Unfortunately for him, the princess was well learned in diplomacy, and unlike her biological father, she knew how to play her cards right. “Sibyl said I was supposed to help you, remember? You don’t want to go against her word do you?”
“Do not bring my grandmother into this!” the captain whipped around, “Your foot is still healing. You don’t need to be walking through mountain caves; you should be in bed resting!”
“My foot is fine, and I’ve been bedridden for three days. A hike will be the perfect way to stretch my legs.”
“The answer is still─”
Pulling tarps off the rowboats, Firious intervened, “Ah, Levi, you might just want to let the little lass come along. That killer will be at the top in the blink of an eye if you continue arguing like this.”
The one-eyed pirate stared at his first mate as if he had just been slapped for no apparent reason; then, he scowled, “Fine. You can come along, Princess, but you,” he pointed at Zephyr, “will stay here with the rest of the crew. Do you understand?”
“Yes,” the boy glowered.
“Sorry, Cale. Looks like you’re staying here. Go tell the Welkin twins that it’s their job to keep an eye on this one.” Levi nudged the boy toward a buff, toffee-skinned man.
Cale didn’t seem too upset about missing out on the treacherous expedition, “Aye, Captain.”
The remaining six ─ Captain Levi, Firious, Antenor, Hataru, and the two others Levi had selected to join them ─ turned to their excursive transportation. To the princess, the three old vessels looked like outdated technology, relics of the past that she had only ever seen illustrations of in her books, and if her memory was correct, each vessel contained a lightweight motor ─ powered by the kinetic energy from the perpetual rowing motion of two oar-like levers ─ that enabled the boat to ascend to greater heights than titanic sailing ships. Knowing how they operated did not make her any less antsy about getting inside one, though.
As the group left Jupiter's Return far below in the clouds ─ two per boat ─ the princess watched the captain’s muscles flex through his white cotton shirt as he rowed the aircraft they shared toward the heavens. A sour scowl on his face, he refused to look at her.
“Are you upset with me, Captain Spry?”
“Oh, no, Hataru, I’m not upset. I’m only in the company of an obstinate princess who won’t listen to me as I tote her up a mountain toward a psychotic murderer who has his twisted, black heart set on kidnapping her and ending my life! Why would I have any reason to be upset?”
Hataru was quiet, but after a moment she pondered, “He wants to kill you? What makes you think that?”
“Because he told me so,” Levi grunted, as if it were obvious.
“But why would he want to? What did you ever do to him?”
“Ha! Absolutely nothing. I used to think that we were friends, but it turned out that he hated me from the moment saw me. And he found a permanent way to remind me of that.” He gestured to his right eye, covered by his flaking leather eyepatch.
“Did he take your hand, too?”
“What?” the captain seemed startled and confused by the question. He glanced at his bionic fingers as they tightened on the handle of the lever, “No, my hand was taken by a different kind of monster.”