Both pirates before them tripped over one another in shock. Krauss jumped down from the half turned wagon and set the hay ablaze. The men at the gate staggered out of the way as a dozen men shoved the burning wagon through the doorway. The soldier stood aside and watched passively as the two pirates were tackled to the ground and hogtied.

Pahwon raced to the other wagon and grabbed a saber from the hay, wondering why the soldier wasn’t doing anything. He stood still for a few moments before Tossmek pushed him forward.

“Go! He’s waiting to see who wins,” She guessed, receiving an affirmative nod from the soldier.

This distressed Pahwon, as he had been told the soldiers would be fighting on their side. He shook himself, trying to put this out of his mind and concentrate only on what was before him. They dashed headlong through the doorway into the chaos. The battle raged across the atrium, the confusion leaving Pahwon wondering who the enemy was. About twenty men were smashing at each other with cutlasses across the tower floor.

Before they could join the melee, Pahwon spotted two musket-armed men descended the stairs. Tossmek grabbed a musket from the floor and quickly took aim. The shot slammed into the lead man’s shoulder, sending him plummeting down the rest of the spiraling stairwell. He came to rest in a bloody heap on the floor. The sight shocked Tossmek, causing her freeze on the spot.

Pahwon shoved her out of the way as the other man took aim and fired. The shot bounced through the entryway, missing them both. Shaken, Tossmek reloaded and covered Pahwon as they advanced towards the staircase. They arrived at the junction of the stairwell leading up the tower and the top of the stairwell leading down to the basement. Below, two of Krauss’s men struggled against a pair of skilled pirate swordsmen. The security guards looked fatigued, but were blocking Pahwon’s way down. Thinking quickly, he grabbed a stone from the floor and aimed for the larger of the pirates.

The weight hit home, knocking the man out cold and allowing Krauss’s men to subdue the remaining one. While still looking down at the two guards, the man above took another shot at them. Tossmek pushed Pahwon aside, taking aim with her musket. The shot missed its target, smashing into the step below his feet, but was enough to drive him back up the stairwell.

Deciding to take the lead, Pahwon rushed after him, Tossmek following reluctantly behind. About half way up the stairs they encountered the shooter as he desperately tried to reload. The man dropped the gun and fumbled for his sword. Pahwon acted first, smashing him with the blunt side of the blade. He toppled off the stairs, crashing into one of his comrades below.

Just then three more pirates rushed down the stairs, one of whom was the gunner Tossmek had discouraged moments earlier. The man directed his compatriots down the stairs, he himself taking aim at the battle below. Tossmek fired at him, the shot slamming into his left hand and knocking the musket out of his grasp. The man recoiled in pain, but the other two men reached Pahwon. He deflected the first blow, but the second pirate slashed Pahwon’s exposed arm. Tossmek grabbed the half loaded musket off the ground, primed it and fired. The recoil knocked her against the wall. When she looked up, the man was gone.

Pahwon backed down a few steps, the frenzied pirate swinging his sword wildly at him. He blocked several thrusts before forcing the man’s arm back and then stabbing through the opening. He felt a heaviness inside as the blade pierced his enemy, the sound of the strike masking him nauseous. The pirate crumpled to the floor, vanquished. Pahwon pulled back the saber, looking at the blood as another wave of nausea swept over him. He stepped back, looking around at something, anything else. He looked at Tossmek, who nodded and gently laid her hand on his shoulder.

“Shlyak vilny!” Krauss shouted from below. “Pereslaty!”

Pahwon quickly looked down, watching as Krauss’s men began charging towards the stairs, another group of men now rushing through the doorway to join their attack. With the dreadful feeling beginning to fade, Pahwon started advancing as well. As he walked away from the body, his mind refocused on rescuing Hiwei and how she could be on the floor above. He sped up, spurred on by this thought. At the top of the stairs was a barred door; someone inside shouting loudly. Pahwon leaned close, trying to get a look between the slats. From his narrow view he was able to count about five men behind the door, and they were aiming a loaded ballista right at him.

