The dim glow of the morning light finally reached into Soshetâ€™s bedroom, awakening her. She blinked awake, stretching out her arms. A hand reached across her chest. She took it, rolling over and greeting Talaku. He kissed her, pulling himself towards her.
â€œGood morning,â€ she said quietly, resting back onto her pillow.
â€œHmm, quite,â€ he murmured. â€œDo you want to get breakfast?â€
â€œIn a little while.â€
â€œYou know, I havenâ€™t been to my home in three days,â€ he said, â€œPerhaps I should-â€
â€œOh, no. I want you here.â€
â€œI didnâ€™t mean I wanted, I meant, I could use a change of clothes,â€ Talaku finished, â€œdo you want me to stay here, Soshet? Permanently?â€
â€œWell, perhaps, maybe,â€ she said uncertainly, â€œall I know is, you being here is nice. It comforts me.â€
â€œThatâ€™s good, but, what do you want out of this?â€ He asked, looking her in the eyes, â€œDo you want me?â€
â€œWould you come here?â€
â€œOf course, my house is a one room dump,â€ he replied smiling, â€œBut, thatâ€™s not what I really meant.â€
â€œI know. Uh, hungry, feel hungry, I need food.â€
She slid to the floor and began dressing, unsure what she really wanted. Talaku stepped up behind her and slit his arms around her.
â€œI want breakfast,â€ Soshet said quietly, â€œHow about Kisirâ€™s?â€
â€œWhatever you desire, my love,â€ he murmured, holding her close.
The caravan trundled down the last leg of the Via Dmitriev, a thick fogbank shrouding the great city. As they crossed into the outskirts of the city, Dusty slowed their speed somewhat. He appeared nervous, peering at the surroundings for any sign of life. Soon he spotted an alley and turned them into it. The wagons slowed and then came to a stop.
â€œThis is where you get off, lads.â€
â€œBut, I thought.â€
â€œThe deal was to bring you to Kassar, nothing else. Good luck to you.â€
The four of them hesitantly disembarked, Sapphire holding their captive. The caravan moved out the moment they were clear. They watched it ride off, the fog enveloping their former transport within moments. Ears ringing from the sudden silence, they remained still for some time, all wondering what they were going to do. In need of direction, Pahwon stepped forward and beckoned them to follow. He walked carefully back to the street and leaned against the wall. He peered around the corner for any sign of trouble.
â€œWhere are we going?â€ Tossmek asked, leaning next to him.
â€œMy sister lives here,â€ he replied, â€œWe find her, and then, uh, she works for the government.â€
â€œWhat of him?â€ Sapphire asked, tapping on the princeâ€™s head.
â€œI have a name,â€ Rudolpho growled. â€œYou are aware I could run to the authorities.â€
â€œOnly if you want to die,â€ Hiwei warned placing her hand on his neck.
â€œHeâ€™s right though,â€ Tossmek breathed, â€œSapphire, could youâ€¦uh, take him somewhere?â€
â€œAnd where did you have in mind, exactly?â€
â€œHow about down there?â€ Tossmek said, pointing at a manhole cover.
She sighed, grabbing the young prince by the scruff of his neck and hauling him to the opening. After exchanging concerned looks, Pahwon started down the street, hoping they hadnâ€™t just made a terrible error. It was a quiet walk through the fog, their eyes darting in every direction for any sign of movement. All at once the sound of approaching feet froze them on the spot. Pahwon rested his hand on the ax handle, looking for any avenue of escape.
For an agonizing minute they remained still, wondering if they should run or stand their ground. Then a frightened old woman and her grandson emerged from the fog and hurried past, the young man eying Pahwon suspiciously. They breathed a sigh of relief, hoping the rest of the trek would be less nerve wracking. The road passed through an arched faÃ§ade, a sign above indicating that they had entered the government district.
Within moments a patrol of dirty, pale skinned men were approaching, their sent heralding their presence before they could be seen. Very carefully, Pawhon increased his pace as they approached; hoping they would mistake them for weary locals. Several of the men turned to examine the newcomers but none left their patrol route. They all sighed collectively once the patrol was out of sight, Pahwon detecting a hint of something in the air.
â€œFrying oil,â€ he murmured, taking in the delightful sent.
â€œWhat?â€ Hiwei asked quietly. â€œOil, did you say?â€
â€œI think so,â€ Pahwon replied, feeling in his pocket for coin. â€œIâ€™m feeling hungryâ€¦â€
Soshet and Talaku walked past the ministry offices, both thinking longingly about their old jobs. The smell of food soon washed away their melancholy and within a few steps Kisirâ€™s appeared out of the fog. She hurried through the door, feeling renewed. Somewhere in her mind, she knew that they would be out of money within a few weeks. The thought was drowned out by her hunger for food.
Sitting down once again in her usual place, her usual meal in front of her again, Soshet felt as though everything was back to normal. Hoping to make the feeling last, she eat slowly and took progressively smaller bites. When finally the food was gone she ordered a drink to try and stay just a few minutes more. While savoring the cheap beer she looked towards the door, finally getting ready to leave.
