Sedecim Chronicles, a Novel: Chapter 7
Sapphire cautiously walked down the nearly deserted street. Two cloaked locals hurried past her. There were two boarded up shops to her right, which added to her growing sense of unease. The lonely dolls in the window of the corner shop stared out over the intersection as though standing guard. Across the street lay another building, the building she needed to enter. Sapphire slowed as much as she dared, the two story edifice of Dmitrievâ€™s reign stood tall over the native adobe buildings. A single pirate leaned against the door frame, a musket slung over one shoulder.
He wore a long, stained coat, faded from years under the sun. While carefully observing the guard, she nearly bumped into the dead king. The statue gazed towards the administrative building, still keeping an eye on his bureaucrats all these years later. Sapphire stopped and considered the statue for a moment, wondering what kind of ruler Dmitriev had been. She stared at the carefully chiseled stone. He must have done something right, considering this statue was still standing.
â€œHey, what are you doing?!â€ The guard shouted.
Sapphire paled, rushing away from the guardâ€™s line of sight. After a quick dash down the road she turned and looked back, relieved to find that the guard had remained at his post. She stopped for a moment to gather her thoughts, trying to figure out a way into the building. It occurred to her that these pirates must have traveled to the town either by boat or horse. She deduced that to arrive as quickly as they had, they had probably come by horse, which meant that their mounts were tethered somewhere nearby. This gave her an idea.
She started back toward the edge of the town, inhaling deeply. It didnâ€™t take long to notice the telltale scent, and choose the appropriate direction. She hurried now, turning the next corner and nearly knocking down an old man. He staggered back, holding fast to his cane. Sapphire stopped, a pang of guilt spreading through her. Much to her relief the elderly gentleman regained his balance. She continued down the road without glancing back at him, the stench growing closer.
At last she found a large corral and stable. She approached cautiously, hoping that the pirates had stabled their horses inside. She scanned the area, hoping to spot a manager or someone in charge of the establishment. She made her way around the pen toward a small stone house built into the side of the hill. There were about twenty horses walking around the corral, which gave Sapphire pause. She hoped that only a few of them belonged to the pirates.
The aged wooden door opened when Sapphire was still a few feet away, causing her to freeze on the spot. It occurred to her that they might have left a sentry near the stable to stop someone from doing precisely what she was about to do. She tensed, mentally prepping a freezing blast that would literally stop the first person through the door cold. Fortunately, it was a local who opened the door, cautiously stepping out into the sunlight.
â€œAnother one,â€ He sighed. â€œAnd what do you want, foreigner?â€
â€œI have arrived here to, seek a favor,â€ she said softly, hoping to defuse the situation. â€œI am not alike with the other foreigners who have been recently here.â€
â€œEh, so you say,â€ the man grunted, leaning against the door frame. â€œWhat do you want?â€
â€œI am working against the invaders,â€ Sapphire explained. â€œPlease, help me by informing me of how many they are in number and which of these equine belong to which of them.â€
â€œHmm, Iâ€™m not sure,â€ the man muttered noncommittally, considering the strange woman carefully.
â€œI have some coinage,â€ Sapphire sighed, digging under her cloak. â€œI could, make it worth your consideration.â€
â€œAh, now, that sounds more friendly,â€ the man said stepping forward. â€œThere were five of them, came on the government branded horses. Now, how much coinage are we talking about?â€
Sapphire quickly handed off three silver coins before promptly turning around and heading towards the gate. A grunt from the man was followed quickly by the door slamming shut. She walked up to the gate and tried to spot the horses bearing whatever a government brand was. One of the creatures trotted over to where she was standing, leaning down to the stranger. She reached up and patted it, wondering how she was going to get them moving. After a moment, she decided that the best way would be the direct approach, and opened the gate. She would ride the nearest horse and lead the others out somehow.
As the gate swung out, all the penned horses looked towards the entrance expectantly. She whistled to them, hoping to get their attention. Then everything went horribly wrong. All of the horses stampeded towards the opening. Sapphire had barely enough time to dive out of the way before the lot of them escaped into the city. After picking herself up, she realized they had run down a street near to the offices, and might still cause the distraction sheâ€™d planned. She sprinted down a parallel street, the furious shouts of the stable owner growing softer with the distance.
As the statue of Dmitriev loomed, so did the sounds of pandemonium. Several people dashed through the intersection before her, clearly panicked. She slowed down near the corner and carefully looked at the office building. Three people, most likely pirates based on their dress and armaments, where running down the street towards the horses. A fourth stood in the doorway. Sapphire figured this would be the best chance she would get and rushed the man at the door.
