The tolling bells of the clock tower awoke Soshet from her dreams. She sat up slowly; glad to have the unpleasant images ended. A few dim rays of dawn shone through the fog, giving her pause. For a moment, she considered lying back down and returning to sleep. With a sigh she stood up and headed to the cabinets on the far wall, grabbing a set of clean clothes from the nearest shelf. While pulling them on, Soshet absent mindedly looked over her motherâ€™s letter for the fourteenth time and wondered if there was any way to get a reply out.
Once dressed, Soshet quickly left her apartment, wanting to find out what those pirates had been doing in the office. A pang of hunger changed her plans slightly, and she decided to get some breakfast. The enticing smells of her favorite eatery guided her through the fog and into the warmth of Kisirâ€™s place. Soshet was soon seated near the kitchen, eating a seared slice of lamb and onion with a bit of bread to soak up the juices. As she started digging in, a familiar face appeared nearby.
â€œGood morning Talaku,â€ Soshet said politely.
â€œOh, hello Soshet,â€ he said hastily, genuinely looking surprised, â€œI didnâ€™t think youâ€™d be in here so early.â€
â€œIâ€™m not usually,â€ she replied, looking down for a second, â€œbut, well, that whole business last night has got me quite curious.â€
â€œYeah, I know. Iâ€™m curious too.â€
They sat quietly for a time, both wondering the same thing. After Soshet had finished eating and laid her payment on the table the two set off for the administration building. Once across the foggy street, Soshet gazed up at the statue of Dmitriev and made up her mind. She turned to Talaku.
â€œWeâ€™re going to take a look,â€ she said quietly, pushing the doors open.
Talaku simply nodded, taking the lead. He walked straight up the stairs and around the corner towards a closet. Soshet followed, confused by his action, but not wanting to speak up too loudly. At the closet he reached in and pulled out a broom and dust collector.
â€œUm, what are you doing?â€
â€œIâ€™m a janitor, if it would be strange not to see me with these,â€ he replied, strolling back down the hall.
Soshet nodded, wondering what her alibi could be. They made their way back down to the entry hall, the scuffmarks on the floor clearly indicating the crateâ€™s path down the hallway. The path led them to the basement stairwell, which was what they had feared. Just as Soshet was about to open the door, the sound of something moving on the other side caused Talaku to start panicking. She grabbed him by the shirt collar and dragged him out of sight. Moments later the door burst open and a pair of pirates emerged holding a crate.
Hesitantly, Soshet leaned out from behind cover and watched them staggering out of the building, grumbling in their odd tongue. Once certain the coast was clear, they descended into the dark basement. As they neared the bottom of the stairs, a strange sound could be heard from deeper under the building. They slowed, listening intently. The sound of moving stones echoed in the darkness. More curious than ever, Soshet hurried forward toward a dim glow. She passed rows of old files before she saw the two pirates. She peered cautiously around the row of shelves.
One pirate was sliding a flagstone back into place while his partner held a lantern. Perplexed, Soshet wondered why they had disturbed the floor. Old stories of hidden treasures began floating through her mind. At that moment Talaku rubbed up against her, nearly causing Soshet to call out in surprise. She bit her tongue, standing in silence. The sound of stonework stopped and the glowing light moved away. Once they were certain the pirates were gone, Soshet walked up to where they had been working.
She ran her hand along the floor, dirt and chips of stone confirming that the pirates had indeed been digging. She thought back, trying to figure out what she had witnessed. The idea of the pirates digging for treasure seemed odd, since they had control of the national coffers, but she couldnâ€™t think of anything else they would be doing. Realizing they were now literally in the dark, Soshet felt her way back to Talaku before leading him back to the stairwell. They emerged into the hall above, blinking in the light.
â€œUh, Soshet, what just happened?â€ Talaku asked quietly, looking quickly from side to side.
