In a chamber overlooking the templeâ€™s central courtyard sat Kinnut, resting on her cot in a long white gown. She sat cross-legged, looking out over the garden the priests tended, trying to focus her energies. A strong stench of incense wafted through the room. She breathed deeply, pulling the curling smoke into the centre of her being. Strange images flitted through her mind as she concentrated on focusing, her mind barely tethered to physical world. Then a loud knocking noise shattered the illusion and brought her crashing back to earth. Annoyed, she turned to face the intruder.
â€œGood evening sister. W-who told you were I could be found?â€
â€œSome guy in a long white robe.â€
â€œCould you, be more specific?â€
â€œNo, have you been smoking? It smells of hashish and sickly flowery sweetness in here.â€
â€œI have, been ingesting a spiritual elixir, something to sooth the soul and bring me to a higher plane.â€ She replied, tapping on a small smoldering platter.
â€œThatâ€™s fantastic sis. Oh, Iâ€™ve brought Pahu with me.â€
â€œGuh, uh, um, uh?â€
A stunned Kinnut watched as Soshet pulled Pahwon into view. For nearly half a minute she stared in stunned silence, Soshet wearing a gigantic grin. Pahwon glanced between the two, looking quite confused. Then Soshet let out a chuckle and slowly shook her head.
â€œI told you so.â€
â€œHow, how are you here Pahwon? I was certain that you were no longer among us.â€
â€œA little luck, I suppose, a woman named Sapphire saved my life and, more than once actually, and I suppose I saved hers, but, it was a long, long trek and now Iâ€™m here to end the pirates control. Uh, itâ€™s good to see you again sis.â€
â€œOh Pahwon,â€ She cried, embracing her brother. â€œI missed you so.â€
â€œI-I missed you too, listen, thereâ€™s not a lot of time, could youâ€¦â€
â€œHereâ€™s the scoop Kinnut, we need someone to infiltrate the fortress and the temple sends people to check on the royals. Will you help us?â€
â€œHow, what, this is all so confusing.â€
â€œFocus, Kinnut, focus. If you could get a ropeâ€¦â€
â€œNo, I cannot, or, what are you planning, what are you asking of me?â€
â€œWe are going to mount a rescue, can you help us?â€
â€œOf course, but, no, perhaps, a rope? I could hang a rope from the tower, perhaps, but, you would need to come quickly. about dusk, the day after tomorrow.â€
â€œWeâ€™ll come back later, how about that?â€ Soshet asked, exasperated, â€œgive you some time to clear your head.â€
â€œOf course, I will, cleanse myself, Pahwon, be safe, with her.â€
With that she collapsed onto her cot, looking quite dazed. Soshet shrugged and walked back down the hall, Pahwon following closely behind her. Near the door Soshet stopped and took one more look back the way she had come.
â€œHope she remembers this wasnâ€™t a hallucination.â€
Sapphire leaned against the tiled wall of the bathhouse, the warm waters carrying away the weeks of grime, dust, and filth. She poured a bucket over her head, trying to feel clean. Images of the poor man sheâ€™d sprayed flitted through her mind. Before she refilled the bucket, she paused and examined her own arm. It looked strange to her now, the pale white skin unsheathed from its coating of dust.
The door clattered open, a gust of cold air heralding a new arrival. Not wishing to be disturbed by a stranger, Sapphire turned to face the intruder. Pahwon appeared, stepping lightly into the water and immersed himself up to his shoulders. Still feeling that something was off, she pushed the empty bucket across the pool before pulling her legs up in front of herself.
â€œThanks,â€ Pahwon said politely, seizing it. â€œItâ€™s been too long since I got cleaned off.â€
â€œY-yeah, it has been.â€
â€œYou sound off,â€ he said worried. â€œSomething the matter?â€
â€œI-Iâ€™m not sure anymore.â€ She murmured, turning her face away.
â€œHey, you look a bit red.â€
He crawled over to her, emerging from the water only a few inches away. A jolt went through her and she pulled herself into a ball. Concerned, Pahwon laid a hand on her shoulder.
â€œNo, no this is wrong, bathing with you,â€ she mumbled, batting it away.
â€œWhy? You bathed with Hiwei and Tossmek just a few minutes ago.â€
â€œThat was, err, different.â€
â€œHuh, you come from a strange land. Well, Iâ€™ll leave, if thatâ€™s what you want.â€
â€œNo, I mean, I donâ€™t think I want you to leave.â€
â€œOk, then, want to talk?â€ He suggested, sliding against the wall beside her.
