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Beauty and the Incubator

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Today was a perfect day to go exploring. The weather was fair. Her chores were done. While her father was out of town her older sisters didn’t care what she did as long as she got her chores done and didn’t get into trouble. Her destination was the old castle ruins near the village.

Belinda tied up her long red skirt and began walking up the overgrown path to the castle. It had been so long since anyone had used it that trees had taken root on the path. The sounds of the forest were ever present and once in a while when the wind blew the right way she could hear the noises of the village.

It took an hour before she arrived at the gates. One large gate was lying on the ground, choked with weeds. The other, red with rust, barely managed to stay attached to the stone wall. Trees grew right up to the walls. In some places gaps and cracks had appeared where roots had intruded. Vines raced up and down along the wall.

Belinda took a deep breath to steady herself. She was a little scared. Her mother had told Belinda and her sisters many tales of caution both about the world and about being wary of magic. Normally, she wouldn’t even come up here but she had been dared by one of her friends. She locked her gaze forward and took her first step into the castle grounds.

The first thing she noticed was all the roses growing everywhere. There were so many varieties and of every color. Belinda stepped closer to admire them and their smell. She didn’t touch them in all the stories such beautiful flowers would turn out to be the souls of unborn children or a monster’s personal gardening hobby.

She continued forward toward the front doors. The stone around the main entrance was decorated and ornate. From what remained she could see a stag leaping up the side, a curious gargoyle peering down at her, and tree tops of carved stone stretched up above. It must have been beautiful before falling into ruins. The wooden doors were rotten and hung haphazardly off their hinges. She slid through the gap with just barely enough room.

It was dim inside. The light and shadows all made odd shapes distorting the benign forms into things far more horrific. She could feel every muscle in her body tense. Then she heard a roar.

Belinda screamed as she saw a mighty beast in front of her. It was as large as a bear, with a wolf’s had, horns greater than any stag, and long legs like a horse’s. It reared up and roared once more. Belinda threw her hands in front of her to protect herself, but nothing happened.

She opened one eye to look. The creature was still rearing up and roaring, but it wasn’t moving any closer. She let out her breath before taking a cautious step forward and then another. It didn’t respond to her. She moved closer until she could see the angled piece of glass. She touched it, walked around it. There was no beast. She looked around and saw an odd contraption. Someone had assembled the pieces of various taxidermied animals with hinges and joints. She wasn’t sure how it worked but it looked like some ropes connected to a box kept the fake beast continuously rearing. Something that looked like a horn made the noise.

Was this the fabled beast that kept people so scared? It was nothing but a trick.

“Go away,” a voice said. Belinda didn’t hear it with her ears. It was more like she heard it in her mind.

“Hello? Is someone there?”

“Go away.”

“Are you the keeper of this castle? I’d very much like to see you.”

“If I let you see me then will you go away?”

“Yes,” Belinda said without hesitation.

From out of the shadows stepped the oddest creature that Belinda had ever seen. It had a long white body and a small cat-like head. A second set of ears sprung from its cat ears. A pair of gold rings encircled those longer ears. It had a big fluffy tail and a red oval on its back. She would have called it cute except for those small red eyes that stared at her without blinking. While she had never seen anything like it before, it was obviously too skinny with its white fur hanging off of its body.

“Now, go away.”

“Thank you for letting me see you, Keeper of the Castle. I’ll keep my word and leave.”

She turned away from the small creature and headed out the door.

 

 

“You said you’d leave if I showed myself to you,” the keeper said. She thought she heard annoyance in its voice but the face didn’t change at all.

“I did leave. I never said that I would not return.” Belinda sat down on the stone floor of the grand hallway. A shattered window let in light and kept her a comfortable temperature. This time she had brought a knapsack with her. She opened it to reveal bread, cheese, fruit, and even some cured meat. “Keeper, I brought some food. Would you like to eat some?”

The small creature moved closer. It maintained that perfectly composed look but the way it cautiously stepped forward betrayed its hunger.

“I’ll eat some to make up for your intrusion.”

Belinda began divvying up the food. She tried to make sure the keeper would have the most without being too obvious about it. With her share of her food on her apron, Belinda leant back and enjoyed the warmth of the sun. She tried not to be too obvious as she watched the keeper devour its food.

