The snow is falling even harder these days. I had almost forgotten how bitter winter could be. I’ve had much more to worry about than the cold.
I trudge through the snow, making my way to the stronghold the hunters keep the beasts locked up in. For all their hatred of the beasts, the hunters don’t seem to care if I visit them. Of course, I get lectures and looks of disgust upon my return, but they seem inclined to stay away and leave me be. Liam’s words play in my head over and over.
“I plan on doing whatever my King tells me.”
It makes me wonder if the human King has something to do with the freedom I’ve experienced in this place. The human king is a tyrant as much as Cyrus is. Both of them are evil in their own ways. I feel the human King is playing with power he doesn’t understand and can’t control. Without the weapons created, we are naturally weaker than the beasts.
I fear the day Cyrus comes for this camp. He will sooner or later, with or without the release of his Father. If I’ve learned anything from being by his side, it’s that he is not a patient beast.
The guards don’t look in my direction as I step into the building, going in search of Dimitri. They keep the half-breeds on the first floor in cells that remind me of my time in Cyrus’s palace. Before I started spending my nights in his chambers.
They keep the full-blooded beasts below ground in cells that are the bare minimum of what anyone should have to live in. They deprive them of sunlight, food, and are constantly bleeding them out to use their blood for weapons. Only a handful of weapons have been created using Cyrus’s Father’s blood. No one can seem to withstand the strength, dying within the week.
I don’t know how long I have to carry out Cyrus’s plan, but the more days that pass, the more stress I feel. If I can even find a way to release his father I will be subjecting humanity to a life of enslavement. If I don’t release his father, I will be subjecting the world to a life of war until the beasts wipe us all out. The only way we are even holding our own in this war is because we are using the beast’s own power against them and Cyrus has figured that out. It’s only a matter of time before he uses that fact against us.
I see the heavy door that leads to Dimitri’s cell, and I pull it open to reveal Dimitri laying in the bed of his cell, staring at the ceiling as I approach. My eyes travel to the brand on his face. It’s healed quicker than it would if he were human. I just don’t understand why they branded his face.
He looks in my direction, sitting up in the bed before moving to the bars of his cell. His once bright blue eyes are dull and tired. His hair is wild, and his body sports bruises and cuts all over. They’ve started bleeding him as well. It’s a gruesome process where they open multiple wounds on their bodies, letting the blood run out for collection. They aren’t shallow wounds either. They are life-threatening wounds. The only reason any of them survive is that they are beasts and half-breeds. They heal quickly.
I offer him a soft smile pulling the loaf of bread I saved for him. I take a seat in front of the cell, passing the bread through the bars. He eyes me before moving from the bed to the floor, gently taking the bread from me.
“How did you get this?” he asks. I offer him a smile.
“The hunters give little attention to what I do,” I say. He laughs softly before taking a bite of the bread. I stay silent as I watch him devour it. He’s starving in here. It makes me loathe the hunters even more.
“Have you figured out a way to escape yet?” he asks. I shake my head.
“Dimitri we’ve been over this. I’m not leaving here without you,” I say. He stops his chewing, eyeing me carefully. Finally, he lets out an irritated sigh.
“Anna... we’ve been over this. I’m not the priority here. You are,” he says sternly. I shake my head.
“I don’t care. I won’t leave you. Not again. There’s no telling what the King will do to you if I escape. He might kill you out of spite,” I say. Dimitri laughs again looking at the ground.
“Would that be so bad?” he asks. Silence covers the room. I know Dimitri has suffered since Cyrus entered our village. I know he’s suffered more than I have. And I know I’m selfish to want him to stay alive. I’m selfish to want him to escape with me back into the arms of the beast that gives his life such pain. But he’s the only thing I have left of my world before it changed so drastically.
I drop my head unable to face him. I’m no better than Cyrus.
“Dimitri...” It takes all my strength to look him in the eyes. He’s watching me with the same expression he always does. Concern. Such a deep concern for me no matter his situation. The love that Dimitri and I hold for one another is deeper than that of couples.
“Do you want me to kill you?” I ask. His eyes widen slightly and tears well up in them before spilling over. He takes in a shuddering breath before nodding his head. He has such a broken smile on his lips.
“Yes...” he whispers, “but Anna, I could never leave you here alone.”
“As long as you are here suffering at the hands of their King, I will be with you. I won’t leave you here alone. From the day your Father took me from this camp, I was charged with protecting you. I won’t abandon you, especially now,” he says.
“And I won’t abandon you, Dimitri,” I say.
“Why don’t I just use the seal Cyrus gave me to get us both out?” I ask. Dimitri once again turns rigid at the mention of the seal.
“Anna... the seal isn’t what you think it is.”
“Why don’t you just tell me the truth about it then?” I ask. Dimitri seems to be thinking this over for a while before he finally responds.
“Just trust me, ok? I’m doing this for your own good. If anyone finds out that you have his seal, you are dead,” he snaps.
“So what do you propose then?” I ask.
“Are you prepared to betray your own race, Annalise? Really?” he asks. I stay silent, unsure of how to answer. I’ve been thinking the same thing for days now.
“Are you?” I ask. Dimitri chuckles bitterly. He glares at the ground for a moment, and I see something flash behind his gaze that I’ve never seen before. Something that doesn’t fit the nature of the man I grew up with. He finally looks at me, the depths of his eyes holding emptiness and I feel my blood run cold at his next sentence.
