In her mind, Soshet could see them all together. Father, Mother, Kinnut, and little Pahwon all in a row. They stood across the middle of the street but seemed to be getting smaller. She ran towards them, unable to call out. Further and further they raced, until they drifted out to sea. Soshet stopped on the shore, feeling sad. Then something caught her eye. She turned to her right and saw a small child running up to her.
The child grabbed her arm, pulling her towards a shadowy man approaching. The child was hers, of course, and the man her husband. She walked up to him, but was unable to make out his face. In an instant he was gone; the child had become a toad. Soshet fell to her knees.
â€œHey, wake up,â€ it called, a tapping noise hitting her skull, â€œyou get caught sleeping and the jig is up.â€
â€œYeah, something like that,â€ Soshet murmured, the visions fading as she sat up.
â€œYou ok?â€ Bannute asked, leaning against the doorframe.
â€œYes, yes Iâ€™m alright,â€ Soshet said; unable to recall what had been upsetting her.
â€œWell, Iâ€™ve got to get home. Ifâ€¦if youâ€™re heading out too, I just thought we might walk together. I hate going out alone these days.â€
â€œMe too,â€ Soshet echoed, grabbing the papers off her desk. â€œHey you mind if I get someone else to walk with us?â€
â€œSure, if you must.â€
Soshet quickly exited her office and walked down the hallway to the main office, the two depositing their paperwork into the receptacle before punching out. Their pirate boss grunted, caring little about the comings and goings of the few remaining bureaucrats. To Bannuteâ€˜s surprise Soshet promptly turned around and headed back upstairs. She stopped near Talakuâ€™s closet, her friend running up behind her.
â€œWhat are you doing?â€
â€œIâ€™m waiting for someone,â€ Soshet replied. â€œHe should be here soon.â€
â€œWhaâ€¦oh, heâ€¦â€ Bannute said quietly, trailing off. â€œSo, who is this lucky guy?â€
â€œTalaku,â€ Soshet said flatly, not bothering to turn around.
â€œWait, what? What? The janitor?! Soshet you cannot be serious.â€
Despite the provocation, Soshet remained quiet, trying to remember what part of the building Talaku said he was going to be cleaning. After a few moments of thought, she remembered it was the records wing. She nodded and walked down the hall, ignoring her coworkerâ€™s flustered comments. She turned a corner and ran into the very man she was looking for.
â€œOh, uh, sorryâ€¦Soshet,â€ he said quickly, â€œwhat are you doing?â€
â€œComing to see you, actually,â€ she replied. â€œIf youâ€™re all done, would you like to walk with us?â€
â€œOf course, of course,â€ he said breathlessly, dashing down the hall to the supply closet.
Bannute sighed, watching the janitor put his cleaning supplies away with a look of contempt. Soshet bit her lip, unsure of whether to laugh at or scold her coworker. After a momentâ€™s pause she decided to do neither and simply walked up to Talaku. Once he had finished putting everything in place, the three walked down the stairs and out into the garden. The warm air felt comforting to Soshet. She stood still for a moment. Bannute continued walking forward while Talaku stopped beside Soshet. The sight kindled something nostalgic in Soshet, a sense of DÃ©jÃ vu washing over her. For a moment she felt like a child again; Pahwon standing beside her as Kinnut stormed off.
â€œI, letâ€™s go,â€ Soshet said abruptly, quickly taking the lead.
â€œWhat, Soshet what?â€ Bannute said confused, â€œwhere are you going?â€
â€œTo see my sister,â€ Soshet replied casually. â€œSheâ€™s at the temple of Muâ€™at.â€
â€œYour sister? Now?â€ Bannute sputtered, looking to Talaku to make sense of this.
He simply shrugged and sped after Soshet, leaving Bannute quite confused. Soshet sped down the street, walking as quickly as possible until she arrived at the temple district. A panting Talaku came to a stop behind her, Bannute following a moment later. Soshet waited for them to catch their breath before moving on. Various temples lined the road though most were quiet at this late hour. A few patrons passed them on the road, all looking quite forlorn. In the centre was the large temple of Muâ€™at, situated atop a tall incline.
â€œIâ€™m not going up there,â€ Bannute said flatly as Soshet mounted the stairs.
â€œSuit yourself,â€ Soshet replied, her eyes firmly set on the great doors ahead.
She and Talaku climbed up to the doors where they were greeted by a friendly younger priestess.
â€œHow may I help you?â€ She asked sweetly.
â€œI would like to speak with Kinnut.â€
â€œWhom may I ask is requesting such an audience?â€
â€œOh, of course, I shall summon her promptly.â€
The girl pushed the heavy doors open before dashing inside. A minute passed, and then another. Soshet wondered if this trip had been for naught. Then out of the darkness a frail figure approached, wrapped in a long light colored robe. Talaku took a step back, looking back between Soshet and the approaching woman.
