Welcome to Beauty’s Beast, book 3 in the Black Trans Fairy Tales series. This novel­la is releas­ing one chapter/week on the blog ahead of publication. 

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Unfortunately, this chap­ter was only up for one week and you’ve missed the win­dow! If you’d like to catch up or sup­port oth­er projects like this, please join my Patreon.

Lukas’ pony was sure­foot and swift, but a small pony could­n’t keep up with a hunt-trained warm­blood. Belle knew before they made it to the cas­tle that they were already too late, despite the clat­ter of the pony’s hooves and the rush of leaves they car­ried behind them.

Belle kissed the pony as she scram­bled off its back, dump­ing her­self all knees and elbows on the cob­ble­stone at the front gate. The doors hung open and bro­ken, their beau­ti­ful carved wood hacked to splin­ters with an ax and the rem­nents scat­tered across the foy­er car­pet. Glass and ceram­ic pieces glit­tered on the thresh­old, bro­ken for the sake of destroy­ing something. 

Belle’s fear began burn­ing into anger. 

It start­ed at the bot­tom of her chest, like a smol­der­ing coal that had lay buried for years, qui­et­ly glow­ing until fresh air could bring it back to life. 

The frac­tured door and the bro­ken pot­tery fell like dry tin­der on the hot spark in her heart and blazed to life.

How dare Gaston break into this peace­ful place? How dare he smear the qui­et friend­ships she’d made with his oily touch?

Belle gath­ered her feet and ran into the castle.

Her breath was steady, her feet knew these halls, and noth­ing would stop her now.

She tracked Gaston by the swath of dam­age he left behind him: gouges from his axe in the paint­ed por­traits and along the wood­en rails of the stairs, frac­tured vas­es, bro­ken crys­tal, can­dles burned for light crushed into the rug where their wax and soot would destroy the embroidery.

Every shard of glass, every splin­ter, was anoth­er piece of fuel for the fire burn­ing in Belle’s heart.

By the time she made the land­ing and could hear the fight­ing in the arbore­tum, she knew her anger blazed in her eyes. Her face felt tight. Her atten­tion: focused. Her heart: still.

There was pow­er in hav­ing noth­ing to lose.

But there was more in hav­ing some­thing to protect.

She approached the arbore­tum doors.

And found the staff of the cas­tle clus­tered there, afraid, but unwill­ing to leave, armed with mops, rakes, and fire­place pok­ers. Lumiere stood at the front, his can­dle­sticks burn­ing hot and low, rid­ing one of the din­ing carts so he could be seen. He was sur­round­ed by the entire staff, some of whom Belle had nev­er met: the man­tle clock who held a pair of sheers like a lance, a feath­er duster, the entire tea set, an old Grandfather clock with a sol­dier’s cap who stood as tall as Madam Armoire, and more.

They all faced into the arbore­tum where Belle heard Quinn’s roars and Gaston’s taunt­ing voice.

Belle pushed her way del­i­cate­ly through the staff. They made way for her as they noticed her, mur­mur­ing among them­selves hope­ful­ly. The din­ing cart wheeled side­ways and Lumiere looked up at her with wide, sad eyes. 

Mon chere. You should not have come back,” he said, tak­ing her hand in his as he snuffed his flame. ”It is too late.”

”It is nev­er too late to help, Lumiere. It’s nev­er too late to show up, even if all you’re here for is the end.” 

Belle looked across the arbore­tum. Gaston and Quinn vault­ed over raised beds, scram­bled under hang­ing vines, and clashed with sword and claw. Gaston’s two lack­eys stood aim­less­ly to one side, swords drawn but oth­er­wise too fright­ened to engage. Except for the cen­tral quince tree espaliered around the wood­en per­go­la, the room was a disaster.

Belle turned to the staff. ”You can run,” she said, her voice low. ”You can hide and no one will blame you.” She met their eyes one at a time. ”But I think you’re here because you love Quinn and you want to do some­thing.” Belle saw nods, peo­ple stood taller, their expres­sions seri­ous. ”I’m here to do some­thing,” she said. ”And I could use your help.”

