Beast in Beautiful Skin
Clouds rose high in the pale blue sky, the high noon sun filtered through the grey and dreary skies down to the village below. Smoke billowed from every home and paled with the upward climb, both stone and wooden buildings, while being watched from upon the castle’s balcony by a young woman. Her foxy ears twitched and rotated as villagers scattered about like tiny ants, racing against time for the soon coming evening festive that would fill the night sky of laughter and merriment. When she arrived, then everyone’s joy would turn to ash in the wind. Her clawed hand peered out from her kimono as her eyes turned downward to traced the dark, blunt nails that despite their look could severe a man’s head from his neck in a single swipe. She this because Beauty or rather Keiko, the residing spirit, had nearly a year ago. Yellow slit eyes traveled from the hand that quickly hid from her depression, tracing to the surrounding furniture draped with cobwebs and layered in timeless dust, a skeletal figure become her point of focus.
Beauty felt the burning of guilt etch into her soul at the sight. Even if she knew it wasn’t her fault, the youth couldn’t help but feel like she could have prevented it, save him even if the truth was not what she wanted. Unable to tear her eyes away from him, the thin blonde locks cascaded limply against the pale peeling bone while the once man slouched there in a velvet chair. Every bone exposed leaving him looking less human then when he arrived, even the ragged reminds of his Hallow Eve’s outfit, a rich blue of a noble’s garment, had suffered the passing days. They were nothing left but tattered rags sagging across the bony frame. It was the ragged hole through the chest and cracked ribs that told the source of his demise. Pulling away from the window, Beauty walked slowly toward what Keiko had kindly left her before cradling the bones up in her robe. Each foot step felt like a funeral march, drawing closer to the small pile off in the far corner, the woman knew what lied there- a collection of victims- and the dark truth of everything. Upon reaching it she set the bone upon the rest, the sharp sound of bone clattering among the other made her heart seizure and tighten enough that she believed her chest held water instead of air.
He wasn’t as filling as the fat one, Keiko’s disapproving voice broke out in Beauty’s head speaking of the third victim, clearly her favorite meal by the sound of it. Beauty half expected the fox demon to purr at the memory yet she merely continued. Discarding Beauty’s quietness as any other day, Keiko continued in her silk voice rattled off her excitement to the upcoming Hallow Eve’s Ball held upon the autumn equinox and the demon’s favorite hunting ground. Let’s get a large shall we, dear Beauty? Keiko’s voice was almost coyly motherly in her comments, a deceiving action to make almost anyone relaxing in a false sense of comfort.
Unlike Beauty, they couldn’t have known how easily or quickly Keiko’s moods could shift. Merely a simple word could have her chuckling one moment but later, it could have her choking the life from the very source. Even the servants took cautious footsteps about Keiko/Beauty, unable to tell who was in control they were tense and edgy whenever she entered the room until Beauty reassured them. Yet there was always a questioning in their eyes which hurt Beauty the most. It made her alone in the world blanketed by snow.
A loud knock sounded at the door, rattling the dark mahogany frame causing Beauty to jump a little. Naturally this amused Keiko making her burst in a yipping bark of laughter. Finally letting the fit of foxy giggles to die, she commented, Being a bit of Mouse, dearie? A weak little thing like you is right to be afraid, afraid of loud noises and shadows for you are only worth being swallowed up after all. Nothing more sadly then a waste in the end, now open the door. Make yourself a bit more useful then amusing me.
Silent, her teeth biting her lip from replying, Beauty turned off to the door and reached out to the long iron handle that chilled her palm. It clicked though her hand as the hinges squeaked against being forced from their rest and Beauty couldn’t help inwardly being sorry for disturbing the door’s peace. In front of her stood a stone statue, Matthias, with his unchanging expression with clothes held over his out stretched hands. Ridged back as stiff as in life, there was chips and scratches upon his figure that told of the wear and tear his service had bestowed upon him. His outfit had tight simple pants that covered over simple once brown shoes, a dress jacket over shirt and jacket with tight white curls on top his head. A large eagle nose profile and crow’s feet at the edges of his eyes, Matthias seemed like he never smiled or didn’t know how from his straight face. Not willing to make him wait much longer, Beauty took what seemed like miles and miles of material from the statue’s hands suddenly finding herself thinking of the other servants within the castle’s grounds.
