Sapphire nervously glanced back at the three remaining guards. They were crowded around the door, unsure of their next move. Apparently leaderless, they could come to no decision, and simply waited for somebody to come and tell them what had happened in the fortress. Glad to have a good distraction, Sapphire continued to cool the locking mechanism and rapidly heat it, trying to cause the iron to snap. With a sharp crack the device broke and she tumbled out the door, free from the cell.
â€œHuh, look, sheâ€™s escaped!â€ One of the pirates yelled.
Sapphire dodged out into the centre of the room, whipping a cold blast into their eyes. Blinded momentarily, the guards stumbled around the chamber. Sapphire systematically extinguished the torches, darkening one end of the cellar. The pirates aimed into the blackness, frightening noises echoing from above. Hiwei took aim at the closest one and summoned a charge of energy into her hand. She let it loose, striking the man on his arm. He fell to the floor in agony, his shirt set alight by the discharge. As the pirates raced to their fallen comrade, Hitepshu chucked a stone at them.
The stone hit the largest pirate hard, knocking him out cold. The third pirate had barely a moment to take in what had happened before Sapphire charged from the shadows, tackling him. She wrestled the key ring from him, and slid it towards Hitepshu. She struggled with the pirate, who punched her in the ribs and bit at her left hand. She grabbed him, trying to pin his squirming legs down. Hitepshu opened the lock and dashed out of the cell, grabbing a dropped musket from the floor.
Sapphire rolled off the guard, who now stared down the barrel of his own firearm. He feebly raised his hands; the fight was over. Hitepshu handed the keys to Sapphire who hurriedly freed Hiwei from her cell. The three of them gathered by the doorway, about to lock up their former captors when the door burst open. A familiar person entered, several unfamiliar people following him.
â€œHiwei!â€ Pahwon shouted, racing forward.
â€œPa-Pahwon?â€ She said in disbelief. â€œYou came to rescue us!â€
â€œNot him, exactly,â€ Krauss said, strolling into the dungeon, flanked by his security guards. â€œAh, Princess, you did well.â€
â€œTh-thank you,â€ Sapphire said quietly, not feeling like she deserved any praise.
Tossmek stepped through the door. She and Pahwon looked quite pleased with themselves. For a few moments, everyone stood around, uncertain of what to do next.
â€œWell, I think this calls for a little celebration,â€ Krauss said chuckling, reaching out a hand to Sapphire, â€œGood work lads.â€
â€œI need to go, if you donâ€™t mind,â€ Hitepshu said quickly, â€œmy wife is waiting for me.â€
â€œYour wife?!?â€ Hiwei asked shocked.
â€œYes, Sippiru, the daughter of our villageâ€™s iron supplier, we are to be wed,â€ He explained, â€œPlease, Iâ€™d like no more delays.â€
â€œAye lad, go get her,â€ Krauss said nodding, â€œoff you go.â€
In a flash Hitepshu ran up the stairs and out of sight. This suited Shamus Krauss quite well. He turned to the others.
â€œIâ€™m also offering everyone a sizable reward,â€ He said, â€œtoo bad your other friend there left without collectingâ€¦oh; Iâ€™m in a good mood. Arthur, go give the man some money.â€
Kraussâ€™s right-hand man nodded, departing from the room. The rest of them followed, walking up the stairs and out into the courtyard where a cheering crowd of soldiers had gathered. Pahwon looked upon them, wondering if they had done the right thing. They marched into the officerâ€™s quarters; several of Kraussâ€™s men lay upon a few tables in a makeshift hospital. Krauss stopped to speak with a few of them, while the rest climbed the stairs to the dining hall.
A meager assortment of food was already on the table. Still, hungry as they were, it would be enough. Pahwon sat down between Sapphire and Tossmek, and soon everyone began eating. Krauss arrived moments later, taking his position at the head of the table, beaming at all of them. He ordered several men to fetch more food and soon the slightly burned main courses were set and wine poured. They ate their fill, though Sapphire seemed glum throughout the dining.
She excused herself early, walking up to the top of the tower. This concerned Pahwon, prompting him to follow her. He found her atop the tower, gazing down at the river. He slowly approached her, wondering what to say.
â€œSo, you follow me here.â€
â€œIâ€™m just, wondering what has you down,â€ he replied. â€œYou helped win a big victory.â€
â€œHah, I imprisoned got. And got Hiwei and Hitepshu imprisoned in addition.â€ She said bitterly, â€œShamus, he won, andâ€¦â€
â€œYou stole the documents, you saved my life, and Hiwei and Tossmek,â€ Pahwon insisted, stepping closer.
