Chapter no 55 – The Hypocrite

Tress of the Emerald Sea

TRESS PLACED EXACTLY two midnight spores on the table. The other officers shied back noticeably, though there wasn’t a lot of room in the captain’s cabin for shying. She’d spent a little while preparing this

experiment, which had given Huck time to scamper off, not wanting to be in the room with more active midnight spores.

Tress put her silver knife on the table, then got out an eyedropper full of water. “Midnight spores behave differently than the others. The others all have an immediate, almost chemical reaction to water. But these spores, they seem almost alive. Like they want something.”

“What…what do they want, Cap’n?” Ann asked.

“Water,” Tress said, leaning down to eye level at the table, holding her eye dropper. “It’s like…a trade. I give them water, and they obey me for a time.”

She raised the eyedropper, causing Salay to gasp despite herself. “This

should be safe. But in case it’s not, be ready to sever my bond to the spores with that knife.”

Sever it how? Fort asked, leaning forward. He was the only one in the room who didn’t seem positively terrified. Something about this entire

conversation (and if you’ve been paying attention, you’ll know what) intrigued him—overcoming his natural fear.

“Black lines,” Tress said, glancing at his board. “Cut them with the knife.

But I’m hoping that won’t be necessary this time.”

She released a single drop of water. Like before, the midnight spores bubbled and merged, becoming something not unlike an undulating pustule. Or (and please forgive me) a boiling boil.

As before, Tress felt a connection to it immediately. A tugging at her mind. She could initiate the link, could offer the water and make the bond. But for now she resisted.

“I feel something,” Ann said. “Like it’s yanking on my brain!”

“It’s looking for a host,” Tress said. “Or…a buyer. The monsters that roam the Midnight Sea? This is what they are. Creations of the Sorceress, bound to her. I wonder how she feeds so many…”

The globule lurched toward Fort, then took on the shape of a cup— specifically, the large metal tankard that was the heaviest and largest of

Tress’s collection. The midnight cup then grew legs and moved toward Fort. He’d bonded it inadvertently, as evidenced by him suddenly putting his hand to his mouth—which would inevitably have begun to feel dry. A small black line began to move between him and it.

Tress seized control.

When Captain Crow had used the midnight spores, Tress had been able to take control of the thing, destroying it in the process. This time it was far

easier. She pushed her mind against the spores and offered water. More water. A bribe.

The thing immediately moved to her instead, and let her take over. She was closer to it, which Tress thought was key. She took complete control, then severed the bond before she could be drawn into the thing’s eyes and experience life as if she were a midnight cup.

It popped and evaporated, leaving smoke, then nothing.

Fort gasped, then took a long drink from a red ceramic mug of water Tress offered him.

“What happened?” Salay asked, stepping forward.

“I took control of the thing,” Tress said. “I bribed it with my water instead

—offering that in trade, giving it more freely than it could take from an unwilling subject. Once it accepted, I took control, then dismissed it.”

“And…you think you can do this with the ones guarding the Midnight Sea?” Ann asked.

“We are going to find out,” Tress said, standing up. “How long until—”

A pounding came at the door. Tress hesitated, then nodded. Ann moved to open it, and they were confronted by Laggart.

Hell. I forgot to tell you about Laggart. Tress let Laggart stay on the

Crow’s Song. She rightly figured that without Crow around to impress, he wouldn’t try anything funny.

(Not that he could, mind you. Laggart was to funny what liquid nitrogen is to a healthy set of lungs.)

He’d spent the last few days strutting back and forth up and down the deck. Ornery. Confused. Uncertain. “I need to speak to you in private, Captain,” he said.

Tress was unsure about this, so she rested her hand on her flare gun. But she nodded to the others, indicating they should leave. They did so, closing the door behind them as Laggart stepped inside.

They regarded one another for a short time. Then Laggart drew himself up

—looking like a buzzard that forgot to put on its feathers after its morning shave—and met Tress’s gaze. “I demand,” he said, “that you shoot me.”

“Shoot you?” she said.

“For what I’ve done to you!”

“I told you that you were forgiven for that.”

“I know!” he said and began to pace. “Captain, I can’t take the lies. I know

what you’re really doing. I know you’re waiting until I’m calm and

comfortable, so you can toss me over then. It’s cruel, waiting to kill a man until he’s sure you won’t. I figured you for someone better than that.”

He spun on her. “I demand to be shot. Get it over with. Be forthright.

Shoot me.”

Tress sighed, rubbing her forehead. “Laggart, I’m not going to shoot you.” “But—”

“Look, I’m far too tired to pretend to understand what your mind is doing to you right now. I’m not going to shoot you, but if you insist, I can throw you in the brig or something.”

He perked up, then craned his neck. “Really?” “Really.”

“You’d do that for me? Imprison me instead of kill me?”

“Laggart,” she said. “I’m not going to kill you. I was never going to kill you. I didn’t even kill Crow.”

He chewed on that. Then chewed on it some more. Then a little more.

Those were words with gristle.

Laggart was not a smart man. True, the things he lectured people on could fill a dictionary—but what he actually knew would barely fill a postcard.

That said, he wasn’t an idiot either. He settled somewhere between smart and stupid, perched on the very peak of the bell curve and assuming that it was the right place to be, as highest has to be best.

In that moment though, he understood.

Tress was willing to throw him in the brig. But…she wasn’t going to shoot him.

She wasn’t going to toss him overboard. She hadn’t been playing tricks on him. She had been honest.

She’d been kind to him.

This was the most difficult idea he’d ever been forced to swallow. You see, Laggart hadn’t known much kindness during his existence, and it’s a

sorry truth that people often live what they know. He didn’t view himself as mean or callous. He thought the way he acted was normal, because that was how he’d always been treated. In the land where everyone screams,

everyone is also slightly deaf.

Now, it should be said that there are people who escape such a cycle of cruelty. When you find them, cherish them. Because unfortunately, many continue like Laggart, never realizing the way they are. Until perhaps they experience a moment like the one that happened on that ship. Where Tress showed him pure kindness, forgiving his actions.

Yes, he was no longer confused. Instead he was horrified. Because he’d realized at long last that there were people who felt the things they said.

There were genuine people in the world. To a determined hypocrite like him, that changed everything. He stumbled to the door, shoved it open, and fled.

Tress, in turn, watched him with her head cocked. Blissfully unaware of the war happening inside the man’s heart. She didn’t demand he be thrown in the brig. If he wasn’t going to press the issue, she wouldn’t either. Instead she carefully tucked away her box of midnight spores.

And honestly, she felt a growing elation. She had a plan for dealing with the monsters. If she could defeat them, she would have overcome the final

obstacle between her and the Sorceress.

She was close. Truly close. She felt like celebrating.

That lasted about as long as it took her to find out what I’d been up to the past few days.

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