Each servant had taken a form that suited their profession well and though the curse came with its perks, they all suffered in other ways she couldn’t even begin to understand. Some hadn’t even resembled human anymore like Brimestone the Gardener. Keiko’s voice broke Beauty’s thoughts as it was laced with impatience and desire to try on the dress sooner than needed.
Best get ready then, little one. Tonight is your night and bring someone with more meat on their won't you dear?
Meanwhile in the village.
Damp mineral rich water sweated through the grey stone of the prison walls, dripping down in rivulets and made everything it touch damp. An unhealthy chill that raced along the flesh and suffocated in the lungs causing sickness and disease among it’s in habitants. Metal bars closed off the only open wall that lead to the corridor stretching to the outside. At least one large enough to fit a man, a slit rectangle of light peering through the slotted window that allow the morning’s fridge air to seep in. Snow outside threatened to cut off the only natural light that reached for a man’s face and seemed to caress it, in daily war with the fading flames of the interior’s torches. Their flames slowly dying out as the afternoon’s hours stretch onward. The only way to keep track of time was through that tiny window barely able to slip a hand or arm through its thin shape, the gloomy shadows darken the light pouring in making a single shaft of light upon the cell’s flooring.
There seemed no signs of life within the many cells of the village jail, each just as draft as the next giving no comfortable quarter or warmth of any kind. Flat stone serving as a bed was mounted with itching and sometimes infested straw that provided the only comfort against the hard surface. A small chamber pot aged with used stains and cracked along the upper lips, the few messily scattered straws nested underneath. Chains wrapped about the man’s wrists keeping him down and in place from reaching the cells opposite end.
The sounds of stead footsteps echoed endlessly off the walls of the tight hallway leading in. Travis Kinray walked among the dirty and grimy floor connecting to the cells open bars, his hands pulled in behind his back while each step kicked out in front, his eyes averted from each door he passed until he stopped dead at the only one in use. His hair moved against his ears and flipping it slight back slightly back, his jaw tightened in seriousness while his gaze narrowed upon the chained criminal within the stone room. Leaning close to the bars Travis’s face held a displease look of vile hate upon the man. His earlier handsome features twisted and darkened by the scowl revealing his utter disgust, his chest taking in swallow breaths, unhappy about breathing the same air between before relaxing. Travis knew he had the upper hand. It was clear in his comfort of carelessly actions and posture. Propping his arms up against the bars, resting in the gaps between, the tavern owner and head villager let his eyes take in the man or rather Beast in front of him. It was impossible not to see the ticking wheels in Travis’s head at work. Those eyes flickering in thoughts and silence thick upon the air until it was shattered at once by the deep, rich voice commenting almost mockingly at first.
“Enjoying the stay in the finest rooms the village has to offer for someone such as yourself? I would hope you aren’t disappointed by our hospitality or excellent meals, Sir Beast,” just as quickly cutting the sarcastic play from his tone, Travis’s voice took on a sharp and deadly curious one,” How does it feel to know what lies behind the bars? That the next day could very well be your last…”
Beast heard the echoes of different feet between the steady drips that found their way down the stone of his prison walls. From the stretch of his chain inside the cell he had pushed the dirt floor around enough to make a small dip where the water collected. The little pool was hardly noticeable. Just as the small marks beside it would not be detected by most. The scratches were Beast’s count of the times he had seen the moon since inside this prison. But in truth the time was beginning not to matter. He could feel his beast in him grow, his face filled with hair, his eyes beginning to avoid the light through the slit in the wall, his body slumping over and his voice and words becoming slurs.
He fought it to a point. Beast spent almost all his time moving in any way he could to keep his muscles toned. Squats and isometric presses filled hours. When he was so tired he ached he would play mind games, count backwards, and even sing. All to keep the Beast in tune. He also stretched his ears to hear anything he could.
Beast heard before he saw the man leaning on his cell door. He remembered that arrogant tone. Lord Kinray had been a target of Beast’s for some time. He had taken more from the Lord than the recent charges. Of course Beast figured he knew but why didn’t the highborn asshole just kill him? Instead he taunts the Beast. There must be a reason for that.
