Chapter no 29 – The Familiar

Tress of the Emerald Sea

SHE FOUND HUCK in her cabin, sitting on the bed, alternating between chewing on a stale crust of bread and reading one of Weev’s books: a notebook detailing the use of verdant spores. She’d left it on the bed, and it looked like Huck had nibbled on the corner of the book between bites of

crust—though whether that was intentional or due to some ratty instinct, she could not guess.

“You’ve been lying to me,” Tress said, shutting the door.

Huck crouched down, his eyes darting from side to side, seeking the best place to hide.

“Why didn’t you tell me you were a familiar?” Tress demanded. “Uh…” Huck said.

“Were you a companion to the Sorceress? Do you know about her? About how to reach her island? Have you been hiding that all this time?”

“Huh.” Huck sat up on his haunches, nose twitching. “I am…yes, I am a familiar, which is why I can talk. How did you find out?”

“Hoid,” Tress said, gesturing in the direction of the ship’s surgery. “It was difficult for him to speak through the curse, but he gave me enough clues to put it together. Huck, why didn’t you tell me?”

“I didn’t want to lead you into danger,” Huck said. “The Sorceress is a horrible person, Tress. You shouldn’t want to know anything more about her, and you definitely shouldn’t be trying to get to her island.”

Tress stalked over to the bed and knelt beside it, at eye level with the rat. “You,” she said, “are going to tell me everything you know about the Sorceress. Or else.”

“Or else what?” he squeaked.

“Or else”—she took a deep breath, nervous, as she’d never made a threat as dire as this in her life—“I will stop talking to you.”

“…You won’t throw me overboard or something?”

“What?” she asked, horrified. “No! That would be awful!” “Tress, you make a terrible pirate.”

“Please, Huck,” she said, “tell me what you know. Can you guide me to the Sorceress’s island?”

He considered, then began to speak, but cut off. He rubbed his head with his paw. “No,” he said. “I can’t, Tress. I’m not what you think I am. I’m… not a familiar. Well, I guess I kind of am, but not in the way you’re thinking. My whole family can talk. I grew up on a lonely island far, far from the Sorceress’s realm.”

“So you’re what? A descendant of familiars?”

“A good explanation,” he said, then sighed. “If you really want to get to the Sorceress, your best bet is to break Hoid’s curse. I can’t lead you to her. About that, I’m telling you the truth. I promise.”

“Can you at least help me break Hoid’s curse?”

He thought for a moment. “I… Maybe? I mean, I’m not supposed to talk about this. But so long as it’s about Hoid… All right, so here’s the problem. The Sorceress’s magic forbids a person from talking about the specifics of their curse.”

“I knew that already,” she said.

“But I’ve heard—from my family, you see—that one can sometimes get a cursed person to reveal things anyway. The curses aren’t alive; they are

static, like the rules in a contract. That means, despite how much work the Sorceress puts into them, every curse has holes.”

“I don’t understand,” Tress said, still kneeling beside the bed.

“All right,” Huck said, “let’s pretend you had a friend who was cursed. If you went to them and said, ‘Are you cursed?’ they wouldn’t be able to say

yes. But the fact that they can’t is itself kind of a confirmation, you know? So in a way, you’ve tricked the curse into giving you new information.”

“But how does that relate to undoing the curse?”

“Every cursed person hears the spell being said, and therefore knows the method of their salvation. The Sorceress…Tress, she’s evil. Sadistic. When she curses someone, she wants them to know the path to their freedom, then not be able to tell anyone.”

“That sounds horrendous,” Tress said, again glancing toward where she’d left Hoid.

“Yeah,” Huck said. “I warned you. Look, even talking about her is dangerous. You shouldn’t keep trying to get to her.”

“I’m going,” she said. “So I can either go armed with your information, or I can go ignorantly and be more likely to die. Your choice, Huck.”

“Ouch. No need to step on the trap after it’s already around my neck,

Tress. I’m trying to help, but there’s not a lot I can say. You have to find a

way to circumvent the curse. Like…assume you asked that friend, ‘How do I undo your curse?’ once you know there is a curse. That friend won’t be able to tell you.

“But say you told your friend a story about someone else who was cured of their curse, and asked, ‘What do you think?’ They might be able to talk to you about the story, since it’s about someone else—and therefore not about their specific situation. You might be able to sneak useful information out.”

“That sounds like it would involve a lot of guesswork,” Tress said. “And confusion.”

“And frustration. And pain. Yeah. But it’s all I have for you, Tress. I’m not an expert. I think you should focus on keeping yourself alive, not on this mad quest to visit the Sorceress. Crow has it in for you. I can feel it.”

“I thought that at first too,” Tress said, letting herself be distracted. She needed time to process what he’d said before pushing him further anyway. “But Crow has turned around. She seems happy to have me on board.”

“And that doesn’t worry you more?” Huck asked.

“Now that you mention it…I should be suspicious, shouldn’t I?”

“Sporefalls, yes,” Huck said. “I mean, Crow eats bullets, hates everyone, is determined to give her own crew a death sentence. Yet she—casually— has decided she wants you to stay on board. For reasons.”

Tress shivered. “We might need you to spy on her again.”

“Uh…” Huck wrung his paws a little, then started nibbling on the book again.

“Stop that!”

“Sorry,” he said as she snatched it away. “Chewing makes me feel better. I will spy on her if you want, Tress. But…I mean, I don’t think I’m very good at it. Last time I’m sure they spotted me. That porthole has been kept tightly closed ever since. Plus there’s the cat…”

Tress tapped her finger on the book. The captain was wily, and even Hoid

—an obvious idiot (ouch)—had figured out Huck was a familiar. A girl

spending time with a rat that seemed too well-trained? Crow probably had her suspicions as well.

But perhaps there was another way. What was it Ulaam had said about midnight spores? They were useful in spying…

She was interrupted by a knock on her door. Tress glanced at Huck, who

—with an abundance of caution—grabbed his bread crust in his mouth and hid under the bed. When Tress answered the door, she found Salay standing outside.

“Tress,” the helmswoman said, “we need to talk about who you really


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