It feels like I’ve been here before. And I have. Frightened. Filled with dread. Desperate for answers or at least an indicator that everything will be ok. But as I sit in the King of the beast's war tent, staring at the table with maps covering it, I have yet to grow used to this feeling.
Cyrus has abandoned all emotional ties to the world. I’m sure of it. I can still hear the screams of any prisoners that were human. Cyrus also didn’t bother healing me himself. Or looking at me for that matter. He resents me. For letting his father die, for not coming back when I should have, and above all for simply being human.
I turn to the entrance of the tent when I hear voices that I recognize immediately. It’s Cyrus and Felix.
“I want everyone prepared to return to the kingdom at daybreak.” I hear Cyrus’s voice and chills ripple down my spine. The strange transformation he had when I told him the truth of his father is burned into my skull. He may look human at times, but he isn’t. He’s a beast.
The tent opens and I immediately step back into the corner bowing my head. I don’t want to give him any reason to attack me. Not after the long walk to get here. Cyrus doesn’t make a sound nor does he acknowledge me. He moves around me, making his way to the table with maps stretched across it.
I hear the sound of him pouring liquid into a glass. After a moment, silence washes over us. I tense, immediately looking up when I hear shattering glass. Cyrus sits at the table with a savage look in his gaze. The glass that once held his wine has splintered into a million pieces in his hand.
I make my way towards him, moving to clean up the mess.
“I’ll clean it up right awa-Ah!” Cyrus shoves me hard and I don’t have the reaction time to catch myself. I land on the ground crying out in pain.
“Do not touch me, slave,” he hisses. I meet his gaze in shock but immediately crawl to my knees, bending my head.
“I-I’m sorry,” I whisper. Cyrus’s gaze is focused on me and I fear the direction of his thoughts. He throws what remains of the broken glass down, letting it shatter next to me as he storms around me.
His fist comes down in the center of the desk that once held battle plans. The wood splinters easily beneath the force of his blow. My eyes are burning as the fear of death overcomes me. Cyrus is beyond livid, and I am the nearest human. Possibly the only one remaining in this camp.
Cyrus’s breathing fills the room followed by a faint laugh. When I look up, he’s staring at the pile of crushed objects with a strange smile on his lips. I’ve never seen him so out of sorts. He’s always been calm and calculating. But now, it seems like something has broken inside of him.
He reaches into the pile of splintered wood, grabbing the glowing necklace out of the rubble. It’s the necklace my father gave me. The trinket I had when I first arrived. I don’t know what emotion to perceive right now. He’s trembling before me. But I see no sadness. No despair. No defeat. Nothing.
His eyes meet mine.
The beating of my heart flutters even faster at his attention. Contrary to everyone’s belief, Cyrus has shown me no favor in light of my condition. In his eyes, I am another human responsible for his father’s death. I fear the only reason he’s keeping me alive is that I hold information about the King’s stronghold.
He keeps his eyes on mine, pulling his blade from its place against the beam. My trembling picks up the closer he gets and I immediately drop my gaze. The blade stabs into the ground next to me, and I don’t fight the squeal that leaves my lips.
Cyrus chuckles above me.
“So fucking weak,” I shudder from his tone. The trinket he held lands in front of me with a dull thud as he drops it.
“So weak, in fact, that to survive this war, they make weapons from our own flesh and blood. Each time I fight a hunter, I feel such disgust. To sense the power of my own people radiating from your pores is sickening,”
I feel his fingers under my chin as he lifts my gaze to meet his. My trembling only strengthens at the sight of his eyes. They are sharp like a serpent.
“What if I decided to make weapons out of your flesh and bone?” he asks. My jaw begins to tremble and I close my eyes from the calming rage Cyrus seems to exude. He chuckles in front of me.
“It would be fitting decoration, I guess. Seeing as you offer nothing to strengthen us,” he murmurs. He bends down so that he is directly in front of me, using the blade to balance his weight. An action so simple yet so intimidating.
“You would make a beautiful blade, Annalise.” His finger runs over the top of my skin from my jaw, down my throat, until he is resting it atop my collar bone. He tilts his head as he studies the bone structure of my body.
“Very delicate. Very light.” He smiles emphasizing his approval.
“And I would always have you with me,” he chuckles, “Or rather, what’s left of you...”
His hand leaves my collar bone and he traces it down my arm causing goosebumps to break out across my skin. My eyes widen in horror as his nail visibly sharpens in front of me. The strange talon easily punctures my forearm and blood seeps out, running down my flesh.
Cyrus’s sharp gaze is focused on the trail of blood that runs down my arm.
“Beautiful,” he whispers. I can’t fight my fear any longer, and I immediately yank my arm away from him, cradling it to my chest. He doesn’t react like I expect him to. He only watches me with that terrifying expression.
To my utter surprise, he stands.
“What are we to do with you now, slave?” He picks up his blade moving it so that the tip is facing me. His amusement is gone as he glares me down. I keep my eyes focused on him, ready to accept whatever fate he decides to pass down. My life is in his hands. I have no chance at escape. No fighting chance. I’m just as helpless as the prisoners outside.
My eyes slowly travel to the blade. Its silver edge glints with malicious intent. It’s the same blade he used the first day I came across him at the river. The sharp edge has already had a taste of my flesh. Cyrus’s grip on the weapon tightens and just as I’m about to witness his decision, Felix enters the tent.
“Cyrus. The human king’s scouts were spotted three miles north. They’ve located our camp.” Cyrus doesn’t move. He continues to stare me down. He finally lowers the blade before looking at Felix.
“Prepare for battle. We take the stronghold tomorrow.” Felix nods his head before turning to exit. My body tenses as I'm about to speak out. I'm about to tell Cyrus of the weapon that killed his father. The weapon specially designed for him as well.
But I stop myself. Cyrus notices my movement, narrowing his gaze only slightly. I drop my head. I don't know where Cyrus is emotionally. He seems eager to kill me. Eager to kill humans. Eager to avenge his father.
I recall his father's words to me.
"Tell him at the most crucial times of war, it is best not to make haste."
He knew his son best. And he knew this is how his son would react to his death. He would make rash decisions in his emotional turmoil. And he trusted me to prevent it. But as I stare at the beast Cyrus has transitioned into, I see no reason to stop him.
If I warn Cyrus and he comes out of this successful, I will have handed victory to the beasts. As much as I hate the hunters, I refuse to be subjected to Cyrus's rule or will any longer. So I close my mouth, bowing my head, and become the docile slave he's trained me to be.
I monitor closely where Cyrus places things. I pay attention to where he lays the trinket from my father, as well as the maps that are lying in the rubble. Cyrus's guard is completely down. He thinks he has me perfectly trained like Felix has Dimitri.
Tomorrow, when he leaves for battle, I will escape this place and never have to worry about the King of the Beasts again.