Beth was waiting for her at the foot of the stairs. She was wearing her green fatigue jacket. She looked completely cool, but something in her expression made Petra’s pulse leap. “There’s something going on between you and the prince, isn’t there?”
Petra hesitated. Her best friend knew her well. She hadn’t been able to hide anything from her since they had met five years ago. “I’m not sure what it is,” she admitted.
Beth looked skeptical. “You’re not sure?”
Petra shrugged. She glanced around them to ensure no one was listening. “It’s crazy, Beth. I think I like him.”
Beth lifted an eyebrow. “Yes, I can tell. And he likes you?”
“Yeah. I think he does, but it’s a little more complicated than that.”
“Because he’s the prince, and we are hoping to stage a revolt against his father, likely killing him in the process. I don’t know how that’s going to go for us.”
Beth nodded. She threaded her arms through Petra’s and led her out of the safe house into the streets. She didn’t move with any urgency or fear. She seemed perfectly comfortable wandering the outlands. She did it everyday. The outlaws probably knew she was one of the Uprising; even the outlaws avoided them. “Yes, you’re right. It’s complicated. Even if he is on our side.”
“You need to think about it, Petra. If he isn’t on our side, he could be planning to warn his father what we’re up to. It might be a trick. All of this. He could be trying to weasel out the whereabouts of the Uprising for his father.”
Petra’s shackles rose. “I don’t think that’s true. Do you really believe that?”
Beth shrugged. “It could be. I mean, we don’t know anything about him but what he’s done. His reputation does not exactly foster trust. Besides, we kidnapped him and lied to him. You think he just forgave us for that? Then he just comes back and wants us to help him take down his father? It seems a little…off.”
Petra lifted her chin stubbornly. “I believe he’s telling the truth. He helped us find this information.”
Beth nodded. “Yes, he did. And it will hurt his father more than the Uprising. If you believe him, I trust your judgment. I always have. But it will not be so easy to convince the rebels.”
“What about the documentation? It’s proof.”
“It’s good. It will be a good offering to begin a conversation. And if he is on our side, he will have to be part of the fight against his father. He might have to kill Scarlet himself or see him die. It would be hard for anyone. He might think he’s ready for it and realize too late he isn’t. It could ruin everything.”
“I know. I’m hoping somehow we can keep him out of the actual fighting. At least where his father is concerned.”
Beth lifted an eyebrow. “Good luck. I don’t think that will be easy. It’s too late not to take it all the way now. He’ll be running his entire life if we don’t stop his father.”
“Do you think the rebels will help us? Will they be ready to mobilize?”
Beth hesitated. “I’m not sure.”
“What?” Petra looked at her in surprise. “You think they might not?”
“This information will help us get more numbers for the cause…”
Petra didn’t like her tone of voice. “Aren’t they ready?”
She sighed. “I can’t really talk about it, Petra. I don’t have all the information. I’m not a member of the inner circle. I just help gather supplies. I help where I can with random stuff.”
Petra didn’t think she was telling the whole truth. She didn’t ask any questions, though. She only hoped what she and Grey had found would be what they needed to make their move. It was their only hope.
Beth didn’t say anything else as they wove through the streets in the outlands toward the bar where they would meet Beth’s contact. It looked the same outside as any other outland bar she’d been to in the last few days. It was old and crumbling, and the sign was shattered so she couldn’t see what it had once been named. An air of danger hung in the atmosphere around it. Beth didn’t go inside. She walked past the door into the alley around the side of the building.
There was a man standing in the alley waiting for them, as motionless as a statue. He wore a black sweatshirt with the hood pulled up over his hair. He came to life when he heard the crunch of their boots in the debris littering the ground. He turned to them. He was younger than Petra expected. He looked no older than she or Beth. He inclined his head in greeting. Petra didn’t recognize him. She had never seen him anywhere in town.
“Pablo,” Beth greeted, inclining her head.
He didn’t look like a Pablo. He was pale and thin. His pale blue eyes flicked to Petra. “Have you brought a new recruit?”
Petra glanced at Beth. It was her show now. Beth shook her head. “No. We have information.”
Petra leaned closer to Beth to speak in a low voice. “You trust him not to tell anyone about Grey?”
Beth nodded. “He will not. I will speak for him. I trust him as well as I trust you.”
This was good enough for Petra.
“Tell me what you know,” Pablo ordered. “I will bring it back to our leader.”
“You aren’t the leader?” Petra blurted.
Pablo and Beth smiled at this, and Petra wondered if they were making fun of her. “No. I am his second. He is not prepared to meet with you. I will hear your information and bring it back to him.”
Petra sighed. Beth nodded to her encouragingly. “Go on, Petra. You may tell him everything.”
She took a deep breath, and her stomach flipped a little. She had been trying to keep Grey from the rebels since she’d found him, and now she was letting them know exactly where he was. She hoped Beth was right. “A few days ago, I found Prince Dante in an alley outside the King’s Random. Someone had attacked him and left him for dead. He was badly beaten up. I brought him back to the compound and took him in.”
