I woke up in a cell.
For one blissful moment, I thought I was in the Assassin’s fortress. That it had all been a crazed dream. That I would walk up the stairs to serve him the breakfast that he’d made and life would resume.
I never thought I would’ve been happy to wake up in that cell.
I winced as I sat up, feeling bruised and battered. I could smell blood, and my head throbbed with pain and... voices.
So many voices.
They were more bearable now than they had been before. They were simmering in my mind, but I could make out what they said. I knew I was not in the Assassin’s fortress. I knew I was surrounded by hired soldiers. And I knew the huntsman was walking towards me.
Jagged memories flashed before my eyes, aided by the oh-so helpful voices explaining everything. He’d dragged me out of the woods where I was put in a caged wagon, then rolled to a castle. Not my Assassin’s castle. But not Tearian’s, Costas’s, or Queen Snow’s.
The voices informed me that Malif had taken over the White Kingdom, and that Costas had struck a deal with her. The guards had been gossiping, their hushed murmurs never safe from the beast.
The huntsman leaned against the bars of my cell.
I looked up, body moving stiffly. My face didn’t want to move; it was crusted with dried blood.
“Everyone calls me that. I stopped being a princess long ago.”
“That’s now how Malif sees it,” the huntsman said. “Stand up.”
“I’m taking you somewhere. And I’m not carrying you again.”
I didn’t feel the urge to be carried. My fingertips felt the wall behind me as I slowly stood, stretching out each muscle at an agonizing pace.
“What does Malif want?”
“Not you, the princess, that’s for certain.”
I stumbled behind him, blinking away the grogginess. Beast. She wants the beast.
“She wants me. She wants me to kill,” the beast purred.
I stopped walking.
“No.” My voice was a croak. I had never sounded worse, even when the clergy had been torturing me.
The huntsman stopped as well. Suddenly, I could see the bulges under his robes. The voices sprung into action, gleefully describing each ax and knife under his robes. I suddenly saw every guard in the basement and the floor above us. I could sense the huntsman serenity in the situation.
“No?” He turned.
His manner was shockingly like that of the Assassin. The huntsman was unfazed by the sheer danger in front of him. He wore his power like heavy armor; weighing him down, shielding him, yet so familiar to him that it couldn’t hinder him.
“No.” I leaned against the wall, bruised shoulder protesting. I closed my eyes, the voices keeping me from ever being blind. “I don’t want to kill anyone.”
“You’re not killing anyone.” The voice was quiet, nearly gentle.
“Malif only wants me to kill.”
“Kill him,” the beast demanded.
“She wants the beast to kill,” the huntsman corrected.
“We’re the same now.”
“We both know that isn’t true.”
I opened my eyes. “Don’t make me.”