The night is cold. They always are. Especially when I choose to sit away from the warmth of the fire that the hunters all gather around. I refuse to sit with them. I refuse to be associated with them. I am disgusted by the very existence of them.
I think back to Dimitri. His desperate attempt at fleeing this hell. They tried their best, hunting him down with weapons created to destroy beasts. I can only hope that their return without his body means he got away.
I drop my head thinking of his words before he left me.
“You’re carrying the King’s heir.”
Tears well up in my eyes and I don’t bother stopping them from falling. I knew it was only a matter of time. Cyrus is an insatiable beast. I don’t know the specifics of how our bodies are compatible, but I had hoped the whole time that maybe it just wasn’t possible. As far as I knew, no one had ever produced a half-breed. That is until Dimitri’s origin was revealed to me.
Now, I only wonder if he did it on purpose. I wonder if he knew about it before sending me into the camp. Did he send me here to die with his child? Was he setting us up so that he wouldn’t have to kill me himself?
I hastily wipe my tears trying to rid myself of the thought.
Even if he is evil, he was talking about hiding me away before I left. Cyrus has never been one to hide his emotions. If he wanted me dead, he would have killed me himself. I feel a multitude of emotions at the revelation of carrying Cyrus’s child. How could he do something like this? What does this mean for my future? Will he kill me to rid himself of the mistake? Will he make me keep the child and take it away from me?
I jump at the sound of cheers coming from the campfire. When I turn back to look at the commotion, I feel my stomach churning at the sight. They are bleeding more beasts and beating them for sport. Here in the center of the camp that’s been made for the night.
We’ve been traveling in a caravan to the King’s stronghold. And just as I’d overheard, Cyrus’s father is being transported as well. I’d expect no less of the king. He’s a coward. Cyrus’s father is the perfect leverage to protect himself should the king of the beasts come looking for him.
It makes keeping who I am and my condition all the more crucial. I hate them all. The humans are just as evil as the beasts. There is no wrong or right side. Only war.
I look back towards the river focusing on the running water. The moon casts a bright glow over the land illuminating us all in its light. I was supossed to have returned to Cyrus by now. I chuckle to myself as I take in the river. This is how it all started. A river.
I can’t help but wonder if it was me that led him to my village that day. If I had never run into him by the river, would he have found us? Would my life end up the way it has? Would Dimitri have been free of his suffering? I see clearly why my father stole me away from this world. He knew it was corrupt. He wanted me to have no part of it. And I silently thank him for loving me like his own even though I represented the world that did nothing but take from him.
“Tears for the half-breed who betrayed you?” I don’t bother looking up when I hear Liam’s voice. His footsteps are so sure. So uninhibited by fear of any kind. He chuckles at my silence.
“You only have yourself to blame for this. Now, you’ve been abandoned. You’ll be just another refugee within the King’s walls praying for the ones you looked down on to bring you victory,” he chuckles. I still don’t respond.
“There’s no way a half-breed could outrun our elite. He’s dead. You should be thanking us. We did the job you couldn’t do.”
I whip my gaze to meet his head-on. I don’t feel fear. Only disgust.
“Dimitri was good. You tortured him out of your own pathetic need to feel superior. He would have fought by your side. He would have been loyal to his dying breath. But you never gave him that chance,” I hiss. Liam narrows his gaze at me, a dark smile crawling onto his face.
“He will fight by our side. And he will die for us. We got plenty of weapons out of him. He’s fulfilled the role he was created for.”
“You’re all sick,” I snap. Liam seems to be happy with my outburst.
“Not sick enough to fall in love with one,” he chuckles, finally leaving me alone with my thoughts. I watch his retreating form, anger pooling inside of me. I want nothing more than to watch him suffer. It takes me moment to realize the suffering I imagine for him is being inflicted by Cyrus himself.
I immediately stand needing to get even further away from the noise they give off. I don’t know how long I walk, but I somehow find myself among the cages of the beasts that have been added to the caravan along with Cyrus’s father. I feel happy that the woman Liam tortures is here in her cage safe from his clutches for one night.
I continue my trek until I hear a deep chuckle and turn around finding myself face to face with Cyrus’s father. He smiles, but it isn’t endearing. It’s cold. Cruel. Just like his son.
“And suddenly my cage isn’t so cold,” he taunts.
“What brings you here this time? Are you seeking help to escape? Or do you just find yourself wandering to the strongest presence?” he says with a grin. I don’t give him a response and he leans back, closing his eyes.
“You caused quite a stir the other night helping the halfbreed escape,” he says. I don’t fight my shock.
“How did you-”
“Being stored below ground doesn’t dull my senses. There is a reason I was King before my son,” he says. His eyes open and he focuses on me.
“Why haven’t you left this place yet as I told you? What’s keeping you here?”
“I-” I trail off not knowing how to respond. It doesn’t exactly seem like the proper argument to give to the former king that I stayed to prove my loyalty to his son. He chuckles at my silence.
“Your naivete is both sad and endearing. You haven’t the slightest clue of how dire your situation is, do you?” he asks. I slowly shake my head.
“My son has given you the greatest gift you could ever receive from the King. He’s given you a pardon. A living, breathing, pardon,” he says. His voice is terrifyingly serious as he glares at me.
“You are the most valuable thing in both the human and the beast empire. You. You carry the seal and his heir. Can I not make things any clearer for you?”
He takes in my silence and finally speaks.
