connect the dots and make something out of mere coincidence, you end up like the scholar from Semmerva of Iron who managed to prove to himself that the head authorities of every major settlement were possessed by gengar who secretly controlled the world, and no one wants that. (He was, if I remember the story right, cut in half by a bodyguard gallade during an attempt to plant a bomb at a mayors' convention.)

    So, enough of that. We'll try to believe in it – both of us together, because of course I wasn't there to witness this – and move on. My mother and the urchin, whose name she didn't learn until they actually managed to get to the ship, drifted for a while with seven others in a lifeboat; eventually they were rescued by a passing freighter, and from there it took her just two more weeks to get back to Jonah's Respite. Throughout that time, she hardly spoke. For one thing, she was starting to realise she might be pregnant, which was worrying. And, on top of that, she had the seeds of an obsession growing within her. In the King's eyes had been a challenge: I am a dragon. What knight will test their arm against me?

    Actually, it was probably a bit less fairy-tale than that. My mother knew a few old stories, of course, but she was a pirate first and foremost. You'll have to forgive me. I've been doing a lot of reading, and it looks like it's leaving a mark. Kind of unnerving to think about, isn't it? You read something, and you can never write the same way you did before, ever again. Or maybe you can, when you're older and more settled. But right now, I'm still figuring this out. They say you're never as confident that you know what's what as when you're my age, but is that so? I know I make a lot of sweeping statements – about aunts, about librarians, about life – but you must have noticed by now, as I have, that the stories that follow don't always prove the statements true.

    I think I'll need to talk about that with the ghosts. Some things are easier to work out in the company of others.

    Anyway, back to my mother: at the pirate capital, all was chaos. The defeat at the Battle for Tethys, and the death of Beatrice the Shark, had left most of the factions weakened and all of them out for supremacy, and I hear there were actually minor battles in the corridors beneath Jonah's Respite. Not to be deterred, my mother and her new charge made their inquiries, found that the Sea-Goblin was in fact currently in town, and got back to the ship with the minimum of bloodshed.

    The old crew were overjoyed – and amazed – to see my mother again, though as she'd feared, they were sadly depleted. With the current state of Jonah's Respite, too, it didn't look like they'd be picking up many new sailors for a while; the reason they had returned was to attempt to recruit, and to review the situation so they could work out who to follow now that the Shark was gone, but they hadn't made much progress in either direction. Pirate activity was almost at a standstill, and only the unaffiliated vessels, sworn to no lord, were doing business at the moment. No one wanted to sign up aboard a third-class cruiser that had lost every single one of its officers in the Battle for Tethys.

    Now, however, my mother was back, and she took over as captain readily enough. They weren't going to hang around here waiting for things to get better, she told the crew. There was a sea-monster on the loose, and they were going to kill it.

    Part of the reason that this idea was greeted with such enthusiasm was that it was something to do other than sit around and fret, but there was more to it than that. The calling of the monster hunter is well respected, even in Tethys – do you remember, I mentioned several days ago that Moll was once excited to go and see one? Whether you have pokémon with you or not, it takes guts and favour of the gods to go out hunting great terrible beasts of the ocean, and those who bag something spectacular or famous (preferably both) are guaranteed a hero's welcome when they bring their trophies back to port. Monster hunters never have to buy their own drinks, and the bones and hides of their quarry are always in demand in the settlements. If you were thinking of taking a break from piracy until things were more settled, you could do a lot worse.

    So they cast off and set out in search of the King – because of course nothing else interested my mother. The urchin proved herself a capable recruit, and her growlithe became a favourite with the crew, to the extent that it rapidly grew quite fat with illicit treats and my mother had to clamp down on such things. They sought out survivors from the wrecked ferry, and followed up on rumours of a gigantic red gyarados that attacked vessels as though it had a personal grudge against them. And they took on others, too: heading south, they brought down a ferocious dragalge that had claimed the lives of several fishermen in the kelp forests near the Hollow; they slew a lanturn that had contracted the frenzy and grown huge and violent near a nameless rock-village in the South Sea; they even brought down a rogue steelix that kept attacking pods near the Surface-Scraper, though it was a close thing: if the giant serpent had not at some point accidentally swallowed a fire stone with a mouthful of seabed, the urchin's growlithe would never have evolved to melt its iron brain, and the Sea-Goblin would have been crunched up in its jaws like so much sand.

    But no matter what they did, the King remained one step ahead. At the Hollow, he'd been seen heading south; at the little rock, he'd been seen going towards the Surface-Scraper; at the Surface-Scraper, he'd been seen heading east into open ocean.

    You'll have noticed by now, if you know the geography, that that would have brought the crew of the Sea-Goblin into strange waters, close to the place in the southeast where cartography becomes as much guesswork as science. I was told they saw things for which they had no name – giant birds flying overhead, big as escape pods, their feathers a striking pattern of red, white and blue; a singing cloud of dust and mist that raced over the surface of the ocean, a dark shape at its core; coal-black wailord, smaller and sleeker than the kind we know, and with long toothed jaws instead of baleen.
    And there they finally saw him: a hummock of red moving like a bloody island out to the east.

    To this day no one knows where the Red King was going. The Cathedral, perhaps, if it exists – the place where, in the legends, the most powerful trainers of Hoenn gathered to test their strength against one another. Maybe the King had his own ghosts, too; maybe he was drawn to the glory of the past. No one knows, because he never got there. Because my mother got to him first.

    Here I have to admit that she was not entirely honest with us. That letter she sent to my father? Not quite true. She was likely to prove a poor mother, given her quest; and a pirate ship was a bad place to raise a child – but she would have kept me all the same, had she been able to. She wrote that letter the day the King was first sighted, and gave birth the following morning by what the urchin would later swear was an effort of will. It was as if she wanted to get all her business out of the way now, so that she would be free to get after the King. Perhaps that's true. Certainly she must have been kept from her work a lot in the later stages of her pregnancy, and it must have annoyed her: a captain who's stuck in her cabin isn't much use to the crew.

    However it was, she bore me and put her god-token in my hand, and the Sea-Goblin chased the King east for a long week, harassing him with harpoons and fire-spears. They couldn't work out why he wouldn't stop – he'd never shown any disinclination to fight with vessels before. But he kept swimming, apparently without tiring, and they began to worry that the ship would run out of fuel before he'd run out of energy.

    On the last day before the Sea-Goblin would have had to turn back, my mother called a halt to the chase.

    “All right,” she said. “It's time you went back.”

    That was it, of course: time you went back. She gave me to the urchin – who I should really stop calling 'the urchin' and start calling Ulixa dol' Old Town, which was the name with which she introduced herself to me in that pub in Cormac's Mourn – and asked her to promise she'd get me back to Tethys with the letter, the guns and the token. Ulixa didn't want to – she, like so many people my mother met, had become utterly devoted to her in the course of the time they'd spent together – but because she was so devoted, she couldn't say no. Nor could the crew, though they were loath to lose their captain. There was just enough fuel to take them back to the Surface-Scraper, and they had a hold full of valuable hunting trophies, including a diamond the size of a penguin's egg from the steelix. This was the richest and the happiest they had ever been, and it was all down to her leadership; they would have followed her to hell and back. But again, because of that, they agreed, and as the Sea-Goblin turned around, it left one of its lifeboats behind.

    Ulixa was watching, holding me with one arm and the great shaggy mane of her arcanine with the other, and she saw that as soon as the boat left the shadow of the ship, the Red King stopped swimming and turned around.

    Well? his eyes seemed to ask. Is it time, then?

    What happened next, you might want to know – and I did too. But Ulixa shook her head. No one knows what happened next. They had fitted the lifeboat with harpoons and even a pair of torpedo tubes, but by the time my mother had got close enough to the King to think about using them, the Sea-Goblin was already much too distant to see anything. Oh, the crew did come back later – but they never could find the place again. One point in open ocean looks a lot like another.

    What I can tell you now, though, is that there is a kadabra colony in the distant east whose god-idol is a fish skull as big as a house, and that on the inside its jaws are scorched black, as if something exploded inside them.

    Perhaps it's nothing. I'm not even sure how to identify a gyarados skull, really. But perhaps – and this is the perhaps I choose to believe, regardless of truth – perhaps one of those torpedoes hit its mark after all.

    And if so, perhaps my mother is still out there. After all, anyone who knew her will tell you that being stranded in foreign waters without supplies was nowhere near enough to stop her.




    So spoke Ulixa, sitting opposite me across that table. (She had taken Archie's seat while he was still in it, which had been distracting for me and extremely irritating for him.) It had been over an hour since I first arrived at the pub, but I barely noticed. This was the woman who'd delivered me to Tethys – indeed, whom my mother had sort of adopted. She was practically family, and, more than that, she was everything I had always expected a pirate of my mother's crew to be: tough, well-travelled, a seer and doer of marvels. When I think of what the kadabra called me, it always brings her to mind. I don't know what will become of me in later life – it's the same problem as Aranea had, only bigger: what do you do next if you restore the world's landmasses at twenty-one? – but, well, I still have a ship, for the time being at least. I could do a lot worse than follow in Ulixa's footsteps.

    “I thought,” she said, finishing her drink, “that you'd leave Tethys one day. Couldn't imagine that a place like that could hold my Captain's kid forever. I got to say, I didn't quite expect you to leave so … young.”

    Her eyes were questioning. She'd told me my mother's story – and, sort of, her own life story; let's not forget that the story I just told isn't just a footnote to my own, but part of a tale as big and complex as anything I'm writing – and I knew it to be true. By anyone's rules, I owed her my history in return.

    I shrugged.

    “I have a task I need to perform,” I said, watching Edie as she fluttered timidly around Ulixa's enormous arcanine, lying by its mistress' feet. She had got bored and left my lap partway through Ulixa's story, but I'd kept an eye on her; though the arcanine seemed pretty placid in its old age, I wasn't sure I quite trusted it not to snap at her. Quite what I thought I'd do if it did, I have no idea. “Or actually,” I amended, “it's more of a quest, I guess.”

    Ulixa raised an eyebrow.

    “A quest?”

    “Go on,” said Archie, who had so far been keeping quiet. He didn't know about my mother yet, but he'd been able to see that this meeting was something rare and precious for me, and had wisely stayed out of it. “Might as well ask her. Sounds like she's seen a thing or two in her time.”

    I took a deep breath, suddenly realising what it must have felt like for Aranea whenever she started telling people about destiny. Hopefully Ulixa would take me seriously.

    “I'm trying to bring back the land …”

    It took another hour to get everything straightened out, by which time the pub was fuller, the air was smokier, and Edie and the arcanine were the best of friends. (She was happily making a nest in its mane. It, for its part, had closed its eyes and let its tongue loll out between its fangs, which was the most it had moved since it sat down.)

    “Well,” said Ulixa, fortifying herself with a gulp of her second drink, “if I had any doubts 'bout you bein' your mother's daughter, they're gone now.” She grinned, exposing teeth yellower and more crooked than any I'd seen before. Dental care, I imagined, was fairly rough and ready outside Tethys. “You'll put us all out of business,” she said. “Pirates, that is. And I doubt Tethys will be too happy, either.” She glanced out of the window at the drizzle. “But it's been rainin' five hundred years, and that's long enough for anyone.”

    “You'll help?” I asked.

    “Not sure if I can,” she said. “You've got a ship, and people to look out for you”– here she looked with uncanny precision at the wall against which Archie was leaning – “and I'm in the middle of somethin' myself, somethin' I can't drop, else a few people might be gettin' killed. And I don't know nothin' 'bout ancient mysteries, either.” She grimaced. “Your mother would have an idea,” she said, after a moment. “She always did.”

    There was a short pause, during which the two of us thought about her and Archie looked incredibly uncomfortable.

    “I mean, I owe it to her, and you as her kid, right, to lend a hand. But I just don't see that I can.” She clicked her tongue. “Listen, if―”

    “What in all blood is goin' on out there?” someone said, loudly, and suddenly I became aware that the pub was in a state of turmoil, people jumping out of their chairs and crowding towards the door. I glanced out of the window and saw that the deck outside was, strangely, in shadow – and a moment later I saw something swoop low overhead, taking the shadow with it.

    “They're going to land!” yelled someone, and now Ulixa and I were on our feet too, joining the crowd as they moved for the exit, because we too had realised who and what it must be that was coming to Cormac's Mourn.

    “Edie!” I cried. “Here!”

    She was way ahead of me, darting back to the safety of my arms before anyone could squash her; beneath her, Ulixa's arcanine shook itself out and climbed slowly to its feet. It was probably the only creature in the room that wasn't excited – besides the lice, that is.

    “Well now,” said Archie, snapping his fingers. “Reckon we've got ourselves a lead, lass.”

    We reached the door at last, Ulixa's arcanine clearing a path with a few well-timed flashes of its teeth, and burst out into the rain just in time to see the bulk of the animal come down on the roof of the next ship with an impact that made the whole vessel dip and sway dramatically. Everyone was rapt – and I mean everyone; even the most cynical old seadogs stared openly with the rest of us. It's not every day you see a dragonite.

    It must have weighed well over half a tonne. I have no idea how it managed to fly – probably much the same way as a dragonair flies, by slithering through the air. Tide! The wings might just be for show for all I know. I could look it up, but I won't. Some mysteries are too beautiful to solve.

    The dragonite swept its huge blunt head around to face us, yawned impressively, and turned back to look at whoever was watching it from the other side. From its back, a little figure slipped down to the roof, dressed in shades of grey and a dark cloak that turned the rain aside like oilcloth. This figure spared us a look and a wave, and then




    Forgive the break.

    Several things have happened in the ninety-odd minutes since I stopped writing, and, well, I don't really know where to start. I mean – what do I mean?

    No, that won't do. Let's try again:

    I've just realised who the figure was.

    That was the first thing. I was just writing that sentence down, and as I spoke the memory rose in my head, as clear and crisp as if it were just an hour ago, and all at once I realised what was so weirdly familiar about that wave, and about the profile of that face.

    I know I could be wrong – it was a long way off, and it was raining, and I was wearing sunglasses – and yet, I can't shake the feeling that …

    Well, that that was Aranea.

    And while I was sitting here, gaping vacantly at the page in shock, Maxie came in with a look of concern on his face.

    “Did you say you'd seen a murkrow earlier?” he asked. He was very particular about it. Was I sure it was a murkrow that had been perched up on the conning tower? Not any other sort of bird pokémon? After a moment or two I was in a fit state to answer him, and was able to say yes, at which point he frowned deeply and said I'd better come with him.

    So I followed him up on deck and saw the honchkrow sitting on top of the bridge, calmly rearranging the white feathers of its throat as if this were the most natural perch imaginable for an extinct land bird.

    “So,” said Maxie. “You can see why I was, er … a little concerned.”

    That was the second thing. The third was that, when it saw me, the honchkrow looked down and cackled at me – and then, with what I was even more sure this time was a wink, it kicked off into the sky and soared up and away on broad, black wings.

    And now you see why it's taken me so long to get back to writing. That would be quite a lot even for a whole weak, and to have it all in one day, much of it in one hour, is pretty overwhelming. Is it connected? I don't know. Aranea probably isn't linked to corvid pokémon, is she? No, she can't be. And those pokémon: were they the same creature? Has that murkrow I saw this morning somehow evolved? Or have honchkrow, like murkrow, just decided to pick this day to reappear in the world?

    I don't know. I've asked them again to keep a lookout for land, and now everyone's taking the suggestion a lot more seriously. If I see a murkrow, I might be mistaken – but not Maxie. He double-checks everything. And a honchkrow, this far from land … but where did it get the dusk stone?

    And to think I saw Aranea, for a moment, and never recognised her. I should have known it was her. I should have called out her name – or my name – anything that would have told her that someone was here who knew her. But, no, no, I couldn't have recognised her. It was a long way off, and it was raining, and I was wearing sunglasses. I refuse to feel bad about it. In fact, I should be celebrating! Proof – OK, tenuous proof, proof that really wouldn't stand up in a court of law (believe me, I know, I'm semi-qualified), but still proof that Aranea is alive! Better than alive, even: she's a ziz-lady. Was that what Tooth wanted of her? Was she too good to be wasted on us in Tethys? I can believe that. She was – is – pretty drowned good.

    I'm rambling, aren't I? Let's get back on track. Sip of cocoa – fresh nib – right, OK, I'm settled.

    The ziz-lady – Aranea – waved briefly, and then disappeared behind the bulk of the ship. We in the crowd waited for a long moment, expectant; less than a minute later, she climbed back up, something long and dark under her arm, and mounted her dragonite once more. It reared, bellowed – they don't sound like reptiles, not at all; more like musical klaxons – and thrust itself into the air with such force that the ship beneath it bucked, tugging on the ropes and making our own vessel unsteady. For something so large, the dragonite moved with uncanny grace. You couldn't quite follow how it flew with your eye: it seemed to move much faster than its wingbeats allowed.

    And then it was gone again, whatever mission its rider had been on complete, and the crowd began to disperse, chattering excitedly. Only then did I realise that we had been standing there in complete silence ever since the dragonite landed.

    Ulixa turned to me, grinning.

    There's your lead,” she said triumphantly, at the same time as Archie cried:

    “Those caves, right – up in the mountains! That was it, wasn't it.”

    I looked from one to the other, blinking helplessly.

    “One at a time,” I said. “Sorry. Uh – you mean – oh!

    I'd got it. Who else could I have asked? The ziz-lords were an ancient people, who could trace their lineage with minute accuracy not only to before our world but back, some said, to the beginning of the old world, too. Not even the making over had been enough to destroy their knowledge, for people said they lived where not even Tide could reach: in the heavens, in the ziz-marches on the tops of the clouds. People tried to go there sometimes, to see if it was true, but only a few pokémon were tough enough to fly close to the boiling grey clouds, and even fewer were capable of taking a human there safely. Those explorers who reached the clouds usually vanished – or returned months later, half dead, with barely enough strength to say that they hadn't been able to reach the other side.

    “Right,” said Ulixa, reading the look on my face. “Find yourself a ziz-lord, and you've found the experts you're after.” She glanced up at where the dragonite had been. “Your first time seein' one?” she asked. “They come down from time to time. People say most of it's just, what d'ye call it, diplomacy, keepin' in touch with who's in power in the settlements, but I'm sure they got other missions, too.”

    I'm sure they do too, though I can't say I know what they might be. What missions does Aranea fly these days? What― 'sflukes, I'm sorry, I've gone off about her again. Maybe I should wrap things up for today, I can't concentrate at all. All of this really demands to be thought over properly. I'll just be brief, then, and try to round this bit off a little.

    “Not sure how you'd go about findin' one, though,” Ulixa added. “No way I know of predictin' where they'll show up next.”

    I could feel my face falling. Edie pecked consolingly at my cheek, but it failed to raise my spirits. Ulixa was right. How could we hope to find a ziz-lord? They came and went at random, changeable as the wind. The whole reason that Aranea's visit had caused such chaos here was that they were so rarely seen.

    “Don't give up just yet, lass,” said Archie, clapping me on the shoulder. “Might be a wee bit difficult to get hold of, but we've got an advantage.”

    I looked up at him.

    “We do?”

    “What?” asked Ulixa, confused.

    “We do,” affirmed Archie, and his face broke into a broad grin. “Because I know where we'll find them.”

    I stared at him, and Ulixa stared at me, and in all probability passers-by were staring at the lot of us, standing there and talking in the rain as if we were indoors by a warm radiator. After all the surprises of the day, this last one seemed almost too much.

    Let's leave me there, caught between coincidences, surrounded by women out of my past and a man who can take me towards my future. I'm sorry. I meant to deal more fully with this, but look at these last few paragraphs! They're just awful. Clearly I'm far too distracted right now to get anything down properly on paper. I may have to come back and rewrite them tomorrow. For now, dear reader, please accept my apologies, and my promise to be back and better focused in the morning.
     
  4. Sike Saner

    Sike Saner Peace to the Mountain

    I think this is the fastest a chapter has ever made me super enthusiastic to learn the species of someone.

    Camerupt just got at least 30% cooler.

    It was absolutely a luvdisc.

    ...Yeah, actually. Thanks Avice; I needed that.

    Now there's an image. Gotta love sentient silly putty.

    Well that's awesome.

    It was absolutely the drowning music from the old school Sonic games and you will have a very hard time convincing me otherwise.

    Awww...

    Pffff oh dear. I can just imagine him making faces all the while.

    Hmm, well that could explain why they're so tiny and adorable. Of course now here I am imagining the wings used mainly for body language, flared or flapped or rustled as the dragon's mood dictates. Maybe sometimes they crane their necks and make a show out of preening the things (or whatever the equivalent is when there aren't feathers involved), and that means something or another that only those of their kind really get.
     
  5. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine Gone. Not coming back.

    That's an achievement. I'll take that.

    I have to admit, I was in part trying to think of a justification for why Team Magma outfitted the submarine to look like a camerupt in Omega Ruby. I thought it might come off as ridiculous ( ... like the submarine in Omega Ruby), so I'm pleased it didn't.

    Probably!

    Something I like about writing Avice is that she's clearly quite sharp and analytical, and from the perspective of others that probably makes her seem smart and bold; from within her, however, it seems like she watches and analyses more out of anxiety than anything else, and it's nice to be able to play with those two perspectives and the way in which they merge in her writing. The bit you quoted, I guess, performs a similar sort of magic trick: bravery out of fear, calm out of terror. I'm glad it resonated.

    One of the most fun parts of this story has been thinking about how pokémon might adapt to the new world. I mean, given the whole superpowers/magical transformation thing they've got going, I assumed a lot of them would make it, so the tricky part was justifying it in a way that hid how unlikely it seemed. If your immediate thought was 'that's awesome' rather than 'how can a steelix swim, surely its vast weight would make it sink and then drown, unable to return to the surface', then I've done it right.

    I wasn't sure what the music was when I wrote it, but now that you've mentioned it you are absolutely right, how could it be anything else. I remember as a child I was terrified of that pink water in Chemical Plant Zone. Man, at some point I've got to make it canon that all the snatches of music Edie plays are sampled from old Sega Mega Drive games.

    Perhaps! I mean, it seems like dragonair can canonically fly without wings, so I'm not sure why dragonite would need them, assuming it doesn't lose any powers when it evolves. They do seem a bit on the decorative side, so perhaps they're for thermoregulation, display, or something else entirely that only dragon-types and their keepers really get. Maybe I'll expand on that in the next chapter. In the place where Avice is going next, well. Here be dragons.
     
    Last edited: Jun 12, 2015
  6. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine Gone. Not coming back.

    NINE: THE LONG SHADOW OF THE DEAD

    In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
    A stately pleasure-dome decree:
    Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
    Through caverns measureless to man
    Down to a sunless sea.

    ―Samuel Taylor Coleridge, 'Kubla Khan'


    I'll get straight to the point: this morning we were visited again. Not by an extinct animal this time, for whatever that's worth. Today's visitor is in fact common enough among the buildings of surface settlements. I'm told that taillow, and swallows more generally, have always been able to fly fast and far. Back when there were continents, some of them migrated across oceans to get from one to another.

    But still, you don't really expect to see one land on the railing out here in the middle of nowhere.

    We're somewhere northwest of the Shattered Temple, out in open ocean. It's conceivable, I guess, that the taillow could have been nesting on the Temple island, but that seems unlikely. Very little lives there. I mean, there are some creatures there, but I don't know if you could call them alive, strictly speaking. Ghost-type pokémon are odd like that. Even if the taillow did live there, anyway, they would probably have killed it by now. Many of those ghosts still remember when the Temple had a whole sacred mountain beneath it, full of graves to hide in and grief to feed on, and they're rather bitter about it.

    So, murkrow, honchkrow, taillow. I wonder if I'll see a swellow this afternoon? By this point, honestly, I'm not sure it'd come as much of a surprise.

    Anyway. Back to the story. We didn't spend much longer in Cormac's Mourn. Ulixa had her own ship to get back to – she'd only been visiting the pub for a last drink; it was pure coincidence that she'd met me, and her crew were in fact getting worried about her by then – and I had ziz-lords to hunt down. She made me promise to look her up if I needed anything, but added I should probably give it a few weeks, 'since I might have accidentally started a turf war last Wednesday and I should probably sort that out first.'

    It was not until after we had said goodbye and I was halfway back to the markets that I realised that the last time she had seen me, she had probably thought I was a boy. And yet she had known who I was instantly, and said no more about the fact that she had turned out to be wrong.

    A pirate thing, I now know. Tethys is monolithic, but the pirates are irremediably plural. With members drawn from such diverse societies, most of them learn not to make too many assumptions. Most being the key word there – some of them don't, unfortunately, as I was to find out later through bitter experience.

    When we got back to the Museum, leading a small army of labourers bearing sacks and crates, I had Maxie open the loading bay and we brought the supplies down into an area partitioned off from the main hold; it didn't seem wise to reveal the treasure we had in store to people who might easily enough decide to sell its location to unscrupulous pirates. Once that was dealt with and I had had enough of heaving sacks of lentils to last me a lifetime, I sent the labourers on their way with some c. kites for their trouble and paid the docking fee.

    “I see you got everything you needed,” said Maxie, as we re-entered the bridge. “Did you have fun?”

    “Draconids!” cried Archie, striding over to the controls and hitting the release for the docking clamps with unnecessary force.

    “Pardon?”

    “Draconids, Maxie, the Draconids.” Archie stabbed a couple of buttons and turned to face him. “They live in Meteor Falls, remember?”

    Maxie blinked.

    “Are they still around?”

    “Oh, it'd take more than an apocalypse to wipe them out,” said Archie airily. “People call 'em ziz-lords now, but they're still the same thing. Dragon-type users – and keepers of lore.”

    “Uh – would you mind going back a bit there?” I asked. “You lost me right about the bit when you started speaking.”

    The ziz-lords, I was informed, really had been around before the making over. They lived under the mountains in the northwestern corner of Hoenn, in cave networks carved by the passage of subterranean rivers. Back then, they were known as the Draconids, and had been around, it was said, for thousands of years.

    “They kept a lot of knowledge about dragons, natural disasters, legendary pokémon, that kind of thing,” Archie explained. “I reckon they still do. Course, Meteor Falls is underwater now, but the caves seem safe. They still live in 'em, anyway.”

    “Have you been there?” asked Maxie.

    “I've been everywhere. More or less.” He hesitated. “Though I didn't go in, not there. Couldn't help but feel like I wouldn't be welcome.”

    “How do you know they're still there, then?” I asked.

    “I saw three people riding altaria out of a cave mouth,” he replied. “Thought that was pretty conclusive.”

    Let me spare you the trouble of wondering whether or not Archie was right. He was. All those stories about the ziz-lords are nonsense, of course: no one lives in the sky. Not nothing – some incredibly tough creatures do make the heights of the stratosphere their home – but no one. Some ziz-lords, it's true, can ride above the clouds. They're all keepers of dragon-types, and as everyone knows, a strong enough dragonite can fly through any weather, and altaria of all stripes have an affinity with clouds. But they don't live up there. The air's too thin, for one thing. And, maybe more obviously, you can't actually walk on a cloud, not even if you're a ziz-lord. They're still human, after all, no matter what legends have grown up around them.

    “That … does seem plausible,” I admitted, a thrill of excitement stirring in me. Cormac's Mourn was one thing – but the home of the ziz-lords was something else entirely. No outsider had ever set foot there, as far as I knew. I would be the very first in recorded history. “Hang on. Are they going to let us come in?”

    “Why wouldn't they?” asked Maxie. “There was never any trouble about people visiting Meteor Falls before. It was a nature reserve.”

    “No, no, Avice has a point,” said Archie. “Perhaps there's a reason they let people believe that they live above the clouds. Trying to keep people out, maybe.”

    “But why?” Maxie persisted. “I was led to believe that they were rather keen on virtues such as peace, openness, altruism, that sort of thing. It doesn't seem to me like they have much of a reason for secrecy.”

    “Maybe, maybe not,” I said. “No one knows what they're doing when they fly out on missions. Their philosophy might've changed.”

    Maxie sighed.

    “Fair enough. I suppose I probably am rather behind the times. Still. We can talk about this on the way. Am I the only one who's noticed that we haven't actually left yet?”

    He was, actually. Archie and I had been too caught up in speculation, and Edie had wandered off to see about fixing something or other. Observing the sheepish looks on our faces, he sighed, and sat down at the controls.

    “I suppose that will be my job, then,” he said, and began to ease the Museum away from the dock.




