10.Clash in the Cave

A single battle cry erupted from many voices as Kosu's pirates swarmed into the bedazzled cavern like a pesky hive of drone bees. Sounds of swords smashing into each other rang in Levi’s ears. All around him men were fighting and screaming battle cries. He heard gunshots off in a distant corner of the room. Because everyone wore air masks, it was hard to tell who he was fighting against, but Levi lashed back harshly at all who dared attacked him. It was complete chaos. Screams echoed off of the stone walls, amplifying their sounds. This attack was almost unbearable for Levi. He was not mentally prepared for it after watching the lovely maiden Hataru run off into the darkness, unaware that Death was just waiting for her, his jaws open to devour her whole. Again, his thoughts screamed, Why did she do that? She couldn’t possibly have held her breath long enough. I shouldn't have treated her so coldly before! Why didn’t I stop her? Why didn’t I stop her?

Heart racing, sweat pouring down his back, Levi attempted to get into his custom rhythm of sword play. He tried to dance with his partners, his opponents, yet every few steps, he would skip a beat and take a hit. Fortunately, all of his contenders had poor aim and missed their mark. Even at his worst, no one seemed able to hit him. Despite this, his fighting became more sloppy as the minutes ticked away. Exhausted, Levi slumped down against a chest of pearls and other jewels, his body not responding to his brain’s orders.

There he sat like a coward, though it was not fear that held him in place. It was regret. With all his heart, the captain wished that he had chased after the girl. He could have saved her! They could have shared his own mask and walked to retrieve the extra, together. Why couldn’t he have thought of that before? An image of the princess flickered past his eyes. Yes, she was beautiful, any man could see that, but there was so much more to her than that. Her allure was only a small part of what had captured his attention: It was her strength when she boldly revealed her true identity to him, a dangerous thing for a princess to do. It was the sorrow she had endured as a child. It was her enthusiastic spirit while deciphering the prophetic poem. It was the panicky concern in her eyes when she fervently pumped water out of the young boy’s lungs, desperate for him to start breathing again, and it was her unwavering voice when she whispered, ‘I can do this,’ as she dashed off to her own demise. He had wanted accustom himself with the princess, to understand what gave her such a courage that he had not seen in many men, let alone women, but now she was gone, like a delicate soap bubble popped by the needle of cruel Fate, never to be seen again.

Puffy eyed, Levi looked up. There in front of him stood a man clothed in darkness. The strands of black and white hair looked well kept, but doused in sweat from the journey to the cave. Behind the man's ebony mask, two bottomless pits peered into Levi’s soul as he spoke with invective words:

“Are you feeling ill, Captain? Can I even call you that? No. A true captain would be ‘fighting alongside his men,’ not cowering behind a mound of treasure. Isn’t that what your daddy always told you? No wonder that bonny lass of yours has left you; I don't see her anywhere around... I’ll bet she couldn’t stand being in the presence of such a weakling. That’s all women care about, you know. Power and status, money, material things... all of it. I guess you are better off without her; all they do is suck you dry until you have nothing left. Then they leave you for the next bloke who walks by. Oh my, did I say something wrong, Captain? You do have an ugly look on your face.”

Hot anger poured throughout the silver-haired man’s veins. He rose slowly to his feet, situating his sword between himself and the dark one. A snarl twisted across his lips; Levi spat, “I don’t know what sort of women you hang around, you tantadlin tart, but that bonnie lass was worth fifty times over than one of them! She was kind and caring. She was a royal with a heart for the poor. She was shy yet powerful. She was even more beautiful inside than out, which is saying something since she was downright gorgeous! She was determined to do right. She was..." Tears welling in the corner of his eye, the Captain raked his mind for more ways to describe her splendor, "She was... she was...”

Was?” Kosu peered at the pirate, suppressing an evil smile.

Unable to mask his dread, Levi looked down, “She’s dead,” he breathed. The words tasted like bile in his mouth.

The dark assassin's eyes flickered above his adversary’s head, seeing something that Levi could not, and then he smiled, eyes narrow. “Is she now? Then who is that, standing at the entrance? Oh look, what did I tell you, she’s already with another man.”

Levi fell for the trick as he slowly turned his head, leaving himself unguarded. Hataru’s wide, worried eyes shocked him, but he was too happy to process it. His eyes crinkled as he was about to belt out a jolly laugh, but then he saw her lift her hand and point behind him. The captain only had enough time to spin back around and dodge Kosu’s sword by millimeters. Clashing his claws against the blade to block the pathway of a second blow, Levi’s battle instincts returned to him again like a lost puppy. He used his weapon assets like the master that he was, fending off the assassin’s attack effortlessly. The pirate captain was making headway, pushing the dark man back.

