Chapter 4

A Beastly Tale


Mirain anxiously awaited the arrival of the boys back from Val’s mission in Belle Territory. She sat on the ground outside of Mick’s Middle Ground, looking towards their Patch. The sunset spread across the sand, giving the surface a shimmering appearance. As she sat there, Angeline opened the door, walked over, and sat down next to her. Angeline brought an atmosphere of peace with her – sitting next to her, Mirain felt more relaxed.

“Are you alright, dear?” Angeline asked softly.

Mirain thought for a minute. “I guess,” she exhaled.

Angeline reached out her hand and patted Mirain’s thigh. “Would you like to talk about it?”

Mirain turned to her and presented her with an uneasy expression. She scanned Angeline’s face before speaking. “Are you worried that we’re here?”

Angeline grabbed Mirain’s hands, “Whatever do you mean?”

Mirain looked down at her feet. “I overheard you talking yesterday to Mick about us not being from here.”

Angeline looked at her with compassion. “No, dear,” she began, “I am not worried about you being here,” she paused for a moment. “I am puzzled, and curious about how you got here, or where this ‘Connecticut’ is, however I am not concerned. I do not believe you are here to bring us harm.”

Mirain shook her, “No, I wouldn’t!”

Angeline smiled warmly at her, “I know, dear, I know,” she patted Mirain’s thigh once more before standing up. “What do you say we make a little fire out here, and we can all talk about your concerns. It must be terribly confusing for you all.”

Mirain and Angeline briefly went into the Middle Ground. While Mirain went to gather the others, Angeline asked Mick to get firewood and meet them out front. Angeline and Mirain walked out of the Middle Ground together, and headed farther into the sand. “Can we be out this far?” Mirain asked.

“Yes, we can,” Angeline replied, pointing towards the ground. There were small green sprouts popping out of the sand. “Do you see these?” Angeline began, “The Middle Ground is a Patch on its own! Mick designed this specific Patch to not grow like the others. He didn’t want this Patch to feel like it was hiding those inside. He wanted it to be open, and welcome to anyone in Lugn – it is the Middle Ground after all!” she chuckled. “–But anyway, if you see these green sprouts, you’re still on the Nomenlinder Patch. So, if a Belle for instance were to walk by, they wouldn’t be able to harm you.”

“What keeps them from going against that?” Mirain asked.

“Well, in Lugn, there are these magnificent creatures. We only know of one in existence, but it belongs to my good friend, Ren. You’ve probably heard about her. She’s the famous Witch of Lugn. She brought one to the Middle Ground once. Val, Constance, Mick, and Cyril were all requested to be there. Each swore under the oath of the Great Winged Blue Belly, that no fighting would take place on Nomendlinder Territory,” she paused. “We believe if you break an oath to a Blue Belly, or fight in its presence that you will be cursed to die before the day is up. They are sapphire blue, and emerald green, and have extraordinary tails that can expand open into an enormous, extravagant fan–like shape. They’re breathtaking.”

Mirain nodded, “Yeah, a peacock!”

Angeline looked confused, “A what?”

“The bird you’re talking about, where we are from, is called a peacock,” Mirain said. “Mick seemed to get really pent up when I brought it up last night.”

“Have you seen one?” Angeline asked.

“Yes,” Angeline’s eyes widened, “and no, not here. Back home, there were places called zoos that hold animals. They had one once, when I visited.”

“Well, my dear, they are very rare here. They are direct descendants of a Great Beast who once protected everyone in Lugn,” Angeline said quietly.

“What kind of beast?” Mirain asked.

Angeline shifted in her seat with excitement. “A marvelous dragon!” she squealed. Mick opened the doors to the speakeasy, and with him, many from the group came out. He brought the firewood with them, and the others brought chairs.

“A dragon?” Mirain doubted.

Mirain could hear Mick’s belly laugh as he walked toward them. “Ange, are you really talking about the Great Winged Blue Belly again?”

“She asked!” Angeline giggled.

“Listen, kid,” Mick said teasingly, “Angeline loves this story, so if she goes overboard, feel free to tell her to stop talking!”

Angeline hit his shoulder as he set the firewood down in front of them. “Oh hush, you!”

Others gathered toward them, hearing talk of a dragon. As the group began to get settled, and Angeline started the fire, the three men arrived back from Val’s. They  joined the group around the fire, smiling.

“How was it?” Mick asked.

“Unbelievable!” Casey exclaimed. “It was so crazy! We ended up entering the Belle’s Patch, and we were looking for one of the amphoras that Val was talking about, and we ended up finding one, but there was this huge lady guarding it!”

“A Mother Matron,” Angeline acknowledged hesitantly.

“Yeah! A Mother Matron!” Casey beamed. “She was huge! And super ugly, and she had this like, giant metal walking stick with a huge orb on top of it!” Angeline looked unamused. “She started laughing, and it was so creepy! It was like we were in a horror movie! And then she started swinging the stick around, and she was hitting some of the guys, and–”

“Is everyone okay?” Mirain interjected.

