The Beast/Richard Philarn
“What a fine day for a trip, right?” The older man looked over to his daughter as they drove down the well-trodden road, the steam-driven motor chugging and leaving a trail of vapor behind them.
“Yes, nice and sunny- and hardly any clouds.” The woman in the seat next to him smiled, looking up at the clear sky and shielding her eyes from the sun. “Is the invention secured enough, do you think?” She looked behind her at the latch holding the trailer that held a tarp-covered machine being pulled by their motor car. She peered down at the latch skeptically, not trusting the weak looking connection.
“You worry too much, Rosa.” The man rolled his eyes. “I double checked- unless we go over some really rough terrain, we should be fine. It’ll get to the soldiers in once piece.”
Rosa nodded, turning back around and settling back into place. They were on their way to the fort to hand the new invention over to the soldiers- it was something valuable enough for the war that her father was taking his invention there personally. She didn’t fully understand her father’s babbling when he started trying to explain it to her. Something about electricity and air, somehow burning or stunning people, depending on the setting of the machine. She wished someday that she would know as much about mechanics as her father- but it was generally frowned upon that women should be inventors and covered up to their elbows in oil and grease. She couldn’t get into the university that had trained him, but she could learn on her own- it would just take her quite a bit longer.
She looked up at the forest ahead of them, feeling a bit uneasy about the darkness underneath the thick canopy of the trees- it seemed as if the fresh spring day disappeared within the confines of the forest- it was always night within there.
Her father didn’t hesitate in driving forward, the road leading into the forest and winding through the trees. He drove slower among the branches, looking up as the trees seemed to loom in either side of them and Rosa scooted closer to her father within the seats of the motor car.
“How deep is this forest?” She said uneasily, not wanting to admit the terrible feeling of dread that filled her at the sight of the dark forest on either side of them- it seemed as if the sun was absorbed by the trees so that no light penetrated their branches. Everything smelled of must and moss, filling her nose until she sneezed and moved her bright red hair from her face.
The sound seemed to wake something up near them, the bushes rustling beside her along the road and making her jump in surprise, moving closer to her father. The man just laughed, looking at her in amusement.
“Jumpy, eh lass?” He chuckled, continuing to look forward to drive carefully down the narrow road. “We’re in a motor car- nothing is going to get in here unless we stop.”
Rosa nodded and looked around uneasily, not entirely convinced by her father’s reassuring words. She looked over to see yellow eyes peering at her from the darkness of the trees, a glint of fangs flashing as they passed along the road. She gripped her father’s suit sleeve, pointing toward the eyes and looking at him in panic.
“Just stay calm.” He said, but his voice was hushed as if he didn’t dare make too much noise. She nodded and looked over to the eyes, seeing them disappear among the trees. She let out a small breath of relief but froze when she saw several more pairs of eyes appear, joining the first as they peered at the motor car passing by.
“What are they?” Rosa whispered to her father, who shook his head in a sign that he didn’t know. She didn’t blame him for not wanting to talk- they seemed to be… following them.
He drove the car a bit faster through the forest, a large stone making them bump uncomfortable and lurch in the car, the sound of metal against metal behind them sounding and a chain breaking loose. The car suddenly sped faster before her father stopped it and looked behind him to see the trailer behind them a short distance away, the latch broken from the jostling.
He stared at the trailer in hesitation before looking to the eyes staring at them. He looked to Rosa, whose eyes widened as she realized what he was thinking.
“Don’t- it’s not worth it.” She whispered in terror. He was going to go back and get the trailer- and expose himself to those terrible eyes. The yellow eyes made her shiver with fear as they stared at her, as if waiting… waiting for them to get out of the car.
“I have to- it’s too important.” He said quietly, opening the door of the car and stepping down. He took a pistol from his side, holding it in his hand as he walked back to the trailer and bent down to examine the broken latch. The chain had just come loose- he could grab the trailer and drag it toward the car and reconnect it…
He heard a growl behind him and looked up to see several large wolves walking into what little light streamed through the trees, baring their teeth to him as the fur along their backs bristled with anger. Rosa let out a small keening cry of terror as they circled him, making him hold his gun up defensively, but knew he was terribly outnumbered.
He glanced over to her, giving her a harsh look that she knew meant that she shouldn’t move from her spot. She wanted to help him- to try and defend her father if she could, but he didn’t want her to. She was his only child- and she knew how much he cherished her. So she stayed in place, though she hated every second of it.
She watched as the wolves continued to circle her father, growling menacingly as they watched him, waiting for an opening to attack. They found it soon enough, the wolf behind him leaping up onto his back and biting into his shoulder with strong jaws, a sickly crunch filling the air as bones snapped between the wolf’s fangs. Her father cried out in pain and struggled to get the wolf off him, but his arm was captured by another wolf so that he was brought to the ground. Before the third wolf could attack he brought up his gun to his shoulder, letting lose a blast and causing the wolves to panic into chaos, one of them slumping against him. He fell to the ground, the wolf landing on top of him as he groaned in pain, the dead animal weighing him down as he fought for breath.
