Chapter no 47 – The Poet

Tress of the Emerald Sea

THE FLARE BURST at Ulaam’s feet. A writhing, twisting mass of vines subsumed the surgeon, wrapping him all the way up to his neck. He tried to free himself, but the best he could achieve was a cross between a convulsion and a dry heave.

“What do you think?” Tress said, hurrying through the hold to stand next to him. “Will it work to capture Crow?”

Ulaam struggled to shrug. “From my understanding of her ailment and her powers, this should be sufficient. Her vines intercept physical danger, but they don’t care if she’s immobilized. Their needs and hers do not entirely

align, hmmm? So long as she keeps living to provide them with water, they don’t care what happens to her.”

“Do you think it’s overkill?” Tress asked. “If what you say is true, we could jump her in the night while she’s sleeping.”

“Her vines would surely react to that,” Ulaam said. “The spores inside her have no way of judging your intent. They would assume the worst and fight you off.

“The brilliance of this mechanism you’ve devised is that you don’t have to fire it directly at the captain. The vines will judge your shot off-target, and

therefore might not respond. Once she’s wrapped tight, be certain not to make any threatening moves, and the spores should be satisfied.”

“Thank you,” Tress said. “Oh! Let me get you out.” She reached for her silver knife.

“No need,” Ulaam said. “This is quite pleasant. Tell me, where did you find those flares?”

“I made them,” Tress said, digging through her bag—which was on the floor of the hold near where I was sitting. She’d taken the chance to explain her plan in detail to Ulaam and me.

I had, of course, responded by asking what she thought of my mullet. Please stop trying to imagine that. It would be best for both of us.

“You made them?” Ulaam said. “Yourself?”

“I had some of Weev’s schematics, explaining how cannonballs worked,” she explained. “It wasn’t so hard to extrapolate.”

“Remarkable. I say, young lady, I must have your brain. Once you are through with it, naturally. Hmmmm?”

“I’m sorry, Ulaam,” she said as she hunted in her bag. Where had she put her notebook? She wanted to record that this design worked better than her previous one. Ten shots, and so far no duds. “Talk like that still makes me queasy.”

“You haven’t the nerves of a pirate yet, I’m afraid.” “I know.”

“I could insert some. It’s a thirty-five percent agony-free process!” “No thank you,” she said, pulling out the notebook and turning. She

jumped as she found Ulaam standing next to her. The vines lay in a heap where he’d been standing.

“How?” she asked.

“I digested them,” he explained, “in a few key places.” “…Digested?” Tress asked.

“He’s extra gross!” I said. “I envy him.”

“As you should, my friend,” Ulaam said. “By definition, I can do anything a human can—plus more. I see you are taking notes on your experiments, Tress. Interesting, interesting. You know, I could certainly—”

“My brain is not for sale,” Tress said.

“I was going to ask about your hands this time. Such excellent penmanship. My, my.” He smiled, showing a literally inhuman number of

teeth. He says he does it because he figures an extra big smile should be extra comforting to humans. I can never tell if he’s joking or not.

“Hands,” she said. “Not for sale. Nor my knees. Or my ears. No body parts for sale, Ulaam. Ever.”

“Well, that’s quite definitive,” he said. “You’ve grown rather forceful, hmmmm? I remember when you first arrived, and you seemed embarrassed to turn me down.”

“I’m not any different now. I’m simply more desperate.”

“More desperate than those first few days on the ship?” he asked.

Tress hesitated, thinking back to those first awful days. Well, yes, she’d been desperate then too. She’d assumed herself to be as desperate as was possible.

Perhaps it was like lifting weights—her capacity for desperation was increasing with time. And there just wasn’t room for other emotions, like embarrassment.

“Regardless,” Ulaam said, “we shall move on. No more offers for now. Your plan with the captain. You’re certain the others will join you in this mutiny?”

“Pretty sure,” Tress said. “I…may have led Salay and the other officers to think I am a King’s Mask…”

“Oh my,” Ulaam said. “How did you manage that?”

“Accidentally,” Tress said with a grimace. “Somehow I seem to be best at lying when I tell the truth.”

“Wise words, wise words,” I said. “But tell me, have you heard my latest poem?”

“Excuse me,” Ulaam said, “I’m disconnecting my ears for the next two minutes.”

“What?” Tress said. Unfortunately, she was limited by her anatomy. She couldn’t disconnect her ears unless she wanted it to be permanent.

“There once was a farmer with a tulip bulb,” I said. “Who had nowhere to plant it. He found a place to sit. He then threw a fit. And accidentally mashed it into pulp. The end.”

Oh, gods.

Oh, Shards within. What had I become?

“That’s…nice,” Tress said. And for a girl who claimed she was bad at lying, she pulled that one off swimmingly.

Ulaam returned to sensibility a short time later. “Ah!” he said. “You’re not bleeding from your ears, Tress? Remarkable. Is that all you’ll be needing from me today?”

“I suppose,” Tress said. “But…are you sure you won’t help? In our mutiny?”

“Alas,” Ulaam said. “I can offer only medical attention, should you require it. More interference would not be proper.”

“If we don’t get out of the Crimson soon,” Tress said, “the ship could end up sinking. That would kill you too.”

“Assumptions, assumptions,” Ulaam said, walking to the steps. “Hoid is immortal, and I am nearly so. While I don’t relish the idea of walking across the bottom of the spore sea to reach safety—particularly with him tagging

along in his current state—that is not outside my abilities.”

I stood up to go after him, as a part of me—that piece that was slightly self-aware—kept trying to ambush him with bad poems.

I stopped next to Tress, however, who now sat with her flare gun in her lap. Staring at the floor. Outside, the soft hiss of spores rubbing along the hull was a steady companion. A reminder that we were moving inevitably toward the dragon’s lair.

Captain Crow estimated it was only two days away.

“I’m worried,” Tress said softly, looking up at me. “I’m…I’m terrified.”

I put my hand on her shoulder and managed to keep myself from vomiting forth another poem. She must have seen something in my eyes, the fragment of lucidity I still possessed.

“I’m terrified,” she repeated. “Not only for everyone else, though I do feel that. I’m scared for myself and what Crow is going to do to me. I can’t beat her. Deep down, I know it.”

I raised my other hand, lifting a single finger. “You have,” I whispered, “everything you need, Tress.”

“The flare gun? But what if I fail?”

“You have everything you need.” I squeezed her on the arm, then started up after Ulaam. Then I slowed. Something was wrong, wasn’t it? Other than the fact that I wasn’t currently launching into an epic ode to the beauty of


Oh. The hissing on the hull had stopped. The seethe had paused, and the ship was slowing. Well, nothing to worry about there. That happened all the time, and wasn’t dangerous.

Unless rain was near.

You can probably guess what happened next.

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