Slowly he stood and let the chain clink as he did. He tried hard to keep the appearance of being weak, as he kept slightly bent over. Beast tried to look at the Lord and figure out what he wanted. Did he want Beast to gravel, slobber, shuffle and plead? He could do that if he thought it would get him anywhere. But this Lord did not seem to be looking for that. Beast judged he was looking for something else.
Coughing a bit to find his voice Beast spoke quietly, “Death visits most unannounced, M’Lord. Any day I rise I know might be my last. But then, I am a lowly peasant, and do not have your great abilities. Being trapped is not so new for me.” There was just a hint of the same mocking tone Travis had just used.
Beast quickly lowered his head in a bow before the Lord hoping his words did not anger too much. There was a reason he was here. A reason the Lord took the time to come down to the depth of the prison to look at him. But try as he might Beast could not figure what it was. It couldn’t be just to gloat could it? Somehow that seemed unlikely. The Lord could kill whomever he wanted. Beast was still alive.
“Is there some way I might serve you M’Lord?” The Beast had little to lose. Might as well just come out and ask.
Travis wasn’t impressed by the slouching creature before him, his eight leaning farther into the iron bars separating the two souls and felt the familiar want of strangling Beast rise again. The rattling in the man’s throat seemed to stifle that desire only to be eliminated by the usage of Lord, that pitiful mimic of his own tone tossed back from the very condemned, that quickly turned his pleasure to ash. His knuckles whitened as it balled into a fist and closed his eyes. Letting the bright smoky grey vanish under the lids, his chest took a deep inhale, driving his anger with patience and let the silent after Beast’s question linger. His face appearing as stone, giving no edge or clue to the hate he held tightly. The bastard would know. Know he hit something that irritated him and picked at Travis relentless. Breaths slowly came in and out, savoring almost each ounce of air, trying to calm, while his ears filled with the sounds of the cell. His left boot rested alongside his leg allowing his full weight upon the hand crafted door and the pin hinges gave a loud protest to the man’s posture, groaning like living things desperate to escape.
Longer the time ticked by steady as the drops that dripped one by one from the wall into floor. Drip…drip…drip…it seemed minutes had passed before Travis revealed his eyes, letting his vision settle once more upon the man and a arrogant smile twisted upon his lips. Removing his foot from the heel back, Travis’s eyes narrowed and focused on the sad excuse for a man sitting there in his filth. Clever, but it didn’t work, inwardly commented Lord Kinray, praising the thorn in his side, before straightening his spine and rising from the bars. He wouldn’t let the Bastard Beast win.
So many times he stopped himself from issuing the execution order, the notion stronger by envisioning the man’s head propped on his desk the next morning only realize there was a much more fitting fate. A rare chance to solve his problems, one way or another, either one leaving him with one less pest to attend to. Keeping one hand across the bars and the other hand across the lower back, the man only a few inches shorter then Beast himself walked the length of the door gently skirting his fingers along the hard cylinders one at a time. A soft sound of them hitting as Travis drew closer to the outer edge to the other cell. In the back of his mind he had hoped walking would starve off the murderous need to unleash his temper upon the thief. The usage of M’Lord seemed like a mockery each time he spoke, ignorant of how he received the title, only stung more by the history behind it. In reality, a cold hearted whore, there wasn’t a trace of noble blood in his lineage or knighthood but merely a forgery that gave him worth in the eyes of his chosen peers. The very peers that had would turn their faces if they were to know the truth.
Mentally shaking himself from darker thoughts and a growing anger, Travis spoke, his voice hinting to caution on Beast’s and giving a thread of hope,” Your flattery, as honest as your profession, is best suited to deaf ears. Now here you’re rotting slowly in a cell…one thing you should learn, everything has a cost. Even freedom. When one merely asks for it, then it becomes very clear to pay it. As God would have it, there is such a price I’m willing set for your freedom and it is up your line of talents. Question is, are you willing to pay it? ”
Beast snickers slightly. He did not do so out of any disrespect. He just found it amazing that it is always the ones on the other side of the cage that ask what price freedom is worth. They never really mean freedom. In Beasts time upon the land he had learned no man is truly free. He is a slave to his hunger, his limited resources, his greed, those who own everything he wants, and even the time the sunlight brightens the land. Freedom was not the right word. They mean life. Beast had no illusion that once released from this cage he would be free. He would never be free. But he would be alive.