Casey looked up to think about it, “I mean, no, but like–”

“Did they die?” Mirain asked again.

“Well,” Casey hesitated, “yeah, I guess.”

Mirain looked at him critically, “–And you didn’t find any of this, disturbing?”

“I mean, I don’t know,” Casey looked at her, “I guess I wasn’t really thinking about it.”

“How do you not think about it? They’re dying right in front of you. Weren’t you scared?” she was clearly bothered.

“Settle down, Mother Theresa,” Casey squawked, “it’s not like everyone there didn’t know this was possible.”

Mirain stood up and pointed at Antonio. “Oh yeah?” she confronted him. “How would you feel if it was Antonio that had gotten hit?” she glared at him. “Were you even prepared to be in a fight? Did you have any weapons? Could you have saved Antonio if he needed you to?” Casey was silent. “This is exactly what I was talking about!” Mirain shouted at him. “You’re taking this like a joke. It’s like you’re not picking up the fact that you could get really hurt, or that you could potentially hurt someone in this stupid endeavor of yours! Stop acting like you have something to prove, because you don’t!”

“The hell do you know?” Casey shouted back. “You don’t know me. Stop trying to psychoanalyze me.”

“Stop acting like an impulsive child!”

“I’m 26, and capable of making my own decisions! Get off my back!” he yelled back. “–And you know what? At least I’m doing something! What are you doing? I’ll tell you – nothing! You’re sitting on your ass all day, passively waiting for something to happen!” Silence spilled through the group. “Why are we here?” he screamed. “Does anyone know? Because I sure as hell don’t! If you haven’t looked around recently, this place isn’t normal! We showed up outta nowhere and you know what? I’d rather be out there, trying something, than sitting here, like you, wasting time.”

Mirain became angry. “It’s not like you have a purpose though!” she screamed back at him. “You don’t have any reason to be out there! Stop trying to play this stupid, ‘Who's–Doing–It–Better’ game with me! I don’t care if you’re out there – but stop acting like you’re doing anything worthwhile! You’re wasting just as much time as I am because you, like me and everyone here, have absolutely no idea what you should really be doing!” Casey looked surprised. He wasn’t expecting her to say anything back to him. “–And you know what,” she continued, “you’re actually worse off. Wanna know why? Because you’re going to end up getting hurt, or end up actually killing someone out there,” she stared at him coldly. “I’m irritated because you’re acting like this is all game! Surprise – Casey! You aren’t getting a second life! This is it – and if you make one mistake out there, that’s it – it’s game over,” Casey looked down at the ground. Mirain settled down slightly, trying to get ahold of her temper. “I’m not saying you’re a bad guy. I don’t think you are in the least,” she looked at him gently. “You have every right to be mad, and confused, and upset. You can be as angry as you want, but is killing someone really the answer here? You’re not upset about Nicholas and Travis, so don’t you dare use them as your excuse!” her gentle look was replaced with a stern one. “You’re upset because you don’t know why you’re here. Guess what buddy, welcome to the club! None of us know. I get it’s hard, and not having control over this sucks. But you’re not helping anyone, no matter how much you try to convince yourself otherwise – the only person you’re hurting is you.”

Casey took a deep breath. “Fine,” he said softly, trying to relax, “then what do you say we do?” he said firmly. “We should be doing something, literally anything. We can’t just sit around. If you think you know best, come up with a  plan. Come up with something to do right now.”

Mirain hesitated. “I–” she said quickly, “I’m not sure.”

Casey started nodding, “Yeah, I didn’t think so,” he sat down in the sand with the rest of their group around the fire. “So I’ll tell you what! I am going to keep going to Val’s every day until you figure that out,” Mirain looked annoyed, “–and I’m not talking about a bullshit plan, I’m talking about something you really think would work,” he looked at her intently. “When that happens, I will stop going, and help you. But until then, I’m going to keep trying to figure out why we’re here, and what we have to do.”

“Fine–” Mirain said quickly, “but you have to promise me something.”

Casey’s eyes squinted at her, “Okay, I’ll bite. What is that?” he asked.

“If Val asks you to do something, that you don’t agree with, you won’t do it,” she said firmly. “I don’t care who he is, or what he says. If he tells you to do something, or you find yourself in a situation that makes your stomach turn, I want you to think of this conversation. I want you to stop and think ‘Is this who I really want to be,’” she paused, “that’s it.”

Casey let out a little smirk, “That,” he said in a satisfied tone, “is something I’ll agree to.”

Mirain smiled, “Okay then,” she said softly. “So, what else happened while you were out there?” she asked. “You said something about getting in a fight with someone?”

Casey’s face lit up, “Oh yeah!” he cheered, “It was one of those Mother Matrons! She was huge!”

“What did she look like?” Mirain asked.