He launched himself back down the stairs, waving his arms to get Mister Krauss and his charging men to stop. The first three halted on the spot, creating a log jam on the narrow stairs. Just as Krauss pushed his way forward to demand what was the matter, the door above burst from its hinges and cart wheeled down the stairs towards them. Everyone scrambled out of the way, as the large stone shot careened toward them as well. The two objects fell off the side and to the floor below. For a moment, everything stopped and an odd quiet settled over the room.

With a shout from Shamus Krauss, the advance started again. Pahwon and Tossmek were forced up the stairs with the rest of the men. They spilled onto the observation floor, three of the pirates fleeing at the sight of them. One who remained charged at Pahwon with a bayonet. Pahwon parried the blow, raising his saber to strike back. The pirate stepped back, trying to get and angle on Pahwon before one of Krauss’s men clobbered him from the side. Tossmek bumped into him, and they both looked around the room. Another stairwell lead up to the observation level of the tower, a long corridor to their left led to the battery.

Krauss flew headlong down the corridor, waving a pistol in the air like a maniac. Pahwon and Tossmek followed him, as did most of his men. They dashed past several long loopholes and came to another barricaded door. This time the weight of Krauss’s men crashing against the door forced it open. This was the fortified battery room. Three Russian cannons dominated the room, the heavily reinforced gun ports overlooking both forks of the Mighty Dossiger. A pair of pirates were attempting to turn one of them hoping to use it in a last ditch attempt to fend off their attackers. The two men shrieked as the door came down and ran the other end of the room.

Krauss personally shot them both without hesitation and dashed across the battery room to the officer’s quarters in the drum tower. The upper room was disheveled, everything that could be used for cover had been overturned and papers of all sorts blew around the room. Several pirates lingered in the room, one in the centre of it all. Pahwon recognized the aged man; his distinctive peaked cap identifying him immediately.

“GRTUGHAT!?” Giorgio Montague shouted incoherently, pointing at the attackers.

Four pirates leaned out from cover and aimed at the intruders, forcing Pahwon and Krauss to dive for cover. The rest flattened themselves to the floor, the shots ricocheting overhead. Another volley flew out almost immediately, one of the bullets blasting wood splinters over Pahwon as it hit the desk. They remained still for a few moments, Krauss inching from around his cover, trying to spot his target.

Behind an overturned desk stood the enraged admiral, directing his men to defend to the room. Krauss counted eight pirates before a near miss drove him back into cover. Huddled behind the stone column, he watched as the merciless gunfire drove his men back into the battery room, where they desperately took cover. Both sides exchanged volleys, the moment of Krauss’s attack fast petering out. Now white from freight, Krauss looked for a way out.

A pirate crept around the corner, trying to flank him. Krauss heard the footsteps and stuck his pistol around the corner. He fired, a scream confirming the man was hit. Taking advantage of the surprise, Krauss threw himself towards the door, lurching back into the battery room just before the pirates opened fire again. Now alone in the room, Pahwon tried to remain calm. He forced himself to breath regularly, listening through the din of musket fire for any approaching pirate.

“-over yer ea-s lad!” Came the voice of Krauss.

Unsure what he meant, Pahwon looked towards the door, hoping that the soldiers were about to charge through. Instead, a cask of powder rolled through, a long fuse burning down at one end. It took him an embarrassing length of time to realize what was about to happen. The makeshift bomb rolled into the centre of the room. Only when it had past from his field of vision did it click. He covered his ears and eyes, leaning towards the outer wall.

A deafening explosion echoed through the room. Dazed from the blast, Pahwon spent the next minute getting his bearings. A number of men streamed into the room, Krauss and Tossmek at their head, wading through the fog of smoke. Tossmek raced up to where Pahwon lay and began shaking him. He blinked, realizing that he was shaking on his own, she was simply resting her hand on him. Unsettled by the explosion, Pahwon carefully rose to his feet and tried to remain standing.

Tossmek steadied him as he looked over the damage inflicted upon the room. There was now a blackened crater where the barrel had come to rest. The desk had been blown apart, shards of smoldering wood scattered everywhere across the room; including in the back of an unfortunate pirate. Five bodies lay slumped on the floor, but Giorgio was not among them. A frustrated Krauss looked towards the roof.

“Bastard, must’of slipped out to the battlements. Come on men, one last charge!”

