6. The Place Where Earth and Sky Kiss

Two days later, they arrived at the base of the mountain, crude in shape and impossible to climb. They maneuvered the ship round and round the mountain, spiraling upward until eventually Jupiter’s Revenge could go no further. The technology that allowed the boat to fly could only lift it so high in the air, which happened to be only half way up the mountain.

“We’ll have to take the rowboats,” Levi suggested, “They can go higher and won’t have to support as much weight. Firious, choose four men to come with you and I up to the cave and another to man the ship until our return. We will retrieve the comb and then return here.”

“I’m coming with you,” Hataru interjected.

“Me too!” little Zephyr agreed.

“No. Both of you are to stay here on the ship. It’s too dangerous, and we don’t need you getting in our way. Just stay here, and we’ll be back before you know it,” Levi replied sternly.

No, I’m coming with you.” stubborn as a mule, Hataru stood her ground, “I might be of help to you and your men. You know... a woman’s eye! Who better to find a woman’s comb than another woman? I’m coming with you!”

“Look, I just said─”

Firious intervened, “Ah, Levi, you might just want to let the little lass come along. That killer and his men will be here in the blink of an eye if you continue arguing like this.”

The captain stared blankly, as if he had just been slapped for no apparent reason. “Fine. You can come along, princess, but you,” he pointed to Zephyr, “will stay here. Do you understand?”

Pouting, the boy answered, “Yes, I understand.”

The tiny, motorless lifeboats were ready, so Levi, Hataru, Firious and three others took off, two per vessel. Levi and Hataru rode together, the captain moving two levers on opposite sides of the craft in a circular, rowing motion which controlled how fast the three pairs of metal wings flapped. Though it looked like a taxing activity, Levi rowed the lifeboat with ease due to his strong, muscular arms. Still, he had a sour scowl on his face as his eyes stared anywhere except at the girl before him.

    "I wonder why those other pirates aren't here, too. Shouldn't they have arrived before us?" she pondered aloud, hoping to break the awkward silence. As she spoke, she tried her best not to peer at her boat rower, but while she waited for a reply, she couldn't resist casting a quick glance his way.
    The pirate refused to pay her any attention. He wouldn't even answer her! Maintaining his rhythmic rowing, his pale lips as tight as a minuscule rubber-band stretched around the hull of a ship, he sat silently staring at the mountain.

“Are you angry with me, Captain?” she asked quietly. “You seem upset.”

“I’m not upset,” Levi claimed, unconvincingly.

“Captain Levi, you can trust me. Please, tell me what is wrong,”

“I’m telling you, there is nothing wrong!” he rowed harder, faster.

Hataru sighed and sat quietly, watching the one-eyed man with a metal claw for a hand, concerned. She noticed a bead of sweat break out on his brow and watched it slide down his face followed by another and another. Soon, she too was sweating and unbearably sticky.

“I thought it was supposed to be cooler the further we traveled up. Why am I so hot?” she exclaimed, fanning herself with her hand.

“That’s the remarkable thing about this mountain, Miss,” one of the pirates in another boat said, his partner swerving their aircraft up closer. “Some folks believe that it is cursed because the basic laws of weather don’t affect it. Within a certain range of the mountain, the closer you get to the sun, the higher the temperature rises. When we reach the top, it will be sweltering and the air will be so thick with condensation that we will have to wear air masks to be able to breath or else our lungs might fill with water and we’ll drown. Actually, we should probably be putting them on pretty soon. You’ll find them under your seat, one for you, one for Captain Levi. I hope yours fits good!” The man reached down and pulled one out from beneath his seat. Holding it up for her to see, she saw that it was a red face mask complete with glass goggles and two air purifying sacks, one on each side of the muzzle. He hooked one on to his face securely, transforming himself into some sort of strange monster. Then he reached over and fastened the other to his partner’s face, so that he could continue rowing. The pirate waved at her as his partner swerved off.

Taking the man’s advice, Hataru reached down and felt around for the masks, finding three beneath her seat and pulling only two out. Strapping one to her face, she immediately noticed the difference in air she was breathing, cool and fresh. Quickly she grabbed the other and began reaching across to secure it to his head, but stopped herself, hesitant. Nervously, she blushed behind her mask. She leaned in towards him, and he obliged to follow accordingly, making it easier for her to reach. However, he still refused to look at her as she covered his mouth, nose, eye and eye-patch with the mask. Taking a deep breath of fresh air, he grumbled thanks to her, sounding more like Firious than himself.

When she wasn't looking, he stared at her as she sat patiently, gazing off into the distance, and he couldn’t help but notice how beautiful she was. She had told him that he was a remarkable person, but she, he thought, was truly the remarkable one. He felt sorry and almost ashamed of the cold shoulder he was giving her, but he couldn't help it. For some reason, he was still fuming about the fact that she was in search of a suitor. A princely suitor. The thought of her falling in love with a egotistic, vainglory prince made his skin crawl! She deserved much better! It was true that he'd only known her for a few days now, but he could tell that she was a strong and independent woman hiding beneath a shell of uncertainty. Levi thought about the story she’d shared with him, how she had grown up on the streets and had to fend for herself. What would it be like to grow up without a family to love you? He couldn't imagine. A blurry memory of a sickly young girl in a dark street filled his mind. Confused, he tried to remember who the girl was, but before he had the chance, the mountain’s peak was in view.

Hataru had never felt so overheated in her life. Beads of perspiration appeared on every imaginable place on her body and slowly made trails downward. She could hardly wait to go back to Jupiter’s Revenge and take a nice, relaxing bath. Doused in sweat himself, Levi squirmed uncomfortably as he propeled them higher.

