A cool breeze blew into the city of Kassar, a prelude to the coming fog. Through her small window in the main government administration building Soshet Letal gazed at the incoming fog bank, the last rays of daylight dwindling away. She leaned back in her chair, tapping a dry pen thoughtfully on the desk. A trio of papers lay on the table, awaiting her signature. All official documents were to be recorded in Akkadian, Kieven and Kimetic. Once the translators were done copying each document, it was her job to look over the text and correct any ambiguous wording.
With the current state of affairs there were few documents to be corrected and her hourly pay had been decreased by the new â€œadministratorâ€. So she would correct whatever they bothered to send her, then sit back and wait for the time to tick by, leaning over looking busy whenever her new boss happened by. So far her strategy had paid off, though it meant long hours of boredom sitting in her office. She glanced of the papers again, slowly reaching for the inkwell. She dipped the pen in and applied her signature to each document as slowly as she could.
As she carried through the motions, the pointlessness of the task flashed through her mind, and gave her a hollow feeling inside. The floorboards creaked just down the hall, heralding the arrival of a visitor. She glanced toward her door, knowing it could only be one of two people. The intruder knocked, confirming his identity.
â€œCome in, Talaku,â€ she said quietly, finishing the last line.
â€œHow did you know it was me?â€ he asked sheepishly, pushing the door in slowly.
â€œI have, shall we say, special powers,â€ she replied smiling. â€œSo, what beings you here?â€
â€œWell, I uh, noticed youâ€™ve been working late lately,â€ Talaku began, leaning against his broom. â€œAnd I thought you could use, uh, a nice meal afterwards. So, I was thinking-.â€
â€œAlright, letâ€™s get some food,â€ Soshet said quickly, grabbing the papers quickly.
Delighted, Talaku walked quickly down the darkened hall. Soshet took the lamp from her desk and quietly closed the door behind her. She walked down the empty hall past several abandoned offices. At the top of the central stairwell she met Talaku, who had returned his broom to the closet. They walked down the stairs, Soshet lighting the way. A loud noise echoed from below.
Curious, the two sped up, arriving in the lower entryway. Voices could be heard down the hall, shouting about something. Deciding to act naturally, Soshet slowly made her way to the nearby filing office to check out for the day. She listened hard, something telling her that it would be safer to leave. She ignored this feeling and marched straight into the office, finding it deserted.
For a moment she grated her teeth, knowing the new administrator wouldnâ€™t take her word for the time of the delivery. Then she turned, worried about what was happening down the hall. She bumped into an uneasy looking Talaku.
â€œUh, so, now we can leave?â€ he asked hastily, â€œyou filed your papers and now we can go, right?â€
â€œNot just yet,â€ she replied, â€œI, I need to know whatâ€™s going on back there.â€
Talaku didnâ€™t answer, though he stepped aside. Soshet walked out the office door, holding out her lamp. Down the hall, in another island of light, the talking continued; the words were distinctively foreign sounding. She listened hard, trying to make out what they were saying. The voices drew closer, something heavy rattling around. Within moments the pirates were nearly upon them, causing Soshet to retreat into the office.
The pirates saw this movement however, and stopped only a few feet away. The heavy object clunked down onto the floor, and then two pairs of feet scampered towards them. An unwelcome light shone down upon Soshet and Talaku, both regretting Soshetâ€™s decision. Then she saw the face of the nearest pirate, giving her an idea.
â€œHi, boss, I brought down, uh, my work for the day,â€ she said weakly, offering the papers.
He silently took them from her, glancing at his partner in crime. The two backed away from the door, taking a great burden off Soshet with each step. Hesitantly, she and Talaku stepped past the two men trying not to look suspicious. After a few moments of tension, the two pirates returned to their task. Now free, she and Talaku walked out into the cool night air, relieved to be out of the building.
