14. The Flipping of the Switch

An ear-splitting howl burst through the night, and a pair of sleepy blue eyes snapped open. Hataru looked around the room, surprised to find that it was not her voice that had woken her. Though she felt even more exhausted than she had before falling asleep, her small feet hit the cold wooden floor in a heartbeat. Still in her nightgown, she raced down the hallway toward the sound of the voice. It sounded infuriated, but frightened, like a wild tiger trapped in a cage, yowling for its freedom; its colossal paws reaching through the bars, grabbing at her, yearning to get out. Dare she step any closer and she might be sliced to bits by its sharpened claws, yet still, out of her burning curiosity, Hataru continued down the hallway.

“I SAID NO, FIRIOUS!” the voice boomed. Hataru slowly tiptoed over to a slightly open door. Warm yellow light showered onto her face as she peeked through the opening. The room was cluttered and messy, as if a rabid monkey had been set loose to wreak havoc on the poor objects that now made their homes on the floor. Unfortunately, from this angle, Hataru could not see the person to which the screaming voice belonged.

“Just listen to me! Try to be reasonable; you usually are. I hate it when you get like this, you always turn into a real monster!” spoke another voice, calm but bitter and hurt.

“I DON’T NEED THIS! LEAVE. ME. ALONE. I DON’T WANT TO SEE ANYONE RIGHT NOW!”

“Fine. I’ll just come back once you’ve calmed down. You'll come to your senses eventually.” Large boots stomped in her direction, and Hataru jumped away from the door as if it were on fire, afraid of being caught snooping around. The hallway was temporarily lit up with soft light, and then the captain’s first mate stood before her. Eyes wide she feared that she would be scolded for peeping, but Firious, looking like a dejected dog, only gazed up at the ceiling and sighed.

With a strained smile and a pinched, gruff voice he told her, “He says he doesn’t want to see anyone at the moment. I suggest you return to your quarters, little lass,” and then he stepped around her and walked away, the sound of his heavy footsteps slowly fading.

Bewildered and confused, Hataru was a statue. She couldn’t decide whether to follow Firious’ advice and return to bed or if she should venture through the door to find the howling voice’s owner. Could it really be who she thought it was? He seemed so nice, so serene and unshakable. She wouldn’t have thought it possible for such insufferable sounds to escape that man’s gentle lips. Again, curiosity was tugging at the princess’ mind, tickling her brain, inducing her further to take the leap and discover what she already yearned to know. To whom did the voice belong?

Cre-eak! The old hinges betrayed her attempt at stealth as she pushed the door open ever so slightly. Despite the warmth of the light, the room seemed cold. A man, his back turned to her, stared out a dark, circular window. As soon as she saw the candle light glint off of his lengthy silver hair, she stopped as if a frightening winter wind had swept across her path, freezing her in place. Deaf to the girl’s entrance, he turned away from the window and began pacing back and forth. His voice, not nearly as loud as before, but still quite thunderous, resonated of the walls as he began speaking his abhorrent thoughts aloud to himself.

           "Where was it? We traveled all the way up that sweltering mountain and returned empty handed! That stupid comb was supposed to be there, but did we find it? NO! Instead, we got ambushed by a band of thieving knuckleheads! For all I know, they could have found it while we were preoccupied by their swords, which would mean they'd have three of the items of the prophecy!" The princess gaped. This was not the captain she had come to know! Certainly not the man she had laid in bed thinking about! It was as if someone, someone without a heart, someone who despised all things good, had flipped a switch deep inside of him, completely changing his mindset.

           "And their leader, Kosu, that back-stabbing, blood-sucking, storm-raising, malevolent swine! How dare he show his despicable mug to me, twice in the same week no less! He dares call me a coward? It boils my blood thinking of his heinous acts against me, against Father! I will kill the bloke! Not to mention what he said about the princess. There is not a word that escapes his throat that is not filled with lies and drizzled in deceit! I swear on the life of my father, that The Black and White Assassin will bemoan the day he was born; he will tremble at the sound of my name! He will cower in my presence when I find him! I will not back down! He will not defeat me!" The girl's mind raced as he carried on ranting about the horrible assassin. Whatever could he be talking about? It didn't sound as if he was referring to only this day's events in the cave. There was something more to Levi's anger than she was aware of, something from his past.

