23. Crustaceans and Cats

When he'd seen The Black and White Assassin's ship, Tarin's spirits had perked up remarkably fast, like a wild dog upon discovering the trail of its prey, and he'd rushed away to the armory. Perplexed, Elden had had no choice but to follow him, and now she stood there in a poorly ventilated, walk in closet stuffed with weapons of all natures. Spare firearms lined one wall, and swords hung from another; an island-countertop in the center of the room held mountains of miscellaneous parts including decapitated arrows and their heads, iron maces, a worn rope ladder, and a peculiar crate that appeared to be full of crustaceans. From the box, the prince removed one of the lifeforms, no bigger than his fist, and set it on the table top along with a compact computer screen.

“What is that?” asked the baffled captain.

“This, my dear captain,” he pressed a hidden button on the side of the creature, causing a small green light to blink on and the screen to light up beside it, “is a CGTD, a covert global tracking device. It’s just a prototype, though; Marcellian technologists haven't even put them on the market yet.”

“So it's a homing beacon disguised as a barnacle?”

“Well, yes, but it's not just a barnacle, no ma’am. It is a crustatum caelum, a sky crustacean. Over a century ago, when airships were first invented, the frames of old sea­-sailing ships were used, and once the vessels finally took to the air, they brought all of their sealife growth with them. The barnacles eventually adapted to their new, almost waterless environment by using the oxygen in the gaseous form of the life­-giving liquid found in clouds, and though they were discovered about a half-century ago, scientists are still raving about this creature’s evolutionary breakthr─”

I know all that! I learned about it the same day you did back at the academy, sire. What I want to know is what it’s for.”

“Ah, now you see, with this nifty contraption, I can track any flying vestal that I wish. All I have to do is place it on the side of the ship and follow the blip on this screen, here. It's easier than child's play, and the most beautiful part of it is that no one will ever find it because it's hidden in plain sight!”

She contemplated this, then stipulated, “So, you want to put it on Kronos' Return?”

“That's right,” he smiled brightly with excitement.

“Mmmmhmm,” Captain Stirling glanced at him with skeptic unbelief. “And who do you suppose is going to go and place the gorbellied thing on a ship full of dangerous pirates?”

Hoisting the rope ladder from the table and draping it over his shoulder, the prince stopped short, shocked that his friend had not caught on to his plan by now. “Why, we are, of course.”


“Remind me why I'm doing this again, why I'm scaling down two lengths of rope and a hand full of logs to put a piece of untested technology on the enemy's ship ─ without any weaponry protection. I still can’t believe you made me leave my sword up there,” the captain complained as they dangled from the side of the Azure Conquest above Kronos' Return.

“I told you already, El─”

Captain Stirling!

“─ your sword would only add extra weight, and you don't need protection. These 'ropes and logs' are enchanted. As long as you have a hold on them, the corsairs won't be able to see you; you'll be invisible to any man or woman that is not in contact with the ladder.”

“Great. So if I slip and fall, I'll have two dangers to worry about ─ being attacked by filthy, thieving men, and plummeting to my death.”

Oh please, El, you've always been an expert climber; you and I both know that you won't fall. Besides, you've got me, and even if you didn't, a cat always lands on her feet, right?”

“Would you stop calling me that?” she sputtered.

“Why? I gave you that nickname the day we met!”

“And don’t you think it’s getting old? I’m not a cat! There is nothing feline about me!”

“Hmmm,” he mused playfully, “physically flexible and agile, possesses a fondness for heights, often expresses herself with a nonchalant attitude, and hisses when under stress. You're right, that doesn't sound cat-like at all. What you're missing is a tail and a pair of fuzzy, pointed ears.” Frazzled, the captain shut her mouth, knowing that the more she argued the longer his teasing would continue.

Save for the occasional bird that passed by, screeching in their faces, the remainder of the duo's journey down the length of rope was rather uneventful. They arrived at the ship's base, caked over with dust and genuine crustatum caelum, with ease, and hoping their luck would last, the two quickly thrust the CGTD into place and began their ascent back up the ladder.

Her bitter grousing never ceasing, Captain Elden found a new topic to assert, “So, my prince, do tell me why you didn't think of stationing this barnacle chip on the assassin's ship when you had much better access to it on top of the mountain.”

Oh,” he giggled, “I suppose you could say I was a little preoccupied?”

“Preoccupied?” she exasperatedly questioned. “Knowing you, my first guess would be that it was a girl who'd caught your fancy, but what are the chances of you finding a maiden like that on top of the tallest mountain in the world, right?”

    “Well...” he bit his lip.

Stopping where she stood, Elden peered down at him. Seeing through the feigned innocence in the smile he offered up to her, she rolled her eyes and groaned, “You've got to be kidding me! Who is she?

    Ceasing mid step, he sheepishly glance up at her, “Actually, I didn't quite catch her name.”