“You must be very clever.”

“My intelligence and logic is greater than any human’s.” Belinda tried not to giggle at its words. The sentiment behind them could have come from countless of her mother’s tales.

“You were able to build that contraption to scare people away, but you can’t feed yourself.”

“I’m not like your animals. My kind evolved for logic, not to chase after small rodents.”

Belinda didn’t see any claws on its feet. She could see why it would have difficulty hunting anything but insects. She had finished eating her share of the food and shook the crumbs off of her apron.

“What do you want in exchange for the food?” the keeper asked her.

Its words surprised her. “Oh, I don’t want anything.”

“I have to provide something of equal value.”

“Um, well, I guess you could allow me to visit in exchange for me bringing you food.”

“As long as you don’t tell anyone about me,” it hesitated. “I can agree to that.”

“Then it’s settled,” Belinda said with a smile. “My name is Belinda. What’s yours?”

“My race doesn’t have personal designations.”

“Well, everyone in town calls you the beast in the castle.”

“Beast is fine then.”

 

Belinda hauled a bucket back and forth across the castle courtyard. She would fill it up at the well, run over to a set of roses, fill up a watering can, water the parched soil, then move on to the next set of roses. The roses were in surprisingly good shape for being unattended for so long.

“You don’t need to care for them. They serve no purpose,” Beast said. It was sprawled out in the sun. It was a very catlike behavior for someone who claimed themselves so far above animals.

“I want to,” Belinda said mildly. “Flowers this pretty should be better tended too.”

“I will never understand you humans.”

“You could come to the village and learn about us.”

“I have spent many centuries amongst your kind.”

Belinda set down the bucket. She had been working nonstop since she had arrived. It was time for a break. Belinda sat down on the stone bench where she had left the food. She began to divide up the food.

Beast had noticed that it was time to eat. It moved fast and was soon sitting next to Belinda on the bench. Belinda noticed that his fur wasn’t hanging off of it as much anymore. For such a tiny creature it ate a lot.

“Beast, are you a boy beast, like in the stories, or are you a girl beast? You have little in common with how the stories describe.”

“My kind doesn’t have a concept of gender.”

“Do you care what you are thought of as?”

“I have no preference. Use whatever you prefer.”

“The stories always describe you as a wicked man, turned into a savage monster that eats anyone that happens by. You are small and clever, the opposite of the story. So, I will think of you as a girl beast.”

“Do you like stories?”

“I love them. Mother always used to tell me stories when I was a child.” Belinda placed Beast’s share of the food in front of her. “Eat up.”

 

The Beast didn’t know why she was bothering. She was mentally ill. She shouldn’t be encouraging a friendship with a human, especially not one that had the potential to become a magical girl. It was just that the crushing loneliness was too much. She had no one to speak to in so long. There were plenty other Incubators on Earth but contacting them was too dangerous. She would be consumed on the spot. Her only option was to continue working toward purging herself of emotions before reestablishing a connection with the rest of her race.

It made no logical sense to find some old paper and translate stories from other languages to the one that Belinda spoke. She definitely would be a fool to spend her time concentrating on writing with a quill in her mouth. It wasn’t as if she liked her or anything.

She was an Incubator and she wouldn’t waste her time on emotional nonsense.

So she didn’t get excited when she sensed Belinda’s approach. She wasn’t rushing to finish binding the pages together with needle and thread. Of course she had a proper logical reason for wasting her energy on teleporting with the finished manuscript to wait for her arrival.

Sometimes, she was successful at convincing herself.

 

“Beast, were you waiting for me?” Belinda asked. She was wearing a heavy coat today and snow clung to her heavy woolen skirt.

“I was not. It is almost a human religious festival.”

“Oh, you mean Christmas? Yeah, I won’t be able to come here tomorrow. I’ll be helping at church all day.”

“Understandable. I am aware of the custom of exchanging gifts. While I have no emotional attachment to you I do not wish to cause you undue emotional stress.”

“So… you have a gift for me?”

“Exactly,” Beast said as she pushed the sewn together pages forward.

Belinda picked them up and looked at them curiously. Her face brightened up as she realized what it was. It was a book and it was all hers! Not like the family Bible or the practice books used for the village children.

