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.

The sprawl­ing moun­tain for­est enveloped the cas­tle on all sides, so when Quinn shoul­dered the front door open for the first time in years, a pile of twigs, leaves, and dirt scraped across the stone walk. Belle stood in the door­way as Quinn pressed the mas­sive doors open to either side, their long, strong arms span­ning the entire gap across like a casu­al stretch when get­ting out of bed.

Fresh moun­tain air tum­bled into the aban­doned atri­um. It kicked up dust and pushed the stuffi­ness back. Madam Armoire shuf­fled front one win­dow to the next, throw­ing the cur­tains back and singing a tune to her­self as the sun streamed into the cas­tle. A small parade of staff-as-house­hold-objects came march­ing into the room from every direc­tion: a man­tle clock, a feath­er duster, an entire tea set like a moth­er with chil­dren, and trail­ing behind them like a con­duc­tor, Lumière wav­ing his can­dle­stick hands in time to Madam Armoire’s song.

Like a well-orches­trat­ed team, the staff began clean­ing the entry­way in earnest. Drop cloths were pulled off of lounges, dust and debris swept right out the front door. Every win­dow that could be opened was flung wide. Even the crys­tal chan­de­lier was giv­en a refresh when Madam Armoire threw the feath­er duster up so they could go to work.

Belle stepped up next to Quinn and smiled. It was good some of the cas­tle was get­ting atten­tion again.
She turned her face into the for­est breeze and felt it run through the scrub­by whiskers on her chin. She stroked the begin­nings of a beard as she real­ized she hadn’t seen any mir­rors in the cas­tle. She must look as wild as Quinn. Both of them cov­ered in a mane and flung far from polite society.

Then again, a woman grow­ing a beard was the least strange thing in this house­hold. And now that she thought about it, Belle hadn’t been self-con­scious about her grow­ing facial hair for the past few days. She stroked the beard com­ing in on her jaw and won­dered what Gaston would think of her now. Belle smiled at the shocked expres­sion she could imag­ine on his face.

Quinn looked down at her, their antlers dap­pling the sun­light over­head, and bared their fangs. Belle heard a rum­bling purr vibrate out of their chest and she took Quinn by the hand, claws and all.

Before she could say a word, her father stum­bled into the room, still pulling on his jack­et and trail­ing one shoe, huff­ing and puff­ing from his lin­ger­ing injuries. “I hope you haven’t left with­out me,” he said straight­ing the jack­et with a yank. Someone in the house had repaired the slash across the front where Gaston had attacked. Several teacups scut­tled over to tie his shoes while he caught his breath. “I’ll have you know it’s good for the injured to get out and walk in the sun. Very rehabilitating.”

We wouldn’t go with­out you,” Belle said, reach­ing out to her father to draw him clos­er. “How are you feeling?”

A lit­tle cooped up. It’ll be nice to stretch my legs.”

Belle smiled and pulled them both out into the sun.

Leaves crunched under her shoes and Quinn’s hooves.

If there had once been a cob­ble path up to the cas­tle doors it was now over­grown with grass­es and small bush­es. The edge of the for­est came right up to the cas­tle walls, spread­ing up onto bal­conies with creep­ing fin­ger vines.

Quinn hes­i­tat­ed and Belle stopped with them, breath­ing deep to enjoy the per­fumed for­est air. How long had it been since Quinn stepped out­side these doors and real­ly wan­dered the for­est? Other than the court­yard on the oth­er side of the cas­tle, Belle had nev­er seen them out­side of the walls them­selves, and that court­yard meet­ing had been all too brief.

Belle had found Quinn hid­ing away in the arbore­tum of the cas­tle, not even vis­it­ing the din­ing room. If they told her they’d been hid­ing there since the witch came and cursed them, she’d believe it.

She looked up. Quinn stared out at the for­est like it might eat them. She squeezed their hand and they start­ed, look­ing down at her again.

We don’t have to go,” Belle said.

They stared at her for a long time, then stared out at the for­est again, dark eyes pen­e­trat­ing the dap­pled shade. Then they nod­ded once, to them­selves, Belle thought, and stepped forward.

Their first steps were slow and cau­tious. Silent on the for­est floor. But every step gained a lit­tle con­fi­dence. Every breath came a lit­tle faster.

