After an uncomfortable day of sleep, lying upon something that poked at her back, Sapphire awoke and looked towards the setting sun. The caravan had stopped and everyone else was settling in for a night of rest.

“Well, darn,” she muttered, sliding down to the ground.

Fully awake she strolled around the circled wagons and checked out the small rocky outcropping they were camping behind. She checked again, noticing that the two night guards were looking out for potential thieves. Wondering what had been prodding her in the back the entire afternoon she crept over to the wagon and checked under the tarp.

She bit her tongue to remain quiet. Beneath it was a machine of some sort, Union technology from the look of it. She quickly backed away; looking at everyone to be sure she had not been caught. When nobody on the ground moved or spoke, she breathed a sigh of relief. A noise caught her attention. She cautiously approached the lead wagon and discovered the prince still tucked away, gag intact.

He looked at her, pleadingly, Sapphire realizing he might not have been fed. As a reflex she pulled out the gag. Prince Rudolpho promptly thanked her by biting down.

“Hey,” she gasped, recoiling from the boy.

“Oh, thank Jupiter. Please, get me some water.”

Deciding to be extra carefully, Sapphire checked his bindings before fetching a canteen. The prince gulped down the elixir, relief spreading across his face. Once properly refreshed, he looked up at his captor.

“Now then, what in the world has become of you, Sapphire Magnus?”

“You got me,” she shrugged, leaning back against the wagon.

“My bother often spoke of offering you marriage,” he whispered, “but, now, you are kidnapping royalty for money. How desp…”

“It’s not for money,” she retorted, “This is to stop the invasion, your invasion.”

“Lady Magnus, you must be joking,” he said laughing, “these people, they would have been better off under my rule and you know it. The ineffective Kassars were doomed from the start. Portugal could have offered aid, development…”

“Shut your mouth,” Sapphire snapped, “or I’ll put the gag back in. You must be hungry.”

“Indeed.”

Shaking her head, Sapphire walked to one of the night guards and asked him where the food was. From the stash she got the prince the most revolting looking piece of food she could find and stuffed it into his mouth. She waited until he was done chewing, hoping to have another word with the young boy.

“You really thought you had a chance? You were desperate enough to bring in Giorgio Montague?”

“Better than the terrible failure of the Niemibian campaign, so many needless deaths on both sides. My stupid brother, I told Filipe that a frontal assault would never work. By speedily conquering Tuparium with minima loss of life, I could prove I’m far more of a leader than my brother ever could be.”

“You’re a monster,” Sapphire said dismissively, readying the gag.

“Perhaps, but with such a victory under my belt I could ascent past Teodoro and Filipe, make Father recognize…”

“All this, just to win favor with your father.”

“Yes, to become heir apparent. To claim what age stole from me,” he said, without a note of regret. “Perhaps even win the heart of a beautiful woman, such as yourse-umg-fphyrrrr!”

The prince squirmed as Sapphire shoved the gag back in his mouth. She walked away, looking at the ground. The heartless words stung all the more, knowing that there was a time when she would have believed them. She grated her teeth, the thought of her old self putting a bad taste in her mouth. Deciding to be or some use, Sapphire walked over to one of the guards.

“Mind if I take your shift?”

“No, sure, go-o-o ahead,” he said yawning.

Sapphire took her place next to the other guard, slowly watching the stars rotate across the vast sky. She sight she could never have witnessed from the cold palace beneath the cold Antarctic ice. While taking in the desert, it occurred to her that sometime soon, she was going to come face to face with ‘Ankhirasha, Queen of Niemibia. She bit her lip, hoping that somehow she could convince her sister to forgive her. Or at the very least, to not have her killed.

After many long hours on the road, the caravan rode up over a ring of hills and came into sight of Kharo’ic. Sitting in the centre of a fertile valley, the walled capitol city looked much larger than Pahwon had expected. They descended the gentle slope towards the main gate, passing a number of farmers bringing their goods to market. When he sighted the man gate, he realized most traffic was being diverted to the side.

Scaffolding surrounded the Kharo’ic gate; a work crew milled around the base of the structure as cranes hoisted stone skyward. To the side, a smaller gate had been hastily installed, the design and pale stonework clashing with the mostly sandstone walls. A city guard approached them, called for them to stop. Or so Pahwon assumed as he couldn’t understand the man at all.

“Yi’a mitach ’a’e,” he called out extending his hand, “Ye’ib pa’ik mo’itaw.”

“Mibi’a newir,” the smuggler replied, pulling out a bit of paper in a flash.

“Inefre, inefre,” the guard said waving them through.