“Thank you so much! I can’t wait to read them all.” Belinda carefully and gently put the handmade book away in a sack she had brought with her. She pulled out a beautiful fur cloak and four tiny knit socks.

“What are these?”

“I’ll show you.” Belinda knelt down on the cold stone floor next to Beast. She put the tiny cloak on Beast’s back and fastened the button in the front. Gently she picked up each paw one by one and placed the Incubator sized socks on each foot. “I don’t know if you feel cold, but I wanted you to have something warm.”

“Thank you,” Beast said. She looked down at the way the small cloak draped over her. The socks went right up to her body. “No one has ever given me a gift before.” If Belinda hadn’t spent so much time with the Beast she wouldn’t have noticed the slightly softer tone.

“I’m glad you like them,” Belinda pulled Beast into a hug.

 

Actually walking on tiny Incubator legs was a lot slower than simply teleporting, but Beast had to conserve her energy. It wasn’t like she had her connection with the rest of the Incubators anymore to draw upon. All she had was the energy from the food Belinda had been giving her.

She wore her cloak and the socks that Belinda had given her. At a run she was able to stay on top of the snow and not sink into it. The few animals out and about on Christmas morning did not give Beast anything more than a cursory look. She just barely ranked above rabbit in the animal interest scale.

She ran with ears and cloak flying behind her in the wind until she reached the village. The church was unmistakable with its crucifix affixed to its rough. Incubators did not have a concept of religion, but they had encountered many races throughout the cosmos that did. Beast did not have a sudden desire to convert to one of the countless human religions.

Beast jumped onto a tree branch and from there she landed on a ledge outside of one of the church windows. She knew that most of the humans inside couldn’t see her anyways, so she wasn’t sure why she was being so secretive. From her perch she looked in and watched the humans conduct their religious observance. It wasn’t hard to find Belinda standing in between her sister and her father.

At a word from the priest the entire congregation began to sing a religious song. It made Beast feel nostalgic and a touch jealous. Here were these primitives able to be of one mind, at least in a small group, while an advanced Incubator like herself didn’t dare to reconnect to the rest of her species for fear of poisoning them all with her sickness.

She sat there and watched until she noticed a pair of grey eyes locked on her. Belinda had seen her. Beast jumped off the ledge. She turned away from the church.

“Beast, wait,” Belinda cried out. Her face was flushed red and her brown hair was disheveled from her haste to get out of the crowded church .

“I was only in the area,” Beast lied. That was not a normal Incubator ability, yet another sign of her sickness.

“You could come in. Everyone is welcome.”

“My kind does not have a concept of religion.”

“None at all? Well, it’s not like you have to convert. I mean it wouldn’t be very Christian of us to turn away anyone trying to get in from the cold.”

“I suppose I could come for research purposes.”

Belinda moved closer to the Beast and picked her up. “Come on, it’s cold out here and we’re going to have a big potluck after the service.”

Beast didn’t object as Belinda carried her inside and held her during the rest of the service. She gave a quick explanation that she thought she saw a cat stuck in the window when asked by her sister why she rushed out. Beast still did not understand the purpose or logic behind religion, but it was nice being with others.

 

Belinda laughed as she twirled and danced with a boy from her village. They traded partners with the pair next to them and twirled though the next set of dance steps. The flowers in Belinda’s hair threatened to come out at any time. The fiddler continued playing the lively song, tapping his own foot to the beat.

Beast sat on the edge of a short fence as she watched the merriment of the festival. There was food everywhere. Travelers had come from out of town. A few performers were entertaining the people. Everyone danced for at least one or two songs as long as they were able.

“Beasty,” a small child, about three years old said as she approached. She was Anne, the only person in the village besides Belinda that could see Beast.

“Anne,” Beast returned the greeting.

“Beasty, I made you a crown.” Anne put a small circlet of flowers on Beast’s head. The little child clapped in glee. “It’s so pretty.”

“Thank you for the adornments.”

“Yous welcome. You’re a lot nicer than the other one.”

Beast snapped her full attention on to Anne. “What other one? Did they tell you their name?”

“Uh-huh, it was Kyubey.”