Kosu could see in Levi’s eyes that he himself would lose this battle. This only made him fight harder, though, as he had been trained before he was only ten years old to win a battle at all costs. Ditching the chivalric codes known and followed by all swordsmen, he unscrupulously began sliding a hidden dagger out of his sleeve, waiting for the right opportunity to strike. The black titanium knife was long and lean with a serrated edge and a decorative silver pattern along both sides. It’s handle was covered in soft black leather that had re-fit itself to his grip after only a few uses. Kosu loved knives. They were his favorite death toys; he loved the feeling of being close enough to feel his victims' last heartbeat and the sound of their last gasp for air as he plunged the cool metal blade into their gut. This knife, however, was his favorite above all. It was perfectly balanced in his hand, it made clean, smooth cuts that made it easy to slide out of dead corpses, plus it was his favorite color.     

As he was thinking about this, Kosu nearly missed his cue to doge Levi’s sword. In a silver flash, the blade glided across his upper arm ripping through the threads in the coarse fabrics of his jacket and shirt. The assassin felt a tiny scratch, barely deep enough to draw blood, so the stinging pain was over quickly. Kosu knew it would heal on the morrow, yet the memory of his own sluggishness angered him. He took out his madness the only way he knew how ─ by robbing the life from the nearest living thing to him. This horrid habit had lost him some of his strongest goons, but they were easily replaced. Sword plummeting to the ground, Kosu lunged blindly at his opponent, his hand holding the dagger undulating, repeatedly stabbing at the man’s torso. Levi, luckily, had quicker reflexes, and was able to block each jab, but he knew he couldn’t keep it up for long.

There. There it was. The thrust that Levi' block would miss missed. The captain realized the knife's target, his heart, two seconds too late. He wouldn’t have enough time to disrupt its trajectory, and he knew it. The assassin knocked him down to the gem covered floor. There was no time to prepare for death, it was hurdling at him like a grizzly bear on a rampage without any warning. This was the end.

Just as the dark blade began piercing his chest, the blade hit something hard, ceasing its motion completely. Both men looked down. The only thing in between the blade and Levi’s skin was... his shirt. No, not his shirt. It was the burgundy shirt Zephyr had found for Levi to wear after Hataru had run off with his own. Somehow, it was acting like a shield, a barrier, that the dangerous blade could not cross. Kosu banged his knife harder against Levi’s chest, vehemently trying to kill him, but it was no use, the barrier was so strong it was as if he were attacking a brick wall with a feather.

Finally, the assassin ceased his pointless pounding, resting the sharp tip of the blade on top of the captain’s heart. He pushed with all his might. Levi held his breath in horrified awe, he was safe, for now. He knew that in a few seconds, Kosu would give up on stabbing him in the heart and realize that his bare neck was currently undefended. As if on cue, Levi’s intuitional prediction came true, and Kosu lunged at his throat. Down, down, it cut through the air like a sailfish through water. Levi had just enough time for a last gulp of air, until a miracle occurred. In the blink of an eye, the black blade had disappeared from the assassin’s hand and a sword was directed at his heart. Both men gazed upward.

Bearing over them, surrounded in a halo of light, the audacious figure of Prince Tarin of Marcelia, an image that would make any woman swoon, peered down at the two peculiar men fumbling on the floor. His glance slid over each man slowly, taking in every detail of their appearances and committing it to memory. Then, his eyes landed on the dagger which he had whisked out of Kosu’s reach, and his eyes widened with recognition. Losing focus of his surroundings, he greedily dove for the knife that had been in his family for generations. His sword clanged to the floor as he scooped it up, flipping it over and over, ascertaining that it was his. Levi used this time to right himself, getting a good grip on his sword and pointing it at his assailant, ready to battle again.     

The tables had turned once again, and Kosu knew that they weren’t in his favor. As much as he hated it, he would have to abstain himself from fighting much longer. He would get another chance to kill this silver haired man. There was one thing he could not leave without doing. He must get that dagger back! If he lost it, he would be most upset. Using battle skills he had accumulated over the years, he quickly cartwheeled over to the prince and snatched the precious object with the skill of a professional pickpocket . Storming away, swift as a gazelle, the dark man only stopped to sneer words of war dripping with disdain.

“We’ll meet again, Captain Levi, and when we do, you’d better be prepared to meet your demise!” Then he vanished into the darkness of the cavern corridor that lead to the exit.

“No! You dirty scoundrel, how dare you steal from the High Prince of Marcelia!” a distraught voice of rage screamed after him. Tarin began rushing after him, but stopped in front of Hataru for a moment to rapidly spurt out, “I’m sorry, Miss, but I really must go! I’ve been chasing that thief down for who knows how long, and I can’t let him get away now! I trust you’ll be able to take care of yourself,” he sloppily grabbed her hand while sliding his mask to the side, dipped down and smashed his warm lips against it, and charmingly whispered, “Until we meet again.” Then he was off, running with the speed of ten horses, replacing his mask into position and chasing after Kosu and his men.

