Pahwon took his place as look out, nonchalantly leaning against the doorframe. A rubber ball rolled up against his leg. He looked down, tapping it with his foot. A small silhouette emerged into the entry way.
â€œBall,â€ the small child said, pointing at the round object.
â€œBall,â€ Pahwon repeated, rolling it back to the youngster.
It rolled back his way. He blinked, looking uneasily at the approaching foreigners. He needed to not be noticed, so placating the child seemed like a good idea. But Pahwon knew if he was distracted then he wouldnâ€™t be able to see anything across the street. He kicked the ball away from him, not wanting the child to make a scene. The ball returned. He rolled it back. Several volleys continued as he searched for a way out. At last he spotted an opening, a young attendant walking through a nearby room. Carefully he gave the ball an expert kick.
It rolled just past the small child, who followed it instinctively. He chased it into the kitchen, right in front of the attendant. Pahwon smiled at his handy work, watching as the girl raised the boy up, asking him about food and rest before carrying him off. Satisfied that he could now wait, Pahwon returned his gaze to the bridge expectantly.
They crossed the bridge, marching in a disorganized mass. In the center of the ruffians walked a man with a cane, wearing formal attire. He carried a parchment folder under his arm. Pahwon concluded that he must be the new administrator. A gust of wind caught the black banner, revealing the embalm of the pirate admiral Giorgio Montague.
â€œW-what is this?â€ Pahwon breathed, horrified.
He had always feared his father would be claimed by one of their ilk, if not the great black heart himself. But a government official now walked under his banner. He instinctively ducked inside, unsure of his next move. He tried to think clearly, looking around the entry room.
At the top of the stairs he spotted Kuhhal, inching half way down. Not daring to go any further, he beckoned Pahwon to follow. After a glance out the door, Pahwon dashed up the stairs. They arrived in Tossmekâ€™s quarters. She was already waiting.
â€œThat ensign,â€ he breathed, â€œIt belongs to the Pirate Admiral Giorgio Montague.
â€œThe scourge of Iber?â€ Tossmek said incredulously. â€œThat-that canâ€™t be right.â€
â€œRed and black flag, with a heart being impaled.â€ Pahwon said, nodding insistently. â€œThatâ€™s his flag, Iâ€™m certain of it.â€
â€œMaster Zaltheid, the special announcement,â€ Kuhhal said quickly, â€œhas Kassar been overrun? Or perhaps the new king betrayed our nation to the pirates?â€
â€œThis is crazy,â€ Tossmek said, shaking her head, â€œsomething has to be missing.â€
â€œLetal,â€ Kuhhal said slowly, â€œWe might need your help in today.â€
â€œWait, what are you talking about?â€ Tossmek asked concerned. â€œWhat help are you talking about?â€
â€œHelping our nationâ€ he retorted angrily, â€œThese foul criminals are a disgrace.â€
â€œB-but, we donâ€™t even really know whatâ€™s going on yet, right? Maybe we should just calm down.â€
â€œNo, this is the time for action,â€ Kuhhal said firmly. â€œMaster Zalthed will lead the knights against these invaders,â€ He reasoned, â€œCome, Letal, I hope youâ€™ve learned a thing or two.â€
â€œYeah, I learned a few things,â€ Pahwon murmured.
â€œI hope you mean more than just how to take beatings like a champ,â€ Kuhhal snickered.
â€œHey, I gave beat Tahhum the other day.â€
â€œThatâ€™s cause he was laughing so hard at you using that damn bat of yours. Now come on.â€
Tossmek twisted her head as the two walked out of her door and rounded left, towards the back stairwell. She slid off her bunk and was at the door in four strides.
â€œWhat do you think youâ€™re doing?â€ She hollered after them.
â€œSaving our land, from them.â€
â€œYouâ€™re not leaving me here!â€
â€œWhoa, calm down girl,â€ Kuhhal said dismissively, â€œthis is going to get dangerous.â€
â€œTossmek you jerk-and I may have just cleaned up after your meals, but I wanna know what this is all about too.â€
â€œWell if you insist,â€ Kuhhal muttered.