“Anne, listen to me, this is very important. Kyubey isn’t like me. They are… a bad fairy… like the devil that they tell you to be careful of. You must never agree to make a contract with them or ask them to grant you a wish. Do you understand?”

There must have been something in how the Beast said it, because Anne began to wail and ran away to her mother. She was crying about the devil being after her and it was true because ‘Beasty’ told her.

Belinda must have noticed what happened because she left her partner and approached Beast. There was a worried look on her face.

“Beast, what happened? Why is Anne crying?”

“Belinda, did you see another Incubator in this village.”

She nodded, “I’ve seen another one but it never spoke to me. I thought maybe they were here to visit you.”

““It’s not visiting me, I’m a pariah. You can’t talk to it, or any of my kind, you mustn’t, and don’t make any wishes. Don’t ever make a wish! You’ll have to fight and turn into a witch and they can’t have you! I won’t let them have you!”” Beast was babbling. Other humans could give their lives to prevent entropy. They couldn’t have Belinda.

Belinda half sat half leaned against the short fence. “Beast, you sound scared.”

“I am.”

“I promise that I’ll be careful of any of your kind.”

“Thank you.”

“Now, come on, you haven’t danced yet,” Belinda said as she picked up Beast and headed back into the dance.

“I’m too small to dance and no one else can see me. They will all think you’re crazy!”

“So let them think,” Belinda laughed. “If you don’t want to dance with me I’ll put you down.”

Beast didn’t object to the dance.

 

“Beast! Beast!” Belinda cried out as she ran into the castle. She was out of breath and covered in sweat. One of her shoes had been lost in her run and she hadn’t even slowed down to get it.

“Belinda, what’s wrong?” Beast asked. She had sensed Belinda’s approach and so had been waiting to greet her.

“A traveler came a few days ago. We didn’t realize until he did that he carried plague. Beast, over half the village has already fallen ill. My older sister is close to death.”

“I can see what medical references I can get for you,” Beast said in an overly neutral tone. There were still books in the ruins of the library. She didn’t like where this had the potential to go, she had to nip it in the bud.

“We don’t have the time. My sister might already be dead.”

“No, please, no,” Beast knew what she was going to ask. She could feel it.

“Can you grant wishes?”

“I can, but you don’t understand. You’ll have to face a life time of battle. If you are lucky you’ll die. If you aren’t lucky you’ll eventually turn into a horrible monster.”

“Beast, please, I have to help everyone. If I’m going to do this then I want it to be with you.”

Beast lowered her head. She couldn’t look at Belinda.

“Hey,” Belinda said as she gently placed two fingers under Beasts chin. She raised Beast’s face so that grey eyes and red eyes met. Belinda lowered her face and placed a kiss on Beast’s lips. “I’m not going to think of this as a contract with the devil. I’d rather think of it as our contract. Let’s save everyone together.”

“Belinda, what wish do you desire to make?” Beast spit out the words.

“I wish that nobody living in this village would die to the plague.”

Beast’s long ears reached out and dove into Belinda’s chest. Everything was automatic at this point. The ears found Belinda’s soul and pulled it out. The soul was light in the air until a silver Soul Gem formed around it.

“Our contract is now complete, Belinda Magica.”

Every single person in the village had recovered from the plague. There was not a single fatality. Some said a girl from the village made a deal with a dark fae to cure everyone. In exchange she was taken to the fairy world, never to return.

Really, Belinda had just walked away along with the Beast. She had listened to Beast’s warnings. If she was going to turn into a monster someday then she wanted it to be far away from her friends and family.

 

“Belinda, you have to get up,” Beast pleaded with Belinda.

Belinda tried to force herself back up to her feet but she just fell down once more. Her once beautiful silver Soul Gem was now almost entirely black. She struggled to get up again but did only slightly better than her last attempt.

“We’re almost to the witch’s labyrinth. Just a little more and we can get you a Grief Seed to purify your Soul Gem.”

“I’m sorry, Beast. I don’t think I can go any further. I’m trying and trying. I just can’t get my body to move.” Belinda tried to push herself up with her hands but her elbows buckled and she hit the cobblestone with a cry of frustrations.

“No, it’s not fair. I don’t want you to die. I’ll go get you the Grief Seed myself,” Beast turned away, prepared to run down the cobblestone streets herself. She didn’t know how she’d defeat a witch on her own, but she was going to try.

