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The Princess Leaves

“I’m taking Reaching the West Reaches and my friends,” says the emissary, cool and cocksure, silk-robed in black. “You can either profit by this or be destroyed.”

Papa Bosom laughs and laughs.

“You’re standing on–” Dog Shouting tries to hiss in warning from her lounging spot on the floor, but a yank on her leash chokes her off.

“There will be no bargain, Hopeless Warrior,” purrs Papa Bosom in his wet and backward language. “I shall enjoy watching you die.”

The guard’s bolter flies to the Princess’s hand: a flash and a crackle, a scream, and then the floor disappears.

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.

Reaching the West Reaches

Reaching the West Reaches pads along bamboo causeways with an ease he could never have managed before. Ahead of him flits a blue shade: The Plum Of, in her ghostly robes. He stalks her like a shark in the shallows.

The Wish Power thrums through him, carrying images. See Me is elsewhere on this cloudbound island, the Speaker elsewhere still, and at the center is the source of the mist, a fount of icy froth. It waits to ensnare a victim.

None of this matters.

Keep looking, whispers The Plum Of, somewhere ahead of him. Keep looking. Our daughters are here.

Reaching the West Reaches

Reaching the West Reaches quenches the mended blade, and brackish steam flares up around him, faster than he expected: brings with it towers and terraces, figures in the mist, screaming, minarets shattered in flames.

Stumble Jade lifts his welder’s mask to glare. “Control, control, you must learn control!”

“I saw a city in the clouds,” says Reaching the West Reaches slowly.

“It is the future you see.”

“They were in pain.” He rubs his head thoughtfully, the scars smoother than they were when he came here, tan blending their edges. “Will they die?”

“Always in motion,” says Stumble Jade, “the future.”

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

“The goddess was bathing, and so she carved a sandalwood boy to stand guard,” mutters Reaching the West Reaches. The cave is dark, and his broken sword will not light the way. “But he was curious, and looked upon his mother in the bath; and her husband arrived home to find them–”

See Me leaps out, sword whole and gleaming. Reaching the West Reaches parries and feints, strikes, strikes again.

See Me’s head rolls to a stop. His own lacquer eyes look up from it.

“So the god cursed the boy,” he pants, “with an elephant’s head, too heavy to bear…”

Reaching the West Reaches

Reaching the West Reaches can run now, for the first time in many years. It’s strange and painful, and he staggers gladly to a stop at a cold-breathing cave to set the dwarf down.

“The Wish Power could never heal me before,” he grumbles. “Tell me why I can’t–”

“There is no why,” sighs Stumble Jade, sitting.

He peers into blackness. “What’s in there?”

“Only what you take with you,” says Stumble Jade. “Your weapon–you will not need it.”

Reaching the West Reaches takes up his broken blade anyway, and limps through the entrance.

The Backstroke is waiting inside.

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?”

Reaching the West Reaches

“Like we’re being watched,” grates Reaching the West Reaches, spinning with his broken sword out.

“Away put your weapon!” cowers a dwarf. “I mean you no harm!”

He grunts and lowers it. “I’m looking for someone.”

“Found someone, you have! Help you I can, yes, mmm.”

“I don’t think so,” sneers Reaching the West Reaches, and leans on his sword like a stick. “I’m looking for a great warrior.”

“Warrior? Stumble Jade. You seek Stumble Jade!”

Reaching the West Reaches shares a startled glance with The Plum Of; but she just watches, always behind him, flickering blue as an ocean mirage.

Reaching the West Reaches

Most of a boltblacked trimaran has already washed up on the sandbar when Reaching the West Reaches awakens. He forces himself up to walk its length, gathering pieces of other shattered boats, driftwood and one precious, unbroken jar of ration water. Even moonstone floats.

He pulls six precious bronze nails from his automaton leg and drives them in with his fist. He won’t be able to stand well until he’s found something to replace them, which is just as well: his patchwork craft leaks.

Reaching the West Reaches grinds out to sail, and gulls follow the splash of his bailing helmet.