Chapter no 25 – The Prey

Tress of the Emerald Sea

SO HOW DID I know?

Well, I believe you’ve been told. I’m an expert at being places I’m not

supposed to be. I have an innate sixth sense for mystery. In my current state, I might have thought vests with no shirt underneath to be the absolute height of fashion, but I was still fully capable of a little constructive snooping.

Tress’s breath caught. Huck hissed softly.

Midnight spores. Somehow, Weev had gotten ahold of midnight spores. She was reminded of what the captain had said, that all sprouters were—to one extent or another—crazy.

Weev, she thought, might have been a little extra so. (Tress was being generous. I’d have called him crazier than a nitroglycerin smoothie.)

“Put those away,” Huck said. “No, better, spread them over the silver. Kill them, Tress. Midnight spores are dangerous.”

“In what way?” she asked. “What do they do?” “Terrible things.”

“All spores do terrible things,” Tress said. “What do these do


“I…don’t know,” Huck admitted. “But I feel like you’re way too relaxed about holding them.”

Perhaps she was. But danger is like icy water; you can get used to it if you take it slowly. She tucked the little box of spores safely back in its hidden

compartment. She’d have to see if Ulaam knew—

She jumped as the bell rang up above. Three quick peals, a warning to

everyone on board. A ship had been spotted in the distance, and the captain had decided to pursue.

Tress scrambled out of her room, but then stood in the hallway, not wanting to crowd the Dougs as they hastened to the top deck. It was excruciating to wait, as she didn’t want to miss anything.

She needn’t have worried.

When she finally reached the deck, she found the Dougs clustered

anxiously near the railing, looking out at a distant ship. As usual, the Crow’s Song flew a royal merchant’s flag. They wouldn’t announce their pirate nature until the proper dramatic moment. Like the third-act twist of a play, only with the added bonus of grand larceny.

What followed was an extended chase that took five hours.

The Crow’s Song was faster than most ships, particularly after it dropped the ballast it used to sit lower in the spores, mimicking a merchant ship fully laden with goods in the hold. But “speed” is a relative term at sea— particularly the spore sea, when the seethe could stop or start at any moment.

Tress hadn’t realized how unusual it had been for her first vessel to be caught by surprise. This second pursuit required exacting work from the crew and the helmswoman, who slowly but surely ran down their prey.

The hours made Tress’s tension mount. This was it. The final test of her plan to swap the cannonballs. She grew increasingly certain she had failed. Surely someone had discovered what she’d done. Surely she wasn’t clever enough to trick seasoned killers like Laggart and the captain.

Her heart nearly leaped from her chest when Crow shouted the order. “Forward cannon to bear! All sailors, take arms!”

The Dougs ran for their muskets—though the ship they were chasing was still far away. Tress didn’t try to arm herself. Considering how she’d fired a musket precisely zero times in her life, she figured the best way to keep her digits attached was to continue that perfect record.

She did, however, position herself near the prow, where she could witness Ann begging Laggart to let her have the first shot. He chewed her out and

sent her to stand with the others—where one of the Dougs pointedly took the pistol from her hand and put a cutlass in it instead. Ann had another pistol out a moment later, slipped from the holster on the back of her belt.

“Warning shot, Cannonmaster!” Crow shouted.

Tress held her breath. Laggart swiveled the cannon with a crank, then sighted with his spyglass before using another lever to raise the cannon’s

barrel a few inches. He continued this process, exacting and precise, making adjustments. Finally, he pulled a wet firing stick from the bucket of water at his station.

He touched it to the firing pan, setting off the zephyr spores with a raucous explosion. The ball soared directly at the fleeing ship. This was no warning shot; it would be another “accidental” direct hit—intended to sink, not frighten. Tress heard Ann mutter nearby as she watched the cannonball’s trajectory.

Tress steeled herself, her panic mounting as she thought of the poor sailors on that ship.

Then, with what seemed like only moments to spare, the cannonball

exploded. Set to detonate like a mortar, it sprayed water across the side of the prey ship—but left the hull unharmed. The sea’s response was, of course, immediate. Enormous tentacles of vines erupted from the spore sea,

wrapping around the wet side of the ship, gripping the vessel in a deadly

embrace. Even from a distance, Tress was certain she could hear the planks groaning.

But the ship’s hull did not crack. The precision shot immobilized the ship instead of destroying it.

Though the crew cheered—this meant easy plunder—Laggart cursed softly, his face going red. The shade of a forge the moment before you remove the iron and proceed to lay into it with everything you have.

Captain Crow marched across the deck to the cannon station. Her glare

could have skinned a cat, but out loud she said, “Not exactly what I’d call a warning shot, Cannonmaster. But that was…a very clean capture.”

“Thank you, Captain,” Laggart said. “I apologize for failing you in your request.” He punctuated each syllable, as if he were whipping the sounds for coming from his lips.

Tress nearly started hyperventilating from the anxiety. Was Laggart looking at her with a more-surly-than-normal expression? Did he know? If he suspected foul play, there was only one rational culprit.

The captain seemed like she wanted to order another shot, but then she glanced at the cheering Dougs. Even in the twisted lump of smoldering coal that was her heart, Crow understood she needed good morale on her vessel. A quick and easy haul here would accomplish that.

“Run up the pirate’s flag, seaman Doug,” she said.

In response, their prey fired a flare bright in the air. Surrender. The Dougs cheered again. Tress started to calm down. It…it was working.

Unfortunately, as the Crow’s Song drew close to the captive ship, the seethe stilled. The Crow’s Song lurched to a halt, and this instantly

dampened everyone’s enthusiasm. Tress looked at the Dougs, worried. What was the problem? There were interruptions like this every day.

“Ann?” Tress said, sidling up to her. “What’s wrong?”

“The ship surrendered,” Ann said, her voice tense, “’cuz they knew they were beaten. With them held by vines, we could maneuver, an’ they could not. But now we’re both of us stuck. The sea just evened this match. An’ they gotta be asking if maybe they shouldn’t just…”

She trailed off as a blue puff of zephyr spores rose from the other ship’s aft. Followed by a crack.

Followed by a whistle and a crash as a cannonball hit the Crow’s Song

right at the prow, where spores met wood.

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