“Antenor!” Hataru screamed as her guardian flopped to the floor; a suckerpunch from the heavyset hand of Avis the parrot-man had been just too much for him to handle. “Antenor, get up!” she begged, but the ancient man didn’t move.
Tears swelling in her eyes, the princess refused to stand on her shoeless, splinter-filled feet and made her body go as limp as her deathly still friend, hoping to hinder their progress toward the left side of the ship, but Avis merely hoisted her over his shoulder and began to jog.
“You killed him!” she screamed in his ear, enraged. Pounding her fists against his back and kicking him in the gut, she tried everything to delay him, but all was in vain. “Put me down, you murderer! Put me down!”
“Yes, Avis. Do as the girl says. Put her down.” A sinister voice sent shivers frolicing up and down the princess’ back, and suddenly Avis’ shoulder seemed a very nice place to stay. When her feet touched the ground, she could barely stand for fright of the dark-clothed man in front of her. He looked her up and down and grinned wickedly, “Hello, Delicious.”
Hataru was familiar with the leers of men; as a dancer, she tended to catch the attention of more than just performing art enthusiasts. Even some of the suitors she had visited over the last few weeks had not been shy with their silent sexual harassment, which had caused many of her stays to be cut short. But nothing could compare to the wild, coal eyes of the villain before her. Whereas the ogles of others merely whispered of shameful fantasies, his lecherous look boldly announced the foul intentions upon which he fully planned to act. He slipped an arm around her waist and roughly tugged her close to his side. Her lips curled in disgust.
“Get your filthy hands off me,” she commanded, speaking slowly to prevent herself from retching.
“Spirited, are you?” he squeezed her tighter, and whispered in her ear, “I have no problem with that.” One of his men handed him a rope, and he dragged her up on the banister. “If I were you, my Delicious, I would hold on tight.”
“No! Let go of me!” she thrashed around, trying to break free. her hair flying about her face like an irritated swarm of hornets.
He squeezed her even tighter, his smile faltering as he studied her face. “I say, we’ll have to get you something to cover up that hideous line on your face, but don’t worry, I’ll make sure whoever put it there will pay.”
The princess wasn’t wearing any shoes, but she forgot this rather important detail when she stomped on the dark man’s foot, resulting in multiple sharp, stabbing pains shooting up her leg. Are those teeth on his boots? Who puts teeth on their feet, seriously? Who is this guy?
Teetering on one foot, Hataru would have fallen if it weren’t for the frightful man’s arm around her. Unfortunately ─ or fortunately, depending on how one looked at it ─ her squirming offset his own balance, and together they wobbled on the edge of Jupiter's Return like a novice pair of tightrope walkers.
As they tilted over the edge, the ruffian bent his knees and prepared to jump. Hataru slammed her eyes shut. She had never been particularly afraid of heights, but one glance over the side of a ship nine thousand feet in the air did nothing to ease her nausea. The next moment, her feet were lifted off the banister, dangling freely over the vast, empty expanse between herself and the ground, and not a second after that, her body was jerked backward into something warm that smelled strongly of musk and faintly of lemon.