Chapter no 62 – The Hunter

Tress of the Emerald Sea


Let’s jump back a day. To the crew, who had been waiting for Tress’s safe return. A Doug posted on duty high atop the main mast had been able to see

—through a spyglass—when Tress was taken. He’d scampered down to explain.

This put the crew in a bind. What did they do? They couldn’t give chase through the Midnight Sea, could they? The very monsters that had taken Tress would claim them as well. They perhaps should have turned and tried to escape through the Crimson to safer spores. It was what Tress had said she wanted.

Instead they’d held an emergency meeting. And a solution had been offered. By Fort.

It was a chance for him to claim the title of the greatest hunter his people had ever known. A chance to hunt monsters made from midnight spores. The others had listened to his plan, then gone to the Dougs to propose it. The

crew had voted unanimously in favor, save for Laggart.

So they’d sailed the Midnight Sea. Fifteen minutes in, the first midnight monsters had appeared. Three of them slithered up on deck, completely

impervious to normal weapons, looking for warm bodies and blood to feast upon. For liquid, for water. For death.

Instead they found a large man standing at the center of the deck

surrounded by barrels of water. Each with a keg of spores suspended above it by a rope.

Welcome, he wrote to the three monsters—with Ann saying the words out loud in case the creatures couldn’t read. I have quite the deal for you today.

The things slithered forward, making for him. In turn, Fort moved to cut one of the kegs free.

Careful, he warned as Dougs moved to do likewise. We’ll feed all this water to these other spores, leaving none for you, unless you take care.

The midnight monsters stopped. They didn’t need the words, as they

could sense what a person was saying or meaning. Their essence reached out to people, seeking the Luhel bond. And so what Fort said registered on some level with them.

They communicated with one another by wiggling tentacles. And Fort… well, he understood. Not because he knew another sign language, but because of that same bond. They did want the water. But there were sources of blood on the ship, and that would do as well.

Warning, he said, gesturing to the rest of the crew, who had gathered with guns at the back of the ship. If you don’t stop, they’re going to throw themselves overboard and feed their water to the spores. Other spores. Not you.

This finally got through to the creatures. It was a conundrum. So much water. But…if they weren’t careful…it would all go to someone else.

Fort rammed his hand into one of the barrels of water, then made signs with the other—signs the creatures understood because of the bond.

«I can feed you all of this,» he said. «All for you three.»

«How?» they signed back. «What will it take to be able to eat and drink and thrive and drink and drink and drink?»

«Protect us,» Fort said, «as we sail farther into the sea here.»

As I said, there’s a flaw in using self-aware magical creatures as guards. This process was efficient, allowing the Sorceress to send them out in large numbers, although she couldn’t spare much attention for them.

But midnight aethers are insatiable. And their inherent nature is to trade.

To do a human’s bidding in exchange for water and form. That left them highly susceptible to someone who understood the mechanics of the magic

—and had a mind for a good trade.

And thus, using the coordinates on the map that Tress had gotten out of me, the Crow’s Song arrived at the island only half an hour after Tress had. Ready to rescue their captain.

It provided the exact distraction Tress needed in the moment. Because the Sorceress, reorienting to these new arrivals, needed to awaken her defenses. She began shouting orders—for the moment ignoring Tress and Charlie.

“They came for me,” Tress said. “Those beautiful fools. They should have stayed away!”

“Like you should have stayed away?” Charlie said. “Instead of coming for me?”

Tress looked at him sitting in her palm, tears in her eyes. And the

avalanche started to tremble. She realized that she was the fool. Not for

coming to save Charlie—but for trying to keep others from following their own hearts in the same way.

“We have to do something,” she whispered. “I need to warn them about the rocks under the spores. There has to be a way to talk to them.”

Both of them looked at the Sorceress’s desk—in particular, the magical board that displayed the image from Fort’s similar one. Then, as the Sorceress was waking up her armies, Tress and Charlie grabbed the board and stared at it. Trying to figure out how to operate it.

“Uh,” Charlie said. “Board? Can you please let us talk to the people you’re showing us?”

“Video conferencing engaged!” the board said, happy to be of service.

Fort, who had been holding the board, stood up from his chair. He’d spent the entire night drinking water and feeding it—via the bond—to the three monsters. So he was both tired and feeling a little odd, as he’d been able to drink multiple barrels’ worth but didn’t feel full.

Still, their arrival had made him alert, and he’d sent the midnight monsters

—now fully under his control by the strengthening of the bond—swimming away to fight others that had tried to get onto the ship. His always won those fights, of course, having far more water to build new body parts from the

spores around them if wounded.

Regardless, he had a moment of peace. And could cock his head, frowning as the back of his board—which used to display words for him— now showed Tress and the rat, huddled up close to the camera on their side.

“Fort?” Tress asked. “Can you see us?”

The words scrolled across the screen, obscuring the view a little.

I can! he typed, the words appearing underneath theirs but from the other side. He waved to the others, and in a moment Ann and Salay had joined him. Even I huddled up with them, curious.

“Captain?” Salay asked. “Captain! Are you well?”

