The transformation from man to Kresreb had been a thousand times more painful than the day Levi lost his right hand as a young teenager. His skull had changed shape, his bones had resized, and a tail had sprouted from his lower back, all the while scratchy, silver fur sprouted from parts of his body he hadn't even known existed.
The transformation from Kresreb back to man was just as bad, but at least it was quicker. Not ten seconds after the beast knocked the girl away, all of the thick, matted fur melted away from his skin like the feathers of a molting bird, crumbling into the dust of soon-forgotten memories. His bone structure reverted to its original form, and suddenly he was himself again, in full control of his own body --all because of a certain royal maiden, he was certain. Levi had never felt so blessed!
Except for the fact that they were both currently falling to their deaths.
Levi's heart stopped. Fifteen feet below him, Hataru appeared as helpless as a sparrow with a broken wing, knocked out of a tree by a hungry, leering cat. No time to think, the captain leapt into rescue mission mode, judging distances, estimating angles, and timing speed and velocity as he went along. Hold on, Hataru!
To his right he grabbed a rope, slitting it at exactly the right point, and leaned into his fall ─ legs straight, hands to the side, head first. Never again, he silently promised himself, can I let my own decisions put her in harms way. During their first conversation he he had promised that he would protect her, but since then he had failed to keep his oath too many times to count. This beautiful girl had a wounded foot because he'd gotten caught up in his own personal battle. On the mountain, she had nearly drowned because he hadn't been quick enough to insist on a less-reckless plan, and she'd almost been killed by a ruffian because he hadn't been there. And just this evening, his own inner rage had manifested itself in the form of a monster with its black heart set on her death.
But the past was the past.
Now was the time to stay true to his word.
Now was his chance to save her.
Air rushing through his long, silver locks, blasting him with the fresh scent of adventurous thrill mixed with hazard and risk -- the smell he’d learned to love since his boyhood ─ Levi dove after the princess like a skydiver without a parachute. This was it! He tightened his grip on the rope, anticipating the upcoming impact, and in two and a half blinks of an eye ─ FUMP! He had her, cradled up against his chest, his arm firmly around her waist.
Then, twang, the rope went taut; their free-falling ceased, and together they hung, suspended in time for a moment that lasted an eternity, and in that moment, the world consisted of Levi and Hataru, a pirate and a princess. No one else. Only them, their hearts beating as one, completely in synch with one another. Levi sighed into her hair, This nightmare is finally over, and relaxed his grip on the rope, silently sliding down to the deck below.
With their feet on solid ground once again, the captain slowly began to release the princess from his tight hold, but she clenched his shirt in her fists, refusing to move as she began quivering like a child afraid of the dark and sobs of fright and relief escaped her mouth. He was her shield, protecting her from the terrifying world around her. What could he do but wrap both his arms around her and pull her closer?