Pablo lifted his eyebrows. “I have heard he is missing. Dante is with you?”
“Yes. He’s learned that there might be a plot against him at the palace.”
“Maybe. He might be trying to have him killed. He has been attacked by the same man twice, and it seems as though it’s not going to stop until he’s dead.”
“The King’s hit man.”
“How did he manage to survive him twice? I don’t know Saer, but I have heard of him. I understand once he is set after someone, he doesn’t fail. They are as good as dead.”
“Apparently Dante is very resourceful, and he has a strong will to live,” Beth put in.
“But he is still the prince.”
“Yes, but since he learned of the plot against him, he is prepared to join the rebels.”
“Prince Dante wants to join the Uprising?” Pablo sounded almost amused.
“Yes. He believes it is the only course of action left. He cannot remain in hiding forever. Someone has to do something about the King and what’s happening in this city. Who better than the one closest to the King?”
Pablo frowned. “But what does he want us to do about it?”
“Move against Scarlet. The Uprising has been building an army. You are preparing for war. It is time to move.”
Pablo’s expression did not change. “We are not prepared to do that.”
Petra scowled. “But you have been training and preparing.”
“Yes. And we are still training and preparing. We are not yet ready to launch an attack.”
She felt her stomach sink in disappointment. Beth stepped forward. She drew a thick envelope from her jacket, inside which she’d slipped Petra’s and Grey’s evidence. “Pablo, we have information that could help us.”
Pablo took the envelope. He pulled out the papers and scanned them cursorily. He did not look impressed. “What is it?”
“It’s a list of people we think Scarlet is targeting for imprisonment or death.”
This seemed to interest Pablo. He turned his attention back to the papers.
“There is a series of emails between the King and an anonymous address. The King receives emails from the anonymous address with a single or multiple names. Subsequently, a Noble will accuse the names of treason or some other trumped up crime,” Petra explained.
Pablo frowned thoughtfully. “What is the significance?”
“I believe someone is feeding the King names of people who might pose a threat and the names are going to the Nobles, who come up with a reason to get rid of them. It suggests the disappearances and false accusations are not random; the King is directing all of it. Him or whomever this email belongs to, who works for him.”
“Or whom he works for. For all we know, there is some mysterious force driving all this and the King is just a figure head.”
“No. Dante would know. Scarlet runs the show. He would never be someone else’s pawn.”
“You didn’t find out who the anonymous email belongs to?”
“No, but does it matter? This proves there is a plan behind all this. And the people on the list will want to know they are probably next in line to be sent away or killed. They can’t just sit by and let it happen. They will have to join you.”
“It might matter. Not for your purpose, but if someone is out there picking people in the city to be taken out, it would be nice to know who they are. They could be among us even now. It could be Dante.”
“It isn’t Dante. If it was, why give the information to the Uprising? It certainly wouldn’t give the King any advantage.”
“I don’t know. There is a lot we don’t understand about the King’s motivations. Or Dante’s.”
Petra scowled, but there was no point arguing. “There is another list. The people on this list have died mysteriously.”
“All of them?”
“No. Some of them are still alive. Which does sort of suggest they won’t be for long, doesn’t it?”
Pablo lifted his eyes to her. “How did you get this?”
“Dante helped me break into the King’s system.”
“We’ve been trying to get this sort of information for a very long time.”
“We could use it to get more numbers, Pablo,” Beth said. “We could use it to warn the people who are in danger. It could bring more people to us. If they know something is going to happen to them, they may want to join the fight.”
Pablo looked at Petra. “The prince is going to help us?”
“Yes. He will be able to help coordinate a strike. He knows about the guards and all the King’s holdings. He knows who we will have to fight.”
After a long, thoughtful moment, he nodded. “I will take this to our leader. We will see what he has to say about it.”
Petra stepped toward him. “That isn’t good enough! I need an answer. We can’t keep hiding him. There are people who are looking for him.”
“That is not my problem. You are the ones who took him in.”
Petra looked at Beth, but her friend didn’t say anything.
Pablo nodded to them. “I will take this to our leader. Beth, I will contact you.” He spun away from them and strode away without saying another word.
Petra spun to Beth. Her eyes flashed. “I thought you said he would help us!”
“It doesn’t mean he won’t, Petra. He isn’t our leader. He’s his second. He will share our information. If our leader wants to meet with us, he will contact me.”
She sighed. “Grey isn’t going to like this.”
Beth looked at her strangely. “You still call him Grey? Not Dante?”
Petra shrugged. “It suits him. He’s not the same man as Prince Dante was.”
“Are you sure about that?”
She considered. “I’m sure.”
“I hope you’re right.” Beth’s expression was grim. “If you’re wrong, we could lose everything.”
Later, in a safe house in the increasingly restive outlands…
“I don’t understand what’s wrong,” Grey said. He rose to pace restlessly across the threadbare grey carpet in the small office. He pushed his hands through his hair. “It’s been two days. We’re running out of time. What’s taking so long?”
