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Time and Tide

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

  1. Sike Saner

    Sike Saner Peace to the Mountain

    "Hungry particles" jkdfjsdkjfsd... Yeah I'm looking very much forward to (possibly) finding out what the fluttering heck this "wind" is really made of. It can't/barely can (or won't/barely won't) touch plants. And glass, to an extent. What meets those criteria along with what was already established/insinuated?

    [​IMG]

    Oh god. Pugraptor.

    That's gotta **** with one's head.

    !

    There's another thing to wonder about.

    Edie is ****ing awesome.

    And that's adorable.
     
  2. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine Gone. Not coming back.

    It's going to be fairly hard to guess, I think, because like so much else in Time and Tide, I've extrapolated quite a lot from my source material. But we'll get there in the end.

    Who'd have thought it? Keeping a small number of animals trapped at the bottom of the sea isn't good for the health of their descendants.

    Indeed. It's probably a large part of why Avice thinks of Tethys in the way that she does. That and Virgil.

    Let's just say I chose a porygon for Avice's companion for more reasons than their ability to hang around for a few centuries. I've been laying the groundwork for Edie's later metamorphoses for a while (all those references to her capabilities changing after visits to certain places), but I thought it was time to come out and say it openly. We're in the second part of the story now, after all.

    She is. Of all the pokémon I've written, I think she's got to be my favourite. Even more so than the alakazam in A Leash of Foxes.

    Edie does have a tendency to repeat past actions whenever she encounters similar circumstances; she's snuggled into the arcanine's mane on both occasions they've met. I wonder if that's a limitation of her AI. I don't know. I haven't decided yet. Mostly I think I did it because it was, as you say, adorable.

    Thank you for responding! And thank you all for reading.
     
    Last edited: Aug 17, 2015
  3. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine Gone. Not coming back.

    Content warning! This chapter, as you might have gleaned from the title, is Zinnia's reminiscence chapter. As such, it does inevitably deal with the death of her child. Not entirely directly, and certainly not in any way graphically, but it is something she's going to talk about.


    THIRTEEN: THE REMEMBRANCE OF ZINNIA MALLORY

    People'd live for ages side by side, nodding at one another amicably on their way to work, and then some trivial thing would happen and someone would be having a garden fork removed from their ear.
    ―Terry Pratchett, Jingo


    Welcome back! It's another sunny day here in the middle of the ocean, and we are making good time. How have you been? Good, I hope. I'm good. My leg's almost better. I don't even think I need this crutch any more, although the ghosts insist. And well, it would be pretty annoying to have it almost healed and then wreck it again through my own stubbornness, so. For the time being, I'll be good and do as they say.

    What else is new? The birds, dear reader, that's what. New birds: murkrow, honchkrow, pidove; all kinds of extinct pokémon, reappearing, alighting on the rails, chattering and cooing like a cageful of monkeys. And now I know where they're coming from. We've sailed into a chain of islands. In case that means nothing to you, let me just add that there are no maps that mark islands here – but there are lots that mark reefs.

    That's right. The birds really were part of a pattern, and that pattern really was pointing towards the falling of the waters.

    'Sflukes, it's actually happening! I mean, I know that we did it, I know that we called Rayquaza down and that Tide is probably no longer even conscious but still. This is the evaporation of my whole world. And it's more than that, too, because these islands, dear reader – they're not just bits of seafloor that now find themselves above the waves. There are creatures living on them. That's where the birds are coming from. I don't know how, and I can't even guess at why, but as the land re-emerges … well, so it seems do the pokémon.

    It's like that encyclopaedia article I mentioned a while ago. That klink pokémon never bothered to evolve, it just showed up one day and that was that. Species vanish, species disappear. And now that there's somewhere for them to live, they're coming back!

    All right. I know, I know, I'm excited. These islands aren't even that great – there's not much in the way of life on them at the moment. They're mostly bare mud, with seaweed and a few crabs. The only pokémon living there are the birds – murkrow, taillow, pidove. There aren't many of them, either; there's not a lot for them to eat. The murkrow are all right, they'll eat anything, but the pidove all look uncomfortably thin. I hope they haven't returned too soon, and yet I'm so excited that they're even here at all. Because it means that I haven't just pulled the plug on a perfectly fertile ocean and condemned us all to a harsh life on sterile salt mud. It means that we've still got a chance at recovery – that this world can heal, even after five hundred years of Tide, and that somewhere deep beneath the earth it remembers how things were before. How they should be.

    I've got to say, I've been kind of worried about this. Avice, worried? I hear you cry. Surely not! Well, thanks for your sarcasm, dear reader, but yes, I have been. I didn't know for sure what would happen, you see. There was a chance that we could push the sea back into its boundaries, but none of us knew what state the land we uncovered would be in. Now that the birds are back, though, I think we can relax a little – not totally, things could still go horribly wrong, but a little. We might just be OK.

    However! All this is months and months ahead of where we left off in our story. I ended my last entry with my escape from the corvette, and I suppose from Tethys in general. I was still a bit messed-up, of course – I mean, I was born and raised in the city, after all – but I had shaken the weight of it off my back. What was left of its influence was a lot subtler and a lot harder to remove, and I guess I'm still working on that now. But, by and large, if there's a definitive moment when I broke free, that was it.

    And it was also the most interesting moment for quite a while. We didn't have time to ask around the Mourn to see if anyone knew where we could get a key stone, for obvious reasons, so we just left, as fast as possible, and headed southeast for the place the ghosts called Mt. Pyre, which is apparently the mountain underneath the Shattered Temple. It's a curious thing, hearing them talk about it like that. To me, there's always just been the Temple and its island; look at things from a slightly different angle, however, and instead there's a vast sunken mountain, hollow and heavy with graves.

    Graves. Now that's an old word. Do you know it? I'd better explain. In the old days, when there was land, they used to bury their dead. The place where a corpse was buried is called a grave. Weird, isn't it? Just think: once there were whole fields, graveyards, where the ground was made up of the dead, lurking beneath the surface. And apparently no one thought this was odd! Perhaps they'd say the same of our crematoria and the way we recycle the ash.

    … you know, this week off seems to have made me especially vulnerable to distractions. We're a couple of pages in already and I'm rambling about graves as if I didn't have an actual story to tell. Right. Mt. Pyre. Let's do this.

    It was another month's travel, or actually a bit more – but this time I went as captain, not as cargo, and that makes all the difference. I spent the first few days resting; I'd just packed a week's worth of physical activity into twenty minutes after a month of doing nothing at all, and by the time I got up on the Museum's deck I was almost too tired to open the hatch and get inside. If Edie hadn't come and opened it for me, I might have just stayed out there and caught cold in the rain.

    Meanwhile, Archie set a course for the Shattered Temple and did his best to avoid the shipping lanes. Tethys trades extensively with the Hollow, and unfortunately the Temple is in the middle of the direct route between the two. He decided we would go east first to the Sunken Gardens, where Moll was almost born, and where there were usually fewer Tethys vessels, and then head southeast for the Temple itself, keeping below the water as far as possible. Hopefully, all we'd run into would be pilgrims on their way to the same destination.

    Maxie spent those days going around checking the damage that the keening wind had done to the Museum, which was odd, given that Edie was far more capable in that regard than any human possibly could be. I think he was just trying to avoid Archie. They never told me about any arguments they'd had aboard the corvette, but I'm pretty sure that they had a few, all variations on the same old theme, and that they were trying to calm down a little before they spoke again.

    Zinnia? Zinnia stayed with me, or went up to the conning tower, which had sort of become her room. Archie and Maxie never showed any desire to make one particular part of the ship their own, for whatever reason, but she did. That's why she'd brought that laptop up there, and a few books and things, as well, although it took Edie weeks to learn not to keep tidying them away into the hold again. I don't know what she does up there, and I've never asked. Everyone is entitled to withdraw for a while. I know I like to, now and then.

    Edie, for her part, still had repairs to make – and she also, surprisingly, took up the job of fixing my nose where the Tethys doctor had left off. That was another skill she'd picked up in the time before she became a box network supervisor, I suppose. Regardless, between her ministrations and whatever the meaty-tasting medicinal sludge was that she coaxed out of the synthesis machine, the break healed so well as to be virtually invisible.

    After I'd started feeling a bit more human, I began trying to put my strength back together. I liked being fast: running away from things is probably, in terms of how often it's saved me, the single most useful skill I've ever picked up. I'd only just managed to make it out of the corvette; if Tethys or anyone else came after me again, I was going to need to get myself back to the level of fitness I'd been at before Virgil caught me.

    So: a month and a half of running around and asking Archie what you were meant to do with some of the old gym equipment that had wound up in the Museum's stock; a month of reading about space and watching audiovisual recordings; a month of healing, body and soul, in conversations with friends and training sessions over which Edie enthusiastically, if not always helpfully, presided.

    And at the end of it all― no, hang on a minute. I'm getting ahead of myself. I can't write about Mt. Pyre without first telling you Zinnia's story, and then it would just be an added complication if I didn't talk about a couple of other things that happened during the voyage, as well. I know I've played a bit fast and loose with chronology in this book, but let's not get too carefree with the sequence of events. I might be sculpting history into something readable here, but that's not to say I should be allowed to distort it entirely.

    So … I guess I'd better start with Zinnia. I told her right at the start that I might need her to recount her story again, and I reminded her last week, when I mentioned that she'd told us about herself on the corvette. I don't want to pressure her, but I think she might be ready.

    Hang on. I'm going to go and ask her. If she agrees, I'll see you in a few pages' time. If not, I guess I'll be back in a minute.




    ZINNIA

    I'm kind of hesitant about writing this down. When you're the one who gambled over seven billion human lives (and countless animals, plants, pokémon) to save Hoenn and lost, you're not so keen to have what you did memorialised for future generations. But Avice forgave me – or no, she didn't, for her there was nothing to forgive. She just asked me. And it's really hard to refuse her, so here I am. Zinnia Mallory: ghost, ender of worlds, Draconid.

    Should I explain that? You call us ziz-lords now, which is a pretty suitable description, I guess. Clever, too, and I don't know why none of the others ever say anything about that. They're all about what we've lost – but honestly, you guys aren't just our leftovers. You're your own people, with your own skills and discoveries.

    I understand why they keep on about it, though. I feel the same way. I just don't like to talk about it.

    OK. From the top: I'm a Draconid born and bred, one of Hoenn's national oddities. While the rest of the country looked at Japan and the West and thought I want that, we turned around and marched right back into the caves. Not that we were ever actually against technology or anything – like, we had all the modern stuff on the reservation in Meteor Falls, wifi, cable TV, all of it. We just really liked dragons. And rocks.

    I grew up alongside my dragon. Her name was Electra, which is a terrible name for anyone, let alone your life companion, but when I was nine I thought it sounded awesome and didn't really know that its original bearer was a matricide in a really screwed-up myth. Back in those days, choosing bad names for things was almost a rite of passage. All those trainers, getting their first pokémon at ten years old? Let's just say that when I went on my trainer journey, I met at least twelve zubat named some variation on 'Vampire'.

    So right, right, I'm avoiding the issue. Like I said, I grew up with Electra. The elders gave her to me when I was nine and she was one and a half. A year later, we knew each other a bit better, and I went off on my trainer journey. Most kids just did it for the one year back then, and outside the tropics it was usually just a summer – can you imagine hiking around in an Unovan winter? Me either, that's why most of them didn't – but I was really darn good, so I stayed on. I can say that without arrogance, I think. Five hundred years' hindsight and all. I did well – better than most. I had all eight Hoenn League badges in eighteen months, six under the average, and Electra had grown into a salamence in five more. It usually takes even a good trainer ten to mature them fully – it's like four decades in the wild, they're the lizard equivalent of sequoias or something.

    That's my little boast. Kind of irrelevant now, I guess, because Electra died at the age of eighteen, three days after I got squished by a falling ceiling in Mt. Pyre. She just lay down next to my body and closed her eyes. I recovered from dying after a few hours and I stayed with her till her scales were grey and cold, and then I knew she was dead. Like everyone else.

    I was twenty-seven. I have been ever since.

    But I guess none of that's strictly relevant. You want the part that I played in history. Well, all right, but if I'm going to give you that then you're going to get more than you bargained for. Reading back what Avice has been writing, it occurs to me that it's kind of unworkable to tear one bit of history loose from the main thing. It's like taking out the middle of a detective novel. Sure, you can still find out who the killer was by reading the end, but you've got no chance of ever working it out yourself. You lose all the satisfaction of putting the pieces together and making wild guesses.

    And besides, I think I need the catharsis. Like, the only person I've told about this since I died is Avice. I made sure to wait till the boys were out of the cell before I said this part to her. Not because of anything wrong with them, more because of something right with Avice. You can talk to her. I don't know if it's because she's the only living person who can see us or because she's the kind of person who has stories centre on her or what, but you can talk to her. Give her a story, and she holds it close, looks after it with so much wonder and kindness. I know, it's all kinds of sappy, but I think it's true. She was born to read, people and books, like some kind of gardener of stories.

    Hey, there's a phrase. A gardener of stories. Maybe all that poetry of hers is rubbing off on me. She's pretty good, you know. I was never a very creative child – I always was more comfortable with my hand on the neck of a dragon than wrapped round a paintbrush – so maybe some of my admiration comes from my incompetence, but I like her stuff.

    OK, so.

    When I was twenty-five, my daughter died. Her name was Aster and she wanted to be an astronaut when she grew up. Her favourite colour was orange. She was a Scorpio, which she was proud of because she thought the big blue scorpions that lived in the ash fields east of the Falls were the shiniest bugs in the world. She loved my mother's homemade blackberry ice cream and hugging the warm spot at the base of Electra's neck and pretending to be a pyroar.

    These are the things I think of when I think about her, all the little bits and pieces that make up a life – six years of existence and everything that comes with it, the nightmares and the lullabies, the smell of craft paper and glue, the constellations in a June night sky, a laugh drifting on amber air, the particular sound of crickets competing with ninjask in the heat of a summer dusk, the pale flash of a milotic spotted in the river at a picnic, the T-shirt with the cartoon salamence gone patchy with washing, the glow of birthday candles in a darkened room, the gleam of light on a shiny new bike, the light fragrance of freshly-washed hair as you kiss a forehead, the pallor, the tiredness, the antiseptic smell of the Fallarbor Children's Clinic, the Mum, when will I be better, the hair on the floor, the painful thinness, the flaking skin, the tubes, the tears that I never, ever, shed.

    I can remember all of it, every last detail, but no matter how much of it I write down she doesn't come back. It's only a list on a page. I've read Avice's history so far, I see how she brings everyone she met so vividly to life but I just can't do it. Aster stays dead.

    OK, so.

    I went and looked up at the sky for a little while there. That's what Draconids do. We look up towards the stars and the place where Rayquaza flies. It's what I do, too. Look up, and no tears fall.

    She was why I stopped training. I found out I was pregnant in a hotel in Driftveil when I went there for a shot at the World Tournament. I backed out immediately and went home. Never did tell my then lover, as it happened, but they were the biggest jerk I'd ever met, so when I started panicking and thinking of people to go to, I thought of my mother and not them. They found out where I went, but never bothered to contact me. I guess they didn't care either.

    I flew a lot. Electra was mourning too, not just because she knew I was upset but because she had loved little Aster too. First I think she thought that she was a new addition to the team. She'd never seen a human infant before and couldn't see how that could grow up into―

    I guess she never did get to see that. The point is, we flew together, trying to leave the grave behind on earth while we escaped to higher and higher altitudes. I flew. I trained. I looked up.

    I put my life back together.

    I never got over it, but six months later I was a trainer again.

    In the mountains north of Verdanturf, I ran across a dying whismur. I don't know what had happened – something had attacked her but she got away, there were tooth marks all over her left side – but it was clear that she was beyond the help of potions. Too much blood, too little movement. I almost had Electra put her out of her misery, but then I heard it whining to itself, muuh, muuh, and I froze up. I listened again, heard it this time as mum.

    It wasn't a good idea, I know, but I couldn't help myself. I grabbed that whismur, mega evolved Electra and had her fly us to Verdanturf about as fast as we'd ever flown anywhere before. I must have looked so weird, stumbling into the Pokémon Centre with blood all down my shirt, a mega salamence struggling to fit through the door behind me. I guess they see a lot of weird people in Pokémon Centres.

    Point is, against all the odds, the whismur survived, and I called her Aster. I don't think I should have done it – like how do you move on when you hang onto a dead person that way? – but I couldn't help myself. She became my constant companion, a little scarred blob of soft fur and whispery squeals with all the energy of her namesake. Despite myself, I adored her, and I was … happy? Maybe? I don't know. I thought I was happy at the time. I was definitely better, but not at all like I am now.

    Then came the meteor.

    See, there wasn't just one apocalypse looming at the end of the twentieth century. On New Year's Eve, 1999, we had a little over two years till the Aquas drowned the world, but we had only slightly longer than that before, as we Draconids knew, a meteor would fall from the sky and obliterate Hoenn. It was all in the old lore. Every thousand years, the meteor showers come. Every thousand years, they foretell one much bigger impact, and every thousand years, that impact gets bigger. In the year 3, it was hardly anything. In 1003, the crater the meteor left was as big as a city, and some brave people actually did go and built a city in it, Sootopolis. In 2003, we knew, the impact would be enough to wipe out Hoenn itself.

    Cycles of change, you see. It's kind of a Draconid theme. Thunderbolt steers all, the turnings of fire, and the rest of it. At the moment they've got kind of fatalistic about it all, but I can't blame them. The big idea to call Rayquaza down to help us didn't work, and it's hard to recover from that.

    When Rayquaza came before, it was always in response to the threat posed by Groudon and Kyogre. They raged, the people prayed for deliverance – and down came Rayquaza, right on cue. And I'd come across Aqua and Magma before, so I suggested to the Draconid elders that if we just gave them a nudge, they might manage to wake the old monsters up. Then they'd start rampaging, we'd call for help, and boom! Enter one sacred sky dragon.

    Officially, no one endorsed it. Too dangerous, I guess – I mean, if I was wrong, if Rayquaza didn't come to save us, Groudon and Kyogre would as much harm to the environment and kill as many people as any meteor could. But unofficially, they came to visit me one by one, and without actually saying so they gave me their blessing.

    So I joined up. Magma, I found, was a no-go right away – Tabitha Wentworth was way too sensible for my prodding to have much effect. He'd already advised Maxie not to raise Groudon, and Maxie had listened. But with the Aquas, I got right in there and really stirred things up. I was the hottest grunt in the outfit for a while; I dropped a few hints that the Blue and Red Orbs were real, and that they might be found on Mt. Pyre, and soon enough Archie was shaking my hand and telling me I might make Administrator.

    It's weird to think about it. Archie, before it all went wrong. I'd never met a man with such magnetism before. You could see why his Aquas were devoted to him.

    And there was the girl, too. The trainer who Maxie guided towards fighting the Aquas. I looked her up after she beat one of the Aqua grunts I was working with in a fight in Petalburg Woods – she was the daughter of that guy, what's his name now? Norman, I think. Norman … somebody, I forget the surname. He was the new Gym Leader in Petalburg, which I guess explained her skill. Anyway, she was amazing. A full-on all-action movie hero, the kind of person I never even thought existed in real life. She kept fighting right up till the end, even after I'd pushed Archie past his final doubts and got him down into that seafloor cavern to raise Kyogre. Even when the rain began, when everyone else was running for shelter, she kept fighting. Went and took on Kyogre all by herself in the Cave of Origin.

    She had the right idea. I'd miscalculated my gamble. Seven billion lives staked on the chance that Rayquaza would come in our time of need. Seven billion lost when it didn't, and Kyogre destroyed our world.

    I knew I'd made a mistake when the Cave of Origin exploded like that. The lower levels of Sootopolis were already as good as gone. People were just floating there on the water, like discarded dolls. It was one of the worst things I'd ever seen, right after Aster in the last days. I've seen a lot of people die since then – it's sort of inevitable when you've been around this long – but nothing like that. Nothing like seeing a city being eaten by the sea. The water looked so, I don't know, hungry, like it had been waiting and waiting for misguided people like us to raise Kyogre and set it free and now it was ravening for civilisation.

    I looked at the sky, but there was nothing but cloud. Rayquaza hadn't arrived, and it never would. I figured out my mistake later, once I'd got over being dead. The last time Rayquaza came, it wasn't because Groudon and Kyogre were fighting, it was because people prayed to it, and because the meteorite in the Sootopolis crater was made of key stone. The lore was so clear about it, when I think properly: the whole rock lit up like a rainbow when they wished, and that's how their wish reached all the way up to the stratosphere. That's what made Rayquaza come, that's what evolved it, and that's why my plan hadn't worked.

    Because that meteorite was gone and no matter who prayed to what, none of it went anywhere. Rayquaza heard nothing. Kyogre turned Primal without anyone able to stop it.

    Seven billion people. If I hadn't had the idea, and Archie hadn't been looking for Kyogre, and Maxie hadn't held back – so many ifs. I know it's not all my fault, the universe had decided it was time for a disaster anyway, but also it is all my fault. Aster was my fault. This was my fault. It was all my fault. Kyogre would have awoken anyway, I guess. But I happened to be the one who taught the wrong people how to raise it.

    Anyway, I ran away. I had to. No one could stay in Sootopolis and live, not then. Even as it was, Electra, Aster and I only just outflew the storm, billowing out from the air over the Cave of Origin. It caught up with us as we passed Mt. Pyre, and we had to take shelter inside the catacombs. Unfortunately, they were old catacombs and it was a strong storm. I heard a thunderclap, then the sound of breaking rock, and then the ceiling gave me just enough time to look at it before it fell on my face.

    Like, I deserved it, don't get me wrong. I'm not a terrible person, but I did do terrible things. An ignominious death alone in the dark under two tons of bricks is kind of a light sentence for killing 99% of all people on Earth. But still, I never thought I'd go out that way. I'm a Draconid, after all. And that's not a very Draconid kind of death.

    I said what happened next already. Electra dug me out, tried to separate me from Aster. She didn't succeed. Whismur and humans are both much squishier than salamence.

    Jeez, I'm sorry. I didn't mean to write that. Not like that, anyway.

    I came around a few hours later, waited till Electra was dead, then went home. I didn't leave for five hundred and fifty years.

    That's all so depressing to think about, though. Things are good now! I'm not over it – any of it – because hey, realistically that's probably never going to happen, but I'm better. I'm me again, I'm Zinnia Mallory, always cheerful, only sometimes faking it. I have no Aster any more, but I have Avice, who I think needs me the same way I need her. And she is wonderful, she really is, like I catch myself thinking sometimes that if Aster had lived, I couldn't have hoped for her to have turned out better than Avice has. Sometimes I think that's disloyal of me. But I know it isn't really. By her own consent, Avice is as much mine as Aster ever was. I have every right to be proud.

    And I have a legacy worth leaving, too. I helped clear up my mistake. I made a new plan, and OK, there were some hitches, it didn't exactly go smoothly, but it worked, more or less. I met Rayquaza. I undid everything that could be undone.

    There's still those seven billion people. There's still Aster.

    But like I said. Everything that could be undone.

    I've just got one last job now, and then … it's over, all of this. At last, I'll be able to rest. And maybe, if I'm lucky, if there's somewhere after this, I can see her again.




    AVICE

    Oh. I'm just reading what Zinnia wrote and – well.

    Hang on a moment. I think I need to have a word with her. She sounds like she could use a hug.

    Right. That was Zinnia, then. That was her burden. Like Archie and Maxie, she carried the end of her world around her neck everywhere she went; unlike them, she had other chains around her as well. Aster the whismur. Aster the child. She hid it very well – always cheerful, never sincere – but it was there, like a bone stuck in her throat. When she opened up to me, I knew that she must trust me absolutely, and I knew why, as well. I didn't mind too much about her reasons. We were both making use of each other in that way, after all.