Until Quinn broke away from Belle and her father, div­ing into the for­est on all fours, lop­ing between the trees like a mas­sive deer crossed with a lion. A preda­tor with antlers. Quinn dashed through the for­est, pick­ing up speed with every stride, used a tree to spring in a new direc­tion, and bound­ed to the top of a rocky dome in three mas­sive leaps. They tow­ered over­head, rose up on their legs, and roared.

The birds of the for­est took wing, scream­ing. Every small crit­ter dashed for cov­er. A deer and her sis­ters scram­bled away from the rever­ber­at­ing sound.

Belle stood at the bot­tom of the rocky slope with her father, threw both hands in the air, and whooped. Her father hollered with her. They danced around each oth­er, yelling and laugh­ing until Belle col­lapsed in a pile of leaves to catch her breath.

Quinn’s claws scraped the rock as they scram­bled back down. Their eyes were bright and their ears perked up. They looked alive in a new way. Brimming with curios­i­ty and ener­gy. Like her father said, sun­light was good for heal­ing. They signed, “There is a riv­er near­by. Come.”

Belle took Quinn’s clawed hand and pulled her­self up. Her hair was full of leaves and she laughed as she shook it out. What was a romp in the woods if you didn’t come home with a few sticks?

She took her father’s hand and Quinn lead the way on all fours, trot­ting along as com­fort­ably as on two.
Quinn occa­sion­al­ly sniffed the air and adjust­ed their path. Belle took deep breaths of fresh for­est air, but she couldn’t smell what­ev­er it was Quinn followed.

In short order, the trees broke against a rock ledge through which a slow riv­er had bro­ken in the mid­dle. The sun had already warmed the flat stones of the bank and Belle pressed her hands against the heat with a hap­py groan.

Quinn forged direct­ly into the riv­er. They splashed into the cen­ter, which was just deep enough for them to dunk their head and roll about like a riv­er otter. Air bub­bled out of their fur and when they surged back onto the stony bank, they brought half the riv­er with them in a rush.

Quinn eyed Belle’s father with a gleam in their eye. Maurice had crept up to feel the water at the edge, now perched beside a drip­ping and feisty Quinn. Quinn plant­ed their feet and hands firm­ly on the stone, caught Belle’s eye, and shook.

Belle gasped at the huge spray of water that arced out of Quinn’s fur and caught her father in the side. It sent him sprawl­ing in sur­prise right onto his butt. She laughed, delight­ed at the shock on his face.

Her father scram­bled on the stone, but with so much water, he had no grip. He went splash­ing right into the riv­er with a shout.

Quinn casu­al­ly reached in and grabbed Maruice by the back of his shirt. They deposit­ed him back on the rocks away from shore like a sput­ter­ing cat.

Belle gig­gled. Her father flicked water off his hands, blink­ing owlish­ly at Quinn. Then said, “Well. That was refreshing.”

Quinn made a low chuff­ing noise, sort of a rum­bling cough.


Belle knelt beside her father and pushed his soaked hair out of his face with a smile. “It’s time to retwist your locs,” she said. “When we get back home.”

Quinn shook them­selves off at the edge of the riv­er, no longer in dan­ger of send­ing any­one else into the water, then joined Belle and her father in the sun with anoth­er one of those purring rum­bles that came out of their chest.

You could use some braids too,” Belle said, push­ing mane hair out of Quinn’s eyes with one hand. Would you like some?”

Quinn nod­ded their fist yes and Belle tucked her legs under her as she leaned on Quinn’s shoul­der to fin­ger-brush the tan­gles out of their mane. Leaves and twigs had found their way in, just like with her own hair, and she patient­ly picked them all out, com­fort­ed by the vibrat­ing purr from Quinn’s chest.

Belle’s father groaned com­fort­ably as he lay out on the stone. “It’s love­ly out here,” he said.

Belle hummed her agree­ment. “I miss Lukas and his book­shop,” she said. “But this adven­ture is just like the ones in my books.”

Maruice made an agree­able sound. “Maybe Lukas can come vis­it one day.”

There are more books I need to buy from him,” Belle said.

And wouldn’t it be love­ly to set aside a room in the cas­tle for a small library of adven­ture sto­ries?
She hummed as she braid­ed Quinn’s mane, imag­in­ing life at the cas­tle for longer than a few weeks, and smiled at images she dreamed up in the for­est sun.