“Well she was like the size of Mick,” Mirain’s attention glided over to Mick who was sitting by Angeline. She noticed briefly that they both looked very hard, and serious. She looked back at Casey, though she developed a nagging feeling in the back of her mind that said they shouldn’t be so amused by what he was sharing. “She was really freaky looking,” Casey went on. “She had this huge mouth that stretched across her entire face, and her skin looked like it was rotting! It was like this greenish gray color, and it had weird black marks all over, and her teeth were rotting! And she–”

“That’s enough!” Angeline shouted. Everyone’s attention immediately shifted to her, and Casey’s smile was quickly wiped off of his face. Enraged, Angeline looked directly at Casey. “Those poor women are suffering!” she shouted at him. “They are very, very sick,” Mirain could see she was shaking, “they are poor women who thought the Belles would help them, and instead they turned them into what you saw today. They are suffering, and they need help.”

The entire group was silent for a moment. Mirain’s position shifted a bit, “Angeline,” she said softly, “what do you mean they’re suffering?”

Angeline took a deep breath, trying to calm down. She looked around the group, as the fire continued to crackle. “A few years ago there was a rumor going around Lugn. If you were a woman who needed protection, or needed help of some sort, that if you went to a Belle, she would help you.”

“Why would they think that?” Casey asked.

Angeline sighed, “Well, to understand that, you need to know a little bit more about who the Belles really are, and how they came to be,” she looked around the group. “So how much do you all know?” Everyone looked around the circle at each other. “Not much, do you?” Angeline asked.

Mirain looked away from Angeline briefly, and made eye contact with Casey. “I think,” she began, “if we are going to figure out why we’re here,” she looked back to Angeline, “then I think we should try to learn more about this place. Will you tell us?” she asked. Angeline nodded, and began her tale.

 

“A long time ago,” she began, “almost 800 years to be exact, there used to be a thriving city in the center of Lugn. The landscape looked entirely different. There were trees, and grass everywhere!” she looked around the group. “Hard to believe, isn’t it?”

“What happened?” Jack asked.

“Well, there was a group of ten men that started an up–and–coming business. They called themselves the Sons of Blue. As their company began to thrive, they developed a type of weapon that was said to control the Great Winged Blue Belly,” she looked over at Mirain, “the dragon I spoke to you about earlier.”

    “Why do they call it that?” Hadley asked.

    “It was called the Great Winged Blue Belly, because of its wings, and because of its stomach. Supposedly it was a magnificently beautiful creature, said to have been twice the size of the Middle Ground, and mostly walked on all fours. It hardly flew, but I hear when it did, you would be able to feel the air hit the ground from its enormous wings in every corner of Lugn. They are supposed to be a very light gray color, with crystal shards embedded into their tails that were surrounded by those beautiful plumes. It's even said that it had another plume that circled around its neck that would raise and shake when it felt the need to warn people to stay away. Their scales are said to have shimmered even at night like a diamond, and their stomachs were completely clear.”

    “I thought you said it had a blue stomach?” Mirain asked.

    Angeline nodded, “It did, but only because its stomach was actually clear. They apparently had blue organs, and blue blood. So when you looked at the elegant beast, you would be able to see the flow of its blood go through its grand stomach.”

    Mirain paused for a moment. “Angeline, does the term ‘Blue–Blood’ mean anything to you?”

    Angeline nodded, “Yes, it essentially means Pure–Blood, or Holy–Blood. There is a myth that says if you were to be proven pure of soul, the great beast would take its tail and scrape its leg for you, allowing you to take some its blood. They say if you were to ever consume it, you would share in its magnificence, becoming a Blue–Blood yourself, and you would be protected from harm.” Whispers went around the 28.

    “Where is it now?” Mirain asked.

    Angeline shrugged. “No one knows, it disappeared many, many years ago.”

    “You know,” Jack boomed in, “this seems a little far–fetched. It also seems a little convenient that this huge dragon just–so–happens to disappear. How are we supposed to believe this? Where are you getting this information from?”

    “I get this from my friend, Ren,” Angeline said.

    “–And how does she know?” Jack said in disbelief.

    “Well,” Angeline smiled, “she was there.”

    Jack paused for a moment. As everyone looked at him, skepticism poured from his face. He looked around, “Okay, I guess I’ll be the one to say it then,” he looked back to Angeline. “No,” he shook his head. “That is physically impossible, that doesn’t make any sense.”

    Angeline smiled at him, “Normally, I’d agree with you, but Ren isn’t a normal woman. She is the Witch of Lugn.”

    Jack continued to look skeptical, “I’ve never heard about a witch before, so you’re not getting anywhere with me, lady.”

    “Settle down there, Sparky,” Mick came to her defense. “She exists, I’ve seen her before. She’s the only one of her kind that we know of, and she is to our knowledge very old.”

    “Maybe she’s just old and is a liar,” Jack said quickly.