â€œWell, that wasâ€¦interesting,â€ Talaku said nervously, wiping his brow. â€œSo, you still want to-.â€
â€œYes,â€ she interrupted, â€œI could use some dinner. Oh, sorry for interrupting.â€
â€œThatâ€™s okay. So do you have any place in mind?â€
â€œThereâ€™s this place right across the street, I go there all the time. Sound good?â€
Talaku nodded, and the two set off toward the street. The path in front of the main office wound through a small garden, which had looked much nicer before the gardeners had fled the city. A statue of Dimitriev stood sentry at the end of the path, gazing at them as they passed. Soshet looked up at the deceased ruler, wondering what he might think about their current situation. The mute statue stared back, a look of contemplation inscribed across the lines of the Kieven face. Once past the gate, it was a short walk to Soshetâ€™s favorite restaurant. Talaku blinked as they approached the establishment.
â€œHuh, so you eat here?â€ Talaku asked, pulling the rickety old door open for Soshet.
â€œYeah. Itâ€™s nice enough, close to work, and, well, pretty inexpensive.â€
Inside was a wide room filled with a collection of tables and chairs of varying styles, ages, and structural integrity. The low ceiling bowed slightly in the middle. Only four diners remained, and most of the lamps had been extinguished, giving the place an empty feeling. Soshet strolled to the table nearest the kitchen and took a seat, tapping on it to get some attention. The chef, Kisir emerged from the kitchen, instantly recognizing Soshet and Talaku.
â€œWhatâ€™ll you have?â€ he asked, barely bothering to listen.
â€œThe usual,â€ Soshet replied.
â€œIâ€™ll have whateverâ€™s cheapest.â€
â€œLeftover stew, gotcha,â€ Kisir replied, returning to the kitchen.
He returned within minutes, bearing Soshetâ€™s plate of seared potatoes with garlic, a piece of flatbread, and half a fish cooked in fat. He dumped the plate before her, before quickly returning with a bowl full of various odds and ends floating in some kind of liquid. This lovely meal was given to Talaku, who seemed to regret not spending a few extra coins for something more edible. He shrugged and picked up a spoon, deciding to make the most of it. The two ate in silence for a minute, both wondering the same thing.
â€œYou think we should have stayed?â€ Soshet asked quietly, â€œand, found out what they were carrying, I mean.â€
â€œEh, I donâ€™t like the thought of angering them.â€
â€œYeah, I suppose so,â€ Soshet said nodding. â€œMaybe we can look into it, tomorrow perhaps?â€
â€œHmm, I am supposed to clean near there tomorrow, I could say I got lost or something.â€
â€œSounds like a good start.â€
â€œBut, to what end? What would we do exactly, if we found out there were doing something bad?â€
â€œI, I just thought, Iâ€™m not sure. I guess, you know, maybe knowing what that was aboutâ€¦â€
She trailed off, trying to think of what she could do. Unable to think of anything, Soshet concentrated on eating, finishing her plate rapidly. Talaku, noticing this, picked up his bowl and quickly guzzled down the contents, coughing as he finished.
â€œHey, itâ€™s not a race,â€ Soshet said smiling.
â€œEh, I just didnâ€™t want to keep you waiting. Come on, let me walk you home.â€
â€œYou donâ€™t haveâ€¦oh, sure,â€ she finished, laying a few coins on the table.
Talaku pulled out all the money in his pocket and put it with the payment, before taking Soshetâ€™s arm and walking through the maze of tables to the door. They made their way down the darkened streets, passing only a few people still wandering in the night. After twisting through several alleys that Soshet knew well, they arrived at a Kieven styled apartment building. Cracked plaster covered the stone walls, decorative arches running down the walls leading to the large entry doors. Lights shone through the thickening fog from a few windows, giving off a small feeling of warmth. Once at the door, Soshet turned to Talaku.
â€œThat was nice. Well, I need to get some rest.â€
â€œYeah, me too,â€ Talaku replied, stretching slightly, â€œgot to clean the bottom floor of the records wing tomorrow.â€
â€œBe safe out there,â€ she said softly, pulling the door open.