    Possibly it alienated Archie and Maxie a bit, though. Couldn't be helped, I guess. There was no way they could have forged quite as close a relationship with me as Zinnia did.

    Anyway. Now you know as much as I did when I escaped the corvette. And it's only twenty past eleven! That's good going. Next: the Sunken Gardens.

    By the time we got there, I was much improved. My diet wasn't particularly great – we didn't have a whole lot in the way of supplies left, though the synthesis machine was able to provide me with a full complement of vitamins and minerals in the form of a sour greyish gloop – but it was much better than on the corvette. Between that and the exercise, I was most of the way back to my old self by the time we started descending towards the Gardens.
    “So this place,” Zinnia said, as we waited at the bridge for the first glimpse of the settlement, “it's Fortree, right?”

    “Aye.” Archie nodded. His distrust of Zinnia seemed tempered by the revelation of the part she'd played in raising Tide, but I thought I detected something there all the same. She wasn't Maxie, and she wasn't me. Things were more complicated than he would have liked. “Those giant hardwoods, they're tougher than you'd think. The leaves rotted, but the trunks just kind of pickled.”

    She shook her head, amazed.

    “Same buildings?”

    “One or two,” said Maxie. “But they're enclosed within new ones and kept as museum pieces. Most of them fell apart with the water. It's all been imported and built up Tethys-style.” He glanced at me. “A bit different, actually,” he admitted. “They favour curves here rather than edges. But the technology is the same.”

    I smiled briefly in acknowledgement and stared into the dark. We couldn't be more than a few hundred metres above the forest now, I thought. In a moment, the edges of the uppermost branches would appear, and after that the whole settlement would rise out of the gloom like a gigantic insect.

    “There!” I cried, pointing, and Maxie and Zinnia craned their necks to look. Below and ahead of us was a bank of coloured lights, signalling over and over the port-code for the Sunken Gardens. We dropped a little deeper, and suddenly I could see beneath the lights something like a giant octopus frozen in ice. Even though I was expecting it, I had to stare at it for a long moment to realise that this was the tangle of branches at the top of a tree.

    I drew in a sharp breath through clenched teeth.

    The Sunken Gardens appeared.

    Snakes of glass and steel coiled around the vast wooden supports, converging in the crooks of branches as knotted domes and spheres. The trees themselves, half fossilised, half pickled, looked nothing like their cousin up on the island with the bunker. With their bark mazed with cracks and zinc-clad cables, the only sign that they had ever been living was the weird labyrinth of their branches. Not even a master sculptor could have replicated that. Back then, we simply had no point of reference.

    Soon, maybe, that will change. With all these islands popping up, you never know. I might wake up tomorrow and see a bush sprouting on a rock off to port. We'll have to wait and see.

    “Huh,” said Zinnia. “It's … not quite like I remember it.” Her right hand was curled at her breast again. I recognised the gesture from before and reached out for her other hand. For a moment, she held back; then she slipped her pale fingers through mine.

    “Like a phoenix,” I said. “Sunken Gardens from the corpse of Fortree.”

    She looked at me in surprise.

    “'Cept it drowned itself instead of burning,” she said. “Well. New world, new phoenix, I guess.”

    I could see other ships descending now, threading their way delicately through the upper branches towards the docking zones. It was a slow process. Only Gardens ships were capable of moving with any speed in the forest; tiny, light and agile as squid, they darted between boughs on jets of compressed water, shepherding larger craft in to dock. For some reason, I thought back to the Complete History of Tethys, and the chapter on the short-lived war between the city and the Sunken Gardens. The book claimed that Tethys corvettes had sunk the entire Gardens fleet. It was obvious now that that must have been a lie; trying to hit those ships with a torpedo would have been like trying to skewer flies on a knifepoint. The compositors had just been relying on us never actually seeing a Gardens vessel.

    “Are we going to fit the Museum down there?” I asked, giving the spaces between the trees a dubious look.

    “I hope not,” said Archie. “I'd never get the bloody thing out again.” He gestured at the window. “Over there. You see it?”

    I did. East of us was a slim steel tower protruding from the top of the trees, ships clustered around its sides. I thought of the elevator that must run down its core, and shivered in trepidation. That was a long way, and I'd never been in an elevator before. Tethys had none. Those who were physically impaired and found the stairs difficult had to take shuttles instead.

    In the actual event, it wasn't as exciting as I thought it would be. It clanked down rather slowly, without any heart-stopping drops or halts, and I was in fact slightly bored by the time the doors opened again and let us out into the Gardens.

    This time, I was accompanied by Maxie, Zinnia and Edie; none of them knew anything about the city, of course, but neither Maxie nor Zinnia had visited settlements other than their own before and I no longer particularly wanted to punish Maxie, so Archie had volunteered to be the one to stay behind this time.

    “Besides,” he'd said, “I don't reckon you need me, lass. Last time you were fine at haggling without my help.”

    So that left us to go and buy supplies for the next leg of the voyage without his assistance. Which was fine, by the way. People are very nice in the Sunken Gardens, or at least they were when I was there. You had the sense that this was a community rather than a bunch of different people thrown together because they all needed to stop somewhere, as seemed to be the case in Cormac's Mourn. I was a little wary of it at first – the only kind of civic pride I'd ever known had been the brutal kind that reigns in Tethys – but it didn't seem to be at all poisonous. The inhabitants of the Gardens all seemed genuinely pleased to live in their settlement. I can't say I'm surprised. Even aside from the trees (and there isn't really any 'aside from the trees'; they're inescapably wonderful) it's a pretty cool place. All those soft edges and sweeping lines. It was like walking around inside Zinnia's laptop, the one with the fruit symbol on it.

    We didn't stay all that long. I traded in a few more trinkets with some prospectors who were in town. They'd set themselves up in a corner of the Guild Exchange, a hall in the eastern part of the settlement named for some ancient office, and they were glad to take the poké balls and ink pens off my hands; they hadn't much of their own to sell. Their last expedition had been to the sunken remains of the city between the Gardens and Jonah's Respite, and that site had been pretty much picked clean a hundred years ago. Even if by some miracle they'd been able to find an engine in good shape or an intact sculpture, it wouldn't have fetched as high a price as the pristine artefacts from the Museum's store.

    After that, I took on fresh supplies. This time, I made sure to allow myself a slightly more interesting diet – I was just about as sick of lentils then as I am now; I'm not a particularly good cook and can't stop them getting monotonous. I was about to leave when it occurred to me that I'd like a little company, and in consequence I stopped in at a pub by the elevator. I'm OK at being alone, and anyway I wasn't really alone since I had Edie and the ghosts, but I hadn't spent time among crowds since Cormac's Mourn, and I am from the biggest city in the ocean, after all. I needed to sit and have people flow around me. Even if they did keep filling the room with tobacco smoke.
    I don't think I did anything to attract his attention. Then again, sometimes it doesn't take anything at all. But, while―

    Hang on. Why am I going on about everything that happened in the Sunken Gardens? This has to be the most tedious passage I've ever written. Taking on supplies? Trading with prospectors? I only needed to record the first time I did that, really – the time that it really made an impact on me. How can I justify my inclusion of our stop at the Sunken Gardens?

    I suppose … well, maybe I have to record it. No one can be sure that it'll stay the Sunken Gardens for too much longer. Maybe by the time you read this it's just the Gardens, or even Fortree again. If pokémon can reappear, can plants? Seeds are tough, after all. They dug up seeds buried in the silt once and planted them in buckets in Semmerva of Iron, and some of them grew into stringy-leaved plants with big orange roots. You can eat those, I think, though you can still only get them in Semmerva. They're meant to be pretty good.

    The point is, I've been to this place, and maybe you won't ever get the chance to. Bringing back the land means getting rid of the excess sea, and that comes with its own losses.

    You know, I'm starting to realise that I don't know how to live on solid ground.




    Well! That was gloomy. I should have expected some misgivings, I guess, once I started thinking properly about what might happen next. I didn't think they'd come out like that, though. Anyway. We'd better move on. There's an awful lot of time to cover before we'll even see my younger self properly equipped with all the key stones, let alone at the Sky Pillar.

    Actually, there is one reason why I need to mention the Sunken Gardens. It was there that I heard of the first faint stirrings of war.

    It wasn't like Tethys needed much of an excuse – I know that. The Administration had long been unhappy about the proximity of Cormac's Mourn to the city, and now that Tethys had recovered from its last battle it was by far the strongest military power in the ocean. It was only a matter of time before the decision was made to launch an offensive. When I escaped and Ulixa's pirates attacked the corvette, it was just a flame to touchpaper that had been laid down long ago.

    But, obviously, it still felt like it was all my fault.

    So. In the pub, when I was nearing the bottom of my glass and the end of my patience with the smoke, I heard a few words through the hubbub that caught my attention:

    “… say it was one of their special agents, so you can imagine …”

    I looked up sharply, searching for whoever it was that had spoken. There aren't a lot of settlements that have special agents – and those that do have them don't often send them beyond their borders. This could only be news of Virgil and Virginia.

    “What is it?” asked Maxie, but I motioned for him to be quiet. The speaker had been somewhere nearby, I was sure – not the fat pirate with the flowing beard at the next table – not either of the sallow prospectors at the bar – not the giant with the octillery by the window―

    “―they say it looks like war,” said a dark-skinned gentleman in a black coat two tables away. I leaned a little closer and listened.

    “Over a few dead sergeants?” asked his companion, waving a dismissive hand. “They can't afford it.”

    “They've wanted Cormac's Mourn gone for a long time,” said the gentleman. “And they lost some political prisoner in the attack, too.”

    A shiver of excitement – and fear – ran down my spine. I was news, and not just in Tethys. For a moment, I had a wild idea that I'd stroll over there, all insouciant and mysterious, and introduce myself as the political prisoner, but I just about managed to stop myself. I had to keep a low profile if I didn't want my whereabouts sold to Tethys agents.

    “Avice, what―?” asked Zinnia, drowning out the other person's response. I shushed her and pointed at the table where the two people were sitting, and she and Maxie quietened down to listen just in time for me to catch the gentleman's next words.

    “No, they'll ask for more than compensation,” he told his companion. “In fact, they already have. They've claimed there was a plot to break the prisoner loose – something about them sabotaging their vessels to force them to stop at the Mourn.” He shrugged. “I don't know. Clearly it makes no sense.”

    “More sense than you know,” murmured Zinnia. “I'm not sure I like where this is going.”

    “So they're demanding the prisoner be returned?” asked the gentleman's companion.

    He nodded.

    “Yes. And of course since there's no one to return – no one at the Mourn knows anything about this prisoner – they can't answer Tethys' ultimatum. Now they say the corvettes are massing over the city. The whole place is swarming with kingdra-riders.”

    I could feel the blood draining from my face. Some people had died when Ulixa stormed the corvette to save me, I knew – but they had gone of their own free will, I'd been telling myself; they fought because they hated their opponent, not because they were trying to save me. That much I could rationalise away. But the Administration had specifically made me the reason they were going to war with Cormac's Mourn. All those people would die for me, and all the survivors would have my existence to curse.

    “Hey, it's not your fault,” Zinnia began, already seeing where my thoughts were taking me, but I only had ears for the conversation two tables away.

    “How do you know all this, anyway?” asked the second person, who still didn't seem to believe their companion. “You've been at Jonah's Respite this past week. Where've you got this from?”

    “From the horse's mouth,” said the gentleman triumphantly. “The Mourn's council's sent a messenger to inform the King. I had it of her at court.”

    The other person sat back, considering.

    “I see,” they said slowly. “I suppose I'd better take this seriously. Is the King doing anything?”

    “Of course. Cormac's Mourn is the nearest settlement to Tethys. The pirates have to defend it on principle, if nothing else. Anyway, their interests are bound up there.” He glanced slyly at his companion. “Like yours.”

    “Yes, thanks,” they said acidly. Standing up, they fished in a pocket and brought out a piece of silver. “There's for the drinks,” they said. “If you're right, I need to get that vessel out of the Mourn at once.”

    The gentleman looked up and lifted his glass in an ironic salute.

    “Good luck,” he said. “I did warn you.”

    “Oh, sod off, Jeffrey,” said the other irritably, which I barely noticed at the time but which in retrospect was wholly deserved, and walked out.

    Maxie and Zinnia exchanged glances behind me.

    “Er,” said Maxie. “Avice, maybe, um …”

    He gesticulated helplessly for a moment, then Zinnia stepped in gallantly to save him.

    “What I think Maxie's probably trying to say,” she said, “is that this … well, it sounds like this would have happened anyway, right? Tethys just wanted an excuse. If it wasn't you, it would be something else.” I didn't answer. She reached for my arm, remembering at the last moment that she couldn't touch me out here. “Hm,” she said. “I think it's time we went back. Right? Come on. Let's go.”

    We did, though I mostly just trailed along behind them, clutching Edie and feeling awful. I couldn't help but blame myself. I knew as well as anyone else that it wasn't really about me, but knowledge and guilt don't seem to be governed by the same part of the brain. Put it this way: when someone names you as the ostensible reason they're going to war, it's kind of hard to take it well.

    When Archie heard about it, he just shook his head and sighed.

    “Avice, lass,” he told me, one hand on my shoulder, “it's been coming a long time. Ever since the Battle for Tethys. The pirates never properly recovered, and those Administrators know that. It ain't you.”

    So they all said, over and over. It helped about as much as you'd expect, in that it didn't. I would get over it eventually – but not for a long while yet. It faded from the front of my head, but the guilt remained right up until I ended up in the Golden Isles.
     
    Last edited: Oct 31, 2015
  4. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine Gone. Not coming back.

    Anyway, on we go; it's about time we got out of the Gardens. Let's take Archie and Maxie next. As I said, they'd been avoiding each other, and they were stubborn enough that it could probably have gone on forever – there was more than one reason why Archie didn't come with us into the Sunken Gardens – but they were also perceptive enough to know that it probably shouldn't go on forever. In the end, Maxie broke the silence. Shame, I assume – shame that I'd managed to forgive him while he and Archie still couldn't get past their past misgivings. I know that human relations are usually more complex than the passionate loves and true friendships in the books I read – look at Aranea and my father; Tide alone knows how they really felt about each other – but still, when the two of you are stuck with each other, you have to at least try to make a go of things. And Maxie and Archie were definitely stuck with each other, unless one of them decided to give up our quest and forfeit the only company they could get.

    Actually, dear reader, Archie did leave at one point. It was a terrible blow, for us and for him. He always felt his guilt so much more keenly― I'm getting ahead of myself again. Back to Maxie and the bridging of the gap.

    Archie was just on his way up from the hold – he had been helping me and Edie rehabilitate some of the old exercise equipment – when Maxie appeared at the top of the stairs from the bridge.

    “Archie,” he said. “Do you have a moment?”

    There was a pause.

    “A'right.” Archie shrugged, as if to say that this was nothing, and followed Maxie back up. In the bridge, they turned two swivel chairs to face each other, and sat.

    “Well?” asked Archie, after a minute or two had passed without either of them saying anything.

    Maxie curled and uncurled his fingers.

    “Avice may have told you,” he said. “She's decided to forgive me.”

    Archie didn't seem to react. No one could have doubted that it was deliberate.

    “Good for you,” he said. “The point being?”

    “She decided a while ago, actually,” said Maxie. “Only we haven't much spoken. Well. The point is, her reasoning. She said that one can be angry, but at some point, mere anger isn't enough. The problem itself has to be addressed. Or you must try to address it, anyway.”

    “You sound like you're putting words in her mouth,” remarked Archie drily.

    “She might have put it slightly more colloquially, yes – but what does that matter, Archie, really?” Maxie sighed. “She knew what she was doing when she said it. She meant it as advice for us.”

    “No she bloody didn't, Maxie, not everything's about us―”

    “That's exactly where you're wrong,” cut in Maxie. His voice was quiet, but intense. It stopped Archie's swelling bluster in its tracks. “We did this. Everything is about us. Do you really believe we can actually help with this project without admitting that we have to sort ourselves out first?”

    Archie leaned forwards.

    “Yes,” he said.

    “Now you're just looking for an argument.” Maxie took a deep breath. “Archie. Please.”

    Archie hesitated – maybe he remembered the last time Maxie had said that to him – and sat back again, tossed his hands in the air.

    “Fine. Whatever. You want to go back to pretending everything's good again? Fine by me, but she'll see through it. Anyway, she has that Zinnia woman, she doesn't―”

    “No more self pity,” said Maxie. “That's what I'm saying. It's my only request, for now.” Archie stared, silent, and Maxie pressed on. “Can we just agree to that, Archie? You're almost certainly right about us; we're done. I don't think anyone could seriously think we can make things right. But we have responsibilities now, and whether we argue or not, we have to bear them.”

    Archie tugged slowly at the side of his beard. Behind him, a bank of lights shone softly, his head framed against the glow.

    “As pretentious as ever,” he said. “And as right.” He thumped the desk softly. “That's what always pissed me off about you. Your rightness. You remember back when we were at uni, when I said I could take that heracross―”

    “Anyone could have told you that it wasn't a good idea. Dr Egenya was an amateur on the battling circuit.”

    “But you knew, right.” Archie shook his head. “Not everyone did. And you remembered. And you quoted David Hume at me while you did it, which, all right, that was going a bit far. But you knew.”

    “And you ignored me and ended up breaking three of your ribs.”

    “Yeah, all right. Don't push it.” He sighed. “No more self pity, eh?”

    “I know it isn't easy.”

    “Maybe self-pity's all that's keeping us here anyway.” Archie looked away, but there was nothing to look at, and his eyes wandered back towards Maxie's face almost without him noticing. “You know, when we're good we're really good. Right?”

    Maxie nodded.

    “Unfortunately,” he said, “the same applies to us when we're bad. We don't do things by halves, you and I.” He held out a hand. “No more self pity?”

    Archie shook it.

    “No more self pity,” he agreed. “Live up to our responsibilities.” He paused, but Maxie didn't answer. “That was a joke,” he said. “'Cause we're dead.”

    “Yes,” said Maxie. “It just wasn't very funny.”

    Archie waved his words away.

    “Oh, like you can do better. You wouldn't know a decent joke if it bit you on the arse.”

    “Charming. No wonder Avice finds your company so extraordinarily stimulating.”

    “What are you talking about? Zinnia is it, now?” He snorted. “Huh. I still don't know about her.”

    “Because she manipulated us?” Maxie shrugged. “I think she's paid her debts, as we all have.”

    “No, not that.” Archie thought for a moment, then gave up. “Ah, what does it matter. No more self pity, right?”

    “If you're feeling jealous, then I'm afraid it falls to me to inform you that none of us are ever going to win that battle. You and I are old men to Avice, you know. There are limits to what we can give her.”

    Archie grimaced.

    “Stop being right,” he growled, a hint of the usual anger in his voice. “You and your bloody analysis.”

    “I've spent rather a long time being wrong. I think I'm entitled to some rightness every now and then, don't you think?”

    Archie grunted impatiently and levered himself out of his chair. “Is that it, then?”

    Maxie watched him with his small, dark eyes.

    “Yes,” he said. “I think so.” He rose stiffly and turned his chair so that it was aligned with the desk again. “I'll see you later, then.”

    “Yeah,” said Archie. “Guess I will.”

    That was it. They parted quietly, without any of the usual pyrotechnics. No one even shouted, which was quite amazing for one of their clandestine arguments. For once, they avoided swinging between nostalgia and fury, and, even stranger, they actually got somewhere.

    So I was free, Zinnia could talk about herself, Archie and Maxie were finally starting to make progress, and we were all at last on our way to pick up a key stone. Everything, despite all that had happened, was beginning to look up.

    Yes, there were problems – of course there were. Life's irritating like that. War was on the way; the Museum wasn't quite the ship it had been; Virgil and Virginia were still out there and after my blood. But outside the bustle of the Sunken Gardens, secure inside my little metal bubble with Edie and the ghosts, I found that all of that seemed weirdly distant. Corvettes and agents hardly seemed real when I was curled up in the armchair in the library, Edie bolting together new shelves behind me. The slight stutter that the engines had acquired in their meeting with the keening wind sounded endearing rather than threatening from the cosy warmth of the aeroponics suite. Sometimes I even found it difficult to believe that I'd actually been taken prisoner. It felt like barely more than a bad dream when I was talking cosmetics with Zinnia, or discussing outer space with Maxie.

    That's how I remember the close of that second leg of the journey. Conversations and good company. Stories and laughter, games with Edie, the regrowth of past strength. Like I said, my worries faded to the back of my mind, and I … I was happy.

    I guess that's not particularly relevant.

    But, you know.

    Anyway, it didn't last.




    The Shattered Temple is a popular destination for those who hold the old world in reverence. People make pilgrimages there, although they usually don't go ashore unless they have pokémon to help keep the inhabitants at bay. In the old days, ghost-types were attracted to the graveyard in Mt. Pyre by the heady cocktail of emotions surrounding it – grief, love, despair, vindictive joy – and even now, some remain on the island, diminished but not yet dead. Is dead the right word? I'm not sure. Ghosts are strange.

    Getting back to the point, then, we started to pass more vessels as we got close – mostly large transport ships, slightly ragged around the edges and rather on the full side, but we did occasionally see private ones too, small, sleek and expensive-looking. All had the traditional pairs of broken columns painted on their side, flanking a clamperl shell. These were the pilgrims, and as they grew in number, I knew we must be getting close.

    In the last couple of days, we actually saw fewer of them than before. They were all headed for the island – the former peak of the mountain – while we were rapidly descending, trying to figure out if there was any way to get inside to the old catacombs. Up there were snapped pillars and ancient moss. Down here there were great slabs of weed-wrapped stone and timid barboach that buried themselves in the mud when our lights flashed over them. If I leaned out and put my head right up against the glass, I could look right down to the island's roots, thrusting out of the mire of the seafloor like petrified bones.

    “I've never seen the foot of the mountain before,” remarked Maxie. “It was in the middle of a lake, so it was submerged.”

    “A mountain in a lake,” I murmured. It must have been breathtaking, a scene out of a fairy tale.

    “It was beautiful,” said Zinnia, as if reading my mind. “Scary in a storm, when all the ghosts came out and rode round on the wind with their eyes all glowing. But on a summer afternoon? Beautiful.” She paused, reflecting. Ahead of us, the lights illuminated another section of mountainside, and a startled octopus shrouded itself in ink. “You could tell right away why the ancients decided it was a place to lay the dead to rest.”

    “It ain't so sacred now,” said Archie. “I've been in there. The inside's a wreck.”

    “Sheesh. Talk about being a buzzkill.” Zinnia indicated the fronds of weed, silvery with phosphorescent microbes. “C'mon. It still looks pretty.”

    'Pretty' wasn't the word I'd have chosen. Surrounded on all sides by water, pockmarked by patches of that eerie phosphorescence, Mt. Pyre looked like it might itself be a ghost, drowned and left to rot among the sea urchins and the whiscash. If I had to pick an adjective, I'd probably have gone for spooky.

    “Rather than arguing,” said Maxie, “we might try to find a point of entry. Archie, how did you get in when you visited?”

    “The old catacombs entrance on the – well, on what used to be the bottom,” he answered. “Not the one that led up to the peak and the shrine. The one below.” He hesitated. “I'm aware the Museum won't fit through that,” he added.

    Maxie frowned.

    “Are you suggesting what I think you're suggesting?”

    “Yeah,” replied Archie. “Reckon I am.”

    “Why didn't you say anything sooner? If it's come to this, we should have started preparing a week ago―”

    “Because of our agreement,” said Archie shortly. “I know what I can and can't talk about without … you know.”

