Chapter no 52 – The Sacrifice

Tress of the Emerald Sea


“…What!” Crow said.

“She will make a good slave,” Tress explained. “She’s very strong—I can show you the bruise on my stomach as proof. And she’s not in the least

afraid of spores. She used midnight aether earlier tonight.”

Crow grabbed Tress, reaching as if to forcibly shut her up. The dragon interrupted this by very deliberately moving his forearm forward, letting five silver claws—each as long as Crow’s leg—click against the crimson ground. “I will not have you harming one another in my house,” he said in a deep voice. “One of you shall be my servant, and I do not like damaged property.”

Crow looked at her reflection in the dragonsteel claws, then let go of Tress.

“Great dragon,” Crow said, “this girl is the servant brought to be your payment. I am the captain of the ship!”

“So you’re saying you’re the more valuable prize,” Tress said, rubbing at her throat where Crow’s nails had scored her.

“I do prefer my servants to be of a certain quality,” Xisis said. His voice was deep not in a musical sense, more in the way that the ground might vibrate with a profound resonance during a quake.

“But you would also prefer a young servant, wouldn’t you?” Crow said, realizing that she would have to argue her case. “I am old and calcified,

stubborn. She is young, easy to mold. Why, she hasn’t even been off her home island for a month yet!”

The dragon settled down, folding his arms. To the horror of both women, he looked amused.

“Go on,” he said to Tress. “You have a response to that?”

“Um,” Tress said, “you seem like someone who enjoys a challenge.

Which would be more interesting to train? A girl who knows nothing, or a vibrant sea captain, full of skills you could unlock?”

“I prefer not to make too much effort in training my servants, girl,” the dragon said. “You argue against your interests.”

“Yes,” Crow said, “and besides, she is more expert in spores. She has been building devices of ingenious make. She designed a kind of verdant bomb that raised our ship up high above the sea, so rains didn’t destroy us! And

she made a gun that fires spores. This girl is some kind of spore prodigy. She will serve you well.”

“Is it true?” the dragon asked Tress. “Did you make those things?”

“I did,” Tress admitted. “I’m not very smart though. I merely took some designs I found and tweaked them.”

“Humble too,” Crow noted. “Who wants an arrogant servant?”

“Crow has experience leading people, sir,” Tress said. “She would make an excellent overseer for your servants.”

“Ha!” Crow said. “Tell him honestly what my crew thinks of me! They

hate me, don’t they, Tress? Admit it.”

The dragon rested his head on his forearms, looking almost like a dog with its head on its paws, and grinned at the exchange.

“Powerful Xisis,” Crow said, “this girl is beloved of the people of my

ship. She’s earned their hearts after only a short time sailing with us. She is an excellent cook, and is nauseatingly selfless. When she heard her friends were going to mutiny to prevent me from trading her, she offered to go

willingly, to save them from danger.” “Is this so?” the dragon asked Tress.

“I…” Tress said. “Great dragon, Crow needs you to take her as a servant. She’s dying of the spores in her blood. Only by living with you could she be healed. It would be magnanimous and wise of you to take her.”

“Ha!” Crow said, pointing at Tress. “He knows I’ll ask for healing in trade for you! I will live just fine after this.”

“True,” the dragon said. “Child, you are losing ground quickly.” He gestured to Crow. “I cannot see a reason why I’d want this piece of filth in my domain when I could have someone even-tempered, well-liked, and


“You should have tried to be more awful, girl,” Crow said. “I warned you that this life was not for you.”

“I…” Tress took a deep breath, looking up at the dragon. “I think I’d make a bad servant, great dragon. Because I really, really don’t want to be one.”

“And I do?” Crow said. “I—”

The dragon hushed her with a click of his claw. He narrowed iridescent eyes at Tress. “Tell me, why is it you do not wish to serve me? Contrary to

what you might have been told, my servants are treated well. You shall know no disease while you are here. You shall have engaging work, regular meals, and books in your off hours to read at your leisure.”

“But dragon, sir,” Tress said, “there is someone I must rescue. The man I love is held captive. I need to free him.”

“I don’t care for the hearts of mortals,” the dragon said. “Except for how they taste. Do you have any other argument for why I shouldn’t take you right now and put you to work in the kitchens?”

“Because…because…” The Tress she had been might have accepted her fate. The Tress she had been would have wanted to please him. That Tress was dead.

She was now the Tress she had become.

“Because I won’t stay,” Tress said. “No matter what you do. I will not give up what I want for you, dragon.”

“No one has ever escaped my domain.”

“Then I will be the first,” Tress said, growing louder as she continued. “Because I can promise you this, great dragon. You will never be able to trust me alone. I will dedicate everything I have—every thought, every

moment, every waking breath—to escaping you! I will not calm down. I will not grow complacent! I will not lose my resolve!

“I will find a way out. Even if I have to collapse your entire cave! Even if I have to walk through the spores! Even if it takes fifty years, I will never relent. And you, dragon, will eventually have to kill me to stop me. Because

will get to the Midnight Sea, and I will find the Sorceress, and I will save the man I love!”

Her voice echoed in the cavernous room. The dragon let it fade, watching her with ancient eyes.

“The Sorceress?” Xisis said. “You are going to try to confront the

Sorceress?” Tress nodded.

“Then perhaps taking you captive now would be a mercy.” “Exactly!” Crow said. “Just as I’ve been—”

“Oh, hush.” The dragon waved a clawed hand in her direction. The cloth enveloping the nearest pillar suddenly wiggled as if alive. It whipped forward, wrapping around Crow’s face and gagging her.

Xisis studied Tress, watching her with those incomprehensible swirling eyes. “I believe you,” he finally said. “You are too driven to make a useful servant.”

“Thank you,” Tress said.

Crow, in turn, began to claw at the gag, her eyes wide. The strange black cloth wrapped her further, then pulled her back tight against the pillar.

“She really is awful, isn’t she?” the dragon said. “I’m afraid so, sir,” Tress said.

“Well, I suppose I do need someone to scrub floors, now that I’ve promoted Lili.” The dragon stretched, rising up and arching his back like a cat—one that was over twenty feet tall and covered in scales. “I make it a point not to interfere too much in the workings of the society above. If you really have made the discoveries she mentioned, then by taking you, I’d be interrupting the planet’s technological progress. I’ll pick that as my excuse for letting you go.”

“Excuse, sir?” Tress asked.

“Yes, excuse,” he said, making it clear he would explain no further. “What is the payment you request?”

“…Payment?” Tress looked at Crow. “Oh! I hadn’t gotten that far, sir.

And…I don’t know that I can take payment for selling a person…”

“If she really is a spore eater,” Xisis said, “then you’ve saved her life. I can heal the disease, yes, but I wouldn’t have mentioned to her that the healing only lasts a year or two at most. The infestation will return, so long as she is away from me. Her only path toward long-term survival is to remain here.”

Tress considered that, and thought that if he was lying—and the cure was permanent—this would be an excellent way to make certain Crow remained with him willingly. And so, Tress wisely remained silent on the matter.

“Regardless,” the dragon said, “the deal has been struck. I must pay you, however little I think the trade was worth. So ask your boon. Be quick with it.”

“Can you remove a curse that the Sorceress bestowed?”

“No,” he said. “Nor will I do anything to help your quest. There is precisely one being I fear on this planet—and no, your friend Cephandrius doesn’t count.”


“I don’t know if there’s anything I want…” Tress said, feeling exhausted. “My life is enough.” She hesitated. “Unless…”


“Would you consider three small boons instead of one large one?”

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