“We’re in the tower,” Tress whispered. “How did you survive the spores?

No, never mind that now. Explain later. Salay, you need to watch out. The sea here is full of rocks under the spores. They’re extremely treacherous!”

“I’ll watch for those,” Salay said. “Thank you.”

“You shouldn’t have come here,” Tress said. “If you try to sail through those rocks, you’ll sink.”

The three of them frowned. Then Salay asked simply, “Do you order us to turn around?”

Did she?

Could she?

Dared she?

In that moment, the decision was made. The rock tipped and the avalanche of change that had been building in Tress started tumbling down.

“No,” Tress whispered. “Please help me.”

The three of them grinned. I scratched my head. Because something about the place where Tress was standing, visible behind her, was familiar to me.

“We’ll do it,” Salay said. “We’re coming.” “Don’t get yourselves hurt!” Tress said.

“Captain,” Ann said, “we’re going to save you. Because you deserve it. You remember, you once told me somethin’ that made me see the world in an entirely new way.”

“And that was?” Tress asked.

“‘Here, try on these spectacles.’”

Ann, Fort wrote, that was almost as bad as one of Hoid’s jokes.

“It isn’t just a joke though,” Ann said, tapping her spectacles. “It’s true. I see a new world. A world where we aren’t condemned people any longer. A world where we’ve got ourselves a future.”

“You know I’m not a King’s Mask,” Tress said. “I can’t get him to pardon us.”

“We’ll find another way,” Ann said, looking to the others, who nodded.

“Because once we saunter up to the Sorceress herself and get away…well, I figure after we do that, we’ll be able to do anything.”

The three of them nodded to her, and she felt overwhelmed. By their loyalty, by her own (at long last) willingness to accept help. By…


Within Tress’s avalanche of emotions, something stood out. Prompted by how I, standing there with the other three, was trying to use my tongue to pick my nose.

Her thoughts were a curiosity, you might say. A revelation, I’d say.

“Hoid,” Tress said. “Hoid couldn’t point out the way to the Sorceress. We had to guess the location by pointing to places other than this one. He could talk about all of those…”

And? Fort said.

“And I assumed the reason was because he couldn’t talk about his curse,” Tress said. “But the solution to Charlie’s curse involved him returning to her. If Hoid couldn’t show us the way here, at least not intentionally, then maybe the solution to his curse involves him coming here too.”

She looked down at the floor. A map of the world.

You must bring me to your planet, Tress.

“Yes…” Charlie whispered. “Hoid could talk about being cursed, once you knew about what had happened to him. He should have been able to

easily mention the Sorceress and her island. But if he couldn’t? That implies that doing so would help break the curse. His solution must involve getting back into the Sorceress’s tower. Passing her tests…Tress, it makes sense!”

She looked up toward the others again, her eyes widening. “You need to bring him here. Into this room.”

“The cabin boy?” Ann asked, frowning. “Captain?” Salay said. “Are you sure?”

“Yes,” Tress said. “Please. Bring him to me. I know it’s hard, but please.” “Well, if you order it…” Salay said.

“Don’t do it because I order it,” Tress said. “Do it because you trust me.”

The others nodded. They did trust her. Which was good, since the Sorceress had noticed what Tress was doing. Eyes wide with fury, the

woman barked an order, shutting off their communication. She thrust her hands into the air, her fingers leaving trails of light as she constructed powerful runes. As she finished them with a flourish, a blast of light erupted from them and crossed the room, slamming Tress back against the wall and holding her there.

A crash and a clank sounded as two cups tumbled free of their perches.

The one with the butterfly shattered. The other bounced, gaining a new dent.

The Sorceress turned back to mobilizing her armies. Charlie—who had been dropped as Tress slammed into the wall—picked himself up and

scampered over to her, climbing her clothing. He tried to nibble at the lines of light to free her. It worked about as poorly as you might imagine.

“Charlie,” Tress whispered.

He looked up at her, frustrated that glowing lines of light could be so

strong. “I…I’m sorry, Tress. You can’t rely on me. I’m useless. I’m failing again. I…”

“Charlie,” she said, “there’s something I’ve been meaning to tell you. I wish I’d said it earlier, so I’m going to say it now, although it’s probably a terrible time for it. I love you.”

“I feel the same,” he said. “I love you too.”

“Good. It would be very awkward if that turned out not to be the case.” She struggled, then looked over at the Crow’s Song on the screen, sailing toward the island. “Please, Charlie. I hate to impose. But if they fight through the defenses, they’ll never get into the tower to rescue us.”

Realization hit him. “I…I can open the door for them, Tress. I can do that.

“If it’s not too much trouble,” she said.

Yes, she’d changed. But even big events change us only a little at a time, and she was still Tress.

Charlie looked toward the room’s open door, leading to the steps down to the outer door. Where the Sorceress’s cat was prowling.

“It might be too frightening for Huck the rat,” he said. “But I think perhaps Charlie the gardener is made of something stronger.” He nuzzled up against Tress’s cheek. “Thank you,” he said, softer. “For coming to get me. I wish I could have told you earlier.”

Then he leaped down to begin his quest.

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