Petra sighed. “I don’t know. Maybe it isn’t enough.”
“How can it not be enough? We don’t have anything else! We’ve looked. This is the best we’ve got.”
“I know.” She stood to stand in front of him. He didn’t look like he wanted to stop, but he paused in mid-step and looked down at her with a frustrated expression. “It will have to be enough. Maybe they’re just trying to decide what to do with the information.”
“Or maybe they’re planning to double-cross us.”
“I don’t think so. If they were, they would have done it by now.”
“If they don’t hurry up and make a decision, they might not get the chance.” His jaw flexed angrily. “My father or his people could find this place at any time and then we’ll lose any chance we have.”
She frowned. “Lux is looking out for the King’s people. And she has spies all over the city listening for any sign they’ve found you.”
“We might have to start thinking about an alternative plan, Petra. It isn’t looking too promising with the Uprising at this point. We might have to think of something else.”
Petra opened her mouth to respond, but she snapped her mouth shut as the door flew open. Beth burst inside without bothering to knock on the door. Petra and Grey spun to her in surprise. “Beth. What’s happened?” Petra demanded.
“The Uprising has agreed to talk to you,” Beth told them. She scrutinized Grey as though she wasn’t sure what to think of him. “Our leader would like to meet Dante.”
Grey nodded. “Take me to him. I’m ready.” He squared his shoulders, and his stormy eyes glinted. “When is it happening?”
“You’re taking us to the base?”
Beth smiled. “No. I’m sorry. He still doesn’t trust you.”
“But we gave him valuable information.”
“And now he’s willing to listen. We’ll meet in the outlands. In a neutral zone.”
“Is anywhere neutral in the outlands?” Petra muttered.
“Yes. The rebels have their territory; the outlaws have theirs. They do not fight each other.” She jerked her head toward the door. “Come on. I’ll take you both there.”
She led them through the outlands with a swift, confident step. Grey wore a dark hoodie over his hair to conceal his identity, but there didn’t seem to be a lot of point. Beth knew what she was doing. They didn’t meet anyone along the way.
The meeting place was a warehouse similar to the one in which they were living, but the entire outside perimeter was thick and lush with verdant gardens. Root vegetables and trees covered in plump fruit practically concealed the small, squat grey stone building. Petra looked around them in surprise, but Beth didn’t say pause to explain the unexpected bounty. She strode purposely toward a door on the side of the building.
Petra felt Grey’s fingers close around hers. She turned her head to give him a small, encouraging smile, though her insides felt tight and cold. Beth rapped once on the door. A young boy pulled it open. His hair looked mussed, and he had a bruise under his left eye. He nodded to Beth and stepped aside to let them in.
Inside there were cots lining the walls, but the center of the room was taken up by a large mat. Weapons were scattered all around as though they’d been recently dropped. It looked like a training facility. It was probably how the young boy had gotten his bruise. At least, Petra hoped it was.
The young boy left them alone in the center of the room. Beth didn’t speak to Petra or Grey. She waited silently. They followed her lead. After several seconds, they heard footsteps above. They turned to the tall man with shortly cropped hair that descended the stairs and strode toward them with a confident gait. As he neared them, Petra’s muscles coiled. She felt as though she had been kicked in the stomach.
Grey stared at him in shock. Beth didn’t seem at all moved by his appearance. Petra didn’t understand why. She recognized him instantly. She took a step toward him in utter fury. Beth shot out an arm to hold her back.
“You!” Petra spat. “You’re the rebel leader?”
Cage Spears inclined his head. He did not look troubled by her reaction to him. He looked as tranquil and self-possessed as the last time she had seen him at the Blade club. She shoved Beth’s arm away and started forward again.
Grey caught her arm and tugged her back.
“I am,” Cage replied coolly.
“You’re the one who accused my brother! You sent him to prison!”
“I regret that, Petra. Your brother saw something he should not have seen. It was not my ideal choice, but I did not have any other. I did not want it to happen.”
“You are one of us,” Petra said. “How could you?”
“The Uprising is important. It is more important than one man.”
“Not to me!”
“Don’t be a fool. There is nothing more important than stopping Scarlet and taking back the city. When we do, we will all be free and no one will be imprisoned again. Your brother’s incarceration is not forever. It will end soon, and I am sorry, but I had to sacrifice one for the good of many. For the good of the Uprising that will save our city.”
Petra’s eyes glittered with angry tears. Beth took her arm and pulled her away from Grey and Cage. Petra spun on her with a glare. “You knew. You knew all along it was him. You’ve been part of this the whole time.”
Beth’s voice was low. “I’m sorry. I couldn’t tell you, Petra. You wouldn’t have understood.”
“I can’t believe you…I can’t believe you lied to me. Couldn’t you just tell Ren the truth? You know he would not have told on him! You could have let him walk away!”
“That wasn’t an option. I’m sorry.”
