“So, you're telling me,” Tarin crossed his arms, staring at the pirate captain across the table through skeptic, squinted eyes, “that the crazy assassin I've been hunting is attempting to conduct some sort of prophetic spell ─ of an unknown, but suspectedly catastrophic purpose ─ which involves both my ancestors' dagger and a magic flute that just so happens to be in my uncle's possession.” He gestured to a stately white, four story building across the street from the where they all sat sipping tea in the cool shade of an open café veranda ─ the perfect hiding place; no one would expect to find them so close to the Chancellor's mansion.
“That's right.” Levi's lone-eye glare made the prince uncomfortable, but he maintained his firm stature.
“And you want me to help you steal it? Why would I do that? Why should I even believe you? You're a pirate! A wanted criminal! I should be turning you in!”
“Please, Your Highness, let me─” Hataru tried to intervene, but Tarin pushed on.
“For all I know, you could be in cahoots with the assassin, trying to pull off the greatest con of the century by making a mockery of me and my family name!”
“No, he's not like─”
“For all you know?” Levi boomed, clenching his fists, “For all you know? You know nothing! I shouldn't be surprised, though; it is just like a monarch to jump to self-centered assumptions! To judge and condemn without seeking the truth! Rather, you blind yourself to it, choosing to see only what you want.”
The prince faltered, “That's not true.”
“Isn't it? You hold yourself too highly. I care nothing for you or your family name. My only aim is to bring the assassin to justice.”
“You said all he took from you was a book. Why should it matter so greatly?” Deep trenches of confusion ran across Tarin’s brow.
“That man has taken more than a journal from me,” Levi's demeanor clouded over like a stormy ocean of dark and deadly, churning waves, hungerly waiting to swallow their victim and drown him in sorrow and pain. “The Black and White Assassin murdered my father.”
The blunt statement pierced everyone’s hearts, hurting those who had known the dead pirate the most. Kurt and Cedric eyed each other warily, old regrets resurfacing. Antenor closed his eyes, pursing his lips in a distressed grimace, and Firious took on the appearance of a hound who had lost his master. Levi himself stared at his empty tea cup with such intense hatred that Tarin half expected it to burst into flames. No one spoke, and no one moved as overwhelming grief continued to storm around the table, invisible droplets of liquid despair soaking each man and woman to the bone, one shiver at a time.
Finally, the redhead took a deep breath and sighed, “As much as I am against it, Your Highness, I believe we should look further into this situation. It is my duty as a naval officer to secure the safety of our country and its people from both realized and potential threats, and if what they say is true ─ that the assassin is plotting something even remotely sinister ─ we should heed their warning and take precautions against it.” Whispering in the prince’s ear, she added, “And you have duties of your own, don't forget. You'll have to face your parents eventually, so why not speak with your uncle first?”
“Ha, you don't know my uncle.”
“Maybe he'll intercede for you, if you tell him about the flute; let him know that he should increase his security.”
“Still, it's worth a shot.”
“I don't kno─”
“Excuse me," the princess interrupted their private conversation of mumbles, “if you agree that something should be done, do you think we could come to a compromise?” The prince was ensnared in her electric blue gaze; the sense of familiarity washed over him as it had before, but the faint wisp of a memory that danced on the edge of mind was just out of reach.
He sat up straighter. “Of course, Miss Hataru. Do you... uh... have any suggestions?”
“We’ll sneak in underground,” Levi interjected, stroking his bare chin as he began forming a new plan, “if I'm not mistaken, there are catacombs under the city that connect to the vaults. Then we─”
“That’s supposed to be classified information. How did you…?”
“Well,” the pirate shrugged, a smug grin splattered across his face, “it would seem that your uncle's mansion just so happens to be one of the many locations that I've... visited in the past.” He sank comfortably into his chair, placing his hands behind his head and splaying his legs. “Ahh, yes, I suppose you never forget your first raid. Do you remember, Firious?” he glanced at his first mate.
“Aye, you were just a squeaky little pip back then.” They shared a smile.
Tarin, Elden, and Hataru all blinked in unbelief at the pirates’ blitheness, but Levi continued, not taking any notice, “Of course, we'll need time to figure out which of the vaults contains the flute, so we'll need a distraction to keep the Chancellor busy... that's where you'll come in, Your Highness.” He pointed to the prince with the index finger of his clawed hand, the sharp blade glinting ominously.
“Wait a second! I never said I’d help you rob my own uncle. I’ll… I’ll just go and speak with him…”
“We don’t have time for savoir faire with the Chancellor. The assassin and his men could make their move at any second.”
“Good! Then let them get caught and thrown in prison!”
“Don’t think for a moment that whatever defense system your uncle has now will stop them. When that killer wants something, he is certain to get it, so we need to get to the flute before he does.”
“What if we were the ones to get caught? What then?”
“Gentlemen, I think that is─” the princess joined the conversation.
“Don’t tell me you’re scared?”
“Of course not!”
“Gentlemen!” The entire café halted, all of the lunch-time consumers peering at their table curiously. Hataru lowered her voice, “Prince Tarin will go to his uncle and keep him distracted long enough for Captain Levi and his men to check the security on the flute. Using whatever means he sees fit, he will see to it that it is safe from the assassin’s attack. When he is done, he will leave the flute where it is,” she gave the pirate a stern look, “and then come back here, where we will reconvene with him after speaking with the Chancellor.”
“We?” Levi grunted, sticking his chin out.
“I have some experience in diplomacy and negotiations, so naturally I will accompany the prince and Captain Stirling in order to avert the Chancellor’s attention.”
“That’s fine,” Tarin consented, “but I don’t trust sending him to my uncle’s vaults alone. What’s preventing him from breaking his word?”
“Why, you─!” the pirate reared.
“I will go with him and make sure he sticks to the plan.” Elden nodded her head solemnly.
Tarin turned to her, surprised concern peppering his voice, “But… Elden…”
“I’ll be fine. Just worry about distracting your uncle. If I get caught and end up losing my Captain’s license because of you, you can be sure that you’ll be getting an earful from me.” Sizing up the pirate, she swallowed her unease and stood up, “Let’s get this over with.”