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Time and Tide

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

  1. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine Gone. Not coming back.

    A week later, I left.

    They'd found her easily enough, but they had to watch her for a few days to get a sense of her movements, so that they could exchange me somewhere safe. No one wanted to send me into the middle of a battlefield, after all. Well, all right, maybe a few of the more aggressively xenophobic ones did. Most didn't.

    The plan was straightforward: locate Ulixa's ship and teleport me in. There were a few complications with directing me at a moving target like that, but nothing that the kadabra couldn't handle. Working together as the Consensus, they have the brainpower to solve pretty much anything. It's just a question of how much time they need to sink into the project to come up with an answer.

    You've probably guessed from the fact that I said the plan was straightforward that it didn't go according to plan, and you'd be right, it didn't. At the time, though, everything seemed fine. I remember I was nervous, of course – I was going to be reduced to energy, moved halfway across the ocean, and then reconstituted; this is the sort of thing that makes you nervous – but I don't think I really expected anything to go wrong. Certainly not in the way that it did, anyway.

    Early that morning, or whatever the equivalent of morning was in the burrows, where the light levels were constant and the kadabra slept according to no schedule I could detect, I sat up in my room and went over everything one more time.

    “She's in the Reefs,” I said, for what felt like the thousandth time. “So she's going slowly. We think. I mean, it's hard to say for sure, but there's a lot of jagged rocks and coral and stuff there, so she should be moving pretty slowly.”

    (In my mind's eye, I saw the lurid, slightly blurry reproductions in my school textbooks: endless spikes of stone slicing the water at dizzying angles, a lone vessel navigating between two perilously close spires of coral.)

    “It's where the corsola breed, isn't it?” asked Maxie, as he had done dozens of times before.

    “Yeah. Near Old Town. There were islands there, before the making over, and – I don't know why coral chooses a place, exactly, but it did, and you know what corsola are like.” (He didn't, actually. They were a much more peripheral sort of pokémon in his day.) “They see coral, they go live there, they generate even more coral, more corsola come, et cetera.”

    Corsola, printed Edie with a sound like windchimes, and then she stopped and shook her head furiously, a jumble of letters forming at the tip of her beak. I knew what she meant: the words had got stuck, as they often did. It's hard for her to print directly. If she has a computer to work through, she finds it much easier to transcribe her logs.

    “It's OK,” I said, stroking her back. “Take your time, sweetie.”

    She wriggled away from me crossly, then thought better of it and relaxed under my fingers.

    “And us,” said Zinnia, not listening. “What about us, again?”

    I shrugged helplessly. This was a large part of why I was so nervous: I genuinely didn't know what was going to happen to the ghosts once the kadabra sent me on my way. Would they travel with me? Were they going to have to catch up with me on foot? If so, how in all blood were they going to find me again? It wasn't like either of them knew the ocean, not like Archie. And even if they did – the Reefs are huge, and ships aren't that big, especially ships that can navigate between the rocks there. Just because they managed to find their way there didn't mean they'd be able to find me. I could lose them, maybe forever, and there was no way to know if I would, no way to even begin to look for them again if I did. We didn't want to say goodbye – it was too final, too awful – but if this was the last time we'd see each other, we couldn't let it go unmarked. So we sat there, endlessly going over the plan, because as long as we did that we were together and talking.

    “I don't know,” I said in the end. “It depends.”

    “On what?”

    On whether or not they were hallucinations that would come with me wherever I went; on whether or not they occupied physical space in a way that the exchange could grab hold of; on how solid a memory is; on how corporeal the dead are.

    “I don't know,” I said again, and moved on, like always, to other pointless details. “The ship's an LV-class. Old model. You know the silhouette?”

    They did. I'd drawn it for them, several times, and made them memorise it. They didn't need to know vessels like a modern sailor, but I needed to know they could recognise Ulixa's ship when they saw it.

    “Yeah, yeah, there's that angle at the front and the engines are set in like that,” she said. She couldn't stop pacing, and kept tugging at the edges of her cloak so that it swished like the flicking tail of a pyroar ill at ease. “God. I don't like this.”

    “It was your idea.”

    “I was thinking of Berenice.”

    “She doesn't have a ship,” I said. “And I think she's done me enough favours. I can't ask her to bust me out of Jonah's Respite a third time.”

    “I know!” Zinnia thrust her cloak behind her and ran her hand distractedly through her hair. “OK. OK. So tell me again where we're going?”

    I'm not going to write out every iteration of the conversation, dear reader, but you get the picture. It went on a long time, and all we did was make ourselves even more anxious. Worse, we knew we were doing it, and that left us all even more on edge.

    But the wait, though it felt like forever, did eventually end. Hs.picha came to collect me, as they always did, and with Edie at my heels and the ghosts at my side I went back down through the tunnels to the Consensus.

    Except that that day was different: that day, when they opened the door and let me in, it was to the sight of an unbroken sea of golden fur and pointed faces. Almost the entire settlement must have been there; I tried to count, to match the minds I knew to faces, but I soon gave up. Old kadabra with tattooed brows, young ones with the newer markings on their forearms, even a cadre of alakazam who sat cross-legged and closed-eyed on thin air near the god-idol of the giant fish skull, a respectful distance separating them from the kadabra on all sides.

    “Oh, 'sflukes,” I muttered, clenching my jaw far harder than was comfortable. “It's happening. It's actually happening.”

    ―Avice.

    ―are you ready?​

    “Yes,” I said, trying hard not to think 'no' so as not to confuse them. “I am.”

    ―they are worried.

    ―this is not familiar to them.

    ―hush. now.

    ―all shall be well.​

    ―and all shall be well.​

    ―and all manner of thing shall be well.​

    As consolations go, it left something to be desired. You'd think psychic-types would understand emotions pretty well, but there's that species barrier again. Kadabra struggle with human feelings, and for my part I don't pretend to understand theirs.

    “Um, thanks,” I said. “So – sorry, this is kind of the first time I've done this.” I took a moment to breathe, tried to calm myself. They'll come with you or they won't. And if they do, great, and if not, you'll figure something out. “I'm not sure what I should say.”

    ―if we are entirely honest, neither do we.

    ―we do not say goodbye like this very often.​

    ―if one of our own leaves, they are only a buoy away.​

    ―but you will be gone-for-good.​

    I could feel their unease, rolling back and forth through the cavern like water sloshing in a moving barrel. We'd broken a lot of new ground, the Consensus and me, for both our species. None of us had much of an idea how we were supposed to do any of this.

    “Mm,” I said. “Yeah. So. Uh. I should thank you, again, for everything you've done. Saving my life, and helping me. You didn't have to do that. And ordinarily you wouldn't. I'm aware of what it means, and I'm grateful.”

    A psychic susurrus of approval: that's the sort of utterance they like. You should take care to let them know that you know what they're trying to say.

    ―we accept your gratitude in good faith.

    ―we wish you luck.​

    ―we hope you succeed.​

    “Th―” I said, but the kadabra already seemed to think the conversation was over, and before I'd got even halfway through the word everything dissolved into vibrations―

    ―and stopped.

    I couldn't see anything. I tried to open my eyes, but I couldn't. It took me a few moments to realise that this was because I didn't have any. In actual fact, I didn't have anything at all; I was an emptiness somewhere in a void, a non-space of no colour or substance or feeling at all.

    I tried to scream, but it doesn't work so well without lungs.

    And then, very suddenly, something began to exist.

    Quickly now, said the something, without sound. We have six and a half milliseconds to talk before you rematerialise.

    It took shape before me: taller than a human but human-shaped, if you were generous with your definition of 'human'; it had two legs that tapered away without feet, two arms that tore open into paired tentacles and reformed again at a moment's notice, a face with no mouth, no nose, only bare suggestions of eyes. Its chest had a mouth full of light, or I thought it was a mouth, because the light flickered like a tongue when it spoke.

    We are seizing control of the warp, it said. You will not be arriving at Ulixa's vessel, but a more advantageous location of our own choosing. Listen carefully to what we say next, because you may find it hard to recall our words precisely upon rematerialisation. You will fall over. You will vomit. You must get up again as quickly as you can and move to your left. The door will be open and the guards temporarily away. There will be a window of one thousand and twenty-eight seconds during which no one will be watching. Within that time, you must make it as far as the ninth junction. After that, it will take a further six hundred and ten seconds for the alarm to be raised and countermeasures put into action. By then, you must be past the door to the back exit. Listen carefully to these directions and memorise them: forward three junctions. Down two levels at L4. Continue straight ahead four junctions. Turn left. Continue straight ahead one junction. Turn right. Continue straight ahead one junction. Up one level at N7. Continue straight ahead seven junctions and on into C1. Continue past blast door and take C1b to the exit. Have you memorised these instructions?

    I was still trying to scream. Something had gone wrong, I knew it; they'd taken me apart atom by atom but they hadn't managed to put me back together, and now I was trapped here in this nightmare nothing where even I myself was nothing, had nothing, could not scream or breathe or die―

    “―anks,” I finished, and collapsed onto the concrete, where I was promptly and copiously sick.




    I feel like I lay there for hours, but it could only have been a few seconds. After all, as I was told, there was only a brief window during which no one was watching.

    Do you recognise the description, dear reader? You must do. The mouth, the tentacles. I have a heavily stylised version of them tattooed on my wrist.

    Tooth. The young god, who fell from heaven soon after the making over, whose home is nowhere, whose hunger is without end. Tooth, monstrous and mighty. Who had, all this time, been watching over me just as the priest promised on my tenth birthday, when he gave me the god-mark and consecrated my skin.

    Here are the two things I know about Tooth: one, it doesn't actually have any teeth, and two, it has an interest in undoing its own godhood. I think. Why else would it want to raise the land? Without the ocean, it won't be a god any more, just like Tide isn't. Maybe it's tired. It's been a long time, after all. We call it young, but it's nearly as old as the ghosts. Older, maybe. I mean, it must have come from somewhere, before it became a god here.

    I don't know. I've only met it twice. Once in that awful in-between no-place, while I was being teleported, and once in the cloud of death, at the bottom of the ocean. It gave me a few more answers that second time, but not many. And that first time – I barely even recognised it, what with my panic at not existing, and when I came to my senses I couldn't really remember, just like it had warned me. I had a vague idea that someone or something had spoken to me, but mostly I just felt ill.

    “Ava!” I heard someone saying. “Oh thank god, you're here. Uh – Ava?”

    “Yes,” I said, levering myself up with a speed that made all my reconstituted muscles shriek in protest. “Oof. Drown 'em. I'm here.”

    I was standing on concrete, between metal walls. It could have been any corridor in any settlement, but it definitely wasn't any kind of ship I'd heard of, let alone Ulixa's. At that exact moment, though, I didn't care, because the corridor contained Edie, Maxie and Zinnia.

    “Oh thank the hallows,” I said, moving to hug them but finding myself unable to decide which one to go for and then realising that it was impossible anyway. “You're here.”

    “Yes. I'm not sure how, but right now I don't feel inclined to question it.” Maxie glanced up and down the passage. “Especially since I have no idea where 'here' is, and suspect that it probably isn't where we were meant to be going.”

    “Yeah, I figured they probably don't use concrete in shipbuilding,” said Zinnia. “Any idea where this is?”

    “No,” I said, crouching to see if Edie was all right. She was, of course. Incorporeality has its benefits. “But I know this door is open.” I straightened up and turned to my left, where a steel-framed door opened onto a dimly-lit catwalk. “And … wait. What? How – oh, drown 'em.”

    I had been about to ask how I knew that, but something else distracted me: this catwalk went out over the water at the bottom of a gigantic cavern, suspended on cables that went up and up and disappeared into the dark, and at the other end of it was the Museum of the Forgotten.

    “This is the drydock,” I said, half to myself. “And … and the guards aren't here, and no one will be watching for one thousand and twenty-eight seconds. Less, now.”

    “What was that?” asked Maxie. “How did you – where are you going?”

    “Edie, follow those cables and find the machine controlling them. I want the Museum back in the water, now.”

    o7, she said, her little pictographic salute, and whizzed off, wings strobing against the dark. I walked quickly and confidently to the end of the walkway, twisted the catch – they'd oiled it, I noted; it turned much smoother now – and went inside, through the airlock and down the passage to the junction where I turned left for the bridge.

    I stopped there for a moment, face to face with darkened consoles and unlit electrical screens. I seemed to see myself from without, a silhouette picked out in the glare of the arc lights on the gantries outside. It felt like a metaphor, but I couldn't place it. It felt cold and empty, like the bunker where I sheltered from the keening wind, like a place where people no longer live. It didn't feel like home.

    All at once, I heard a distant rumbling and the Museum jerked and twisted as the machinery around it unfolded, arms and cables flexing and unspooling and letting the ship back down into the water.

    “There's no one here,” said Zinnia, coming in behind me. “Why is there no one here?”

    “I don't know,” I said. “Maybe the guards are changing over. Maybe they've gone for a cigarette. Whatever it is, let's make sure of it. You search aft, I'll do fore. Maxie, start the engines. We've got maybe fifteen minutes and I want to be moving as soon as we hit the water.”

    “Aye aye, captain,” he said, only slightly ironically, and moved to the central panel, flipping switches and inspecting the results as lights came on and screens displayed welcoming message. “Er – before you go,” he said. “The engines. Everything's been turned off; that will necessitate a manual restart.”

    “Where?”

    “Engine room. The instructions are on that enamel sign – the one by the secondary fuse box? I'll get the lights for you; the batteries are full at least.”

    !, said Edie, appearing suddenly at my side.

    “You can do it?” I asked, and she nodded furiously, clearly delighted to be home. “OK. Get the engines, then take a quick inventory down in the hold. I want to know how much they've stolen, exactly.” I paused. “And then get to the synthesis engine and make me some pills,” I added, slightly too quickly to sustain my air of competence.

    She emitted a tick, and was gone. I didn't hang about.

    Our search turned up no one but us aboard, and Edie's report showed that nothing but the most obviously useful stuff had been taken: poké balls, some pokédexes, a few old computers. Industrial machining equipment and some of the books. All the pirates' tech people had been busy with figuring out how to repair the Museum's engines; they hadn't had time yet to notice its more arcane treasures. Most importantly of all, the Aqua Suit was still there. When we arrived at the Blue Chapel, I was going to be able to get out and hunt for the key stone.

    I didn't know this at the time. There were bigger issues – and anyway, when I'd done my sweep and was on my way back to the bridge, I heard a distant keh-glugg and then a familiar buzzing hum, and everything else went right out of my head. Beneath my feet, the deck started vibrating; above my head, the yellow emergency lights dialled themselves up to full white daytime brightness.

    The Museum groaned, and mumbled, and rocked, and as it came back to life around me I didn't care that I'd lost four key stones, or that Archie was gone. None of it mattered now, because all of it could be solved, because everything was going to be OK, because I was home, home, and if the pirates wanted to take it back off me again they were going to have to try a lot harder than the last time. There'd be no surrender if they caught me now. There couldn't be. This place was in me and I was in it and I knew with a sudden fiery conviction that I would rather die than give it up again.

    I don't think I was exaggerating. Fortunately, I never had to put it to the test.

    “Down the passage,” I ordered Maxie, not knowing quite where the directions were coming from but knowing a good thing when I saw it. “Dead ahead for three junctions, then two levels down at L4.”

    “How do you know this?” he kept asking, as the four of us moved fluidly between consoles, trying to answer every new subsystem as they woke up and clamoured for attention. “How do you know?”

    I didn't answer, just kept giving him instructions and quieting the few bits of machinery I knew how to work. Four junctions on, left, one junction, right, one junction, up at N7. RECALIBRATION REQUIRED. Seven junctions and take the passage marked C1. PRESS ENTER TO CONTINUE. Alarms going now. Head for that door – the one that was sealed last time, the one that blocks off the back exit. UNSUPPORTED HARDWARE DETECTED. Straight on here. COOLANT RESERVES AT 62%. Just keep going, towards the light …

    And then the dark of the tunnel lifted and the ocean opened up around us like a great blue flower, and off to starboard the vast streams of trade and war traffic moved back and forth like swarms of krill, and I knew they'd be after us soon but it was too late now, in a few minutes we'd be hidden in the crowds, one ancient freighter among many, and I laughed.

    A few minutes later, Edie came and offered me a cup of water and some tablets.

    I think that sums it up about as well as anything else could.


    Oh look, another chapter, it's only been what, forever and a half. Sorry about the delay. So many things to be done, and unfortunately my weird story about remembering things at the bottom of the sea is somewhere near the bottom of the list in terms of immediate importance. I hope, but don't actually expect, to get the next chapter up sooner.
     
    Last edited: Oct 26, 2016
  2. diamondpearl876

    diamondpearl876 → follow your fire.

    Now it's been a while since I've read and I'd forgotten how roundabout and wordy Avice can be, lol. This is a really strong opening, though. I get the feeling we're in for a lot of introspective and poetic philosophical ramblings.

    Now there's an understatement if I ever heard one. XD

    Little descriptive bits like this appear a lot, but they never really get old. There's something creepy, amusing, and sad all at once about the idea of the ghosts trying to comfort Avice but not being able to.

    If I haven't mentioned it before now, I love Edie.

    Yeahhh, I can relate to this feeling all too well. It's all about maintaining an internal sense of control if you can't control what's happening around you.

    I like this bit of detail. It reminds me that I'm reading about the pokemon world (which is sometimes hard to remember with this story - that's not a bad thing, but yeah) without being jarring. It just flows really well, along with all the bits of worldbuilding, really.

    It's also the little questions and details like these that remind me of how bare Avice's view of the world has been up until the events that happen in the fic. I care about her enough as a character that remembering that actually makes me kind of sad for her.

    That's one thing I like about Avice. She'll even write things she doesn't understand to help herself understand, or just to include someone else's part of the story because she appreciates everyone that's been helping her out so far.

    I always enjoy the description of how Edie's logic works. The technical jargon stuff just seems to flow flawlessly with your writing, even though what's actually being written is jumbled because of Avice's confusion... if that makes sense.

    I'm not sure how many of these surprises everyone's gonna deal with, Zinnia...

    I personally would've been interested in reading this poem. :p

    Beautifully written emotional description, here. I feel bad for Archie...

    Yeahhh, I think this scene broke my heart, to put it simply.

    I like that bit of detail about the species. I also kind of like how Avice knows nothing about being a trainer. That contrasts greatly with the nameless trainer that she's been reminding the ghosts of, which is interesting to me. And it makes her journey just a little bit harder sometimes, which is needed since there seems to be some outside force guiding her throughout most of the journey for the time being.

    I've not really found a fic that includes both pokemon and regular animals and explains the logic behind it, but some of the worldbuilding bits like this and ones later on explained with the kadabra culture make the world in this fic feel a lot more real.

    Smell isn't ever something I considered with attacks at all... Hmm.

    Well, that was an amusing image that just popped into my head. :p

    This kind of makes me a bit sad. Probably because Edie's been innocent up till now, and the ability to think might change her. Also, doesn't this mean she might more easily remember her home, which she chose to forget (if I'm remembering right)?

    This is really spot on and wonderfully worded.

    I've used a similar theory of evolution in my fics, except the way you put it is far more elegant and comprehensive. XD

    You just keep breaking my heart with these chapters. I don't know, I just really feel like I can relate to everything Avice has been saying. And I don't often get fully immersed in reading, but that happened here. So I don't have much criticism, except maybe that it took a few pages for me to get reaccustomed to Avice's writing... which may or may not have been an issue if there hadn't been a 3-4 week gap I didn't read this fic.

    Anddd this bit reminds me how much I love the experimental kind of stuff. XD

    Ugh, these two. It was kind of awkward reading this, knowing Zinnia was there but not seeing her mentioned much. It would've sufficed to say that she probably didn't feel okay saying anything if that was the case.

    Well, this is certainly an elegant way to put it. Kind of makes me want to be less antisocial, I guess. XD

    I can't really recall if there was this much detail put into kadabra culture in A Leash of Foxes, since all of this sounds new to me, but... Avice's poetic style explains it pretty well in a way that mostly makes sense.

    I got the impression here that the kadabra were angry at Avice, but later on it just seemed like she couldn't handle the uproar so she fainted.

    I'm going to assume this is the explanation for all the coincidences Avice has been able to take advantage of thus far to survive her journey. It fits well and doesn't seem too far-fetched, though I do think there's some stuff we won't know for a while yet... such as why Tooth would help her raise the land since, as she pointed out, Tooth would then no longer be a god. Looking forward to more.
     
  3. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine Gone. Not coming back.

    So a typical Time and Tide chapter, in other words. :p

    This is why funding for museums is so important. Can't be doing without the power to warp time and space based entirely on the strength and persuasiveness of memory.

    Mm, I have a feeling I do it too much, but I keep doing it anyway. It feels apposite, I guess? Something something reaching out, yearning, trying to bridge gaps. Something about that feels germane to both Avice's project in writing and the project of the story itself.

    She is to die for. This story has really got me into porygon; when I write a long fic, I always like to pick a species I haven't ever really thought much of before so that I'm forced to consider it from all angles, and I usually end up finding reasons to adore it. Which hopefully then make their way back into the text. In this case, I think, I can say that they did.

    The more things change (insofar as they get buried beneath several billion gallons of water), the more they stay the same (insofar as they're terrifying and forever out of control), I guess.

    Aw, thanks. Making a world out of tiny details is something I really love, and it's always a pleasure to hear it pays off.

    It's kind of the reason I started with Tethys. Her world gained a lot of stuff, for all that it lost; they don't know the pleasure of a dawn walk along a beach or through a pine forest, but they've got the eerie peace of gliding through a kelp forest at twilight, or the shifting constellations of phosphorescent sea-beasts off in the distance. Not sure it's a totally equitable exchange, but someone outside of Tethys still gets to see a fair bit. Within the city, though, what's lost is much more apparent than what was gained, and to tell a story about someone asking if they could get any of it back, I felt I ought to start off in a place where someone might be led to ask those questions.

    Which is not so much a response as it is a tangent, I guess. Possibly it's interesting anyway. Possibly it isn't. Either way, there it is.

    Yes, almost pathologically so. Part of this is because she's a nice person, or as near enough as anyone might reasonably expect her to be, but there are other reasons too, which will become apparent over the course of the next few chapters. She has lots of reasons to fear taking credit for things, and conversely to feel like she really ought to do a better job of it than she does.

    Thanks! One of the slightly more irritating parts of writing Avice is dealing with her relative lack of knowledge of all things technical, so often I'm a bit concerned that the clumsy way she talks about that sort of thing is a little disruptive. Having it described as flowing flawlessly with the writing is ... well. Did I say thanks already? I'm saying it again.

    It was an error of judgement, certainly. But that's what makes the ghosts so fun, at least for me: the way they keep falling back into their old mistakes despite everything.

    ... maybe fun is the wrong word. 'Interesting to write' might be more like it.

    Avice does have historical precedent on her side. The curse poem has a rich and entertaining history. There's a good one by Ovid, Ibis, although when I say it's a good one I actually mean it's incredibly vitriolic and so dense with allusions that it's almost unreadable unless you're a much better classical scholar than I am. Probably Archie has something less learned in mind. :p

    This is going to sound more callous on paper than it does in my head, but hey, that's what I was going for, so ... that's good, I think?

    There is, and there isn't. Without giving too much away, I think I can safely say that everything Avice has achieved, she's achieved for herself and by her own merit, though at the same time there has been some level of divine intercession in her life.

    Neato! I mean, it ... still doesn't make sense, even in Avice's world, since clearly pokémon would outcompete regular animals, but at the same time an ecosystem with just pokémon and not real animals isn't workable and doesn't fit with the world I was trying to make. There's something to be said for the idea put forth by Professor Juniper that pokémon spring into existence when ideas or concepts become current in the world, I suppose, but equally I feel like some pokémon were around before there was anyone to have any ideas, like the fossil ones. There really isn't a lot of logical coherence there, which I guess is understandable, since the pokémon series in general tends to hold together thematically rather than logically. So, if nothing else, I'm glad I obfuscated the issue enough to make it feel like it made sense.

    I think smell gets overlooked quite a lot in fiction, really, probably because it's the most nebulous of the indirect senses. If that makes any sense. I think it does, but maybe it only does in my head. Anyway, I realised a few years back that I virtually never considered smell when writing at all, despite the fact that it would undoubtedly be a very prominent part of a profession that involves rearing animals, so since then I've tried to make sure to mention it more often, whether it's the ozone smell that (possibly) would accompany strong electric-type moves or the musk of mammalian pokémon.

    To be fair, spheal are possibly the most inherently amusing pokémon out there. They're cute, fluffy beach balls with big baby-animal eyes! Your heart starts melting just thinking about it. Admittedly, they're ice-types, so if you ever gave in to temptation and hugged one you'd probably freeze your heart rather than melt it, but you know. They're still adorable and roly-poly.

    Well, not entirely innocent. She was a very sophisticated imitation of intelligence before, after all. She did develop her own personality, all by herself, so there was some wiggle room in her operational parameters. But I guess it is true that that sort of knowledge marks a loss of innocence, at least in stories. As for her home, I'm not sure if I remember right either, but I think the implication was that she just forgot that they were near it? After all, she was able to recall the specifics of it during her remembrance chapter, or at least bits of it. Either way, by the time Avice resumed the narrative in the kadabra chapter, I think we can assume she had time to work out a lot of the initial difficulties of her newfound consciousness. If only because I'm not sure how much time I plan to devote to that subject in future chapters.

    Good old sensory overload! I'm being facetious, I guess, but more seriously, it's good to know that it resonates. That sentence describes a number of mental states that operate in similar ways, and I'm glad that it captures enough of them for it to feel real to someone reading it.

    Aw, thanks. I've expressed the same sentiment about evolution multiple times in various fics, here and there, and it's only after a lot of repetitions and rephrasing that I've got it down to a concise little nugget of information like that.

    Well! That kind of indicates to me I'm doing what I'm supposed to, which is to entertain and interest, so that is just lovely to hear! I hear you about Avice's writing style, though. In some ways it's very fun to write, but all the same, I think I'll be glad to go back to something a little less ornate when this story's over.


    It's actually in there so that I didn't have to go to the effort of figuring out what it was that they said, but hey, if it works, it works, I guess!

    Mm, I see where you're coming from. I wanted to make her absence from the conversation pointed, to cast Archie and Maxie's argument in a different light, but I could have done that more effectively than just by omitting her. I might revisit that bit, since I can't see it taking too much effort to fix.

    Also, 'Ugh, these two' is just the best commentary on that whole segment and I feel like I want you to know how much I appreciate those three words.

    That's an unexpected result. I didn't think it would actually win anyone over. But then again, I have neither any interest in nor any aptitude for either conversation or sailing, so perhaps I'm biased. :p

    'Mostly makes sense' is the key bit for all of this, I guess. I thought it would probably be pointless to try to describe an alien culture with perfect clarity, so I thought I'd just suggest its outlines through Avice's subjective understanding of it instead. I'm glad it worked out.

    There was less on kadabra culture in Foxes, mostly because part of the plot was that hey, actually you know almost nothing about kadabra, but I assume the culture of the desert kadabra is both different and similar to that of the island ones. They probably both have Consensuses, of some kind -- they both use the word zhiira, anyway -- and you can probably guess from the mention of a god-idol in Time and Tide that the Golden Isles kadabra have a similar sort of reverse theology to their desert brethren. Most of this stuff I only invented when it came to writing Time and Tide, but I did try to make it fit with what what I'd previously written.

    Hm. I was going for, like, she said something startling so everyone started talking at once in their surprise and then she couldn't handle that and fainted, but perhaps I should go back and make that clearer. There is a bit of ambiguity there, yeah.

    Sort of, as I said! Like, at this point, there's really no secret as to Tooth's identity. But equally, the thing that Tooth is doesn't have the ability to do any of what Avice may ascribe to it, in exactly the same way that Tide (the entity in her head) has powers that are different to and more than those of Kyogre (the big square whale we all know and love). That's going to become more apparent in the next chapter, in which she says a lot about Tide that might or might not be true -- I mean, it's an explanation for what she sees, and you can see how she's come up with it based on the evidence she has, but it's up to you whether or not you think it's stretching canon too far to actually be the explanation. So, you know, exactly how things have come to be the way they are is slightly more of an open question than it might appear.

    Anyway! I'm going to shut up before I give too much away and spoil the fun. Thank you for your response! And thank you all for reading. I should have another chapter ready pretty soon, and then we'll get to meet up with the Once Dead God at last.
     
    Last edited: Nov 11, 2016
  4. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine Gone. Not coming back.

    TWENTY-SIX: THE GOD OF DARK PLACES

    It is no secret that the Deity we revere under the name of Tide is a Pokémon of great Size and Puissance, but what is less well recorded – what, indeed, we sometimes forget – is that it came at our call, a Friend to one who saw the Iniquity & the Sin of a wicked time, & so tho' it came to destroy, it was onely to lay the Foundations of a purer World, & as such, tho' it indeed holds our Lives in its Mouth, to snuff out at its chusing, we should remember that it is a Friend to Man, Beast and all that knows its Place in the pure World it has so munificently deigned to gift us.
    ―Alein Dara dol' Semmerva of Iron, The Book of the Sea


    How was I able to get the Museum back?

    Let's imagine an answer. There were guards – we'll call them Leonard and Kimmy, maybe – posted on the door leading onto the catwalks, obviously. This was the Alcmene, the legendary ship of the Prophet. It needed guarding. But months had gone by since it had been captured and its spy-captain put to flight, and none of those heading aboard the ship who'd been stopped were anything other than what they claimed to be: scientists, technicians, specialists in old world history. Leonard and Kimmy learned faces and names. They got bored. They let people through with a nod and a wave, without relaying electronic messages back to the Court to see if so-and-so was authorised. Probably they noticed, back at the Court, but they didn't say anything. It was expected. That's why you assign the same guards to a checkpoint every time, after all – they learn who has what authorisation, develop a feeling for what's normal and what's cause for concern. Besides, they had a war to fight, and as important as the Museum was, coordinating their efforts against Tethys had to come first.

    So maybe, on quiet night shifts (and it was night when I arrived, though with the timelessness of the Golden Isles I thought it was afternoon when I left), when they knew no one would pass by, Leonard and Kimmy would let their attention wander. A pack of cards. Cigarettes. A bottle or two. There are lots of ways to pass a night. Maybe they'd pop across the corridor to a nearby caretaker's office, and sit there with the door open – because it's tiring, standing all night, and anyway if anyone were to head out onto the catwalks they'd have to pass by the doorway. It wasn't as if they were deserting their posts, not really. And it wouldn't happen every night, and not for long. They'd usually take it in turns, or they would when they started. Maybe a few weeks in they'd both sit down together. What of it, right?

    Once in a while, perhaps, one or other of them would let their eyes close, just for a few seconds. Hard not to, in the dark and the quiet, with the occasional nip of cheap rum. Besides, their pokémon would wake them if they noticed anything. Which they wouldn't. But if they did.

    So maybe that's what happened, maybe Leonard and Kimmy got lazy and Tooth knew, as Tooth knows everything, and directed me through the gap in their watchfulness. Or maybe they were never there at all. Maybe the guards were posted at the entrances to the cavern itself, so that anyone entering the drydock had to go past them. I bet they made sure the Museum went into the most secure dock – and I bet they have secure docks, too, in a place like that. Tethys does. The military docks, for instance. They're totally separate to the regular harbour. You have to take a special shuttle to get there, and to get on the shuttle you have to pass a particularly heavy-duty checkpoint.

    So maybe this is how it went: the entrance to the drydock was guarded, and so was the point where its sea access connected to the regular network. Tooth, catching me mid-warp and deftly redirecting my momentum, sent me past the first set of guards, past poor Leonard and Kimmy, and straight up to the Museum itself. There were probably locks and bolts preventing unauthorised usage of the crane, too, but of course that wouldn't have meant anything to Edie; if she wants a machine to do something it will, no matter what protection it's got on it.

    What about the protection down in the water, then? If it was there, it would have been pokémon, obviously; you can't post human guards underwater, especially in pressurised chambers like the Respite's sea tunnels. Octillery, perhaps, trained to fire a signal beam of bright lights and colours up out of the water into the drydock itself, where Leonard and Kimmy ought to have seen them and been alerted. Or sharpedo under orders to jet their way towards a guard station, their mere presence out of water a signal that something was wrong. Or big dark sea-golduck, pulsing a distress call with their minds.

    All of these things take time to do, time to respond to. That was why Tooth gave me the window: one thousand and twenty-eight seconds, seventeen minutes. Or perhaps when it reached out towards my disassembled self and tweaked my trajectory, it bent my path not just in space but in time, too, landing me at the perfect moment that night when everything was aligned. When Leonard and Kimmy were out of sight. When the octillery were drowsing. When the sharpedo were chasing scraps kicked into the water by a faulty filtration unit.

    It's not impossible. I've done my research, and it doesn't seem like there's any reason why you can't teleport through time as well as space. All you'd have to do is slow down mid-warp, and land later than you intended. Maybe that's what it was, that awful nowhere place in which Tooth revealed itself to me: some kind of delaying mechanism, a way to freeze me in place until the time was right.

    Whatever Tooth did, whatever happened, whether there ever was a Leonard or a Kimmy, I ended up home. I may never know anything else about that night, but I know that, dear reader – and now, so do you.




    It was a few days before we could relax, and weeks before everything was back in order. Maxie took the Museum low and slow, clinging to the shadows of larger fleets within which we could go undetected by pirate scouts. If any good came of the war at all, that was it: that traders now travelled in groups for safety, often with mercenary escorts. Lone vessels were easy pickings for bandits and unaffiliated pirates who scorned the King's call.

    There was a lot of work to be done as well. The pirates hadn't managed to fix everything, and some of their repairs were actually more damaging than useful; Edie cleaned out half our stockpile of scrap just in manufacturing the materials she needed to put everything back together. Books smashed in the first escape attempt needed rebinding if they were to last long enough to be read, most of the library's shelves had to be melted down and recast, and every electronic device thrown from its place during the chase had to be checked to see if it could be repaired, and if not, scrapped.

    Like I said, it took weeks. Edie didn't have to do everything – I'd left the Europa with a much greater understanding of mechanical engineering than before, and for once I could help with some of the work – but she had to superintend almost all of it, and it tired her out, for all that she enjoyed it. It tired us all out, really. Something about getting back here, about retaking the Museum, lit a fire in all of us, and we worked at bringing it back from the dead harder than we might have done.

    I had other work to do, as well. The kadabra had put me back together, in a very basic sense, but there was more to be done before I was myself again. Spending weeks at a time in a coma had left me much weaker than I was used to, and it took a lot of exercise to make myself feel like the Avice who ran and climbed and evaded law enforcement again; and then there were all the other things I used to make myself that I had had to leave behind here: tablets, make-up, clothes. It wasn't only the Museum that needed rebuilding.

    Also, I owed the ghosts a lot of hugs by that point. Like, it had been months since they were last solid enough to touch, and we'd gone through quite a lot of emotional moments. There was a pretty sizeable backlog to clear.

    They themselves had things to deal with, of course. Being back in the Museum underlined Archie's absence, I think – especially for Maxie, sitting there alone in the bridge. I caught him talking to himself once or twice, when he hadn't heard me come in. It's hard to say what about, since I couldn't bear to hear him doing it; I always coughed so that he'd know someone was there. Maybe it's silly, but it felt wrong to overhear him. It always seemed to me like he was talking to Archie.

    I don't think his absence affected Zinnia so much. More than anything else, she was delighted to be back. Possibly she felt guilty about not sharing in our despondence, or possibly she had stuff to catch up on, doing whatever it is she does on her computer up in the conning tower. Either way, she stayed out of the way for a while.

    Probably both, now that I think about it. Generally when there are multiple explanations for someone's behaviour, more than one is true. People are more complicated than the stories they tell.

