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Beauty In the Beast

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Laura had fully intended to barge through the castle doors, swing them open with a dramatic bang and slam through the doors to give this beast a piece of her mind. That had been the plan.

Unfortunately, the doors opened of their own accord before she could even touch them. Without the expected resistance against her hands, Laura stumbled over through the doorway with her arms pinwheeling. Barely keeping her footing.

So much for the dramatic entrance.

“Alright,” she yelled, brushing the dust off her jeans, “I’ve come a long way and I was stuck on a bus for hours and then this rickety plane and then some guy with a horse and buggy who kept trying to convince me that I should really just go home and get married to a nice man. I mean really, you could not have a more remote location here. What did I travel over? Two bogs? A forest? Mountains? Seriously. So I’ve had plenty of time to think about this speech and I’ve got a lot to say!” She spun around, checking the interior of the surprisingly bright castle and dropping her backpack on the cold stone floor, but keeping the rose between her fingers, “And I’m so eager to meet this beast that my slowly going insane Father has apparently indentured me to in his fever ridden dreams.” Laura threw her arms wide, “so come on out.”

As excellent as she was sure her speech had been, the castle was silent.

She knew it. That poison was clearly affecting her Dad’s mind. No monsters.

Laura frowned, peering into the shadows. The castle was old, 14th century maybe. All white rock and wide arching windows that Laura would have bet could have looked gorgeous if they weren’t covered in tattered curtains. In fact, the whole front entrance looked like something out of a fairy tale; if the fairytale had been about an abandoned, dusty, mess of broken furniture and slightly crumbling rock.

Why her father would decide this was the perfect place to snoop around, she’d never know. Well, actually she knew. It was gorgeous and creepy and just a little bit ignored.

In short, alluring.

She took a few steps further into the castle, spinning in slow circles as she did so. Something in the back of her head that sounded suspiciously like her father’s voice told her that she should be watching for monstrous beasts but she couldn’t manage to take her eyes off the high ceilings and dirt stained walls.

Nothing like the rundown, shadow-filled darkness she’d expected. Not that there weren’t shadows. They just weren’t quite as imposing as the deep pit of despair she’d been envisioning.

All she had to do was find what bit her father. Maybe track down an antidote.

Then one of the shadows moved.

Laura shrieked, spinning as she caught the darkness moving out of the corner of her eye. She faced the movement, holding out the long red rose like a sword as though it could protect her from the darkness. Her mind raced, her father’s nearly incoherent babblings about fangs and teeth and evil monsters and dungeons running through her head.

She could just make out a pair of glowing eyes in the corner, a deep brown so black that it was only the reflection of the light from the windows that showed there was anything there. More alarming, the eyes were big. Bigger than any human’s eyes had a right to be.

With a step back, Laura swung the rose slightly. It probably looked stupid but having anything between her and this monster made her feel just a little better. She frowned, staring at the shadowy shape, waiting for it to do something. Instead, the eyes stayed still, staring at her with an indecipherable expression.

“Well,” Laura said at last, stomping her foot, “if you’re going to kill me or eat me or whatever, could we just get that over with?”

The eyes blinked slowly, still staring at her.

Letting the rose sword drop in favour of putting her hands on her hips, Laura took a step forward, “Okay. This is rude. Seriously. You make a girl trek all the way out here and then you don’t even bother to say anything? Or eat me? Honestly, the way my Dad put it I was kind of expecting to be eaten. Something a lot more dramatic than just a pair of eyes staring at me in the dark. Like more of a big terrible girl stealing evil monster beast thing. Despoiler of innocence type deal. Bloody pools in the basement. Very horror movie.”

The eyes shifted slightly, looking to the left and right.

“I mean,” Laura continued, “ you could at least do me the favour of coming out here.”

She really should learn to think things through before she speaks.

The shadow seemed to uncoil. Widening into a fluidly moving mass that practically slunk forward with a gracefulness that she hadn’t been expecting from a beast. Laura’s breath caught as the eyes caught the first glimpse of sunlight, revealing a deep brown colour. Like coffee without cream. Then, she squinted as the monster moved further into the sunlight.

She squeaked in surprise, “You’re just a cat.”

One of the cat’s ears flicked as it observed her, apparently miffed. It bared its teeth at her, a slight growl rumbling in it’s throat.

She held up her hands, unable to stop the smile that was curling on her face as she stared at the so called monster. “Sorry,” she said, “I mean, you’re a large intimidating cat who is definitely very scary.” The growling stopped. The cat sat back on it’s haunches, staring at her. It was jet black and almost as large as she was but, despite the size, definitely just a cat.

Laura let out a giggle as she stared at, arms dropping her side as she felt the tension relaxing her shoulders.

The cat tilted its head to the side. The universal sign for confused.

“Sorry,” Laura repeated, over her giggles, “It’s just, I’ve been so stressed out over this and my Dad came home all panicky and talking about a curse and then I wasn’t going to come but he actually did start dying like he said. So I figured that I’d get to the bottom of this. Put that journalism degree to work. And I was expecting like some giant beast man with like terrifying claws and creepy horns or something.” She took a couple steps forward, handheld forward with the back of her hand extended.

