19. No Control

          Like a victim of sleep paralysis, he had no control of his physical frame, but he was more than awake, hearing, seeing, smelling, tasting, and feeling everything that the beast, which had overcome him, sensed. It scared him, the powerful Captain Levi, half to death to have no decision over his own actions, a privilege taken for granted, he decided, by far too many. Stripped of the freedom every mother's child is born with, the power to choose, Levi was forced to take shotgun in his own body as another being sat behind the wheel.
          Only moments before, the ship had been quiet and tranquil; now it was a place of mayhem and havoc, and it was all Levi's fault. To say he had been angry would be an understatement. He'd been enraged, his mind set ablaze with flames of scorn and hate and... desirous envy; however, he was uncertain of what he yearned for ─ his thoughts and emotions much too tangled up to make any sense of them. It was at that moment when the monster had initiated its first attack.
          Flashes of images seared across his mind, scenes that he had never dreamed of seeing before. A winsome girl cowered back against a garden swing, tears of terror streaming down her face as she screamed for assistance. In his heart, Levi wished to help the dame, yet he also felt a strong compulsion to eliminate her existence ─ not his own feelings, but those of an oppressive presence. The captain was forced to watch as the crying babe's kiss-mark ravaged throat was slit and her dark blood poured down her dress. Giving him no time to process this horror, another lass drifted into view. She had a sense of familiarity about her; though, Levi was sure they had never met ─ maybe he’d seen her in a photograph or passed her on the streets once before. Whatever the case, he knew she was someone important. The savage fiend inside him radiated a passionate loathing for this woman, but her eyes held its ─ his gaze captive. Apprehensive shivers ran down his back when she placed her soft lips to his beastly nose, the presence faded away, and then the captain’s world was torn to shreds, an eruption of throbbing torment.
          When he opened his eyes, he was himself again, lying on the floor, dowsed in sweat. Short of breath with his heart pounding in his ears, he groggily scanned the room with blurry vision, spotting the princess in an instant. Eyes doubling in size, he had a horrible hunch about what was going to happen next; after seeing two damsels in danger due to this monster that was already starting to take control of him, he didn’t want Hataru anywhere near him. To no avail, however, could he get her to leave him, due to her wonderfully caring, foolish heart. He collapsed, focusing all his energy to keeping the beast at bay, locked in an internal battle between man and creature. Then, poor Captain Levi was caught of guard. Her touch, oh, her gentle, calming touch made his heart skip a beat, giving the vile monster an opening to squeeze its way in and overwhelm his body.
          The transformation was unbearable. If one could multiply the irritation of the a single growth pain that one feels as a child by one thousand, it would not amount to what the captain felt. Every bone in his body was enlarged, his skull refigured, and a tail sprouted from his lower back. His teeth grew longer and sharper, hair bristled from every place imaginable, and the each of the nails on his hand and feet stretched out, thickened, and came to a point. The worst part, however, was when he glanced in a mirror hanging on the wall, taking in his new physique. If he'd had control over his own body right then, his heart would have stopped. He was his worst nightmare ─ a bear, a petrifying, bloodthirsty bear.
          No. He had to remind himself, this wasn’t him. It might be his body, but it wasn’t him. He was a damsel’s hero, a crewman’s best friend. He was lord of his ship and his men. He was mighty with a sword and clever with a claw. He was fearless in battle, with the strength of ten men. He cared for the needy and was a generous giver. He could do anything he set his mind to do. He was the exuberant Captain Levi Spry, not some magical werebear!
          Rising in spirits, Levi’s thoughts cleared. He could figure this out, all he had to do was think. The last thing I remember before any of this... I was exasperated, fuming over... that prince guy that Hataru met back on the mountains. I was upset, irritated by the way he'd treated her, disturbed by the light in her eyes when she spoke about him after he had already run off, chaising after a knife. And then... the pain and the dream like trances and more pain and now this. Could it have been my rage that had triggered it all? Why hasn't this happened to me before? Did I touch something I shouldn't have up in Morawa's treasure cave, and now I'm cursed? And what was with the two women I saw?
           Recalling the visions of the two girls, an idea came to him. Though they each had a different experience, both women had something in common ─ the way the beast felt about them. He remembered the blend of intense rage and unexpected awe that the monster gave off. The one who was killed, he thought, displayed only foreboding, while the other bravely looked past the grotesque animal. It seemed to be her kiss that destroyed the beast, releasing... who? If I can assume that the relationship between the princess and... myself that caused the transformation, then could it be that the second woman and the host of the monster were lovers? This leads to the question, what do the other two hosts and I have in common? Might we all be relatives that share an inherrited family curse? Or could it be that ─ wait, he stopped himself. The details of what caused this hex are irrelevant. I must focus on how to break it! Moving on, is quite likely thatthe woman and the host were lovers, and the same can be assumed for the first lass as well. One was killed, the other saved by a kiss that made the beast disappear... Ah! So if it is the girl’s kiss that extricated the man locked within his own body, then that means... oh. Oh, my. Levi blushed at his realization. Hataru would have to kiss him to set him free.
