The Beast, Part IV

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Every night for a week, Eli returned to play his pipe for the Beast. The first few nights he almost didn’t return, so fearful was he of the green lights glowing in the cavern’s depths and he had no desire to see the rest of the creature. But it never emerged from its den—it only listened to his music until it fell asleep.

The townsfolk wondered what he was up to. Every night, curious eyes peered at him through cracked shutters. Fellow shepherds waved at him as he walked by them on his way to the mountains, only to turn and look at one another suspiciously once he was out of sight. It was one thing to go up once to slay the monster. But night after night, returning without so much as a scratch? That was a mystery.

And the sheep still disappeared.

One night, Eli stopped his playing after one particularly sad song. The earth beneath him hummed from the deep, rumbling purr emanating from the cave. The lights were out—the Beast’s eyes were shut.

“Are you really as terrible as the Prince said?”

The lights flashed open, wide and round. “I AM QUITE TERRIBLE. I’M SURE WHATEVER HE SAID WAS TRUE. WHAT DID HE SAY?”

“Something about having the face of a lion and the hide of a dragon—or something like that.” It occurred to Eli how insulting the whole description might sound.

A rasping chuckle. “WELL, PERHAPS YOU SHOULD SEE FOR YOURSELF.”

The Beast slowly climbed out into the moonlight. First Eli saw its massive paws with claws like scythes gleaming in the silvery light. Its hide was covered in both fur and scales of a deep orange, like the last glow of an ember. Then he saw its face—it was indeed the face of a lion, only exaggerated and with pointed ears, with great, sharp tusks protruding from its lower jaw. A ridge of fur and spikes marked its spine, and a long, scaly tail lashed behind it. It stood taller than the steeple of the village chapel, and its glowing green eyes beamed down on him in half-lidded disinterest.

“WELL, BOY? WHAT DO YOU THINK? SUFFICIENTLY TERRIFYING?”

Eli realized now that his jaw was hanging slack. He closed his mouth, sputtered, then gasped out, “Y-yes, indeed. Terrible. Terrible and fearsome and sort of—”

He hesitated. Something surprised him.

“WHAT? SORT OF WHAT?”

“Well—lovely. In your own monstrous way.”

The Beast blinked.

“Or handsome. Whichever you prefer.”

The Beast said nothing. It only turned around and prepared to lumber back into its cave. Eli spotted something in the Beast’s scaly, furry hide.

“Is that a dagger in your side?”

“YES,” said the Beast, its voice lower than usual. “AS I’M SURE YOUR PRINCE INFORMED YOU, HE DID ME THE COURTESY OF WOUNDING ME IN OUR…ENCOUNTER.”

“It looks awfully uncomfortable.”

“IT BURNS,” said the Beast.

“I could pull it out for you, if you wa—”

“NO!” the creature roared. “PULL IT OUT AND I WILL DIE! SUCH IS THE WAY OF MAGICAL BEASTS—HIT US IN ONE SPOT, WE PERISH, BUT ONLY IF THE BLADE IS REMOVED. DON’T SPEAK OF IT AGAIN!”

“Alright, alright. Just trying to help.”

The Beast snorted disdainfully. “GOODNIGHT, BOY. THANK YOU FOR THE MUSIC. I WILL SEE YOU TOMORROW…OR ELSE.”

And it disappeared into the dark.

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