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She woke slowly and rubbed her eyes, sitting up and looking around in confusion. She seemed to be in a library; tall shelves surrounded her, heaving with books.

“You are awake.”

The voice startled her. It was such a low rumble that at first she barely realised it was a voice. She saw a giant creature sitting behind a desk; coarse fur, sharp claws, even sharper teeth and bright eyes which were fixed upon her.

She screamed.

“Please,” the creature said. “Calm yourself.”

She jumped up from the bed and ran for the door, knocking a tall vase over as she fled. It smashed to the floor behind her. She saw the creature rise and move towards her and she screamed again, struggling with the handle of the door.

It didn’t move. It was locked. She screamed again, expecting the creature to grab her at any moment and tear her into pieces.

“What have you done?”

She turned slowly. The creature was on its knees, gathering up the pieces of the vase.

“This was Ming dynasty,” he said. “Priceless! Unique!”

She blinked, puzzled and thrown off guard. “You- you had a Ming vase?”

“What, you think I can’t appreciate art? That I can’t aspire to greater things?” He stood up, towering over her by a clear three feet. “You think because I look like a beast, I must be uncivilised?”

She took a couple of steps back and stammered.

“You think I don’t wish for the finer things in life? That I suffer only the basest desires?”

He stroked her cheek with the tip of one claw. She froze, her back against the wall.

“Desires I have,” he said quietly, leaning down so that she could feel his breath on her face. “Desires I suffer. I desire your… company.”

He turned abruptly and crossed the room, gesturing to the bookshelves.

“I desire knowledge of your world, of your society, of the rules and strictures which guide and control you. These books can only tell me so much. I need your first hand knowledge. This is why you were brought to me. You will teach me.”

She stared at him blankly for a long moment.

“I wouldn’t know where to begin,” she said quietly.

“I do,” he said. He picked a large book up from his desk and opened it to the first page. “I have been making a list. Item one. How to consume soup politely – how does one hold the spoon so as not to slurp?”

© Kari Fay

(Author’s Note: Three Word Wednesday time again – the words this week are Aspire, Beast and Slurp.)