Carefully, Tossmek guided the barge around a rocky sandbar. In the distance Pahwon spotted their destination at long last. The city of Kuungana sprawled across the convergence of the river Dossiger and the Mwepesi mto, with districts on all three sides. In the fading light, the metropolis seemed majestic with towers, pyramids, and spires casting long shadows towards them.
Pahwon gazed at the approaching city, feeling hopeful that they would be able to stop the invasion. Wanting to keep a low profile, Tossmek eased them towards the south the south-shore dockside. The place was a rundown mess of rotting piers and partially collapsed adobe buildings. A sad looking statue of Enki came into view, his face half gone from unknown damage, standing a lonely vigil on a stone pylon at the end of what must have once been a large dock.
Well aware of Portuguese patrol boats nearby, Tossmek selected a secluded area well back from any watching eyes. The tub bumped into the dock jarring Sapphire awake. She blearily sat upright, looking around as Pahwon and Tossmek secured the boat.
â€œYou alright Sapphire?â€
â€œY-yyearm, Iâ€™m k.â€
â€œGood, me and Pahwon are going to have a look around.â€
â€œWe are, now come on.â€
With that, Tossmek pulled Pahwon onto the deserted street. The dilapidated neighborhood fanned out in all directions. After a bit of exploration they located a tall, seemingly stable building which might give them a better view.
They clambered to the top and shooed the resident birds away. Pahwon pulled out the spyglass and zoomed in. At first nothing jumped out at him. Then he spotted a long span of arches crossing the Mwepesi mto. He followed the bridge to the furthest shore. There, overlooking the fork, loomed a massive fortress.
â€œMaybe. You reckon the prince would be holed up in that fort?â€
â€œSounds about right. Perhaps we should take another look in the morning?â€
â€œSounds like a plan,â€ Pahwon said quietly, folding up the spyglass. â€œLetâ€™s go back and get some sleep, tomorrow is going to be busy.â€
Dawn came too quickly, Pahwon reluctantly blinking awake. In the morning light he could see the city more clearly. His eyes fell upon the fortress, the architect of their misery somewhere within its walls. After staring for longer than he probably should have, Pahwon began making everyone breakfast.
The others began awakening one by one. After consuming the tasteless fuel, they gathered in a circle to formulate their plan.
â€œWe need to make sure heâ€™s in there,â€ Tossmek muttered.
â€œA good place to start.â€
â€œI doubt very much that we would make it back through once we take him hostage.â€ Sapphire added.
â€œNoted, I think we need to shove him out a window into the river. Tossmek, you can be at the base of the wall, correct?â€
â€œI assume so, but, what if heâ€™s in an interior room?â€
â€œUh, you see, weâ€™ll just have to, deal with that, I suppose,â€ Pahwon stammered.
â€œThis isnâ€™t inspiring much confidence.â€ Hiwei said glumly. â€œItâ€™s not too late to turn back and warn Mister Krauss.â€
â€œWe have to try, donâ€™t we? If nothing else, we can deliver a false message, and delay the invasion.â€
â€œI donâ€™t know, itâ€™s, is it really worth it?â€
â€œLook at where we are. After everything weâ€™ve done, we canâ€™t turn back now.â€
â€œAlright, letâ€™s get started.â€
Steeled for their raid, Tossmek and Pahwon undid the moorings and readied them to sail while Sapphire sat down and began composing a new message for the prince. They sailed north across the river and docked in the slightly nicer looking part of town. Tossmek and Pahwon disembarked, hoping to scout out a bit more thoroughly.
They trudged up the muddy streets, passing by several Portuguese military patrols. After receiving not a single second glace the two began feeling more confident. On the east bank, next to the long bridge, they took a better look at the fortress from a lower angle. The walls extended down to the river line, and there were several large windows in view, which Pahwon felt boded well for their plan. Then he scanned the bridge itself.
The span was cracked and worn, worrying large gaps appearing in the stonework. Before he could think about this fact a number of horses rode out of the town behind them. He and Tossmek dove into nearby bushes as the procession approached. It was amongst them that Pahwon caught his first glimpse of the prince. The young man was in the centre, clad in a red coat with gold buttons, and wearing a golden crown.
The procession passed them by, riding across the bridge and vanishing into the fortress. A rush flowed through Pahwon as he realized their plans might come to fruition. He rushed back to the barge, feeling triumphant. He arrived in time to see Sapphire putting the finishing touches on the new message.
â€œGreat, youâ€™re done and the prince is inside,â€ Pahwon said breathlessly.
