The first sensation Tossmek felt as she woke up was a dull throbbing pain. Groaning, she opened her eyes slowly, gazing up at the ceiling. Light flickered off the cracked adobe, muffled voices wafting from somewhere nearby. Carefully Tossmek raised her head, the sound of voices changing at that moment. Footfalls approached from the light source sending a pang of fear through her.

“Tossmek, a-are you alright?” asked Pahwon, his voice relieving her immensely.

“Oh, right, I’m ok,” she said, slightly woozy, “or, mostly fine.”

She felt the left side of her head; a padded bandage stretched across the area. Unable to resist, she pressed the area to gauge the extent of her injury. A jolt of pain caused her to flinch, though she wasn’t too surprised. Concerned, Pahwon reached out and touched her shoulder.

“So, what’s going on?” she asked, leaning back on the cushion.

“Mister Krauss is looking over the papers we brought him and I’ve been helping, a bit,” Pahwon said quietly. “He’s planning something tomorrow, though I’m not entirely sure what it is; they keep talking in their own tongue.”

“Hey, lad, what’s going on over there?” Krauss asked, peering into the next room. “Oh, is that Tossmek lass awake now?”

“Yes, I’m awake,” she replied, trying to get a look at this Krauss person. “I heard me you’re planning something.”

“Aye, tomorrow we‘re going to storm Fort Durus and take over the city of Samek,” Krauss replied confidently.

For a moment the two of them stared at Mister Krauss, certain they had misheard him. Tossmek shook her head, and rose shakily to her feet. Pahwon clasped his arm around her and helped her into the next room. There Mister Krauss and several of his compatriots sat around a large dining table, pouring over what appeared to be the schematics of Fort Durus. She sat down carefully in an unused chair, wondering how in the world he had gotten a hold of such a thing. Other papers were strewn around the table, some of which were the ones Pahwon had discovered in the bag of rocks.

“Wow, this is quite impressive,” Tossmek said quietly, looking over the schematics, “how did you get this?”

“Eh, you’d be surprised what you can find if you do a little digging,” Krauss replied offhandedly, “Now these letters and requisition forms you brought us fill in the remaining gaps in the plan.”

“How so?”

“With a little arithmetic these supply forms tell us how many are in that fort and these personal letters give us the picture of those men’s state of mind,” Krauss said pointing to the various papers. “The garrison is diminished, and those who remain are demoralized and on the brink of turning against the pirates no matter the result.”

“What’s our plan of attack then?” Pahwon asked earnestly.

“I thought I already told everyone,” Krauss said confused, looking over his Kieven speaking compatriots. “Oh, I guess I didn’t say it in…well, actually there is one thing missing, that, huh…”

Krauss trailed off as a commotion could be heard downstairs. Tossmek looked over noticing the gap in the floor for the first time and became a bit nervous. The men around the table instantly produced a number of weapons, all positioning themselves for a fight. A distressed looking local man dashed up the stairs panting, Mister Krauss instantly recognizing him. Krauss walked over to him, this signaling the others to put their pistols away.

“Mister, Mister Krauss, I have news, urgent news,” he blurted out, panting from exhaustion.

“What is it? Did something go wrong with the meeting?” Krauss asked concerned.

“No, it was the bridge.  People on the bridge,” he stammered, “that woman you asked us to keep an eye looking for, I saw her!”

“Sapphire, on the bridge you say?”

“Yes, that’s correct. I saw her on the approach near the fort, her hair was unmistakable, and she was being led inside by, by-.”

“The soldiers?”

“Yes, yes the soldiers, I’m certain she has been captured,” The man finished. “Oh, and the meeting, the meeting went well. We should have most of the garrison men our side, though there are a few diehard loyalists.”

“Well, at least we ought to be able to get Her Highness back shortly,” Krauss muttered, “I suspect-.”

“Wait, Sapphire has been captured?” Tossmek exclaimed, leaning forward over the table. “Uh, listen, were there any other people with her? Was, there…”

She trailed off, looking over to Pahwon. The man thought for a moment, trying to recall the scene.

“Now that you mention it, I think there might have been others though I can’t say for certain, I was some distance away.”

“Right, I understand.”

Silence filled the room for a few moments before Krauss turned to his men and explained the information to them in Kieven. Pahwon and Tossmek spent the time looking at one another, trying to decide whether it was more comforting not knowing where Hiwei was, or know she was in the hands of their enemy.