“I’m not human, remember?”
I slowly make my way back to the entrance of the building, Dimitri’s words ringing in my head. Has he really lost any hope for humanity? I’m almost to the door when I pause, looking towards the heavy door that separates the half-breeds from the beasts holding cells.
I look back towards the doors. The hunter’s only have men stationed on the outside of this compound. It makes me wonder why. What horrors could they possibly be keeping that they don’t have their own people stationed inside?
There’s a small nagging at the back of my mind telling me to go look, and against my better judgment, I make my way down the steps.
The spiral staircase leads down into a dark abyss, and the closer I get to the floor, the chillier it gets. I’m also growing more nervous the closer I get as well. I don’t know what I’m going to see down here, or what I’m expecting to see, but I know it can’t be good.
The warm glow of torches finally greets me as I reach the bottom floor. I take in the state of this dungeon. The floor is covered in stale smelling water, the walls have dried blood and scrapes on them, and even some of the doors have the sounds of moans of pain coming from behind them.
I slowly pass by each of the cells, pausing to look through the small eye-opening on the door. I almost vomit at the sight. There’s a female beast. Her clothes are tattered and torn, her body is the size of a twig, and she looks like she’s barely holding on to life. There are gashes on her arms and legs, and blood pouring down the drain centered in her cell.
I quickly step away from the cell and continue my walk down the dark hall. I finally reach what I’m looking for. There’s a door at the end of the hall, not on either side but directly in the center. It’s bigger, heavier, and is marked on the front. This has to be Cyrus’s father’s cell.
I push open the door to reveal the conditions they have the former King of the beasts in. He doesn’t look up at my approach, but I take note that there’s a small smirk that appears on his lips.
He’s leaning against the wall, his arm split open like someone took a blade and ran it completely through. I can see the separation of his flesh, his blood pouring out like a chalice. He’s staring at his wound, a bored expression on his face.
“You’re either here because my son sent you, or you got very lucky and somehow escaped from him.”
He finally turns to look at me and I feel my blood running cold from his scrutiny. The emotions I get when Cyrus looks at me have come back in this beast’s presence. I don’t know how to respond or if I even can, so I don’t.
“But judging from the lack of shock to see me, I’m assuming my son sent you.” He shifts in his cell, dropping his arm to focus on me.
I don’t know what it is about the sound of his voice, but I feel compelled to obey his command. So against my better judgment, I move closer to the cell. His eyes roam over me.
“You’ve earned Cyrus’s seal.” He says it so matter of fact. The corner of his mouth twitches as he fights a smile.
“It doesn’t seem that’s all you’ve earned from my son,” he says. His eyes never leave mine and I hate the lack of emotion I see there.
“I never would have expected my son to be the one to favor a human,” he chuckles, “humans were the ones that gave him the scars on his body. They captured him, dipped the barbed chains in an elixir created to damage us, and wrapped him in it. They kept him suspended for hours, damaging him permanently. It’s my fault really for putting so much trust in such an... underdeveloped race,” he adds. Silence washes over us as he studies me more. I’m not sure if it’s out of curiosity or irritation.
“I see why he’s grown fond of you. You’re beautiful. Elegant. Docile. Very fitting for my son... but the question stands... what exactly did he send you here to do?” he asks. He raises a brow at me and I finally realize that I still haven’t answered him. I blink trying to find my voice, immediately dropping my gaze. All of my training in the palace kicks in as I find my voice.
“I was to confirm you were here and release you, your majesty,” I whisper. My voice does little to hide my true emotions and I know he notices.
“You can’t release me. Not from here. And not in this state. I’m weaker than I’ve ever been. And these bars have been reinforced with the same elixir used to harm my son.”
“Leave this place. Return to my son, and tell him I am alive and well. Tell him that I sent you back. And tell him at the most crucial times of war, it is best not to make haste.”
“But-” I stop midsentence when I hear the door to the underground cells opening. I whip around facing the door of the King’s cell. Someone has come down here. My heart jumps in my chest. Shit. This is it. I’ve been caught. They’re going to drag me out of here, and kill Dimitri and it’s all my fault.
“Calm down,” the king orders. His voice is soft and oddly calm. I keep my gaze on the door, glad that I closed it on my way in.
“It’s the commanding officer of the hunters. He’s found a toy down here among the beasts he so loathes.” I look at the King in horror but he has his head leaned back against the wall, his eyes closed.
The sound of another cell door opening echoes off the walls followed by the sound of it shutting and a lock latching in place.
“Make yourself comfortable. He will be here a while.”
I look at the King in confusion. So far he hasn’t shown me any hostility which is strange in comparison to his son. Though it could be because he knows the reason I am here. But for some reason, he doesn’t regard me as incompetent and doesn’t treat me with disgust. I can’t get a proper read on his emotions. He’s like a closed book.
He finally opens his eyes looking at me.
“Tell me about yourself. I’m curious why my son has grown so... softhearted towards one of you.”
I take note that his eyes visibly darken, a frown appearing on his lips as his eyes travel to the door. Then I hear it. The scream of a woman. I hear it because it’s the same scream I had when Cyrus began using me to sate his desire. So I sit in front of the cell of the former king and begin to answer the questions he gives.
Anything to block out the screams of another helpless woman in these dark halls.