    With the Museum back online, however, one important thing did change: Edie began to talk. Quite a lot, even. Whenever we had a free moment, she wanted to share her logs – the story of herself, of Hadleigh and Eddie and Iris, unspooling from within herself and flashing across the electrical display screens in a dizzying string of transcripts and audio recordings. And that meant that eventually, she showed me what happened when she ventured into the ruins of the space centre.

    You know, of course, that the middle of the log is missing. But there's a glimpse of the glowing mouth there, before the data gets corrupted and bleeds out into random patterns of dots, and it was enough to remind me.

    “What the hell is that?” wondered Zinnia, staring at the grainy image on the display screen, dark coils unfolding in dark water. “Like … something mutated by the Infinity Energy, or …?”

    “It's Tooth,” I said, staring at it intently. “As in, the god.” I turned my wrist over and showed her my god-mark. “My god, actually.”

    “Like Tide? But this … this thing doesn't look like any pokémon I've ever heard of.”

    “It arrived after the world was made over,” I told her. The screen flickered. Tooth's arms seemed to coil and unfurl. “Fell from above the sky, they say. In a ship of stone.”

    “A ship of …? Ah. Right. The meteoroid.” She sighed. “I forgot about that.”

    “The what?”

    “Remember why I joined Aqua? I wanted to use them to attract Rayquaza. That was why. To stop this meteoroid that was heading for Earth. Presumably whatever Kyogre did to the atmosphere broke it up a little on its descent, since it didn't kill everyone, but … it looks like something was riding it.”

    “You think Tooth is a pokémon from space?”

    “It's not unheard-of,” said Maxie. “Solrock, lunatone, clefairy – those little ones in Unova, even. There are probably other animals out there, but pokémon are tougher. It gives them something of an edge when it comes to spreading between worlds.”

    I nodded slowly. An idea was taking shape in my head, or rather, a memory, and I was letting it come together.

    “I've met it,” I said at last. “Tooth, I mean. You asked how I knew the way out of Jonah's Respite. It's because it told me.”

    Maxie frowned.

    “When was this?”

    “While we were teleporting. It … took control of it, I think? And sent us to the Respite instead. It gave me instructions on how to escape and how long till the guards came back.” I was frowning too: the memory seemed distant and vague. It would take weeks before I had the whole thing straight in my head. “Only I couldn't really remember afterwards. I probably wouldn't even have remembered now if it weren't for Edie showing me this.”

    I gestured at the screen, and we all looked at it for a little while, at the sharp angles and blurred edges of the predator-god.

    “It's Tooth that's arranging things, isn't it,” said Maxie. I think he wanted to make it a question, but it didn't really come out right.

    “Yeah,” I said. “I think so.”

    “Why would it do that?”

    “It's my patron deity,” I said. “But … it's also Berenice's. And the King's. And probably half of the Respite's. So I don't know why it would favour me over them.”

    “Well, it's spent five hundred years underwater after probably thousands in the void of deep space,” said Zinnia. “Maybe it's tired of being wet.”

    For once, dear reader, I can't confirm whether Zinnia is right or not. Even after having met Tooth again, I'm not certain of its motivations. It isn't a great conversationalist. Possibly it's in too much pain to concentrate. I suppose I'll never know, unless it returns some day.

    At any rate, this was about the point where the limits of our knowledge cut off further speculation – and besides, there was work to be done mending and piloting and exercising, so we dispersed and left the discussion for another time.

    We were just a month off the Blue Chapel, after all. We needed to be ready.

    The Blue Chapel. That was a tough one. If you'd been there, dear reader, you might not have seen it. On the surface at least, everything was calm, at least until the gods started showing up. But underneath, the water was boiling.

    Looking back, I am as about so many things not sure how I managed it. Have I got more cowardly, or was I just foolhardy? It wasn't that long ago, but back then I did so much that seems almost impossible, sitting here on a calm, sunny day with a pen in my hand and a treecko on my head.

    I guess I should have mentioned that earlier. There's a treecko on my head. It grabbed hold of my hair when I went to feed the pokémon earlier and I don't think I can get it off without it taking half my scalp with it, so for now it's here. I think it likes the warmth. Or maybe it's mistaken me for a trainer. Some pokémon are like that, you know. In the old days, they'd stalk out of the tall grass or the shrubbery to challenge passing trainers, wanting to test their strength or find a cause to join. That was a big part of how you trained, back then. Battles by the wayside. Now you're kind of stuck indoors, so you just have practice matches against other rookies. It's much less romantic, although I guess back in the day people probably got cold and tired out there in the world. I think pretty much any trainer alive today would trade their home comforts for a night under the stars out in the wilderness, though. Campfire. Fireflies. The glowing eyes of curious pokémon, out in the rounding dark. And then a movement, and something new and wonderful presenting itself to you, defying you to master it.

    Probably my generation is the last one that will grow up training indoors. There's a thing to remember next time I have doubts about what I've done.

    Anyway. Treecko. Pen. Coffee. All that stuff. What we want to get to is the Blue Chapel. It's not as simple as that, though. See, venturing down into the cave isn't the hardest part. It's getting there in the first place.

    I don't mean that it's rough sailing, although it is. Old-world engines or not, the Museum struggled with the currents the further south we went. A lesser ship, with a lesser crew, would have been forced back long before the Chapel itself came into view. But even a pirate dreadnought with engines that could push a small island would have turned back sooner or later. It wasn't the sea that stopped you, even though the currents seethed and flung ripped-up pieces of seabed into your path. It was the fear.

    Put it this way: sailing towards the Blue Chapel, you simply knew that you were going somewhere nothing could survive. We weren't the first to go there, of course. There had been others: adventurers and treasure-seekers and even would-be deicides; desperate runaways seeking to cut through waters their pursuers wouldn't dare give chase through; monster hunters, religious zealots, suicides. No one came back. To go to the Blue Chapel was like stepping out of an airlock five hundred fathoms below. To go to the Blue Chapel was to die.

    We passed so many wrecks, or the remnants of them; like I said, the currents were savage, and not even the vast bulk of sunken vessels held together for long down there. Once a length of girder flew straight at the Museum and scored a huge line down one side as it passed, like a cosmic stylus scrawling its signature across our tiny human world. Another time we were briefly coated in dead squid, the rotting remains of some colossal shoal that had been sucked in from clearer waters and were only now being spat out. Nothing grew on the seafloor here. Nothing foraged. Nothing swam. There was just angry water, and the fragments of the lives that this place had claimed.

    It got to us. Obviously. We're all of us only human, except for Edie, and even she was subdued. You couldn't not be. Every time you looked out at the wastes, every time you stopped and listened to the groaning of the hull, you knew that this place was in the business of killing people.

    “We're nearly there,” said Maxie one day, examining his charts. “Sootopolis isn't much further now.”

    “How much further?” asked Zinnia. She'd had to learn to operate the Museum by then, if a little haphazardly. In the waters around the Blue Chapel, you needed more than one person at the controls; there was a lot going on, and a lot to deal with. You also needed multiple people on repairs pretty much constantly, which is where I was that day, replacing lengths of wiring somewhere in the Museum's guts with Edie.

    “Two or three days at this rate,” he answered. “Won't be long now.” He gestured at the uniform gloom outside the window. “We'll see it once the waters clear. The cliffs are not so white these days, with the seaweed, but they're the only thing around here that isn't flat.”

    “Seaweed?” Zinnia seemed to perk up a little. “Something actually lives out here?”

    “Yes. Probably more now than the last time I visited, in fact. There's an eye to this storm, you see. And in the middle is the safest place in the entire ocean.”

    “Right behind the shark.” Zinnia nodded. “Makes sense. Can't say I'd be in the market for this particular slice of real estate, though.”

    “Nor me. Trim!”

    “Yeah, I got it,” she said, adjusting levers and feeling the vessel's weight move beneath her. “What is that out there, anyway?”

    “I don't know, but we just avoided crashing into it.”

    “Good enough for me, I guess.” She slouched in her chair, one arm hanging off the back. “Hey. Maxie.”

    “Yes?”

    “How's this gonna work for you?”

    “What?”

    “You know. We're close now. To where it all began. Or where it ended.” She wasn't looking at him – barely even seemed interested. He was not fooled. “Archie broke. If this is going to work, that can't happen again.”

    Maxie stabbed a button with more than necessary violence.

    “It won't,” he said curtly. “I don't wallow in despair like that.”

    “No, you don't, do you?” Zinnia tilted her head, considering. “Well, I'm not gonna judge. I guess no one should.”

    Maxie didn't answer, bent rigidly over his console.

    “Like that ever stopped anyone,” she said. “Hell. I'm asking if you're all right, Maxie. I – I'm sorry. I'm out of practice at being sincere.”

    The lack of answer yawned between them. Outside, steel moaned and water churned in its muted, angry way.

    “O-K,” said Zinnia. “This is …” She sighed. “Never mind, then.”

    “Trim.”

    “What was that?”

    “Trim!”

    More garbage, eddying along before us; Zinnia hauled on her levers and Maxie pressed his buttons, and the Museum sank in a graceful swoop beneath its arc.

    “No,” said Maxie, into the sudden calm.

    “No?”

    “No, I'm not all right. Are you?”

    She hesitated, but only for a moment.

    “No,” she admitted. “Honestly, Archie wasn't the only reason I was hiding this. I … don't want to be here, Maxie. This place. This―” She cut herself off, shook her head. “I don't even know if I thought we'd get this far,” she said. “I don't know if I wanted to, either.”

    Maxie smiled, or rather, his mouth turned up at the corners. There are more components to a smile than that, and his expression did not at that moment have them.

    “And so the mask cracks at last,” he remarked. “It only took – what, the end of the world?”

    She shot him a look, and the not-smile disappeared.

    “D'you think I wanted this?” she asked. “This … this?” She waved a hand at her face, unable to find the word. “Don't think I don't know, Maxie. You get like me because you're broken. Because something's gone wrong in your head. Believe me, I've had five hundred years to look at myself. I know. I did everything wrong, after she … after her. I'm still doing it now. And this face, it still … it doesn't move, even now as I'm saying all this. It's not a mask any more. This is just who I am now, I guess.”

    There was another pause. This time, nothing dramatic happened to punctuate it. Just the quiet sounds of machinery, and the distant gurgle of angry water.

    “Sorry,” Zinnia said, straightening in her chair. “I was supposed to be asking if you were all right. You didn't want to hear that. It's just this place, you know? I can feel it out there.”

    “Like toothache in your soul.”

    “Yeah.”

    They both stared out at the empty ocean, as if they might force Sootopolis to appear through sheer effort of will.

    “I killed a lot of children, Maxie,” said Zinnia, very quietly.

    He stood there awkwardly for a moment, and then reached over to put a hand on her shoulder.

    “Haven't we all,” he said.

    She made a noise that wasn't quite laughter.

    “Darn it all,” she said. “I guess we have.”




    Hard to imagine that all this happened. It's bright and sunny today, a few wisps of cloud clinging the sky around the edges, and the approach to the Blue Chapel seems impossible, like it couldn't exist in the same world as today. The worst of it is, you can't even be angry. Not really. Tide, Kyogre, never chose any of this, any more than we did. It just is ocean, I guess. No mind to speak of, or if it does have one it's the distant, dissociated mind of the sea itself, whose anger is purely mechanical and without direction.

    But all that's in the past now. I can see mountains on the horizon – the range that once included Mt. Chimney, even. They must be a long way off, but they weren't there before. Or perhaps they were and my eyes hadn't adjusted. It's taken months to get used to this brightness. Either way, Tide's time is over now, for another million years. Time for us to move on.

    The Blue Chapel. I remember when Sootopolis appeared. We were past the rough waters and into the calm zone, where the seafloor was blanketed with crinoids and the kind of organisms that might be plants and might be animals. Little nameless things with many legs moved between and around them in swarms, hiding from the shadow of the Museum, and in the wrecks that studded the weed moved strange, iridescent huntail of a kind I'd never seen before, their skin whorled with colour like oil on water. We'd finished with repairs, right down to the point where I'd even gone outside in the Aqua suit and adjusted the engine housing, and now we all seemed to spend most of our time up in the bridge, looking out. Hard not to, with water like that. When I came in from the external repairs, the Aqua Suit was beaded with glittering liquid that looked more like crystal than brine. While I was getting the suit off I couldn't help getting some on my hands, and now there are a few pale marks on them that won't go away.

    “We're close to the epicentre,” said Maxie. “The Museum's batteries are actually filling up now, even with all the systems running. There's just so much energy in the water.”

    Infinity Energy, living-force; whether you call it by its human name or its kadabra one, that's what it must have been. When they say Tide made the world over in its own image, they don't just mean that it flooded it. There's a reason why everything changed so quickly and so completely, why the pokémon evolved or died in what seemed like just a few years, and the answer was right here in the mutant huntail and the waters they swam in. Kyogre brought the change – was change, on some level.

    And this place, its home, was made weird through a surfeit of change, of life – like a cancer in the fabric of the ocean. Those huntail were the most recognisable things we saw on our way towards Sootopolis. Everything else was much further gone: giant crustaceans whose limbs seemed to merge and fork without a body to bind them, molluscs that were all tentacle and no head, fish that were little more than fleshy lips propelled by fins like flayed muscle. There was a blind shark that bled all the time from wounds all over its body, and there were faces in the blood that snapped at passing creatures. There was a barbaracle gone mad, accumulating binacle after binacle until it was nothing but a great ball of clutching, biting hands that seized blindly at everything that came near.

    “It's worse than it was,” said Maxie, looking with me at the frenzied thing, twitching in its hole beneath a wrecked vessel. “Things were only just getting started when I came here last.” He curled and uncurled his fingers. “Back then, we thought the garbage floating out of Sootopolis was going to be the biggest problem for the wildlife around here.”

    “You couldn't have known,” I said.

    “No,” he agreed. “But perhaps I should have done anyway.”

    “I know what you mean.”

    He turned sharply, eyes darting to my face.

    “You do?”

    I nodded, thinking of Tethys, and he sighed.

    “I wish you didn't. But, since you do … thank you.”

    Bleak days. Tooth hanging over me, Tide before me, and all around the awful liveliness of the Chapel. No wonder people come here, or try to – because it's here, it's a place you can go, and the fact that something like this is even real is as irresistible as it is horrifying. I know all about that sort of thing, with a mother like mine. There's this pull, I guess you'd call it, a little curious voice that makes you look into the void and wonder how far into it you could jump if you really gave it your all. No wonder they come, and no wonder they die.

    Then the crater walls of old Sootopolis came into view, and all of that went out of my head in an instant. Because once you can see them, you're almost there. Once you can see them, you're counting the minutes until you're at the top and can see over into the place where it all began. I can tell you now that it took us twenty-two hours to get there and I didn't sleep for a second of it – 'sflukes, I didn't even feel tired. It was impossible to even think of sleep at a time like that. There was a god waiting just over the horizon, and it was a vengeful one.

    And then we got there. There was no drama, no intensification of the danger – by the time you get that far, you're past the worst of it; even the sarcoma-fauna of the Chapel stay away from Sootopolis itself – just the tension mounting alongside us as Maxie brought us up to clear the crater lip. One moment we were approaching, and the next the wall was sliding away beneath us and I saw down into the bottom of the world.

    It's not really an exaggeration. You can't see the end of the hole. When they say the Cave of Origin exploded with the water pressure, they mean it: there isn't any Sootopolis any more, there's a ragged hole that twists northwards and goes down, past the point where the water shades into darkness and into that particular kind of black that you only see in ocean trenches, the kind that lets you know that what's stopping you from seeing isn't a lack of light but distances on a scale you can't even begin to comprehend.

    It's beautiful. I never expected to say it, after all I'd heard and all I'd seen so far, but it really is. I'd never seen such space. There were no ruins, nor even any boulders to spoil the outlines. Just emptiness, bounded by stone long since blasted smooth by pressure and time.

    And, barely a dot in the middle of it all, Tide.

    The Museum hung motionless on the rim. None of us spoke for what must have been a long time, though just then I couldn't have told you if it were ten seconds or ten hours.

    : (, said Edie, and fluttered into my arms. I held her close and felt her static on my cheek.

    “Me too,” I whispered in her ear, or the place where I thought it was. “Me too.”

    “I remember it being bigger,” said Maxie.

    “I remember there being people,” said Zinnia.

    I said nothing, but I remembered home, and the square-fluked tattoo on the inside of Moll's wrist.




    We stuck to the edges for the most part. No one wants to be out in the middle of that emptiness, even without taking Tide into consideration. So we threaded our way down and around, bearing towards the north of the crater where the hole bent to follow the outlines of the Cave of Origin, and viewed the god from a distance. It was so still, dear reader. So calm. I'd always thought of Tide as an active, thrashing, physical kind of god, whipping up storms with its flukes and roaring out rain, but it barely moved in all the time we were there. It was smaller than I'd expected, too. Don't get me wrong, it was still big, but I'd seen bigger things – ships, wailord, some of the big benthic gyarados. I suppose size is the wrong thing to focus on. Tide was tiny, relative to the pit, but it filled it with its presence. It always felt like it was right behind us, like at any moment it might tip over from curiosity at our presence to anger and then in the next instant crush us.

    So it goes, I guess. I didn't sleep very well that night. Or for the next few, because we spent about a week in there, circling the pit, going deeper. I have no idea how we found the spot in all that immensity. Memory, maybe, calling to the memories in the ghosts and the Museum. Or Tide, accepting our pilgrimage for what it was. Or Tooth, summoning me with the weight of predestination. We did find it, though, after long days in which nothing happened and the tension became unbearable. The place where Maxie had found the Aqua Suit over five hundred years ago, standing empty next to the Red Orb. Where the old world made its last stand in the face of the new.

    “We're here,” he said, bringing the Museum to a halt at part of the rock slope that was entirely indistinguishable from the rest. “It won't have gone far.”

    Things like key stones often don't. History has a way of cementing things in place.

    “Are you ready?” asked Zinnia.

    “Nope,” I said. “Let's go.”

    So I got into the Aqua Suit, or rather, she got me into it – fitting someone into a motorised exoskeleton takes at least two people even on a good day – Edie transferred herself into the onboard computing engine, and once again I stepped out of the airlock in search of a key stone.

    The silence is overwhelming out there. In general, yes, because you can't hear anything in the Suit, but especially down there in the Blue Chapel. It's like nothing you've ever heard. Not if you've spent your life aboard ships and in settlements, anyway, where there's always metal moving and air hissing. Down where Tide lives, there's nothing at all, and you can hear it.

    I dropped a few feet from the airlock onto the stones and turned to face the Museum. Maxie and Zinnia were at the windows, watching. They had offered to come, of course, but I declined. They didn't really want to and I had no desire to force them. Whatever they say, they don't deserve that.

    I waved, and they waved back; I turned, and then it was just me and Edie again. The one advantage we had was that it wasn't as dark as it was under the Shattered Temple. Here, the Museum lay just above us, all its lights on, and besides there was a weird diffuse light, at least in this upper part of the pit near Tide itself. Not a lot, but it turned what should have been pitch blackness into twilight, and every little helps at the bottom of the sea.
    I took a few steps down the slope, adjusting to the added pressure on the servos. I wish I had more to say about what it was like there, but there was truly nothing. Just rock, sloping on and on into the abyss, and, always just over my shoulder, Tide. I don't even know if it really noticed us, or if it cared. It felt like it, but of course it would. Maybe we were just too insignificant for us to matter to it.

    My breath was deafening in the confines of the helmet. I moved slowly, sweeping my headlight regularly back and forth across the way, but nothing was immediately obvious – and a key stone would be. You always know when you've found one. They don't tarnish, and they sparkle like anything in the light.

    Coming out of the Museum's shadow, I considered my options. I could go deeper, though I felt like that was too far. The key stone might have fallen down into the abyss, but I didn't feel like it would. The Suit didn't, after all. Nor did the Red Orb. Something had kept them here – the Orb's groundedness, maybe, or whatever weird stasis it was that kept this place so unnaturally still.

    “Has to be here somewhere,” I said, mostly to hear something other than my breath. Edie, a pointed face on the screen, nodded and played a determined-sounding snippet of music.

    I turned and headed back up the slope and to the right, to see if I'd got the angle of approach wrong. With the narrow cone of light I had to work with, it would have been easy to miss―

    Hail.


    It boiled up from between the stones, from within the water, and expanded in a second into a thing shaped like a human but not like one in all the ways that mattered. Blood roaring in my ears, I jumped so hard I wrenched my arm twisting against the Suit; half a second later, the motors tried to interpret my movements and nearly broke my leg. For a moment I teetered on one heel, a hair's breadth away from a long fall that would never, ever end―

    D :, said Edie, and locked the Suit's joints. I managed to headbutt the visor with enough force to give myself a spectacular bruise across my forehead, but for the most part I was paralysed, and the Suit rocked gently back into a stable upright position.

    “Tide's bloody goddrowned flukes!” I shrieked into the defunct microphone. “Holy― I― oh, gods below. Gods below. What in all blood.”

    We did not intend to do that, said Tooth, peering at me with what might have been an expression of concern. We are glad you didn't die.

    “You and me both, O monstrous and bloody mighty,” I muttered, trying and failing to rein in the blasphemy. (There were two gods right there. It was a really bad idea to keep swearing at them. I couldn't stop anyway.) “Um. Gods below. I mean, sorry. Didn't mean to say any of that.” I took a deep breath. “OK, Edie, you can let go now. It's starting to get disconcerting.”

    ♪, she said, and unlocked the Suit.

    We cannot hear you through that helmet, though we can guess at your words from your thoughts
    . Tooth's head swayed back and forth in response to rhythms that didn't seem to make sense for any animal I could think of. Uncertain, broken movements like a dying machine. There is not long at any rate. Even here in Tide's shadow, and even with you in your armour, we have no more than six hundred and ten seconds before our presence causes irreparable damage to your suit, and consequently to you.

    “OK. Um, wait, irreparable – I mean, O monstrous, O―”

    We do not think there is time for much ornament of speech, interrupted Tooth. Its skin was crawling, I noticed – literally shifting, like its flesh was full of maggots, tearing it apart from within. Bits of it kept coming off as floating flakes of rust. It was awful, and I couldn't stop looking at it. Here is the very short version: we are dying, very slowly, and it is killing everything around us. So close as we are to Tide and its energies, the process is slowed. Otherwise we would have sought to speak with you before. Unfortunately, a meeting anywhere else would have killed you.

    “Oh,” I said. “Um―”

    There is no time for that. Firstly: the key stone you want is over there.
    It raised two tentacles and wound them around each other until the skin burst and they merged into one muscular arm; in the same movement, it pointed to a spot a little to the north of where we were standing. The other four have proven problematic. We have located them – seized and brought to Jonah's Respite – but cannot retrieve them without damaging them. Tooth raised the one hand it currently had. Its fingers were thick and vibrating with decay. Our touch is certain destruction.

    “I see,” I said. “That's―”

    No time. Even with this issue, this is the most successful iteration by far. Very few of us have seen this result. It is anticipated that only a handful will achieve the ultimate end. Tooth paused, staggered a little on its needle-like legs. Something red and painful flickered through my mind in place of words. It grows worse. We will have to leave sooner than we thought if we are to avoid killing you. There will be explanations, one day. For now, Avice … It hesitated, head angled strangely, the luminous hole in its chest pulsing. Take this stone, and what else you find here. Probably it will be useful. We hope it will. And take, too, a warning: Tethys is coming.

    “I knew―”

    Its eyes shone whitely from the uncomfortable geometry of its face.

    We do not mean those agency corvettes, it said. We mean the fleet.

    I don't know if I can say what it felt like to hear that. There's a cliché in stories about blood freezing, but it's not really a cliché, is it? Like roots of ice burrowing through you, down into the flesh of your neck. Even in the heat of the Suit, I felt that cold in me.

    “The fleet,” I repeated, so quietly that I couldn't hear, let alone Tooth. Behind my words was a thought, of course, a great shrieking HOW that seemed to rock the foundations of my skull, and Tooth's face twitched in an intricate response.

    Rhiannon, it said. She ran for a long time, and well. But the city caught up.

    Rhiannon. Chess in the stinking crew quarters of the Europa. Stories swapped over cheap rum and salted fish. Not closeness, not quite, but a rough-edged angry kind of fellowship. And now this.

    “She wouldn't,” I began, but once again Tooth interrupted.

    The city is not to be denied. You know that. One of us saw it in the Hollow. Ironically enough, Virginia has a long memory, and does not forget faces. Her agents came to ask questions in a place where the crew were drinking, and left with Rhiannon. She did not come back, and now Tethys is afraid. They knew it must be you who stole the Museum from the pirates. Now they know what you plan to do with it. Another little spasm of pain. Tooth's tentacles curled tightly around itself, back hunching along joints that seemed all wrong. We are causing damage, it said, and though there isn't much room for inflection in its hollow thought-talking I swear it sounded like it was speaking through clenched teeth. We must go. And you must be swift. They will head for the Sky Pillar. You must arrive before them.

    It backed away, arm dissolving back into tentacles, body growing thinner and more streamlined. Ready to depart, I realised.

    “Wait!” I cried. “Tooth – um, your divinity – I have to ask―”

    We know you do, it said, drawing back. That is how you attracted our attention.

    Then it was gone again, as rapidly as it had appeared: it moved, or it dissolved, I'm not sure which, and all I saw was a faint dark blur before it had gone beyond the light.

    “But,” I said. “But I have to know.”

    There were no answers down there. Just the dark, and the itch in the back of my neck from being watched. I looked at the place where Tooth had gone for a while – where little scabby pieces of its broken skin still hung in the water, surface misted with bubbles from the rot – but there was nothing. Of course there wasn't. No one was going to tell me if Rhiannon was alive, or Aranea.

    Then a red light flashed inside my helmet and broke the spell.

    WARNING, said the little screen by my left eye. SAFETY PARAMETERS EXCEEDED.

    And, just in case I hadn't got the message, Edie's face appeared, looking distraught.

    !, she said. >>>>>!!!

    I took that as a request to get moving, so I headed over to the place where Tooth had indicated the key stone ought to be. Nothing felt damaged – the Suit still moved with me, and I could still breathe – and I couldn't see anything wrong either, but I had a feeling Edie probably knew best in this case. After a moment, the red light stopped flashing, but the warning message stayed up, and I figured I should probably be getting out of the Suit sooner rather than later.

    “Here we are, then,” I said, stooping to pick up the stone. Like I said, it was impossible to miss, winking brightly in the headlight. “One more.”

    My voice sounded flat in my ears. It really didn't seem like much of a victory. One key stone. One, and four more beyond my reach. And the fleet breathing down my neck.

    Everything in me said that this was not how the world worked. One woman doesn't fight a fleet. That kind of hero only exists on paper. I'm not blind to the shape of the world, dear reader, even if I do have to make it into a story in order to sleep at night. You know that by now, I hope. And yet here I am, and there I was, the only thing standing between Tethys and five hundred more years of forgetting.

    It's too much. Even then, before everyone started dying. I was nineteen when I first met Maxie. Now I'm twenty-one and I don't know how to be a normal person any more.




    But let's not dwell on the

    Drown it. I'm tired of not dwelling. I'm almost back at Tethys and I've almost finished my story and I'm tired, reader. For a few days, the world asked me to carry it and I did it, I did, but when I got it off my shoulders again I found I couldn't straighten up properly. That something in me had been broken by the weight.

    I'm sorry. It's probably the weather talking. It's got cold and cloudy again, and generally not conducive to a good mood. I'm going to call it a chapter here and go … somewhere. I don't know where.

    Where we're all going, I guess. Onwards.
     
    Last edited: Nov 14, 2016
  5. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine Gone. Not coming back.

    TWENTY-SEVEN: THE ARMADA OF THOSE WHO RUN

    If you are a villain, a madman, a beast,
    If you are a strowler, a prowler, a priest,
    If you are a dragon come sit at our feast,
    For we all have stripes, and we all have horns,
    We all have scales, tails, manes, claws and thorns
    And here in the dark is where new worlds are born.

    ―Catherynne M. Valente, 'A Monstrous Manifesto'


    Look, I didn't mean what I said last night.

    No. That's not convincing at all, is it? OK. Different tack: what I've done has had consequences. It left scars. On the world, on me, in me. And I know, I didn't mention them before and maybe that was wrong of me, but I couldn't have told you until now, dear reader. Not that I didn't want to, I just … couldn't.

    None of which is to say that anything I've told you is a lie, exactly. I have been happy, these past few weeks. But happiness and sorrow aren't mutually exclusive, as any ghost will tell you. And I'll get to the specifics in due time, I promise. I really will. We just have to get to the Sky Pillar first, because, just like I said when I first started to write this history, there's more you need to know before you can understand.

    So let's get moving. I got back to the Museum, popped the seal on the helmet and took it off; that was when I saw what Tooth had meant when it said it was causing damage. The Suit's surface was pitted and corroded, swaths of paint stripped off and the alloy beneath so full of tiny holes it was like sandpaper to the touch. Tooth was right to leave when it did. Any longer and something would have got damaged, a motor jammed or a pipe split, and that would either have left me trapped at the bottom of the sea or out of oxygen.

    “What the hell happened?” asked Maxie, taking the helmet from me and turning it over in his hands. “Did it attack you, or―?”

    “It's dying,” I said. “Dissolving or rotting or something. Like in a cloud of acid.”

    “What did it want?” asked Zinnia.

    “To warn me.” I hesitated. I didn't want to say it, didn't want to bring the knowledge into the real world of the Museum from the weirdness outside. “We're on a timer now. It's – the fleet is coming.”

    “Huh?”

    “Tethys,” said Maxie quietly, and I nodded. “Well. Damn.”

    “Yeah.”

    A pause. I dripped. Edie unobtrusively disentangled herself from the Aqua Suit.

    “How did they find us?” asked Maxie.

    “Rhiannon,” I said. “Virginia caught her in the Hollow.”

    He nodded slowly.

    “I don't suppose she had much of a choice about whether she told them what she knew.”

    “No,” I said. “You know what the city's like. It has a hold on you, and the CCC …” I shook my head. “I don't want to think about it.”

    “Fair. So what now?”

    “Uh, run, I guess? This isn't the corvettes, Maxie, we can't just avoid them. By now they'll probably have got word back to Tethys and the battleships will be coming.” I looked at Zinnia. “Please tell me you know where the Sky Pillar is.”

    “Sure I do,” she said, surprised. “Isn't it on the maps?”

    “I'd never heard of it before you,” I said. “I'm hoping that means the city hasn't, either.”

    “So we may be able to beat them there,” said Maxie. “Right. And, ah, what about …?”

    “The key stones?” I rolled the one I had around in the palm of my hand. “I don't know. Can we call Rayquaza with one?”

    We all looked at Zinnia. Her expression was not encouraging.

    “In theory? Yeah, sure. But is it gonna happen? Nuh-uh. You'd stand a better chance just yelling Rayquaza's name at the sky.”

    Another pause.

    “Do we have any other options?” I asked, after it had become unbearable.

    “I guess not,” she said. “C'mon, then. Let's get you out of that Suit before it breaks on you.”




    So we ran. Simple as that. It felt like there should have been more ceremony to it, but still Tide didn't seem to care. We just turned the Museum around and started churning a trail of white water to the southeast. Back out over the walls, past the calm zone where the monsters live, through the ship-killing ring of wild black water; weeks of repairs and narrow escapes, three days lost when floating debris took out an engine and Edie and I had to brave the violent currents in the hastily patched-up Aqua Suit to put it right; a long, awful journey, every day ending with us a little less far ahead than we wanted to be. We couldn't go fast, or the Museum would have been sunk for sure. All we could do was inch forward, agonisingly slowly, and hope we made it out of the Chapel's influence in time.

    But there was one good thing to come out of all this. Stealing the Museum and taking it to the Blue Chapel, we'd made ripples, and the thing about ripples is that they keep on going until they've spread across the whole ocean, no matter how feeble they seem to get. We made ripples, and somewhere out there was someone with one eye on the water's surface.

    So when we crested the crater wall again and brought the Museum soaring out into open ocean, he was waiting.

    “What the hell!” exclaimed Maxie, as the Museum rose. “Is that― Christ!”

    “What?” I asked. “What is it?”

    He pointed, somewhat uncertainly, at what looked like absolutely nothing out on the seabed.

    “It's― no, hang on. I'm sure I feel―” He broke off abruptly and began to turn the Museum to starboard.

    “Wait, what? Maxie, that's north―”

    “I know!” he cried, with a strange fervent energy that was entirely unlike him. “Avice, I realise that trusting me has not always ended terribly well for you in the past, but please. Trust me now!”

    So I did, and I waited half an hour, and then I saw him too. He must have seen us from miles off – we had all our lights on – and had been coming towards us already, so that we met him on the slope down to the seabed. He was so small out there in the abyss: a tiny blue light shining in the darkness, walking impossibly along the bottom of the sea.

    When we opened the airlock for him, there was a silence that swallowed up all the little noises that make the world, and then he spoke.

    “Well, hello again, lass,” said Archie McLeod. “Reckon I owe you an apology.”

    There was a lot to say, obviously. He'd missed a lot, and we for our part had no idea where he'd gone or how he'd found his way back to us. At first he'd gone north, it turned out – not for any particular reason, but just because it was a direction and it took him away from the dead girl on the beach. Then easily enough he'd fallen back into wandering the ocean, as he always had done before. There's a knack to it, he says: if you're dead, you don't get tired, or at least not physically, and you can catch yourself at the peak of your sprint and hold yourself in it forever. You cross oceans that way, your mind relaxed out of your muscles, your body moving like a phantom machine beneath you. So Archie ran, away and in general, and as he moved from settlement to settlement he began to hear rumours that the Alcmene had been stolen from the pirates again.

    “Didn't believe it at first,” he said. “But I kept hearing it, and then I went to look, and … well, lass, I knew I'd screwed up then.”

    He calls it a lack of faith. I think it'd be more accurate to say it was just a bad decision made in a lot of pain. But that's how things are, I suppose. A ghost is made of regret at least as much as a human is, and we all believe we're traitors to ourselves, one way or another.

    Anyway, he found that the Museum really was gone, and was pretty sure he knew where we would have taken it. The most amazing thing is that he followed us. Can you imagine it? Alone, on foot, heading towards your own worst memory – and of your own free will. It would have been OK if he hadn't returned. It was better that he did, but we could have managed without him, and we would have understood. He knew that as well as we did, and he came back anyway. Across open ocean, through the raging currents, into the zone of hyperalive monstrosities – all the way back to the Blue Chapel, to his worst enemies, to Kyogre, to me.

    I never get used to it, dear reader. Over the course of this mission, I've seen the love and courage and beauty of people so many times, their willingness to risk it all for some weird-looking girl from the city that nobody trusts, just because she has some harebrained scheme to raise the land – I've seen it time and again, and it still takes my breath away. Edie. Ulixa. Berenice. The kadabra. Archie. All it takes is for them to believe, and suddenly people start changing the world.

    That's why this was worth it, I guess. I can't say I like being the thing that people believe in – it's a dangerous sort of power and too easily misdirected – but I did show people what they could do. I think. It's like being a trainer, I guess. You acquire partners, team-mates, and through your direction they grow to their fullest strength. Except that here the stakes were slightly higher than a handful of gym badges.

    Anyway, the point is, Archie – amazingly, against all the odds – returned, and he didn't come back empty-handed. While he didn't say as much, I got the feeling he thought this was a way of making things up to me. I never told him it wasn't necessary. I didn't want to gore any more holes in his dignity, after all that had happened.