    It's quite a long way from Cormac's Mourn to the place they used to call Meteor Falls, and it's not a particularly interesting journey nowadays. What once were mountains are now only little islands, most of them not much more than seaworn pillars of rock. There are exceptions – Mt. Chimney being one – but by and large, the area north of Tethys is rather dull and not much inhabited. I wonder now whether that's because of the ziz-lords. Have they kept people away all this time, sending gyarados to harass ships and whipping up storms with dragonair and altaria to force them back to the south and the east? It's possible. Certainly we ran into a pretty impressive storm four days out of port, at around the time when it would have become clear to anyone watching that we weren't heading for any of the settlements. I'd like to imagine myself in the bridge, staring grimly out at lashing rain and vivid forks of lightning as the Museum struggled through the bucking waves, but, well. I have done that – just once, and only for a brief period of time before I lost my footing, fell over and cut my head open on the side of a desk – but I was nowhere near a good enough sailor to have done it back then. The storm raged for a full twelve hours, the whole of which time I spent in my cabin, periodically throwing up into a bucket.

    Archie and Maxie, on the other hand, could no longer get seasick, and anyway both were quite experienced sailors, each having owned the Museum in turn back when it was still the Alcmene. Somehow they kept us going through the storm while I hugged Edie and wished that I was back in bed at Tethys. There I might have to put up with the stresses of dormitory life, but at least the room didn't swing from side to side.

    We would have dived if we could, but the storm struck just as we were crossing a shallow strait between two islands – what must have been, I suppose, a narrow pass in the old days – and the sea simply wasn't deep enough to let us descend with any safety. Perhaps that's a point in favour of the storm being organised by the ziz-lords. It struck at the perfect moment to either wreck us or drive us away.

    Although, actually, if that had been the case, you would have thought they would have mentioned it when we got there. A 'sorry' would have been nice, but that would have been going too far; they weren't the friendliest bunch, other than when they served up those cakes. I would have settled for an acknowledgement – a 'you got past our storm!' or something – but we didn't even get that.

    And now I'm getting ahead of myself. Right. Back to the journey. After a time, the swaying and rolling died down, and Maxie knocked on the door.

    “Avice? Are you in there?”

    “I'm not sure,” I mumbled. “I might be dead.”

    There was a pause.

    “All right,” he said. “Well, the storm's clearing. Just to let you know.”

    “Great.”

    Another pause, and then the sound of retreating footsteps. I lay there feeling sorry for myself for a little while longer – not particularly attractive, I know, but come on, sometimes you need a bit of self-pity to keep you going – and then, after Edie had started to get restless, at last consented to get up.

    “Go on, then,” I said, resigned, as she slipped from my arms. “Go and – repair things, or whatever.”

    She zapped the door mechanism and it swung open for her. I followed her out a few minutes later, a bit ashamed (there had to have been things damaged by the storm; of course Edie should be allowed to go and fix them) and made my slow way back up to the bridge.

    “Hey, Avice,” said Archie. “You're up. How're you doing?”

    “I've been better. Where are we?”

    He pointed out of the window.

    “You can't see them right now,” he said. “But that's the edge of the – well, islands, I guess they are – which are over Meteor Falls.”

    I followed his finger dubiously. The storm might have been gone, but the rain was still falling harder than usual, and sky and sea seemed to have merged into one flat sheet of grey.

    “How do you know they're there, if you can't see them?” I asked. I couldn't see any landmarks at all, except for the slabs of black stone protruding from the water on either side of us. Don't get me wrong, those were impressive: they were the first solid ground I'd ever seen above water, having never thought to look back at the peak of Mt. Chimney when we left Tethys. But after Cormac's Mourn, the novelty of being above water had started to wear off, and I was more curious about the practicalities of navigation than about the simple fact of the stones' existence.

    “The charts say they're there,” Archie told me, indicating an electrical display screen. “And I remember coming this way. I think.” He hesitated. “I mean, I was walking along the seabed at the time, so things looked a bit different.”

    “Perhaps it would help you if we were to submerge and go along the bottom,” suggested Maxie acidly. He was, I think, a bit upset about how easily Archie had made himself my friend. It must have put quite an edge on his regret. I should have told him not to worry, that Archie was just a likeable kind of guy – but, oh, he knew that, I'm sure he did, and anyway how could I have spoken to him so kindly back then? It's not fair to wield hindsight against my past self like that. She was even younger than I am, and she was hurting. Time, and living in close proximity to Maxie, was starting to heal the rift between us, but still, I shouldn't pass judgement on her.

    “Actually,” said Archie, “you know what, it might.”

    He worked the controls and, with a series of clanks and hisses, the Museum began to descend.

    “That was a joke,” said Maxie, scowling.

    Archie considered this for a moment.

    “No,” he replied, “it was a pretty sensible suggestion, if you ask me. Now that we're out from between those mountains – islands – whatever – we can take the east end of Route 113 and go through Fallarbor. That's the route I took, and I think even you know it pretty well.”

    “I'm sure I do not. It's been quite some time since I last came this way.” Maxie glanced out of the window, as if he thought the route might jump out at him when his back was turned. “It must look very different.”

    “What's this?” I asked.

    “Fallarbor was a town up in the mountains here,” Archie told me. “Farming place. Fertile volcanic soil and all that.” He paused. “There was a guy had an observatory up here, too. He studied meteorites.”
    There was an uncomfortable silence, during which I mentally filed 'meteorites' away under both 'things to look up' and 'things to avoid talking to Archie and Maxie about'.

    “Professor Cozmo,” said Maxie at last. “You … yes, well.”

    Both of them were studiously avoiding looking at me. Had it just been Maxie, I might have pressed him for an answer; since it was Archie, too, I let it go. They wouldn't hide it forever, I knew.Everything had to come out in the end. They wanted absolution, and they had no one else to whom they could confess.

    A day later, we reached Fallarbor, and I feel I have to spend some time on that. Cradled among the roots of the islands, walled in by stone on every side, it was well protected from the ravages of the currents, and many of the buildings were still at least half standing. We sailed towards it from the east, all the Museum's exterior lights switched on, and passed between silent houses choked with weed and black deep-sea corsola that twitched uneasily when the lamp beams passed over them.

    This was a street we were going down, I realised. Not a corridor, not a gangway, but a street. It was the first one I had ever seen. I would not see another for months.

    “Over there is the Pokémon Centre,” said Maxie, pointing off into the darkness on the right. A moment later the light passed over it and I saw a huge rust-stained cuboid in the momentary flash, its windows alive with waving fronds of kelp. “Trainers passing through the town would stay there. There were also medical facilities – for both trainers and their pokémon.” Another lamp lit up the Centre and this time I saw a great plastic sign shaped like a poké ball, half-buried in the silt in front of it. Little green fish and a startled chinchou retreated behind it as I watched.

    I twisted my lip, and at my side Edie made a series of unhappy grinding noises. There was something awful about it. The trainers' journey had been one of the foundations of the old world; everyone knew that. Here lay its last remains, rotting slowly in the abyssal gloom.

    “How did they do it?” I asked. “The trainers? Was it … safe?”

    For a long moment, there was only the distant hum of the motors.

    “It was a different time,” said Maxie, at length. “Different countries had different minimum ages, depending on how safe they judged it, but – well. It was not like it is now.”

    Archie, who had so far been steering silently, made a small involuntary noise. I looked around, but he did not look up from the controls.

    Some nameless creature, whether animal or pokémon I couldn't say, burst out from under the sand as the light hit it and skittered away to port, flailing its tail in panic. I followed it with my eyes, and glimpsed the shadow of a building topped with a stubby little domed tower.

    “What's that?” I asked.

    “I can't see,” said Maxie. “Wait one moment for the lights …”

    A moment later the building was illuminated, and a shoal of luvdisc exploded away from it in a nervous panic. They were the white kind, whose veins you can see through the skin like the veins of a bloodshot eye. Sailors call them broken hearts. At the time I wondered if there was any significance to that; now I'm sure there was.

    The building itself was much damaged. Most of the eastern half had collapsed, but the little tower and its dome had somehow clung on, held together by corroding metal and worn-out mortar. When he saw it, Maxie's red light seemed to dim for a moment, and he turned for a moment to look at Archie before he spoke.

    “Ah. Forgive me.” He took off his spectacles and rubbed his eyes. “I saw the building's ghost. Ahem. That – that was Professor Cozmo's house and observatory.”

    “Observatory?”

    “Oh,” said Maxie. “Of course, there's little to observe now, I suppose. An observatory is a place where people study space.”

    “Space?” I asked, puzzled. “Like, what … shapes or something?”

    His eyes widened.

    “Do you really not―? I mean outer space, Avice.”

    “She's never seen the stars,” said Archie suddenly. “Never seen the moon. Christ!”

    He fell silent again. I think he might have wished he'd chosen to take the surface, but then again, perhaps he felt that the punishment was due him. He always did seem to think that his afterlife was supposed to be some kind of hell.

    “Stars are jewels, right?” I asked. “Like the Star of Tethys.”

    “Only metaphorically speaking,” said Maxie unhappily. “Avice, what do you think is above the clouds?”

    I shrugged.

    “I don't know. They don't teach you that in Tethys. That's why I'm asking you.”

    “There is another ocean,” Maxie said. “Not of water, but of emptiness – no air, no light, just a void. That is space.”

    “And that's what this Cozmo studied?”

    “Yes. He took a particular interest in rocks that fall to earth out of space – having travelled here through it from other worlds.”

    “Other worlds … ?”

    “Like this one.” Maxie waved a hand. “Earth isn't alone in the world. There are other things like it – they're called planets – and other suns, too, which are called stars. And there is an, um, enormous rock that orbits this world, about one fifth its size, called the moon. Before Kyogre, you could see it at night, shining silver with the light it reflected from the sun.”

    I stared at Cozmo's observatory. It sounded unreal, but I didn't think Maxie was lying – and there was the gateway to this vast, strange other ocean, with its other worlds, lying in ruins at the bottom of the sea. Had he looked up with a telescope or something? Or were these worlds too far away for that? I pictured in my head the seabed beneath us being replaced by the clouds, and the black water by simple empty nothingness, and overhead a vast pageant of golden suns, the Museum sailing away between them to a silver globe untouched by the making over, waiting to be rediscovered …

    ♪, said Edie, jumping into my arms and pressing her head against my neck. I held her close and blinked back tears. How could we have swapped the old world for this?

    “I will find you some books,” said Maxie, hesitantly patting my arm. “The Museum will have something about space.”

    I didn't reply. I was looking at the observatory, and thinking of the other ocean.

    Fallarbor was never a large town, and the outskirts had not survived as well as the centre. Not long after we passed Cozmo's house, the buildings became less building-shaped and more like heaps of rubble, and after a while they disappeared altogether. The Museum chugged now over what we called deserts – though I've never seen a desert as they were known in the old days. Those were vast arid plains where no rain fell; the deserts of the deep ocean, however, are just open spaces devoid of life. Not a whole lot lives there, and the seabed twists away in sandy hummocks as far as the lights shine in any direction you care to look.

    “These were fields once,” said Maxie. “Some of the most fertile land in Hoenn.”

    The light gleamed on a fish skull lodged in the dirt, and he sighed.

    “How melodramatic,” he remarked, and turned away.

    Days passed. With some difficulty – it's hard to really get space when the sky itself is a relatively novel concept – I started in on the books Maxie found me about space, and discovered that craft had been built to sail that other ocean. There was a place where they launched these spaceships on an island called Mossdeep, sending sailors called astronauts out towards new worlds. These star-sailors (that's what the word means, you know, translated literally from the Oldspeak) had been to the moon, and found it a world of grey stone and gravelly fairy-type pokémon that slept under the surface, dead in everything except for their beating hearts. They had been to another world, too, just a few years before the making over: Mars, a red world, which appeared to have nothing living on it at all but did have rather nice sunsets.

    After all that, I wanted to visit this Mossdeep, especially when I found out that it was the place I knew as the Hollow – and I did go there in the end. Unfortunately, only the western half of Mossdeep escaped the rising water, and the space centre, as it was called, was on the eastern half. We'll get to what Edie and I saw there in good time, though, don't worry about that.

    Speaking of Edie, it was she who first seemed to sense that we were getting close to our destination. The Museum was back in good working order, although we'd had to stop to take on rocks for the synthesis machine to pulverise and convert into metal, and she spent a lot of time reorganising the exhibits down in the hold. I'd taken to sitting down there to read, which she, in her ever-helpful manner, took as a sign that she should move all the books into one part of the room and create a proper library, with all the tables and comfortable chairs that such a thing required. That, of course, meant that she had to move the rest of the exhibits around as well, to make space, and also that she had to find, repair or create bookshelves, and that she had to set up a proper indexing system by which to catalogue all the books … It went on, and while I read the Museum changed shape around me, Edie buzzing to and fro, humming electric melodies to herself as she worked.

    At first I was a little concerned by the amount of work she was taking on, but I never suggested she stop. Ordering was in her blood – or her code, I ought to say. She had once kept a computer network in good shape, and afterwards had been the curator of a museum; librarianship was nothing new to her, and nor was the actual mechanical labour of construction. Nothing pleased her so much as taking raw, jumbled material and sorting through it until, little by little and almost by accident, patterns emerged from it. It's a very human sort of instinct, I realise now – I suppose I shouldn't be surprised. She was made by humans, to carry out human projects. I expect as many patterns went into her creation as she's ever made herself.

    I'm getting off the subject. I meant to say that, a few days after we had left Fallarbor, and while I was still deeply absorbed in the idea of outer space, Edie's busyness seemed to tip over into agitation. She moved more abruptly. Sometimes she would leave the synthesis machine churning out lengths of plastic shelving, and then suddenly turn around and switch it to making pins to fasten them together. She dropped books while moving them, forgot where she had put things down, and once, in an uncharacteristic fit of pique, even carbonised part of a rug that happened to be in her way. After that, we all started to feel like we should probably intervene, and I took her aside that afternoon into my nook in the embryonic library.

    “Edie,” I asked gently, “what's the matter? You're being, um … sort of destructive.”

    She pondered for a moment, twitching, and then a curious little icon appeared above her head: a square, topped with a triangle, with something rectangular coming out of the top on one side. I was pretty used to Edie's odd little language by now, and could usually extract the meaning from the limited number of icons she had at her disposal – but this was a new one to me. Perhaps it had had greater currency back when computers weren't restricted to the control panels on synthesis machines.

    “Sorry,” I said, “I don't get it. Can I ask Archie and Maxie?”

    After a moment's consideration, she consented and we went up to the bridge, where you could usually find the two ghosts those days, and where just then they were playing cards and occasionally checking the instruments to make sure we weren't about to crash into anything.

    “Hail,” I said. “Uh – can I get some advice on a point of interpretation?”

    Maxie looked up, and Archie took the opportunity to inspect his cards.

    “Certainly,” replied Maxie. “What is it?”

    “You've noticed that Edie has been … agitated, right?”

    All eyes turned to her, and she shrank back against my leg.

    “Yeah,” said Archie. “Kind of hard not to notice.”

    “Well, I asked her about it, and she said this,” I said, motioning for Edie to repeat the symbol. “I mean, I can usually get these, but this time I just don't see it.”

    She emitted the icon again, and Maxie raised his eyebrows.

    “That's a house,” he said. “How – hm. My apologies. Of course you wouldn't have seen one before. Or at least, not in that state.”

    “Symbol for home, usually, with computers,” Archie expanded. “But why―”

    “Lanette,” said Maxie suddenly, and Edie jangled loudly.

    There was a sudden silence, and I raised my eyebrows.

    “What's that?” I asked.

    “She ran the box network here in Hoenn,” Maxie said. “And she lived not far from here.” He curled and uncurled his fingers. “So did the central servers for the network. Edie's … home. Or at least the main entrance to it.”

    Edie hummed, and emitted the house again.

    I bit my lip. I knew what it was like to miss home, and I'd only been gone a couple of weeks. Edie hadn't so much as seen hers for over half a millennium.

    “Archie,” I said. “You've been here before. Is there anything – left?”

    He shook his head.

    “Sorry, lass. I passed by on the way to Meteor Falls before. The house is gone.”

    A judder ran through Edie's form, her edges flickering and blurring. She flashed the house symbol once more. I crouched down to her level.

    “Edie,” I began, but she simply emitted the house again, this time bigger and darker – and flew out of the room.

    Silence followed. I straightened up.

    “Archie,” I said. “Is there anything left at all?”

    “Well―”

    Anything.”

    He sighed.

    “Fallarbor got lucky,” he said. “Not everything survives.”

    “That's why we have this place,” added Maxie, quietly. “That's why we are here, and why we are going where we are going.”

    I didn't want to listen, particularly – who wants reason when their friend is hurt? I was too angry – but it was difficult not to. Museum, Meteor Falls: the last bastions of history. Everything outside could all too easily be lost.

    “'Sflukes,” I muttered. Then, louder: “How close will we go to this house?”

    “It depends―”

    “Let me rephrase that. How close can we go to this house?”

    “It's not far out of our way,” said Archie. “We can get within a few hundred metres, though it's hard to tell exactly where it was.”

    “Take us there,” I instructed. “Is Edie waterproof?”

    There was another pause.

    “You're not thinking of going out to the house, are you?” asked Maxie. “That would really not be―”

    “Could you maybe answer my question?”

    “No,” said Archie. “You saw her in the rain. She's not built to handle full immersion or the pressure down here. She'd be destroyed, or at least corrupted.”

    “What about diving suits?” I asked. “You mentioned we had something―”

    “I'll go,” said Maxie, and we both stared. Archie nearly dropped his cards.

    “You will?” he asked.

    “Of course.” Maxie blinked owlishly. “Why wouldn't I? Avice is clearly not going to be swayed on this, and it would be far quicker and easier for me to go out there and investigate than to teach her how to use the – the suit.”

    Archie did drop his cards them, and in fumbling to pick them up he almost managed to disguise the sudden shake in his hands.

    “Aye,” he said. “I see what you mean. And anyway, perhaps it's for – well, you know – I wouldn't like to put another kid in – you know what I mean.”

    Maxie smiled, and it was a sympathetic smile, but it was utterly without humour.

    “I know exactly what you mean.”

    More references to something that had happened long before I or my world were even born. I would have been frustrated – why didn't they speak clearly? – but Maxie's offer had knocked the belligerence out of me.

    “You'll go?” I asked. “Really?”

    He smiled again, this time with something like warmth.

    “Avice, I do have a heart. You forget, I've lived with Edie for a very long time. I care too.”

    I felt vaguely ashamed then. There was more to Maxie than treachery, I remembered – and in a way, it was understandable; what could you expect a ghost to do, if not to repeat the mistakes of the past? What could you expect a prisoner in the Museum to do, if not to grow desperate and unbalanced? Yes, he had wounded me and nearly destroyed everything I loved. I couldn't forgive that lightly, and I was right to feel that way. But I do think that at that moment I had my first charitable thought towards him since the Red Chapel.

    “All right,” I said, irritated at my own sympathy for him. “Go on, then. I mean – no.” I took a breath. “Thank you,” I said. “It would mean a lot to both of us.”

    Maxie inclined his head.

    “I know,” he replied. “It's perfectly all right.”

    I nodded.

    “Thanks.” I glanced towards the door. “I'd better go tell her.”

    Edie was – well, not happy, but when I told her about Maxie's offer, she did seem to calm down. At least, she flickered out of the innards of the Museum's rear aft engine and stopped making it emit black smoke, and that seemed a promising sign. Though she was still twitchy, she didn't seem to break as many things, and the following day passed almost quietly. She even managed to assemble a bookshelf, although she wasn't quite up to installing any books on it.

    I have to wonder: is this proof that the ghosts are real? Did she know who I meant when I spoke about Archie? Or is it true that she could never see them at all, and that she simply had so much faith in me that she accepted I'd find out the truth for her somehow? It would almost be worse if it were the latter, I think. Not that that would be too much of a responsibility to bear – she's my pokémon, and I love her – but I'd hate to think that Edie places so much trust in someone so fallible.

    Anyway: eventually, the Museum came to a halt and Archie's voice came over the intercom to tell us that we were there, although the view from the window suggested that 'there' was just a patch of seabed like any other. We gathered at the airlock to see Maxie off, which in retrospect seems a bit odd – as if he were going on some long and dangerous journey. He can't have gone more than a couple of hundred yards from the Muesum, and nothing out there could possibly have harmed him.

    “I'll be back soon,” said Maxie. “I shouldn't worry. I think I'm rather past the point where I might worry about getting hurt.”

    Archie shrugged.

    “I dunno,” he said. “Ghost-types might be able to eat us.”

    “I suspect they'd find us rather bitter,” replied Maxie. “It takes a specialised palate to appreciate five hundred years of regret.”

    With that, he thumbed the button and the door came down to separate him from us. We returned to the big window in the bridge, and saw him standing in the beam of the lamps ahead of us. He waved, and I waved back. Edie stared intently.

    It was something marvellous, to see an actual human being – or something very similar – standing on the sea floor like that, as if it were land. Maxie seemed more unreal than ever, a shimmering picture projected onto a wall of water. I felt almost as if I could reach through the glass, through the pressure-solid water, through him and beyond; for one instant, the whole ocean seemed horrifyingly intangible, one vast ghost in which I was caught like a hapless fish in the eerie phosphorescence of a huntail's lure.

    Then Maxie turned away and stalked off over the sediment, and the moment passed. I raised my hand from Edie's back, half because she was growing warm with her excitement and partly because I'd suddenly been gripped by a strange feeling that I too might not be entirely solid, and I had to inspect my fingers to make sure they were still opaque.

    In a minute or two Maxie was half lost on the borders of the lights, a vaguely red smudge in the gloom, and then he was gone. The light that ghosts are made of doesn't radiate like the normal kind – it's rather like Edie on her lower brightness settings – and the dark swallowed him up as perfectly as if he were flesh and blood.

    Time passed, silently and awkwardly, and he returned. The inside of the airlock was slick with water when it opened, but he left no footprints when he stepped inside.

    “It's as Archie said,” he told us, in answer to the unspoken question. “Nothing around here at all.”

    I looked at Edie. Her eyes were already fixed on mine.

    “I'm sorry,” I said. “It looks like the house is gone.”

    For a long, long moment, she hung in midair, motionless. Then a speech bubble flashed REBOOTING over her head, and she twitched back into life. She looked up at me, confusion evident in her eyes, as if to ask why we were gathered out by the airlock.

    ?

    “Um,” I said, searching for something to say and not finding anything, “uh, well. Don't you remem―?”

    “She doesn't,” Archie cut in. “By her own choice.”

    I stared at him for a moment, half jealous and half horrified.

    “What, like―?”

    “Avice? Later.” Maxie laid a gentle hand on my arm. I didn't think to throw it off. “Go with Edie now.”

    So I did, telling her to never mind why we were there and did she want to play, and that was that. I don't think Edie erased the memory of her home entirely; it was more something along the lines of clearing her locational data for the last few days, forcing herself to forget that we were close to the place where the network hub had been. I'm still not sure how to judge that. How does a porygon's mind work? You might say it's a cowardly way out, to choose not to remember pain – but to tell the truth, I don't know if Edie was even able to comprehend what she felt. Maybe she blotted it out so that she could continue functioning. I can't imagine her manufacturers included in her the capacity to deal with grief. It seems strange that they even allowed her to feel it in the first place.

    I'm aware my judgement isn't impartial here. I have a horror of forgetting that goes far deeper than is reasonable – almost a phobia, really. Not my fault; I saw what civic amnesia did to Tethys, and that leaves a mark. Like I said, it's in my blood, a whole host of stories that I can't escape no matter how far I run. The story of what was lost is as much a part of me as the story of the Amazons, or of the librarian, or the pirate captain. But it does mean you can't trust me here. Thinking about Edie's solution still makes me tremble a little. I'm afraid that you, dear reader, will have to decide for yourself what you think about Edie and her deliberate act of petty oblivion.

    Looks like there's a mist closing in. What time is it? Two forty-one. I've been writing for what feels like forever. Time for a lunch break, I think. And maybe more of a break than that. All this has given me an urge to spend an hour or two playing with Edie.
     
  7. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine Gone. Not coming back.

    It's not far from what was once the network hub to Meteor Falls. I'm told it was further, long ago – but that was before the waters rose, and now you don't have to walk the long trail to the old entrance. There's an old cave high up on the eastern side of the rockface that you can sail into, and it links into a series of locks that will eventually take you into the great river of black water that runs through the centre of the caverns within. I'm not sure why the ziz-lords built it; I never saw any other ships while we were there. Maybe they receive more visitors by sea than anyone knows, or maybe they have vessels of their own, though I have to admit I don't really see why they'd need them, or where they'd keep them if they did.

    I almost didn't notice when we'd arrived. We had kept below the surface for a while, so that Archie could try to find the cave, and in the dark, surrounded by an endless procession of stones and seaweed-forested slopes, it was easy to lose track of where we were or how much time had passed. I still had that vague sense you have of which way is north – although maybe you don't have that; Archie and Maxie tell me that it wasn't universal in the old days as it is now, and perhaps it has faded again by the time you read this – but that was about it. At the time Archie announced we were there, all I was able to say of our location was that north had been behind the engines for several days.

    The view out of the window didn't give me much to go on, either. It was another rocky slope, pocked with the occasional outcrop of hardy sponges, and the cave was pretty much invisible if you didn't know what you were looking for. Only when the Museum turned and began to nose into it did I actually realise where it was: a great gap in the rock as if an enraged gyarados had burnt into it with a hyper beam.

    “Is this it?” I asked. “This is it, right? The way in?”

    “Yeah,” replied Archie, amused. “This is it, Avice.” He squinted into the dark beyond the reach of the forward lamps and motioned at Maxie. “Bring the external cameras online, wouldja? Can't see a bloody thing.”

    “Way ahead of you,” said Maxie – an uncharacteristic turn of phrase for him, and one that always makes me smile when it comes out of his mouth; he doesn't seem to have noticed, but he picked it up from me. “You're not using any of the left-hand screens, are you?”

    Electrical display screens flickered into life on the wall and control banks, and I left off peering into the dark to stare at a different marvel, live visual recordings of the cave walls as they passed us by. I'd seen far more spectacular recordings – these were an ugly grey-green and utterly without sound – but I was seeing these in real time, and somehow it had never occurred to me that that was possible. As I watched, the views panned about to show the sides of the Museum, some of which were dangerously close to the rock.

    “Stern's dangerously close to the starboard wall,” said Maxie, studying the display screens. “That turn was tight.”

    “Aye,” grunted Archie, and the Museum shifted minutely.

    “And down a touch,” Maxie went on. “Perfect. Onwards. Hold it – hold it – protrusion on the lower left – too far to the right – are you even looking at the radar? – fine, fine – down a bit …”

    This, as you can imagine, was incredibly tedious, and soon enough my excitement had faded into boredom. I thought it would be best not to interrupt either ghost to ask how long they thought it might take for us to actually get down this passage, since they were both so deep in concentration, so I retreated to the desk – this desk – in my quarters, where I could continue to read interesting things about space without sacrificing a view of the outside world. (There are no windows down in the Museum proper, in the hold.) After a while, I was joined by Edie, who was interested in the equations in the back of one of my books and spent an hour or so happily doing complicated maths in the corner and occasionally chirping a few bars of music.

    At length, the cave terminated in a huge door of galvanised steel – the entrance to the locks, I assumed – and as it came into view, I went back up to the bridge, where a voice I'd never heard before was speaking out of thin air.

    “Hello? Hello?” it was saying, using the same archaic greeting as Archie and Maxie. “Is anyone there? We can see you have cameras. You must have radio too.”

    I looked at Archie.

    “What's that?” I asked.

    “Radio transmission,” he answered. “Like … uh, a live audio recording, transmitted by a kind of invisible light from them to us.” He passed me a piece of metal on a cord. “Would you speak to him, please? We tried, but he can't hear us.”

    My head still spinning from the revelation that there were kinds of light that were invisible, I looked at the bit of metal.

    “How do I … ?”

    “Talk into the grille,” said Maxie. “Hold down this button here on the panel.”

    “Hail?” I asked, tentatively, pressing the button.

    “At last!” cried the voice. “You took your time. Identify yourself, please.”

    “Uh … this is the Museum of the Forgotten,” I said. “I'm the captain. Avice Amrit dol' Teth― well. I'm not exactly sure any more.”

    “All right,” said the voice. “Next question: why on earth are you here? What do you want with us, and how did you find us?”

    “That's three questions,” I replied. “And it's kind of a long story.”

    “Condense it for me.”

    I thought for a moment.

    “We'd like to ask you some questions about Kyogre.”

