The world is corrupt. Humans and beasts alike. They deserve each other.
The fire in the center of the camp blazes bright casting a warm glow over us all sitting by it. Only humans though. The beasts are chained to nearby trees for the pleasure of humans. They’re to serve as a reminder that humanity is just as capable as enslaving them.
I chuckle bitterly to myself as I look over the corruption happening in this camp. My eyes fall to Liam. His eyes aren’t focused on the celebrations happening around him. They’re focused on the poor beast that he forces himself on daily. She’s among the strongest of the beasts which is why they keep her in the basement. But tonight, she is a part of the celebration. A beacon of how far the beasts have fallen.
I wonder who she was in the beast empire. Was she a commanding officer? Did Cyrus know her? She looks broken. Sad. Her eyes are dull and lifeless, her dark brown hair matted. Her clothes remind me of the clothing we were forced to wear as slaves in Cyrus’s palace. She’s even shivering from the cold.
Winter has set in. It’s enough to kill a human if they’re in the cold for too long. I couldn’t imagine the torture she feels. Especially since she is drained twice as much as the half-breeds. I feel anger at the thought.
The hunters cut open the prisoners, draining them of their blood. They then use the blood to forge weapons and trinkets. I see why Cyrus was so angry when he realized the necklace I carried belonged to his father. He’ll be even angrier if he sees the conditions his father has been in for the past five years.
They bleed his Father the worst among the prisoners. He must have at least five wounds open at a time. The max for the rest is two.
In the weeks I’ve been here, I’ve found out several weaknesses for the hunters. I know how many beasts they need to continue to create weapons at a steady pace. I’ve seen their battle plans. I know how they use the trinkets; How they assign them by rank. I know what paths they use to ambush the beasts, and I know the next battle plan to attack the Kingdom and kill Cyrus.
The only thing I haven't been able to get is the location of the human king's stronghold. But I've been concocting a plan for that.
Now I’ve just got to escape. But I can’t bring myself to do it. Not without Dimtri. I know they will kill him if I leave. The human King always makes sure I see them torture him. He resents me for loving one of “them”. And he’s hell-bent on proving that there’s nothing I can do about his treatment.
“You look glum to be free of the beast’s reign.” I look up as Liam comes towards me with a mug in his hand. I gently take it from him, not bothering to drink its contents.
“We are not free. You have created a delusion you happily live in,” I say. Cyrus’s words are burning in my brain.
“Freedom is not an option for you. It never has been. Not since the moment, I had you.”
“You seem so sure of that,” Liam laughs. If only he knew the King would never let any of us have freedom. He will watch us burn before he lets that happen.
My eyes travel to Dimitri who is once again being used as a slave to serve the hunters. My anger once again builds as I see the way they treat him. I chuckle bitterly looking at Liam.
“I am confident that this is all a waste of time. You can’t possibly think this will last,” I say. He narrows his gaze at me.
“If you hate humanity so much, why stay here? Why not go be a part of the beasts society where you’ll be beaten and raped to death,” he hisses bitterly at me. I glare at him fighting myself tooth and nail to control my anger.
They love to insult me about the “sheltered” life they believe I had. They have no idea what I have endured to be here. What I will endure when I leave. I keep my eyes locked to Liam’s as I pour the drink he handed me out into the snow. I slowly release my grasp on it as well letting it fall into the snow.
“Fuck off,” I growl looking back into the fire. Liam is silent for a moment before his laugh finally permeates the air. He slowly places his cup down on the log next to me before he snatches my arm quickly bringing me in close to him.
I jerk against him trying to free myself but he pulls me in close, whispering in my ear.
“Don’t you dare make a scene, or I will cut off the head of the half-breed right here in this fucking camp,” he growls. He knows exactly how to get me to do what he wants. Against my better judgment, I let him drag me away from the fire. Away from any witnesses.
He pulls me off to the side, smashing me into the nearest tree. The force of my back colliding with the tree pulls a cry from my lips and I feel him pressing into me.
“You know, I’m about sick and tired of your fucking attitude. You know nothing of the war. You know nothing of how the beasts are,” he hisses. He presses even closer to me and terror wracks my body when I feel the hard press of his erection against my thigh.
“You let that half-breed fuck you whenever he likes, tainting you over and over while you frolic in your fuckwit village away from the real world, and you think you’re better than us? You think you can high road us because of what you’ve only seen on the human's side? You’re no better than the beasts we fuck to breed those monsters you love.”
I try and push him off of me but it only makes him angrier. I feel the heat on my side again as the seal tempts me to use it. But I can’t. I won’t. I recall Dimitri’s panicked expression when he found out about it. He pleaded with me not to use it. So I fight the urge, closing my eyes and calming my breathing.