    There was a silence that went on a little too long to be comfortable. Maxie stared, Archie studied the controls intensely, and Zinnia and I looked at each other, confused.

    “Any idea?” she whispered to me.

    I shook my head. This was long before either of us knew about their ongoing secret debate.

    “Right,” said Maxie, recovering. “Well, I quite understand.” He was enunciating too precisely to be calm. “Ahem. Avice?”

    “Yeah?”

    “You're not claustrophobic, are you?”

    “No,” I said. “I like small spaces. Why?”

    “Because you're going to be spending some time in one,” he replied. “Have either of us ever told you about the Aqua Suit?”




    Ooh! Cliffhanger. I'm not ending there just because it's a cliffhanger, obviously – although I have to admit, that's part of it – but because evening's drawing on now. It's time to put down the pen and stretch my hand. A week is just about long enough to get out of practice at writing, it turns out.

    Anyway, I'm going to have a drink and watch the birds. It's beautiful out there, the sky all barred with honey and amber like the outspread wing of a beautifly. And on the railings, as we thread our way between the islands, the birds are alighting: pidove, taillow, murkrow.

    You know, I think I'll take a bag of scraps out with me. There isn't much to eat out there on the islands, and you never know. Animal or human, it pays to be nice to people.
     
    Last edited: Aug 24, 2015
  5. Negrek

    Negrek Lost but Seeking

    I've been remiss in not reviewing this sooner. I took a break after the chapter where Avice leaves Tethys in the museum, but recently went back and caught up, so now seems like a good time.

    Normally I'd start with some stream-of-reading comments, but I'm feeling like changing things up for no apparent reason, so I'll begin with some more general comments before going into quotes.

    So, of course I love the premise, and you've done a spectacular job of building out a drowned Hoenn that feels alive, believable, and recognizable despite its transformation. I also think you've done a good job selling the apocalyptic setting without making it one-note grimdark and depressing. There's definitely a pervasive sense of the world being diminished, with Tethys' inbred and diminished pokémon and the monotony of endless rain and cloud that's persisted so long that no one alive has ever looked upon the stars.

    But this isn't a joyless, crumbling world where everything is sliding towards oblivion; it's definitely a different world, and one where humanity's glory has definitely faded, but it's a world with its own marvels, where new things are emerging even as the remnants of the old world wane. Fortree City, for example, is certainly different than its above-ground predecessor, but has its own sort of alien wonder now that it's underwater, dead trees and all. Something about underwater settlements just gets me, I suppose, the thought of all those lights shining through the curtain of water--it gives me a nice alien kind of image, I suppose. Probably my favorite bits are the hints about how pokémon have adapted to the making-over, with seafaring steelix and pearl-diving sableye and aquatic camerupt; it's nice to see the pokémon changing as well as the humans, and you definitely take advantage of how flexible their weird biology lets you be with their new abilities.

    I enjoy the cast, too. Avice is a wonderful protagonist, with just the kind of inquisitiveness you want to give you ample opportunity to show off all the nooks and crannies of your world. Edie's adorable, of course, with the perfect mix of spunk, loyalty, and affection to really rock the devoted sidekick role. You've hinted that there are big changes in store for her in the future, and I look forward to seeing where you take her character.

    I think Maxie and Archie are my favorites so far, though. From the moment Maxie was introduced, I was eagerly awaiting Archie's appearance, and I definitely wasn't disappointed when he showed up. I think you do a great job with the dynamic between these two--I can totally see them blowing something as trivial as pen-clicking up into a world-ending scenario, drama queens that they are. It's a delight to watch them needle each other, and when they're being more serious and trying to work through their differences, you do a great job of getting across the extent to which the past weighs on them, how weary they are, and the difficulties they have trying to set that all aside and start afresh. They're a great pair, and I'm definitely interested in how you're going to resolve their arc, as well as what's going to happen to the other ghosts.

    Virgil I'm less sold on. I like how you've set him up as something of a tragic character and a foil for Avice, someone who believes so strongly in the system she's hoping to overturn. But while he's definitely terrifying in his confrontation with her on the island, I didn't get as much of a sense of horror over what he's become as Avice did. She reflects a lot on the boy he used to be, but we hardly even met him. There's the scene where he battles Moll, but he never actually interacts with Avice there, and I believe that's the only time there's a scene with him in it before he's pursuing Avice near the museum. She does say that they became friends and that it's important for the reader to remember Virgil as he was before he got involved with the Administration... but we never actually get to see any of the friendship there, don't even get to see Avice speak to him once. From my perspective as a reader, he's pretty much always been an antagonist, and while I can appreciate intellectually the kind of change he's gone through and how scary that must be for someone who knew him, I myself don't really know him, and the effect is a bit diminished. Avice is really, really fixed on the contrast between Virgil as he appears in the later chapters and how she knew him when he was a boy, but I don't get the same visceral feeling of loss because I don't have the sense of having known him myself. By contrast, you do a great job setting up Avice's relationship with Moll, so it's really clear how much she's giving up when she has to leave Moll behind and what the thought of Moll having forgot her means.

    Haven't been able to figure out why the CCC agents are all named "Vir-" yet, by the by.

    While we're on the subject of characters,
    I think you've done a nice job writing a trans protagonist as well; you've done a great job of making the fact that Avice's trans central to her character and the themes of the story without having it define every aspect of her life. It's refreshing to see a trans character who gets to go on an adventure where, while her identity is sometimes an obstacle, it doesn't rule her life and maker her miserable all the time. And like I said, the way you make it resonate with the themes of the story is just great; moments like the one where Avice realizes Ulixa probably thought she was a boy before but recognizes her without a problem or reflects on Tethys and the difference between tolerance and acceptance are really powerful.

    Right. Now some specific line call-outs, in chronological order but not labeled according to chapter (my bad):

    lol wow, that is way less time than it would have taken me.

    This is hella cute. The sub-plot with Avice being worried about her pills strikes me as a little odd, though; she builds it up into a big issue, but then it ends up getting resolved quite succintly in this scene when Avice makes a connection based on what Archie said. Obviously there are a lot of things like this that happen in real life, where you work yourself up over something that ends up being no big deal, but from a narrative standpoint I'm not sure what purpose it serves here. On the other hand, the scene is hella cute, so it's not like I can complain too much. :p

    That's an excellent image. I think it's the mirrored shades that really sell it.

    lol nice save

    Ah, yes, the poet and legal aide's eternal struggle.

    Foreshadowing?

    - The part where Avice realizes the ziz-lord she saw was Aranea seems kind of abrupt. Like, why didn't she figure it out earlier? If there's something in particular that brought her to that realization, maybe bring it out a bit more? I can't imagine this is the only time she reflected on that memory, so her figuring out just then seems a little out of the blue. I'm not sure if you included that for foreshadowing/to reassure readers that you hadn't forgotten about Aranea, but fwiw I knew it was her without Avice needing to confirm it.

    Ah, the romance of sea travel. [And then I had to come back and delete the sentence wondering why they didn't dive; nicely done.]

    Couple paragraphs getting unusually friendly, here.

    And a missing space after a period here.

    Well that's not a horribly unsettling mental image or anything.

    - The idea of Avice not having seen the moon or stars definitely does a nice job of bringing home how alien and sad the drowned world is. The Fallarbor scene in general works very well.

    The "hard" looks redundant here.

    Hmm, that wasn't the impression I got from Avice's narration. She thought the cupcakes were pretty silly, but other than that she was intimidated by the salamence and acting pretty guarded around the humans. I got the impression she considered them pretty serious already.

    where *in

    Another missing paragraph break.

    Rayquaza?

    Seems to be pretty much everybody's reaction on first meeting Zinnia. :p

    A little awkward, that. Double swept, and I would usually put the "out" in front of "from."

    I think you missed a period before "Maxie." I love the image of him hanging around enjoying the show while everybody freaks out, though.

    Awww.

    Very nice transition from the happy memories to the sad ones. Good and evocative with the imagery, and you do a great job of spinning out the shape of the complete story without using many words.

    That's adorable.

    - I think someone else mentioned it, but Avice really does sound like she's much older in the "present day," rather than just two years. I'm sure she's changed and grown a lot in that time, but the constant talk about how young and foolish she was at the time, etc., really does make it sound like much more time has passed. Not sure if that's the impression you were going for. (It also makes it more ominous that she's choosing to write her history out now rather than once she's got more distance/perspective, but I could certainly be reading too much into that.)

    At the moment I'm thinking the other ghosts are most likely Steven and May. Aside from also having a hand in the drowning (although it's interesting that, in the end, the ghosts we've met were all actually trying to stop it--but failed), those are the only other two storyline people I can think of who can use mega evolution. Mega evolution is obviously going to be important to this story, and it could be there's something about the energy involved that creates a kind of an impression of a person that can persist even after their body dies.

    Meanwhile, I'm figuring Tooth must be Giratina, who isn't a very Hoenn kind of figure but which could explain why Avice is able to see ghosts and would fit with the way dragons (serpentine dragons, even) have played such a large role in her story. It's certainly got the tentacles and a sort of sideways mouth, it's of the void, and it doesn't need to breathe, which I think you mentioned is one of Tooth's characteristics. But, again, not very Hoenn. The only other possibility I can think of is Deoxys, which is lacking the teeth but otherwise would work fine and which presumably arrived in Hoenn when Rayquaza wasn't there to stop its meteor from striking.

    I also think the wind is related to one of those two, although Deoxys fits a little better, I think. The wind's description definitely conjures up the image of an all-devouring alien virus to me, although if it really is a cloud of angry ghosts, Giratina could as easily be behind it.

    Anyway, like I said, it's a fascinating world, and I'm sure I'll enjoy the eventual reveals for those and other mysteries whenever they come up.

    The last thing I want to touch on is the plot. To me it seems like there have been a lot of coincidences going on lately: Avice happens to run into Ulixa in Courmac's Mourn, then happens to catch sight of Aranea, inspiring her to seek out the ziz-lords (incidentally, I feel like that's a reference I ought to recognize...); this brings her to Meteor Falls which, it just so happens, is where Zinnia's been hanging out; Edie is lucky to return to the museum safely, and when it docks in Courmac's Mourn, it turns out Ulixa's conveniently right there on the docks for her to alert...

    All in all, the events of the last few chapters felt to me more like they were hanging together by coincidence rather than having much to do with Avice's choices. That might be your point--that she's not so much a hero as someone who happened to be in the right place at the right time--but it does put the plot itself at a bit of a disconnect from the way the characters are developing. It's like the story of collecting the mega stones and summoning Rayquaza is more the background against which the characters' various dramas play out, rather than being intimately connected with their growth. It's mostly been since Avice left Tethys that I get this feeling, so it's not something I've been mulling over the whole story through, but maybe something to keep in mind going forward.

    Anyway, this has been a great read so far, and you've hinted at lots more good stuff to come. It's always a delight to see how many different ideas you manage to cram into one story, and the Hoenn of this story is just bursting with life and flavor. I look forward to seeing where you take the story from here. Good luck with your writing!
     
  6. Sike Saner

    Sike Saner Peace to the Mountain

    You know, I always knew it, but for some reason it's only properly hitting me now that their oath of choice is essentially to say god's arse. Orca-god's weird ribbony tailfinned arse.

    Oridinarily this is where I might say something along the lines of "maybe they voiped off into another dimension in the meanwhile". Then it occurred to me that this is Pokémon and other dimensions are canonically a thing and now I'm less inclined to joke an more inclined to wonder.

    "Hollow and heavy with graves" is the kind of phrase that's very liable to appear in the sorts of songs I tend to like the best.

    do you process it into addictive sugar

    That paragraph is a very particular kind of sad, that sort of stark kind. The sudden vacuum kind.

    Big Sister Salamence would've been adorable, if it'd been in the cards. That's another kind of sad right there.

    would being crushed by a falling dragon instead constitute a Draconid kind of death

    God I love this character.

    Hella imagery. :D
     
  7. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine Gone. Not coming back.

    Here is the bit you want to read if you don't want to sit through me responding to reviews: Time and Tide is taking a break. I may still post the odd chapter, because sometimes I'm hazy about what exactly the word 'break' means, but the usual fortnightly updates are going to have to stop. Despite the fact that as of now it stands at just shy of 150,000 words, it's only a side-project for me -- a big side-project, admittedly, bigger at the moment than my main project, but still only a side-project for all that. Time pressures mean I kind of have to cut out something from my schedule, and Time and Tide, as the least essential thing, is the one that gets the chop.

    That doesn't mean this is the end! I will finish it. But not, this time, in the usual one-year time slot.

    Secondly! I'm sorry for the delay in getting back to everyone on this. Things have been busy here, and my head has been full of other stuff, and I barely even thought about Time and Tide until this morning.

    Hello! Thanks for stopping by. There is something about the bottom of the sea, isn't there? Quiet. Dark. All those pearls and all that dark seaweed. Touches of phosphorescence. The shadow of something large moving, very far off. The sort of place you'd like to take a holiday, if you could get over the fact that the walls seem very thin in comparison to all the water over your head.

    Anyway, my goal was to make a world where people have stopped looking back in any serious way, while still forever making comparisons to the way things used to be. Everything and everyone has moved on -- but also not really. One of the things I've been thinking about through writing this is memory, obviously, and I wanted to ground this world in a particular relationship of the present towards the past. Tethys is the centre of this world for the very reason that it's totally obsessed with history at the same time as being the most aggressively modern settlement under the ocean. People can't forget what happened; that's why they want stability. But they don't want to remember, either.

    I can't seem to stay away from autodidacts recently. I'm not sure why. Anyway, Avice has definitely proved a fun lens through which to view her world, even if she doesn't always get it right. She's a bit obsessed with her own past naïveté, which causes her to overlook her present flaws and sometimes come up with the wrong answers, and it's been interesting to think about the kind of Things that come with capital letters from her point of view.

    As for Edie, well. One nice thing about porygon2 is the versatility of glitching yourself as a metaphor. Porygon receives an upgrade, but porygon2 damages itself, at least in the eyes of its original creator, to grow to its full potential. Probably that gives you an idea of where I'm going with that whole thing.

    They're great fun to write. I loved how they were re-imagined in ORAS, with their new speech styles and personalities, and the initial impulse for this story was to get these two together after everything was over and talk things out. It's the first time I've really tried to catch the likeness of a canon character, and it's been super fun.

    Yeah, this whole Virgil thing is like a fly trapped in amber from an earlier version of the subplot about Avice's fondness for patterns. The omission of backstory for Virgil was initially deliberate, and would have been part of a series of clues that pointed the reader towards questioning the validity of the plot-structure Avice is forcing onto the events of the past two years -- the point then being that Virgil clearly isn't a fallen friend, because he never really was Avice's friend, and she's convinced herself that he is because of her need for the world to be structured in the same way that fiction is, and so on. But then I thought, hey, do I really want to tear apart a trans girl's worldview? that happens often enough without me shredding Avice's personal mythology in this story, let's be affirming instead of condemnatory, this ultimately isn't meant to be a cruel story. Thus, Avice became less unreliable, and I stopped building up to what would have been a later revelation from another source that a lot of what Avice says doesn't really fit the facts -- but the lack of clarity with Virgil's backstory remained. I really should do something about it at some point, but realistically I'm not sure what I will do. Currently I just don't have the time to go back and edit those earlier chapters.

    I've given a vague clue at some point, I think. It's not terribly important, really; I think the Administration itself has forgotten why they have this naming scheme, but figuring it out does give some insight into the founding ideals of the CCC.

    Thanks. I admit I have something of an advantage there, but Avice's Trans Experience(TM) is not really that much like my own, so perhaps not such a big advantage. But it's nice to have done it; I've wanted to write a trans protagonist for a couple of years now, which is why all those background trans people have been popping up in other stories of mine. This is much more fun, though, partly because of the particular way an inquisitive trans protagonist meshed with the whole ongoing interpretation thing, and partly because my own reaction to that protagonist changes my ideas about what to write. I'd have had no qualms continuing the Virgil/unreliability storyline as it originally stood if Avice had been cis, for instance. Perhaps that's a bit callous of me, but it's true for all that.

    You're telling me. For all her worrying, Avice is a braver person than I am.

    I considered this weakness, and thought about cutting the subplot -- but I figured that, well, one of the things about this story is that Avice seems to be uncertain whether it's a work of history or an autobiography, and also she's always trying to fit everything in, and also it is as mentioned super cute, so I gave in and included it. Narratively it doesn't do much, but if you can't be self-indulgent in a giant sprawling fanfic, I don't know where you can.

    I knew something felt a little off about it, but I don't think I had the distance to see it for myself. I'll have to figure something out here, although quite what it is and when I'll have time to do it I'm not sure. Anyway, thanks for clarifying.

    I'm not going to respond in detail to all the typos/bits of uncorrected inelegance you picked up, but thanks for pointing them out, especially paragraph breaks and things. Something in me rebels against the idea of formatting the paragraphs with blank lines between them in the actual document, because I can indent and dammit I will; consequently I sometimes miss where the paragraphs end when it comes to pasting the whole thing in the post editor and searching the lines of suddenly-different typeface for things that need to be formatted.


    Not gonna lie, part of the reason I settled on this AU idea is so that I could bring in Zinnia. She's just so cool.

    I didn't think there would be so many awww moments when I started this. O for the innocence of times past.


    It's a question of voice, partially. I mean, Zinnia and, say, Avice respond in very different ways to the sad events of their past -- one likes to pretend everything's fine and the other is subject to the law of putting-everything-in -- and since their writing styles are superficially more similar to each other than to Archie's or Maxie's, I wanted to pick up on every little thing I could to differentiate between them. That, and it would have been super dreary to read a mother talking about the death of her daughter for pages on end. I find tragedy really tedious if it isn't in live performance. I don't know if that's a thing for other people too, but just in case I try to avoid it.

    I chose to do it mostly because Avice is at that early-twenties, overly-self-aware stage of life where she thinks she's past being young and naïve, but knows in some sense that she's not. She's certainly changed a lot -- and there are two points in particular that we'll come to later where hopefully that maturation process will come to a head and be more visible -- but not as much as she thinks. Perhaps in dismantling some of my earlier plans to underline Avice's unreliability, I made her seem a little too trustworthy, and haven't made it clear enough that her own opinions about herself aren't to be taken at face value. Perhaps I just haven't done a very good job of capturing the idea that her naïveté and youth (as a historian, as a historical figure, as a hero, as being worthy of any of these things) are major present concerns of hers that naturally keep erupting into her writing about her past. That could certainly be the case. Aside from that, yes, it is also absolutely intended to emphasise the ominousness of her choosing to write this history now. I have hinted at several reasons why she's doing it now, but they'll become clearer as the plot continues.

    We shall see. That's certainly one of the links between the ghosts; there are a few things that connect them, and though I intend to offer (or hint at) a kind of final explanation for why they're ghosts, I think I'd prefer to keep all the links between the ghosts open as potential causes, because they're all so resonant, and because Avice is determinedly turning history into an artwork and it would be against the spirit of the story to stop her.

    We'll see! I've tried to keep it all making sense. Both the wind and Tooth will play important roles later on, and I suppose in a way they'll be revealed to have been playing those roles all along, as well. Time is weird, especially in fiction.

    Totally true! I wanted to have the post-Tethys segment begin with a little bit of coincidence, to show Avice kind of finding her feet, as it were, but you're right that it's gone on too long now. Definitely time to have our heroes come into their own as adventurers and start taking control of things again. Shouldn't be a problem; the rest of the key stone hunt as I've plotted it so far is more tightly linked to character development, with the ghosts revisiting relics of their past selves, so with a little effort I reckon I can avoid too much more coincidence stuff.

    'Bursting with life and flavour' is the kind of endorsement I would put on the cereal bar version of this story. Thank you! I hope Hoenn continues to burst flavoursomely for you ( ... now, that somehow sounds a lot less appealing than when you said it) as the story goes on.

    It's true, it's formed on a similar model to zounds, strewth, 'sblood and the like. The people of the post-Hoenn ocean take a rather medieval approach to their blasphemy, except of course when they don't. When I make up blasphemies or profanities, I always like to give specific characters their own preferences, as it were, and 'sflukes fills that role for Avice as her go-to curse. Not sure why I do that. Perhaps it's just my love of fiddly detail.

    I'm wondering too. Early game canon made pokémon much more like animals -- members of the pidgey line eating caterpie in RBY pokédex entries, for instance -- so I took the idea that they'd evolve and develop like normal animals from there, but later game canon has things like the klink pokédex entry that suggest pokémon are more like sentient metaphors that only exist in relation to humans and are spontaneously formed out of the fabric of the universe when their referent (in klink's case, the heavy machinery of the Industrial Revolution, which got going around the same time it appeared) comes into being. These are both great ideas, but they're kind of irreconcilable; unfortunately, I couldn't decide which one to go with because both resonate so well with different parts of this story, so I tried to keep the best of both worlds by including both and making the line between them very fuzzy and hard to understand. I don't know if it worked out all right. I hope so.

    Kind of annoying, but this sort of doubled meaning is why I write fanfiction for Pokémon and not for anything else. Overdetermination! It's pretty great.

    Everything is melodrama if you do it self-consciously and inside another artwork.

    I want to say yes, but I think they probably just break it down and use it as fertiliser.

    These were the two kinds that fitted best. I'm glad it had the effect I meant it to; I find it difficult to gauge the emotional effect of a passage when I'm writing it. Or reading it back, in this case.

    Yeah, that'll do it. Probably. I haven't really thought about appropriately Draconid ways to die -- it was just a throwaway thing for Zinnia -- but I guess a falling dragon is pretty Draconid.

    She's so cute! And her relationship with Zinnia is super fun to write, just like the one between Archie and Maxie. All these interesting pairs have come up kind of by accident; I definitely wasn't expecting them when I started.

    Thanks! I remember redoing the entrance to the Sunken Gardens a couple of times, so it's good to hear it worked out OK in the end.

    Thank you both for responding, and thank everyone for reading! Once again, a reminder that Time and Tide is now on hiatus, after a fashion; sorry to spring this on you suddenly and leave you waiting for further chapters, but this is the last fanfic I'm going to write for the foreseeable future, and I want to be able to take the time to do it right.
     
    Last edited: Sep 10, 2015
  8. Negrek

    Negrek Lost but Seeking

    Well that is most certainly not reassuring. D:

    Ah, that's really interesting! I can see how that would have worked. Although yeah, like you said, it's pretty difficult to do anything to change it at this point without a lot of restructuring. It's an interesting insight into how this story's developed over time, though.

    Oh, man, it sounds like it must be a nightmare to get one of these chapters formatted for posting, especially given how long they are. D: If you're doing all the line breaks manually, it's pretty amazing that line-smooshes happen as rarely as they do... In general I really envy your proofreading ability; your prose is danged clean.

    Ah, hmm. I can't say that I got a particularly strong impression that Avice was overly preoccupied with her ability/validity as a historian etc. Obviously she mentions a lot that she's rambling, or expresses dissatisfaction with how she's put something, but it struck me more as chatty self-talk, more self-deprecating than anything. Like, the tone struck me as more, "Oh, silly me, there I go again," than, "Oh no, I'm doing it again, I'm so not qualified for this." (And also D: at those last couple sentences.)

    Also, your response to Sike Saner reminded me that I think I forgot to mention that the post-apocalyptic curses are one of my favorite little bits of world-building. I'm far too lazy to come up with my own, but they do add a lot of color to the characters' dialogue. I think "drown 'em" is my favorite; it's just so much fun to say.

    Anyway, thanks for such a thoughtful review reply! Best of luck getting everything taken care of during your hiatus, and I look forward to the next chapter, whenever it happens to appear.
     
  9. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine Gone. Not coming back.