    Angeline patted her lap, “Well, you don’t have to believe me if you don’t want to–”

    “Good, I won’t,” Jack said harshly.

    “Jack,” Mirain came to Angeline’s defense, “can you just, for once in your life, not be difficult. If you don’t want to believe it, you don’t have to, it can just be a fun story for you.”

Jack rolled his eyes and nodded, “Alright, Sweetie, whatever you say,” he looked back to Angeline and flapped his wrist at her. “You can continue.”

Angeline sighed and cleared her throat. “Okay, where was I? Oh yes, the weapon. So, the Sons of Blue created this weapon to control the Great Winged Blue Belly. They sought the beasts blood to gain power and prosperity. To the surprise of many, their machine worked. They were able to gain control over the dragon and tie it down. They cut its leg in multiple places, and collected its blood in a lavish, jewel encrusted goblet. However, as this was happening the dragon let out an incredible, ground shaking roar, spilling most of the blood out of the cup.”

“Yeah,” Mick interjected, “so big that it is the reason we have two Rings. Supposedly there was once only one mountain range, and only the Inner Ring existed, but when the dragon let out its roar, the mountains split apart, which is why we now have an Outer Ring.”

Angeline nodded at his comment. “This also caused the ropes that were tying the dragon down to come loose, setting it free. According to legend, the Great Winged Blue Belly became enraged, feeling betrayed by the people it protected. It set fire to the entire Land of Lugn, scorching the ground and turning it into a fine sand–like substance. That’s how Lugn came to look the way it does today.”

“–Supposedly,” Jack interrupted.

“Anyway,” Angeline dragged on, ignoring him, “the entire town began to fall apart. With no plant life there was no source of food. All of Lugn began to suffer, and demanded that these men create a way to make the grass begin to grow again. They spent days and days making machines in the basements of their homes. All ten of them spent weeks without sleep, inhaling extremely toxic fumes, trying to find some way for them to save everyone. Eventually, they were able to create a small patch of grass, in a small moveable square – kind of like a portable garden! Each citizen of Lugn received one. The city, for the time being, gained order once more.”

“So what does any of this have to do with the Beastly Belles?” Rae asked.

“We’re getting there,” Angeline said softly. “These men in fact saved Lugn, though at a cost. They inhaled so many toxic fumes that the ten of them became delusional, insane, and quite angry. The fumes they inhaled caused them to start seeing things, and hearing voices that weren’t there. Even after they left the basement, the damage to their brains had taken its toll. They were never the same after that, though sadly no one besides their wives. For a while, they apparently even thought everyone was out to get them – they even threatened to destroy their technology, and leave the people without food. Though, eventually, they somehow became aware of their derangement. As a result, they were able to put up a front – beginning to acknowledge and act as if they were the saviors of Lugn. Their company began to become very successful again due to their continued preaching, saying that they would continue to produce new technology that would bring Lugn back to the height of its heyday. The Sons of Blue quickly became known as men of great fortune, and vision. But then one night, the ten remembered they had a small amount of the dragon’s blood in the goblet. They searched for it for hours, breaking countless things in their homes and when they found it, they realized there was only enough of the blood for one of them. As a result, they decided to make a bet. The men spent the next week deciding what the bet should be, and eventually they agreed on their wicked rules.”

The old woman in the group was leaning forward with her eyes wide open. “So,” she said eagerly, “what happened!”

“According to legend, the dragon’s blood granted the recipient the gift of Blue Blood. This supposedly would protect them from harm, grant holiness and bring an air of grace to them, all while extending their lifespan significantly. The discussion between the Sons of Blue rapidly developed into a conversation about who deserved the privilege of drinking the most sought after material in all of Lugn. The ten of them decided that the one who deserved to drink the dragon’s blood was the one who proved himself to be the most dedicated to getting it. In order to gain something of such high importance, the one who deserved the blood also must exchange something of equal importance – so they bet their wives. They all agreed to begin tormenting their own wives, making their lives something out of a nightmare. They began to beat them senselessly, torture them, tell them they were worthless and treat them as if they were animals. They would spit on them, or beat them if they said anything out of place. They’d dictate what the women had to wear. They were no longer allowed outside of their homes without their husbands. Every month for a year, the men would meet and bring their wives for a cocktail party. This would turn into a horrendous night for the women. The men would knowingly allow each other to abuse the other women as well as their wives. At the end of the night the women would go home with cuts, bruises, broken ribs, and so on.”

The entire group couldn’t believe what they were hearing. “W–Why?” Mirain began, “Why would they do that?” she asked softly.

Angeline gave an empathetic look, “Their main goal was to see which one of them could make their wife kill herself first. Again, they had to prove they were willing to do anything. The one that had the most to gain, also had to the the one who had the most to lose.”

“For what? The stupid blood?” Rae shouted, wiping tears away. “Who would do such a thing! What horrible monsters.”