With that they passed through and into the city. The narrow, dingy streets were lined with adobe houses, shops, and throngs of people walking to and fro. Pahwon looked all around, taking in the sights. Slowly the caravan pushed through the streets, approaching their destination.

“Hey, uh, how close are we to, uh, wherever it is we’re going?” Pahwon asked, realizing he had no idea where anything in the city was.

“The government district,” the man replied, “If we can get there, that is-minamun! Kusonga! Move it!”

After pushing through the crowd for nearly half an hour, they broke free to a more open road and sped along. Soon they passed larger and nicer looking houses. These houses were walled off from the rest of the city, Pahwon observed. They passed a number of featureless buildings, a few nondescript faces peering out at them as they passed. The road ended in a wall, a narrow street running long it stretching in both directions. As they turned the corner, Pahwon spotted a familiar insignia emblazed across one of the structures.

“Union,” he said quietly.

They were within feet of the Union embassy, its emblem shining in the sunlight like a beacon. He felt a rush of hope, knowing that if Sapphire’s sister would not help them, than the Union would. He knew it. Without warning the caravan came to a screeching halt before a set of large gates. Dusty looked at him.

“This is the place, the palace of her majesty Queen ‘Ankhirasha.”

“I think I should go first,” Sapphire called, hopping from the wagon.

Hesitantly she approached a pair of uniformed men standing vigil at the entrance. Their eyes were fixed on the intruders.

“State your business,” one barked, pulling out a truncheon.

“I, I’m here on very important business,” Sapphire said cautiously, working up all her courage. “I am Sapphire Magnus, Sister of holy queen ‘Ankhirasha. I am here to…”

Before she could finish, the guard smacked her across the face with the truncheon sending her to the ground. Stunned, Pahwon leapt down to aid her, only to be blocked by the other guard. Sapphire coughed, trying to regain her senses.

“No, I, I deserved that,” she gasped, trying to push off the ground.

“‘Ankhirasha requested you be dragged in,” the guard spat, smacking her back to the ground with a hit to the back. “Don’t struggle.”

Limply, she offered up her hands which the guards seized. She stole one last nervous look back at the others before the guards dragged her down the walkway and to the building’s steps.

They forced her to her feet, the doors opening to reveal the dimly lit interior. The other guards gave a wide birth as Sapphire was forced through the threshold. She stared down the corridor, wondered if she had made the wrong choice.

The doors slammed behind her with an ominous thud. She was escorted through another set of doors and past a filing room, then into a dark  little room off to one side. The guard shut the door to what must have been a closet, the other guard dashing off to presumably inform the queen. She leaned against the wall and sank to the floor, considering that this might be her lowest point.

Sapphire thought back, to the last time she had seen her sister. Another life or so it seemed. Then it had been ‘Ankhirasha who had come before her on bended knee. She had been in tears, or was it she who had been in tears? Sapphire reached up and touched under her eyes. ‘Ankhirasha’s tears had failed to move her then, and she doubted that forgiveness was going to a likely outcome now.

The door opened and the guard pulled her back into the dim light. He pulled off her coat, leaving her dressed in nothing but rags. Out of the office and into the atrium, standing before a final set of doors. Sapphire gulped; the whole palace seemed dreadfully quiet. The final doors moved open silently, revealing the ministry floor. The guard pushed her along, parading the disheveled, defeated empress before the representatives.

Several darker skinned men smirked, leering at her with an air of superiority. A paler gentlemen peered through his spectacles quizzically, while two woman whispered into each other’s ears. She walked before all of them, arriving at the elevated chair where the queen sat. ‘Ankhirasha was looking upwards at the skylight above, which meant Sapphire would have to call out to her.

“U-uh, Ankirahsa,” Sapphire croaked, waiting for a response. “S-sister? It’s me.”

“I know,” she said gazing down at her lowly sibling. “Y-you have audacity to come here, before me, after what you did. To come after you turned my brother and I away.”

“A-ah, I’ve come…”

“Or, perhaps it is desperation,” she said quietly, interlacing her fingers. “That would seem more likely, given your pitiful condition. Do you really think coming here will accomplish anything? That, that I would offer such a, wretched, creature comfort?”

She trailed off, taking a deep breath to remain calm. Sapphire bit her lip, cursing herself for coming. She should have known ‘Ankhirasha would still despise her. She sighed, knowing that she had to at least try. Try to obtain assistance. Try to make amends.

“Th-there are no words…”

“No, there aren’t,” ‘Ankhirasha finished, “When I heard that you survived his attack, I wondered if you might have learned something. Obviously this is not the case. You have come here to regain a life of opulence, the life you cherished.”

“No, no that’s not true,” Sapphire retorted, “I have, have come here not on my own behalf.”

