A thin ray of light shone through a gap in Tossmek’s curtain, falling across her face. She stirred, yawning heavily before sitting upright. After a quick stretch she pulled her clothes on and stepped outside. She breathed in the morning air, her eyes falling upon Pahwon who was still snoozing. After a moment’s hesitation, she decided against waking him, instead getting some food from the supply cabinet and hopping down to the beach.

Soon the smell of cooking wafted over the boat, causing him to stir. For a minute or so, Pahwon lay still, the cooking smell reminding him of home. Then his hunger prevailed and he sat upright, looking around for something to eat. He spotted Tossmek knelling down by the fire, scooped up his hat and hopped down to see what was for breakfast.

“Good morning Pahwon,” Tossmek said as he approached, “did you sleep well?”

“Well enough,” He replied, rubbing his back, “so how close are we to Samek?”

“Shouldn’t be too much further, we made quite of bit of progress yesterday.” She replied, “oh, here. I hope you don‘t mind your eggs slightly burned.”

“No, I don’t mind,” He said, graciously accepting the plate.

He quickly gobbled down the eggs and biscuit, more hungry than he had first thought. After Tossmek finished her breakfast, Pahwon rinsed the plates in the river. As he washed, Tossmek walked up beside him.

“Think Hiwei and Sapphire made it to Samek?” He asked quietly. “Oh, and that other guy too.”

“I don’t doubt it,” she replied. “Hiwei’s tougher than she looks and I’ve seen what Sapphire can do. If that other guy, Itephu, I think that’s his name, sticks with them, they’ll, they will, um, be fine.”

They exchanged a nervous glance, both deciding to assume their companions were fine and making their way to Samek as well.

“R-right, let’s get moving then,” Tossmek said, clapping her hands together.

“Aye-aye captain,” Pahwon said, smiling slightly.

They pushed the Tub back into the river, the grating resistance of the sand smoothing out. Once it was free of the beach, they pulled themselves onboard, Tossmek quickly adjusting the sail as Pahwon manned the tiller. The barge was soon back on course up the Dossiger. Tossmek relaxed a bit, deciding to consult her map. She examined it, taking careful note of the surrounding features. The large orchards sprawling to the south and the hill top in the distance gave her a good idea of their location. She checked again, just to be sure.

“Pahwon, I, I think that’s Mount Rinittu,” Tossmek said excitedly, “Samek should be just around the next bend of the river. We’re almost there.”

“You sure?” Pahwon asked, looking at mound, “it looks like a hill to me.”

“Uhg, now you’re getting into semantics,” she muttered.

“Sorry, I guess I remember it being taller, uh, more grand,” he said, thinking back to all those years before.

“Oh, it might not be,” Tossmek conceded, “So what do you remember of Samek?”

“I remember being excited, all the wondrous scenery everywhere,” he said fondly, “I could never sit still the entire way, which drove Kinnut crazy. I think that might have been what drove her into the priesthood, actually.”

“You don’t say.”

“Yeah, me and Soshet used to really get on her nerves. Still do, come to think of it.”

“No kidding…” Tossmek replied, her voice trailing off.

The great city of Samek came into view. Piers and dock houses lined the entire south bank as the city proper rose from them upon a steady incline. The towering tell rose to half the height of Mount Rinittu. Jutting out from the eastern side was the great span, the twin towers supporting huge cables which held the deck aloft.

The bridge connected Samek to the western highway, standing high enough for any ship able to sail up the river to pass beneath it. Beside the bridge, guarding the city was Fort Durus. The Dmitriev Era fortress stood sentry over the vital port, the great tower leering at Pahwon. They stared in awe, so enthralled by the sights that it took several moments before Pahwon realized they were going to wrong way.

“Tossmek, the currents!” he called, pulling heavily against the tiller.

“Ack, right,” She exclaimed, rushing to adjust the sail.

The river’s current was powerful as it split between the northern fork to Qarrahum and the southern fork to Al-Ness-Mah. The current pushed against the barge, which swayed and spun in the middle of the river, Tossmek cursed herself for straying too close to the mess. After half an hour of struggling, they finally got the boat under control. The current had swept them down the southern fork of the river and nearly under the Great Span. Once back on course, Tossmek made certain to stay as close to the shore as possible, lest they be pulled back into the maze of currents.