Rosa let loose her breath she had held during the fight, ignoring her father’s request and jumping over the side of the door in her ankle-length skirt, running over to him and pushing the wolf off him. She bit her lip uneasily at the deep bite wounds of his arm and shoulders, knowing a wound this bad could easily make him sick and he could die…
The thought of that made a small moan of fear come from her as she cradled him to her, smearing blood along the front of her dress. She looked around as if searching for help, but knew there was nothing here. She would have to bring him somewhere else.
She took off her traveling cape and laid it on the ground beside him, flipping him over from where he had falling face- first on the forest floor. He landed on the cape and she tugged it so that she dragged him along the forest floor, thinking for a moment and running over to grab his gun- just in case- before returning to her duty. She dragged him toward the motor car, looking up at the platform and knew that she couldn’t hoist him up into the car… she couldn’t lift him. Her father was much heavier than she was, and she was already having a hard time dragging him, none the less trying to lift him up into something. Instead she continued to drag him along the trail, hoping that there would be something… anything that could help him.
She looked up at a large gate beside the road, the iron bars creaking in the wind on weak hinges. She nearly sobbed with relief at the sight, dragging her father toward the gates and looking up at the castle on the other side. That was the only way she could describe the large stone mansion that the gate enclosed- a castle. Whoever lived there was either very eccentric or very wealthy- perhaps both.
She didn’t care, though- her father was wounded and needed to rest in some place safe- some place warmer than the chilling night air around them. She finally managed to get to the large oak doors, lifting the large knocker and slamming it against the thick doors so that they rang out with a deep hallow sound inside the castle.
For a moment no one answered- but just before she had decided to try and shove the doors open, one creaked open slowly, as If someone were pulling it for her. She dragged her father inside the large entryway, looking around at the eerie dark décor, dust covering nearly every object in sight. She set her father down and fell to her knees beside him, her arms and legs aching from dragging him for so long. He moaned beside her and opened his eyes to look up to her, smiling wryly.
“I really overdid it this time, peaches.” He said, using his childhood nickname for her. She set her palm against his cheek comfortingly, smiling to him.
“You’ll be fine, pa. Someone has to live here- maybe they can help you.” She said, looking at him for a moment before standing up and looking around the old castle. “Hello?” She said loudly, looking for a sign of anyone around her. “Is anyone here?”
She heard a whispering to her right, turning to see nothing but shadows against the walls. She walked deeper into the entryway, a shadow moving against the wall and making her jump in surprise before it flitted up the stairway.
She watched it move with wide eyes, trying to convince herself that she was just exhausted and that shadows couldn’t move on their own. She was just seeing things, her tired mind making things up.
“Who’s there?” A gruff voice answered her, causing her to shock and run over to where the voice had come from- but the hall was darkened with shadows.
“My father is very hurt- please help him. I’m afraid he-“ Her voice hitched as emotion finally started hitting her at the thought. “He might not make it, please help.”
An uneasy noise came from the man, and he moved forward into the light, revealing a bulky silhouette. “I am cursed- you would not want me to help you if you knew what I was.”
Rosa squinted her eyes to try and see him better, but shook her head. “I wouldn’t care if you were a dancing bear- I just want someone to help my father.”
The man let out a gruff laugh. “Not far off.” He said, moving into the light and revealing a massive body, several feet taller than her, covered in black shaggy fur similar to the wolves’ she had seen earlier. He looked at her with bright yellow eyes, his ears flipped back against his head uneasily.
“There- now you see me for what I am. If you wish to leave, the doors are behind you.” He said, motioning to the large oak doors behind her.
Rosa couldn’t help but stare for a bit, the man looking like a strange mixture of beast and human, his legs shaped more like an animal, but standing on two legs and sporting a broad muscled torso.
“Like I said.” She repeated, looking up to him, but couldn’t help but shaking uneasily at the sight of him. “I don’t care what you are- just help my father.”
The beast looked over to her father, his ears perking at the sight of him. He looked to her thoughtfully for a moment before nodding once and moving past her, walking into the entryway and to her father, kneeling next to him.
“I am going to heal you- stay still, please.” The beast said, looking down at the wounds with a low hiss of pity.
Rosa’s father tensed, his eyes widening in horror at his words. “Sorcerer.” He hissed as if it were a curse, glaring up at him.
“Yes, I’m a sorcerer. I’m also willing to heal you so you’ll live, if you’ll allow me.” The beast said, his tone a bit harsh.
Her father nodded and looked away, obviously not liking it, but giving him permission.
The beast set his large hands on his shoulder, the palm nearly covering the area entirely as he let a blue glow surround his hand, flowing into his shoulder so that the skin patched itself and closed. He moved to his arm and did something similar before moving back with a sigh of exhaustion. “There- you’re healed.” He said, sounding tired.
“Thank you.” The older man looked up to the beast uneasily. “What are you?”
“I was a man- like you.” The beast growled. “But my stupidity cost me dearly. I am forced into this form.”
Rosa’s father nodded in pity and looked over to her. “Are you alright?”
“I’m fine.” Rosa said, her voice wavering with relief as her father sat up and moved his shoulder again, as if trying to keep it from being stiff.