Madame Armoire shuf­fled for­ward, a broom in both han­dle-hands, say­ing, ”Tell us what to do, dearie.”

Belle nod­ded. ”You see these two men on the side? I want most of you to run at them. Hold your weapons high and scream at the top of your lungs. They won’t fight you, because you’re too many. They’ll run. Chase them right out of the cas­tle.” Belle knelt to pick up the teapot and her teacups, plac­ing them on a sec­ond break­fast cart. ”Smaller or slow­er staff on carts or on shoul­ders so you can keep up.”

Belle pulled Madam Armoire and the Grandfather clock to the side. ”You two are spe­cial. You’re the biggest ones here and I need your help to save Quinn.”

”You can count on us, miss,” the Grandfather clock said, stand­ing at mil­i­tary atten­tion, the mus­tache under his clock face bounc­ing. ”I was once part of the roy­al guard, you know.”

”I’m going to inter­rupt Gaston. I want you to help Quinn get away–”

”My dear, that man is a mon­ster, you’ll be killed for sure.”

”If we do noth­ing, Quinn will die instead,” Belle said, hold­ing Madam Armoire’s hands in her own. ”Now lis­ten, we’re out of time. I will inter­vene. You back me up as if we’re all going to attack. Gaston is strong but he’s afraid. Of Quinn. Of me. Of you. He’ll chase me if I pro­voke him. You help Quinn and I’ll bait Gaston away from everyone–”

”Then what will you do with him?” the Grandfather clock asked.

Belle did­n’t know.

A pained snarl roared across the room and Belle whirled to see Gaston stand­ing over Quinn, his sword held high, a mad, gleam­ing smile on his face.

It was now or never!

”Are you with me?” Belle shout­ed, scream­ing to get Gaston’s atten­tion. Every eye in the room turned to her.

Behind her, the staff held their makeshift weapons high and roared as one.

”Charge!” Belle yelled, and she ran into the arbore­tum straight for Gaston.

She heard Madam Armoire and the Grandfather clock on either side of her, their broom and iron pok­er held for­ward like swords, both of them scream­ing their fear and anger like a war-cry.

Gaston stag­gered back from Quinn, his eyes wide as he took in the charg­ing staff of every house­hold shape. His sword dropped to his side, head flash­ing to his back­up only to see them swarmed by teacups and dusters on rolling carts led by a flam­ing can­de­labra. A small ottoman barked like a ter­ri­er and went for the ankles.

Gaston’s expres­sion dark­ened and he turned it on Belle, lift­ing the sword toward her. He was cor­nered, she real­ized, alone and under assault. Ready to fight to the death. He would­n’t flee. Backing down was impos­si­ble for him to con­sid­er. She need­ed to harass him into chas­ing her instead.

Belle flung one hand to the side. ”Help Quinn,” she shout­ed, and both Madam Armoire and the Grandfather clock redi­rect­ed as planned.

Belle dart­ed in close to Gaston, clos­er than he expect­ed, and she slapped him across the face with every mus­cle in her body.

It did­n’t hurt him, of course. But it made her feel a lot better. 

And now he was entire­ly focused on her.

Belle hissed in his face, ”I made you a laugh­ing stock in town. Catch me if you can.”

Blinding white hatred blanked across his eyes.

Belle turned and raced to the oppo­site end of the Arboretum, toward the now-dry water­fall and pond where she’d first bathed Quinn after their encounter with Gaston.

She heard Gaston’s pound­ing foot­steps behind her, beat­ing as fast as her heart. She could smell his wet breath.

But he’d just spent an unknow­able amount of time fight­ing with Quinn to a stand­still while she was fresh and fast. 

Belle sprint­ed to a small door behind the water­fall. She’d nev­er had a chance to explore it since Quinn did­n’t like her wan­der­ing the arbore­tum. After being intro­duced to the library she hoped they’d become clos­er, close enough to start repair­ing the gar­dens here.