Petra spun away from her. Grey glanced at her. His eyes were stormy, but he did not move to comfort her. She didn’t meet his eyes. She didn’t want him to see her tears. She didn’t want him to see the hatred in her eyes. It wouldn’t help their cause. No matter who the leader was, no matter what he had done, they still needed him.
Grey turned back to Cage. His eyes narrowed. “It was you. You’re the one I tried to blackmail, aren’t you?”
“Ah. I see you remember that.”
“I hear you’ve changed. I hear things are different.” Cage’s voice was calm, but his eyes were cold. “But I know you, Dante. I am not so sure. Why should we trust everything we have worked for to you?”
“Things have changed.” Grey’s voice sounded confident now. “I have changed. Before I lived under the wing of my father, enjoying his power. Now I see what the city is really like. I see what he has done to it. I thought he was a man who wanted to help bring the city back under control. I think it started out that way, the power corrupted him. He enjoyed it too much to give it back once he had it. I enjoyed the power too much to give it back. But I don’t want any of it at the expense of people’s lives, and at the expense of letting these people live in terror under the thumb of a dangerous dictator. Things cannot keep on this way. We can’t let the city live like this anymore. I don’t have the power to fight my father myself. I need help. I need an army. You have an army.”
“But what do you expect to do when the army attacks? What do you think will happen to the city then?” Cage demanded.
“It will be chaos again,” Grey said. “We need someone who cares about the people. Someone who wants to help and not selfishly enjoy the power and control. We need a government. We need people who can run this city together, to control the outlaws and draw the outlands and the city center together. We need representatives in the different sectors. We need everyone to come together and make laws and rules together so no one has too much power and so this will never happen again.”
Cage lifted his eyebrows. “You have thought about this a lot.”
“Yes. I find I have nothing but time to think these days.”
“It is rather idealistic.”
“But it is not impossible if the city is in the right hands. If the King’s power is thrown, we will be able to bring in people who are wise. And people who care.”
“And who will be the one to choose those people?”
“Everyone. Everyone should be able to choose.”
“It wouldn’t be that way right away. It would have to start with a serious shift of power into the hands of a small group or one person. We would have to displace the King’s regime and put in a new one.”
“You have thought about it, too.”
“Of course I have.” For a moment, Cage’s eyes blazed. “Do you think we are just training people to fight and kill the King’s men? Do you think we plan to leave the city in anarchy? It would be as bad or even worse than it is now. At least now there is a police for that keeps the peace. They work for the King, but if they weren’t under his orders, they could actually do good work. The Marshals are almost as useless, but they are the last vestiges of our old government. They could lead the police force to work for the people again.”
“What about the bounty hunters?” Petra demanded.
“They could be used for good, too. They could be used to round up the Kings regime. We would form a tribunal. We would put people on trial for their crimes, not just toss them away with your father as judge, jury and executioner. At first it would be chaos. We will need more police than we have now. We will need to be prepared to fight the city, not only the King’s people. They will be easy enough to defeat. But we have to be prepared to control the city when he is gone.”
“We have a list,” Grey said. “We have a list of people who the King has targeted. They can join us. They can help.”
“Maybe. Or maybe they will simply run. Maybe it is what you should do, Dante. You are not safe in the city. There are many people out to get you, and if it is true the King is one of them, there is nowhere for you to go. You are the most wanted man in the city.”
Grey scowled. “I cannot run! I have to do something about this. I have to help make things right. I have spent too much time allowing the corruption and the killing to go on.”
“Why not talk to your father? Maybe you can sway him to see your side of things.”
Grey scoffed. “You know that isn’t even an option. Even if he isn’t trying to kill me, he will do anything to keep his power. We have to take him out.”
“Are you prepared to do that?”
“I will do what I have to. This has to stop. It doesn’t matter who I am or who I was. All that matters are the people. Giving them back their lives. No one should have to live in fear anymore. We can take the palace; imprison the King and the Nobles. Whoever refuses to be absorbed by our regime will be put away with them. Once they are gone, we can begin to plan and rebuild. If we can strike quietly and quickly enough, with enough people, we can take over the city before anyone notices the strike has even happened. We will have a new regime without any chaos.”
“And how do you propose to do that?”
“If I knew, I would not need you! I am prepared to offer myself. I am prepared to fight on your side and give information that will help you. I know all about my father. I have information about his operation. If we work together, we can plan and we can strike.”
Cage’s face was perfectly unreadable. He looked as cold as ice. Finally, he inclined his head. “We will get back to you.”
Grey blinked at him in surprise. “What?”
“We will let you know if we are interested in working with you.” He turned around to stride away.
“Hey!” Grey snapped. “I came here thinking you would help us!”
“Why should I help you, Dante? You have never given me any reason.”
Grey sighed. “You’re right. You are right about that. All right. I will help you, then. The palace is guarded all day by the King’s men.”
Cage rolled his eyes. “Of course I know that already. I am a member of the King’s court.”
