Later, at the safe house where everything has fallen apart…
Petra awoke with a start. The room was eerily silent. She couldn’t hear him breathing. She’d grown used to the sound of his breathing. It had been with her every night for the last few days. She hadn’t even known how much she needed to hear it.
Now it was gone.
“Grey?” There was no sign of him in the room. “Grey!” She shot to her feet. His things were gone. He hadn’t had much, but he had taken it all with him. He wasn’t coming back.
She threw on her clothes and rushed down the stairs. Everyone was already up from their bed and moving around, tossing the few belongings they’d brought with them into bags. Petra looked around for Beth. Her friend noticed her almost at the same time. They strode quickly toward each other to meet in middle of the room. It was peculiarly quiet despite the activity.
“We’re ready. We’re moving the kids,” Beth told her.
Beth blinked. “What? He’s not with you?”
“No! He’s gone.”
“What do you mean ‘gone’?”
“How do you know?”
“He was here, and I fell asleep–now he’s gone.” Petra gripped her best friend’s arm. “He said he was going to go home. He was going to try to take out Scarlet by himself and seize the palace.”
“Petra, we’re moving everyone, and we have to go. How long has he been gone?”
She shook her head. “I don’t know. I’ve only been asleep a couple hours.”
Beth’s expression was grim. “It might have been enough time. There might already be an army coming.” She spun toward the main room. “Everybody out! Now! There’s no time to spare! Take what you need and follow Lux!” She clapped her hands together. “Now!”
“He isn’t bringing anyone here!” Petra argued.
Beth looked serious. “You don’t know that, Petra. He is still the prince, and if he knew we were planning to move–“
“He didn’t. He didn’t know. I didn’t tell him anything. He didn’t want to know.”
“That doesn’t mean he didn’t overhear! At least he doesn’t know where the base is. We’re secure right now. No one is watching. Yet. But we have to leave now. Come on, Petra.”
Petra yanked her arm away. “No! I have to find him. He can’t just go in there on his own. He’ll be killed!”
“He knows what he’s doing or he wouldn’t have gone. Or…or he’s been with his father all along, in which case he is perfectly safe.”
“He isn’t with his father! He isn’t, Beth. And he is walking right into his death!”
“We can’t worry about that right now. We have to worry about our own people. Petra, are you with us or not?”
Petra sighed. “No…”
“Petra, you can’t go to the palace to look for him. He’s gone. Even if he isn’t still on his father’s side, the best you can do is wait and hope he’ll make it out all right. There’s nothing you can do right now. We have to go to the rebels.”
Petra scowled, but she didn’t refuse. Beth grabbed her arm to drag her with the others toward the door. She swiped a tear from her cheek. There wasn’t time to cry over him now.
“You will see him again, Petra,” Beth promised.
“I hope so. I really do, Beth, but I’m afraid I never will.”
Meanwhile, at King Scarlet’s gilded palace…
Grey crept carefully through the courtyard. The guards outside the palace leaned on their guns or the walls bordering the opulent, stone building, looking bored and sleepy. They didn’t notice him. They talked quietly to each other. Their voices were subdued, as though the atmosphere at the palace had taken a downward turn since the prince had disappeared. Every now and again, one of them laughed but the sound seemed to fade lifelessly into the charged air. Grey slipped around the side of the building and pulled open the servant’s entrance door. He didn’t walk inside. He flashed a light toward the steep, narrow stairs. He lifted the gun in his hand.
If Saer was there, Grey was prepared to deal with him. Saer wasn’t there. No one was there. The stairs were silent and empty.
His heart thumped wildly in his chest as though it could hardly bear to see him through this new ordeal. It was the only way. He still had no idea what he was going to do. He didn’t kid himself the empty stairwell meant it was safe for him in the palace. He wasn’t safe anywhere, especially not here. No one would be safe until he could stop his father and take back the city.
He crept through the darkened halls. It was late. The palace was asleep. If he could make it to his room, he could have time to think. He just needed to time figure out what he was going to do. He needed time to be ready to do it.
