Just as her feet rose above the handrails, the princess felt a forceful jerk on her back, and she somersaulted backwards, away from the side of the ship. Dizzy from her spill, she barely caught a glimpse of the once-was captain plummeting over the edge beside her, his screeches of terror muddling her brain further still. Shocked beyond belief, her head snapped to the old man, looking for answers. He helped the princess to her feet, then led her further away from the railing, sitting down against a wall.
“What... what just happened?” Hataru whimpered, entering a mental breakdown. “He... he was... he was screaming, and then he... he started shaking! And changing! And I didn’t know what to do, so I.. so I ran, but that thing was right behind me! I kept running, and then... then I jumped! And..and..!” The traumatized girl sobbed, tears streaming down her face. She wasn’t completely sure if the tears were of fear or of relief, but she honestly didn’t care. All she wanted was to make sense the mayhem that she was in.
“There, there. Calm down,” Antenor comforted, patting her back lightly as she cried into his shoulder. “I should have realized what was going on before. Now due to my ignorance, the ship is in a lot of trouble. I’m afraid, ma’am, that you could be the only person who can help him, but first I must tell you a story so that you will understand why.
“In a far off land, there was once a magician-warrior named of Ursine Kresreb. He fought bravely for his kingdom, using his strength, wits, and ability to conjure spells and charms for the betterment of the army men with whom he fought beside. A strapping young man, dark and mysterious, there wasn’t a single maiden who didn’t see him in her dreams at one point or another, and there wasn’t a single young lad who didn’t wish to grow up to be a like Ursine. Everyone loved him and hailed him as a hero. However, he didn’t have the time to soak in the glory his deeds had earned him; if he wasn’t out in battle, he was shut up in his workshop, designing new weapons with magical properties. Always working, he often neglected his darling, the lovely and lonely Bicara.
“One fateful evening, Ursine was in the middle of a rare designers’ block. Inspired by Mother Nature, he had been searching for a way to amalgamate animal characteristics with his weapons in order to improve the warriors’ senses beyond normal human capacity. The hex wasn’t quite ready, however. It needed something more; he just didn’t know what, so he slipped out of his workshop to clear his mind, hoping the answer would come to him.
“The sun had already set and the stars were coming out, the air was warm and the breeze was light; it was the perfect atmosphere for a moonlit walk with one’s sweetheart. Unconsciously his feet carried him to the home of Bicara, and there he stood at her front gate when he observed a disgraceful sight. Lounging in a garden swing, Ursine’s beloved was in another man’s embrace! Her head rested upon his shoulder, her hand on his chest, her big brown eyes staring up into his as he stroked her flowing locks. Then, he leaned down and stole a kiss from her ruby red lips. Enticed, she tilted her head, begging for more, but out of the corner of his eye the kiss-stealer spotted the warrior and stopped short. Distraught, Ursine flounced away, not heading to the girl’s cries of excuse and apology.
“In his rage, the talented magician began reciting his unfinished spell, casting it upon himself. At once, he was on the ground, twitching and writhing. His body mutated into a fur-covered beast with long teeth and horrible, glowing eyes. Unable to control it, the beast took over his mind and body, locking his consciousness deep down within himself. Fueled by irate compulsion, the beast loped off to wreak havoc upon the unfaithful girl and the rest of the town. When the beast first arrived at her home, Bicara’s secret lover deserted her, leaving her to face the monster alone. She screamed, shouted, cried, and pleaded for Ursine to come to her rescue, unaware that he was the beast before her, powerless, however hard he tried, to prevent her death. When the village finally killed the beast, its body returned to that of Ursine, and thus, the monster became known as the Kresreb, marring the name of the town’s once-was hero.”
Hataru spoke up, “So, you’re implying that Captain Levi has become this Kresreb monster?”
“That’s right, my dear. He has.”
“But how can that be? You said that the monster was killed!”
“Ah... that brings us to the second part of the story. When Ursine’s body was prepared for burial, his clothes were washed and sold along with all of his other belongings, since he had no living relatives. It was around this time that Nosa and I were traveling the world, plundering wherever we saw fit. We stopped at the village market, and I was taken by a maroon shirt at a pedlar’s booth. No one in town would buy it, because everyone knew its origins and were frightened by it, thinking it cursed. However, when I heard the tale, I thought it a hoax and bought the shirt.
