The Rose

Ever since her mother died and her father disappeared, Belle has been waiting for this moment. Her daggers at the ready, her heart steeled with confidence, she faced him.

The beast.

Veangeace is a mocking thing.

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4. Chapter III

   I had made my way to the top of my rope with only a few scratches. Ignoring my stinging, bloodied hands, I quieted myself, listening to see if there was anyone in the room I had broken into.

   Nothing. My sweaty hands gripped the rope. It was now or never.

   And never was not an option anymore.

   I tucked a dagger under my arm, double checking that the protective leather casing was sealed and I couldn’t accidentally stab myself. I took three deep breaths.

   And I clambered inside.

   I landed on a cold, stone stairwell. Across from me a candlestick with three burning candles stood on a ledge in a small cave. I narrowed my eyes, before grabbing it.

   I stood in the stairwell, weighing my options. Up or down? To bring the light or not? If I went up, I was unlikely to find anyone, unless the Prince was inspecting his prisoners. I was sure he kept prisoners. Most despicable men kept prisoners, either literally or metaphorically. Inside their heads or inside a cell.

   This prince, I assumed, was more of a cell kind of man.

   I decided, in that moment, to head down the stairs. The anger inside me was bubbling, and if I could use that to my advantage, then I would no doubt be able to conquer and kill the prince.

   I kept my light, hoping it wouldn’t completely give me away if I encountered someone. The candles flickered every time I took a step, the wind catching the flames, throwing them awry. It was so cold, the biting air rushing up my torn, battered sleeves. But I did not shiver. I did not do anything but descend the stairs and think.

   I knew too little about the prince. He could be intelligent, strong, stubborn, greedy, a number of things. All I knew of him were his murderous tendencies and lack of compassion.

   The staircase was very long, which gave me plenty of time to reflect on why I was here. Revenge? Obviously. Spite? A little bit. Rage? Most definitely. But I also felt a tugging feeling in my throat, telling me there was something more. I was here for a reason, and all of my feelings did not amount to a good enough one. Or maybe they were.

   I didn’t dwell on it, as I had reached the end of the staircase at last. I was in a fine room, furnished with a long wood table and intricately carved chairs. There was a grand fireplace, with a roaring fire sending pulsing heat into the room. The sudden change from cold to warm was almost dizzying. I was so tempted to just rob the place and leave, but I shook my head, conjuring up the image of my mother’s bright blue eyes in my head.

   Blood would be spilled.

   In the corner of the room, at the door, there was a sudden creaking. The door was opening.

   I jumped behind a curtain, my heart pounding. I steadied my breathing in the quiet room, hoping against hope that no one would notice the lumpy curtain.

   And then the voice came.

   A deep, thundering voice, a voice that could not have been human. It sent chills down my spine, making my head cloud with questions. Most important of all: What is this monster?

   ‘I heard something, I was sure.’ The monster roared. ‘Check the room. No one should be here. He can’t have escaped. He’s only an old man.’

   He can’t have escaped? Who can’t have escaped? My thoughts were creating a tornado in my mind, but in the eye of the storm, there was clarity.

   This monster had my father.

   I gripped my daggers, ready to attack. Someone was checking the room, but they were nowhere near me. I shuffled behind my curtain, still holding my weapons.

   The person rushed to the curtain. I sensed their movement, steadied myself, and pounced. I reached out, grabbing hold of their coat. Swinging my arm, I placed my dagger at their throat, fully emerging from the curtain.

   In front of me stood a beast.

   He stood on his hind legs, at least seven-foot-tall, large teeth bared in a scowl. He was covered in brown fur, long, sharp nails protruding from his paws. I looked at his face.

   I was taken aback by the bright blue eyes that glared at me.

   I straightened myself. The man in my arms was whimpering. I weakened my hold of his side the tiniest bit.

   ‘Who are you?’ The beast growled, prowling forward.

   ‘Not another step.’ I warned, tugging the man in my arms backwards. He tripped, nearly slitting his own throat with his clumsiness. ‘And I could ask you the same question.’

   The beast roared. I raised an eyebrow.

   ‘You done?’ I sneered at him. I could see him rearing up to roar again, so I butted in. ‘Where’s the prince?’

   ‘The prince?’ his face contorted into shock, but he quickly recovered, shooting me a glare. ‘He’s dead. I killed him.’

   ‘Yeah, right. If he was dead, I would know.’ I rolled my eyes, growing impatient. ‘Tell me where he is, and I’ll spare your friend here.’

   ‘He’s not my friend. Kill him if you must.’ He said.  He slumped in a nearby armchair.

    If I killed the man in my arms, I would have no leverage, and I was also likely to be killed by this beast. I stayed where I was, still pointing the dagger at my hostage. His whimpering had stopped, but tears were flooding his eyes, spilling onto his cheeks.

   ‘So, what is he then?’ I asked, trying not to let my desperation take hold.

   ‘My servant.’ The beast snarled.

   I nearly dropped my knife. I’d heard rumors, in the village. Rumors of the prince being cursed. I didn’t believe in magic, so I didn’t believe those rumors. But what kind of beast resides in a castle, with servants to tend his every need?

   ‘You lied to me.’ I said. ‘The prince isn’t dead.’

   ‘Believe what you want. Just tell me; who are you, and why are you disturbing my peace?’ He said. He seemed exhausted, slouching lower in the chair.

   ‘I’m here to see the prince. And if you can’t direct me to him, then I’ll have to kill you and find him myself.’ I said matter-of-factly.

   ‘Yes, of course, you’re here to see the prince. See him, then promptly kill him.’ He muttered. ‘I’m not stupid.’

   ‘I… I just want to talk to him.’ I protested.

   ‘Because people always have daggers when talking to someone.’ He rose from the armchair, grabbing a large coat from the back of it and tugging it on.

   He was onto me. And if he truly was the prince… he knew I was on a mission to kill him.

   ‘The old man you were talking about earlier. Who is he? Where is he?’ I diverted the conversation. If I could get my father home unscathed, maybe I would be okay.

   ‘He’s a trespasser, and none of your concern.’ The beast said, pacing across the room.

   ‘He is my concern, he’s my fa-’ I stopped myself, but it was too late. The beast looked at me now, truly looked at me. His blue eyes seemed to glaze over, almost as if he sympathized with me. Ha! Sympathy? From a beast? A beast who most likely had my father right there in the castle?

   I narrowed my eyes at him, icy demeanor turned to the max. ‘Look. I’ll leave you, and I won’t tell a soul about you, if you just give me the man you have.’

   ‘Let me show you something.’ He said, turning away and motioning to the door. I hesitated. The servant between my arms was wailing at this stage. The beast might have been putting on a façade of nonchalance, but I doubted it. This crying servant hardly seemed like the type that would befriend a beast. I sighed, swinging my arm away from the servant’s neck and pushing him forward. He stumbled, looking between me and the beast with petrified eyes, before scurrying through the door.

   I looked at the beast again. He slouched, leaning on the door. This could easily be a trap, but if I didn’t go with the beast, I would leave here with no proof of a beast, no father, and no revenge.

   ‘Lead the way.’

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