As the glow of dawn began to light up the skies in the distance, Levi caught sight of his own reflection for the first time in the fright-stricken eyes of the princess. A bear? I'm a bear? Of all things, why'd it have to be a bear? The beast raised its left paw ─ the metal claw ─ preparing for a death blow.
No... no... Stop!
The Kresreb ignored him.
“Captain!” the princess choked, and the monster paused, enjoying the fear and torment that filled her voice. “Please, I know you're still in there. I know how you can escape this!”
Then why don’t you tell me!
“The beast was born of your anger, so you have to let it go!”
And how am I supposed to do that?
“Remember who you really are! You are Captain Levi Oberon Spry ─ mighty with a sword and clever with a claw. You are a damsel's hero and a crewman's best friend, lord of your ship and commander of your men ─ not some magical werewolf-bear!”
Hataru... The captain was touched; the monster, on the other hand, was not. Like a cat bored of playing with his food and finally ready to eat, the Kresreb pressed the princess to the floor of the crow’s nest and roared in her face, spraying her with mucus and sputum and slashing at the girl's throat with its claw.
Time slowed down, the captain's inner voice still echoing in his head. The claw descended closer and closer to the princess, but at the last moment, Levi's will-power proved stronger than the beast's, and the mechanical claw missed her head by a quarter-inch. Unfortunately, the finger-shaped blades tore through the aged wood of the crow's nest, causing the entire structure to fall apart and sending both the beauty and the beast falling-hard to the ground.
~ ~ ~
Between almost being kidnapped ─ for real ─ by Kosu, almost falling ─ more than once ─ off the peak of The Place Where Earth and Sky Kiss, and now actually plummeting from the top of the main mast, Hataru could easily say that she hated heights. Her only comfort, which wasn't much of a comfort at all, was that she had somehow managed to get a grip on the Kresreb as it fell beside her. At least she didn’t have to fall alone.
“Captain Levi!” she shouted, desperately hoping he really could hear her and that her words were not a waste of breath, “Please! You must control your temper! It's the only way!”
I thought you were supposed to be helping me with this, she could almost hear him say.
He’s right, Sibyl’s voice whispered in her mind, which she found rather annoying.
Yes, he’s right. You know what to do. Antenor’s voice added, which annoyed her further.
Here’s an idea: Why don’t you guys try to kiss a hideous monster while it attempts to kill you, and I’ll just sit back and cheer you on as a disembodied voice in your heads?
The voices stopped after that.
Great. Now I’ve gone completely insane, Hataru thought as she wrapped the beast’s fur around her hands, clawing her way toward the craggle-tooth maw that sent shivers down her spine. When she could finally look the beast in the eye, the Kresreb first had a priceless look of shock painted across its face, but before it could start roaring again ─ I’ve had enough of your spittle, thank you! ─ the princess quickly puckered her lips and smacked them against the monster’s nose.
This is for you, Captain.
At that moment, the sun broke through the surface of the cloudy horizon, making the sky blush in the richest spectrum of reds ever seen by man or bird or beast. The night was over. Morning had come. Maybe the Kresreb nightmare would finally be over.
But nothing happened.
It didn’t work.
The Kresreb emitted a ferocious cry and shoved the girl away, separating itself from her and subjecting her to a life that would undoubtedly end with a splat. It didn’t work. She watched the deck of Jupiter’s Return grow closer.
Why didn’t it work?