Her elbow collided with his head, knocking him against the doorframe. Stunned by the sudden impact, the pirate staggered sideways into the building. A second blow sent him to the floor. The sound of foot falls descending the nearby stairs caused her to tense again. The stairs lay on the other side of a counter that ran the length of the room. She vaulted to the opposite side, looking for something useful. A mop bucket stood only a few feet away. Thinking fast, she grabbed the container and dashed to the foot of the stairs. In a single movement the stairs where soaked.
She dove out of the way, freezing them just as the pirate appeared above her. The sound of struggling came from just out of sight, at the same moment she realized she would have to get over that ice herself. Nervous, Sapphire carefully checked around the corner, spotting the long haired pirate struggling to get his boots unstuck. This hadnâ€™t exactly what Sapphire had had in mind but decided it was close enough and charged up the stairs. The pirate looked up at the approaching figure but was unable to do anything. Sapphire plunged the bucket down onto the pirateâ€™s head, smacking the side hard for good measure.
With the two men in the building dealt with, Sapphire carefully made her way up to the second floor past the struggling guard and the slippery ice. Once in on the second floor she hurriedly rummaged through the file cabinets and desks, holding the papers she found up to the light pouring through the large windows. Tax logs, letters from other offices, harvest figures, everything but what she was looking for. Frustrated, she tried to think where else to check.
A loud clattering downstairs told her that she didnâ€™t have much time. Then she spotted a small safe tucked under a desk near the back of the room. That had to be it, she though, racing across the room. As she examined it, a splattering sound on the stairs forced her into action. With all her might she grabbed the surprisingly heavy little box and dragged it over to the window. Then she heaved it onto the sill and sent it toppling to the street below.
The crash seemed to give the pirates pause, allowing Sapphire a moment to find an escape route. She peered out the window and scanned along the bottom of the building, wondering how far it was to the cobblestones. The sound of angry voices wafted closer, causing her to decide it was worth risking the jump. With a bit of apprehension Sapphire vaulted over the sill and tried to land carefully on the ground. Instead she hit unevenly and skidded forward, scraping both her elbows. She looked up, the destroyed safe only a few inches away. Inside were the documents Krauss needed, which she quickly appropriated.
Feeling confident now, she sprang to her feet and ran down the street, taking a moment to look back. The pirates glared down at her from the second floor. Now theyâ€™ll have to get all the way back down the stairs to get me she thought, racing towards the intersection. A small blast echoed behind her, a musket ball impacting just a few feet away. â€˜Or they might just shoot me from the windows,â€™ she thought.
Sapphire ran as fast as she could towards the corner, hoping they wouldnâ€™t hit their mark. A second shot rang out, the bullet striking her side. She staggered for a moment, fearing for her life. She grabbed at the wound and realized the bullet had grazed her. Bleeding now, she ran as best she could past the silent sentry dolls in the corner window. Another shot shattered the glass a mere foot to her left. Once out of the direct line of fire, Sapphire took a moment to freeze her bleeding wound shut, wincing at the sensation. She gazed down the long street, wondering if fighting them as they rounded the corner was a better option. Another shot nearly slammed into her foot, settling the issue in her mind.
Sapphire ran headlong down the street before ducking into a gap between two buildings. She dashed down this tiny alleyway toward another street.Â As she emerged she ran straight into a passing woman, both tumbling to the ground. Now Panicking, Sapphire staggered to her feet and immediately sprinted away down the street. The womanâ€™s shouts flew after her, causing Sapphire a pang of guilt. Still, she knew there was no time to make an apology, as the pirateâ€™s angry shouts were growing closer. Down the street she ran, turning a final corner and arriving at the harbor.
A cold feeling ran through her as she realized they might not have rented a boat yet. She ran down the road, looking down each pier. Then, nestled between a large crate hauler and a grain barge she spotted them. Much to her relief they were speaking to the owner of a small barge. She walked down the dock, ready to pay anything if the fee hadnâ€™t been arranged yet.
â€œOh, itâ€™s you,â€ Tossmek said, recognizing the approaching figure. â€œSo, I guess thatâ€™s everybody, right?â€
â€œIndeed it is,â€ Sapphire said politely. â€œNow, we shall start moving please?â€
â€œEr, I was hoping to get a few more provisions,â€ Tossmek said, wondering what the hurry was. â€œIâ€™m not sure I have enough oil.â€
â€œCertainly there ought to be further ports up water,â€ Sapphire said quickly, brandishing a gold coin. â€œHere, I shall pay extra for immediate departure.â€
Not one to pass up a free gold coin, Tossmek cautiously took the money and stood up to unfurl the sail. At her signal Pahwon gingerly rose and untied the mooring lines with his good arm. Now free of the dock, the Tub began drifting into the current. Once the sail was secured Tossmek began testing the wind. An odd commotion on shore caught her eye. Several men were running down the road, pointing in her general direction and shouting incoherently. They were also armed. One of them made eye contact with Tossmek and started waving his arms.