“No! Please, d-don’t leave me. I-I… Just please, don’t go away, Beast. Don’t leave me,” Belinda pleaded.

Beast turned back and walked next to the girl in pain. She placed a paw on Belinda’s cheek, a gesture she had seen humans do.

“I’ll stay with you forever. I promise.”

“I’m scared. It hurts.” Belinda tried to move her hand toward Beast. Even that was beyond the meager amount of magic left in her Soul Gem. Tears were running down her face. “I don’t… want to die,” Belinda sobbed.

“The pain won’t last much longer.” All Beast wanted right now was to be capable of crying. To show and share her grief and pain, to let Belinda know just how much she’d be mourned. She couldn’t even offer her that basic human comfort no matter how much she wished.

Wish.

“Everything will be fine, Belinda. I promise you.” Beast placed a kiss on Belinda’s lips.

Beast did the one thing that she thought she’d never do again. She reestablished telepathic contact with the rest of the Incubator species. Incubators worked somewhat like how a modern human might imagine the internet with online shared storage. All of the units were connected to all of the others, data could be backed up and put into new hardware, but they all had a degree of individuality. Once the link was open her emotions began to spread, poisoning the rest of the species, spreading her sickness.

“You will come here or I’ll let my emotions spread until everyone is infected,” Beast broadcasted to every Incubator.

Another member of their species appeared in front of Beast. It was as still as a statue and its red eyes locked onto Beast’s. Beast kept herself between Belinda and Kyubey. Her legs were slightly bent, ready to spring on the other Incubator.

“Your survival for this long was a statistical anomaly,” Kyubey said.

“Grant my wish!”

Kyubey tilted its head. “You are sick, but you are still an Incubator. We grant wishes. We don’t make them.”

“Any being with a sense of self, intelligence, and emotions can make a wish. I have all three of those. Do it or I’ll keep my connection open until every Incubator is sick with emotions.”

“You are using threats. That is a human behavior. Very well, Kyubey-“

“That’s not my name! I’m Beast.”

“-Beast, what wish do you want to make your Soul Gem shine?”

Beast paused to think. She knew all the rules and history just as well as any other Incubator. Yes, she wanted to save Belinda. Yes, she wanted her to live a long life, but was that exactly what she wanted. No, it wasn’t.

“I wish that Belinda and I could stay by each other’s sides, to support and help each other, for the length of a natural healthy human lifespan.”

“You wish has surpassed entropy,” Kyubey said with a hint of surprise as those ears reached out to Beast.

 

Belinda woke up in a bed. The mattress was lumpy and the blanket was made of wool. The pillow was reasonably soft at least. She was alive. It didn’t feel like she had become some horrible monster that stalked the innocent. There was a warm hand holding her own.

She opened her eyes. There was an unfamiliar girl sitting by the side of the bed. She was sound asleep with her head against the bed and her hand gripping Belinda’s in a death grip. The girl looked to be albino and about the same age as Belinda.

With her free hand Belinda reached out and shook the other girl awake. She stirred and then her eyes opened wide. They were familiar red eyes.

“Belinda, you’re awake!” the Albino girl said. She shot up to her feet. There was a moment where she wobbled before steadying herself.

“Beast, is that you?” Belinda asked. At first she was unsure but she could feel it in the way her heart soared that it was Beast.

“It’s me, Belinda.”

“You saved me and you’re a human now.” She thought that she was going to die there on the streets, far from home, and away from most the people she cared about. Belinda didn’t need to ask how. She could see the ring on Beast’s finer and the mark on her nail.

“I’m sorry for leaving you, but I couldn’t let you just die. I promise I’ll never leave your side again as long as you want me here.”

“Beast…”

Beast was a human now. Belinda could touch her, dance with her, hold her, kiss her… Beast was Beast. She loved her when she was a small cat sized creature. She loved her as a human girl.

Grey and red eyes couldn’t look away from each other. Belinda was smiling. Beast couldn’t hide the happiness and relief on her face even if she tried. They were together, alive, and very much in love.

Whether their fates were to die or become witches it didn’t matter. They would be together for as long as they had.

Overcome with emotions the two girls kissed.