4. The Prophecy and the Stowaway

Rushing out the door, Levi ordered the princess to stay put, where she would be safe and out of harm’s way, but Hataru was much too curious so she peeked out through the doorway as Levi’s men battled. She gasped when she noticed a familiarity of the aggressors. These were the same men who had imprisoned her! Yes, there's the fat man who has a pet parrot, there's the one with an awful overbite, she whispered under her breath, and that's the ugly brute who tied and locked me up!  Why are they here?

One of the aggressors singled out Levi, egging him on for a fight with the daunting light of bloodlust in his eyes. Tight, black garments clothed his body, and the remains of dried blood stains were splattered on his inky robe. Bone-studded armor only added to his demon-like appearance. Despite his dark mien, the man did have one light about him ─ his snow white bangs, quite distinguishable from his remaining Stygian body of hair. No man could ever look half as threatening as he, the princess was convinced. With sickening speed and flexibility, the  dark one outmaneuvered his silver-haired counterpart, and Hataru blinked twice when she saw the mysteriously eerie man’s lips form a cold smile, as if he held the clawed man’s life in his own hands.

    Thud! Levi landed on his back ─ tripped by his opponent's blade. He began to stumble up, but... Slam! A hard, metal-toed boot crashed into his side, possibly snapping a rib or two. Again and again, the black and white haired man kicked the captain in the side, in the face, his arms, his legs, and  every vulnerable place. Every contact between foot and body was rewarded by a howl of agony. On his hands and knees, as if bowing before his adversary, Levi wheezed. A slight trickle of liquid drew a vibrant red line from his his lip to his chin as he crouched there panting.  After a pause to simper over his handy work, the evil man leaned forward, whispering toxic words into the fallen man's ear. Hataru couldn't hear him, but she could see that they upset Levi more than she thought possible. Incredulity flashed across his face before transforming into slanted eyebrows, bared teeth, and curled, odious lips. The collapsed captain spat back a fiery sentence or two, yet again Hataru couldn't hear. Holding her breath, Hataru was a frozen captive of the event before her.

Then, with a sudden, unexpected burst, the door from which she had been hiding behind swung open with such a force that the girl was hurled across the cabin and knocked against a chair, putting her in a slumped, fetal position. Lights going out, she could barely watch as two figures shuffled around the room, stopping at a book shelf. Her eyes fluttered  slowly and she saw stars dancing idly. One figure snatched up a thick leather bound book, while the other loomed over her menacingly. He sloped in closely, invading her personal space with his hot, fumey breath clogging her nostrils, but his partner urged him to leave before he could get a good look at her face. As he turned away from her, a scrap of parchment slipped out of one of his jacket pockets, floating gently as a feather and landing in the princess’s lap.

When the two men ran out with the book, Levi’s foe ceased his torment of the captain and stood up, his eyes on the men who both gave him a grim nod of the head. Smiling, he glanced back to Levi, looking down upon the pirate with a baleful expression. Then he turned to leave, signaling for the rest of his crew to follow, so the aggressors retreated, not out of fear, but because they had retrieved what they had come for. As the dark man’s ship ─ named Kronos’ Return ─ drew away, Captain Levi arbitrarily charged with a vindictive battle cry, running as if to jump across the growing gap between the two ships. Knowing the captain, Levi's trusted first mate grabbed him just before he took the leap, pulling him back. Desperate cries of an unnamed emotion exploded from his bloody maw as he madly struggled against Firious with all of his might. The dark one only smiled, watching from the railing of Kronos’ Return, his hands neatly folded behind his back; the captain's crazed actions gave him pleasure along with the fact that there was nothing Levi could do to stop his escape. Then his airship sunk into the clouds, disappearing from view within seconds. Levi’s men watched as it vanished, pondering what had just occurred.

Levi glared at Firious for a long second, daring him to betray him again, then rushed back to his cabin with his first mate in tow. They found the princess fast asleep on the floor next to a splintered wooden chair. Gentle as possible, the captain stroked her arm, and her eyes whiffled open to stare into the faces of two worried men. Although, once he saw that the lass was fine, Firious looked away and began to grumble about nothing in particular.

