Bizarre shapes of all size seemed to surround Pahwon, though none was as large as the octagon. He walked its perimeter in his iron shoes. It dissolved into an eight pointed star, a beautiful woman emerging from the centre. Gleefully he ran towards her, trying with all his might to speak. A branch smacked him in the back of the head.

Groggy and confused, Pahwon blinked awake before reaching around and pulling off the offending twig. Then the whole scene snapped into focus. He was lying next to Tossmek in the middle of a small clearing. She opened her eyes as well, his movements apparently enough to awaken her. She sat up and looked down at him, a rumbling noise emanating from her belly.

“I’m famished.”

“Me too.” Pahwon stood up. “Let’s find something edible.”

Tossmek nodded and they began penetrating further inland. Soon they heard the sound of running water nearby. The source was a small stream that ran through the forest. Tossmek stood near its bank, staring at the water. Pahwon hugged her from behind, Tossmek leaning lightly against him. Hoping it might lead them to food, they started up the stream.

In the distance a clearing emerged, which Pahwon hoped was a good sign. They sped towards it, emerging into a slightly boggy area. In the middle of the clearing Pahwon spotted a small patch of onions. He raced up to the shoots and began wrenching them from the soil. Tossmek joined in and soon they had pulled up most of them. While Pahwon began tucking them into his coat, Tossmek started checking around the clearing for anything else edible.

She spotted a fruit tree in the distance. Thrilled, she dashed to the other end of the clearing. Soon she spotted another fruit tree, and another. And many more behind them. She slowed, starting to feel uncomfortable. At edge of the clearing she stopped and carefully began plucking the ripened fruits. While filing her pockets, Pahwon came over to inspect her handiwork. He grinned, quite pleased at their haul. Tossmek glanced back at him.

“Is something the matter? You look, worried.”

“You notice how these fruit trees are in fairly even rows?”

“Huh, yeah, you’re right,” Pahwon said, leaning over. “I, I think I see something. A building, perhaps at, at the end of the row.”

A breeze rustled the leaves. Then they both turned and ran back along the creek, every noise around them becoming a beast from the tales of the western forests. Gasping for breath, exhausted, Tossmek and Pahwon arrived back at their boat.

They paced nervously, wondering if any of the abominations had followed them. Pahwon plucked up a hefty rock while Tossmek drew out her knife, both hoping their armaments would afford them some protection. After awhile their fear began to dissipate. Now feeling silly, Pahwon sat down against the canoe and pulled out an onion.

He thoughtfully chewed on it for a minute, now trying to avoid laughing openly. A snicker escaped Tossmek’s lips, echoing his sentiment.

“That was pretty silly.”

“Yes it was,” Tossmek said, sliding in beside him. “I guess we’re still kids.”

A loud rattling emanated from a nearby bush. Instantly Pahwon grabbed up the rock and tossed it at the offending shrub. A startled pigeon flew from its nest, making him feel ridiculous all over again. After eating their fill the two were left to ponder their next move.

“Shall we sail back down the river?”

“They’ll probably be looking for a boat. Though, uh, I’m not sure.” Tossmek said uncomfortably.

It occurred to Pahwon that they had no real idea what had happened to their friends. Images of them fleeing ashore, sailing down the river, or in chains surrounded by Portuguese guards flashed through his mind. He dismissed the last one, convincing himself they had gotten away somehow.

“Overland or by river?” He asked quietly

Tossmek bit her lip, knowing that either could mean missing them by miles.

“Which do you think?”

“Uh, perhaps we should walk down stream until we find the shooting site, the see if maybe we can see anything?”

“Right, that makes sense.”

Hesitantly, Pahwon took the lead, taking a last glance back at their only real means of escape. He tried to tell himself they were making the prudent choice as visions of Hiwei and Sapphire sailing further downstream filled his mind. He shook himself, knowing the others would never abandon them. After trudging through the thick forest Pahwon emerged onto a small inlet.

The calm waters teemed with fishes and fallen leaves. He stared into it for a moment before casting his gaze around the rest of the area. It struck him how futile their search was. The thickness of the forest ensured that if they were even a few yards off, they would never spot each other. A terrible sinking feeling pulled him to the sand. Tossmek knelt beside him, putting her arm around his shoulders.

“They’re gone.”

“I know.”

“We’d best get back to the boat, hope they’re sailing downstream.”

“Right.”

Neither moved. Despite everything Pahwon was convinced that their friends were nearby. They spent several long minutes staring into the water. Then Pahwon adjusted his gaze, spotting something on other shore. Instantly he started across the inlet, wading through the shallow water. On the other side he found the small carving he had done for Tossmek. He held it up for her to see.