    “You know the key stones are in Jonah's Respite,” he said. “Well, I can go one better. I got the whole story off the guards at the storehouse. See, that captain, she tried to sell them on, as you would – but the King had alerted all his people, right, that if they ran across anyone selling key stones they should get them to him. I mean, there's a war on, right, and he's facing the possibility of actually getting into a straight fight at some point, when he's going to be called on to mega evolve his aerodactyl and everyone's going to realise that he's gone and lost the Prophet's key stone.

    “So he's on the lookout for any way to get another one, and what d'you know? Someone's selling a whole bunch of them at once in Nueville, auctioning 'em off to the highest bidder. Perfect. Sends some spooks over, seizes the shipment, job done. He's prepared for any future fights, and he's got three extra key stones into the bargain. Solid day's work by anyone's standards.”

    He'd assumed we'd be able to go back and grab them. It was always a long shot – we couldn't take the Museum into the Respite, for one thing, so we'd have had to stash it somewhere and traded a few of its treasures for passage on another ship – but it could have been done, if we'd had the time. With the fleet bearing down upon us, though, going back was out of the question. We had one stone, one chance, and no time.

    That was the first conversation. There were more, of course; we'd grown, if not comfortable with, then used to Archie's absence by then, and he couldn't slot himself back in among us without a little bit of tension. Late on the night following his return, after I'd gone to bed and Zinnia had retired to her perch in the conning tower, he and Maxie had their reckoning.

    It started, as such things so often do, with a protracted silence. We weren't quite out of the calm zone yet, and it wasn't yet necessary to have two pilots, but they were both there anyway, watching the ocean go by.

    “So, you're back,” said Maxie. It was the first thing he'd said to Archie since he'd come aboard.

    “I am,” replied Archie.

    A shaft of light from one of the lamps broke into a knot of weed. Lopsided corphish fled from its cover in all directions.

    “I suppose congratulations are in order.”

    Archie shot him a look. It was not quite one of those thunderbolt glares, but it wasn't far off.

    “Are you mocking me?”

    “Don't tempt me.” Maxie sighed. “No. It … was hard enough coming here with Avice. You did it alone.”

    “Oh, naw,” said Archie lightly. “Done it before.”

    A sharp movement of the eye.

    “Indeed?”

    “Well. Not this far.” He rubbed distractedly at his beard. “I've been through the bit with the currents a few times. Never made it to the crater.”

    Maxie nodded the slow nod of appreciation.

    “Even so,” he said. “You're a braver man than I.”

    “Oh aye, like that's difficult.” It didn't have the usual edge to it, for all its acidity, and Archie seemed to realise it. “Ah, forget it. Not like I had a choice.”

    “There's always a choice.”

    “Nah,” said Archie. “There ain't.”

    Some private memory hung between them for a moment, and was gone.

    “Maybe,” conceded Maxie. “Insofar as sometimes a choice is no choice at all.”

    “There you go.”

    The lamps picked out the jagged outline of a wrecked vessel up ahead, and the two of them began to nudge the Museum upwards and to the left.

    “I am, of course, furious with you,” said Maxie.

    “Yeah, I expected as much,” admitted Archie. “And y'know, I'll … I'll take that, for once.”

    “Don't try to worm your way,” began Maxie, and stopped. “I was anticipating a different response.”

    “For a minute there, so was I.”

    Something shifted in the heart of the wreck: eyes, coils, teeth, glinting for an instant of writhing motion as the Museum passed by, and then disappearing deeper into the interior.

    “You get some ugly bastards round here, don't you?” remarked Archie.

    “You would know.”

    “With cheekbones like these? You've got to be joking.”

    He was smiling though, and so was Maxie, and for a second they were grinning at each other before they noticed and were solemn once again.




    I don't think I've mentioned it explicitly yet, dear reader, but things are so much better now than they were. I mean, part of it is definitely down to the fact that we're not on a dangerous, uncertain mission, but another, larger part is that everyone is so much calmer now. There aren't so many arguments. Until Mackenzie showed up, I don't think anyone had shouted at anyone else since the Sky Pillar. Even then, Archie was only doing it because she was pecking at all the buttons in the bridge and nearly flooded the reactor, which to be fair is something that warrants a reaction.

    It's just been nice, to not have all that tension in the air. This is a good environment in which to recover, and to write. OK, the pokémon have spiced things up a bit – the manectric is still extremely protective of her cubs, the pupitar keeps sharpening its spines on important pieces of machinery and the vulpix are proving spectacularly difficult to house-train, but with relatively few exceptions it's been pretty relaxed.

    I guess it started with Archie's return, in lots of ways. We were still kind of screwed, but if you're going to fail you might as well fail in good company, and despite everything it was good to have the crew back together.

    Apart from anything else, it's never a bad thing to have someone who wasn't there to offer some perspective on things, and that is exactly what Archie did. When morning came to his first full day back aboard, I brought my coffee to the bridge (a thrilling behind-the-scenes tidbit: it's been my habit for the last year or so to have breakfast there with the ghosts and the backdrop of ocean, before we go our separate ways for the day's work) and learned more or less immediately that he had thoughts about what had happened in his absence.

    “Heard you got patched up by the kadabra, lass,” he said. “Maxie seems a little unclear on the details, though.”

    “I was incapable of hearing a single word they said,” called Maxie from across the room. “I told you to ask Avice if you wanted more.”

    “And I did, so I am.” He nudged a chair out with one foot. “Tell me, then. What's been going on?”

    I gave him the story in broad strokes, then filled out the details according to his questions. By the time I was halfway through, he'd started scowling, and I knew that he was only waiting for me to finish before he started explaining an idea.

    “OK,” I said, raising my eyebrows. “I'm going to stop there. What's up?”

    “Eh?”

    “You're thinking about something,” I said. “And I'm curious.”

    He laughed, surprised.

    “Is it that obvious?”

    “You have what might be called a highly mobile face,” said Maxie. “I'm sure I've pointed it out to you on more than one occasion.”

    “I'll take that as a yes, then.” Archie grinned, but only briefly. “Listen, hearing all that … I've got an idea. It's probably the only way you're gonnae get past the fleet, if it arrives at the Pillar before us. And you're really not gonnae like it.”

    I leaned on one elbow and sipped my coffee.

    “I'm listening.”

    “Cautious, eh?” said Archie. “Can't blame you. I think … there's no way to put this well, Avice, so I'll tell you straight. If you're going up against the city, you're gonnae need an army. And unlike anyone else in the ocean, you've actually got a way to raise one without even stopping at port. You've got the kadabra on side, and if they can send you all the way to Jonah's Respite they can send a message just as far.”

    I waited until he was finished speaking, and shook my head.

    “No.”

    “I thought you'd say that.” Archie had been sitting on a table; now, he got up and sat in a chair opposite me. “Believe me, lass. You know what I've done. How many people I led to their deaths. I wouldn't say it unless I had to. But if we run into a fleet, you have to know that the Museum won't last a minute. You'll be dead, and no one's coming to finish this job for you.”

    “We don't even know if it's going to work,” I said. “It probably won't, even, not with one stone. Is a failure worth getting anyone killed?”

    “Tell them to bring their stones,” said Archie. “Anyone who's listening―”

    “Who's going to be listening? 'Hail, guys, it's me, someone you've never heard of, please bring your most treasured possessions to the middle of nowhere to help me fight Tethys and save the world?' Who in all blood listens to that?”

    I paused, forced myself to calm down. Archie didn't deserve this.

    “Sorry,” I said. “I didn't mean that, or I did, but I didn't mean to say it like that. I can't ask people to throw themselves at Tethys for something like this, Archie. Even if I could, no one will listen to some random woman claiming she can save the world.”

    Now it was his turn to wait, though as I had I think he had already formed his answer.

    “No,” he agreed. “No one'll listen to some random woman, lass. But they'll listen to the woman who stole the Museum from Tethys and the Alcmene from Jonah's Respite. They'll listen to the woman who escaped the Respite so hard that she fooled half the city into thinking it was under attack. They'll listen to the woman who went up against the pirate king and won.” He leaned back in his chair, spreading the fingers of one hand. “Don't know if you've noticed,” he said, “but you ain't exactly some random woman, Avice. Not any more.”

    I did not take the bait. I don't think I could have done, even I I'd wanted to.

    “You're forgetting,” I said. “They think I'm a Tethys spy.”

    “Do they?” He shrugged. “Some of 'em, maybe. But there's rumours that you ain't, and the more the King's people insist it's not true the more people believe it. 'Specially since there's talk that you caused as much trouble for Tethys as for the pirates. Wasn't just citizens who saw that, see? Merchants, too. Seamen. And you know what they're like, they dropped the story first port they came to.”

    “Archie,” I began, but I didn't really have anything else to add to it. “Archie,” I said again, as if that would help.

    There was a long moment in which nobody said anything. It felt far too early in the morning for a moment like that.

    “As much as I hate to say it,” said Zinnia, “he has a point.”

    I hadn't heard her enter, though she must have been there long enough to overhear everything.

    “He does,” said Maxie. “I wish he didn't.”

    “So do I,” said Archie.

    I held onto my mug with both hands because I didn't know what to do with them. I looked around at their faces. I felt something closing in on my head like the air was turning into glue.

    “I'll think about it,” I said, and I ran away.




    You probably know how all this turned out, in the end. Even if you've never heard of me, I imagine that you're at least conceptually aware that there was a battle in the small hours before the Great Sunrise. I want to make it all clear, though. However much I might chop and change the history I've lived, this truth has to remain as clear as I can make it. I did take up Archie's suggestion. I brought those people to the Sky Pillar with me to fight for the possibility of a new world. My saving grace is that I made sure to attach conditions: we'd get there and if, only if, we had a good shot at making it actually work, then we'd fight. No one would have to risk death for nothing.

    I don't know how I would have stopped them fighting if things had turned out differently, if we hadn't found a way to summon Rayquaza after all. Maybe it wouldn't have been possible. Maybe people would have flung themselves at the Tethys ships anyway, having come that far. Or maybe everything would have dissolved when they saw me for what I was, without the allure of a sunlit future to hide my failings: a nobody from nowhere, a Tethys runaway with nothing going for her but a pointlessly intricate knowledge of the civic legal system. Maybe someone would have killed me, to take the Museum. Maybe they would have been right to.

    None of that happened, obviously. Things worked out. People got their future, their sun. And all it cost was enough blood to repaint Nueville in red.

    Anyway, let's get to the hows and wherefores of it all. Getting the kadabra's attention was easy enough: they had spies everywhere, as you and I know well enough, and there was no chance they wouldn't be keeping an eye on me, especially when they'd lost me mid-exchange and needed to know whether or not they'd accidentally killed me. I just asked to be directed to a buoy a few times, and eventually a haunter that had been floating alongside the Museum, dissolved in the water so that it was invisible to the eye, came in through a wall to show us the way.

    Haunter always seem like they should be threatening up close, but I think a lot of that's an act: they eat fear, after all, so maintaining a reputation is pretty important to them. This one, who had no interest at all in feeding on me, was actually kind of boring, once you got used to the fact that you could see through it if you looked too closely. It couldn't talk, or it refused to, it didn't glow or shriek or snatch at you with its claws; all it did was point, over and over, and all we could do was follow. I'd expected more, honestly, though my view of ghost-types might have been influenced by Lillian, who was always and deliberately the monster in a ghost story. I guess she got it from Berenice, or the other way around. Pretending to be what you already are is something she and I were both intimately familiar with.

    We found the buoy, in the end, on the other side of the wild zone, bobbing up and down beneath a slate-coloured sky. The haunter, its work done, submerged slowly and dissolved itself again; for my part, I went up on deck and stared hard at the buoy, at the bones rattling on their cords with the motion of the waves. After a few minutes I started to feel something, a kind of presence that wasn't quite like a mind but seemed similar, and I leaned into it the way I'd learned to in the Consensus – and then there it was, suddenly, the same old cacophony of inaudible sound. Fainter, and more distant, as if I were hearing it through a glass pressed against a door, but there.

    “Hail,” I said, across countless miles of ocean. “I'll get right to it. You've probably noticed, but there's been a complication.”

    And now you want to know what I said, because I guess this is a historic speech now, even if it wasn't much of one. The first message to be … broadcast across the whole ocean, and one of the most important ones of our generation.

    I really wish I'd put a little more thought into it now, but at the time I guess it didn't seem important. My main concern was to keep it short enough to not degrade too much as it was transmitted.

    Hail, went my message. My name is Avice Amrit dol' nowhere in particular. You might have heard of me. I stole the Museum, the Alcmene, caused chaos in Tethys and Jonah's Respite, and recently survived being thrown overboard the NNL Exceptional. You might also have heard I'm trying to raise the land. This is also true. All that's standing in my way now is one Tethys fleet that's blocking access to the Sky Pillar, where I need to be to finish things. I've done all I can to make this happen. Now I need you, and any key stones you have, if you can get them. I won't lie to you: our chances of success are slim, but for every one of you that hears this and comes, they grow a little. I'm asking for your help, people of Hoenn. We were once a nation. We can be again.

    I know that I am asking a lot. More, certainly, than I have any right to ask of you. But if you can, if you're willing, then come to Old Town. I'll be waiting.

    Not great oratory, you'll agree. Better speeches have been made with fewer resources. All I can say is that I had a lot on my mind, and very little time in which to express it: the faster we got this thing going, the more likely we could hit the Pillar before Tethys, and the more likely we could avoid a fight. If I could clear the skies before Tethys engaged, I might even break the fleet without any bloodshed at all. The city's hold is strong, I knew, but I'd seen the old audiovisual recordings, and I had an inkling of how bright the sun really was, even then. Even someone as fanatical as Virginia might think twice about her priorities in the face of something like that.

    What next? Tethys, I suppose: you're probably thinking, dear reader, that I'd made a terrible error in my speech, giving away my position like that. I'd be inclined to agree, but for two things. One, the kadabra were able to direct their broadcast, after a fashion. The city never heard my speech. Its agents abroad undoubtedly did, but even if they sent word home via dusknoir courier, the response would be delayed – and as far as I know, agents can't actually call in a dusknoir; they're sent out by the CCC at regular intervals to collect reports, as they were for Rhiannon.

    And two, while Tethys skirmishes with pirates at the drop of a hat, an attack on a settlement is another matter. Old Town was at that time somewhere north of the Sky Pillar and southeast of the Chapel – it's difficult to be precise when it moves so much – and so it was a long way south of the city's shipping lanes, where the bulk of its fleet was concentrated. Sending a detachment to the Pillar while keeping up the pressure on the pirates was probably enough of a strain on its resources, without making more enemies by sending troops to Old Town. I was pretty confident, based on a mixture of what I'd learned in school and the less pro-city version of events I'd picked up over the last couple of years, that Tethys would be relying on its forces at the Sky Pillar to stop me.

    Am I getting the order of things muddled? I think I am, a little. The kadabra agreed, I should say that – possibly to protect their investment, possibly because they believed in this idea, probably both and many other reasons besides. There were protests and dissenters, but I couldn't really hear them with the distance between me and the Consensus, and anyway they seemed to be outnumbered. So the next day, at about eleven in the morning, I heard my own voice speaking inside my head, hugely loud, and knew that the message was out.

    After that, all there was to do was go.




    Old Town. It was old when the world was made over, a settlement built on an atoll where coral and corsola intermingled in a tangle of pink stone. When the waters rose, the town rose with them, riding the corsola that fled the deep water in search of new shallows to call their home. They didn't find any, of course, but they adapted – and the townspeople started breeding them, too, selecting for size and intelligence. It only took a few generations, and the town had itself a colony of living motors underneath it. After that, Old Town went where it wanted.

    Back where it used to be, the corsola that stayed went a different way. That's how we ended up with the Reefs, all those giant coral spires with edges that can open up a hull like tissue paper, and their inhabitants that turned dark/water and carnivorous in the depths. No one goes there any more, but they go to Old Town – to stare, if nothing else. Because Old Town is, as the inhabitants like to say, the last real bastion of Hoenn. You meet people there who can trace their family lines back a hundred years before the making over and further still – people who measure out their pride by how few times they've left their home settlement, if at all. There's a Pokémon Centre there, although it's now a ridiculously expensive hotel, and it still has the healing machines, and a resident doctor with the traditional pink hair and blissey. There are people who don't use gentilics, who cling onto the old world tradition of surnames even now, in a world where your ship or your settlement is the difference between life and death. There are real wooden houses there, caulked in pitch to keep out the water, that have been inhabited continuously for over seven hundred years.

    They don't have any real army there to speak of, or any money. It's not like Tethys or the Respite, or even the Hollow. They've barely built a thing since the making over. All they have is age, a frightening amount of history that goes right back to the beginning of the world and out the other side, but that's enough. The Tethys Administration hates it, the pirates are wary of it, and sailors the ocean over have tall tales to tell about it. The settlement so ancient they put it in the name. Old Town.

    We caught up with it, like I said, when it was somewhere north of the Sky Pillar. It tends to stay to the south, out of the way of the major powers – kind of an unspoken contract, really; if Old Town ever really did interfere in civic business, for instance, I'm not sure even its venerability would save it – and this was about as far north as it ever came. I don't rightly know exactly what governs its movements. Possibly it's to do with keeping a steady supply of food for the corsola, although now that I think about it, I have absolutely no idea what it is that corsola eat. I guess I could look it up in the pokédex. If I really wanted to.

    They were waiting for me, of course – a small army of wide-eyed townsfolk, urchins and assorted roamers of the ocean, some of whom, I got the impression, had been hanging around the Old Town docks for the whole month since my message had gone out. I could see them as we approached, dozens of faces like candles among the wooden buildings.

    “Winding down,” Maxie said, reading figures off a screen. “Everything looks to be in order.”

    “Nothing damaged?” I asked.

    “Nothing damaged.”

    We'd had to use the Infinity Engines. Not at such a high pitch as when we tried to escape from Jonah's Respite, but we'd agreed we needed to be at Old Town before anyone who responded to my message got there. If they arrived and I wasn't there, they might well just leave again – and given that I wasn't expecting a high turnout, I didn't want to lose what little help did turn up.

    “Good,” I said. And, a moment later: “Quite a big welcome party.”

    “It's a pretty distinctive ship,” said Zinnia. “Which is maybe the best thing you can say about Archie's redesign.”

    “It was themed―”

    “Archie. It's a joke.”

    “Oh. Right.” He blinked sheepishly and reapplied himself to his console. “Er, if we're stopping here for any length of time, lass, could you pick up more scrap? Could use more steel and copper. Little bit of gold, too, for the circuitry, but not much, mind.”

    “Sure.”


    I watched the dock come closer, the ramshackle wooden skeleton of Old Town growing clearer as we approached. Five or six arms radiated out from the centre like the limbs of a starfish, each one with its burden of crooked timber buildings. It looked like you could sail right up to the centre, where the big weather-bleached Pokémon Centre sign rose like a flag, but if you did, you'd not come back again. Not far below the surface were the thousand razored prongs of the corsola, and reefs of symbiotic coral that grew from the underside of the town.

    The dock itself was tiny, a few wooden jetties at the extreme end of one arm. More a suggestion of where to stop than a functioning dock, really. The corsola couldn't pull both the town and the weight of any moored ships, so in general coming to Old Town meant not so much stopping as moving very slowly in the same direction as the settlement itself.

    Signal-lights flashed from a little tower atop what I guess was the harbourmaster's office: blue blue blue, all clear. We came in as close as we could – the Museum was about as big as one of Old Town's arms – and Maxie cut the main engines.

    “There,” he said. “That should do it. Perhaps it will need adjusting every now and then, but by and large, we should stay alongside the town.”

    I didn't move. I was still looking out of the window. Twenty, thirty, fifty faces there, of all shapes and hues and degrees of cleanliness. It made me ill to think of them.

    “Well?” he asked. “Shall we?”

    “Yeah,” I said slowly. “Just … 'sflukes, what are they expecting from me? What do they want? I'm going to step out there and – and what, exactly?”

    “You're gonna speak to the dock official,” said Zinnia, taking hold of my upper arm. “You'll answer the questions, pay your docking fee and go to the market to buy supplies. That's all.”

    What I wanted to say was something like this: it's the way they look, Zinnia, the way they're waiting as if a monster hunter's come to town and they want to see the scars and the armour made of crawdaunt shells and the trophies torn from dragalge and roaming-isles. It's the anticipation of something to marvel at. Like the looks I get in Tethys and elsewhere, the looks that try to decipher me. It's the fact that mine is a life lived only in these eyes and by their grace, and I will never be able to take them without unease.

    But there is a time and place for concerns like those and it was not then, when the world was waiting expectantly for the Museum to open up and show it the enigmatic heroine of all those tall tales that had been making the rounds, so I didn't say that. Instead I breathed, I rearranged my shoulders, I brushed my hair out of my eyes and I cleared my throat.

    “Edie,” I said. “Get the doors, please.”

    And she did, and distantly a cold grey slab of light opened up, and I walked down the corridor and out into the history books.




    I can only imagine they were disappointed. The onlookers at the docks, I mean. Whoever they'd been expecting, it probably wasn't what they got. I'd put a bit of effort into my appearance – all right, a lot of effort, I did mention that I'm vain – but I'm not exactly intimidating, even on a good day. I don't even have the sort of … swashbucklingness, if that's a word, that someone like Berenice has.

    You'll notice that I say I imagine their reaction. That's because I didn't look. I just did exactly as Zinnia suggested: went and registered myself and put down a deposit on the docking fee, then headed into town to find the market. Didn't meet a single eye. Possibly it wasn't the right thing to do, but I'm drowned if I know what was.

    It didn't seem to matter in the end. They were all gone by the time I got back, though I don't think they'd gone far. Exactly five minutes after I'd finished helping the porters lug boxes of scrap aboard, the first respondent came calling.

    Zinnia saw him first, hanging around by the airlock I'd left with its outer door open facing onto the jetty. He didn't quite seem to have the courage to knock, so I took advantage of the time to prepare my thoughts, then let him in myself.

    “Oh,” he said, when the door slid open and I looked out, eyebrow raised. “'Scuse me, is, uh, Avice …?”

    “I'm Avice,” I replied. “Are you here about the message?”

    “Uh, yeah,” he said. “Um. Sorry, you're … younger than I expected.”

    The old litany. I've heard it so many times that I keep finding myself believing it too, even after everything I've done. The guy couldn't have been older than twenty-six himself, though he did look like he'd seen a few corners of the ocean, and got into fights in a couple of them. He had a blue bird pokémon with a ruff of stiff white feathers around its neck sitting on his shoulder, and from the way it looked at me I could tell it was a battler. Something about the way they size you up that always gives it away.

    “Yeah, I get that a lot,” I said, folding my arms. “Do you have a ship?”

    “Huh? No,” he said. “No, but I – I heard your message, and if you're lookin' for people to fight, then … y'know, I'll fight.”

    It was hard not to stare. So this was what someone willing to risk their life for an uncertain future looked like. I'd looked at myself in the mirror before, trying to see what spark of madness it was in me that made me want to do this, but hadn't been able to find it. I couldn't see it in him, either. To me, he just looked like a man in his mid-twenties, greyed and roughened by low light and harsh weather.

    “You know it's Tethys we're up against?” I asked.

    He nodded.

    “Yeah, well. If you can do what you say you can do …” He seemed to be struggling to express himself. I got the feeling this wasn't exactly how he'd pictured this in his head. “Well, drown 'em, if you can – can do this, then. What choice do we got?”

    “Erudite chap, isn't he?” remarked Maxie, peering over my shoulder.

    “I think you're spoiling the moment,” said Zinnia.

    “What's your name?” I asked, tuning them out.

    “Dmitri,” he said. “Dmitri Andreevich dol' Nueville.”

    “Right,” I said. “Listen, then, Dmitri. This is going to be a ship battle, mostly. We're going to need people, sure, but we'll need them on vessels if we're going to get close enough to make this work. And we're not going to be able to come up with a plan of action until we know how many ships we're going to have. So for right now, Dmitri, what I need is support, and you can help me with that.”

    “I can?”

    He looked a bit lost. I got the feeling he wasn't used to this.

    “Yes. You can. 'Cause people are going to come to Old Town, if I'm lucky, and they're going to want to know where I am and how to contact me. That's where you come in. I need everyone to know that I'm here, and I'm for real, and that my door is open to anyone who wants in on this. You can spread the word.”

    “Oh, sure,” he said, nodding. “I can do that.”

    “And then, when we've gathered a few people together,” I said, “you can come back here, and we'll figure out where it is you go when it comes to the Sky Pillar.”

    It went down well. Of course it did: I was basically paying him to hang out in bars, which is nice work if you can get it. I gave him some kites and watched him go, feeling faintly sick. I'd done my best hero impression. I'd been enigmatic and insouciant, I'd thrown around money and a few fancy words. I'd impressed him, and now he was going to go out and tell people about the Avice he'd met, who shorn of my physical presence would be something strange, a figure out of stories, and then people would come seeking this Avice and sign up to die.

    I had arranged it all. It was easy, when you gave it a little thought. Like words on a page. I had arranged it, and even now it's hard not to hate myself for it. Bad enough to arrange the past, to marshal the facts into your story. Worse to do that to human beings.

    But listen to me. Same old lines, over and over, ever since I was a child. You of all people don't need to hear it rehearsed again, dear reader.

    What else do I want to say about my little recruitment drive? They came: how about that? Gods below, did they come. Time passed and I thought I'd been right, that no one would respond to the call, but no, they had heard and they were on their way. A few disaffected pirates first, just two or three vessels between them; I met their captains in my cabin and hid my terror behind a mask I'd copied from Zinnia, answering questions with more plausibility than I knew I had in me. Some mercenaries, no ships of their own, but all with tough pokémon and notches on their pistols. Then a week when no one came at all, and I was wondering if this was it, if I should accept what I'd been lucky enough to get and call it quits – and then the next day they came in earnest.

    Drown 'em, reader, I don't know what to say. Why did they do it? Curiosity, maybe. Hope. A sense of 'drown it, the ocean's getting torn up anyway and this is something different'. But even so, why did they stay? Who looks at me and thinks you know what, I think she can pull this off?

    Because they did. Dozens of them. Pirates and mercenaries, Tethys deserters and plain old oceanic adventurers. You know the scene at the start of a sea-romance where the questing hero walks into some smoky tavern and finds a few likely heroes to join them on their mission to take down some wicked buccaneer lord or whatever? It was like that, only bigger. The Arbalists came, or some of them: Semmerva of Iron's finest, with their crossbows and three skarmory whose feathers crashed together on each wingbeat like a thousand scattered knives. Archangel the mercenary, who everyone says is secretly a gengar puppeting a string of disposable humans. The Burning Sisters, with their five flareon and their naphtha grenades. Wailord Delilah, the monster hunter, in her grisly whalebone ship. Rafe Moreno dol' Last Lamplight, the duellist, who they say is the fastest draw in the ocean. Everyone is the protagonist of one story or another, but these were people who were the main characters of stories told and retold throughout the whole ocean – and there were others too, who were probably legendary back where they came from, and who I hadn't heard of just because those places were so far away. The self-styled Duchess of Garbage, from an island made of old-world trash, who commanded a ship held together by rust and parasitic muk. A man named Lee who rode the first charizard anyone in Old Town had seen since before the making over. Someone who shrugged and said they had no name worth the telling, but who came with an ancient sword that hovered protectively near them, a spectral eye blinking from its hilt. An ancient alakazam, hs.saio, who was themself a pokémon trainer, or whatever the kadabra equivalent is, and commanded some old sea-ghost made of seaweed and shipwrecks.

    Heroes, all of them. Or villains, I suppose, depending on who you asked. Not respectable, anyway. The sort of people who can entertain the thought of such massive heresy as the undoing of the making over. An armada of radicals and rogues, of disinherited daughters and scarred assassins.

    I know, dear reader. It doesn't seem possible. And yet it happened. No one talks about it, no one even really admits the possibility, but I think we've all been dreaming about the land ever since we lost it. How else can you explain it? Because it isn't me, not really – I did my best, but I don't kid myself that I convinced everyone who came that I was something special. I just happened to be standing in for something that everyone wanted but had always been too afraid to reach out for. I was permission to believe in the prospect of a homecoming.

    Not that I'm trying to shift the blame. I called them there: I'm responsible for what happened. That's OK. You can't change the world without staining your conscience a little, as any ghost will tell you. So I say, at least. It's less convincing when you say it to yourself. I guess history will be my judge, if Tethys doesn't get there first.

    I did send the kids away. At least I did that. They came too, of course: runaways and urchins, children of public decks and settlement alleyways, even some wealthy drifters from the merchant families in Nueville and the Hollow. I sent them all away. If I was going to get a bunch of people killed for the sake of something as insubstantial as an idea, the least I could do was make sure they knew what they were getting themselves into, and that meant people with experience. No children, no rich idlers for whom adventuring was an exciting glimpse of how the rest of the ocean got by. It was probably the only bit of all this I felt good about.

    Ulixa came, of course – fresh from the Reefs, a little more weathered and a little more scarred than I remembered, but still with the same energy, still with the same laconic arcanine like a furry mountain by her side. I'd just managed to get rid of a hopelessly unqualified but very enthusiastic scholar from Semmerva of Iron when Archie told me I had another visitor. He was grinning to himself, I think, but if I noticed it I probably didn't consider why. I was pretty much exhausted all the time by then; I had twelve ships with me then, plus miscellaneous wanderers, soldiers and marine knights-errant, and the coordination involved was much harder than I'd been anticipating. I went out, trying to summon the energy to be competent and professional, and there she was, smoking a cigarette in the drizzle like we'd parted only yesterday.

    “Well,” she said, after we'd stared at each other for a bit. “You managed to get to the ziz-marches, then?”

    “Yeah.”

    She nodded slowly. I kept staring, trying to figure out what it was I could see in her eyes. It seemed very familiar, and at the same time like nothing I could think of.

    “Guess congratulations are in order,” she said. “And I did say that I owed it to your mother to help you out, so. Here I am.”

    I detected no enthusiasm in her voice, and then I understood what it was I was seeing. I couldn't have named it, but I hadn't come across it for a long, long time – since before I'd left Tethys, since the day I told my father what I'd done and he looked old and awful and proud and infinitely sad.

    It hurt to see it again. I knew what she saw when she looked at me, and I knew I'd done it to myself. No one had forced me to take on this ridiculous mission. But I had, and now I wasn't the child she'd met in Cormac's Mourn any more, and it was one of those changes that can never be reversed.

    “Thank you,” I told her. “It means a lot.” I walked over, extending a hand, and felt her take in the change in the way I moved – a change that, until then, I hadn't even been conscious of.

    She took my hand, and shook it, and the sadness was past.

    “Don't mention it,” she said, grinning. “Your mother'd never forgive me if I didn't come. So tell me, k― Avice, what needs doin'?”
     
  6. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine Gone. Not coming back.

    She was a great help. Ulixa had a long history of adventure and banditry on the high seas, and more than a little experience of commanding a fleet. With her alongside me, trying to impose some order on the forces I'd assembled actually seemed like a halfway viable proposition. Like I said, I was only ever a symbol, an excuse: startling as it may be to realise, I don't know the first drowned thing about fleet combat. People came for me, and it was me they looked at with suspicion and wonder, but it was Ulixa who got them to actually sit down and talk to each other.

    And not before time: she was almost the last to arrive. After Ulixa brought the Sea Goblin to Old Town, only three more vessels arrived, and the stream of mercs and adventurers started to dry up. I can't include all of them, as much as I'd like to (indeed, as much as I'm obliged to) report every name and history that turned up; if nothing else, I don't have the time for it. We're only a few days out from Tethys, dear reader, and I have to be finished by the time we get there, just in case. But there is one ship I have to tell you about before I move on – a very important ship, in fact, without which we'd all still be choked in rainclouds. It was called the Scarlet Revelation, and it belonged to one of the most influential faction leaders in Jonah's Respite.

    Not that she actually knew it was here, of course.

    It must have been about one in the morning. I'd been up late interviewing someone else, as I always was – I can't remember who. Zinnia says I was trying to scare off a street gang from the Hollow who'd come here with flick-knives and naïve enthusiasm; Archie claims I was brokering some sort of peace between the Arbalists and Archangel, who were stationed on the same ship and not happy about it. (Apparently Archangel has the dubious honour of being on Semmerva's shoot-on-sight list.) Maxie swears the nameless honedge-owner was teaching me fencing, which I'm not actually sure ever happened, and I have an idea I was either being drilled in the mechanics of fleet command by Ulixa or asking a Nueville captain if she had space for some mercs.

    Honestly, I can't be sure. Everything just merges together, after a while. It feels almost sacrilegious to say it, as if I'm cheapening the horror of it all, but fighting a battle is really bloody tedious.

    Anyway, it was late, and I was tired, but I was also all fired up, mind buzzing with whatever it was I'd been doing. So I'd chosen to walk it off up on deck, where the cold night air and persistent rain would hopefully cool my head a little, and it was while I was up there in the twilight of Old Town's lamplight that the Revelation came in to port. I watched it from the rail, flickering light-signals at the dock tower and getting complex instructions in return. There wasn't a lot of space here, now. Almost every one of Old Town's berths was occupied by a vessel that had come here for me, and the rest had been taken by canny merchants who had figured that as long as all these warriors were gathered in one place, they'd have a captive market for munitions, street food and battle pokémon.

    Directions received, the Revelation coasted in towards the jetties, engines chugging quietly in the dark. It was a quiet night – they always are in Old Town, even with that many visitors – and the noise cast ripples in the calm, breaking through the sound of lapping waves and creaking timber. I watched it until it was out of sight behind one of the settlement's arms, then turned away and looked out across the water. The rain was light tonight, and you could see a light grey smudge in the sky that suggested where the moon might be: as clear a night sky as you got, back then. Nice enough that I lingered there by the rail and stared out for a while, anyway, and never noticed the person walking up to me until she spoke.

    “Beautiful night,” she said, and I started: she was right there, leaning on the rail at my side, looking out at the waves as if rapt.

    “'Sflukes,” I said. “You've really got a thing for dramatic entrances, huh.”

    And she turned to me and smiled that irrepressible grin.

    “Is there any other kind?” asked Berenice Enid dol' City's Regret.

    I couldn't answer her. I didn't want the moment to end: that heartachingly sweet delight, the distant moonlight, the cold night air and Berenice's eyes. All I could do was shake my head and smile and try not to cry.

    “Gods below,” I said, after a while. “No, I guess there isn't. Not for you, anyway. How – whose ship is that, even?”

    “Like I told you before,” she said, “I know the access codes to Kate the Carvanha's private dock. And well, me and Lil, we got your message, and I got to talking to a few like-minded individuals, and we thought, like …” She shrugged. “Well, we thought drown it, let's just take it and jet.”

    I laughed.

    “Just like that?”

    “More or less,” she admitted. “There was some unpleasantness, but not what I'd call trouble, exactly. But more importantly, there's this, too.”

    She took out a box from under her jacket, and I swear that for a moment time seemed to freeze.

    “I … is that what I think it is?”

    “I hope so, or one of us is gonna be disappointed,” she said, cracking open the lid. “Here you go. Figured you were probably missing these.”

    Four glassy little stones that glinted even now, in the dark. Two empty bottles that once held pills. And two things that hadn't been in there before, as well: two duelling pistols, plated in ormolu, one chipped where a flying date stamp had struck it.

    I knew this box, dear reader. I hadn't seen it since the Exceptional, but I'd carried the drowned thing halfway across the ocean, and I knew it when I saw it.

    “Tide,” I said. “Tide, Berenice, I …”

    I hugged her. It almost knocked the box to the floor, but what else was there to do? She'd saved us. Without those stones – well, we had them now, we had all five, and there was no point thinking about how things might have gone. Five key stones, and it's all thanks to Berenice.

    “You have no idea what this means to me,” I said. The words sounded unreal even as I said them. “I just … oh gods below, Berenice, you've saved us.”