“My lady, are you alright? Losing consciousness twice in one day! What happened?” Levi inquired. His concern seemed genuine, but there was a taint of darkness in his voice, a burning, aggravated sort of darkened defeat.

Shaking herself awake, memories of the past few minutes flooded back like a tidal wave. “Levi, are you alright? You have to stop them! They took... they stole a book!” Hataru whipped her head around, searching for the absent dark figures.

“Stop who? What book? What are you saying?” he wanted to know, his dark wearness fading for the moment.

Taking a deep breath, she explained what had happened; Levi nodded, trying to make sense of it all. Examining his bookshelf, he studied every title with care. 

“Ah! Here it is,” he said, pointing to a space that had obviously held a book once. “That was one of my father’s old journals. He’d kept many of them to record his escapades as a pirate, you see. I’ve read quite a few of them, but there's such a numerous amount that it would almost be almost impossible to read them all. This one, the one that these men took, I’ve happened to read cover to cover. He wrote about only one adventure in particular, and, if memory serves, I believe it was about an encounter with a pirate enchantress. She used magic to put all of her victims into a deep slumber and then looted their treasures single handedly. It was quite a remarkable tale, but I have no clue as to why someone would want to steal it..."

Eager to uncover the mystery, Hataru questioned, "Do either of you have any idea who those men were? I’m sure they were the same brutes who attacked my ship and locked me up! What about that man with the abnormal hair? Do you know him? I don't─" Hataru cut off abruptly when she saw the captain bow his head, an old wound reopened. There was a fire burning in the back of his eye, shining the light of pure hatred. "Did I say something wrong?" she asked, a slight quiver in her voice.

"Kosu," he spat out the word with a growl of verbal venom. She looked to Firious, eyes expectant, hoping for an explanation. 

“Aye, lass. The dark one the captain was fighting, with the oddly colored hair, he’s called Kosu, the Black and White Assassin. Rumors tell that he killed one hundred men in one night without anyone noticing till the next morning. He’s a dangerous one ─ will work for anyone, kill anyone, no questions asked as long as he gets paid. His heart is as black as those eyes of his. Worst of the worst, I’d say, but Levi could tell you better. After all, he is his─”

“That’s enough, Firious!” Levi burst out, and the room became deathly quiet. No one spoke for what felt like hours.

“Oh, and there’s one more thing,” Hataru said slowly; she had nothing important to speak of but wanting to break the silence anyway. Whatever it was about this Kosu character, it was obvious that Levi didn’t want to talk about it. "I think ─ ooh..." She had started to stand up, but her grogginess had not completely worn off. Steadying herself, she began again, “ I think─ oh!” A fluttering slip of paper fell from her gown to the wooden floor, and she bent down to pick it up. “Hold on, it says something.” Squinting her eyes to decipher the delicate penmanship, she read aloud:

“The Sharpest blade of darkest day,

Melodic notes to be played,

A parent’s tale writt’n by hand,

Needles that brush her silky strands,

Along with the pristine, red life of the pure,

Will join at dawn for evil’s endure!”

“What do you think that could mean, Captain?” she asked quizzically. 

Smiling, the scent of adventure flowing by on a light breeze that carried his misery away, the captain began to give orders. “Well! It sounds as if we have a fresh mystery on our hands! Firious, prepare the ship. Have someone check our stock of supply and estimate how long it will last us. Make sure all of our escape boats are in top shape, we may need them. What else... ah, well, you know what to do. I sense a long journey ahead of us.” Grumbling like always, but with a faint smile of relief across his face, the first mate left the room. “Don’t mind old Firious,” Levi told Hataru, “he really is a good man ─ just a grumpy one. Why don't we let him handle the preparations, while we try to figure this out?”

