Ancient memories of a trip up the Dossiger resurfaced, the name Yal-Kaz sounding familiar. He recalled it had taken at least two days to reach it from home. This meant he had been unconscious for longer than he‘d imagined. Once again his stomach called for food, the pain in his left arm and leg returning as the medicine wore off. Feeling nauseous, Pahwon laid down on his side.

Sapphire was once again on top of the situation, handing Pahwon another chunk of bread and a tablet from her satchel. He downed the food quickly before chewing the tablet hesitantly. The nauseous feeling subsided, and Pahwon carefully sat back up. After gathering his strength, Pahwon lurched upwards along the wall trying to stand. Oddly, the pain in his left leg was far less than he had anticipated. Though fatigued and still feeling unwell, Pahwon was determined to get moving again. Sapphire recognized this and handed him his now slightly stained shirt.

Pahwon carefully pulled the shirt back on while pressing most of his weight against the wall. After getting his right arm through the sleeve he struggled to stuff the left into it place. After a moment of painful pulling and shoving he got the appendage through the sleeve. As he stood there, Hiwei crossed the room and offered him a makeshift sling. Pahwon slid his useless arm into it. Feeling a bit more balanced, he gingerly stepped forward, taking one then two shaky steps before halting near the middle of the room.

“I believe you might require the use of a crutch,” Sapphire said standing up herself.

In a flash she pulled the door open; then hesitated for a moment before shutting it again. Puzzled, Pahwon took a step to the side and leaned against the wall. He watched her grab a long traveling cloak from beside the door. She pulled it around herself, concealing her bizarre blue attire under the tan folds. Instantly Sapphire became unremarkable, save for her light complexion. Once suited, she hesitantly walked outside and across the road.

Pahwon turned to his silent friend. Hiwei had already sat back behind the millstone where she stared back at him, still refusing or unable to speak. He sighed, unable to guess what she might be feeling. Frustration gripped him for a moment, the dreaded helpless sensation rising up once again. It passed quickly when Sapphire burst back into the room brandishing a branch towards Pahwon.

“This ought to be adequate for your weight,” Sapphire said proudly, sitting down to whittle off the green bits.

“Thank you, really,” Pahwon said quietly. “For saving my life, for sewing me back up, all of it.”

“I didn’t sew you up,” Sapphire corrected, “She did, mended your leg artery with a good stitching spell and performed the rest of the needle work.”

At these words Hiwei turned pale and look away. Puzzled by her reaction, Pahwon took a step towards her. She responded by getting up and walking to the door. His heart sank, the fear that she might hate him remerging.

“Hiwei, I, I’m sorry,” he pleaded, “Please…”

She made a sound that resembled ‘not it’, before stepping outside. Pahwon stared at her, baffled, before looking over at Sapphire. She simply shrugged. As the crutch took shape, Pahwon slid down the wall and back onto the floor. He took a quick look at the window, realizing it would probably be safer to travel at night. Now that he was a failed political assassin. His ponderings were interrupted when the crutch was thrust at him. Instinctively he threw himself sideways, landing on his arm.

Wincing from the renewed pain, Pahwon forced himself back upright. He looked at Sapphire with a forced smile. She tentatively smiled back, offering the crutch more slowly this time. This time Pahwon took it as intended and used it to help prop himself up. Steadier now, he began doing circles around the small room, quickly getting used to using the crutch. After successfully walking around the room seven times without having to grab a wall, he stopped and looked over at Sapphire. Though slightly dizzy, he felt more confident in his ability to walk.

Sapphire smiled and clapped a bit, obviously pleased at his speedy recovery. Pahwon was pleased as well, though he settled back down against the wall for a moment. A few moments later, Hiwei returned, still silent. He noticed that her sleeves were slightly wet, though what that meant was unclear. Sapphire seemed to take no notice of this, and rose to her feet expectantly.

“Now that the three of us are all gathered here, this seems like an excellent time to leave,” she said hurriedly, scooping up her satchel. “It will be a while yet before nighttime, but I have kept track throughout the day and there do not appear to be many people on this stretch of road.”

“Hmm, well, I suppose we could say we’re fleeing Qarrahum,” Pahwon said thoughtfully. “If anybody even stops us that, that is.”

“An excellent idea,” Sapphire said, pulling the door open. “Where shall we proceed, guide?”

“Perhaps Shal-Kaz, hopefully we can charter a boat there.”

“Splendid, then we have direction.”

They walked out into the fading light. Pahwon breathed in the refreshing air; suddenly very glad he was no longer inside the stuffy room. For a moment he stood still, looking over the wide Dossiger River to the north and the long golden wheat fields to the south. Lost in the sights, a hazy sensation over took his mind and he forgot why they were there. When he saw the still mute Hiwei walk in front of him, the reason and urgency returned quickly. Before he could move, however, Hiwei handed him a familiar item. Pahwon took his lucky sailing cap, grateful that she had saved it, and pulled it carefully over his head. Now he was ready to leave.

They strolled over the old cobblestones toward the setting sun, Pahwon steering around the larger gaps and shifted stones. He turned and took one last look down the river towards his home city. Perhaps it was only his imagination, but he believed he saw a tendril of smoke rising upwards over the horizon. A shiver passed down his spine, though he was glad he had looked. Only then could he continue down the road.