â€œShe looks almost exactly like you.â€
â€œWhat did you expect?â€
â€œHello Soshet, it is good to see you,â€ Kinnut said in her quiet voice.
â€œGood to see you to,â€ Soshet said, speaking quietly herself.
â€œThank you for delivering the letter from mother, it was quiteâ€¦illuminating,â€ she said thoughtfully, â€œTell me, why have you come?â€
â€œI came here because, well, I wanted to check how you wereâ€¦feeling, after the, uh, everything thatâ€™s happenedâ€¦â€
â€œI have made peace,â€ she replied quietly, â€œhave you come to make peace as well?â€
â€œI, I donâ€™t really know. I guess I just wanted to check in with you, see how you were holding up.â€
â€œHow are you holding up Soshet?â€
â€œOh, carrying on with the routine, about all I can do.â€
â€œPerhaps something greater brought you here? Our brother, perhaps?â€
â€œWhat are you talking about?â€
â€œSurely, you wish to pay your respects to Pahwon.â€
â€œPay my respects?â€ Soshet said uncomfortably, â€œKinnut, what are getting at?â€
â€œOh my, Soshet, surely you cannot believe he is still alive.â€
â€œOf course Pahwon is alive,â€ Soshet retorted, â€œHow could you say that?â€
â€œThere is no possibility that he could have escaped. You need to accept this, Soshet, or you will be on the road to madness like mother.â€
â€œShut your mouth! You stop saying things like that. Our, our Pahwon is out there somewhere and we need toâ€¦to-why did I ever come here? I should have known youâ€™d be like this.â€
â€œSoshet, we must accept that which we have no power to control,â€ Kinnut said reaching out towards her sister.
â€œGet your hand off me,â€ Soshet spat, backing out through the door, â€œTalaku, weâ€™re leaving.â€
She spun on the spot and raced down the stairs, nearly stumbling twice before arriving at the bottom. Bannute had gone, which suited Soshet just fine. She turned and headed down the road, Talaku racing to catch up. Soshet was shaking all the way back to her home. Once there, she turned and put a nice face on for a moment.
â€œThank you for walking me home,â€ she said to Talaku.
â€œDon-donâ€™t mention it,â€ he replied, awkwardly laughing. â€œSee you tomorrow, then.â€
â€œYeah, see you.â€
For a few minutes Soshet stood and watched him walk away. She gripped the doorframe, trying to wrap her head around everything that was happening. She slowly walked back to her room, unable to make sense of it all: the digging, the pirates, the takeover, and now her sister. Soshet clenched her teeth, thinking of Kinnutâ€™s cruel words.
â€œMade peace-didnâ€™t we read the same letter?â€ Soshet grumbled to herself.
She slammed the door behind her, trying to think clearly. Then, she leaned against the wall and thought of Pahwon. She knew he was alive, she had felt it through her motherâ€™s words. After a few moments she was able to recall most of the text, the last letter she was likely to receive until the crisis had ended.
Mother clearly wrote that she knew Pahwon had survived the burning of Qarrahum, Soshet thought, she just knew. Soshet slid forward along the wall, trying to think of why Kinnut would believe Pahwon to be dead.Â Tears began welling in her eyes. She rubbed them away quickly standing up to her full height.
â€œHeâ€™s alive, I know it,â€ Soshet told herself, â€œI know it. Pahwon, Pahwon is alive out there. He escaped. I know itâ€¦â€
A tapping noise echoed through Pahwonâ€™s head. He imagined it was the approaching footfalls of someone, though he did not know who. Asleep, all manner of things made sense to his unconscious mind. Slowly he approached the tapping, only for it to halt. Puzzled, he walked around the odd dreamscape until the tapping resumed. Then a bright light called him back to the waking world.
Pahwon blinked in the early morning light, searching for the source of the noise. Near the prow of the ship he spotted Tossmek, loading one of the captured muskets, tapping, tapping the powder down. He watched as she laid the loaded firearm down next to her. Next to a number of other muskets presumably all loaded. Pahwon rose to his feet, wondering what she was up to.
â€œUh, Tossmek, you think you have enough loaded yet?â€
â€œNo,â€ she replied flatly, â€œWe may as well be prepared, Pahwon, just in case.â€
â€œHow long have you been at that?â€
â€œUh, did you get any sleep at all?â€
â€œNow that, you mention it,â€ she started, yawning. â€œI have been feeling a little fatigued.â€
â€œYou should go rest now; Iâ€™ll take care of these.â€
Tossmek nodded and collapsed into the cabin, falling asleep only partially on the small cot. Pahwon stepped lightly over to the cabin then picked her up and gently laid her on the small bed. He pulled the curtain shut behind him, trying to think of the last proper night of sleep he had had. Deciding that the pile of firearms was a hazard, Pahwon began carefully picking them up and placing them back in their proper crates.
