Chapter five: go ahead and starve

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The voice behind him grated like nails on a chalkboard. Beau steeled himself before turning to face it; the beast. He had expected a monster of towering height, with horns, fur and blood-drenched fangs.

What he hadn't expected was a woman.

She was draped in an etherial black veil that Beau at once recognised as a funeral shroud. The eyes that gazed out from beneath it looked dead and empty; her skin was skeletal in its paleness. She was a corpse incarnate; a spectre risen from a funeral parlour to freeze the blood running through his veins. Death and darkness and despair.

"Don't tell me what you see," she said, almost softly. "I learnt long ago not to ask such questions."

"What do you mean?" he replied, still recoiling in silent horror.

A breeze rippled across the garden, but the air around the monster remained still; even the air was repulsed by her. "No two people see the same thing - my appearance always takes on the sight that will chill the beholder most. Their worst nightmare come to life."

The sight Beau was most afraid of was a corpse? He didn't think that was right, but it seemed the wrong time to offer corrections.

"What's your name?"

"Most call me the beast."

"But that can't be your name."

"It might as well be, and it will do for now. My old name is a relic I do not feel like sharing. What's yours? We don't often get visitors here - to have two in as many days is a surprise."

"My name is Beau Molineux. I've come to offer myself in my father's place. To be your prisoner." Beau fought to keep his voice steady at the final word.

The woman - the beast - cocked her head, but her expression remained as vacant as the moment before.

"I must confess," he added, swallowing his fear and his desire to retreat. "I'm am confused as to why you've demanded a prisoner at all. It was just a rose. Eternal servitude seems a steep price to pay for a single mistake."

The beast growled, "You know nothing of the prices of mistakes. Besides," she recovered herself, bringing her figure up to its full, towering height. "Like the rest of this castle, that rose was cursed. It wasn't my choice that you or your father should stay - the blood bloom exacted its own punishment. Had your father not returned, he would have died within a matter of days."

"That's cruel!" Beau replied, his fear replaced by anger.

"It wasn't my curse!" she snapped back, taking a step towards him. "I gave your father everything he could wish for - food, warmth, shelter. He was the one who decided to repay me by stealing! If he'd just left first thing in the morning, all this could have been..." She broke off, sighing. "Let me show you to your room." Before Beau could reply to express his surprise, the beast had swept up the stairs to the castle and through the doors, leaving Beau to follow or be left alone outside.

She didn't pause or speak to him again until she reached the second floor.

"Dinner will be served at six. I will leave you to settle into your new accommodation." She gestured to a room across the corridor. It was bright, airy and neat. Not at all what Beau had been expecting.

"What, no chains, no bars?"

"You are welcome to leave anytime you wish, but the blood bloom will take its price - leave these grounds and your father will die." Beau paled and she added, "Not all prisoners wear marks of their entrapment. The castle does not need chains to keep you here." With that, she swept along the corridor and out of sight. Beau shivered as he watched her figure retreating. There was no way he would be joining her for dinner.

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