“But there is a servant’s entrance on the west side of the building. It is generally unlocked and unguarded. You would have to enter a few at a time, but if you are quick, you will be able to get inside before anyone even notices. If you intend to sneak in an army, you won’t be able to do it through the front door, even if you are a member of the court. You can strike quietly and take out the King’s inner circle before anyone notices.”
Cage seemed to be thinking about this.
“I have a list of the locations of the prisons.” Petra hadn’t realized he had this. It was handwritten. She wondered if he’d known it all along. Grey handed it to Cage. “I don’t know who is in what prison, but you can stage a strike on them all at once. You could suppress the King’s people and have more numbers at the same time. All the King’s holdings are on that list. You can hit everything at once, and no one will see it coming or be the wiser until you have control of the city. Then you can do what you have to to rebuild.”
Cage stared down at the list. He nodded, but his expression didn’t change. He turned and strode back toward the stairs without another word to them. Grey sighed, but he turned toward Petra. She didn’t look as though she wanted to go. She glared at Cage.
“Petra. It’s time to go,” he told her in a low voice.
“No, Petra,” Beth put in. “It is time to go.”
“I know. But we can’t do anything about that right now,” Grey said. “We have to go before they change their minds and decide to kill me instead.”
She glared over her shoulder at Cage, but she allowed Grey to lead her away.
“Cage will get back to us soon,” Beth promised.
Grey nodded. “Will you tell us what he decides?”
Beth hesitated. “I will tell you whatever he wishes me to tell you.”
Later, at the safe house…
Petra was on pins and needles. The rest of the inner circle were as tense as she was. They sat around a table in the tiny conference room beside Grey’s office room. The doors and windows had been broken long ago, and shards of glass still littered the floor.
“You brought him back here?” Jesse demanded. “Are you crazy?”
Petra sat between Key and Lux. They stared back at Jesse as a united front. “He is with us now,” Lux said firmly. “He is trying to get together with the rebel leader to stage an attack on the King.”
“But having him here is dangerous! The hunters found out about him once already. I don’t think I need to remind anyone here how that went down.”
“Yes, the hunters did find him once, but that was because we were careless enough to let Shaw see him,” Key said in a low voice. He still looked bruised, but he was beginning to look almost normal. He moved around nearly as well as he had before the attack. Petra was relieved; she had enough to worry about without worrying about Key just now.
“Shaw doesn’t know about this place,” Petra added. “No one knows about this place. We have sentries and guards watching the perimeter to make sure no one sneaks up on us again.”
It didn’t persuade anyone. “This is risky,” Ellis said.
“Yes, but living in Razor City is risky. You know we can’t let things keep on this way. We have to do something about Scarlet. We have to get our families back and stop all this once and for all.”
“Nothing has changed since the war. It’s always been like this,” Jesse said. “Since when did you turn into the revolutionary, Petra? Do you actually think you can do something about it?”
“It hasn’t been like this since the war,” Key argued. “We let Scarlet take over because he was the most powerful. He was the only one who could bring the city back together. But he became corrupt. And now he has to be stopped.”
“He doesn’t have enough men to stop us all,” Petra put in. “We can fight him.”
“If we take out the King, the rest of the men will fall,” Lux said.
“Do you think it will be that easy?” Ellis asked. “He is one man, but this is an empire you are trying to topple. His people will step in. They will just take over and perpetuate the corruption. Nothing will change.”
“That is why we need the rebel army,” Lux told him. “We need to take out the heart and the rest of the empire.”
“Grey knows how to do it. He said we had to strike all at once. We can take all the King’s holdings at once, suppress his army, and then the rebels will take control.”
“I’m not so sure I want them to be in control, either,” Rip said grimly.
“They are still better than Scarlet. Anything is better than him.”
“And what about Dante?” Ellis asked. “Do you think he will remain loyal to our side? Until days ago, he was one of them.”
“Why. Because of a bump on the head?” Jesse growled.
“Because he found out his father is trying to kill him. He is part of this now. He wants what we want. You should have seen him with the rebel leader. He wants to see change in this city. He has ideas, and they’re good. He is serious. He is with us.”
“Petra, this is a mistake,” Jesse told her. “We need to get him out of here. We can’t hide him anymore.”
“No!” Petra and Lux said at the same time. “This is the only place he is safe,” Petra added.
“But the rest of us are in danger.”
Lux frowned. “He is the key to the rebellion. If he is with the Uprising–if he is with us–we stand a chance.”
“This isn’t what we set out to do,” Ellis said. “We just wanted a safe place for all of us to live.”
“Things have changed, Ellis! It isn’t safe. There is no safe place in this city anymore.”
“Because you brought him here,” Jesse said angrily.
“That isn’t fair,” Lux said. “Petra did what she thought was right. She saved his life. It isn’t her fault the city is in trouble.”
“No. It’s his.”
