“I am so sorry! Are you okay?” she gasped, wincing at the stabbing pain in her foot as she scrambling to get off of him.
“I’m fine,” he grumbled, frowning as he rubbed the back of his bruised head, “but I hope we don’t make a habit of this.”
The group entered a massive, inky cave, and the men’s lanterns cast an eerie glow onto the rugged cavern walls. Drops of water rained down from the hundreds of sharp stalactites that hung ominously above them. Hataru began to shiver violently at the sudden drop of temperature, her teeth chattering and chill bumps popping up along her arms. How in the world did it get so cold? It was so hot just a moment ago, I─
A soft fabric fell heavily on her shoulders, interrupting her thoughts. Glancing to her right, the princess beheld a shirtless Captain Levi Spry, beads of sweat sparkling on his chest in the lantern light.
“Keep moving!” he called to no one in particular as he brushed past the young woman, avoiding eye contact at all costs. Grateful for the warmth it provided, Hataru pulled the shirt tightly around her, furtively enjoying its tangy scent, which reminded her of the forest that surrounded her land-locked, port-city of a hometown and the sugary lemonade that her mother had loved to make when they’d had enough money.
Wanting to make conversation, the princess fell in step on Antenor’s left side, and asked, “So do you think the legends about the treasure are true?”
His cracked voice sounded deep and gravelly through his mask, “Ha ha! I know so! I put it there!”
“You? The treasure belongs to you? Wait, didn’t you say earlier that you’ve been here before?”
“That’s right. Originally, the treasure belonged to Nosa Morawa, a charming woman from a distant land who ruled the sky as a pirate very similar to Captain Spry and his father. She captained her ship, The Dangerous Wind, with the skill of a warrior and the compassion of a mother, and she employed innocent fugitives and refugees from evil countries as her crew, treating them like family. Nosa was a beautiful person in mind, body, and soul, but she was a pirate, which made her the enemy of any authoritative power she crossed. One night, she and her men pushed their luck too far, and Nosa ended up taking a bullet for her first mate ─ the man she loved. She lived to see the next dawn, and then it was over.”
“Yes, but before she died, she told her lover to hide all of their treasures in the safest place she could think of, handing him a map and the deed to her ship.”
“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 haven’t been here since I was twenty-four, when I first put the treasure here, and that was almost fifty years ago. Ah, Nosa, has it really been that long? Sometimes, I can still see her in my dreams ─ her long ebony hair flickering on the breeze, her bright smile that contrasted so well against her coffee-colored skin… I have never loved another since, and I suppose I never will.” The old man took a moment to remember his sweetheart’s beauty.
“That’s so sad… But what happened to The Dangerous Wind? Why aren’t you still captaining it?”
“About a year after her death, my crew turned mutinous and stole the ship right out from under my nose. They tried to return to the cave, but… well, let’s just say they didn’t succeed. They had lost my set of rowboats, and it’s very dangerous journey without them, you know.”