â€œFirst of all, donâ€™t look side to side quickly; it looks suspicious. Second, theyâ€™re obviously digging for something, but what I donâ€™t know.â€
â€œYou think theyâ€™re after Dmitrievâ€™s gold?â€
â€œPerhaps, though I doubt everything theyâ€™ve done has been for a treasure huntâ€¦â€
â€œHmm, well, Iâ€™d better get to work,â€ Talaku said, scooping up his supplies, â€œthe records wing isnâ€™t going to clean itself.â€
Soshet stood still and watched Talaku walk done the hall. As she turned to leave something on the floor caught her eye. A trail of dirt led away from the basement door and along the path the pirates had taken with their crate. She realized that the pirates might be transporting the excavated dirt out in the crates, meaning they probably hadnâ€™t found any treasure yet. Soshet turned and walked to her office, hoping her hunch was correct. The idea of finding Dmitrievâ€™s gold herself floating through her mind.
â€œâ€¦So thatâ€™s why weâ€™re here,â€ Pahwon finished, hoping the village elder would believe him.
â€œInteresting,â€ he replied quietly, â€œThe man you seek came here last evening. He stole my sonâ€™s horse and half the harvest money sometime after dark, I couldnâ€™t say exactly when.â€
â€œI see,â€ Hiwei said, nodding, â€œsir, weâ€™ve told you all we know; may we be on our way now?â€
â€œHmm, I suppose,â€ he said, casting a wary eye on Sapphire, â€œforeigner, you had best behave yourself.â€
With that the mob turned and left, some clearly disappointed. They had almost cleared from the dock before Sapphire remembered a request Shamus had made.
â€œOh, wait, please tell the administrator of the news,â€ Sapphire quickly added.
â€œBah, that coward fled west as soon as the pirate arrived,â€ the elder spat, â€œif you see him on your travels, tell him not to come backâ€¦â€
She blinked, watching the elder follow his men back down the dock. Feeling a bit helpless, Sapphire turned to the others, wondering what to make of news.
â€œRight, so heâ€™s going by horse now,â€ Tossmek said slowly, considering the implication. â€œThat means heâ€™ll be able to move much more quickly, which isnâ€™t good.â€
â€œBut Tossmek, heâ€™ll have to rest the horse,â€ Pahwon pointed out. â€œPlus I doubt heâ€™d be a very competent horseman, being a pirate and allâ€¦you know.â€
â€œI suppose,â€ she replied, hoping he was right. â€œIn any case, he was here recently so we need to get moving. And I need some proper sleep.â€
Pahwon and Hiwei quickly aligned the sail to the wind while Sapphire pushed them away from the dock. Once back out in the river, Sapphire decided to take the tiller. She slowly got the hang of steering, though had a bit of difficulty keeping them out of the stronger part of the current. Pahwon strolled across the small deck for a time before settling down at the prow of the boat. He gazed off into the vast horizon, looking north at the barren expanse, then south at irrigated fields. As he took it all in, it occurred to Pahwon how vast the country was.
Feeling a bit intimidated, Pahwon leaned back and tried to stay positive. The thought of having to find one man in this vastness seemed unlikely. He began to feel a sinking sensation. At that moment, Hiwei tapped him on the shoulder. He turned around, discovering she was offering him a piece of seasoned bread. He took the morsel and downed it quickly, licking the oil off his fingers. Hiwei smiled as she sat down next to him, pulling out a magic scroll to study. Intrigued, Pahwon leaned over and gazed at the strange glyphs for a few moments.
â€œSorry Pahwon, this is written for only a few to read.â€
â€œYeah, I know.â€
With that Hiwei delved into the text, emerging every so often to perform odd hand gestures. Pahwon looked out over the horizon. The boat rocked gently under him, the feeling alleviating a few of his worries. He leaned back and rested his eyes for just a moment. A cold feeling crept into him, an image of a broken man, lying splayed out at the bottom a stairwell materialized before his eyes. Someone tapped him on the shoulder. He shot upright, staring around wildly. It took a few seconds for Pahwon to realize he had fallen asleep. The sun was now setting; the empty wastes had given way to forest north and south.
â€œHave a nice nap?â€ Hiwei asked yawning.