Levi peered at the royals’ transaction with cynical, perturbed eyes, but then rushed to the princess’s side once the bluejacket was gone. He rested his hands on her shoulders, staring down into her fathomless blue, dazzling eyes. They stared at each other quietly for a moment, their minds whirling. Levi still could not grasp that the girl was still alive and standing before him. It seemed quite impossible to him, yet here she was! Hataru was still thinking about the prince that had been next on her list of viable suitors and how he had rescued her. She wished more than ever that the assassin and his team had not overpowered her father’s ship, The Sky-Bender, for then she might have met the handsome man sooner. But then, she thought, staring back up into Levi’s eye and eye patch, I would have never met the altruistic man standing before me now.

   Dipping his head closer to hers, Levi asked attentively, “Are you alright? Blue blazes, I thought you were dead! What happened?”

 

Dipping his head closer to hers, searching her eyes for the answers he sought, Levi asked attentively, “Are you alright? Blue blazes, I thought you were dead! What happened?”

“Well, I...” she smiled apologetically, “... I fell asleep.” The captain stared at her in disbelief, and Hataru quickly stumbled through an explanation of what had happened after she’d run to fetch the air mask, excluding the part about her dream. Satisfied with her response, he leaned back and laughed to himself, shaking his head, unable to conceal his joy to find that she was fine. Pausing to take a breath, he beamed down at her and momentarily forgot their social differences. His hands slipped beneath her arms and around her back, seizing her against him in one fluid motion as her hands flew up to rest on his shoulders, not completely pushing him away but not completely welcoming him either.

As he embraced her tightly, he whispered sincerely in her ear, "I am glad that you are alright, Princess; I can't tell you how relieved I am to see you again."   

Hataru's cheeks grew hot, and her skin tingled where his hands rested. Her breath was cut short as the walls of her rib cage were hammered on by her heart. What was this feeling? The beautiful girl could not decide if she liked it or not; her mind was too clouded with emotions.      

Having said what he had wanted to, Captain Levi slowly removed himself. He signaled to the crew and they all started packing up to head out. After all that had happened, no one expected to find the comb of the lady pirate.

As they walked in the darkness of the cave, Hataru tried to clear her mind. She didn't want to think about Levi's words and actions or what they might mean, not here in the presence of others, all men nonetheless. She tried to think of other things such as her favorite horse that she liked to ride among the castle grounds or the dance she had been practicing before she set out on her quest for a suitor, which made her think of Tarin Vallor. Suddenly she exclaimed, “Oh! Captain Levi, I forgot to mention something. While Prince Tarin and I were walking in this very corridor, he entertained me with a portion of his family history. What surprised me though, was that he mentioned your name as well as my own ─ a portion of it anyway ─ in his story.” She described the dramatic tale to him with enthusiasm, moving her hands to help her tell the tale. She concluded, “He thought your ancestor had died due to his turn to piracy, but that obviously isn’t true or you obviously wouldn’t be here. So, I was wondering, what might have happened to him, Captain Levi?”

“Hmmm... Lebanon... Lebanon... Ahh! I think I recall a story my father once told me about him. I asked him one day when I was still very young, ‘Why do we give to the poor when we could just keep the treasure we steal for ourselves, like normal pirates?’ He told me that his father had done this before him and his father before him and so on. He told me that our ancestor who started this tradition was not a pirate at all, but was a captain of the royal navy of his country. He left his occupation, I’m guessing from your story that it was because of a broken heart, and tried to settle down. But he couldn’t live without the feel of the wind on his face as he sailed through the air. The ex-captain sold everything he owned to buy a ship and pay for a crew. He eventually fell in love with a fair maiden, not Princess Ambrossa I’m sure, but a different girl. Then, when he was unable to support the transportation business he had started, he began a new trade: piracy, yet he gave a good sum of what he stole to those less fortunate than himself and passed the tradition down to his son.” His eyes glowed in the darkness with a new light as he reminisced the time he had shared with his father. “I hadn’t thought of that story in quite a long time. Quite interesting how our families are connected, don't you think? You said that the Princess Ambrossa was one of your ancestors, as well?”

             “Yes, well, technically she is the daughter of my father’s ancestor. Her name was in the family record books that I read after I was adopted into the Catomerus family.” Which means that I am not technically related to her, or to Prince Tarin, but then, of course it would have only been by marriage, she added in her head in a reassuring sort of way.

The End

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