    Well, look who's back, even if only for a moment. If you remember, I said I might post a chapter or two while on hiatus; this is one of those. I want to get back into writing this very much, but it's still not yet possible. However, I have high hopes that I'll be able to start devoting some real time to this story again soon, so ... well, we'll see what happens. In the meantime, here's a slightly shorter chapter that rounds off the current arc, if nothing else; I hope that will tide you over till next time. (Pun absolutely and unapologetically intended.)

    FOURTEEN: LONGER SHADOWS

    Here, said she,​
    Is your card, the drowned Phoenician Sailor,
    (Those are pearls that were his eyes. Look!)
    Here is Belladonna, the Lady of the Rocks,
    The lady of situations.

    ―T. S. Eliot, The Waste Land


    The Aqua Suit was, in addition to being the least imaginatively-named invention of the last era, one of the most sophisticated. At least, that's how Maxie put it, but then again, he would say that. Archie had it built for dealing with Tide – it was designed to be able to take its user right down to the bottom of the ocean without harm – but as it turned out he never got the chance to use it. Tide slipped the leash and escaped to the Cave of Origin, and the Aqua Suit was reconfigured to fit the nameless trainer so she could chase it right the way down to the seafloor.

    And for a while, of course, that was the end of it. As you can imagine, no one really thought much about recovering it – it was probably one of the most advanced pieces of kit in the world, but it was also right under the nose of an angry sea god – until Maxie made his voyage to recover the Red Orb. He found it standing on a ledge of rock as if it still contained its last user, unharmed and still sealed but eerily empty.

    After that, like so many other things, it was left in the Museum to gather dust. Can you imagine what it would have been like if people had made use of it? If we'd taken it out and brought it to the synthesis machines to replicate its parts? Suits like that could have been all over the ocean. We might have entered a new stage of civilisation where we all walked around on the seabed as casually as our ancestors did on land.

    Oh, who am I kidding? You and I both know that Tethys would have used them as impenetrable all-terrain body armour for the sergeants. I guess it's a good thing that no one ever found it. Tethys the city is bad enough; we should all be thankful that there's no Tethys empire.

    Anyway. That's the life story of the Aqua Suit up to the year 547 – mostly dull, with one big event near the start that turned out badly. But in that year it met me, and its career restarted with a bang.

    So there we are. Back to where I left off yesterday, when we were sweeping the sunken mountainside for any sign of the entrance to Mt. Pyre.

    “So,” I said, following Maxie down into the hold, “this is the suit you were talking about earlier, when I wanted to go out and look for Edie's house?”

    “Er – yes,” he answered. “You can see why neither of us particularly wanted to revisit it. Not a lot of good memories there.”

    I nodded. Archie still didn't want anything to do with the Suit; he'd remained up in the bridge, continuing the search for the catacombs entrance.

    “And besides,” Maxie continued, “it would have been a serious delay. It takes time to learn how to use it.”

    That seemed strange to me. The suit's last user, according to what I'd heard of the end of the world, had just put it on and got going.

    “How long did it take her?” I asked. Then, a moment later: “Sorry.”

    Maxie shook his head.

    “Please, don't worry about it. You're right that it didn't take her long, but she was … exceptional. She did everything faster than everyone else, and usually better as well.” He hesitated, and when he spoke there was a strange note of urgency in his voice. “No one is asking you to be her, Avice.”

    I'm still not sure which of us he was trying to convince with that.

    “Hey, Ava's pretty exceptional too,” said Zinnia loyally. “Have you seen what she's done already?”

    I blushed. Sometimes it seemed – as it still does, so often – like I hadn't achieved anything at all. All I'd done was leave Tethys. But it's easy to forget that that's a major achievement in itself. Almost no one escapes Tethys. Aranea did, with the help of a god and a dragon. Other than myself, she's the only citizen I've heard of who ever managed to get the city's teeth out of her neck.

    “Which way?” I asked, to change the subject.

    “Over there,” said Maxie. “Behind your library.”

    We threaded our way between the heaped exhibits and passed the bookshelves. Edie looked up from the pile of books she was shelving and beeped inquisitively at us.

    “Hey,” I said. “Wanna help us with an old machine?”

    Edie's eyes lit up. !, she cried, and bounced after us. In her enthusiasm she even ran on ahead, until she realised that she didn't actually know where we were going and waited for us to catch up.

    Ten minutes of digging through accumulated junk later, I stood back as Maxie pulled the suit from inside an old packing case. For a moment, I almost thought he had hold of a person; I don't know what I'd been expecting, but it wasn't something like that. It looked to me like a human being that had been turned into blue-grey plastic. No wonder he'd asked about claustrophobia.

    “The paint's mostly gone,” he observed, laying it out on the floor and looking it over. “But I suppose that doesn't matter so much as the machinery …”

    He knelt and fiddled with one of the suit's hands. Gas hissed from somewhere near the neck, and the familiar smell of stale air came to my nose.

    “Well,” he said, stepping back. “The pipes appear to still be in working order.”

    “This is it?” I asked, staring. “It looks like a corpse.”

    Zinnia blinked.

    “I was gonna say, more like a spacesuit,” she said. “I guess you've never seen one of those, right?”

    “Right.” I gave it a doubtful look. Everyone in Tethys is taught about the dangers of the sea, about the murderous pressure lurking on the other side of our walls. This thing didn't look like it could take my weight, let alone that of the whole ocean.

    “It works, believe me,” said Maxie “It may not be enough to protect you from the anger of a legendary pokémon, but it's more than capable of getting you through the ocean depths.” He nudged one of its arms with the toe of his boot, and a panel flopped open to reveal a row of switches. “It may need a little repair work, and we'll have to run some tests, but I don't doubt that Edie can handle it.”

    I looked at Edie, who was darting around to look at the suit from every possible angle, unknown calculations going on behind her eyes.

    “Well,” I said. “She seems excited, at least.”

    She was: it took her just twenty-four hours to complete the repairs on the Aqua Suit, including giving it a fresh coat of paint synthesised specially for the occasion. Judging by the remaining paint on it when we first got it out, it had started out life as blue, but Edie seemed to have other ideas. When she was done with it, the suit was a deep green. Thinking about it now, I wonder if somehow she already knew what we wouldn't find out for months, the colour of the thunderbolt that steers all …

    Now that would be a huge digression. I'm not even going to let myself get started on that one, or I'm going to go off on some weird tangent that'll take up half the day, and given that we're just about to see my younger self step into the shoes (or suit) of her illustrious predecessor and set out in search for buried treasure, that would be a crying shame. So! Back on track. We ran tests – by which I mean mostly that we shoved the Aqua Suit out of an airlock on the end of a rope and watched to see if it was crushed, but there were also some more sophisticated things with wires and computers that I won't pretend I understood – and Edie fine-tuned it based on the results. Two days after we'd first dug it out, the Aqua Suit was finally ready to be worn.

    Meanwhile, Archie had located the entrance to the catacombs: a half-buried hole in Mt. Pyre's flank, choked with weed and fallen stones. You could just about see the remains of a pediment above it, and it had clearly once been a fairly wide, ornate entrance, but all that remained now was a thin, finger-shaped hole out of which darted the occasional eel. It made me think of the graves inside the mountain, and for the first time I kind of understood why people might fear enclosed spaces. Entombment is weird. Give me a nice clean cremation any day.

    That just left one final piece of preparation to go – my learning how to operate the suit. I might not have been as exceptional as the nameless trainer, but I did pick it up faster than Maxie had expected. Once I'd managed to get it on, that is. It's a time-consuming job that takes two pairs of hands; if you've ever read an old story and come across one of those ubiquitous scenes where a knight's being armoured by their squire, you've already got a pretty good idea of what it's like.

    I think a large part of the training that everyone thought was necessary for using the suit was probably overcoming the claustrophobia: the helmet is a seriously tight fit, with a thick rubber cuff that seals around your neck. Someone who hadn't spent a formative day of their life dozing in an escape capsule would probably have taken a long, long time to get used to it. You have to be perfectly comfortable; if you have a panic attack at the bottom of the sea, your chances of getting back to your vessel unharmed start dropping rather fast.

    But for me there was no problem, and Maxie ran through the rest of what I needed to know in just a couple of days. Less than a week after arriving at Mt. Pyre, I was standing in the airlock, ready to head out into the ocean.

    With me were Zinnia and Edie – one standing beside me and waiting to guide me to our destination, and one somewhere inside the Aqua Suit's onboard electronics, keeping an eye on it in case of trouble. Archie and Maxie weren't coming. Zinnia wasn't quite as blasé about her corpse as Maxie was, and didn't really want more people poking around in her final resting place than necessary. For their part, the two of them were glad of the excuse not to see the suit in action again. Already the situation was uncannily familiar for them; it had turned out that my measurements were virtually identical to the suit's last occupant's, and I'd been able to put it on without a single adjustment. When I'd first done so, Maxie had gone quiet, and the wound that had killed him became visible on his forehead for a moment.

    Zinnia gave me a questioning look. I couldn't hear anything in here, but Archie was on the intercom, asking if we were ready.

    I nodded, movements slowed by the helmet, and flicked the three switches on the inside of the right gauntlet. For an instant, the suit's joints locked, and I was frozen in place – and then a thousand tiny electrodes hit my skin, and the motors started whirring. With the suit detecting my movements, I was free again, although I had to reckon with the half-second delay between my starting to move and the suit following through.

    To my left, a tiny electrical screen flickered into life, and Edie's head appeared. A little ♥ appeared above her, and I smiled behind the orange glass. Here was one person I could talk to, at least, even if she couldn't talk back – the suit did have speakers, but for some reason Edie hadn't been able to get them or the built-in radio to work. Ordinarily, they wouldn't have been a problem for her, and I have to wonder what it was that stopped her. It could just be that the parts were irreplaceable, I suppose, but maybe … well, never mind. That doesn't matter now, I guess.

    I raised my hand and gave Zinnia a thumbs-up. She nodded and spoke, and a moment later the water flowed in.

    If the suit hadn't compensated to keep me upright I'd probably have fallen over trying to get away. Nearly twenty years' worth of dire warnings about ruptured corridors echoed in my ears all at once, and suddenly I had a feeling that this was nothing more than a very elaborate version of the drysuit, that the plastic and metal couldn't possibly protect me from the pressure and that by the time the chamber equalised they'd have to pick bits of me out from within shards of shattered plastic―

    I opened my eyes, and saw that I was underwater.

    Zinnia, her form wavering with every passing current, peered in through my visor and I grinned back at her, flushed with relief. In front of us, the exterior doors started to open, and I suddenly became aware of the pressure, not squashing me but holding me as if I were entombed in wet sand. If it hadn't been for the suit motors, I'd have been paralysed.

    Beyond the door was an intense darkness, broken at one side by an equally intense light, shining from the side of the Museum and illuminating nothing but water. I clicked on the suit's headlamp, adding my own tiny candle in the void, and glanced at Zinnia.

    She smiled her ironic smile, and we jumped out into the abyss.




    Mt. Pyre was very, very dark.

    We had a little light from the Museum while we were outside, but once I'd swum over to the old entrance and started on my way in, I found that not even the headlamp was much help. Blocks of stone had fallen from the walls in many places, and they made a maze of obstacles that stopped the beam getting much further than a couple of yards from my face. On the screen, an ellipsis appeared above Edie's head, and a moment later the light grew slightly brighter, but not enough to be useful.

    Zinnia moved on ahead, legs phasing through chunks of fallen masonry, and scratched her head. A moment later, she started walking again, and I did my best to keep up. Even with the Aqua Suit enhancing my movements, I couldn't go at much more than a slow walking pace – when I could walk at all. Most of the time, when there was nothing to hold onto, I had to swim, and that, I can tell you, is kind of difficult in a mechanical exoskeleton.

    After several long minutes of stone walls and broken blocks, Zinnia halted and looked around. I don't know what she saw. I definitely couldn't see anything; I knew we must be in a wider space, since the walls had disappeared, but that's the sort of information that's more useful for telling you where you aren't than where you are. On every side except down, the water and the darkness both seemed infinite.

    Zinnia waved to catch my attention and pointed up. I nodded and followed her, tracking the green light up and through what turned out to be a hole in the ceiling. At least, I assume it was the ceiling. I never saw it, but I did swim straight into it before I felt around and managed to find the edge of the gap.

    Here, a yellow light blinked at me from inside the helmet. Something was moving around. Nearby. I turned sharply, swinging the light in all directions, but saw nothing, which was probably worse than seeing an angry gyarados.
    Without warning, a finger passed through my visor; startled, I kicked away from the floor and almost dropped straight back down the hole again. Zinnia raised apologetic hands, mouthing sorry, and indicated a nondescript patch of darkness. I sighed, willed my heart to slow a little, and followed her towards what turned out to be a stairway. We started to move up – and the yellow light turned red.

    I took a sharp, panicked breath―

    Something that seemed to weigh as much as the Museum barrelled into my side and sent me spinning through the dark. As quickly as it had come it was gone, but the red light was still flashing, still urgent, and I thrashed around to get upright, moving too fast for the suit's motors and bruising myself on the metal contacts―

    !, said Edie, and I hit the floor with an impact that jolted my teeth in their sockets. Teeth scraped the suit's abdomen, and I flashed the light down to see for an instant blue coils and flashing orange fins―

    Shaking its head violently in the sudden burst of light, the huntail disappeared into the dark.

    I lay there for a moment, trying to regulate my breath.

    ?, asked Edie.

    “I'm OK,” I panted. “It couldn't get me.”

    :), she said.

    “Yeah.” I let out a sharp sigh that temporarily misted up the visor. “Yeah, I'm glad too.”

    A pale, worried face appeared above me: Zinnia, kneeling at my side. I gave her the best grin I could manage and pushed myself up off the floor, wishing I could wipe the sweat off my forehead. After what had just happened, I suspected, there was probably a drowned lot more of it on the way.

    We went on through silent corridors and vacant, yawning halls; sometimes I saw stones embedded in the walls or floor that still had writing on, or places where the graves had been torn up by scavenging animals, and I was reminded what this place was. A monument to death. Why anyone would want such a thing was beyond me then, but I think I can see now. It's the same reason I had to write about the Sunken Gardens, or the contents of the Museum. You can't leave death alone. You have to build it a grave, or write it a story, and then it becomes history, becomes safe.

    Listen to me! I sound like Maxie. I guess it can't be helped. Since the Golden Isles and the Pillar, I've come to understand a whole lot better what he means when he goes on about time, and death, and history. I don't know if I agree, exactly. But it's the sort of thing that sticks in your head.

    I saw only one actual corpse in the catacombs, other than the ones I'd come looking for, and it's one of very few corpses that have ever really disturbed me, because it was the corpse of something that I didn't think could die. It caught my eye, a patch of darkness that didn't retreat when my light played over it, and on closer inspection it proved to be a clot of blue-black ooze that drifted in the water, changing its shape slightly with the current. Half-buried in it was a child's doll, burned black and waterlogged: a dead shuppet.

    What could kill a ghost and leave a body behind? I don't know, dear reader. Tide's world will take some mysteries with it to its grave, and when I think of the dead shuppet, I can't help but think that that might be for the best.

    Zinnia – the physical Zinnia – was several floors up, just far enough away that I was starting to get worried about my air supply. As we got closer, I kept glancing at Zinnia to see if she looked like she recognised anything, but her habits stuck with her and her face never gave anything away.

    I needn't have worried. Soon enough we came to what looked like a dead end, where stones and rotting wood had gathered in a mound, and Zinnia stopped. Just for a second, her control slipped. She swayed slightly; I saw her lips form three syllables – and then she looked up at something, and pulled herself back into her shell.

    Here, she mouthed at me, pointing at the heap of rubble. She mimed picking things up and throwing them over her shoulder, and I nodded. Hopefully the Aqua Suit would be up to the task.

    As if reading my mind, Edie disappeared for a moment and then returned with a tick above her head. Something started vibrating just over my abdomen, and when I moved to clear the rocks I felt the motors humming much more fiercely than before.

    “Hey, thanks,” I said. “Good girl.”

    ♥, she replied.

    I started pulling stones away, which made me feel like a superhero – never before or since have I lifted objects that size, let alone thrown them – while Zinnia crouched beside me, studying the floor. At the time, I didn't pay much attention, since the rubble had a habit of sliding down to fill any gaps that I created in it, but I think I must have been aware that something was up. I just didn't know what to do about it. It's difficult to express your condolences when you're encased in a deep-sea robot and up to your knees in rocks.

    When I'd made a gap big enough to investigate, I stood back and gestured for Zinnia to take the first look. It seemed only right. She climbed over the debris, hands and feet occasionally sinking into the stones, and spent all of half a second looking at what was down there. Then she was out again, looking away and nodding for me to proceed.

    I can't think what it's like to see your corpse. I know Maxie doesn't think anything of it, but then, he's been living in his own tomb all this time, so he's probably not representative. Zinnia, on the other hand … well. I think it's safe to say that Zinnia didn't much care for it.

    Most of her mortal remains were pretty difficult to identify as being part of a human skeleton. A sufficiently vigorous cave-in will do that to a person. But there was one bone, a heavy thing full of fluted airways and strengthening braces, that was instantly recognisable. Only a few animals require reinforced skulls to stop themselves blowing their own teeth out when they shout. Only one of those had ever belonged to Zinnia.

    I didn't spend too long down there among the bones, and I tried not to disturb them either. I went straight for the right tibia, disconnected from foot or knee, and dug around it in the mud until I felt something hard under my fingers. One scrape of a finger confirmed it: under the dirt was a twist of dark metal, and set into that …

    The surface of the key stone flickered deliriously in the beam of my headlamp, colours swimming over its surface like sunlight playing across the oil rings left behind by breaching wailord. It wasn't big – no larger than my knuckle. But if I looked into it, past the surface colours and into the translucent core, it felt like I was looking into something utterly without end.

    I shivered, and the suit twitched in response. There was power here all right. It felt like the Red Orb. With this thing, you could do the kind of deeds that people remember for hundreds of years.

    When I climbed out again, I showed the anklet to Zinnia. Her reaction was rather underwhelming – one curt nod – but I suppose I shouldn't have expected anything more, not there and not then. I indicated the stones to see if she wanted me to put them back, but she shook her head. Later, she said that it didn't matter. The corpse wasn't her any more. She'd taken her shape with her when she died.

    There was one last thing before we left. Zinnia pointed at the rubble at her feet, and, slipping the anklet over my wrist so that I wouldn't drop it, I knelt to investigate.

    Half-buried in the silt was a large, solid object the rough shape of a shovel blade. I started to dig it out, and then stopped when I encountered the first spike.

    I looked up at Zinnia. It was the only time I've ever seen her pleading.




    So, we got back. And like any good pirates, we brought back our buried treasure: one anklet, including one key stone, and one salamence skull, as big around as my chest and horribly difficult to carry. But Zinnia wanted it, and as far as I was concerned, if Zinnia wanted it then Zinnia would get it. Electra, she was adamant, was going to be laid to rest properly, her skull placed in the ossuary beneath the Sky Pillar. Not everything, she insisted, has to change.

    And we did do it, in the end. Despite everything. No one wanted to – it was a ridiculous idea, they said, it was slowing us down and it took us into dangerous waters – and, well, they kind of had a point with all that, but I'm the captain and I said we had to do it, so we did. That was only a little while ago, though now it feels like much longer. It's strange to think how much you change in two years. If my younger self had given the order to do something as reckless as that, the ghosts would have done everything they could to discourage me. Now, they tell me why they think it's a bad idea, but they don't even think of not doing it.

    Maybe they know that if they tell me it's absurd I'll just tell them that life is absurd. You're not the only one I keep reminding of that, dear reader. But you are the only one who doesn't roll their eyes and ask again? every time I say it. And for that you have my gratitude.

    Zinnia took Electra's skull herself as soon as we entered the Museum and she became solid enough to hold it. Sometimes I wonder why she didn't ask me to take Aster's remains, too. I suppose she knew there are only so many unwieldy skulls a girl can carry, even with enhanced strength, and thought that Mt. Pyre was probably the best place for her anyway. That's where they interred tame pokémon back in the day, after all. The Pillar ossuary is really only for Draconids and their dragons, and to be honest there wasn't enough left of Zinnia to take there.

    Once I was out of the suit and dressed in something less practical – which took a while; I was covered in sweat and bruised all over from when I'd started panicking, so I not only needed a shower first but also had to dress rather more gingerly than usual – I brought the anklet up to the bridge. While I'd been washing, Edie had scoured it thoroughly with a cocktail of cleaning fluids and strange pulses of light, and now it gleamed blue-grey under the fluorescent lamps like an exotic fish, the key stone still feverishly cycling through colours.

    Zinnia stared at the anklet for a while, then sniffed.

    “It's pretty beat-up,” she said, taking her hand away from it. “I think I prefer its ghost.” She turned as if to leave, but something called her back, and she picked the anklet up. “You can get this out for safekeeping,” she said, fiddling with something and detaching the key stone from its housing. “Here.”

    She put the stone into my hand, a little ball of eerie warmth. It flared with a multitude of lights like Edie's signal beam, and Archie grinned.

    “That's it, all right!” he cried, slapping me on the back. “Excellent work, lass. You're a natural.”

    His was the kind of laughter that comes from relief. Frankly, I think he'd been terrified, watching me swim past the windows in the suit and vanish into the mountainside. It was all too similar to the last time he saw a girl wearing the Aqua Suit enter a cave.

    “You certainly did well,” agreed Maxie. “I hope you didn't run into any trouble?”

    “No,” I said brightly, before Zinnia could say anything. I didn't want them to worry any more than they already did. “None at all.”

    I'd chosen a long-sleeved shirt to hide the bruises, but it occurs to me now that Maxie might have seen them shadowing my wrists at the cuffs. It would have been difficult – even as washed-out from lack of sunlight as my skin was back then, my bruises aren't that obvious in the dim light of the Museum – but if anyone was going to notice, it would have been him. Archie was too relieved to even want to question my story, but the way Maxie asked that question, the emphasis on the hope and the subtle raise of the eyebrow, makes me wonder. If he did see it, he didn't mention it, though when at last, several months later, I finally admitted that I'd been attacked by a huntail, he seemed quite a lot less surprised than Archie.

    And that was that: our first key stone. Second, if you count the one in Maxie's sarcophagus, but I usually count that fifth, since we never actually got round to prising it out of his spectacles until right at the end. I locked it in a drawer in my cabin, and we moved on.

    It was kind of anticlimactic.

    I don't know what I'd been expecting, or why. The heavens don't open and the ground doesn't quake for one small step on the road to achievement. You have to get all the way to the end before you start to see results. It just seemed to me like we'd spent forever looking for it – more than two months had passed since Zinnia first proposed her plan – and to have come through the keening wind, the bunker, the corvette, the escape, the long submarine expedition, all only to confront the fact that now we just had to do it again … well, it was a bit dispiriting, really. And like anyone else whose spirits are drooping, I started to worry.

    For instance – could I even use the key stones we were looking for? Most people, even otherwise impressive trainers, just couldn't. Even in the old days, when almost everyone was a trainer at one point or another in their lives, only a few people had the ability, and even fewer actually managed to get hold of a stone and discover that. The six or so people in pre-apocalyptic Hoenn who could make use of mega evolution were probably the biggest group of their kind in the nation's history.

    And Avice Amrit dol' Tethys wasn't even a trainer. Not really. I'd fought that one battle with Edie against Virgil, and yes, we'd managed to draw – but that was hardly me. Edie carried me through the fight; I barely issued any orders, and I was far too distraught at seeing her hurt to keep up with Virgil's quick thinking. I was definitely not a trainer.

    Then on top of that, there were the ghosts. I still didn't know what was going on between Archie and Maxie, but it was clear that what we'd just done had put a horrible strain on at least one of them – and as for Zinnia, I didn't even know what to make of her behaviour. After she'd taken apart the anklet, she took both it and Electra's skull and disappeared up to her roost in the conning tower. It was at least a week before any of us saw her again.

