I cry out in pain as I collide with the ground. I turn just in time to see the female Hunter, Elisa, close the door behind us, locking us in the room.
I turn to Dimitri in a panic checking him for serious injuries.
“Are you okay?” I ask. He gently pushes my hands away nodding his head.
“I’ve had worse than this, Anna,” he smiles sadly. I drop my hands feeling sadness at his words. I look around the room we’re in. It’s been modified so that no one can get out. Man or beast. I look at Dimitri letting my fear show through.
“What are we supposed to do now?” I whisper. Dimitri doesn’t miss a beat.
“Now, we find a way out of here. The King wasn’t counting on the Hunter’s being hostile. Especially now since my presence isn’t a plus.”
My eyes widen at his words.
“Go back? Without his Father?” I whisper. I hadn’t realized it, but the freedom I’ve had this past week has given me a clear mind and the need to be away from him. And now we have to go back empty-handed? I don’t think Cyrus will be very understanding if that happens.
“We have no choice, Anna,” Dimitri says pulling me out of my thoughts. I take a deep breath before rising up on my knees, lifting my shirt. Dimitri’s eyes widen.
“What are you-” he immediately stops as his eyes take in the brand that Cyrus gave me.
“He... gave you his seal...?” Dimitri’s face has grown pale as he looks at the seal. He slowly shakes his head as horror washes over his features.
“Anna...,” he trails off not continuing his words.
“Cyrus said if we encountered any troubles, I could use this to get us out-”
“No! Annalise, no.” I look at Dimitri in confusion.
“No! Just... we’ll figure a way out of this. But that is not the way,” he snaps. My eyes widen at his sudden change in mood but I listen nonetheless.
“Ok...,” I whisper softly. Dimitri’s entire demeanor has changed. He seems anxious.
“Why... when did he give that to you?” he asks.
“The night before we left, why are you-”
“It doesn’t matter. Annalise listen to what I am saying to you, now. You cannot get hurt here. You are the priority now, ok? If something happens to you, everyone is doomed. Please... I won’t be able to help you. The Hunter’s are going to lock me up and use me to make their trinkets. Please, be smart Anna. The first opportunity you get, run.”
My eyes widen at his words. At the sheer panic in his voice.
“Dimitri, why are you being like this?” I ask. He opens his mouth to respond when the door opens and in comes more guards. They completely ignore me snatching Dimitri up by his arms.
“Hey! Stop!” I shout. I move to run after them when one turns shoving me away roughly.
“Anna. Remember what I said!” Dimitri looks more terrified for my wellbeing than for his own as they drag him away. I shake my head in disbelief at the way things have turned out in this camp.
I have been invited to dinner. With the King. I don’t know why I’ve been given this special opportunity. Most of the Hunter’s in this place never see the King. And yet, I have been invited.
I make my way through the dining hall, and I take note that the Hunter that holds disdain for me, Elisa, is here as well.
“Annalise!” I look up at the sound of my voice to see Liam. He has a smile on his face as he comes towards me.
“You will sit at my side tonight,” he says. I look around the room at all the unfamiliar faces in fear of what this means.
“I really appreciate the honor Liam, but I don’t quite understand what’s going on...” I say. He raises a brow at me so I continue.
“If Dimitri and I have offended you in any way we’ll be happy to continue our journey and find another place to go,” I say hoping this entire predicament will end. Liam laughs at my words.
“And you say the half-breed was a part of your village as well?” he asks. I nod my head.
“Dimitri’s Father was the blacksmith. We grew up together. I never suspected he was a... half-breed...” I trail off. Liam nods his head in understanding.
“Yes, they can easily hide within our ranks if not properly branded. I don’t know how he got out to live an entire life away from us, but he won’t be able to wreak havoc any longer,” he says. Liam’s words completely shock me as I look at him.
“You’re keeping him as a prisoner?” I ask. Liam’s face holds an indifferent gaze as he studies me.