Gaston had done a great job of screw­ing that up.

But she knew the door was here and it was too small for Quinn to squeeze through, which meant they would­n’t come res­cue her after she’d just done the same.

Belle burst through the door and scram­bled up the sud­den flight of twist­ed stairs. Gaston had to point his sword back to turn up the stair­case, which slowed him down. 

Belle took advan­tage of the delay to throw open the old wood­en door at the top, only to skid to a nar­row stop just beyond. A semi-cir­cle plat­form of stone held her perched against the tow­er wall. There might have been a rail­ing once, but age and neglect had torn it down, along with a por­tion of the plat­form that shift­ed and threat­ened to crum­ble under her feet.

A wild, hys­ter­i­cal bub­ble of laugh­ter escaped Belle’s lips as she pin­wheeled har arms back­ward. The court­yard below loomed up like she was already falling, and to her exquis­ite hor­ror, Belle spot­ted the dark, dis­tant shape of her father down below, shad­ing his eyes to look up at her as he arrived with Lukas.

Belle fell back­ward onto her butt and hands, crab-walk­ing away from the edge.

Just in time for Gaston to clear the door­way with an enraged roar, sword in hand.

Belle tucked into a ter­ri­fied ball, turn­ing her face away from the edge and right into Gaston’s legs.

He pitched over her.


His sword skit­tered across the stones and flew into emp­ty space, tum­bling down and away in silence. 

Gaston knelt at the edge and screamed his fury. 

And Belle kicked him over. She braced both feet on his ass and shoved with every ounce of her strength.

Maybe it was the sur­prise of her push. Maybe the stone crum­bled under Gaston’s weight.

Whatever it was, Gaston turned as he fell over the edge, eyes clear of anger for once and shock­ing­ly human. Full of fear.

One hand skimmed the stone, fail­ing to pur­chase. The oth­er reached for her and grabbed only air.

Belle stayed on her knees as she watched him fall, her heart sud­den­ly still in her chest.

She’d just com­mit­ted him to death.

Then, far below, she saw Lukas lift his arm to point at the falling Gaston.

And like mag­ic Gaston twist­ed and changed before her very eyes. He shrank. His arms became wings. His cloth­ing became feath­ers. And before he could hit the ground he’d been trans­formed into a small brown song­bird. A tiny lit­tle bird indis­tin­guish­able from the thou­sands of oth­er tiny brown song­birds in the for­est. He flut­tered in the air for a minute, twist­ing and turn­ing, then swept off across the sky toward the mountain.

She lost sight of him immediately.

Belle put a hand on her mouth as she laughed. Relief made her sit back and shake.

She had­n’t killed him.

But it was very fit­ting that his fate was to live out the rest of his life as an unre­mark­able bird the size of a pinecone.

At least he would­n’t be around to both­er any­one else ever again.

Belle fell back­ward onto the stone with a huge sigh, immense­ly sat­is­fied. The fire of her anger burned out, even the coal at the cen­ter, leav­ing her heart chilly and tired.

She was only there for a moment when Lumiere found her, his can­dles burn­ing as low as she’d ever seen them.

Belle stood up in a heart­beat, already know­ing why he’d come to find her. He did­n’t need to say a word.

Something was wrong with Quinn.

She swept Lumiere up in her hands, her heart rac­ing now for an entire­ly dif­fer­ent rea­son, and fled down the stairs two at a time.

She burst into the arbore­tum and spot­ted all of the staff gath­ered in the cen­ter, a cir­cle of sad eyes and low­ered heads around the wood­en per­go­la. Their weapons on the floor. In the cen­ter, where her father had once been, Quinn lay curled on their side, eyes closed and face at peace.

”No,” Belle choked, drop­ping Lumiere to grab her skirts and run. ”No, no, Quinn!”

She skid­ded on her knees across the bro­ken tile to hold Quinn’s face and turn them to look at her. Their soft eyes opened slow­ly but that only made Belle’s eyes tear up as she checked them over.