There were guards in the corridor outside his bedroom. He hadn’t once wondered what had happened to his two ubiquitous bodyguards. Sean and Errol were still outside his door, as though they expected him to emerge any moment, on his way to a night out in the city.
He halted hastily and tried to duck back down the other way before they saw him, but Errol spotted him. “It’s Dante.” He sounded shocked. His voice rang out as though he’d shouted.
Grey wasn’t quick enough to escape them. Sean seized his arm. His expression was triumphant. It didn’t bode well for the prince; he remembered enough to know he had not endeared himself to his bodyguards. “Your father will be very happy to see you, Dante.”
His heart fluttered. He could have aimed his gun at the bodyguards, but they would raise the alarm before he got a shot off, and he didn’t think he had it in him to pull the trigger. He hadn’t wanted them to know he was in the palace so quickly. Now they did. He would have to adjust. He was relieved, at least, that they didn’t pat him down. If they took away his gun, he would have no way to protect himself or carry out his plan–whatever it turned out to be.
They steered him firmly toward his father’s office. They had never manhandled him before. He hadn’t realized how strong they both were. He had been lucky before to have remained on their good sides. Or, at least, he had remained under their protection. They didn’t seem interested in protecting him now. His father must have commanded Grey be brought before him the moment they caught sight of him.
Sean rapped on the door. Scarlet’s voice sounded gruff. “Enter.”
“Sir, the prince.”
Scarlet shot to his feet as Sean propelled Dante into the room. He didn’t smile, but his handsome, angular face lit up. “Dante.” He strode forward and folded Dante into a tight bear hug.
Grey hugged him back warily. He didn’t know what was happening.
“I was so worried.” Scarlet leaned back to hold him out at arm’s length.
“I’m sorry, Dad.”
“Where have you been?”
He didn’t realize he would say it until he did, and then he couldn’t take it back. “I was kidnapped.”
Scarlet blinked in surprise. “Kidnapped? My god, Dante.”
For a moment, he didn’t say anything else. Dante’s heart thudded as he struggled to think of what to say next.
Finally, his father asked, “Who did it?”
He had anticipated this question, of course, but he still hadn’t come up with an answer. His mind raced. “Some outlaws. They caught up with me outside a bar. They beat me up and took me to the outlands.”
Scarlet stepped forward and took Dante’s chin in his hand. He looked closely at his face. “You do look as though you have been recently injured.” He frowned. “Are you suggesting they let you go?”
“No. They didn’t. I escaped.”
Scarlet scowled. “How?”
Grey shook his head. “It’s hazy. I was drugged. Some of the bounty hunters crashed the base and destroyed it. I was able to escape in the chaos.”
“But how long ago was this?”
He wasn’t entirely certain his father believed him. He soldiered on anyway. “A few days. I managed to get away, but I was in bad shape. I had to avoid being seen. I knew if anyone recognized me, I would be in worse trouble.”
Scarlet frowned as he thought about this. He sighed and flickered his hand across his forehead. “I am sorry this has happened to you, son. I did not mean for any of this to happen. If I had known, I would have stopped it.”
He sounded sincere. Grey had never seen him look so concerned—not since the day Elia died. The thought rose unbidden into his mind. He pushed it away. He hadn’t expected this sort of reception from his father. He wasn’t sure what he had expected, but it hadn’t been…affection. He needed time to think about it. Could move against his father—could he do whatever he had to do to take over control of the city if he wasn’t the one who had sent Saer after him? Could he betray a man who had never betrayed him? He still loved his father, would always love his father, no matter what he was.
But, then, Dante’s tenacious assassin worked for Scarlet, and Scarlet was very good at keeping up appearances.
“I am so glad you are all right. I am relieved you made it home safely.”
“I’m sorry I worried you, Dad.”
Scarlet stepped forward and hugged him again. “You are home now.” He leaned back to look at Grey sternly. Grey’s stomach flipped. He knew that look. He had seen it in his dreams and in flashes of memory. “Can you tell me anything about the people who held you?”
Grey sighed. “No. Not really. I was beaten up pretty badly. And I was drugged. I didn’t see any faces.”