“Of course. A half-breed is dangerous. We cannot have him roaming about the world as one of us,” he says matter-of-factly. I shake my head in confusion.
“But... Dimitri has never hurt anyone! He was raised human,” I say. Liam finally cracks a smile and laughs, shaking his head.
“It doesn’t matter. By blood, he is a savage beast. He was only created for one purpose, and now he gets to fulfill that purpose.”
“You mean using him as a weapon?” I ask in disbelief.
“What other purposes would there be for him?” he asks. I shake my head in disbelief.
“Dimitri came here with me. Not as a prisoner,” I say.
“It doesn’t matter. The half-breed only exists because of us. He is our property and our responsibility.”
“You can’t possibly think that I would be ok with this?” I ask. Liam tilts his head studying me.
“Of course not. But you don’t have a choice in the matter. Your home was destroyed, you have nowhere else to go, and I doubt you’ll leave here without your... fiancee.”
I want to scream in frustration. This makes things so much more complicated. Not only are the hunters hostile towards the person that was sent to help me, but they also don’t seem too trusting of me either. My plan of letting them end my life if it came down to it has all but flown out the window. I can’t leave Dimitri here. And if we take too long, Cyrus will enter this camp with all the horrors of hell.
“So you plan on keeping me here against my will?” I ask. Liam shakes his head just as the doors open.
“I plan on doing whatever my King tells me. He seemed very interested in meeting you when he heard your arrival,” he says matter of factly. My eyes widen and I look towards the doors to see the King of the humans stepping in.
He’s a brute of a man. His dark hair is wild and pushed out of his face, his eyes narrowed and slightly crazed. I recall Dimitri telling me the story of my true parentage, and I can’t help but feel shame in my gut as I think of the truth behind my existence. This man is no King. He’s a coward.
“Now will you sit or will I have to tie you to the table?” I tense when I hear Liam’s voice behind me, but move to take my seat next to him. That’s what this was all about. He’s keeping an eye on me. Making sure I comply.
The King comes in with his head held high taking his seat at the head of the table. The stark difference in the way he commands the room, and the way Cyrus commands the room is deafening. Two completely different King’s both ruthless in their own rights.
Liam speaks up for everyone.
“It is an honor to have you join us tonight, your majesty,” he says. The King gestures for everyone to sit, and I don’t miss the look in his eyes as he focuses on me. A smirk appears on his lips.
“So this is the girl. The one that showed up with a halfbreed?” he says cutting right to the point. The Hunter’s all look at me with unreadable expressions.
“Yes. This is Annalise. She said her village was destroyed by the King.”
The King’s eyes light up at the mention of the King of the beasts. He narrows his gaze at me.
“You came into contact with the King and lived?” he asks genuinely interested. The doors open before I can respond and I feel my body run cold. There are half-breeds, chained and broken as they hold the food and drinks for tonight. Most of them have brands that show on their necks and shoulders.
Among them is Dimitri. And there’s a fresh brand on his face.
I move to jump up from my seat, but Liam grabs my arm roughly. He watches me with a warning gaze but I don’t care. I let my anger fuel me.
“What the hell have you done!” I shout as I look at Dimtri. He looks up in shock at my outburst, his eyes warning me to calm down.
“You fucking branded him?” I screech looking at Liam.
“No, this is inhumane!” I shout. The King across the table chuckles at my outburst leaning back in his seat.
“Inhumane?” he laughs even harder “who the hell said beasts were human in the first place? They are monsters the whole lot of them. These halfbreeds exist so we can win this war. But you wouldn’t know anything of that would you, girl? Living your sheltered life in the forest, and you think you can come into my war zone, and tell me what’s humane?” he hisses at me. I muster all the rage I feel and spit at him.
“You’re a coward and a fool!” I shout.
“Anna!” Now it’s Dimitri who is looking at me with a panicked expression. He shakes his head at me, but it’s too late. The King is already out of his seat. His eyes are focused on Dimitri. He glares at Dimitri with an interest that I don’t like. His gaze leaves Dimitri, focusing on me and he finally smiles.