    “Happy to do it and all part of the service and whatever,” she answered, sounding somewhat muffled. “But you're, uh, crushing the corner of the box into me.”

    “Oh. Um, sorry.”

    I disengaged hurriedly, and she pulled the box away from her chest with exaggerated deliberateness.

    “Seriously, Berenice,” I said. “I thought … honestly, I thought was just going to get us all killed for nothing.”

    She waved my concerns aside with a nonchalant flip of her hand.

    “You'd've thought of something,” she said. “It's kind of your thing.” She held out the box. “But, y'know. Just to be safe, you'd better hang onto this.”

    “I will.”

    I took it and heard the stones rolling around inside. The keys to the future, back in my hands.

    “Why did you do it?” I asked.

    “Dunno what you mean.”

    “Yes, you do. You'd got yourself a job. We went to a lot of effort to get you promoted. And now – this.” I brandished the box. “I know you stole these from the King, Berenice. I'm betting he does too.”

    That silenced her for a moment. She looked away from my eyes, gaze wandering up and down the crests of the waves, and shrugged.

    “I never really liked cops,” she said. “Which was always fine, 'cause they don't like me either, but it got kind of awkward when I was one. And the whole thing, you know, it just wasn't me, in the end. Too much in the middle of things, and me, I'm more of an edges kinda girl.”

    I sighed.

    “I know what you mean,” I said. “But there's staying on the edges and there's going on the run, and I'm pretty sure that robbing the King puts you in the second category.”

    Berenice laughed. It was the kind of laugh where you can't quite tell if it's hollow or heartfelt. I felt it in me like ice.

    “C'mon,” she said. “I don't have to tell you, do I? Girls like us, Avice, we were born to run.”

    I didn't have an answer. She was right, she didn't need to tell me. I suppose I just didn't want it to be true, for once in my gods-drowned life. Not for her. Not over this.

    Well, that's nothing new. We all want certain things not to be true. It's just that most of the time those things aren't as dangerous as this one was.

    On an impulse, I invited her back to my cabin, but she smiled and shook her head. She had business to attend to. What that business was she did not say, and I did not ask. I guess it was all right. I did love her, I think, but then everyone did. And I had – have – come to feel that as spectacular as she was, the magic in her for me was what she reminded me of.

    Anyway, that was one of my last nights in Old Town. Berenice had brought a shipful of her kind of people, edges kinda people, girls like us and other people who run, and they were more or less the last to come. Word had arrived that a Tethys fleet had definitely been seen moving southeast several leagues west: we really couldn't wait any longer. We had what we had. It was time to have an ending to things.

    And it's time to have a little ending of our own, dear reader. It's getting late, and I think I have at least two more days to write before we arrive at the city. I'll give the ending a day to itself; it seems like the right thing to do. And if it looks like there's time, I've got an idea for how to spend another day, as well. A memorial, if you like. Or, more of a memorial than this already is, anyway.

    If there's anything to be taken away from all this, if there's any agenda, I don't know if it gets any more complicated than that. I can't ask anything more of you than to remember.
     
  7. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine Gone. Not coming back.

    Content warning: in this chapter there is a battle. As such, it is substantially more violent than previous chapters, and some of this violence is perpetrated on or by Avice, with bad results for everyone involved.


    TWENTY-EIGHT: THUNDERBOLT STEERS ALL

    MRS. ALVING. I almost think we're all of us Ghosts, Pastor Manders. It's not only what we have inherited from our father and mother that “walks” in us. It's all sorts of dead ideas, and lifeless old beliefs, and so forth. They have no vitality, but they cling to us all the same, and we can't get rid of them. Whenever I take up a newspaper, I seem to see Ghosts gliding between the lines. There must be Ghosts all the country over, as thick as the sand of the sea. And then we are, one and all, so pitifully afraid of the light.
    ―Henrik Ibsen, Ghosts


    The tropius left this morning. Some of the treecko went with them, clinging to their necks as they soared up towards the slopes of Mt. Chimney. I guess it's for the best; I don't think bringing them down into Tethys would be very helpful, for them or for us. They'll be all right. The light's good up there, and I can see dark patches on the mountain that might be vegetation. It'll be as good a place as any for them to start making their comeback.

    So our ark's a little lighter now. Pupitar, murkrow, porygon-Z, manectric, vulpix. A bunch of treecko that didn't want to leave. I don't know what will become of them when we get back, since the Museum's not going to have much power left, but at the rate the water's evaporating, it might not matter. I'm guessing we've only got a few weeks until Tethys itself is on solid ground.

    It's a worrying thought, that. I don't know if it'll stay up without the water to support it.

    Well, we'll sort it out somehow. Today, I want to talk to you about something else, obviously. Today, we have to concentrate, and together make it through the end of the world.

    Those final days. I felt watched, I guess you could say. Of course, I always feel watched, that's just how my life goes, and part of it was the fact that eyes of the whole ocean were upon me then – but it was more than that, like the eerie presence that had been pressing down on us in the Blue Chapel had followed us out again. At the time, I thought maybe Tide was still watching me – if there was anything it was going to pay attention to, it might as well be the end of its world – or that I was simply aware now as I hadn't been before of Tooth's gaze, after our meeting on the edge of the abyss.

    There was more to it than that, as I was to learn in the final minutes of that world's life. But we work within the confines of what we know, and back then all I knew was that I felt scrutinised like never before. You must know by now that I'm a nervous kind of person, but even if I wasn't I think I'd have lost sleep over it all. As things stand, I can't tell you with any certainty if I slept through a single night after we set sail.

    It was a weird voyage. For one thing, we weren't travelling alone: while everyone had left me on my own in the Museum, possibly out of respect, possibly because it was haunted, the Museum itself was now at the head of a fleet of fifteen vessels, and light-signals flickered between us continually as we shared information and answered questions. Zinnia nominated herself as our lightjockey, and learned more of the signal-book in a week than I'd learned over the last two years.

    “These dorks are so cute,” she said to me, sitting cross-legged in her eyrie in the conning tower. The signal-book was closed on her lap; she hadn't actually needed to open it for several days by that point. “They're transmitting coordinates or something, but there's a second layer under the surface. The way Anais on the Long Afternoon strobes the blue like that, that's like her tag, and then Mitch on the Dreadful Torterra replies with his orange and yellow. And I've totally lost you, right, I can see that, so here's the deal: basically, they're flirting, and it's adorable.”

    “That's a lot to get out of lights,” I said, for a lack of anything better to say, and she shook her head.

    “I'm not telling it right – or maybe I can't.” She sighed. “Thing is, I was a trainer for a long time, travelled around a whole heck of a lot, and it's true what they say, that you meet people out there who stay with you for life, or even just for one day but spectacularly for that one day, but that was when the net was starting to catch on, and I carried all my friends from home along with me too. Instant messaging from Pokémon Centre PCs. Even then, before all the kids had holo casters and smartphones, the web had its own special language. You picked it up without thinking because you were young and neuroplasticity whatever, and then it was gone, and now there are dorky kids flirting with light-signals.” She smiled – and for once, it was without irony. I'd seen her relieved, delighted, amazed, but I don't think I'd ever seen her as purely and elementally happy as she was in that moment. “It's the same thing,” she said. “In spirit anyway. Never even occurred to me that that might have survived.”

    I'm not going to pretend that I understood – how could I? – but seeing Zinnia like that took my breath away, even in the midst of everything else. And it seemed an omen, too, that something as new-world as lightjockeys' undersignalling was just the resurgence of a tradition first born in the old world.

    Well, anything can be an omen if you look into it deeply enough. I hugged Zinnia because I had no adequate words, and we sailed on.

    What else should I say, before you and I arrive together at the Pillar? It's a difficult time to write about; it felt like a lot of things were coming to an end, and yet nothing really happened. There are very few dramatic conversations or standout moments. Zinnia's observation about the lightjockeys was one of them, and I'm sure you're expecting Archie and Maxie to have had some thematically apposite argument – but they didn't. They were actually getting along better than they ever had before, which I suppose I should have expected; we were after all finally heading for the Sky Pillar, all the materials in hand with which to correct their mistakes. Arguing over the end of the world must have seemed inappropriate.

    We were afraid, but strangely enough we might have been happier then than ever before. All of us had our work, had each other, had the frisson of excitement that comes with being part of a great enterprise. Even the shadow of the death ahead of us couldn't quite extinguish our spirits.

    And then, all too quickly, we were there, and in the blink of an eye there didn't seem to be any happiness left in the world.




    You could see it from a distance. It's not that it rose above the level of the water, although in its own way it kind of did, but you could see that there was something wrong with the ocean ahead of you as you approached it. We stayed far back to the northeast of the Pillar and sent out scouts in its direction: hs.saio's dhelmise, which when dormant looked like seaborne flotsam; Lillian, who could hide under illusions; a few trainers whose pokémon could use dive to bring them in close under the water. All of them came back, fortunately, and they brought with them stories of a hole in the water, a conical depression like the basin of a whirlpool but without any trace of a current, descending from sea level to the base of a stone tower of incredible age and height. The Sky Pillar, apparently, had refused to be drowned.

    “It's a good sign,” Zinnia said. “It means something lingers there from the last time. Rayquaza must remember that place.”

    The rest of the news was less incredible and more worrying: thirteen Tethys ships. Eight corvettes, four destroyers, and a frigate. We had sixteen ships counting the Museum, but the Museum and three others had no or limited armaments, and only a couple of our vessels had anything like the speed and hitting power of a Tethys warship. None of us could outmanoeuvre a destroyer, and only the stolen Scarlet Revelation had enough in the way of heavy ordnance to even think about going toe-to-toe with a frigate.

    “They got here first,” I said, when they told me.

    “Ava,” began Zinnia, but I wouldn't – couldn't – listen.

    “I should have – why didn't I just come here? We could've beaten them here, we didn't have to―”

    “But we didn't know,” she said, catching me by the arm before I could leave. “You didn't know. Ava, the lengths you're willing to go for other people, I love it, but … there was no sense running to the Pillar alone when there could've been a fleet there. We couldn't have taken that risk.”

    “And what, everyone else should take that risk?” I pulled my arm free sharply. “It isn't worth that, Zinnia―”

    “Avice,” she said, and suddenly I was very aware that she was a mother, because without sounding aggressive in any way she'd put a certain steel in her voice, as only parents can. “You need to learn your own importance.”

    “I know my own―”

    “No, you don't.” She took my hand. “You know what people have told you about yourself. You gotta know more than that.”

    Obviously, she was right. I've told you before, Zinnia is always right. It's incredibly frustrating, but it's never any use arguing. She's just too right.

    “You matter as much as anyone else does,” she said, steering me over to the sofa. “And while I know you're going to argue against me, tactically speaking you matter more, because you can see me, and because you're the kind of person who could actually pull off calling Rayquaza.”

    “I'm … not even a trainer,” I mumbled, but I knew when I was beaten.

    “You won Edie over anyway,” she reminded me. “Battling's the famous one, but there are other kinds of strength, and pokémon know it.”

    We sat there for a bit while I thought about that. I was glad to be in my cabin, alone with her; this would have been a harder conversation to have in front of the others.

    “Thanks,” I said, after a while. “I'm sorry.”

    She grinned her ironic quirk of a grin, but it was tinged with something sorrowful.

    “C'mon now, you're smarter than that, I know you are. You don't have to apologise.”

    “Yeah, I do.”

    She shrugged.

    “Debatable.” She stood up. “C'mon. I think it's probably time we let the boys in the loop about what we're going up against.”

    In moments like those I really loved her, reader, more than ever. I love them all, my ghosts, my family, and it's going to be so hard now to let them go. We each of us live through so many endings. How do we make it through so much heartbreak?

    I wonder sometimes if that's the real appeal of history. After all those endings, all those tiny deaths, a person wants nothing more than to rekindle a few old flames. One day years from now I'll reread this, and I'm almost certain I'll cry. What else can I do, when everyone is finally dead and gone?

    But there's no time for digressions. Not today, with Mt. Chimney looming ahead of us. Reflection comes later. For now, the narrative.

    We docked, swapped crew, and held a council of war aboard the Museum. I wish you could have seen it, reader. Even then, when I was struggling with the fact that it was really happening, that we were actually about to go and fight Tethys, I saw how it must have looked. All the captains were there, and the leaders of the various merc bands; all the ghosts, Archangel, hs.saio and the nameless honedge-owner. Everyone who had relevant experience was there, and I was somehow in the middle of it all.

    “We don't have to hold out,” Ulixa was saying. “Just one push, that's all. We just need Avice to get to the top of the tower.”

    “We ain't gonna be able to make one push, not against that,” said Simone Marcia dol' Long Afternoon. “The l― your ship” – she nodded at Berenice, whose lips tautened ever so slightly to show that the suppressed slur had not gone unacknowledged – “might be able to take the frigate, but the rest of us ain't gonna be able to support it. The destroyers'll rip us apart.”

    “So we board,” said Archangel. They were easily the strangest presence in the room, a smooth, ambiguously-gendered voice that oozed from the darkness behind the slits in their helmet. “Neutralise their advantage. I … that is to say, my gengar can phase a few through the walls.”

    “But we still have to get close enough,” argued Simone. “There'll be torpedoes, kingdra support. The frigate'll have the range on us. How are we getting past that?”

    “Leave the frigate to me,” I said, and felt every eye in the room shift with dizzying weight onto my face. “Edie's got something of a history of crippling Tethys warships. Right, Edie?”

    o7, she said, and played a joyous snippet of music.

    “That?” asked Simone warily. “That can take out a frigate on its own?”

    “Dive will get her close enough to board it,” I said. “From there she'll get inside it and turn it off.”

    “A frigate doesn't have an off switch―”

    “It's a machine,” I said, more quellingly than I'd known I could. “She can turn it off.”

    There was a short, impressed silence, into which Archie grinned and Zinnia squeezed my shoulder.

    “You tell 'em, Ava.”

    “Which will take the frigate out of the fight completely,” said Ulixa, after a moment. “Doors won't open, guns won't fire – as long as Edie's there, we can ignore it. Definitely long enough for us to get a crew into position, then she can blast the locks for a boardin' party. Sal, you up for headin' that?”

    Sal Kataria dol' Nueville, who had brought his mercenary band to Old Town all the way from a job out in the semi-charted east, who had taken off his hat and bowed and told me it was an honour to finally meet me in person, who like no one else I'd met seemed to keep alive the spirit of old world style that I'd previously only glimpsed in audiovisual recordings – Sal nodded and said yes, he would.

    It's hard to fathom how something like that works. I don't have time to tell you all about him, dear reader, but I can tell you this much. He was so much a person, you understand, and then he … and then he wasn't, any more. He was part of an attack. And then, after that, he wasn't anything at all.

    That's part of why I want to record that meeting we had. I can't fit all the stories in here, but there's time for me to write down a few more names.

    “That's got to be our first move,” said Ulixa. “Can Edie's dive get her in from outside the hole?”

    I nodded.

    “It lasts a pretty long time,” I answered. “She can have the frigate locked down before we even show our hand. Then, once Sal's team has secured it, she can fly up to the Pillar to support me.”

    “An amendment,” said hs.saio, frowning deeply in the way that alakazam do. They don't mean anything by it, they're just concentrating, but some of the captains shifted uneasily all the same. If you're not used to kadabra, it looks quite threatening. “Qhinse can entrap a vessel as well. I leave it to you to decide which ship it ought to target, but we can start the fight by stopping two ships.”

    Simone didn't have anything to say to that. Like everyone, she maintained a healthy cautiousness with regard to the powers of the kadabra. If hs.saio said their dhelmise could stop a ship, it could stop a ship.

    “One of the destroyers?” suggested Haruki dol' Seventh Seal, captain of the vessel of the same name. “They're going to be the main thing standing between us and a clean sweep at the corvettes. If we can stop them closing on us, we'll have a shot at boarding.”

    This suggestion elicited general agreement, and hs.saio inclined their head.

    “I will relay your message to qhinse,” they said. “This still leaves us with three destroyers, I am afraid.”

    “I can take one,” offered Archangel. “I simply need to be close enough for my gengar to phase through the wall. I suggest that our delightful Semmervan friends might like to fly me in on their skarmory.”

    The leader of the Arbalists narrowed her eyes.

    “It is bad enough,” she began, “that we have to―”

    “Payosha,” I said wearily. “Please. You said you'd put the blood feud to one side until after we'd saved the world?”

    “Well, yes, but there is such a thing as going too far! This – this thing―”

    “You don't call anyone a thing aboard my godsdrowned ship,” I said sharply. “There's enough of that out there.”

    She raised a placatory hand. Berenice grinned a little congratulations at me.

    “Forgive me. My words were ill-chosen―”

    “As is the timing of your objection,” I said flatly. “I don't know if you've noticed the stakes, Payosha? Pretty high at the moment.”

    “Set your bloody Code aside,” agreed Simone. “If we're gonna try to close the distance between us and the fleet, I want the destroyers out the way before they get the same idea.”

    There was a silence. Archangel watched Payosha in such a way as left us all in no doubt that somewhere under that helmet, a single eyebrow was being raised.

    “All right,” she said. “We'll fly you in. After Edie and qhinse, we'll get you aboard a third one.”

    “How fantastically magnanimous of you,” said Archangel.

    “Great,” I said, hoping to forestall any further argument. “Anything we can do about the fourth one?”

    “Don't think so,” said Ulixa. “Guess we could reach it with one of the Arbalists' skarmory, but they wouldn't be able to get in.” She shrugged. “We can deal with one destroyer, I think. They work together, see. One on its own ain't much.”

    Simone seemed to agree; at least, she was no longer objecting.

    “So our next move is what?” asked Haruki. “Close the gap and board 'em?”

    “Yes,” I said. “They're at the base of the hole, around the Pillar itself. If we wait over the rim, they shouldn't be able to see us. We can move as soon as the destroyers and the frigate are down.”

    “I suppose that's the disadvantage of arriving first,” said Sal. “I'm not certain I would want to try holding that position.”

    “They've got the ships for it,” said Simone grimly. “And they've got those agency bastards, too. They can hold it.”

    “It's true they've got that on us,” I said. “But there's one thing we know that they don't.” I glanced at Zinnia, who nodded at me. “There's another way in, under the surface. An ossuary where the ziz-lords lay their dead. It was underwater before the making over and it's still there now. Used to be that people used dive to get in there, but the cave mouth's supposed to be wide enough that the Museum can get in, and from there I can swim.”

    People started muttering as soon as I mentioned the ziz-lords, and when I was done Nero dol' Sole Regret spoke up in some agitation.

    “A crypt? A ziz-lord crypt? Is that really―?”

    “It's the best we've got,” I said shortly. “Besides, it was a ziz-lady who told me about it. Or a Draconid, I should say. That's what they call themselves. Anyway, the point is, we've got permission.”

    It was mostly true, and I said it with conviction, which was probably all that really mattered. That won over most of them, but Nero was still not happy about it.

    “No, no, no,” he said. “What about the Arbalists? They're flying Archangel in, they've got two more skarmory – can't we just take you up to the top of the Pillar?”

    “Are you out of your bleedin' mind?” asked Ulixa. “Nero, you know skarmory fly slow, and you want to send Avice ridin' one out to the most exposed position possible? If it was me, I'd put a sniper up there, and the Tethysi lot are even bigger bastards than I am, so I'm willin' to lay kites on them doin' that too.”

    “That's … a point,” conceded Nero irritably. “But I don't like this crypt business.”

    “Reckon we're probably past the point where it makes much difference,” said Berenice cheerfully. “'Sides, they're diplomats, and correct me if I'm wrong, but it kinda looks to me like diplomacy en't really in the picture any more.”

    He didn't have an answer to that, so he shook his head irritably and stood back. Not exactly on side, but at least he wasn't complaining.

    “So that's the Museum's job,” said Ulixa. “That's the final part. First we got the vanguard to take out the frigate and most of the destroyers, and then it's down to the rest of us to break the lines enough for Avice to get through. It ain't goin' to be precision work, mind, so we will have to clear a good space. Sea's bloody shallow round 'ere and it'll be worse there with that hole in it. And at the speed the Museum'll be goin', Avice ain't goin' to be doin' much steerin' beyond pointin' it at the tower and prayin' …”

    The rest of the discussion didn't concern me so much. There were details, so many details, but they were about how the fleet would move to prepare for me, and since I never even really saw that first movement of the fleet I'm not sure what use it would be to write out how it was planned. This is already getting unwieldy. I can feel the story straining, dear reader. I'm tossing in people frantically, new characters introduced out of nowhere, wrenching my solo mission narrative into a grand battle tale, and the effort of containing all of this stuff-that-happened is taking its toll. This story is coming apart at the seams like a badly-stitched shirt, except that I'm not bad at my craft, I think, I hope, it's just that this is where story fails and life happened instead. It's messy, this. I knew this was going to be a sprawling kind of story but I hadn't foreseen … this. I shouldn't have taken that break. I should have kept writing, given myself enough time to tell everyone's tale. Sal, Simone, Archangel, Payosha, hs.saio, everyone. Now it's the last day, or the second-to-last one, and there's no time for anything but that one dreadful night when all those people died and Rayquaza tore the clouds off the sky between its teeth.

    So now I have to hurry. Not everything has to be known, even if it does have a right to it, and I've got to be even more ruthless in my selection than before. I can only afford to sketch the council, to suggest the shape and colour of it, and fill it in with a few short minutes of dialogue. And that done, dear reader, we've got to move on and get to the point of it all.




    Two more things first. One for the living and one for the dead. In the chaotic moments at the meeting's end, when people were heading back to their own ships and those ships were trying to undock without crashing into each other, five hung back: three mercs who had been assigned to protect me while I climbed the tower, and two women who were there for other reasons. In between the moving bodies Ulixa and Berenice eyed each other up, shrugged, and stepped back. Somehow they reached an accord without speaking, and Berenice lit a cigarette while Ulixa came to talk to me.

    “You did good,” she said, over by the window through which you could see nothing but the panoramic dark. “They believe in you.”

    “Yeah.” It was hard to infuse the word with any amount of enthusiasm.

    “Your mother would be proud.”

    I looked at her. She was right, and I found I didn't like it. I didn't want my mother to be proud that her daughter was leading people into war. But this was a woman who was a fighter all the way down to her soul, who went out fighting a mad battle against a red gyarados, and she would have been proud.

    “I guess she would,” I said. “I don't know if she should be.”

    Ulixa was silent for a moment. Not too long – there was a lot to be done, and every second she stayed here was a second she wasn't doing it – but for long enough that it mattered.

    “I told you I'm here for her,” she said. “And for you. I held you longer than she ever did, for better or worse. But there's more than that, Avice. I never told you, but I got kids of my own. Three of 'em.” She was studiously avoiding my eye. “One in Cormac's Mourn and two in the Hollow.”

    “Oh,” I said. I didn't know what else to say. I hadn't been expecting this.

    “I ain't sayin' I'm a good parent,” she said. “Hard to be, when you're … like this. I understand why your mother was the way she was now, I think. I can't stay and neither could she. I'm not proud of it, but it's how I get my gold and why my kids will grow up … not like me. It's no kind of a life. None of this is.” She sighed. “So I'm here, Avice. Where I might make a different kind of life for some kid out there who didn't get tapped on the shoulder by a pirate captain.”

    She took her eyes off the window at last and looked at me directly.

    “I'm not plannin' to hunt any gyarados,” she said. “Someday I'll have grandkids, and they'll want to know what I did back when there was water everywhere, and I have to be able to tell them: yes, I was there. And I did right.”

    For a long time I struggled to find an answer. Some things do not occur to a woman before she reaches a certain point in her life, and Ulixa was many points ahead of me in hers.

    “All right,” I said, in the end. “Thank you, Ulixa.”

    I meant it. I still had my doubts, of course, as most people do when they find themselves about to do the kind of thing that I was about to do. But I had perspective now, too – a perspective that I think had all too easily slipped away from me in the frantic build-up to the Battle Before Dawn.

    Ulixa shook her head.

    “Thank you, Avice,” she said. “Anyone else and this would've fallen apart already. You? You brung us all here to the end of the world, and hallows know but you'll take us through it, too.” She smiled briefly. “Good luck,” she said. “I'll see you later.”

    Then she was gone, all too soon, and Berenice was stepping forward, cigarette dangling from her fingers. For once in her life, she had nothing to say, or nothing that couldn't be said by standing close by me looking out into the water, and we stayed there for what felt like hours. We saw the dhelmise unfold before us, a tangle of seaweed and rusting ship parts that floated into view like any other gobbet of trash and then suddenly, with the slightest of movements, suddenly turned into a face, the edge of an anchor becoming a smile and a broken old compass an eye. You saw flotsam, and then you saw the dhelmise; except that you didn't, because the face was the face you see in clouds or shifting sands, the history you see in the things-that-happened, and the dhelmise was there all along even in the moments when you couldn't see it, so that what you were really seeing was yourself seeing the dhelmise.

    We watched ourselves seeing the dhelmise, and then at last Berenice said to me:

    “All right, Avice. I've got to go.”

    So she did, and then it was just me and Edie, standing there as the dhelmise flowed slowly towards the south.

    “OK, sweetie,” I said. “Are you ready?”

    :), she said, and gods below, reader, she was so good, and so ready, because it was my plan and she loved me in an uncomplicated animal way that meant if it was my plan she was happy, and though I tried not to cry when I took her to the airlock it was not a battle I could win.

    And then the doors closed on her and she was gone, and I was alone with the dead, waiting for the killing to begin.

    “I'd better get changed,” I said, and went down to the hold to search among the clothes-racks.

    Now for the dead: Archie and Maxie at their stations in the bridge, alone while Zinnia was with me. They checked the instruments methodically, well aware that all those that remained were fine, and then sat in their chairs, waiting. You could see them silhouetted in the gloom: Archie's slouch, Maxie's perfect posture. Like a painting of themselves.

    “Well, we're here,” ventured Maxie.

    “That we are,” said Archie, though he looked like he was having a hard time believing it. “Christ. How did that happen?”

    Maxie smiled briefly.

    “I know,” he said. “I've been asking myself that all night.”

    They fell silent again. The dhelmise was still just visible, a complicated shadow in the distance.

    “Do you think this is it?” asked Maxie. “Should we be saying our goodbyes, that kind of thing?”

    “I'm honestly not sure.” Archie tugged at the side of his beard. “I've been thinking, and you know the stupid thing? I'm not even sure I'm ready to go, yet.”

    “You as well?”

    Archie glanced at him.

    “Not just me, then?”

    “No.” Maxie sighed. “I never thought I'd say this, but I really wouldn't mind just another couple of months. Do you know what I mean?”

    “Aye. To see her home safe.”

    “Yes.” Maxie snorted. “Do you remember, Tabitha always said we were practically an old married couple. 'You should adopt,' he said, with that insufferable smile.”

    Archie chuckled softly.

    “Cheeky sod. Guess he was onto something, in the end.”

    “Yes. It's just a pity we had to do … all that to get here.”

    They looked at each other for a moment.

    “Been a pleasure to work with you again, you punctilious old bastard.”

    “The pleasure's all mine, you melodramatic old fool.”

    And they shook hands across the console, and part of history at last sank for good.




    I did not put on the Aqua Suit. The inside of the tower was partially collapsed, Zinnia said. You had to climb in places, and on this particular trip, I'd need to climb fast. That isn't something you can do in a suit that puts a half-second delay on all your movements. So no Suit. Instead, leather, the kind that people used to wear when they rode motorbikes and things. Something that might turn a flechette if it struck me a glancing blow, and wouldn't slow me down, and didn't come with bulky gauntlets that would stop me using a gun.

    That was the other part of the outfit. My mother's pistols, loaded and worn now not just to intimidate but to be used. I thought of what Ulixa had said, and for a sudden brief instant hated my mother with an intensity that shocked me. What kind of parent leaves their child violence as a legacy? It passed quickly enough – I knew she'd left me the guns in an attempt to protect me – but some of the horror lingered. It must have still been visible on my face when I walked out of my cabin, because the ghosts all looked at me like they'd seen a living corpse.

    “What's up?” asked Zinnia, and then a second later realised what she'd said. “Sorry. Dumb question.”

    “They're going to be in there, aren't they,” I said.

    “Who?”

    “Virgil and Virginia.”

    Zinnia hesitated. Archie and Maxie exchanged glances.

    “It'd seem to be the shape of things,” admitted Archie. “So yeah. Reckon they will be there.”

    “I suspect they're more useful at close quarters than on board ships,” agreed Maxie. “It stands to reason Tethys will have garrisoned the Pillar.”

    I stared out of the window. The dhelmise was shrinking in the distance now, and there was a distant clattering that I knew had to be the sound of a skarmory taking off. That must mean Edie was close now, and qhinse too: a skarmory can put the weight of its body into a dive and go down a fathom below the surface to attack a ship, but it's not subtle about it, and we'd planned for Archangel and the Arbalists to launch their attack only when the rest of the trap had already been sprung.

    “How did this happen?” I asked. Nothing seemed real. I was a Legal Apprentice and a child. I was a commander leading an army. These two things did not seem to connect to one another in any meaningful way that I could see. “How … I made it happen.”

    “No, not you,” said Archie. “Us.” He looked so tired, reader. So old. “We made this impossible world, and we're gonnae help you put it right.”

    “Can we?” I asked.

    “Yes,” said Maxie. “We can.”

    “We're with you till the end, Ava,” said Zinnia, taking my hand. “Always.”

    I squeezed her fingers. They felt nothing like flesh.

    “OK,” I said. “OK, let's go end the world.”

    And then the signal came and we did.




    I will write about the battle. About what I saw, the images we all glimpsed flickering in hs.saio's mind as they coordinated the attack at the speed of thought. I saw the frigate lock up, its propellers cease and its guns slump at angles, and watched it as it listed to one side. I saw qhinse take the destroyer, saw an old-fashioned anchor rising above the water in what looked like slow motion except that it was only an illusion generated by scale, because when it fell it sank straight into the hull as if into mud and the seaweed crawled over the surface like insects. I saw the skarmory fall, piercing the water with a beak like a broadsword, and I saw Archangel reach down from its back to touch the oncoming ship so that they and the bird and Payosha all disappeared at once.

    I was there when the ships moved around us, leaping forward at hs.saio's command, light-signals flaring in a desperate attempt to keep up. I saw them trying to navigate the eldritch curve of the ocean where it sank down in deference to the Pillar, struggling to stay beneath the water where their torpedoes would be most effective. I saw boarding-screws being revved in readiness, and naphtha ignite on the surface of the waves as the Burning Sisters began to fire their shells.

    We were moving by then, we must have been – not rushing in, not just yet, but just edging our way over the rim of the great conical pit in the ocean. We must have been because I remember seeing the Sky Pillar swing into view with the rocking of the ship, a different shade of darkness against the night clouds. Archie and Maxie were at the controls by then, shouting back and forth to each other, but it was difficult to hear them when I could see the water boiling in front of us and feel hs.saio pressing on the corner of my mind that had been attuned to the presence of the Consensus. One eye saw the water's surface boiling and the other saw beneath it, a crazed criss-cross web of ships and torpedoes churning white foam all around them, and then with a flicker it saw Sal's hands from his own perspective as he charged down the inside of a screw into the red-and-black corridor of the Tethys frigate, and then the scene jumped again to Archangel pointing and their shadow rearing up to show itself a gengar and diving down a man's throat, and then again to Berenice in the bridge of the Scarlet Revelation yelling something to the flare of a gun firing, and again and again and again and I saw Sal die with his own eyes when a lucky flechette went into his neck and a Tethys linoone followed it with a red crunch and I saw sergeants fall one-two-three to the steel bolts of an Arbalist's repeating crossbow and a ship bursting open with a monstrous ease for its size like a melon and people thrashing in the water and the side of the Pillar going bright and dark and bright and dark with the flash of guns and pokémon moves and the dhelmise writhing as they burned it and a skarmory trampling something that I could not recognise as human and then I fell weightless out of it all and back into myself and I heard Archie say with a clarity that seemed impossible:

    “This is it. There's a gap there. It's time.”

    He was looking at me, as if I could possibly mean anything at all when everything else was happening so vividly around me.

    “There's a shot at the main entrance. I know it's gonnae be guarded, but the ships are out of the way and―”

    “Hold off,” I said. “We're going in via the ossuary.”

    “Avice, we might not get another―”

    “I said hold off.” Both of my eyes were back in the here and now. Everything seemed abnormally loud after the magnified silence of hs.saio's sight-sharing. To the left and right, everything was a tangle of metal and wild water, but dead ahead all was dark. “If we go in the front door and I get shot, this is over. We wait for the shot at the ossuary.”

    It seemed to be someone else talking, someone taller. I drifted along in her wake, unthinking, unseeing.

    “Avice―”

    “Is right,” said Zinnia, her face unreadable. “Forget what's happening, Archie. I know what it looks like out there. But we have one chance, and we have to do this right.”

    “Is this about your damn dragon skull―?”

    “Archie,” I said, because Zinnia had made a fist and was clearly seconds away from punching him. “Just stop it. We wait.”

    He looked at me, and then at Maxie, as if for support, but Maxie just shrugged.

    “All right, then.” He nodded slowly. “You're right, lass. I mean, Avice. You're right, I just … it looks like Sootopolis.”

    “It's going to look worse before the sun rises,” I said. Deaths were pulsing at the corners of my vision. I tried not to see them and felt nothing but guilt. “We have to wait for our opening.”

    It occurs to me now that the mercs – Sasha, Leland, Veronica, I should say; they're part of this story too – must have heard all this, standing as they were at the back of the bridge. I think it's to their credit that they didn't let it shake their faith in me.

    Anyway, the wait took six minutes. That's what the clock said. I've never known whether or not I trust it. Time is brutally impersonal, and to say six minutes doesn't really capture what that wait was.

    But it happened, and we fired the infinity engines, and the Museum shot unharmed through the midst of the chaos like an elaborate trick and down into the darkness beneath the Pillar. I would tell you about the way in, dear reader, but the truth is I don't remember, and nor do any of the ghosts. There was speed, there was darkness, and then the Museum was suddenly beached on the shore of some submarine cave, engines spinning uselessly and gouts of smoke coming out of something important-looking.

    I picked myself up off the floor. I felt for the key stones in my pocket. I put Electra's skull under one arm.

    I looked at the ghosts, and then I did the one thing I'm really good for. I ran.
     
    Last edited: Dec 17, 2016
  8. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine Gone. Not coming back.

    The power was still on, so the airlocks worked; I popped the closest one and dropped into knee-deep water, splashing towards a shore only partially illuminated by the Museum's forward lamps. Unencumbered by the water, Zinnia bounded past me to show the way, pointing and shouting directions.

    “Left of where the light is! Once you're in, the stairs are at the opposite end!”

    Sasha, Leland and Veronica followed closely in my footsteps, pistols ready and pokémon at their heels, and a little part of me marvelled at how I was their guide, in this place I'd never been, before my brain caught up with the action and I flung myself into what I hoped was the entrance rather than part of the wall and seemed to get it right. I felt light, electric, even with the water weighing me down. Somewhere a gun was booming and it seemed like the echo of my heartbeat.

    The ossuary: I was inside for only a few seconds, dear reader, and it was dark as sin in there. I'm told there are tables, recesses in the walls, places where bones are laid. Didn't see any of it. I looked breathlessly at Zinnia, who shrugged and looked desperate – “Anywhere!” she cried – and put Electra's skull down on the closest surface I could find without stopping. I might have got it on a table. I really hope so. I might have just dropped it.

    Then I was out the other side, following the faint light of distant lanterns, and up onto the ground floor, where lights had been set up and the battle flared rhythmically through the great arch of the open doors. There were sergeants, possibly agents, but again I saw none of it. Zinnia was ahead of me, scrambling up ruined stairs to the next level up, and I was after her too quickly for me to realise what I was doing.

