The heat of the midday beat down on the loading docks as the last of Krauss’s supplies were loaded onto the Tub. Pahwon shifted the crate into place, glad to be rid of the load, before straightening up and putting his lucky cap back into place. Tossmek sat against the tiller, watching the proceedings. As her crew got everything in order, she turned to the disheveled looking Shamus Krauss.

“Got everything you’ll need lass?”

“Yes, I think so,” Tossmek replied, looking over her well stocked barge, “Hiwei, think we could fit anything else onboard?”

“I doubt it,” she said quietly, dangling her feet off the bow. “I hope we’re not weighed down too much.”

“Yeah, right.”

“So, Mister Krauss, where do you think you’ll be heading next?” Pahwon asked, slinking around the crates.

“I suspect they’ll ship me back to Al-Ness-Mah, for my own safety of course…”

“In that case, would you take this with you?”

He pulled out a rolled up piece of papyrus and held it out. Shamus took the scroll, knowing it had to be important. He read the name scrawled across the top before carefully placing it inside his jacket. From the other side of the docks appeared a familiar figure. Sapphire approached the ship, blushing at the sight of Pahwon.

“Well, get onboard please,” Tossmek called, “we need to get a move on.”

“Yeah, ok,” she said quietly, stepping over the gunwale.

“Aw, I hoped you might stay here,” Krauss said a bit disappointed. “Oh, I know why you’re going though, lass.”

“I shall return soon Shamus.”

“I hope so,” he murmured, untying the last line. “You keep safe now, all of yuh.”

With a little push the Tub was underway. She floated out into the river, Hiwei and Pahwon unfurling the sail. The gentle breeze began pulling them away from the dockside and towards the river’s centre. As they sailed away from Samek, Tossmek guided the Tub out of the main current and up the mighty Dossiger. After awhile, the great city faded away; the sprawl giving way to farmlands and rolling hills. The wide river spread out before them, the current slowly dissipating across its breadth.

The vastness of it all gave Tossmek an odd sensation. She gazed westwards, feeling the wind blowing at her back and the gentle rocking of the boat. For a time she took it all in, feeling relaxed and at home. As she looked around, her gaze fell on Pahwon. He busied himself sharpening his saber, leaning against one of the empty crates. After a minute, Tossmek realized she had been staring at him non-stop. She shook herself, refocusing on the task of steering her ship.

“Hey, Hiwei,” she called, “come and take the tiller for a minute.”

“What…oh, are you sure?” Hiwei asked nervously, “I’ve never steered a boat before.”

“Right, so this is as good a time as any to learn.”

Hiwei approached apprehensively, unsure if this was a wise idea.

“Right, so straighten her out a bit,” Tossmek said patiently, “compensated a little too much there, just take it easy.”

“I’m not really feeling comfortable doing this.”

“You’re doing fine; just hold course while I adjust the sail and take that curve gently. Hey, Pahwon, give me a hand.”

Tossmek quickly adjusted the sail, making note of the upcoming curve in the river. Then The Tub began drifting in the river. It rocked slightly, though the river seemed calm. She turned and looked over at the tiller, seeing the nervous Hiwei trying to keep them on course.

“Ease it, Hiwei, she isn’t running up the river.”

“Could you take the tiller back, please?” Hiwei asked, the Tub starting to drift into the current.

“Right, maybe I should be steering for now.”

Hiwei gratefully relinquished the tiller and walked back over to the bow of the ship. Back on her perch, Tossmek put them back on course with a few deft pulls. The river bend was fast approaching. It was then that she spotted a small wisp of smoke rising from the north bank. She considered the sight for a few moments, wondering if their journey might already be over.

“Hey, you see that?”

“What are you…Oh, the smoke,” Hiwei said, “That might be where he camped for the night!”

“Or is still lingering,” Pahwon said hopefully.

“Probably worth checking, at least,” Hiwei said thoughtfully.

“Uh, how do you know it is not a local who set the fire?” Sapphire asked quietly.

“Because it’s on the north bank,” Tossmek replied.

“What do you mean by that statement?”

“Oh, right, I suppose you wouldn’t know,” Tossmek said, “along time ago, back when Dmitriev was king, a nest of Black Magic wielders took residence deep in the interior of Tuparium.”

“He battled against them,” Pahwon added, “but the best he could do was keep them south of the central desert and north of the Dossiger. For the most part, that is.”

“I believe they’re all gone now,” Hiwei assured her, “but, so are almost all of the people who lived north of the river.”

“But wait, Qarrahum and a few other places are north.”

“Well, people have been returning…though the Qarrahum you saw wasn’t the first city built there…”

“Anyway, that’s all in the past now,” Hiwei said, hoping to change the subject. “The point is there is now no longer any danger in landing on the north shore. None, at all…”

An odd silence fell over the Tub as Tossmek steered them around the river bend, soon rounding the hillock and coming within sight of a rotting dock. The old wooden structure stood out like a sore thumb, instantly becoming their target. Tossmek began to slow them down and they gently crunched into the rotting wood. Two hills stood high above them, a small collection of buildings nestled between them, which seemed to be where the smoke was rising from.

