Before the Last Petal Falls

Our story begins, as stories often do, with "once upon a time". Our story is one that you may have heard at one point or another during your childhood before drifting off to places that exist only in your dreams. Our story is about the most powerful force in the world. Our story is about that which can destroy us or make us whole. It is a story of that which can break any spell. It is a story of that which humanity has coveted, wished for, hoped for, even died for. In our story, this force brought two souls together, both of who were polar opposites. That force, dear reader, is love.

But before I can tell you our story, another story must first be told.

Let me take you to a land that, in this day and age, you wouldn't find on any map except in a history book or perhaps your imagination. Our story takes place in a land whose name and location have been long forgotten through the years, and is now only the stuff of legends. It was long ago that our tale began in this forgotten country.

This land was ruled over by a king, who was very much like any other king you would find. This king had everything a man in power could ever ask for: loyal subjects, a prosperous country, and an elaborate palace. Of course, like any kingdom, it had a very rich history, some of which wasn't always pleasant. It was a very ancient kingdom, whose long history was dotted with many deep traditions, as well a few conflicts every few decades or so. But at the time that our story takes place, the kingdom was thriving, and their current monarch was beloved by his people. This king was however, a widower, and this king had a son, who was very much like his father.

The king was not a terrible father to the young prince, for it made it known as often as possible how much he loved his son. However, he was a very busy man, and as much as he took pride in his boy, he was not able to spend nearly as much time with him as a father in a local village might. His duty was to his country first, like any king should be. While their time was limited, they treasured what little time they had to spend together.

While the young prince was well-educated, and his father had taught him many things that young boys his age typically learned, the king died before he had a chance to teach his son how to be a just ruler and a virtuous man. When the king died, his son was heartbroken. The young prince thus decided it was too risky to love another, as they could be taken away from you at any moment. After all, he'd lost his parents, who couldn't be replaced. His fear of losing love again eventually built a thick, icy wall around his heart.

His servants attempted to lift his spirits by granting him everything his heart desired. While the prince had all of his immediate wishes filled, there was still an empty void in his heart, one that had yet to be filled. However, neither he nor any of the servants could pinpoint what exactly was missing in the young prince's life. Because of this unfilled void, he slowly became an unkind and selfish young man.

The prince was a rather handsome fellow. Tall. Muscular. A fair, but not overly pale, complexion. His eyes were the color of the sea. If you stared at them long enough, you might just get lost in them. His eyes were his only feature that showed any emotion whatsoever. His soul had become as dark and twisted as the black waves atop his head.

The prince had yet to see that his selfish ways would cost him dearly. He would learn this on a cold winter's night.

The prince was sitting in an overstuffed chair, staring blankly at the dancing orange flames before him. His servants had all retired for the night, and he was completely alone, left to his thoughts, just the way he liked it. It was on nights like this that he would stare at the fireplace, hoping to get lost in them and forget the misery that he would only acknowledge in the most obscure corners of his mind.

His silent contemplation was broken when he heard a rather loud knocking. At first, he decided to ignore it and go back to his thoughts.

He heard it again several moments later. That incessant racket! His patience was wearing thin, and he decided to investigate who, or what, had disturbed his solitude.

Walking briskly across the burgundy carpeted floor, down a large flight of polished marble stairs, and up to a pair of heavy mahogany doors, he pulled on the black iron doorknob, which revealed a hunched, solitary figure standing in the snow as the wind pulled at the figures ragged clothing.

He determined the figure to be an elderly woman. Her silver locks were blowing in the wind; occasionally covering her gnarled and twisted face. Her clothing was threadbare, merely a dress, some worn boots, and an old woolen cloak. She looked like any other beggar that had intruded his domain.

The prince inquired as to why she had disturbed him.

The woman cleared her throat and answered in a voice that resembled the howling wind, "Please good sir. I am but a weary traveler and have lost my way in the woods. If good sir would offer me shelter until the storm passes, I would happily reward him with this most precious of blossoms." She said, holding up the most perfect specimen of a rose the young prince had ever seen. However, he was not phased by her offer.

"You ask me to give you shelter in exchange for a mere flower? How dare you!" he said as he slammed the door.

He heard another knocking at the door. His growled in exasperation, and opened the door again, this time prepared to have a servant escort her off of his courtyard.

As he opened the door, he noticed that the old hag had disappeared, and in her place stood a beautiful enchantress. Her white-gold locks flowed in the wind, her tall pale frame standing up straight, her forest-colored eyes staring angrily at the baffled prince. She had an ethereal glow to her, as if she was not of this world.

"You have denied a stranger shelter who has done no wrong to you, and have thus proven that there is no love or compassion in your black and twisted heart. For your sin, you must be punished," she said in a voice that was reminiscent of both a calming breeze and a turbulent sea.

The prince fell down to his knees, begging for the sorceress' forgiveness, but she had no pity for the ashamed young man.

"You are to become on the outside what you are on the inside: a monster. All who live in this castle will be invisible to all, only their whispers remaining, and you shall be truly alone. You are to spend eternity under this curse."

"Please, good lady, I will do anything! Just name your wish and I will do it!" he said, begging at her feet.

"You must find someone to love you as you are, and learn to love them in return. This rose shall serve as your timekeeper. You must learn to love before the last petal falls. Fear not though, prince, for the rose will bloom for many years before it begins to wilt. However, if you cannot find love in your heart before the last petal falls, you are to spend eternity in this form, until death finally calls to you."

The woman then held her hands out in the air before the prince, and a flash of white light appeared at her fingertips. The curse had begun.

The prince began to writhe in pain, his teeth clenched in an attempt to keep him from crying out in agony. He soon could no longer bear it. Every inch of his body coursed with a burning, fiery pain that didn't seem like it could ever end. In the midst of this pain, he felt his skeleton expanding, hair sprouting from every inch of his body, his face, hands, and feet contorting beyond recognition.

The enchantress then vanished without a trace. Where she stood, however, was an ornate gold mirror. In the lens, there was fog. The man stared into the fog, seeing a message written in wispy, cloudy letters: This shall be your only window to the outside world.

The fog then cleared, and in its place was the reflection of a creature that would frighten even the bravest of knights. Wild black hair sprouted all over his face, his features had become very wolf like. His entire body had become wolf like. His nose had been transformed into a hideous wet snout, his teeth now pointed, his feet and hands now paws.

And, for the first time in his life, the prince began to cry.

It was hopeless. There was no redemption for him in sight.

He resolved to spend the rest of his years wandering aimlessly around his lonely castle, bemoaning all of his mistakes. What else could he do? He deserved his punishment, and there was absolutely no chance of him ever breaking the spell. The prince quickly fell into despair and lost all hopeā€¦.

For who could ever learn to love a beast?