    I wasn't followed. The ossuary staircase was hidden behind overlapping sections of wall, just about accessible if you squeezed through the narrow gap between them. No one had realised it was anything other than a broken bit of stonework, and so no one was guarding it. That's not to say I wasn't seen. I was, and someone fired, but Sasha and Leland moved in to deal with them, a zangoose and a linoone growling alongside them. It wasn't until I was halfway up to the next level that I realised that Veronica was gone too, that she was lying on the ground behind me, not moving.

    The flames lit the way as I climbed, orange light pulsing in at windows and gaps where walls had fallen away – not enough light to avoid every bit of rubble or collapsed pillar that rose up to knock my feet from under me, but enough to dodge some, and enough for the ghosts to at least try to warn me of the rest. I'm told the Sky Pillar is beautiful inside, with a huge mural of Groudon and Kyogre in their radiant Primal forms stretching from the first floor all the way to the top, from where a carved Rayquaza is diving down to put paid to their battle. I saw none of it. I climbed up pillars and half-rotted ladders, up staircases of collapsed blocks and wind-blown trash, and I saw nothing but the dark and the sea raging on all sides around me, curving up towards the sky from the base of the Pillar. I knew it was the battle churning it but I couldn't help but feel Tide was still watching, and had finally shaken itself into action.

    Sasha and Leland were not, I realised, going to be able to catch up with me, not with so much junk in their way and so little light. If there were more Tethys personnel up here, I was going to face them alone.

    But like all my thoughts that night, it was a brief one, snatched in the spaces between visions; all the time I felt hs.saio close, saw in some corner of my mind the dying and the dead. I counted floors in the perspectives I saw extinguished: one, two, three, Archangel on their knees before a CCC dusknoir, four, five six, Lillian a black puddle on the floor, seven, eight, nine, a sergeant with a cutlass in her chest. It was the what-happened beneath the history. It was the Battle for Tethys before they gave it a name.

    I moved mechanically, mind lost somewhere between all those dying others on the water around me, and was only surprised back into the present when Zinnia spoke next.

    “Nearly there, Ava, nearly there,” she said, vaulting a toppled statue with the lightness only a ghost can achieve. “Almost at the―”

    “To your right!” yelled Archie, and I dropped and rolled before I even knew I'd understood what he was saying. A jet of brown water as thick around as a porpoise rocketed through the space where I'd been standing, splashing against the far wall with enough force to knock a brick loose and send it spinning into the water below.

    It was Virgil, of course, and I knew it was before I heard him scream my name.

    “Where the bloody hell is Edie?” cried Maxie. “She was supposed to be here by now― Avice!”

    I was up already and moving, leaving the flechettes skittering across the stones behind me. Virgil was shouting there, somewhere in the darkness, and something enormous that must have been Augusta was bellowing, but I never even looked at them, never stopped, just checked automatically that the stones were in my pocket and kept on running, Archie's voice close behind me.

    “They're coming quick – rubble on the left! – but that swampert's having trouble with the slope – wrong kind of feet – duck! – think you can beat 'em if you stick to it―”

    “Firing!” shouted Maxie, and I moved but not quite quick enough, and I felt a sting in my side as a flechette punched through my jacket. I would learn later that it was a scratch, that the thick leather had done its job and slowed it down and that it had been a bad shot anyway, so that there was no more harm done than a shallow cut, but at the time I barely even felt it. There was movement. There was Zinnia to follow. And there were the dead.

    With all that, Virgil hardly even registered in my mind.

    “Dragonhark Altar just up ahead,” Zinnia said. “I can see the clouds, this has to be nearly there―”

    “Watch it!”

    “Easy there, kid,” somebody drawled, and something hit me and twisted in such a way that I swayed and fell and the next thing I knew I was sprawled across the stones, looking up at the sky through a gap in the roof.

    It was right there, I realised, and I felt part of me withdraw from hs.saio and back into myself. My side began to hurt. So did my arm and my head, from where I'd fallen. Dizzy, I lurched upright, and saw silhouetted against the hole where once had been a wall a figure with a great bird of prey perched astride her shoulders.

    “Kin-killer,” spat Virginia, raising her pistol. Next to her I saw some big, complicated gun mounted on a tripod, and some small part of me thought about what she would have done with it if we'd gone with Nero's plan after all. “Your city made you, kept you safe, even let you do that to yourself. All for you, Avice. It's all, all of it, only ever for you, the people. And this is how you―?”

    I did it before I even knew what I was doing. I don't know how she didn't see it coming. Maybe she didn't think I had it in me. I know that I didn't.

    I took my mother's right-hand pistol and I pointed it at her and pulled the trigger.

    There was a horrible explosion, louder and more piercing than I had thought it would be, and a force like a girafarig had kicked me in the arm. Virginia staggered backwards, into the light of the fire below, and I saw for a split second her eyes, round and white in her face like the lamps of a distant ship.

    “Kin-killer,” she whispered, and fell.

    The staraptor fell with her. I stepped to the edge in a daze and watched as it – she – dug in its talons, flapped and flapped and flapped in a desperate attempt to lift her mistress out of the fall that was going to end her, even when the sea was just a scant few metres below. But she was a Tethys staraptor, stunted with inbreeding, and she wasn't big enough to save her.

    Still, she was a pokémon and Virginia was her trainer. She never let go. They went down together.

    The ghosts shrieked various curses all at once so that they couldn't be distinguished. I stared down at what I'd done with an awful detached calm. I became aware that my hand hurt, and then I looked at it and saw that the gun had exploded, as of course it would because I know nothing about gun maintenance and I hadn't ever even touched the thing except to reload it, and that underneath the twisted wreckage of the receiver my hand was full of bits of metal, and missing its middle and index fingers.

    “Ava, are you – Ava, can you hear me? Ava―”

    “Come on now, lass, I need you to snap out of it―”

    “Avice. Avice, please. Avice …”

    “Avice.”

    I turned, past all the ghosts, who suddenly seemed a million miles away, and saw him standing there by the stairs. Virgil. He looked older. I suppose I did too.

    “You killed her,” he said.

    My mind seemed to be up among the clouds, incalculably distant. It considered his statement, and, with some surprise, found it to be true.

    “Yes,” I said.

    Augusta stumbled into view behind him, bounding up over the rim of the stairs and temporarily losing her footing on the rain-wet stones. She was huge, nearly as tall as me even on all fours, and when she rose on her haunches at her master's side her crests scraped what was left of the ceiling.

    Vaguely, I wondered where Edie was. It seemed about time for our final battle.

    “You killed her,” Virgil said again, and now there was a tremble in his voice, an uncertainty in his face, and I realised with a jolt that he was afraid. My mind fell back to earth; I reeled slightly. It was me, now. I was his villain. Maybe I always had been. But not like this.

    “Don't try and stop me,” I said thickly, trying not to think of the woman I had just killed or the excruciating pain in my hand or the dozens of people dying below me, and instead thinking of all of them. “This is … this is bigger than …”

    I couldn't do it. I didn't have any words left in me. You know me, dear reader, I get in danger and I cover my exit in quips and lies, but I couldn't. I wasn't sure I'd ever be able to again.

    “No,” he said. “No, I have to … all this!” He waved his free hand wildly, taking in rain, blood, fire. “This has to end. Now.”

    Possibly I could have gone for my other gun with my left hand. I did not. Instead, I stood there while Virgil shot me twice in the leg, and then I fell over and splintered the flechettes in the fall so that the neat holes mushroomed as the metal inside went twenty ways at once.

    I don't know if I can say how much that hurt, but in any case I guess the description would be pointless.

    “There.” Virgil stepped closer, keeping his gun trained on me. “It's over. Tethys will stay safe.” Augusta lumbered around him, throat sacs inflated and ready to disgorge floods if I should try anything. “This is all that's left,” he said. “You won't destroy it.”

    I was only half listening. Most of me was occupied with the pain, and much of the rest was with the ghosts who were crouched around me, trying to elicit any sort of response. I wanted to move, to do something to show them that I wasn't completely catatonic, but the pain was stunning, in the literal sense. It seemed impossible that I should ever move, as if the rain was slicking me down into the stones and cementing me into the fabric of the Pillar.

    Virgil was fiddling with something on his belt. Handcuffs, I assumed. He had to bring me down the Pillar, and show the Tethysi contingent that the threat was dealt with – show my fleet that I was dealt with. My failure would break them, and then they would rout and, in all probability, be killed.

    It was one of those realisations that crystallises things. The pain was still there, but now it seemed to be next to me rather than in me, lying there like my doppelgänger. I was barely even surprised when it sat up and spoke.

    “It's been … such a very long time,” said the pain. “I'm sorry. I don't remember very much. But I think … I think I know what you're being asked to do. They asked me to do it as well.”

    “You,” I whispered, clarity beginning to return. I heard the ghosts trying to rouse me, asking me what I was saying – saw out of the corner of my eye Virgil trying to open handcuffs with fingers made stiff and slippery by cold and rain – and realised, as never before, what Tooth had been trying to tell me when it asked me to take the key stone and what else I found there. It had not been Tide I felt watching me. It had been her. “I thought you were …”

    “So did I,” said the pain, who I now saw looked nothing like me at all – paler, plumper, younger by nearly ten years. “But right now, I think, you have to get up.”

    I blinked. Rain was getting in my eyes. The cold returned, and the thin voice of the wind.

    I was here, wasn't I? I'd made it. Everyone had come together and I'd made it. And everything now depended on whether I kept on making it through the next five minutes.

    The city had never managed to stop me yet. I'd be drowned if it did now.

    “He's coming,” said the pain – the ghost, I should say, the last ghost, who had been suspended in water for all those interminable years down in the Blue Chapel, who had like all the others only needed someone to see her in order to come back. “Um. Got any ideas?”

    “Yeah,” I said, feeling the broken gun lying heavy in my hand. “One.”

    Virgil's shadow fell over me, and as his face came into the edge of my vision I lurched up and I swung at it as hard as I could.




    There was desperation in that blow, and terror and hope and yes, I admit, hatred; it was a strong blow, the strongest I could possibly have struck at a moment like that. And it missed. Virgil was fast and he could make his head not be where I was swinging, so I caught him where his neck met his shoulder and sent him spinning off me across the stones. I sat up, suddenly alert, and saw his flechette-gun at my feet; I kicked, and it was gone, out through the gap in the wall and down into the pandemonium below.

    He swore and retreated behind Augusta, who bore down upon me raising one massive fist while I struggled to get my injured leg to bear my weight―

    ―and brought it crashing down onto an invisible barrier that flared blue when she touched it. Augusta withdrew, lowing in pain, and Edie hovered over me, eyes blazing and electric music blaring at full volume.

    >:[, she said, and struck.

    While I stared, uncomprehending, she conjured some strange light that was lightning, fire and ice all in one, and discharged it from her beak into Augusta's chest with a force that swept her off her feet and into Virgil. The two of them went down hard, and in the space where they had been was left an eerie silence.

    “You know, I never realised that face was her using nasty plot before,” said Zinnia, into the emptiness.

    Augusta writhed and rose to her feet, but slowly, as if her limbs resisted her, little yellow sparks popping on her skin. She swung at Edie and found that by the time she got there her target was long gone; she fired a jet of water and only splashed the stones. Whatever had happened, there was no longer any contest. Edie was simply outrunning her at every step, and now she was outhitting her too, charging another of those triple bolts inside her and pulsing red, blue and yellow with the energy of it. She let go, and Augusta staggered; furious, the swampert roared, freezing my blood in the way only the sound of a big predator can, and jammed her hands into the floor, drawing up some strange force that made the Pillar tremble―

    “Augusta!” yelled Virgil, hooking his arms suddenly around her neck. “No! You'll kill us both!” He pulled and pulled and just about got her off balance; the embryonic earthquake dissolved, Augusta swayed sideways, and Edie fired a last attack into the side of her head. Her sensitive skin blackened, and at long last, paralysed and exhausted and confused, she gave in and fell.

    “Edie,” I said, reaching out to stroke her. “Edie, Edie, Edie.” I drew her closer and kissed the top of her head, just behind the spike. She shivered in delight, oblivious for that one moment to everything happening around us. “Thank you,” I said. “I love you.”

    ♥, she said.

    I sat there for a second, taking it in. Augusta, slumped by the stairs. Virgil behind her, unarmed now and unsure what to do. The rain. The lights of the battle below. I knew every moment of delay would cost lives, but if I didn't get my head together I wouldn't be doing this at all. It was like Zinnia had said. I had one chance, and I had to do this right.

    “OK, sweetie,” I said, grabbing hold of a bit of wall that didn't look like it'd fall down and hauling myself back onto my feet. “Watch them, OK? I just need a minute, and we'll finish this.”

    ♪, she said, and nodded vigorously. I had to marvel at her, even then. She'd held the frigate, flown up here and taken out Augusta – and she still wasn't out of energy yet. The change from porygon2 to porygon-Z takes away a lot of stability, sure, but as I was learning, it also gives an awful lot of power.

    I tested my legs. They hurt, one of them significantly more than the other, but they held. Just.

    “All right,” I said. “Where – where did she go?”

    “Where did who go?” asked Maxie.

    “The other ghost.”

    “What other― my god, it's you!

    She smiled. It was very hard to see her, even for me. She is lost to memory, and a ghost is mostly memory, after all. Looking at her was like trying to see your reflection in a pane of glass: just possible, if the light was right, but mostly it isn't.

    “I'm OK,” she said, and she meant it, and I felt everything that might have been said leak out of Archie and Maxie in trickles like sand. “It's time.”

    “She's right,” said Zinnia, practical as ever. “Ava. When you're ready.”

    I thought about saying I was born ready, but life, in the end, isn't a story, and I was not born ready; I had never been ready; I am always and forever unready. I suspect we all are. It's just about doing things anyway.

    “OK,” I said, and limped towards the stairs.




    Virgil tried to stop me. He shouted after me, but I can't remember what he said, and nor can the ghosts. Maybe it's a sign that even then his world was dying. Maybe we just had other things on our minds. Certainly we were having something of a busy day.

    Up the stairs. I took the first half leaning against the wall, though in the end I had to crawl, dragging my leg behind me. The more I used it, the less it seemed to work. I know I shouldn't have walked on it – I'm sure I knew that then, in a distant sort of way – and I'm still limping a little now, but it didn't seem important. Nothing was, just then. Nothing except what was about to happen.

    “Here we are,” said Zinnia, as I struggled upright at the top. “The Dragonhark Altar.”

    I looked around. There was nothing here to suggest an altar, really. Just a flat triangular roof, windswept and rain-soaked, mostly unbroken despite centuries of storms. Then I realised that in fact this was the only possible altar for the creature we were about to summon, that what the wind requires is flat space over which to sweep and howl, without the obstructions of pillars or ornament. This was a place meant for no one but the sky.

    I looked at the nameless ghost.

    “It's your turn now,” she said. “I'm awfully sorry. I wasn't good enough, but I think you are.”

    “No,” said Archie. “It wasn't you, scamp. It was m― it was us.”

    Maxie nodded.

    “It was us.”

    Zinnia looked down.

    “It was us.” She ran her fingers through her hair. “OK, Ava. Got the stones?”

    I fumbled my pocket open one-handed – I couldn't seem to let go of the destroyed gun, like my hand was welded to it – and took them out. Five little lights like rainbows, nestled in the palm of my hand.

    “I've got them,” I said, and looked up at the sky. I could see a faint glow through the clouds. In another world, dawn might be breaking.

    I sighed, and felt all my hurts intensify with the movement.

    “All right,” I said. “I'm ready.”

    Zinnia took a deep breath. Her face was expressionless, but she had clenched one fist and held it close to her chest.

    “Repeat after me.”

    It's in a very old variant of Tethysi, even older than the kind the ghosts speak. I couldn't actually pronounce some of the sounds, so I translated as I went along. It's not the words, after all; it's what they mean.

    “With jewel bright and borrowed might from the spirits of the departed; through sacred rite, in thy great sight, my life as well I offer …”

    I felt something moving out of me as I spoke. I was tired already, but now I felt like I was straining after something, reaching out across an impossible gap with a limb I'd never known I had. There was no air for some reason, and too much gravity, and as the stones began to gleam my voice died to a whisper.

    “I summon thee to … to aid this fight, and save us from disaster …”

    The wind flared suddenly, screamed in my ears and made my hair fly in wild ribbons behind me. I couldn't hear myself, could barely hear Zinnia. The world had narrowed down to the words and the effort of speaking them.

    “For this I do summon thee,” I croaked, and the world stopped.

    The wind died. The boom and roar of battle ceased. My breath and heartbeat vanished.

    Seven seconds for a cry for help to reach the heavens. Seven seconds when the whole world waited for the answer.

    And then it came.

    The sky exploded. That's what it looked like, when Rayquaza dived through the clouds, tearing them away, blowing a hole in them the size of a small settlement: darkness exploding into the grey, a dizzying blackness that seemed to recede forever and ever; and at its centre a vast firework of a creature, the thunderbolt that steers all, the green lightning, the sky high pokémon.

    Rayquaza.

    It fell towards us and all at once I realised why in the old world people had seen god in the heavens, because Rayquaza fell like the wrath of an avenging deity and when it stopped at the other end of the roof, coiling in on itself like an intricate knot, it seemed to flame with divinity. This was not a quiescent god like Tide, waiting mindlessly in the deep for its old enemies to show. This was an angry, active god, a god of decision and moment.

    It was beautiful, dear reader, and it was terrible. A long body like a serpent, but grasping forelimbs and a huge, blade-heavy head like a dragon. Long, waving limbs that seemed not so much wings as fins – because of course Rayquaza didn't need wings to fly; it was the lord of the sky and needed only a way to direct the air to hold it up. And eyes like …

    Like nothing else.

    Zinnia cried out and her face seemed to break open with the force of what she felt, the mask gone. Archie and Maxie stepped back, instinctively bowing their heads. However much they'd shared in the journey here, this wasn't theirs.

    The nameless ghost took my hand, just for one second impossibly solid, and smiled.

    “Go on,” she said. “It's waiting.”

    It was. Because even though it was a god, or something that a person might make a god, Rayquaza was a wild pokémon, and like any other it had appeared to challenge the human who came across it. Master me, it said, and together we will be as ten.

    I'm no trainer, dear reader. You know that. But it's like Zinnia said: it's never been the only path we share with our pokémon.

    So I held Rayquaza's gaze, and I walked.

    It wasn't very far. No more than twenty feet. It's longer when you have an injured leg giving way at every step and an ancient dragon staring at you. It's a very long way, then. The longest walk I've ever made.

    Rayquaza never blinked. It licked its eyes occasionally with a tongue like a dolphin's tail, huge and dark, but it never blinked. I walked into its level yellow stare, through the first rainless air in five hundred years, and in defiance of every instinct in my body I put my hand on the rough scales of its snout.

    “Come on, now,” I said. “This has gone on long enough.”

    I waited. Rayquaza didn't blink. Outside the hole in the sky, the rain fell in sheets, and Rayquaza didn't blink. I waited and the battle raged and Rayquaza didn't blink.

    Then it lowered its head right down to the stones and closed its eyes.

    There passed one of those seconds that holds an eternity inside. I looked back at my ghosts – my family – clustered by the stairs. Archie, with incredulity slowly blooming across his face, as he realised that we'd won. Maxie, as proud as ever my father was. Zinnia, torn between looking up to hold back tears and looking at me, the new partner of her sacred dragon lord.

    The nameless trainer, looking not so much happy as surprised.

    “My name,” I heard her saying faintly, “I think I remember my …”

    I lost the rest: the moment was over, and with it that supernatural clarity. I struggled up onto Rayquaza's neck, slithered down into the hollow between its dorsal fins, and flew.

    It's hard to say clearly what happened next. There was a flash of light that seemed to come from within Rayquaza itself, and then it was different – bigger, more elaborate, trails of amber energy issuing from vents in its skin. I couldn't see properly from where I was on its back, but I'm told that from the Sky Pillar it looked magnificent: a true mega evolution, the real sign that Rayquaza and I were now in unison, like the legendary trainers of the old world. We went up, I think – so fast that I saw nothing but the back of Rayquaza's head and a grey blur around it – and then …

    Well, as they say, the rest is history.




    Dawn broke properly that morning for the first time in recorded history. From down below, all they saw was the shadow of Rayquaza shooting upwards, wreathed in light – and then the clouds exploded away from it on the back of a wind that was only heard a few seconds after it had passed.

    Then the sun rose, and everything was over.

    They call it the Great Sunrise now. Its light cut through the dissolving rain, lit up the waves, glared in at the windows of the ships. Most were on the surface by that point, driven up by qhinse's swinging anchor and the efforts of a few other deep-sea pokémon on our side, and on every one that was everything just stopped. Part of me was down there among it all, jumping from view to view with hs.saio, and I saw the sergeants trying to get past Payosha to the wounded Archangel falter and turn to the light, and her turn with them; I saw the Burning Sisters shift their attention from the fire in their hands to the fire on the horizon; I saw a man with a blank CCC badge drop his gun, and cry out, and weep.

    I saw a bright little eye open in the puddle of darkness that was left of Lillian, and wonder.

    I saw qhinse rising to the surface, scorched and missing swathes of itself yet still alive.

    I saw Berenice leaning on the railing, missing a tooth and bleeding but grinning.

    I saw a big, age-greyed arcanine gently dragging his fallen mistress into the sunlight, and I saw the awe blossom in her face.

    I saw Virgil clinging to Augusta as if he was afraid that without her weight he would float off into the new light, utterly lost.

    I saw my world breathe its last, and as Rayquaza banked and swooped back towards the Pillar I saw the new one open its eyes to the rising sun.
     
    Last edited: Jan 25, 2017
  9. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine Gone. Not coming back.

    TWENTY-NINE: IN MEMORIAM (INCOMPLETE)

    PEOPLE


    Agatha Rachel dol' Tethys
    Aikaterine Elektra dol' Dog of War
    Anais Avogadro dol' Semmerva of Iron
    Anna Kavan dol' Hollow
    Arnold dol' Tethys
    Astraea Faith dol' Tethys
    Augusta Webster dol' Nueville
    Bassanio Alerius dol' Wild Cat
    Betlinde Olyana dol' Sole Regret
    Caitlin Webster dol' Nueville
    Calamity Danlawe dol' Tethys
    Canter Boreas dol' Hollow
    Carlisle Wisconsin dol' Tethys
    Caspar Leander dol' Semmerva of Iron
    Catarina Sieglinde dol' Tethys
    Charlie Lorenzo dol' Tethys
    Charlotte Simone dol' Tethys
    Colm St. John dol' Long Afternoon
    Constance Elise dol' Sunken Gardens
    Constantia Justitia Temperentia Fidelia dol' Semmerva of Iron
    Cynthia Mourn dol' Tethys
    Daphne Isidora dol' Jonah's Respite
    Darius de Richlieu dol' Tethys
    Double-edge Helen
    Duncan Isidore dol' Marvellous
    Ebony Morgana dol' Jonah's Respite
    Elias Theophrastus dol' Jonah's Respite
    Eoin Ailín dol' Tethys
    Erasmus Colm dol' Tethys
    Esther Elizabeth dol' Tethys
    Fatima Husna dol' Sunken Gardens
    Fear-no-more Richard dol' Tethys
    Fidelia dol' Cast Away
    Fortinbras Walter dol' Tethys
    Fox Helio dol' Nueville
    Frank Norman dol' Blue Yonder
    Gail Zenobia dol' Nobody's Own
    Garbodor Kiera
    Garçon Mathieu dol' Tethys
    Gareth Nicholas dol' Sunken Gardens
    Giuliana dol' Nueville
    Gottschalk Helmfried dol' Hollow
    Govind Harshad dol' Tethys
    Hadassah dol' Hollow
    Hafya Galila dol' Tethys
    Hecate dol' Vox Dei
    Helen Ionia dol' Alarum-Call
    Hero dol' Jonah's Respite
    Hester Basquiera dol' Sea-Goblin
    Hirohito dol' Seventh Seal
    Irving Johan dol' Tethys
    Isidora Valeria dol' Sunken Gardens
    Isidore Swann dol' Tethys
    Izdihar dol' Sunken Gardens
    Jabir dol' Hollow
    Jack Triggers
    Jackie Dana dol' Tethys
    Jacqueline Vera dol' Tethys
    Jawahir dol' Jonah's Respite
    Jimmy Six Eyes
    John Ankh dol' Nueville
    John Ben dol' Tethys
    Jon Ben dol' Hollow
    Jon Samuel of the Heights
    José Estebán dol' Tethys
    Judah dol' Hollow
    Judith Rose dol' Semmerva of Iron
    Juno Meretrix dol' Final Bastion
    Karen Andreevna dol' Semmerva of Iron
    Kataria Graaf dol' Hollow
    Kate Beatrice dol' Tethys
    Katja Linde dol' Tethys
    Keisha Rochelle dol' Jonah's Respite
    Kiera Esther dol' Tethys
    Kirsten Olivia dol' Semmerva of Iron
    Konstantin Vladimirovich dol' Semmerva of Iron
    Landebert Lamprecht dol' Lonesome Road
    Lenny Five Aces
    Lyra Philippa dol' Hollow
    Malachi of the Heights
    Mandy Judith dol' Semmerva of Iron
    Manfred Pause dol' Sunken Gardens
    María Adelita dol' Nueville
    Maria Ofelia dol' Tethys
    Mars Steven dol' Hollow
    Mary Pollyanna dol' Old Town
    Maurice St. Laurent dol' Nueville
    Maurilio Desiderius dol' Tethys
    Maximilian Reynard dol' Long Afternoon
    Mirabelle Léone dol' Semmerva of Iron
    Mordecai K. dol' Sunken Gardens
    Morgan Bors dol' Tethys
    Morgan Niamh dol' Nueville
    Narayana Pallab dol' Jonah's Respite
    Newt Acacia dol' White Water
    Nick Venders dol' Something Wicked
    Nicola Simone dol' Nueville
    Nikil Benjamin dol' Catastrophe
    Niobe dol' Tethys
    Normandy John dol' Nueville
    Obi dol' Cormac's Mourn
    Oliver Saturnine dol' Hollow
    Olivia Sandra dol' Nueville
    Ophelia Oenna dol' Hollow
    Orson Onager dol' Tethys
    Peony Charlotte dol' Tethys
    Perdita
    Petra Sinthia dol' Ares' Dogs
    Philippe Guy dol' Tethys
    Pietr Jan dol' Jonah's Respite
    Poison dol' Surface-Scraper
    Porphyria Elizabeth dol' Jonah's Respite
    Portia Samantha Daphne dol' Jonah's Respite
    Ptolemy Jonson dol' Tethys
    Quentin Scipio dol' Tethys
    Quigley Adastra dol' Nueville
    Quinn Vanders dol' Jonah's Respite
    Rachael of the Heights
    Radia Sinclaire dol' Sunken Gardens
    Rafe Moreno dol' Last Lamplight
    Ray Augustus dol' Tethys
    Renard Champion dol' White Words
    Reshmi Light-fingers
    Ronnie Vales dol' Sea-Goblin
    Rose of Sharon dol' Semmerva of Iron
    Ruth Eirwen dol' Tethys
    Sal Kataria dol' Nueville
    Sam the Staker
    Sam Vincent dol' Cormac's Mourn
    Samuel Fforde dol' Tethys
    Samuel John dol' Cormac's Mourn
    Scipio Mordecai dol' Tethys
    Sebastian Carver dol' Hollow
    Sebastian Marvin dol' Nueville
    Severn Regina dol' Tethys
    Sierra dol' Hollow
    Silvertongue Nero
    Sinclair Artur dol' Sunken Gardens
    Sophrosyne dol' Hollow
    Steven Yash dol' Jonah's Respite
    Tabitha, 9th Duchess of Garbage
    Tarquin Raven dol' Hollow
    Theo Jupiter dol' Tethys
    Theodor Lachlan dol' Final Warning
    Thomas Fargo dol' Surface-Scraper
    Thomas Samuel dol' Tethys
    Three Finger Bess
    Tutmose dol' Old Song
    Tyranitar Billy
    Ucalegon dol' Tethys
    Valeria Rose dol' Nueville
    Vassago Corbyn dol' Tethys
    Veronica Hope-for-light dol' Nueville
    Veronica Sara dol' Sea-Goblin
    Vinzenz Walther dol' Shady Afternoon
    Virginia
    Werner Wessel dol' Tethys
    Wissel Kant dol' Tethys
    Witold Manfried dol' Catastrophe
    Zita Brunhilde dol' Sole Regret


    POKÉMON

    Ahmed (machamp)
    Amanda (poliwrath)
    Ax (huntail)
    Beatrice (sableye)
    Betsy (swellow)
    Big Jack Sideways (graveler)
    Billy Stingers (beedrill)
    Bitey (linoone)
    Blade (scyther)
    Breaker (swellow)
    Caldwin (camerupt)
    Christine (staraptor)
    Diagon Al (linoone)
    Dusty (shelgon)
    Effluenza (trubbish)
    Etna (camerupt)
    Faulkner (swellow)
    Felle (crawdaunt)
    Flares (flareon)
    Flotsam (muk)
    Fluffy (arcanine)
    Galatea (kingdra)
    Gecks (milotic)
    Giga (snorlax)
    Grannit (graveler)
    Gregers (pyukumuku)
    Gretchen (golduck)
    Gulper (pelipper)
    Hammer (crawdaunt)
    Hephaestus (claydol)
    Hesper (sneasel)
    Hoggis (machoke)
    Hortense (wailmer)
    Iblis (monferno)
    Inigo (machamp)
    Iris (golduck)
    Jabber (pelipper)
    Jack (pelipper)
    Jack (weavile)
    Jeb (sealeo)
    Jetsam (muk)
    Jupiter (machamp)
    Kevin (zangoose)
    Kostya (banette)
    Little V (corsola)
    Lyco (arcanine)
    Malmort (arcanine)
    Melchior (carvanha)
    Merlot (machop)
    Michigan (machoke)
    Mitch (wingull)
    Mr. Whiskers (whiscash)
    Musée (sableye)
    Neb (sealeo)
    Needle (beedrill)
    Nell (linoone)
    Nibs (glalie)
    Norma (zangoose)
    Odysseus (donphan)
    Offal (garbodor)
    Old One-eye (donphan)
    Oleander (swalot)
    Orestes (scizor)
    Pickering (kingdra)
    Pidge (xatu)
    Prendergast (sharpedo)
    Pupper (growlithe)
    Pygmalion (kingdra)
    Pyramus (sharpedo)
    Queen Anne (sharpedo)
    Quinn (beautifly)
    Rajinder (machoke)
    Ringo (nosepass)
    Rockley (machoke)
    Runagate (delcatty)
    Sabre (machoke)
    Sam (swellow)
    Sandy (graveler)
    Scooby (arcanine)
    Seb (sealeo)
    Selkie (walrein)
    Shabti (golett)
    Sharma (donphan)
    Skitters (crawdaunt)
    Slicey Dicey (sneasel)
    Stabbers (linoone)
    Stavros (dusknoir)
    Stephanie (granbull)
    Stubbs (dusclops)
    Sucker (linoone)
    Thisbe (carvanha)
    Toxo (dustox)
    Treebee (bellossom)
    Two-face (girafarig)
    Uma (machoke)
    Val (crawdaunt)
    Vigoro (slaking)
    Vulcan (camerupt)
    Wiggles (linoone)
    Wisteria (skarmory)
    Wrecka (crawdaunt)
    Zeno (glalie)
    Zero (torterra)
    Zinfandel (pelipper)
     
  10. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine Gone. Not coming back.

    Some slightly stronger language than usual in this one. It's a stressful time, and the language reflects it.

    THIRTY: THE REMEMBRANCE OF SAPPHIRE

    Tethys Edict 1.1: This settlement has been founded for the survival and continued preservation of life in the face of marine annihilation. Until such time as the threat has been overcome, it is considered to be in a state of emergency, the nature of which is outlined below.


    I'm no fool, dear reader. I know I got through all that by the skin of my teeth. If Tethys hadn't, in the end, fatally underestimated me – if they'd had more agents to spare up in the high reaches of the Pillar – I'd be dead, or in prison, or worse. I got lucky. I didn't deserve it, but I got lucky. I guess Tooth still had an eye on me.

    Gods below. I've changed, haven't I? Living all this, that changed me, but going back over it again, giving it shape and form on the page – that's changed me too. I can see the Avice I used to be when I flip back to the beginning, and feel the distance between us. It's all right, I'm sure I'm better for it, but I've changed nonetheless. Change never lets up, does it? It's enough to tire a person out, and it isn't even dawn yet.

    I'm writing this on the day I go home, or at least, back to the place I grew up. Technically it isn't actually day yet, but that's because we're going to be there in just a few hours now, and I still have a couple more details to fill in before we arrive.

    The Great Sunrise was the end of the battle, like I said. A couple of ships that weren't on the surface at the time took a while to cotton on to what had happened, and the fighting in their corridors continued for a few minutes more, but for the most part the dawn ended it. I was glad, because at that point I couldn't really go back down the Pillar and tell everyone; Rayquaza dropped me off back at the top and vanished into the heavens, and then the pain and the exhaustion fell on me like a steel girder and I just couldn't get up again. We stayed up there, Edie, the ghosts and me, and we watched the sun until someone came for us.

    After that, I dropped right back into the second battle: that of the medics and doctors, who now had more patients than they could really handle. I don't really remember those first few minutes – to be honest, I'm not sure I was conscious – but I do remember meeting the commander of the Tethys forces and being presented with his official surrender. No one seems sure where it was that we met, on the Museum or the Tethys frigate. All we can say for sure is that we did meet, and for the first time in a very long time a Tethys representative admitted that they could no longer in good conscience carry on fighting their opponent.

    Both our fleets sailed together back to Old Town, half of which we pretty much took over in our attempts to find places to put our wounded. The Museum, miraculously, still ran, though slowly, and I spent a long time in my cabin there, asleep or something like it. My leg got infected. There was a lot of blood, I wasn't always conscious, it … it was all very messy. None of it felt like a victory.

    Besides, I had more than physical wounds to heal from. I had won, technically, but I had lost as much as I'd gained. I … am a killer, dear reader. I wish there was a better way to put it. However justified I might have been in bringing a fleet to the Pillar, I still killed Virginia. There's some sort of symbol in that, in the way that the misfire destroyed, of all things, my trigger finger, but this is one part of reality that I just can't face hiding behind a story. I killed her. I could have done something else. Incapacitated her. Shot her in the leg, maybe – and all right, I know, I'm a bad shot and I might have missed, but … there had to be alternatives. There had to be. What kind of a world is it where a situation like that is possible? Where you have no choice but to kill or die? That's not my world, I just – I refuse to allow it to be. So there must have been something that I missed. There just

    Sorry. This keeps me up at night. Obviously. You know me. You don't need to be told.

    I'm OK now. I mean, I'm not OK, I may never be OK, but I … function, I guess. For a long time I didn't. I know I have no right, that many good people had to do a lot worse than I did that day, had to see their friends and comrades die and keep killing over the pile of bodies, but whatever, call it my weakness, I didn't.

    Like I said, I didn't deserve it, but I got lucky.

    All right. What next? I got better, or mostly. One of the Tethys medics aboard the fleet saw to that, with her city training and medicines from the synthesis machines. Yes, it's hard for me to believe too, but just like that, I wasn't Tethys' enemy any more, or not the enemy of the part of it that had seen what I'd done, anyway. What I'd like to say is that ideology is a powerful thing but the sun is stronger still; however, I can't, because as you and I well know, dear reader, there's no creature on earth with a greater capacity for denying the obvious than a human being who feels their beliefs are being questioned. The sun was strong enough to stop the fleet, months away from home, mired in an awful battle that they were probably only fighting because their commanders, who were the sort of people with shiny eyes and smiles you're too afraid of to trust, were making them. So the sun was their excuse, and once they'd gone and used it then drown it, what was the point, they weren't going to pretend to hunt me now, when I'd brought the sky back. And if they weren't going to pretend, they might as well send a doctor over, and a couple of bottles of finest Administrator-grade whiskey as an oblique apology and thank you.