That was the spark this Lord wanted to see; the desire to live. Beast had that. He always had. That’s why he could sit in a dark cell and wait. He wanted to live. Beast spent little time in the grip of despair because he needed his energy to find ways to live. Freedom had little to do with it. He raised his eyes and looked directly into the Lords. He let him see that spark, that longing for his life.
Glancing down at the iron that tore at his skin he raised the chains. “From where I stand no price is too great. But then, you know that M’Lord.” Beast looked back at the man who most likely when pushed would admit he was not free. If he was free he would not be down in the dungeon judging Beast. He wanted something, this Lord. He needed something. Something Beast could help him with. Of course for a price. But the Lord is in a much better bartering position than he was. Beast knew that. Lord Travis Kinray knew that as well.
“You set the price, and I will gladly pay.” It is his life after all. Beast was not worried about the task. Once the chains were gone and he walked in the sun the task he sold himself to would be addressed. Of course it could just be a delay in his death, but what is any man’s life but a time he lives until death. Right now he picks and delay in facing a grave.Beast picks life at any cost. And to show he is worthy of that exchange he stretched to stand taller, larger, taking one step toward the man who leaned on the bars of his cage.
Travis stopped, his body stilled by the snickering fool’s sounds before turning his body to face Beast. Did he think he was joking? Wondered the man, his hand pushed away the bangs gathering at his eyes just to glare at the imprisoned wretch. He offered a way out of this shit hole and now, this bastard thought it a funny moment? Travis inhaled again. The anger seeping from his form as he let his temper cool to the icy air around him, knowing losing his calm would seal the man’s victory. It didn’t stop his jaw from tightening not doubtfully revealing Beast had gotten under his skin, as the man continued. Being in a place this, one had nothing but time to dwell in eternality.
In his black hearted soul, Travis had hoped there would be leap for freedom. Unless this creature, this loathsome thing enjoyed his stay here. In the end, that wasn’t something Travis had counted on and his muscles melted into relaxation at the prisoner’s words. Heat now seemed to be shimmered between the two, each showing intense emotion that flowed through their veins while one was greedy want the other another sort of greed: the desire to live at all cost. Even the price of his own pride. This was what Travis had been seeking from the very start.
Like a man with fish at his hook, Travis let the silent gratitude of winning fill him before the dark eyes fell from his. Either to hide something or admit defeat, truthfully the village Lord didn’t care. He could almost taste the sweetness of his wants coming to fruition before their time. The words draw a daring smile from Travis’s lips and his body leaned its weight away from the bars watching as the man held up his chains. It only ironed farther that Beast wanted freedom to Travis. It was when the words, those sealing words, had passed through the mongrel’s lips that Travis had him, even owned him despite his attempt to rise above the status he given himself Travis only saw a dead man in a few years. Either by his own hand or most likely by the she devil he was going to face.
Soon he would have everything he ever desired and more, greedy was undeniable in the staring eyes of Lord Travis Kinray.
“Very well… I will explain everything tonight, until then settle here and closer to midnight we’ll get you ready. You may have agreed but I trust you as far as I can throw you, Beast, and I don’t take chances,” Travis’s voice was dry and harsh, a mere whisper as he turned his back leaving the man in the darkness and cold before stopping at a guard’s chair seated just out of reach from the cell door. Leaning over, his eyes looked to the source of fresh foot steps that greeted him, a guard patrolling up the hallway, only to halt the young man in his tracks. Passing off into the man’s arms, Travis’s command came out much kinder and almost good nature, the ideal firmness, to the youth.
“Give this to the prisoner, make sure he’s warm and add some extra lamp light this way. I’ll send a meal, roasted pork, bread and stew for his rations.”
“I-I…but sire, he’s a pris-,” He fumbled and stammered only to fall silent.
Travis’s glance halted the man’s protest, his thick hand reached about the shoulders and patted him in a playful roughness,” That’s a good lad. I’ll make sure you get a free drink at the tavern as a reward.”