He pulls out a blade, holding it to Dimitri’s face. I move forward in a panic, but Liam grabs me, holding me back.
“All this fuss. For a half-breed?” he asks. He places the blade on Dimitri’s flesh, pushing it against his skin. Blood begins to bubble to the surface and I feel myself growing warm again. I know it’s Cyrus’s seal. I have to use it. I have to. This is the best chance I can. Dimitri is here and I can just grab him and go.
I look around the room.
But there are also Hunters present. I can’t beat them all. Like Cyrus said. I have no skill.
“Please... don’t,” I whisper. The King glares at me for what feels like forever, and finally rips the blade away from Dimitri’s skin. He makes sure to slice a piece of his cheek, leaving a trail of blood.
“I know you’ve never had a hardship in your life, girl. You come into my camp after experiencing one interaction with the King, and try and tell me what’s what?” he chuckles in irritation and I have to bite back the scream threatening to leave my lips. He has no idea the hell I’ve been through. He has no idea the many encounters I’ve had with the King of the beasts.
“I will kill him. I can kill him, anytime I want. Because he is disposable. He is nothing but a weapon created for the greater good of humanity. And I am the King. In this camp, we do not treat them as our equals because they are not. I had you come here because I want you to see the true nature of these monsters.”
He gestures for the guards at the doors and they nod their heads quickly exiting the room. The King finally walks away from Dimitri and I feel myself relaxing only a bit.
“When they told me the half-breed was your... fiancee, I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t believe it. How could someone love one of them? And I realized, it was because you have never seen the true nature of these monsters.”
The doors open and in comes the two guards with a full-blooded beast. His eyes are dark empty. His hair is also dark and falling into his face as he keeps his gaze down. He’s chained. Branded. And there are cuts and bruises all over his body. As I look at his face, I can’t help but notice the resemblance he shares... with Cyrus.
I look over to Dimitri who is looking at me with a terrified expression. The King is here. And he is very much alive. Our plans have just become more complicated.
The King walks over to the beast, blade still in hand.
“You wouldn’t be so in love with them if you knew their true nature.” Cyrus’s father looks up, his face twisted in confusion. His eyes land on me, and I feel my body seizing up. His gaze is intense and filled with darkness. He glares at me, a myriad of emotions washing over his face until he finally scoffs.
“Behold. The true nature of the beasts.”
The King takes his blade, plunging it into the restrained King’s back. He drags it across his shoulders, causing the King to let out an inhuman screech. His body seizes up as the pupil of his eyes visibly sharpens like a serpent. My ears are ringing in pain from the sound he’s emitting, his teeth elongating into sharp fangs. A growl rips through the chamber and I feel an unfiltered fear crawl over me as he jerks at his restraints, his body shifting to this strange form.
The hunters on either side of him have trinkets attached to their wrists that are lighting up with the sound he makes. The human King isn’t done though. He plunges the blade into him again and again.
“Stop! Stop it!” I scream. There’s a rough pull on my arm and Liam shoves me into my seat.
“Shut your mouth!” he hisses. I look around the room at all of the hunter’s faces. They are watching with smiles. Joy. All the halfbreeds have visibly paled, including Dimitri. They look unable to stand.
I look back to Cyrus’s Father, a newfound fear stroking my spine. I have been thrust in between two cruel worlds, forced to choose the lesser of the two. But I know that if Cyrus learns about the torture his father is going through, he will never let humanity see the light of day.
Tears well up in my eyes as I realize the true weight of my situation. Why Cyrus even sent me here. Not only to free his Father but to test my loyalty. He knows what this means for me. His words to me before I departed are ringing in my ears.
“Don’t run, Annalise.”
If I don’t choose him, there’s no telling what will happen. And if I don’t, the world’s current cycle will just continue.
I am completely at an impasse.