She hugged her knees to her chest and leaned her cheek against a thick carpet of brown fur. The Beast’s scent wasn’t wholly unpleasant. It shared the same, familiar, musty scent of the dungeons. She was still shuddering from her ordeal with the Prince. She could still see the icy fury in his green eyes and feel his spittle flinging on her face as he roared. Echoes of his despair still seemed to rock the foundations of the castle. But what terrified her most were the other, answering screams of the other beasts in the Dungeon Master’s keep. Her life had been surrounded unnaturally by death, so she had no fear of it. Her deepest fears of leaving this life were breaking the promises she had made to those no longer living. It began with Wynyth, who she crawled up next to on her death bed late in the night. Her mother had looked at her long enough to make her promise to keep trying.
“Promise me you’ll watch over my roses, little one. They need you now. And your sisters and brothers and your father will need you in ways they don’t yet understand,” she had said. Vynasha gasped as tears fell down her cheeks and she lifted a hand to wipe them away. When she turned, the beast had opened one of its golden eyes to watch her.
“I suppose you don’t know what it’s like to cry?” She sighed and clenched her teeth as another shiver, this time from the damp dungeon air. The beast rolled closer until her body was encased in a breathing, musky cushion. She rested her chin on her knees and smiled faintly at the creature that had saved her life. “I wish you could speak. You aren’t as bad as I thought you were. All of the monsters in Ceddrych’s stories always gobble up beautiful maidens. And once I was the most beautiful of my sisters.” She bit her lip and felt more tears brewing in her eyes, but this time made no move to wipe them away. Her scarred skin made her numb to such trivial sensations, after all.
“What you don’t know is that I am the monster that lurks in the shadows. I fear the spark of the flames that scarred me. I am the true beast, but most people don’t know it. It’s my fault they died, you see. If I had been there at the cottage, instead of running off in the woods, I would have put out father’s pipe and dampened the lamps. But I wasn’t,” she gasped and reached to grasp for something comforting. It was a childhood habit, ingrained from being the youngest who they didn’t want left behind. There had been no one to hold onto in more seasons than she could count.