Bonnie and the Beast
The Beast's castle has been lonely since an angry sorceress cursed her years ago, and she resigned herself to it a long time ago. But now a woman has promised to brave the curse, and for the first time in too many years the Beast has someone to talk to—and perhaps even break the curse.
But tricking people into visiting your castle isn't how you find a soulmate. And looking stranger than a werewolf doesn't help.
The Beast's tongue darted out to lick her fangs. A woman will be coming today.
She perched atop an old, crumbling column, ready to leap off if need be. Her two larger eyes blinked, but the triangle of three smaller eyes above them stayed open, ever watchful.
A pretty one, so the man said. Her snout twitched and sniffed the air.
She'd had a flat, round face as a human, but now her head was pointed and sharp, her closed mouth ringed with sharp, exposed fangs. Thick fur covered her face and body, a rich dark brown that shone purple when the light hit it.
They called her a werewolf.
They had no idea.
Their mistake made sense enough. Thick fur covered the back of her head and neck, and only grew thicker further down. And where she'd once been bulky, the transformation had broadened her chest and flattened her breasts. Her chest was smooth as any female animal's now.
She'd never liked frills and fancy clothing, but after the Change she'd taken to wearing men's shirts and pants, sturdy and rough-spun, as much from necessity as anything else.
She missed wearing boots, but broad feet with claws that could grasp tight served well enough. She could perch on anything that would support her altered weight, and spring off of it again with the agility of a creature half her size.
Magical curses weren't all bad, she supposed, scanning the path below. Faeries were old-fashioned sorts. Ancient creatures, who'd gone into hiding when the humans built too many machines. Machines that did too many things only magic used to do.
Nowadays, only technomancers knew how to use what remained of the old machines. The devices that made things, the tablets that stored information (whole bookshelves full, if the legends were true), and all the other wonders of the ancients.
The Beast snorted. She'd seen a technomancer once as a child. He'd shown off a little machine, a tiny, light thing he’d held aloft in one hand. She could remember the strange device even now, its surface smooth and polished black, marred only by a thin crack running across it. He'd told her that with the touch of one finger, he could make it light up and fill with symbols and words. Like a sorcerer's magical book, without the riddling it usually took to convince him to let you steal a peek.
She hadn't expected much. Even as a human child, she'd known better. But she'd still pouted when the black glass revealed nothing at all.
Oh, they probably managed to make the old machines work once in a while. But however they did it, that wasn't magic, regardless of what the technomancers called themselves.
And if they really could make the old world work again, they would have done it already.
The real magical folk came back after the fall of the machines and the people who used them. But the world didn't work the way they expected it to. Not anymore.
There were princes and princesses, castles and merchants, and all the courtly politics they'd always meddled in. The magical folk were ready to bless the ones they favored with enchantments and curse the ones they didn't happen to like.
But whatever might have become of the "computers" and the "motors," history always left its mark. Even princesses and princes could learn from what had come before.
And sometimes that made breaking curses harder, not easier.
A flash of movement pulled her from her thoughts. She opened her secondary eyes wider, hoping to catch sight of its source.
Ah, there. She let her primary eyes take over and turned her head to see better.
A young woman emerged from between the trees, short and full-figured. She moved with slow steps, like she'd been walking for a long time, but she stared straight ahead, blinking sweat and dust out of her eyes.
She wore a long gold-yellow dress, ill-suited to traipsing through the forest. The fabric had torn, and mud and dirt smeared the hem. She'd hiked it up and held the fabric tight in her hand, but there was only so much you could salvage in the woods after the rain.
She had curly, reddish hair, tied in a practical ponytail at the back of her head. Loose strands of it clung to her forehead and neck, glued there by sweat.
All normal enough. But the part that her sweat hadn't plastered to her skin didn’t look like a tired traveler’s hair should. Bedraggled as Bonnie was, her hair caught the light. It gleamed, like she was standing under full sunlight on a bright day. Not traipsing through a forest and stained all over with its dirt.
The Beast sniffed the air again. Was that just a trick of the light, or was this woman enchanted too?
She tilted her head back to howl her curiosity, but snapped her muzzle shut. Don't frighten her. Not more than you can help.
The woman stopped, her hand still gripping the hem of her unfortunate dress.
Now that she'd come closer, the Beast could see big eyes, a full mouth, and of course that apparently-magical hair, still just a little too bright for the forest shade. She had a smattering of freckles across her nose and cheeks that kept her looking too human for the Beast to be sure there was magic involved.
She had the soft look of the wealthy, her skin pale and uncalloused, but she didn't look uncomfortable with the dirt or the trees or the winding path to get here.
She blinked hazel eyes—normal ones, from what the Beast could tell—and scanned her surroundings.
Then she caught sight of the Beast.