â€œI try to be.â€
After a few steps, Talaku had vanished into the dark fog. Soshet stood still for a moment, suddenly feeling the urge to follow after him. She hesitantly turned and entered the building, realizing she didnâ€™t know where Talaku even lived, let alone what route he might take. Once inside the entryway, it was a short trek up a narrow staircase and down the hall to her apartment. She pulled open the door, relieved to be inside. She secured the bolt before heading to sleep.
In the next room lay her comfortable rope bed, tightened just the right amount. She placed her lamp down on the small table before sinking down onto the soft sheets. For a few moments she remained still, relaxing contentedly. Then she pulled off her clothes and tossed them on the floor, deciding to fold them in the morning. Once undressed, Soshet pulled the covers over herself. Comfortable at last, she leaned over and snuffed out the lamp. As she settled in for a well deserved nap, her mind turned to her little brother. She turned over in her soft bed, hopping that he was someplace safe and warm.
The first ray of dawn fell through the small tower window. Pahwon groggily opened his eyes, feeling an odd pounding sensation. For a moment he remained still, disjointed images flashing through his mind. He stretched, his hand coming in contact with something warm. Pahwon turned and came face to face with Sapphire, who was also stirring. She looked over at him, blinking her soft blue eyes. As they looked at each other, the events of the previous night began reassembling in their minds.
â€œOh,â€ Pahwon murmured, â€œI remember now.â€
In a flash Sapphire turned scarlet and turned over, unable to understand why the events of the previous night had transpired. Confused, embarrassed, Sapphire stared at the far wall and concentrated on it with all her might. Equally confused, Pahwon rubbed his temple, concerned that he had upset her. He reached out to her shoulder, hoping she might tell him what was wrong. Suddenly enraged, Sapphire smacked him. Stunned by the sudden blow, he toppled to the stone floor, nearly dragging the sheet off with him.
â€œFrom remove me self-you!â€ she snarled. â€œUh, I sayâ€¦â€
â€œAhh, Iâ€™m so sorry, did I harm you?â€
â€œOh, uh, negative I discern,â€ Sapphire mumbled, the anger passing as quickly as it had come. â€œI you cause harm?â€
â€œErr, no, not really, no,â€ Pahwon stammered, massaging his temple. â€œDid, I do something wrong?â€
â€œI truly uncertain am.â€
Completely and totally confused, Sapphire now stared at Pahwon, wondering what was going to happen next. Hesitantly, Pahwon approached her, offering his hand. Before she could react, there was a knock at the door, nearly causing him to jump. He quickly grabbed his skirt off the floor and belted it around himself before approaching the door. The person knocking however decided that he was being too slow and pushed it in. Hiwei and Tossmek stood before him.
â€œOh, uh, good morning you two.â€
â€œYou really need to be a bit more careful,â€ Hiwei said with a sigh.
â€œYeah, seriously,â€ Tossmek said grinning.
â€œThat cake you found was laced with opium,â€ Hiwei said, producing a small label. â€œIt was for the generalâ€™s pleasure.â€
â€œAh, that makes sense, I think. So, uh, what are you two doing?â€
â€œI was going to invite you to see Mister Krauss with us, but, I thought you might be preoccupied.â€
â€œWhy are you meeting him so early?â€ He asked, glancing out the window.
â€œI think somethingâ€™s going on. Several important people have been running in and out of the fortress and Krauss is at the top of the tower for some reason.â€
â€œHuh? Whyâ€™s he there?â€
â€œI just explained that I was going to ask him why.â€
â€œOh, sorry, a bit slow this morning.â€
â€œI understand. See you later Pahwon, and you too Miss Sapphire.â€
With that she strolled away, leaving Tossmek standing by the door. She started laughing then grabbed Pahwon by the shoulder and kissed him on cheek before turning and jogging after Hiwei, laughing all the way. Not knowing what else to do, Pahwon closed the door and stepped back into the room, looking over at Sapphire.