Hiwei cautiously stepped off the boat, the planks making an unnerving noise beneath her feet. Pahwon followed her, dragging a line with him. He and Tossmek tied the boat off as quickly as they could, though neither trusted the timbers much. Tossmek was about to disembark when Sapphire spoke up.

“Uh, perhaps one of us should remain here, on the boat?” she suggested.

“Yeah, that’s probably a good idea,” Hiwei said quietly. “Tossmek, you ought to stay, it’s your boat.”

“Right, that makes sense,” she said nodding. “Pahwon, you stay here too…in case I need some help getting back here.”

Pahwon nodded, stepping back onboard. Sapphire looked at Hiwei who appeared quite nervous. Dispite this, she followed Sapphire onto the shore. It was a short walk to the village above; though the closer they came, the slower they approached. There were about twelve buildings remaining in the ghost town, large holes washed through the adobe walls allowed the emptiness to be viewed more easily.

In the centre of town was a dry well, the smoke trail emanating from a few embers within. With dark openings surrounding them, all decided that lingering was a bad idea. Sapphire quickly checked the area, discovering where the fire starter had slept. A small imprint remained by the makeshift fire pit.

“No one would sleep out in the open,” Hiwei murmured. “No one, who knew history, that is.”

Satisfied, they bid a hasty retreat back to the Tub. Sapphire cracked one of the planks, knocking the mooring loose. Panicked, she jumped onto the boat, nearly toppling into the river. Tossmek quickly steered back towards the safety of the opposite bank. After making several course adjustments, she decided it was time to move the sail again.

“Pahwon, hey, you take the tiller for a minute.”

“Alright captain,” he replied, hopping over to the steer.

With the boat in good hands, Tossmek turned the sail into the wind’s new direction. Once satisfied they were going fast enough, she settled down on the deck, happy to let someone else steer for awhile. The shadows grew longer as the sun dipped low on the horizon. Tired, Tossmek pulled supplies out of the stash knowing she would need something to keep herself awake all night. As she pulled out the bag of beans, it occurred to her that they hadn’t planned how they were going to keep sailing constantly. The pirate had a day’s head start, Tossmek thought to herself as she crushed the beans, but they had to stop.

“Hey, I just thought of something,” she said quietly to everyone, “since the pirate has to stop for the night every night, perhaps we could stay moving and catch up to him. We’d have to sleep in shifts, though.”

“Ok, that sounds like a good idea,” Hiwei said yawning, “I’ll take the first shift asleep.”

“Me too,” Pahwon added.

“I as well,” Sapphire concluded.

“Great,” Tossmek said sighing.

“I’ll stay up,” Pahwon said quietly.

“Thanks for that.”

Soon the sun had set, and half the crew had adjourned for their long naps. Tossmek sighed, taking a long gulp of coffee.

“Well, Pahwon, I guess it’s just you and me now.”

“Yeah, I suppose it is,” he agreed, letting out a yawn, “Could you get me a cup too?”

“Of course,” she replied, pulling out the water jug. “Oh, and Pahwon; I appreciate you staying up with me.”

“No problem,” he said, “I’m glad to be with….be up with you.”

She smiled, handing him a steaming mug. Pahwon took his mug, keeping them on course with one hand. Tossmek pulled out the lantern, holding it out over the bow to light the way forward. For a time they simply sailed in quiet, listening to the soothing sound of the waves lapping against the hull below them.

“So, Tossmek, what do you think you’ll do afterwards?” Pahwon asked slowly.

“You mean, after we get the messenger? Well, I’ll start hauling cargo. Probably rubber, the Prussians seem to be mad over the stuff, so there will be a need for quite a few transports.”

“Hmm, but the with the expansion of Prussian industry they’ll probably need much larger transports to keep the prices economical,” Pahwon commented, “my dad told me of huge Union transport ships, much larger than even his schooner.”

“Maybe not rubber then,” Tossmek said thoughtfully, “the distillers in Samek are also an option, once they get going again.”

“Perha-ha-haps,” Pahwon replied yawning. “Probably be in high demand after the central distillery in Kassar was shut down.”

“You tired?”

“Yeah, kind of…”

“Let me take the tiller then.”

Pahwon gratefully relinquished the tiller, taking over Tossmek’s position on the bow. He scanned the river ahead with the lantern, looking for any obstacles or changes in the current. Slowly though he began to tire out, sitting down before finally laying down. Then he rested his eyes for a moment, leaving Tossmek alone. She sighed, taking a drink of cold coffee while sorely wishing she could be right next to him.