â€œThatâ€™s the spirit, Tossmek.â€
They descended the rear stairwells and hurried into the orphanageâ€™s back yard. The area was covered in short, green grass, interspersed with tufts of weeds and a few Emru flowers. Not wanting to risk trekking through the street, Pahwon began trying to think of a different way across the river. A breeze blew through the yard.
Without warning, Tossmek took the lead and marched toward the fence. Pahwon and Kuhhal walked after her, wondering what she had in mind. After hopping the ancient wooden fence, they walked down an incline, the orphanage vanishing behind them.
â€œIâ€™ve used this to get out of here all time,â€ She assured them.
She lead them to the riverbank, stopping beside a small pile of debris. The two stared at her for a few moments, Tossmek looking over the collection of drift wood at her feet. It was only after she began moving it that Pahwon realized the thing was lashed together. He stared at the ramshackle raft, realizing that it was their destination.
â€œD-did you build that yourself?â€
â€œSure did,â€ Tossmek confirmed proudly.
She floated the contraption onto the water, the planks shifting with the small river waves. Pahwon and Kuhhal nervously boarded the craft, the raft rocking under their weight. The two nearly fell into the drink, waving their arms to regain balance. With Tossmek aboard, they cast off, already regretting not trying the bridge. Oblivious, she guided the craft towards the opposite bank, looking quite pleased.
The raft crashed into the shore, nearly throwing Pahwon into the river again. Kuhhal leapt over Pahwon, forcing him back to the deck. He sprang to his feet as soon as it was stable again and followed suit. Tossmek disembarked lightly into the shallow water and dragged the craft onto the muddy shore. He stared at it for a few moments.
â€œTossmek, where did you get these logs?â€
When no answer came, Pahwon turned around. They had already begun clambering up the levy. Pahwon jumped across the narrow beach and clambered after them. While still a foot from the top something grabbed Pahwon by the shirt. He was heaved aloft with ease and deposited next to his friends. A burly dockworker stood before them, shaking his head.
â€œTâ€™ hell are you thinkinâ€™?â€ he scolded. â€œClimbing up tâ€™ levy after a quiet river crossinâ€™, especially at a time like this. I thought your dad raised you better, Pah.â€
â€œGo home, tâ€™ lot oâ€™ you, â€˜nâ€™ stay there.â€
The dockworker fell silent, staring at them for a minute. The three of them sat in uncomfortable silence, waiting for the man to leave. With a final sigh, he turned and walked off, leaving them where they sat. Pahwon looked over his friends, suddenly feeling foolish. He gazed skyward, realizing it was nearly midday.
â€œTime for the announcement.â€
â€œGet moving then,â€ Kuhhal snapped. â€œLetâ€™s go.â€
They made their way back up river road, nervously looking for any sign of the foreigners. For a time they remained quiet, with only the clatter of Tossmekâ€™s sandals to break the silence. The road before them was nearly empty, adding to their fear that something terrible was happening. They passed a couple not much older than themselves, the man comforting the tearful woman.
Both had large packs strapped to their backs. As they passed Pahwon wondered if perhaps he was going the wrong way. Near the edge of town he spotted Hiwei and her friend Ette standing by the road, leaning against an old crumbling wall.
â€œHiwei!â€ he called, dashing forward.
Hiwei did not react, instead staring at the ground. Pahwon slowed as he approached, noticing that She and Ette were shaking slightly. Neither spoke until he was within armâ€™s reach.
â€œGood bye,â€ she said softly.
â€œWait, what? What? Where are you going?â€
â€œThe guild master and the more skilled Magi are going to lead our entire class through the Golib Marshes to Al-ness-mah,â€ Hettej explained sadly. â€œWe and our families are leaving, going to take out chances there.â€
Hiwei nodded. Pahwon shook his head in disbelief; certain this could not be true. Desperate, he turned to Kuhhal and Tossmek, who had just caught up. Hiwei started to speak before Kuhhal cut her off.