Pahwon pulled himself from Tossmek’s grasp and charged headlong towards the stairs. He gripped his saber tightly; the thought of capturing one of the men responsible for all that had gone wrong forced him forward. He dashed out ahead of everyone else up a final flight of stairs and onto the wall. The pirate admiral was running down the parapet with the last pair of men. Then the men slowed and stopped half way down the wall. One of the guards spotted Pahwon and fired at him. He hesitated, the two men producing pistols and taking aim directly at him. Then Giorgio produced a length of rope.

He hung a loop over a crenellation and let the rest fall far below. The first guard dropped his gun and grabbed hold of the line, dropping out of sight. Just as the rest of Krauss’s men poured onto the wall the Giorgio followed suit, falling out of sight. The last pirate was about to join them when a shot felled him. Pahwon raced forward, Krauss right by his side. The two looked over the wall and down at the river, where the Pirate admiral was treading water.

“Boyahuz!” Krauss exclaimed, shaking his fist impotently.

A shot from the great tower slammed into the wall right behind Pahwon, spraying him with stone dust. Frustrated, Krauss reluctantly left his adversary to escape, knowing he had to take the main tower quickly. They advanced to the doorway, Pahwon checking the knob. Surprisingly it opened, the pirates apparently not having the time or wherewithal to barricade it. He tentatively pushed it inwards, peering around the top floor. Three shots rang out in quick succession, blasting the edge of the door apart which sent Pahwon diving backwards.

As his men scurried away from the dark opening, Krauss lost his patience. He directed two of his men down to the battery room. They returned moments later with a cask of black powder. knowing what was about to happen, Pahwon preemptively dashed a fair distance down the wall. The explosion shook the entire fortress and basted the door off its hinges. With the last major obstacle removed, everyone charged into the tower.

Debris littered the floor, smoke still rising from the shattered crates and shelves. Several charred bodies lay in a corner, Pahwon cringing at the sight. Tossmek was at Krauss’s side when they charged up the last flight of stairs and onto the top of the main tower of Fort Durus. The last three pirates raised their swords for one last charge. Tossmek and Krauss shot them before they had taken a single step. Pahwon rushed up the stairs in time to see the last of their enemies fall.

Savoring his victory, Krauss walked slowly to the flag-pole and pulled down the Kassar banner with deliberate tugs. Once the flag was down, his right-hand man handed him a banner bearing his own insignia. He hoisted the new standard, unable to hide his joy. Tossmek and Pahwon however, felt a bit less joyous. Tossmek hesitantly leaned over and retrieved the discarded flag, feeling the cloth for a few moments before exchanging a look with Pahwon. He carefully took it, folding their flag carefully before tucking it under his shirt. Cheering could be heard in the courtyard far below, Krauss stepping over to gaze upon his audience.

A volley of cannon fire slammed into the fortress wall, ending the celebration. Far below, a soaking wet Admiral Montague stared up at the tower, grating his teeth in anger. He clambered up the ladder onto his ship, the crewmen already swinging into action. Giorgio walked up to helm, knowing what had to be done.

“Do you know what this means!?” The Portuguese lieutenant shouted, “You lost Samek!”

“I am keenly aware of that.”

“You-you-this is a disaster!” He sputtered, “Order your men to retake it, immediately.”

“My men? I lost thirty good men today! Ivan, Andrew, One-eye-Pete, Charlie, Guillermo-”

“I get it, I get it.”

“I’m not losing anyone else today!” He screamed, on the verge of tears, “Now get the hell of my deck!”

“This will mean moving up the time tables, R-Rudolpho will not-”

“I gave you an order!”

“Ahh, yes, yes of course,” the officer called, backing down.

“Pauler, set the heading down river, but make for the first landing site out of sight of that fort. I assume our friend there will need to be sending a letter.”

“Aye aye,” Pauler called, adjusting their heading.

Giorgio took a final, bitter look at Fort Durus, letting loose a final volley to spite Krauss. The fort guns finally responded, falling short and wildly off target. He snorted, pulling a flask from his coat. At least the place had been taken over by a fool, he thought, the Portuguese would still take it easily. He nodded, taking well deserved sip. Despite Krauss’s upset, he had little doubt that victory would be theirs.

 

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