“We don’t know for sure,” Pahwon said quietly.

“He probably didn’t get a good look anyway,” Tossmek added encouragingly.

“Hiwei’s probably out there looking for a way across the river right now,” Pahwon said, trying to believe this was so.

“So we’ll have to make a way, for her, to cross, uh, soon, right?”

“That’s what we’ll do.”

“What are you two talking about?” Krauss asked quizzically. “I have a task for you, Lad.”

“What about me?” Tossmek asked.

“You’re in no shape to go out, plus that bandage will give you away,” he replied, tapping the right side of his head.

“Oh, right, that makes sense.”

“So, what do you want me to do?” Pahwon asked curiously.

“There’s one more person I’d like to have before storming that fort, and he’s on the dockside right now.” Krauss said, checking the street through a window. “You’re the only person I have available at the moment, here are directions and a note to give to him, be quick about it.”

Pahwon accepted the request, taking the bits of paper. He looked over the little hand drawn map until the image was burned into his head. Hoping the finer details of his trek wouldn’t fade away, Pahwon moved quickly down the stairs and out the door. The bottom floor of the building appeared to be a shop of some sort, with a counter and several rows of shelves separating him from the door. He carefully passed a pair of concealed guards and weaved through the shelves to the door. He emerged onto a darkened street. For a moment he breathed in the fresh air and looked around to see if anyone else was prowling in the night.

Safely alone, Pahwon turned down the road and headed toward the river. The road descended until reaching the water’s edge. Once there, he carefully walked along the dockside roadway, keeping a sharp lookout for any wandering patrols. After passing several docks, he spotted a glow coming through the slats of the next warehouse. He hurried forward, stopping just outside the building. Inside, he heard a man speaking in a foreign tongue. Deciding he should be doubly sure this was the right spot, Pahwon pulled out the slip of paper and gave it one more look.

The sign above him matched the one on the paper, confirming his suspicion. With a sigh he walked along the wall to the old door, wondering who exactly was on the inside. He pulled the door open, its rusty wheels squealing as he did so. Once it was open about a foot he squeezed through and came face to face with another pasty foreigner. The man was staring at the door, one hand tucked inside his coat. In the other he held a communication device, something Pahwon had only imagined. The man starred awkwardly at Pahwon, a confused expression across his face.

Pahwon was about to interject, when, without warning, a scream issued from the talk box. The man held the devise away from himself, staring baffled into the receiver. Another odd noise issued through the box as the screaming dissipated before the device went dead. The two stared at it for a few moments, neither sure what to do. Deciding that the paper might explain better than he, Pahwon handed Krauss’s note to the stranger. As the man looked it over by the lamplight, Pahwon realized that the loud noises might attract unwanted attention.

As soon as the man looked up from the note Pahwon grabbed his arm and began leading him out. The stranger grabbed the communicator and snuffed out the lamp as they departed, hopefully erasing any sign of them. The two hurried up the nearest road, Pahwon hoping that he knew the way back. After jogging around several blocks, he found a familiar looking roadway and soon they were back in front of the old shop. Glad to have returned to partial safety, Pahwon walked through the door and was instantly set upon by two large thugs, one of them grabbing the back of his collar and jerking him to the floor.

“It’s me, Pahwon,” he sputtered, fearing for a moment that the hideout might have been compromised.

“Ah, yes, did you carry out the boss’s assignment?”

“Yes, I got the stranger you wanted,” he said quickly, hoping this was the case, “I think, he is at least.”

“Yes, that is him,” the voice said assuredly.

The grip on his collar was released and Pahwon stood back to his feet. One of Mister Krauss’s assistants gazed over him, leaning back through an open door and into the street. “Come this way,” he grunted.

They followed him, and the two thugs down a nearby alley and into a dingy neighborhood. After passing several refuse piles and a few ruined houses, they came to their destination; a large warehouse, emblazed with the ‘Krauss & Klein’ logo. For a moment Pahwon stopped, thinking that this was some kind of joke. Surely the man wouldn’t be crazy enough to hideout in one of his own buildings, Pahwon thought, gazing at the dusty and boarded-up windows. A slight glow emanated through the slats, confirming that indeed, the best hope for their nation was crazy.