â€œWe heard,â€ He snapped, â€œAnd youâ€™re not going.â€
â€œExcuse me, what do you mean weâ€™re not going? Our guild master has already spoken on the matter.â€
â€œWell, has she confirmed with our master? He has a plan to deal with these invaders.â€
â€œReally?â€ Hettej asked raising an eyebrow. â€œHe told you this?â€
â€œNot yet, b-but he will, youâ€™ll see.â€
â€œThatâ€™s right,â€ Pahwon chimed in, â€œand heâ€™ll lead us to victory.â€
â€œHeâ€™ll lead the knights to victory,â€ Kuhhal corrected, â€œyouâ€™re just tagging along, Letal.â€
â€œErm, right, uh, you should come with us Hiwei, regardless,â€ Tossmek said quickly, â€œIt wonâ€™t take long.â€
Reluctantly, Hettej and Hiwei followed them up the road. They arrived at the open gates to the sight of nearly all the students gathered in front of Zaltheid hall, milling amongst the various dummies and pull-up bars spread across the yard. The doors were apparently bared, though that didnâ€™t stop a few younger students from attempting to force their way in.
Pahwon looked around the crowded field, feeling a bit out of place. Kuhhal marched into the crowd, already starting to assert his authority. As he watched them fall into line behind Kuhhal, the dockworkerâ€™s warning surfaced in Pahwonâ€™s mind. He tried to push it aside, hoping that this announcement might finally clarify what was going on. He balled his right hand and punched it lightly onto the left. After waiting for a few minutes he started to lose focus, and took to pacing. A murmur passed through the crowd as the old sword master emerged onto the field. The grey-haired man cleared his throat, appearing quite distressed.
â€œMy pupils, I must first commend all of you for the prowess you have shown. I know how much this has meant to you and your families, each of you preying and working to one day become a knight of Kassar. It is with great sadness that I must inform you that I can no longer offer my services as a trainer. Know that this is because of events beyond our control. I hope that you are all successful in your further pursuits.â€
A cry of dismay spread through the crowd. Pahwon closed his eyes, all his fears seemingly confirmed. Many in the crowd began calling for action, though none knew where it should be directed.Â Kuhhal took his chance and began shouting about all he had seen, adding his loud voice to the cacophony. It was only the booming voice of Zaltheid who quieted down the restless crowd.
â€œSilence,â€ Zalthed demanded. â€œI know this is not fair, but none of you would stand a chance. Return to your families, speak to them, the truth will soon be known to all. I wish each of you luck.â€
Without a backwards glance, Zaltheid turned and reentered the hall, slamming the door behind him. This was the end, Pahwon realized, a weight falling in his belly. Whatever was happening would not be stopped, he realized. He looked helplessly at his friends, and Kuhhal, expecting to see similar looks of dismay. Disconcertingly, Kuhhal had a huge grin across his face. Perhaps he had gone mad, Pahwon reasoned, taking a step back to be safe.
â€œUh, Kuhhal, you alright?â€ Pahwon asked cautiously. â€œYou look, odd.â€
â€œThis is it!â€ Kuhhal Exclaimed out of no ware, making all present jump. â€œThis is clearly a test; the master wants us to use our initiative, now! Clever, very cleaver.â€
â€œI think Kuhhal might not have heard that announcement correctly,â€ Hiwei whispered to Hettej.
â€œI heard it just fine,â€ Kuhhal roared, pointing at the snide talker. â€œYou simply werenâ€™t listening like I was. Now, we must organize and we have to strike, yes, this is our greatest test!â€
â€œUh, Kuhhal, I think you might need-â€
â€œWhat we must do is mount an attack; weâ€™ll drive away the invaders now sitting in the administratorâ€™s office and prove ourselves to Master Zaltheid!â€
â€œBut thatâ€™s crazy!â€ Hiwei interjected. â€œDo you have any idea what a terrible risk th-.â€
â€œOf course itâ€™s a risk!â€ Kuhhal retorted. â€œWhat do you think the point of all this is? Training to defend our nation, of course there are risks involved!â€
Hiwei shook her head, distressed at the stupidity unfolding before her. She looked over at Pahwon, hoping he would be able to talk Kuhhal down. To her dismay he seemed to be agreeing.
â€œHiwei, itâ€™s sort of true,â€ Pahwon said quietly, â€œWhat have we, uh, they been doing all these years, if not preparing for something like this? If we can attack quickly and in force, we might just be able to win.â€
â€œOh, oh this wonâ€™t end well,â€ Hiwei moaned, hanging her head.
â€œYes, everyone, we shall strike at dusk, take them by surprise.â€ Kuhhal announced, looking elated.