    But you can't think like that. You can't be worried about imminent war and your ability to carry out your plan and the mental health of your seriously troubled ghost family all at once. Or you can, I guess (because I sort of was), but it doesn't do you much good, and in the end something has to give. And thankfully, I have people with me who know that, and who know me well enough to be able to tell when I'm getting close to that breaking point.

    When Zinnia finally emerged, a few days out from Mt. Pyre (of which more in a moment), she looked a lot more like her old self – or at least, like herself as I knew her, before our visit to her grave. She found me in my cabin and sat down with me on the sofa.

    “Hey,” she said. “I'm back. Sorry about the whole disappearing thing. I … well, that was kind of hard.”

    “I bet,” I replied. “Are you OK?”

    “Yeah. Well. More or less, you know?”

    “As OK as circumstances permit.”

    She laughed.

    “That is it exactly, Miss Legal Apprentice. I'm gonna have to remember that one.” She paused. “And are you all right? I mean, that must've been a pretty harrowing trip for you. The huntail, and, uh, me. The real me.”

    “Oh, I'm fine with corpses,” I told her. “It's the process by which people become them that I'm not so keen on.”

    “Oh. Uh. I guess that's a pretty sensible attitude. Sanguine.” Another hesitation. “Anything else?”

    I could have told her then about my worries, but one look at her told me that she didn't need any more to think about right now. When Zinnia looks perfectly unconcerned, that only means one thing.

    “Nah,” I said. “It's all good.”

    Zinnia smiled. With hindsight, I'm certain she could tell at a glance that all wasn't good, really, but she didn't say anything about it.

    “Great! That's great. Anyway, I just – wanted to thank you. For going in there with me, and getting Electra, and everything.” She squeezed my hand. “It means a lot, Ava. I don't know if I could've done that by myself. I hate when I realise, when I really realise, that I'm dead. You know?”

    I didn't, of course. I was going to say yes anyway, to make her feel better, but Zinnia caught the indecision in my eyes and noticed her mistake.

    “Ah, yeah. I guess not.” She sighed. “Anyway. Thanks.”

    “It's OK,” I said. “Really. I'm glad I could help.”

    “You really are,” she said. “I don't think you know what a precious thing that is.”

    And I could have told her that I did; that I'd been a girl in Tethys six years and seen exactly how reluctant the average citizen was to get involved if someone started something with me; that at fourteen I'd gone to a teacher when Eric Reynard dol' Tethys called me a monster and tried to beat me up, and had been told that I had to expect a certain amount of discomfort in my peers when I was so unusual, and that anyway Eric said that I'd been the one that started the fight and he was always so trustworthy; that for my first week at the academy several of the girls refused point-blank to share a dormitory with me, and I had to take the matter to an Administrator to shut down attempts to have me removed; that the Administrator had only helped when I quoted the relevant Edicts in full to his face; that I knew full well that no one is glad to help; that that was exactly why I liked to help; that I wasn't quite as naïve as people thought and as they seem to have convinced me that I was; that, in short, I knew how much what I was doing meant and that I had done it all deliberately.

    But I didn't tell her.

    Zinnia didn't need a lecture. She needed a hug.

    So I gave her that and saved my thoughts for a time when she was feeling better, and she smiled and took the anklet out from under her cloak.

    “I want you to have it,” she said. “I was gonna give it to Aster, when she was older, but … anyway, it's the only thing I have left. So – here you are. I know it's kinda old and ugly, you don't have to wear it, but―”

    But I already had it on – just as I have it on now, dear reader, the metal sun-warm against my skin. Closure, of a kind. We'd gone through the dark and we'd got the key stone, and here was the end that I'd been after: healing for Zinnia, and a gift for me. One of the first real gifts I ever received, actually, because no one in Tethys ever had anything to give, other than a few extra credits or a punch or two of their ration card.

    It's not much in itself, but it closes the pattern. Do you see? Part of the story that started when I met Zinnia ended when she handed over the anklet. And you know, dear reader, how much that means to me. Nothing calms me like finding the poetry in the random motion of the universe. I didn't stop doubting, but I at least doubted a little less fiercely, and sometimes that's enough.

    There's another reason to tell you about it. Soon enough, the ghosts will be gone, and Zinnia with them. And it may be that I have to go along with them, that my return to Tethys will be the start of some new voyage across that dark ocean no one ever sees twice – so just in case, dear reader, I'm recording Zinnia's bequest in here. No Tethys citizen can read this unless they follow in my footsteps and enter the Museum. In here, her gift will be safe, for as long as paper can last. And someone – you, I hope – will remember.

    It's all I've ever wanted.




    We're leaving the archipelago now, and all those birds are peeling away from the ship, flying back towards their little islands. There are a few stragglers – mostly the murkrow, who have worked out that sitting on the rail and looking plaintive is a sure-fire way to get me to feed them – but I expect that soon they'll be on their way too. Then it'll just be you and me again, dear reader – and Edie and the ghosts, of course, but I don't think I talk about them to you quite as much as I talk about the birds, because the birds are new and exciting and my little family is, while lovely, not so new.

    I don't know. I'm kind of looking forward to it. It's quite nice to not be having adventures, after the last couple of years. I know that if you actually count up all the hours, I probably spent most of that time asleep or reading rather than actually running away from people or animals that wanted me dead, but still. I was in an adventuring state of mind, and now that I know that the water's falling, I'm not. At this point, I'm on holiday, at least for a little while. It's rather nice.

    Tide, I'm starting to treat this like a diary. Bad habit, Avice. This is for posterity, nominally anyway, and I should be approaching it with the proper decorum. And I will, at least for a few more minutes until I forget again and start telling you about my day.

    So. Onwards! We didn't hang around at Mt. Pyre once we'd got the stone. Everyone was sick of the dark, and now that we were so far out from Tethys we could afford to risk travelling on the surface. The only city ships out here would be travelling to the Hollow – and they generally didn't go north of the Temple on this side. We were entering pirate territory, and no Tethys vessel sailed through there without a military escort.

    We, on the other hand, didn't care. There was always a chance that someone would try to attack us, I suppose – the word 'pirate' mostly just indicates faction alliances these days, though there are a few people who still go around perpetrating old-fashioned seaborne theft – but I wasn't really concerned about that. The Museum is fairly large as vessels go, and while it doesn't actually have anything in the way of weapons, you can't actually tell that from a distance. Besides, I liked to think that if anyone ever did get aboard, I could just hide and have the ghosts throw things around until the intruders were convinced the place was haunted and ran away.

    A confession: secretly, I have always wanted to try this out some day.

    Anyway. Off we sailed to the northeast, towards Jonah's Respite and Archie's key stone. It was the start of a much longer trip than I anticipated; from leaving Mt. Pyre to escaping Jonah's Respite took about three months and marked half a year since my flight from Tethys. I can safely say it was less anticlimactic than searching for Zinnia's stone, but by the time I'd got through it all I wasn't sure whether that was a good thing or not. It all worked out in the end, yes, and some of us came out the better for it – but I did get in a few more fights than I wanted. Jonah's Respite was a pretty tumultuous place this time last year.

    But like I say, it all turned out OK in the end. We got that key stone. Edie got her … whatever it was. (I'll have to ask someone about the details before I write it up. It's all very technical.) And I got to meet Berenice, too. Have I mentioned her before? I have a feeling I have, though maybe only in passing. Something to do with coffee, I expect.

    Berenice. Berenice Enid dol' City's Regret. Anarchist, painter, coffee enthusiast. Now those are some memories I don't mind revisiting. When I think of her, I remember―

    Actually, maybe you don't need to know that.

    I wonder where she is now.

    Do you ever get that feeling, dear reader, when you're rummaging around in the vaults of your memory, poking past experiences around with a stick and shuffling them into piles, that you might have jabbed one a little too hard? I do. Right now, as a matter of fact. I jabbed a little too hard, and something got scratched, and now I feel …

    I feel alone, dear reader. And very foolish.

    I made mistakes with Berenice, although fortunately nothing came of them. I know that now, and I also know that I'll have to account for them one day. Or no, not one day, not some vague and distant time in the future – no, soon, I'll have to account for them soon. Like I said. Time is running out for all of us. For the ghosts. For Tethys. And, probably, for me.

    There are people I want to see before it all happens. One person more than most.

    Dear reader, I think I'd better wrap things up. It looks like I might need a bit of a break.

    And maybe a glass of milk.
     
    Last edited: Oct 22, 2015
  10. AmericanPi

    AmericanPi Write on

    Hey there! American--Pi here, and welcome to the Sunday Review (Side note: I started kind of doing this two months ago, but I've literally just named and formalized it.). Here's how it works: Every Sunday (well, at least I try to make it every Sunday in my timezone) I pick a one-shot or a single chapter of a chaptered fic to review. I try to alternate between the Fan Fiction and Shipping Fics forum. My reviews are Review Game-style, which means I pick four out of the eleven Review Game criteria and comment on them as much as I want to (but at least two sentences). Every week I try to pick four different criteria, but usually I just comment on whatever in the story catches my eye.

    This week, I've chosen Chapter 14 of Time and Tide to review. I'm also doing a random experiment, so bear with me. The experiment is that I'm reviewing the latest chapter of a fic I haven't read any other chapters of. I hope you don't mind my doing this, because I'd like to see how it goes. Like I said, it's an experiment. Without any further ado, here it is, a Review Game-style review of Chapter 14 of Time and Tide!

    Ending
    The ending was quite nicely done. While it did provide closure to the chapter - the Mega Stone, among other things, was found - it also made me want to read more because Avice mentioned Berenice and was really emotional about it. I was curious as to why Avice was so emotional about Berenice. I like the way you introduced Berenice in this chapter - it doesn't feel forced at all; the chapter just nicely flows into her introduction.

    Writing
    I thought this paragraph was nicely written, and the dash at the end makes it even better. It reads a lot like, "I'm gonna die I'm gonna die I'm gonna die - oh wait, I'm alive." Which is exactly how anxiety feels like - I know firsthand. However, I would have liked it better if there had been some more graphic description of Avice's feelings and thoughts of panic. When you have an anxiety attack your heart quickens, you feel like shaking, and you can't breathe. It's great that you're showing what thoughts are going on in Avice's head, but adding her body's reaction to the situation would have made it a lot more believable.

    Spelling/Grammar
    Weeoo weeoo weeoo. Hear that? It's me, the Grammar Police, here to correct and to serve! (Bear with me. I love doing that.)

    The second sentence in the above quote suffers from a misplaced modifier, which in your case just means that it's unclear exactly what "a dead Shuppet" modifies. I understand that the child's doll is burned black and waterlogged, but currently the sentence reads as though the child's doll is the dead Shuppet, not that there is a child's doll half-buried in the Shuppet's corpse.

    Unless you intended that the child's doll is the dead Shuppet, the sentence should be corrected to this:

    It caught my eye, a patch of darkness that didn't retreat when my light played over it, and on closer inspection it proved to be a clot of blue-black ooze that drifted in the water, changing its shape slightly with the current. Half-buried in it was a child's doll, burned black and waterlogged. The blob was a dead shuppet.

    Enjoyment
    Reading this chapter was a mixed experience for me. While I did enjoy it, partly because your storytelling style is very nice, I was also confused because it took me a while to figure out what was going on. My fault for not reading the rest of the fanfic, I guess. What I'm picking up here is that there was an apocalypse in the Hoenn region, and Archie, Maxie, and Zinnia are ghosts (as in, they've died and are now undead). Avice is alive and escaped from a dystopian civilization, and is hunting for treasure some sunken Hoenn ruins.

    Despite my not reading the previous chapters, I had a pretty good sense of what was going on, and I still largely enjoyed the chapter. I'm not sure if this is something you'd be happy about, but I thought I'd mention it.

    If this is considered a short chapter, I don't want to see what a long chapter is. Your chapters are a bit too long for my tastes, although that's just me, I guess. I'm just used to reading shorter chapters.

    What was Zinnia wearing? Sorry, I'm just curious. Obviously she's not wearing the Aqua Suit because Avice is wearing it, but if she isn't, then how come she can withstand the water pressure? Because she's a ghost and is already dead? I just answered my own question, I guess.

    Overall, this was an… interesting experience for me, reviewing a chapter of a fic I haven't read any of the previous chapters of. I'm not sure if I should do this again, and now I'm left with the question on how to review chaptered fics. On one hand, if I review the first chapter of a long chaptered fic, it would be easy for me to understand what's going on but what I say may be totally invalid because the chapter was written so long ago. On the other hand, if I review the most recent chapter of a long chaptered fic, it is hard for me to understand what's going on but what I say is more relevant to the author.

    Anyways, that's something for me to ponder. You've got an interesting fic here and a great storytelling style. Keep up the good work! :)

    EDIT: I just decided that I'm not going to do this experiment again, namely, review the latest chapter of a fic I haven't read any previous chapters of. It will cause a lot of unnecessary confusion on both ends, and I'll just say now that the experiment didn't go all that well. I'm sorry about any inconvenience I caused in doing this experiment, and I hope at least some of my review is helpful. :)

    - Pi
     
    Last edited: Oct 26, 2015
  11. Spiteful Murkrow

    Spiteful Murkrow Early Game Encounter

    And here I was thinking that hiatus would allow me to procrastinate on writing those reviews be a long, dry spell. Whelp, consider me pleasantly surprised, so here's a twofer for Ch. 13 + 14.

    I have to admit, it's interesting to see the hints at what's going on in the "present day" in Avice's narrator commentaries in these entries. For the life of me can't figure out how you manage to pull it off without inadvertently undercutting the "I've gotta see this"-factor, but so far you've been doing a great job at it. Tell me your secrets! Please!

    Missing a newline after this block.

    Does this mean Hoenn in your story is confirmed to be Taiwan, then? o3o

    Granted, I'm pretty sure Taiwan only had killer giant hornets, and not killer giant fire-breathing flying lizards.

    That... Was hard to read, to say the least. A shame that ORAS glossed over the implications of who Aster was and the sort of loss Zinnia went through, but I quite like the interpretation you rolled with here.

    This is why you hedge your bets and research into magical time-reversing computer binaries to undo those unforeseen events.

    I think Avice speaks for all of us there, and that caring side of hers is remarkably cute.

    That's some really great description there, it does quite the job of leaving a mental image.

    If you wrote excerpts of that book as extras or a gaiden series, I would totally read that. Obviously biased and propagandistic or not, that would surely be one interesting annal.

    Reality is such a harsh mistress at times. I see that technology trumps artificially limited population sizes in terms of force projection.

    There's only one solution to this clash of vibes...

    [​IMG]

    Hey now, look on the bright side of that what-if, Avice! An army of heavily armed men with smurf-looking suits at beck and call to the Imperium of Tethys might make for dark hypothetical scenarios, but it also would make for great ultraviolent tabletop games!

    Best mission control ever.

    Ectoplasm doesn't rot so well, I take it.

    That skull's going to be up there for the rest of the fic, isn't it?

    To be fair, when 'trainers' included kids who would go around gushing about how comfy and easy shorts were to wear, I think that it's pretty safe to argue that you're trainer enough, Avice.

    I wonder if people with Ghost-Types ever use that as a psychologically-based security device.

    But great work as usual, and hope the hiatus helps you with that other project of yours. I'll be looking forward to the next chapter, whenever it comes.
     
    Last edited: Oct 27, 2015
  12. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine Gone. Not coming back.

    Sorry it took me so long to get around to this! But I'm here now, and thank you both for responding! Also, American--Pi, congratulations for attempting to review Chapter 14 of a really convoluted AU fic without having read the rest. That's not easy at all.

    I'm glad something of the ending came across; it's actually referring back to several details from previous chapters, including a brief mention of Berenice that everyone has probably already forgotten about, and also the whole thing with the milk. Quite a lot of the story does that, since it's supposed to be Avice writing up the history of the past few years, and she makes a lot of connections, unconscious and conscious, between various parts of the story. I don't know how much of that is visible from just reading one chapter alone.

    I suppose so, but I never know how far to go with that kind of thing in this story. You know what it feels like; Avice knows what it feels like; Avice knows you know what it feels like -- and ultimately, what's important to her is not making it believable but making a record. Which for her often means noting her thoughts more than anything else. A lot of the time in this story I'm trying to keep an undercurrent of artificiality going, because it's meant to be a record of a series of events that have been edited by both lapses of memory and Avice's conscious process of curation, and one of the ways I've been trying to do that is occasionally sacrificing some of the immediacy you might get in a regular first[person narrative. That often means privileging thought at the expense of the body.

    That said, I can see where you're coming from. Maybe it would be a good idea for me to rein that in a little, if it's getting bothersome. There's no point in my making the story less enjoyable for the sake of some fairly obscure and kinda pretentious schema.

    The misplaced modifier is actually intentional. 'A dead shuppet' is supposed to look like it refers to the blob of ghost-stuff, and then to transfer itself, as the reader works out the sentence structure, to the child's doll. A shuppet is both of those things, after all -- a weird floaty ghost thing and a vengeful discarded toy. Before it gained life, and presumably therefore after it, the shuppet was a toy, so the child's doll is the dead shuppet, but I wanted a little bit of ambiguity about where the shuppet-ness of the dead shuppet actually lay. Because, you know, shuppet are particularly weird even by ghost-type standards.

    ... now 'shuppet' doesn't even look like a word any more.

    I have to say, this fic is probably not a great one to jump in halfway through! Aside from being an AU in which the protagonist of Alpha Sapphire never stopped Kyogre from drowning Hoenn, precipitating several hundred years of living in underwater cities and also ghosts, there's a lot of references back and forth between sections, as I said, and the interactions between the characters probably don't make that much sense without their context.

    Hm. This hasn't been something I've heard anything about from anyone else so far, so I'm going to assume that it's not a generally held opinion among people reading Time and Tide that the chapters are unreasonably long, but thanks for letting me know. I'd be curious to know exactly what people do think. I think it's not.

    Zinna, Maxie and Archie have all been dead for a long time and now are ghosts; Edie is a porygon2 and has survived the intervening years mostly because she's made of light and computer code.

    I think you made a pretty good go of it, all things considered! I mean, it's hard to jump in halfway through a story, and this is an especially convoluted one -- frankly, I'm amazed that you enjoyed it as much as you say you did, given how confusing it must have been for you. You've caused no inconvenience whatsoever, don't worry! And you've given me some things to think about, as well, which after all is the point of a review. So there's no need to be disheartened.

    I had most of this chapter kicking around in draft form ever since I announced the hiatus, and one day I just thought I'd finish it and give it an edit. I'm not sure why I didn't start the hiatus after I completed this chapter, or why I didn't choose to save this chapter until the hiatus was over. I suppose I just kinda felt like doing it. At any rate: thank you for the review!

    You'll see it all eventually! This second section of the story will feature an increasing intrusion of of the present day, if I can say that without giving too much away, and at some point Avice's narration will catch up with her present, too. For the moment, I'll take some of Avice's favourite metaphors, and just say that her world is starting to wake up, and to remember.

    Ah, I thought I'd got them all this time! I add them all manually when I paste the chapters into the post editor (because typing into a word document without paragraph indentation really bothers me), so I do sometimes miss them. Thanks for pointing it out.

    More easterly, I think. I mean, I've always been sort of hesitant about just slotting the regions of the pokémon world into the places they're based on, because for me that just raises more questions than it solves, but I've never known exactly where to place them, either. Which means that Hoenn, along with the other regions based on parts of Japan, are sort of nebulously Pacific, which I figured was the kind of place where they might be subject to competing influences in the way that Zinnia describes.

    Also, I just really wanted to use that line about really liking dragons. And rocks.

    I think it was pretty strongly implied that Aster was Zinnia's daughter. The way that her whismur keeps saying 'Mum', the fact that she uses 'she' pronouns for that whismur, and her apparent interest in children, sort of cemented that for me. I suppose they didn't go deeper into that loss because of age ratings? I don't know. At any rate, she came across as rather young and rather brittle, and continually evading the burden of having to ask herself who she was if she wasn't the person (/mother, if you agree with my reading) she was meant to be.

    Time travel is in fact canon in the pokémon world, but ssh, that would totally ruin the story if someone got hold of dialga or celebi and just undid everything. Part of tragedy's power is in its sense of fatedness, I think. If that makes any sense.

    I don't think there's anyone in this story who's totally irredeemable, not even Virginia. But Avice is still probably one of the nicest, even if perhaps she wouldn't see it that way.

    Thanks! I remember, I had a really hard time describing the Gardens for some reason, so I ended up rewriting that segment over and over. Looks like it paid off, so. Hooray!

    Ooh, that's kind of tempting -- especially given the type of narrative that this is, and how I plan to end it. You never know, that might just happen.

    Don't get me wrong, Tethys is huge, in ocean terms. It's not a very big city by modern standards, but in Avice's world, it's colossal -- the largest single settlement in the known ocean. That's part of its strength. Much of the rest comes from its synthesis machines, which are as far as anyone outside the Museum knows the only ones left, and from its rigidly hierarchical unity. The pirates, as we will soon see, are more of a loose union than anything else. Probably an indirect result of Archie's methods; I can see him being much more lax as a leader than Maxie.

    Now I'm imagining a tabletop game called SEA-MAGEDDON that you play inside a fishtank, moving the little figurines through three-dimensional space and fixing them in place with ... I don't know, dark magics or something. Or magnets. Assuming of course that magnets are something different from dark magics, which, well. I dunno, guys.

    I think all of us could use an Edie.

    Nor does plastic, and in their own weird way shuppet are often both. I don't know how long that corpse has been there. It may just have died recently; maybe there are spectral bacteria and ghostly fungi that will happily decompose the bodies of dead ghost-types. I guess that would explain something about the origins of ghost-types, anyway.

    Not all of it, but for quite a while. Avice & co. will get to the Draconid ossuary in time.

    I suspect that when it comes to quotations from trainers, history has whittled it down to some of the greats. Youngster Joey, alas, was not destined for historical greatness.

    Possibly! I actually really wanted to have a chapter where Avice gets interrupted during her narration because pirates -- real pirates, that is, not just people affiliated with the monarch of Jonah's Respite -- have come aboard and she hides and takes notes while the ghosts scare them off like a bizarre inverted episode of Scooby-Doo, but that would have confirmed that the ghosts are entirely real and not in her imagination at all, and I don't want to sacrifice that ambiguity, not even when I reveal where they came from.

    Thank you! I hope to have another chapter ready for Christmas, if not sooner; as for the hiatus, it really has been helpful. I needed that extra time this autumn. At the moment, I don't know exactly when I'll be able to end this hiatus, but given that I'm currently about halfway through the big thing that displaced Time and Tide from its spot in my free time, I'm hoping it might be sometime in the first few months of next year.

    As ever, thank you all for reading, and you two in particular for responding! I look forward to bringing you another chapter.
     
  13. Sike Saner

    Sike Saner Peace to the Mountain

    That is an understatement to end all understatements right there.

    Nor am I, Avice. Nor am I.

    YEAH I'D... BE SCARED SHITLESS TOO if something passed through the only thing between me and an extremely gruesome death, however harmlessly.

    Granted, I'd be scared shitless to clamber into that thing in the first place, but yeah. I'd prefer to stay out from under the ocean in general. Thank **** I don't live in this story. XD;

    I sure do like the way she thinks. :D
     
  14. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine Gone. Not coming back.

    Maybe the real Tethys empire was in our hearts all along. It certainly was for Avice, and maybe in some sense it still is.

    ... that came out bleaker than expected.