“They’re here.”

“You can’t really believe that, it could have washed up from anywhere upstream.”

“No, no they’re nearby.”

Frantic, Pahwon began prowling the beach around the inlet, looking for any sign of them. at the end of the inlet he spotted something in the sand. A drag mark, he thought, and immediately assumed it was them. He beckoned to Tossmek, looking intently through the bushes.

“What have you…”

“Look, a trail.”

“Uh, maybe? Pahwon that could be any…”

A rustling came from the shrub. They stepped back as a bedraggled figure emerged. Sapphire looked at them, taking a moment to realize what she was seeing. Then she jumped back.

“You all, both, found. How?”

“It’s you, where’s Hiwei?”

“This way.” Sapphire murmured, her face falling.

“Is something wrong?”

Sapphire remained silent, leading them down a short pathway into a clearing. There they spotted Hiwei, leaning against a tree. She propped herself up at the sound of the approaching people, hoping to get a better look.

“H-Hiwei, are you, alright?”

“I am going to recover, Tossmek, do not worry about me so much.”

The closer Pahwon and Tossmek drew to Hiwei, the more worried they became. Most of her shirt was stained brown, her left arm cradled in a sling made from a strip of Sapphire’s cloak. Hiwei tried to smile, but quickly dropped the expression. The sight made them forget for a moment why they had traveled there.

Pahwon leaned over and gave her the largest onion he had left. As he bent over the paper scroll pressed against his skin, instantly reminding him.

“Oh, Sapphire, can you ready Portuguese?” Pahwon asked, quickly handing over the piece of parchment.

“I think so; I may be a trifle rusty though.”

Pahwon thrust the paper into Sapphire’s outstretched hand. She quickly unfurled it and began looking over the text. Everyone held their breath, waiting for Sapphire to finish. Within moments her brow furrowed, she gripped the paper tightly. After rereading the letter several times she looked up and glanced at all of them, uncertain of what to say.

“Well, what did the letter say?” Hiwei asked expectantly.

“Ah, you see, it…it actually says very little.”

“Come on, tell us what the message is,” Tossmek insisted. “I think we all ought to know.”

“Prince Rudolpho Parasav, I must unfortunately inform you that we have been unable to secure Samek,” Sapphire paused for a moment. “I must therefore urge you to move up the timetable by three…three days. Signed Admiral Giorgio Montague.”

“Wa-what? What does that mean exactly?”

“It means the invasion is going to happen with or without this message,” Sapphire stammered. “We just delayed it by three days.”

“Oh Hiwet-xuru, was this all for not?” Tossmek moaned.

All fell silent, none knowing what to say. Sapphire dropped the letter to the ground and looked up into the empty sky. Tossmek leaned against a tree and murmured something to herself; while Hiwei simply lied flat on the ground. Pahwon began wondering how they were going to get back. Slowly he stepped forward, gears starting to turn in his head. He reached down and plucked the letter from the ground, running his hand along the paper.

His hand stopped at the still mostly intact wax seal, the crude emblem of Portuguese Empire plainly visible. In an instant his idea coalesced into a plan. Pahwon started pacing rapidly, realizing the scope of their endeavor. The others started to stare at him, wondering what he was doing.

“Uh, Pahwon, what are doing?”

“I think, well, that with this document we could get access to the Portuguese prince.”

“And…?” Tossmek goaded.

“And then we kidnap him.”

“You’re joking,” Sapphire said quickly. “Pahwon there is an army between us and him, and how would we even get to his location with no boat?”

“We’ll have to…uh, acquire one,” he replied. “Then we’ll sail up the river to wherever this prince is hold up.”

“Where do suppose he is hold up, exactly?” Tossmek asked skeptically. “Oh, what am I saying, this is not going to happen.”

“What is going to happen, then? We’ll have to, um, get a boat anyway just to get back down river, I doubt we’ll all fit in the other one.”

“Well, where do we go after we capture the prince?”

“Up the river, to Niemibia. The Portuguese had a war with them a few years back, so I assume they’ll be sympathetic to us.”

“This is loon talk,” Sapphire murmured.

“I’d hate, I mean, we came here to stop the invasion,” Tossmek said. “Regardless, we still have to get transport somehow. We can’t all fit in that tiny canoe.”

“Do you agree with me, then?”

“Let’s just get a bigger boat first. Can’t do anything till we have that, right?”