Angeline nodded, “Yes, they were,” she said softly. “The toxic fumes they inhaled while working to save everyone changed them. The prospect of being able to drink the dragon’s blood and gain this power and mythical aura to them was something they all became fixated on. It became a powerful addiction – this idea that they could become something greater. They became absolutely unsound, and dangerous. The blood was the only thing that mattered to them.”

“Well, what happened?” Sam asked from the group.

“One night, the men met up again for their monthly cocktail dinner with their wives. After the dinner, the men met in the study for cigars and updates on their little game. One of them was boasting about how his wife broke down the night before, threatening to kill herself, and that the other men should just give up as he would surely be the winner. However, as this was happening, one of the women overheard their conversation. She couldn’t believe what she was hearing. She went back to the kitchen, where all of the beaten women were cleaning up, and began to cry. She told them all what she had just heard and they all began to grieve. It had been over a year of abuse at this point, and so many of them had given up. Though, one of them did not cry. In fact, she became very angry. She was the wife of the boastful man. The women around her continued to cry, and she took hold of a knife. She stormed out of the room, knife in hand, and was making her way to her husband. The women chased after her, and just as she was about to enter the room, one of them caught her hand. They told her she couldn’t do that to him, and that if she wanted to get her revenge, she’d need to think of another way,” Angeline paused for a moment and looked at Mick. “Mick, darling. Could you please fetch me a glass of water?” she asked.

Mick nodded, “Yes, sweetheart,” he said, standing up and heading back into the Middle Ground.

Angeline focused her attention back onto the group, and cleared her throat. “After that, the women went back into the kitchen and started to plan on what they could do, or how they could stop their husbands from abusing them anymore. Some had suggested to confront them, thinking that would make them stop. Then, the woman who had grabbed the knife said she knew exactly what she wanted to do. She told the women to go home, and to meet her in the front of her house when their husbands fell asleep. The women agreed to do so, and went home with their husbands, pretending none of them knew anything. As the night continued, and their husbands fell asleep, the women reconvened. Many asked what they would be doing, but the woman who planned all of this told them to just keep up with her. They forged their way through the open sand in the middle of the night, heading toward a lonely shack in the middle of nowhere. Many of the women were worried that they wouldn’t be able to make it back on time before their husbands would wake up. She told them that they wouldn’t need to worry about it, and continued for the shack. As they arrived, they knocked on the wooden door. A very beautiful woman opened it,” Angeline said with a smile.

“Ren,” Mirain guessed.

Angeline nodded, “Yes, Ren.”

Mick came back with Angeline’s glass of water. “What? You’re already at Ren? I missed a lot!”

Angeline laughed, taking the water, “You’ve heard this so many times before!” she took a sip of the water. “As I was saying,” she continued, “Ren opened the door, and saw these battered women. She asked them all to come in, and tell her what had happened to them. They told Ren their story, and how their husbands have been abusing them all for over a year. The woman who brought them all, pleaded with Ren to help. They told her that they knew Ren was a witch and asked if she would do anything to help them.”

Mirain started nodding, connecting the dots, “–And she did.”

Angeline nodded back, “Yes, she did. Ren told them that revenge was a powerful source of energy. She said that she could help them, though if they chose to walk down this path, they would never be able to return to the way they were. The women agreed that they couldn’t live their lives like this anymore, so they made a pact to stick together. Ren saw they were all committed, and brought them to the back of her shed. There, there were five magnificently beautiful animals,” Angeline looked at Mirain. “Your ‘peacock!’” she laughed. Mirain smiled.

“A peacock?” Jack asked loudly. “What’s so special about a peacock?”

Mirain looked over at him, “I’m not sure if it’s really a peacock, but it looks like one! Have you noticed around the bar that there were peacocks in the corners?”

Jack gave her a disgruntled look, “No?”

Mirain rolled her eyes, “Well, they’re there. Apparently, they’re the descendants of that dragon.”

“Okay, now I really don’t believe it,” Jack boomed, “how is a peacock supposed to be related to a dragon?”

“It’s the way they fly,” Angeline responded. “When the dragon disappeared, these other Blue Bellies started to show up. They weren’t around before, and when they flew, they did so as if they were mimicking the Great Winged Blue Belly. Many believed that as the dragon went into hiding, the spots of its blood hitting animals on the way turned them into these magnificent creatures.”

“Yeah,” Jack said quickly. “That doesn’t seem like a thing that would be possible,” he said slowly in a demeaning tone, again verbally crossing his T’s and dotting his I’s.

“Jack,” Mirain groaned, “Stop,” she said. She turned to Angeline, “Can you please continue?”