“No, it isn’t!” Petra snapped. “It wouldn’t matter now if he was with us or not. The ball is rolling. Things are moving. The rebels have a list of people who are being targeted for imprisonment and death by King Scarlet. The Uprising can mobilize them to fight. If they follow Grey’s plan, if they strike at all the locations at once, they could suppress the King’s forces before anyone is the wiser. Before anyone has time to fight.”
“We’re just kids,” Rip argued.
“Not anymore. We haven’t been kids since the war. And we can’t keep letting this happen. We have to do something. Grey is the one who wants to do something. He wants to make it happen. He’s the one who knows what to do. Would you rather live in a city like this forever where we live constantly in fear and are missing our loved ones who have been falsely accused? Or would you like to at least give change a chance?”
“We have a chance now,” Lux added. “And Dante is that chance.”
They were silent for a long moment. “We can’t know that we can trust him,” Ellis said finally. “And we could be risking everything to keep him here. He could be working for the King, trying to get the location of the rebel base and its leader for his father. Have you thought of that? The rebels are already in danger. He knows their leader now.”
“They made that choice. Cage chose to meet him. He knew the risk.”
“He might have already gone off and told his father everything.”
“He wouldn’t do that!” Petra argued.
“How do you know? You don’t know anything about him. This whole thing could be a trick.”
“I don’t believe that.”
“But how can you be sure? You knew nothing about him until days ago when he claimed to have been attacked.”
“No. I believe what happened to him is true. I think he was telling the truth. He has changed. If he were trying to shut everyone down and spying on the rebels, the Uprising would already be in trouble, and we would have been raided by now. We have already been raided once before, and they didn’t wait for anything.”
“Yes, but that was because of Shaw.”
“And he doesn’t know where this place is. He’s still just out there in the outlands or the city. He can’t tell anyone. We haven’t had any trouble since he left. Dante is the real thing.”
“I’m not so sure,” Ellis said grimly. “We want him out of here before he can cause any more damage. We’ve already lost our home because of him.”
Petra lifted her chin. “If he’s going, I’m going.”
Key scowled. “Petra, no.”
Jesse looked around. “We’ll vote, then. We can’t stop you from leaving with him. Everyone in favor of getting Dante out of here, raise their hand.”
Rip, Ellis and Jesse raised their hands. Lux rolled her eyes. “You can’t call a vote. Beth isn’t here. And if she was, she would vote with us. It’s off the table. He stays. If he is a spy, we need to keep our eyes on him so we can be sure he isn’t running off to his father.”
“Unless he has a means of contacting him inside,” Ellis said darkly.
“No,” Petra said sharply. “He doesn’t.”
“How can you know that, Petra? You can’t watch him every second. You aren’t watching him now. He could be talking to Scarlet as we’re in here arguing over it. We are in danger as long as he is still here.”
“Then we have to do something!”
“We can join the rebels,” Beth said from the doorway.
They all looked up at her in surprise. The compound–the lost kids–had never taken a side in this war. They had always remained on the outside, stayed out of the fight. Talking about Dante and Petra joining the war was one thing, but the others had never wanted to be part of it. They just wanted to get by. But things were different now; they could feel it. Something had changed, and they would never be able to go back the way it was.
Petra shot to her feet. “Has Cage given his decision.”
Beth shook her head and took a seat beside Key. “No. Not yet. I’m sorry.” She looked at the others. “We can all join the Uprising and stop all this once and for all. It’s time to choose a side.”
“We stay out of it,” Ellis said. “We have always stayed out of it.”
“That is no longer an option. Things have reached the breaking point. The Uprising can keep us all safe. The King’s men haven’t discovered their locations yet, and they have a safe house if it is needed. They are aware of the situation now. They will be preparing to hide their children and those who cannot fight. They would take in the younger kids and protect them.”
They all considered this. “The outlands are dangerous for kids,” Petra reminded them.
“We are safe inside this house. That’s what a safe house is for.”
“No. It is not safe for us anywhere in the outlands, not without an army to protect us,” Key told him. “We aren’t safe anywhere in Razor City.”
“We have an army.”
“It’s not big or good enough. Some of us can stay here, but we should get the little kids out.”
Ellis and Jesse glanced at each other. “That is actually not a bad idea,” Ellis conceded. “Are they prepared to take them in?”
“Yes,” Beth replied positively.
Ellis finally nodded. “We should give them a choice. Some of the kids won’t like it. We have to let them know the danger they are in and let them make their own decision. We have been responsible for them all this time. Even in the present situation, we can’t let them get hurt because of us, but we also cannot force them to choose a side. We should not force anyone who doesn’t want to go.”
“Fine. We will give them the choice,” Petra said impatiently.
“The Uprising will protect them even if they choose not to join the fight,” Beth said. “They will agree to take them in and allow them to remain neutral. Not everyone who they keep is part of the war.”
“We should do it soon,” Lux said. “As soon as we can.”
Beth nodded. “I will talk to my people. We can plan how to evacuate the ones who want to go.”
“Do it now,” Lux said.
“I will gather the kids and talk to them,” Key said. “We will let them know we have to move and where they are going.”