“Oh, okay,” she said as she looked down at the paper with pretend concentration. It was hard to ignore that Levi still had blood, dry now, on his face. Without glancing up from the parchment, she dug her hand into a pocket, hidden in the folds of her dress, and extended to him her personal handkerchief. Realizing his faux pas, he accepted it and sloppily wiped it away, leaving a small smudge behind. Sighing, the princess set the paper down and stood, grabbing the hankie from his hand. "You missed a spot," she commented. Her delicate foot took a step towards the captain, closing the gap between them in a single stride. After wetting the the fleecy cloth with her mouth, the princess cleared away the smudge and the remaining gore from his simple goatee, the captain watching her with fascination. Feeling his eye on her, Hataru stopped, her hands moving down to rest on his chest as her gaze gradually shifted upward. From his whiskered chin to his chapped, bruised lips, to his sculpted nose, and finally locked in his stare. Momentarily, they paused, studying the other in wonder. Coming to her senses, Hataru stepped away and turned her back to Levi, trying to hide her embarrassment. Snatching up the parchment, she said, “Well it seems to be a prophecy with a list of items that are supposed to be brought together to... well, I don't know what they’re supposed to do, but it has something to do with 'evil's endure.' I'm not sure what the rest of it means either... but let’s start from the top. ‘The Sharpest blade of darkest day.’ Obviously, it is some sort of weapon, but what do you think ‘darkest day’ means?” She looked up at him expectantly. The moment they had briefly shared was gone.

Slightly hurt by her hastiness to change the topic, but not willing to admit it, he went along, “Hmm. ‘Darkest day’ could be referring to the time at which the blade was forged or is to be used. Or it could indicate the blade's color, which would be black or maybe gray. What’s the next one?”

“‘Melodic notes to be played...’" She paused to ponder the line's meaning. "Could it be a musical instrument?”

“I think that sounds accurate enough, let me see the parchment,” he requested. Hataru handed it to him and walked around the cabin, eyeing the many trinkets scattered about. “‘A parent’s tale written by hand.’ That must be my father’s journal, still have no idea why they would want it..." He stared intensely at the written words, as if hoping that they would reveal their secrets. "What about ‘Needles that brush silky strands.’?”

Thinking hard, she stared aimlessly at random the random trinkets scattered about, an ivory elephant figurine, a jeweled ring, colorful bird feathers, and the skull of a small lizard. She studied a decorated brush that lie on a shelf near the captain's bed. Its fine horse hair bristles and handle adorned with intricate silver designs, reminded her of her first days at the palace. Rows and rows of exquisite ribbons, clips, bows, brushes, and other hair accessories and utensils had been lined up on tables as gifts from her new mother and sisters. An idea came to her. “What about a comb? ‘Needles’ could refer to the tines, and a combs ‘brush silky strands’ ─ hair!”

“Yeah, yeah! That makes perfect sense!" he nodded, giving her a smile. "What about ‘the red life of the pure.’? I have an idea about what it could mean, but it's a bit... gruesome.”

"Well, what is it?"

"Death,” the word hung in the air like an invisible fog. “Murder, to be precise. Murder of an innocent heart."

Hataru stared blankly at him. "Murder?" she choked. "That's horrible!"

Ashamed that he had disturbed her, he tried to cover up, “But, I guess we won’t know if that's true or not until something happens." Hataru's eyes bulged out of her head as Levi dug himself deeper into a hole. "Oh... well... I mean... we don't know if that's really what is going to happen! We could be completely wrong about any of the items... I mean, murder? Come on, that's absurd right? What was I thinking? I─"

Just then, Firious came barging in, saving the captain from his own mouth. The two crewmen dragged in a young boy, bound in rope, and dropped him on the floor. Firious reported,“We’ve found a stowaway, Captain. I think his pals left him behind after they attacked.” The boy looked up at Levi with big brown eyes full of terror, and a single tear slipped down his cheek. His clothes clothes were stained, tattered, and torn, and the lad’s feet were bare.

Levi looked the boy up and down, disgusted by his men's treatment to the boy, then said, “Untie him! He isn’t going to harm us.”

At first Firious objected, but after a stern look from his captain, he stopped arguing for once and unbound the boy himself.

“What is your name?” Levi asked the boy, smiling kindly.

“I’m Zephyr,” the boy gulped out in a squeaky voice, “and I’m 10 years old.”


The End

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