With a sense of resignation, Pahwon walked forward through the now open doorway and into a veritable hive of activity. Krauss was still pouring over the blueprints of the fort with his close associates, which now included Tossmek, apparently. Pahwon raced over to the table, hoping she might know what was about to happen.

“Heh, Puh-pahuan, uh, Lad, you did good,” Mister Krauss said, beaming at his newest acquisition.

“Koroshu robotu,” the man next to Krauss chimed in.

“Uh, thanks. So, who is this man I fetched?” Pahwon asked confused, “what’s about to happen?”

“That is Burkman, a demolitions expert and the final piece of my plan,” Krauss said triumphantly, holding his arm above his head. “On the morrow we shall use these carts to get close to the fortress tower. Once there, an explosion near the damaged the main gate shall draw their attention from us. Then we blast down the tower door, storm inside and raise our banner over Samek!”

The men stopped briefly to clap lightly at this display, leaving Pahwon to take in what he had just heard. He turned to Tossmek, who seemed to be fine with this plan. She nodded at him, looking fairly confident.

“Are you sure?” He asked quietly.

“This will work, I’m convinced of it,” she replied quietly. “Most of the soldiers in the fort will attack the pirates as well, once the signal is given, so we’ll outnumber them.”

Pahwon simply nodded, hoping she was right. He helped pack some of their implements into the carts and then took a turn keeping watch. As the dawning sun broke the horizon, Tossmek approached him and offered a steaming mug. He graciously accepted and downed the elixir in a single gulp.

“Thank you,” he said quietly. “Uh, you sure you’re well enough to be up an about?”

“Yeah,” she said, sipping her own cup. “It was just a graze. I’m ready to go now.”

Almost immediately after speaking, the large doors slid aside and the trio of carts exited the warehouse. Krauss’s men marshaled the mules and arranged everything for the coming action. As the caffeine began bubbling through him, Pahwon started feeling odd. Only a few days had passed since the attack on the administrator’s office had gone so horribly wrong and now he was about to take part in the storming of an impenetrable fortress. And yet, he was confident that this would work. That Tossmek wouldn’t steer him wrong.

As he stood by, watching the proceedings, Mister Krauss walked out of the warehouse and right up to him. He was dressed in what he must have thought was a more discrete outfit, but the combination of ill-fitting pants and oddly colored coat only served to make him stand out more. Tossmek and Pahwon looked at each other, both trying to hide their amusement.

“So, um, are you going to attack Fort Durus with us?” Pahwon asked surprised.

“Aye,” he replied, “For six years I have tirelessly worked to establish Krauss and Klein shipping across this continent and around the rest of the globe. Now these pirates and the damned Portuguese are threatening to undo all of those years of toil. I can’t just tell some lackey to storm the fort, they don’t have the drive, the motivation that I do. I’ll lead the attack, and put a bullet in that Giorgio Montague. Now, let us give them havoc.”

Everyone gathered around the hay filled wagons, anticipation filling the air. With a final word from Krauss the procession moved out; Pahwon and Tossmek fell in near the lead wagon, hoping that their friends were all right. Soon they trundled onto the main road, the large number of people causing quite a stir. Before too long the fortress loomed ahead, the sight giving them all pause. As the walls of fort Durus drew closer, doubt crept into the back of Pahwon’s mind. He ignored as be he could, focusing on the rescue of Hiwei and Sapphire.

“Wait, what was that other guy’s name?” he asked quietly.

“I think it was Itipho, or something like that,” Tossmek replied quietly.

“Oh yeah.”

“Quiet,” Mister Krauss hissed.

The wagon train passed Durus’s ruined main gate, half-finished scaffolding and equipment lying where the workmen had abandoned them. Several ruined wagons lined the other side of the road, the contents strewn randomly in the street. The sight made Pahwon uneasy, though he wasn’t exactly sure why. They came to a stop below the Great Tower, Pahwon straining his neck to see the top. Tossmek tapped him on the shoulder; the plan was about to begin. A soldier walked up to their caravan, a pair of armed pirates watching him carefully. The soldier sighed before looking up the wagon driver.

“Sir, the bridge is closed, please turn around,” the man ordered halfheartedly.

Krauss nodded, the wagon starting to turn. The two pirates by the door relaxed, glad there had been no incident. Without warning an explosion issued from the main gate.

 

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