The Hallow’s Eve festival started as soon as the moon came into view, its shape haloed with the reflecting light and shadows upon its surface. Its face shining down upon the activity below, the people bustling and celebrating the traders’ last village bound days before the winter’s strong grip. The days would be shorter and hard but the people always prospered their hoped especially high with the plentiful storages, healthy animals for meat and wool roaming the stockyards of the meat houses or backyards, and of course the seemingly endless gold still nested within the mines of Travis Kinray’s mines. It was night they cherish even with the drear held tightly to their hearts towards the night’s end.
In the tavern was the busiest place, the long wooden bar filled to the max with men, women and playful children all merry and happy. It looked modest compared to Travis’s mansion emitting a humble and comforting sense for all that came in for an ale pint or more. The fire crackled and lite the place up, casting moving shadows upon antlered animal head mounted upon the walls sided by the furred skins spread to show the pure bulk of Kinray’s triumphs. Stone and mortar made up the very foundations of the building itself, etching to the walls that surrounded the feasting people snuggle and warm within its four walled embrace. The floors wooden, a place for excited dogs and noisy children to romp until their heart’s content. A man and woman pulled away from the bar, being attended by one of Kinray’s employed, to walk up the elegant stair well for likely an evening’s fun. Outside the tavern was much the same mood of high spirits and joy.
Travis’s eyes swayed the man in front of him, ignoring his guest for moment to absorb the festival through the window panel. Dresses and booted heels clicked along the large constructed platform, its stilted legs elevated it over the grounded snow, as all citizens each varied from the rich warm colors to earthy colors, danced in equal standings during the celebration. Torches dotted the outside, dimly lighting the moving shapes pushed on by the music of local fiddlers and anyone that could pick up an instrument to add to the tune. Despite the relaxed, Travis’s guardsmen were on high alert among the crowds as a warning for criminals. Even with this precaution, it was a rare sight to be seen but a tradition that Kinray insisted upon this one time of year. Even he was no better than the thief that sat in front of him now. It could be among the things that irritated the man the most, his face pulled from the sight and sounds to the business at hand.
“You know how this night works, every Hallow’s Eve she comes- a she devil- to pluck one of our own to be carted away to her castle days later,” Travis planned on only giving the man the basics, lest he back out of the deal on count of the rumors.
Half of them not right and far from the truth, they were tales to discipline naughty children into behaving and adding fear to the time a man often goes missing around this time of year. The only thing that made it hard to stop was the lack of proof. She never took them on the same night and there wasn’t any evidence to prove it, besides what could they do about it? He made it clear he didn’t believe the stories, his personal reasons, so he wouldn’t support such an attack…at least until it benefited him.
Still continuing, his hand wrapped about his own mug and shoulders squared in his leaning forward, his voice dropped to a whisper,” It is an amulet- a family heirloom- I’m after yet where she hides it is anyone’s guess. An amber stone that can turn blood red set in decorative hand pounded silver, hung usually by a chain. My guess is that it’s in her castle but that’s your area to find it and steal it, any other I would ask but being a demon, she won’t give it up easily. Steal it and all your crimes against me, the village and the wealthy will disappear.”
Beast didn’t feel so much like a beast. He was clean and fed. It only took a slight brush of his hand over his chin to know the layers of hair and grim were gone. He smelled much better. As he walked from his underground prison through the moon lit snow he knew he made the right choice. Even guarded and burdened with a task, walking outside was worth any price, worth the disgust of being in Lord Kinray’s service. Beast didn’t like the rich, nose in the air, piercing eyed Travis Kinray. But then there were not many who did. Of course no one would admit it, at least no one sober and not around anyone but very close friends. Lord Kinray had that much power. But at the moment, breathing in the fresh air and thrilling in the clean clothes, Beast didn’t care.
He smiled as they entered the tavern enjoying the over stimulation of sounds and smells. It was Hallow’s Eve and Beast hadn’t even realized it. So this was about the She Devil? Beast had heard of her but he never did pay much attention to stories. She lived in the castle he thought. Beast leaned in when Kinray did and heard his fee. He had to steal from the She Devil. That was his price for freedom. And on top of that all his crimes would be eased. He just had to take something from that dreaded castle. He had to steal from a demon.