“Okay,” Beth rose from her seat in the circle.”I will let the leaders know we are coming. They will take anyone.” She looked at Petra. “Within reason. We don’t want to take anyone who will cause a security breech. We can trust the people here. The ones we know.”
Petra understood. She lifted her chin defiantly. Grey wasn’t welcome. Chances are, neither was she. It didn’t matter. She wasn’t going anywhere Grey wasn’t.
“I will go with you, Beth,” Lux said. “We can coordinate the evacuation with our guards.” She looked at the others. “It is time to get involved. It is time to do something. But the rest of you have a choice. It is up to you to decide how far you want to take this. If you aren’t prepared to join the rebels, you can do what you want.”
“We have been together all this time,” Ellis said. “We have made our decisions and lived our lives together all these years. We are together now.” He looked at Jesse and Rip. “Does anyone want to back out?”
Jesse sighed, but he glanced at Rip. Rip shrugged. “I’m good,” he said.
Finally, Jesse nodded. He didn’t look happy. “Okay, I’m in, too. At the very least we can buy some time and make sure the littler ones are safe.”
“They won’t have to join the army, Jesse. You won’t have to join the army. But the Uprising will protect you,” Beth told him. “You could help in other ways. They could use your skills.”
This perked Jesse up a bit. “Most people could use my skills.”
Petra rose to follow the others out. “I will talk to Grey and let him know what is happening.”
Beth turned to her. “You know you can’t bring him there.”
Petra nodded. “I know.”
Key looked at her seriously. “Petra, come with us.”
“No. I can’t leave Grey. I’ll stay here with him. We will work with the Uprising here and try to come up with something to do while we’re waiting to find out if the rebels are willing to work with us and make a plan. When they are ready to move, we’ll be ready.”
Beth stepped forward to hug her. “I will speak to you soon.”
She smiled wanly. “Yeah.”
“Take care of yourself.”
Petra glanced at Key. He scowled at her. “Do you think it’s safe for you to stay here alone with him?”
She shrugged. “What’s going to happen without you that wouldn’t happen with you here? All he wants now is to help stop his father.”
Key sighed. “I know he can help. But I’m not sure he is the best one to align yourself with right now.”
“He is the best one, Key. He is the reason we are in this. He has a plan. He wants to attack the palace, the holdings and the prisons all at once. He knows all the locations. With him and Cage, we have a chance. If the Uprising follows Grey’s plan, it could work. We might be able to get Ren and the others out. It could all finally be over. Scarlet will lose his hold on the city.”
Key sighed, but he stepped forward to hug her tightly. “We will do what we can to convince Cage. I trust you, Petra. I think you know what you’re doing. At the very least, I’ve seen you get out of some pretty bad scrapes. In the meantime, though, at least we’ll be protecting the kids in case—in case Grey isn’t as he seems. The King’s people won’t know where to find us.”
Petra squared her shoulders. “If Grey is a spy, I will be the one to face the consequences. Not any of you or any of them.”
“Will you tell him what we’re doing?”
She sighed. “No, not if you all agree it would be best not to. Even if I did tell him, he doesn’t know the location of the Uprising safe house. They would not be in danger.”
Beth nodded. “She’s right. We did not meet with Dante at the safe house. The location we used was disposable. It was not one of ours. Cage is not foolish enough to let Prince Dante see where we are keeping our people. We do protect ourselves. No one knows what the prince is really after right now, and the King has been wanting to crush the rebels from the beginning. He knows they are his biggest threat. He might have finally found the way–through his son.” She touched Petra’s arm. “I know you trust him. Just be careful.”
“I will. I do trust him.”
“Okay. We will be back with you soon.”
Grey paced the small room like a caged jungle animal, muttering softly to himself. When he heard her slip inside the room, his head snapped up. He turned to look at her with a tempestuous frown. “I am not a spy.”
She blinked at him in surprise. “Were you listening?”
“Not to all of it. Just some of it. I’m not a spy, Petra.” He strode toward her and gripped her hands. “Everything I told you has been the truth!”
“I know that. I believe you, Grey. But not everyone does.”
He nodded decisively. The he released her abruptly and turned away. “I need to leave.”
“What? You can’t! All we’ve been doing here has been to protect you.”
“No. It has been to stop all this. The corruption and murder and false imprisonment. Everything my father has been up to. But before that it was about keeping your people safe, and they aren’t safe as long as I am here.” He looked at her seriously. “I have to go.”
“I won’t let you.”
“Petra, I’m not going to put you in danger.”
“We have a plan. We have an alternative plan–“
He held up his hand. “Don’t tell me! I don’t want to know. Whatever your people are planning, they need to do it without me hearing about it. I don’t want there to be any question about whether I’m passing information to my father. I will do whatever I can to prove it, but don’t tell me.”
She sighed, but she didn’t argue. “All right.”
“I want your people to be safe. I don’t want anyone else to be hurt because of me and my father. If the rebels won’t help us, I have to do it on my own.”