    A minute or so passed during which the only sound was some kind of interference in the transmission that Maxie called static.

    “Well,” said the voice. “That's a name none of us have heard in a long time. Although perhaps I ought to have expected it, coming from a ship bristling with lost technology.”

    “Can we come in?” I asked.

    There was a sigh.

    “I suppose,” said the voice. “I admit, and I think I speak for all of us here, that you have my curiosity. The lock is – well, unlocked.”

    Through the glass, I saw steel panels sliding away into deep grooves on either side of the passage. Beyond, the walls seemed to be much more even. That wasn't the ocean's work. Someone had cut those. A ziz-lord, I thought, with a pleasurable little thrill.

    “Well, lass,” said Archie. “Here we go. Into the unknown.”

    Maxie raised an eyebrow.

    “We've both been there before, Archie.”

    “Oh, come on. That was five hundred years ago, and anyway, Avice hasn't. Are you purposely trying to kill the mood?”

    Muttering to himself, Archie pushed a lever forwards and the Museum edged through the gap in the doors.

    “You're rather on the large side for our system,” said the voice dubiously. “Will you fit?”

    “I'm almost sure we will,” said Archie. “Tell 'em that.”

    “Our, um, helmsman says he thinks so.”

    “Well, I suppose he probably knows better than I do,” remarked the voice, in a tone that indicated that its owner was quietly but unshakeably certain that Archie did not, and fell silent.

    The lock closed behind us, and Archie gave a satisfied grunt.

    “Yeah,” he said. “Told you.”

    From somewhere behind us came the unsettling sound of two bits of metal colliding with alarming force, and he winced.

    “All right,” he admitted, bringing the Museum forward a few feet. “Slight mistake there.”

    I heard Edie emit a small, piercing shriek, and then wingbeats heading rapidly down the hall in the direction of the noise. Later, it transpired that one of the secondary rudders had been bent badly out of shape; she spent most of her time at Meteor Falls twisting it back to normal via the careful application of heat and magnets.

    Once we were sealed in properly, the water level dropped, and another gate opened in front of us; in this way, the Museum was guided down through a series of chambers that incrementally lowered us into the mountain and decreased the pressure at every stage. It was quite amazing, really, and I was so wrapped up in trying to figure out how it worked that when the last gate opened and we came out onto the river I forgot to be surprised. For about five seconds, anyway.

    Meteor Falls was the largest expanse of dry land I had ever seen in my life. Yes, there were mountaintops and other pinnacles – but most of them aren't much to look at. Down there, however, it was a different story. Great shelves of honey-coloured rock stretched away into the dark, as far as I could see; to our right there was a vast waterfall, its top lost in the gloom. The locks left us in the basin at its foot, and all around us rose a wild and fantastic landscape of stone, stone, stone, more solid than glass and more permanent than steel. This was land, I thought, and here you could see the difference between an artificial settlement and the real thing. Here, we were among the bones of the earth.

    Even the inhabitants seemed to be made of stone. Boulders fell out of the dark at the Museum's entrance, only to pause a few feet from the ground and regard it cautiously with great, round eyes. Some were shaped like the sun, and some (as I recognised from my recent reading) like the moon, and they moved through the air like ships through water.

    “Lunatone and solrock,” explained Maxie, watching them with me. “They're supposed to have come from space.”

    “Ah, here you are,” said the voice. “There's a dock in a cove dead ahead of you. We'll turn the lights on.”

    A moment later, lamps flared in the gloom, and by their distant light it was just about possible to make out the outlines of something that might have been a jetty.

    “Don't go too far to your left,” advised the voice. “Or – what do you seafaring people say? – to port. The river's current picks up again there, and if it catches you there's every chance you'll be washed over the next waterfall.”

    I glanced uneasily at the white water off to port. If you squinted, you could just see where it flowed away, roaring down through the caverns to some place that perhaps not even Tide knew of. The Falls seemed to be more Groudon's demesne than Tide's.

    “Don't worry,” said Archie cheerfully. “We ain't going over. Engine's stronger'n that.”

    He was right. We reached the jetty without any mishap, although since it was made of stone the Museum's magnetic clamps couldn't get a grip on it, and we had to use anchors instead. Through the glass, I could see people on the shore, all of them wrapped in the ragged grey cloaks of ziz-lords. I could see other things, too – bigger things, winged things, waiting behind them. These I stared at with the sort of fascination you reserve for things you don't trust enough to look away from. Dragons, yes, but not dragonite; those are impressive, but you're not frightened of them. They're oceanic guardian angels, saving ships from storms and rescuing sailors. No, these were different: bulky, low-slung bodies like crocodiles, broad wings that were definitely for flight rather than decoration, armour all across the belly to prevent prey from striking back when they closed in for the kill. These were different indeed. They were salamence, and I'm sure even whatever time separates you and I hasn't been able to get rid of the old saying: even gyarados run when salamence cross the sun. When that forked shadow blots out the light, the whole of nature looks for a hiding place.

    To make a long story short (which is, after all, kind of my job in writing this), I was very glad that the bright lights outside meant that they probably couldn't see in through the window.

    “Well, now,” said Archie. “Meteor Falls.” He peered out at the cave. Beyond the ziz-lords and their salamence, there seemed to be no other signs of habitation, not even the equipment that had broadcast their spokesperson's voice to us. Come to think of it, I'm still not sure where exactly they slept. I'll have to ask sometime. “Doesn't seem to have changed much.”

    “It isn't the sort of place that changes,” said Maxie. “Either it learned that from the Draconids or they learned that from it. But never mind. Avice. They're waiting.”

    “Yeah,” I said. “I guess they are.”

    I looked around for Edie, but she was still assessing the damage done to the rudder, so in the end I had to go without her. This was pretty nerve-wracking, for a number of reasons: one, I was about to set foot in the real-life ziz-marches; two, I was about to speak to the people who lived there in front of sixteen salamence (yes, I did count); and three, I was afraid that I was going to fall over when I stepped off the deck and onto the jetty. Sort of a minor point when measured against the salamence, I suppose, but I was sort of in the role of an ambassador from the outside world. I wanted to make a good impression almost as much as I wanted to not get eaten.

    When it came down to it, that was the easy one. I actually managed to get out and onto the jetty – onto real solid land, not part of Tethys or anything but actual land, a voice cried hysterically in my head – without any more awkwardness than was excusable. I stood there on the jetty, facing the assembled ziz-lords, and found my back and shoulders straightening automatically, as if I were back in Tethys and had just spotted a passing Administrator.

    I wondered if I looked like a proper sea captain. (I didn't.) I tugged a lock of hair back into place, inhaled and strode towards the shore like I'd been here a thousand times before.

    “Hail,” I said, halting at the end of the jetty and looking at each ziz-lord in turn. Almost all had the impressive height that marks the inhabitants of the old world. “Captain Avice.”

    “Nice entrance,” I heard, from just behind me. Archie and Maxie had followed.

    “Hello, Captain,” replied the owner of the voice I'd heard earlier – a bald man missing the greater part of one leg, who sat very straight in a wheeled chair and occasionally tapped his fingers against the armrest. “You're, um …” Young, I predicted he would finish. “Here,” he said, which I thought was a deft recovery. “And your crew?”

    For a moment I was startled, thinking he could see Archie and Maxie, but then I realised that it was a question.

    “My crew are waiting,” I said. “It's kind of complicated.”

    The man seemed curious, but he didn't ask.

    “Right. Well, Captain, my name is Ross. We are what you call the ziz-lords.”

    “I know,” I said. “The Draconids.”

    More than one of them looked surprised at that.

    “Hum,” said Ross, eyebrows rising. “You're well informed.” He gestured with one big, pale hand. “Come with us, Captain. We clearly have something to discuss, but first, refresh yourself. I suppose if you've come from Tethys, this hasn't been too long a trip, but any journey to our corner of the ocean is a tiring one.”

    He worked controls on the arm of his chair and turned with a motorised whirr, moving away into the dark. The salamence dispersed – perhaps they had only been gathered to intimidate me – and some of the ziz-lords went with them, heading off to who-knows-where. Others followed Ross and introduced themselves as we walked: Galen, Cordelia, Artegal. All alien names at the time, though I've since come across a few of them in old books.

    Cordelia, a tall woman with hard muscles like wood beneath her skin, spoke to me about Tide.

    “What are your intentions about it?” she asked. “About Kyogre?”

    I thought about this for a moment. Perhaps I wanted to undo Tide's actions, but I certainly didn't wish it any harm.

    “Good,” I told her. “Or I hope so, anyway.”

    She didn't quite seem satisfied with that, but at that moment Ross beckoned me forward and pointed me through a gap in the wall. On the other side, the cavern continued much as before, but there were a few tables and chairs set up nearby, looking utterly out of place in the midst of all that stone and darkness.

    “Do sit down,” he called, manoeuvring himself through after me. “Galen, would you … ?”

    Galen would, as it turned out, and disappeared for a moment to fetch refreshments while the other ziz-lords and I arranged ourselves on the furniture. Once we were seated, I suddenly realised that all three of them were sitting facing me on my own, which would have been unnerving had I not been flanked by enough ghosts to even out the numbers. Even when Galen rejoined them, bringing the numbers up to four ziz-lords against my three Museum crew, I felt like we were holding our own. Two of us were invisible, after all. There's a certain sense of superiority to be derived from that.

    “It's weird, this place,” said Archie, as Galen poured coffee out into little black cups. “I … I dunno, I didn't see the parts where they lived last time I was here, but I'd have thought that the place would've looked more like people lived in it.”

    “It does seem a little like someone's dumped unwanted furniture here in the corner of a cave,” agreed Maxie. “Weren't there supposed to be houses carved out of the rock somewhere? I always thought it was meant to be like Petra.”

    “Maybe they've been in decline,” suggested Archie. “Everything else has.”

    “Or maybe they don't yet trust us. Do be careful, Avice.”

    They were interrupted by the unexpected appearance of a tray of cakes beneath my nose.

    “Have one,” Galen invited me. “I made them.”

    I examined the tray. The cakes were small and decorated with salamence in blue and red icing. Next to the raw stone and water of the caves, they seemed almost unbearably frivolous. Having said that, they were also delicious. I have no idea where they got the sugar, or indeed how it was possible to power an oven in what looked like the middle of nowhere, but clearly these weren't problems that fazed Galen.

    “Thanks,” I said, resisting the temptation to sweep all the remaining cakes into my bag and run away. “It's excellent.”

    “Galen is a remarkable baker,” agreed Ross, taking one for himself. “Does Tethys have sugar, these days?”

    Ziz-lords never came to Tethys, and so knew less about it than about other places. I'm not quite sure why that is, but I'm willing to bet that they had probably given it up as a lost cause. It's difficult for lorekeepers to maintain diplomatic relations with people who have spent the last few hundred years assiduously throwing away their history.

    “Yeah,” I said. “They grow sugar cane in the greenhouses, or sometimes they synthesise it.”

    “Ah, the synthesis machines.” To my surprise, Ross' lip curled in distaste. “Devon's work is never over, it seems.”

    “Let's not jump to conclusions, Ross,” said Cordelia. “Tethys gets its power from a geothermal plant on the volcano, is that correct?”

    I frowned. What was going on here?

    “Yes,” I said. “Why do you ask?”

    “Devon experimented with some rather vile power sources in its time,” replied Ross. “Recycling life force out of living creatures and so on. I thought the synthesis machines might use those.”

    “Infinity Energy,” murmured Maxie. “I can tell you later, Avice.”

    I nodded at Ross.

    “Right,” I said. “I think I've heard of that, yes. Infinity Energy.”

    He looked surprised again, and so did his companions. These were things that outsiders simply didn't know. They had no idea that I didn't know either.

    “You're welcome,” sighed Maxie. “When did you suddenly become so quick to take advantage?”

    “She learned from the best,” said Archie. “Now shut up and let her concentrate.”

    “You know rather a lot,” Ross noted, unaware of the argument going on on either side of me. “I have to say, this is unprecedented. We've had people come to ask us about Tide before, of course, but none quite so well informed.”

    I shrugged.

    “I'm really interested in history,” I said. “And I have access to a pretty good library.” I sipped my coffee. “It's just a bit lacking in one particular area.”

    “Let me guess,” said Artegal. “You'd like to know how to send Kyogre back to sleep.”

    “Do a lot of people come here asking about how to fix the world?”

    Some of the ziz-lords seemed to find the question amusing, but Ross quelled them with a look.

    “They don't come here,” he said. “They almost never come here. They find us in towns and such on our travels. But no, you aren't the first to ask us. More than a few people have wanted to restore the old world.”

    “And what is it that you say to them?” I asked. I had a bad feeling about this. If the ziz-lords wanted to help such people, wouldn't the rain have stopped already?

    “On those stepping into rivers staying the same other and other waters flow,” said Ross. It had the sound of something quoted – and that was pretty much all I could work out about it; it didn't seem to make much sense. “Captain, change is the basis of everything. Even staying the same is only possible through change. Think of our waterfall: if the water wasn't constantly changing as it flowed through it, it wouldn't be a waterfall at all, just a vertical lake. Only by changing can it remain constantly a waterfall. It remains the same not in spite of, but because of its changing contents. The same can be said of the world: if it didn't change, it wouldn't be constant.”

    “War is father of all and king of all; and some he manifested as gods, some as men; some he made slaves, some free,” said Artegal. Another quotation, I thought. “Change is rooted in the conflict of opposites. That conflict makes variety possible. You have to have life and death, slavery and freedom, fire and water, to save reality from lifeless uniformity.”

    “Groudon and Kyogre,” I said.

    “Correct,” he said. “One can't exist without the other. The world is always the same, but its contents change.”

    “And if you wanted to, like, provoke a change in those contents?”

    “One way would be to change the balance of the opposites. At the moment, the ocean has supremacy. You could bring the land back into balance.”

    “You mean, I could raise Groudon,” I said. “I've been down that road, thanks. Too many people would die.”

    “Lots of people will die anyway,” pointed out Cordelia. “Lots of animals and pokémon, too. They're used to the sea now.”

    There was a long pause, during which I reassessed the ziz-lords. They had seemed genial and faintly ridiculous. I decided now that they were much more serious than I had believed.

    “We don't wish to dissuade you,” said Ross. “We remember what it was like, before the water. We have records. But we would like to make sure that you know exactly what it is that you're doing. You are, er, very …”

    “Young,” I sighed. “Yes, I know. It seems to be everyone's favourite observation recently.”

    There was another silence, even more awkward than the first. The splashing of the waterfall sounded like it came from a million miles away.

    “There is a rule that governs these changes,” said Cordelia, after a while. “A guiding principle to the universe. Thunderbolt steers all.”

    It took me a moment, but I got it. I'm a poet, after all; metaphor is kind of my thing. Thunderbolts: evanescent, combining the transience and the changeability of fire with the bridging of opposites, the sky and the sea. The ziz-lords' guiding principle was the promise that all things change.

    “Are you telling me that there's no other way?” I asked. “That all that ever happens is that one opposite dominates the other, and then vice versa? Groudon is master, then Kyogre, and on and on till the end of time?”

    “Well, I wouldn't put it quite like that …”

    “How would you put it, then?”

    “It's not so much a question of alternating excesses,” said Ross. “There's no moral judgement to be made when one power oversteps its boundaries. It just happens, and then, eventually, so does its opposite.”

    “But it doesn't 'just happen',” I protested. “The Prophet – Archie McLeod – he raised Tide, I mean Kyogre, by himself. That didn't 'just happen'.”

    I winced even as I said it – Archie was right there, after all. His lips tightened for a moment, but he nodded; he understood.

    “Didn't it?” asked Galen, speaking for the first time since offering me a cake. “We only claim that it happens. We didn't say why. The immediate cause of change might be something very different from the long-term impulse to opposition.”

    “I am sorry,” said Ross, when I didn't say anything. “But you can see how it is. It's just how conflict works. The universe is not a pretty thing, when you look into it too much. What redeems it is the idea only.”

    The idea indeed. I could write more, dear reader, but I think you know how this particular story goes. Listen: I know how unfair this world is, and I also know that the only reason it is unfair is because we make it so with the strength of our belief – because we find our patterns and build our little universes upon them. I knew this back then, too, but I didn't know how to say it, or how to justify it in the face of such a well-developed philosophy. I wanted to say that the universe didn't have to be this way, that if we just tried to believe that it didn't then we might see other options – but how could I? I wasn't Avice Amrit dol' Tethys, saviour of worlds, back then, I was just Avice Amrit dol' Tethys, runaway Legal Apprentice. I didn't yet have the conviction that there were always other ways, and if neither I nor the other person could think of them then we ought to be focusing on finding someone else who could.

    Because if we close off the possibility of other ways, dear reader, we run a terrible risk. Tethys shut down alternatives one by one until it could no longer turn back. Archie became so convinced he was in hell that he could not see a way out until he met me. Maxie believed so strongly in his missed opportunities that he tried to make me take them where he hadn't – yes, I know that, too; I have it all here in the palm of my hand, a thousand thousand stories of those who forgot to look for other ways and paid the price. I have seen some, and read others in the Museum's library: the story of Oedipus, the ancient monarch so intent on finding one truth that he was blind to all the others; the story of Lysandre, the sceptic who proved by logic that he had to destroy the world he adored above all things; the story of Joshua Stone, who wanted to nourish a fledgling civilisation and found that in doing so he became its tyrant king …

    But I'm not saying anything new. There are so many stories like this; we've all heard enough to know not to discount the chance that ours is the wrong way. Sorry about that – I don't mean to preach, and I definitely don't mean to preach things that you already know. Avice, you're probably saying, you do know that you have your own patterns, right? Yes, you're right. I may be as wrong now as Tethys is, or Archie was, or the ancient prince Lysandre. I'm sure you know all this without needing me to tell you.

    'Sflukes. Let me apologise for all that. I think – well, it's been a strange couple of days, with the birds visiting and with Aranea. My head's in a weird place. I keep wondering if that dragonite took her there, to those strange caves with their scattered furniture, and where I that place she might live, between the rock and the water. Or does she spend her time abroad? She doesn't have ties to the Falls, after all. No family to keep her there. Maybe she's a full-time ambassador, flying from settlement to settlement like a draconian secret agent, passing documents, attending soirées and seducing attractive members of criminal organisations in order to get them to betray their secrets. I'm sure she still had it in her. She wasn't yet fifty – and honestly, if I'm not still adventuring when the half century comes around my way, then I'll be disappointed. There are always other oceans to sail, or skies to fly.

    Sorry. This isn't a diary; you're not here to read about all that. Where was I?

    Oh, yes. The idea only. Gods below.

    We spoke for a little while longer, the ziz-lords and I, but the more we talked the more we realised that neither of us was getting what we wanted from the other. I wanted a way to undo the making over without killing off the entire population of Tethys; they wanted to know exactly how it was that I knew so much that the rest of the world had forgotten. Perhaps I ought to have told them about the ghosts and the Museum, but I didn't. Spiteful, yeah, but whatever. I'd come a long way to get there, and I was angry.

    Archie hinted that I might like to leave before I ended up getting into a fight with people who had a small army of salamence to back them up, and I had to agree that further debate probably wasn't the smartest of ideas. We broke off the talk, and the ziz-lords invited me, half-heartedly, to stay to dinner. To their relief, I declined. If they couldn't help me, I said, then I thought it best if I got going.

    And that was that. My visit to Meteor Falls, to the legendary ziz-marches of the lords who flew with the dragons – ended in as mundane an act of vicious politeness as any you might find in Tethys. I remember thinking, as I marched back across the cavern, how much of a disappointment it was. This was the place that was meant to kick-start my quest, and now I was back to square one.
    But that wasn't it, of course. Look out of the nearest window and you can see that much for yourself. As I neared the dock, someone called out to me.

    “Um – Captain? You got a moment?”

    “Sorry,” I said, without looking around. “I don't.”

    “But I'm dead,” she called. “And you can hear me.”

    I stopped. Dead … ?

    “Like with those two,” she said, and I turned.

    She was made of emerald-green light, and she looked at me like she was the one who'd seen a ghost.




    Excuse the gap there, dear reader. I got called up on deck again. I'll give you three guesses why, and I expect you don't need the second two. That's right: another bird. Murkrow, honchkrow, taillow – it's obvious what's next, I suppose.

    I was just trying to think of the right word to start the next sentence when the ziz-lady in question came down to tell me that I was wanted upstairs.

    “Ava, Archie's after you,” she said. “And when you're done with him, come see me. I think you've done enough for today.”

    I sighed. I had a good idea what it might be that he wanted with me, after all these birds, and for some reason it filled me with a kind of foreboding.

    “Right,” I said. “I'll be right up.”

    “Don't be too long,” she said, and left.

    So up I went, and found Archie where he usually is, in the bridge. When I came in, he looked up and pointed.

    “Now I know they migrate, like,” he said. “But after all you and Maxie were saying about birds yesterday, and since there's no land for miles around, I thought I'd better tell you.”

    I looked.

    There was a swellow on the railing, and I swear by gods and hallows that it was waiting for me to see it, because just like all the others, once it caught sight of me it flipped its wings and soared away into the heavens.

    I don't know, dear reader. I'm sure I recognise something here, some message, some meaning … Gods below, these last couple of days have thrown up so many questions. And here I was, thinking all the weird stuff was over, at least for the moment. Perhaps I started writing this down too soon.

    Never mind. I might not know what's going on there, but what I do know is that I've done enough for today. She was right about that. Not surprising, really. She's always right, is Zinnia.
     
  8. Sike Saner

    Sike Saner Peace to the Mountain

    Love the "might have accidentally".

    Oh how I envy them.

    Not to mention really, really good music on the road coming from the east.

    Neat!

    That is a fabulous choice of words.

    Oh, ouch. There's some sads for ya.

    I think it's more of a 90/10 split for me, in favor of envy.

    Backseat-driver Maxie is amusing.
     
  9. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine Gone. Not coming back.

    With a story like this, you have to lighten the mood somehow, or it ends up just being Avice doing a lot of nervous introspection. It's nice to see it's striking the right note.

    Me too. I mean, apart from the whole 'unending tortured semi-mortality thing'. I could do without that. The lack of seasickness, though, that's something to be envied.

    Definitely!

    ... I actually don't have anything to say in response, particularly, I just wanted to make it clear that the Route 113 music is something that I too am fond of.

    It's a lot of fun, making up these subspecies. One of the reasons I set up this AU like this was precisely to force myself into some vague semblance of ecological realism, because I very much wanted an excuse to make things like sea-turtle torterra, pearl-fishing sableye and deep-sea luvdisc.

    Thank you! Avice is very interested in the other ocean. She'll be investigating it further later on, which is partly why I had to introduce it here.

    Interesting. I'm not sure what I think of Edie myself. I know what I think of Avice's judgement of her, but not of her actions themselves, so I'm eager to see what other people think.

    Thank you for responding, and thank you, everyone else, for reading! Hopefully I'll now be back on my regular fortnightly schedule, so -- barring any sudden catastrophes -- the next chapter should be up on Thursday next.
     
  10. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine Gone. Not coming back.

    TEN: SKY HIGH

    Thence up he flew, and on the Tree of Life,
    The middle Tree and highest there that grew,
    Sat like a Cormorant ...

    ―John Milton, Paradise Lost


    This morning I got up early and went up to see what bird I should expect this morning. If you find yourself caught up in a story, the worst thing you can do is try to avoid it, I think, and clearly my story isn't ready to let me go just yet, so I've decided to carry on and see where it takes me. I'm sure all will become clear in time.

    So, I got up early and took my coffee out onto the deck. That mist from yesterday has thickened overnight, and now it's as if I really have reached the ziz-marches of the legends, surrounded by clouds. I'm still out here – I brought my notebook – and I can barely see to the prow. The sun must still be loitering out here somewhere, but I have no idea where.

    When the bird arrives, whichever bird it is, I'm going to be ready for it. I don't know what I'm going to do, exactly, but I'm going to be ready. Not the most solid of plans, maybe; however, it's still a plan. Of sorts. There's definitely an intent to do deeds in the future, no matter how vaguely defined those deeds might be, and I think that qualifies as a plan, just about.

    You might have noticed, I'm in a good mood this morning. I can't help it. It's partly the mist, which is just gorgeous – we never had any before, only rain – and partly the sense I have that I've come to a decision about what to do regarding all these strange things that are happening. Aranea has reappeared in my life for a reason, and once again I'm taking up the lesson she left me. When fate comes calling, whether as a dragon, a god or a series of unlikely birds, your only option really is to shrug and recite the old words: let thy will be done, O monstrous, O mighty!

    So I'm sitting here at this little desk I brought out, the steam rising from my coffee mingling with the fog above my head, an umbilical of mist connecting me to the wider world, and I'm keeping half an eye out in all directions for avian visitors. Strictly speaking, I guess it isn't part of the story of how we brought an end to the rain, but something in me says that this is important. Remarkable events are just that: re-markable, worthy of remark, or more literally worth taking note of. (I'd better confess, I found a fantastic dictionary yesterday while I was looking up astronaut to see if I was right about the 'star-sailor' thing, and now I'm really into it, so you might have to put up with me throwing a few etymologies around over the next few days.)

    But I won't let that get in the way of the story at hand. Zinnia. What can I say about Zinnia? It was she who told us that the ziz-lords too had lost things, that they were not the great keepers of lore that they had been beore the world was made over. Sometimes I feel like Tethys infected the whole ocean, like the curse of forgetting was a spreading poison that could not be contained by a single city, and that's why it took actual figures from the past to preserve enough history for us to save ourselves. But I'm probably biased. I can't blame Tethys for everything, although that never seems to stop me trying. It seems more likely that memory is just something that decays along with the buildings and the people of the old world, and that Tethys is simply an extreme example.

    The point is, not even the ziz-lords were immune to it. Zinnia had been there a long time and watched as their command of history, which had endured so many other disasters over the course of so many centuries, withered in the face of the rising waters.

    “They aren't what they were,” she told me once. “I think that's it. After Kyogre woke, everything changed into something else. Everything except me.”

    Back there on the jetty, though, she was nowhere near so eloquent. She just stared – and I've asked myself many times what it was that I think she was looking at, but it's difficult to work out. Partly she was amazed I could see and hear her. And partly, I reckon, she saw the child in me. She's always loved children, and I at nineteen, fresh out of Tethys, was very much still a child. Naïve, clueless, mostly unable to cook – oh Tide, I'd almost forgotten the first time I gave cooking a go and had to give Edie the pan to be melted down for scrap. Maxie did do his best to teach me, and I did try to learn, but if I'm honest, I could have tried a little harder.

    Anyway. The ziz-lords were gathering to say their goodbyes now, all curious and many disappointed that I was leaving so soon – I'd only been there a couple of hours. On the fringes of my vision, serpentine shapes moved in the dark as the salamence convened. And in the middle of it all: Zinnia and I, staring at each other.

    “You really can see me, then,” Zinnia said. “Sorry, I just had to check.” She blinked, hard, and, seeing that I was still there and still staring, smiled. “Hi,” she said. “I guess I should say, I'm Zinnia, and I can help you with your project.”

    Logic dictates that I ought to have been surprised. There should have been some gasping involved, or at the very least stunned silences and raised eyebrows. And yes, I did nod slowly and let my jaw fall slightly – and no more. You see, I hadn't quite worked it out consciously yet, but on some level I knew that this was what happened when you met a ghost. I'd met Maxie, and started my journey; Archie, and had it clarified; now here was Zinnia, and with her the next set of directions. I was beginning to make out a pattern in all this.

    “I had a feeling you might say that,” I said, although it would have been more accurate to say I had a feeling that I should have known she would say that. “How―?”

    “Maybe later,” said Archie. “People are watching.”

    I started and looked around. The ziz-lords were close now, and their eyes were on me.

    “Oh,” I muttered. “Um, right – Tooth take it – meet me on my ship? We can drop you back―”

    Zinnia shook her head vigorously.

    “Nuh-uh,” she said. “No need to take me back. I'll come with.”

    “Are you leaving so soon?” asked a ziz-lord. “It's a long way back, and you've been ashore just a few hours.”

    “I'm sorry,” I replied, switching my attention to him. “I found what I came here for, and I'm afraid I can't delay.”

    “If you're sure,” said the ziz-lord. “We have an excellent cook―”

    “Galen, yeah.” I smiled, and discovered to my surprise that it was unforced. Meeting Zinnia had put the excitement back into Meteor Falls; we'd found something! And better yet, someone, someone to whom we could offer companionship in a vast and lonely ocean and who in return could help us. “I met them.”