Angeline nodded, “So Ren brought the ten women in the back of the shed, and five of these creatures were waiting for them. She picked one up, and brought it into the main room. She set the animal onto the table, and opened a drawer. She pulled out 10 grand, jewel encrusted daggers, very similar to the goblet the men had. Each had its own main stone in the handle, like a sapphire, a ruby, a pearl, a black diamond, and so on, which made them all unique. Ren waved her palms over these daggers, and told the women to choose one. They all picked one, and Ren told them to cut their hands with it. As they did this, the name of the woman appeared onto the handle, claiming it as their own. She looked at the women and told them that one of them had to slit the throat of the creature on the table. The women paused for a moment, unsure if they could kill the beautiful creature that sat before them. However, Ren reminded them of why they came to her. She told the women that if they wanted to back out now, they could, and as she said this, the woman who chose the black diamond dagger stepped forward and slit the animal’s throat without hesitating.”

“Oh my,” the old woman said out of the silence.

Angeline smiled. “As she did this, Ren looked at her and said she must consume its blood. The woman did as she was told, and as she did this her bruises faded away. Her cuts healed instantly. Her hair turned black, and her skin became radiant. Her posture straightened, and her weak demeanor shifted completely. She stood with confidence, she stood with grace, she stood with power. She became an entirely different woman. The other women seeing this happen immediately began stabbing the animal and consuming its blood. One by one they all began to turn into these radiant, confident, graceful and powerful women. Ren told them her majim was impeccable, and that from this point on, unless they were deliberately killed,  they would live forever, and that they would get stronger as the years went on without them being killed. The women thanked her and left.”

“That’s horrifying,” Hadley blurted out, looking distraught.

“It is,” Angeline agreed. “Though, Ren has told me that she should have realized something horrific was going to happen. She said after the women consumed the animal’s blood, they changed inside as well. They lost a bit of themselves in the process; they seemed almost, less human. She quickly found out how right she was. All of the women, except for one, went back to their homes at sunrise, and brutally murdered their husbands. The one that didn’t, was the owner of the black diamond dagger. Instead, she woke her husband up. She brought him downstairs and told him she was going to make him breakfast. As he sat down, she took two of the kitchen knives and plunged them into his hands, implanting them into the wooden table beneath. He was stuck. She sat at the other end of the table as he screamed. She waited for him to finish, and she told him that she knew he had been trying to get her to kill herself,” the entire group seemed to be leaning closer to Angeline as she continued. “As he sat there and tried to explain himself, she took out the goblet that had the dragon’s blood in it. She twisted it around in her fingers and asked her husband why it was so much more important to him than she was. When he didn’t respond, she walked over to the sink and tipped the cup, almost dumping the liquid out. He screamed, begging her to not do it. He told her what the blood was capable of doing according to the legend. When she heard this, she sat down at the end of the table again, turning the cup between her fingers. She stared him down, and told him she had a plan. She wouldn’t kill the man. Instead, she would torture him, just as he had done to her. Why should he get off so easily? He told her she couldn’t do that, to which she said ‘I, can do anything I want. No man owns me’ and to prove it, she drank the dragon’s blood. She kept him as prisoner, torturing him for 10 years – a year for every woman in his bet.”

“Oh my God,” Casey whispered in disbelief.

Angeline nodded. “That woman, the one with the black diamond, was Constance.”

“What?” Mirain shouted. “How? I thought they were able to be killed?”

“Yes,” Angeline concurred. “They are able to be killed, though Ren’s curse allows them to live forever, so they have to be killed in order to die. Constance, has never died. She’s the most cunning of them all – always seeming to get out of trouble at the right moment.”

“How has she lived this long?” Casey asked.

“Some say it was Ren’s curse. The older they get, the more powerful they become. Though, some say it’s because Constance drank the dragon’s blood. She became powerful, and prosperous – she became a Blue–Blood, and as such, was protected from harm,” Angeline explained.

“So all the others are still alive too then?” Mirain asked.

“No,” Angeline shook her head, “they’re not. Constance is the last of the original ten. That’s why she’s in the middle of their hive when they walk – they’re protecting her.”

“Well, if the others died, how are there still ten?” Jack asked.

“That would be because of the Belle–To–Be’s,” Angeline said quickly.

“What’s a Belle–To–Be?” Jack asked again.

Angeline thought for a moment. “I’ll need to explain this too. Before any of the women died, they began being hunted by the men in Lugn, saying that the women became evil. This is how they got the name ‘Beastly Belles.’ One of the women, the one with the pearl was stabbed. She was going to die, so Constance and the others brought her to Ren. They asked her to help, but Ren said she couldn’t do anything. Constance pleaded with Ren, saying she would do anything. Ren, hesitantly said she would help them again. She went in the back and took another one of her beautiful creatures. She also told the other women to come in the back with her and bring out ten plain terracotta amphoras with them,” Angeline paused for a moment to cough. “These vases would come up to about your thigh,” she took another sip of her water. “So, then Ren slit the animal's neck and poured some of its blood in every vase. She filled the rest with ink, and told the women to cut their own hands again, and to pour them into the amphoras as well. After they did this, she asked them to drop their daggers into the mixture. As they did this, beautiful jewels and intricate patterns began to appear on the vases. In the center of these designs, a jewel appeared resembling the main jewel on their daggers. So, for instance, Constance has a black diamond on her amphora.”