â€œWhat, what was that?â€ Sapphire asked, confused. â€œShe is angry towards you?â€
â€œI donâ€™t think so,â€ Pahwon said shaking his head, â€œshe actually seemed sort of amused, or something. If Tossmek was mad, I would know it.â€
â€œListen, Sapphire, Iâ€™m sorry about the cake.â€
â€œDo not be so; you were unaware of its true nature.â€
â€œI wanted to cheer you up.â€
â€œHmm, perhaps you succeeded,â€ she murmured, blushing, â€œI do not feel so melancholy, at least.â€
â€œSapphire, I, what are thinking about?â€ he asked, walking towards her.
â€œEheh, uh, I, I am thinkingâ€¦â€
At that moment an odd rhythmic noise emanated the window. Both glanced outside, wondering if they should be concerned. Pahwon hesitated, wanting to get closer to Sapphire. After a moment, curiosity won out, and he dashed to the window. Below was a column of soldiers marching in lockstep across the great span. Loud drumbeats boomed as they drew nearer. A hand pushed him aside, Sapphire joining him to stare out the window.
Below them a long column of soldiers marched in perfect unison. They wore shiny steel cuirasses and helmets which shimmered in the dawn light. Several men rode atop horses along their flanks, brightly colored plumes running the length of their helmets. Officers Pahwon assumed. The standard-bearers held high the red banners, in the centre of each was an emblem of a golden eagle grasping the globe in its claws. The Magnus Imperii had arrived. With a shout from the general the men instantly halted, standing completely still. In the quiet they could now make out a voice above them
â€œTkhu, I was afraid of this,â€ Krauss groaned, staring down at the soldiers.
â€œWhat is the Magnus Empire doing here?â€ Hiwei asked concerned, â€œI thought-I mean, are they here to help?â€
â€œYeah, is there something you didnâ€™t tell us?â€ Tossmek asked narrowing her eyes.
â€œI told you everything I knew,â€ he retorted, cross, â€œNow come, I shall know more at the bottom of the stairs.â€
â€œEh, hey, boss,â€ one of his mercenaries began, â€œif we had waited another day before-â€
With that he sped away, down the stairs to the main level and then into the entry hall, Hiwei and Tossmek following right on his heels. In the centre of the chamber three men, dressed in imperial cuirasses atop dark red uniforms, stood waiting for Kraussâ€™s arrival. As soon as Krauss could be seen clearly, the middle officer walked towards the stairs looking quite relieved.
â€œBene, I was expecting you,â€ The general called out, â€œThe Magnus Imperator sends his regards and reinforcements, for your boldness is truly an inspiration.â€
â€œYeah, yeah Karkhov, now tell me exactly what your orders are,â€ Krauss snapped, drawing close.
Certainly,â€ Karkhov said. â€œWe are dispatched to secure your safety and take control of the situation.â€
â€œWhat do you mean exactly?â€
â€œAlright, Shamus, Iâ€™ll be frank with you. The Emperor knows what youâ€™re trying to do here. Your sudden absence caused concern, and it wasnâ€™t too difficult to figure out the rest. So The Emperor dispatched an expeditionary force, that would be us, to secure the situation.â€
â€œMinu atta dabab?â€ Hiwei asked quickly, â€œDabab Akkaditum?â€
â€œWhatâ€™s the kid talking about?â€ Karkhov asked.
â€œOh, just wishing she understood what weâ€™re saying,â€ Krauss sighed, â€œso, General, what are you going to do exactly?â€
â€œTake command of the situation, of course,â€ he replied, pounding his chest, â€œyou can relax now; weâ€™ll get everything under control.â€
â€œThat is what I was afraid of,â€ Krauss said quietly, turning away.
Just as he was about to leave, there was a commotion near the entrance. All eyes focused on the door, where one of Kraussâ€™s men and a dockworker entered. The man looked awful, disheveled and unclean. Knowing something was up, Krauss immediately dashed over to them.
