My father always told me growing up that I was special. It’s not unheard of for parent’s to tell their children how special they are. Of course your child is special in your eyes. That is, until you realize they aren’t. And it isn’t because they lack talent or ability, it’s because there are beasts out there that really are special. Beasts that are so special in fact, that they rule over the human race.
I’ve never seen one in person. My father says it’s best that I never do. They’re monsters. Which is why humanity rose up and started the war against them. A war that has claimed the lives of more humans than beasts. By the time I turned four, my father moved us to a small village on the outskirts of the Kingdom. A village where humans that want nothing to do with the war could live in hiding.
I always wondered what we would do once the war was over. If the beasts win it, life may very well stay the same. If the humans win it, life may grow to be better.
Although we live away from it all, that doesn’t exclude us from the fear. The fear that one day they will find us. They won’t care that we haven’t taken a side, because we don’t live under their rule we will be classified as traitors and bludgeoned. We’ve seen the aftermath they leave of us. Which is why my father is so set on living here. He knew the war against them was pointless.
“There’s nothing we can do but submit,” He’d say. Maybe he’s right. But a small part of me hopes that humanity will find a way to win this war. So that we can have a chance at being seen as equals. We can live like gods. The same way they do.
“Anna!” I tense when I hear my father’s booming voice followed by his heavy footsteps. I look just in time to see the broth boiling over and falling into the fire-pit below. The fire hisses and smoke rises to the ceiling just as my father pushes me out of the way.
“I thought I told you to watch the broth!” He hisses as he shoves the wooden spoon into the giant metal pot.
“I’m sorry papa I got distracted.” I say sheepishly. He huffs in irritation, keeping his back to me. I feel a sense of guilt wash over me at his disgruntled attitude. Tonight is a very important night. Although we take no sides, the rebels have deemed our village a safe haven. Some show up every new moon and can expect a hot meal and a warm bed. We would never turn our own away. As long as they know we would also never join in their fight.
Over the years my father tried to instill it in my head that fighting is wrong and we need to submit to the higher power. But as I see the men and women that trudge through our village from the war, I can’t help the bitter hatred that festers inside of me for the Beasts. We shouldn’t be subjected to their rule. And we have every right to fight for our freedom.
I’m pulled out of my thoughts as my father grumbles in irritation at my lack of focus.
“Go check the bread,” He says between complaints. I quickly back out of the kitchen and make my way to the brick oven to pull open the small iron door. The bread is still rising but a golden crust is beginning to form. Meaning it should be ready in a short amount of time. I take note that my father has prepared a lot of loaves. I close the iron door, looking back to the archway my father is in.
“Papa, are we expecting the army tonight or something?” I ask. Silence greets me before my father steps out of the kitchen, wiping the sweat from his face. I can tell he’s thinking of something to say to me to drag my attention away from the abnormally large portions of bread.
My father is a large man. His cheeks always rosy from being in front of a flame. He’s the town baker. Everyone looks to him for strength and guidance. Especially since he takes it upon himself to look out for them.
“Papa?” I call him again trying to make him understand I need an answer. He looks at me for a moment before letting out a deep breath.
“No. We are not expecting the army. But you never know how many people may show up. I hear the war is reaching even greater heights. You never know how many men will come through in need of their spirits being raised,” He says. I place my hands on my hips eyeing him untrustingly.
“I thought you said we were not to take sides.”
“We’re not,” He snaps at me. I shake my head in disbelief.
“Preparing a feast for wounded soldiers sounds like we’re taking sides Papa.” I say. He looks out the window before looking back to me.
“We are not taking sides. But we are not turning our back on our fellow man.” He says in irritation. I shake my head in disbelief.
“Why not just join the war then-”
“No! You will never ever join that pointless war, do you understand me?” My fathers face turns even redder from anger as he looms over me. My eyes widen from his drastic change in tone and intimidating demeanor. My father rarely raises his voice at me. So I know he is serious when it happens.
“I know...” I murmur. Silence washes over us and I hear my father walking towards me.
“Anna... I know it doesn’t make sense, everything that I’m doing now. But everything I do, I do to keep you and everyone here safe.”
My father places his hand on my shoulder and I raise my gaze to look at him.
“There is no point to this war. I can’t stress that enough to you. I just hope that you’ll never have to witness the difference in power between us and the beasts.”
A light knock sounds in the doorway and we both turn to see Dimitri poking his head in. Dimitri is the son of the blacksmith. He’s older than me by a few years and very handsome. I feel my excitement rising to the surface as I take him in.
“They’ve begun to arrive.” He says to my father. My father nods his head making his way to be oven to pull out the bread.
“Lead them to the tables out back.” He calls over his shoulder. Dimitri nods his head making a move to leave when I call to him.
“Wait... I’ll come help you.” I say quickly. My feet are moving towards the door before my father can stop me.
I step out into the open street just in time to see some of the men hobbling around the corner. My eyes widen as I take in their battered forms. They’re in much worse shape than any of the soldiers I’ve seen in the past. My heart sinks for them. Fighting a war they have no chance of winning according to my father. I feel a soft pull on my arm and look up to see Dimitri’s bright blue gaze looking at me.
Dimitri took after his father when it came to looks. He’s tall, and has strong features. His jaw is well-defined, his hair sandy blonde, and his eyes are the color of the sky. Though I’ve always been fond of his good looks, lately another part of me has been coming alive at the sight of him. He offers me a soft smile, pulling me around the corner.
Once we are good and hidden from view, he brings his lips to mine, pushing me against the brick wall. They’re warm and comforting. I immediately wrap my arms around his neck, pulling him closer to me. My body grows warm from our close proximity and I want nothing more than to give in to my desire. I feel his hands around my waist as he pushes me away.
He has a strained look on his face. I immediately reach out touching his cheek.
