Chapter no 11 – The Theif

Tress of the Emerald Sea

THE SIGHT THAT CONFRONTED Tress as she emerged from the hold could have unnerved a dragon. The ship that had been firing on them was far closer than she’d expected—close enough that she could make out the sailors on the deck.

The enemy ship had two cannons, one on the foredeck, one aft. Now, you might have heard stories of great sailing ships with a dozen or more guns on each side. They hadn’t reached such heights on Tress’s world; many ships had only one cannon, and they kept them on swiveling platforms. Often a

ship’s crew had a cannonmaster in charge of aiming.

The Oot’s Dream had a single small cannon on the foredeck. At the moment, the smuggler ship was heeling hard as part of a weaving maneuver, rather than firing.

Tress didn’t know sailing mechanics; she simply saw the enemy ship looming and watched with a slack jaw as their front cannon lobbed a shot toward the Oot’s Dream. It hit the spore sea starboard amidships, and— unlike the cannonball that had broken through the hull earlier—this one

smashed on first impact, releasing its cargo of water into the spores.

A treelike burst of vines exploded into existence inches away from Tress. More twisted than a librarian’s love life (trust me, they’re a strange bunch), it writhed with overlapping tendrils. It reminded Tress of her hair most mornings, before she got out her brush.

The gnarled vines grabbed hold of the ship, latching onto its gunwale. The vines that strayed near silver greyed and died, like spores did, but they held on tight nonetheless. It seemed this method of bombardment could rip a ship apart, silver or no silver. Either that or the vines would get a good hold and

strand the ship in place, leaving it easy pickings.

Tress was shoved aside as sailors with axes rushed over to attack the vines in an attempt to cut the ship free. “That was too close!” the captain said,

shouting to the helmsman. “Keep weaving, Gustal!” He stood nearby, and Tress could—regrettably—smell his breath as he spun on the sailor who had pulled her up the steps. “What under the moons are you doing with that

woman, Dorp!”

“She’s a royal inspector, Cap’n,” Dorp said, gesturing to Tress. “I figured maybe if they saw ’er, they wouldn’t be so keen on sinkin’ us. Cap’n, sir!”

The captain’s expression turned from angry to excited. “Dorp, that’s the first good idea you’ve ever had. Drag her to the quarterdeck. Hoist her up high, if you have to, and let’s pray to the moons it gives those yaldsons pause!”

Tress bore the treatment with as much dignity as she could manage. They soon had her standing up on the rim of the quarterdeck, waving for

everything she had, hoping that the red coat would persuade them to hold their fire.

Unfortunately, the attacking ship either didn’t see or didn’t care, because the next cannonball hit the quarterdeck bulkhead, smashing through and

causing quite a clutter in the captain’s cabin.

The sprouter cursed. “What a stupid idea,” he snapped, dragging Tress by her collar as he went belowdecks again to check for more leaks and return her to her cage. Unexpectedly, a second after they reached the hold, the ship lurched.

It was so jarring that Tress tripped and fell face-first into the dead spores that covered the floor of the hold. She scrambled to her knees and wiped

away the spores with frantic hands, panicking. What if a few live ones remained?

The sprouter had let go of her collar. “No,” he said, turning to stare up the steps. “No, no, no.”

The ship groaned around them, sliding to a halt. Then it fell quiet. Even the footsteps stilled—and it took her a moment to realize what had happened. The seethe—the bubbles that fluidized the spores—had stopped.

The ship had essentially run aground on the ocean itself. Until the seethe began again, they’d be trapped. Stuck in one place.

“Nononono!” the sprouter cried, forgetting Tress and running up the steps.

The reason for his panic occurred to Tress almost immediately. The enemy cannon was already pointed straight at them. And they were no longer moving.

A second later, a cannonball blasted through the aft hull, ripping a wide hole. Tress screamed and covered her head as the cannonball soared over her and crashed right through the front of the ship, never shattering as it was

supposed to.

Tress cowered on the floor, awaiting the next inevitable shot. Then, through the terror, her practicality asserted itself. She turned, shifting wood debris off her back, and looked out through the large new hole in the hull. Across the ocean at the enemy ship, which was also stuck in place several hundred feet away.

The sea had become, essentially, solid. At least as solid as a sand dune. It was made of deadly spores, but it could be walked on. And while the people on that enemy ship might wish her harm, those on the Oot’s Dream most

certainly did.

It didn’t take long for her to make the decision. She threw herself to her feet and pushed past the vine growth in the hold, making for the hole.

“Watch out!” the rat said from behind as something dropped on her. The sprouter, seeing her move, had leaped off the broken steps above to tackle her.

“Here now,” he said. “That’s a right good idea. You’re gonna give me that coat, and I’m gonna go plead for my life with those fellows.” He began to rip at her clothing, and she frantically felt around for a weapon. Her fingers latched onto something metal and she swung it up, clocking the sailor on the head. He dropped like a streaker’s trousers.

Tress gasped, panting on the floor, then glanced at what she’d grabbed. A pewter cup.

Wait, her pewter cup.

Huh, she thought. Didn’t expect to be right about that.

She searched around and spotted her things nearby, along with some other items that had been tossed around in the explosion. Then she cried out as

another cannonball hit the ship somewhere above, making men scream.

She grabbed her sack, then stumbled over to the rat’s cage. “Almost forgot about you,” she said. “Sorry.”

“It’s a common human failing,” he said. “Don’t get me started on the way your people talk about my kind.”

“Brace yourself,” Tress said. “I don’t have anything to cut that cage free, so…” She raised her heavy metal cup, then swung it down and broke off the little lock.

The rat shoved out with his snout, then leaped onto her arm and climbed up her shoulder. She supposed that, with spores all over the floor, she didn’t blame him for getting up high.

“The name is…” The rat coughed. “The name is…Huck. That’ll do, as I don’t think my real name will work.”

“Something in rat language that a human couldn’t say?”

“Basically,” he said as she turned and walked over to the hole in the ship. “You?”

“Tress,” she said.

“Well then, Tress,” Huck said, “you ready to do something absolutely insane?”

“Such is, unfortunately, becoming a theme to my life,” Tress said, then stepped out onto the spores.

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