Content warning: violence, mention of murder and abuse, ableism
The Governor tilted his head in confusion. “You said your mother was a doctor.”
“She is. But my birth mother was murdered by you.”
“You survived?” He said, his brows rising beneath the untidy salt-and-pepper of his curls.
“A woman this town called a Witch found me and raised me as her own, feeding me scraps of scavenged meat and bread bought with the little money she made providing medical care to those who needed it more than they feared her.”
“Hattie?” he said, “She died.”
“No. You sent men to kill her. They hacked off her arm in front of me and then I killed them and took her far away.”
“Impossible,” he said, shaking his head and sneering at her, “She’d have bled to death.”
“She was well-trained. And a good teacher.”
“You would have still been a child… you couldn’t.” He stood now, his eyes narrowing as he inspected her.
“Are you waiting for something, Monsieur?” Genevieve asked, taking another bite of the food.
He said nothing, but continued watching her eat in confusion and anger. His hand trembled and his foot began to tap against the floor.
Genevieve lifted the fork, a piece of darkly seared meat speared on its tines. She inspected it as she spoke, “You know, we almost starved many times. Maman fed me whatever she could find… only eating scraps of bread and roots herself. I needed the nutrients, she told me later. I was growing, after all. Children need nourishment, and meat was hardest of all to come by. Sometimes she caught squirrels. Or stole scraps from the market. She even killed our beloved pet. But one day… one lucky day she came across an entire carcass in the woods behind our shack. Your woods. It was thrown over a massive fire. No one was around. So she pulled what she could from the flames and cut some of the flesh with her herb knife, filling her skirts with wild, greasy meat.”
“You…” the Governor began, but his mouth didn’t seem to want to move the way he commanded.
“I didn’t change right away, like many do. I think I was too starved, too weak. But there were… signs… that something was happening inside of me. I grew stronger. Much stronger. And hungrier. And my body… once injured… was healed.”
“You found the Hunter in the woods that day, didn’t you?” she asked, and the tense silence was answer enough, “You took him away, for trespassing or some petty thing at first, and left his kill unattended. Then, once you realized who he was and he told you his secrets, you had your men cook the body. The precious meat.”
She popped the morsel into her mouth and watched him as she chewed. This would be the moment of truth for them both.
“You hoped I’d be injured and stupid enough to take your offer of a dinner today so you could turn me, manipulate me through my disorientation and fear,” she told him, feeling the phantom ache of her legs but none of the trembling or restlessness that once followed it, “I would be useful: a subordinate in the College. But I’m afraid you’re much too late for that. It seems I partook of the same meal you did more than twenty years ago. In fact, it was likely I was turned even before you were.”
Her provocation was working; Governor L’Amie seethed with injured pride and a frightened hatred for this weak creature – his own bastard – besting his stratagem. If the Beast within her were older, then it was possible that he might be the subordinate. If he survived.
Genevieve watched him closely, frowning at the way his foot tapped faster and faster, and the way he shifted his neck as if it ailed him. She took another bite of food to distract his attention from her left hand, already gripping a revolver. She hoped she could still fire it with her injuries.
“So then…” he mumbled, staring down to his feet, “This has all been a game.”
In one breathless moment, Genevieve found herself flying across the room, her chair crashing in a useless heap while she continued on to collide with the far wall. Governor L’Amie stood where she had recently been seated, fully transformed with the tips of his dark, twisted horns touching the ceiling. Unlike other Beasts Genevieve had seen, he had three sets of horns – the largest curling like a rams, while another set sprouted like jagged teeth just behind them. The final pair sat furthest forward on his head – two velvety nubs not unlike those of a juvenile deer.
She had been correct when she had said his age made him unpredictable; his speed, his size, his entire appearance were unlike anything Genevieve had ever seen aside from in the oldest texts in the College’s archives.
“STAND UP!” he roared at her, “No more of these petty games!”
Genevieve fished her hand into her silk pockets and retrieved a revolver– she didn’t even spare a thought to which she held – and fired off all six shots as fast as she could manage. He didn’t move, hardly reacted to the impact, and when her seventh shot was nothing more than an empty click, he laughed so hard that Genevieve cringed, her skull bursting with pain.
The bullets emerged from his chest and fell to the threadbare rug in six muted thuds. She couldn’t see the wounds knitting themselves shut from where she lay, but Genevieve could tell he was already healing from the lack of blood matting his silver-grey fur.
Not sparing a thought to this or how her legs lay at impossible angles before her, she discarded the first gun and shuffled for her second – the smaller one, she noticed this time – and emptied both remaining rounds into him.
When the capsules fell to the floor they were shattered into pieces, their contents deposited but seemingly ineffective against such an aged Beast. And here she had worried about giving him an overdose and accidentally killing him. Not that real bullets had fared any better.
She saw his leg twitch and then she felt herself hurtling through the air once more, landing with a bone-shattering crash onto the solid wood table. Her shoulder exploded with pain and she screamed out.