The night seemed to drag on, wearing Tossmek down. She blinked heavily, staring out over the darkened river. The outlines of hills and other shapes were the only guides to keep from running aground. She looked straight forward, glaring at the river before them. It didn’t like her, Tossmek thought bitterly. The long night seemed to drag on, the sun refusing to rise. She looked back, checking the horizon again for any sign of light, but saw nothing

Then suddenly the sky seemed to light up, but in an odd, sickly color. She spurn around, seeming to enter slow motion. They were in the middle of a desert somehow, scorching sand stretching out on all sides. Panicked, Tossmek leapt off the Tub, the earth shaking beneath her feet, and ran from the rotting ruin, passing several bleached skeletons. Without warning the nearest began speaking.

“Hey, we’ve beached,” the skeleton said.

“What?” Tossmek asked.

“Hey, wake up.”

“What?”

“Tossmek, we’ve beached,” Pahwon said insistently.

“Oh, it is you,” she said groggily and then realized what had happened. “Oh, I fell asleep didn’t I? What did I steer us into?”

“Relax Tossmek,” Pahwon said reassuringly, “the boat grounded softly, and I don’t think we lost much time.”

She nodded, glad that she hadn’t ruined her ship. Still feeling exhausted, Tossmek unsteadily rose to her feet, staring around the blurry landscape. Unable to keep her eyes open, she staggered across the deck and flopped down on her comforting cot. Tired and sore from her uncomfortable nap, she pulled off her shoes and tried to settle in for a proper rest.

“Tossmek, do you want anything?” Pahwon asked quickly.

“No, nothing, sleep,” she replied, “Pahwon, take, the tiller.”

“Ok then,” he said, pulling the curtain shut. “Have good rest.”

Pahwon yawned, having not gotten much sleep either, as he walked to the stern. Once he had the tiller in hand, Sapphire pulled a long pole from beneath the gunwale and pushed them back out onto the river. Hiwei unfurled the sail, and Pahwon turned the Tub to sail once again up the mighty Dossiger River. The day began heating up, making Sapphire more uncomfortable than she already was.

She leaned over the side and splashed water onto herself for a few minutes, trying to alleviate some of the discomfort. Still too warm, Sapphire whispered a quick spell and froze the water still clinging to her skin. Feeling a bit better, she looked back at Pahwon. He didn’t seem to notice, which was good because Sapphire didn’t know what to say to him. She looked down at the rushing water below, staring at a shimmering reflection.

“What is going on with me?” she murmured to herself, looking back at Pahwon again.

Sapphire looked out over the river before them, looking towards the horizon. Out of the corner of her eyes she spotted something of great interest. A small boat had run aground against a hill. It looked just like the launches on Krauss’s transport.

“Hey, view over there,” she exclaimed. “A boat, a vessel is there.”

“You don’t think it could be the pirate’s boat?” Hiwei asked, running up to the prow. “This could be it.”

“We won’t know until we get there.”

When they rounded the hill, a small village came into view. A group of thirty or so buildings, most clustered around the beach, lay before them. Several people pointed at them from the shore. Sapphire stood up and waved, hoping they might know something about the boat tied up at the dock.

The villagers turned and ran into their houses, which was not the reaction Sapphire had anticipated. She looked back, nervously, to the others, who seemed equally confused. As they neared a small dock, a welcoming party marched out to greet them. The welcoming group appeared to be armed, causing Pahwon and company to rethink their plans.

“Uh, perhaps we should just sail on,” Hiwei suggested, “I doubt that’s the right boat…or anything…let’s go, go.”

“You on the boat!” called the largest man on the dock, “stop immediately or we’ll rain arrows down upon you!”

“Ok, I guess we’re stopping then,” Pahwon said, hastily turning towards the dock.

“Ehhg, w-what’s going on?” Tossmek asked, “Why err-we slowing?”

“Well Tossmek, you see…” Sapphire began, moments before they were boarded.

The posse went straight for Sapphire, brandishing knives and pitchforks. For a moment she hesitated, glancing at the welcoming river. Before she could make a move the largest of the group grabbed her by the arm. He and one other pinned her to the deck, while the others pointed their deadly implements at the others.

“That is quite rude of you,” she murmured meekly. “Please, let me up.”

“Who’s boarding my ship?” Tossmek demanded, spilling out of her cabin. “Answer me, now.”

“So this is your ship, ma’am?” the largest man asked, looking down at her. “Please explain the presence of this foreigner.”

“I assume you mean Sapphire, right? Ok, she’s helping us in our mission.”

“Mission? What mission might that be?”

“Tracking down someone,” Tossmek retorted, rising to her feet. “A pirate messenger, he might have-.”

“You mean the thief?” the man asked interrupting. “Who landed here yesterday, robbed the town and stole a horse?”

“Yes, that sounds like him,” Pahwon said slowly, “is that his boat over there?”

“It is,” the mob leader said, tentatively lowering his weapon. “Perhaps we ought to discuss a few things…”

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