Pahwon was glad when he spotted the first mile marker, walking a few paces out of his way to see it up close. On the stone he spotted Dmitriev’s name still legible nearly eighty years after it had been carved. As they continued down the road, he thought for a time of the foreigner who had crowned himself their king. The road he walked upon was still solid even after decades of neglect. The next mile marker was reached just as the sun touched the top of the rubber trees in the distance.

By the time they reached the third mile marker, the last rays of sunlight were fast fading into the night. Sapphire seemed relieved at the darkness, looking fairly red in the face. Pahwon now understood why she preferred wearing that blue getup; it must have been far cooler than the traveling cloak she now wore. They continued through the night, and Pahwon lost count of the mile markers. The ache in his leg was slowly sapping away his stamina. After crossing a small bridge over an irrigation canal, Pahwon spotted lights in the distance.

Nervousness and fatigue slowed them, and as more lights appeared over the river, they grew more cautious. They passed a small village with several lighted windows, which was fortunately some distance from the main road. The lights over the river came into focus, revealing a long imposing span across the dark waters of the Dossiger River. The bridge lights moved back and forth across the span in regular intervals, no doubt carried by patrolling guards.

Noticing a small pier jutting out into the river, Pahwon stepped to his left and headed down the embankment hoping to get a better view. The other two cautiously followed, unsure what he was planning. He stepped out onto the planks, inching as far out as he dared, since he couldn’t see the end of the pier. He looked towards the long chain of stone arches, which were partially illuminated by the dim lantern light, trying to figure out their next move. A moment later he received a tap on the shoulder.

“Take a gaze,” Sapphire whispered, handing off her binoculars.

Through the lenses, Pahwon could see the half dozen guards more clearly. Each one seemed to be patrolling a small area of the span, though none seemed particularly focused. The sound of their conversations wafted through the night. It seemed to Pahwon that the guards were rather bored. He passed the binoculars back to Sapphire with a shrug.

“What have you thought up, of all this I mean?” Sapphire asked quietly.

“I’m not sure,” Pahwon replied uncertainly. “I don’t know how we’re going to get across that bridge if that’s what you mean.”

“I think I might have stuck an idea,” she said, looking toward the bridge again. “I count six guards, each bearing a lantern. Now, if the lanterns were to be extinguished and they slipped in puddles of ice, that might give us the opportunity to cross.”

“What about the ice?  Wouldn’t that give us away?” Pahwon asked skeptically.

“It would simply melt away within minutes.”

“That might work,” He said, cautiously optimistic. “What should we do?”

“Assist me in retrieving some water from the river and get it onto the ramp.”

With some difficulty, the three of them filled up whatever they could with water from the river.  Then, they began quietly trekking towards the bridge. As they neared the ramp it became obvious that their plan was already full of holes. With nothing but cloth to transport the water, most of their cargo had leaked out by the time they got close to the bridge. Wet and frustrated, Pahwon began rethinking their plan. He walked right up to the bridge but remained in the shadow of the stone railing. Flattening against this, he slid down towards the river once more.

After reaching the bottom, he motioned towards Sapphire. She quietly slid down to him.  He dug around in her satchel and pulled out the only thing that would hold water. He dumped  their medical supplies directly into the bag and quietly dunked the metal case into the water. Sapphire also grabbed the handle and the two of them carefully carried the case back up the embankment. Once at the top, Pahwon motioned towards Hiwei. She nodded, her thick cloak still holding some liquid. She took the leaking case from them and walked up the ramp.

She calmly walked into the light, hoping the guard might hesitate before striking down a woman. Just before he spotted her, Hiwei got the idea to add a limp and began dragging her leg slightly. The guardsman turned and spotted the approaching figure nearing the top of the ramp.

“What the-, oh, are you alright?” The young man asked, walking towards the limping girl.

Hiwei released the clasp on the case with one hand and dropped what water remained in her cloak. At the sound of dropping water Sapphire let loose a blast of freezing cold, solidifying the ice and extinguishing the lantern almost instantly. The confused guard stumbled forward, slipped on the ice and slid straight into Pahwon and Sapphire’s clutches. The man was quickly gagged and bound before being hauled off the ramp.

Two of the guards noticed that something was wrong and turned towards the south end of the bridge. They advanced towards the intruders, drawing their weapons. Sapphire rushed onto the bridge, Pahwon lagging behind with his crutch. She concentrated on the incantation, focusing cold on the two guards. The oil thickened, causing both lamps to extinguish. Momentarily blinded, the guards recoiled in the dark. Hiwei dashed up to the nearest and shoved him over the railing into the river below. The other guard slipped on a sheet of ice and stumbled to the ground.

The commotion alerted the remaining three guards who tried to form a line mid way across the bridge. A gust of cold wind and the struggling in the water below caused them to reconsider their defense of the span. Then their lanterns extinguished, and they panicked, hastily retreating to the north shore. With the bridge cleared for the moment, Pahwon, Hiwei and Sapphire hurried across as best they could in the dark. They made it to the north side without slipping or stumbling, the three guards nowhere to be seen.

Sapphire wiped her brow, exhausted by the exertion of casting spells. Silently, the three left the road for a large field. They wandered through the dry grass, until they stumbled into some foliage large enough to hide in. Here, Pahwon and the others laid down, exhausted. Pahwon hoped they were far enough away from the road so they would not be seen, but he was too tired to really care. He curled up in his damp clothing, the warm night air slowly soothing him to sleep.

 

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