â€œThat sounds good. What, what do you like to do?â€
â€œUh, well, I like to play cricket with my friends, ermâ€¦â€
â€œOh, the game of kings.â€
â€œYes, King Dmitriev introduced the game, as it so happens.â€
â€œInteresting, was he a good king?â€
â€œI think so, yes. My grandfather was in the bureau, said he was a good man. And, Iâ€™ll take grandpa at his word.â€
â€œYes, grandpa lived here, in the capitol, got Soshet her job, was always nice when he visited.â€
â€œYou liked him a lot, I can tell.â€
â€œTaught me how to hold a bat, to write, to carveâ€¦â€
â€œCarve, like wood?â€
â€œI got pretty good a whittling if I do say so myself.â€
â€œWow, Iâ€™m actually pretty good at carving too, though not wood.â€
â€œHuh, what do you carve?â€
â€œIce, my old mentor, Arcander, used it as teaching tool. Making water into the ice, thawing a refreezing it, a great way to develop skills.â€
â€œCan you make one here?â€
â€œIn an instant,â€ Sapphire replied, laying her hand onto the water. â€œItâ€™s all about concentration; you form the base as the image crystallizes in your mind.â€
A thin sheet of ice appeared atop the water. â€œThen you begin manipulating the form, letting some melt strengthening other spots.â€ The ice buckled, three prongs rising and moving closer together. â€œYou splash on a bit more, thicken the walls.â€ A bubble rose in the centre, Sapphire splashing another onto the surface.Â â€œThen you bring it all together and start mapping out the details.â€ She ran her hand over the small sculpture, a bird like form emerging. â€œThen you cast away whatâ€™s not needed and release the finished form.â€ She lowered her hand, a tiny swan floating out across the water.
â€œWow, thatâ€™s amazing.â€ Pahwon said, staring in awe. â€œAnd here I thought I was some master sculptor.â€
â€œI bet youâ€™re fine,â€ Sapphire said, putting her hand on his. â€œReally, itâ€™s just a little trick.â€
â€œItâ€™s a pretty neat trick,â€ he murmured as her sculpture melted away. â€œHeh, my carvings last a bit longer though.â€
â€œThatâ€™s to be expected, I suppose.â€
â€œYeah, uh, youâ€™re speaking pretty well now.â€
â€œMust be all the practice.â€
An odd sense of ease came over Sapphire. She leaned back against the wall, feeling relaxed and peaceful. Pahwon poured some water over himself, starting to wash his hair. Once finished, he returned to his spot next to her and slid his arm over her shoulders.
â€œThis is nice,â€ she murmured.
â€œYou know, there was this one time when I was little girl, wandering around outside the city. Of course, I wasnâ€™t supposed to be, but out there I found this little ice cave that was full of steam.â€
â€œThatâ€™s what I thought, so I looked inside and found a hot spring. I thought it was the greatest discovery ever.â€
â€œWhat did you do next?â€
â€œI took a dip, of course. No towel, no nothing. It was really nice in there. Of course, getting back to the city was unpleasant.â€
â€œStill, it was like my own little secret spot. I visited there whenever I could get away from Arcander. Every now and again, I would wonder why nobody had found it sooner.â€
â€œDid you find out why?â€
â€œOh, thatâ€™s the best part. One day, Arcander finds me in there, and after a stern talking to, he realizes that it canâ€™t be natural. So he goes to the main heating room and finds they have a massive leak.â€
â€œNo kidding, that, sort of reminds me of this time Tossmek and I tried to sail a washed up log up river.â€
â€œOh, that sounds neat, do tell.â€
Hiwei sank into Soshetâ€™s comfy armchair with a cup of tea in one hand a book in the other. Hoping this one would hold her interest, she adjusted the lampshade and settled in for a nice long read. Clean and relaxed for the first time in many weeks, Hiwei dug into the book and soon lost track of time. It was only when the candle flickered out that she realized how long it had been.
â€œOh, itâ€™s been awhile.â€
â€œCertainly has,â€ Tossmek said, winding up another gizmo. â€œWhat do you think is keeping Sapphire?â€
â€œWell Pahu went to take a bath after we got back,â€ Soshet called, â€œmaybe theyâ€™re together.â€
â€œRight, that might explain the dely.â€
â€œHmm, you donâ€™tâ€¦â€
The door burst open, interrupting her thought.
â€œâ€¦then he dropped the thing. After all that, just dropped it.â€ Pahwon said, laughing.
â€œI suppose it broke,â€ Sapphire said, tucking her towel a bit tighter around herself. â€œWhat a week that must have been.â€
â€œHey, Pahwon, what are you talking about?â€ Hiwei asked, setting down her book.
â€œOh, uh, all kinds of things, itâ€™s-uh, itâ€™s been interesting.â€
â€œPahu, Sapphire, your clothes are clean, I put them in the spare room.â€
â€œThanks sis,â€ Pahwon called, â€œSapphire, you want to go first?â€
â€œNo need,â€ sapphire said brightly, stepping into the next room. â€œCome on, I want to hear what happened next.â€
The early morning sun shone through Soshetâ€™s window and across her face, awakening her. She carefully slid out of bed, trying not to disturb Talaku. In the back of her barely conscious mind she remembered that there was something she was supposed to do. As she pulled her clothes on, a sweet smell wafted in through the door. Puzzled, Soshet walked into her front room where Hiwei was seated, sipping a cup of fragrant tea.
