Chapter no 8 – The Stowaway

Tress of the Emerald Sea

TRESS THOUGHT SHE COULD SEE the real inspector arriving on the docks in the distance. A tiny irate figure who gestured in anger at the fleeing ship. She would be told that the captain had insisted on leaving

without inspection. By now, Gret—the dockmaster’s daughter—would have climbed out of the hollow keg and left. There would be no other witnesses left on the Rock except for Brick, Gremmy, and Sor—whose debts had now been paid.

Just like that, Tress was free. This time, Diggen’s Point was the thing that grew smaller and smaller in the distance. Practically everything and

everyone that Tress had ever known lived on that island. And soon she wouldn’t even be able to see it.

Leaving didn’t feel exciting. It felt heavy. Every child looked forward to the day when they could choose a different path from the one their parents were on. Tress sincerely hoped she hadn’t decided on one that led straight off a cliff.

But she was free. She’d escaped without a hitch. She wondered if maybe her other tasks would be accomplished with similar ease. She could wonder

this because—lacking formal training in the arts—Tress had no concept of dramatic irony.

She turned her gaze to the sky. It was so blue out here, away from the mining smog. That felt immoral somehow, as if she were seeing the sky without its clothing. The air smelled…not of salt anymore, but pure and clean. And dangerous. No salt meant free spores.

Fortunately, the deck’s railing was lined with silver. And surely people wouldn’t travel the Emerald Sea if it weren’t reasonably safe. The ship’s

sails billowed and shook as the vessel turned, sailors calling to one another as they worked. They’d been forced to take her; the king’s writs of purchase obligated captains to ferry government officials who required passage away from the Rock.

So the crew left Tress alone as she stood at the back of the ship, on the quarterdeck, near the wheel where the captain chatted with the helmsman. Tress wore an inspector’s uniform, with a bright red and gold coat going down past her knees. They’d stolen it the night before; it was the spare one from the inspector’s closet. Tress’s mother had altered it perfectly to appear as if it had been made for Tress. And, of course, a “mistake” on the dock register in the inspector’s room had indicated the wrong time for the Oot’s Dream to leave the Rock, so she’d shown up late.

The only things Tress had brought with her were a small bundle of

clothing and a bag of cups. Her favorite among them was the fourth cup that Charlie had sent. The one with the butterfly on it. Something about the

simple design struck her.

She was glad the sailors ignored her, because it was difficult to cover up how much she gawked at the green spore ocean. Tress wasn’t aware of the

science of what made the ship float, but it’s actually rather interesting. Vents deep below on the ocean floor sent up bursts of air. With this agitation, the

spores became as liquid. The phenomenon is possible on any world, including your own. Fluidization, it’s called. Pump air up underneath a box of sand, and you’ll see something similar to what Tress was watching.

Bubbles burst from the spores all around, making the ocean churn and undulate. It slapped the ship’s hull and flowed away, splashing, making

waves. It wasn’t quite like water; it was too thick, and the tips of the waves broke apart into puffs of green spores. In fact, the sea was wrong in the way that solely something almost right can be. Familiar, yet alien. As if it were

liquid’s disrespectful cousin who told inappropriate jokes at Grandma’s funeral.

The ship sailed like any ship would on water. But it could move only as long as the air bubbled up from below; the people on Tress’s world called this phenomenon “the seethe.” It came and went randomly, fluidizing entire oceans for days at a time. Periodically it would cease—stranding all the

ships sailing upon it. Interruptions were usually short, but occasionally lasted hours or even days.

A wave broke high against the side of the ship, tossing up a burst of spores. Tress cried out despite herself and backed away, but the spores turned grey, dying.

“Haven’t sailed much, eh?” the captain asked from nearby. He had terrible breath, a crispy tan complexion, and stringy, matted hair. Imagine him as the answer to the question: “What if that gunk from your shower drain were to

come to life?”

Still, he was the best option Tress had found in her weeks of watching, so she wasn’t going to complain. Even if he did laugh at her again the next time the spores surged.

“We have silver enough,” the captain said, waving toward the trim on the railing and built into the wood of the deck. A line of it ran up the mast.

“Kills any spores that come too close, Inspector. You’re safe.”

Tress nodded, trying to look as if she didn’t care. But she kept her coat buttoned up tight and found herself breathing shallowly and wishing for a salted mask.

Instead, she brought out her notebook and worked on her plan. She’d made it off the island. Next, she needed only to wait. The vessel would deliver her to the king’s island in the Core Archipelago. From there, Tress had to find her way into the palace so she could get a copy of Charlie’s ransom note.

That would be the easiest way to free him. Yes, paying off a ransom herself would be next to impossible, but it did seem easier than sneaking across the Midnight Sea to confront the Sorceress. Hopefully if she could

find a way to pay—or persuade the king to pay—Charlie would be delivered to her, safe.

The deck creaked as the captain stepped nearer. “You have beautiful hair, Inspector,” he said. “The color of a good cup of mead!”

Tress snapped her book closed. “Perhaps I will retire to my cabin now.”

He smiled. The man was exactly the sort of person who thought every woman in the room was thinking about him. Which they were, as each

desperately hoped he would head the other direction. He waved for Tress to join him in walking down from the quarterdeck toward the cabins below it.

Thankfully, the captain left her without needing to be ordered. The room was small but private, and the door locked. Tress felt a great deal better once she was safe inside. She poured some water into her butterfly cup and settled onto the bunk to think.

It all felt so much more real now. Was she really doing this? Had she really left her home? What were those strange colorful pigeons, and why were they talking to her?

This last part was a side effect of the poison the captain had ordered put in Tress’s drink. There are, unfortunately, no talking pigeons in this story.

Merely talking rats.

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