          A roar jolted him from his private thoughts and back to his reality of observation only. A small child trembled before him. Zephyr. No, please, not the boy! Levi silently begged to the deaf ears of the beast. Somebody save him! As if she had heard him, the princess arrived between Zephyr and the monster. I didn't mean you, Hataru. As soon as the he laid eyes on her, Levi could feel the ardent and conflictual emotion oozing out of the creature’s black heart. There she stood, quivering like a leaf in the autumn, ready to blow away and go wherever the wind may take her. He watched intently as her lashes fell like curtains over her eyes and she moved ever so slowly toward the beast, her lips beginning to pucker. Hope returned to Levi. She knows! She knows what to do! Yet Fate always likes to contradict one’s expectations, especially at the least convenient moment.
          The bear-like monster took a stand against her affectionate attack by grabbing her ‘round the waist and lugging her up the main mast. Levi heard shots being fired, along with a cry from Hataru. Irritation flooded him, Call a ceasefire, Firious! You’re hurting her! No bullets flew even remotely near them after that. The suspense was so thick that the captain was sure he could have sliced through it with his claw if only he could move his arm. When they reached the top of the mast, the beast held her out, preparing to drop her like a child bored with an old toy. She appeared to be dead already, but the captain couldn’t believe that to be true. Wake up, Princess! Wake up! The monster shook her fervently, shrieking in rage, but before it could drop her, the sun began peeking over the horizon, blinding the creature as the princess’ lips smacked its nose. Infuriated, it released its clutch on her, allowing her to dangle from its muzzle. Captain Levi could already feel the blistering pain of a reversionary transformation coming on when she cried out to him, her last handful of fur pulling free from the beast’s chin. The moment she fell away, his body burst into burning agony.
          Fortunately, the return to his natural state went much smoother, still quite painful, but quicker. The beast's fur melted away from his skin, like the feathers of a molting bird, and drifted off in the wind, crumbling into the dust of soon forgotten memories. His bone structure reverted to that of a bipedal being, and the beast's facial features were shifted back into the face of the bona fide Captain Levi Spry that his crew had come to know and love. He felt weak in the knees, ready to keel over from the exhaustion of the physical trauma he had just experienced; he wanted to finally go to bed and get some shut eye, but he was himself again, in full control of his own body. He had never felt so blessed!
          CAPTAIN LEVIIIIIIIIIIIII─! The voice of the princess sounded coarse and cracked, ready to fall to pieces. Peering down below him, Levi's heart stopped. She was falling so fast that the tears in her eyes were flying off her face, leaving a stream of water behind her. The beautiful young woman appeared as helpless as a sparrow with a broken wing, knocked out of a tree by a hungry, leering cat. Tearing his eyes away from her, he bit back the shame of what he'd done, or at least, what he'd allowed to be done by the beast. Barely glancing around at the assets he had around him there at the top of the main mast, he began formulating a plan. Judging distances, estimating angles, and timing speed and velocity, the captain's mind was a rescue mission machine, and before his formulation was even complete, he was already leaping into action. Hold on, Hataru!
          Springing from his perch, extended his arm and firmly grasped a nearby rope. With posthaste he slit through the line at exactly the right point and began his own plunge to the deck below ─ head first, hands to his sides, and legs straight. His moves as smooth as the silken, maroon shirt he wore, the maneuvers he made were strictly calculated and executed on their precise marks. No mistakes could be afforded, not now, not with her life on the line ─ again ─ by his doing. It killed him inside to think that it was his own decisions that had put her in harm’s way. First, she was knocked unconscious on his ship ─ in his own quarters, nonetheless ─ because he’d been too preoccupied with his own private rivalry. Then, he’d allowed her to run off alone to fetch an air mask, where she was nearly killed by one of his enemy’s men, and now, because he couldn’t keep hold of his temper, this beautiful girl had been scratched, shot at, spat upon, and was currently hurtling to her death. He could hardly bear it, but now was not the time to think of his own inner turmoil, it was time to save her.
          Levi’s rope drew taut with about fifty yards hanging slack beneath him, yanking his body backwards. Tightening his grip, the captain knew this was the moment of truth, the time to see whether his strategy would pull through or not. Using his legs to guide his direction, Levi initiated stage two of his plan, swinging across the width of the boat, trained on the descending princess. Air rushing through his long, silver locks, blasting him with the fresh scent of thrill adventure mixed with risk and hazard, the smell he’d learned to love since his boyhood. This was it! He steadied his arm for the upcoming impact. In two and a half blinks of an eye ─ FUMP! He had her. Cradled up against his chest, his arm firmly around her waist, he had her, and, for a moment, they were one. The world froze around them, no one else existed except themselves. He could feel her every heartbeat pounding hard, in sync with his own. Everything was all right now; they had each other. But they couldn’t hang there, suspended in time, forever. Levi relaxed his grip on the rope, silently sliding down to the deck below.

The End

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