17. Azure Conquest (Page 1)

A single candle that was no more than a pitiful mound of wax shared its light with the dark room. Its brothers had all burned out hours ago, and the poor taper was all the remained of the prince’s night long study. With deep bags beneath his flaming red eyes, Tarin Vallor scoured the maps spread out across his table, desperately trying to pinpoint the next destination of The Black and White Assassin after losing sight of Kronos' Revenge hours earlier when it slipped behind some dark, northern-bound storm clouds. From the setting to the rising sun he had planted himself in the bridge and refused to leave until he could completely think through a new plan of action to find his family’s dagger.

Unfortunately, the prince could not fathom a single idea as to where the thief might turn up next, and his energy levels had all but depleted. Many a man on this ship, the elegant Azure Conquest, had asked, pleaded, begged for him to return to his cabin and get some rest, but he had sent them all away with a stern, commanding voice that could have come across a bit too harsh in some cases, for instance, when he shouted at one fellow who couldn’t have been past his mid-thirties, that he would have the man’s pet dog sent to the local butcher in the subsequent city they landed in if he didn’t leave him alone, which had been a total bluff, of course, but still unfairly spiteful. Making a note to apologize to the old chap later, he tried to focus on the task at hand.

The problem was, he couldn’t.

All evening he’d been racking his brain for a single clue as to where the assassin might travel next, but his eyes continuously drooped and his mind drifted elsewhere ─ to the warmth of his own bed back at the palace, to his studies on the latest innovations around the globe, and more often than not to the lady he had met atop The Place Where Earth and Sky Kiss. He barely knew a thing about her, but he couldn’t keep her from dancing through his mind. Something regarding that girl just felt... familiar, as if they’d met once before, yet he couldn’t recall any such happening. It couldn’t have been her face that had evoked this feeling in him, for most of it had been concealed behind an air mask. Might it have been her slender form that he’d noticed while walking with her? Or maybe it was her supple voice? Or maybe he was confusing familiarity with comfort? It wasn’t often that he found a kindred spirit on his thoughts on marriage; all of his friends back home ─ well, all of them except one ─ were already engaged or in some stage of courtship, and they saw his views as blasphemy.

You’re the crown prince! they told him, You’ll be king someday! You’re going to need heirs!

Heirs? Really? he always argued, My mother does a lot more for the kingdom on a daily basis than produce heirs. I’m going to need someone at my side who’s good for more than that!

But they only laughed at him, asking, What happened to the flirtatious young man we used to know ─ the one who merely had to flash a charming smile and wait for all the ladies to come flocking? The one who shouldn’t have any trouble finding himself a bride?

His eyes were opened.

Suddenly, the door to the navigation room slammed open, and the prince was startled from his light slumber. A young woman trotted in.

         “You didn’t seriously threaten to kill Kaleb’s dog, did you?” she demanded, the morning sun glittering behind her, causing her ginger bob of hair to shimmer like a mane of fire. Hugging her lithe frame, her royal blue tailcoat extended just past the backs of her knees, and the black leather, pointed-heel boots she wore rose all the way up her legs, covering most of her thighs and revealing only a small portion of her white knit pants.

The End

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