The door opened and three figures walked into the room. Soshet stared at the impossible sight, at last convinced of her madness. Across the room was her filthy, bedraggled brother taking a seat with a pair of similarly disheveled figures. In a haze she walked across the room, pushing the tightly packed chairs and tables from her path. She was barely arms length away before her brother noticed her.
â€œS-Soshet? Wow, this is quite fortuitousâ€¦â€
â€œP-P-Pahu!â€ She cried, lunging for him.
â€œGraahh.â€ He nearly fell out of his chair as Soshet wrapped her arms around him. â€œS-Soshet, whatâ€¦â€
â€œThought I lost you, thought you were gone to the underworld,â€ she mumbled.
Then her face flushed and she jumped back. Embarrassed by her outburst, Soshet stood quietly, averting her eyes.
â€œHey, Soshet, do you r-remember me?â€ Tossmek said quickly.
â€œYouâ€™re that Tossim girl, if I recall. How-how did all of you, uh, maybe we should go to my apartment, somewhere we wonâ€™t be seen.â€
â€œThat sounds like a good idea,â€ Hiwei said brightly, pushing out her chair.
â€œHey, whatâ€™s goinâ€™ on over there?â€ Kisir hollered from behind the counter.
â€œNothing, I-Iâ€™m leaving early, pay will be on this table.â€
Hastily, she dropped a few coins before rushing out the door. She was halfway down the block before remembering what she was doing. Awkwardly, Soshet turned and looked back, stopping to wait for her brother to catch up.
â€œSoshet, are you alright?â€ he called, running up beside her.
â€œL-letâ€™s just get back, to, apartment.â€
â€œSounds like a plan,â€ Pahwon replied, smiling.
With the odd troupe now in tow, Soshet made her way back home, her mind fluctuating between overflowing and completely blank. She was so distracted that she nearly rammed straight into the front door. Slightly embarrassed, she hastily yanked the door ajar and stepped inside. Talaku pushed ahead of her, leading them up the last flight of steps and into the apartment. Once in her nest, Soshetâ€™s thoughts began to coalesce, a simple question floating to the top of her mind.
â€œHow are you here? How, how?â€
â€œThat would take some time to explain,â€ Pahwon replied.
â€œIâ€™ll get some tea, then, and we can have a nice long chat.â€
â€œUh, Iâ€™d hate to leave Sapphire in the sewers for too long, so, perhapsâ€¦â€
â€œThe who in where, what?â€
â€œThe woman who saved us,â€ Hiwei said quickly, â€œher name is Sapphire and sheâ€™s hiding in the sewers at the moment.â€
â€œWith the Prince of Portugal,â€ Tossmek added, â€œAs Pahwon mentioned, weâ€™ve had a long, long trip here.â€
â€œThe-oh, wait, is this Sapphire woman a foreigner?â€
â€œPahu, we need to go get her then,â€ Soshet said, grabbing his arm, â€œshe might be discovered by, uh, Iâ€™ll explain later, letâ€™s go.â€
â€œSure, I guess, might as well.â€
â€œTalaku, you stay here with them, and if anything happens, well, well, um.â€
â€œWeâ€™ll think of something.â€
â€œYeah, thatâ€™s it.â€
And as soon as she had come, Soshet left her apartment, leading Pahwon all the way out into the street before remembering that it was he who knew where they were going.
â€œItâ€™s this, erm, actually, I not sure,â€ He mumbled, looking around the strange street, â€œitâ€™s different, here, around, Soshet, where is that restaurant place?â€
â€œFollow me, itâ€™s not far. Actually, you said she was hiding in the sewers. I might know a faster way.â€
â€œT-this is intolerable,â€ Prince Rudolpho moaned, twisting his face from the stench.
â€œKindly shut up,â€ Sapphire suggested, looking over the side of the narrow walkway and into the awful river. â€œItâ€™s bad enough down here without your complaining.â€
â€œJust days ago I was in the castle. To think, I have become a piece of baggage, it isâ€¦â€
â€œIf you donâ€™t want the gag to go back in, youâ€™ll can it with the woe-as-me talk. Weâ€™re stuck here until Pahwon and the others get back.â€
â€œUgh, this is a giant mess. When I get home-huh, wait, what are you hoping to accomplish, really?â€
â€œWhat do you mean?â€
â€œYouâ€™ve stopped me, the invasion is off. Now what are you going to do?â€
â€œKeep from being found, for now.â€
â€œFantastic plan there.â€
A clattering noise echoed down the pipe, sending Sapphireâ€™s mind into overdrive. She sprang up, nearly banging her head on the side of the wall and looked down the dank tunnel for any sign of movement.Â From around the next corner appeared a feeble light. Hesitantly, she retreated towards the darkness, abandoning the shaft of light falling through the manhole above.