“Oh, who, whom do you represent?”

“The people of Tupparium,” Sapphire stammered, “the nation suffers at the hands of…”

“Do not think I am an ignorant fool!” Ankhirasha shouted, rising from her chair, “I hope they feel half the agony that my people felt under the reign of terror their retched Dmitriev caused.”

“You-you can’t mean that.”

“It was that vile, ‘king’, Dmitriev who enabled the rise of the gangs,” she roared, “His corruption gave the gangs a steady flow of income, which they used against my people. It was only after his death, that they tried to hide their past evil and make amends. Too little, too late. No, Tupparium reaped what it sowed. I hope the nation burns.”

Sapphire stared speechless, feeling hollow inside. Any hope of rescuing the royal family was gone. She hung her head, defeated. Then a new sound met her ears. The sound of cruel laughter.

“Ironic that you should side with the one thing I hate more than you,” she whispered, shaking her head. “You’re pathetic, you know that?”

“I am,” Sapphire said quietly. “Please, sister, you’re the only one who can help…”

“Oh, that makes it different, then? Somehow? I remember when I was in your position, when I looked up at you. How the mighty have fallen.”

“It doesn’t have to be this way. You don’t have to make the same mistake…”

“Guards, remove her from my sight at once.”

A pair of burly men grabbed her, taking one arm each, and dragged her from the chamber. She stared at Ankhirasha until the doors shut, her mind completely blank. At long last, it seemed, her luck had run out. When the doors shut before her, Sapphire hung her head and silently wept.

Pahwon paced outside the palace gates, the guards eyeing him suspiciously. Uncertainty was eating away at him. Not knowing how long Sapphire might take, he couldn’t be certain if she was running late or barely getting started. Or if something entirely unexpected was happening, he thought.

“Hey, kid, we’re moving out,” Dusty called.

“Er, what? Wait, no, we have to stay here.”

“Listen, I’m not one to hang out in the government district any longer than necessary, especially smack-dab in front of the palace gates.”

“But we have to wait, or else, Sapphire might not be able to find us.”

“Sorry kid, I’ve got other business in this city, so unless you’re going to pay up now…”

“B-but, oh, oh, you’re right, I shouldn’t wait around,” Pahwon said, inspiration striking him. “Hiwei, Tossmek, come down here.”

“What’s this about?” Hiwei asked.

“Hang on a second; Dusty, can you come back here in about an hour?”

“What do you mean? You’re coming too, seeing as you haven’t paid. I’m not letting you walk off to who knows where.”

“The Union Embassy, we have to go there.” Pahwon said quickly. “I have an idea.”

“Excuse me? Idea? On how to get me some silver, perchance?”

“Possibly, I think that might happen.”

“Hmm, you’re not going to try any funny business, I’ll allow two of you to go in, but keep the other two for, uhm, company.”

“You go Tossmek, I shall remain for the, erm, company.”

Reluctantly, she obeyed the request and jumped to the street. The wagon train moved out a split second later, leaving them in a dusty cloud. Excited for the first time in too long, Pahwon raced down the road, looking for the right building. Unfortunately for him, the entire row of buildings appeared identical.

Then, much further down the road than he remembered, he spotted it. The Union embassy; their insignia shining brightly in the midday sun. He approached the gate in awe, wondering how one gained entry. A mustachioed man in a khaki uniform stood at attention near the building’s entrance. Pahwon assumed he must be the one who opened the gate.

“Hey, hey come over here!” Pahwon shouted, waving frantically.

The guard remained motionless.

“Over here, I’m in need of assistance,” he called, banging on the gate. “Can you understand me? Hello? Anyone?”

“Perhaps her doesn’t speak our language,” Tossmek said, leaning in for a closer look. “Hello! Anyone understand us?”

Starting to get worried, Pahwon grabbed the bars of the gate in his hands and began rattling it. This finally got the guard’s attention. He dashed over in a flash and dew out a pistol, brandishing it at the intruders.

“Halti, halti! Tio for de la gate!” The man exclaimed, banging the barrel against the bars.

Pahwon and Tossmek leapt back, Pahwon in particular shocked by their reception. The man eyed them suspiciously, looking around for a few moments before returning to his post. For a minute they waited, hoping something else would happen. Finally it sunk in that they would not be able to just walk in and meet with the diplomat. Pahwon sighed, rubbing the insignia on his cap.

“We’ll have to try something else,” he said quietly, “Besides, that’s just the guard, it doesn’t mean anything.”

“You sure they’ll help us?” Tossmek asked skeptically.

“I’m certain,” Pahwon said, looking down the road. “Give me a boost, I’ll go over the wall.”