    Anyway, as I said, I healed, in some ways at least, and so did everyone else. When I was well enough, people started coming to see me – from the fleet I'd put together, from the Tethys contingent, even just townspeople who wanted to thank me – and I did my best to receive them all. I probably didn't look very heroic, but it didn't seem to matter. People seem to see something different in me now. They see what I am, of course, and then they think ah, but it's her what stopped the rain, so she's all right, she's not like the rest of 'em. Which I'm sure they feel is terribly magnanimous of them, right up until they see whatever it is they see in my eyes that makes them falter and rethink their priorities. I can't see it myself – I look in the mirror and see only Avice – but they, I'm sure, see the legend in me. That's the thing about being a symbol, even if only for a little time. It's not a job you can really retire from.

    Among the visitors were old friends. Ulixa came, limping and leaning on her arcanine but otherwise fine. So did Berenice and Lillian, the former with a gap in her grin and the latter with a twitch in her shadow-stuff, the spectral equivalent of a healing scar. Simone, Archangel, Payosha, hs.saio, the heroes of the battle. I could list them all, but I spent all yesterday on lists, and besides, there were more than I can remember. I could tell you what Ulixa told me I had done for her, or what Berenice said she was going to do next, but those things feel to me like they're part of life, not history. I could tell you everything there is to know about me, dear reader, and then what would be left of me? I need to keep a few things back for myself. No one wants to be effaced, and someone like me feels the threat more keenly than most.

    One thing I will share, though: Rhiannon. She came back, reader. Can you believe it? Of course I don't blame her for giving away our plans – the CCC would have broken any Tethys citizen in seconds – but I wouldn't have blamed her if she didn't want to face me after it all, either. If our positions had been reversed, I'm not sure I would have had the guts to come back to see her.

    But she did. I wasn't much of a host, stuck in bed with the various holes in me oozing interesting but unwelcome fluids, but I like I said I did my best, and when Sapphire told me someone was coming I had her and Zinnia help me sit up a bit so whoever was coming didn't feel like they were visiting someone on their deathbed.

    Then the door opened and it was her, and I couldn't help but stare.

    “Rhiannon,” I said.

    “Avice,” she replied.

    She came in, Spike following close behind. Normally, golduck stay on two legs unless they need to go fast, but he was limping along on three, holding his left arm off the ground against his chest. Rhiannon wasn't looking so good herself. There were a lot of bruises, although I knew that the beating would have been pretty light, all things considered. In Tethys, they subscribe to the view that it's a waste of effort hitting you with the stick when they could just hold it out in front of you and let you think about how easily they could start swinging.

    “There's a chair there,” I said. “If you like.”

    “Thanks.” She sat down stiffly, grimacing slightly as she bent. “I just wanted to apolo―”

    “Rhiannon, it was the CCC. You don't have to―”

    “Would you quit bein' a godsdrowned hero for one second?” she snapped. “I know you know. But I have some dignity. You might be a hallow, but I'm not, and I don't want your forgiveness without earnin' it.”

    That shut me up. It's a character flaw, I know. I try as hard as I possibly can to always be nice, because of guilt and because so many people are, as Archie says, bastards, but niceness isn't always the kindest thing to do. Sometimes it's just stifling.

    “Cheers,” she said, after it became apparent that I wasn't going to interrupt again. “Right, so. I'm sorry, Avice. It was – well, it was them. I tried, but I couldn't … not say.” Her lips compressed. “One of them recognised me from before. She did some of my training, back when I was a spy.”

    “Virginia?”

    She raised an eyebrow.

    “You know her too?”

    I hesitated.

    “I killed her.”

    Involuntarily, Rhiannon and Spike's eyes flicked to each other and back to me.

    “I'd thank you, but I don't reckon as you'd want me to.”

    “No,” I said. “I wouldn't.”

    “She was a bad one,” Rhiannon continued. “Some of them get that way. They get that light in their eyes like everythin's a joke and suddenly you know that if you ain't one of them, you en't even a person and they could cut you up easy as lookin' at you. So you know, Avice, in the end there probably wasn't any other message she'd've understood.”

    “Please stop,” I said, and she held up her hands, placatory.

    “Sorry,” she said. “I know it's hard. I've – I've done it twice, so I know. And I had trainin', and you, you en't a killer, so.”

    “Please stop,” I repeated. “Thanks, Rhiannon, really, but … I can't. Not now.”

    She nodded.

    “Fair enough. Maybe you'll think about it when you … well, later.” She got up, slow and painful. “That's it, then. I've said my piece. 'Cept – thanks.”

    “Thanks?”

    She went to the window and looked out, squinting ferociously into the light. None of us could stand it back then, not without sunglasses. It was like nothing else we'd ever known.

    “For the first time in gods know how many years,” she said, “we've got a future. Spike and me, the whole ocean.” She turned to face me. “Last five hundred years, we've just been scramblin' to stay alive. All the runnin' you can do just to stay where you are. Now …” She waved a hand at the sunlight. “Now we got somewhere to go.”

    I could hear the remnants of her Tethys accent there for the first time. For some reason, it seemed unbearably sad.

    “What will you do now?” I asked.

    Rhiannon shrugged.

    “Dunno,” she said. “Don't feel like goin' back to the Europa. Don't think ships are gonna be that big of a deal any more.” She grinned. “So I dunno, really. But I'm lookin' forward to findin' out.”

    That was the last I saw of her, dear reader. She and Spike limped out of the room and out of my life. I did ask around, but no one seems to have heard anything about her.

    There's this feeling I've got, though, that she's going to be one to watch. Something in the way she walked, or the tone of her voice. Maybe whenever you're reading, you already know what happened next. Right now, all I know is that whatever Rhiannon ends up doing, she's not going to be part of anyone else's story now. There'll be a new one, and she's going to be its star.




    Well: at last, we sailed. We set off to the northwest, towards Tethys, and I started limping around with a crutch, wondering what to do with myself. Normally I read, or help Edie with machines, or whatever, but none of this seemed an option. Edie had fixed the Museum more or less by herself while I was convalescing, and after everything that had happened I couldn't concentrate on books. Everything seemed … unstable, like it might slide away into nothingness at any moment. I barely felt real myself. It was over, and in a way, so was I.

    That's why I wrote this, I suppose. I needed something to do. More than that, I needed to think about it, and for me that means writing about it. I think I've got it mostly straight, sorted out my head as best I can, rearranged myself in the right formation to keep on living. Most of all, I've created something that people will remember me by, and where I'm going, that might be more important than anything else.

    I never told you why we're going back to Tethys, dear reader. Let me tell you now, as we make our final descent through the sunlit water to the city below.

    Tethys is a terrible place, and it is one of the jewels of the ocean, and it's my home. It's where my father lives. It's where Moll lives. It's where all the friends I ever made when I was growing up live – and it's where they forgot me when I became part of the Museum of the Forgotten.

    In this new world, Tethys will die if I don't do something. I may be the only one who cares, at this point. Tethys has never had allies, and no one would weep for it if it fell. But it made me, for its sins, and even if it spent much of its subsequent time trying to destroy me, that's not a debt I can ignore.

    Will this story be enough to make people remember who I am? I don't know. I can only hope.

    It's time. I can see the city taking shape below us.

    Goodbye, dear reader. I hope we meet again some day. You've done so much for me, and I'd love to repay you.




    SAPPHIRE

    There isn't much to say. I'll say everything I can, but there isn't much of it, is the thing. There isn't much of me, either. Same deal. It's like in Jurassic Park, where the bits of dinosaur DNA and stuff is in the fly trapped in amber? I'm what's left in the fly.

    So here's what I know. I was … Sapphire was … just a kid, I think. Everyone said she, I, whatever, was something special, but like Avice, she was only doing it all because there was nothing else for it. Bravery is something you stumble into while trying to get on with your life. Sapphire fought Team Aqua because she kept running into them and they kept threatening her, and then somehow when she got to Sootopolis she realised she wasn't scared enough to run away. Someone had to deal with Kyogre. If all these grown men were going to stand around uselessly, it might as well be her. Right?

    I'm really sorry. That's about it for my story. Avice never asked me to write it, maybe because half the time I'm not really here, not really anywhere, just sort of … unreal, but I felt I owed it to her to put something into her book. What's the word … synthesis. This is a synthesis. That's what history is for. Right? I remember reading that somewhere, I thought it was so clever. How does it go … A nation is just a bunch of people until they find something to believe in. Something like that. That's history. It's a flag. There's 'what happened in this area', and there's 'the history of Hoenn'.

    I guess I can't explain it right. I was never any good at talking.

    I should say what it's been like being a person again. It's been difficult, is what it's been like. Maxie and Archie and Zinnia have all tried to talk to me, but I find it so hard to hear them. I think they wanted to apologise, so I told them that they didn't have to. Honestly, I don't know if they heard me either. Sometimes I think only Avice can really access wherever it is I am. In the end … in the end they gave up. Avice says she talked to them on my behalf now, that it's sorted, even if they still can't remember my name. It's OK. I struggle with that too.

    Looks like it's time to go. I don't think I'll be back. Honestly, I don't think any of us will. We've been here so long, and we've already overstayed our welcome in the new world. I have no regrets. It was a short life, but it was OK. Sapphire did what she could, and if she wasn't good enough, that wasn't her fault. And afterwards, through all those years down in the dark with Kyogre … I'm just tired. Every time I dissolve I come back again, a little bit less of myself than I was before. Now there's almost nothing left. The end's got to come soon. Right?

    Right?




    AVICE

    I have to tell you, dear reader, I didn't actually have high hopes of getting through these last couple of days before I went out and lived them for myself. That's why I said goodbye and all that; I kind of figured the city might beat me. But, well, here I am. Three days later, and everything is fine.

    Not convincing, huh? All right, it's not fine. I'm … alone. I mean, I have Edie, but not the ghosts. I'm looking at this little bit that Sapphire wrote – I never knew she was – I didn't even think she could be solid enough. I'm looking at it and … sh*t.

    Oh gods below. This is harder than I thought it would be. OK. Concentrate, Avice! Where do you want to begin? The arrival at Tethys. So. Write about that.

    No one challenged us as we approached the city. We didn't even get flashed any light-signals. No kingdra were patrolling, no ships were rising from or sinking to the docks. Tethys crouched alone on the seabed, like a spider retreating into the shadows. The sea was much shallower than I remembered, and I could tell that it would only be a matter of days now before Chimney and the top of the Grand Staircase were exposed to the air. Even before then, however, there would be sunlight, filtering down through the water and in at the panes of glass above the Staircase. I had no idea what sort of a reaction that would cause, but I knew it would be big, and in all probability irreversible.

    “You OK?” Zinnia asked me, as I looked down at the silent city.

    “It's so quiet,” I said. “It shouldn't be this quiet.”

    “Maybe they don't remember us,” suggested Maxie, but he didn't sound convinced, and none of the rest of us were, either. There was something up in Tethys. And twenty years there had taught me that when something's up in Tethys, it rarely turns out well.

    We slipped down between the struts and docked back at the place where the Museum had spent the last few hundred years, off maintenance sector 12 near Founders'. There was no immediate thumping at the airlock, no army of sergeants clamouring to drag me away. I thought about putting on my uniform as a disguise, but I really didn't want to. Besides, I had no name-badge, and you'd be surprised how easy a thing that is to spot when everyone around you does.

    I hovered by the doors for a while, unable to bring myself to open them. I told myself I should go back and put on a disguise, except that even if I did go back I knew I wouldn't be able to bring myself to put it on. I told myself I should go get my gun, except that I knew I couldn't bear to touch it. I told myself a lot of things, and I knew that all of them were only ways of delaying the inevitable moment when my finger would meet the release button and the doors would open onto the stale air and red paint of Tethys.

    “Are you all right, lass?” asked Archie, when it had become clear I was having some difficulty with it all.

    “Yeah,” I began, then stopped. “No,” I admitted. “Would someone push the button, please.”

    Maxie's hand went to the panel and stayed there, unmoving.

    “Whatever happens,” he said, “remember what we said at the Pillar. We're with you until the end, Avice.”

    “The bitter end,” said Zinnia, hugging me. “And Ava, I'm sorry, it's gonna be bitter. But it's got to come.”

    “I know,” I said, hugging back. “I know.”

    I think Sapphire was trying to say something then too, but she didn't quite manage it, lips moving without sound. She never did say much. It took all she had just to be here, I guess. All the running you can do, just to stay where you are.

    Maxie hit the button. The door opened, we stepped through, and the meter on the wall told me that interior and exterior pressures were being equalised.

    Then the other door opened, and the ghosts weren't solid any more, and I walked back into Tethys for the first time in two years.




    The maintenance corridors were quiet, but I suppose that's what I expected. Those extra patrols back when I'd been breaking into the Museum every night must have become sort of redundant after there was no longer a Museum there to be broken into. All the same, I trod lightly, just in case I was wrong. I remembered the way and even, to my surprise, the patterns the old patrols had taken; these were not, however, memories that I wanted to put to the test – especially since the city seemed a very different place now. The maintenance corridors with their walls covered in pipes and vents, the steel plating underfoot – they all felt slightly off, like imperfect copies. I felt like an imperfect copy. Not a particularly unusual state of mind for me, I have to say, but I'd never felt that way about my relation to Tethys before. Yet there it was. I was not the Avice who used to live here. I never would be again, and I could never return to the here I used to live in.

    “Is it usually this quiet?” asked Zinnia, as we wound our way through the maze of back passages. “I get that this is a maintenance bit or something, but I'd have thought there would be people doing, you know, maintenance.”

    I shrugged.

    “Sometimes,” I said. “It was busier before, but not always.”

    Edie squeaked nervously and stuck close to me. She's learned to be brave, so much braver than she ever was before, but this was the place where people had thrown things at her for five hundred years, and experiences like that tend to stick. That was always Tethys' way: not the violence but the knowledge of it. It's much more efficient to let people scare themselves.

    “You're doing great,” I assured her, after a pipe hissed and made her flinch. “We'll be OK, sweetie.”

    ♪, she answered, noncommittally.

    “Got a destination in mind, lass?” asked Archie, a couple of minutes later.

    “Yeah,” I said. “We need to hit the Gym. Then it all depends on whether anyone remembers me.”

    “You don't have anything more … definite?”

    I shrugged.

    “We talked about this. I can't take on Tethys, Archie. I can find someone who might not immediately have me arrested. It's what you call a starting point.”

    “… following now,” said Sapphire. I couldn't tell what she was trying to say, so I smiled awkwardly and moved on. To tell the truth, I'm not sure she noticed. She was only ever really solid that one night, when we were up there on the Sky Pillar. Ever since, she's been fading.

    I'd never taken this way down to the Gym – I hadn't needed to; if I visited, which I rarely did, it was in my capacity as Moll's friend, and so I didn't need to sneak around in the maintenance passages – but I did a pretty good job of figuring out the way, counting off the turnings and charting a route that brought us out on the south side of Long Hill. We did encounter a few workers and one sergeant – or we passed them by, I should say; we didn't actually meet. In all cases, I heard them coming in advance and diverted into side corridors long before they had any chance of spotting us.

    And then, there we were. I cracked open an access panel, put an eye to the gap and saw no one; I shifted position and saw black letters standing out against the red of the wall: CORRIDOR 225F.

    “Huh,” I muttered, surprised. “I didn't actually expect to get it that right.”

    “This is the place?”

    “Yeah. Can you go out there and see if there's anyone around?”

    Maxie did the thing where he dissolved into wisps of light that curled through the gap and reformed on the other side.

    “It doesn't look too bad,” he said. “There aren't so many people around.” He frowned at something I couldn't see. “Wait one moment, please. I'm just going to see …”

    He began walking away, and I resisted the urge to lean around the hatch and watch.

    “Maxie?” I didn't dare raise my voice above a whisper; he probably never even heard me. “Maxie? I – drown 'em, Archie, can you―?”

    “A'right,” he said, and followed.

    Zinnia rolled her eyes.

    “The more things change,” she said.

    “Yeah,” I agreed, with more feeling than either of us were expecting. She looked faintly surprised, then let her face relax into the usual ironic grin.

    “I guess you'd know, huh.”

    A few agonisingly suspenseful minutes later, Archie and Maxie returned, wearing concerned expressions.

    “There are a lot of sergeants around,” said Maxie. “I know the Administration always liked them to maintain a presence about the city, but not like this. I have no idea how they've spared so many with the war on. There's practically one on every corner.”

    “We reckon they know what happened,” Archie went on. “Your Administrators, that is. And maybe the people know too, maybe they don't, but either way someone's expecting trouble.” He paused. “What would it mean if the citizens found out about what you did?”

    I'd been thinking about this for some time. I hadn't been able to come up with a straight answer.

    “I'm not sure,” I replied. “I'd like to think that everything would fall apart, but I can't be certain how quickly people would start to ask questions. We don't really get taught to do that kind of thinking, see.”

    “The kind of thinking that goes, 'a Tethys kid did this, why couldn't we have done it sooner?'”

    “Yeah. And even if people did think that, it would take time for them to realise that other people thought that too.” I shook my head. “I can get a better sense of how things are if I can get to … get into the Gym. Do I have a clear line at the entrance?”

    “Aye. No guards on the door. Don't see why there would be. But what about after that? How're you gonnae get to your friend?”

    I raised my eyebrows.

    “Oh, that'll be easy,”I said. “In fact, they're going to do it for me.”




    It worked like this: I walked in the front door and waved at the nearest trainer.

    “Hail,” I said, as cheerfully as I could. “I'm not supposed to be here.”

    She stared. I could see that this was difficult for her. I looked nothing like a Tethys citizen, and I was in a place that ought to have been impossible for any foreigner to get to. The fact that I sounded like a Tethys citizen was probably lost on her. We don't hear a lot of foreign accents in the city; it's not a detail we tend to think about.

    “Who in all blood are you?” she asked.

    “Oh, a subversive, an anarchist, a pirate and a thief,” I said, listing items on my fingers. “Um, commander of an enemy force, traducer of the state, murderer. It's really easier to count all the laws I haven't broken.”

    I let that sink in. It was going to be a bit difficult for her to get her head around this, but I was willing to wait. I was depending on it.

    And the Gym was a nice enough place to wait. It's a series of big interconnected courtyards, overlooked by mezzanines from where audiences can watch. There are pot plants. In the first courtyard, there's even a little fountain.

    The one thing it doesn't have is sergeants. After all, the place is full of accomplished trainers; they're perfectly capable of guarding it themselves. And the city abhors a waste of resources.

    You see where I'm going with this?

    “This isn't exactly what I'd imagined,” said Sapphire, firming up a little in her agitation. “Are you sure about this?”

    I didn't answer, not in front of the trainer, but I smiled and hoped she saw I'd meant it for her. Everything was going according to plan.

    “So let me get this straight,” said the trainer. “You – how did you even get out of the docks? You're not supposed to―”

    “I know,” I said, channelling all my memories of Berenice. “I'm pretty good at this breaking-in stuff, huh?”

    “Did you say you were a murderer?”

    My smile was as brittle as sugar glass. I shouldn't have said that, I thought. It was true, but I didn't know if I could keep up the act if I thought about it too much.

    “Yep,” I said. “I did.”

    She swallowed.

    “OK,” she said. “I'm going to – I'm going to …”

    It was a good act. While her tongue was still faltering, her hand made a sharp gesture, and her linoone leapt between us, teeth bared.

    “Max!” she called, not taking her eyes off me. “Get in here.”

    I raised my hands in surrender as she was joined by a heavyset man in his mid-twenties. We'd met each other before at a party, I remembered, but thankfully he didn't seem to be able to see past the tan and the green dress. (I've gone off blue a bit; somehow, I don't feel as much of an affinity to the pirates any more. Green's my colour now.)

    “What's up― wait, who in all blood is this?”

    “I don't know, but she shouldn't be here,” said the first trainer. “Is Braga there?”

    “Hm? Uh, yeah. Braga!”

    A machoke stuck his head out of the doorway he'd entered by.

    “Can you, uh, grab this intruder?”

    He didn't seem to know how to say it. They'd never trained him for this.

    “I can't help but notice that you seem to be getting yourself captured,” said Maxie, as the machoke came over and seized one of my arms. “I really hope this is all part of the plan.”

    “It is,” I muttered.

    “What's that?” asked the trainer.

    “Nothing,” I said. “You should probably secure my pokémon, by the way. She's quite protective.”

    As a matter of fact, Edie had been waiting quite calmly at my feet, secure in the knowledge that if I knew what I was doing then she probably didn't need to worry, but she got the gist of what I was saying and made her head jitter about a bit on her shoulders in a way calculated to unsettle anyone who didn't know it was only a hologram.

    “What in all―? Lauren, what is happening here?”

    “I don't know,” she said. “But if that thing makes a move, Braga will pull your arm off.”

    Braga started, as if to say I will?, but I politely ignored his hesitation. It seemed the kindest thing to do.

    “OK, Edie, did you get that? We're going to go along with these nice people.”

    She nodded.

    “Great. So. What happens next, you guys?”

    Lauren and Max exchanged glances, and I felt part of me relax slightly. My guess was right: they didn't know, not really. And when someone in Tethys doesn't know what they should do …

    “C'mon,” said Lauren, after a moment. “I think the boss should know about this.”

    … they go and ask their supervisor. I grinned inwardly. This was what I'd learned from Aranea, and why I'd become a Legal Apprentice in the first place. Learn the rules of the game, and suddenly the bureaucracy isn't your enemy any more. It's your weapon.

    “Sure,” I said. “You just lead the way.”

    “It's like watching a conductor at the orchestra,” said Zinnia, as Braga marched me across the courtyard and on into the next. “Ava, if I had a hat, I'd take it off to you.”

    I didn't answer. Not because I didn't want to be overheard, although I didn't, but because Max was opening a door and I was being ushered through into the Gym Leader's office.

    She looked much older than I remembered, even though I've probably aged more, what with everything I've done. But she was still beautiful, and it was still unmistakeably her. Who else would it have been? Everybody always knew she'd be Gym Leader in a year or so.

    “Who in all blood is this?” she asked, as we all filed in and tried to make space.

    “Yeah, I've been getting that a lot,” I said. “How are you, Moll? It's me, Avice.”

    The moment of truth. I saw the struggle for recognition in her eyes, a desperate attempt to figure out where we'd met before and how I knew her name. She wanted to know, I realised, but she couldn't, not with me in the Museum.

    “Pirate poet,” I said, trying to find something she'd remember. “Ghosts. You stun spore'd Virgil. It―”

    “Pirate poet,” she repeated, frowning ferociously in that old familiar way that made my chest tight with a rush of memory. “You …” She stood up. “Lauren, Max. Thank you for this. I'll take it from here.”

    “Are you sure? We could leave Braga―”

    “Max, if Braga couldn't beat my heracross, I don't think there's much he can do that I can't manage for myself,” said Moll. “Now. Go on.”

    The heracross behind the desk had been so still I hadn't previously seen it, but it moved then, changing the way the light glistened on its oily blue carapace, and it took all I had not to flinch. I knew – well, I was moderately confident – that Moll wasn't going to hurt me. It's just that nervousness is good policy when there's a heracross in the room. They aren't very tall, sure, but you aren't getting up again after a megahorn to the knees.

    “All right, ma'am,” said Lauren, in that special Tethys tone of voice that isn't quite identifiable as insubordination but which nevertheless suggests that, in a just and fair world, you'd be the one giving the orders. “Heel, Haley.”

    Her linoone scurried after her, and Braga followed with Max. I rubbed my arm absently where the big fingers had gripped it, and Moll came around the desk, looking fierce.

    “Avice,” she said. “Avice, Avice – what is with that name? You know something – you must do, or you wouldn't've come in here like that―”

    “It's my name,” I replied. “Avice Amrit dol' … well, to be honest, the gentilic is kind of up for debate, but that's the important bit.” I wanted to take her hand, but equally, I wanted to retain all of my limbs, so I held myself back. “What's up with the name Avice?”

    “Nothing, 'cept it's been in my head for the last two years,” she replied, giving me a suspicious look. “Going round and round and round like a song you just can't get rid of. Even named my drowned heracross after it, in case it was a sign. But no, the name's still there. And you” – she jabbed a finger almost but not quite into my chest – “you know something about it, don't you?”

    It had worked. The knowledge was electric: I could practically feel the hairs on the back of my neck standing on end. It had worked. I'd left my name-badge in Tethys to try and anchor my memory, and now while Moll couldn't remember me she remembered my name. And as you and I know, dear reader, a name may be a little thing but it can be very, very powerful.

    Also, I realised as my brain caught up with my ears, Moll had named her heracross after me. I didn't know how to feel about this. 'Weird' seemed to be the most appropriate thing.

    “It's a long story,” I told her in the end. “But yeah, I do. I know everything there is to know about it, really, and I actually broke in here more or less specifically to tell you.” I gestured at the chair behind the desk. “Like I said, it's a long story, and I don't even know how to tell it. If you want to sit down, though, I'm willing to give it a shot.”

    A long moment fell between us in which I held my breath – and then Moll nodded.

    “All right,” she said, still wary, still confused, but now open to suggestions. “All right then, let's talk.”




    It took over two hours, and that was really just the highlights reel. I started with the fact that I'd been living in the Museum, and then went backwards to my life in Tethys, focusing on anything and everything that I thought Moll might remember. It turned out that a lot of her childhood had slithered off into oblivion, depending on how heavily it featured me, so there wasn't much for me to work with other than a few scattered instances where she remembered doing something 'with a friend' and I insisted that that friend had been me. She kept telling me that she didn't remember, and I kept replying that that's what she'd expect, wasn't it, if I really had been in the Museum all this time?

    We argued it back and forth, but I knew I'd won the instant she agreed to sit down. If she really didn't believe me, she wouldn't have bothered to hear me out in the first place. Somewhere inside her was a tiny flicker of memory, burning bravely on despite the sands of time pressing in on all sides. All I had to do was work on it.

    I mean, let's be honest for once, what's the real reason I started my history so far back before everything even begun? For posterity, sure, but I'm not that pretentious; I don't seriously think that this is going to become the definitive record of the end of my world, not after all that's happened. Someone's going to use this as a source, and that will be the history book. This is just the preamble. So why start my story before I was even born? To show the people who'd forgotten. I didn't bring it with me then, obviously; you can't say to someone, 'I'm your long-lost best friend, and by the way, if you'll just read pages 1-186 of this manuscript you'll find the proof is there.' But it's here for when we need it.

    Right then, though, it was just the two of us talking it over, while the ghosts hung around by the wall, watching and waiting. And little by little, I found I was winning her over.

    It was the little things. It was sneaking out after lights-out to climb the girders and watch the lights of Long Hill after dark. It was a half-remembered poem. It was Chubb poking his proboscis down my ear that one time.

    “Chubb's dead,” she said then, and a hole opened up in my stomach.

    “I'm sorry,” I said, and I meant it. Too many people had died already.

    “It's OK,” she replied. “He was very old, for a beautifly.” She sighed, and leaned back in her chair. “Avice, I … Avice.” She shook her head. “It's like having a word on the tip of your tongue, except it's a whole person. I feel like … I don't know. I feel like I want to know you.” She stared at me, trying to read gods knew what in my face. “We played at the docks,” she said slowly. “Pirates and sergeants. There was a houndoom that was a sea-monster.”

    That was a memory I hadn't told her about.

    “Yes,” I said. “We did. Some of them didn't like me because of my mother. Then they sort of stopped. I always wondered―”

    “Yeah,” she said, sounding distant. “It was me. After the first couple of days I went back myself and made sure …” She stopped. Her eyes focused on me again. “Avice,” she said.

    “Yeah?” I said.

    “That's how I know Amar at the library.”

    “Yeah,” I said, feeling suddenly and heartwrenchingly homesick. “I … I need to see him too, sometime.”

    “He's … wait. We put you on a ship, didn't we? To get you out because you … because you … did something.” She ground her teeth, frustrated. “What was it? No, wait. How did you end up on the Museum if you were on a different ship? No, the other question first. I mean – agh!”

    She threw her hands up in exasperation, then just as quickly realised what it meant that she was asking these questions at all and jumped to her feet.

    “Avice!”

    “Moll,” I said, though it came out as a whisper, and I let myself be hugged with all the same ferocity as at our parting, two years before.

    She knew. She didn't remember it all, but she knew. You can forget a face, forget a person, forget a whole life; but if someone's changed you the way we changed each other, the marks they made on you stay there for life.

    She didn't remember. She didn't have to remember. She knew she'd loved me, and that, right then, was enough.




    Moll wanted to know everything, except that she also wanted to interrupt every five seconds to prove that she remembered something. It wasn't a very good system, and I loved every moment of it.

    However, we couldn't sit in her office and talk all day: Lauren and Max had brought me there, and sooner or later she was going to have to find something to tell them.

    “Say you're taking me down to the sergeants' station,” I told her. “Then I'll go back into the maintenance passages and find my way over to your place. Just tell me where you're living these days.”

    “Hang on,” she said, grabbing my hand. “What if I forget you again? I mean, if I'm not looking at you―”

    “Then we'll go over all this again in your quarters,” I said. “I mean, I kind of don't have any choice. You're my way into Tethys, and … well, I have a lot to do here.”

    Her brow furrowed.

    “About that,” she said. “Why are you back? And what have you been doing all this time?”

    I saw her eyes move, and knew she was looking at my scars and missing fingers. Mine was not the body of a person who's been hiding safely for two years.

    “That,” I said, “is an even longer story. And I'll tell you, I promise, but right now you need to show your trainers that you've still got me arrested and I haven't, like, murdered you quietly in a corner.”

    “You always had a crappy sense of humour.” She smiled, then looked concerned. “You did always have a crappy sense of humour, right?”

    “Well, I think it's all right, but general opinion is with you on this one, yeah.” I sighed. “Ready to make an arrest?”

    Moll bit her lip.

    “Oh, fine,” she said. “But if I forget―”

    “You won't. Once you start remembering, it sticks.”

    It had been true of me remembering Maxie. I hoped it would be true for her, too.

    “It better,” she said darkly, and stood up. “C'mon, then. Try not to look too happy about it.”

    “Please. I'm an expert at being arrested.”

    “I don't even know if I want you to tell me about that one,” she said. “Right. Ready?”

    “Ready.”

    In the end, she told her trainers that she was taking me down to the station and that none of them had seen me, did they understand? And because they were all Tethysi, they nodded and said yes, they understood, and so I got in and out without anyone ever, officially, knowing I was there. It was a similar sort of trick to the one I'd pulled to get in. With Tethys, it's always a matter of gaming the system.

    She took me across the corridor, which was thankfully still quiet – I had, by sheer bloody luck, arrived in Tethys on a Quiet Day, so most of the people who might have come to or from the Gym didn't – and waited while I opened the hatch.

    “Aren't these locked?” she asked, and I grinned my best Berenice grin.

    “Kind of,” I said. “There's a catch, you can force it if you push it just right. It's easier to figure it out if you're trying to break out of the tunnels, which is how I got it.”

    “Right,” she said. I could see her trying to keep up. There was something sad about that. We'd both come a long way in the past two years, but I'd gone a whole lot further than she had, and it showed. “Uh – you know where to go?”

    “Alpha-pod, 44B. Am I right?”

    “Yeah.” She hesitated. “Are you sure I'll …?”

    I took her hand. I made sure I did it with the one that still had all its fingers.

    “If you forget, I'll tell you again,” I told her. “Every single day, if I have to. I promise.”

    She smiled – a surprisingly shy smile for her, I thought, but times change and so do people – and nodded.

    “All right,” she said. “I'll see you in a bit.”

    “Bye.”

    I didn't hang about. There was a sergeant on the corner, and while I was screened by the open hatch and he had his back to us, it wasn't worth the risk of being spotted.

    In the corridor, I leaned back against the wall and realised that all the ghosts were staring at me.

    “What?” I asked.

    “Nothing,” said Zinnia, smirking in a way that suggested that it was, in fact, something. “Which way to 44B?”

    I sighed.

    “Hey, it's been two years, all right?”

    “What?” she asked innocently. “Archie, did I say anything?”

    Archie looked from her to me and went a deeper shade of blue.

    “I know better'n to get involved in this,” he said. “Er – 44B, did you say?”

    “Yeah,” I said, eyeing Zinnia. “Should be down here somewhere.”

    Corridor 44B is two levels below and a long way west of the Gym; it's pretty up-market, so far as a metal tube at the bottom of the ocean can be, and the Gym Leader has always traditionally lived there, though which quarters they're assigned seems to shift every so often. I've never quite been sure why, but I'd be willing to bet that it has something to do with keeping the 44B occupants pacified: they're all respectable old credit families, the kind that reliably pumps out a fresh batch of Administrators every generation, and it's good policy to keep people like that on side. Fortunately, the wealth there means that there's a pair of sergeants on permanent watch at the entrance – which in turn means that there aren't any sergeants within the corridor itself. There weren't any in the maintenance passages either, which was broadly what I'd expected; the sergeants are really only there to give the impression of guarding, because the people who live there want to feel like they're being protected by the Administration. No one actually expects anyone to break in. Credits aren't like kites. They're just potential; you can't actually steal them. And stolen goods in a sealed system like Tethys are too distinctive to easily fence.

    I let myself out around the corner from the sergeants and slipped into Moll's quarters without being seen. Part of me was starting to regret not putting on that uniform after all, but a larger part was revelling in it. This was so easy, when you knew how. Compared to Jonah's Respite, this place was a joke. The first line of security was indoctrination, and if you got around that then you practically had the keys to the city.

    “Nice place,” remarked Archie, as we entered. “Bigger than yours, if I remember right.”

    “You do,” I said. It was. Moll's apartment had four rooms, three of which were bigger than the largest room in my father's. There was a real leather sofa and a private intercom link – and I was willing to bet she had unlimited minutes and access to a priority channel. Public office in Tethys has its perks.

    “Yeah, but what are you supposed to do here?” Zinnia was looking around for something which, clearly, wasn't there. “OK, I kind of suspected that TV was a thing of the past, but like … no books? No anything?

    “There aren't a lot of books left,” I said absently, sitting down to rub the stiffness out of my leg. It seizes up a little sometimes. Apparently there was nothing the doctors could do about that. “They don't really let you take them out of the library any more, because otherwise it'd be empty. There are clubs and things for your free time. Meant to help construct an atmosphere of – ow – community.”

    I motioned for Edie, and she jabbed her beak into the knot in my thigh. It tingled for a moment, and then reluctantly dissolved.

    “Organised fun, huh,” said Zinnia. “If I didn't already know they were evil here, that'd be the clue, all right. You know. Apart from the government spooks and the people who get 'resettled' who you never see again.” She dropped onto the sofa next to me with a sigh. “Nice sofa, though, I'll give 'em that.”

    “So what's the plan?” asked Maxie. “You've found your way in, Avice. Now what?”

    I thought for a moment. I hadn't really had a plan when I came in; it had all depended on whether or not people had heard what was going on out in the wider world yet. After the distinct lack of ship traffic and the heightened security, I was starting to suspect that they hadn't, and that the Administration was desperate to make sure they didn't.

    “There are sergeants on every corner,” I said slowly. “There aren't any ships coming or going. A Tethys fleet went AWOL at the Sky Pillar.”

    “So they know which way the wind's blowing,” said Archie. “Do they really think they can avoid it if they just pretend it hasn't happened?”

    “Historically, that's kind of our thing,” I admitted, stroking Edie absent-mindedly. “Tethys isn't what you'd call a forward-thinking society.”