    I'd be careful about ascribing too much value to Avice's judgements about that kind of thing. She's trying really hard to make her past into something that makes sense -- a history, a narrative, a legend, whatever -- and she may be imposing more structure on it than the facts, strictly speaking, bear out. Mysterious parallels between her and the nameless trainer seem really kinda convenient for her purposes. Then again, it's not like we have access to the actual facts of the matter, so maybe she is right. Who knows? Not me! I guess it's one of the things the story's about.

    I think you probably speak for all of us. I always wondered how the player character in ORAS just got into the Aqua/Magma Suit like that, given that it's the kind of thing that would require serious training in both its operation and the simple fact of overcoming claustrophobia to use. One reason I had Avice pop up in an escape pod at the start was to provide a vague reason for her total lack of claustrophobia, as well as to start her story with something like a post-post-apocalyptic version of a mythic birth.

    But yeah, Avice's world is terrifying. Way too much water hanging over everyone's head for my taste. Living in bubbles just doesn't seem safe, whether or not it's made of steel.

    If there was a way to have actually had that scene in the story without definitively establishing that the ghosts are real and not just imaginary, I would totally have written it. Alas, the sacrifices we make for art, etc.

    Anyway! I'm sorry to have taken so long to acknowledge your reply; there have been so many things and they all seem to be right here. But thank you, as ever, for reading and responding, and I hope to bring you all another chapter, uh ... sometime.
     
  15. Praxiteles

    Praxiteles Friendly POKéMON.

    So, I decided to read up to Zinnia after all. I must have already partly read this fic at least two times, but it's probably a good thing, since I've hardly concentrated enough to be one with your fiction. The dream is to get immersed in it like the romance novels it emulates; this time I will dive into the wash, and bake in the foam.

    The worst part is that it's not even the questions that are the most feral... it's the padding you need to even address them! We just had a story that was not told in one sentence of a paragraph -- the story of a girl from an underground city who has reached the surface.

    Poor scholar. Looks even smaller when she underestimates the void between two universes.

    *counts on fingers* FIVE roles!! Most stories are okay with a single nonexistent narrator.

    I'm pretty sure you can identify the exact paragraph where I fell in love with Avice...

    I'm already baking...

    THIS IS THE GAYEST WAY POSSIBLE TO DESCRIBE A HET MEETING

    Oh Cutlerine. A writer can truly go to any country and any state of the heart.

    Avice dol'Tethys is baking in the love for and cultural memory of her city... One of her fondest memories is of the day she came into existence. That should tell you about her love for life.

    Good man!

    It could be nothing, but I see the abundance of 'immortality' names.

    She's a supernatural historian! She makes a viable history of a land as one woman, sitting alone. She remembers her aunt's bribed secretary's name. I've always considered that the least credible part of any story is usually that the narrator exists.

    I love that you followed on from the resolution of the first problem by sticking with Aranea. I think you hold this important, but this story also really radiates compassion and love from the very structure for me. Aranea's thing is a very womanly pain, I might even dare saying. I was reading Virginia Woolf's thing in Room of One's Own where she talked about the 'angel of the house'. To embark on your own personal career, you kill it, then..? In this universe we're glad to see that women aren't so saddled with such a cloying angel but. You still gotta have a purpose.

    AHAHAHAHAHA!!!!!!!!!! THE TRANSNESS, THE LAWYER-HISTORIAN RIDDLE WARS, AND THE PARABOLIC MILK CART!! THERE'S YOUR ARTISTIC UNITY OF STORY ELEMENTS, POE! LUV IT!!

    So sweet.

    One of the reviewers asked 'is this really a pokemon fic?' How can you blame them, when you're eradicating the sceptile of the world into a poverty-wracked terrarium.

    :'((

    It's a difficult life problem, and I mean logically. Being trans is illogical. Can Avice sort it out with narration? The thing is that narrating your transness is very easy to do. It's often a hook for people to hold on to before they can fully grapple with it themselves. I'm prety dang impressed by her bravery at narration, either way.

    Hey. I'm gonna be writing one of these heartbreaking passages too. A little later in the story, but probably will.

    Moll! Moll! Moll!

    Anyway, I definitely haven't lost the fact that Avice's anchor to the world is her humility. She stays herself and stays not alone, by acknowledging her debts to the people that made her.

    Moll! Moll! That's very gay, Moll!

    You know that it fulfills so much in someone's heart when you retell a sprawling 17th century sailor story with two headstrong girl heorines instead of boring europens.

    One again ?? -- Moll, not to put too fine a point on it; But this is gay,

    Out of all the stuff in this story, I'm surprised my favorite are the empty and alone streets before a character takes possession back of themselves.

    I feel that she will even smash 'his' pronouns out of irksomeness. I love her

    Here, I totally see why you go through everything in such detail -- besides it being structurally how this story is done, I can also see you had a joy in processing through what happened, in going through 'how it worked' -- a joy of narrating fiction. It's also very pleasing to me to hear everything about a trans girl's period of difficulty/change 'in poetic unity'. As in, obviously this story doesn't have that strange pretension, but it has powerful images.

    Ha ha, this is absoltuely what I'm doing too.

    Something I wrote a few days back was that the natural world can provide "a pool of unexpectabilities to escape any logical cage", which I see here too. By that I meant that the fact that time keeps moving and that the meandering of the story is always beyond understanding, beyond easy simplification or theory, every single time-lengthening turn that can be made is made before you reach your destination, like a fractal knot, ensures that someone is never truly trapped, at least not permanently. I think the way the characters in this story survive is because the movement of story is always applying forward force no matter what, so that morbidity narrowly avoids truly being death -- Aranea leaving isn't a death, even if Avice has to mourn her, because before Aranea could be left completely alone with the fact of death, a god rocketed a flaming vessel, the child of multiple accidents, at her to shoot her off beyond all horizons. And no doubt she'll come back later at some point lol

    I could write fanfic about Moll and Avice if it please you... The days they spent dithering as kids that there isn't space here to put. I might do it...

    Nice librarian's daughter who sees a disembodied light at the catacombs of an underwater city alone and goes after it.

    I love the twisted, hoary transition you had to make from the immediate and perfect future of the pokemon world to this era, which is the flotsam of the past.

    Maxie's personality improved so much by being a ghost (bear in mind I've barely crossed the river to the east half in ORAS)

    Oh, it'll be very strange to see when Avice's story finally catches up. It's all been history so far, but the point where she's writing is probably a wait before a momentous event, if I'm not wrong. You'll have a mechanic in mind for then, too -- will she go back to the page at the end of every day to record what happened? Will we break out of the narrative device of the writer at her desk (unlikely)?

    I see a lot of possibilities in how the story can interfere with its actual writing -- how, for instance (unlikely), would it be if lack of writing time forced her to have to omit an entire period of the coming events? Or to squash them so they lose some information. Or postpone their writing for a later revision.

    I thought this was a facsimile! I demand a refund now.

    I love Hoenn enough to try to preserve and deify it to the most microscopic, obsessive details; but you love Hoenn enough to destroy it. You find pleasure in its shipwreck death state, in the anachronistic swirl of history that any peaceful period is only bobbing in.

    AAH!

    The birch wood forestry office book shelf smell is coming off this well. Ah, to live in the 2000s again...

    Avice's dysphoria wouldn't have been articulated in fashion like ours is. But, her hopelessness would probably have been even more granite and binary -- her boy's uniform was always wrong, and there was only one girl's outfit to envy.

    That must have been a world to live in.

    [<3]

    [^___^]

    The most crunchy thing about this story is that the author is inventing her authorship, but all the things she's inventing are already there -- she says "I'm the first historian", as though there re no historians in this universe, but considering it's a popular entertainment in other universes, she's bringing it in to the public. She has anxiety about things that were done unconsciously long before anyone brought their attention to them. Ideological bias, or compression of an exciting story, are clearly all things she appreciates. Although I understand that, considering she's one of the first citizens of that place who have even heard of a world where these things are speakable. The more interesting author is the resurrector, not the creator.

    Those atmospheric descents into important locations were lovely -- and I'm appreciating what it would be to make Hoenn into a drowned region -- suspend that beautiful lilycove garden in black depths forever. The Magma Base section where you go up to meet Maxie is one of my favorite parts to narrate. I was truly immersed up by the architecture, it was like going through a grizzled old jrpg (Undertale). Definitely baked

    Also Avice was soo good at the end of chapter seven when she gets in control of everything. This is how it's done -- ebullient girls cheerfully shouldering into the pillars of the world.

    As it goes on it seems to me that the trans stuff absolutely will be narrated after all -- in the beginning I was expecting it to be a circumstancial part of her raising, that isn't exactly so relevant to the raging story. But we can see her issues around it, and how else would a girl be if she grew up in isolation and until now doesn't even have one external frame of seeing herself (besides Amazons). I'm really expecting another trans girl to turn up. Maybe. Either way we are running with these themes, not leaving them behind.

    What a story. It feels like the reader's own ghosts are surfacing and then falling back into the tide.

    You are perfect as you are, Avice.

    Hey. Hey Cutlerine. Follow M. and I up our conning tower ;)

    I can't really rmember enough of the ancient mariner anymore, but Archie gives off a perfect Captain Ahab vibe.

    He sounds like the kind of man who has heard that name a hundred times before but won't try to use the pronunciation he hears, as though that would mean 'giving in'.

    I bet it hasn't been nearly long enough to cause genetic differentiation between Tethys and the outside. Or, four hundred years could change skin color, who knows.

    Aww, green city Avice. I bet she's eventually gonna be as grizzled as her mom (maybe less).

    *hooting and howling* Yeah!! Yeah!!!

    This is imo the right procedure with street urchins.

    My friend I should tell you sometime about how much I love ancestral mom stuff.

    I don't know whatever I was doing with Archie! Sounds like we have a much better Ahab!

    Hoo! Hoooooo!

    HOOO! HOOOO! *fweet*

    Not funny..

    Every little pecadillo. Keep sailing, little priest.

    It wouldn't have been unlikely for her to find that out with all the Museum studying -- but then you can't have this perfect scene.

    That's soooooo... somnolent......

    Oh, no......

    Also like, the forgottenness of the Museum only acts for Tethysi people? It doesn't seem to be as big of an issue outside.

    Saving the world is pretty okay when you can travel with your two sailor dads doing all the navigating.

    Daaad! You ruined the paint job!

    She seems like she's going to have to be a builder of worlds. If the Heraclitus was really right here. I mean, RSE was a snapshot of a time, so even when you're nostalgising it, it doesn't exactly leave any option to go back to that world.

    I'm on a date, with destiny

    I'm truly sorry. Not to have read Time and Tide is practically a crime. I had read a lot of chapters before, but that was like sleeping, not reading. Which I often do. You have got to show me some of your current book too, when you're more done with it. Well, bye!
     
  16. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine Gone. Not coming back.

    It's nice to see you around the forums again! You're right to compare this to a romance; I was reading a lot of eighteenth-century novels when I had the idea for this, so it's got a lot of similarities to things like picaresques, travelogues, and so on. There's a fair bit of Sterne in there -- the pages covered in ink, for instance, are a Shandean joke. If this were a printed copy, I would totally have those reproduced.

    This is one of Avice's biggest concerns, I think, and part of why she keeps straining to fit as much as she possibly can into the text. Kind of an anxiety about distance and the problems it brings. It's one way of explaining why the story's called Time and Tide, although that title has ended up being more overdetermined than I imagined.

    Well, one of the things that it's about is narration, after all! It may be a little after the point where you stopped reading, but there's a bit later on where Avice talks about the difficulty of writing while trans, and before then plenty of worrying about the best way to go about writing. One of her goals is to figure out how to be a writer on her own terms, I think, given that there's a serious dearth of writers like her for her to emulate. Hopefully, we'll see her start to figure it out as we go on, and she gets comfortable enough to stop hiding quite so much behind the more formal language she uses at the start.

    Me too. This was the first line of Time and Tide I wrote; it's like a year later now and I'm pretty sure it's still the best.

    Well, they say write what you know! :p I kid. I know very little about romantic love except what I can work out through empathy and research. At any rate, what I wanted to write about here was a kind of mythologised version of the kind of passionate relationship that two fairly young and inexperienced people might fling themselves violently into and then possibly regret afterwards. Only I compressed it into like a day and then separated the two lovers by several hundred miles of ocean, so that neither of them ever got a chance to regret it, and Avice can build it up in her story into something of a legend whose relation to truth is, well, uncertain at best. We certainly don't know if her claim that her father loved her mother for the rest of his life is actually true.

    Also, and for much the same reason, it's super cheesy and makes me smile whenever I read it.

    I'm pretty sure that's right, if the writer's willing to extend their empathy far enough and be critical about their own assumptions.

    Yeah! She really loves her city and her world, even though she hates them both at the same time. (You know how it is.) One thing that comes out later is her fear that instead of transforming and freeing Tethys by her actions, she's going to destroy it instead. Hopefully that's something that will get bigger and more tense as the story builds to its conclusion.

    Amar Singh dol' Tethys: a good guy at remembering stuff.

    It might be, or it might not. I didn't think too closely about Avice's names, surprisingly enough, or if I did I forgot about it, but I wouldn't be surprised if I picked those names for a reason, knowingly or not.

    It is incredible, yeah. Which is one of the problems with Avice's story. Later on, she talks a lot about arranging events into stories so that you can make sense of them; while it's not something I want to critique too much within the story itself, because there's no fun in savaging the structures a vulnerable person makes to help them navigate a harsh world, it's something that I'm thinking I want to make a little clearer in later chapters. I think the point I'd like to make is that though Avice's book may not be entirely factual, it's all in some sense true, or at the very least as worthy as the truth, in its status as an artwork and a history.

    Oh, I know the bit you mean. I should reread A Room of One's Own sometime, actually; I'm not sure I did Woolf justice the last time I read it. Anyway, yes. While I haven't quite pulled it off with all the characters (notably Virgil, for the reasons I gave above in my response to Negrek's review), it is very important to me that my characters be considered as more than narrative devices. They are narrative devices, of course, but I don't read stories purely to appreciate the technical skill of the writer, I read them because I like the characters and their lives, and anyway the reduction of people into things in any form, literary or otherwise, never sits well with me.

    I'm less certain about whether or not Aranea's pain is particularly womanly. Purposefulness seems to be pretty important to Avice, so maybe that's why she's so concerned with other people who lack it.

    I thought you might! It seems like your kind of thing.

    I know, right? So many parts of this story have been so much fun to write, with these cute characters having cute interpersonal relationships.

    It's difficult, keeping grass-types down in the dark of the ocean depths. But hold on, and you might see that things are looking brighter for sceptile than people think.

    The thing about Avice is that she has no pre-existing narrative to grab onto. There is no mythical 'trans experience' in her world that she can use to define herself in concordance or opposition to, as there is in ours. She's got to create a way of writing and thinking for herself from whole cloth. I guess it's my way of at least glancing at the problems facing trans writers; how can you write without capitulating? Avice, later, says that she doesn't think she can, but I don't know. Maybe on reading her story we might think that she's managed it.

    For the same reasons, this was a difficult part to write. I always find it a little uncomfortable to write unpleasant things happening to people, but here this was compounded by the fact that, as I said, these things are difficult to write about without betraying them.

    I'm glad that that comes across. Like me, I think, Avice feels that writers have to be humble if they're not going to rule their stories like tyrants.

    I think you're going to really like it when these two meet up again at the end.

    It really does, doesn't it?

    I have a real weakness for throwing in little environmental details that accept impressions of characters' emotions and retain them for a while afterwards. I also have a feeling that this is too obviously rhetorical to be considered Good Writing, but honestly I cannot bring myself to care.

    She so does, and I so do. She's great. I've noticed that recently, I've been doing this thing where the character who might be a more obvious protagonist becomes a side character to the character who might be a more obvious side character. I think I'm probably trying to say something by doing that, but I can't for the life of me work out what. Interpretation! It gets so much harder when you try to apply it to yourself.

    That's the joy of the story! Like I said, it's kind of about narration, and the pleasure and power of telling stories.

    It is important to the project of the story, I think, that everyone is saved -- or everyone who consents to be saved, anyway. Some people refuse to be, and saving them might be a worse crime than leaving them. Every character is allowed a choice, in the end, and if they fall it's because they wanted to and no one could stop them.

    ... that got a bit dark. But, thinking about the events at the Sky Pillar especially, it seems an apt description of the story.

    Wow. I've never had anyone offer to do that before. Do as you like!

    There is a special place in my heart for librarians, and writing about Tethys I had an excuse to make them the last bastion of possibly-unwise curiosity in the city.

    Yeah, it's very strange to look back at Hoenn from such an imperfect era, because the pokémon world is so ... bright and lovely, even when wracked with strife. Hoenn glows, if you know what I mean, and it was weird to think of its smooth corners and bright colours faded. The Museum is a testament to its destruction: it's preserved parts of the old world, but when you put something in a museum you know it can never be put back in the same place in the same way again. The object and its origins have both become different things.

    Fair enough! I have Alpha Sapphire, so I don't see as much of him as I might, but I tried to be faithful to his character while also imagining what five hundred years in deep storage might do to him.

    You're right, this is a wait. As it says in some of the later chapters, Avice is filling time during her voyage home to Tethys. When she gets there -- well, I can definitely say that real events will have an impact on the way she writes. But no spoilers!

    Since you paid nothing, I can refund you easily enough! Here you go. :p Anyway, if I could reproduce those inky pages, I definitely would.

    I have a lot of things I could say in response, I guess, but if I'm honest the main motivation for writing this was the image of the rain coming down and Hoenn disappearing. Preservation is important, but it's never been what I do; even if I write characters falling in love or whatever, I can never stop myself thinking would this really last? how can I stop the reader saying well, there's every chance this relationship won't make it? and so on. So in Time and Tide, I guess this is transferred to an interest in beautiful things (like Hoenn) being remembered rather than preserved.

    Yeah. Tethys places restrictions on thought in a great many ways, and part of Avice's struggle is to think her way out of the city as well as physically escape it.

    She's so cute, right? I love it.

    You've pretty much articulated any response I might have made right there! Much of this is exactly how I think about Avice, so I'm really pleased to see that that's the vibe other people are getting from her.

    I did say I had a weakness for these charged descriptive passages. I'm glad they're not totally self-indulgent.

    It's a pretty uplifting section, I think. At least, it is for me.

    Very perceptive of you! It'd be pointless to deny that you're right to expect another trans girl (from another place, with a very different idea of what her identity means) to turn up. I'm not sure when, exactly, but I'm thinking sometime in chapters fifteen or sixteen she ought to appear.

    You know, I can't see that phrase any more -- or even the actual physical part of a boat -- without thinking of you two. When I used it here, I was definitely intending you to notice when you read it. I mean, I don't actually think that modern submarines have conning towers any more -- and the Museum is certainly advanced enough that it wouldn't need one -- but, given how you two got the phrase stuck in my head, I couldn't help but add one anyway.

    Maybe. I was actually just drawing on real experience of English people trying to pronounce Sikh names here.

    No, you're right. It's just that Tethys is based on Team Magma, whose in-game artwork shows them as much lighter-skinned than members of Team Aqua. I wanted to reflect that somehow, so I had pale skin be more predominant in Tethys than elsewhere. Given how a bleak northern winter can wash out people's skin tone, though, it's not impossible that even the darker Tethys citizens might have lost a little colour.

    ... I think. Don't quote me on this; I'm totally not a scientist.

    A bit less, probably. But we'll see how things go.

    Pretty much what I was thinking as I was writing this segment.

    Feel free to let me know any time.

    Yeah, I really wanted to have someone chasing a huge, unusually-coloured sea creature, to keep up the string of literary allusions as a way of showing the reader what kind of stories inform Avice's writing. Then I thought of the red gyarados from GSC, and I couldn't resist.

    Yes, I had to keep it back. I wanted to introduce space properly, so that it'd make an impact on Avice and prepare for the Mossdeep Space Centre sequence later on. Of which more in time.

    Fairy-types seem to have some kind of connection with the moon to me, and there are definitely canonically pokémon in outer space, so I thought that I'd better modify the Moon landing appropriately. Fairy/rock seemed like a good type combination for something that lived in lunar crevasses; maybe when fairies are using moonblast they're actually calling on the power of these pokémon rather than the moon itself? Who knows? I sure don't, because I just thought of this right now, but it's a neat idea.

    Yes, it only works for Tethys citizens.

    More dads to arrive later. The Museum crew is a weird but lovely little family.

    You'll see when Zinnia arrives that the Draconids are misinterpreting the Heraclitus a bit. And actually, we'll see much later still that even Zinnia's interpretation is lacking. I don't usually have much time for Heraclitus -- he strikes me as elitist and rude, although very insightful -- but oh man, the poetry of his philosophy! It's enough to make me regret abandoning my study of ancient Greek.

    No, it's fine! You left such a long and lovely review, and I'm just happy you enjoyed reading what you have read so far. As for the novel, well; progress on its ending has been halted by the necessity of first doing a major overhaul of one character and the corresponding plot thread, but once I have a polished enough draft, you'll probably be one of the first people to see it. Exciting stuff.

    As ever: thank you for responding, especially in such a thoughtful way, and thank you everyone for reading! New chapters coming ... sometime. Maybe early in the new year? Here's hoping.
     
    Last edited: Dec 7, 2015
  17. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine Gone. Not coming back.

    FIFTEEN: THE SCRUFFY-FEATHERED WINGS OF INSPIRATION

    Pirate Code, Article 1: All are equal above the gods below. There can be no exceptions.

    I think there's something wrong with the Museum. Something keeps rattling around in the air vents, as if someone dropped something into one and it's being blown around by the pumps. When I got up this morning, the pipe over my bed was scratching and banging like a wild animal was trying to get out, and the same thing happened in the galley when I turned on the extractor fan to stop the steam misting up the windows.

    Anyway, I've told Edie, and she's doing whatever it is you do to machines when they're broken to figure out how it is that they got broken, so hopefully the problem's going to be solved soon enough. It's difficult to concentrate with the vent banging like that.

    So: yesterday, I finished up feeling homesick and sorry for myself. Which I suppose isn't the most attractive thing in the world, but, well, you know how it is. It's been a long two years, and coming home after all that is a strange and difficult thing. There are a lot of memories here that don't want to be tamed and put into a story. But we'll leave that for now: the last we heard of my younger self, she was having a heart-to-heart with Zinnia, which, while heart-warming, leaves her a long way away from Jonah's Respite – and that, I think, is where we need her to be right now. So, we'll take the journey at a bound, set her down in port, and see where we can go from there.

    I said that Jonah's Respite was pretty tumultuous at the time, but I guess that that's sort of an understatement: even outside the settlement, the ocean for miles around practically bristled when you touched it. Only a couple of weeks away from the Temple island we passed a flotilla of motley warships heading west, bristling with weaponry. The lead cruiser hailed us, flashing light-coded questions about our allegiances; with Archie's help, I put together a reply that told them we were taking salvage to be sold at Jonah's Respite. That and the remains of the blue paint on the Museum seemed to convince them that weren't affiliated with Tethys, and we were allowed to continue on our way.

    It wasn't the last time. At one point, it seemed like we were being stopped every other day; once, we even had to go twenty miles out of our way to avoid being dragged into some skirmish between destroyers from rival pirate factions.

    But! We got there, and that's the important thing. We started our descent a few miles out, and let the Respite appear slowly through the water, like the open jaws of a colossal wailord. It's not like Tethys, the Respite – or it wasn't, anyway; I have no idea what it might be like in your time – and most of it extends inwards rather than outwards, its corridors and tunnels threading the seabed for miles around. To the west rose the skeleton of the old city that they called Lilycove, part-collapsed now with the caves dug out underneath its foundations and long ago relieved of any remaining treasure by prospectors; to the east stretched open ocean, all the way out to the Hollow, invisible in the distance.