    “Ah, you had the cakes?” asked an older ziz-lady with her hair up in a tight, iron-coloured bun. “And yet you still won't stay?” She shook her head. “You really must have to leave, then, to resist that kind of temptation.”

    “It's pretty important, yeah.” I glanced at Zinnia, who was currently trading awkward looks with Maxie and Archie. She seemed to recognise them, but they clearly had no idea who she was. “I'm sorry I couldn't stay longer,” I went on. “And that I couldn't meet more of you. But I'm sure I'll be back at some point.”

    “Maybe in some better future,” said Zinnia, now addressing the ziz-lords along with me. “Bye, you guys. I hope someday you remember what you've lost.”

    “We'll look forward to it,” said the ziz-lady, leaving me confused for a moment about which of us she was answering. “But if it's so urgent that you have to leave Galen's cooking, you must be anxious to leave. We shan't keep you.”

    Last farewells were traded, and we walked down the jetty to the rungs set into the Museum's flank. From the deck, I saw the moment of hesitation before Zinnia climbed aboard. She, in her turn, must have seen something of my relief when she finally did. Neither of us mentioned it.

    I waved to the ziz-lords, most of whom waved back, and that was that. We went inside, Archie started up the engines, and the Museum began to move away across the river. Reversing away from the dock, we could still see the ziz-lords through the main window, and Zinnia stared after them until we turned and they dispersed.

    “Right,” she said, coming away from the glass. “I'm OK.”

    “Guess introductions are in order,” said Archie, from his station at the controls. “Archie McLeod. I guess you might've heard of me already. I made some pretty famous mistakes.”

    “Ye-ep,” said Zinnia, nodding slowly. “I know who you are, all right. You too, actually. You're Maxie Veselov; you led Magma.”

    Maxie shrugged.

    “For my sins.” He paused. “I must say, I'm rather surprised to see you. I had thought it might have just been us who remained, as the ones … responsible.”

    Zinnia grinned, a sharp, ironic little flick of her mouth that no one else in the world could perform.

    “Someone's got a pretty big idea of himself,” she teased. “Believe me, something that big doesn't have one cause. You really have to work together to get armageddon going.”

    Apparently the only way Maxie could respond was to retreat into the iron protection of his own dignity, because he today's bird has just arrived, and yes, I'm aware that I've just shattered the flow of this sentence, but some things are more important than verbal aesthetics. It's … you know, I'm not actually sure what it is. Small, mostly grey. Pink legs and yellow-rimmed eyes. Don't you worry, though – I thought ahead and brought the pokédex out here for just this eventuality. Give me a moment.

    Pidove. It's a pidove. A bird that lives inland in a place called Unova, which is apparently on the other side of the world. In other words, an utterly impossible bird to have found in the middle of the sea that used to be Hoenn.

    And it's gone. It stayed just long enough for me to identify it, and to realise how unbelievable it is to see it here, and now – gone. I've lost sight of it already. It could have flown away over the ocean, or it could just have landed fifty feet away and be invisible in the mist.

    No, it's not still on the boat. I know that. It will have disappeared, like all the others. That's all right. It's part of the pattern, and the fact that there is a pattern is good. It means that randomness is starting to resolve into narrative, or that I'm turning it into narrative, and either way, that means we're heading in the right direction.

    I think I'll stay out here for a few minutes more. Back to the story, then.

    “And you're – Avice, I think you said?” asked Zinnia.

    “Yeah, that's me.” I held out my hand, and she shook her head.

    “I can't―”

    “Try it,” I said. “You'll be surprised.”

    Tentatively, she reached out – and took hold of my hand, touching a solid object for what must have been the first time in centuries.

    “How … ?”

    “The Museum is a special kind of place. It has a lot to do with memory. Maxie could tell you more.”

    “Right. Right.” Almost reluctantly, she let go of my hand and looked around. “The Museum …”

    “We stole it from Tethys,” I explained. “They put forbidden things in here. Stuff we're meant to forget about. And then, well, we forget it.”

    The shadow of a frown crossed Zinnia's brow.

    “Tethys? Where's that?”

    Maxie and I exchanged looks. Archie paused in the middle of steering the Museum up the channel towards the lock.

    “Um … sorry, but when was the last time you left Meteor Falls?” I asked.

    Zinnia bit her lip.

    “I returned pretty soon after I died,” she said. “How long has it been since then? God. I'm not sure. A couple generations at least. I – I took a risk, and it didn't turn out well, and we all paid the price.” She sat down and rubbed her forehead with her fingertips. “I didn't want to see it, and then I got settled, and it just kinda happened.”

    “You don't need to justify it,” I said quickly, when she paused long enough for me to speak. “I'm just asking, because if it's not since the making over – uh, the, the, resurrection of Kyogre, I guess that is to you – then … well, then a lot has changed. But we're going to do something about it. You said you could help us with that.”

    There was a distant mechanical groan, and the first lock gate started to slide open.

    “Yeah,” said Zinnia. “I can help you raise a gale to part the clouds and stop the rain. It's what I meant to do in the first place, before things got this bad, but then I went and got myself killed.” She seemed more embarrassed about it than anything else. “Anyway. Any of you ever heard of a legendary pokémon called Rayquaza?”

    “No,” said Archie. “Wasn't in any of the materials I studied when I was looking into Kyogre.”

    “Nor those about Groudon,” said Maxie. “But do you remember, I think Wallace might have mentioned …”

    Zinnia nodded. “Yup, he would've known. He was the Keeper of the Sky Pillar. Not sure how he ended up being in charge of all these ancient monuments, but I guess that doesn't much matter now. Rayquaza was, and is, Hoenn's guardian angel. That's what they used to say, but it's so much more than that: it's the thunderbolt that steers all things. They mentioned that to you, didn't they? Ross and the others. But they've forgotten what we used to mean by it. Rayquaza lives on the edge of space and only ever descends for a brief moment, a green flash in the sky, and it discharges great power into our world. It's outside the war of opposites embodied in Groudon and Kyogre, and it regulates it.”

    I had sat down, but now I almost jumped up again. Another god – a literal higher power, even. And one whose sole job was, it seemed, to keep Tide and Groudon in check.

    “A sky god,” I said.

    “If you like,” replied Zinnia. “Wind and order. In the past, during the battles between Groudon and Kyogre or when meteors came close to crashing into the Earth, Rayquaza would mega evolve and use its new power to sink the legendaries back into stasis or blast the meteor out of the sky.”

    Mega evolution: that strange and violent metamorphosis of an adult pokémon into something still stronger. If anyone had ever known how it worked, it was a lost secret by then – it was clearly something unusual, since pokémon couldn't achieve it on their own as with other types of evolution, only when bonded with an exceptional trainer. It didn't help that the materials necessary to make it happen were even rarer these days than they had been before the making over. Mining for anything, let alone for mega and key stones, is something of a hassle these days. But there were a few who managed it – everyone in Tethys remembered when the trainer with the twin-mouthed mawile had visited, for instance, and any hero out of myth who was worth their salt could mega evolve something or other.

    “On its own?” asked Archie. “It mega evolved on its own?”

    “See, that's where things get kinda difficult,” said Zinnia. “Rayquaza has to be summoned. It's here to protect us, but it can only do so with our help. Someone has to go up to its temple with a key stone and earn its respect.”

    I frowned.

    “That, uh, that sounds like it involves battle,” I said. “You know I'm not a trainer, right?”

    “Pfft, doesn't matter. There's more than one way to skin a cat.”

    “To what?

    “Oh. Right, I guess sayings change after a couple hundred years. I mean there's more than one way to bond with a pokémon.” She hesitated. “It … it should be a Draconid. That's our job, to summon Rayquaza when needed. It was meant to be me, but I died.”

    There was an uncomfortable silence, which Maxie ended up breaking by telling Archie he was about to scrape the bottom of the ship on the stone.

    “Er, pitch up a bit,” he said, peering at the controls. “Or Edie's going to have more than that dented rudder to hold against you.”

    “Hm? Oh. Right, right.”

    “And left a little, while you're at it.”

    “Right.”

    “Who's Edie?” asked Zinnia, which was a welcome change of subject, and I explained that she was my porygon and the Museum's curator; mentioning the Museum and curation meant that I had to explain to her what it was, and that led to me explaining how we had come to be here – look, you know how it goes, I don't need to spell it out for you. Before I'd realised it, we were a couple of lock gates up and I'd given her a cut-down version of my life story.

    Edie came back in to snooze on my lap sometime during that, and I suppose I must have introduced her to Zinnia then. Try as I might, though, I can't seem to remember that, which I suppose is another thing to put on my little pile of evidence relating to whether I'm just hallucinating all these ghosts and got the information they supposedly gave me out of books.

    “Quite a story,” said Zinnia. “Lots has changed, I see. Not you two, though.”

    Archie grunted; Maxie ignored her.

    “A little to the right, Archie.”

    Zinnia smirked.

    “They were famous, back in our day,” she told me. “In the months leading up to the raising of Kyogre, they must've been in the news, like, every day. Magma's broken in here, Aqua's stolen this.”

    “We were very foolish,” said Maxie, putting the full weight of his dignity into his voice.

    “It was an easy mistake to make,” said Zinnia. “No, I'm serious. You weren't the only ones who thought you could … contain the damage.”

    “You're talking like you're the one who summoned it, lass,” said Archie, eyeing her distrustfully.

    “And maybe I was,” she returned, holding his gaze. “There's gotta be a reason I'm a ghost now, right?”

    I hadn't thought about that, but it did seem odd. Archie and Maxie seemed somehow to have become earthbound because of their great mistake – how did Zinnia figure into it?

    “Hmph,” said Archie. “Maxie, course?”

    “You're fine as you are for now,” he replied, although he wasn't looking at the camera screen. Like the rest of us, his eyes were on Zinnia. I guess, or rather I know, that he and Archie were a little suspicious, but I – I was enamoured. I thought she was the coolest person ever. She was clever and witty and her voice was full of the glittering energy of youth – this was before I became aware that much of this was a façade designed to protect her – and I felt more of a connection with her than with Archie and Maxie, whose age was always so apparent. Zinnia was several centuries old herself, of course, but I never noticed it. I could imagine that she was still in her twenties, as she had been when she died.

    'Sflukes, I'm gushing, aren't I? That's kind of embarrassing – or no, why should it be? A girl tends to find there's something missing in her life when she's surrounded by ghostly old men and very little else, and while I do love Edie, she's not quite a substitute for relatable human company. Zinnia was the one to fill that gap.

    Among others.




    I'm back inside now. The paper was getting damp, and also, if I'm honest, my leg was hurting – Tide, I can't wait for it to hurry up and heal! I don't think that that sort of weather agrees with it, although the mist does seem to be lifting a bit. I can sort of make out where the sun is, or at least where the blankness is brightest. I guess there could be some sort of brilliantly glowing pokémon hovering over there – it's not outside the realm of possibility – but let's assume it's the sun.

    We left the topic of Rayquaza alone for a while after that. Archie and Maxie really did need to concentrate to get us up through the tunnel, and I needed some time to rest. It had been a day of heightened emotions, flipping between intense excitement and disappointment over and over, and frankly it had tired me out. Zinnia saw it too, and said that if I wouldn't mind putting off further discussions till later, she'd like to have a look around the Museum. Rousing myself, I offered to guide her, but she declined, and a moment after she'd left, I went back to my cabin, where I found my watch and discovered, to my surprise, that it was half past ten at night. In the permanent twilight of Meteor Falls, I'd lost track of time completely.

    So I curled up with Edie and slept, and in the morning― No, hang on, let's not skip ahead. Things happened that night – conversations and encounters of which I knew nothing until much later, but which had more impact than I could have known. They were things that shaped the times that were to come, and so you and I will leave my younger self lying there, worn out and dreaming of sky gods, and make our way back to the bridge.

    “What d'you think of this Rayquaza?” asked Archie. “Do legendaries even mega evolve?”

    Maxie shrugged.

    “I don't know what I think. All I know is that if she turns out to be right – and I'm not saying that I believe she is – we do at least have a key stone. Mine's still in my coffin, down in the hold.”

    “Jesus, you have your corpse in here?” Archie wrinkled his nose. “Kinda morbid, don't you think?”

    “Morbid? Archie, we're dead. Quite literally everything about us is morbid now.”

    “Whatever.” Archie steered for a minute in silence. “The pirates have my key stone,” he said. “Some Aquas must've taken it back to base. Can't think how.” He shrugged. “Guess it's more use to them now. They use it as the badge of office for their monarchs.”

    “Speaking of key stones, did you see Zinnia's anklet?” asked Maxie.

    “Aye. I did.” Archie sucked in a breath. “I dread to think what kind of pokémon she used that stone for. Maxie, how do we not know who she is? There couldn't've been more than five people in Hoenn who could use mega evolution!”

    “I know,” said Maxie. “It bothers me, too. Who was it that could do it? Steven. Lisia – you know, Wallace's niece, or cousin, I forget which; she was a contest star. You. Me. And …” He hesitated. “And her.”

    “Yeah,” said Archie softly. “I remember. Mega blaziken. That was a sight to see.”

    Engines throbbed. Lights pulsed.

    “We've got to be careful not to treat Avice as if she's her,” said Maxie, after a time. “You know, Archie, I don't know if it's just all the baggage I've brought here with me, but sometimes these days I look at her and see―”

    “Me too,” he finished. “Me too.”

    Some pale fish moved in the distance; disappeared. Archie traced its progress with tired eyes.

    “It's hard, being a better person,” he said. “You have to keep it together, know what I mean? To get her through it all. I know we're not shouting-at-each-other angry, but …”

    Maxie gave him a piercing look.

    “But what?” he asked sharply.

    “But it's not what it was before, is it?”

    “It's not lost forever,” said Maxie. “I thought―”

    “You thought we were doing well?” asked Archie, the words coming out before he had a chance to stop them, and Maxie flinched.

    “I did, as it happens,” he said. “I thought – we keep talking about the old days, the good memories―”

    “Christ, Maxie! I mean – no, sorry, I didn't mean that – but―”

    “But you sort of do,” said Maxie. He was studying the controls intently. “You're quite right. We had something, once, and when you came back and stopped shouting, I thought …” He paused, just long enough that Archie was on the verge of speaking when he began again. “I suppose I thought too much of myself. Again.”

    “Maxie―”

    “It would be foolish to think that we could rebuild by just reminiscing about the good memories and ignoring the bad,” he continued. “I mean – God! Think of Fallarbor, when we were dancing around the topic of Cozmo and the meteorite. No, it wouldn't work. It would be terribly unhealthy to be unable to talk about that kind of thing.”

    “Maxie, I didn't know.” Archie sighed, rubbed his brow with the crook of his hand. “I assumed you were still angry.”

    “Because you're still angry.” Maxie nodded. “It's good to know where I stand.”

    “Don't get all pissy and self-loathing, Maxie, we're too old for that―”

    “And yet here we are.” Maxie stood up. “Excuse me. I think we both need a moment.”

    “Oh, get out, then,” growled Archie, throwing one of those thunderbolt glares at his retreating back. “Go on! Christ knows it would be too much to ask for you to face the bloody problem for once in your life.”

    No answer. The door closed, and Archie sank slowly into his chair. A warning light blinked to tell him that the Museum was about to scrape against the tunnel wall.

    He sniffed deeply, and returned to the controls.

    That was half of what happened that night. The other half was less dramatic: just Zinnia, making her quiet way through the chambers of the Museum. She went downstairs to the hold and gasped, holding her hands curled tight against her breast. When you see something in a museum, you know that it's here to be preserved – that it no longer exists out there in the real world. Zinnia saw the screens and the clothes, the devices and books, and all at once she understood what had happened in the years of her isolation. How totally Hoenn had been destroyed.

    Did she touch an old computer, tapping keys long disconnected from any power source? Did she pick up that phone and watch it bleakly inform her that no connections were available? I only know that she was there, and that it made her aware of all the time that had passed. The rest is that dangerous thing, speculation. That's all they are, all of those images I have in my head – of her walking down the aisles of clothes racks, running her fingers down fabrics that could no longer be made; of her pausing in the half-finished library, flipping through magazines dated in the year of her death; of her by the big electrical display screen, watching the flickery old recordings of Pokémon World Tournaments and dramatic performances. I can't help it. A moment like that is too evocative and so, despite the fact that Zinnia never told me very much about it, I find I can't stop imagining ways that she might have experienced her revelation. The only thing I can be certain of is that she went up on the bridge at dawn, when Archie brought us out of the tunnel and, at her request, onto the surface. What thoughts went through her head when she saw the endless rows of slate-coloured waves I can only guess at.

    It's not nice of me, I know, to reduce something that affected someone so deeply to a superficial symbol. But I'm going to have to admit to a lot worse than that if I'm going to tell this story honestly, so I thought I'd tell you about it anyway. Call it a practice confession.

    By the time Edie woke me up by bouncing on my feet, everyone had had a chance to repress whatever they'd been feeling and present a smiling face to the world again – a bad enough habit for the living, and something of a compulsion with ghosts, it seems – and I didn't notice that there was anything the matter. I suppose that's exactly as they wanted it.

    “Good morning, Avice!” called Zinnia as I entered the bridge, altogether too chirpily for me to process at eight in the morning.

    “Mm,” I said, sitting down and almost spilling my coffee. “Morning.”

    “Morning, lass.”

    “Good morning.”

    Archie and Maxie were pale and translucent; they had done some impressive and exhausting piloting the day before, and they had clearly spent the last couple of hours being faded and drowsy in chairs – about as close as ghosts can get to sleeping. The bridge is a good place for it. Back then, when the rain was constant and inevitable, you could hear it pattering gently on the big window there. It was rather soothing.

    “You two OK?” I asked.

    “Yeah, just tired.” Archie rubbed his eyes. “I've set us going northeast, back up towards Fallarbor. Reckon there's probably a quicker way out of these mountains – islands - whatever, but without proper charts it'll be a pain in the arse to figure out, and I'm too tired for that.”

    “S'alright,” I said. “We don't know where we're going yet.”

    “I think I can help you out with that one,” said Zinnia. “I never did say where Rayquaza's temple is, did I? It's called the Sky Pillar, and it's east of Pacifidlog.”

    “That's Old Town,” Maxie informed me.

    “Right, Old Town, whatever.” Zinnia made an airy gesture with one hand. “Rayquaza eats meteorites that function as mega stones, so we won't need that. But we're going to have to bring key stones.”

    “Stones?” I asked. “Plural?”

    Zinnia grinned her wicked, ironic grin.

    “Smart and cute,” she said. “I'm starting to see why you're the captain and these are the shipmen.”

    Maxie had a go at a withering look, but he was tired and his heart wasn't in it. I just blushed, made an incoherent noise and woke the rest of the way up all at once.

    “You're right,” Zinnia went on. “More than one. I'm not sure how many. Only one's needed to have Rayquaza evolve, but before we can even do that we have to get its attention. And we look very small from up there.”

    “How does having more key stones help? Mega evolution isn't really my specialist subject.”

    “The key stone is what broadcasts the trainer's emotions to the pokémon,” Maxie said. “The mega stone, in turn, activates the actual evolution. More key stones, and you could broadcast further.”

    “That's one way of looking at it,” said Zinnia. “In this case, it's a wish we're broadcasting. Maybe even a prayer, if you want to look at it that way. A prayer of supplication.”

    “OK. So, the big question, then – where do we get key stones?”

    “We have one,” said Maxie. “Mine's in my coffin.”

    “And mine's in Jonah's Respite,” added Archie.

    I started, accidentally dislodging Edie from my lap.

    “You two … ?”

    “Don't have to look so surprised,” he said, raising an eyebrow. “We were good, back in the day. Me and my sharpedo. Him and his camerupt.”

    The ghost of a smile crossed Maxie's face.

    “Yes, we were really something,” he said, and I suppose the phrasing must have brought their conversation last night to mind, because they both stopped smiling immediately. I only noticed it in retrospect, though, because I was busy giving Edie, who was not best pleased at being tipped onto the floor, a placatory cuddle.

    “Look, I didn't mean it,” I said, to which she responded with a little heart. “There. So – you were that good, were you?”

    “They were,” said Zinnia. “I saw them.” She bent down and tapped the elaborate anklet coiled around her calf. “And I wasn't bad myself. My key stone was set in this thing. We can pick that up too. I'm, uh, pretty sure my corpse hasn't gone anywhere.”

    “Why's that?”

    “A ceiling fell on me,” she said. “It was sort of an anticlimax. But I know where it is, so that's a third stone.”

    “Is that enough?”

    “Unfortunately not. I'm thinking we'll need at least one more. Preferably two.”

    “Edie, what about you?” I asked. “Everyone else seems to have a key stone.”

    ?

    “A key stone,” I said.

    X

    She looked confused that I'd asked, and I patted her head.

    “Never mind. It was a joke.”

    “Three's a start,” said Archie. “Where's your stone, Zinnia? Closer or further than Lilycove?”

    “Mt. Pyre,” she said. “So closer.”

    “We'll go there first,” he decided. “Shouldn't be a problem, as long as we avoid the Tethys patrols.”

    “We could stop in – what is it called now? Nueville? – and ask after other stones there,” suggested Maxie. “We'll probably need to take on supplies then anyway, unless you're particularly fond of the sludge from the synthesis machine.”

    “And I'll leave a message in Cormac's Mourn for Ulixa,” I said. “See if she knows anything.”

    And so we had a direction – no, more than a direction, an itinerary: Cormac's Mourn, Nueville, Mt. Pyre, Jonah's Respite. There's nothing like an itinerary to make you feel like everything is starting to come together. We were going to raise the land, and so we were going to summon Rayquaza, and so we were going to gather key stones, and so we were going to the places where the ghosts had died – one thing followed on from another in a satisfying kind of way. It was a better plan than anything we'd come up with so far, if you believed Zinnia, and I did. I did not doubt that she would be an excellent liar if she wanted to be, but I had a feeling that she wasn't lying. Partly it's because ghosts so rarely lie to me – Maxie was the exception rather than the rule; most of them are aware that they can't afford to alienate me – but on this occasion it was more than that. It was the depth of her passion. She looked at me with an intensity in her eyes that I didn't understand, and her regret about dying before she could call upon Rayquaza was not something that anyone could have faked. It was meant to be me, but I died. Oh, she played it down, hardly said any more than that, but even before I knew the rest I could sense the rough shape and scale of what lay behind it, a vast grief as silent and hulking as a crawdaunt crouched in the darkness beneath a dock.

    She had lost a lot more than that, too. It came out slowly, but I got a glimpse of it a few days later, when we were nearing Fallarbor. We were down in the library – me reading, Edie assembling a bookshelf, and Zinnia just entering.

    “Avice,” she said. “I was curious about something.”

    “Yeah?”

    “Tell me if I'm asking something I shouldn't, but – what do your family think about you doing this? Your father, your … mother?”

    I hesitated. Behind me, Edie twirled a screw into place and fluttered back a little to admire her handiwork.

    “I don't know what my dad would say,” I admitted. “He helped me escape the city, when I needed to. But he doesn't know what I'm doing now. As for my mother …” I shrugged. “I don't know. I've never met her, and honestly, she might not even be alive. I hope she'd be proud, though.”

    Zinnia's hand curled involuntarily at her breast, and for an instant something seemed to fall away from her face, some mask that she was in the habit of holding between her and the world, and I saw something unbearably sad beneath.

    “I'm sorry,” she said, recovering herself. “I didn't mean to―”

    “It's fine,” I assured her. “Nothing to apologise for. She was a pirate and my dad was Tethysi. I'm just amazed they ever got together long enough to have me.”

    That was my standard answer. I like talking about myself as much as the next person, but don't think that because I confess so much to you, dear reader, I go about telling everyone everything there is to know about me. I've covered about two hundred pages with this narrative so far; if I put that into everyday conversation I don't think anyone would be willing to talk to me ever again. In fact, I usually tell people as little as possible. You see, everything I have to say eventually leads back to the central issue of my life, the difficulty of reconciling a necessarily embodied existence with an inherited narrative that tells me my body is monstrous – and no one wants to hear about that, believe me. Even I don't. I know I keep going off on theoretical tangents and flights of fancy, but sometimes I just get sick of writing about myself. For someone like me, that kind of writing is always at least a partial capitulation.

    “Pirates and Tethys citizens are enemies, is that it?” asked Zinnia. I smiled, surprised; I'd forgotten that she knew even less of the world as it was now than I did.

    “Yeah. Although even apart from that, Tethys doesn't really let anyone in. It's, uh, the tiniest bit tyrannical.”

    Zinnia's eyebrows twitched.

    “I see.” She perched on the arm of my chair. “So was it your dad that raised you?”

    I nodded. I wasn't sure what she was getting at, but the question seemed important to her.

    “And a friend. Aranea. She was a lawyer. I don't know what she is now. She disappeared a year or two ago.”

    “Disappeared?”

    “Yeah. Just vanished, while my dad was in the other room making coffee. It was really weird.”

    “Uh, right.” Zinnia thought for a moment. “This Tethys place. It used to be the Magmas' base, right?”

    “Apparently. We still use their uniforms.”

    She snapped her fingers.

    “So that's it!”

    “So that's what?”

    She grinned.

    “Those uniforms,” she said. “They've got hoods, right?”

    “Yeah … ?”

    Zinna tutted and shook her head.

    “That's why your hair's so weird,” she said. “I mean, no offence – you clearly had enough innate fashion sense to cope without the uniform, and that's something – but Avice, tell me, did you ever even think about your hair before you took off that hood?”

    “Uh … I plaited it a couple times,” I answered, reddening. “Or – maybe three times.” I hesitated. “I did think, like, maybe that's how people can tell I'm not a pirate. They're always so … stylish.”

    Zinnia plucked my book from my hands and put it down on the table. Edie, ever conscious of her organisational duties, immediately returned it to its place on the shelf.

    “Avice,” said Zinnia, “you have missed out. And since your pirate mother's not here, I guess it falls to me to remedy the situation.”

    “What are you going to do?” I asked.

    “Come with me,” she said. “We're going to need a mirror.”


    This chapter continues on the next page; it's just been awkwardly broken up. My apologies.
     
    Last edited: Jul 11, 2015
  11. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine Gone. Not coming back.

    It was the start of something that would endure. I mentioned before that there have been three great maternal figures in my life: my mother, Aranea – and Zinnia. Coincidentally, they've all been devoted to one kind of giant serpent or another (the Red King, the dragonair, Rayquaza); perhaps uncoincidentally, they were all very much at home smiting those who needed to be smitten – my mother with her sword, Aranea with her wit, and Zinnia with a mega salamence. Which probably explains rather a lot about me, now I come to think about it.

    But my mother would never have been very good at raising a child. That's not to say I don't wish I had known her as a kid – I do. But I think, and Ulixa agreed, that though she would have been ferociously loyal, she would always have been torn between pistol-duels and pacifiers, between me and the wild ocean. My mother was, or is, an exceptionally talented woman, but she was also the kind of woman who tried to hunt monsters while pregnant. I'm not so blindly devoted to her memory that I can't see her flaws.

    And Aranea – well, she did her best, but she was an aunt, not a mother, and she stayed within the realms of aunthood. An aunt can do a lot for a child, and Aranea certainly did; however, she never quite had the knack for parenting that my father had. Her depression, and her acerbic streak, sometimes got the better of her.

    Zinnia isn't perfect either, but she's all I have right now – and just as importantly, I'm all she has. Once, long ago, she had a daughter. And then she did not. More than that isn't for me to say. She isn't ready to write her story yet, but when the time comes, she will set it down.

    That was what drew us together. Fragility on both sides – the scabbed wound of her old loss and the new stumps of my own freshly severed connections.

    Now that's bleak. Let me reassure you, we weren't sobbing in each other's arms or anything. It's just … nice. A weak word, but what else would be more appropriate? It's nice to have someone like that in your life. Even then, when I knew nothing about Zinnia's past, I found the presence of someone who could speak to me about the little bits and pieces with which we build our selves infinitely comforting.

    I remember sitting with her in my cabin, Edie watching with intense curiosity and insisting on fetching any implement we needed herself; I remember coming back up to the bridge later, my hair newly twisted into some semblance of a shape (not amazingly well, but then, Zinnia was out of practice, and anyway literally anything would have been an improvement on my old hairstyle) and noticing again a shift in the way Archie and Maxie perceived me, like when they had first seen me out of my Tethys uniform. Something about me had crystallised for them. They're sort of reticent about it, and I can think of several fairly obvious reasons why that might be, but I think that seeing me, the last traces of Tethys awkwardness scrubbed from my appearance, must have in some sense elevated me from child to adult in their minds. They had been guiding around Avice Amrit dol' Tethys, a bright but naïve young girl. In the course of a couple of hours, she had become Captain Avice, a sophisticated-looking young woman. It was purely cosmetic, of course, but that's the kind of change that messes with a man's head.

