Chapter no 61 – The Man

Tress of the Emerald Sea

TRESS KEPT STRIDING forward, step by step, toward the Sorceress.

“Each time I tried to get Huck to talk about this place, or you, he stammered. He searched for words. Because a spell was preventing him from speaking things that would let me know he was Charlie, cursed.”

“If that is so,” the Sorceress said, “then how could he have told you about the defenses here? I know he did. I know many things, child.”

Tress stopped, and her eyes widened. “Because when he told me…he was trying to get me to stay away…” She focused on the Sorceress. “Because me coming here is the way to break the curse, isn’t it? Moons! You cursed him, and said the only way to break it was for him to bring me here, to you! That’s why he tried everything to stop me. Because…because he loves me.”

The room fell still save for one sound. Sniffling.

Tress approached the desk and found Huck the rat behind it. He looked up at her, his eyes red. Unlike the doppelganger she’d been given, Huck was a mess. Shivering and crying as he curled up in a ball.

Tress knelt. “Charlie…”

“I’m sorry,” he whispered. “I didn’t want her to be right. She told me I’d

end up bringing you here so she could play with you. I tried not to follow her

prophecy, but I’m stupid, Tress. Stupid and worthless. You deserve so much better. Look at all you’ve done, and I couldn’t even manage one thing to keep you safe…”

“Oh, Charlie,” she whispered, picking up the rat, cradling him. He trembled, his eyes squeezed shut.

The desk rolled to the side at an offhand whim of the Sorceress. She now stood in the dead center of the room. The fake Charlie had walked up to the doorway, and the Lightweaving had fallen away, revealing a creature that only resembled a human—reptilian with golden eyes and a toothy grin.

My best guess is that she wanted to plant someone on the Crow’s Song to deal with me more permanently. I suspect she was beginning to worry about our bet. And the fact that someone so close to me had been able to get into her fortress, even as a captive.

The Sorceress showed none of these emotions. Instead she tossed aside her amiable air. Her eyes grew hard as stones. Her lips drew to a line. She didn’t like that Tress had seen through this ruse. In addition, something else bothered her. Something that might be obvious to you. If not, it will be revealed in a moment.

Tress was oblivious as she cradled Charlie the rat. He’d indeed tried to tell her, several times. When he couldn’t say his name was Charlie, he’d tried

“Chuck.” But the curse had only let “Huck” come out. “Charlie,” Tress whispered. “You sent me cups.”

He looked at her. “That was a lifetime ago, Tress.”

“I love them. Particularly the one with the butterfly on the sea. Like us, Charlie. Soaring over places we never thought to go. And the one made of pewter. Like us, Charlie. Stronger and more straightforward than we have a right to be.”

“She has us though,” he said. “Because of me, she has us both. She told me…the only way to be free was to bring her the person I loved, then give them to her to curse. She said she’d make me watch. Moons, it was

excruciating, watching you sail ever closer. I should have tossed myself overboard. Then you’d have never learned how to get in…”

He trailed off as she held him up before her, meeting his eyes. “Charlie,” she whispered. “I want this.”


“You remember what you told me? Before we parted?” “Always,” he whispered. “Always…what you want.”

“I want this,” she said. “To be with you.”

He met her eyes, and found in them strength enough for two. Then his head cocked. The same thought occurred to the two of them simultaneously.

“Charlie,” she said, “if the way to break your curse was to bring the person you love to the Sorceress, why are you still a rat? Is it because… Is there someone else you love?”

“No!” he said. “It’s you. But…”

“It’s because,” the Sorceress said from behind them, “I haven’t cursed you yet. His torment can only be ended if he brings you to me for that specific purpose.”

Tress rose, holding Charlie in her palm, looking toward the Sorceress— who seemed to be another person. Same shape. Different soul. No jovial playfulness. Instead a cold monster. Some scholars say that when you become an immortal like the Sorceress or me, your soul gets replaced with something new. Like the fossilization process.

In her case, in lieu of a soul, the woman had pure ice. Kept cold and frozen by her heart.

In the face of this, Charlie—who had himself been changing, day by day, on this journey—spoke. “You’re wrong,” he said softly. “I’m still a rat, and will remain one. Because for my curse to be broken, I have to bring her to your home in trade for my freedom. I realized on the way in that I haven’t done that. I brought her, Sorceress, but not in trade. Not to get cursed. I brought her to defeat you.”

“Remarkable,” the Sorceress said. “I didn’t give you the intelligence of a rat, but it seems you’ve adopted it willingly. I can’t be defeated by—”

A red light appeared on her desk.

Several other lights appeared on the wall. Then several more. The Sorceress spun, surprised, commanding the soul of her building to show her what had tripped her alarms. A large screen appeared in the air beside one wall, depicting a ship crashing through the seething midnight spores.

As I said, she hadn’t been paying enough attention. If she had, she would have seen this coming.

Because the Crow’s Song had arrived.

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