“Okay, but how does that allow them to continue to live even after getting killed?” Sam asked.

“Well, Ren explained to the women that this mixture would only work in one specific way. First, they must have an unmatured woman – if they have hit the age where they become a woman, the mixture will not work on them. In fact, it will turn them into foul, ugly creatures. Though, if they get a child who has not matured, it will stop her aging process completely. The dagger must be used to inject the ink into the back of their necks. This will infuse the Belle’s unique genetic code into the child’s bloodstream, essentially freezing the aging process, and putting her on standby. If the Belle were ever to die, the child who shared her genetic code goes through a very quick, and very painful process to become the next Beastly Belle. Each of the original ten Beastly Belles were in their mid twenties, as such even if the child was a 6–year–old girl, she would immediately develop into the, let’s say 26–year–old Belle she was replacing.”

“So, the original Belles are still around, and they’re just in different bodies?”

Angeline shook her head, “Oh no. All of the original Belles, besides Constance, are very dead,” Angeline looked up into the sky. “Oh, how could I put this,” she looked back down to the group. “Okay, each of the Belles gained a specific technique in which they use to kill their victims. Essentially what happens with the children is that, when they develop into the next Beastly Belle, they do not share the same soul. It is still the child’s soul inside. What happens is that she will share the memories of all of the Beastly Belles that came before her, all of the techniques, and all of the skills necessary to kill her victims. It’s because she shares the original Beastly Belle’s genetic code, and memories, that she remembers the abuse, she remembers her sisters. The child, in a moment, goes through everything those women went through. She feels all of the pain, all of the sorrow, and most importantly, all of the hatred. The hatred that those women feel towards men is absolutely incredible – and it simply grows, especially now with Val. He treats them as if they are animals, which fuels that hatred in them even more.”

“So basically, these women are a bunch of man haters, and will kill all of the men, but let all of the women go?” Jack asked.

Angeline gave him a concerned look, “No, not at all. Their hatred of men is so embedded into their,” Angeline paused, “let’s say culture, that they immediately become disgusted with women who associate themselves with men. Though, there is a leniency with other women. So, if a woman is to be found by a Beastly Belle, she will give her an option. She can come with the Belle, and become a Belle Mother, or she is given the option to die on the spot.”

“What’s a Belle Mother?” Mirain asked.

“A Belle Mother is a woman who has matured, and cannot become a Belle–To–Be. Belle Mothers take care of the children, and take care of other motherly duties, but they are also used to make more children.”

“Wait, so is a Belle Mother the same thing as a Mother Matron?”

“No, not at all,” Angeline gave a somber expression. “A Belle Mother, is a woman who stays the way she is. She stays human. She simply takes care of the the children. A Mother Matron, is something completely different. Again, there was a rumor a few years back that if you sought out the Belles for a problem, they would help you with it. This isn’t true. They took this, seeking them out, as an indication of wanting to join their cause, and live forever. They injected their ink and had their blood–ritual on these matured women,” she looked at Casey, “turning them into the creatures you saw today. They are completely different. I’m not sure what happens to them, but they change into those things, and it’s like their humanity is completely taken away, and all that’s left is this wicked hollow shell. They are the ones that protect the Belle’s amphoras. If an amphora is ever spilled over or broken, the Belle will no longer be able to create her Belle–To–Be’s, and her lineage will die with the last one.”

Casey sat up, “So they each get one then? Like the one today, she was guarding the amphora.”

“Yes, most get only one Mother Matron to guard her amphora. They separate them across Belle Territory to keep them safe. If one is found, they won’t all die. Though, Constance for instance has I believe eight Mother Matrons protecting hers.”

“Eight?” Casey asked, shocked.

Angeline nodded. “Yes, she is the most important to them.”

Mick stood up, “Ange, it’s getting late, and this is probably a lot for the group to take in. Maybe we should call it a night?”

Angeline smiled, “Yes, you’re probably right,” she stood up. “I do hope, that if any of you come across a Belle, you don’t instantly fill yourselves with hatred. They’re not good women, so don’t get me wrong, but,” she hesitated, “they were, at some point, victims themselves.” She smiled at everyone, and Mick and her went into the Middle Ground.

Silence hung above the group like a fog over a still pond for a few minutes as everyone processed the story that Angeline shared with them. The air became bitter and unwelcoming, though no one could move from their seats. The sky was filled with stars, and though it was night, everyone could see perfectly with the light reflecting off of the moons. The fire continued to crackle, everyone unsure of what to say.

“It’s gotta be them,” Casey said out of the silence.

“What do you mean?” Sam asked.

“Well, were you listening? They’re like monsters! It has to be them! They have to be the reason we’re here,” he said confidently.