    Gods below, listen to me! I did warn you that I was vain. Perhaps you didn't believe me. In any case, that's all beside the point. What I'm getting at is really that this was the moment Zinnia started to seem like one of us, at least to me. It was a little thing, a hand on my arm when I walked into the bridge, a smiling eye when she saw my delight at how I looked, but it meant more. Everything means more. I guess that's the poet in me speaking.

    OK, I've indulged my narcissism long enough now. It's four o'clock. The second lot of birds usually arrive sometime before half past. I'm going to move outside again – the mist has lifted now – and see if I can catch its arrival. Back in a bit.




    On my desk I've got this notebook, the inkwell, a mug of cocoa, and a branch.

    Yes, you read that right. A branch.

    When I went out there, the bird was waiting – an unfezant this time, as the pokédex calls it, a big, exotic-looking pigeon with a tremendous crest like the fronds of a delicate coral. It was perched on the railing and it gave me an it's about time you showed up kind of look as I crossed the deck towards it. There was a little branch in its beak, with leaves on, and it stretched out its neck to put it into my hand before straightening up, preening for a moment and then flying away out over the water.

    Honchkrow. Swellow. Unfezant. And a branch.

    I see the pattern, dear reader. Do you? I think― but let's not jump the gun; I might be wrong. If it means what I think it means, though, it really is cause for excitement. Times are moving on, and we're right in the middle of it all. Tomorrow will be the test of it.

    This gift seems especially auspicious today, when I write about the first natural tree I ever saw. Since we were on the surface, more of the islands were visible, and while most were nothing but nubs of black rock, one at least was more than that, up in the northwestern corner of the archipelago. I don't remember which day it was when we saw it, but I remember the shriek of surprise and delight, and Zinnia's voice over the intercom:

    “Avice! Get up here, now. You're going to want to see this!”

    So I went up to the conning tower and looked out with her – and there it was. The tree.

    You may see trees all the time. I hope you do; that would mean that what we did really worked, and the sea has retreated back into its former bounds. And to be completely honest, I'd seen trees too – warped little things down in the zoo and the greenhouses, kept alive through the careful application of nutrient fluids and sun lamps. But set against that tree, they just didn't compare. They always looked like organisms taken out of their natural element; this tree looked tall, proud, right, a great spear of wood and leaves protruding out of its island like a middle finger stuck firmly up at the making over.

    “I can't tell you how long it's been since I saw a tree,” said Zinnia, grinning. “Hey, do you think we can stop and check it out?”

    “We're definitely going to stop and check it out,” I replied. “It's a drowned tree!

    No one else took much convincing. Once we'd pointed out the tree in question, both Archie and Maxie were all for stopping – as was Edie, who was looking at the distant conifer with a look in her eye that I couldn't place. I don't know how porygon feel about nature. They aren't natural, of course, but I suppose neither are humans, in many ways, and we still like a good tree. Or at least, we did back then. Maybe you're sick of them and wish you had more oceans. In which case, well. Be careful what you wish for.

    “I can't believe you spotted that,” said Archie, turning the Museum to starboard. “I can barely see it.”

    From the bridge, it's true, you couldn't see much more than the shape of the island and a vague cone on top of it. Visibility wasn't usually very good back then; it was always a little gloomy, and the rain never cleared.

    “It's easier from the conning tower,” Zinnia said. “You can see. Looks like a pine tree of some kind.”

    Maxie rubbed his hands together.

    “A tree,” he was saying. “A tree … how remarkable! I suppose if one survived, it would be here. I did see some of the ones in Tethys, but they weren't much more than glorified bonsai. No wonder nothing's made of wood any more.”

    That wasn't quite true, but wood was rare. If you wanted a piece of a usable size, it really had to be imported from the Hollow, which was more or less the only place where trees still grew. I suppose there could potentially have been some in places like Cormac's Mourn and Old Town, but in general the people of the Hollow guarded their precious resource jealously, and exacted terrible punishments for seed theft.

    The island wasn't far off – and wasn't much of an island, either. It was a little bigger than most of the others, and a little more welcoming: instead of sheer black cliffs, the southern side sloped gently down into the water, meeting the waves in a tumble of sea-smoothed pebbles and tussocky grass. I'd never seen anything so picturesque.

    And I was about to walk on it.

    “That's as close as I can get,” said Archie, halting about fifty yards out. “Looks like it drops off pretty sharply after the beach, but not enough for us to move in. Do we have a dinghy?”

    “We did,” said Maxie, “but then you left it at the bottom of the sea on Route 128.”

    “Ah.” Archie winced. “Well. Uh, can you swim, lass?”

    This seemed like a ridiculous question to me; I'd never heard of anyone who couldn't. What would they do if a corridor flooded and they had to reach the emergency exit?

    “Uh, yeah,” I said. “Everyone can swim.”

    He shrugged.

    “A'right.”

    “Back in our day, it wasn't something you could assume,” said Maxie. “Some people never even saw the sea.”

    “Huh,” I said, shaking my head. “Weird.” I couldn't even imagine that.

    “It made sense at the time.” Maxie gestured at the door. “Get Edie to show you where the drysuits are; I think at least a couple of them ought to still be usable. Hopefully one in your size, anyway. If you go into that water as you are, you'll freeze to death out there.”

    “What's a drysuit?” I asked.

    “It keeps you dry,” he answered. “Hence the name.”

    It was also far harder to get on than seemed necessary, but it did work. Though the sea was still cold enough to take my breath away, even with another layer on beneath the drysuit, I recovered in plenty of time to reach the surface and strike out for shore. Behind me, I sensed rather than heard the splashless entry of the ghosts into the water; they walked along the seabed, and were there to meet me when I waded out onto the beach.

    “Everything all right?” asked Zinnia, to which I nodded. “Great. You're a good swimmer. I'm not sure I could've done that.”

    “I could've, once,” sighed Archie. “Back when my arms could actually exert pressure on the surrounding water. Ah, well.” He turned to face inland, and the little hill over which could just be glimpsed the top of the pine tree. “Shall we, then?”

    “Wait for Edie,” I said, glancing back at the Museum. The hatch was just closing, and Edie skimmed across the water's surface, beating her wings furiously. She wasn't so good at sustained flight back then, and when she got to the beach she sank onto the stones, exhausted. “Aw, c'mere,” I said, scooping her up. “Well done! Good girl. I'll carry you now, yeah?”

    ♥, she said, pecking at my cheek. She fizzled gently where the water ran on my drysuit, but it didn't seem to be causing her any trouble, so I decided it couldn't be more than her waterproofing could handle.

    “All right,” said Archie, exasperated. “Now can we go and look at the majestic bloody wonder of nature?”

    Zinnia rolled her eyes.

    “Jeez. Come on, then. Let's go look at the tree.”

    And we did. I'm not going to describe it to you, dear reader. You know what a tree looks like, even if you live in Tethys and you've only seen the stunted ones down there. This one was bigger, with straight, healthy limbs and a thick coat of needles, but it was the same. You probably even have an idea of what the setting was like: the little brackish pond at its roots; the rise of the island's peak to the right, speckled with loose rocks; the clumps of grass and tough little plants that I couldn't put a name to. You know all that, so I'll leave it to you to imagine it. What I will say is what it felt like – to stand there on the top of the ocean, the place where an old world mountain and a new world island intersected at the base of a tree, on real solid ground, above water. It felt unreal, dear reader. I couldn't quite believe any of it – not the fact that this was real land, not the fact that this was a tree, not any of it. I seemed to have become detached from my reality and floated into someone else's.

    The feeling lasted a good five minutes before it started to ebb, and in all that time I didn't move – just stood there in the rain, staring. We all did.

    We were so rapt that we didn't even hear the motors as the dinghy approached.

    Did you think I'd escaped, dear reader? I certainly did. But I was wrong, of course. Tethys doesn't forget everything. It remembers the slights it suffers, and it nurses grudges like no other settlement in the ocean.

    A prow crunched on the stones, and boots followed suit. I half-heard them, I think, and I was about to turn around when he spoke.

    “Hail, Avice,” said Virgil. “It's me.”




    Excuse me. It's not late yet, but I've got to stop. I don't really want to write about what happened next. The moment I keep going on about has arrived – Virgil, bunker, wind. It was there, dear reader, that I saw what he had become and vice versa. What they had done to him, and he to himself.

    But enough hinting about it. I'll steel myself, and tomorrow I'll write it down properly, from start to finish. It's important that I do: it was the foundation for what I did at the Sky Pillar, for one, and even if it hadn't been, I couldn't leave out this part of the story. Virgil's tale is as vital to this history as anyone else's.

    See you tomorrow. I'm going to prepare myself.



    Sorry this is a couple of days late! I should have posted it on Thursday, but my house has been undergoing some rather disruptive renovation and repair work, so writing conditions haven't been ideal. Hopefully that's the last of the major disruption; if more does come up, I apologise in advance.
     
    Last edited: Jul 11, 2015
  12. Sike Saner

    Sike Saner Peace to the Mountain

    Wise as all get-out right there.

    Avice, you are simply adorable.

    I have to wonder what sort of little icon Edie had to say about that.

    Good question. I'm inclined to assume the answer is "not Zinnia", but I'll keep that window open for now.

    That is just so... authentic, I want to say. Idk, it's the first word that came to mind. Also it's hella amusing, how she basically goes "oh look a bird" mid-sentence. I love that.

    I initially read that as "turning into narrative". Some background process in my brain's going to spend hours contemplating what that would have meant if that'd actually been what she'd said.

    Oh god that is so cute

    Nice little detail. Love the timing.

    Pffff, awww.

    AWWW

    It's sludgeriffic!

    (I bet it tastes like watered-down oatmeal.)

    audibly snrks at that

    Good holy heck I love the dynamic between these two.

    Yeah that ranks kind of extremely high on the list of mix-ups you don't want to make, doesn't it.

    And I will cry, won't I.

    Haha. That is a delightful way of putting it.

    Ohhh ****...
     
  13. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine Gone. Not coming back.

    Perhaps you're right. Sometimes it's a blessing, I suppose, but Avice does tend to overthink things. It's probably good to give that a rest every once in a while. Not everything is overdetermined.


    I'm guessing a ! followed by three ?s and, finally, a tick.

    Up to you and how cynical you feel! While everyone (Avice included) would love to believe that the ghosts or real, neither she nor anyone else can ever be certain that they are. It's difficult to know if it's even possible for them to be real; Avice's world seems unable to make up its mind about whether or not the supernatural is possible.

    It's an unashamedly autobiographical detail. I am the kind of person who breaks off a sentence to point out a cool bird. Or even a not-so-cool bird. Like, any animal, basically, especially if it has feathers.

    She sort of is saying that, or at least I'm saying that about her. The slippage between 'turning it into' and 'turning into' wasn't entirely intentional on my part, but it certainly fits with what Avice keeps insisting on about patterns and stories and poetry.

    ... I say, forgetting how much of that material I've cut from these chapters and reserved for future use. Hm. Hopefully this is a thing that'll become clearer as we go ahead, but for the time being, well. Avice is a bit unreliable about defining the difference between art and life.

    I like how these lines are almost entirely a crescendo of cute. Edie is here for all your cuteness needs.

    I guess it depends on what chemicals go into it. Somehow, though, I doubt Edie knows enough about flavour to program it to create something more interesting.

    Me too! Maybe I'm just sentimental, but after playing through the Delta Episode and picking out the little clues to Zinnia's backstory, I kinda just wanted to help her sort her life out -- especially since, if Kyogre was never stopped, she must have failed in her mission to summon Rayquaza to stop the meteor, and thus never met the player character, and thus ... well, missed out on the events towards the end of the Episode that start her towards healing. So I wanted to include something else that could form the basis of that, and that happened to fit in neatly with my desire to have the ghosts sort out their personal demons by coming into contact with Avice.

    Or perhaps that's me getting overly attached to fictional characters. That's ... not outside the realms of possibility.

    Possibly! If like me you were unreasonably upset by the implications for Zinnia's past in the Delta Episode, then you probably will. If not, then perhaps you won't. What I'm saying is that whether or not you cry, I probably will.

    Thank you!

    Yes, we've got to That Bit, the one that Avice has been making reference to ever since the third day. Virgil and the keening wind. I hope it lives up to the hype! It's a different sort of chapter to usual in terms of how it's put together, but hopefully it'll work.

    As ever, thank you for responding, and more generally for reading! The next chapter actually looks like it will come out on time for once. Amazing, I know. Let's hope I can keep that up.
     
    Last edited: Jul 19, 2015
  14. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine Gone. Not coming back.

    Some slightly stronger language in this one. It's also a fair bit more violent than usual, although I've tried to keep it from being too graphic, and there won't be too much of this stuff in this fic as a whole.


    ELEVEN: BLOOD AND DATA

    I have almost forgot the taste of fears;
    The time has been, my senses would have cool'd
    To hear a night-shriek …

    ―William Shakespeare, Macbeth V.v


    I stared at him for what felt like an eternity, trying to cast off the sense of unreality so I could tell whether he was really there or not. (And no, there's no preamble, not today. Let's get this over with.)

    Virgil looked very different, or perhaps he looked the same and I was just looking at him with different eyes. His deathly Tethys pallor was startlingly apparent in the weak sunlight, and though his eyes were hidden behind sunglasses even bigger than mine, I thought I could read a touch of uncertainty in his face. The uniform he wore looked absurd here on dry land – but when I saw that blank enamel badge, I found it hard to suppress a shiver. The city still had its claws in me.

    “Who's this?” asked Zinnia, sensing that something was amiss.

    “An agent of Tethys,” answered Maxie. “I … I seem to have forgotten his name.”

    I realised then that so had I.

    “Hail,” I said. “So. You're a full agent now, is that it?”

    He nodded.

    “I am Virgil,” he said. “My name is somewhere in there.” He pointed at the Museum, a gesture that made it very hard for me not to notice the flechette-gun in his hand – not to mention how far away I was from my own pistols, lying on the dresser in my cabin.

    “He seems pretty distracted,” Zinnia said. “Any reason you can't just rush him? Or set Edie on him or something?”

    “Not till we know where his marshtomp is,” replied Maxie. “Keep at it, Avice. He'll show his cards sooner or later.”

    “They must've got that one in quick,” I said. “Guess the CCC found all your spying on schoolgirls pretty impressive.”

    He bristled, fingers tightening on the gun. Edie wriggled free of my arms and took up a defensive position at my feet, playing another of her menacing jingles – but Virgil barely seemed to notice.

    “I never got that,” he said. “Why do you do this, Avice?”

    “Stealing museums or being sarcastic?”

    “Both. Either. Any of it.” He sighed. “Look at you. You stole the Star, the Museum, and look at you, just look at you.”

    “I'm aware I'm not looking my best,” I admitted, indicating the drysuit. “I mean, I've put together more flattering outfits.”

    Virgil glowered.

    “Does it mean nothing to you?” he asked. “Our city? Our heritage, our safety? You're hurting people when you break these rules, Avice―”

    “Oh, I'm sorry,” I said, starting to be angry in earnest now. “I didn't realise that the uniform code was that drowned important.”

    “It stands for something,” he told me. “Just like the Museum. Just like respect for the person with the upper hand in a situation like this.”

    “I've still got my demon,” I said, and Edie jangled her affirmation. “You want to see what she can do? I've got more than just a bright flash up my sleeve this time.”

    “So have I.” He raised the gun, and I felt the faint tickle of a ghost's fingers trying to clutch my arm and passing through it instead. “Two corvettes, Avice. Even if you get back to the Museum, you're not getting away again.”

    “Bloody hell,” growled Archie. “Avice, I think we're in trouble here.”

    Two? I guess I should be flattered. What kind of a fight were you expecting?”

    “It will take two of them to tow the Museum,” he told me, ignoring the jibe. “We're not to enter it.”

    “You're not even tempted?”

    He shook his head.

    “I told you before. Things are forgotten for a reason. We've got to survive, not look backwards.”

    There was another long silence. I was thinking of the last time he had said that to me, and the ways in which the boy I was speaking to did not very much resemble the one who had spoken then. How had that happened? It hadn't been that long ago, had it?

    “You must know I can't just come with you,” I said at last. “We're both well aware that that would basically just be a death sentence.”

    “That's not for me to say,” Virgil said.

    “A little tyrannical, huh,” murmured Zinnia.

    “He's not lying about the corvettes, either,” Maxie informed me. I hadn't heard him leave, but then, outside the Museum it's difficult to hear a ghost's footsteps, even for me. They're not in very good contact with the ground. “They're on the northeastern side of the island.”

    “'Sflukes,” I muttered. “Virgil. Please. We can do more than survive, you know. We can grow. Don't you think that aiming for stasis is setting our sights too low?”

    “I think,” he said, “that you had better get in the boat.”

    A wave split apart and Augusta sprang out onto the shore, fins slapping, sending up a fine mist of spray. She was a bit bigger than I remembered. Mudkip grow fast – the pokédex says they're usually a mature swampert within five years, and sooner if their trainer is particularly good; Virgil was more than good, and already Augusta's whiskers were starting to lengthen and multiply.

    “It looks like you're holding all the cards here,” I said. “A gun and a marshtomp and two corvettes.”

    “You can put it off as long as you like,” said Virgil, “but eventually, you're going to have to get in that boat. Either you're going to run out of things to say, or I'm going to run out of patience.”

    He was right – and I was already running out of things to say; most of my mind was occupied trying to think of a way out of the situation. I could make a break for the water, in which I'd be mostly safe from his flechettes – but there was no way I could outswim Augusta, and besides, I couldn't leave Edie here with him. I could try to attack him with Edie, but I had a feeling that though she would be willing enough (the time she had spent outside Tethys seemed to have made her bolder), she wouldn't get very far before she ended up with half a dozen flechettes in her head. I didn't know if that would kill her. I didn't want to find out.

    “OK,” I said. “OK, Virgil, let me propose something. Let's battle for it.”

    He started. His flechette-pistol actually wobbled for a moment in his surprise.

    “What?”

    “Like, a trial by arms,” I said. “Come on, Virgil. They've taken your name, but I know you. You're a trainer first and an agent second, right?”

    Silently, I prayed to every deity I could think of that I was right. He couldn't have changed that much, could he? Yes, he was different now – but I'd been there when he and Augusta trained with Moll and Chubb in the courts at the academy, and I'd recognised the peculiar attachment between them. That was the kind of bond I had with Edie. You couldn't have that and still be totally evil, I was certain. It was just too pure.

    It was a misguided thought, I recognise that now. Virgil was never evil. In many ways, he might have been the most pure-hearted of all of us – he genuinely believed in the city's mission; was truly terrified that if its self-inflicted stasis failed it would collapse into self-destructive anarchy. Like me, he was fighting for what he thought was right, except that he was utterly immune to any hint of a doubt. There was no conflict between his loyalty to the city and his love for his pokémon.

    I didn't know that then, but still, I wasn't too far off the mark with my guess. Virgil wasn't a trainer, no. The boy he once was had been a trainer, and he had died when he gave up his name. But Virgil at least still thought he was a trainer, and that was just enough.

    “You must be desperate,” he said. “You won't beat us. By the time I left the academy, only Moll ever beat me, and you? You're not her.”

    That stung, although I couldn't say why. If it hadn't been for the gun, I might have hit him.

    “Why don't you try me?” I said. “Why don't―?”

    “What the hell is that?” cried Zinnia.

    I couldn't help but look up at that – and then I saw what we'd all been too busy to notice: the dark mass on the horizon, bubbling like a great swarm of insects. One sniff of the air, and I knew what it was – everyone on the ocean knew, even us down in Tethys. It was too dangerous to be forgotten.

    “The keening wind,” said Archie. “Avice! It's the bloody keening wind!”

    Virgil must have seen the look of panic on my face, because he turned, and then he panicked too.

    “'Sflukes!” He turned back again. “Avice, come on! Into the boat or we're both dead!”

    The wind was approaching with unnatural speed, the darkness resolving into a deep and bloody red. In the time we'd been talking, it had already swallowed up half the islands to the south.

    “We'd never make it to the corvettes,” I said. “Not even to the Museum … gods below! Maxie, did you see any shelter?”

    “What?” asked Virgil, but I was no longer looking at him.

    “There might be a cave on the other side of the mountain,” Maxie said. “I think I saw something when I searched for the corvettes.”

    I nodded. The adrenaline had my blood singing in my veins; it was as if it could hear the call of the wind's blood, and was waiting to commingle with it. Everything seemed terribly, unnaturally clear, and I wondered if this was real fear: a vast, thrusting panic that unified every muscle in my body in the urge to flee.

    “Edie!” I cried. “Stay close!”

    “Where are you going?” asked Virgil, as I started to run. His gun hand hung limp at his side. No one thinks of shooting when the keening wind blows.

    “Trying to stay alive!” I yelled over my shoulder. “Come on!”

    And then we were both sprinting, tripping on the grass and the stones, both of us unused to anything but the level surface of a ship's deck or a Tethys corridor; Edie at my heels, wings beating so fast they hummed; Augusta gasping for breath, galloping far faster and over rougher terrain than any marshtomp ever did before; ahead of us the ghosts, almost slithering up the side of the hill, their speed disconnecting them with reality; and behind us, the steadily rising wail of the wind, shredding the waves, hitting the tree with a sound like a thousand tiny axes as we crested the rise …

    “Here!” shouted Maxie, screaming to be heard over the wind, but I could see nothing but the hill sloping down towards the sea and by that point I had lost the ability to think clearly; I couldn't see what he meant so I just kept running―

    Virgil grabbed my arm and pulled me backwards onto stone somewhere very dark and with a thud the sound of the wind faded into the distance.

    I lay there for a moment, panting and trying to make sense of what had just happened. The keening wind had come. We had run. And now – what, exactly? I hadn't seen a cave, but I didn't think I was dead.

    “Oh god,” Zinnia kept saying. “Oh god, oh god, Avice, are you OK? Avice? Avice―?”

    “Yes,” I said, sitting up and taking off my sunglasses. “Yes, I think so.”

    “Thank Christ,” said Archie. I felt the cool tickle of ghost-contact all around me, and nearly cried. Going from blind terror to feeling loved in the space of a couple of seconds is difficult to handle, and I had some sort of emotional whiplash.

    “We're here,” said Maxie. “We're all here.”

    They were. I was starting to realign myself with reality a bit better now, and I could see the three of them gathered around me, all instinctively trying to touch me. Edie was there too, her beak on my hand – and over there, a metre or so away in the indeterminate dark, was a shape that might have been Virgil.

    “What was that?” asked Zinnia. “That – thing?

    “The keening wind,” I said. “I never thought I'd really see it.”

    “Me either,” said Virgil, switching on a torch and materialising in the new light. He too had taken off his sunglasses; beneath them, his eyes were sunk deep in dark circles. “We owe Tempest our thanks.”

    “Yeah,” I said, although I thought that really we ought to be thanking Maxie. “I guess we do.”

    “What is this place, anyway?” he asked. The torch beam swung around, illuminating concrete walls and floor. Wherever we were, it wasn't particularly well-furnished – or large. It looked like one of the forgotten maintenance rooms where I'd spent so much time as a child.

    “I don't know,” I said. “Do you think it's safe?”

    “The door was pretty solid.” He shone the torch at it: steel, I thought, although it was badly corroded. How he'd found the strength to close it against the wind I couldn't imagine; the salt air must have rusted the hinges almost solid. “I think we're all right in here. What is here, anyway?”

    “Don't know. It looks old. Maybe it's just here for shelter, if the wind usually blows this way.”

    As if that were a signal of some kind, we all listened intently, living and dead alike. Distantly, the keening wind howled, and Edie crept into my lap with a frightened jingle.

    “What is this keening wind?” asked Zinnia. “That – it's something new, right? I'm, like, ninety-nine per cent sure we didn't have that when I was alive.”

    “No one knows,” said Archie. “Lots of theories, though.”

    “Such as?”

    “I reckon it's the ghosts out of Mt. Pyre, dissolved in saltwater. Not quite enough to kill a ghost-type, that. But it'd make 'em mad, wouldn't it?”

    None of us answered. Outside, the howling intensified. It made the dark seem darker, somehow.

    “Edie,” I said. “Brightness up, please.”

    ♪, she replied, and glowed a little brighter. Now the chamber was gloomy instead of pitch-black, which was as much of an improvement as I could hope for without having Edie blind us all.

    “What is that, really?” asked Virgil, looking at her. “It can't really be a demon. Can it?”

    I sighed.

    “No,” I admitted. “She's a pokémon. A very old pokémon from before the making over. She got stuck in the Museum by accident.”

    “Accident?”

    “It's … complicated,” I said, not quite feeling up to the task of explaining computers to him.

    “Right.”

    Another long pause. I shuffled back and leaned against the wall. Zinnia sat next to me, hugging her knees.

    “I know you can't really talk with him right there,” she said. “But Avice, I gotta ask, do you have a plan?”

    I shrugged.

    “Battle, maybe?” I whispered.

    “You think that'll work?” she asked.

    I shrugged again, and she sighed.

    “Right.”

    “Avice,” said Virgil, sitting down on my other side. “I lost my gun.”

    Augusta slithered out of the shadows and into his lap, tail fins dragging on the ground. Did that mean she was tired? Maybe we could hold our own against her and Virgil after all. Edie recovered energy lost by moving around quite quickly; it was only generating electricity and the like that really left her exhausted. And if he was unarmed …

    But I couldn't just try and beat him up, not now. In a straight fight, he'd almost certainly win – he had the training, after all, and the strength. Besides, it would be a contravention of the truce brought by the keening wind. If I was going to escape, it had to be when we got out.

    “I guess the wind will destroy it,” I said, after a while.

    “I guess. So … where does that leave us?”

    “I'll tell you where it leaves us,” said Archie. “Get him on the way out. Push him down the bloody hill and run.”

    “For once, it seems we're in agreement,” said Maxie. “If you can get back to the Museum you have a chance of outrunning the corvettes. They won't want to fire the torpedoes and risk destroying it.”

    “If that wind hasn't done that first,” muttered Zinnia. “I don't know. I guess you're right. You know more about this than I do.”

    It sounded a little bitter. I suppose it probably was, although it says a lot that it was only then, under the stress of being trapped by Virgil and the keening wind, that she let her mask slip even a fraction.

    I sighed and ignored all of them.

    “I don't know, Virgil,” I admitted. “I haven't known for a long time. I don't even know who you are.”

    He flinched, which was rewarding. There might have been something of the boy who was not Virgil in him, even then – perhaps only a memory of him, but still. By this point I shouldn't need to tell you how important memories can be.

    “You liked me, once,” he said, almost reproving.

    “And then you turned out to be an agent for the drowned CCC,” I shot back, a touch of irritation making it through my fatigue. “Pretty good cure for teenage infatuation.”

    Archie raised his eyebrows.

    “You sure can pick 'em, lass. All the kids in the city and you went for the trainee secret policema― ah, what was that for?”

    “I thought I was the insensitive one,” muttered Maxie, removing his elbow from Archie's ribs.

    “I guess that would change things,” admitted Virgil, oblivious. “I really hoped we could be friends, you know.”

    I said nothing. The wind moaned like something in pain.

    “It's been lonely since you left,” he went on. “Moll won't speak to me, and everyone else is … afraid.”

    “I wonder why that is.”

    “But sacrifices have to be made.”

    “For what?”

    “For the safety of the city.”

    I opened my mouth to reply, but found myself speechless to respond; I shook my head and looked away.

    “Jeez,” said Zinnia. “I'm sorry, Avice.”

    She reached out to put her arm around me, realised it wouldn't work, and withdrew it again. Sensing that some contact was needed, Edie snuggled close against my chest, her movements making the shadows dance on the floor. She kept one eye on Virgil, and all of a sudden I realised she wasn't as worn out as she looked. When had she got so subtle? Had I taught her that?

    “How did you find me?” I asked, after a minute or two of quiet and wind.

    “It took us a while,” Virgil told me. “No one noticed you leave, really – or they did, and kept forgetting. I think some people tried to investigate when they saw the Museum passing by, but it was difficult for them to remember what they were doing. You had quite a head start by the time we figured out what had happened. Most people still don't know that the Museum's gone.”

    I suppose that as long as people think an object is in the Museum, it's as good as if it actually were there. The Administration doesn't need it at all, only the idea of it. But we'll see about that.