Beast paused after hearing his assignment. He finished the offered ale and wiped his mouth with the back of his hand before he even looked at Travis again. He tapped the rim of his mug for a refill. Slowly he smiled. He would not let this man see any doubt. No he had his freedom, even if only for a time or only until death. Let this Lord know he chose the right man. A thief knows a thief.
“A family amulet? A fair deal but even better with a wager as well.” He watched the Lord as he took another sip. “If I am successful, then I can keep anything else I manage to pilfer from the She Devil Demon.” Taking another long swallow and watching the man he shook his head to chase the ale down and then added quickly, “Also I will need time to find a way inside and then look for your family’s treasure.” He glanced around the room once again showing a sly smile at the festivities around him. He was beginning to think about a plan. Just beginning. First he would drink with this despicable rich man. Might as well let him use his coins.
Beast leaned in closer to Travis and asked quietly, “Does she leave the castle to find her full moon prey?” Beast figured this man knew more about the She Devil than he was telling. How is it she has his families heirloom? If it is his why does she guard it? “You see M’Lord I am not of this village and may have missed some of the delightful story tales.”
Travis glanced at a barmaid, black curls running up while her dark eyes spotted him, noting Beast tapping his mug before swaying her hips to the pair. A clay jug, colored a red earth, swished with the frothy ale as she came in close with a smile. Travis leaned back into his wooden chair and motioned for her to fill the thief’s mug. He wasn’t the least bit bothered by the gluttonous behavior, only hoping the man wouldn’t be too drunk to do his job, as his just sat there in front of him. The young gel battered her thick, black lashes at the now free man and tilted the jug to pour the amber liquid to the edge, threatening to rush over, while the yellow foam resided on top. She turned to Travis. About to do the same to his, Travis’s hand waved her off before she could begin. Travis had barely touched his mug and didn’t need a spill to clean up.
He stared at Beast’s words, looking for either a trick or signs of madness, his mind lost from imprisonment. It was odd at his higher wager and lack of knowledge had made Travis truly doubt he was the right man for the job, feeling unease over the matter. For a moment, he had considered calling it off and sending the man back into the depths to rot once more but he had given his word. Though some might not, he wasn’t one man to regret giving his word. It would show he was afraid. He certainly wasn’t and least of all of the filth sitting before him, his arms stretched out resting flat upon the table's surface as they uncrossed from in front of him along with his legs.
Of course he would’ve had to explain the tales to this man, treating him like a child and fully making it clear the foolishness of his brazen to barter, changing the agreement now that he was out of that disease riddled cage. Travis knew Beast believed himself better but he wasn’t. Not at all because stealing, be from the rich or poor, was still just that. It was what had brought him to Travis’s attention in the first place and the situation at hand. Pulling his right hand to the mug, he fiddled with its handle between his fingers, nestling the palm against the rough outside as if thinking on his next move. Finally, he seemed to have come to a decision. His torso leaned into the table edge, drawing his face closer and his intense eyes seeking the core of the opposing man’s, letting his voice come out in a deeper tone.
“I’m surprised, that of all people, it’s you I’ve to treat as a child. A brazen thing to believe you hold the cards when it was my orders that released you thief and now you want more? Isn’t freedom enough for you or does your eyes exceed your talents? Either way, before you decide on upping the price, you may want to listen to what you’re against,” Taking a breath, Travis began relating his tale in grim fashion,” The old story varies from family to family, from teller to teller, that she was once a beautiful woman who made a pact with a devil. A kitkune, or fox demon, that consumes human flesh to maintain her power. The reasons are many, from wealth to eternal youth, even a broken heart. Now beyond the black forest, upon a mountain, and hidden within a castle of stone she lives for most of the year. Untouchable and alone saved for one night, this very one, that she joins humanity. It is here she marks a man as her next meal, coming for him one night and stealing him away. Any man that’s caught her attention has disappeared soon after. Many have tried to take revenge to the castle but they often end up being turned around badly that they find themselves right back here. Not to mention the climb itself is treacherous enough to kill most.
Waiting for her to come for you can vary from days to weeks, even months which is time you don't have. How you chose to handle this is up to you yet remember this: I expect information on your progress. A fair warning too, cross me and I’ll have your head on a spit roasting in the this very fire,” As if making clear of where, Travis’s head briefly turned to the within the tavern before leaning back again,” So are you still willing to risk your life as well as the amulet-if you get it- just to satisfy your greed?”