â€œUh, I-I suppose,â€ he replied, a bit disconcerted. â€œHah, I guess I was more tired than I thought.â€
â€œYeah, well, now itâ€™s time for me to settle down.â€
Hiwei laid down a blanket and was soon fast asleep. Tossmek had already taken the tiller, leaving the two of them once again as the night crew. Hungry again, Pahwon walked over to the food crate and helped himself to some delicious edibles. As he pulled a piece of flatbread from the stash, the image flashed through his mind again. For a moment he trembled, uncertain what was the matter. Then the felling passed. A bit unsettled, he grabbed a jar of oil and began applying some to his bread.
â€œHey, get me something, would you?â€ Tossmek asked, receiving a bit of oiled meat wrapped in flatbread. â€œThanks.â€
The sun neared the horizon, indicating to Pahwon it was time to prepare the lantern. He filled the reservoir with fresh oil, putting a dash on his piece of dried meat. Once the reservoir was filled, Pahwon took it to the prow of the boat and got into position for the night watch. He leaned back, chewing on a bit of dinner while watching the colorful sunset. As the last rays of light faded, he lit the lamp and began scanning the river ahead for any obstructions.
After a few minutes he let out a yawn, wondering if they were doing any good at all. After rounding a small outcropping, Pahwon spotted a light in the darkness. He did a double take, unable to believe what he was seeing. He spun around, knowing they had to check the light.
â€œHey, Pahwonâ€¦â€ Tossmek began, almost certainly seeing what he saw.
â€œI know, those lights might be, could be him,â€ he said breathlessly. â€œWe have to check.â€
Tossmek nodded, steering the boat toward the shore. Pahwon swept the lantern across the beach to ensure they didnâ€™t smash into rocks. The Tub smoothly ran ashore, though the grating noise put them both on edge. With no time to loose, Tossmek quickly grabbed her crossbow while Pahwon drew out his saber. The landing awakened the others, Hiwei the first to realize something was going on.
â€œWhy did we-â€ She began, speaking too loudly.
â€œShush,â€ Tossmek hissed, â€œthe, the pirate messenger, he might be close by.â€
â€œOh,â€ Hiwei said, spotting the lights. â€œShould Iâ€¦â€
â€œYou should stay here,â€ Pahwon said, grabbing Tossmekâ€™s crossbow. â€œHere, letâ€™s check this out.â€
â€œHey, I should come too.â€
â€œOk, ok, you can come,â€ Tossmek said quickly, hoping she wasnâ€™t too fatigued â€œbut we need to be quick.â€
â€œWhat is happening now?â€ Sapphire asked, confused.
â€œNo time to explain,â€ Pahwon said before jumping down onto the sand. â€œWeâ€™ve got to go.â€
The three quickly crossed the sand, the lighted building just a few yards away now. Pahwon bent low, quietly crossing the roadway into the clearing. A shadow flashed across a window, causing him to drop to the ground. Afraid of scaring the pirate off, Pahwon crawled across the clearing to the adobe wall. Once there he slowly stood up, sliding along the wall. He edged around the corner, the open doorway just a few inches away. A bead of sweat rolled down Pahwonâ€™s cheek, the moment of truth almost at hand.
A tap on his shoulder was all the signal he needed. Pahwon gripped his saber tightly and charged forwards, turning and looking into the house. For a moment he stared, his heart sinking. Tossmek rounded the corner, crossbow in hand, and stood next to Pahwon. They stared into the empty house, a large moth circling a candle. Hiwei was the last to step around the corner, a bit relieved that no one was home. With a sigh, Pahwon stepped into the dwelling and looked around for any clues. But there was nothing, save the candle and a pile of hay in one corner.
â€œWell, thatâ€™s unfortunate,â€ Tossmek muttered.
â€œYeah,â€ Pahwon said quietly, sheathing his saber. â€œWe ought to head back, so as not to waste-â€
A noise from outside stopped him midsentence. All three rushed over to the windows, looking for the source. A commotion of some kind could be heard, coming from the river. From the Tub, Tossmek realized. Without a secondâ€™s hesitation, she turned and ran back towards her boat.