18. Falling Hard (part 1)

          Hataru’s body was numb. The only thing she could feel was her heart raging like a stallion trapped within its stall, aware of the danger and ready to bolt. Her palms were moist and clammy, as were her cheeks and forehead, causing strands of her unbrushed hair to cling to her face like magnets. The lace neckline of her nightgown was itchy and allowed the cool, twilight air to dance across her skin, chilling her entire body, yet she took no notice to any of these things. All of her attention was focused on the heaving mountain of fur, claws, and muscle only inches from her face.  The princess tried to gulp down a breath, but her throat closed up in fear.

          Behind her, another body shivered. Zephyr. Only moments before, as the monster had closed in on the child, her mind had completely shut down, and her body began to run on pure instinct and adrenaline. Like a mother bear protecting her baby from the bloodthirsty male of her species, the princess had dove between the boy and the beast. She just couldn't allow harm to come to the child, even at her own expense. There had been no need for thought, then; only her action had been necessary. Now, however, her terror-stricken mind was resurfacing into consciousness, striving to take charge of the situation. She realized she had nothing to prevent this gigantic mass of fury from tearing the both of them to shreds and therefore dooming the captain hidden within to death by the hands of his own men. There was no special fighting skill or secret weapon for her to use. Nothing, nothing except the kiss.

          All of their lives on the line, she took a risk and closed her eyes, trying her best not to tense up any further. This wasn't how she had envisioned it, but then again, she'd never really had a plan in the first place. She tried relaxing her muscles, but her fear proved to be too strong and her body remained rigid. The most the princess could manage to gain from her internal battle was a shaky control over her arms once again, so trembling like an earthquake, Princess Hataru lifted her cautious hands and placed them on the monster's muzzle, stroking its course, matted fur with her thumbs. She could feel its heated, dank breath against her face; it reeked of blood and death. The girl dared not return the beast’s piercing, one-eyed gaze, for she knew that her own eyes would surely be a window into her frightful lack of confidence.

          Hataru could almost hear the cackling of the Sands of Time as they mocked her predicament. If she acted too hastily, she could waste her only shot, but if she didn't maneuver fleetly enough, she might not get another. The princess knew this, yet her own angst would not permit her body to move any further. What had happened to the blind bravura she had possessed while loping off alone to save the boy? What had daunted her lionheart so, making it dash away upon a road paved with bricks of yellow ─ the color of cowardice ─ especially in her time of need? Would it ever return, bringing its roar of valor and victory to her again?

The End

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