“Oh, dear. They should have just stayed faithful to you!”
“It would have ended up much better for them if they had, but part of me is glad they did what they did. Living on that ship without my Nosa there was painful, and if they hadn’t left me, I never would have met Levi’s father or become a member of this crew. We may be a bit lawless, but we’re family.”
Hataru continued conversing with the old man, talking about his travels as a pirate and her studies as a scholar. Time slipped by so quickly, that when the group stopped, it took them both a minute to register that they come to their destination ─ a grand cavern at least two hundred feet in height, glowing with riches. Gold and silver objects overflowed from buckets. Jewels of every color dotted the area like sprinkles on a sundae. Heaps of treasure filled the chamber in scattered disarray. Awestruck, the six meandered through the valuable trinkets, trying to commit the image of it all to memory.
As she walked around, Hataru passed barrels of fire-like rubies, tiaras with diamonds as big as a man’s fist, and enough precious metal to make the most expensive suit of armor for an entire army. Then, a twinkle caught her eye from the base of a mountain of miscellaneous prizes, and after digging through it, Hataru pulled out the most magnificent sapphire ring she had ever seen in all her years as a princess. With a silver band decorated in intricate golden swirls and encrusted with minute crystals and a blue gem gleaming brilliantly as if it had been newly polished, the ring emanated a strong, ancient aura. Maybe it had once belonged to a powerful sorceress? Curiously, she slipped it on to her slender finger. The ring pulsed ─ as if the power within was awakening from a heavy slumber ─ and sent out a forceful, whispy blue wind that waved over the entire cavern. Hataru’s vision blurred, then sharpened, and deep within herself she felt as if a lock she hadn’t known existed had been opened.
Strangely, no one else seemed to notice these events as they wafted through treasures. Nervously, the princess removed the ring, and her vision returned to normal. She set the sparkling ring back where she had found it; this wasn’t the time to get caught up in magic items. And besides,it doesn’t even belong to me.
On the other side of the room, Firious scooped up a hand full of golden doubloons and let them slip through his fingers, “Well, we’re here, now what?”
“Look for a cage,” Levi stated, “That’s what the line in the prophecy said, find himself a cage… unless without rage.”
“And why in the bally-blasted world would someone leave a cage up here?”
“I don’t know! But that’s all I have to go on here!” the captain confessed. “We have to find whatever it is before he does, and,” he glanced at the princess, “hopefully get out of here before he shows up.”
“Fine,” Firious muttered. “You heard him, men! We’re looking for a consarned cage, so get to it!”
After twenty minutes of rummaging through the treasure, no one had found so much as an aluminum birdcage, and they were all about ready to give up, when the sound of scuffled footsteps echoed from the entrance of the chamber.
“Hide!” Levi hissed, and everyone dove behind whatever mountain of riches was nearest to them.
A small, shadowed body appeared, took two shaky steps into the cavern, then collapsed on the ground, coughing and gasping for breath. Nobody dared move.