Pahwon yawned, tired from an afternoon of steering. He pulled the brim of his hat down a bit more, trying to block out as much of the sun as he could. Noticing his fatigue, Sapphire approached to offer him a break.

“Maybe I could steer for a time,” she said, holding her hand out.

“Yeah, ok, I could use a little break,” Pahwon agreed, rising to his feet.

He stretched for a minute, wondering if their quarry was any closer. Pahwon scanned the nearby roadway and was unsurprised to see no one in sight. Feeling a bit creative, he sat down against the gunwale and picked up a small block of wood. He examined the piece for a minute before drawing his knife. Carefully he began scraping off flakes of wood as his carving began to take shape. A female figure formed, and started to look familiar. Tossmek emerged from her cabin, looking over her crew.

“What do you have there, Pahwon?” She asked, coming closer. “Oh, that’s pretty neat.”

“Hoped you would like it,” he said, blowing away some of the smaller flakes.

“Oh, it’s of me,” Tossmek said surprised, gently taking it from him. “Pahwon, this is really good. Uh, is it for me?”

“If you want it,” Pahwon replied smiling.

“That’s very nice,” she said, turning to put the carving away.

She was about to put it onto her shelf when something in the distance caught her eye. A shape was moving down the roadway, a shape that could very well be the messenger. Tossmek tensed, trying to remain calm, as she grabbed for her spyglass. She focused in on the distant rider, one look enough to reveal that the horseman in the distance was a greasy looking foreigner, exactly what they were looking for.

“Everyone, I just spotted, spotted the pirate!”

“Really?” Pahwon said, standing up for a better look.

“Are you certain?” Sapphire asked.

“Positive,” Tossmek breathed, now able to make out the every detail of his outfit. “He’s the foreigner alright.”

“We had better increase speed,” Pahwon said quickly, heading for the mast.

“Gradually,” Tossmek cautioned, “the horse is moving slowly at the moment, but he could take off. We need to be careful.”

Pahwon nodded, tacking the sail gently. Tossmek put the spyglass down, needing to prepare a few things. She carefully pulled out her crossbow, readying the deadly implement for firing before pulling out musket Krauss had provided. Tossmek hesitated for a moment, thinking over what they were about to do. She gazed up at the pirate once more before loading the gun. It was at that moment Tossmek realized they had no real plan.

“Uh, hey, what do we actually do with the messenger when we catch him?”

“I’m not sure,” Pahwon said worried. “I thought that, we, well, would just shoot him.”

He winced, shuddering at the idea of coldblooded murder. They looked uncomfortably at one another, trying to think of some other way they could get their hands on the message the man carried. A minute passed in silence as they slowly gained ground on the pirate.

“Nmm, what’s going on?” Hiwei said blearily, pulling the tarp off. “Why is everybody being so quiet?”

“Oh, right, Hiwei. Y-you, look over there.”

“What?” Hiwei asked confused, glancing at the blob on the horizon.

“That’s the pirate, and I want you to knock him off his horse.”

“What?!”

“Yeah, oh, Hiwei, you could blast him off,” Pahwon said excitedly.

“Wait, that’s the pirate messenger over there? Oh my, this is our chance.”

“Yes, it is,” Tossmek agreed, “blast him with your magic, like you did back-like you can do.”

“His horse,” Sapphire interjected. “Blast his horse and it will buck him off.”

“That will work.”

Everyone settled into position as they approached their target. No one dared make a noise. Pahwon grasped his saber, Tossmek steadied the musket against her cabin roof, and Hiwei recalled the spell. It seemed a small eternity, but in minutes the pirate was within spitting distance; the sound of hooves the only sound breaking the silence. Carefully, Sapphire steered them as near as she dared, the whole world seeming to hold its breath.

The horse stopped suddenly, causing everyone to inhale sharply. The pirate pulled on the reins, grunting in frustration. It was at that moment Hiwei let a blast fly. The energy only grazed the horse, but the searing pain was enough induce a panic. It bucked, further angering the pirate. With the pirate barely able to stay on, Pahwon seized the initiative and jumped into the shallow waters. He stormed up to the pirate, drawing out his saber.

“Arrgh!” The pirate hollered, finally losing his battle with the horse.