Gaston had torn them to rib­bons. The axe and the sword had shred­ded their beau­ti­ful blue dress coat sword. Deep, weep­ing cuts criss­crossed their arms and legs and chest, hacked fur chopped in every direc­tion. So much blood cov­ered the tiles.

Too much blood.

Quinn touched their hand to Belle’s and signed, ”I’m proud of you. Proud to call you friend.”

”No, no, no, Quinn, you’re going to be ok. I love you. Help is coming–”

Quinn inter­rupt­ed with a long clawed fin­ger on her lips and Belle choked on a sob. 

”I love you, too. You showed me I’m worth loving.”

Yellow light bright­ened above the both of them, puls­ing like a heart­beat. The light washed over them both like warm sunlight.

Lukas and Maruice arrived at the arbore­tum door­way, but Belle did­n’t spare them a glance, she was too busy look­ing up in con­fu­sion at the light.

At the top of the per­go­la, dan­gling under the wood lat­tice, hung the sin­gle quince fruit, yel­low and round like a pear. The fruit that Lumiere had once told her would shriv­el and die, curs­ing the house­hold for­ev­er as fur­ni­ture. It pulsed, shed­ding light in waves of fire. 

Quinn signed, a lit­tle smile on their face, ”Ah, it would be at the end that I fig­ure out how to break the curse on my house.”

”This is not the end,” Belle insisted.

But she had no idea what to do. Above her the light pulsed, and under her hands Quinn’s heart­beat slowed.

She looked up at Luckas in a panic.

From across the room he signed, ”Share the fruit.” And ges­tured as if pick­ing an apple from a tree.

Belle was­n’t so del­i­cate. She jumped up, yank­ing the quince from its branch with a cas­cade of dying leaves. It pulsed in her hand, too warm and too bright, but the light made her feel alive and refreshed. 

She brought it down to Quinn, who opened their eyes again and smiled.

It was soft like a pear and yield­ed to Belle’s fin­ger­tips. Light ran out of it like juice, drip­ping onto her skirts and splash­ing across the tile. She gave half to Quinn. 

”Try it,” she said.

”You first,” they signed one-handed.

Belle nar­rowed her eyes and said, ”At the same time then.”

Quinn huffed, a purr of sat­is­fac­tion rum­bling out of their chest and direct­ly into Belle’s heart.

They took a bite togeth­er and light blind­ed them both.

Warmth thread­ed across Belle’s skin and sank into her mus­cles. Into her very bones. It chased away the fatigue and fear and the pain, drove all of that away and replaced it with peace. 

Then sud­den­ly the light pulsed from her.

And she opened her eyes to see it surge out of Quinn, too. They stared at their hand where the fruit was gone, and so were the cuts and bruis­es. The slices that tore their coat to rib­bons had been mend­ed. The blood: scrubbed clean. Their fur: glis­ten­ing and intact.

The light ran across the floor and over­took the staff like a crash­ing wave. They all cried out in sur­prise, then cried out again a moment lat­er as teacups became chil­dren, the ottoman became a dog, the Grandfather clock a sol­dier in uni­form, Madam Armoire a heavy-set woman wrapped in an ele­gant, silk ball­room dress. And Lumiere became a but­ler in long black tails.

The tiles under Belle’s knees shift­ed and repaired them­selves, lock­ing back into place with cas­cad­ing clicks. Dirt and grime leapt off the ground and into the planters. The crum­bling sides of the planters reassem­bled and straight­ened. The vines flushed green and pushed new leaves. The quince tree over­head burst into pink and red bloom like some­one sud­den­ly open­ing an umbrella.

The light struck the walls, cleaned the glass, repaired the rugs, and ran right past Lukas and Maurice to spread across the cas­tle grounds from one end to the oth­er and back again.

Belle climbed to her feet. She felt new, some­how. She touched her cheek and the scratch of after­noon beard growth was still there, but the make­up and pow­ders were gone. Her dress, for­mer­ly white and torn across the bot­tom, had become bright yel­low, like the quince fruit, and popped into shape as she stood to give it room.