They navigated their way past the base of Fort Durus, now trying to find a landing site. Numerous docks and piers lined the shore, many occupied with ships of all description. They passed everything from an oceangoing ship seemingly too large to have made it up river, to several small barges almost identical to the Tub. Then they passed a frighteningly familiar ship, a large group of armed foreigners milling around on the dock. Pahwon kept his head down while Tossmek busied herself with a task involving her staring at the deck.

Soon they were past the foreign ship, and they breathed a sigh of relief. After searching for a place to dock, Tossmek finally spotted a narrow pier with warehouses built on either side. She quickly furled the sail, directing Pawhon into the slot. As the Tub slowed, Tossmek hopped onto the pier and started tying her boat up. Once she was satisfied the lines were secure, she gave the nod to Pahwon to disembark. As he stepped towards the edge his foot caught on the last sack of rocks and nearly fell into the river.

“Ugh, mind if I throw out this ballast?” he asked, as he regained his balance.

“No, I’ve been meaning to do that myself,” Tossmek replied. Then a thought struck her, “wait, didn’t Sapphire hide something in there?”

“Maybe?”

Pahwon grabbed the sack with both hands and reached inside. After a few seconds of feeling around, he found a collection of damp papers. He snatched them out and pulled them up to eye level. Curious, Tossmek hopped back onto the Tub to see what he’d found.

“What is it?” she asked, leaning in over his shoulder. “Wait, are those government papers?”

“Yeah,” Pahwon muttered, pouring over the text. “I can read some of this, but the rest is in Kieven. Can you read it?”

“Yes, I think this is a military supply request,” she said, “is this what Mister Krauss wanted?”

“I guess so,” he replied, flipping through the stack. “There are more of them too, uh; we ought to take these with us.”

“Right, let’s get a move on then,” she said, hastily looking around.

“Wait, maybe we…” Pahwon began, hesitating for a moment, “maybe we ought to bring weapons.”

Tossmek stopped, unnerved at the thought. After considering for a few moments she nodded, picking up the cooking knife and carefully wrapping it in a piece of cloth. Pahwon pulled up the deck hatchet and concealed it as best he could under his shirt before stepping onto the dock. The creaking planks sounded similar to a marching band to them as they crept past the rotting storehouse and onto the shore. Tossmek took the lead, weaving down a short path between two abandoned buildings to the road. Her sandals echoed off the cobblestones and high brick walls, empty windows staring at them as they passed.

“Pahwon, where do think this Krauss person would be?”

“Not sure, possibly near the docks if he came by river.”

“Right, then, maybe we should go the other way?”

They looked at each other, both starting to wonder if they were on a wild goose chase. After several moments of silence they turned around and made their way through an alley trying to avoid the spot where the pirates were docked. They passed an old beggar, holding their breath against his stench, and then emerged onto a wide street. One end of it sloped gently uphill towards a large market, while the other lead to back the port. They stopped for a moment to take in the smell wafting down to them from up the roadway.

“Hey, halt!” A shout came from down the road.

Pahwon looked towards the voice, knowing instantly who it was. The pirate translator was dashing towards them, brandishing a saber and followed by two nasty looking fellows. They decided to ignore his request and immediately ran in the opposite direction. They raced for an alleyway beside a large print shop. As they skidded around the corner two shots rang out, slamming into the building. Pahwon stopped, realizing the alley was a dead end.

He grasped the hatchet handle, frantically looking for an escape route. The rear door of the print shop stared back at him. Pahwon lunged towards it, whipping out the hatchet in the process. Two solid strikes and the latch was history. Without hesitating, he and Tossmek plunged through the open doorway and into the dusty interior. They ducked down behind some of the old printing presses, hunched over as they made their way towards the front of the building.

The pirates clattered into through the back door, shouting something in a frightening tongue. The two were nearly at the front of the shop, when their pursuers spotted them. A fresh volley of shots crashed into the machine Pahwon sheltered behind, the load retort stunning him momentarily. As footsteps approached, he readied the hatchet, trying to concentrate. A shape moved in front of him, leaving only one response. The heavy blade crashed into the man’s side, sending him flying backwards. The horrible feeling of the ax piecing the man’s side caused Pahwon to release his grip in shock. For a moment, the world stood still as he gazed at the man with the hatchet buried in his torso.

Before the shock could take hold, Tossmek grabbed him by the arm and shoved him toward the door. The two ran down a row of nearly empty bookshelves, the cries of the injured man giving their pursuers pause. As she kicked the old door down, Pahwon felt a weight in his stomach. He suppressed the feeling for the moment, concentrating on their escape. The door collapsed before him and the two spilled out into the bazaar. To his dismay there was no crowd to hide in; just a few people, many of whom were now running from the gunfire.