“Maybe you need to be knocked down a peg,” he hisses as his hands begin to grip at my clothes. I let out a panicked cry, swallowing any pride I thought I had.
“No, ok ok! I’m sorry! You’re right,” I cry. His hands still on me, and he lets go of me. I slide down to my knees, swallowing every ounce of dignity I have.
“I don’t know anything... I’m just a stupid girl. I know what you do is for the sake of humanity...” I whisper. Liam chuckles above me, kneeling to my level. He has a wicked smile on his lips as he grabs strand-fulls of my hair, forcing me to look at him.
He reaches towards me, his free hand slipping under the collar of my clothing, crossing over my bare chest. Tears of anger burn my eyes as he gropes my breast, keeping his eyes locked to mine. I refuse to let the tears fall. I’ve survived worse than this against the king of the beasts. I’ll be damned if I let a human make me cry.
He roughly pinches my nipple before shoving me back roughly in the snow. He stands over me with a smirk on his lips.
“Women. You’re all the same. You think you can look down on us from whatever pedestal in life and judge us, but at the end of the day you all squeal the same,” he chuckles.
He turns away from me, making his way back to the camp in the snow. I don’t miss the sound of his cackle carrying on the night air. My fingers are shaking in anger as well as the cold snow that’s begun to seep into my clothing. I watch until his shadow disappears, and I open my mouth letting out a scream.
I don’t know how long I stay in the cold, but I finally manage to gather my wits about me and make my way back towards the camp. My mind is a whirlwind of emotion. I’m tired. Exhausted, actually. But as I trudge through the snow, a new plan forms in my head.
I never had the option to betray Cyrus. He’s been instilling that in me from the moment I woke up in Felix’s estate.
"I think you will do whatever you must to protect the people you care about. Even if they are strangers. You will find a way to pull this off."
The only person in this world I care about is Dimitri. And the only ones that are threatening him are the hunters in this camp. Which makes them my enemy. I know the logic behind it is fucked. I'm human, therefore I should be loyal to humanity, right?
I don't feel that though. I don't feel a connection to them. All I feel is my connection with Dimitri. The love we share is too deep to abandon him for humanity. Either way, Cyrus wins. Beasts are powerful monsters. Humanity never stood a chance.
I make my way to the fire, slowing when I see that the number of people has trickled down. Some have fallen in a drunken sleep, while others have abandoned it for the night to take the party indoors.
I take note that some of the beasts are being moved indoors while others are being forced to stay outside either to suffer or to clean. I say a silent prayer of gratitude when I see Dimitri has been left outside to suffer.
I make sure to keep my head on a swivel as I make my way towards him. The closer I get, the more I inspect his body. This is going to be a hail-Mary. He's battered and bruised, and he has a fresh wound from being bled all day. He's going to be extremely weak. The hunters don't have him chained to anyone or anything. All we have to do is get him past the barrier.
"Dimitri," I make sure to say his name softly so as not to wake any of the sleeping hunters. He looks at me with confused eyes, but I don't have the time to stop or explain things to him.
"Follow my instructions, Dimitri. It's very imperative that you do. I'm doing this plan with or without you... but I really need you to do it with..." I say. Silence meets me before Dimitri finally releases a breath and I know I have him.
"Come with me, quick." I hiss grabbing ahold of his arm. I pull him away from the flames, past the sleeping hunters, and into the shadows of the hunter's camp. I pull him to the side of a building making sure to scout the area.
I look back to Dimitri.
"You're leaving. Tonight," I say. His eyes widen.
"No questions! Go to the south gate. There's no barrier around it because they use it for the transport of beasts. There are a handful of guards but I'm hoping we can get you out since they're all busy celebrating," I whisper. Dimitri's eyes widen.
"Celebrating?" he asks. I nod my head.
"They've managed to capture a lot of beasts. It's a big deal for them and something that hasn't been done on such a large scale so tonight is our only chance," I whisper.
"But what about you? You can't think I'm going to-"
"You have to! You have to go and tell Cyrus all of the information I've given you. And you have to promise that you will bring him not to this hunter's camp. But to the human King's kingdom," I say. Dimitri notices the desperation in my eyes and gently grabs ahold of my shoulders steadying me.
"Anna... this isn't like you to be so hasty... what happened?" he asks gently. His voice pulls the emotions I've been holding back, and tears fall down my cheeks. I shake my head.
"It doesn't matter..." I sob. Dimitri's grip tightens and he pulls me in for an embrace. I rest my head on his chest, taking in his warmth and feeling his heartbeat. Just like I used to.
"Anna. We'll both go tonight, ok? We'll both escape-"
"No!" I hiss. I pull away from him hastily wiping my tears.