It occurred to him that having a bunch of loaded guns next to a line of powder casks was probably not very safe. Then it occurred to him that nothing they were doing was safe in any way. The barge shuddered, nearly causing Pahwon to drop one of the guns. He spun around to see who was steering the ship.
Sapphire sat at the tiller, staring out towards the horizon. Something about the sight reminded him of a half finished task, but he couldnâ€™t place what it was. He looked up at the sail, th image of the billowing white sheet entering his mind.
â€œThe letter.â€ He whispered to himself. Instantly he reached into the cabin and retrieved the document.
â€œSapphire, could you take care of this?â€
â€œHmm, erm, perhaps,â€ she muttered, blinking slowly. â€œOf what am I taking care?â€
â€œHow long have you been up?â€
â€œWhat is this?â€ she asked, taking the letter and holding it up. â€œOh, oh, I could-â€
â€œWhy donâ€™t you get some rest, let me take the tiller for awhile,â€ Pahwon asked, edging in close. â€œJust leave the letter for later.â€
â€œUh, ok,â€ she muttered, slipping it under her shirt. â€œThank you Pahwon.â€
Without warning, Sapphire leaned over and kissed him on the cheek before stumbling over to the tarp Hiwei was sleeping on. Pahwon sighed, settling into the routine of steering. While keeping the boat on course, he looked over his slumbering compatriots an odd sensation welling up inside him. He hunched over, trying not to look at the other boats.
A gnawing hunger sapped his strength. Pahwon rubbed his belly, knowing he couldnâ€™t release the boat. The other barges on the river passed by him, each one containing a potential foe. He pulled off his lucky cap and stowed it under his coat, realizing the suspicion a Union merchant marine insignia might bring.
It seemed like hours worth of sailing, each passing barge causing Pahwonâ€™s heart to speed up. The sound of Hiwei awaking finally snapped him to attention. The sight of her rising, knowing that the quiet would soon be broken, gave him a giddy feeling. Still recovering from her wound, Hiwei slowly began pulling some food from the stash, Pahwonâ€™s hunger reasserting itself. All at once he doubled over, a hunger pang echoing through him. He looked longingly as she began eating, knowing that he needed food.
â€œUh, Hiwei, could you get me a slice of that meat?â€
â€œBut of course,â€ she replied happily, cutting a think strip of something.
Pahwon took it, hurriedly wolfing down the salty, oily sustenance in a single swallow. Satisfied momentarily, his mind turned to her health.
â€œHey, howâ€™s your shoulder?â€
â€œBetter,â€ she replied, testing the joint gingerly. â€œItâ€™ll be a few more days before I can get rid of this sling.â€
â€œThat bad, huh?â€
â€œYeah, really wish I had paid a bit more attention during that one lesson, and, huh.â€
She trailed off, putting her good hand on the wound and carefully continuing the healing spell. Teeth clenched, she murmured the incantation, her brow furrowed in concentration. Pahwon felt an odd pressure in his stomach as he watched her. It took him a moment to place the sensation. Knowing there was nothing he could do to help was eating away at him. He shook himself, trying to brush it off. But the feeling of helplessness persisted.
Apparently noticing his distress, Hiwei stopped her healing and used her good arm to make him a piece of toast. Pahwon reluctantly accepted, feeling as though he were taking advantage of her. After consuming the shameful snack his stomach settled down. A haze settled over him, fatigue now rapidly taking its toll. Hiwei noticed this as well, fixing him a mug of coffee. Blushing, he accepted the mug, holding it under his nose for a moment to enjoy the aroma.
After taking a long drag he shifted his weight slightly. A warm feeling descended over him. Then his eyes shot open. He looked around, realizing that he had fallen asleep. Frantically he rose to his feet, hoping they hadnâ€™t run wildly off course.
â€œWhy donâ€™t you keep resting for awhile?â€
He spun around, his eyes landing on Hiwei. In his absence she had taken the tiller. He started for a moment before looking at the deck.
â€œIâ€™m sorry, I, you shouldnâ€™t have toâ€¦â€
â€œItâ€™s quite alright, Pahwon, Iâ€™m the most well rested of all of you. Settle down, youâ€™re no good to anyone exhausted.â€
â€œPlease, I want to be useful.â€
Pahwonâ€™s innards twisted, his mind trying to discern what he ought to do. With a yawn, he let his fatigue win out, curling up on deck. Through heavy eyes he looked up at Hiwei, certain that what he was doing was wrong.