I’m going to die here, she realized. Maman will be so sad… after I promised. After I refused to take more Hunters. And I was going to retire like she wanted…
She clenched her eyes shut against the tears, but forced them open once more to stare her death in the face. The monster who would kill her. The creature who murdered her birth mother without even knowing her name.
He approached her from across the room, stepping onto the table. He stumbled, a little, his leg not quite reaching as high as he’d expected. He growled and continued his approach, hunched under the ceiling.
“Why won’t you fight me?” he snarled, “No Beast has so much control. Not even your pet experiment.”
His voice had lost its unearthly timbre, and one of his eyes had gone dark – refusing to reflect the flickering light of the single candle that had not been extinguished during his attack. Genevieve needed to buy more time.
“I’ve been cured,” she told him, hoping his curiosity would prevent him from simply biting her head off.
“Cured?” he asked, tilting his head to the side. Genevieve wondered that he couldn’t feel the way his smaller horns wiggled like loose teeth, threatening to fall out with the slightest tug.
“It was a College doctor that saved my mother’s life, and when they threatened to kill me for what I was, she exchanged her medical knowledge for my protection. Their researchers were developing a serum that, once consumed or injected, would reverse the disease and prevent any future contamination.”
“Disease,” he snarled, leaning his toothy face down so that his breath burned in her nostrils, “It is a gift.”
That’s what makes you a monster, she thought, but didn’t dare say aloud. What she did say was: “We had many volunteers to test the efficacy of the serum. Myself included.”
He lifted his head and laughed, some of his fur shedding from his body in the process. “You!? Why? Why choose this useless, broken body over near-immortality?”
“Your lackeys were hardly immortal,” she pointed out.
“Because they were young. And stupid,” he growled, “If they’d been stronger and smarter they could have lived forever.”
“Like your son?” she asked, regretting the question the moment it escaped her lips. His face was over hers again and his mouth open so large she thought for sure it was the end.
Instead of biting her head off he shouted:
“If he’d only been loyal…”
“Then he would have been weak like the rest,” Genevieve pressed, trying to distract him from the way his horns toppled to the table.
His eyes – tiny dull grey orbs in his massive head – stared down at her intently. “And you? You have a cure, and yet you still slaughter Beasts. What right have you to criticize me?”
“By the time we’re done I will have freed at least five innocents of your crimes. From what I’ve heard, there are more, though they’ve flown and it will take us time to find them. Those we killed were Beasts long before you ever offered them meat from the bodies of those that disappointed and frightened you.”
“So a bastard like you is the arbiter of justice for the College? The great divider of Beast and man?” he laughed and swatted her to the floor like a cat might play with the corpse of a mouse.
It stung. Not only the landing, but her own doubts. She made her judgements based on the words of the outcasts, the men and women abandoned and abused, beaten and raped for not being more like their betters – the same people driving them into the dirt. The Maman Tees of the world. But surely she’d made mistakes. Only Beasts never doubted their actions.
He smiled to see the conflict and pain in her face, but then grimaced at a great crack that exploded from nearby. He looked around for its source but then howled in pain as his bones continued to snap and break, collapsing down to their usual size. “What have you done!?” he screamed at her, trying to drag his uncooperative body toward her.
His hand, still partially claw and fur, almost reached her face before she felt herself being dragged backwards, strong hands gripping her waist. Genevieve tilted her head just enough to recognize Darnell’s concerned face behind her.
“You missed the party,” she scolded him.
“I’m sorry. There were far more captives down there than I anticipated. It took some time to get them all safe.”
Genevieve nodded her approval, though to Darnell it may have just appeared that her head was bouncing off her chest as he carried her toward the door and then set her gently on the ground.
Governor L’Amie was still flailing and howling on the other side of the room, his body mostly pink and naked now, the floor littered with teeth and horns.
“I told you it would work,” she told Darnell as he checked over her wounds. “Sit me up.”
“Your ankle is severely twisted and your right leg is broken. Your ribs are bruised, possibly broken, and…”
“Sit me up,” she commanded once more, and this time Darnell acquiesced, though not without a deliberate sigh. He leaned her carefully against the wall by the door and very gently removed his hand from her back so that he could see to her injuries
By the time he finished, Governor L’Amie was a diminished heap on the floor and for a moment Genevieve wondered if he might be dead. Finally, he lifted his head and said in a voice that grated from his raw throat, “You cured me. Why? Why not kill me?”
“I don’t think anyone could ever cure a monster like you, Monsieur,” Genevieve told him, noting the footsteps hurrying through the hallway behind her, “But I have taken away your teeth, yes.”
“Why didn’t you kill me?” he repeated, dropping his forehead to rest against the carpet.
“A man who eats a Beast to become a Beast, knowing what will happen and what he will become; a man who kills and lies to maintain an illusion of pride and control; a man who slaughters his own children for power, does not fear death. He only fears the loss of that power,” Genevieve said as several men and women burst into the room, along with the Mayor, “That is the only punishment to fit such a Beast.”