The crew warned her not to look down, but Hataru couldn’t stop herself. Peeking over the edge of the rowboat as she stepped out, she couldn’t see the ground. No trees. No grass. No towns. Nothing. All that was visible was a soft, downy blanket whiter than the purest of snow, far, far below. Dizzy and nauseous, the princess could barely walk straight as she stumbled onto the rocky ledge. Slipping, she fell face first into the captain's chest and they both smacked into the ground.

“I am so sorry! Are you okay?” she gasped, scrambling to get off of him.

“I’m fine,” he grumbled, wincing as he rubbed the back of his head, “just be more careful next time.”

“I will,” she said apologetically.

The crew walked, or rather, hiked, from the spot where they had docked toward the inky entrance of a massive cave. When they entered, the temperature dropped instantaneously. An eerie glow was cast from the men’s lanterns onto the rugged cavern walls, and drops of water splashed into large puddles at the crew’s feet, raining down from the hundreds of sharp stalactites that hung ominously above them.

Chill bumps popped up along Hataru’s arms, and she began to shiver violently, teeth chattering, the sudden drop of temperature shocking her body systems. Then, out of nowhere, a soft fabric fell heavily on her shoulders. Surprised, she snapped her head around and beheld a shirtless captain, beads of sweat sparkling in the lantern’s light. Levi’s unseen cheeks blushed, and, without making eye contact, he brushed past Hataru, leading the group forward. His white shirt was smooth and thin but surprisingly warm; it also seemed to be water resistant because it was as dry as a desert. Grateful for the warmth it provided, she snuggled into it.

Wanting to make conversation, she decided to speak with one of the men walking next to her. He was much older than any of the other men in Levi’s crew, but he had just as much energy as they did and didn’t seem to have any trouble keeping up with the group even though they were walking rather speedily. “So we’re looking for a comb right? One that a female pirate once owned?”

“Yes, ma’am,” he replied. His cracked voice sounded deep and gravelly as it came through his mask. “Her name was Nosa Morawa; one of the greatest pirates of all. I have her ranked up with Captain Levi’s benevolent, late father, Captain Abbott Spry. More of a hero than a villain, Nosa protected those who couldn’t fend for themselves. Her crew consisted of innocent fugitives and refugees from evil countries, and she treated them like family. Nosa was a beautiful person in mind, body, and soul, but she was still a pirate, which made her an enemy of the crown. One night, after she had robbed a very rich and very greedy man, a team of trained assassins snuck aboard her ship and crept into her quarters while everyone was asleep. Of course, she woke up, tried to fight and scream for help, but one of the assassins pulled out a pistol and shot her in the chest. They escaped with ease, and Nosa died by morning. Before she died, however, she told her first mate, and lover, to hide all of her treasures in the safest place she could think of. She handed him a map and the deed to her ship, The Dangerous Wind, then silently passed away.”

“That’s so sad. She was only trying to do the right thing by protecting the innocent, but in the end she was killed. Did her lover obey her dying wish? What happened to him?”

“Yes he did.” The old man smiled behind his mask. “You’re looking at him. I loved Nosa very very much, and my heart broke into a million pieces when she died in my arms that night. I wanted to go avenge her death, but I decided against it and followed the map to this mountain. I haven’t been here since I was twenty-four, and that was almost fifty years ago. I’m glad Firious allowed me to come back here. I hope I can remember where she kept her comb; she had such beautiful hair, my Nosa. It was so long ago...” The old man took a moment to remember his sweetheart’s beauty, a single tear gliding down his grizzled cheek, and then continued, “Soon after her death, my crew turned mutinous and stole The Dangerous Wind right out from under my nose, leaving me completely alone in the world. Lucky for me, Captain Abbott was looking for a crew, so I signed up and have been working for him, and now his son, ever since.”

“I... I don’t know what to say.”

“You don’t need to say anything, my dear. I thank you for listening to an old man’s tale. By the way, my name is Antenor. And yours is?” Hataru introduced herself, and they continued talking as they walked on.

A few moments later, the group arrived at their destination. Before them, a grand cavern at least two hundred feet in height glowed. Gold and silver objects laid in buckets. Jewels of every color dotted the area like sprinkles on a sundae. Heaps of treasure, scattered in disarray, filled the chamber. The crew blinked as they stared at the breathtaking view, completely awestruck. Hataru’s eyes darted around, taking it all in. She noticed a barrel full of fire-like rubies in front of her, a tiara with a diamond as big as her fist off to her right, and to her left she saw the most beautiful sapphire ring that matched her blue dress perfectly. She had never seen anything so magnificent in all her years as a princess; it had a gold band with intricate silver swirls, and the gem gleamed brilliantly as if it had just been polished. Hataru bent down to pick it up and slipped it on. It fit her slender finger like a lock to a key, but then she remembered Antenor’s story and felt ashamed of herself. This wasn’t hers to take. Silently, she gave it one last look of adoration and placed it back down. Sighing, she walked away and joined the men in their search for the comb.

Everyone was growing tired after only fifteen minutes of rummaging through the treasure. They had found many decorated brushes, bows, hair pins, and other adornments, but there was no sign of the comb anywhere. Hataru was contemplating whether the object she held in her hand was in fact a comb or just another hair decoration, when she heard scuffled footsteps approaching the entrance of the chamber. Levi seemed to hear it too, and ushered everyone into hiding. Every eye stared at the dark opening, every ear strained to hear the footsteps, and every mouth held its breath. No one moved.

A shadowed body appeared. It took two steps into the room, then stumbled and fell to the ground, coughing and gasping for breath. No one dared move to help the poor man, fearing that he might be of the enemy, until Hataru broke the silence.

           “Zephyr!” she screamed, leapt from behind a chest of golden crowns and jeweled medallions, racing to the boy's side.

The End

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