Hiwei stared at her feet, the growing crowd around Kuhhal proof she had lost. A hand grasped her shoulder, reassuringly. She looked back over, at the owner of the hand. Pahwon gazed at her, trying to look confident.
â€œIf youâ€™re really going to try something crazy, I suppose Iâ€™m crazy enough to try too.â€
â€œThatâ€™s the spirit Hiwei, erm, sort of,â€ Pahwon said approvingly. â€œWeâ€™ll defiantly need a magic wielder.â€
â€œWhat? Hiwei what are talking about?â€ Hettej said quickly. â€œYouâ€™re not seriously going along with this.â€
â€œPerhaps, but I donâ€™t want to flee in terror, either,â€ Hiwei said quietly.
â€œUnbelievable,â€ Hettej fumed.
She turned and stormed off back to town, shaking her head in disbelief. As Hettej departed, the crowd surged around Kuhhal, everyone eagerly awaiting the next announcement. For his part, Kuhhal reveled in the attention, allowing some time to pass between statements.
â€œOnce inside, those with swords shall split off and hunt through the building in pairs,â€ Kuhhal called. â€œOverwhelmed, victory shall be swift and momentous. But first, we must rest. Everyone shall meet at the Orphanage just after sundown, where we shall stage our attack.â€
The forty or so remaining students nodded expectantly, many talking excitedly as they dispersed. Kuhhal beamed over the crowd, very pleased with himself. After the crowd had thinned substantially, Kuhhal forced his way through what was left in Pahwonâ€™s direction. Pahwon looked over expectantly, wondering what Kuhhal would want with him. Kuhhal then shoved him to the side and stopped before Hiwei instead. Slightly crestfallen, Pahwon still listened in curiously.
â€œI need your help with something.â€
â€œWhat is it?â€ she asked hesitantly.
â€œI need to get to the real weapons,â€ he said quickly. â€œThey are in locked containers, but I know where those are. I canâ€™t open them though, so thatâ€™s where you come in.â€
â€œIâ€™m not sure I follow.â€ Hiwei replied hesitantly.
â€œYouâ€™ll burn them open with some magic,â€ Kuhhal said impatiently. â€œYou can do that, canâ€™t you?â€
â€œI think so.â€
This was apparently good enough for him. Kuhhal grabbed Hiwei by the hand and pulled her back toward the hall. Pahwon watched them go for a few moments before looking over at Tossmek, who simply shrugged before strolling back down the road. Pahwon followed her, wondering what she could be thinking. He looked all around as they walked the river road, from the row of planted trees by the river to the grain field on his left. Then he looked at Tossmek.
â€œWhatâ€™s on your mind?â€ Pahwon asked nonchalantly.
â€œJust thinking over a few things. I might have enough money saved to finally make my escape.â€
â€œMoney, escape, what?â€
â€œA river barge,â€ Tossmek replied, â€œIâ€™ll sail up and down the Dossiger trading stuff, hauling cargo, that sort of thing. Iâ€™ve been planning it for years now.â€
â€œHmm, my dadâ€™s a trader too,â€ Pahwon said thoughtfully, â€œgot me stuff from all over the world. He also introduced me to some people in the port, officials and a few boat owners. Perhaps I could introduce them to you sometime.â€
â€œThat would be good,â€ Tossmek said quietly, â€œyou ever think about trading, seeing all sorts of new places and new people?â€
â€œI have,â€ Pahwon replied, â€œBut, Iâ€™m not sure, uh, I just donâ€™t know.â€
â€œRight, thatâ€™s sort of where I am too. You really think Kuhhalâ€™s plan will work?â€
â€œI-I have to believe it will,â€ Pahwon said, looking away.
They both fell silent, suddenly feeling uncertain they were doing the right thing. The two walked back into town, Pahwon looking around once more. The sun was bright, and the sky clear. Only the nearly empty streets revealing that something was amiss. Realizing that he needed to get home and rest. They passed several carts heading out down the road, some probably not intending to return. They arrived before Pahwonâ€™s home where they exchanged a final glance.
â€œRight, see you later Pahwon,â€ Tossmek said quickly. â€œIâ€™ve got some things to get together.â€
â€œGood luck, see you tonight.â€