â€œWhatâ€™s this about?â€ Krauss demanded, â€œCharles, somethingâ€™s wrong, I know it.â€
â€œHe says that he saw the pirates landed just up the north Fork and sent a small boat northward.â€
â€œWhat, what!?â€ Krauss spat distraught.
â€œItâ€™s true sir,â€ Charles said quietly, â€œseveral other locals confirmed it, Montague has sent word to the Portuguese.â€
â€œWell, this makes everything much clearer,â€ General Karkhov said confidently, â€œIâ€™ll be taking charge now, Mister Krauss your security officials and, uh, private contractors will henceforth be placed under my command.â€
â€œYou, you canâ€™t do…well you can, butâ€¦damn it,â€ Krauss said, slowly realizing his grand scheme was dead.
â€œThe Portuguese will be sending an army once that message arrives, and I doubt you could fight them off on your own,â€ The general said knowingly, â€œweâ€™re both trying to do the same thing, really: insure Tuparium does not become a pirate nest or installation of the Portuguese Empire. So please, let me handle things from here on out.â€
â€œCouldnâ€™t you send a scouting party to find and kill the messenger?â€
â€œHmm, I suppose it might be worth a try, but I donâ€™t want to risk sending my men out too far. This is unfamiliar territory and the locals are possibly hostile. We are technically an invading army. No, I need to concentrate on getting the defenses here in order and securing the rear lines.â€
Krauss clenched his fist, frustrated that he could do nothing. He gazed around the chamber looking for something he could bargain with, something that could save his plans. After a few moments his eyes fell on Hiwei. A local he was not technically employing, he realized, ideas beginning to cluster in his mind. Slowly he turned to face Hiwei and Tossmek, licking his lips.
â€œListen, Karkhov, I need to attend to something.â€
â€œOf course, carry on, Shamus.â€
With that, Krauss spun around and strolled back toward the staircase. He grabbed Tossmekâ€™s shoulder as he passed, pulling her and Hiwei up the stairs. They allowed him to do so, hoping to hear some explanation of what was going on. it was not until they had reached the top of the tower that Krauss finally stopped.
â€œRight, so care to explain what happened down there?â€
â€œThose bloody piratesâ€™ sent a messenger to the Portuguese, which makes Karkhov nervous,â€ he explained, exasperated, â€œpoint is the Imperial Army is here and theyâ€™ve taken my men.â€
â€œThey can do that?â€ Tossmek asked surprised, â€œjust start ordering your people around?â€
â€œYou obviously know little of Magnus Imperial law,â€ he said, â€œanyway, they were sent here to rescue me and ensure Tuparium does not become a pirate nest.â€
â€œWell thatâ€™s good then, isnâ€™t it?â€ Hiwei asked quickly.
â€œAh, there is a bit of a catch,â€ Krauss said hastily, â€œonce theyâ€™ve secured Samek, the army will most likely launch a campaign against the pirates, leading an assault on Kassar itself. When that happens, the pirates will kill the royal family to spite you.â€
â€œOh,â€ Tossmek said quietly, feeling a knot in her stomach.
â€œHowever, I have a plan,â€ he assured them, â€œKarkhov will take a few days securing Samek. If you can stop the messenger and bring back the letter that will stop the invasion or delay it long enough for us to devise a proper rescue plan…probably.â€
â€œProbably?â€ probably asked.
â€œUh, well I donâ€™t know what the message actually says, though I assume itâ€™s a warning and or attack order. And I donâ€™t know for sure if Karkhov will change plans even if it comes back. But, I might be able to convince him. Probably. Almost definitely.â€
â€œWell, I suppose itâ€™s the best we can do,â€ Hiwei said quietly. â€œIâ€™m in.â€
â€œIâ€™ll come too, as long as Pahwon is with us.â€
â€œWhere is that lad anyway?â€
â€œOh, heâ€™s with Sapphire.â€