â€œNo, leave, port,â€ He shouted pronouncing every syllable carefully.
â€œI think he wants us to stop,â€ Pahwon noted helpfully, â€œAh, sorry thatâ€™s pretty obvious, isnâ€™t it.â€
â€œWe are not going to stop,â€ Sapphire announced, â€œbecause they are trying to kill me.â€
â€œTheyâ€™re what?!â€ Tossmek exclaimed, gripping the rope tightly.
â€œThis will assist our escape,â€ Sapphire said, leaning out and grabbing the end of the dock.
She froze the wet surface, sending the lead pursuer crashing to the ground, his momentum carring him clear off the dock. The three men still on the road opened fire, sending the Tubâ€™s occupants ducking for cover. Sapphire peeked over the top of a crate, checking the situation. Another man had arrived on the scene; the other three had taken cover behind crates and barrels lining the road. Thinking quickly, she jumped over the crate and dunked her hand into the water channeling all her magical energy into the water.
As the pirates lined up for another volley, the water behind the barge began churning. They paused at the sight, unsure of what was happening. One fired, the shot slamming into the crate behind Sapphire, hitting her with a shower of splinters. Despite the pain she pressed on, the waterâ€™s surface breaking as a huge block of ice rose from the depths. The pirates stared at this, as did Sapphireâ€™s four compatriots, stunned at the impossible sight before them. The great iceberg arose fully from the river, teetering on three slender shafts of ice.Â As the waves subsided, Sapphire expended the last ounce of her strength and lost consciousness.
Instantly the icy shafts broke, sending the towering block into the river. The wave crashed down upon the pirates, soaking them and their weaponry while the Tub was pushed out onto the river. The four pirates now yelled impotently, their waterlogged muskets now useless. After watching bemused as the men took to flinging rocks at them, Tossmek realized that the pirates might think to hijack a boat and sail out to them. Quickly she turned the sail to catch the wind, Hiwei looking over the devastation Sapphire had caused. Most of the ships in harbor had pulled loose from their moorings and several others had been washed onto the shore entirely. Then she focused on Sapphire.
â€œSapphire!â€ Hiwei exclaimed, rushing over to the still figure.
â€œWhatâ€™s wrong?â€ Pahwon asked, looking over. â€œOh, oh-no, she wasnâ€™t hit was she?â€
â€œI donâ€™t think so,â€ Hiwei replied, pulling the still breathing woman face up. â€œAh, no, blood.â€
The wound on Sapphireâ€™s side had reopened, Hiwei instantly leaning down to give her first aid. Suddenly a hand reached from the depths causing Hiwei to recoil in horror. The man Sapphire had slid into the water had apparently been carried with them by the tidal wave. He grasped the gunwale and heaved himself from the water, gargling with rage. Tossmek tied off the line quickly and jumped for her cabin as the pirate slithered onto her boat. Instinctively, Pahwon grabbed the musket off the manâ€™s back and smacked him with it. He took a swipe back, pulling himself up to his knees. Hiwei grabbed his sword away and wacked him across the face with the blunt edge.
Dazed, the pirate staggered to the right as Tossmek shouldered her crossbow and fired a rock into his shoulder. The man fell backwards into the river, wounded and stunned. Pahwon watched for several moments as the pirate foundered in the water, feeling unwell at the sight. Then, as the man started going under, Pahwon grabbed an empty amphora and heaved it with both arms into the water. Though his left arm stung from the lift, he felt slightly relived to see the drowning man grab hold of the vessel and pull his head above water.
Once certain the pirate had hold of the amphora, Pahwon turned to the unconscious Sapphire lying in the bilge. Hiwei stood up, looking to Pahwon with concern.
â€œWas she harmed?â€ He asked hesitantly.
â€œThere was nasty scratch on her side, but, I stitched it, nothing serious,â€ she replied quickly. â€œIâ€™m more worried about those guys back at the port. I think they might come after us.â€
â€œI was wondering about that,â€ Tossmek added nervously, looking back towards Shal-Qaz. â€œToo bad we didnâ€™t slip out quietly.â€
â€œHey, Iâ€™m sure Sapphire had a good reason for, for whatever it was she did,â€ Pahwon said meekly, before adding, â€œat the offices, I mean…â€
Everyone fell silent, Tossmek feeling uneasy about the whole situation. She looked down and considered the unconscious woman in her bilge. After a few moments, she sighed and decided there was as yet no reason to doubt the strangerâ€™s story.
â€œI still have a few questions for you though,â€ She muttered, turning back to her work.
â€œWhat did you say?â€ Pahwon asked quizzically.
â€œOh, nothing,â€ Tossmek replied, adjusting the sail. â€œJust talking to my boat.â€