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Chapter One

There is no thing as an end to pain;

It only becomes another’s gain.

The scene was almost familiar. I sat at a long table in a great stone room, looking down at my teacup and preparing to ask a question. But at the table’s head was a king, not an assassin, and the man awaiting my question was not a beast.

At least, not my beast.

“What will killing him accomplish?” I asked. I meant for it to sound nothing more than exasperated, but there was a tinge of fear in my voice. “He let me go free.”

“You lost a year of your life,” Costas argued. “And you are not free of his grip. See, as even now you argue for him!”

“Were you so eager to gain another kingdom that you could not wait a year?” I asked waspishly. He had married very shortly after my absence, although his princess had died giving birth to Costas’s son. He wasted little time in mourning her after hearing of my arrival back to Tearian.

“Adalina,” Peter scolded softly.

“We all know it’s true,” I snapped. It seemed that the time being careful of my every word to the Assassin made me no more tactful around mere mortals like Costas. The man had once held much power, and even intimidated me.

Compared to my beast, this man was nothing.

“You care nothing for me, only for our land,” I said. “Fine, have it. I don’t care for inheriting it, even should my father trust my judgement.” The barbed words caused my father to jerk slightly. “Only leave my- the Assassin alone.”

“This is why we must kill him,” said Costas yet again. “He bewitched you, Adalina.”

“Pardon me for finding his manners more charming than your greed,” I said, barely keeping my voice to a civil volume, if not tone. “And killing the only person that seems to truly care for me won’t make me stop caring for him!”

“We do care for you, Adalina,” said my father gently. But I could hear the undercurrents of his voice; fear, frustration. Fear of losing me. Fear of looking weak in front of Costas. Fear of the Assassin.

“Eliminating the monster will make it easier for you to transition back to your real life,” said Costas in a coaxing voice.

That was my real life, I longed to scream. But I knew it could not be. The Assassin had chosen his monster over me, power over love. I ought to let Costas go after him. Then one of them will die, and either way is a little more peace in the world.

My heart wrenched at the thought of the Assassin, having lost all his peace now that I was gone. Surrounded by voices.

Perhaps death would be a mercy.

“-an proceed with the wedding and pretend none of it ever happened,” my father was saying in his most soothing voice.

“No,” I mumbled. “No! It happened. It will always have happened. We cannot run from that.”

“And we will not be wed in any case,” declared Costas.

I looked up in disbelief.

“Costas... are you truly here to just help?” I asked. Suddenly, I couldn’t see why he was here. What did he gain?

“In the time you were away, Prince Costas was here for me,” said my father. “He was a great comfort. Like a son to me. But my prince, why will you not marry Adalina? Such was the plan before the monster took her away.”

“Yes, before the monster,” said Costas. “But imagine what he’s done to her. I cannot take such a woman as my wife, even a second one.”

I wished I had a thousand voices, so I could scream every argument and insult at him that pounded in my ears. Rage burned through every vessel of my being. Civility was a thing of the past.

"Such a wife?!" I yelled, causing them both to jump. “Such as you? You are no virgin, we know that much! Why should such a thing be expected of me, then? And in any case, my Assassin never so much as touched me! He did not allow himself. A show of self-restraint I’m certain you never bothered to put in place.” My mind flashed to caresses and kisses, never invited but always bestowed with an air of ownership. “You are vile, Costas.” My rage ended in a hiss, silent and barbed.

“If he did not touch your body,” Costas retorted. “He has still touched your mind. That is unworthy behavior of a princess.”

“I fear you are right, my prince,” sighed my father, looking at me as though I were a broken piece of china and not his daughter. “The Assassin has ruined our Adalina, as we feared.”

“What are you saying?” I asked, body suddenly numb. A chill settled in my stomach as I looked between the two men. Like a son like a son like a son like a son to me repeated in my head.

“That was why,” I mumbled, eyes widening. “That is how. Oh, I am brainless. How did I not see it? But even more importantly,” I said, turning to my father. “How did you not see it? Oh, father, Costas hasn’t changed an ounce.”

“Perhaps,” said the king, not listening to me. Not really. Only one voice and he couldn’t focus on it. “But you have changed so much, my dear. Too much.”

It was like a nightmare. I was powerless, tossed between two evils like a plaything, trapped and without a voice. Perhaps if I had my own voices, my own monster, I could find the right argument, the right escape. But I was only Adalina, and I had lost my Beast.

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