â€œI, I suppose,â€ she said uncertainly, looking over at him. â€œI think I shall need to think awhile.â€
She slowly walked along the wall, gazing at her surroundings. Pahwon stood still for a moment, trying to figure out if her last statement was deep or just awkwardly worded gibberish. After a few minutes he walked back down the stairs in time to snag some dessert from the table. Still feeling drained from the battle, Pahwon followed Tossmek and Hiwei out of the dining room. The three of them made their way to the tower and into a large bath chamber reserved for the officers.
Hoping to wash the day away, Pahwon stepped into the lukewarm water. Hiwei and Tossmek followed suit, trying to clean off the last few days. As he scrubbed his hair, Pahwon thought through everything that had brought him to this place; from the ill-fated attack on the office, to the close call with the pirate ship, but most of all their victory over the fort. Or more precisely, Shamus Kraussâ€™s victory, he thought, wondering what the shipping magnate truly had in mind. Whether he planned to save them from the pirates, take over himself, or sell them to the empire he called home.
â€œThe Magnus Imperiiâ€ Pahwon said quietly, shuddering at the sound.
â€œWhat did you say?â€ Tossmek asked, swimming over to him.
â€œIâ€™m just-just considering a few things.â€
â€œLike what Mister Krauss has planned in the long run,â€ Tossmek said softly.
Pahwon nodded, deciding that he had to know for certain who he was dealing with. He swam through the shallow water towards the door, hoping he could locate mister Krauss quickly. Within moments the door swung open, revealing just the man he had wanted to speak with.
â€œIâ€™ve been looking-, oh, dear,â€ Mister Krauss said, suddenly turning red and ducking his head behind the doorframe. â€œI, um, I was looking for you lot. My right-hand just procured a little something for your troubles.â€
He leaned down, his head out of view, and placed nine gold coins on the floor.
â€œWow, um, thank you,â€ Tossmek said gratefully.
â€œActually, I was looking, or well, about to look for you,â€ Pahwon said quickly. â€œAnd uh, what are you doing?â€
â€œOh, donâ€™t mind me,â€ he said hastily, the rest of him moving out of sight, â€œjust d-didnâ€™t want to interrupt. Eh, what is it you wanted lad?â€
â€œI, I have to know,â€ he said in a serious tone, â€œMister Krauss, what are you going to do with my country?â€
â€œAhâ€¦yes. Yes of course,â€ he said knowingly, â€œthat depends entirely on a few events, some of which are outside of my control at this time.â€
â€œLike what? Tell us, please,â€ Hiwei blurted out.
â€œWell, if those bloody pirates do something to the Kassars before I can stop him,â€ Krauss said somberly, â€œIf the Portuguese invade before Iâ€™m ready for them, or if they call off the invasion entirely. And, thereâ€™s my own Empire that might have caught wind of whatâ€™s happening here. For the moment, though, I think Iâ€™ve got everything under control. So, hopefully that clears up a few things.â€
â€œI think, maybe, it does,â€ Pahwon said noncommittally, â€œSay, do you know whatâ€™s got Sapphire down?â€
â€œThatâ€¦might be a bit harder to explain,â€ Krauss said hesitantly, â€œask her, if you really want to know.â€
â€œRight, weâ€™ll do that,â€ Tossmek said quietly.
â€œI think I ought to be going,â€ Krauss said, leaning back through the door quickly, â€œIâ€™ll have your clothes washed and send some clean ones down shortly.â€
With that, he snatched their garments and was gone, his footfalls echoing down the hall. The three looked at each other, trying to determine if they had accomplished anything. promised fresh clothes arrived. One of Kraussâ€™s assistants, a woman Pahwon noticed, entered the chamber and laid out some clean clothing for them. Feeling sufficiently cleansed, they pulled themselves out of the water and dried off, the new garments fitting quite well. Tossmek wandered around the corridors, eventually leading them out into the courtyard. They watched the sun starting to sink over the horizon, wondering what they were going to do next.
â€œOh, my boat,â€ Tossmek muttered, turning towards the entrance, â€œI think Iâ€™d better go secure it.â€
She quickly headed to the main tower, arriving at the guarded entrance. Kraussâ€™s assistant was milling around the entryway, and took an interest in the three of them.
