I freeze, afraid to breathe.
I don't know why I said that. Being eaten has nothing to do with anything with beauty. Even like this, I'm already a succulent meal for a monster.
Trembling, I squeeze my eyes shut and bite my lip so hard I can taste blood.
"You are ugly for a human," the Beast repeats, tone considering, mocking, "but how so? A body, a head, and four limbs askew. Skin charred by Man's flame and kissed by that of my realm. You resemble the other humans I have received on such ceremony. All important parts have arrived safely for a meal to satisfy me."
Four limbs, he says. Like I have four limbs. Like as long as there is something from the stumps, it's enough. Maybe if you're a beast, you just don't know what a human is like. But he has his servants, those that keep to human form.
So he has to know. He has to. He is saying my worth only matters as food.
If I didn't know fear, my face would blister with horror.
"I'm not a complete human. I'm--"
The word sticks in my throat before I can choke it out, opening my eyes. If I die, I want to be able to see myself: my one hand still on the earth, and the pitiful amount of fingers left staring at me, instead of an inky darkness of nothing.
I want to be present for it. I don't want to deny it. I am-- "Damaged."
"Ah," the Beast says. His long tail flicks leisurely on the kept grass where I can see its shadow out of the corner of my eye, and feel it shake the earth when it falls upon it. He hums, considering, not menacingly, and the sound is like the sharp rumble of thunder. "So you are like I."
I didn't expect that as an answer. Shocked enough, I glance up, blurting, "'Like' you?"
"Do you not think me so damaged upon sight?" The Beast looms too close to me. The pupil slits in his eyes are barely thin lines that dwarf my head. He bares his large, sharp teeth at me, clearly enjoying the threat he poses. "Can you not see me, and what I lack? Be honest, human." His breath heats up; already I can see the flames rising in his mouth. "Speak."
"I--" I can't look away from my death.
"Speak." He looms closer, his gaze terrifying and petrifying. "Or surrender to my jaws in death's mercy." His claws grip into the soil, cracking the earth.
"--I--" I'm shaking, eyes darting all over him. I cast my eyes over his body, frantic, but I can't find it. I don't know what's wrong. I don't know. I don't know what he wants to hear. "I don't know! I can't tell."
I don't realize it until the stretched silence is all I can hear that I'm crying. My own sobs betray me. My throat is hoarse because I screamed the last words to him.
The Beast's eyes, unmoved, slide over my face as I cry. Then, unexpectedly, he laughs.
Booming, it erupts from him like the sound made by a clap of thunder accompanied by lightning sharp in the sky. He laughs heartily, almost his jaws hinged open and his teeth to the heavens, before it tapers off into a chuckle.
"Never you mind, then," the Beast says. "A jest, on my part."
He slowly rises up, and the grandness of his form intimidates me as I watch him move. Despite his girth, every footstep is calm. The earth seems to merely shake when he wishes it, because his tail is sways but nothing is moving.
It takes me time before my mind catches up: He calls it a 'jest'.
It's a jest to him. And I know now that a fickle whim of this creature would have me live or die so easily. I'm hiccupping now in the confusion, trying to stop my own sobs from overwhelming me. Underneath me, where I am on my knees, I manage to settle back onto wet grass.
"Human," the Beast rumbles, knowingly. My heartbeat is pounding wild in my chest along with my attempts to breathe properly. "What is your name?"
"Ch..." Why is he asking me this? My arms, useless to me, raise up. One hand falls over my face to cover one eye, and the other, I have forgotten has none. I lower them both immediately. "Chao. My name...is Chao."
"Chao," the Beast repeats. Hearing my name spoken like that that makes me wish I had never told him. "An appropriate name."
The Beast seems satisfied with just that. He turns away, tail swaying into the air. His retinue begins to form up again behind him, and the pressure I didn't realize that had been straining me lessens.
"Guest Chao. I welcome you to my manor and my grounds, whereupon my influence and rule over the realm are strongest. There are no rules towards your permanence here, only that you will dine with me tonight. Tonight, you are to convince me like you did today."
"Should you survive each night, you will ask of me one thing as reward. I will grant you a wish. Prepare well."
There's an inhumane edge to his last sentences, chilling the air around me.
I can't breathe until he's gone, and even then, I realize that somewhere along the line, I've pissed myself.