“What the hell are you talking about?” Mirain asked. “Were you not listening? They were tortured for over a year!”

“That may be so, but they’ve done so much more since then! They’re still killing people! They need to be stopped!” Casey bellowed back.

Mirain rolled her eyes, “Yes, Casey,” she nodded sarcastically, her eyes widening. “That’s exactly what Angeline wanted you to take from this, that they need to be stopped.”

“Well what the hell did you get out of it?”

“I got the story! They were abused and now they’re mad and seeking revenge! It doesn’t mean that you have to be like them and start killing every woman you see!” Mirain screamed.

Casey became angry. “I didn’t say that,” he said firmly. “I don’t want to kill every woman I see, don’t put words in my mouth.”

Mirain grew annoyed, “Then stop acting like a starving dog ready to pounce on any food that falls onto the ground. Stop reacting, and process the story. It’s so much more than just they started doing bad things!” she stared at him. “I’m not saying they’re good people, but they sure as hell didn’t just start doing this out of nowhere, and for no reason?”

Casey lifted his arms in the air. “Are you even listening to yourself? You sound crazy!”

“Are you listening to yourself?! You’re talking about going after a bunch of experienced killers. What have you killed? A fly?”

“We need to do something,” Casey demanded.

“Yes, we need to sit and process everything that just happened. We cannot re–act,” she said slowly.

Casey crossed his arms and gave her a nasty look. “This is useless,” he pouted.

“I’m with the kid,” Jack said, “we should do something.”

Mirain looked over at Casey and lifted her hand to present Jack. “Jack,” she stated, “of all people agrees with you.” She started nodding again.

“Oh shut up, Mirain,” Casey said in an irritated tone.

“I think we all become less important the longer we don’t do anything,” Jack said loudly.

“Important?” Mirain scoffed, “What the hell does being important have to do with any of this? What are you looking for a medal?”

Jack shrugged, “If they have one, sure!” Mirain looked at Casey and presented Jack again, without saying anything. Casey rolled his eyes. “We should do something though, for real,” Jack said quickly, in an unusually chipper tone. “It’s us or them. It will make us important around here.”

Mirain gave him a dumbfounded expression, “Jack,  how does that make you important, where are you even coming up with this stuff?”

“If you’re not important or needed, you’re worthless,” he stated. “I’d rather not feel worthless.”

Rae gave Jack a confused expression. “You don’t have to be a huge hero, or do something reckless to be important though.”

Jack thought about what she just said. “I think you do. If you don’t have any power, what good are you?”

Rae continued to sit on the ground, putting her fingers through Alice’s hair as she slept in her lap. “I disagree,” she said softly, looking down at her. “You know, I used to think I wasn’t special,” Rae started. “We live in this weird world where if you’re not a CEO, a star athlete, a movie star, or contributing to some “Great Cause” that you’re not as important,” she looked up from Alice. “But then I had Alice, and that mindset changed for me. To Alice, I am her CEO. I am her movie star. I’m her world. I’m there for her to pick her up when she falls down, I’m there to make her happy when she gets sad, I’m there to make sure she doesn’t eat Peanuts or hurt herself,” she said proudly. “She’s alive because I’m alive. I may not be a star athlete, but I know that I am always working in Alice’s best interest I know I’m important and special to her. And I think that’s pretty damn amazing. You don’t have to impact everyone to have importance.”

Mirain nodded, “That is what I’m talking about,” she looked at Casey. “You don’t have to be a part of some ‘Great Change’ to do something good. Small things can make you great. Knowing what you’re doing is actually going to make a difference for good, not just acting quickly and letting the pieces fall where they may.”

Rae looked around. “Exactly,” she said softly. “You don’t have to be  famous to make a difference. Whatever you do has to be well–thought–out and give purpose.”

“Whatever,” Casey exhaled. “I’m over it. I’m going to bed,” he said bitterly. He stood up and turned around, though as he did he saw a dark figure standing in front of him. Casey fell to the ground, and Constance walked forward into the light of the fire. Everyone began to scream, and ran towards the safety of the speakeasy, but Mirain stood still paralyzed. Constance walked forward and stood in front of Mirain. She was staring at her intently, but her sight had impact like a vulture striking its prey. Constance slowly lifted her hand to Mirain’s chin.

“It’s a shame, my dear,” Constance said eerily, “that we are on Nomenlinder Territory,” she looked Mirain up and down, moving her chil around, scanning her facial features. Mirain could feel Constance’s eyes crawling over her, like a spider aiming for a fly on its web. “You would be such a beautiful Mother to my sweet, sweet Belle–To–Be’s,” they made eye contact, and Mirain remembered this feeling. If silence had a color, it would be black, and it would be seeping out of Constance like a pool of blood. She let go of Mirain’s chin. “I’m looking for your Mick,” she hissed. “Bring him to me at once!”