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Reaching the West Reaches

“Reaching the West Reaches,” says the Princess Leaves coolly. “Only you could be so bold.”

“You are a member of the Mjish Binn Alliance and a traitor,” says the lord in black. His death mask has eyes like some great insect, and it hisses when he breathes.

“I’m a member of the Council on a diplomatic mission!” snaps the Princess.

“The Speaker has dissolved the Heavenly Council,” chuckles Reaching the West Reaches. He extends one gloved hand, and electricity arcs from the obsidian sphere hovering above it. “And now, your Highness… we will discuss the location of the Mjish Binn base.”

See Me

“Your father was a good friend,” says Ratio. “We fought together against the Backstroke. Like so many of our order, he was betrayed and murdered by Reaching the West Reaches; now the Hopeless Warriors are all but extinct.” He’s rummaging through a chest. “But when you were old enough, he wanted you to have this…”

“Is it a war-name?” says See Me eagerly. “A bolter?”

“Bolters are clumsy and random.” Frowning, the old man draws out a long blade of steel–knifelike, but impossibly long and slender.

“What is it?”

“An elegant weapon,” says Ratio, “for a more civilized time.”

Dog Shouting

The Loveblind Bird chases the little skiff with sails cracking, bow high, hydrofoils slicing the sea.

“A ship that size shouldn’t be this far out!” says Ratio Tile.

“Well, he won’t be around long enough to tell anyone about us,” says Dog Shouting. “Dragalong, man the bolter.”

See Me rummages through a casket for a set of brass oculars. “Maybe he was being towed by a bigger ship, snapped his line…”

“Gimme those,” says Dog, grabbing the lenses and peering. “We can still catch him before he gets to–there, that small waystation!”

“That’s no waystation,” murmurs Ratio. “That’s the moon.”

Ratio Tile

“Three gods once walked the earth as men,” says Ratio Tile softly. “But they were unused to human needs, and had to demand food of the animals. Fox gave them her food for fear of their power, as did Monkey.”

They’re rushing toward the cratered gray island, as if it were a sponge for all the sea. “Kid, get to the port rigger!” howls Dog Shouting. “Dragalong, get the wheel–”

“But Rabbit refused,” says Ratio, “so they threw him in a fire and ate him. The smoke of his body rose up and up, and blackened the face of the moon…”

See Me

“Aren’t you a little short for the Born Breathing?”

“What?” blinks the man wearing the death’s head. “Oh! The armor.” He pulls it off and offers a naif’s grin. “I’m See Me! I’m here to rescue you!”

“Is that really your name?” says the Princess Leaves.

“I’ve got your cogwork slave. I’m here with Ratio Tile.”

“Ratio Tile is here?” she says sharply.

“And the Wish Power is with him,” says a man in a darker death’s head, far above.

“Then he must not be allowed to escape,” says Government Cat.

“Escape is not his plan,” says Reaching the West Reaches.

Ratio Tile

“Strike me down,” says Ratio Tile calmly. “I shall become more than you can imagine.”

Reaching the West Reaches drives his sword deep into the old man’s chest. Ratio’s hands scrabble on the blood-slick blade; he chokes and sags to his knees. Reaching the West Reaches draws back and raises the sword high.

“No!” screams See Me.

“Kid! Bolt the door!” screams Dog, pelting along the gangplank.

See fires wildly; the portcullis rattles shut. Reaching the West Reaches is behind it, but the Born Breathing are pouring onto the dock.

“Run, See Me!” thunders a voice in the waves. “Run!”

See Me

The Loveblind Bird kisses the tops of the waves.

“I can’t believe he’s gone,” mutters See Me.

The Princess Leaves pulls a blanket around his shoulders. “There wasn’t anything you could have done,” she says. “They’ll follow us–that’s the only explanation for the ease of our escape. But that’s only because he left them no other choice.”

See Me shakes his head. The Princess touches his cheek. Then his ear.

Dog Shouting is at the cabin door, unnoticed; she watches for a moment before she raps the frame.

“We’re not out of this yet,” she says, with hard blue eyes.

Kid Rabbit

“I really thought she’d changed,” says See Me, watching as Dog drags the coffer away.

“She has her own path,” says the Princess coldly. “No one can choose it for her.”

“I wish Ratio Tile were here,” See Me mutters.

Workers are fitting Kid Rabbit into the brass-lined slot at the back of See’s proa, connecting its spring drive to the boat’s paddlewheel. Rabbit twangs excitedly.

“Seems a little beat up,” says the dock chief critically. “You want a new one?”

“Not on your life,” chuckles See Me.

“Hang on, Rabbit!” cries Blow the Skin. “You’ve got to come back!”

See Me

See Me twists rope, and his akas lock up in attack position. They’re skimming breathless down the narrow canal, high moonstone walls blurred on each side, so at one with the wind that the air seems eerily still. Bolters crackle through their spray into the sea.

Colt Standing cracks a hull and spins away; Knifebone gasps and splinters kiss See Me’s cheek. He glances back to see the thundering Heavenly ships behind him, their glittering glass spheres like the eyes of dragons. A bolt finds brass. Kid Rabbit screams.

See Me understands, then, what it is to be a Hopeless Warrior.

Reaching the West Reaches

The Loveblind Bird plumes dust, skidding down the wall of the canyon on a single foil. Bolts shatter the water. The Heavenly orbs are spinning shards of hot metal; one slices through See Me’s sail.

“You’re all clear, kid!” roars Dog Shouting.

See Me leans forward and drives his proa toward the tunnel, down into the heart of the moon.

Deep below, turning slowly, Reaching the West Reaches breathes hazy clockwork air. Something goes bright above him; seconds later, the water picks him up and carries him away at impossible speed.

He shuts the lacquer lids of his eyes and Wishes.