â€œWhat brings you here?â€ he said, his boredom quite evident.
â€œI want to go secure my barge, the Tub.â€
â€œOh, I see, I shall accompany you,â€ he said nodding, â€œwe shall store your craft in the Krauss and Klein docks, where it will be safe and sound.â€
As they left the fort, something seemed different in the air. Their walk back through the streets of Samek seemed more pleasant, more wholesome. Pahwon thought it might simply be the knowledge they would not be stalked by pirates, but the feeling seemed deeper than that, somehow. They eventually found their way back to the secluded dock and found the Tub, just as they had left her. Tossmek and Pahwon quickly got the barge ready for sail and cast off, Hiwei and the assistant walking around to meet them at the docks.
Tossmek felt good, the gentle rocking of the boat and the sound of the sail made everything seem right again. As she skillfully guided the craft around the berths and docks, she hoped that they would soon be back on the river. Too soon her voyage came to an end at the large Krauss and Klein dockyard. Tossmek sighed, bringing her ship in for a smooth landing. They secured the Tub, the assistant making an official note of it and handing Tossmek her K&K paperwork. She stuffed it roughly into her small cabin, wondering if perhaps she might feel more at home sleeping there for the night.
â€œCome along now, the officerâ€™s quarters will be your housing for your stay here.â€
Tossmek glanced at the old cot, deciding she would have plenty of time to sleep in her cabin later. They made their way back towards the imposing fortress, through the dockside area and past numerous small houses. All around them people walked cautiously down the streets, still on edge from the earlier battle. Still, they seemed hopeful, which Pahwon found reassuring. After a hike which left the assistant exhausted, they arrived back at the tower gate. Several loaded wagons passed them, on their way out of the city.
The soldiers paid them little attention, looking quite bored and disheveled. Soon the assistant caught up, allowing them back into the citadel. As they reentered, Pahwon decided that he was going to find out what was bothering Sapphire and see if he couldnâ€™t cheer her up. He wandered back to the officerâ€™s area, finding his way to the pantry. In the dim light, he searched around for something she might enjoy and a small, chocolate cake at the back of a broken cabinet. Surprised to have found such a rare delicacy, he carefully wrapped it in a sheet of paper before beginning the search.
â€œWhatcha got there?â€ Tossmek asked as he emerged.
â€œOh, I found a cake in the pantry and thought it might cheer Sapphire up.â€
â€œRight, that sounds like a good idea. I think Mister Krauss might know where she is.â€
The two quickly set off, finding Krauss in the dining room moments later. He was still seated at the head of the table though now a mess of papers was scattered before him. He looked up as they approached.
â€œMister Krauss, where is Sapphire?â€
â€œOh, the princess? I think she retired for the evening. Letâ€™s see now, sheâ€™s in the Generalâ€™s room, I think, probably still sulking.â€
â€œOk, thanks,â€ Pahwon said, hurrying out of the room.
They climbed up the stairs, finding Hiwei already at her door. She looked up at them, nodding as they approached. Pahwon walked up to the door and knocked.
â€œWho comes?â€ Sapphire asked.
â€œJust me,â€ Pahwon said without thinking.
He slowly pushed the door open, walking into the large room. Sapphire sat on the large bed against the right hand wall, reading by candlelight. Pahwon approached, setting the cake on a small table.
â€œI, I brought you something,â€ he said quickly, â€œsomething from the pantry. You seem to be a little melancholy, so I thoughtâ€¦â€
â€œThank you,â€ she said quietly, lowering the scroll. â€œI have, I just felt a little less-useful, err, less-than usefulâ€¦I got captured.â€
â€œIt all worked out in the end,â€ Pahwon said encouragingly, walking over to her.
â€œI suppose it filled out in the summation,â€ she said, â€œhowever, I, justâ€¦just have not felt correct.â€
With a small knife, Pahwon cut off a piece of the cake and handed it to Sapphire. After a slight hesitation she grabbed it and wolfed it down in two bites. An expression of happiness crossed her face as she ate.Â Â Pahwon cut himself a piece, hoping to feel that good, before sitting down at the end of the bed.
â€œSo, Sapphire, why does Mister Krauss keep calling you â€˜princessâ€™?â€
â€œIf you really must know, it shall take some time to explain fully. You are unaware.â€
â€œOf a great many things,â€ she said softly, taking another slice of cake. â€œI, I guess if you really want to know, I had better start a while back. Back in another lifeâ€¦â€