“Whatever plan you have in your head is not going to fall that way. My son is impulsive. He is driven by emotion, not reason. He will come for you. Sooner than you think. And your life will forever be changed. I suggest you distance yourself from the hunters. If you use his seal, any semblance of freedom you thought you had will be over,” he says. His eyes drift over to the campsite and I see the lack of warmth or compassion for them that lie in his eyes.
“My son will come for you, and he will bring the fires of hell with him.”
I glare at the halfbreed's battered form trying to find the right words but I can't. My mind immediately snaps as one prominent emotion comes to the forefront. I’m on him before anyone can stop me. My hands close around his shirt, pressing him hard against the beam that holds my tent up.
“Where. Is. She.”
The words pour from my lips like ice. I know at the back of my mind I’m not being rational. He’s here bloodied and broken, barely clinging to consciousness. But the rage that consumes me is more than I can account for. All I want is to know where she is and why she isn’t here.
“Cyrus!” I feel Felix’s hands on me yanking me away from the half-breed who drops in a heap on the ground. Felix is holding me back but the outer edges of the room are darkening as I take in the half-breed.
“How dare you return here without her, where is she!” I hiss.
“She told me to leave! She told me to come back to you so that I could give you all of the information!” he cries. A growl rips through the tent and I realize it’s me.
“You left her there, alone?” I hiss.
I look at Felix who is watching me with a strange expression. But I take a deep breath before whipping away from the both of them. I look at the soldier who brought the halfbreed to us.
“Get a medic.”
Annalise is pregnant with my heir. My flesh and blood. My child. She’s carrying it as we speak. I don’t know what emotion to feel at the news. The irrational part of me is excited about it. Procreation was always a duty to me. I knew I would have to produce an heir with Marzia someday. But Annalise is the one carrying that heir.
The rational part of me doesn’t know what to do about it. My muscles are tense in anticipation. My mind is filled with anger and rage. Annalise. The human. The slave. Is carrying my child. But as I sit in the middle of the war meeting, gazing at the map of the camp that’s been laid out before us, I cannot focus on anything else other than getting her back.
I stand from my seat and the room falls silent.
Each of my military personnel leaves the room in a hurry. All except Felix. He slowly stands from his seat eyeing me curiously. He already knows the directions of my thoughts but doesn't share them with me.
“You’ve been strangely quiet,” I say. He smiles softly looking towards the entrance to the tent.
“It’s a war meeting, your majesty.”
The information that was given to us by the halfbreed was more than anything I expected. Not only did Anna send an accurate layout of the camp, but the news that my father is alive, how they’re creating weapons, and how they decide what is a strong weapon. It’s information that allows us to change the entire battle plan.
In the coming months, we can end this war.
And even then, Annalise decided to stay behind to prove she is loyal. It's a great plan that she has. She wants me to follow her scent to the King’s stronghold. I don’t stop my smile. I gave her complete freedom. She could have run away, and I wouldn’t have been able to find her. But she didn’t. She stayed and now she puts herself uselessly at risk to prove herself to me.
Felix was right about one thing.
Once you break them, there is no putting them back together. I own every part of her now. I move past Felix pulling open the tent. There’s a guard on the other side.
“Bring me my horse,” I say. I see Felix coming towards me with a shocked expression on his face.
“Where are you going?” he asks. I ignore his question quickly relaying my plans.
“Gather my army. Send an elite force into the hunter’s camp and wipe it out. Use the plans during the war meeting. Starve them out, then kill them all. I want no prisoners.”
I move hastily around the tent grabbing my sword and supplies.
“Cyrus... Don’t tell me you’re going after her...” I don’t bother looking at Felix as I move out of the tent. I hear him following closely behind me as the sounds of the war camp fill the air.
“Cyrus! Don’t act irrationally. She will be liberated when we-”
“No. The longer I wait to get her the more danger she will be in. I don’t know how long it will take for us to destroy the King’s stronghold and kill him. It could be months and that is time that I do not have.”
“What do you plan on doing once you retrieve her? The child she is carrying will be a halfbreed, Cyrus. You have no future with her. You are the King and she is a sla-”
“I don’t care. She is what’s important right now, Felix. You saw what the hunters did to their own creation. You heard how they are. I’m sure it’s only a matter of time before they realize that Annalise will not be an ally to them. I cannot wait that long!” I hiss. Felix roughly grabs my shoulder whipping me around to face him.
“Cyrus. You’re being irrational!” he snaps. I shove him away from me, a snarl escaping me. He immediately backs away with wide eyes, dropping his head.
“I’m sorry, your majesty... I didn’t mean to overstep.”
I reign in my anger stepping closer to him.
“Annalise will be rewarded for her role in this war Felix. As will the halfbreed.” His eyes raise at my words. I find myself using my father’s resolve as I speak my next sentence.
“Halfbreeds are as much a victim in this war as the beasts. Halfbreeds will be granted the same rights as beasts. They are more my people than the humans,” I say. I see the guard coming near us with my horse’s reins in his hands.
“Annalise is now carrying a halfbreed. And that halfbreed is my child who I will not abandon.” I greet my horse with a simple pat on his nape before hoisting myself atop his back.
“Have my army ready in the morning. Follow my trail to the king’s stronghold. We will toast our victory in the remains of his palace,” I say. Felix chuckles bitterly before holding his hand out to me. I smile clasping his hand in mine.
“You weren’t supposed to indulge this much, your majesty,” he says eyeing me. I laugh at his words thinking back to our conversation that day.
“She didn’t disappoint.”