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Chapter Thirteen

So many things were wrong. But they did not assault the Assassin the barrage of voices. They came to him slowly, one by one, in a way that they had not for centuries.

One. It was silent.

Two. He was cold.

Three. He wasn’t cold everywhere. A part of his back was warm.

Four. Almost all of his back hurt. In fact, almost all of him hurt.

Five. That warm sport on his back was a person.

Six. That person was Adalina.

The Assassin sat up quickly, remembering at the last moment not to open his eyes. Adalina slid off and the voices began.

“Waking up bleary opening eyes confused stiff standing opening mou-”

“Beast!” Adalina cried behind him. Her voice was thick with sleep, her manner strained; the Assassin knew it was from a night of a thousand voices.

“You shouldn’t have done that,” he said gruffly, allowing the voices to guide him to his trousers and shirt. He grimaced slightly at the pain from his hardly-healed wounds, but the monster inside him could keep that at bay.

“Done what?” Behind him, Adalina frowned, stretching out her muscles that were stiff from a night spent in an unnatural position.

“Kept contact all night,” he said. “You could have gone mad.”

“At least allow me to give you one night’s respite from that hell,” Adalina retorted.

“Never again,” he said warningly.

He almost regretted it. It had been so long since he had been granted such human contact. Waking up to her presence, that silence, her warmth... it would be something revisited only in memories, he swore to himself.

“What happened, exactly?” Adalina asked when they were both fully awake, and the Assassin properly clothed. “The voices were... well, difficult to really understand. All I knew was a hunting party. One that wanted to rescue me.”

The Assassin could feel his heart sinking. He had nearly forgotten about the reason behind the abnormal morning.

“There is little more to know. There were enough men that I couldn’t fight them all.” And the monster hadn’t helped him. “They’ll find this fortress in time. And by that time, you will no longer be here.”

“What?” Adalina’s shock was evident.

The Assassin turned, facing her.

“Adalina,” he said, voice pained. “You cannot stay here.”

“Wh ever not?” she demanded stubbornly.

There were so many reasons, all of them supplied by the voices around and within him.

Because they’ll take you away. Because I put you in danger. Because you deserve better than this castle and a madman. Because I love you.

“Because I said so.”

“I can’t leave you,” said Adalina with a nervous laugh. “You need me.”

“To what? Tame my monster?” asked the Assassin. “I’m sorry to tell you this, Beauty dear, but the beast doesn’t care to be tamed. Keep trying and you’ll find yourself dead. Whatever you think you’ve seen to prove the beast’s worthiness is a lie.”

“But the voices-” Adalina protested.

“Heed no voice but this!” screamed the Assassin. “Leave. This. Castle!”

She did leave. What other choice did the Beauty have?

The voices reveled in telling him every detail. Of how she hated each step she took away from the fortress. Of how she felt like she was leaving what had become her home. How she still questioned if she could have helped him. Of how she thought he decided he didn’t care for her.

But the Assassin was focused only on one voice. The missing one. His monster.

“You wanted this,” he whispered, feeling tears on his cheeks. “You wanted her gone in any way possible. You couldn’t’ risk the threat she posed, the threat of losing your grip on me.”

He could hear it smiling.

Enraged and grieved, the Assassin attacked. There was nothing to attack, so everything suffered. The curtains Adalina had meticulously mended. The carpets she had cleaned. The dishes she had dusted. it was all in tatters and shard around him. All save one.

“She cared,” whispered the chipped cup sadly.

“Which is why she had to leave.” The Assassin was lying on the floor, surrounded by his own carnage. His wounds were reopened, inside and out.

He wanted Adalina. He needed Adalina. He loved Adalina. But she had to go. He couldn’t risk killing her, she couldn’t risk her loving him. It would all hurt her in the end.

Only he could be hurt. Only the beast, always the beast.

He had thought he was as broken as he could ever be. His mind was shattered. His heart was broken. But the monster had proven again and again that there was always something else to break. Always another person to kill.

“But she’s alive,” whispered the cup. “She’s alive and she will be happy again, thanks to you. She couldn’t save the beast, but you saved the Beauty. You saved her. You love her. You saved her.”

And with a grim smile, the Assassin picked himself up off the floor. He sat in his usual chair and began to reply to letters, long over-due.

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