    “When the Administration worked it out and put together an expedition, I was chosen because I knew you,” Virgil continued. “We thought you would go to Cormac's Mourn, so we asked questions there – and you were seen sailing west from there, into the islands.”

    “And now here we are,” I said.

    “Yeah. Here we are.”

    I closed my eyes for a moment. Here in this strange little bubble of old world shelter, it felt peculiarly safe. I could have fallen asleep – I half wanted to, even, if only to escape what was happening. But I couldn't. I had to get out of this mess somehow. And I only had one idea as to how I might go about doing that.

    “All right,” I said. “How about that battle, then?”

    He snorted.

    “Are you serious?”

    “I'm not sure that's a good idea,” said Maxie. “He and that marshtomp are a lot more experienced than you.”

    “I'm super drowned serious,” I replied. “You win, I go with you. I win, you back off. You can say you had to take shelter from the wind and I got away. They can't hold you responsible for that.” Even Administrators, I thought, would have to recognise that civic law ceased to apply in the face of the keening wind.

    Maybe it was the half-light playing tricks on me, but I thought he was wavering.

    “Come on,” I urged. “Even if I win, it's only a temporary reprieve for me. I know that as well as you do. No one escapes the city. When was the last time you had a battle, anyway? I bet Moll doesn't fight you any more. ”

    He twitched, and I wondered if I'd gone too far with that. Rivals are supposed to be for life. It must sting to lose one.

    “She doesn't, no,” he said curtly. “She cut me dead as soon as you disappeared.” He paused. “Not that she remembers why. You're part of the Museum now, Avice. We have your old name badge, so we remembered, but the citizenry? Nothing.”

    I swallowed and looked away. Edie buzzed and glared at Virgil; Augusta gave a threatening croak in response.

    “I'm sorry,” said Zinnia. “You mentioned that you thought – but I didn't realise what you meant. Sorry.”

    “Do you want a drowned battle or not?” I asked quietly.

    Virgil sighed.

    “Yeah, sure. Whatever.” He nudged Augusta to the floor and stood up. “Come on, then. Show me what you've got.”

    “You're sure about this?” asked Maxie, as I set Edie down and got up to face Virgil. “I really don't think it's a good idea.”

    “Do you have a better one?” enquired Zinnia. “Nope, thought not.”

    “I'm just saying―”

    “You mean well, and thanks for that,” I said, “but right now I could use a little faith.”

    “What was that?”

    “Nothing, Virgil.” I cleared my throat and straightened my back. I'd seen Moll do this a thousand times. And I had a kind of advantage, too, in that I knew all about Augusta but Virgil knew nothing about Edie. I even had supporters – veteran Trainers, all skilled enough to use mega evolution, standing at my back. It wasn't totally impossible that I could win this. “Right,” I said. “Edie, you ready for this?”

    She played a few bars of menacing music and twirled on the spot. She was ready, all right; she had been since Virgil climbed up onto the beach.

    “This is going to be a pokémon battle,” I told her. “So you're only to attack her, all right?”

    I pointed at Augusta, and Edie emitted a tick.

    “Good girl.”

    Virgil shook his head.

    “You've never even battled with her before, have you?”

    “First time for everything,” I said. “Like, I bet you've never lost to a first-time trainer before, either.”

    He smiled. I thought he was genuinely amused, not just annoyed, and that gave me hope.

    “Right,” he said, placing the torch so that its beam illuminated the space between us. “Count of three, then?”

    “One,” I replied.

    “Two.”

    “Three.”

    “Ground it,” snapped Virgil, and Augusta reared in the torchlight, throat swelling―

    “Out of the way!” I cried, but Edie was way ahead of me; she beat her wings and shot two feet straight up at the same moment as Augusta snapped her head forward and hurled a mass of compacted mud into the space she had just vacated. She retaliated with a thin beam of yellowish lightning – but it sank into Augusta without any visible effect.

    “It's half ground,” said Archie urgently. “Don't use electric-type moves on it.”

    I should have known that. I did know that. But Edie didn't.

    “Edie! No electricity!”

    “Arc!”

    Augusta swung her head from left to right, a torrent of water bursting from her mouth and cutting an arc through the air; it caught Edie on the right wing and knocked her to the floor so hard that she flickered. She spat a single discordant note and I cried out, but Augusta was already moving forwards, jaws wide, water foaming out over her lips―

    Edie flickered again and turned blue.

    I blinked.

    “Wha―?”

    Augusta's next blast of water caught Edie full in the chest, but this time, surprisingly, she didn't even fizzle as much as when the rain caught her; she slid back a little, but jumped up a moment later and let loose a beam of particoloured light that gave me a headache to look at. It hit the charging marshtomp squarely between the eyes and stopped her dead in her tracks with a smell like burning plastic.

    “Signal beam,” said Maxie. “Or something similar, cobbled together out of bits of code. Fascinating.”

    “Get back!” Virgil cried, shaken. Augusta turned and hopped away, but she was dizzy and her movements were sluggish; I saw the opportunity and nodded to Edie, who swept forward and swept out Augusta's hind legs from under her with one wing.

    “Another – uh – signal thing!”

    Edie rose, twirled, aimed her beak downwards at the prone marshtomp―

    “Protect!”

    Green light flared and the beam of alien light scattered harmlessly over the surface of the translucent sphere of energy that had appeared around Augusta. Disconcerted, Edie let her laser peter out, and while she was still drifting back down to earth Virgil barked:

    “Ground it!”

    At such close range, Augusta could hardly miss: she turned and fired the mud bomb directly into Edie's chest. It broke apart on impact, splattering across her face and wings with a force that made sparks dance on her surface and a low drone whine from her beak; Edie dropped like a stone, her magnetic flight arrested, and fluttered feebly on the floor.

    I stared, too horrified to give a command. Wasn't Edie an Electric-type? I thought she was. How could she possibly survive tha―?

    Edie flickered and turned brown.

    “There it is again,” said Archie, scowling. “Looks familiar. Where've I seen that before?”

    “Mud-slap,” ordered Virgil, and Augusta spun on her heel with surprising agility for something with such flat feet, swinging her tail and a new complement of mud into Edie's face. It knocked her aside – but again, now that she had changed colour, it seemed to bother her a whole lot less; she jumped up again a moment later and rotated sharply, flicking the mud out of her eyes.

    My voice recovered before the rest of me, and ordered her to blast Augusta with Signal Beam again before I'd even fully registered that Edie was not in fact dead. The marshtomp was wise to that tactic now, though, and without Virgil having to say a word she dropped to her belly and slid beneath the beam on a mat of mud and slime.

    Archie snapped his fingers.

    “It's like a starmie using Camouflage!” he said. “Uh – 'scuse me, Maxie.”

    “Right,” said Zinnia. “'Cept Edie seems to need to get hit first. I think she's scanning the moves that hit her and transforming into that type so as to resist it.”

    That was that mystery solved, but I didn't have the luxury of appreciating it. I'd forgotten what was riding on this match – forgotten everything except that Edie was risking herself for me, her registered user, her trainer, and that if I didn't get my act together she could be very badly hurt. She was holding her own, even with my incompetence, but her own strange abilities would only take her so far. She needed guidance.

    “Get it on the ground!” snapped Virgil, and Augusta reared onto her hind legs and wrapped her forelegs around Edie's little body. Electricity arced all over her skin, but of course it did nothing, and though she flapped her wings hard Augusta was simply too heavy for her to break away from. The marshtomp slammed her down on the floor and brought one heavy flipper down on her chest.

    Should I order her to turn up her brightness? No, it would take too much power; she wouldn't have enough left to end the fight. But what I could do was―

    “Edie! Graphics down!”

    She froze for a moment, then the curves of her body stiffened and resolved into straight lines as her polygon count (I think that's the phrase) dropped. Her wings became stiff, sharp-edged paddles; her beak, a long and pointed pyramid. Augusta's next attempt at punching her brought her foot into contact with the edge of Edie's head, and she withdrew with a moan of surprise and pain: it was sharp enough now to draw blood.

    “Oh my god,” breathed Zinnia. “Way to go, Avice! That is seriously smart.”

    “What in all blood―? Augusta! Out of the way!”

    The marshtomp staggered back, but Edie was back upright now, though she was a little slower and more translucent with her injuries, and she darted forwards, sweeping one razor-edged wing across Augusta's side and opening a cut. Not deep, but she hadn't been expecting it, and she curled over the injury, hissing furiously.

    I risked a glance at Virgil. He was utterly rigid, staring at the two pokémon with an intensity beyond anything I'd seen in him before. Rattled, then. Good. Perhaps he'd make a mistake.

    He did not.

    “Type change,” he said. “Clever. Water!”

    But Edie is a ground-type now, I thought, and opened my mouth to tell her to run―

    She had been too busy attacking, I saw that instantly. When you're fighting with beak and bladed wings, you must necessarily remain close to the opponent – and so when that opponent blasts you with a column of water, it's hard to get out of the way.

    I had made the same mistake earlier in the match. I should have learned. I didn't.

    The water ripped straight through Edie as if she were a ghost, spearing her in midair and riddling her surface with bursting patches of coloured light; she screamed – a horrible noise, a droning, grinding noise like nothing I'd ever heard – and dropped straight down to the floor.

    Edie!

    “Stay where you are!” cried Maxie, trying and failing to grab my arm. “If you interfere, you forfeit and he wins!”

    I caught myself just in time. I couldn't move, I told myself. I could not move. Every nerve in my body was screaming for me to but I could not move. If I didn't, there was still a chance, however small …

    “Make sure it's out,” said Virgil, and Augusta dragged herself over to where Edie lay. She moved slowly, favouring her injured side; doubtless this had been a harder fight than either she or Virgil had expected. But still, it was ending as they knew it would, with Augusta standing over her opponent, victorious. What else could I have expected? And who cared, now? I just wanted to get to Edie – had to know if she was OK―

    Edie lifted her head and pushed her beak into Augusta's leg.

    I cried out and Virgil gasped; Augusta hissed like a broken gas pipe and tried to withdraw; Edie wriggled feebly to keep up, and in an instant I knew what to do―

    “Signal thing!”

    There have been more dramatic words with which to end a battle, but they did the trick. The multicoloured lights went off inside Augusta's leg, and though Edie could not strike with her former force it was still enough to lift her opponent bodily from her feet and flip her onto her back.

    The two pokémon lay there, hardly moving. Augusta's energy was spent, and there would be no fighting on her injured leg now; Edie, for her part, had run out of power entirely and had turned transparent and intangible, utterly exhausted.

    A long, long moment passed, broken only by the mournful cry of the wind.

    “A draw,” said Zinnia at last. “So where does that leave us?”

    Virgil shook his head.

    “No,” he said. “No, you can't― no!

    I took a step back. I didn't like the sound of that.

    “I can't lose!” he roared. “Not now!”

    “I don't think he was expecting you to be so good,” said Maxie unnecessarily. “Oh Christ – watch out!”

    The boy who was not Virgil would have gone to check on Augusta right away. This was not him. This was Virgil, and he was approaching me with a light burning in his eyes that was partly fear and partly anger and wholly terrifying.

    I took another step back. The ghosts crowded in around me on both sides as if they might be able to protect me.

    “What are you doing?” I asked. I wanted to remain cool – to still be sarcastic – but right now these usual tactics were failing me; I could hardly even speak, my tongue stumbling over the words. I thought I had been afraid before, when I was being hunted through Tethys, and perhaps I was. But it was nothing compared to my fear then, when in the uncertain light of the torch Virgil stalked towards me like something crawling out of hell. “What are you doing?” I repeated. “Virgil, we had a deal―”

    “It doesn't matter,” he growled. “The city has to be protected.”

    “It'll be fine―”

    “How can it be?” he yelled, horribly loud in the confined space, loud enough to make m stumble as I backed away. “We can't hide the theft forever! You'll destroy everything!

    In another place, another time, I would have shouted back: perhaps I want to! Not then. I couldn't. It wasn't just that I thought he would hurt me. It was that this was not him, not the boy I knew. I had thought he had a trainer's honour, some kind of principle that would force him to keep his word – or even if he didn't, that he wouldn't break the peace forced on us by the keening wind, the only reliable truce in all the ocean. It was unthinkable for anyone – and it was doubly so for Virgil, who for all his misguided ideas had always at least been good at heart.

    Except that he was doing it. He had buried his past self along with his name and at that moment, as I ran out of space to back away and came up against the wall, I realised what a terrible mistake I had made.

    No one escapes the Administration. Not me – and not Virgil. You pledge yourself to their service and you become the avatar of their will. The boy who was not Virgil had never left the city.

    The ghosts jumped between us, thrashing, pushing, but of course it did nothing. I remember Maxie ramming his shoulder into Virgil's chest and going straight through; Archie, mouth open in some cry of fury, punching air; Zinnia, trying to cut his legs from under him and finding her leg hooked nothing. They knew it was futile, and so did I.

    He always was much stronger than me.




    Perhaps I shouldn't have fought back. That may have been what made him subdue me so … vigorously. Or maybe that was the city acting through him, taking its revenge on the threat to its aquatic supremacy.

    I can't say exactly what happened, because I'm not really sure. I hit my head very hard a couple of times, and I may have lost consciousness for a few seconds. Whatever the case, the whole event is something of a blur, for which I'm grateful. My next clear memory – and listen, I tell you so much; please, let me keep those unclear memories of the fight to myself – is of sitting there in the corner, hands cuffed, nose broken, and the rest of me more or less uniformly painful. Later, I'd make a catalogue, from the bloody grazes the stones tore down my shins to the throbbing bump the wall left on my head. I had time. It took many days for the swelling to go down in either my eye or my lip.

    But like I said. It's not the being beaten up that really hurt. It wasn't the first time I'd lost a fight, though it was the only one I'd lost quite that badly. What was truly painful, what cut me to the quick, was Virgil's betrayal. His eyes, when he came for me – that was what I'd remember. What I still remember, in the treacherous hours after midnight. There are two options for those who know the city's secrets. You end up like me. Or you end up like him.

    That's why we have to go back – why we are going back. I won't let the drowned thing win. When I'm done with it, Tethys will change – will remember – or it will die.

    I have no memory of waking up. The story resumes with me sitting there in the corner, Zinnia crouched at my side.

    “Avice,” she whispered. “Oh, thank God.”

    She hugged me, not caring that she went straight through. It was a little sudden – we hadn't known each other that long – but at that time, with that stress, neither of us thought it strange.

    “You're awake,” said Maxie. “Are you all right?”

    I stared at him, trying to get my eyes to focus. Some wandering part of my mind was surprised and overjoyed to see him; I seemed to see him trying to attack Virgil all over again. He'd come a long way from manipulating me.

    “I think so,” I tried to say, but it came out as a low, incoherent mumble.

    “Easy there, lass.” Archie rubbed my shoulder as best he could, the cool of his ghost-stuff soothing on the aches. “Can't rush things after taking a beating like that.”

    Zinnia shook her head.

    “Honestly,” she said. “I don't know what was going on in his head. I was afraid he might …”

    “No,” I managed. “He wouldn't. City's dog.”

    I looked past them all to Virgil, who was knelt in the middle of his room with his back to me, tending to Augusta. If he heard me, he didn't react; he simply set down the empty potion bottle at his side and continued with his work.

    “Dog? More like a son of a b*tch,” growled Archie. He cast a look at Virgil, and I knew without having to see his eyes that it was one of those thunderbolt glares. “What the hell was he thinking?”

    I closed my eyes – or, I closed one. The other was already swollen most of the way there.

    “Nothing,” I said. “Wasn't him. It was Virgil.”

    I meant that it wasn't the boy who was not Virgil, of course, but I don't know if any of them understood. They might have just thought I was still confused. I had just been knocked out, after all.

    “Edie,” I said. “Where?”

    “He couldn't hurt her,” Maxie assured me. “She's in sleep mode – completely intangible. I should think she'll be out for a while, but once she wakes up she will be absolutely fine.” He paused. “I didn't know she knew how to fight.”

    “Reckon she's been on a few more adventures than you thought,” said Archie. “You don't learn how to fight like that poking around in the box system.”

    “And you directed her well,” said Zinnia. “That guy's good, like ace trainer good, and you and Edie held your own. You did everything you could.”

    “Yes, quite,” said Maxie. “It's just a pity his honour isn't what it used to be.”

    Virgil straightened up, and immediately the conversation died. In the silence, I realised for the first time that I could hear the sea. The keening wind had passed.

    “Time to go,” he said, without looking at me. At his feet, Augusta shook herself out, her wounds no more than faint scars. A few more hours and they wouldn't even be that. Some technologies are too necessary to be forgotten. “Get up.”

    I didn't move. It was more the pain than my stubbornness.

    “Get up,” he repeated, and I forced myself up onto my feet, gasping as the motion sent fresh agonies cascading through my body. Dizziness struck me like a club, and I might have fallen if the wall hadn't been there to lean on.

    Edie, I thought – but then I realised that I couldn't take her; she wasn't solid enough to grab hold of at the moment. Besides, the only place she would be safe from the Administration was the Museum, and there was no chance I could sneak her back in there. If she was to survive, I had to leave her here.

    Virgil heaved on the door and it ground open with a short shriek that reminded me unpleasantly of the wind. The grey light spilled in, blindingly bright in the gloom, and I fumbled awkwardly for the sunglasses in my pocket, hoping they weren't broken. They weren't, but it was hard to get them on with my hands cuffed. Virgil had not been merciful when he applied them.

    He put his own sunglasses on, and Augusta hopped out eagerly into the drizzle.

    “Come on,” he said, still without looking around.

    I looked at Zinnia, who just shrugged and looked worried. I understood. There was nothing to be done.

    “If I were alive,” muttered Archie, but he didn't finish.

    “Come on,” repeated Virgil, and I stumbled across the room after him. I tried to look for Edie, just to get one more glance at her before I left, but she was so faint, and my sunglasses so effective, that I could see nothing but the shadows and the concrete.

    “Bye,” I whispered, and walked out into the rain.




    There. I said I would write it down and now I have. I know it's not as much as I normally manage but I can't do any more, I just can't. Not today.

    I'm going up on deck to get drunk in the sun.
     
    Last edited: Jul 23, 2015
  15. Sike Saner

    Sike Saner Peace to the Mountain

    Specifically this one this time around.

    Damn. I'd imagine so.

    Might go without saying, but Zinnia's certainly not the only one wondering about this "wind", whatever it actually is...

    I never really appreciated just how much I needed to see more porythings in action before Edie came along. :D

    With the side effect of being pretty gosh darned amusing. XD

    D'awww...
     
  16. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine Gone. Not coming back.

    I was going to say that it's a bit before her time (I haven't put it in the story yet, but I have this feeling that Edie was manufactured in 1996, the year Red and Blue were released) but then, I'm sure she had access to all the early video game music her cybernetic heart desired back when the internet was still around. So yeah, why not!

    Poor Avice. This and the next chapter are kinda emotionally gruelling for her. I keep having to squash my sentimental concerns about it with arguments about narrative structure.

    It's a weird old thing, isn't it? We will find out what it is, eventually, but it's a long way off -- as maybe you can guess from the fact that Avice still doesn't actually know what it is herself. Archie's on the right track in linking it with pokémon, though he hasn't got the specifics right.

    Why thank you! Everything I have the pokémon do in this story is based on their movesets (e.g. Edie using Conversion 2 and Sharpen) or their pokédex entries (e.g. Edie's inability to properly fly except using Magnet Rise), but I imagine that in an actual pokémon battle, it's probably not a good idea to yell out the name of the move and warn your opponent what you're about to do, so the trainers end up barking all these cryptic commands and I usually leave it up to the reader to figure out what's meant. I was a bit hesitant about whether or not it'd all fit together OK, so it's gratifying to know that you're enjoying it at least.

    Avice's belief in the absurdity of life is once again vindicated. :p

    I know! What will happen to Edie now? Find out ... very soon, actually, because the next chapter is ready and will be posted later today. Technically it's late, but in my defence, it's pretty long and was very difficult to write; I had to rewrite huge chunks of it over and over.

    Anyway, now I'm rambling. Thank you for replying, and thank you all for reading! This is a big, weird story that's outside my comfort zone as a writer and is probably going to take me a lot longer than normal to finish; on the eve of my finishing Part One of it, I'd like to thank you all for sticking around this far.
     
  17. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine Gone. Not coming back.

    Again, some slightly stronger language; also a touch of death, although it's very minor.


    TWELVE: VIR, VIRTUS, VIRTÙ

    Tethys Edict 412.5: Works relating to the suppression of those who act against the city shall be under the sole administration of a civic committee answerable directly to the High Administrators. No other committee, organisation or council shall be permitted to interfere in said works.

    Question: why in all my years in Tethys did I never meet another girl like myself? Answer: we were never supposed to. Just as Maxie said, it was we on the margins who were most able to see the city for what it was – and when two such people meet, they suddenly find they're capable of putting their misgivings into words. I'm told that, of Tethys' thirty-one thousand citizens, there are a few hundred of us at any one time. (That figure includes the men too, and those others who are neither; I don't know how many women specifically there are.) Yet we never go to the same schools, never work in the same organisations, never live within walking distance of each other. Quietly, unobtrusively, our lives were placed in their own little quarantines.

    And I can tell you that the same is true of those who write poetry, or who ask questions, or who retain their attraction to those of their own gender beyond the permissible experimentation period of youth. Everyone is tolerated; that's the great boast of Tethys! That's what's left of what the Founder wanted, what Maxie wanted – a place where everyone would be accepted, where anyone in need at all could shelter until the floods could be reversed. But there's a difference between acceptance and tolerance, and as soon as the Administration knows about your deviancy – and unless you are very careful and have friends to cover your back, it very soon does know – your life is no longer quite your own. Or it's a bit more restricted than those of the other citizens, anyway.

    One person feels afraid and isolated. Two people discover they have experiences in common. Two people talk, and all those uneasy thoughts that torment them are suddenly intelligible, reflected back at each in the other's face and words. Two people take strength from each other and ask questions.

    Two people are dangerous, and there's nothing like the Tethys Administration for stamping out danger before it even appears.




    No birds yesterday. Did you notice? I did. I think that's a good sign, if I'm reading these omens right. Not quite enough to cheer me up, though. You may have noticed that this isn't a particularly pleasant period of my life. Recalling it isn't fun at the best of times, and right now I'm kind of hungover, which isn't exactly making it any easier. I might have drunk slightly more last night than I intended to.

    So yeah, anyway. Enough of birds. I'll deal with them another time, when I'm in a better mood. Right now, we just have to soldier on, dear reader, and look forward to the moment when hangovers and Tethys agents no longer loom so large in our minds.

    It hurt to see the Museum. I had been vaguely hopeful that it would be OK, since the tree was unharmed (the keening wind, it seems, can eat flesh, stone and steel but not vegetable matter), but of course it wasn't. It was dented, battered and badly pitted on the windward side, as if someone had sluiced it with acid and had a group of sharpedo ram it for good measure. I would later find out that it was damaged below the waterline, too. You have to dive pretty deep to escape the hungry particles.

    At least it survived. It had been built to withstand the pressures of the deepest oceanic trenches and further reinforced by Maxie for his voyage into the Blue Chapel, and it turns out that that's just about what you need to catch the keening wind on your back and come out in one piece. Even the glass was intact – although it must be said, they say that glass is better at resisting the wind than most materials.

    Virgil's boat, on the other hand, was utterly destroyed. Bits of metal were scattered halfway up the beach, some of them still fizzing with leftover red dots. He looked at them without emotion and pulled a flare from his pocket. A moment later, a spot of unbearably bright white was burning on the hillside, sending gouts of thick, pallid smoke up into the sky.

    “They'll be here soon,” said Archie, pacing like a caged arcanine. “Think. Think! There's got to be―”

    “Give it a rest, Archie,” said Maxie. He sounded tired. “Please.”

    Maybe it was the uncharacteristic 'please' that did it; I don't think Archie would ordinarily have capitulated. Whether it was or not, he stopped talking and stood still.

    Zinnia said nothing. She just looked at me. Knowing what I know now, she must have been terrified that the past was going to repeat itself. I guess it might have been all she could do just to keep her fear in check and follow us.

    The corvettes were smaller than the Museum, but sleeker and much faster; when they surfaced, it was with the dangerous grace of a hunting sealeo, their torpedo ports open and ready like mouths. One of them dispatched another dinghy, piloted by a woman in her thirties with a shrunken Tethys staraptor gripping her shoulders, its eyes bulging in inbred neoteny.

    Her name was Virginia, and alone of the major players in this story she has no past. I never knew where she came from, or where she went afterwards. All I can say is that she didn't make a good impression while she was here.

    “Well, well,” she said, beaching the dinghy and leaping lightly onto the shore. “I have to say, we thought you might have been shredded. I'm glad to see you haven't. And you've got her, too. Congratulations.”

    Virgil nodded.

    “Thanks,” he said, although he didn't sound grateful. He didn't sound like much at all, in fact. “Are you ready?”

    Virginia indicated the corvettes, which were manoeuvring themselves into position on either side of the Museum. Her unmarked badge winked on her chest as she moved.

    “Almost,” she said. “They'll be done by the time we're back.” She took a couple of steps up the beach, crushing pieces of boat beneath her boots, and stopped directly in front of me. Her eyes were overlarge and the colour of honey; you could have swapped them with the eyes of her staraptor and I wouldn't have noticed. How she managed without sunglasses is anyone's guess. “So you're Avice,” she said. “I'm surprised. I was expecting someone … taller.”

    I said nothing. I was taller than her, as it happened; I get it from my mother.

    “What, lost your tongue? I was told you were vicious and sarcastic.” She clicked her tongue. “At least you've learned your lesson. Pity it's coming a bit late. Penitent or not, the future looks pre-tty bleak for you right now. Tethys must survive, you see, and to survive you gotta remain stable. You got to find your niche and cement yourself in. And when someone comes along with a crowbar to jemmy you outta there …” She spread her hands theatrically. “You got to send a childhood friend to break their heart and arrest 'em.”

    Some tight knot seemed to tear in my chest and a faint noise escaped my mouth. For an instant, the pain retreated, pushed aside by a swelling nausea. This hadn't just been Virgil losing control. This had been planned. The Administration had sent Virgil here in the full knowledge that he would lose himself to their anger and turn his strength on me. I had thought that this was an arrest, but it was so much more. It was the start of a particularly brutal punishment.

    Virginia smiled. I can remember nothing human in her eyes.

    “You're a child,” she said coldly. “A librarian's kid, huh? Lost in stories, I bet. Heroes are mythical for a reason.”

    “Twist the bloody knife, why don't you,” muttered Archie furiously. “Who the hell does she think she is?”

    She thought she was the victor – and she thought she was right. I want to deny that she was either, but the truth is that she was both. Tethys is the safest place in the ocean, after all. You'll never lack anything there, except freedom – and that's where we differed. What's your autonomy worth to you? For a starving urchin like the young Ulixa, not much. Only someone like me, with my own ship and my own independent wealth, can afford the luxury of rebellion.

    These are the unpleasant thoughts that come back to haunt you at a time like this. What I've done will destroy the harm in Tethys, but it'll destroy the good too. When the last ship drops into the newly emergent dirt, we're going to be back at square one. I could tell you about the story that that reminds me of – but you know it already. It's the story of Archie and Maxie, and of the world that they destroyed. I'm not so naïve that I can't see the other side of my own story. You, dear reader, you who live in whatever future I've made, will have to decide how to judge me for yourself.

    I looked at Virginia and she at me, and somewhere beneath her triumph and my panic two fresh new hatreds blossomed. It may only have been that she was older and more experienced than Virgil, that the fire of the CCC had been tempered in her by experience, but she seemed more consciously … well. Evil. I don't know if that really is a word that you can apply to something, but at the time, that was all I could think of her. Evil.

    “They're ready,” said Virgil. “We should go.”

    The corvettes were clamped onto either side of the Museum like lampreys feeding on a milotic. Caught between their sleek lines, it looked old and clumsy, and I felt a strange kinship with it. It was steel and I was flesh but we'd both been beaten up and taken prisoner; the ragged stump of the old drill seemed in that moment an analogue to my broken nose.

    There are times when a poetic bent of mind is an advantage, but just then I really didn't need it.

    “Come on, then,” said Virginia, jumping back in the boat. Her staraptor spread its wings briefly to keep its balance. “In you get, the pair of you.”

    Virgil made sure I was in before pushing the boat out and climbing in himself. He sat opposite me, but his gaze never moved from the corvettes out on the water.