Beast could almost enjoy himself here, right now, with a full tankard, a woman flashing her eyes and a fool paying for his drinks. Alright, fool might be the wrong word. But Beast wasn’t one to analysis words too much. Just enough to smile when his captor called him a child. The man gives him the chance of freedom but doesn’t truly believe in his skill. That is not so new to the Beast. Too many think a thief is a thief is a thief. Nothing is further from the truth. The boy who picked your pocket in the middle of a celebration like tonight is nowhere near his skill. It would be like comparing the old hag to the young castle whore. They were both woman but that was about it.
Another swig and Beast looked at Travis. There was no need to try to tell him any of that. If this man wanted to believe he was not much more than a child, so be it. More than one time he had been underestimated, and most times it was an advantage. It was clear Travis thought he was just hiring another pick pocket.
Beast put his drink down and offered Travis a small smile. “Greed is great motivator, but telling you that seems redundant.” He wasn’t sure if the man gave him cautious permission to take something else because he didn’t really expect him to succeed. Or if he was just trying to make sure Beast knew he was between a rock and a hard place. “To tell me my life is on the line seems like pouring more ale into the passed out drunk.”
He raised his mug, “I know. I know.” He took another slow sip.
Over the rim, Beast looked at the man again. Not being about to explain, Beast had danced on that edge too many times. That is where he found his thrill. Strange maybe, but Beast figured that if that is where his feet find him might as well enjoy the walk. He was going to die. No point in fearing that part. But while he was breathing he was going dance on that rim. That was why he was a thief and not a sheep farmer to begin with.
“You are my freedom, M’Lord, and I know that as well. I will report to you. Although I realize your doubt I will bring you the amulet. With your permission, I will begin by scouting out the castle and then attending the fine celebration your wonderful village has planned for tonight.”
As if sealing a deal in his own mind, Beast slammed the empty tankard on the table, wiped his sleeve over his mouth and stood.
Greed was always a good motivate for both great and stupid moves but instead of agreeing, he stayed silent while the thief took another sip. It seemed his warning was well caught yet he was still bothered by the way Beast casted away the seriousness of the situation, making it sound so easy to trespass and explore the castle that the tavern own nearly let a scoff slip out of his mouth. Once more doubt lingered like a haunting figure of death over a dying man and though he wished he could cast it away, it only felt stronger with the man’s response.
Travis’s chin just leaned in to his hands, his body tilted forward while his right heel came back to rest under his seat. He studied the man before him closely, not with any rank of equality or worthiness, before leaning back at the last of the thief’s words echoing in his ears. The celebration was still in full swing and he only hoped from the amount of liquid Beast had consumed, he would be able to stand and walk upright or this evening would be a complete waste of time. His chest took a deep breath, his words came out in a gruff harshness at the slamming of the mug upon the tabletop making his fingers tighten about his own while he quietly snapped,” The mug’s clay, you break it then you will have it taken out of your hid. Do as you will for the task. She thought it was great fun to taunt me by dangling my family’s amulet the day she stole it and I’ve decided she’s had long enough, “He lied before letting his eyes wonder, both distracting him from the bad business and seeking the woman he wanted to see.
She should’ve been here by now, he thought as he scanned the room once more and continued,” How do you plan on getting up to the castle then? Or do you plan on waiting for her to take you-if she takes you?”
Pausing, a woman with a white mask came into the tavern from the back almost invisible if he hadn’t been looking that way,” Speaking of the devil…there she is, why don’t you see just what you are getting into. Maybe then you will take the situation a little more seriously.”
A few hours ago to present.
