Eli rocked back on his heels, staring numbly at his fallen friend. He let the dagger slide from his limp hands. He reached out and stroked the hide of fur and scales, sad that the Beast was gone, but glad that it was no longer hurting.
Slowly, he stood to his feet and turned, walking heavily towards the cave’s mouth.
There was a flash of light and a crack like stone splitting. A rush of wind knocked him to his knees, and another gust sent him sprawling. He rolled to his back and sat up, gawking at what he saw occurring behind him.
The Beast’s body was shrinking. Not so much shrinking as it was deflating like a feed sack emptied of its contents. All that remained was a massive hide, crumpled like cast-off clothes on the floor of the cave. The hide had collapsed flat, save for one small lump in the very center.
The lump stirred.
Eli crept back to the body of the Beast. Mustering his courage and bracing himself for whatever it was he might see, he pulled back a layer of hide to reveal what lay beneath.
He saw a girl. She was curled into a defensive ball, dressed in rags. In the dim light of the cave, Eli saw bruises and scratches marring the whiteness of her skin. Her hair was a tangled mass of brown.
There was a deep gash in her side, but she was breathing. Eli shook her gently. Her eyes opened—they were green as the sunset on summer grass.
“Miss? Miss?” he whispered. “Are—are you alright?”