    “Let's – ah. Don't think we'll fit,” said Archie, as Zinnia took the last seat. “We'll catch up with you at the hatch, a'right?”

    I nodded minutely, and he and Maxie waded out ahead of us, unhindered by the water or the waves.

    “So,” said Virginia, pulling the cord and starting the engine. “How'd you survive? There like a cave or something out there?”

    I didn't answer, but Virgil nodded.

    “Kind of bunker.”

    “A bunker? Huh. What, like pre-making over?” Virgil shrugged. “Hm. Guess you're not an archaeologist.” She sat pensively for a moment, one hand on the tiller. “Maybe it's smugglers,” she suggested, after a while.

    “What is wrong with these people?” asked Zinnia. I shook my head slightly. I didn't know. It felt like I had been in this moment for years; all my old terror of the Administration had swooped back down on me at once.

    As we neared the corvette, its side opened up and a sling descended in the gap; Virginia manoeuvred us into place and the boat was winched back into the hold. It was alien and familiar at once: I'd been half expecting the white plastic and blue steel of the Museum, but here was the red paint and black metal of Tethys, the conical lights, the uniforms, the hold full of not mysteries but supply crates and spare parts …

    I shivered, and let myself be led out of the dinghy without protest, laid low by the uncanny sense that I had somehow stumbled straight back into the city. I barely even noticed when Archie and Maxie climbed up the winch rope a moment later; I could see nothing but the repetition of the red wall panels, the black beams, the lights, and merging with them memories of the guarded passageway that led to Gaoler's Bridge and the prison beyond, of my father's eyes when he spoke about his time under arrest, and of Moll's face when she told me that they would kill me and I promised her I'd never go back to the Museum.

    Have you ever been imprisoned? I wouldn't recommend it. I'm not that keen on revisiting it, but we've brought my younger self to this place and now we have to face the consequences. Let's be brief: they brought me to a small, sparsely furnished cabin without windows or a handle on the inside of the door, and shut me in. A few minutes later, a doctor came to set my nose and make sure the rest of my injuries weren't life-threatening; after that, they took off the handcuffs, dimmed the lights and left me alone with the pain and the ghosts.




    It takes a long time to travel when you're hauling a ship like the Museum, and it takes longer still when the ship itself is damaged – although more of that a little later. The point is, I was in there a long time, maybe a month all told. It's hard to be sure: they never switched the lights off or turned them all the way back on, so I couldn't count the days. I guess the person who brought food probably came once a day, but I didn't think to count the visits at the time. The doctor visited every so often too, though less regularly – and whatever else I might have to say about the inhabitants of the corvette, I can tell you that he was very good at his job. It's thanks to him that you can't now tell that my nose was ever broken. Well – him and Edie, to be fair.

    Would you like to hear a joke? They brought me my pills. They'd actually sailed out from Tethys with a couple of bottles with them for when they caught me. Can you imagine that? They wanted me dead, and they wanted to make it painful – but they weren't going to break the one little Edict that stipulates every citizen who has been prescribed medication must have access to it. It wasn't kindness, not in the slightest. They were simply being scrupulously legal. The Administrators and their lackeys follow every Edict to the letter – though they often ignore the spirit, as when they chose Virgil to send after me. This was just one law that they couldn't find a way around, I suppose – and speaking as a former Legal Apprentice, I'm quite sure that if they had tried to get out of giving me my pills, I'd have been able to bring a counter-suit against them at my trial. They would still have won, of course, but it would have been an uglier victory, and the Administration likes things to go smoothly. It keeps the public happy.

    None of that stopped me feeling vaguely triumphant every time I took a pill, though. I probably got the timing a bit off with them, but it didn't seem to do me any harm. Between that and the presence of the ghosts, I actually felt a little better than I expected. Yes, I had lost my pokémon, my freedom and my hopes of success, and I was being shipped off back to the city to die – but you can only feel bleak for so long before you reach the point where you have to despair utterly or pull back from the brink and try to find what peace you can. Which you choose depends on you and where you are in life. I like to think that I'm the kind of person who picks the latter option, but I know, deep down, that I'm not – and so by now do you, dear reader; you've seen for yourself that I'm probably capable of thinking myself almost literally to death. It was only because I was surrounded with people who loved me that I was able to resist the call of the first choice.

    And they did. Love me, that is. I knew it and so did they. I remember the first night, or day or whenever it was, when I woke up feeling awful but at the very least less tired, and saw Maxie leaning against the far wall.

    “Hey,” I said, rubbing the eye that wasn't swollen.

    “Good … night, I think,” he said. “How are you feeling?”

    I heaved myself up into a sitting position and leaned gingerly against the wall.

    “Pretty bad.”

    He nodded.

    “I thought so.”

    I looked around the cell. Zinnia was curled on the floor, transparent and unmoving. In her faux-sleep, she seemed much more fragile than usual, as if a harsh word might move her to tears.

    “Where's Archie?”

    “Spying.” Maxie jerked his head at the door. “We're trying to find out whatever we can.”

    I sighed.

    “I don't think it will help.”

    “No,” he said. “Neither do I.”

    There was a long silence. He kept his eyes fixed on a point in space a little left of my face. I thought of the fight in the bunker.

    “I'm sorry,” I said.

    “It's not your fault,” he told me. “We've made our choices. We'll stay with you, Avice. To the end.”

    “That's not what I meant. I was …” I broke off, took a deep breath. “I've been really childish about this grudge.”

    “Oh. Oh.” Maxie met my gaze, startled. “Avice, you have every reason to―”

    “Tooth take it, Maxie, could you drop the self-loathing for once in your life? I was wrong. Like. You can be angry, but at some point you have to try to address the issue. Right? And I left that all up to you. You tried to help me – I mean, try to save me – and I just … was mean to you.”

    It's hard to be eloquent when you're trying to swallow your pride, but I think I at least got the point across. Maxie curled and uncurled his hands, the way he does when he's agitated.

    “Avice,” he said, voice cracking. “I …” He put his head in one hand. “Avice, you put us to shame.”

    “You and Archie?”

    He nodded.

    “Fools that we were,” he said bitterly. “And are! I'm glad at least that you learned from our mistake.”

    I moved to get up, thinking I might go over to him, but he raised a hand for me to stop and came to me instead, leaning on the edge of the bunk.

    “Avice, sometimes, I know, you are worried by your inexperience,” he said. “But you should at least know that you … well, in some ways you're rather a better and more mature person at nineteen than I am five hundred.”

    “You did leave it for a while,” I told him. “It's harder to apologise if you do that.”

    “Yes,” he said. “It certainly is.”

    I hesitated, wondering if maybe I was interfering too much, then ploughed ahead.

    “I hope you can fix things,” I said. “I know you've done a lot, but I get the feeling – stop me if I'm wrong – I get the feeling that you two … aren't quite there yet.”

    He raised his eyebrows.

    “I wonder what gave it away. No, we're not. But we're getting there. I hope.” He closed his eyes to hide it, but I could see the emotion in him anyway; his hands were trembling with it. “Sometimes I'm afraid that Archie may not want to,” he said, voice barely above a whisper. “But I hope.”

    If there was any lingering animosity towards him in me, it dissipated then. This was not the Maxie of the Museum, the furious spirit of revenge longing for escape and a second chance at his old dream. This was a newer Maxie – or perhaps an older one, from before the time of Tide and Groudon and Rayquaza, back when it was just him and Archie and a headful of ideas to make the world a better place. In my current state of mind, I could feel nothing for him but pity.

    “You'll get there,” I said. “I'll help.”

    He smiled.

    “You do help,” he said. “More than you know. You're the only thing we can agree on.”

    “You keep agreeing,” I said. “I'll keep helping, for the last few weeks of …”

    There was a long, uncomfortable silence. I licked my lips and felt the sting of the cuts beneath my tongue.

    “Does it hurt?” I asked.

    He hesitated.

    “I've made a promise,” he said diffidently. “I said to myself I wouldn't lie to you again. But I admit, I find my resolve … tested.”

    I sighed.

    “That's a yes, then.”

    “Mine was a very violent end,” he said. “Maybe yours will be less so.”

    “Yeah,” I said sourly. “Maybe the Administrators will be merciful.” I shook my head. “I guess I should've expected as much.”

    Maxie didn't say anything. There wasn't much you could say in response to that.




    So much for Maxie. Now for Zinnia. There were a lot of conversations in that room, between all four of us – but there were two that stand out from the others in my mind. One I've just written down. The other was when Archie and Maxie were out spying (and, I suspect, arguing, although that's one altercation they've never actually admitted to), and Zinnia was perched on the edge of the bed with me, swinging her legs and trying to fill in some of the blanks in our knowledge about each other.

    “Tell me about Virgil,” she said.

    It had been four days. My injuries were a good deal less painful, but the memory wasn't. Still, I wanted to tell her. If I was going to die, I at least wanted to get to know her better before I went, and I'd have told her anything she asked for.

    “We were at the academy together,” I answered, after a moment or two. “I mean, he was at the trainer school and I was at the academy, but they're right next to each other. They share a refectory and some dormitories.”

    “What did you study?” asked Zinnia.

    “Law.” I made a noise that might have been a laugh or a snort. I'm still not sure which. “I was going to be a civil servant.”

    “I think you made the right choice, giving that up,” she said, looking around at the cell. “This isn't exactly the kind of system I'd want to support.”

    “I never wanted to support it,” I sighed. “I just wanted enough status to survive.”

    She nodded slowly.

    “Yeah,” she said. “I get it.”

    “But Virgil, he was always going to― I mean, he was good. Second best in his year. Most people would say joint best, but the other one was my best friend, so.” I took a deep breath. “Sorry. I miss her.”

    “It's OK,” said Zinnia. “What's her name?”

    “Moll. Moll Kathleen dol' Tethys.”

    “Moll,” she echoed softly. “Nice name. I – I have a friend too, that I lost. Her name was Aster.”

    We were quiet for a moment. I looked at her, but couldn't read her face. I think she'd practised that expression. It's hard to hide yourself so completely as that.

    A little while later, she smiled and broke the tension.

    “So Moll and Virgil,” she said. “The two best trainers at the school. Were they rivals? Is that a thing people still do?”

    “Yeah. They were. They sort of hate-loved each other, if that makes any sense. Like, they were friends through being enemies.”

    “Oh, believe me, it makes perfect sense,” she replied. “Where did you fit into all that?”

    “I was Moll's best friend,” I said. “And …”

    A minute passed, and I didn't manage to finish the sentence.

    “Hey, we don't have to talk about it if you don't want to.”

    “No, I do,” I protested. “It's just – it's messed up. And I'm pretty bad at picking people to like.”

    “You and me both,” she said, mouth twisting into that familiar ironic grin. “Virgil, huh?”

    “Moll first,” I sighed. “I had a crush on her for years.”

    “What's so bad about that? She didn't turn out weird too, did she?”

    “No, but it was … inadvisable.” I hesitated. “When you're like me, people watch. You know? Just looking for things that might be reason for them to call you – to say you're not really a girl.”

    Zinnia blinked and straightened up a little.

    “Ah,” she said, and maybe I was imagining it, but I really got the feeling that she knew. “Yeah. I had a partner once told me that.”

    “Someone like me?” I asked, forgetting my story in my eagerness.

    “Kind of,” she said. “But I'm interrupting. You first.”

    “Oh. Um, right.” I gathered my thoughts for a moment. “OK. So I didn't say anything. Because of that, and because I was already different, and I didn't need to be more different.”

    “It's dangerous to be different in Tethys, isn't it.”

    She phrased it as a question, but it lacked the inflection. She knew, after all; she'd seen enough of the city's law to get a sense of what it was like.

    “Yeah,” I said. “It is.” I leaned back and pulled my legs up onto the bunk, folding them against my chest. “By the time I started feeling seriously revolutionary I was over her, though, so I just never said anything.” I shook my head. “It sounds ridiculous to talk about it so seriously. I mean, I was just a kid.”

    “Did it hurt you?”

    I nodded.

    “Then it was serious,” Zinnia told me. “At least, it was then.”

    I'd never thought of it like that. It was something of a revelation.

    “I know everything seems serious when you're that age,” she went on. “I was that age once. Kind of an alarmingly long time ago now, but I was.”

    I half smiled despite myself. Even then, in that drowned boat, Zinnia could do that.

    “Anyway. Then came Virgil, and to begin with, you know, he was a lot like her. He was … well. Kind of sweet. If you ignored the arrogance. Then he started training to be an agent, and you saw how that ended up.”

    The ache of my injuries seemed to burn higher as I spoke, as if the marks Virgil had written on me responded to his name.

    “It's one cure for infatuation,” I said bitterly.

    Zinnia sighed.

    “I'm sorry, Ava,” she said. “You're right. Your city is a messed-up place.”

    It was the first time anyone but my father had called me that. Maybe it was that, or maybe it was that I thought I was going to die, or maybe it was the fact that I had never really admitted to myself the reasoning behind my absurd teenage crushes, or more likely it was all of these things coming together in a great knot of despair, but it was too much. I snapped under the weight of it all and cried.

    Zinnia leaned in close and put one spectral hand through mine.

    “It's not over yet,” she said fiercely. “Not this time.”

    I was almost glad I was crying, because it meant I didn't have to reply. Not this time – what did that mean? And how did you respond to that kind of refusal to see what was self-evident?

    “It's not,” she repeated, and had she been solid her grip would have been tight enough to hurt. “It's not.”

    She was right, as it happened. Like I said, she's always right. Well – there's one thing she might be wrong about. While we were in that room, whiling away the hours, she opened up to me, as if she had been split open with a stroke of a sword and the past couldn't help but spill out. Her life, her daughter, her plans – and her role in raising Tide from its stasis and ending her world. According to her version, it was more her than either of them, but it's tricky to tell if she's right about that or not. Everyone who was alive at the time seems convinced that it was all their fault, and under the pressure of that much guilt, memories can twist and buckle. I've seen it often enough.

    I hope she understands when she reads this. I have to be honest, at least about this sort of thing.

    But she was right about it not being over yet, because (as you might have guessed from the fact that I'm alive and free to write this) it wasn't. The voyage didn't end with a mock trial and an execution, it ended with blood and fire and my subdued return to the Museum. It wasn't what you might call a triumphant exit, but it was an exit.

    As you might expect of vessels on such an important mission, the corvettes were fairly stuffed with crew, sergeants and CCC agents, and they had the resources to have people on watch twenty-four hours a day. If anything was going to infiltrate and rupture the aft ballast tanks, then they should have seen it coming. And they would have, too, if they'd been looking in the right direction. As so often, disaster struck from the most innocent and unlikely of places.

    So: that day, in the bridge. The officers were at their stations – it takes a lot more than two people to pilot a modern ship; there aren't any computers to help them out – and Virginia, who was either the captain or just sufficiently frightening for everyone to obey her, was overseeing. And then, quite without warning, the shriek of damaged metal sounded from down the corridor and the floor did its best to become perpendicular.

    Swivel chairs ejected their occupants and rattled down the room; knuckles stood out white on the edges of desks and those not quick enough to grab something were thrown unceremoniously to the floor. Virginia stumbled backwards into the doorway and seized the jamb, and her staraptor launched itself into the air with a worried screech and a cacophonous flurry of wingbeats.

    “What in all blood is going on in here?” Virginia demanded, just before a junior navigator rolled into the doorway and knocked her legs from under her. “'Sflukes―!”

    The intercom crackled and emitted a strident and rather unclear voice that told anyone who would listen that the aft trim tanks had been ruptured.

    “Get off of me,” growled Virginia, shoving the junior navigator aside and scrambling to her feet. “You! What's that about the trim tanks?”

    The target of her interrogation, a young officer who had just got to his feet and looked like he wanted nothing more than to go home and never set foot on a ship again, blinked and turned pale.

    “It's, it's,” he mumbled. “Someone's bust the trim system!”

    “Someone's―? How could anyone do that?”

    “I'm just saying what happened, ma'am,” stammered the sailor. “We―”

    “Message from the Champion's Folly,” interrupted another man, brandishing a book of light-signal codes. “They're hit too. Same place.”

    Virginia threw her hands up and nearly smacked her staraptor out of the air.

    “What in―? You know what, forget it, just fix it.”

    “But―”

    What now?

    Metal groaned and the ship juddered upwards, stern sinking as water flooded into the tanks. A lamp rolled off its desk and shattered, sending shards of glass cascading underfoot and into the helmsman's hood; he yelped and tried to empty it out and get up at the same time, in the process knocking two other officers over again Maxie, hanging semi-solid in the middle of it all, watched with interest. It must have done him good to see his jailers reduced to chaos. Come to think of it, I wish I'd seen it. I'd have loved to see that agent stumbling around in the panic.

    Actually, considering what happened at the Pillar, perhaps not.

    “We can't fix it, ma'am,” said the communication officer, somehow remaining at attention despite the increasing incline beneath his feet. “Nor can the Folly. We'll both have to surface or lose stability entirely.”

    Virginia thumped the wall.

    “Whatever,” she said. “Fine. Get us out of here before we end up in the bloody sediment.”

    It was the only option. A vessel's trim tanks give it its balance; without them, you'd have a hard time controlling it underwater. With the aft tanks suddenly out of commission, and the system regulating water flow between them and the fore tanks screwed up into the bargain, the only option was to empty the main ballast tanks and surface, where the damage wouldn't matter so much.

    There was only one person who could have come up with such a technical plan, of course. But I wouldn't find out about that until much later, and while you won't have to wait quite as long, dear reader, I'd like to finish this story before I get on to that one.

    Anyway, the damage had been done, and the corvettes left incapable of submarine manoeuvring. They rose as fast as they could towards the light, moving in a series of jerks that knocked several crew members over and put a sergeant in the medical bay with a broken hand – and while they did, Virginia stormed down the corridors towards my cell, muttering furiously about revolutionaries and being trailed by two other agents ineffectually trying to stop her.

    Maxie got there a few moments before her, slipping under the door and materialising before me with a worried look on his face.

    “Er – brace yourself,” he said. “That woman is―”

    The door slid open and Virginia strode straight through him, eyes smouldering.

    “What in all blood did you do?” she roared. “Are you that keen to die, you treacherous drowned pirate?

    I stared and blinked, blinded by the light coming in behind her.

    “Er,” I said. “What?”

    “The bloody trim tanks! That was you, wasn't it? How did you do it? What have you done?”

    She seized me by the front of my shirt, and might have beat me up all over again had not the other two CCC agents summoned up the courage to drag her away. She never did come back; I think she must have realised that there was no way I could have had anything to do with the attack, and didn't want the embarrassment of having to admit it.

    All in all, it was quite an exciting day, after so many hours of isolation. But it was more than that, of course. It was the genesis of my escape – because of course I escaped. Do you really think I'd be sitting here now, let alone sitting here with the skies clear and the water level falling, if they'd managed to get me back to Tethys? No, if I hadn't been rescued, it really would have been over, no matter what Zinnia said. I would now be dead, cremated and my ashes conveyed to the synthesis plant to be made into fertiliser for the greenhouse. And yes, I was rescued rather than breaking out myself. It would do me good to remind myself, at this point in a story that's become rather heavily centred on me, that no one person is ever the hero all the time. We all have our moment on centre stage.

    With the trim system damaged, there was no way that the corvettes could manage the descent to Tethys, and that meant stopping off at Cormac's Mourn for repairs. Risky, but if they weren't too domineering then they thought they would be able to avoid any conflicts; Tethys had been the prime sea power ever since the Battle for Tethys, and if its Administration found out that its forces were being harassed at some minor port it wouldn't have hesitated to send in the kingdra-riders to exact some retribution. Only the year before a warship had been sent to Semmerva of Iron because a couple of sailors got roughed up in an alley behind the casino. Even so, it wouldn't take much to spark a conflict – and that, dear reader, would give my rescuers their chance.




    But who were they? That takes us to another story, and about time! That other one was pretty grim. Like, there are the bad times in life, and then there are the times that you thought you were a month or two away from being executed. And you and I both know that I won in the end. We don't have to dwell on the exact degree of unpleasantness involved in being imprisoned.

    So, let's go back a few days and a few more miles, to that little island and the bunker on its northern slope – and to Edie, lying in a transparent heap in the middle of the chamber.

    It took half an hour or so for her to regain consciousness, and even then she was operating with limited power; the battle had utterly drained her, and after something like that she really needed a full twenty-four hours of rest before doing anything at all strenuous. But once she was awake enough to know that I was gone, she knew she didn't have time to rest. She'd spent a long time down in the bowels of the city, skulking in the Museum and hiding from sergeants; she knew that the forces of Tethys were bad news. She didn't know what exactly would happen – this was long before the updates and the glitches – but she knew that they had me, and that that wasn't good, and that something had to be done about it.

    :(, she said to herself, trying to solidify and finding she didn't have the power for it. And then, more forcefully: >:[ ! ! !

    There was no time to be lost. Fluttering weakly from the bunker, almost invisible in the weak sunlight and faint rain, she struggled back over the hill, hopping from rock to rock and occasionally sinking into them for want of tangibility. By the time she'd reached the tree, the dinghy carrying me, Zinnia and the agents was halfway out across the water, and it was clear that even if she succeeded in making the flight out to the ships she wouldn't catch us in time to save me.

    D:, cried Edie, slipping down the side of the hill in her agitation – but none of us saw. She was just too faint after the battle. The boat moved away, and as she reached the shore, scurrying along between the twisted fragments of Virgil's dinghy, it disappeared into the shadow of the corvette's open hatch.

    ♥, said Edie sadly, wings drooping.

    She stayed there for a moment, watching the sling tightening around the boat's hull as it was winched back into the hold. It had happened, as she had been half expecting for several hundred years. She was to outlast someone.

    Do you know how they managed porygon, back in the old world? I suppose not. That information is dead and buried. I'm probably the only one who has it now. And maybe I'd be better off leaving it for another time – when I present the logs, for instance, which I guess will be when I come to talk about the Hollow. For now, let's just say that they didn't know how long they could last, if no one interfered. Edie found that out by herself, during her long wait in the darkened corridors of the Museum. Then someone had appeared, this unimaginably young thing that smiled and hugged her and told her she was cute – and now, a scant year or so later, the city had snatched her away again.

    >:[, spat Edie, and launched herself into the air.

    Here is something you might not know about porygon2: their wings are more or less entirely aesthetic. They don't do anything. They fly using a kind of magnetic levitation, in the same way that electrode can float for brief periods of time. Now, an electrode is an electric-type, constantly generating a huge supply of its own volatile internal power – and even that only keeps it in the air for a few minutes. It runs dry soon afterwards. And Edie, who I now know is not an electric-type at all but simply draws power from the radio waves of the sun and stars – well, I told you how drained she was after flying to shore from the Museum. Making the same journey after having battled to the point of exhaustion was pretty much impossible.

    And yet.

    At the first leap her magnetism almost failed, and she came within an inch of destroying herself in the surf – but at the last moment something whirred deep inside her and she rose again, belly alive with sparks of fizzing light. She pushed forwards one yard – two – three – and it held. Without so much as a pause, Edie flicked her wings and surged out across the waves.

    Fifty yards. Forty-five, by that point. Forty-five yards, and there was the safety of the Museum, just starting to sink as the corvettes on either side began the process of submerging. Edie made a tiny grinding noise and tried to speed up. Colour and saturation bled away from her until she was barely visible at all, a slight twist of the light atop a cushion of sparks―

    The wave rolled in barely a centimetre beneath her. Foam lanced through her body, boiling away in a series of red flashes; Edie juddered, almost fell, disappeared for an instant – and impossibly, miraculously, kept going, invisible eyes fixed on the sinking ships just twenty-five yards away. The corvettes were almost under, but the Museum's conning tower was still high up above the waves. There was still time – perhaps only a few seconds, but that might just be enough.

    Tiny explosions sparkled like phantom gems within what remained of her body. The corvettes were gone now, and the Museum's upper decks were fast following. A high-pitched whine started to build all around her, its source uncertain but its sound a clear indication of oncoming disaster; no longer even trying to flap, Edie pushed on for the final ten yards towards the sinking conning tower―

    A pop like a broken bulb, and Edie disappeared.

    Half a second later, something faintly luminescent like the soul of a jellyfish dropped into the ocean where the conning tower had been moments before. It fell through water that bubbled at its touch, growing smaller and more fragmented―

    ―and then, reduced at last to the most abstract and immaterial she ever possibly could be, Edie fell straight through the roof of the conning tower and landed in a laptop computer.

    It's been over a year and I'm still thinking about how lucky it was that Zinnia had taken one up there that morning, and that Edie hadn't had a chance to put it away yet. If it hadn't been there, asleep, its code calling out to hers, Edie would have kept falling, straight through the floor, through the lower decks, through the hold and out of the bottom of the Museum, where within a minute she would have been utterly destroyed. She had lost so much substance by then that she could fall through solid steel. Whatever waterproofing you have, by the time you get to that point it won't do you much good.

    But she was alive, if damaged. And she was safe, if only for the moment. And, secure at last in a cradle of circuitry, more familiar to her even than the Museum, Edie at last began to recharge.




    I have to say, some of that last passage is speculation – and we all know what I think about that. The details about what Edie did are more or less right; she filled me in much later, when she learned how. But what she thought is a bit harder to get at. Edie's internal logs don't show that, and I've had to make some educated guesses. And you know, it's a curious thing, but I feel a little less worried about all this now – the writing thing, I mean. This is the two hundred and fiftieth page I've covered so far, and I'm starting to think that I'm getting the hang of it. When was the last time I broke off to worry about getting my facts straight? Not for a few days now. Recently, I've been feeling that maybe it's not possible to get everything right, just as it's not possible to fit everything in, and that that's OK. Has there ever been a neutral historian in the history of the world? I can't imagine that there has been. This story, for instance, would be different if the scholars of Tethys wrote it, or if Zinnia wrote it, or if a kadabra from the Golden Isles wrote it. Maybe what we need from history is not the plain, unvarnished truth, but something more personal – a voice on the other side of a sheet of paper, a story that wraps around what facts are left and fills in the gaps where the others used to be.

    Huh. I just read that back, and … well. Maybe I am an all right historian after all.

    The point is, dear reader, I think it's time we were a bit more adventurous when it came to speculation. After all, how much of this is speculative anyway? Quite a lot, actually. It's not like I remember all these conversations in perfect detail. Let's allow ourselves some more licence. A few scraps of conjecture here and there won't be enough to condemn us to the fate of Oliver Saturnine dol' Tethys.

    Besides, what else is there for me, really? People like me have to invent a way of writing for ourselves. And if we can't speculate, then that, I'm afraid, is off the cards.

    But back to Edie. Brave little Edie! She's only small, and she did all that – for me. Can you believe it? It makes me feel very loved. Also very unworthy, although I suppose that's just my own anxieties talking. I'd always felt a bit overwhelmed by how much I meant to her, and after this I felt that pressure even more.

    Anyway. She lay there in the computer for a long time, healing. Little portions of her coursed down the wires and coalesced in its memory, lines of code forming and reforming as bit by bit her self re-emerged from the morass of energy that she'd become. On the corvette, just a few dozen metres away, I settled into my confinement, and Virgil paced silently in his cabin, and Virginia barked her commands; hours passed, then a day, and at last the part of the porygon2 program that was Edie woke up and with a soft hum slipped out of the laptop onto the desk.

    She was still very weak – hardly even visible. It was an effort not to slide through the floor and out into the ocean. But she couldn't let herself heal any further, not just yet. Not before she had got into the corvette.

    There was no question of flight that day. Edie simply dragged herself down the corridor, willing herself not to fall through the floor, and pressed herself against the clamp system. She barely encountered any resistance: half a second, and she slid through the paired hulls and into the corvette.

    I think you know what happened next. Edie was capable of reverse engineering a synthesis machine; the controls of a post-making-over vessel were nothing to her. Five minutes, and the trim system was in a mess that wasn't going to be resolved without the help of a capable mechanic working from submersible pod. She just had enough power to phase back through the Museum into the other corvette and cripple its tanks as well before she had to retreat to the computer and rest.

    It was a bold plan. Imagine deliberately keeping yourself so close to death, just so you could pass through metal and enter somewhere even more dangerous than the place you came from! Because let's be clear about it, every moment that Edie was on Tethys deck was a moment in which she was in mortal danger. She might not have been solid just then, but Tethys is protected by more than flechettes, and fire from a growlithe or the violent winds whipped up by a staraptor could have torn her to shreds. Even if she hadn't been discovered, it would only have taken a momentary lapse of concentration for her to lose what limited tangibility she had and fall out into the crushing dark of the ocean.

