Chapter no 43 – The Musician

Tress of the Emerald Sea

I KNOW THAT SAILORS FEAR storms on your planet. It’s common among all seafaring cultures I’ve met. Interestingly, most also ascribe—or in their past used to ascribe—volition to storms. They never simply are. They want something.

The weather patterns on Tress’s world aren’t specifically Invested—so they aren’t self-aware. But you wouldn’t have known that from the way the rain came straight toward the Crow’s Song.

Tress stared at it, growing numb, the joy of her grand discovery fading. It could all end right here, couldn’t it? All her struggles, her preparations…it

could simply end. The Crow’s Song could vanish in the rain, speared through at a hundred different angles, then pulled into the deep.

And Tress was powerless to do anything about it.

Moments like these bring wind and rain to life. We need purpose; it’s the spiritual conjunction that glues together human existence and human volition. Purpose is so integral to us that we see it everywhere.

Sky gods, making thunder with their shouts or causing lightning to fall

with their steps. Winds named and granted different intentions and motives,

depending on the direction they blow. Rains withheld, granted, or sent to destroy, depending on the turning of celestial moods.

A storm is not an object like a box or a tree. Even to the more

scientifically-minded, storms are more notion than numbers. When does a drizzle become a downpour, and when does a downpour become a storm? There’s no firm line. It’s about how you feel.

A storm is an idea. It’s much more powerful that way. Watching the rain bear down on her—crimson spikes marching behind it like the crossed

spears of royal guards—Tress wanted it to be a deliberate act of the moons. She didn’t want her death to be meaningless.

The ship lurched to the side, making Tress stumble. She cried out and grabbed the rail, then quickly snatched the map of the Midnight Sea before it could blow away. Another lurch of the ship sent her stumbling the other direction. It seemed random to her, but Salay was calling orders nearby, and the Dougs obeyed, managing the sails.

Salay didn’t particularly care if her death was meaningless or deliberate.

Provided it was a long time coming.

As I mentioned, on your planet, you may be accustomed to the helm position on the ship being relatively unimportant.

Not so on the spore seas. The ship lurched again, wood groaning, canvas rattling. A sailing ship isn’t like most vehicles; it takes time and effort to

change its momentum. Tress hung on, eyes wide, as Captain Crow caught a dropped rope and pulled it tight. Even she obeyed Salay’s orders in this moment.

Nearby, three Dougs rushed to the wheel, helping Salay heave to the side, bending hundreds of tons of wood to her will. The Crow’s Song veered right to the side of the line of rain, skirting so close to the wall of aether that a few of the crimson spears scraped the hull. Salay called for the sailors to steady and slow, for a reason Tress didn’t understand—until she saw that the giant

snarls of interlocking spikes were sinking.

The aethers emerging from their spores had set the sea rippling, and their retreat doubled that, making it billow and quake. You don’t normally get true waves on the spore seas—not like you do on liquid oceans—but when you do, they’re extremely dangerous.

The Crow’s Song shook like the ice in a good cocktail, then tipped to the side like the person who’s enjoyed too many. Tress immediately felt sick to

her stomach, then panicked at the thought of what vomit would do on a deck

in the middle of the spores. She managed to find a bucket, her first job on the ship proving useful in an unexpected way.

Through it all, Salay kept shouting orders. It was almost as if she kept the ship from capsizing through sheer force of will. She moved the vessel at times against the waves, but at others she spun the wheel to flow with the pattern. In those few moments, the ship was a giant musical instrument, and she played it as a master, steering us to safety.

Unfortunately, right at the end, one final wave broke against the side of the ship. This spilled spores across the deck. Violent. Scarlet. Thirsty.

Enough to overwhelm the silver protections for a few seconds. And Tress wasn’t the only one who had been ill.

It happened with a burst of red on red. A flash of spikes on the main deck, near the steps up to the quarterdeck. In the blink of an eye, one of the Dougs had been nailed to the wood outside the captain’s cabin. I’ll leave off crass

comparisons to pincushions and just say this: I’ve never seen a man bleed out so quickly. But I’ve also never seen a man with so many places for the blood to escape.

Everyone stared at the terrible scene, and Tress groaned, turning back to her bucket for a second unmealing. Then the Dougs—remembering their training—scrambled for the emergency towels to sop up the blood and prevent any from leaking over the side of the ship. In the Verdant, a stream of blood over the side could have immobilized them. Here it would rip the ship to pieces.

Fortunately, ships on the spore seas are built to prevent this, with all

seams pitched and sealed. The silver eventually did its job—and everyone walked across dead grey spores, grinding them against the wood.

In the midst of this dreary scene, the ship ground to a halt. The stilling had arrived.

I’ll admit to feeling uneasy, even now, about those days crossing the

Crimson. I know the cosmology and arcanum of Tress’s planet quite well, and I’m confident that no entity directs its storms.

And yet. Knowing is not always believing.

The two dozen of us on deck turned, as one, to watch the rains veer and inexplicably bear down on us again. Relentless. Water in front leading a

charge of violent aethers behind, wide as three ships beside one another.

A storm is a living thing, even when not specifically Invested. Because

“life,” as a concept, is a human construct. We define it. Nature doesn’t care;

it sees everything as a chemical process. It couldn’t care in the slightest that a bunch of carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen one day decided it would really prefer to sit on a sofa rather than a bench.

Therefore, something lives if we decide it does. To us on that ship, that day, the rains were alive. They had to be. And I know for a fact Tress was shaken not only physically, but emotionally as she looked up from her bucket to see the rain coming again. Captain Crow was powerless to do

anything. Not even Salay could save the ship during the stilling.

The line of water missed us by a few hundred yards.

What had seemed, in our horrified eyes, a direct attempt to kill us had instead been random chance. So we watched as the rain vanished into the distance, leaving a persistent wall of red thorns. They towered high, a barricade that would only sink once the seethe began again.

The rain danced around in circles in the distance, then vanished. A

capricious god taunting us? A natural process, given autonomy only by our brains as they searched for patterns, meaning, and volition?

I know what I believed that day.

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