The beast was raging.
All he wanted was to kill the Assassin. Or trade me in for the Assassin? The voices were a storm in my mind, leaking out into the rest of the world. I was drowning in an ocean that I could never fight.
Malif was smiling.
She wanted the Assassin to be taken by the curse. She knew he couldn’t resist. She wanted them combined, the perfect killing machine. I was no more than a container, a mode of transportation for the Beast.
The Huntsman was silent.
He appeared to want nothing. He wasn’t resigned, he wasn’t trapped. He was like the float of a fisherman’s rod, going where the waves commanded. Or like a ship, capable of leaving when he chose to.
If only he hadn’t chosen to help Malif.
We were in a stone room, the walls laden with thick curtains. A fire crackled between us and the room beyond, where the Assassin and Queen Snow were frozen.
Then, I thought, she isn’t a queen now anymore than I was a princess.
“What do you want with them?” I asked, voice little more than a croak. The voices were screaming the answers at me even as I asked, but I couldn’t string them into coherent thoughts.
“I want him to know who he is,” said Malif. She reveled in the enigmatic, it seemed.
She didn’t look the part of an evil sorceress. She was sleight and pale, with a round, almost childlike face. The only part of her that seemed to fit were the eyes; they were sharp and dark, glittering with cleverness even beyond the abilities of magic. Or so it appeared at first glance. I came to realize it was the glint of madness. It so resembled the Assassin’s eyes, and perhaps even mine now.
The Huntsman looked at the queen. “You cannot hold them in place forever,” he said, voice just louder than that of the Assassin’s as he continued to attempt banters with Malif. But the queen had now fallen silent, only watching them through the heat-warped vision provided by the fireplace.
“I will give him his proof,” she murmured. “I only wonder if, after so many centuries, he can even remember.”
Remember what? I asked of the voices. They chattered nervously, soft and layered so that I could not make out an answer. Rider was all that I could make out.
After a few moments more, Malif stood. She walked past the Huntsman he held an axe and past me as I lay, huddled, on the cold stone floor. She came to a stop in front of the fireplace. The flames stretched towards her, and she stood so close that I almost thought she would catch fire. Sadly, such fortune as not with me.
“Once upon a time,” said Malif, voice resonating through both rooms. “There was a little girl.”
The Assassin’s voice fell silent, and with its loss the voices surged back into being.
“This little girl wasn’t supposed to live. She was oh-so-very ill, wasn’t she, Assassin? You would know. You were there.”
The voices vanished as he spoke up.
“How do you know this? No one could know this.”
“Except for her, and her, and you,” said Malif. “And anyone she told.”
“She died,” said the Assassin. His voice was like a rock, crumbling under pressure, giving way to a heavy weight.
“Surprise,” said Malif softly. “You succeeded.”
There was silence, which meant that for me there was a chorus.
“She wouldn’t still be alive. It’s been hundreds... hundreds of years.”
“She is alive in memory and in lore. She is alive in blood-line.” Malif waved her hand. The fireplace extinguished, and the mantelpiece raised up into the wall. Through the doorway, I could now clearly see the Assassin and Snow. “My bloodline. My legends, my quest. Passed down after all those centuries. Instructed by Riding to follow that red hood. Find the source. End the curse that destroyed her life.”
Malif stepped through the doorway. “Save her father,” she ended.
I was so confused, and with every word Malif said, the more and more insistently the voices tried to rectify my confusion, which only added to the problem. But I could see that the Assassin understood every word. I could feel it.
“That would make you... what? My daughter plus fifteen greats?” asked the Assassin. He was trying to revert to banter. Lighthearted discussion was easier than facing his beasts of centuries past.
Malif smiled, or so some of the voices told me. She walked past Snow, who was still kneeling, covered in the cloak that I could now see was not dyed red, but stained red. Red with the blood of men long dead.
They weren’t the clothing of a little boy in that chest, but of a little girl. The Assassin’s little girl. The holder of the curse. He had taken it from her.
He had loved her that much, just as I had loved him. And again, my heart broke for this cursed man.
But knowing that did nothing to amend the situation. Snow and the Assassin were still frozen, Malif still powerful. I was being watched by-
Where was the Huntsman?
“Hiding moving plot twist Malif’s doom waiting patience axe blood KILL THEM-”
“What do you want with me? With Snow? With... with Adalina?”
“Snow was an unexpected surprise. Hello, dear.” Malif drifted her fingertips along Snow’s black hair. “Adalina currently holds the curse for which I’ve searched my entire life. I even tried recruiting you, as the other kingdoms did. But you neglected my invitations.”
“I’m not in the habit of killing women and children,” said the Assassin, his teeth clenched.
Malif’s lips stretched in a smile. “I have ancestors who just beg to differ.”
I had changed my mind; Malif most certainly looked the part of an evil queen.
A voice. One different from all the others. It was slightly more tangible\, a whisper instead of a roar. And it left hot breath on my ear.
“Malif cannot take the curse unless the Assassin has it,” said the Huntsman. “Do not allow the Assassin to even touch you. If she takes it from him, the world will fall.”
“Do I run?” The voice- my voice -pronounced the words. They sounded so cowardly, and yet it took every ounce of my courage to say them.
“She will stop you. Stay perfectly still. If we all die in these rooms, stay still. I know you have the courage.”
“Why did you take me?” Why, if he could ever be against Malif, would he bring the curse right into her own castle?
“There will be time for answers when this is done.”
“What will you do?” I asked, frantic to know why I was remaining still.
“Malif cannot hold her spells for long. When it falters, we will have seconds to strike.”
More questions came to mind, ones that even the voices couldn’t answer, could I interpret them. But I knew that if I asked, there would be no warm voice to answer. The Huntsman had left, taking my every hope with him.
The Warrior, the Huntsman and the Assassin, I thought. Yet can even they stand a chance against the Queen?
“Fallen!” chorused the voices.
Then I saw everything.
Snow threw off the bloody cloak, drawing a sword. The Assassin lunged forward with knives. The Huntsman came, axe swinging, out of a doorway.
The Queen had magic at her fingertips, abilities I didn’t even know. But her enemy now was not weakness; it was shock.
And ours was humanity.
Snow faltered, perhaps unable to bring herself to slaughter her step-mother. The Huntsman, the greater threat, was where the Queen was just able to focus her attention. And the Assassin...
The Assassin found me.
“Something’s wrong he thinks he senses he knows somethi-”
He sidestepped the other three, lunging towards me instead. I cried out something unintelligible as his fingers, those massive hands, closed around my shoulders. He looked into my eyes, hood having fallen back.
“You’re in control,” he said. I knew he couldn’t hear his own voice over the others. He could never, ever have those again. Not permanently, and not now.
“No, please, stop Mali-”
“I can,” he said.
And he kissed me.
Tears stung my eyelids and I tried to jerk away, but I knew it was gone. I could hear the voices even as he touched me. And both the Beast and Malif were in ecstasy.
“Yes!” screamed the queen, a blast of frost sending a pillar of ice growing- sharp end first- through the Huntsman’s stomach. Snow lunged at the queen, who turned her attention back to the battle.
The Assassin tore away from me, armed with a million entities and his battle-trained body. Snow and Malif looked at him. I snatched at his hand. The voices filled my head, each screaming. One bloody, loud voice storming above all the rest.
Then they all fell away, save for a bloody scream continuing.
And someone stumbled away from the Assassin.
And Malif’s voice had replaced the beast’s.
And Snow, guided by a beast cursed with a single purpose, drove her sword into the Queen’s chest.