The Assassin stood once more beside Queen Snow’s throne. Whether she wanted to impress or threaten her visitor and courtesans, the Assassin wasn’t certain. But it was evident she no longer cared if the rumors were proven true.
He could hear the young noble-ladies gossiping about his ‘magnificent jawline’. He could hear the older noblemen sniffing about how he was untrustworthy and their wives saying he was giving the queen a whorish reputation. He knew the guards were watching him, and he could hear Queen Snow’s guests arriving.
Mostly, he just heard the monster raging. He was in a drunken frenzy, eager for more blood.
Always for more blood.
“More! They’re right there! Kill them. The girl in yellow is walking to the Queen. The man by the window has five weapons. Kill. There are no threats to the Queen. The guests are outside the door.”
If only they would shut up.
The Assassin had gone into the Frozen Hell. The little basin was far drearier and less dramatic on the inside than it had been on the cliff. Inside, he’d seen very little. The ruins of a great army, now reduced to shivering half-corpses.
And there was Malif, of course. No barricades. No defenses. Just the evil step-mother.
She wasn’t quite so bored as her soldiers. She’d been scheming. Planning and vengeful. The Assassin considered running her through. She couldn’t stop him. Not with the Beast in a rage like he was. But he’d had his orders. And dammit, he liked the Queen. He might as well do as she asked, even if he thought it was idiotic.
“The door is opening. Them. The crowd is parting. The guests are stepping in. One is haughty one is beautiful. The Queen stands for them. Thank you for coming all the way from Tearian you’re welcome your majesty the haughty man is simpering the girl opens her mo-”
They fell silent.
Adalina’s voice. Beautiful, beautiful Adalina. No no NO. Kill her!
“Pardon me?” Queen Snow had mistaken Adalina’s cry for an insult, although she made no move to have it rectified by force.
Adalina was running towards him. He should run. He should leave through a window or the door or the other door three exits kill her guards moving silence.
She was touching him.
“What are you doing here?” He did his best to make his voice contemptuous. Reject her. Refuse her advances. You despise her.
“Don’t try that,” she said in a scolding tone. The crowd behind her was murmuring eagerly. Costas was furious, no doubt. But without those voices he was so blind. So free. “I know why you sent me away. You were worried for me. But beast, don’t be! I was so happy and I love you a-”
She was jerked away from him. The voices all came back. The Assassin was no longer blind, but he was still frozen.
“Bell, no,” said the voice of Prince Costas.
“I didn’t want you to come anyways,” Adalina said in a voice that was nearly ferocious.
“He’s bewitching you again!” Costas snarled. The Assassin was enraged. No one snarled at Adalina. “We need to get you back to the clergy men and way from this monster.”
“The clergy?” Adalina said incredulously. “So they can pray and wave smoke in my face and beat the evil spirits out of me? No! No more, Costas. I am never returning to that, or to Tearian.”
Her hands were on the Assassin again. “I’m so sorry,” she whispered. “It took me too long to puzzle out. But I can help you now.”
“They beat you.” His voice wasn’t coming out of his throat, was it? It was too strange sounding.
“Let’s leave,” Adalina pressed. “Back to your fortress. I can help you now, my beast. No more blood. No more voices.”
“No,” the Assassin said. It was a whisper, tender and heart-broken. “You will not help me. I will never allow that.”
“Adalina-” Costas started.
I will kill him. I will rip off his skin and pull him apart muscle by muscle for hurting my Beauty, thought the Assassin.
A single, bloody voice in his head.
Then a thousand raging ones as Adalina’s hands left him.
And then sight.
Adalina flung his hood back, revealing his face to the court. They all gasped or screamed at the sight. And the monster wanted, needed to kill them all.
The voice left as her hands grasped his face. She was standing on tip-toe to reach him.
“Adalina,” he mumbled, mind suddenly moving slowly. Too slowly. “What... what are you doing?”
“I love you,” she whispered.
Then he pressed her lips to his.
“No,” he mumbled against them. “No no no! Adalina, what have you done?”
“What do you mean?” She looked at him with concern. Not for herself; never for herself. Always for him. For a beast, for a monster, for a man that could do nothing but kill her. Or worse.
It was so, so much worse.
He pulled away from Adalina’s blissful touch. But the voices did not follow.
They stayed with her.
There was no breaking his curse.
There was only taking it for herself.
“No, Beauty,” he gasped, tears falling down his face. Her eyes rolled back into her head.
He had to save her. Death was better than that life. Anything was better than that life.
He tried to draw a knife, to slit her throat, to watch her beautiful life spill out on the floor. But he couldn’t. He couldn’t do it.
He closed his eyes. There were no voices to tell him what happened. He didn’t need them.
When he opened them, Adalina was gone. There was only a beast.