    And yet she did it all. For me.

    I don't know if I've repaid her yet, really I don't – and I want to repay her, even though I know that it would never even occur to her that I might do so, that this is simply what it means to be a trainer. To be part of that tradition of humans partnered with pokémon, so old and so great that not even the destruction of the world could put an end to it.

    I wish I'd seen that sooner. Moll saw it from day one, although she probably never put it in those words. If I could have shared that with her, before I left― but what's done is done. And anyway, it won't be too long before we meet again.

    Time passed. Edie sank into a healing oblivion, growing more solid and more herself; I sank into something more depressing, and then after a while into a kind of resignation. The ghosts had learned from spying on the crew that we were going to stop at Cormac's Mourn, and so I knew about that, but it didn't occur to me that that might be my salvation. I'm not sure that Edie knew it would be either, not then. Her main impulse had been to slow the corvettes down and force them to stop somewhere on the surface, where she could move around more freely and perhaps infiltrate them without having to half kill herself first. What happened when we got there was, I think, as much a surprise for her as for anyone else.

    As soon as the corvettes came into view, the Mourn was on high alert. The Tethys freighters were one thing; their crews were rarely interested in anything bigger than the occasional brawl. But these were ships of war, with torpedoes and battle-trained pokémon aboard. If it came to a fight, even the relatively small number of soldiers they contained could be a potent threat. Besides, there was the possibility of reprisal. Kingdra are pretty scary creatures, and they only get scarier when you organise them into battalions and mount sergeants with harpoons on their backs.

    But the expected attack never came. It was clear that neither corvette was in good shape, and after a brief argument with a Mourn patrol-ship that made use of some startlingly inventive light-signal codes, they were allowed to dock, sliding in between two piers so that they could keep the Museum sandwiched between them. Crew were dispatched to seek out parts for repairs; guards, both pirate and sergeant, were posted at the ends of the piers to prevent unauthorised access on the part of either faction; and Edie, back at full power and fresh from a round of reinforcing the Museum's wind-scarred hull, popped out onto the deck and glided over the corvette to the pier. Tucking herself underneath a collapsed tarpaulin that had once sheltered a dock official, she peered out at the corvettes and narrowed her eyes.

    :[, she said, and began to run some calculations.
     
    Last edited: Dec 13, 2016
  18. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine Gone. Not coming back.

    Dear reader, I must apologise. I'm juggling a lot of stories today, as you can see, and it's just occurred to me that if I go on from here right to the end I'm going to end up missing out another of the really important stories of my month aboard the corvette. I've told you how I came to be imprisoned and more or less what it was like; I've told you what passed between me and my companions in the cell; I've told you how Edie fled the island and came after us. These stories come together soon enough, in my escape. But there's one more thread to be woven into this braid. A story that I might, now I come to think of it, have been unconsciously avoiding.

    Yeah, that's right. Virgil.

    From the moment the corvettes pulled away from the island to the day before they made port in Cormac's Mourn, he can't have spoken more than fifteen words. A month of near-total silence. It's hard to say what lay behind it. He stayed in his cabin most of the time, lazily training Augusta or just sitting with her on his lap, stroking her. His eyes turned dark, and her growth slowed to a snail's pace.

    Did he regret what had taken place in the bunker? Was that what it was? If so, it didn't show afterwards. I think instead that he was burning what was left of his old self. Our fight – OK, so maybe I should call it a beating, but I'd like to preserve at least the fiction that I was able to match him – had been the point of no return. Having done that, he couldn't ever be the boy who was not Virgil again. He had betrayed him too completely for that. So he fell back on that tried-and-tested Tethys solution, destroying the past, and maybe, in his situation, that wasn't as bad a choice as I want to believe it is, just as it might not have been for Edie.

    Anyway. Ideas are hard to kill; it's why the Museum was invented, and it's why it took so long for Virgil to extinguish the spark of what he had been. Hours, days, of sitting there and staring into space, thinking things out of existence, burying things where they would not return to bother him. The next time we met, he wouldn't even dream of holding back.

    I wonder, sometimes, about Virgil's parents. I never knew them – indeed, I never heard anything about them except the little he said at the academy, and that was just typical teenager stuff. But I wonder what it was like for them to see him turn into the man he is. I almost hope that they're proud. It's better than them being afraid. And yet if I'm right about what Virgil did, how could they be? Hold on, I guess, to the hope that they don't know, and pray to whatever gods still have any power that when they meet their son again, they see in him something they're able to love.

    This is getting off-topic. Back to Virgil, sitting on the other side of the ship in his own self-created cell. He sat, and he brooded, and when he emerged a few days before the ships reached the Mourn he seemed human again. He still stayed a little quiet; he still avoided talking about or going near me. But he was capable of smiling again, and he made jokes with the crew, and he returned in earnest to training, and so as far as everyone could see he was back on form again.

    Virginia noticed the change in him too, apparently with relief, and joined him in the refectory one evening for a conversation over fungal biscuits and a glass of rum.

    “You're back with us, I see,” she said, sitting down opposite him. “I'm even told you were flirting with Nekane from engineering.”

    Virgil stared, mock-offended.

    “Me? Never. We were just discussing ways I could help tune her engine. I'm pretty good with a wrench.”

    Virginia snorted.

    “Hilarious.” She broke a biscuit in half and passed one fragment up to the staraptor on her shoulders. “I guess the rumours are true.”

    “Have you been checking up on me?”

    Virginia rolled crumbs between her fingertips for a moment, studying his face.

    “Listen carefully,” she said at length. “'Cause this isn't something I make a habit of doing.”

    Virgil leaned in, brow furrowed.

    “What is it?” he asked.

    “The first time isn't easy,” said Virginia. “Especially if it's someone you know. And you feel the, the anger in you that that person could betray everything that made them who they are. Everything that stands between us and oblivion.”

    Virgil's frown deepened, but he said nothing. Virginia flicked the crumbs onto her plate.

    “I've been there. We all have. We were all rookies once. It's why we do this; someone's got to protect the only bloody thing left that's worth protecting. And I thought you should know, since this was a case you were personally involved in …” She made a face like someone who is about to eat something unspeakably foul. “Well. That you did a good job.” She fixed her eyes firmly on the ceiling. “Well done, Virgil.”

    He stared at her for a moment, unblinking. Then, quite unexpectedly, he burst out laughing.

    “Gods below, Virginia, was that a compliment?”

    She glowered.

    “Savour it. I told you, I don't make a habit of it.”

    “No,” he said, mouth still twitching. “No, you certainly do not.” He chuckled silently again. “Sorry. I mean. You're Virginia, the whole ship and half the CCC's terrified of you. I didn't expect you to have a tender side.”

    “Yeah, yeah,” she sighed, rolling her eyes. “I show the slightest concern for a fellow agent and suddenly I'm everyone's lovable big bloody sister.”

    “What's next?” he asked slyly. “You going to tell me you're proud of me?”

    “Don't push it,” she growled. “I still haven't written your report yet.”

    He raised his palms in pacification.

    “All right, all right,” he said. “Seriously. Thanks. It really wasn't easy. I was sort of worried for a moment about whether― well. You know.”

    “Yeah,” she murmured. “I know.” Then, louder: “Right, then. See you later, kid. I've got to see Viridian about how we're proceeding tomorrow.”

    Virgil smiled.

    “See you, then. And thanks.”

    She raised her eyebrows and turned to go.

    “Whatever.”

    I didn't see any of that myself, of course. My knowledge of Virgil's actions comes from the ghosts – primarily Archie, since he was the one who found it hardest to sit still. Maxie and Zinnia were used to confinement, willed or otherwise, but he'd spent his afterlife on the move, and he couldn't stay long in the cabin without having to go out for a walk. I learned a lot about what went on aboard that vessel from him. Most of it isn't worth preserving, and in fact I don't even remember it, but some of it needs to be recorded here. Virgil, for instance. And the events at the end of it all, when at last my knights in tarnished armour came to the rescue.




    Picture it, dear reader. Picture me, in torn leggings and a grubby top, sitting there in what was by then a fairly noisome cell. (I had abandoned the drysuit not long after being caught. It was hot in there.) Picture my face, with the mark of a month's wait for execution scored deeply into it. Picture Zinnia by my side, still cheerful on the surface, still grieving at heart. Picture Maxie, pacing and thinking his self-destructive thoughts.

    And picture Archie, bursting in under the door, flushed with energy and excitement.

    “Get ready!” he cried. “They're coming!”

    I sat up.

    “What? Who's coming? Agents?”

    He brushed my question aside as if the very idea were ridiculous.

    “Nah, better'n that, lass! Pirates!

    Zinnia shot me a startled look.

    “Thank God for faction rivalries,” murmured Maxie. “Avice, you need to attract their attentio― Avice!”

    I could hardly hear him. It felt like someone had stolen the world from beneath my feet, as if somehow I and the universe were slowly revolving in opposite directions, my body abandoned with it and my mind coming with me. None of it should have even been possible. How could there be anyone out there? I'd lost, I already knew that.

    Down the hall, someone fired a gun. And in the back of my head, something clicked. It was real. The corvette had been boarded. And I, I had a chance of getting out of―

    “Hey!” I yelled, leaping off the bed and drumming on the door. “Help! Help, someone, I'm a prisoner, I'm not with them!”

    “That's it,” said Archie. “Keep that up, I'm going to see what's going on out there.”

    Hey!

    The triple-hiss of a burst-fired flechette-gun; the roar of hot air and the brief glow of light under the door; the thump of someone falling down.

    “In here!” I cried, bashing my fists against the door so hard they hurt. “Please! Help!

    “Who's there?” said someone from outside.

    “I'm a prisoner, I'm a prisoner, I'm not with the city―”

    “Sit tight,” said the someone. “Can't stop just yet.”

    “Oh thank― wait, where are you going? Please! Wait a moment!”

    Footsteps receding down the corridor. I punched the door one last time, hard enough to split the skin on my knuckles, and threw myself at the bunk.

    “Do you think they'll be back?” I asked. “Was that a―”

    “I'll go and follow them,” said Maxie diplomatically. “Quite what Archie's up to, I've no idea …”

    He vanished under the door. Now, I could hear more battle-sounds: the ringing crash of swords, the snarl and thunder of pokémon battles, the dull boom of gunpowder pistols. Unable to sit still, I jumped up again and crossed to the door, then, when I found I couldn't stand still there either, back again, and back again.

    “Hey, it's gonna be OK,” said Zinnia. “They sounded like they meant to come back later.”

    I thought:

    They might not. They might forget or get killed and maybe no one will know and I will be trapped in here and starve to death as the ship rusts around me.

    I said:

    “Maybe. I hope so.”

    I rubbed the god-mark on my wrist, praying silently that Tooth would act like a proper patron for once and help me out. Having actually met Tooth now, I almost feel bad for writing that – but it's true that until we got on a first-name basis, being its disciple didn't seem to do me a whole lot of good.

    “No maybe about it,” said Zinnia. “If they don't, they're gonna get such a haunting.”

    There was a crash from above our heads and the light flickered alarmingly for a moment. Jittery as I was, I jumped about half a mile.

    'Sflukes!

    “Hey, Ava―”

    The door opened.

    For a second, we were both blinded by the bright corridor lights – and then something crashed into my chest so hard that I half thought I was about to be flattened by a sharpedo. Then an electric jingle and a holographic heart floated up around my head, and I realised my mistake.

    Edie!

    I hugged her tight and planted a kiss on her head that sent staticky tingles running through my lips.

    “We bumped into her on her way,” said Archie, appearing in the doorway with Maxie. “I have to say, I'm kind of surprised to see her again. Can't think how she managed to get back here.”

    “But we are very glad she did,” added Maxie swiftly. “Come, quick! There aren't enough pirates to take over both ships. We've got to move fast, before the sergeants drive them back onshore and realise you're loose.”

    “Can the magnetic clamps be activated from the bridge?” I asked.

    “Aye,” replied Archie. “I've seen the controls before, I can walk you through it―”

    Edie trilled a little tune and I smiled.

    “No need,” I said. “She can do it faster than any of us.” I started for the door. “Which way?”

    All three ghosts knew how to get to the bridge, thanks to their spying activities, and we were on our way in moments. It felt so good to be out and running; except for the fact that I was out of uniform, I might have been back in Tethys, fleeing the sergeants down the maintenance passages. Red and black walls on either side, metal floor warm beneath my bare feet, ducts and pipes snaking by above; strange as it seemed, outside that cell the ship felt almost like home. The only thing out of place was me. A solid month of inactivity and poor diet had taken a bigger chunk out of my stamina than I'd expected, and even though I felt like my blood was currently eighty per cent adrenaline, I kept falling behind the ghosts.

    And the battle noises kept getting closer.

    I heard them echoing down the corridor behind me: bangs and crashes, crackles and screams. I saw the aggressive flare of electric-type moves out of the corner of my eye as two figures grappled at the end of a side passage. Halfway down the second corridor I tripped over the body of a sergeant and hit the deck hard, nearly smashing my nose all over again. When I got up, I noticed with a vague sense of apprehension that my hands were blotched with his blood. I didn't let it stop me. He was only a corpse, after all, and blood is only blood. I kept running, gasping for breath now and wondering if I'd ever actually make it―

    “Stop!” Zinnia held out a hand and I stumbled through her before managing to halt. “Quickly! This way!”

    I glanced around the corner we'd been about to take and flinched: Virgil and some pirate kid were trading shots down the passage as their pokémon grappled in the space between them. The pirate looked about seventeen and horribly frightened. Virgil, on the other hand, sported a small and chilling smile.

    “Ava, come on!” Ghostly hands swished through my wrist. I dragged my eyes away from the fight, offering a silent prayer to Tooth that the pirate would be OK, and followed the ghosts down a different turning. The lights went out suddenly, and then came back on, and then went dark for good―

    “Stairs!” shouted Maxie, too late. My toes drove into the bottom step hard and I fell again.

    “You OK?” asked Zinnia, but I didn't have the breath to answer. I struggled back onto my feet and followed Edie up the stairs as she raised her brightness several levels. The sounds of battle were all around us now, gunfire deafening as it resounded among the metal walls, yowls and shouts breaking intermittently through the blasts, all of it a great rolling wave of sound that made my head spin and my stomach heave with nausea. Where any of the fighting was I couldn't tell. It might have been in the next room or right behind me. I could only hope it wasn't the latter.

    “You're gonnae make it,” said Archie. “The light!”

    Up ahead: a glowing patch of emergency lights still functioning, and beyond that a door, and beside the door a keypad that Edie ran her scanner over―

    The bridge at last. It was actually deserted; every single Tethys citizen on board was dealing with the pirates. More than that, though, it was bright. The corridor light had been harsh on my eyes, coming out of my underlit cell. Here, surrounded on three sides by glass, the weak sunlight streamed in and brought tears of pain to my eyes.

    There may also have been a few tears of delight, actually. Sunlight tends to make me a touch emotional. It's one of the lesser-known side effects of growing up at the bottom of the sea.

    “Thank the bloody hallows,” I muttered fervently, shading my eyes and squinting fiercely at the consoles. “Right. Let's get those clamps off my Museum.”

    “Now that's what I like to hear!” said Archie, grinning broadly. Towards the end, I think, he and the others had started to worry about how quickly my spirit was disintegrating; I must have seemed a disconcertingly far cry from the girl they had decided to follow to the end of the world. But they were trainers once. They understood, I'm sure, how it was that Edie's arrival had lit my fire again. “This one over here, lass.”

    “Edie,” I said, pointing. “Would you?”

    She dived into the control bank and disappeared for all of half a second before springing back out. There was a distant thudding sound beneath the fighting – and the corvette swayed slightly as its grip on the Museum slipped.

    “Now we're getting somewhere!” cried Archie. “Right. Up on deck now and hop over to the Museum. If we can dive―”

    “―the other corvette will have to unclamp or risk damage, yes,” concluded Maxie. “There's a way out on the port side, I think―”

    “It's over here,” interrupted Zinnia. “Come on― oh.”

    We stopped.

    Virginia smiled.

    “Well,” she said, stepping through the doorway. “Look who escaped.” She jerked a thumb back at the corridor, from which could be heard the roar of flames. “Friends of yours?”

    I shook my head slowly.

    “Just got lucky.”

    She snapped her fingers.

    “Oh, this must be so galling. You were just about ready to go! You'd almost made it out! And then up pops the b*tch with the staraptor.” She shrugged, making the staraptor on her shoulders spread its wings briefly for balance. As if I hadn't already noticed it. “I couldn't have planned it out better myself.”

    I bunched my fingers into fists. I couldn't lose now. I couldn't. They'd had me here for a drowned month and now I was loose and if they got me again I wouldn't be able to take it and―

    I forced my hands to lie flat again, trying to slow down my thoughts. There had to be a way. There always was.

    “And this must be the pokémon Virgil mentioned,” Virginia went on. “Weird-looking thing.” Edie hopped up and down on the spot and reduced her polygon count, once more assuming her spiky battle-shape; she didn't produce a speech bubble, but her meaning was fairly obvious. “Oh, come on now,” said Virginia, amused. “If you want to attack me, you've gotta be faster than Christina here. Not to mention these.” She raised her hand, and for the first time I saw that she had a flechette-gun. “Now,” she continued, “you get a choice. You're either going to come back to your cell with me now, and we'll say no more about it. Or I can shoot you and have Christina drag you there. It really is up to you.”

    I stared at her. There had to be a way, I repeated to myself. How could there not be? And yet Virginia was between me and all the exits, and I couldn't have outsped a staraptor even when I was fit.

    “I strongly urge you to make a decision soon,” said Virginia. “Because I'm kinda in a hurry to get back to throwing these pirates off my ship.”

    “Ava,” said Zinnia quietly. “I … don't have any ideas.”

    “Nor do I,” said Maxie, and Archie shook his head. He didn't either. None of us did.

    “I'm going to choose for you in a minute,” said Virginia. “And really, only one of those options is open to me.”

    I closed my eyes for a moment. Inhaled. Opened them again.

    “Can I keep Edie?” I asked. It came out even more pathetic than it sounds.

    “What in all blood do you think?” asked Virginia. “OK, look, decision time's over. I'm too busy for thi―”

    She flew sideways, the staraptor tumbling from her shoulders. Her head cracked against a chair – and that was that; Virginia was out. By the time I had worked out what had just happened, the arcanine that had appeared out of the doorway had the staraptor pinned on its back with one massive paw.

    “Holy mother of―!” Zinnia jumped back so sharply she almost tripped over a chair leg. “Where did that come from?”

    I stared. There was something familiar about this arcanine.

    “Grey,” I said. “Archie, is that―”

    “Yeah,” he replied. “The mane …”

    “Sorry we're a bit late,” said Ulixa, stepping out of the corridor with her gun still smoking. “You're not hurt, are you?”

    All at once, I became aware that my mouth had apparently turned into wet cement.

    “H-how,” I managed. “What are … ?”

    “I'll take that as a 'no'.” She grinned broadly. “Come on, then, kiddo. Let's get you out of here.”

    “Please don't call me that,” I mumbled, which was pretty much the only thought currently in my head that I didn't want to say out loud. Fortunately, no one actually heard me. Ulixa had one arm around my shoulders and was hurrying me out of the room, Maxie and Zinnia were busy asking who she was and Archie was occupied giving them inadequate answers. Behind us there was a noise like a bellows collapsing followed by a strangled squawk, and then we were joined by Ulixa's arcanine. I didn't see Edie, and was about to call out to Ulixa to stop – but then I noticed her on the arcanine's back, nestled comfortably in its mane. Obviously she remembered their last meeting.

    “It's this way,” said Zinnia, pointing down a side passage. “Tell her.”

    “That way to the deck,” I said. Ulixa nodded.

    “I came in there,” she told me. “Edie showed me.”

    “Edie … ? What?”

    “She started a fight between us and the tethies on the docks. Some of my crew got caught up in it, I came to break things up and saw her. Hold it!” She pushed me back a moment, leaned around a corner and fired three shots; someone unseen swore at her and ran off. “I figured,” she continued, tugging me back out into the passage and across to a flight of steps, “that if she was there, you must've been caught, so I started organisin' our people into a boardin' party to try and find you.” She snorted. “Good thing my hunch was right, or I might've pissed off some pretty powerful people for nothin'.”

    I winced.

    “Sorry – will this cause you prob―?”

    “Everything I do causes problems,” she said cheerfully. “And you're Captain Siobhan's daughter! I wasn't goin' to leave you. Here we are!”

    She thumped a button with her fist, and there it was: the deck. Sunlight. Rain. Slick metal under my feet and rainwater soaking into my hair. It smelled of engine oil and salt; it smelled good. And there, when I looked to my right, the familiar bulk of the Museum, its deck almost level with that of the corvette …

    Footsteps in the corridor. The arcanine growling as it turned to face the gap. And a howl from somewhere within the ship:

    “Drowning stop her!

    “Virginia's woken up, I hear,” said Maxie. “You know, it might be time to leave.”

    “Edie, start the engines and open up the port deck hatch,” I said quickly. “Go!”

    She nodded and zoomed away from the arcanine to the Museum.

    “Ulixa,” I said. “Thank you so―”

    “Next time we meet, buy me a drink,” she said, cramming bullets into her gun. The arcanine barked and some other pokémon hissed. “Now go on! Get out of here!”

    “Are you going to be―?”

    “I am, but if you don't bloody leave, you might not be. Go on!”

    Flechettes shot out of the passageway and Ulixa returned fire with gusto. I didn't hang around any longer. I climbed the railing and dropped into the ocean between the corvette and the Museum. Around me, the ghosts fell like brilliant meteors, incandescent in the water.

    I was free.




    That was it for me and Tethys. It never got me again. It kept chasing, and it kept fighting – but I had moved on. Avice Amrit dol' Tethys, runaway Legal Apprentice, was still there in the cell. She'd never have been able to escape, no matter how desperate she got, because she knew as all citizens do that once the CCC has you, there is no getting away. I, however, Avice Amrit dol' Tethys, or dol' Hoenn, or whatever – I knew better. They were just people. Terrifying people, and not ones I'd ever invite to a birthday ritual, but people.

    And let's be totally honest, people are kind of scary at the best of times. But when you have several ghosts, the world's best porygon (probably) and a pirate with a gigantic arcanine on your side – well, you can start to see how you might deal with them.

    Ulixa did get away, by the way. She twisted her hands into her arcanine's mane and had it jump from deck to pier. It sounds pretty hard, but then again, she is also pretty hard, and she came out of it all right. I saw her from the deck of the Museum, when I reached the top of the ladder and turned to look back, and she was already back up on her feet, so it couldn't have been that bad.

    Once I was inside, we submerged and, as predicted, the other corvette released us rather than be dragged along for the ride. It couldn't have stopped us without the help of the other ship, and whatever Edie had done to the systems of that one, she had most certainly put it out of clamping commission.

    Whew! I don't know about you, but I feel like it took forever to get through that. Maybe it's because it was so unpleasant, or because it's the last bit before the really important stuff. Now we can get on with key stones and the hunt for Rayquaza and the rest of the real history. I know, I know, I could have just started the story there. But we need to be aware of where things come from, even if it isn't possible to fit everything in. Without this episode, for instance, what does my later meeting with Virgil mean? What would we make of what Edie did in Jonah's Respite or the Hollow?

    And there's so much more to go, too. So much more, and it's such a long way to Tethys, and I'm getting so tired.

    I think, on balance, it might be time to take a break. Just for a week or so, to recharge my authorial batteries. Besides, if I was going to split the narrative anywhere, here would be a good spot. From my escape to Mt. Pyre, it was pretty much plain sailing.

    Well, I guess that settles it. Who knows when I'll next get a chance like this? I'll take a break, and you can stop reading for a while and make some coffee or something, and we'll both come back at this fresh and raring to go. In the meantime, I'm going to keep an eye on the horizon. There were no birds again today, either, and I think that in the next couple of days I'm going to see what it was that they were pointing me towards.

    So, it's decided! I'll see you in one week's time, dear reader. From me, from Edie, and from all four of our ghostly crew – goodbye. And have an excellent week.
     
    Last edited: Dec 10, 2016
  19. Spiteful Murkrow

    Spiteful Murkrow Early Game Encounter

    Whelp, it took me an eternity and a day to catch up, but I figured that it was as good a time as any to stop quietly reading and leave some impressions, if over this past chapter since 12 chapters is a lot of stuff to comment on.

    Pretty sure that's just a leetle more vindictive than just ensuring stability, but it's an interesting glimpse into Virginia's mindset.

    An interesting take on Porygon's ability to become less corporeal for sure, and the stakes make it to be quite riveting to follow.

    Also, for a second I was going to ask why you decided to arm the CCC with guns that shot out spikes instead of bullets given how scarce their resources are. Then I did a little digging and realized that you did that because that's how a lot of designs for guns meant to be used underwater actually work. So bravo for thinking out all these little flourishes for your setting, it really adds a lot to the experience.

    Congratulations, now I want one of these things. It would help so much with squishing annoying bugs in my line of work, and always keep a rubber duck debugger handy. ;<;

    Talk about your unlikely heroes, eh?

    Surprised she didn't check him for a weapon. Then again, considering the fact that she's been in a cell for a month and random chaos is all about her, I can't really fault her too badly for just wanting to get off that Corvette.

    Ohh, yes. Definitely one of the funner "calvary" moments that I've read from a fanfic, and glad to see Ulixa and her mutt back.

    I'll certainly be looking forward to where this is going, but I can't help but wonder who the two ghosts we have yet to meet that Narrator!Avice mentions are.

    It's Steven and Wallace, isn't it?

    But yeah, I really like what you've been doing with this fic. You've obviously planned it out a lot, you've got great attention to detail, a fun cast to follow, and I can't wait to see where you wind up taking this sea yarn next.
     
    Last edited: Aug 10, 2015
  20. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine Gone. Not coming back.

    Well, thank you for your efforts! I know there's a lot of this story to get through (like 130,000 words at present, how on earth did that happen), so I appreciate your fortitude and dedication in getting here and still having the energy to respond.

    It certainly is. I'm not sure Avice can see past her hatred of the city to notice, but it's pretty unclear how vindictive the Administration really is, if at all. Specific people, maybe, but the system? Perhaps not so much. Virginia is definitely not a very nice person, at least not to those who she thinks are threatening the thing that she loves. But then, there's some overlap between her sarcasm and Avice's, so ... well, I don't know. I'm just the writer. I'll leave all the questions about Tethys and the CCC to you readers. It's your job to decide what to do with all this, after all.

    Whenever I write a fanfic, I always end up making myself wildly enthusiastic about whatever pokémon I make into a main character, because things like that happen that I'd never really thought about before. Which I like, because it's kind of a parallel to the trainer's experience, in a way -- you pick something you like and grow to love and understand it. I didn't give porygon a second thought before starting this; now I adore it.

    Thank you! Those little details for a world are something I love to see in other stories, and that I love to add to my own stories, and I'm glad they're having the desired effect. I try not to hoard ideas for future stories, trusting in the ability of my future self to think up ideas for those, so I tend to put everything I think of into the story as I go along. I'm pretty sure that in some of my earlier stories, that just made them a horrible mishmash of disjointed ideas, but it seems to be working well for these more recent ones.

    I wonder if rubber duck debugging is part of the inspiration for porygon's design? I'd like to think so. That would be nice. I have no idea when the term originated, so I can't prove that it wasn't. Hooray for dubious arguments!

    Yeah, I can't imagine Avice was in much of a state to be doing that. She's Tethysi, of course, and as stated they're not squeamish about death; I suspect most people in the post-post-apocalyptic ocean are pretty familiar with corpses, actually. But still, as you say, death and chaos are all around her and she just wanted to get out. Maybe the ghosts should have reminded her, but honestly, they're all a bit out of practice when it comes to violent action and they probably had other things on their minds.

    I've been waiting to bring Ulixa back for a while! It's not the last we've seen of her, either. She's not called Ulixa for nothing; she's a woman of twists and turns. Besides, I like the idea of a really big, fluffy fire dog that's gone a bit complacent with old age, so I have to have her recur in order to make more use of her arcanine.

    Well:

    So, probably not Wallace, at least. There are several patterns that link all the ghosts together; I'm not going to tell you what they are, of course, because that would spoil the fun, but you could potentially predict who the others will be.

    Thank you so much! This is a weird story to write and a weirder one to edit, and I'm really pleased that it's found an audience. So, thank you for responding, and thank you all for reading! You guys are the best.
     
    Last edited: Aug 11, 2015

Share This Page