Cyrus’s father was right. The plan I had in my head didn’t at all fall how I thought it would. The King’s stronghold was an extremely long trip. Two weeks’ time to be exact. And in that time, I got to know more about the hunters and their despicable ways.
It isn’t a wonder how Cyrus has never found the stronghold. The King’s stronghold sits within the mountains, far from Cyrus’s reign. Not only that, but it sits beyond a river that cuts through the mountainside. I fear Cyrus may be on his own when finding it now. I’m sure the river has washed away any trace of my scent.
Physically, the stature of the King’s stronghold is magnificent. It makes me wonder how long it took to build this place. The stones are thick enough to withstand any blow from the outside. The columns have also been built with watchtowers for the soldiers to see anyone coming for miles.
The stronghold is also big enough for all of the refugees or close subjects of the King. The only people that live within its confines are the hunters, their families, and the nobles of humanity. Other than that, the rest of us are to live on the outskirts of the stronghold. Away from the protection of the king’s men. They believe that they are safe because they are so deep within the mountains.
I also don’t know where in the castle they have put Cyrus’s father. Once we arrived at the stronghold, I was told to see the man in charge of the new arrivals. Since my arrival was so last minute, I’ve been placed on the very outskirts of the stronghold. I can see the edge of the castle from the small hut that’s been built for me. The only time I see the inside of the stronghold is when I bring in supplies like water or wood.
I’ve also had time to reflect on the life I will lead now. If Cyrus never shows, then this is it for me and Liam was right. I will live off their land, praying that by some miracle the hunters will win the war for us. But I don’t know how I’ll explain the child I will give birth to in the meantime. It’s been terrifying nights alone that I stay awake wondering what kind of monster is brewing inside of me.
What will Cyrus do when he sees me? When he finds out? His father seems to think of it as some kind of pardon, but Cyrus hated Dimitri for being a halfbreed. And Cyrus isn’t very fond of me as well. He only tolerates me because for the moment he lusts for me. I’ve been in his chambers enough to know how quickly his lust for women changes.
I look up as the guard opens the stronghold gates for me. Today I am bringing in more wood. The trip to the stronghold takes an hour from my hut, but it’s worth it to get a look inside of the place. I mainly try and see where they could possibly be keeping Cyrus’s father. But as I walk through the hallowed halls, I can only assume they keep him somewhere below ground as they did in the hunter’s camp.
I’m placing the wood down in one of the bedrooms when I hear a light knock on the door. I almost drop my head and bow out of habit but I have to remind myself I am in the humans’ castle. Here, I am equal. Sort of.
I turn around to see Liam standing in the doorway. He has a wicked grin on his lips as he takes me in.
“Enjoying the freedom provided to you by the hunters you so loathe?” he asks. I don’t bother with a response. I grab the rest of the wood that needs to go to other rooms and make my way to the door. Liam grabs my arm roughly, causing the wood to fall on the ground.
“Hey!” I snap.
“The King has invited you for dinner. I have come to escort you to his dining hall,” he says. I narrow my gaze making sure to push against his chest.
“You can tell the king I decline his invitation,” I hiss. Liam places his hand on my chest before shoving me with strength that he shouldn’t possess. My body flies across the room crashing into the wall. I cry out as pain wracks itself up my back, my eyes widening when I take in his towering figure.
His eyes are darkening, and I can see the trinket that is attached to his arm beginning to light up. He’s using the beast’s power to intimidate me.
“I’m afraid, it wasn’t a request.”
The condition of the King’s stronghold is sickening. The walls are magnificent. Not even a scratch would dare to adorn these walls. Only the blood of beasts. I’m led through the halls of the stronghold, and I can hear the sounds of the higher class laughing and jeering beyond the doors.
The halls of this place are big enough to house the people that want to hide from the beasts. Even the village that is safe within the walls could house more people. But the king wants to keep order. The refugees don’t belong within the walls. Only the elite. The ones bred for this war. The ones who fought for their place.
Liam steps ahead of me pushing open the double doors to reveal the room full of hunters, nobles, and the king himself. I look around at the plates full of food and glasses filled with wine. There are furs that lie across the ground and a large hearth in the corner that gives five times more warmth than my tiny pile of wood ever could.
There are also half-breeds and beasts alike in the room. Chained up for entertainment or being forced to serve the wretched likes of the king. All in all, the human empire is no different than the beast empire. The difference lies in the beasts having an established society that doesn’t so blatantly fuck over the unfortunate. Whereas the human king doesn’t seem interested in winning the war. He seems more interested in enjoying the riches of the life he’s managed to claim for himself while trampling over anyone that gets in his way.
I take note that at the head of the room, chained up by his neck and arms is Cyrus’s father. There are spikes on the edges of his chains, stabbing into his flesh and I have to bite back the wave of dizziness that bombards me at the sight of blood pouring out of each puncture wound. He seems to sense my presence as he always does, and raises his head to look at me.
His face shifts to that of a warning gaze. Though what it is he is warning of me, I don’t know.
“Annalise! The girl who met the beasts King, and lived! The woman that fell in love with a halfbreed and was abandoned. Welcome to my kingdom!”