“Uh no, that’s not going to happen,” Tossmek said flatly, “That guard might kill you.”

“How many things might have killed us along the way? We-we have to try.”

“Wait, look! Someone’s coming out.”

An important looking man, dressed in a suit, emerged into the daylight. Pahwon grew excited, approaching the gate again. This was their chance. The man caught sight of them and sighed. He reached a hand into his pocket as he approached them.

“Hello, hello!” Pahwon called.

“Oh, Tuparian speaking,” the man said surprised, stopping for a moment, “what are you doing all the way out here?”

“We’ve come for help,” Pawhon said breathlessly, “Something terrible has happened to Tuparium and we need the Union.”

“Y-you must be kidding,” he said flabbergasted, “you have come-how?”

“We fought and sneaked out way through Sudar,” Tossmek said proudly.

“I, I perhaps you ought to come inside.” He turned to the man in khaki, “Hey, guardio, malfermita la gate.”

Hesitantly, the guard unlatched the gate and let them through. Feeling giddy, Pahwon walked across the threshold and into the embassy building, knowing their salvation was moments away. They arrived in the front room and where the man took a seat in a chair and looked over the two eager youngsters. Behind them, the guard poked his head in, looking over the intruders.

“Layton, vi certa pri ili?” he asked suspiciously.

“Ghi estas bela,” the suited man replied assuredly. “Alright now, my name is Layton Howell. I am, uh, fairly new here, but if I cannot help you I think should know what direction to point you in. Now, what was it that you need assistance with?”

“Yes indeed,” Pahwon said pacing around the small sitting area. “We need to rescue the Kassars and drive out the pirates. We think the Kassars-”

“Whoa, wait just a minute now,” Layton interjected. “I assumed you were seeking asylum or something, uh, I do not have that kind of authority. Uh…”

“Well, who does?” Pahwon asked. “Can you get a hold of them for us? This is urgent.”

“Listen, son, I think you might have the wrong idea,” he said, trying to figure out where to begin. “The Union doesn’t work that way. I mean, I could not even begin to get the gears working towards doing something like that.”

“But you know who does, surely you can make them aware of what’s happening in Tuparium?”

“I-uh, the legislature is already ‘aware’ of the situation in Kassar, at least the outline of what’s happening.”

He paused, looking away from the two for a moment.

“Alright, I shall be blunt; Parliament is not going to approve military action. Not now, with the Magnus Imperii muscling in on our home continent.”

“Ther-ere must be something, something you can do,” Pahwon said quietly, his hopes crumbling.

“I could file some paperwork, that might get looked at,” Layton replied helplessly, “believe me, nobody likes what’s happening to Tuparium, but we are bound by laws and-and the current climate-I am sorry. I truly am sorry.”

“Yeah, I’ll bet,” Pahwon said quietly, sliding his cap off. “I guess I’ll leave then.”

“Uh, thank you for seeing us Mister Howell,” Tossmek said shaking her head.

Dejected, the two walked towards the open door. Pahwon held his formerly precious cap lightly by his fingers, wavering on whether or not he should discard it.

“Wait, wait!” Layton called, stopping him in his tracks. “Here, this is the best I can do.”

He handed Pahwon a small slip of paper, something scribbled hastily across its surface,

“Take this to the Prussian embassy; they ought to give you assistance.”

Pahwon took the paper silently, wondering if it would do them any good. He headed out the gate, peering down at the note. It was incomprehensible to him, but hopefully the Prussian could make sense of it. They walked down the road, tying to find the proper building. Unfortunately, they didn’t know where the Prussian embassy was located. After spending an hour of running up and down the road Pahwon spotted a building bearing similar markings to those on the note.

Hoping they had at last found someone who could render assistance, Pahwon rapped on the gate, getting the guard’s attention immediately. He walked over suspiciously, taking the offered note. His face lit up instantly, which Pahwon hoped to be a good sign. The guard dashed through the door and soon brought out another man. The two were speaking excitedly.

Behind them, Dusty’s wagon train barreled around the corner and sped towards them. Pahwon spotted it, hoping the timing would prove fortuitous. The official finally reached the gate, clearing his throat to get their attention.

“Is this paper true?” he asked quickly, “hmm, you look young for effective resistance fighters.”

“We captured a Portuguese prince,” Tossmek said as the wagons arrived behind them. “Hiwei, pull out Rudopho.”

“W-what?”

“Just show him to the nice Slavic man.”

Reluctantly, Hiwei pulled the prince out for all to see,

“Y-y it can’t be!” the official exclaimed, pulling the gate open. “I think, think that we might have something to discuss.”

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