“What? You can’t take on an entire army by yourself!”
“I might be able to get to my father…get in and seize power by force.”
She stared at him. “What? You intend to kill your father and take over the city?”
“I might not have to kill him. I might be able to sneak in and catch him by surprise. Maybe I can lock him up somewhere. If he was out of commission and I was back, I would be the obvious successor.”
She shook her head. “No, Grey, it’s too risky. You can’t. If Scarlet is the one trying to kill you, Saer could be waiting for you.”
“I beat him twice already when I wasn’t expecting him. Now that I am, I think I can handle him.”
She scowled. “Grey, this isn’t the way.”
“What other way is there? Wait? Wait for Cage to decide he’s ready to mobilize? That would be ideal if the rebels go ahead with the strike, but we don’t have time to wait for them. Time is running out before my father begins to suspect I have joined their side or they find me. We have to act now. We can’t wait.” He gripped her shoulders. “Your people will be safe. You will be safe. I don’t matter.”
“You do matter!”
“I matter right now only in that I might be the only one who can get into the palace and take out the King to seize power. His courtiers won’t have a choice but to follow me. I will see to that. I can place myself in charge. And when I am in charge, I can stop all this. I can change everything.”
“No, Grey, it’s too dangerous. It’s too risky. What if the people won’t agree to it? What if they won’t follow you? They could kill you.”
“No. They won’t have a choice. I will be in a position to help the rebels take all the holdings and bring change. Then they will know.”
“But they might take you out. And it is power, Grey. How can you be sure it won’t corrupt you just like it did your father?”
“Because it’s happened to me once. I know how to give it back now. I will only take it in order to give it back to the people.”
“Power corrupts. Grey, it has corrupted you in the past. How can you be sure you’ll be able to let it go?”
He looked hurt. “You don’t trust me?”
She sighed. She stepped forward and clenched his fingers in hers. She looked into his eyes. She did trust him. “I do. I think you mean what you say. I think you have a good heart and your intentions are good. But I think your father’s intentions were good once, too. In the beginning.”
Grey shook his head. “I won’t keep hold of the city long enough to let myself become my father.” He wrapped her into a fierce hug. “And I will have you. Won’t I?” He leaned back to look at her. “Won’t I, Petra? Will you stay with me and make sure I will not let this ruin me like it did my father?”
She melted into him. She wrapped her arms tightly around his waist. “I will. Of course I will. So let me go with you.”
He shook his head. “No. I can’t let you. I’m sorry. You have to stay here where I know you will be safe. Or go with the rebels for now. Anywhere they won’t be able to get to you.”
“I can’t let you, Petra.”
“Then stay here. Don’t go. Not until we can sort this all out.”
“What is there to sort out? I’m going to have to wing it no matter what.”
“Please, Grey, don’t. We’re not ready yet. I’m not ready for you to go.”
He leaned down and kissed her. For several moments, she leaned into him and let herself forget everything. As long as he was here and he was all right, everything would be okay. As long as he didn’t go off to try to take the city from his father by force, everything would be fine. In that small moment, she didn’t care about rebels or Kings or the war that she was trying to start. She just wanted to be with him.
She tightened her arms around his neck. If she just held on, he might not leave. “Just don’t go,” she whispered in his ear.
“I won’t.” He tilted her chin up to kiss her again. “Not anytime soon.”
He walked her backward so they fell back onto the bed. He leaned over her. She stared up at him with pale, troubled eyes. “Do you promise?”
Grey hesitated. Finally, he replied, “I promise.”
Petra smiled and pulled him down to kiss her. It was a long time before she stopped kissing him. For several moments, it was as though the city had stopped moving, as though the Uprising and the King had ceased to exist. She could almost believe they were two people who loved each other; two people who didn’t have anything to fear.
He lifted his head to look down at her. “I won’t let anything bad happen to you, Petra.”
She smiled and drew a finger down his cheek. “I don’t want anything bad to happen to you, either.”
“But Cage is right, Petra. Sometimes you have to sacrifice one for the good of many.”
She clutched his arms. “I’m not willing to let you go. I’m not willing to sacrifice you, Grey. You promised. You promised you won’t go until we can plan this. I want to know what is going to happen.”
“Okay.” There was something in his eyes. She wasn’t sure what it was. She wanted to trust him. She wasn’t sure she should. “I promise.”
“Do you really promise?”
“Yes.” He looked determined now. He smiled and cupped her cheek in his hand. “I won’t go. Not until we know what we’re going to do.”
She smiled and curled against his side. He wrapped his arms around her. She sighed contentedly and closed her eyes.
He waited. In mere moments, her breathing grew deep, slow and steady. He leaned down to whisper in her ear. “Petra?”
She didn’t answer.
Grey slipped carefully out from under her her arm. She didn’t stir. She hadn’t slept well in several days. She probably wouldn’t wake up until he was long gone. He leaned down and kissed her forehead. “I’m sorry, Petra. Goodbye.”