He plummeted to the ground, the horse charging up the road in fright. Without hesitation Pahwon pounced on the stunned man and smacked him across the face with the blunt edge of the saber. Tossmek ran up behind him, carrying a length of rope. Stunned, the pirate put up only minor resistance to being bound. Once certain he was secured, Pahwon began rifling through his pockets.

He pulled out chewing tobacco, a bottle filled with a foul liquid, and a few old coins. What Pahwon could not locate was the message. He looked over to the others, wondering if they had the wrong man.

“Find anything?”

“No, maybe it’s sewn into his coat or something?”

“Maybe he is the message,” Hiwei called, “he memorized it or something, so there would be no paper evidence.”

“Yeah, that might be. You, speak.”

“Al diavolo voi!” he shouted.

Exasperated, Pahwon seized the pirate by his lapels and hauled him back to the boat. He squirmed all the way, even as they waded into the river. Hiwei and Sapphire hauled him onboard, the frightened prisoner now wriggling madly in the bilge.

“Sapphire, can you speak his language? We, uh, couldn’t get anything out of him.”

“That relies on what language he speaks,” Sapphire replied before, leaning over the man. “Hello, how are you?”

“Prendi un po più vicino, belle tette!”

“That’s rather rude.”

“You’re going to kill me anyway big tits, so screw politeness!”

“Where is the message?” she demanded, placing her hand on his chest.

“Do that a little low-ahh, ahh cold, agh stop it! Stop it!”

“Tell me, please,” Sapphire said, starting to feel uncomfortable.

“I put the message in the saddle bags. You’ll never catch that damned animal, so you’re just as screwed as I am.”

“Oh, no. He said the letter is on the horse.”

“Are you sure we can trust him?” Hiwei asked.

“Search his clothes, just to be safe,” Tossmek ordered, walking over to the tiller. “But, we had better start looking in case he’s not lying.”

“Aye-aye,” Pahwon said, pulling out his saber. “Now let’s get that coat off.”

While her crewmates rifled through the messenger’s clothing more thoroughly, Tossmek steered them out a bit into the calmer waters of the Dossiger, spotting a tiny dot far ahead that must be the horse. She sighed, hoping that this at last would be the final leg of their journey. Once he finished searching the pirate, Pahwon stood up and gave the bad news.

“Well, he was telling the truth. Guess we’ll have to find that damn horse.”

“I just hope it stays near the river,” Hiwei said worried.

“You’re telling me,” Tossmek said bitterly. “Wish we had just killed the stupid thing.”

“You don’t mean that,” Hiwei said, glancing at her friend.

“I-I suppose you’re right,” Tossmek conceded, “Still, it certainly would’ve been more convenient.”

A strong breeze carried the Tub onward, their goal tantalizingly close. Pahwon kept the sail straight, adjusting it to the small changes in the wind. The sun continued to sink lower, all of them knowing that nightfall would likely put an end to any hope of finding the message. After a half-hour of sailing, Pahwon began to wonder if the horse had made its way into the woods. He sighed, about to say what they were all thinking.

“I see something!” Hiwei called to everyone’s surprise. “People perhaps, and a large thing, could be a horse, dead ahead!”

Relief spread through them, all eyes turning to a tiny splotch at the base of a hill just up ahead. Soon they could make out silhouettes of people and clearly see the horse, which was now lying on the ground. Then they began seeing the detail of the six men standing over the horse. All were clad in blue colored uniforms and tall, black hats. Each one appeared to be armed with a musket. Hiwei looked closer, noticing that the horse was laying unnaturally still.

“Uh, hey, perhaps we should reconsider…” Hiwei began, lowering the spyglass.

“Olhe la!” One soldier called, pointing straight at them. “Um barco se aproxima.”

Hiwei watched as the leader spotted them and drew his sword. He yelled at his men, four of the soldiers forming a line and taking aim at the approaching boat, while the fifth soldier dashed up the small hill, the saddlebags clutched in his arms. The next thing she saw was the deck, as Pahwon dragged her down out of the line of fire. A series of menacing clicks followed, the line primed to fire. For a second Tossmek hesitated, wondering if they could talk their way through somehow.

Sapphire knew what was about to happen and decided to preempt the volley. She summoned as much power to her fingers as she dared before sending a wave of cold across the water. The water began freezing, sheets of ice blown forward by the gust, stacking upon each other until a small iceberg blocked them from view. Then the ice sank down into the river leaving them completely exposed. Sapphire realized she had only frozen the surface, but it was too late.

