Chapter no 49 – The Martyr

Tress of the Emerald Sea

A FEW HOURS LATER, Tress sat in the quartermaster’s office with Fort, Salay, and Ann—who conversed in hushed tones.

Tress said very little, instead holding a cup (her one with the butterfly) with tea from Fort’s personal store. It said a great deal that he hadn’t even mentioned a trade as he handed it to her. What Tress had done for them all had incurred a debt Fort feared he’d never pay off.

He did intend to try nevertheless.

We have to act quickly, he wrote. If what Tress says is true, and the captain is planning to trade her to the dragon, we haven’t
much time. Crow said our destination was only two days away.
“She said that this morning,” Ann agreed. “I can guess we ate up a good chunk of that today, before the rainfall.”

Tress sipped the tea. She hadn’t stopped trembling since the event, and she actually liked that this tea was warm. It chased the chill from her soul.

Outside, the calming sound of spores on wood had resumed. Though

she’d feared her stunt would cause permanent damage to the ship, the crew had efficiently cut the vines free once the seethe returned. The trunk had

been pulled into the depths by the spines of the many crimson aethers, leaving the Crow’s Song to float serenely onward.

Was it odd that Tress felt guilty about using the aether tree, then

abandoning it? Would the aethers be sad down there? What happened to the ones that sank, anyway?

Perhaps instead of ruminating on such things, she should have been more worried about her looming date with a dragon. She just felt so bare, like a broom worn by good work down to its last few bristles. Following the tension of the day, she found it difficult to summon more fear.

“Then we need to strike,” Salay said from beside the door. “Tomorrow morning. Are we agreed?”

“Agreed,” Ann said.

Yes,> Fort said, holding up his board. With a King’s Mask on our side, we cannot fail.
They looked to Tress. She wished she could wither away before their expectations. They could use her flaking soul to brew some more tea.

“Maybe we shouldn’t,” Tress said softly.

“What?” Ann said. “Girl, she’s going to trade you.” “I’m not losing another crewmember,” Salay said. Fort studied her, thoughtful.

“The crew is alive by a miracle,” Tress said. “I’m worried about what will happen to you if we try to fight Crow. She’s dangerous. I feel it.”

So you’d let her trade you? Fort said. Willingly?
“It’s not death to serve a dragon,” Tress said. “I don’t think so, at least.

And maybe I can find a way to escape. Or…or buy my freedom…”

She knew she wasn’t making much sense. She’d spent frantic days trying to devise a weapon against the captain. Tress did want to escape. And really, shouldn’t she feel excited? Optimistic? Her plan to save the Crow’s Song had worked, after all.

But lies have a way of diluting a person. The longer you live them, the more you become a bucket of mixed paint, steadily veering toward generic brown. That has never stopped me, mind you, but I’m not the person Tress was.

“We can’t lose to Crow,” Salay said, “as long as we have you, Tress.

You’re a—”

“I’m not, Salay,” Tress said, exhausted. “I’m not a King’s Mask. I didn’t even know what one was until you mentioned them to me.” She shook her

head. “Please believe me.”

They didn’t, of course. A boring truth will always have difficulty competing with an exciting lie.

“Look, Tress,” Ann said, “you think our problems will go away once the cap’n has talked to the dragon? We’ll still be under her thumb.”

“You’d be able to fight her,” Tress said. “She won’t have the spores to protect her. If you let her trade me, you have a much better chance of


Fort rested his hand on hers, then tipped his sign toward her. But we’d have to live with it, Tress. Crow forced us into this life. We didn’t know she intended to kill. But if we don’t stand up to her now, we don’t get to use that excuse anymore. We know what she is now.

Tress read the words through twice. And…though her first instinct was

still to protest…something else was growing. She’d have called it arrogance, and it frightened her. But arrogance and self-worth are two sides to a coin,

and it will spend either way.

That day, she met Fort’s eyes and nodded. “All right.”

“Mutiny,” Salay said. “Tomorrow morning. I’ll make certain the Dougs are with us.”

“I’ll distract Laggart,” Ann said. “If I’m firing the cannon, he’ll come scold me again.”

I have a key to the captain’s quarters, Fort said. She doesn’t know. We will go in while she’s asleep and take her captive. Then we sail for the Verdant Sea and turn her in to the king’s officials in exchange for our lives.
Tress took a deep breath. “Capturing her won’t be that easy, Fort. The spores inside her will react to someone trying to restrain her. Fortunately, I’ve devised a weapon that might work. It…”

What was that? “It…”

Tress shivered. She felt something. A familiar itch, distinct as the scent of her mother’s bread. Without thinking, she reached to the side, into the

shadows underneath the overhang of Fort’s counter.

Some of the darkness there resisted her fingers. It felt like a filled waterskin.

Midnight Essence.

Tress felt another mind controlling it, but it was distant and she was near. Working by instinct, she seized control. Immediately her tongue felt dry. She coughed, and—panicking—somehow severed the connection completely.

The Midnight Essence puffed away, becoming dark smoke.

That other mind. That had been Crow.

Crow had been listening to them with Midnight Essence. “Oh…oh moons,” Tress rasped. “Crow knows.”

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