"I can't... the human King is returning to his palace. And he's taking Cyrus's father with him... I have to go with him. If I go, Cyrus can track my scent, at the very least I can leave a trail for him to follow," I say desperately. Dimitri's expression shifts from confusion to shock.
"Annalise. You can't-"
"Why not?! You saw how he tortured him in front of the hunters! The King will take Cyrus's father to his stronghold, and Cyrus won't be able to find him. If they begin to lose this war and kill Cyrus's father in retaliation... then there is no salvation for humanity. Cyrus will wipe them out. I have to do something!" I say desperately. Dimitri stares at me with a strange expression.
"Anna, this doesn't fall on you. You know that right? This was just a plan Cyrus put together last minute and if it didn't work out, you are to report back to him, in one piece. What are you trying to prove by doing this?" he asks.
"That I'm loyal!" I say. My voice is shaking, my tears coming hard and fast.
"I don't want to go back to him, Dimitri... I don't want him to hurt me for failing. I don't want to live the life he makes me. I feel shame and sadness and fear all the time! I have to prove to him that I am loyal, and I am not like all the other humans he loathes... I have to or I'll die another slave in that palace...," I say. Dimitri's eyes grow even sadder the more I speak. He drops his head, his shoulders shaking before he looks back up at me.
“Annalise... you are the most valuable thing in both the human and the beast empire. You. What’s important now is that you make your way back to Cyrus."
I blink in confusion.
"Why do you keep saying that?" I ask. Dimitri is having an inner battle. He slowly shakes his head before dropping his eyes. He can't look at me.
“Cyrus didn't just give you his seal... you’re carrying the King’s heir."
I don't have time to think about his words or even respond.
"Hey!" We both jump to see a hunter coming towards us. He's a guard, and he's completely sober. Dimitri grabs me, pulling me in close.
"Take care of yourself Anna. Cyrus won't be far behind you. Do not use the seal."
Dimitri shoves me hard into the snow, making it look like we were fighting. He then takes off in the direction of the South Gate.
As much as I hate to say it, I miss her.
I look up at the night sky. The moon is almost full. I told Anna she had until the next full moon to fulfill her task. And at this point, it seems that she has failed me.
I let out a disappointed sigh. I thought she would come back to me on her own. I really did. I feel irritation at myself for getting so attached to her.
I look up when I see Felix along with some other men coming towards me at the head of the camp. We left Felix’s estate for battle a few weeks ago, slowly but surely making our way to the hunter’s camp.
I take note of Felix’s grim expression.
“How many are missing?” I ask.
“Twenty-three,” he says. I nod my head making sure to contain my anger. I can’t lose my temper now. I am the King. The leader of the beast empire. Now is the time more than ever to be cool, calm, and collected.
"Any casualties?" I ask. Felix nods his head again. He faces the men behind him gesturing for them to bring something. My eyes widen when I take in the unique-looking blade that Felix brings to me.
It radiates heavily with my Father's essence. They've gotten better at fusing the weapons. I grab ahold of it in my hand, testing the deadliness of it. It easily slices through my palm, sending tendrils of pain up my arm all the way to my spine. Against my will, my body locks up, and I feel paralyzed for an instant. I stagger, leaning against the desk to steady myself.
"Your Majesty," Felix is next to me in an instant and I wave him off. I toss the blade onto the ground, glaring at it in anger. I look at Felix, gesturing for him to follow me into the tent.
Silence washes over us until I finally decide to speak.
"Do you think living in harmony is attainable?" I ask. I keep my gaze on my blade resting on the wall. It's still crusted in the blood of hunters. I have no desire to clean it. I love the reminder of their heads rolling around me.
"I don't think I am qualified to offer an opinion on state affairs, your Majesty-"
"Felix," I interrupt in irritation. He releases a breath.
"No. I do not wish to live in harmony with them."
"My Father believed that they could live alongside us. But they rebelled. And he still believed that diplomacy could be attained up until he was captured," I say.
"Your Majesty!" We both look towards the tent entrance as a guard comes rushing in. He looks between us, dropping his gaze.
"Well? What is it?" I ask. He raises his gaze.
"There's a wounded half-breed, sir, he wandered into our camp saying he needs to see you...," My gaze narrows and Felix jumps up before I can respond.
"Bring him in," I say. The guard immediately nods his head making his way to bring the half-breed. I take note that Felix is tense next to me. But what I don't get is why the half-breed would be returning without Annalise.
The guards come into the tent with the half-breed and I feel panic as I take him in. He's bloody. Not just injured bloody, but battle bloody. His arms are gashed, he's full of arrow holes, and his face is barely recognizable. My eyes widen as I take in the large brand on the side of his face. He's broken, bloody, and battered.
And Annalise isn't with him.