“Now, Nosa and I, well, at that point, were still only captain and first mate, good friends, but not lovers, though I definitely had feelings for her, even then. One evening, long after we had set sail from the Ursine’s village, I was having trouble falling asleep. When I stepped out onto the top deck, I was caught off guard. Two others were sitting at a table adorned with candlelight. I stepped closer only to discover that it was my love and a dimwitted, low-ranked, powder-monkey crewman. He was speaking softly, probably only asking for a promotion, but it looked questionable. My blood boiled. Envy overthrew me, and then I began to transform into the Kresreb, myself. Let me tell you, ma’am, that it is unimaginably painful to feel your body morph into something it was not meant to be, but I won’t go into the details. I had no control over anything. I was helpless. All I was capable of doing was watching with my, own eyes, what my body was doing. I ran for Nosa, slapping the crewman away with the back of my furry hand. Fear clouded my darling’s eyes, yet she could still see clearly into mine. ‘Antenor? Is that you?’ she whispered. I felt a rumble in my chest and a low growl escape my muzzle. I was mortified. What happened next is hard to describe; all I can say is that it was amazing. Nosa saved me! She found a way to break the curse of the Kresreb, and I was returned to my normal self.”
Hataru cut in, “Wait...wait. I still don’t understand. How did you turn into the Kresreb? The only thing you had in common with Ursine was─”
“─the shirt,” they answered together.
Antenor explained further, “Apparently, when Ursine cast the spell, he did not cast it upon himself but upon his shirt. The townsfolk who’d believed it to be cursed were, in fact, correct.”
“Okay, so it is the shirt that is cursed, but he’s been wearing the shirt a while now. Why would the curse only take effect now?”
“It is my guess that all it takes to activate the spell is the burning emotion of jealousy. It’s happened twice before, once with Ursine and once with me. Though I have no clue what Captain Levi might have been envious of. He is usually content and filled with only goodwill,” speculated Antenor.
“Jealousy?” Hataru’s mind raced. “Oh... oh no!” she moaned.
“Whatever is it, my dear?” Antenor wanted to know.
“Well, right before the curse took over, the captain had been, err, complaining about how much he disliked the prince and his treatment of me. He was awfully upset. You... you don’t supose that he might have been envious of... of Prince Tarin, do you?”
“Hmmm... In honesty, I think it is quite possible. You are quite beautiful, my dear, and I’ve never seen the captain quite so taken by a maiden.”
That’s not what I wanted to hear! the princess thought. She asked aloud, “Umm... Antenor, what was it exactly that Nosa did to free you from the curse?”
The old pirate cheeks grew a rosy pink. “Well, my dear, I suppose I must tell you...”
“What did she do?” Panic began creeping up her back.
“As... as I stood there before her, as a Kresreb, she took a step toward me, fully aware that I could rip her to shreds at any moment. My Nosa gently took my muzzle in her hands, and closed her eyes. Then, she leaned forward, and... and placed her warm lips on my cold, wet nose, and... and the monster just disappeared.” His face was as red as a tomato, a flippant smile upon his lips.
“Oh,” she squeaked, covering her mouth with her hand. “I was afraid of that.”
“That was our first kiss,” the old man giggled to himself.
“Would you stop that! This is serious!” she exploded. “Are you sure there is no other way?”
Downcast, Antenor grimaced. “I’m sorry, my dear. That was insensitive of me, but there are no other ways that I can think of. It makes sense, though. Everyone wants to be loved, even a monster conjured by magic. That kiss must have been enough to stun the beast into losing its grip on my soul, allowing me to slip out and conquer it. Poor Ursine didn’t have his love to save him from the beast.”
The girl covered her whole face with her hands, peaking out from behind her fingers, obviously worried. “So you’re saying that if I don’t kiss him, he will die?”
Antenor glanced at her, abashed, and nodded. “Please, Princess Hataru, you are the only one who can rescue him.” The ship began to tremble. The sound of claws ripping through wooden boards drew closer and closer, climbing up the side of the ship. A terrifying roar emitted from an unseen throat. The Captain was coming. “Please,” Antenor beseeched.
Uncomfortable and unsure, the princess pursed her lips and turned to face the Kresreb.