“Is something the matter?” I ask. He shakes his head giving me a small smile.
“No... nothing is the matter.” He chuckles to himself. He looks at me, tucking my hair behind my ear.
“I missed you is all.” He adds, his eyes roaming over my face in interest. I can’t help the smile that appears on my face as he takes me in. He makes me feel beautiful. I never met my mother, but my father says I have her eyes. My eyes are bright amber, yet my hair is black with slight waves to it. I’ve always hated the combination. But when Dimitri looks at me, I feel like the most beautiful woman in the world.
I place my arms around his neck, offering him a soft smile.
“My father will be busy with the soldiers tonight. Maybe we can sneak away and... you know.” I say smiling. Dimitri groans stepping away from me.
“Annalise... you know I want you,” He murmurs as he reaches for my face, “But I will not take you until you are mine. Completely.” He says. My smile widens at the direction of his words.
He nods his head grabbing my hands in his.
“I will speak to your father soon. That is, if you’ll have me?” He asks. I shake my head vigorously before jumping into his arms.
“Yes of course!” I shout burying my head into his neck. Happiness I haven’t felt in a long time courses through me. Though life may be fleeting living like this, I’ve never been happier than in this moment. In this moment, everything feels perfect.
“Anna!” I jump when I hear my name coming from my fathers lips. I offer an apologetic smile to the soldier whose food I almost dropped before making my way over to my father. He has two pails and a carrying pole in between. I look at him in confusion.
“What’s this?” I ask. He looks out over the men enjoying their food before looking back to me.
“One of the soldiers just told me we’re expecting much more. Much much more. I don’t have enough broth made thanks to someone letting it burn and spill over, so I’m going to the river to get some more water. Can you hold down the fort until I get back?” He asks.
I offer him my best smile, nodding my head when I catch Dimitri out of the corner of my eye. He’s watching me with a knowing expression, and I can tell he’s waiting to speak to my father.
“Actually Papa... why don’t I go get it?” I ask. My father raises a brow at me. He knows my least favorite thing to do is make the trek to the river and back to the village with heavy water pails. But this seems like the only time he will be free enough to even speak with Dimitri. Once I get back with the water he’ll be cooking and serving the rest of the night.
I motion for Dimitri to come towards us and he places his cup down, slowly walking to where we stand.
“It’s my fault you’re having to do this anyway, the least I can do it get the water for you. I’m sure the men would love to see you when they enter village as well to know they’ve made it.” I say with a smile.
My father doesn’t look like he’s agreeing with what I’m saying. Dimtri reaches us just in time.
“At least take Dimitri with you-”
“No! ...Papa, I can do this on my own,” I say in irritation. I try my best to hide the desperation in my voice as Dimitri stares at me with wide eyes. My father looks to the sky. The sun is beginning to set so I know he doesn’t want to send me out.
“Please, Papa. Let me do this.” I say. He looks at me and back to the sun, finally relenting.
“Fine. Be back before sundown or I’m coming to look for you.” He growls. I smile, placing a soft kiss on his cheek before grabbing the pails.
“Of course! I’ll be back before you notice I’m gone!” I look to Dimitri who is smiling at me. He offers me a wink before turning to follow my father. I watch them as they walk away. When I come back down, my life will be forever changed.
The trek to the river takes a while. We made sure to keep the village far from the river. Rivers are a freshwater source that anyone could happen upon. Man or beast.
I set the pails down, rubbing my shoulders as I take in my surroundings. The forest is beautiful at this time. The sun is casting a pinkish orange glow over the sky. I have plenty of time before the sun goes down. In my excitement to get back I practically ran to the river. I smile as I dip the bucket into fast moving water, imagining my future.
I’ll be a wife. Maybe even a mother one day. To the man of my dreams. I slowly lift the heavy bucket out of the water about to place it down next to me when I freeze. Every muscle in my body tenses as my heart picks up speed.
There’s a man across the river. If I can call him that. He’s too unique to be a man. His hands are dipped in the water, and he brings the liquid to his face splashing himself and using the water to push his white hair out of his face. White hair that’s pulled into a ponytail that falls down his back. He’s stunning to look at if not terrifying.
His jaw is sharp, his lips full and carved on his face by angels. His nose is straight, his entire face perfect in every way imaginable. He has a muscular build. Something that is easily decipherable from the fact that he isn’t wearing a shirt. Only pants, his sinister blade resting on the grass next to him. The longer I stare, the more I can make out the faint scars that adorn his chest, neck, and cross his face. It adds to his intimidation.
I slowly realize the predicament I’ve landed myself in. He must be one of them. He has to be. One of the Beasts. There’s no way he’s human.
My arms are screaming in pain as the water grows heavier and heavier in the bucket. I don’t know what to do to not draw attention to myself. If he sees me, that’s it. I’m dead.
He slowly runs his hands through his hair, his eyes roaming the land around him when he stops. He purses his lips before his gaze immediately whips to meet mine. Crippling fear claws its way through me, wrapping around my throat like a vice as I take in those soulless eyes. All of my father’s warnings and stories are in my head, screaming at me that my death is near.
His eyes are dark. I can’t decipher the color from here, but there is barely a distinction between the iris and the pupil. He doesn’t move, doesn’t blink as he stares me down. His horrid gaze roams over my body, and what feels like my soul.
My legs are shaking as he stands to his full height, grabbing his blade on the way up. His gaze never leaves mine as the corner of his mouth slightly upturns.
I take a shaky step back, dropping the bucket in the river. I make a move to turn and run when I feel a presence behind me. My eyes are on the spot he once stood at but is now empty, and I know it is him standing behind me. Tears form in my eyes as my brain tries its best to comprehend what it is that is happening.
“Where exactly did you come from, little human?”