I keep walking making sure to keep up with Liam as he leads me to my seat. The King watches me with interest but I keep my eyes down, not wanting to show the disgust I feel. I don’t know why he suddenly wanted me to join this strange atmosphere, but I’m sure I’ll soon find out.
Once I’m seated, he begins speaking to me.
“Tell me, Annalise. Are you enjoying your time here?” he asks. I look up from the plate of food that’s been set in front of me by a beast. I take note that her arms have long scars from being bled constantly. I begin to wonder how much of the elixir they use to weaken these beasts daily.
“Yes,” I say. He nods his head gesturing to the men that are all seated at the table. I drown out his words as he begins to introduce them. I could care less about any of them. I find myself looking at Cyrus’s father.
He has an indifferent look on his face as he studies the room. He keeps glancing at me. Not out of fear, but something else. He seems to know what is going to happen and is trying his best to prepare me for it.
“What say you, Annalise?” I’m pulled out of my thoughts when the king addresses me. I clear my throat.
“I apologize, I am all out of sorts at the moment,” I say. The king’s features grow irritated but he repeats himself.
“Recently we’ve had several successful raids on the beasts military camps and have managed to capture more each time we attack. I think it may very well be time to go for the beasts Kingdom. We can take them from the source, and cripple their King,” he says. I blink in confusion.
“Why do you think I would be insightful for this plan?” I ask. He laughs as if the answer is obvious.
“Your very own village was taken by the king. You’ve seen his army in action, and you’ve seen ours,” he says. I don’t fight the chuckle that leaves my lips.
“Do you forget that the beast hierarchy is based on strength? The king could kill twenty of the beasts you captured. Why do you think you are ready for such an ambitious feat?” I ask. The king smiles, gesturing for the guards surrounding us. The doors suddenly open, and they wheel in a strange-looking contraption. My eyes widen as I take in what it is.
It’s a harpoon. And it’s attached to a spring-loaded weapon.
“A weapon?” I ask. The King laughs.
“Not just any weapon. A weapon designed for the king himself.” The guards grab the weapon, aiming it at the former king who is chained and unable to defend himself.
“What are you doing?” I ask aloud. Cyrus’s father’s eyes meet mine and I finally realize what it is he’s been trying to tell me. Not to react. Same as the other beasts that are in the room. None of them move to protect their king.
“Demonstrating of course,” he laughs.
“We’ve finally discovered a combination strong enough to pierce even the most powerful beasts down to their heart. It takes weeks and over six of the most powerful beasts to synthesize this weapon. And now, we have finally created it.” My eyes widen and I watch in horror as the guard pulls back the lever of the weapon. He’s going to use the weapon on Cyrus’s father. I don’t think as fear rushes up my spine. I make my move to stop the man from shooting when someone roughly grabs me around the waist.
The beasts in the room don’t move as they watch their predecessor. The emptiness in their gazes has now been filled with hopelessness I’m all too familiar with.
“No, Stop!” I screech. My pleas fall on deaf ears though. I watch in horror as the thick weapon flies through the air with a speed I’ve never seen. My body is thrown as my offender roughly pushes me to the ground at the same time the weapon pierces the former king.
I open my mouth letting my scream of horror erupt through the chamber. The former king’s eyes meet mine, and I don’t see anger. I don’t see regret. I see comfort. For me. He offers me a soft smile, even though there is a large harpoon through his chest. His eyes stay connected to mine, and I know he is dying. I can see the light in his eyes beginning to dim. I think back to his words to me.
“My son will come for you, and he will bring the fires of hell with him.”
My son will come for you. You. Not him. He knew he wouldn’t make it out. He knew he would die here. And he tried his best to prepare me for it. I can hear the struggling breaths he releases. The desperation to hold onto life.
As his eyes meet mine, I feel a deep sense of sorrow. He offers me a small grin, the last thing he will be able to give anyone in this world before his head hangs. I watch in complete horror as the life leaves his body.
Applause erupts over the room.
“You’ve done it!”
“And now, we can end their own king with this!”
The men congratulate the king, but I just stare. I stare as my last hope at salvation is tied up, lifeless at the front of the room. Cyrus will never forgive me. I failed. I failed him, I failed his father, I failed Dimitri. I failed.
“What do you think? It should be more powerful and faster than their king, correct?”
I stand up, feeling the sudden onslaught of heat consume me. I can feel the strength. The power. The hatred. It easily washes over me. I can’t think of anything other than the prospect of death. I know at the back of my mind I shouldn’t do it. Not only did Dimitri plead, but Cyrus’s Father warned me against it as well. But the more rage I feel, the less I can control it. It’s overwhelming.
The heat turns to pain and I open my mouth letting a cry rip from my lips. Liam whips me around to face him, his fist coming at my face. I catch the blow easily, and the after-effects from the force of his blow cause my hair to fly out of my face. But he isn’t strong enough, even using the trinket. In an instant, a loud crack fills the room. I can feel the bone of his hand crushing beneath mine. His cry of agony fills the room and everyone looks in our direction in horror. I tighten my grip on his fist and begin twisting, breaking each bone up his wrist. His scream is one I revel in.
I take note that the other beasts that are in the room don’t seem surprised by the turn of events. The last thing I see is more hunters running towards me before the heat consumes me and I completely blackout.