Cyrus has left. For good. I push open the tent, looking at the empty camp. The only ones that remain are two guards stationed outside the tent, and the injured. I turn away from the entrance, making my way through the tent. Cyrus thought I was staying silent, being an obedient slave. But I wasn’t.
I move to the shelf in the corner that holds all of the maps. Cyrus meticulously placed them. I reach for the highest scroll pulling it out to examine.
It’s a map of territories the beasts have conquered. It’s also a map of the zones Cyrus has marked as dangerous for his people to travel alone. Meaning it will be filled with hunters and humans. Safe enough to travel. It’s the path that Dimitri and I should have taken when we tried to escape.
I suck in a deep breath as I think of Dimitri. I would love to take him with me. But he is lost to me now. I know his time in the camp changed him. I know he belongs to the beasts now. He would only fight me and fear his days away from Felix. As much as I love him, I have to leave him.
I move to the small chest that sits atop a nightstand, pulling it open. The key sits neatly in its place. I grab it making my way to the large chest on the floor at the foot of the bed. He thought I was asleep, but I wasn’t. I unlock the chest, lifting it to reveal things that Cyrus likes to keep hidden. Including weapons confiscated from hunter villages.
I grab two blades and rummage around to the bottom of the chest. My father’s trinket shines back at me. I grab it, wrapping it around my throat. If I am to survive, I must become the weapon I was bred to be. No matter what it takes, or how this battle ends, I will not be on the receiving end of anyone’s torture.
I make my way to the last vase of the room that Cyrus stores his money, pulling out the gold making sure to bring enough with me to survive once I escape. I move to the opening of the tent, looking up the mountainside one last time.
I try and feel a shred of remorse for sending him to his death, but I don’t. I feel nothing. Cyrus and I have never had a connection. I risked my life to prove to him that I was loyal. I could be the one human that would never betray him, but it didn’t matter. In his eyes, I’m still human. And that’s enough to sentence me for the others behavior.
Before the day is over, the human king will have killed the king of the beasts. I don’t know how the revelation will rock the world, or change the course of the war, and frankly, I don’t want to be around to find out. Another beast will rise in his place to take up the reins of this war.
I close the tent, making my way to the other side. Luckily, it’s a tent. So I use my new weapons to cut open the backside of it. I can see the stables from here. I quietly make my way to the horses, pulling the furthest one out of the stable. I hoist myself up with ease, riding to the edge of the camp. I take one last look back, still feeling nothing.
War. It’s a vicious thing. Bloody... Cruel... Exhausting... It doesn’t care who it takes with it, as long as there’s death and carnage. And with war, there is always death and carnage.
I cry out in pain as another blade finds its way into my flesh. It slices through me easily, the poisoned blade paralyzing my body for an instant. The instant is long enough for another hunter to try and attack. I take the opportunity to pull the owner of the blade towards me, using his body as a shield for my new attacker.
Both men scream in pain, but I’m up immediately crushing their throats. I try and stand but to no avail. My legs won’t move. My body is covered in the blood of my enemy as well as my own. My muscles throb from exhaustion. I find myself fighting to stay conscious.
The hunters have grown stronger. But that’s no surprise. They’ve found ways to use the blood of the most powerful beasts to ever roam our kingdom. They’ve found ways to poison us with one attack.
I look around the battlefield, trying my best to find Cyrus. He disappeared at the beginning of the battle, a path of dead bodies left in his wake. It would seem half the bodies on this battlefield were caused by him alone. It is why he is King.
Even if the hunters had found one hundred powerful beasts to pit against us, Cyrus’s strength is double that. He was more powerful than his father before his reign ended. I’m the only person that knows Cyrus kept that hidden from the rest of the world. He wanted his father to rule until he felt Cyrus was ready for the throne. And yet, the throne was cruelly forced into Cyrus’s hands.
My eyes land on Cyrus, and I feel my inner beast quiver in fear at the sight. He’s almost fully transformed. His eyes have sharpened, his nails lengthened into talons, his teeth elongated, and his pores have begun to secrete a black aura that will swallow anyone whole.
We are called beasts for a reason. Because we are not human. But we do not give in to our forms for a reason as well. Because if we do, we are nothing but an unholy beast.
Cyrus easily grabs an escaping hunter, ripping his body in half. He stands, opening his mouth to release a screech that could peel the flesh off of bones. I feel the chill in the air, as do the men. I use my blade to steady myself.
“Retreat!” I shout. The order echoes over the mountainside as each of our own warns the other of the impending doom about to happen. I grit my teeth in pain, standing to face the remaining hunters. I know they feel it too. Death has decided to incarnate itself. And they are all going to be firsthand witnesses to that terrifying fact.
The human king takes off, breaking his own ranks. He carries the head of Magnus with him as he runs in a direction that is opposing the stronghold. Cyrus’s form takes notice, his gaze narrowing. His form becomes a blur as he follows the human king.
The aura he secretes easily swallows any surrounding hunters, and the sickening sound of their trapped gurgles fill the air. As Cyrus’s form disappears over the hillside, immediate silence fills the air. I lift my gaze to look at the bodies.
Mangled. Broken. Beyond repair. Their skin looks like it’s been sucked of all life, their bones and flesh twisted and gaping. They never had a chance. They played with a force they didn’t understand. And now, I fear nothing will be able to stop the rot of death from leaving this mountainside, and devouring the world.
I take off in the direction that Cyrus and the King disappeared in. This has to be a trap. The King abandoned his own people to lure Cyrus somewhere that was specially designed for him. I just hope I’m not too late.
I sprint through the forest, following the trail of lifeless plants. I can hear the sound of a waterfall beyond the crippling trees. I slowly round the corner, looking to see Cyrus’s form facing the king of the humans.
The King has a terrified look on his face as he holds Magnus’s head out to Cyrus as an offering. Is he trying to barter his life for the body of the King? I look back to Cyrus’s form. I can’t make Cyrus out of it any longer. Only a black cataclysm surrounding his form.
“Now!” The human king’s words pull me out of my thoughts, and I finally see it.
“Cyrus!” I shout his name, but it’s too late. A harpoon shoots from above, puncturing the black haze. Another follows suit immediately, and the aura that surrounded Cyrus dissipates. Two harpoons are protruding out of Cyrus’s body. Two.
Cyrus doesn’t seem to care. Even with blood pouring out of his lips, and his body fighting against him, he reaches for the human king who now stands over him smiling.
“And now, you will join your father in hell, beast.”
Cyrus collapses in front of him on his knees, and the king doesn’t move as he watches him slowly die. I take off, making my way towards him with my blade ready. The human king’s eyes meet mine but only for an instant. Cyrus launches up from the ground, grabbing the king around the throat. His hand crushes the king’s throat with ease. He doesn’t stop his momentum, and I watch in horror as Cyrus carries himself and the king off the edge of the cliff.
I sprint into the clearing, trying my best to make it to the edge of the waterfall. I can still see his body. I can still grab him. I force my legs to move, my blood rushing in my ears. I hold my hand out in front of me, reaching for him, but I grab nothing. Just the air. I fall to my knees, looking over the edge.
My voice is drowned out by the loud crash of water against the mountainside, and I watch in horror as Cyrus’s body disappears in the foam.