    And in the middle, Jonah's Respite, a crater in the seafloor the size of a township that sucked in ships by the minute and spewed others out just as fast.

    “Jeez,” said Zinnia, standing with me at the window. “That's, uh … that's different.” She shot a glance over her shoulder at Archie. “Didn't your front door used to be, y'know, a little smaller?”

    “They blew it open when the waters started rising,” he replied. “If they were gonna survive down there, they needed better submarine access. Then, when traffic picked up …”

    “More explosions. Right.”

    I watched and tried to calculate how large the hole was, exactly. It was difficult to tell. About the best that I could say was that there were four streams of vessels passing through it, two in and two out, and that made it at least as big as Founder's Atrium. Maybe even bigger.

    “How do you even make a hole that big?” I asked.

    Archie shrugged.

    “I'm gonna guess … steelix,” he said. “Or a hell of a lot of dynamite.”

    We sunk closer, and now I could see odd, sleek craft, almost the same colour as the water below us, moving around just above the seabed. I was about to ask what they were when I saw the cowling of a torpedo-tube, and realised. Of course. This was the second-biggest settlement in the ocean, after all, and it had some fairly nasty enemies. There was probably more weaponry on the seafloor here than there was silt.

    “What's our story again?” I asked, one eye on the guard vessels.

    “Salvage,” replied Maxie. “Show them the display and all should be well.”

    We'd spent a few hours of the day before piling up some of the Museum's less valuable exhibits around the entrance to the hold. The idea was that as long as no one came too deep inside, the Museum's cargo should look like that of any other salvage freighter; Archie had observed that it was probably a bad idea to let the dock officials know exactly how valuable its interior was. We couldn't blend in entirely, thanks to the obvious remnants of the drill on the bow, but we could at least try to look like a junk ship.

    “And all manner of thing shall be well,” murmured Zinnia. “Guess we'll see.”

    Close to, having joined one of the lanes of traffic, the entrance to Jonah's Respite was even more intimidating: from here, we could see down its steel-ribbed throat to the coloured lights flashing constant messages out at the passing ships, directing them out through dozens of tributary tunnels in a slow-motion dance of metal through water. I'd thought Tethys' docks were impressive, but they had nothing on this. How any two ships managed to navigate the mouth of the Respite without colliding I had no idea.

    “How do they manage this?” I asked, as we nosed gently down below the seafloor. “I thought the pirates were always fighting each other.”

    “The mouth is neutral ground,” Archie replied, eyes fixed on the light-signals ahead. “If something goes wrong here, trade bombs and all the factions suffer.” He grinned. “Besides, they don't just have guards up on the seabed.”

    “Where?”

    He nodded at an utterly nondescript patch of tunnel wall, which after about thirty seconds of staring on my part resolved itself into an octillery, its skin marbled with mottled rock-colours and even a band that looked like steel, where one of its tentacles had wound around a girder. Its tubular mouth, I noticed with some unease, tracked us as we moved.

    “Hundreds of 'em,” he said. “All over the mouth, and trained to fire in unison. The Teeth, they're called.”

    Maxie raised an eyebrow.

    “Charming. I suppose errant ships get … chewed up?”

    “They would. If there ever were any.”

    I thought I detected something like pride in his voice, and wondered how much of his old headquarters he still saw here. Maxie saw the ghost of his past back in Chimney, after all. What might this place do for Archie?

    Outside, ships rumbled and lights flashed; Archie worked the controls, told me what to lights to activate in response and brought the Museum down into the deeps. Now I was looking for them, I saw hooded octillery eyes almost wherever I looked, their cannon-jaws pointed uniformly inwards to the passing ships. Submarine vessels are good at taking pressure, but probably not from a thousand octillery all at once. If they'd fired, the Museum would have been crushed like an inflated paper bag.

    Sometimes, dear reader, you stop for a moment and realise the fragile base on which your whole world rests. All of us, all of this, was dependent on bubbles of steel. A little too much pressure, and then …
    Well, it never happened. Or it did, but not in Tethys – not for over a hundred years, by the time I left.

    Has it ever occurred to you that this is a ridiculous idea for a city, Avice?

    I think I only really came to understand what Maxie meant at that point, sailing into the mouth of the pirate capital. For a Tethys kid, being crushed to death by water is just something else you get warned about in school, like staying out after lights-out or reading forbidden stories. It's not real, not in the same way as you and your friends are, running through the corridors and getting in people's way.

    Dear reader, I don't mind telling you: the understanding came to me like a loss.




    That banging is really starting to get on my nerves. Edie just came in looking sad; she's spent all morning trying to figure out what's wrong and has found only that the ventilation system is apparently in perfect working order. I think she was really quite upset about that. She put her head on my foot and buzzed quietly until I took a break to play with her. It's only a little thing, but Edie's more highly-strung these days than she was before the glitches, and anyway she's never been totally stuck on a problem with the Museum before. This place is practically an extension of her; she knows it so well that if something goes wrong she usually has it fixed before it's even finished breaking.

    Maybe that's a slight exaggeration. Still, she's very good.

    Anyway, she's better now. It doesn't take much to cheer her up: a hug and a couple of rounds of that game where you throw metal things at her for her to grab with her magnetic field, and she's away again. I hope she gets it sorted soon. It's hard to concentrate when the ceiling sounds like it contains an angry linoone.

    Actually, that thought makes it even harder to concentrate. There are probably worse things than a large, vicious badger suddenly descending onto your head from a burst vent, but that's the only one that seems to be an immediate threat.

    You know, I think I might move my chair.

    OK. Where was I? Getting into Jonah's Respite. The mouth, as I was saying, was big and intimidating; when we turned off the main passage into a side-tunnel and through the lock-gates, the dock wasn't that much less of either. There must have been fifty or sixty ships in that cavern alone, all the Museum's size or larger, and around them on the catwalks and jetties sprouting from the walls were pirates.

    Apart from the ocean, I don't think I've ever seen so much blue in my life.

    “'Sflukes,” I muttered. “Um. This is going to be weird.”

    Archie smiled.

    “Yeah,” he agreed. “I reckon it probably is.”

    “I don't doubt it,” said Maxie – so quietly that perhaps he thought no one heard, but I did.

    Disembarking, the noise crashed into me like a blow from a cutlass: I'd been to the docks at Tethys, and to Cormac's Mourn, but in neither of those places did sound echo like it did in the Respite. The cave walls doubled everything, casting it back in scattered noises among the ships and moving bodies; you practically had to shout just to hear your own thoughts. When the dock official asked me my name ('YEAH, THAT'S RIGHT, DOL' MUSEUM') and what I was doing here ('SELLING SALVAGE'), it took considerably more lung than usual to get the answers out. Actually, now that I think of it, I'm not sure I managed to make myself heard at all. I may have just resorted to showing them the display of stuff we'd made at the entrance to the hold.

    Whatever I did, it sorted things out. They let me in, and the ghosts and I plunged into the heart of Jonah's Respite. Enemy territory – or so the voice in my head kept saying, anyway. I mean, I'm still Tethysi, in a way. Even though I'm not. That was as true then as it is now.

    I definitely still sound Tethysi. That much is certain, and I was worrying about it just then, ducking under hanging pipes and sidestepping out of the way of people who looked like they knew how to use their weapons much better than I knew how to use the pair of pistols hanging off my waist.

    “Do you think they can,” I began quietly, and Archie shook his head.

    “Forget it,” he said. “You're not the only one with that accent here. D'you really think that none of your sailors ever jump ship?”

    I start.

    “They say …” I stopped myself. They say a lot of things, I knew that, and I also knew that a substantial proportion of those things turn out to be really obvious lies as soon as you think about them for more than a second. But of course, thinking isn't exactly something the average Tethys citizen is encouraged to do.

    “Yeah.” Archie nodded. “You see, right?”

    There were four of us just then: him, Maxie, Zinnia and me. Edie's newfound confidence didn't quite seem to be up to the task of confronting the deafening chaos of the Respite, so she had stayed behind – which, as it turned out, was for the best. If she hadn't been around to seal the Museum later, things could have turned out very differently.

    You know, dear reader, I really thought I'd kicked the habit of getting ahead of myself. Apparently not. Back to the action at hand: we made our way through the tangle of catwalks and the crush of sailors, and found our way into one of the tunnels leading into the Respite proper, where things were marginally calmer. There was enough space between people to see the walls, for instance, although they didn't have anything like the decorative panelling of Tethys, just a fretwork of pipes and welding ridges. Nobody here seemed invested in hiding the guts of this city. After Tethys, I've always found that attractive.

    “OK,” I said, backing up against a column to get out of the way. “So where to from here?”

    “Not sure,” replied Archie. “We need to figure out what they've done with my mega stone. The King might be wearing it, or it might be in storage somewhere.”

    “Kings have courts, right?” asked Zinnia. “Any chance we can get in there?”

    “I doubt I can,” I replied. “But you could. Archie, you know the way, right?”

    “Depends if the King's in session or not.” He scratched his head. “I know they use my old office. Think I could get there. Tell you what, I'll have a nose about and see what I come up with.” He looked at Maxie. “Never did give you that tour, did I?”

    Maxie's face remained carefully blank.

    “No,” he said. “Our untimely deaths might have got in the way of that particular reconciliation.”

    Archie hesitated.

    “So,” he said, with a sidelong glance at Zinnia and me, who were currently trying to look like we weren't there. “Coming, then?”

    Maxie shrugged.

    “I don't see why not,” he said, perhaps more diffidently than was strictly necessary. “Shall we?”

    “Yeah. Sure.”

    It was fairly obvious, even back then before the whole story came out, that this was one of those things; I'd actually been expecting something like it for a while. As I mentioned earlier, this was his home turf. Places like that have ghosts, of more than one kind.

    Anyway, we agreed to meet at a pub that Archie knew, and parted: Zinnia and me to get a sense of where we were, and Archie and Maxie to locate the key stone. Not that we ever actually got to the pub, because




    I'm going to have to apologise again for the break. And possibly also for the potential inkstain soaked through the last couple of pages, if you're reading this in the original, or if your edition reproduces them. I've just discovered what was wrong with the ventilation system.

    A few pages ago, I said I couldn't think of much worse that might happen to me right now than an angry badger descending from the ceiling. But, all things considered, I think I can say from experience that there are worse stowaways to catch with your face. Anyway, the ink is mopped up, the scratches have stopped bleeding and everyone involved has calmed down now, so I suppose it's time to say exactly what happened.

    About fifteen minutes ago, Edie decided to check whether or not there was something loose being blown around in the pipes, and pumped a blast of air through them to see if she could dislodge anything. As it turned out, she did dislodge something, and that something hit the grille covering the air vent by my desk with such force that the grille collapsed and the something shot out into my face.

    I'm not entirely certain who was more surprised, but I think I was the one who lost more blood. The something in question has a full set of claws and a pretty sharp beak, and most of them seemed to break the skin where they hit me. Did you know, dear reader? Apparently murkrow are sort of reluctant to give up a reliable source of food when they find it. To the extent that they stow away aboard your ship when you leave their islands behind, then get stuck in the ventilation ducts and have to be blasted out with jets of cold air.

    Skipping lightly over the unpleasantness that followed, we now have a brand-new ship's mascot, which is at the moment doing its level best to eat everything we have in stock. I couldn't exactly throw it overboard and expect it to fly home, could I? Maxie seems to think I could have done, but Maxie isn't the captain, so what he thinks isn't entirely relevant. Besides, it's kind of nice, having this ambassador for the new world aboard – or I suppose it will be, once this black eye gets better. Maybe I can befriend it. It wouldn't be the unlikeliest relationship I've forged, after all.

    Imagine what she would say, if I came back with a tame murkrow.

    Anyway. I should also point out, Edie is very upset about the whole thing – she's been fluttering nervously all around me for the last few minutes, and I've only just managed to calm her down. I think she blames herself for having fired a murkrow into my face. And I guess that technically it is her fault, but she's not really to blame. No one could have anticipated that there'd be a large bird in the ducts. A loose screw – well, you might expect that. A live crow, not so much.

    It's a very hungry murkrow, actually. I hope the others are OK, back at the archipelago. I suppose I always knew that the transition between my world and the next would be uncomfortable, but I didn't think they'd just reappear like that, before the place was quite ready. And crows are meant to be resourceful, so if they're having trouble, I have to wonder about the pidove …

    Well, I'll just have to wait. Presumably you know how it all turns out for them, dear reader. I hope it turned out all right.

    Let's step back a year or so, into the nested corridors of Jonah's Respite, and follow Archie and Maxie for a moment. Imagine them, moving like stains through the grimy light of the tunnels: Archie's restless pace, Maxie's measured steps. The old Aqua base passing by all around them, a relict of their past exploded outwards into a city.

    “Older tunnels round here,” remarked Archie, as they reached a place where metal-riven walls gave way to time-smoothed black stone. “The original base pretty much just houses the leaders these days.”

    Maxie paused and looked around. Other than the materials, there was very little difference between this corridor and any other. It's hard to carve atria out of solid rock; major excavation work in the Respite was generally only undertaken if a new dock was needed. The rest of it was – and perhaps remains – a tangle of anonymous tunnels from which small chambers grew like coral polyps. I know I got lost in it, even with all the years I'd spent navigating the featureless maintenance tunnels back in Tethys. Maxie, whose formative years were all spent in the impossibly open spaces of the old world, probably wouldn't have fared even that well without Archie.

    “They've grown that much?” he asked. “I suppose they would have. Tethys was the same.”

    “Aye. And they did it without the fascism, too.”

    Maxie sighed.

    “I'm well aware of Tethys' shortcomings. You may be aware that they consigned me to the Museum for five hundred years as too radical a thinker.”

    “Ah. Yeah, I knew that.”

    There was a pause. Tattooed men and women with bottles and blue bandannas wove back and forth down the passage. One passed through Maxie, and he shivered.

    “Right,” he said. “The old Aqua base, then?”

    “Yeah,” said Archie. “This way.”

    He stepped through the wall, and Maxie followed into a dimly-lit hall remarkable mostly for its emptiness; here, the lights glowed blue and the only inhabitants were two pirates evidently acting as guards, standing with cutlass and pistols on either side of a pulsing disc of light set into the floor.

    “The warp panels still work?” asked Maxie, surprised.

    “Oh, aye,” confirmed Archie. “Made to last, that stuff. Self-sustaining, I think, from the background psychic energy of the inhabitants.” He waved a hand dismissively. “Or something like that. The boffins said they'd work for as long as there were people around, anyway.”

    “I did wonder why you put so much faith in them. I always thought that if there was, for instance, a fire, and the power went out, you wouldn't want to be trapped in a sealed room deep underground.”

    Archie hesitated.

    “Uh. Well. That never happened. And it can't happen.” Another pause. “I think.”

    Maxie smiled, shark-like.

    “Certainly. Background psychic energy, was it?”

    “Oh, shut up.” Archie strode off down the hall, the air around him charged as in the heart of a thundercloud. “We're not taking the bloody warp panels, a'right? We're just gonna go through the walls.”

    “Are we background psychic energy, do you think?” asked Maxie. “Might they consume us, if we get too―”

    “I swear to God, I'm gonna punch you again if you don't shut up in the next five seconds.”

    They walked on for a little while in silence, through the walls of a series of silent entryways, and only when they emerged into what looked like a cafeteria did Archie notice that Maxie was grinning.

    “What's so funny?” he growled.

    Maxie raised his eyebrows.

    “Nothing,” he said. “Mere nostalgia. Nothing more.”

    “Huh,” snorted Archie, and rolled his eyes.

    But, perhaps, not quite as viciously as he might have done.

    There's something I read once, dear reader: you can never go home. It's related to what Maxie says about museums, I think, and how an item in one can never be returned, not really, not to the same place and as the same object as it was before. And there's a lot of truth in it, I'm sure. Archie and Maxie are not the same people as they once were, and their homes are not the same places. But perhaps home isn't always a place, and perhaps that kind of home is the kind that you can return to.

    Perhaps they'll make it.

    Perhaps I will, too.




    There's a limit to what I need to say about Archie and Maxie, I guess. Their stories are important – without them, as with so many other stories, the story of how we brought about the Great Sunrise is just incoherent – but at that point in time, while they were exploring the older parts of the Aqua base in search of key stones, some rather more significant developments were taking place elsewhere. Not more significant because I was involved, exactly, but rather because they looked for a while like they were going to bring our attempts to get any more key stones at all to a premature and unsatisfactory conclusion.

    All right, so now I'm just tantalising you pointlessly. I won't keep you in suspense any longer: let's get down to business. While Archie and Maxie were away, Zinnia and I were trying to make sense of the Respite. The tunnels looped and curved without any apparent sense to them, following (I guessed) whatever parts of the bedrock had proved easiest to cut through; there were signs everywhere, displaying various degrees of mastery of spelling, but most of them seemed to assume you already knew what the thing they were pointing you towards was. Nothing was laid out in districts, like it was in Tethys – there wasn't even the rough zoning of Cormac's Mourn or the Sunken Gardens; here, there were just people, pushing down the corridors and arcaded tunnels in an endless crushing flow, filling the air above their heads with tobacco smoke and turning the ceiling lights into the dimly fluorescent bulbs of deep-sea fish.

    “Jeez,” muttered Zinnia, as we turned another corner and found ourselves staring down another identical passage. “How can anyone live like this?”

    I shrugged.

    “Not sure. Do you think there are any actual rooms in this place, or just tunnels?”

    “No idea.” She shuddered. “Real claustrophobic, though, and that's coming from someone who literally lives under a rock.”

    “Literally …?”

    “Right. Idioms change, don't they?” She sighed. “Come on. Let's try and find that place Archie said. I don't think we're going to get much exploration done on our own.”

    Deeper into the city, things got marginally clearer – or at least, the corridors were broader, and featured arcades set into their sides, behind which were what I assumed was a variety of businesses, although to be honest most of them looked kind of like dive bars. There were also more people watching the streets, metal skull-and-crossbones pinned to their jackets in an unpleasant reminder of the blank badges of CCC agents. Other people looked like they had business to attend to – carts of goods to trade, papers to be delivered, beer to be drunk; like, in other words, they were going somewhere. These people did not. These people, and the variety of pokémon with them, looked like they were supposed to be exactly where they were, unless they saw anything that struck them as suspicious.

    I know I wasn't as suspicious in Jonah's Respite as I was back home. You can see what I am whenever you look at me: in a place like Tethys, that's enough to make the sergeants uneasy. In the Respite, where no two people are alike and at least one of them is probably a couple of elgyem standing on each other's shoulders in a trenchcoat, I don't stand out so much in that way. But I'm used to hostile eyes, to hiding beneath a hood for fear of what might come next, and so whenever I see people like Tethys sergeants I can't help but feel a nervous flutter of nausea in my stomach.

    “Did he say it was in this corridor?”

    “It's meant to be somewhere around here,” I said. “In the Long Arcade, right?”

    “There are quite a few of these that look long―”

    “But this one's called the Long Arcade. I think.” I pointed to a sign. “Can you read that any better than me?”

    “Just a sec.” Gripping a pipe above her head, Zinnia hauled herself up the wall like a monkey and peered through the fog. “Uh huh,” she called down at me. “Long Arcade. Or Long Arkaid, rather, k-a-i-d, but I guess that's the same thing.”

    “Right. So it should be somewhere along here, then.”

    She kicked away from the wall and dropped through a passing messenger-boy into a graceful landing in front of me; I watched with admiration, and she almost but didn't quite manage to hide a gratified smile.

    “Must be,” she agreed. “Let's keep looking.”

    And we did, for a while, but Jonah's Respite is a hard place to find anything in, so eventually I had to swallow my nerves and ask one of the obvious sergeant-analogues where I could find it. This took a while, as you can imagine – I think I'd find most of them a bit intimidating even now, and I've seen Tooth's real shape – but after a little bit of wandering up and down the tunnel, Zinnia hovering with increasing discomfort at my shoulder, I found one who wasn't too scary.

    Actually, she was a lot more than that. She was – now, what would be the best way to put this? I have to tread carefully here. I know better than most that there's more than one way of thinking about things like this, and I don't want, with a thoughtless word, to erase her own view of herself and write my own over the top of it. I've done all I can so far to show you that this story belongs to everyone else as much as it does to me; I'd hate to betray that mission now.

    So.

    Let's see.

    She was …

    You know, I think I'll just narrate what happened, as it happened. My memory of that meeting, as you might expect given who I was meeting, is pretty vivid. I think I can rely on it for this.

    Halfway down the arcade, two guards seemed to be exchanging posts, a tall broad one leaving as a shorter, slighter one took their place. It was the movement that attracted my attention first, but then I saw the shorter, slighter guard, and stopped dead.

    About half a second later, she saw me, and also paused.

    It was the first time I had ever seen another woman like me in my entire life.

    This was not the case for her, as I later found out. Outside of Tethys, there's nothing to stop minorities congregating and drawing comfort from each other's presence. She had a fairly wide circle of friends just like her in Jonah's Respite alone, and more who spent most of their time out at sea. But none of those friends ever had access to a synthesis machine, of course. So in that sense at least, this was the first time she had ever seen anyone like me.

    We looked at each other for a long moment, eyes locked across the corridor. Pirates surged past. Lights flickered. In fact, the world could probably have ended all over again, and I'm not sure we would have noticed. It was one of those moments, dear reader – like when I looked up and saw the falling arc of the parabola of milk; like when Moll and I stood side by side and saw me in the mirror; like when I ran away from Maxie's plan in the Red Chapel – a moment that holds within it a petty eternity.

    Then someone walked into me, which broke the spell pretty neatly, and after disentangling myself and apologising I went up to the pirate and tried to smile.

    “Hail,” I said. “Um, I'm looking for a place called the Three Anchors?”

    The pirate blinked.

    “You're not,” she told me, confusingly. “You're really not.”

    “What? I am―”

    “No,” she insisted, casting uneasy looks up and down the crowded passage. “I'm like two hundred per cent sure you're not, because if someone with a suspiciously Tethysi accent came up to me and asked the way to a pub where Garrick the Coil's boys hang out, I'd kind of be forced to arrest them. Seeing as Garrick's still angling for the throne, and I'm meant to be guarding it.”

    I froze.

    “Ah.”

    I don't pretend to be an expert in the politics of Jonah's Respite, but I'm certain that Tethys citizens making contact with powers working against the monarch is the sort of thing that sets alarm bells ringing in the heads of any city guard. Especially when that monarch is about to lead the settlement into what will probably be an expensive and potentially unpopular war.

    “So you see,” said the pirate, “you're not looking for the Three Anchors, are you?”

    “No,” I agreed. “Definitely not.”

    She smiled. It was, I have to admit, a very pretty smile. Or no – that's the wrong word. It was an energetic smile, a fierce one. Like Moll's, actually, although I didn't become consciously aware of the similarity for some time.

    “Awesome,” she said. “I'm glad we understand each other.” She hesitated for a moment. “Uh – so, I know I misheard that you were looking for the Three Anchors, but like were you by any chance actually looking for Clement's Coffeehouse? Where you were meeting someone in, say, twenty minutes?”

    “What? No, I― oh. Um. Sure, I guess?”

    “Awesome,” she said again, and gave me directions. “Nice to meet you,” she said. “Glad we got that misunderstanding sorted out. So like take care now!”

    “Uh – bye?”

    She walked off briskly, leaving me standing there, staring after her. I'd never been quite so quickly and thoroughly outwitted.

    “Zinnia,” I said.

    “Yeah, Ava?”

    “Did that just happen?”

    She sucked her teeth in faux-meditation.

    “After much consideration,” she said, “yeah, I think it did.” She shook her head. “Jeez. That girl is good.”

    “Good? At what?”

    “Picking up girls,” she said slyly. “C'mon. Archie can wait a minute. Especially since he can't even name a safe meeting spot.”

