"Are you giving me clues? Are you forbidden from helping me directly?"
"The Master offered you a wish tonight," the girl replies, instead of confirming or denying. "These specific wishes are limitless. This servant is only to serve."
Again, she's saying the same information the Beast has said and other obvious things, but the way it's twisted is trying to hint at something. I swallow, nervous, palm sweaty and stomach feeling nauseous.
If I'm lucky, maybe the Beast will be willing to see it my way. And I know now what it is that I'll use the wish for tonight.
Soon, we hear a gong and the fox spirit leads me out, hand on the front of my waist and on the back of my shoulder blade. Outside and blank, docile-faced, the old woman gives me a curtsy before she replaces the girl, and we three step out onto the cobblestone path.
There isn't much to this place from what I can see. The grass is green and kept. Large, towering buildings and tiled and roofed walls surround us even in the vastness of this space, like monumental stone giants. Rather than a manor of a Beast, it feels like a palace of spirits, foreboding and mythical.
Tendrils of fog surround us as the fox spirit lights up a single lantern hanging at the end of a rod pulled out from her sleeve. She leads the way through the distance I can barely through as the old woman supports my body.
This place is more ominous is the nighttime. I can hear the whispers, wisps of wind and light dancing in the fog and the tinkle of bells and shrieking laughter that makes me uneasy.
"The Master has permitted spirits to grab you from walking the path if you are not obedient," the old woman cautions me.
"I wouldn't run in a place like this," I can't help but say, but immediately regret it, snapping my mouth shut before the ugly, unpleasant sensation of someone reaching into my mouth with grimy, wet, webbed hands can move past the tip of my tongue.
It was as if my words could barely leave my mouth before someone was trying to steal it from me. Was that the plan? To take my voice, and then I would be defenseless to speak?
Glancing at the old woman's expression, however, I realize that it's something the Beast has told her. Obedience, then, extends to being quiet. Seen but not heard.
"These servants have arrived with Guest Chao!" the fox spirit declares suddenly into the fog. At once, something appears; the slow groan of heavy, decorative stone doors pushes open and I am led into a large entrance way.
There's no ceiling. Instead, many stone columns are set on either side of the path, stretching up to an unknown height. At their bases are baseboards of carved, lacquered wood in rivetting designs. The hallway is long and almost endless before we reach an even larger door.
I recognize the servants who wait in lines on the left and the right of us from earlier. Their heads are bowed and they look as calm as statues.
One stands up straight at our approach and turns to the decorative double doors with lion door-knockers.
"Guest Chao has arrived to the Dining Hall!" he declares.
The heavy doors press themselves open.
The Dining Hall is large, but empty. Only the large course meal set out on a long wooden table seems to be of interest to a human. On the end of the table closest to us, I see a single chair, a bowl of rice, and silver chopsticks. On the other, the Beast is draped on a pile of gold, as shiny and marvelous as the eye can see.
The gold is impossible to ignore. Consisting of everything from jewelry to coins, I can't help but look at it. I know that in a lifetime like mine, I would never have even been close to even seeing riches like these. Envy fills me. My mouth dries.
A large tail slams hardily on the polished stone floor, and a roar snaps me into fear.
"You have arrived, Guest Chao," rumbles the Beast, golden eyes searing down on me. He bares his teeth, large nostrils flaring open. "I welcome you."
Behind me, the stone doors have slammed shut, and it is only when the echo has died out, that I dare speak.
"Thank you," I say, to the Beast.