As he stopped to think, Tossmek decided there was nothing to think about and continued into the marked. She grabbed Pahwon by the arm and pulled him until he got the message that they needed to keep moving. She hadn’t taken two steps before another shot rang out and found its mark. Tossmek felt the impact, a hot slashing sensation across the side of her head. She staggered, Pahwon grabbing hold of her as the searing pain now made everything a blur. Unable to think, Pahwon pulled her now, trying to get away. Tossmek grasped at the wound, blood oozing down the side of her head.

Light headed, she relied on Pahwon for guidance through the now deserted market. Then Pahwon spotted a hand reaching out from a doorway, beckoning him to come closer. Unable to form rational thought, he opted for the possible aid and crashed through the door. The interior was incredibly dark. The moment he entered four pairs of arms separated him from Tossmek, which he protested. Someone very strong lifted him up and carried him to a couch in the parlor. In the dim light he could only make out that these people were foreigners with light colored hair.

Still trying to calm himself, Pahwon peered out a crack in the boarded window, just as one of the pirates stopped before the door. The pirate looked inside, hesitantly, before stepping across the threshold. Instantly, two men jumped in from either side of the door, grabbing the hapless pirate and hurling him to the ground. As the shorter of the two men closed the door, Pahwon turned to face his apparent rescuer, utterly bewildered.

“Wh-who?” he asked weakly, looking around for Tossmek.

“Yiti voru po skodak,” the man said, pointing up the stairs.

“Uh, thanks for that,” Pahwon muttered, rising from the cushion.

He walked towards the stairs, the man making no attempt to stop him. At the top of the stairs, Pahwon found himself in a large open room. Trash of all kinds was heaped against all the walls and blocked some of the windows. Tossmek was lying on a blanket draped over some of this trash and several chairs. She was being tended by a pair of foreigners. They wore dark colored vests over white shirts, a bit of twisted fabric around their necks.

One of them sat next to black leather bag. Pahwon rushed to Tossmek, looking down at his friend. One of the foreigners, a doctor he hoped, was carefully stitching the gash across the side of her head.. The other was putting a glass tube away in his bag. Pahwon grabbed the man’s arm, getting his attention.

“Shko tce take?” the fatter man asked, turning around, “Ach, excuse me, boy, what the matter?”

“T-Tossmek, is, is she going to…” Pahwon began, trying not to think about the wrong answer.

“Oh, of course. No, there is no worry,” the fat man assured him. “Your companion is taking little nap while Pitr is fixing the head.”

Though slightly more at ease with her prospects of surviving for awhile longer, Pahwon still needed to know several thousand things before his heart would slow down.

“Who are you?”

“I think he is more qualified to answer you,” the man said, pointing towards the stairs.

Behind Pahwon stood a tall, well dressed man who had been awaiting this meeting for quite some time. He was clad in shiny formal shoes, dark slacks, light buttoned shirt, and topped with a round brimmed hat similar to the other two foreigners in the room. What most attracted Pahwon’s attention was his mop of curly red hair and a pair of piercing, commanding blue eyes that stared down intensely at Pahwon, as if seeing through him. He backed away a step, causing the man to grin and hold out his palm. Not knowing what else to do, he reached out and shook the foreigner’s hand.

“How do you do?” the foreigner asked in a jovial voice, “I’m Shamus, Shamus Krauss.”

“Sha-what, what?” Pahwon responded breathlessly, “What are-how did you-what is going on?”

“Some of my men saw you two land your boat,” Shamus began, “thought you might be up to something, landing so far from the main docks, so somebody started tailing you. Once you were attacked by the pirates, well, we figured you couldn’t be all bad, so we helped you out a bit.”

“Uh, oh, um,” Pahwon mumbled.

As he thought about the name something clicked, causing him to reach under his shirt and pull out the wad of papers. Shamus snatched them immediately, slowly grinning wider as he leafed through them.

“Well now, I think we might have something to discuss lad,” he said quietly.

A loud noise echoed from out outside, startling all present.

“Someplace else though,” Shamus cautioned, folding the papers into his bag, “It’s best if we keep moving.”

Shamus dashed down the stairs and began rounding up his men. The two who had been attending Tossmek carefully lifted her up on the makeshift stretcher and carried her from the room. Pahwon quickly followed, wondering what Mister Krauss had in store.

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