    “Picking up―? What are you talking about?”

    She grinned her sharp, ironic grin.

    “I think it's this way,” she said. “Brassbound Passage, right?”

    “Hey,” I called, as she walked off. “Zinnia, what are you talking about?”

    I didn't get an answer, but then, I guess I didn't need one. Even then, I suppose, I wasn't that naïve.




    The murkrow's back. I think it was stuck for a long time, considering how hungry it was. I'm informed that we might actually have to make a detour to take on supplies if we're going to keep it. In fact, Maxie sounded hopeful when he said that: if we're going to keep it …?

    We are, of course. We'll just have to stop at Nueville, I suppose. It's a bit out of our way, but I don't mind; it's going to be hard, going home, and if I'm entirely honest with you I'm not sure I'm ready for it just yet.

    Anyway, the murkrow. I went down and visited it in the galley, to see how it was getting on – and the first thing it did was jump off the pile of fungal crackers it was eating and fly over to my hand. I'll admit that was alarming – the last time I had a murkrow fly at me I ended up falling out of my chair – but once it landed on my wrist and not in my eye, it was actually quite nice. I think it remembers me! The pokédex says murkrow are quite intelligent, and I fed enough of them that I'm sure the sight of an ungainly biped in blue is probably associated with good things in their heads. This one seems to like me, anyway, to the extent that I had to take it back to the cabin with me when I decided to start writing again. Currently, it's exploring the room around me, opening everything that can be opened. Did you know birds could do that? I didn't. They really are intelligent, aren't they?

    Oh, 'sflukes, it's got into the jewellery box and put one of my bracelets on its head. That is so cute!

    … right. So, now I've got that out of my system, let's continue. Assuming I can concentrate with that murkrow being so drowned adorable all over the place.

    Back in time: Clement's Coffeehouse was a broad, low-ceilinged room that began with a series of glassed-in arches onto the corridor and ended with a counter at the back, where for a few kites a man in a black apron sold me a cup of coffee so far superior to anything I'd ever had in Tethys that I almost didn't recognise it as actually being coffee.

    “This is really weird,” I muttered, sitting by the window and taking a sip. “It doesn't taste of burning at all.”

    Zinnia stared.

    “You mean it doesn't taste burnt?”

    “No,” I said, “I mean burning. You know. How coffee tastes?”

    She sighed.

    “Secret police and bad coffee,” she said. “It's a miracle anyone survives in Tethys, huh?”

    “Wait. So coffee isn't meant to taste like that?”

    “Oh, god. Listen, next time you make coffee, you come get me. I'm not sure what you're doing to those poor beans, but I'm pretty sure I can show you something better―”

    Something dark and shapeless with ragged edges oozed through the air towards our table; at its head, malevolent yellow eyes stared out from beneath what might on a human have been a broad-brimmed hat. It was the sort of thing that makes someone stop what they're saying halfway through a sentence. And also, in Zinnia's case, jump up to her feet like she was going to do something about it, although what she thought she could do to an aggressive mismagius is open to debate.

    “Whoa, Lillian, take it easy,” said a familiar voice, and the mismagius drew back, trailing the smoky shreds of her body across the table. A dark brown hand pushed through the shadow-stuff, and the mismagius floated upwards to let the pirate girl past. “So, hail again,” she said, shrugging the sword off her shoulders and slinging it carelessly into the corner. “Clem, my man! Coffee, please.”

    “Comin' up, Lady B,” replied the man behind the counter, and the girl returned her attention to me, drumming her fingers on the table.

    “Cool,” she said. “Sooo. Since I've been polite enough not to arrest you, maybe you can pay for my coffee?”

    “Huh?” I almost glanced at Zinnia for direction, but held it back; I needed to concentrate. Depending on how this interview went, I might end up arrested. It seemed like the sort of situation in which I ought to pay attention.

    Also, she was still grinning that grin, and it was sort of distracting.

    “Oh,” I said, brain catching up with my mouth. “Sure. I can do that.”

    “Awesome. Because I am actually kinda broke.” She held out a hand. “Berenice Enid dol' City's Regret.”

    I shook it.

    “Avice Amrit dol' … well, it's kind of complicated.”

    Her eyebrows twitched up her forehead.

    “Good answer,” she said. “'Cause I don't really want to arrest you. You seem … nice.”

    I remember the emphasis on that nice very clearly. It was a very particular kind of emphasis.

    “I mean, I will if I have to,” she went on. “But I wanna be persuaded otherwise.”

    Zinnia smirked, and I took advantage of Berenice being distracted by Clement coming over with her coffee to glare at her with the full force of wounded dignity.

    “That's an s. an' three c., then,” Clement said. “An' it ain't goin' on your tab this time. Not till you pay off the rest of it.”

    Berenice looked aghast.

    “Like I would do that to you, Clem,” she replied. “No, my friend Avice here is treating me. En't that right?”

    I was readier this time – Berenice fired sentences at you pretty fast, but I was beginning to get the hang of catching them – and smiled and nodded on cue.

    “That's right,” I agreed. “Here you are.”

    Clement looked at me for a moment, then over at Berenice, and then at me again.

    “Go easy on her, B,” he said, taking my kites. “She looks like she's new.”

    “And what is that supposed to mean?” she called after his retreating back. Clement didn't answer, and she turned to me with a sigh. “Anyway,” she said. “Where was I? Right. I'm Berenice, and of course you met Lillian.” The mismagius swirled around her head for a moment and settled by her shoulder, hanging from midair like a spider on an invisible web. “We're guards,” she explained. “As I'm sure you noticed. So when we stumble across a lost-looking Tethysi girl on her way to dangerous places, we feel it's our duty to conduct an interrogation. Right, Lil?”

    The mismagius nodded, which was rather unnerving. I hadn't known they were that smart before. Maybe it has something to do with the hat; murkrow have a crest like a hat too, and they're pretty bright.

    Then again, maybe not.

    “OK,” I said nervously. “Can I ask a question first?”

    Berenice considered.

    “It's kind of irregular,” she admitted. “I think I'm meant to be asking the questions. But, well, whatever. Go for it.”

    “Are you sure this is an interrogation? Because I've been interrogated before, and it's not usually this … comfortable.”

    She laughed, and I felt a pang of something that was almost but not quite homesickness.

    “That's 'cause you haven't been arrested yet,” she said. “I think it's safe to say if we were down at the station, things would be a little more uncomfortable.” She took a sip of her coffee and rested her chin in her cupped palm. “So,” she said. “Talk to me, Avice Amrit dol' It's Complicated. What's a girl like you doing in a place like this?”

    I felt a little flutter of anxiety in my chest. That was a question with a lot of layers, and Berenice, it was clear, meant every one of them. A place like this: like Jonah's Respite, like Clement's Coffeehouse. A girl like me: like a Tethys citizen, like a newcomer to the wider world, like a woman who was once mistaken for a boy.

    I turned my head ever so slightly towards Zinnia, who shrugged.

    “Up to you,” she said. “She seems trustworthy, I guess. Just a kid.” She paused. “Maybe don't tell her about stealing from her King, though.”

    “So?” asked Berenice. “What's the story?”

    I took a deep breath.

    “Well,” I said. “That kind of depends which story you're asking about.”

    She grinned Moll's grin.

    “I think you know what I need to hear,” she answered. “In my official capacity, anyway. And as for the unofficial, well. I'm pretty sure you can guess.”

    What else could I do? I've been doing it every day since I first sat down at this desk. I took a sip of my coffee, marshalled my thoughts, and began to tell her a story.
     
  18. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine Gone. Not coming back.

    As you can imagine, dear reader, I told her a lot – the story of my escape from Tethys, and the connected story of my girlhood – and it took a while to tell. Long enough for the cups of coffee to run dry and me to get a proper idea of what she looked like, without having to focus all my attention on dealing with her verbal dexterity. Because, of course, what she looked like fascinated me – just as what I looked like fascinated her. She was tall, bony, brawny, shapeless, deep-voiced and flat-chested; she looked as I might have looked, had I been a real pirate girl and not Tethysi. When I looked at her, I saw what she lacked and I had, but at the same time I saw her, just her, as a complete person already.

    At the time, I think all of this probably just confused me. But I came to understand, as now, that it's just like as Moll said in the story about Amazons. There is more than one way to do this. Perhaps in a city where everything has to be controlled, where conformity is king, someone like me could never be happy without her pills. Tethys gets into your head like that. But in Jonah's Respite, where if you found any two people who looked alike one was probably disguising themself as the other, she might be happy enough as she is.

    Certainly Berenice was. Although she was also not, I suppose. Jonah's Respite is an easier place to be like us than Tethys, but I don't doubt that she got her fair share of trouble from its inhabitants. I saw it in her eyes on more than one occasion, though not during that first conversation.

    And it was a conversation, not an interrogation. Her responses told me nearly as much about her as I revealed about myself – more than I can put down here, although ideally I would give her a chapter to herself. She'd been born aboard the vessel City's Regret, one of the ships that rammed Underridge Atrium way back in the Battle for Tethys, or rather she assumed she had. The Regret had been sunk not long afterwards in an ill-advised battle with vengeful Tethys corvettes, somewhere east of Nueville. The woman who had escaped with her claimed for years that she was her mother, but in the end had admitted that she was simply the one who rescued her, and that she had no idea who Berenice's real parents were. I don't know much more about her early life, but I think she spent her childhood running around the Respite in the same way that Moll ran the docks, and that she decided she didn't particularly enjoy being a boy fairly early on (and let me add, this was the first time I realised that knowing you would be happier as something else was as valid a reason to change yourself as hating the thing that you already were). Apparently in Jonah's Respite you can just announce the change, and if you do it with enough force and conviction most people are likely to at the very least be polite about it.

    Which is of course more than you can say about Tethys, and when I told her about that, I could see the anger and the sympathy in her eyes. We didn't know each other. How could we have? We'd met barely half an hour ago. But we knew what it was like to not be quite real, and that's powerful. I wrote a few days ago that one person feels afraid and isolated, but two people discover a strength in their shared experience; I was writing with that day in mind. When Berenice told me how she lived now, on a knife-edge of petty theft, odd jobs and quick wits that kept her just above the chaos of the Respite's underbelly, I felt the edges of the pain underneath her jokes, the cynicism under the calculated naïveté. We understood one another. I'd never had that before. Even with Moll, I'd had to explain these things, taking care and effort. But Berenice already knew. And it made me want to know everything about her.

    Anyway, I seem to be getting distracted. She was just as fascinated by me, and for much the same reasons: my brand of self-creation was as alien to her as hers was to me. I've never seen anyone listen quite so attentively as she did when I started talking about the synthesis machines, and the pills they produced for me – although by the look on her face when I told her about leaving the city (minus the ghosts, of course; I didn't want to strain her credulity too much, and anyway I'm always a little uncomfortable telling people about them), she was only slightly less interested in that.

    “Whoa,” she said, the last third of her coffee growing cold and forgotten at the bottom of the cup. “So like you're an actual hero. Like in a story.”

    “What?” I hadn't been expecting that. “Uh – no, I'm not really―”

    “You so are! Right, Lil?” The mismagius billowed slightly and nodded again. Her main occupation so far seemed to be agreeing with Berenice, though I was willing to bet that when her mistress was actually doing her job as a guard, she brought a few more deadly skills into play. “Like you steal ancient treasures and find secrets in old books and summon sleeping gods. Or, well, nearly summon 'em. Whatever. And then what about this raising the land thing, huh? C'mon, Avice, you are totally a hero.”

    I sighed.

    “Well, if you insist …”

    “I do.” Berenice paused. “Unless of course you're kidding. But like, I don't think you are.” Lillian tilted her head at her questioningly, but she shook her head. “I said I don't think she is,” she repeated. “Sorry, Avice. She gets jealous.”

    Lillian's surface boiled and her little eyes narrowed, but she held her peace – for which I was glad; everyone knows that the voice of a mismagius is usually bad luck. Those incantations that they chant are little more than elaborate curses.

    “That's, um, OK,” I said. “It is a bizarre story.”

    “Have a little self-confidence, Ava,” Zinnia urged me. “I'm pretty sure she believes you.”

    “But I bet it gets bizarrer,” Berenice said, with equal parts enthusiasm and bad grammar. “So you escape from Tethys in a stolen ship with an electric bird and a quest to save the world, yeah – and then you end up here, looking lost. There's a story there, right?”

    There was, and I did end up telling it to her, although it got tricky in places, because I had to keep leaving out the ghosts. It did strike me as strange that Lillian had so little to say about that; I would have imagined that ghost-types could see the ghosts, but apparently not. I wonder sometimes if it takes a historian, someone who tries to pin the spectre of the past to paper, to see a ghost – and, if that's the case, whether I'm really the only one around. Maybe I'll never get an answer now, considering.

    But perhaps this isn't the time to speculate about that. (And anyway, you know how I feel about speculation. I guess I have a little bit of Tethys in me still.) The point is, I told her about visiting the ziz-marches – which, admittedly, really is impressive, so her amazement was justified there at least – and about searching for key stones. In that version of the story, I was guided by old books instead of ghosts, and found Zinnia's body through long exploration rather than following her disembodied mind. All the while, Berenice listened, spellbound (which was flattering), and Lillian glared, suspicious (which was not) – and, elsewhere in the city, Archie and Maxie delved deeper and deeper into the maze of doorless rooms.

    “This used to be grunt accommodation,” remarked Archie, as they passed through another wall. “Though … uh.”

    He stopped, and Maxie stopped with him.

    The stopping went on for a little longer than was comfortable.

    “Archie?”

    “Yeah.” He was staring across the room, eyes wide. “I … Maxie, what do you see here?”

    Maxie looked. He saw a long, wide chamber filled with stacked crates, organised into blocks with aisles of clear floor between.

    He cleared his throat.

    “Ah. You … see what was, don't you.”

    It wasn't really a question. Archie's eyes roved over the room, following something only he could see.

    “It's them,” he murmured. “Maxie. Maxie, I see … them.”

    Maxie laid two tentative fingers on his arm.

    “They're gone, Archie. It's a memory.”

    “A memory.” Archie blinked sharply, rubbed his eyes. “Aye. A memory.” Further down the hall, two pirates paused for a moment's conversation; he focused his eyes on them, and took a deep breath. “Never came this far into the place before,” he remarked, his voice only slightly strained. “Really is a time for sinners, ain't it?”

    Maxie said nothing, but a shadow passed through the light of his eyes.

    “Anyway,” said Archie, clapping his hands together decisively. “Since they knocked the partitions down, they've made this a store room. From what I've heard, it's where they keep the old stuff – their version of that museum you robbed in Tethys, like. Store of treasures.”

    “Perhaps more like the Museum of the Forgotten,” murmured Maxie. “Except evidently people are allowed in here.” Then, louder: “So I take it we will find your pendant here, if not with the King?”

    “Aye, reckon so.” Archie cleared his throat. “Let's move, then. They hold the court in what was our dock, I think. Which is down here …”

    He stepped forwards to open a nonexistent door, but caught himself halfway through the movement, hand outstretched to grasp an invisible handle.

    “Ah.” His arm dropped to his side. “Right.”

    When I write this, dear reader, I think of my trip to the Red Chapel, and the way Maxie's eyes kept flicking left and right, drawn to the shadows cast by his demons. I remember him at that rusted door, when his steps began to synchronise with his movement, and he faded from red light to near-flesh. It wasn't quite the same for Archie, I know – not then, anyway. Maxie's headquarters was also the place where he had almost committed his great crime against the world; Archie's didn't have the same ghosts. Much later, he would come with me to a place that did hold that kind of power over him, and, as with Maxie, he wouldn't depart unchanged. But still, even then, it must have hurt. This was where his team lived, the people who followed him into the end of the world: what ghosts must that have thrown at him?

    And yet he still went. For me – for us, and what we were trying to do. That's real bravery for you. I'm going to try never to forget that.

    “Are – are you all right?” asked Maxie diffidently.

    “Yeah,” replied Archie, without meeting his eye. “This way.”

    He went, and Maxie followed. There wasn't an awful lot more conversation to be had.

    Some of the walls down there, I've heard, are pretty thick. At points, the two of them went several metres in the absolute darkness that comes with being embedded in a solid object; I've always wondered how they managed to navigate. It's not like there was much light to see by. Archie probably knew where he was going, but how did Maxie follow? Do you think they held hands?

    I might come back and scribble that last sentence out before I show today's work to them, actually. Just in case.




    I've just been to get more coffee. I had to bring the murkrow with me; I don't think it wants to be left alone. Such a sweet little thing! It tried to eat a coffee bean, but then it nearly choked. That's actually less than sweet, I realise, but the point still stands.

    I should think of a name for it, I guess, but it's hard. I've never named anything before – not even this; I'm going to come back and write a title when I'm done, and I've been thinking of maybe putting headings on the chapters too, but it's difficult to know what to call any of it until I finish the whole thing and can see it all in one go. By the time you read this, I suppose, all that will be sorted out. As will a great many other things. This book in itself is an act of sorting out: a long, rambling unpacking of everything that's happened, my attempt to shuffle through the cards I've accumulated over the course of my life and lay them out in some kind of order like a fortune-teller, finding stories in the patterns.

    Actually, that's not a bad metaphor. I'm going to make a note of that and use it for a poem sometime. For now, though, let's lay out one set of cards and see what we've got: Archie and Maxie, heading into the court of the corsair-king of all the pirates; Berenice and I, each with our attendant spirits, talking animatedly about gods and girlhood. Edie too, hovering anxiously in the Museum, although her part in this is yet to come.

    Cards, characters, story – everything hovers now between court and coffeehouse, between the expanse of black water before the throne and the pool of steam and cigarette smoke above the heads of the diners; between wooden chairs and the throne of reclaimed iron; between two men staring at the jewel hanging from the neck of another, and two women staring at each other after the revelation that one of them is going to steal it.

    Berenice stared at me.

    Lillian glowered.

    “Are you sure that was a good idea?” asked Zinnia. “She is a guard, after all.”

    I didn't get ready. I should have done, but I didn't. There was a reason I'd ignored her advice and told Berenice why I was here.

    The silence grew.

    “So that's it,” said Berenice. Her voice sounded distant, as if her mind was there in the court with Archie and Maxie, looking at the stone. “That's what a girl like you is doing in a place like this, huh.”

    More silence. Lillian drifted almost imperceptibly closer, the edges of her cloak-like body lapping the table.

    I started getting ready to run.

    “This is kinda tricky,” said Berenice. “I mean, you're cool and all, Avice, and this quest of yours sounds awesome, but. This is my first job in a while, and it'd be really great if I did well at it. I could use the kites. Especially if like I catch someone stealing from the King and he notices, if you catch my drift.”

    “Uh, right,” I muttered, furiously regretting not having listened to Zinnia and trying to figure out how to get out of the door without catching a shadow ball in the small of the back. “So listen, I―”

    “But here's the thing,” she went on. “You told me this. Like you must have known. You're clearly smart as a kadabra. But you still told me. And you listened, too. You get this, don't you?” She waved a hand, indicating herself, the room she sat in, her whole life. “Never met someone like you before,” she told me. “Kind of only leaves me with one option, really.”

    She leaned forwards on her elbows – and grinned.

    “Avice,” she said, “we gotta get you into that throne room.”




    Did you even doubt her, dear readers? As it happens, Berenice had a plan, and ulterior motives. She was – still is, I hope – the kind of person who only needs a couple of seconds to decide she likes you, and only a couple more to come up with a scheme to use your plans to her advantage. But that's going to have to wait until tomorrow. There is a little time left today, but I think I want to get the murkrow out of that cupboard before it hurts itself and have a go at that poem. It's not every day that you stumble across a metaphor as tempting as this.

    See you tomorrow, dear reader! I have a feeling that it's going to be a good one.


    Note: And we're off again! Thanks for bearing with me during this hiatus. I'm probably going to be a bit slower to update than promised, but this is the official end of the break. Time and Tide is now ongoing once more!
     
  19. Sike Saner

    Sike Saner Peace to the Mountain

    Or steelix with dynamite in their mouths, so that when they bark they shoot out explosions.
    I reiterate: **** the deep ocean. I don't think anyone could even pay me to go there.

    These two. I love em.

    Of course you realize now someone has GOT to draw a couple of elgyem standing on each other's shoulders in a trenchcoat.

    curiosity intensifies

    IT IS

    ...Somewhat related, I wonder if Edie is, on any level, jealous of this bird.

    Aw come on, Lillian. Someone might've just washed that.

    This is probably the best sentence I'll read all week. Love it.

    Oh lord do I know that song. I've been planing my current project for years. I still haven't settled on a title.

    And I didn't need much time to decide I like her. :D Between her, Lillian, and that murkrow, this chapter's introduced some nifty characters.
     
  20. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine Gone. Not coming back.

    Hey, so! Apologies for the unwonted absence. I did one update and then veered wildly off schedule again, it seems; unfortunately, I have been having some mental health problems, so work on Time and Tide has kind of come to a standstill. But, to make a long story short, I'm soon enough going to find myself with an unusual amount of time on my hands, so hopefully I can get back to writing this thing in the near(ish) future.

    So that's a thing. Onwards to replies!

    That's an option! Although steelix can learn both rock smash and explosion via HM/TM, so perhaps we could save on the dynamite with a few well-chosen purchases at a department store.


    It's certainly not a place for the anxious, although it is the best place on Earth for naturally-occurring creepy-cuteness. 'Horrifying' and 'whimsical' aren't often adjectives that apply to the same animal, and yet, time and again, deep-sea creatures happily oblige.

    They are pretty fun to write about, it's true. Although they are in danger of becoming a bit too isolated as a pair; I think in the next chapter I'll have to mix up the character groupings a bit. We've had plenty of Archie + Maxie and Zinnia + Avice. Time for something else.

    I hope they do. I really love elgyem and beheeyem. They're just cute little aliens inexpertly disguised as humans in trenchcoats and hats. How can anyone not be in love with that as a concept for a pokémon? I've wanted to write something that focuses on them since I first saw a beheeyem in Black, but have never quite got around to it.

    *theatrical wink that hints at future secrets while refusing to actually give anything away*

    We'll see! There's more bird-related shenanigans on the way; this second major segment of the story is going to see the introduction of a whole bevy of beasts. As I already hinted at with the swallow, dove and raven episode, when you have a flood, what you really need is an ark.

    I doubt it. This is Jonah's Respite, after all, a haunt of rogues, runagates and rapscallions. Stains are what passes for décor here.

    I'm always pleased when one of my sentences takes the top spot in someone's weekly sentence rankings! I'm glad you liked it.

    Titles are hard. Also hard: finding a suitable quotation for every chapter because in your innocence and naïveté you decided to preface every single one with an apt line from Avice's reading list, oh my god why did I do that, the phrase 'a rod for your own back' springs to mind

    I am glad you liked them, and the chapter! Finding a way to bring Berenice in was kind of tricky; I thought it might be a bit too much of a coincidence, really, but in the end I figured it was more important to have Avice meet someone with a different conception of The Trans Experience(TM) than to be strictly realistic. I mean, we're reading her interpretation of her world, after all, and in her eyes the world has a kind of mythological logic to it so that of course your epic journey across the sea has helpful coincidences. And anyway, the ending I have planned will (I hope) make plain the logic behind the wild improbability of so much of the plot. Coincidence is a funny old thing. Sometimes, it isn't actually coincidence at all.

    As ever, thanks for reading and responding, and further thanks to everyone else who decided to keep reading despite that long hiatus! I'm afraid I can't say with any certainty exactly when the next chapter will be up, given the whole brain thing, but I can promise you that it will be up, in the end. Come what may, I'm going to finish this thing.
     
    Last edited: Jan 30, 2016

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