    “What if we get the word out?” asked Zinnia. “Would there be an uprising or something?”

    I thought about it, and remembered my father: how he had been arrested, and how Aranea had got him freed with a love story.

    In Tethys, it's all about gaming the system …

    Sapphire and I exchanged a look.

    “We don't need the word,” she said. “We've got the woman.”
     
  11. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine Gone. Not coming back.

    “It was you who stole the Star of Tethys, wasn't it?”

    “Yes.”

    “And the thing with the smuggled milk?”

    “Someone else, but I was there.”

    “The graffiti in the Civic Museum?”

    “You may be thinking of someone else this time.”

    Moll was back – earlier than the official end of working hours, but I guess these things are flexible when you're Gym Leader – and we were eating a slightly illegal dinner in her kitchen. She was trying to remember, and getting somewhere around half of it right.

    “Was that after you left?”

    “Probably.” I put aside my fork. “Moll, I have to ask … do you know what's going on out there? I mean, outside Tethys?”

    She scowled, thinking.

    “You mean the war?” she suggested, after a moment. “You were a seditionist, right?”

    “Slightly more proactive than that. More of an out-and-out revolutionary, really.”

    “Yeah, OK, the point is, I know you were more, uh, let's say critical than I was,” she said, “but even I know things aren't going as well as they say. There was an intercom piece about a fleet we sent to combat some insurgency the other week that didn't get followed up. That kind of thing. Too many missing pieces for us to be doing well. And then – well, you've seen the sergeants, right.”

    I nodded.

    “Yeah, I have. And, uh, I've seen that fleet, too. See, I kind of … defeated it.”

    She stared. Since she was both Moll and a Tethys official, it was a pretty impressive stare. Rookie trainers probably wilted under it every day.

    “I'm going to have to ask for an explanation about that,” she said. “You beat a Tethys fleet?”

    “With one of my own,” I said. “Do you remember what I found in the Museum, Moll?”

    More scowling. It was kind of her default expression whenever there was any heavy thinking to be done.

    “You found Edie,” she said at last. “I know that because she's right there. And you found something else, too, right? Or no. No, someone …”

    She started and looked around the room, as if the ghosts had suddenly become visible.

    “He's bloody in here, isn't he?” she said.

    Maxie looked delighted.

    “It is so nice to be remembered,” he said. “Do you know, this is the first time anyone in Tethys has actually―”

    “It's great you're feeling good about this,” said Zinnia, “but maybe this isn't the best time for us to be distracting.”

    “He's saying something, isn't he?” asked Moll suspiciously. “What's he saying about me?”

    “Uh – hang on, if you guys will just shut up a minute – he's really glad that someone remembers him, actually, but also he's being interrupted by Zinnia―”

    “Zinnia?”

    “Another ghost.” I took a breath, trying to find the thread of my thoughts in the muddle of voices. “There are four of them, actually. From here, and the bottom of the ocean, and the ziz-marches, and the Blue Chapel. And we … 'sflukes, Moll, we raised the land.”

    They're heavy words. They left a gap in the air, and into that gap I poured my story. A cut-down version, sure – one day soon I'll give Moll these books so she learns it all, and you will for a little while be her, dear reader – but it had the important things. Zinnia's plan, the key stones, Rayquaza. Moll listened, and gaped, and at the end she sighed and shook her head.

    “This … is not like I remembered,” she said. “You really did all that?”

    “Yeah. Not alone, but – yeah.”

    “Huh.” She leaned back in her chair. “Am I misremembering? Because I know, or I think I know, you were determined and smart, but I didn't think … sorry, this is insulting, but all this doesn't seem like the kind of thing that – well, that a real person does. And you are a real person. Or I thought you were.”

    I smiled.

    “I know the feeling,” I said. “When I tell the story it feels like I'm talking about somebody else. But here I am, with all the holes and scars to prove it.”

    “Yeah.”

    We were quiet for a moment. All evening we'd been coming closer and closer together, and now the gulf had widened again.

    “The reason I said all that,” I said at last, “is that the sea level's going down now. Bits of Tethys are going to be above water soon. And this place – well, it's home, or it was home, or at least it's where a bunch of my loved ones live, and I don't want to see it die because it can't handle it.”

    “The sergeants,” murmured Moll. “That's why there are so many recently. And so little news, and no trade. They said there was an embargo but the outside world isn't unified enough for that. I thought we were being blockaded, maybe, but it's not them, is it? It's us. The Administration don't want us to find out.”

    I nodded.

    “That's what I figured. I don't know what they're planning to do when the sunlight starts coming down the Grand Staircase – actually, I'm not sure they know – but it's not going to be good. Hold the city as is by any means necessary, probably.” I thought of the carnage at the Sky Pillar. “I had to let a lot of people get hurt to get this far,” I said. “Maybe it's selfish of me, but I don't know if I could stand to let it happen again.”

    Moll looked at my hand on the table for a moment. Three fingers, white tracery of shrapnel scars. She looked back up at me again.

    “OK,” she said, and I could hear the undecided emotion in her voice: fear, relief, excitement. It was wonderful, and awful. We were a team again, but it wasn't the one we'd been before; Moll had grown up, and learned to be afraid. It takes a long time to unlearn the violence of Tethys. “OK, Avice, I – I'll help you.”

    I hated to see her so scared, especially when I wasn't. I'm not supposed to be the brave one. I'm meant to be her sidekick. All I could do was smile and hug her.

    “Thanks,” I said. “I know what that means. And don't worry, I have a plan. If it goes right, absolutely no one has to get hurt.”

    “And if it goes wrong?” she asked, close by my ear.

    I had to think about how best to phrase my answer, and she read volumes in that silence.

    “Right,” she said, pulling away. “So it's like that.”

    “I'm sorry,” I said. “I didn't mean to turn into … whoever I am now. It just kind of happened.”

    “You couldn't think of anything better?” she asked. There was a touch of the old fire in her now, which made my heart lift a little. Not everything had changed. “You come back here and you make me remember you and then you want me to risk losing you again for good?”

    I stared helplessly into her anger. She was right. It was monstrously cruel.

    “I just wanted to help Tethys,” I said, inadequately. “I'm sorry.”

    There was a long silence. I tried not to see the ghosts all holding their breath around us.

    “Why are you right?” growled Moll at last. “'Sflukes, Avice. I wanted my friend back, not a hero.”

    I flinched. Something was coming to pieces inside me.

    “That,” I tried, but my throat didn't want to cooperate. This was all wrong. It wasn't supposed to be this way; we were meant to meet and remember and be ourselves again and not the people we'd become.

    But it was like Maxie said, all those years ago. Nothing in a museum can ever be returned, not exactly. Neither I nor my place here were the same shape we'd been before I left.

    “Sorry,” said Moll, trying to look at me at the same time as not looking at all. “I didn't mean that.”

    “Yes, you did,” I said, finding my voice again. “But it's OK. I'm the same. Worse, if anything.”

    “No. You … well, I don't know.” She sighed. “I want to hear your plan, Avice.”

    “I don't know if you'll like it.”

    “I know I won't. But I still want to hear it.”

    She put her hand on mine and closed her fingers around it.

    “I'm an idiot,” she went on. “You spent two years out there and you come back looking like something hurt you way worse than I can even imagine and I whine at you in my fancy kitchen in the safest city in the ocean.”

    I managed a smile.

    “You'd be surprised,” I said. “From where I'm sitting, it looks like you had the worse time of it.”

    “So let's take pity on each other,” she suggested. “And drown 'em, let's just save the entire bloody city while we're at it.”

    Now this was a part of her that I remembered.

    “Amazons,” I muttered.

    “What's that?”

    “Amazons,” I said. “And – thank you.”




    The plan was very simple. Tethys' newscom has to come from somewhere, and that somewhere is Intercom House, where the operators direct calls and the broadcasters read out news and alerts. If you had something you wanted to tell the city about, you could do a lot worse than get yourself in there. It's well guarded and the maintenance hatches padlocked, as you'd expect of a building that creates the city's image of itself, but if you're thinking of breaking in then you're approaching the problem from the wrong angle. This was Tethys, after all. Authority is much more effective than a crowbar and lockpick.

    Which is the other reason I went straight for Moll when I got there. It's not a nice thing to admit, but I needed friends in high places, and she was one. At least I didn't lie about it – in fact, I didn't have to; she knew already, as any citizen in her place would have done. She didn't hold it against me, either, which is probably more than I deserve.

    Instead, she gave me one of her old uniforms to disguise herself with – yes, I know, just like old times; it triggered the memories to return to her and she nearly cried – and, since it couldn't be avoided any longer, I put it on and followed her and heracross-Avice along to Founder's and Intercom House.

    It was exactly as unpleasant as I thought it would be. Wearing those clothes was like being sewn back into a skin I'd shed and long since outgrown. They're not really that restrictive, except for the peripheral vision thing that Archie never seems to tire of pointing out, but they are a symbol of Tethys, of its imposition on you, and that makes my skin crawl. You can tell yourself all you like that you're being subversive and going around in disguise, but part of you remembers where you came from and how this city scars you.

    But, well, at this point I had no choice. I put on the drowned uniform, pinned Moll's spare badge on my breast so that the name was obscured by the fold of my hood, and had Edie hide out in my bag, low-powered and insubstantial. All very familiar, and I said as much while we stood in line for the shuttle to Founder's.

    “Yeah, I remember,” said Moll. “I think. Sorry to say, but you looked better in a uniform back then. Doesn't seem to suit you now.”

    I twitched my hood a little further forward, trying to cast a bigger shadow over my face.

    “I still pass for Tethysi, right?”

    She gave me a complicated look. Complicated, in that I wasn't sure what it meant, and also in that she was probably seeing more than what was just in front of her.

    “We don't usually look so … well travelled.”

    I grinned.

    “Nice save.”

    “I got no idea what you're talking about,” she said innocently. “That's a very attractive scar you've got there. Gives you an air of rugged mystery.”

    “Did that sound more like a compliment in your head, or …?”

    “A*shole.”

    She shoved me and we laughed, and for a second we were adrift in a kaleidoscopic whirl of times and places past before the shuttle arrived with a whoosh and we were back in the present.

    “Huh,” I said. “C'mon, then.”

    We filed aboard – under the slightly disconcerting gaze of the ghosts, who were following every detail of my interactions with Moll with the sort of interest usually reserved for parents tracking their teenage children's first love affairs – and sat down, staying quiet to avoid attention. It wasn't too hard. Moll was the Gym Leader, which meant she couldn't go unrecognised, but this was an evening shuttle, and most people here were on their way back from work, tired and inward-looking. They weren't checking to see if they knew the woman sitting next to her. Those who did look mostly stared at the other Avice: heracross are rare, especially in Tethys.

    A few minutes later, the shuttle clunked into the cradle of magnets at the station on the south side of Founder's, and we made the rest of the journey on foot. It wasn't far, but the old familiar corridors weighed heavily on me, and for the first time I had an inkling of what other people meant when they talked about claustrophobia. I didn't know if I could stay here, I realised. I had to save this awful place from itself, and I had to see my father again, but this was still Tethys. Some inner part of me was shivering and trying to vomit just from being here. I looked at the walls and saw the blank sides of the cell aboard the corvette; I looked into faces, and saw underneath the hood the gleaming eyes of Virginia.

    “You look … bad,” said Zinnia. “You OK?”

    I shook my head a little.

    “Not really,” I whispered.

    “What's that?” asked Moll, glancing my way.

    “Nothing,” I said brightly. “Thinking about what to say.”

    She smiled, reassured, although I guess if you're her, dear reader, then the secret's kind of out now, and we walked on through the passages until we hit the north end of Corridor 9, where two sergeants stood flanking a door with white lettering on it reading INTERCOM HOUSE.

    “Oh,” said one of them, catching sight of Moll and standing to attention. “Evening, ma'am.”

    “Evening,” said Moll, using the official-sounding voice I'd heard her use back at the Gym. “Got to get in. We got a survivor from a shipwreck in the south, and the nobs want a soundbite.”

    The two men looked at me with some interest. It was a good lie, plausible and unverifiable for at least half an hour, and I suppose I probably looked the part. That air of rugged mystery was coming in handy now.

    “Well, then,” began the sergeant on the right, looking ready to let us pass, but his colleague was quicker on the uptake.

    “Why'd they send you?” he asked, a hint of suspicion in his voice. “'Scuse me, ma'am, but it doesn't seem―”

    “Doesn't it, now,” said Moll, in that dangerously pleasant tone so beloved of Administrators. I had to admire her. They'd given her office here, and she'd done drowned well learning the part. “Sergeant, have you noticed there's a war on?”

    “Well, yes.”

    “And that in consequence we've got more of a security presence going on here in the city?”

    “Well, yes …”

    “This being in order to thwart the ambitions of the pirate spies and, worse, sympathisers?

    It was beautifully done. Not even Virginia could have put more venom into that. The sergeant had started to see where this was going, and he was already engaged in a little pre-emptive quailing.

    “Yes, ma'am, I think―”

    “Not well enough, clearly,” said Moll. “There are those who wouldn't want the truth out, sergeant. And I won't have it said that the likes of them got past on my watch. Do you understand?”

    The quailing intensified.

    “Yes, ma'am,” he said. “Um, right, I guess you'll know where you're going―”

    “Believe it or not, I do,” she said, stepping past him and thrusting open the door. “Ms. Mallory? This way.”

    I gave the sergeants my best unsettling look and followed her through. The whole thing had taken less than a minute.

    And then the plan collapsed in an instant.

    Here's what should have happened: I was going to release Edie, fake-overpower Moll and bolt for the nearest recording studio. That would have shifted suspicion off her and leave me the sole target of Administrative wrath, should things have gone wrong. If questioned about her lie to the sergeants, she could have accused me of deceiving her, and they would have believed it. Her word against mine, after all. That counts for a lot, in Tethys. Public officials are of course always trustworthy.

    I maintain it was a good plan. I had Edie; as long as I could keep people out of the room I was in, I could keep myself on the air. There were probably override switches, but no one was going to be able to shut a porygon out of the network if she wanted to be there. I just had to barricade the doors and we'd be fine.

    But that, as I've said, isn't what happened. What happened is that Moll swept across the lobby to the receptionist's desk and demanded to know where the nearest studio was. And the receptionist, startled into submission by the display of Leaderly authority, blurted it out. And then Moll turned around and grabbed my hand and led me off down the corridor, heracross-Avice clomping along behind us.

    “What in all blood are you doing?” I hissed. “Moll, if this doesn't go right―”

    “Then let's hope it goes right,” she said, tearing open the door. “So – 'sflukes, that's a lot of buttons.”

    It was. The studio was small and mostly empty but for a few stools and a wall-mounted console of intimidating size and complexity; I dumped my bag on the floor and let out Edie, who nodded briefly at me before sinking into the controls and vanishing.

    “We've got the door,” said Moll, passing a stool to heracross-Avice, who pulled off one metal leg and tied it in a knot around the door handles. “We haven't been beaten in like six months, either, so even when they realise―”

    “Don't get yourself killed,” I said.

    “Are you kidding? Die, when I'm having this much fun?”

    Part bravado, part panic, part exhilaration; gods below, reader, she was shining, and I had never loved her more. I stared for what was definitely too long, until she coughed and Archie muttered 'uh, lass' in my ear, and then I turned around and reached for the speaking tube.

    “Operator,” I said, “get me every intercom in Tethys.”

    And the machine played Edie's theme, and suddenly, unbelievably, I was live.




    They heard me, all across the city. Citizens of Tethys, my name is Avice Amrit dol' nowhere worth mentioning, and I am here to talk to you today about land. In the greenhouses, they heard me; in the zoological gardens, in the factories, in the warehouses. You may have noticed a distinct lack of news regarding the outside world at the moment. I'm afraid that's my fault. In the academy and the Gym, and down at the trainer's school. People stopped in their work, and they listened. I don't know if any rumours have got this far, but it's true what they're saying. In the shops up and down Founders, on the Grand Staircase and the funicular beneath it. The rain has gone. Tide is sleeping. And now, the waters are falling. In Chimney, in the offices and cloisters of power. It's weird, isn't it, how nobody's talking about what's happening out there? And how there are suddenly all these sergeants around, like they're waiting for something?

    In the heart of the volcano, in the sergeants' headquarters and the chambers of the High Administrators, they heard me.

    This is a big claim, I know. But you must also know I've taken a huge risk in coming here to tell you this. That counts for something. You'll still want proof, I'm sure. So why don't you come here to Intercom House, and we can go up to the Administrators' offices together to ask if they want to send a vessel up to see?

    All through Tethys they heard me, from the bottom of Garden to the top of Chimney, and they looked at each other, and there was a question in those looks.

    I'll be leaving in a minute, but I'll go slow so you can catch up. See you soon, Tethys.

    They heard me, and they looked, and then slowly, in ones and twos and then in groups and crowds, they started to make their way north.




    You know, reader, for a moment there, I didn't think they'd buy it. I really didn't. Had they heard anything about all this? Would their curiosity be strong enough? Was I strange enough, disruptive enough, for anyone to bother turning up?

    I think you can guess the answer. It's like with the response to my call to arms. Everyone wanted to believe that maybe it might be possible, that Tide's reign could end. And with all that tension in the air, all the rumours that were probably flying … well, my bizarre intrusion into their lives was just the excuse. They wanted it to be true – didn't dare hope it was, but wanted it anyway – and so they came, because what if it really was?

    Some of them were probably too afraid, of the Administration or the sergeants, but drown 'em, there were Administrators and sergeants in that crowd too, I know, and when people saw them more of them followed.

    Other people came too, less friendly people. The sergeants on the door, for instance, who rattled the handles and demanded to be let in.

    “You can wait by the entrance like everyone else,” I called. “We'll come out in a minute.”

    I heard whispered conference.

    “No deal. Get out here now!

    “OK,” I said, “but you'll be the one explaining to the mob that's about to show up that you arrested me.”

    More whispers. I applied a little more pressure.

    “And you know, if I'm arrested before my story gets confirmed, that's just proof that the Administration is covering up the truth. And all right, so that's just everyday life in Tethys, but when that truth is that the sun is shining out there – well, have you ever policed a riot before?”

    Some more frantic whispering, and then a polite cough.

    “Er – well, we should probably still …”

    I nodded at Moll, who motioned at heracross-Avice, who punched the door so hard a fist-shaped bulge appeared on the other side.

    “Also, I should mention, I have no intention of coming quietly,” I added. “Maybe that helps you make up your mind?”

    There was a pregnant sort of silence. It was kind of funny, but kind of sad, too. For the two sergeants out there, the whole world was falling down. I know what that feels like, and it's not good.

    “You know what, we might just … go,” said one of them at last. “To the entrance. Where we will, er, escort you to the relevant authorities on your way out.”

    “That sounds like a good idea,” I said kindly. “See you in a minute.”

    “Nice one,” said Zinnia, as the sound of footsteps receded. “You've come a hell of a long way, you know that?”

    “Aye,” said Archie. “This place really can't handle you any more, can it?”

    “Tethys can't handle anyone who isn't afraid,” I said, hoping it was true. “And right now, I don't think I am.”

    Moll blinked.

    “Is that for me, or for the ghosts?”

    I shrugged.

    “Them, really, but why not you as well?” I took her hand. It had been a long time since I'd held a hand of flesh and blood. It felt more like a homecoming than any of this did. “It's over,” I told her. “All of this. Tethys fell when the sun rose. This is just the epilogue. So don't worry. We've already won, and all we have to do now is prove it hard enough that even the stubbornest Administrators realise it.”

    She smiled nervously.

    “You think?”

    “I know. I know a lot of things these days. Most of it isn't much use, but this is.” I listened for a moment, and heard the tramp of gathering feet in the distance. “Thanks, by the way. For coming with me.”

    “Did I really have a choice?”

    “Sure you did. Everyone does.” I squeezed her hand, and felt her squeeze back. “Time to go?”

    “Let's go meet your fans,” she agreed.

    So we did, and there were a lot of them. The lobby was packed with anxious people in red – and the corridor, and the corridors for quite some way all around. The two sergeants from the door were there, trying very hard to look important. They weren't doing a particularly good job of it, but they were at least trying.

    “Hail, everybody,” I said, tossing back my hood, and it was strange but my nerves seemed to have evaporated. These were people, weren't they? And I'd met a lot of people now, hadn't I? Broadly speaking, I felt I could handle a few more. “Are we all ready to go?”

    “Er, one thing,” said one of the sergeants, stepping forward. “Technically you are under arrest―”

    There was a discontented murmuring from the crowd.

    “―but, er, given the circumstances, we'll be happy to escort you to the Administration to await judgement,” he concluded. There was another murmur, this time of comprehension. The sergeant was technically fulfilling the law and doing his job, while at the same time not actually doing anything at all. This is the sort of tactical selectivity that people understand in Tethys.

    “Fair enough,” I said. “Let's go, then.”

    I don't know if you've ever had a crowd part for you and follow behind, like a gigantic silent parade, but it's quite something. In many ways I don't care for it: it's a dangerous thing, to be at the head of such a powerful force. Things have the potential to turn nasty all too quickly.

    But they didn't, which is I guess the important thing, and instead Moll and I and our honour guard of ghosts led the crowd through Founder's Atrium, up the Grand Staircase, and into Chimney. It was a peaceful sort of march; some sergeants did make a token effort to stop us, but some gave up when they saw how many people there were and others joined us after the sergeant from the door explained that technically we were under arrest, so it was all right. Others still just moved out of the way, which just goes to show that common sense is alive and well even in Tethys.

    The crowd itself didn't actually fit in Chimney. The passages there have been hollowed out into caverns over time, but they're still nowhere near as big as the atria, and I think that by the time Moll, the ghosts and I got to the High Administration building the tail end of the parade must have been halfway down the Staircase.

    That's where we stopped, mostly because there was a door in the way and the person in the little security box next to it didn't want to open it for us.

    “Can I help you?” he asked, apparently oblivious to the fact that half the city was here.

    “Almost certainly,” I replied. “Can we come in?”

    “Do you have an appointment?”

    I smiled at him. I'd expected this, and I had a response.

    “No. We're here to lodge a people's petition, in accordance with Edict 42.3.0.1, paragraph B. We don't need an appointment for that.”

    The man narrowed his eyes. There was a copy of the edicts on his desk. All the volumes had the broken-down spines that mark a much-read book.

    “Who's your nominated representative?”

    “Me. Legal Apprentice Avice Amrit dol' Hoenn.”

    All that worrying, and the Hoenn came out without my even realising. In the end, these decisions seem to make themselves.

    “A Legal Apprentice,” said the man, “does not have the authority to carry a legal petition to the High Administration.”

    I turned to the crowd, who were watching all this like fans at a trainer battle.

    “Is there an Administrator here somewhere?” I asked.

    There was. The first few rows of people shuffled, passed the message back and forth, and eventually disgorged a worried-looking woman in her thirties.

    “Uh – hail,” she said. “I'm Jacinthe Moira dol' Tethys.”

    “Hail,” I said. “Would you mind fast-tracking my graduation? You can disbar me afterwards, if you like, and frankly it would probably be for the best, but I think it's the best way forwards here.”

    “Um, all right,” she said. The worry on her face was dissolving into the sort of expression you'd expect to see on the face of someone who's just realised the pretty shell they picked up contains a live and highly territorial dwebble. “I need Form 124.23F …”

    I turned back to the man in the booth.

    “Can you get hold of one for us?”

    “Do you have Administrative authorisation?”

    Back to Jacinthe.

    “Do I?”

    “Yes.”

    “I do,” I said. “Form, please.”

    He disappeared through a door at the back of his office. By this point, Zinnia was struggling not to laugh, while Maxie was scratching his head, embarrassed.

    “I'm quite honestly not sure which of my legacies is worse,” he said. “Destroying the world was a crime against humanity, of course, but bequeathing this bureaucracy to the survivors scarcely seems much better.”

    The man returned. I passed the form he gave me to Jacinthe, who filled it out, put her seal on it, and gave it back.

    “OK,” I said, handing it back to him. “Civic Barrister Avice Amrit dol' Hoenn here on behalf of the people. We're lodging a petition.”

    “Foreigners can't hold Tethys office,” said the man, but even he must have realised that he was going too far now, because he didn't say it with much conviction.

    I sighed.

    “I'm Tethysi,” I told him. “You can open the door or I can, and it won't really make much difference, but I think we're all law-abiding citizens here” (at this, Moll seemed to be overcome with an inexplicable wave of laughter) “and so it seems to me to be in everyone's best interests that you open the door. Now.”

    He looked at me, and at whatever it is that people see in my eyes now after Rayquaza, and at my hand, and he swallowed.

    “OK,” he said. “You can go on in.”

    The door opened, and we did.

    I'd never been in here before, but I knew the basic layout: small antechamber, then the big council chamber where the High Administration met to discuss the day-to-day running of the state. About one per cent of the crowd squeezed itself into the antechamber, and, after giving Edie a couple of directions, I stepped out ahead of it into the presence of the High Administration.

    The High Administration looked at me with something approaching interest. There were nine of them, with an average age of sixty-one, and they'd probably been sitting around this table for the last twenty-five years. I was probably the most exciting thing that had happened to them since the Battle for Tethys.

    “Hail,” said one of them, in a careful, fussy voice that sounded like it had read out innumerable minutes from innumerable last meetings. “A petition, was it?”

    “That's quite right,” I said. “I'd like to inform you that Edict 1.1 has been fulfilled. You should send someone outside to verify it, of course, but once you do we the people require you to take immediate action to end the state of emergency, dissolve the Administration and contribute towards the resettlement and re-establishment of the sovereign nation of Hoenn.”

    Maxie doesn't really do extravagant displays of emotion, but he did do the thing where he clenched and unclenched his fingers.

    “Word perfect,” he said. “So nice to see that somebody remembers it after all. Thank you, Avice.”

    The High Administrators looked each other.

    “You must be mistaken,” said one of them, in what passed among Administrators for a kindly tone of voice. “That can't be right. It doesn't – it isn't going to end.”

    “Don't get out much, do they?” observed Zinnia acidly.

    “OK,” I said. “But there's … I don't know, like half the city standing right here with me, and if you don't send someone up there to check I don't know how you think you're going to get out of this room.” I spread my hands. “One door, and we're in it.”

    Now they looked irritated – not worried, not concerned, just irritated. It was baffling.

    “This is really very impudent,” said one of them, furrowing her brow. “We are the city. You can't barge in here and demand that we listen to these wild claims―”

    “I just did,” I said. “Are you refusing to acknowledge this petition?”

    “This? This is hardly a petition, it's a thuggish attempt to―”

    “Are you refusing to acknowledge this petition?” I repeated, more forcefully. They were trying to do the Administrator stare. It wasn't going well for them. Nobody stares like Rayquaza, and now, nobody stares like me.

    “Well, yes,” she said, to general nods of agreement around the table. “I suppose we are. Sergeants! Where are they? Can we get some sergeants in here―?”

    “All right, Edie, did you catch all that?” I asked, and she did everything you can to grin without actually having a mouth.

    >:D, she said, and printed a message: Recording saved.

    “Nice work, sweetie,” I said. “Hop in the intercom and make sure all the nice people hear that, OK?”

    o7, she said, chirping, and flickered away above the heads of the people behind me. A few moments later, our voices came back to us, crackly and echoing through the intercom broadcast, and I heard the crowd begin to rumble in the distance, like an intimation of a tidal surge.

    You rode Rayquaza, I told myself. You can ride this too.

    The Administrators were still staring at me as if they didn't understand what was happening. Maybe they really didn't. They were Tethys, after all. They were in so deep that possibly they couldn't see anything beyond the injunction to persist at all costs.

    “What is this?” one of them asked. “What does this mean?”

    I felt tired just looking at them. There had been a sort of joy in this, the con artist's delight, the pleasure of those who run and run and never get caught, but now the responsibility of all this seemed to be rushing back, alighting on my shoulders and crushing me beneath it. It was a victory when you beat the odds. These people were beaten before I even got here.

    Tethys was already dead, I realised, and maybe it had been for years, centuries even. There was nothing left to win.

    “It means it's over,” I said. “It means you're relieved of duty.” I looked up, and knew that somewhere beyond the rock and water was blue sky and unbearable brightness. I had been right. I couldn't stay here. I could save it, with a little work, but I couldn't stay.

    “It means it's time to go outside,” I said, and the crowd breathed out with me.




    And in that instant, it all stopped. The city, or whatever awful revenant thing had been masquerading as a city for all those hundreds of years, was done. The Administration was done. The sergeantry was done. Even time, time was done, and in that instant when all things ended so too did my ghosts.

    I don't know if I dreamed this, or hallucinated it, or whatever. All I know is what happened, and what happened is that they drifted among the silent figures, the only living things in a world of dead statues, and they came to me for the last time.

    “It had to happen eventually,” said Maxie. The red in him was retreating back into his clothes and hair, leaving his face wan and drawn. “We've already been here too long.”

    Archie nodded. His pendant was turning gold and his skin brown, blues concentrating in his jacket and his headband.

    “Aye,” he said. “Reckon we were supposed to go at the Pillar, lass. But we all knew we needed to see you home first.”

    I couldn't speak, and if I could have I don't know what I would have said. They were all I had, apart from Edie. No one else knew me any more. How could I – can I – go on in a world where they aren't there? And yes, they deserved rest, it was selfish of me to want them to stay, and yet what choice did I have?

    “Ava.” Zinnia's hair was raven-black and her skin cave-pale. “It's like I said. It's bitter, but it's gotta be.”

    Sapphire had brown hair and dark, pretty eyes. She looked real in the way that an illustration can look real.

    “Everyone keeps comparing us,” she said. “That's so dumb, don't you think? There's a, what do you call it, structural similarity there … but I did me and you did you. Spectacularly.”

    “Yes.” Maxie shook my hand, which is about as close as he gets to showing any sort of physical affection. It felt cold, but real, as if he was a living man and had just come in from a winter morning. “Avice, I … don't actually know what I want to say. Goodbye, I suppose. It has truly been an honour.”

    “I'll second that,” said Archie, gripping me in one of those sudden, short-lived embraces of his. “Hey, lass. Try not to get yourself killed, eh? We'll be watching, and I think we're all expecting a bloody good show.”

    As he stepped back, Zinnia stepped forwards and hugged me, as warm and soft and bony as a living woman, and spoke her next words into my ear. “You're everything I didn't deserve, and I … don't even know if I can take any credit, but I'm so proud to have been a part of this. Of your story.”

    I was about to say don't go but I didn't. It would have been cruel. I'll write it down, because in the end, this is my story and this is where it ends, at least for now, and so even if I'd usually leave this sort of thing out for privacy's sake I need to record it so I have an ending I can believe in. But I never said it.

    Here is what I said instead:

    “I love you. I love all of you. I hope whatever's next is everything you wished for.”

    They were all there in front of me, colourless light spilling out from somewhere inside them, shimmering on the skin of reality like oil on water. Zinnia grinned her ironic grin, and Archie laughed, and Maxie looked a little lost, and Sapphire smiled her sweet, inscrutable smile. If I forget everything else, I won't forget that. In that instant they were all so incontrovertibly themselves.

    “Oh,” said Sapphire. “I don't think you need to worry …”

    The light was too bright. I didn't want to blink, but I did, and then they were gone and the world was moving again, the Administrators rising from their seats in indignation and Moll and the sergeant moving past me towards them and Edie somewhere all around us in a million tiny pieces of electricity and I was lost in the middle of it all, motionless, speechless, lost in the awful, wonderful knowledge that somewhere worlds and worlds away, my ghosts had finally found their peace.




    Well. That's it. I'm … I'm done. I suppose. Drown 'em, this is a terrible end to the story, I don't even know what to say. There's a lot of work to do, I guess. Everyone's looking to me for direction, in Tethys and out. I've been writing this at night, when I can pretend to be asleep and people leave me alone. I'm not sure why they think I know what to do now, just because I undid the making over. My plan always ended at the Sky Pillar. 'Sflukes, even in Tethys, I was only winging it.

    This is the problem with saving the world, I guess. Afterwards, when everything's falling apart, everyone thinks you're qualified to put the bits back together again.

    I've got to go. I need to sleep. Tomorrow I'm going to see my father. I wanted to do it before now, but … time. You know. Even with the more forward-thinking Administrators and civil servants to help, reassembling something worthwhile from the bones of a dead police state is a lot of work.

    This isn't the ending I hoped for. But it's my ending, and we take comfort in what stories we can. I've made my pattern, dear reader. I've joined all the dots, and the picture that's revealed is OK.

    Is there more to come? Maybe. If there is, dear reader, you will as always be the first to know.
     
  12. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine Gone. Not coming back.

    CODA: A SEA MORE SUNLESS

    […] the most amazing accidental occurrences are those which seem to have been providential, for instance when the statue of Mitys at Argos killed the man who caused Mitys's death by falling on him at a festival. Such events do not seem to be mere accidents. So such plots as these must necessarily be the best.
    ―Aristotle, Poetics


    Hail, dear reader. Or should I say, hello? Times are changing and so are our ways of speaking. Probably no one says 'hail' any more where you're from.

    You might not have been expecting to hear from me, but like I said, something new came up and you get to hear it first. Don't worry, I'm not going to beat around the bush like I usually do. I'll be brief and get right down to it.

    About a month after I finished writing the last chapter, I had a dream – or a vision; I can't tell if I woke up at the start and saw it all with open eyes or whether everything happened in my head. Either way, I seemed to sit up, and then stand up, and then keep going up, through the ceiling and on and on up into the same endless blue I'd visited once before with Rayquaza, and then beyond that, too, to a place where the sky darkened and lost its colour and the moon was ten times its usual size. Around the curving flank of the earth was the glimmer of someone else's sunrise, and, further away than seemed possible, were the stars.

    Tooth was waiting for me there, on the shores of the other ocean. It looked strong and healthy, tentacles moving fluidly, skin whole and unmarked. The crystal in its chest had changed colour to a deep, bright purple, flaming with inner light.

    We are sorry to have taken so long about this
    , it said. It took us some time to recover enough to send you a message.

    “Is this the part where I get answers?” I asked.

    Those we can give, it agreed. Time was not on our side before. Oxygen poisoning. We don't breathe, but we absorb the air of your world, even dissolved in water, and it was killing us. Very slow, very painful. Our unity was disturbed. We regenerate fast, but we lost as much as we gained. It built up into clouds and caused a great deal of harm, for which we apologise.

    “The keening wind,” I said, making the connection. The abrasion on the Aqua Suit, the damage to the Museum. Same thing, different scales. “That's you, then?”

    It was. Most of it should be dispersed now. We don't generally survive very long outside our unity.

    Tooth curled its tentacles into an arm and back again.

    We should explain. We are a unity of billions. A kind of virus that propagates across the possible. In every could-have-been, in every what-was-not, there is another of us, or if not then there will be soon enough. It made arms and spread them wide. Everywhere.

    “There's more than one of you?” I asked.

    No. We are one being, iterated across time and space.
    Tooth paused, considering. The crystal in its chest pulsed erratically with thought. Think of it this way … a pokémon embodies a concept, yes? Whether it arises from an animal as pyroar did from lions, or from an idea as klink from the birth of industry, it is part of something bigger. The conceptual forces that shape this world.

    “OK,” I said. This much I knew. In fact, I'd written about it already. “So what do you represent?”

    Iteration. At the heart of all organic life is a molecule that replicates.
    Tooth's arms turned back into tentacles and wound around each other in twin double helices. That is who we are. We are the condition of life.

    Now that I could understand. It's metaphor, basically, and you know me, reader. I've always said we live and die by metaphor. Tooth was talking my language here.

    “OK, sure,” I said. “So that's you, that's the keening wind – but what were you doing? You said you were watching me.”

