BA-BUM. BA-BUM. It’s him. Hataru’s heart pounded in her chest like the hammer her birth father had once wielded. That’s the man from my dream, the one who looked like the little boy.
“Oh, yes. Yes!” she said, flustered. “Thank you, sir, for… for saving me.”
“It was no problem at all,” he replied, helping her to her feet, “just all part of a days work.” Although she couldn’t see it concealed behind his mask, she was sure that this man was smiling at her brilliantly and maybe even a bit coquettishly. It was in his voice.
“And thank you for letting me borrow this intriguing contraption. Is it magic?” she tapped the white lower-face mask. Secretly, a ripple of relief rolled through her when she realized that it completely covered the scar on her cheek ─ one less thing for her to worry about.
“Oh, you like it? That’s no magic, though. In fact, there’s no such thing!”
“What? How can you say that?” I just saw you in my sleep not ten minutes ago! Explain that to me!
“Magic is just what the ancient peoples called the science they didn’t understand. Medicine, for instance, used to be thought of as magic potions, but now ─ with science ─ we know that it is merely a chemical reaction that takes place in our bodies. Science can explain everything! This” he pointed to his own mask as they walked over to a shaded area and leaned against the mountain wall, “is a prototype that I’m testing for an engineer friend of mine. There’s a thin film of around the edges that keeps the suction, so you don’t have to worry about tightening any straps. You can keep it, if you’d like… um… Sorry, is my rambling bothering you?”
“No, no. It’s fine. I’m just a bit nervous being with a kind, strong man whose name I don’t even know.” Hataru used the innocent, if not empty-headed, voice she commonly reverted to while speaking with men who flirted with her. Who is this guy? And why was I dreaming about him? Nothing could conceal her inner thoughts and emotions better than a little womanly charm.
“Forgive me, I am Tarin Vallor, Crown Prince of Marcelia.”
The princess froze. Wha…? No way…What is he doing here, of all places?
“Relax, ma’am. No need to tense up like that!”
“Oh, of course! But now I’m embarrassed that I haven’t thanked you properly, your majesty,” she curtsied, keeping up her act, “It is an honor to be in the presence of someone with such power.”
Brushing away the matter, he rolled his eyes. “I told you, it was no problem! How could I not stop and save the beautiful, young woman from peril? It wouldn’t be right!”
“Oh, you flatter me, sire…” Hataru retorted, “but, still, thank you for your chivalry. If you don’t mind me asking, my prince, what brings you to The Place Where Earth and Sky Kiss?”
“I could ask you the same thing.”
“I asked you first,” Hataru smirked, challenge in her eyes.
“Ah…,” Tarin shrugged, “so you did.”
“Why aren’t you back at the capitol? Didn’t you… have a meeting with the princess of Treillisania?”
The color drained from the prince’s face, “Oh! Has word about that been made public already?” He scratched the nape of his neck.