Without prompting Hiwei started to rise. She staggered to her feet, wobbling a bit from the blood loss, but seemed determined move. Sapphire opened her mouth to protest, but Hiwei gave an insistent nod and started forward. Reluctantly, Sapphire put her arm under Hiwei’s shoulder and took some of her weight. Knowing that recovering the canoe was their best option, Pahwon lead the way back up river to their landing site.

It was a slow, arduous trek through the forest. When they reached the canoe, Hiwei leaned against a tree and sank to the ground, exhausted. Hesitantly, Pahwon approached her, hoping she was alright. He tapped her shoulder, receiving a weak smile as she brushed his hand away. Glad that she was awake, Pahwon returned to their grim task.

A heavy weight in his stomach, Pahwon seized the bow of their canoe and hoisted it aloft. Tossmek took the stern and together they hauled it to the river’s edge. They placed it down by a small inlet, pulling a few downed branches over it. Now prepped for launch, they positioned themselves in bushes along the bank and watched for a lone ship. Unfortunately river traffic was quite heavy for most of the morning. They anxiously waited for their opportunity, though Pahwon was glad to give Hiwei more time to rest. It was well into the afternoon until the traffic began to slow.

By the time dusk settled the boat on the river came only sparsely. With the light fading, Sapphire at last spotted a good target. She clambered back up the bank, the others knowing immediately what her arrival meant. Silently Pahwon and Tossmek descended down to the canoe and pushed out into the river. A barge, around twice the size of the Tub was just off shore, having drifted towards the north bank for some reason.

They paddled towards the unsuspecting craft, attempting to make as little noise as possible. The only man on deck was moving towards the bow, apparently trying to light a lantern. Distracted, he failed to notice the small boat paddling up to his barge. There was a loud clunk as the two craft collided, causing him to drop the lamp. He didn’t have enough time to squeak before a blow struck the back of his head.

Dazed, the sailor collapsed to the deck where Pahwon bound him. Then, stomach churning, he carefully applied a gag, making certain not to choke off the man’s airway. Secured, Pahwon paddled the canoe back to shore while Tossmek took control of the boat. Thankfully there was only one person onboard. After Pahwon ferried the others onboard they all gathered round their victim and pondered what to do with him.

“Perhaps we should turn him loose?” Hiwei suggested, “O-on the north bank, of course.”

“Right, of course,” Tossmek murmured. “Well, we can’t take him with us. Can we?”

“And risk him escaping?” Sapphire cautioned. “Perhaps we should-”

“Put him in the canoe?” Pahwon interrupted. “We’ll leave him tied up and send him downstream. Eventually he’ll loosen his bindings and paddle to shore. Hopefully after we’re long, long gone.”

Silently they lowered the man over the side, stashing some of their found provisions in the craft for him to eat. He squirmed as they lifted him over the side, terror in his eyes. When he touched the bottom of the canoe he stopped struggling. With forlorn looks all around, they cast the barge’s former owner into the Dossiger and watched the current slowly pull him into the darkness.

Feeling ill, Pahwon unfurled the sail while Tossmek took the tiller. The feeble night breeze was barely enough to counter the river’s pull, forcing them closer to the north bank. Once they were underway, Pahwon took the helm and Tossmek checked the rigging while the others settled in for a terrible night’s sleep.

To keep her mind from wandering, Tossmek decided to take stock of what they had acquired. By dim candle light she inspected the row of casks lashed to the deck. She discovered that they were filled with black powder. Near the prow were several crates of muskets. This discovery calmed her somewhat; the man had been hauling weaponry to be used against Tupparium, Tossmek told herself, he deserved what he got.

“This boat is carrying weapons,” she said quietly, hoping the knowledge would help Pahwon as well. “We, we did a-a…”

“Necessary-action,” Pahwon finished in monotone, “One less boat load, for them.”

Tossmek nodded; trying to convince herself that it was true. Distracted, she stubbed her toe on one of the casks. She jumped back, cursing the loss of her sandals. A dark though kept through her mind. She looked over at the cabin tucked into the raised bow and wondered if the boat’s former owner might have a spare pair of shoes. Inside she found a pair of boots slightly too big for her feet. After stuffing them with some odd bits of fabric, Tossmek tested her knew footwear.

Beginning to accept their situation, she rifled through the remainder of the former owner’s belongings. After finding a pair of traveling cloaks she clambered back out on deck and headed to Pahwon. She handed him one of the coats, hoping they would help disguise their figures. After he dawned it, Tossmek decided they needed some coffee and quickly found the supplies. The smell of brew soon wafted over the boat and before long they were drinking the fatigue away.

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