    We were. We wanted to get off this planet and its toxic atmosphere. You saw what it was doing to us. Tooth's crystal flared, and suddenly we were standing on something, some huge boulder that was rumbling soundlessly through the void. You sail in ships, we sailed in this, between stars. Had we had a chance to land and adapt in stages to your world, things might have turned out differently. But we hit Tide's storm, which was more solid than we were expecting. Our vessel was shredded, and we fell to your world unready. Another pulse of purple light: the boulder burst silently and the shards spun away into the darkness. This event happened to many, many hundreds of us. Some were trapped by Tide, some by Stone. In all iterations, we were trapped beneath the storm clouds or the heat haze.

    “Stone,” I said, mind racing. The Earth beneath me, blue flecked with white cloud, metamorphosed into the made-over world of storms, and then again into a scorched brown desert. “Is that …?”

    Groudon. Yes. Tooth made itself an arm and touched my hand; we were down on the ground now, on a plain that had cracked to the quick with heat. Everything is true, it said. Everything that ever possibly could be. We see it all.

    “And you wanted out,” I said, staring from it to the desert and back again. “You wanted out and you thought I could do it?”

    Tooth didn't have much of a face, but it had eyes, and they glanced away sheepishly.

    Well, it said. You weren't the first to try. Across all the possibilities, many, many people tried to fix the world, and while most of them failed, there were always some who succeeded. In your part of the spectrum, there were many Avices, for instance. Most of them didn't succeed. You … Tooth shrugged, and took us back up into space, the Earth dissolving back to blue and white. In an infinity of possibilities, someone always wins, it said. That is simply probability for you.

    I blinked, surprised. I'd thought I was being guided. So much had happened that seemed impossibly unlikely, so much that had to have been divine intervention – and it was luck?

    “I got lucky?” I asked. “That was it? You were monitoring thousands of – of me, I guess – and all these other people, and I was just the one that got lucky?”

    Tooth shook its head, apparently without moving its neck.

    Not luck. Mathematics. Out of all of you, some of you were bound to get it right. So. It rose up, spread its tentacles wide. Here we are, it announced. We join those of us who are free now, and for that we thank you.

    “But the whole thing with me and Sapphire,” I protested. “That weirdness in the museum in the Hollow – and Aranea – and the ghosts, even! That – there was something more in that, wasn't there? There had to be. I couldn't …”

    Be hallucinating, I wanted to finish, except that I thought Tooth probably knew the truth about it, and I wasn't sure I really wanted it to answer.

    It looked at me from a long time, head at an uncomfortable angle.

    We are what you would call a psychic-type, it said eventually. We know memory. There were … instances when we intervened. Some of us were partnered with Sapphire, in possibilities where she stopped Tide or Stone, and then rode Rayquaza to destroy our vessel before it hit Earth. We shared the memories between us, put one in the museum to try and guide someone who tried to do what you did two hundred years ago. It was a fortunate accident that you stumbled across that. By your time, we no longer had the strength to hold off the keening wind for long enough to get into the Hollow and back without harming people.

    “And Aranea?” I persisted. “She thought she was working for you, she always did. Was she? Was it her who warned the kadabra?”

    People think a lot of things, said Tooth. They think we have teeth, for instance. The name never did make much sense to us. But Aranea did not take orders from us, no. We do not know what she was doing. None of us were watching her. It shrugged multiply, tentacles writhing. We are sure you will meet her again at some point, now that things have changed.

    “You know that, too?”

    No. We can't see the future. It simply seems a reasonable assumption.


    I had to hold myself back from grinding my teeth.

    “So you don't even know who told the kadabra about me?”

    We did not say that.
    Tooth lowered itself until our eyes were level again. That one was another intercession. No one came to warn them. We put a false memory in the Consensus and it spread. Parts of its face shifted in ways that might, if it had actually had a mouth, have constituted a smile. Viruses are good at spreading. And you had already come closer than anyone else in your possibility to ending our torture, until you died. It was a risk, for the kadabra and for us, but it paid off.

    That made three interventions by Tooth, even if one was accidental. Not all down to luck, then. For some reason that reassured me. Raising the land seemed an easier burden to bear if it wasn't totally a fluke.

    “All right,” I said. “That checks out. But you really don't know anything about Aranea?”

    No. Tooth shrugged. We can't be everywhere. There is only one of us in each possibility, and we tend to stick to the people we think might get us off your planet. We were all in a lot of pain, and so many of us were dying and turning into your keening wind, and that was killing so many more people. For our own sakes and for yours, we needed to get away in as many possibilities as possible, as quickly as possible.

    “Right,” I said reluctantly. It hadn't felt right to end my story without Aranea. It didn't feel right for her to still be lost then, either. “I … I guess you made the best of what you had.”

    Yes.

    I took a deep breath. There was no air, but I did it anyway. I took the breath, and bit the bullet.

    “The ghosts, then,” I said. “You said you manipulated memories … and they all remembered the end of the world differently …” I paused, trying to group words back into coherent sentences. “What I mean to say is, were they – what were they? Were they real? Or true? Or – I don't even know if there's a difference, I'm not even sure I want to know, but I think – I think I have to.” I took another breath to slow myself down. “Were they from you too?”

    Tooth thought, its crystal burning. Then it made arms and touched my hand.

    This is Maxie, it said, and it showed me a man in a library, a man on the lip of a volcano, in tunnels, in a cave, in a crater city that was alternately lit by harsh sun and drowned in heavy rain. He is Archie's friend. Now he was walking with Archie across the courtyard of a building I did not recognise, down corridors, between the stacks in a library, sitting in an apartment. He is Archie's enemy. A pokémon battle, camerupt versus sharpedo, the light of mega stones; an argument in a library, Maxie throwing boxes out of a door, Archie throwing punches. He is Archie's brother. The two of them as young men, as teenagers, as children, with family members who looked like both of them and neither, on swings, on a beach, fighting, laughing, running. They are unrelated. Two separate childhoods, Archie in a cold grey land of mist and mountain and old-looking streets and Maxie somewhere hot and palm-fringed, with shiny new buildings and skies that looked painted on to a backdrop above the heat haze. He destroyed the world. The desert again, cities hugging the insides of vast ravines, down in the relative cool and shade. He repented. Tide's world, Tethys, Jonah's Respite, all far beneath the waves in bubbles of steel and glass. He was defeated. Sapphire walking out of the Cave of Origin, dressed in a red version of the Aqua Suit, Maxie shaking her hand, shaking his head, apologising.

    “But he wasn't any of these,” I whispered, stunned almost to silence by the relentless stream of memories. “Was he? One of them was the real Maxie, my …”

    I broke off, realising what I was saying, and Tooth's eyes gleamed.

    Everything is real, it said. This is Zinnia. Zinnia at my age, in the biggest stadium I'd ever seen, Electra at her side facing off against some huge armoured dragon pokémon I didn't recognise. Zinnia in the caves at Meteor Falls, a sage and not a trainer. Zinnia the lorekeeper, Zinnia the international star trainer, Zinnia the nonexistent, in Hoenns where there were no Draconids and no mega evolution at all. This is Aster. She was Zinnia in miniature, a little girl playing in the grass, looking at the stars. This is her too. She was a younger sister, Zinnia but with a different nose, different eyes, jumping up excitedly as her all-star sister came home from another tour. And this too. Aster as a woman Zinnia's own age or older, standing with her on the mountainside hand in hand, both of them watching a meteor shower, breaking away for a moment to steal a kiss.

    There is what you might call a canon, said Tooth. Some things are always true. Aster died; Zinnia loved her. Archie and Maxie fought. But their explanations are infinitely flexible.

    “But what about my ghosts?” I asked. “They told me their stories …”

    Everything is true, but not at the same time, said Tooth. When you told your story, you told only one version of it. Didn't you?

    “Yeah, but that was contained within one – one universe, or whatever― please, O monstrous, O mighty, I just – I just need to know if they were real, or memories you planted, or just me going insane from isolation.”

    Tooth touched my hand, and we were hanging once again in space.

    They were ghosts, it said simply. That will always be true. As for why they appeared to you …

    I felt myself beginning to fall.

    “Wait,” I said. “Wait, please―!”

    … the explanation is infinitely flexible.

    “But I have to know!”

    Tooth clasped my hand between its own.

    You do know, it said, as kindly as it could with its strange, alien voice. You don't need us to tell you.

    And it morphed again, limbs stretching out into long streamlined slugs of matter; it rose, and I fell, and that, dear reader, was one more ending among all the rest.

    I opened my eyes to the sound of someone knocking on the door.

    “Um – ma'am? Ms. Avice?”

    I looked at the clock. Six twelve am.

    “Ms. Avice, I'm sorry, but it's quite urgent.”

    “Yeah, all right,” I hissed, trying to call out without actually raising my voice and discovering too late that it didn't work. “One moment!”

    I cast around for something to wear, wriggled into yesterday's discarded dress and opened the door a crack.

    “What is it?” I asked, irritably. “It's six o'clock in the morning!”

    Jacinthe looked apologetic.

    “I'm sorry, I know you don't get much sleep as it is, but there's someone here to see you.”

    “Who in all blood wants to see me that urgently?”

    “A ziz-lady, ma'am,” she said. “She arrived just a few minutes ago. Said you'd want to see her right away.”

    I started. Behind me, the sound of shifting duvets indicated Moll had heard too.

    “Did she, uh … did she give her name?” I asked, feigning insouciance and partially succeeding.

    “Yes, ma'am,” said Jacinthe. “She's called Aranea Cavatica.”

    I glanced over my shoulder. Moll's eyes met mine.

    Somewhere in the back of my head, it occurred to me that if Tooth could send me a message now that it was healing, it could probably send anyone else a message, too.

    And some people were always listening.

    “Let thy will be done, O monstrous, O mighty,” I muttered. “All right, Jacinthe. Lead the way.”

    There's more, of course. But a girl's got to keep a few secrets. And really, dear reader – dearest of all readers, who soldiered on through this mess of a book right to the very end – I think it's time I put down the pen and saw a little more of my family.

    I've got a lot of catching up to do, and time and tide, as they say, wait for no one.


    FINIS
     
    Last edited: Dec 31, 2016
  13. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine Gone. Not coming back.

    A NOTE ON THE TEXT AND ITS AUTHOR

    Avice Amrit dol' Hoenn, the Aunt of the Nation, was born around the year 2530 and died in 2594 at the age of sixty-four. Offered the presidency by popular demand in the years of Hoenn's reconstruction, she declined, but remained an important national figure, consulted (somewhat reluctantly, it must be said) by successive presidents throughout the early years of the New Republic. Known popularly as the Aunt of the Nation owing to her role in its revival and her now-famous disquisition on aunthood in her memoirs, Time and Tide, she became in the more settled years that followed a prolific writer and poet, and founded the Hoenn Arts Council for the furthering of this and other creative work in the new world she had helped to build.

    To list the achievements of her extraordinary life would be to write a second volume to her memoirs, and the subject has already been amply covered elsewhere. Perhaps of particular interest to the reader of Time and Tide are her lifelong relationship with the New Hoenn Republic's first Champion, Mary "Moll" Kathleen dol' Tethys (later Traynor, after gentilics fell out of usage), her establishment of the still-ongoing literary magazine, In Memoriam, and her involvement in the Ultra Crisis of 2573, when along with other trainers partnered with legendary pokémon she was called upon in her capacity as Rayquaza's champion in the international effort to secure, contain and return the various anomalous organisms to their home dimension. As she herself might have said, there is of course more, but not everything needs to be known.

    When I was asked by the Hoenn Arts Council to produce a new edition of Time and Tide to mark the five hundredth anniversary of our nation's refoundation, the task was, I admit, somewhat daunting. Quite apart from the usual problems of archaic language and lacunae associated with a text of this age, Avice's idiosyncratic and often somewhat wandering use of 'Tethysi' is instantly recognisable to any Hoennian. To undertake the task of rearranging it into a new modern-language edition without damaging the familiar voice of its author is no small matter, and I will be the first to admit that the process has not gone entirely smoothly. Avice is a difficult woman to translate, and though I have made every effort to capture the style of her original, it will no doubt depart here and there from the version the reader may have previously encountered. There are of course a few errors that I can lay at her feet (for instance, the question of where she got the information that Aranea had escaped Tethys on the back of a dragonite is notoriously left unanswered) but as for the rest, as with any new edition of such a storied text, I can only beg the reader's patience.

    Finally, I would like to thank Jackson Garland, Margaret Caitmore, Sophia Chen, Isha Kaur and Morecambe Moyle for their invaluable assistance during the completion of this book, and, as always, the marvellous Nadia Stadtler.

    ―Kat Lereene, Slateport, 3052




    Thank you so much for sticking with this baffling, overwritten, too-long story right to the end. It's taken me two years, among which have been some really rather rough times, but somehow we got here after all. So. All my thanks! Neither Avice nor myself could have made it here without you.
     
    Last edited: Feb 16, 2017
  14. diamondpearl876

    diamondpearl876 → follow your fire.

    I really liked this chapter's opening quote. It's well written, and actually feels like it'd have come out of a really old text.

    Interesting, seeing Avice emphasize coincidences happening as they're happening, rather than having her reflect on them later. And now that I've finished the fic, I still have to wonder just how much Tooth interfered in all of this... I guess, according to Tooth, there were several alternate timelines in which any of these things happened or didn't happen at all, or happened in a certain order. I think that's what Tooth was trying to say in that last meeting with Avice, anyway.

    This is extremely poignant and all too true.

    Now there's a thought indeed. I guess it's hard for Avice to stay motivated when her efforts haven't seemed to make much of a difference thus far. Anddd again, now that I've finished the fic, raising the land didn't seem to raise her spirits about her accomplishments. That's the burden of being a hero, I suppose. You lose so much that what you gain almost seems obselete. Raising the land seems to benefit everyone else in the end, but still. Poor Avice. It's a complicated feeling.

    I don't blame them for being dismayed by the place. I'm surprised they're not expressing more concern for Avice at this point, though, if people generally never come out alive. Or maybe it's just an outcome they can't bear to think of after coming this far with her.

    Quoted because I think it's beautifully worded and poignant.

    That's one way of putting it, Avice. I wonder if she'd ever be interested in being a real trainer? I can't recall if she'd ever said anything either way on the matter.

    I could already tell right here that the rest of this fic was going to break my heart.

    Really like this little worldbuilding bit for Old Town. I'm 99.9% sure it's also Pacifidlog, and I've always loved the concept of that city.

    Maybe I misunderstood, but didn't Avice just mention people who were there since day one?

    Somehow, this doesn't seem to console Avice, does it? If she hadn't had the ghosts, she'd have been incredibly lonely and lost. And she's said that, but then when you add the fact that everyone else, all the while knowing everyone else believes what she does, still isn't doing anything about it.

    Oh, man. I missed Berenice, and apparently so did Avice. :D

    Really love the emotion conveyed in this, even if it does break my heart deep down.

    Ugh. That really means a lot, them putting off their rest even longer for Avice's sake.

    Really like this bit of description. There's a lot of tension packed into it.

    I really didn't see this coming, though in hindsight, I probably should have. The little twist with Sapphire fading in and out consistently is interesting, and it makes sense, given her history presented in the fic. I may have liked to see more tension between her and Archie/Maxie, but alas, there were a lot of other things for Avice to cover.

    Nice, now Edie knows Tri attack? It's been fun to see her grow, both physically and mentally. And I love that, deep down, she still loves Avice just as much as she did on day one, if not more.

    Heh... When I started reading these last few chapters, I thought the tone of the fic had changed from what I was used to. And I get why. Avice is worn down, and the burden's changed her, as she points out later. I think this bit really shows that. Even though she does a lot of badass things later when she re-visits Tethys, I know that's not 100% her. She's become more confident and has a lot of tricks up her sleeve now, sure, but then I read things like this and I'm reminded that she's just doing what she's been asked to do because there's no one else.

    And it's just like Avice to include the names of Tethysi who have died, even though they were essentially the enemy. Sigh. I'm going to miss her.

    I know this feeling all too well. I'd like to say thank you for putting into words a lot of complicated concepts and emotions that are really hard to convey, because you always do it wonderfully and I'm sure it was hard to find the words at times.

    Is this... a hint at another fic of yours, by chance? Hehe.

    I should've known this wasn't actually the last we'd see of Avice, lmao. But it broke my heart all the same.

    Seems that Sapphire had the same thought process as Avice. Who else was going to do it? Seems there were many people who could do it, according to Tooth, but only a small percent would succeed. So it was worth it to try anyway.

    This whole scene was well written and incredibly endearing.

    I've always loved how Avice has referred to them as "her" ghosts. They really were like family to her.

    I didn't expect to be finishing this fic on the last day of the year. I'd started reading the Sky Pillar chapter a few days ago, and then, just as I'd finished today, you posted the remaining bits of the fic. I couldn't help but binge read them right away and leaving a few comments, because this story, to say the least, has been a rollercoaster that I loved every minute of. XD I wish Avice had told more about the rest of her adventures, because we both know she had tons more to say haha, but I suppose at some point, her time to write during her travels came to an end and she had much more pressing matters to attend to if Tethys and the rest of the world were to be fixed. So it was a fitting place for her written story to end. I'd like to say thanks for writing this fic. It was engrossing and unforgettable the whole way through, and I look forward to any future projects you might write.
     
  15. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine Gone. Not coming back.

    Thank you! I guess that's all that eighteenth-century literature paying off for once. I love imitating various historical literary styles; this was one I hadn't tried out before, but I was pleased with the results.

    That's pretty much the gist of it! There are thousands of possible AUs behind every canon; not all of them necessarily work out well. I suppose that goes for both fanfics and timelines.

    Unfortunately for Avice, heroes belong in stories. One of the reasons she wrote this, I guess, was to try and make everything work as a story; at the start, she did an all right job of it, but towards the end, I think, the strain of forcing things to fit into narrative might have got to her. That may be part of why the tone shifts near the end (I say, like I haven't just totally made this up to cover the fact that if you spend two years writing something the end often turns out a different tone to the beginning).

    I doubt Maxie or Zinnia know that particular fact; I can't see Avice wanting to worry them with it. I suspect she'd have thought that if they had to do this, they might as well get on and do it and not worry about the possibility of death. Archie would have known, but then, Archie wasn't there.

    To quote Edie, <3!

    I left that deliberately kind of vague, because in some ways I wanted this to be a non-trainer fic, if that makes sense; RSE were the games that introduced ways of travelling with pokémon on a coming-of-age journey other than being a trainer, in the form of contests, and I kind of wanted to have Avice fit into that ethos. She's not a trainer, and she probably wouldn't be if she had the choice -- I'm thinking of her horror at Edie getting hurt in the first battle against Virgil -- but she's something like one. She is, after all, able to bond with Rayquaza so that it can mega evolve, which if you remember ORAS' Delta Episode is quite a big deal. I expect if she'd gone on a journey in the old world, she might have gone down the contest route.

    It is indeed! Pacifidlog is weirdly underutilised in all the Hoenn games for how great a concept it is, and I thought I'd give it its hour in the spotlight.

    I'm ... not sure? Sorry, perhaps I'm being imperceptive, but I've had a look and I can't see a place where she does that. I'll make a note to look back later to double-check, in case I'm just suffering a sudden attack of authorial blindness.

    Quite right. Avice certainly has a lot of issues to do with self-image; hopefully you get an idea of how other people really see her around the edges of her own efforts to downplay her role as hero. Part of it is that she distrusts the spotlight, part of it is her being so aware that she lives and dies in the eyes of others, part of it is probably some sort of deeply-ingrained Tethysi ideal about keeping your head down and getting on with things.

    As did I! I have been waiting for ages to bring Berenice back; she was never meant to be as big a character as she was, but she turned out so spectacularly that I couldn't help but keep tossing her back into the story whenever I had an opportunity.

    Thanks. That was one of those little segments that you think about for days before you actually get round to writing them, because you thought of them way in advance and you can't wait to get far enough into the chapter you're writing that you can just get on and put them down on the page. Partly because it was an almost-quotation and it struck me as funny because I'm terrible, but also because, well, I figured it was about as close as I'd be able to get to conveying some of the things I wanted to convey with Avice's narration.

    The real Rayquaza was the friends we made along the way! Or, slightly more coherently, I'm a sucker for those sappy storylines where the team starts off divided and uneasily allied and then at the end they're all best friends and saving each other's lives. This is also the reason why Payosha ends up rescuing Archangel in the conclusion of their little subplot. Really, it's terrible. Slap some heartwarming music over two former enemies fighting back-to-back and that's it, you've won me over without a fight.

    Thanks! I wanted to avoid having the larger battle and Avice's rush to the Dragonhark Altar feel like two separate events; this was one of the ways I tried to keep them enmeshed with each other, and it accidentally turned out to be a better bit of description than I'd have got otherwise.

    Yeah, you and me both; I planned to have some, but somehow I never managed to find a place to put it, so I just settled for the handwavey explanation Sapphire gives in her remembrance about not really being able to communicate with them. There were a few things like that -- I'd have liked to write a bit about what happened to the pokémon aboard the Museum, for instance, but since their metaphorical potential was sort of spent by the time Avice's journey home came to a close, I let them fade into the background more than I'd originally intended. Even with me trying to be selective, chapter thirty weighed in at something ridiculous like 16,000 words, and anything else I added seemed like it would run the risk of getting the reader bogged down in a swamp of excess verbiage.

    She does! In game terms, Edie is ever so slightly illegal, as she's been using nasty plot since she was a porygon2 and porygon2 technically can't learn it, but by and large I've tried to make her consistent with something you might recognise from the games. Tri attack puts her at around level 50 (so to speak) by the time everyone reaches the Sky Pillar; she's grown a lot since she left Tethys with Avice. I very much enjoyed writing her love for Avice, too, but at the same time I wanted to make it clear that that love is by no means particular to them; Christine and Augusta love Virginia and Virgil just as much, even if they are probably nastier people. The games have always made a big song and dance about the bond between trainer and pokémon and the way that strengthens both, but they often don't allow their antagonists to have that bond until they become nicer people, like how you can tell Silver and Gladion are maturing because their golbat and Type: Null evolve, respectively. I wanted my antagonists to be less uncomplicated than that; they did, after all, have what they saw as excellent reasons for what they did.

    I joked earlier that the tone of the story shifted because I took two years to write this and it drifted over time, and that's still true, but yes, you're right; recounting all of this, while therapeutic, has really taken its toll on Avice. The return to Tethys was fun to write, a little performance piece using the skills Avice has picked up over the course of her journey, but I tried to put in reminders that under the bravado was the person who shot Virginia, and I'm glad that that came through.

    Me too. She's something of a pain to write, because she manages to produce even more ridiculously overwrought prose than I usually do myself, but hers is such a nice mind to inhabit. I was always concerned that I wouldn't adequately convey her essential kindness, or that I'd do it in a way that made it seem trite, and it's really good to know that I avoided those pitfalls.

    Thank you. This was one of the things I wanted to do in this story; I've always felt, and I think I had Avice say something like this too, that in order to properly think something through you have to have the words to deal with it. By having Avice search for those words, I hoped I'd be able to provide ways of talking and thinking about various concepts and emotions -- mostly for myself, I guess, but also for anyone reading who needed it. Avice's case is pretty unique, but her basic concerns are heightened versions of ones common to lots of people, and I had a feeling I might be able to use that to my and the reader's advantage.

    I'd love to revisit Rhiannon, whose story is I think one of the more interesting side-plots in Time and Tide, but after two years with Avice's world, it's pretty unlikely. So much writing about boats. So much.

    I've always thought that this is probably how heroism works; since Time and Tide is about, among other things, heroes, I figured this was as good a time as any to make my thinking on the matter explicit.

    I know, right? It's all so darn cute. Possibly I should be more hardheaded and less sentimental about these things, but if I was then I probably wouldn't be writing 300,000-word fanfics about my favourite pokémon characters.

    And thank you so much for reading, and for responding! It's been as much a rollercoaster to write as to read, I can tell you, and I've really been blown away by the reception as well. All those awards people nominated it for last year, the number of views, and the fact that some people even did responses with quotes and everything despite the absurd length of the chapters ... I set out to write a long, rambling, overly complicated fic about a trans girl saving the world and having feelings about it, with a cast of my all-time favourite pokémon characters and set in an ocean world more full of meaning than of coherent answers, and honestly I did not expect that to be a recipe that would appeal to many people other than myself. Writing this has kept me sane and levelheaded at times when neither seemed particularly likely, and I'm perpetually surprised and elated that something as self-indulgent as this has garnered the sort of positive attention that it has. Thank you again, all of you, and I'm sure I'll see you soon, the next time I have a tale to tell.
     
  16. Sike Saner

    Sike Saner Peace to the Mountain

    Barbaracle are ridiculous and I love them.

    Avice is ridiculous and I love her.

    THIS MURKROW IS RIDICULOUS AND I LOVE HER

    tries to resist urge to imagine her literally playing some Steely Dan; does not succeed

    Thus I helplessly pictured it in Minecraft terms, with missing chunks.

    laughs

    Now there's a detail. How delightfully alien.

    I will never get over the fact that pupitar essentially gets around via farting.

    Dear lord, does it ever.

    {And dear frick does that ever take on a whole new set of dimensions now that I've read to the actual end of the story and am kinda-but-not-exactly proofreading this post sdfdgsfds}

    Lovely. X3

    He really kind of did, didn't he. God I love these dorks.

    Like bugs of some sort! Very cute.

    You're determined to make the beldum line rocket toward the top of my Cutest Pokemon list, aren't you?

    (Either way, it's working. :D)

    so cute

    SO COOL...

    PFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFFF...

    Edie has basically always been adorable and this proves it for sure.

    I'm going to die of cuteness and it's going to be all your fault. I'll tell my next of kin not to press charges of any sort.

    DAMN RIGHT SHE HAS

    YEAH SERIOUSLY XD

    Awww... :( Poor guys.

    That's so cute. Why is that so cute. I guess cause it's just so doggy.

    Oh gosh cute...

    Now of course the question I've got to ask, because I'm horrible like that, is: what if the object in question is another living thing?

    :)

    I was sitting in sort of a relaxed way while I was reading, shitty posture and all, just kind of enjoying the story and the storm outside. Then this paragraph happened, and I sat straight the **** up in an instant. Deoxys! 8D 8D 8D

    Thank **** that wasn't me it was instructing. XD; My short-term memory is kind of poop most of the time, and when it comes to remembering spoken lists of things, rattled off with no time for any of them to settle before the next comes along? Yeah. If I'm to remember a list, that **** better be written down, and well the heck in advance.

    Granted, most of the people who've expected me to remember a verbal list without their repeating it haven't been psychic space viruses. :B

    Deoxys. :D

    You know, that was actually one of the earlier possible Tooth-candidates that crossed my mind wayyyyyyyy back when. Tell me something has tentacles and maybe doesn't necessarily need to breathe and that's where my mind tends to go. Then at some point I got diverted from that train of thought--Rayquaza popped into my head, the big green nerd. Rayquaza, which does have teeth, and whose mega's head-tendril-things could possibly be mistaken for tentacles, complete with little rings that might be mistaken for suckers.

    I guess that just goes to show that sometimes the first instinct is the correct one. XD

    legit laughed here

    Pretty!

    Well that's certainly metal af. I like it. :D

    Oh my god an alakazam with a dhelmise. As if I didn't already like both species enough. :D

    I want to believe it was this.

    Good god she is wise. I love her to bits.

    Fun fact: I cry harder at resurrections than at deaths. Always. And here we have something that's kind of both, don't we. So of course I immediately just went right the **** to pieces the moment this bit started. <3

    Oh my god Rayquaza you are such a reptile. That's adorable.

    That is one of the truest damn things anyone has ever said.

    has to pause here and bawl like a child for minutes on end

    see previous gfdghdfg

    This is the best entrance anyone has ever made.

    Adorable.

    CHEERS ALOUD

    Is this a death? A resurrection? Neither? Both? I don't know. All I know is I'll probably be crying on and off all day, probably all evening, and possibly even a good portion of the night, and I ****ing love it. <3

    And yet they were right, weren't they, in that awesome, accidental way. The keening wind'll chew you up as well as any set of teeth, provided you aren't a tree or some ****. The name fit, and all the while nobody knew it. For all those centuries, no one knew what tf the wind truly was.

    Good god I love this story. <3


    Well, here I am, having not only caught up but reread the preceding chapters--I couldn't resist. :B I've had a hell of a time, both with the reacquaintance and the part I got to read for the very first time. The kadabra section (I think you can guess how VERY VERY FORWARD I'd been looking to that :D). The perils, the battles, the chaos. (The memorial chapter, holy ****. A list that did the job better than any other description could've done. The cold, stark facts: these people all died, and the list just keeps going because there were just so ****ing many casualties; that's just how huge the conflict was. Big enough to leave a vacuum in the shape and size of all those names. That **** hit hard.) The answers to the S-question (the squestion, if you will), and the Tooth-question, and the keening-wind question. And, ****. The "answers", too. The matters open to choice, i.e. most--hell, maybe ALL of them.

    I guess ultimately, this story can be thought of as one big, primary question, and that question is: Which? And the big, primary answer, best as I can fathom, is: Yes.

    And I think that's about as far as I can put all my thoughts and feelings toward this story as an experience, other than to say thank you so much for sharing it. It's been beautiful. Thank you. ;w;
     
  17. Cutlerine

    Cutlerine Gone. Not coming back.

    Saaame, and also I appreciate the escalation.



    It's up to you! I usually imagine Edie playing the jingle that ED-E plays in Fallout: New Vegas when you enter combat, since that's my go-to adorable battle robot, but other interpretations work just fine. I think we already mentioned the countdown-to-drowning music from Sonic the Hedgehog.

    The shocking plot twist at the end of Neuromancer: Case was just playing Minecraft the whole time.

    Thanks! It was normal blood originally, and then I thought wait, there is literally a proverb about the fact that stones don't bleed, I really have to change this.

    Not intended, but I did know how the story would end when I wrote it, so perhaps I did intend it, subconsciously. Either way, I'm not gonna look gift thematic resonance in the mouth.

    I mean, they are adorable. They're just big googly eyes attached to an elbow without an upper arm. It's so goofy and cool, I just love the whole evolutionary line as a concept.

    I'm glad someone liked that. I remember thinking that was probably the best line of the whole damn fic when I wrote it. I had a lot of fun with Edie's remembrance in general, actually, because of course she records everything so matter-of-factly and it lets me present really, really silly things like Lance's cloak completely deadpan, which is very entertaining. For me, anyway. Hopefully it's also fun to read.

    ♥!!

    I have always thought Archie's mega stone was the most ridiculous one possible. Bracelet, pin, anklet, spectacles -- like everyone else is a normal human being but Archie's like nope, I'm gonna put this in the BIGGEST BIT OF GOLD I CAN FIND.

    D:

    Yep! I didn't know if it was going to be a surprise in the end, because I figured it was kind of obvious, Hoenn being a region with a sensibly limited number of legendaries. But I'm glad it turned out that way!

    Yeah, I think we can safely assume that Avice had some help. Probably it was burned into her brain or something. I mean, we know she has a pretty good memory, since she's writing all this, but I think even she would've struggled otherwise.

    I'd just got far enough in Moon to realise that dhelmise was a thing when I got to this point in the story, and I fell in love with it as a concept so hard that I knew I had to figure out a way to work it into the story right away. I was slightly worried that its appearance here might be a bit forced, but looking back now I think I more or less pulled it off in a way that didn't feel like me suddenly shoehorning in my new favourite pokémon.

    ... well, I'm certainly not gonna contradict you there.

    I'm super glad it came across as sufficiently weighty. I reread Zinnia's lines from when she summons Rayquaza in-game and just groaned because they're utter garbage, and I had a hell of a time trying to make them seem like something really solemn and important. I think I actually had to cut a line just because it didn't make any damn sense. In the end I just packed a lot of better writing around the terrible poetry and hoped that that would distract people. Luckily, it seems to have worked.

    *eyeball-licking emoji* (as far as I know there isn't one, but, y'know, there should be)

    (also this is part of my one-person crusade to give all the pokémon Game Freak designed with pink human tongues more species-appropriate tongues, so take that devs)

    <3

    Yeah, me too. I wrote the last few chapters in a kind of breakneck haze sometime in December because I felt like if I didn't finish it soon the story would just go on forever, and so I didn't actually remember much of them. I reread them afterwards and was like oh, okay, so I wrote this? Really? Wow.

    We try our best! The return to Tethys was a lot of fun to write, because by this point Avice has not only done everything and become a hero, but she's written it down and therefore realised that she's a hero, too, and really the city's usual strictures just don't work on her any more.

    Well, that's a hell of a thing to hear from your readers. Thanks! <3 I was hoping it would have impact, but this definitely exceeds even my highest expectations.

    Thanks! I made a ton of continuity errors on account of taking so long to write this and refusing to keep proper notes, and the little afterword at the end was -- apart from being kind of the best way I could think of to conclude the ideas about history and myth and nationhood -- my way of slithering out of accounting for those, but this was something I got right, and I'm pleased that it was something that people picked up on.

    I'm glad the memorial chapter worked. I was a little concerned, because it was kind of a gamble, but it was such a pain to write -- so many names to think of -- that I wasn't going to cut it and waste the effort. I did try to have a little fun with it, for a given definition of 'fun' anyway. Like, some of the names are references to historical or fictional figures, and there are a few tiny little stories buried in the names: in the pokémon list there are two muk named Flotsam and Jetsam, for instance, and a sharpedo and carvanha called Pyramus and Thisbe. Little things to try and hint at bigger narratives behind the abstract format.

    Also yes it's definitely called the squestion.

    Basically! It started out as me wanting to write something big and meta and weird in which all my favourite characters were dead (I ... have some strange tastes, I have to say), and ended up being a love letter to fanfiction, I guess. All the AUs, all the spins on different characters, the what-ifs, the questions, the fanon answers. I guess I took my lead from Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, which is essentially the same thing as fanfiction, a new story about everyone's favourite knight from the Arthurian tradition -- but there are two Gawains in two different traditions, the French Gawain who is kind of vain and is known for womanising, and the English Gawain who is much more straightforwardly a noble hero. The poem seems at first to be about the English Gawain, but several people he meets seem to think he should be the French one, and gets confused when he doesn't act like him. Towards the end, he's even accused of not being the English Gawain, either. His problem is that he's both and neither, because he's not just a dude on a quest but also part of a canon that has two different slants to it, and that has always seemed to me to be one of the biggest strengths of fanfiction, that it can explore this kind of weirdness. Which Gawain? Yes. Which Hoenn, which timeline, which generation? Yes. I just find this so interesting and I'm really glad that I managed to express it in this story.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts! I'm overwhelmed by how much people seem to have enjoyed this baffling, meandering, woefully inconsistent story. It's been a pleasure (and also a pain) to write it, and still more so to bring it to you all. <3
     
    Last edited: May 21, 2017
  18. OldSchoolJohto

    OldSchoolJohto New Member

    Someone directed me to this story because I put out a call for Magma/Aqua conflict stories. (I'm revisiting a story I wrote around the time RSE first came out and tried rewriting several times over the next few years... I'm a serial rewriter, it seems.) I know this has been wrapped up for a while, and it looks like you've moved on to other projects, but I wanted to stop by anyway and tell you how much I'm enjoying it so far. I'm on chapter 15 so I scrolled through with a hand over my eyes to avoid spoilers. C-:

    Edie is such a charmer, but Archie and Maxie are also so charming. I also love seeing a trans girl kick ass--we always need more stories like that! I also really resonate with the Virgil betrayal. MY grade school crush has gone on to become a navy SEAL, and meanwhile I'm frolicking with anarchists, artists, and other rebel types.

    Scrolling through the chapter titles is hitting me right in the feels already --can't wait to hear from Sapphire.

    Cheers!
     

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