â€œAre you completely certain?â€
â€œWho else around here would wear fancy clothes and a crown?â€
â€œTrue enough I figure. This message ought to get you past the guards, just tell them you are the messâ€¦uh, hold on a moment, do you speak Portuguese?â€
â€œUh-oh, then, uh.â€
â€œDo you? You can pose as my translator.â€
â€œErm, I can pose as your translator and guide, maybe?â€
â€œBut, Iâ€™m not exactly inconspicuous.â€
â€œTossmek, do you have any money?â€
â€œI think soâ€¦â€
â€œGood, come here,â€ Pahwon said desperately, grabbing her by the arm. â€œWeâ€™re going to get Sapphire a new outfit.â€
Determined to see his plan through, Pahwon dragged Tossmek down the streets of Kuungaga, looking for a place to buy cheap clothing. They found a small second hand shop in a rundown ally where they grabbed the baggiest pants and coat they could find. A matching saggy hat completed the ensemble. After paying far more than it was worth, they rushed back to the boat and dropped the outfit before her.
â€œI am to wear this.â€
â€œUh, right, that was the idea.â€
â€œWeâ€™ll go at night, that way it will be even more inconspicuous.â€
â€œSomething is going to go wrong, I know it.â€
â€œWe wouldnâ€™t be here if something hadnâ€™t gone wrong already, and you know it.â€ Pahwon said quietly.
â€œI know that, uh, perhaps we should come up with a backup plan, just in case?â€
â€œThatâ€™s sounds like a good idea, what did you have in mind?â€
â€œThat bridge, it looks decrepit. You think these powder casks might be enough to bring it down?â€
Soshet yawned in morning light, trying to focus on the day ahead. Still trying to push Kinnutâ€™s stinging words from her head, Soshet wanted to see if she and Talaku could discover what the pirates were digging after; if for no other reason than to occupy her mind. Before taking a single step, a noise emanated from a narrow alley between her apartments block and the bathhouse next-door. Curious, she cautiously peeked around the corner and spied someone hiding behind a trash heap.
â€œOh, Soshet good to hear you again,â€ said a familiar voice.
â€œArtyom? Is that you?â€ she asked approaching the refuse pile.
â€œNot exactly the most dignified place, I admit,â€ he former college said sheepishly, rising to his feet. â€œHello Soshet.â€
â€œWhat are you doing here?â€
â€œUh, well, after the Muâ€™at square incident, I decided to stop showing up,â€ he murmured, looking around suspiciously. â€œWe Kievens donâ€™t blend in particularly well.â€
â€œSo youâ€™re living in garbage?â€
â€œCouldnâ€™t pay the rent, not that Iâ€™d want to stay anyplace for long,â€ he said sighing, â€œthose pirates are beating up any lighter skinned person they find, I even heard Petrovich was killed the other day, uh, can we continue someplace more private?â€
â€œI, well, I have to go to work now,â€ she said quickly, starting to check for passersby herself. â€œIâ€™ll meet you here later, ok?â€
He nodded, slinking back into the dark crevasse between the buildings until there was no sign of him. Feeling oddly paranoid, Soshet quickly walked to work, quickening her pace whenever anyone drew near. By the time she got to the bureau building her eyes were darting every which way and she even tensed as Talaku approached.
â€œSomething the matter?â€ he asked concerned.
â€œNothing, exactly,â€ she replied, trying to shake the feeling of paranoia.
â€œWell, I think we might be here early enough this time,â€ he said quickly, â€œto goons just went in there carrying something.â€
Soshet nodded, walking into the atrium. Her paranoia was wearing off, replaced by the thought of finding Dmitrievâ€™s gold. To see if the legends were true. As they made their way through into the basement, Soshet could not help but image herself and Talaku shooing the pirates away and discovering the hidden mound of gold. Then she would leave this city and reconnect with Mother and Father andâ€¦Pahwon.
He was alive, she reminded herself. They would meet on board some great ship, perhaps a steal ship of the old age. They neared the light at the corner of the room. Soshet pulled out some old tax records and peered through the bookshelf. She spotted the digging pirates, one of whom was sitting on a cask. Her eyes narrowed, the cask looking oddly suspicious. Without warning they stopped.
The pirate in the hole tapped the other and the two hoisted the cask down into the gap. Then they put in a second. The scene stopped making sense. Soshet could not believe what she was seeing. The pirates were starting to fill in the hole, while leading fusing from the upper cask. A powder cask, she realized, buried next to a support pillar. He first instinct was to run, but knew being discovered now would certainly prove fatal.
She turned to Talaku, who looked equally baffled. They sat down and tried to wait until the [pirates had finished their work, but the wait became unbearable. Barely breathing, they slinked out down row after row of shelves in the dark, becoming lost for a time in the pitch blackness. After far too long then found the stairs and hurriedly ran for daylight. The atrium was just filling up with the few officials who still came in for work.
Soshet walked, no longer one of them. She nearly flattened Banutte, and considered telling her about the bombs. The staring, suspicious eyes and fear of being caught compelled her to remain quiet. They could talk later, she reassured herself, in a building not rigged to blow. Confident her co-workers were safe for the moment, she and Talaku calmly fled to the street. Though well aware the pirates would not blow the building on top of themselves, Soshet could not help but stare at the structure, a part of her mind imagining what the destruction would look like.