The cat’s nose twitched.

“And I was sort of picturing you as some large angry man, water buffalo, lion combination thing,” Laura continued. “I mean my Dad could not stop talking about your teeth and how horrible you are. So it’s kind of a relief that you’re just a giant black cat.” She took another few steps, stopping as her hand hovered right in front of the cat’s large black nose.

There was probably something a tad suicidal about offering what is essentially a giant panther your hand for its sniffing or snacking pleasure.

The cat’s eyes flipped up, level with her own, and Laura would have sworn that the animal looked amused. Then, it’s eyes dropped back to her hand, nostrils flaring slightly as the cat sniffed lightly at her hand.

Laura grinned as she adjusted her hand slightly so that the nose lightly tapped the back of her hand. The cat jumped backwards, fur ruffled.

“Hey now,” Laura followed, “sorry buddy. Bet you’re not used to nice people living all the way out here. It’s like isolation city in these mountains. But I promise I don’t bite.”

The cat stood back up, flicking it’s tail back and forth like it was pretending it hadn’t been scared at all. Laura smirked, it was literally prancing. It trotted in a wide circle around the girl. The cat’s eyes taking her in as it swept her from all angles.

Laura was content to simply watch it strut, briefly entertaining the idea of showing back home with a giant panther at her side. She didn’t know what her Dad had been talking about. This certainly didn’t look like an evil beast that marked him for death for trespassing and stealing a rose unless he delivered his daughter to the beast’s lair.

This looked like a curl up by the fireplace and pet the silky fur type cat. Her fingers actually itched to do just that.

Laura frowned as a thought struck her. She tapped the rose lightly against her leg, “I don’t suppose,” she started, figuring that there was no real harm in asking, “that you’re a talking, giant black cat?”

The cat ignored her completely, choosing to plunk back down in front of the staircase and stare at her. Eyes narrowed. Tail swishing.

“Please?” Laura said, “Please be a giant talking cat?”

With a quick shake of its head, all of Laura’s hopes were dashed.

“So then,” she said tentatively, “who was the one who threatened my Dad?”

The cat turned, running up the staircase and pouncing over a railing. It only stopped when Laura turned to follow, letting out a hiss as her foot touched the bottom stair. She immediately retracted her foot and the cat took off again, disappearing out of sight.

Without the presence of the cat, the castle seemed to grow more inhospitable. The shadows darker, walls more forlorn, skittering sounds in the distance. She gripped the rose a little tighter, running her free hand over her pants to wipe away the clammy feeling.

There was a sound to her left and Laura spun. A dark hallway lead off downwards, never a good direction. She poked her head out, trying to make out anything beyond the door frame. Thoughts of bats and monsters making running down hallways willy nilly unappealing. Her Dad had nearly died in this place, from this place.

There was bravery and then there was stupidity.

Coming here to save her Dad, despite his protests to just let him die, was bravery. Venturing down unknown passages seemed more like stupidity.

Still. Get the antidote. In. Out. She peered forward, vaguely making out moving shadows on the wall in some kind of flickering light. Laura bit her lip, it seemed friendly enough.

Suddenly, all the hairs on the back of her neck stood on end.

A strong hand grasped her arms, nails biting into the skin as she was flung back and spun around. Laura’s back slammed into the stone wall, her head slamming into the rock and forcing her to see stars.

“What are you doing here?” a voice slammed across her face. Guttural. As close to a roar as female voice could get.

Even with her eyes closed from the pain in her head, Laura instinctively shoved forward, trying to push her attacker off her. Her left hand slammed into a breastbone while her right jabbed the heel of her palm into a nose only slightly higher than her own.

She was released momentarily as the attacker reeled back with a hiss of pain. She hadn’t even had time to lift her foot before the attacker was back. Hands clasping each of her upper arms and holding her against the stone.

Laura forced her eyes open, straining against both the arms that held her and the headache. Catching glimpses of dark hair and pale skin as she struggled. She may as well have been fighting air for all the leverage she made. The hands on her arms were as strong as iron, unyielding as she twisted. Laura moved to strike out with a kick when a foot kicked out, forcing her legs to be still.

“Why are you here?” the voice said again.

When Laura didn’t answer, the nails bit harder into her arm.

“To save my Dad,” Laura snapped.

“Ah,” the voice was lower this time, “so you’re the daughter of the trespassing imbecile?”

Even pinned, Laura struggled. She strained against her captor, squirming until she was gasping for air. Finally spent, Laura took a moment to catch her breath. Then with a deep swallow, she slowly lifted her head.

Eyes. The first thing she saw were eyes. Human eyes, that flashed with something unrecognizable as she first looked at them and just as quickly shut down. A sparkle that had been stomped on. Guarded.

She’d seen that look in the mirror.

Her vision expanded to take in the rest. Pale skin. Small nose. Black hair with light curls that clearly weren’t interested in being brushed. It was all immediately blocked out as her eyes drifted downward.