           Levi panted, recovering from his rambunctious vow to destroy the man with oddly colored hair. He refused to let go of his anger, so he continued his tirade, "Then there's Firious... always, always... AARRAAHG!!! He just doesn't understand! 'Get rid of her!' he says, 'She needs to go! The lass doesn't belong here!' How can he be so importunate? Am I not his captain? Is he not my first mate? I am the one who gives orders, not he! I will get rid of who I want to get rid of! Maybe I should get rid of him! Ha!"

"And what about that rotten prince? I’d sure like to get rid of him! I don't care if he rescued the princess once; I don't care if he saved my own life! He sure didn't seem too concerned with her well being when he rushed off after his blasted black dagger! What was he thinking, asking her to take care of herself as he left her behind? Any respectable man would never leave a woman stranded on top of a mountain, especially a woman like she! What a fool! What an oaf! What a self-prioritizing nitwit!” Levi stopped pacing, as if seriously considering his proposition of removing the prince; he stood directly in front of Hataru, his back to her still. Deep shadows in the ruffles of the maroon shirt that he still wore were contrasted by the pale sepia light as her eyes followed the defined line of his muscular arms hanging at his sides. She could see every detail. In and out, in an out, the bulges of flesh created massive waves in his shirt sleeves.

            Like a dead man returned to life, his sculpted limbs were shocked into motion. The heartless someone had flipped the switch yet again, changing him from bad to worse. Grabbing at his shirt, the captain began to shake uncontrollably. Short, shallow, panicky gasps escaped his lips as he clutched his chest with his human hand. Hataru didn't know what to do as he sunk to the floor in a crumpled mess. His metallic claws dug into the soft wooden floor, slicing through it like knives through a tenderized steak. Levi writhed spastically, as if possessed by a vile creature, and nothing would scar the princess more ─ not even the loss of both her parents in the same day ─ than his blood-curdling screams, the sound of pure agony, worse than any screaming mandrake could produce, though slightly less lethal. She stood frozen, barely breathing, watching him roll around the floor, his eyes shut tight, tugging at the deep colored shirt, and gasping for breath between screams.

            Finally, during the short moment while he could open his eyes, his glazed gaze fell upon her frightened form. Even through the pain, he had enough of a thought process to form a simple sentence, "Get out." The slurred words tumbled from his mouth, illegible to Hataru's frightened, deaf ears. Again, he whispered his unheard message, yet she still did not respond. With unexplained fury, he staggered up to his feet like a drunkard and took a large step toward Hataru. "Get out!" he bellowed, roughly pushing her towards the door. His large hands were as cold as ice while his eyes burned with rage and pain.

            "Captain Levi! What are you doing? Are you okay Captain Levi, stop!" A reaction was finally shaken out of the princess, but much to her dismay the pirate did not appeal to her wishes but continued to push her back. "What's wrong with you? Stop, Captain that hurts..."    

           "I said 'Get out!' and I mean get out! GO! Get away from me!" his voice was as strong and firm as a brick wall. He meant business, and to clarify his point further he shoved the poor girl back out of the room with all of his might. She stood in the doorway, locking her legs in place with her shoulders set back and her chin held high, shaking her head, defiant, not wanting to be pushed out any further. Tears formed in the wells of her sparkling eyes, but she dare not let them fall. Never in her life had she been treated like this by someone whom she trusted! What had happened to the golden-hearted man that she had met only a few days ago? With the last of his temper-filled breath he screamed at her, "Scram! Get out of here! GO!" and then collapsed to the floor once again with a crashing thud. There he lay, sprawled out like a dead dog.    

           "Captain? Captain!" Hataru squealed like a cornered hog, about to head off to the slaughter. Her body flew to his side, whooshing out the warm yellow candlelight as she passed, replacing the sunny yellows with shadowy blues. Darkness crowded the room with its overpowering presence, and with the Dark came the Cold. Icy fingers slid over the girl's nightgown, robbing her of any remaining warmth. Chills ran down her spine, raising up small bumps of her flesh, like the skin of a freshly plucked goose. Gentle as a cherub, Hataru leaned over slowly, and set her dainty hand on the collapsed man's stationary back. That was a big mistake.

The End

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