â€œWell, I guess the upstairs lavatory wonâ€™t be getting rinsed out then,â€ Talaku said, smiling nervously.
â€œYeah, well, I think we should go somewhere else,â€ she replied, still listening intently for the sound of an explosion.
â€œShall we, I donâ€™t know, get something to eat?â€
â€œHow can you think of food at, uh, hmm. It might get my mind off this-so sure, sure, letâ€™s get going.â€
They hurried to Soshetâ€™s favorite little eatery, looking over their shoulders the entire trip. Inside she sat down and ordered black coffee to steady her nerves. They sat opposite each other, wondering if their absence would be noticed. Soon the initial shock and panic began to dissipate. She sipped her coffee, overwhelmed be a new feeling. Helplessness. The events of the previous few minutes, then of the last days and weeks played through her mind.
â€œI could have stopped them,â€ she said quietly.
â€œNo, no you couldnâ€™t have,â€ Talaku reassured her.
â€œWe could have snuck up on those pirates in the basement, I could have reached out and touched one of the attack-something, I could have done something.â€
â€œWhat? Youâ€™re not being reasonable.â€
â€œPerhaps. Huh, I wonder, perhaps Artyom knows something.â€
â€œWhat are you-â€
â€œCome on, weâ€™re leaving.â€
Without another word she exited the establishment, only then realizing she had left Talaku with the bill. She turned to face him as he exited.
â€œSorry, I was just thinking, perhaps Artyom is planning something. Yes, yes that must be why he was waiting outside my apartment.â€
â€œYou think so?â€
She nodded, which was good enough for Talaku. Within minutes they were back at Soshetâ€™s apartment and approaching the refuse pile. Hoping to draw him out, she kicked a discarded pot into a wall. The smashing had the desired effect, Artyom popped his head out.
â€œOh, Tse vy, Soshet, I did not think you would return here so soon.â€
â€œI quit, so Iâ€™ll be having plenty of free time now,â€ she informed him.
â€œWhoâ€™s he?â€ Artyon asked pointing at Talaku.
â€œIâ€™m a friend. Talaku is my name, Iâ€™m a janitor in the ministry building. Or I was, I guess I quit too.â€
â€œWhy did you quit?â€ he asked bewildered.
â€œCan I explain someplace more private?â€
He nodded, waving them down the narrow alley. They squeezed in, Soshet holding her breath. Near the centre of the block, or so she guessed, they stopped. Artyom bent over and pulled away a covering of some sort releasing a foul odor into the air. Instantly she knew it was a sewer opening. For a moment, she considered turning back but decided against it. Too many times had she witnessed terrible things and stood helplessly by.
That was why she had come to the capitol originally, she thought to herself, to do something, to make a difference. She stepped onto the top rung before hesitating. Wanting to keep something pristine, she pulled off her expensive shirt and carefully hung it off a nail. With that kept clean at least, she lead the way down the ladder, thinking about all she hoped to change, as opposed to thinking about the smells around them.
When she neared the bottom of the ladder, Soshet dropped off and nearly slipped in a puddle. Artyom caught her, and straightened her up. A bit of filth splashed up and hit her sash. Disgusted, she pulled it off and discarded the soiled cloth. They stepped back to make room for Talaku, Soshet wondering where they were being lead to. Once they were all on the sewer walkway, Artyom lit a torch and lead them into the darkness.
For a moment she reflected on what had lead her to this dank sewer walkway before trudging after their guide, hoping something good would come of this. For awhile they remained quiet, following Artyom who seemed to know the way.
â€œSo, Artyom, where are we going? Your hideout?â€ Soshet asked, breaking the silence.
â€œIn a manner of speaking,â€ he replied. â€œWe like to move around, stay ahead of the pirates.â€
â€œDo you live down here?â€ Talaku asked.
â€œOh no, I hang out I alleyways mostly; the sewer is just a convenient way to get around,â€ he replied quickly. â€œActually, itâ€™s not so bad once you get past the smell. Iâ€™m surprised more people donâ€™t use it.â€
â€œI think youâ€™ve been huffing the stench too long,â€ Soshet commented.
â€œPerhaps,â€ he admitted. â€œBut I think travelling underground has its benefits.â€
They rounded a corner and passed a depiction of Irashcikale, which gave them the creeps. Soon a light appeared in the distance. They sped up causing Soshet to slip. Talaku caught her and managed to stop her from going into the muck.
Undeterred, she continued along the narrow ledge. Around the next corner they found a large raised area one which a small encampment had been pitched. Several men huddled around it, talking in low tones. One spotted the approaching figures and rose to his feet
â€œArtyom, is that you?â€ he voice. â€œWho have you brought with you?â€
â€œFriends, they have come to help us.â€
â€œHelp you do what?â€ Soshet asked.
â€œGet rid of these pirates,â€ he said quickly.
â€œYes,â€ she said firmly, finally hearing what she wanted to hear. â€œYes, I can help you with that.â€