The beast stood up, his full height rather intimidating as he moved back from them as Rosa ran over to her father and fell to her knees again, wrapping her arms around his neck.
“I was so scared- I thought I had lost you.” She whispered in fear, hugging him tightly.
“It’s harder than that to get rid of me, peaches.” He smiled and patted her back. “Where’s the invention?”
“I left it in the forest.” She said, moving back to see his reaction. His eyes filled with hesitation as he looked at her, and nodded grimly. They both knew he’d have to get it- and risk the wolves again.
“I can keep the wolves from you.” The beast said, making them both jump in surprise that he had spoken. “Either you can allow me to cast a ward on you, or you can take an amulet with you and toss it when you get out of the forest.”
Rosa’s father nodded and he sighed, setting his forehead against Rosa’s shoulder. “I have to go get it. I’ll take the amulet- but on one condition.”
The beast’s ears perked curiously and he nodded, listening.
“You have to keep Rosa here.” Her father said, pointing to her. “Those wolves won’t get a bite of her, but I’m assuming you used a lot of your magic to heal me. Do you have enough for two amulets or wards?”
The beast shook his head slowly, glancing to Rosa uneasily. “I am not used to… company.” He said uneasily in his gruff voice.
“No- I want to come with you!” Rosa protested to her father, looking at him in shock.
“I’m going to war, Rosa. War is no place for a woman- especially a woman like you. I know you feel like you need to be with me- but you need to stay here at least until he has enough magic to be able to send you back home. After that you can just stay at home until I get back.”
Rosa shook her head gently, not wanting to have him leave without her. Not in this place… it was frightening to look at.
“You know I’m right, Rosa.” Her father said gently.
Rosa looked up at him, her green eyes wide until she clenched them in pain and nodded, looking down at the ground. “Yes… you are. Just please, be careful. Don’t get yourself hurt again.”
“I won’t.” Her father stood and wrapped her in a tight embrace. “You’re a tough cookie, my Rosa. You’ll be able to survive this war. If anyone can, you can. Just be good, and try to find some way to occupy yourself.”
Rosa looked over her shoulder at the beast who was watching them, his yellow eyes sad as he examined the exchange between father and daughter. She looked back to her father and nodded. “I’ll do my best.” She whispered.
“You always do.” Her father smiled and leaned down to kiss her cheek gently. “Perhaps this… man, can show you a room?” He looked up to the beast with an uneasy expression, trying to judge him.
“Of course.” The beast nodded and looked over to the stair. “There is one at the end of the hall at the top of the stairs. When you are ready I’ll show you to it.”
Her father seemed satisfied with the answer and nodded, letting his grip go of his daughter before moving to the door. “Now, about that amulet…” he said, looking to the beast expectantly.
The beast nodded and moved forward, taking a stone out of his pocket. He let his blue magic surround it before handing the stone to Rosa’s father. “That will ward you against any predators in your path.”
“Thank you.” He said, looking up at the beast. “Take care of my daughter. You healed me, so I’ll trust you with her for a short time. I’ll be back, and if she’s not here I’ll assume she’s back at home. If she’s not at home either… you’ll have some answering to do.”
The beast nodded, looking rather uneasy for a large wolf-man. It was almost like he was intimidated by the much smaller human. “I’ll take care of her.” He repeated his promise with a determined nod.
Rosa’s father nodded in return and looked back over to his daughter. “I’ll see you later, Rosa.” He said, before exiting the door and closing it behind him.
Rosa watched him go, her shoulders sagging when she saw him leave. Suddenly her exhaustion had caught up with her- and she bit her lip to fight back the tears of frustration and anger she felt at the situation she found herself in. Trapped in a strange castle with a beast-man that she didn’t know past the fact he had agreed to help her father. At least he seemed nice.
“I’ll show you to your room now.” He said, looking down to her. She nodded and followed him up the stairs, led to a large door that opened into an ornate room, obviously decorated for a female that had once lived here- it had since gathered dust like any other part of the castle.
“I’m sorry for the state of the room. The servants will likely take care of it soon.” He wrinkled his nose at the dust within the room.
Rosa nodded and walked into the room, sitting on the bed and nearly sneezing when a small plume of dust rose from her disturbing the sheets. It would be a bad night to sleep in this bed- it was obviously not washed for quite a long time. “I’ll be fine.” She whispered, not really wanting to say anything else to him. She didn’t even know him, yet she had agreed to live with him until… Gods knew how long. Why had she agreed to this?
“We’ll talk about this in the morning. For now, rest. You look as if you’re about to fall over.” The beast said, a twinge of concern in his voice.
Rosa glance dup to him and nodded, looking back at the ground as the door closed. She winced as it shut, and looked around the room, too tired to care about what it looked like. She untied her soft leather boots and kicked them off, sighing as her feet were freed and she readied herself for bed. She pushed back the covers and climbed inside, the inner covers quite comfortable compared to the dusty quilt that lay on top.
She fell asleep quickly, exhaustion taking over her mind so that she seemed to forget everything that had happened… for now.