22. The Ring (part 1)

          Pandiculating with a wide yawn, Hataru leaned against the guardrails of Jupiter’s Revenge. Hours ago, after a long bubble bath to wash away the remains of the vanquished Kresreb, her aspirations to return to her berth had all but been smashed to pieces as young, agog Zephyr pelted her with questions about the ‘scary monster-bear.’ The only way she’d been able to escape his undying curiosity was when, with a fresh shirt on his back, the captain himself returned to the deck and the child’s attention was diverted over to him. Unfortunately, by that time, noon had long since come and gone, and her own circadian rhythms objected to her desire, despite her weariness. She wouldn’t get another chance to sleep until later in the evening, so there she patiently waited on the deck of the ship for night to come, staring off into the distance with her eyes drooping heavily and contemplating all that had happened.

          “Whew,” a friendly voice sighed beside the princess, “that boy is a chatty one, isn’t he?”

          Hataru twisted her head to behold the man she had been thinking about for the past few hours. “Captain Levi,” she murmured. The tone of her voice made it difficult for him to discern her mood. In fact, she wasn’t certain of her own feelings either. The princess didn’t feel contempt towards Levi; though, she did feel abhorrence towards the beast that had attempted to murder her multiple times, and it was a bit difficult to separate her impressions for the two, due to the fact that they once shared a body. As a result, when she ventured to sort through her emotions, she felt like a partially blind old woman without her spectacles; everything was fuzzy and out of focus.

          “Hello, Hataru.” His voice held warmth, but it could not hide the downcast despair that lied behind its wispy cover. Though his lips curled ever slightly towards the heavens, there was no happiness in his face. His single, golden eye did not have its usual luster to it, either. Before he even began, his expression of regret was already avowed. “I wanted to tell you how truly sorry I am for all that I have caused.” As he spoke, he tore his gaze away from her, and the pair looked out to the clouds lazily drifting without a care in the world. “I have put you ─ a refined princess under my care and protection, which virtually makes you my ward ─ in the way of danger for a countless number of times, and that is unforgivable. You have faced death far too much, lately, and I can’t say that that is good for your health.” Levi grinned half-heartedly at his joke as tears welled in his eye. “There is nothing I can do to change the past, but I assure you, that if there was, I would do it; I would do anything for you, Hataru, to keep you safe. All I ask is that you would accept this gift as my apology.” From his pocket, the captain removed a sparkling blue gemstone set in a band molded of precious metals, the perfect size for her finger.

The End

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