Some of the men in the room said something about arrest, while others screamed and cried and fell upon the Governor with wailing fists. Others pulled the most violent away while the Mayor led them all out again, Governor L’Amie dragged behind them by his arms. He gave no resistance, his head lolling toward the floor as he passed through the doorway.
“Retiring?” Darnell asked, pushing her along the bumpy road toward Annette’s shack. She hated relying on him to get around, but her left arm would be out of commission for a number of weeks yet, according to the local surgeon. She was determined to get a second opinion from the College doctors as soon as she was home.
“Yes, I’m afraid. It’s not so young, for a Hunter, and Maman’s health isn’t getting any better. Besides, I’d like to help her with her research. An inoculation would prove much more effective than a bunch of idiots running around with whips and guns.” She winced as they went over a rather large stone protruding from the ground. At least she was in her own chair and not that experimental piece of garbage.
“You’re not an idiot,” Darnell said without a hint of humour.
“I know that, you fool. I just mean that brawn is never a long term solution,” she wished she could comfortably turn around to see his expression, instead she resorted to asking, “What will you do? Find another Hunter?”
“I suppose that would be the most prudent course of action, given my condition.”
“Oh prudent my behind, Darnell — you can do whatever you want. If you want to continue the Hunt then I’m sure I can attach you to someone else, but if there’s something else… well, the College doesn’t expect eternal servitude for a bit of medicine every now and then. You’ve more than served us by participating in the experiment in the first place.”
He was silent for so long that she forced her neck around as far as she could but could only make out his broad chest and his rough hands on the chair behind her.
“Stop that,” he told her, and she was so surprised by his commanding tone that she actually listened. That and her neck ached like hell. “I haven’t thought about it. You only just told me today, after all.”
It was true, perhaps she was being unreasonable, expecting him to have an answer so quickly.
“Fine,” she told him, “But I want you to consult with me first. Sometimes you’re just so stubborn…”
“But you won’t be my direct supervisor any longer, so I’ll have every right to disagree.” he pointed out, and Genevieve had the strangest inclination that he was smiling.
“No, but I sure as hell make better decisions. Look at the plan with the Governor… and you didn’t think it would work.”
There was a breath of chuckle behind her, and Genevieve grinned until they went over another large bump that she wasn’t entirely sure was an accident.
Annette was waiting for them at her door when they arrived.
“I’m here to report that your mission has been completed as requested and that we will be departing tomorrow at sunrise. A contingent of College agents will be here to treat any remaining injuries and see that everything is in order.”
Annette squinted, “Shouldn’t you be telling the Mayor that?”
“We did already,” Genevieve said, “But from what I’ve been told, you made the request?”
Annette smirked, “Then why did you see the Mayor first?”
Genevieve grinned, “Thank you, for all of your help. I’m sure my mother will be pleased to hear you’re well.”
She signalled for Darnell to take her back to the inn – with all her injuries she wasn’t supposed to be in her chair for more than an hour at a time – and the day had been a long one of letter writing and information gathering.
“Wait,” Annette said, making them pause in their departure, “The matter of payment?”
“The Mayor has already provided us with a hefty dividend, despite his reluctance to send for us. You’re off the hook,” Genevieve told her. Annette shook her head, smiling.
“I told you the pay wasn’t money.”
Genevieve frowned, unsure of what other agreement her mother might have come to with this woman.
“Someone like me hears a lot of things… meets a lot of people,” Annette said, taking a step toward her, “It pays to remember everyone.”
“What are you…” Genevieve began, but she interrupted.
Genevieve’s heart stuttered, and she swallowed a lump in her throat that made her eyes water. She nodded her thanks, not trusting herself to speak.
Annette smiled. “Thank you, Hunters.”
Once the inn was in sight, Genevieve told Darnell, hoping he wouldn’t notice the catch in her voice: “Get the carriage ready. We’re leaving tonight.”
“Are you sure?” Darnell asked, and Genevieve rolled her eyes.
“Do you always question everything I say?”
“Only when it’s against the College’s orders, and the doctor’s as well,” he answered.
“I want to go home, Darnell,” she whispered, “The Hunt is over.”
He came around the chair and bent down, their eyes meeting and an unspoken understanding passing between them.
“I’ll get the bags, Mademoiselle,” he told her, his hand resting for a moment on hers before he stood to take his place behind her once more.
Thank you so much for reading The Beast of Ste Ygrette! I hope you enjoyed the story, and don’t forget to leave a like or comment below or share with your friends. I will be catching up on audio over the next few weeks (unfortunately I’ve had some delays due to noisy apartment and children. Working on that.) If you like this story, you can check out my other work by exploring the menu above… or follow me on Instagram for poetry and writing news. Thanks again for reading, and have a happy Halloween!