Fangs.

Laura’s stifled a yelp as a breath hitched in her throat. This girl had two white fangs popping out between her lips. Long and thin with a point that looked razor sharp. They curved slightly, just barely reaching out over her bottom lip.

Her Father had babbled about fangs. She’d thought he was crazy.

Laura looked back up at the girl’s eyes, batting away her fear and choosing instead to picture her father writhing in his bed as blackness crept down his arm.

“You,” Laura snapped, “you’re the monster who nearly killed my father.”

The girl gave her a lazy smirk, still holding her firmly against the wall, “He was trespassing.”

“He was lost!” Laura shot back, “And you poisoned him.”

“I am the master of this castle, cupcake” the girl said, “you trespass on my grounds, you steal my rose, you play by my rules.”

“And we’re all just supposed to know your rules?” Laura said, bucking her hips to see if she could throw the monster off. She couldn’t. “I didn’t see any signs. Caution. Enter here and get poisoned by a monster.”

The monster pushed back harder, “Would you like a guidebook too?”

“It couldn’t hurt.” Laura said

The girl rolled her eyes but said nothing.

There was some kind of sharp rock jabbing into Laura’s back. She shimmied slightly, but the iron grip on her arms was too much to try and break free from, “Look, Laura said at last, “If you’re going to eat me, can we just get this over with?” She should probably be freaking out more about the beast thing but, apparently she wasn’t.

For a moment, Laura thought the girl’s eyes widened but it was so quick she couldn’t be sure.

“Your father should just be thankful, I let him go at all. Could have just finished him there, if he hadn’t mentioned you.” the girl said.

“Me?” Laura squeaked.

“Yes, you, cupcake.” the girl’s eyes were boring into hers now, “attempting to appeal to my better nature. Your father just had to tell me that he was picking my roses for his precious baby girl. Apparently, the lack whit thought that made stealing okay.”

“So you poisoned him,” Laura shoved at the girl and this time, the girl simply took a step back, watching her closely.

As the girl spoke, Laura’s eyes flicked throughout the room, evaluating her options. She’d bet that there was an antidote for her Dad somewhere in this place if she could just get the chance to find it, “I marked him.” the girl said, “The magic demands a sacrifice.”

The rose twitched slightly in Laura’s fingers. Then she threw it at the girl’s face while making a break for the nearest set of stairs. She’d made it halfway up the flight when the girl was once again in front of her. Her face dark.

Super strength and super speed. Excellent.

Laura closed her eyes and tensed her muscles, bracing herself to get manhandled or bitten or thrown across the room or locked in a dungeon.

“Careful with this,” the girl snapped.

Laura opened her eyes. The girl was cradling the rose in her hands, her touch almost delicate with the simple red flower. Her pale fingers traveled up the stem to caress the petals lightly between her fingers.

“Look,” Laura decided to take her chances, “I’m a long way from home. I’m tired. I’ve spent months worrying about my dad while he’s out on this nature trip and he comes back raving like a lunatic about monsters and fangs and castles and weeping his heart out because apparently he’s sold me like a freaking slave to some monster in the mountains but how I don’t have to go and he’d just rather die anyway. Which of course was ridiculous.”

The girl quirked an eyebrow at her.

“He’s got this weird bite on his neck so I take him to the hospital and they say his blood work is clean. So I put him to bed.” Laura continued, “Next thing I know this creepy blackness is slowly moving down his arm and his body so that he can’t feel his fingers and the doctors don’t know what to do. So I figured that I’d retrace his steps and find out exactly what bite him and since he did nothing but rage about this castle, I figured this has to be the place. I’m halfway here and I get a call from the doctor saying he’s getting better. I turn around to go back. The next day I get another call saying he’s getting worse. I turn back to come here and I get a call that he’s getting better again. So if you could just give me the antidote for whatever you did to him. I’ll call it even. You can keep the rose and everything.”

There’s almost something like sympathy lurking in the monster’s eyes, “cupcake, there’s no antidote. You leave here. He dies. The rose was for you, only you can save him.”

“What?” the word caught in Laura’s throat.

The girl leaned back against the railing, “I don’t make the rules. Trust me. I don’t want your noisy self here either.”

Laura tried to ignore the feeling of offense that bubbled up and focused on the important facts, “You mean I’m stuck here?”

“For a year,” the girl drawled, “then you can be on your merry little way to whatever insignificant life goals you had planned.”

Laura took another look around the castle, “I’m stuck here. With you. For a year. That’s insane. I should just leave.”

“You’ll be back in a day,” the girl ran a thumb slowly over the rose, “the black will come back. Worse each time. It’ll just be another call from the doctor. Clock resets too, might as well just get it over with.” The girl stood up, passed her the rose, and started sauntering up the stairs.

“Wait,” Laura blurted, “who are you, anyway?”

The girl barely turned to throw her a smirk, “I’m Carmilla, sweetheart, and you’re my new roommate.”