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Reaching the West Reaches

“Ratio Tile never told you,” pants Reaching the West Reaches, “what happened to your father.”

“He told me enough!” Her voice is like skin tearing over wounds never permitted to bleed: the old man’s clever kindness and children’s stories, the way he found her drydocked ship on that filthy desert island and prodded her into sailing again. The way he fell in that bloody mess of robes, and the way she scraped their little fellowship together around herself. The way she never got to tell him that she knew.

“You killed him!” screams Dog Shouting.

“No,” says Reaching the West Reaches.

See Me

The Born Breathing are too many, too relentless. See Me swings his sword helplessly, but as he blocks one blow, another bamboo staff cracks his shoulders, his knees, his abdomen. Blood in his eyes: the wound of his missing hand is reopened. He sobs.

“You are beaten,” purrs the Speaker. “It is useless to resist. Don’t let yourself be destroyed as Ratio Tile did.”

“Don’t make me destroy you!” See Me roars.

“You do not yet realize your importance,” sniffs the Speaker. The Wish Power is like a breaking wave, and See Me a twig: he tumbles down into the freezing fountain.

See Me

See Me is a silver fish flitting through mangrove shallows. Sometimes he sees other places: the future, or the past, or old friends long gone. Ships skim. Dog Shouting screams. Ratio Tile and Reaching the West Reaches converse, watched by a little green man.

As his wrist heals, they wean him gently off the opium, and the dreams give way to the glowing braziers of the hospital cave. Finally, he finds himself fully awake. The Princess is there, in the darkness: her breath in his ear, her hand beneath the sheets.

“It’s good,” she whispers, “to see you fully functional again.”

Reaching the West Reaches

“We’re wasting our time!” snaps Reaching the West Reaches, and swings down hard to slice the dwarf in half. The little man sighs and takes the energy of his mighty strike, steps in, turns and buries the blade deep in pumice. Reaching the West Reaches strangles and Wishes and pulls with gearground arms, but the sword is stuck.

“I cannot teach him,” Stumble Jade growls. “The boy has no patience.”

“He will learn patience.”

“Hmm.” He smooths his bald head again and again. “Much anger in him. Like his father.”

“Was I any different,” murmurs Ratio Tile, “when you taught me?”

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!”

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

“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

“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…”

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.”

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.”