Chapter no 42 – The Guide

Tress of the Emerald Sea

I LOVE MEMORIES. They are our ballads, our personal foundation myths. But I must acknowledge that memory can be cruel if left unchallenged.

Memory is often our only connection to who we used to be. Memories are fossils, the bones left by dead versions of ourselves. More potently, our minds are a hungry audience, craving only the peaks and valleys of

experience. The bland erodes, leaving behind the distinctive bits to be remembered again and again.

Painful or passionate, surreal or sublime, we cherish those little rocks of peak experience, polishing them with the ever-smoothing touch of recycled proxy living. In so doing—like pagans praying to a sculpted mud figure—we make of our memories the gods which judge our current lives.

I love this. Memory may not be the heart of what makes us human, but it’s at least a vital organ. Nevertheless, we must take care not to let the bliss of the present fade when compared to supposedly better days. We’re happy,

sure, but were we more happy then? If we let it, memory can make shadows of the now, as nothing can match the buttressed legends of our past.

I think about this a great deal, for it is my job to sell legends. Package them, commodify them. For a small price, I’ll let you share my memories— which I solemnly promise are real, or will be as long as you agree not to cut them too deeply.

Do not let memory chase you. Take the advice of one who has dissected the beast, then rebuilt it with a more fearsome face—which I then used to

charm a few extra coins out of an inebriated audience. Enjoy memories, yes, but don’t be a slave to who you wish you once had been.

Those memories aren’t alive. You are.

Personally, I don’t think I gave proper attention to just how beautiful Tress’s world was. To me, it was a backwater planet drowning in the dross of the aethers, which are more useful in other incarnations—and far easier to harvest on the moons themselves anyway.

And yet, nowhere else in my travels have I witnessed anything like those spores. As we sailed the Crimson, I felt like a leaf floating on the blood of a fallen giant. The farther we went, the higher the Crimson Moon soared— dark and ominous in the day, often haloed by sunlight. A clot upon the light.

At night, it burst aflame with its own unblinking, preternatural glow. At first we were too far away to see the sporefall, but as we closed the distance, the lunagree appeared. A fountain from the sky, pouring down into the center of the sea. The verdant spores had always looked like pollen in the air, but this felt like a lava flow. Erupting from the heavens to melt away the planet.

I wasn’t in my right mind during the trip, but I could still see. And the polished bits of that land in my memory are always striking images. Surreal, spellbinding pictures of magic so dominant it literally fell from the sky.

I believe Tress might have been more pleased if the view hadn’t been so stunning. She’d have had a better chance of keeping my attention.

“Would you please focus, Hoid?” the girl asked.

I pointed at the distant red moon, the spores streaming down to fill the sea. “It looks like the moon is throwing up.”

Tress sighed.

“Imagine that the sea is the toilet,” I said, “and the moon is the face of a god, heaving onto us after a long night of getting spun around and around on a bar stool.”

I actually composed a poem about a vomiting god. I’ll spare you, though it’s the only time I’ve had an excuse to make a really good rhyme for


Finally, after some prodding, I turned from my newfound muse and settled down on the deck near Tress. She would have preferred to work with me belowdecks, out of sight, but I had been stubborn. I’d wanted to watch the moon barf. As one does.

“We need to break the curse,” she said.

“Ah yes,” I said. Then I leaned in close, speaking conspiratorially. “You know, I have one of those.”

“A curse?”


“I know, Hoid.”

“You do?”

“Yes. It’s why we can talk about it. If I didn’t know, you couldn’t tell me.” “I can’t tell you something you don’t know, but only things you already


“Yes, because of the curse.” “Oh! A curse! I—”

“—have one of those. I know. I need to break yours so you can lead me to the Sorceress. Nobody knows where in the Midnight Sea she can be found.”

I fell silent.

“Hoid?” she asked. “Do you understand?”

“I think I understand. But, see, it’s hard.” I leaned in closer. “I can tell you…”


“Something important…” “Yes?”