Ahead of her appeared a silhouette holding a lantern. The figure turned towards her, and began quickly walking her way. She lowered herself onto the ground, pulling the squirming prince down with her. Slowly the figure drew near, stopping underneath the manhole. He squinted up at the gap, light shining off his bald head, trying to spot something, or so it appeared. With a sigh he shook his head, starting back down the pipe. Then he spun back around and stared at Sapphire.
â€œAck, crap, Iâ€™ve been spotted,â€ he moaned, drawing a jagged dagger from his belt. â€œWho, who are you?â€
â€œUh, I am, am, perhaps you should identify yourself first, stranger,â€ she said, hastily reaching for the sewer water.
â€œYou first, stranger.â€
Desperate, Sapphire plunged her hand down, freezing the putrid liquid and forming a pipe underneath the surface. Within moments she had one end aimed it at him and sent a jet of the stuff through her ice pipe. It splattered all over the man, giving her sufficient distraction to make her escape.
With her dirty hand she dragged the prince down the walkway, searching for an opening. She had barely covered six yards before realizing that if she left the sewers she would become a sitting duck. A crushing feeling doom crept over Sapphire as she made her futile run.Â After dashing around several bends she stopped, having come to another manhole, and stared at it for a moment.
â€œYou waiting for a written invitation?â€ The prince hissed. â€œLetâ€™s get out of here.â€
â€œI cannot, as the city above is just as hostile.â€
â€œStop right there!â€ A deranged man shouted.
Three men, one covered in filth, converged on her location. The least dirty of them approached her, a clam expression across his face. Though he kept his saber in on hand.
â€œMiss, would you kindly identify yourself.â€
â€œI-I am Sapphire Magnus.â€
â€œFuck you lady,â€ the man covered in filth spat, â€œwe were looking for you, thatâ€™s all you had to say, god damn it!â€
â€œWhat my esteemed college is trying to say, is that we are friends, and that perhaps your little trick was not necessary.â€
â€œOh, uh, sorry about that.â€
â€œYuh damn right you are.â€
â€œHuuhhh, listen, Iâ€™m part of a resistance group, so to speak, and we have a vested interest in that person you have there.â€
â€œSoshet and her brother contacted us.â€
â€œThey came down here and asked us to find you,â€ The filthy man clarified. â€œSheesh, Belariti, itâ€™s not like weâ€™ve done anything.â€
â€œWhat he means is, we have mostly just been hiding,â€ Belariti said quietly. â€œNot much resisting, as it were.â€
â€œStop your pontificating; letâ€™s get her and him back to camp. And get me rinsed off.â€
Feeling embarrassed, Sapphire followed the band of resisters. They lead her to a large maintenance platform built over a larger cistern. It was here that they had made their encampment; a shambled arrangement of tarps and partially broken crates, with two unshaven guards marching around the perimeter. One turned and looked over the new arrivals, but made no effort to investigate. The other sneezed, having apparently not noticed them.
Near the centre of the mess sat the other dozen members, gathered around a splintery table. They turned and examined their new guests. More than a couple had suspicion in their eyes. Sapphire sighed, hoping that something good would come of all their efforts.
The tallest of the table crowd broke the circle and walked up to her. He eyed her top to bottom, though he quickly moved on to the prince. A look of contempt now filled his face. The tallest poked Rudolpho like a piece of meat, blinking rapidly as though uncertain if the boy was real.
â€œHey, what do you thinkâ€¦â€
â€œSilence you monster,â€ the tallest hissed. â€œYou are responsible for all this, this is all your fault.â€
â€œI-I did notâ€¦â€
â€œI used to be a department head, I met with diplomats, now my wife isâ€¦â€
â€œOK, I understand, stop,â€ Rudolpho sputtered. â€œJust stop.â€
â€œOr what? Youâ€™re under our thumb now boy.â€
â€œP-please do not harm me.â€
â€œHeâ€™ll be useful, I have no doubt. Youâ€™ve done us a great thing Miss Sapphire.â€
â€œReally though, I just helped, it was, was P-Pahwon.â€
â€œGlad they found you,â€ Pahwon said, stepping into view. â€œI was getting a bit worried.â€
â€œExcellent, now, shall we get to business?â€ Belariti said, clapping his hands. â€œHow are we going to free the Royal Family?â€
â€œWeâ€™ll need a boat, to get out to the island.â€ One man suggested.
â€œExcellent point Biktor.â€
â€œSure, now, how do we get a boat?â€
â€œThatâ€™s beside the point, how are we getting into the fort?â€
â€œKinnut, thatâ€™s how,â€ Soshet replied softly, her eyes wandering.
â€œExcuse me, whatâ€™s Kinnut?â€
â€œUh, sheâ€™s my sister, and, the temple is allowed to send out a representative to the fort every few days.â€
â€œShe could infiltrate it for us; get a rope inside, something that would help.â€
â€œCould she be convinced?â€
â€œYes, I think I might know a way,â€ Soshet said, eyeing Pahwon. â€œHey, Pahu, want to pop by Kinnutâ€™s workplace and say hello?â€