Quinn climbed to their feet, brush­ing non-exis­tent dust from their deep blue coat and check­ing their lion-like tail still fit through the coat tails in the back. Their antlers even had a fresh coat of vel­vet, like they were new­ly grown, mak­ing them fuzzy.

Lukas approached from the door­way, a know­ing smile on his face.

Before he could say any­thing, Belle point­ed at him. ”You knew!” she accused. ”Before I ever showed you sketch­es about the cas­tle guardian I saw in the court­yard, you knew!”

Quinn turned, and when they spot­ted Lukas, they imme­di­ate­ly knelt on one knee and bent their head low. Belle’s protests died out. Quinn’s hands moved rapid­ly, shak­ing like they were ner­vous. ”Respected Witch. The last time you came to vis­it I dis­hon­ored the both of us with my behav­ior. You don’t owe me for­give­ness, but please accept my apologies.”

Lukas reached for­ward and squeezed Quinn’s arm. ”Quinn–I hear you go by Quinn now, right?–your apol­o­gy is accept­ed and you were for­giv­en many years ago. Please, stand.”

Belle glanced between Quinn and Lukas, feel­ing a bit like a blink­ing owl.

Quinn stood and Lukas smiled up at them. ”You know, the quince would have changed you back to human if you wanted.”

Quinn shook their head. ”It took a long time to under­stand your les­son and I’m not the per­son I was before. I am the be–” Quinn paused mid-ges­ture and looked down at Belle with a soft smile. ”I’m the Guardian of the cas­tle. Antlers, fur, and all.”

Belle took Quinn’s hand when they offered it and she leaned into their side. She smirked at Lukas. ”You know, Quinn has a big­ger library than you do.”

Lukas imme­di­ate­ly stood taller, his eyes shut­ter­ing as he said, ”My library is curat­ed, thank you very much.”

”Uh huh,” Belle nod­ded, smil­ing wide.

Then there was no room for talk­ing because the entire house­hold staff mobbed them all at once, talk­ing and yelling and hol­ler­ing their joy. 

Belle was spun away from Quinn by Madam Armoire, who belt­ed an aria at the top of her lungs, then passed to a sol­dier with a han­dle­bar mus­tache that looked strik­ing­ly famil­iar. Then to anoth­er per­son and anoth­er and anoth­er until a thin man dressed in a black suit res­cued her from the rev­el­ry and bowed low over her hand, his eyes twin­kling like can­dle flame. 

Mademoiselle, it is my intense plea­sure to final­ly, prop­er­ly, intro­duce myself. Lumiere, at your ser­vice from dawn until dusk. You have only to call my name.”

Belle laughed with delight and flung her arms around Lumiere’s neck. He stag­gered, sur­prised, and then wrapped her in a hug and swung her around.

When he set her back down, Belle stood beside him, watch­ing Quinn chuff and purr at every new per­son. The children–formerly teacups–climbed his back and sat on his shoul­ders while the ter­ri­er dog–the ottoman–barked and hopped in delight­ed cir­cles around the whole crowd. 

Belle’s father came to stand beside her and she took his hand in hers. 

He squeezed. ”For a minute there…”

She squeezed back and nod­ded. ”Yeah.”

Quinn lift­ed a lit­tle girl dressed in a black and white maid­’s out­fit and threw her into the air, catch­ing her only to throw her again. The girl squealed. Her sim­i­lar­ly dressed moth­er gasped and berat­ed Quinn, who hand­ed her the child. The girl shout­ed, ”Again! Again!” as her moth­er dragged her away, mut­ter­ing that there had to be some­thing around here to clean now that every­thing had been put to rights.

Belle leaned her head on her father’s shoulder.

She spot­ted Lukas across the crowd. He winked and she smiled back at him.

She still had ques­tions: about mag­ic and sign language.

But maybe it was good to have unan­swered ques­tions. To keep a lit­tle mys­tery in the world. 

The sur­pris­es were bet­ter that way.