    “You don't even know her name? I can't believe you'd have the audacity to flirt with a lass without asking for her title!” She flailed her arms around for emphasis, shaking the rope ladder, “If I were that dame, I wouldn't have you, you dullard!” Then, in one instant, both of Captain Elden’s hands were in the air, free from their constant grasping of the ladder's rungs, and her body toppled backward, disconnecting her from the rope ladder’s cloaking abilities. Tension and discomfort disseminated throughout her body with the feeling of weightlessness. The thin air played with her hair, tangling it before her eyes like a blindfold as she fell, as if to alleviate the captain from the view of her frightful dive. Providentially, by the tail of her coat, she was jerked upward, suspending her over one thousand feet above the ground and bringing her back into invisibility.

    “I... gotcha,” grunted the prince. Light as she was, her added weight became a new burden on his arms.

    “Don’t you dare drop me!” Elden yowled wildly, her hair bristling.

    “Hush!” Tarin nodded towards pirate’s main deck, that they were situated directly across from, where a chubby man approached the ledge, squinting out into the space where they hung. His bald head was covered in arbitrarily placed tattoos of mermaids and skulls and hearts proclaiming his love for his mother; a parrot perched on his shoulder, glowering at the two of them with beady eyes, its non-human vision penetrating the ropes’ magic spell. The twosome hovered in place, holding their breath.

“Did he see me?” the young woman of twenty years whispered.

“Hush, El, whether he saw you are not doesn’t matter. He can still hear you if you make too much noise, so be quiet.” She pinched her lips together, blockading the millions shs of thoughts she wished to express.

An arm's length away, the large-bellied man stared blankly at them, unable to detect their existence, but still curious of the strange woman he’d thought he’d seen a few seconds before. As if to warn him, his bird of paradise cawed loudly in his ear and flapped its wings vehemently, displaying its beautiful, primary-colored feathers. The dastardly bird took to the air and circled around them, desperately trying to alert their presence to its master, but the dense man had no comprehension of his pet's explication. When the parrot returned to his shoulder and nipped at his ear, the pirate dotingly patted its head and meandered away, mumbling about his craving for a hot breakfast.

"That was close," Tarin sighed, loosening his stiffened muscles, only to remember that he still held his friend's life in his hands when her coat tail began slipping from his fingers and a squeal of terror echoed off the Kronos’ Return’s black, wooden walls. "Oh, sorry," he grimaced.

"Why... you..." she growled.

“Don’t worry, Elden. I’m not going to let you go.”

Flushing, she baulked out, “Just get me back onto the dread-bolted ladder.”

“Right. Okay, I’m going to swing you towards the…” he apprised. “Now grab onto the… that’s right; you got it.” As soon as her hands were clutching the rungs a few steps below him and her feet were firmly in place, he released her coat and resumed climbing.

When they reached to top, the crewmen were walking about the deck, completing their daily, ship-life rituals and paying no heed to the prince and captain, for no one had been alerted of their escapade, except for Captain Stirling’s finicky first mate, Persnick, who was nowhere to be seen at the moment; he was probably off somewhere concerning himself with trifling matters that he claimed to be of great importance. Tarin gallantly assisted the captain aboard her ship by seizing her round the waist and transporting her to the deck with a genial smile stretching from ear to ear across his visage. Again, her face reddened as vindictive words seethed from her lips.

“Were you born without a brain in that thick head of yours? Maybe you could have used it when you practically dropped me to the world below! Oh, wait! I forgot. You did have a brain once, but you left in on top of the sun-fogged, tallest mountain in the world with a fawning heifer whose name you can’t even remember! No, I’m sorry, there’s no chance of you recalling her name because you never asked for it in the first place! If you had only been focused enough to not lose your thoughts to that elf-skinned harpy-girl, you might have considered placing the fobbing CGTD on the enemy’s ship, and I wouldn’t have had to venture off with you unannounced and nearly fall to my death in the process!”

Withstanding the sharp poison darts being flung from the crossbow of her mouth as if they were mere downy feathers from day-old hatchlings, Prince Tarin persisted to hold a smug grin. With arched eyebrows he matched her crossed-arm stance and tilted his head, “You’re done already? I must say, your last rant was much longer.” This won him a grisly glare, which lasted all of three seconds before she turned away, sorely scowling. The prince leaned forward, sliding into her peripheral vision in attempts to gain her attention, but she refused to look his way. Shrugging, the nineteen-year old prince pivoted on his heel and sauntered away.

Elden’s head whipped around against her will and her eyes followed his every step. Snapping them closed like window shutters in a dust storm, she bit her lip, aiming to stop the words in her throat from bubbling out. She failed. “Tarin, wait!”  

The sound of his black leather boots boomed in her head as he returned to her, but she dared not reveal her pupils till they stopped before her. “Yes?” he sniggered, both of them knowing full well that she had broken her own code of conduct dealing with the addressing of people of eminence. She stared down at her own sable boots.

“Thanks.” Her voice was gruff.

            Stooping down, he simpered in her ear, “You are very welcome, Captain Stirling.

The End

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