â€œGood morning Miss Soshet.â€
â€œWhat are you doing up?â€
â€œJust an early riser, I suppose.â€
â€œGreat, you remind me ofâ€¦oh, Kinnut. Uh, listen, Iâ€™ve got to check on something.â€
â€œMay I accompany you?â€
â€œSure, if you want.â€
â€œGood, I want to get a feel for this city.â€
â€œEh, ok, just come along then.â€
â€œGood,â€ Hiwei said before gulping down her tea. â€œLetâ€™s be off.â€
Confused, Soshet walked out onto the street and made for the temple of Muâ€™at. After an uneventful walk she arrived at the temple steps to find a large number of people gathered around the base of the temple. Several pirates were standing around the crowd, trying to keep some sort of order. Concerned, Soshet pushed her way though and mounted the steps. Near the top stood several temple priests and priestesses, Kinnut among them.
â€œOh, am I glad to see you sister,â€ Kinnut said, grabbing Soshetâ€™s arm, â€œcome here, youâ€™ll love this.â€
â€œW-what will I love?â€
She was pulled into a long, vacant hallway before arriving in a cupboard. Kinnut shut the door, a wide grin on her face.
â€œErr, Kinnut? Whatâ€™s going on?â€
â€œIs this not fantastic? After you and Pahwon visited, I had time to think over what you had said, and came to a most splendid idea.â€
â€œBegin spreading a rumor that the Queen mother had become desperately ill, the pirates are now going to have to let a healer and a priestess visit the fortress, not to mention that they have moved up the visit to tonight. This will be your chance.â€
â€œOh, oh great,â€ Soshet moaned, â€œWait, a healer you say?â€
â€œBut of course, I shall traverse the bay with a trusted accomplice and prepare for your clandestine arrival. Oh, this is so exciting. Pahwonâ€™s life is surely a sign form above that our cause is assured.â€
â€œErm, sure, listen, I may know of aâ€¦â€
â€œWhat are you doing in here Soshet?â€ Hiwei asked, pushing into the small room. â€œI had a hard time finding you.â€
â€œHiwei, youâ€™re a healer, arenâ€™t you?â€
â€œYes, I do know some healing magic, why? Is someone hurt?â€
â€œNo, not yet. Sis, how do you think sheâ€™d look in a priestess robe?â€
Kinnut circled around Hiwei like a predator, looking over every bit of her from top to bottom. Every few transits she pulled on some bit of fabric, apparently attempting to achieve a kind of perfection that made sense in her mind. Hiwei stood fairly still, though couldnâ€™t help following her wit her head. After a few minutes she began getting dizzy from the effort.
â€œUh, Miss Kinnut, what are youâ€¦â€
â€œQuiet, you must concentrate,â€ Kinnut snapped, grabbing Hiweiâ€™s head with both hands. â€œI will do all of the speaking when they-humble greetings to you, master Andrew,â€ Kinnut stammered, spinning around as a grumpy, disheveled looking pirate entered the sanctuary. â€œIt is good toâ€¦â€
â€œCan it, Iâ€™m here to get this over with.â€
â€œBut of course, this is Hiwei Hanttu, our reâ€¦â€
â€œDoesnâ€™t look familiar, so Iâ€™m assuming sheâ€™s doing the doctoring.â€
â€œMove, move it now.â€
Andrew marched down the steps, parting the crowd at the bottom as he passed. They made their way through the nearly vacant streets of Kassar; the few pedestrians who crossed their path either turned away or rushed by. The entire harbor was in shadow when they arrived on the dockside, the sun setting behind the warehouses along the shore. Andrew led them to a nearby pier were two of his compatriots were waiting beside a rowboat.
With the setting sun at their back, Andrew took the tiller as everyone else began to row. Hiwei began feeling fatigued immediately, a dull pain pressing on her shoulder with each stroke.Â Every few minutes she stole a glance over her shoulder, the fortress looming larger each time. By the time they reached the dock, Hiweiâ€™s arm felt ready to fall off. A man on the dock tossed Andrew a line and he pulled the boat up.
Kinnut and Hiwei quietly hauled themselves up onto the pier. Moored on the opposite side was an old sloop, two men standing lookout on her deck, three others replacing a railing on the stern. Then one of the men lowered his binoculars, Hiwei instantly recognizing him from fort Durus. Fear gripped her as she realized that one of the men might recognize her. Horrified, she bowed her head and turned towards the fortress gate.
Barely a moment had passed before she stumbled straight into Giorgio Montague.
â€œArgh, watchÂ where youâ€™re going,â€ He snarled, â€œSo, youâ€™re the healer I take it?â€
â€œGood. After you finish checking and finding that the royal familiar are fine, you can do a bit of healing on a couple of my men who actually need it.â€
Stunned, Hiwei nodded which seemed to be satisfactory. Giorgio turned and walked back though the fortress gates, grumbling something in a foreign tongue. Unnerved by the encounter, Hiwei cautiously followed her guide, hoping that her fears were unfounded.