With the undersized iceberg sunk, the troops opened fire. The bullets ripped into the Tub blasting splinters everywhere. For a moment everyone remained still. Then Tossmek realized the soldiers would be reloading. She sized this opportunity, grabbing the musket and rising to her full height. As she took aim, time seemed to slow, the world focusing solely on her target. She squeezed the trigger and watched the lead pellet flying through the air.

The shot missed by a mile. Tossmek stood still, glancing at the powder bag and then at her crossbow. Something clunked onto the deck, coming to rest against her foot. She looked down, spotting a small bomb sitting beneath her. Just feet away, Hiwei watched in horror as her friend hesitated. Tossmek looked from side to side wasting precious seconds as the fuse burned down.

Before she could move something plowed straight into her side, sending her and it tumbling into the river. For a moment Hiwei felt relived. Then she remembered the grenade was about to explode just feet away from her. At the last second she dove behind a heavy crate, the blast reverberating through every plank of the boat. Burning wood fragments rained down from above. Stunned, she was about to get to her feet when Sapphire pushed her back down. Another volley of fire rang out, several bullets smashing through the crate. Knowing something had to be done, Hiwei brushed Sapphire’s hand away and rose anyway.

She began focusing as much power in her right hand as she could, taking aim at the first soldier she saw. The two locked eyes for a moment, the soldier raising his musket in response. Hiwei let the energy fly, feeling slightly dizzy after the exertion. She swayed, but remained upright and watched the devastation. The blast slammed into the soldier’s gun, causing it to explode like a bomb. Flaming shrapnel and the rest of her energy blast killed her target instantly.

The other four men fell from the force of the blast; two never to rise again. A third man writhed in pain, the smell of burnt flesh wafting over the river. Hiwei stared, mouth agape, in horror at what she had caused. Time seemed to stop, her mind unable to understand what it was seeing. All those years of practicing in case of defense, all the hay bales she and her friends had blasted, this was what they had trained to do, she thought.

In her dazed state, Hiwei failed to notice the soldier who had been furthest from the blast rising to his feet until he was taking aim. She tried to move out of the way. A puff of smoke rose into the air. Then the bullet slammed into her shoulder. Hiwei fell backwards into bilge, still dazed from what she had just witnessed. Then a searing, throbbing pain ripped through her side. Hiwei clenched her teeth so tight she was certain they would crack; her mind unable to recall the spell that might save her life.

“Hiwei,” Sapphire said softly, tears welling up in her eyes. “I shall get you to safety.”

Out of the woods another patrol of five was rushing to their aid of their comrades. Sapphire stared, knowing escape was the only way out. She froze the wound closed, before carefully placed Hiwei down, before summoning all her strength. With a blast of cold she cooled the air near the middle of the river, the inrushing air pulling them away from the soldiers.

The shouts and shots of the soldiers began growing more distant, much to Sapphire’s relief. Then she smelled smoke. Sapphire spun around, realizing the winds that had helped them get away had stoked embers left from the exploded grenade.

Flames shot up, engulfing the bow and Tossmek’s cabin. With everything falling apart around them, Sapphire reached into the river and attempted to freeze a large chunk of ice. She hoped to raise it up and splash a wave over the boat. Within moments she realized that too much of her energy had already been spent. Exhausted, she threw a crate into the river and laid Hiwei on its top.

“W-we’re going for a swim then?”

Sapphire simply nodded before lowering herself into the river. She paddled towards the North shore with her remaining strength, the smoke of the burning ship giving them some cover as they fled.

Engulf ting flames, the Tub finally pitched forward and sank into the Dossiger taking one unfortunate pirate to a watery grave.

The sad duo floated across the river, Sapphire struggling to keep her head above water, until at last they came to the opposite bank. She pulled Hiwei ashore and finally tended the half dead girl’s wounds properly. Fatigued, spent, Sapphire nearly fell over twice before the operation was done. Night fell around them as she worked, the darkness offering a welcome refuge from their pursuers.

“There-that, the best, manage, for now.”

“I suspect, it will do.”

“Humihf,” she mumbled, falling unconscious.

“Sapphire?” Hiwei asked weakly, “Are you…oh, have a rest then. Hope, hope I see you in the morning.”

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