“Socks with sandals,” I whispered. “The new fashion movement. Trust me. It will be all the rage.”

She sighed with increasing exasperation.

I’m accustomed to that reaction from people, but I prefer to be intentionally irritating. It’s against my professional ethics to frustrate people by accident. It’s like…a construction worker making a new road while

sleepwalking. The foreman would have a fit. How in the world does one make a sleepwalker take a union-mandated break? Do you wake them up?

“Look,” Tress said, “I have this paper here, see? And I’ve written down a lot of words that I think would have to do with curses. Are there any you

can’t talk to me about? If so, that will give me a clue.”

It was a workable idea. I would have been impressed, if I hadn’t been distracted by wondering whether anyone had made clothing out of napkins yet.

Tress handed me the list of words. I studied them, cocked my head to the side, then nodded.

“Anything?” she asked.

“I,” I declared, “have apparently forgotten how to read.”

Showing legendary patience, Tress took the list back and read the words to me. I repeated them.

“Well?” she asked.

“I definitely have heard some of those words before,” I said. “Now, I forgot the rules. Is this the game where I draw a picture of the word, or is it the game where I act them out?”

She groaned and lay back on the deck, her head thumping the wood. “Could you maybe lead me to the Sorceress without getting your curse broken?”

I fell silent. “Hoid?”

I smiled at her. I’d blacked out one of my teeth to make it seem like it was missing, as I figured that must be quite fashionable. A number of the Dougs were sporting the look, after all.

“Maybe I could say letters to you,” she said, “and you could think of the way to break your curse. I could ask you, ‘Is this letter in the word?’ Theoretically, you won’t be able to say yes if it were.”

This one wouldn’t have worked. It was an easy enough workaround that the Sorceress had thought of it, and had basically “programmed” the curse to forbid the person from confirming words this way.

In addition, in this specific instance…well… “Letters,” I said. “Spelling words. Reading…”

“Right,” Tress said. “Right. You never answered my question, though.

Could you lead me to the Sorceress? Even without being uncursed?” I fell silent.

A part of me was hoping she’d notice how loud that silence was.

“Wait,” she said, sitting up. “Every time I talk about sailing to see the Sorceress, you get quiet.”

“Do I?” I asked.

“Those are the only times when I’ve been around you that you haven’t had anything to say…” Her eyes widened. “Hoid, you can’t talk about the Sorceress or her island, right?”

I, notably, was unable to answer.

“Hoid,” she said, “can you talk about the king’s island?”

“I’ve been there once!” I said. “Have you heard the story about the king’s tosher? I don’t really remember it, but it has poop in it, so it must be funny!”

“Talking about visiting the king’s island didn’t make you shut up,” she

said, “but talking about the Sorceress’s island did…” She stood up. “I need a map.”

And there. After only a few days of trying, she’d discovered more about helping me than Ulaam had in our year together. That stupid shapeshifter

was enjoying this. I swear, they’ve all been getting weirder ever since Sazed released them.

Anyway, Salay was at her usual post, guiding the ship deeper into the

Crimson. She didn’t have a map of the Midnight up there, but—upon Tress’s request—she sent a Doug to fetch one from her quarters. It wasn’t particularly detailed; none of the maps of the Midnight Sea are. Fortunately, the shape was roughly correct, since all of the seas are basically pentagons.

Tress started pointing to places on the map and asking, “Hoid, I’d like you to guide us here. Could you do that?”

Each time, I told her some terribly interesting fact about a place—such as having walked there wearing butter instead of shoes. Until she reached a

specific point.

When she asked about that one, I fell silent.

When I stop talking, people often act happy. It’s a hazard of my profession. But this time it was different. Tress pulled the map to her chest, her eyes watering.

She knew where the Sorceress’s island was. Near the border of the Midnight Sea and the Crimson Sea, perhaps half a day’s sail inward.

It was the first concrete piece of information she’d found. The first real

step toward rescuing Charlie. It was a beautiful moment that was ruined as a sudden line of rainfall appeared on the horizon—then shot straight for our


You'll Also Like