Beauty’s body rattled upon the large fox’s black seek fur, its muscles moved and rocked underneath as its red eyes sought each shadow to wisp to. Lights of torches drew nearer making the creature unsettled but it moved onward, never thinking once to retreat while its paws kissed the moonlight path from the castle gates. Her hazel eyes had darted back once to spot both Brimestone and Matthias seeing her off, feeling unseen eyes from the other servants study her, until she vanished out of sight into the tree line. Now the beast’s form almost melted into the darkness becoming one with it, closing in on the village below with each turn and treacherous path making her anxiety dig her fingers deeper into the creature’s fur. The smoky black wisps fell in behind the rush of the dead run. They whipped about her dress, a pale and gentle shimmering orange color that threaten to pull away from her very figure while Beauty leaned farther into the beast for an anchor. The moon beat down revealing patches of pale light and forced her eyes to scan the black trees flying by each one of these nights, the very night she was herself again.
Keiko hadn’t made a sound since the hour stuck midnight and for that, Beauty was truly freed and relieved. Her curling hair flowed back leaving her face looking forward before the pace slowed. The fast patting of the paws died in the air just like every Hallow’s Eve, the creature slowly grinding to a stop just a small distance outside the village entrance. The celebration was in full swing. Bodies moving and dancing, unaware or cared this might be the last night of one of their own made shadows bounce from the many glowing flames of torch lights. Music drowned the air leaving a sense of wanting and cheer, pulling her closer to the activity. Beauty paused and scratched the black fox’s chin, its ears pinned back, tilting its head up for a better position and thoroughly enjoying the attention she gave. Beauty felt the reaction make a smile grin from her light colored lips. Taking her free hand, Beauty touched her face to feel the porcelain surface press its smooth surface into her flesh and let a breath of relieve out. The mask was of how she remembered of Keiko’s looks, secured independently by a ribbon on either side around the back of her head then disappearing into her thick curl locks and around her ears. Near the right ear was a hand painted rose marking the mask more feminine and breaking the flawless, plain surface easily.
Cautiously she stepped away towards the party. Her feet bare and skirting from underneath her long free flowing dress, its thin material fitting to her form allowing little curiosity to the woman’s shape while its tail snaked behind. The front was resting at her calf’s middle so there was little need to bend and scoop up the front, the sides lowering behind and purposely fayed at the edges like a leaf. The top was lighter orange like the brightest point of a flame that melted into dark red, its color magical and almost otherworldly despite the simplicity design of her dress. Quietly she slipped into the village, unnoticed even in her splendor, and around the tavern back to heard similar music drifting among the golden fire light of the fire. Beauty couldn’t help the memories that flooded back through the joy of the scene, her eyes catching movement out of the corner of her eye. It was a young, happy couple flowed from the opposite door with the man leading his partner by the hand, making his way to the bar. A flash of Travis replaced the young man’s, the face pulled up in a grin and youthful hit her, washed her in a chill to be here once more after so long.
A voice Beauty hadn’t expected to heard, cold with a bit of mocking kindness lingering, came to bubble to the surface inside her mind. Aren’t getting cold feet, Dearie? Now are you? Not over a little memory that doesn’t exist anymore… the tail end seemed to hold a bit of glee from the pain that tore at Beauty’s heart, her anger at hearing her demon’s voice on this one night, hers. Instinctively she stopped dead, her voice pleading as she whispered aloud unaware if someone was near her,” Please just leave me alone…please.”
If Beast was really free it was time he made a few choices. Choice number one: find better company. He could admit this Travis provided him with a few good ales. He also arranged his release from the dark dungeon. But it was this Lord or one just like him that put him there in the first place. He had spent enough of his limited free time listening to him. He didn’t like the man. Just in the short time he spent with the high noised rich born snob, he summed him up as one who fueled his anger and revenge. Beast didn’t need him as an enemy but sure as hell didn’t want to pretend he was a friend.
So when Travis suggested he get to work, Beast agreed. He was standing and ready to move on and enjoy at least a few minutes in this villages celebration. When Travis pointed out a woman who just seemed to appear, Beast looked her way. He couldn’t imagine that small woman with the white mask was the She-devil. She moved with an unsteady grace, like water trying to find a direct path down the mountain side. Beast could have just enjoyed watching her. But he had work to do. With a slight grin on his face he moved from the table and across the room toward his mark. As he did he could not help but enjoy the idea that she took anything from Travis. He wondered how she did that.
“M’Lady.” Beast bowed to the white mask deeply. “Please have pity on me. I am not from this village and know no ladies who will share a simple dance with me. It seems a shame to waist such night as this.” Beast offered his hand to her. “Will you dance?”