“Were they rebels?”
“No. I don’t think so. They were outlaws. They planned to hold me for ransom. I heard them talking about it.”
“Why didn’t they?”
“I don’t know what they were waiting for. Perhaps they were waiting for the right time. I did not know their plan. I just heard bits and pieces. They kept me in a room with no windows.”
Scarlet’s brow furrowed. “What about when you escaped? Do you remember where you were?”
Grey shook his head. “No. Just somewhere the outlands. The streets all look the same. It’s chaos out there. I just remember some old, burnt out houses all around me.”
“You were in a house?”
“Yeah. In the basement. I crawled up the stairs and out the backdoor while they were fighting the hunters. I was lost for days. I slept in some empty houses on the way back to the city center. I spent most of the days trying to avoid the bands of outlaws. I finally made it to the edge of town. After that, I found my way home.”
“Why didn’t you present yourself to the guards?”
Grey sighed. “I was scared. I didn’t know who was in on it.”
Scarlet scowled. “You think one of my people was in on it?” He looked so furious, Grey was almost frightened of him.
“I-I’m not sure. I didn’t know. Maybe. Someone knew where to find me that night.”
“Interesting. Did you see anyone you know?”
He shook his head. “No. I was drinking.”
“You are always drinking.”
“Not anymore, Dad. I want to change. What’s happened has changed me. It was terrible to be in that basement. I want to forget it and–become better.”
Scarlet considered him. “I am happy to hear it. I am glad you have finally seen things my way. A prince cannot go about acting like a spoiled schoolboy on a bender. You are expected to be a man of dignity. It is the only way you can take the reigns when I am gone or ready to retire. Does this mean you are prepared to begin working on my side? You are prepared to take an interest in matters of the city?”
Grey lifted his chin. “Yes, Dad.”
“Excellent. We will begin in the morning. Until then, go on to your room. I will send the medic to look you over. I want to make sure you are well.”
“I am well. I don’t need a medic.”
“Do what your father says. I need to know you will do so from now on and that you will be on my side. Not defying me and making a spectacle of yourself.”
Grey lowered his head. “Yes, Dad.”
Scarlet strode to the door and opened it wide. He gestured Sean and Errol, who waited in the corridor like motionless sentries. “Gentleman, see my son to his room. And guard him.”
Grey looked at him in surprise. “Dad?”
“I am inclined to trust you have decided to join me, but I intend to verify it. I can’t have you falling back into your old patterns now that you are home.”
He nodded, but his stomach roiled. “Of course, Dad. Good night.”
“Good night, son. See you in the morning.”
Meanwhile, at the clandestine Uprising base in the outlands…
The room Petra shared with Beth was small. The two of them barely had enough space for their two cots and the few personal items they had brought with them. The Uprising’s compound was impressive, despite the minimal accommodations. It was an enormous farm house so close to the outer edge of Razor City, even the outlaws rarely ventured so far away from the city center.
The farm was fully functional. The rebels sustained themselves on the crops and cattle. Everyone worked the land. They seemed happy. Petra was almost surprised they wanted to take over Razor City at all; they had everything they could possibly need here, on their base.
In the back of the house was an extensive training ground for the army. The leaders and inner circle of the rebellion had a large private meeting room that looked as though it had once been a lavish dining room. It was the nicest vigilante operation she had ever seen.
According to Beth, the farm had once belonged to one of the rebels. It was so far from the city center, its owner had managed to hold onto it even after the war. Despite how comfortable it was, Petra didn’t like it as much as the old mall. She’d loved the mall. All the lost kids had loved the mall. It had been everything they could have wanted, and it was fun all the time. She’d been happy there. They had all been happy.
Until she had brought Prince Dante there. Then it had all fallen apart.
But, no. It had fallen apart before that. It had fallen apart when her brother had been taken and imprisoned. It had fallen apart when the first innocent person had been taken and tossed away as though their life meant nothing. She couldn’t go back to the way it was, not ever. Even if the rebellion succeeded and Ren was freed, they could never go back.
If they were lucky, what they had to go back to would be better.
And it might all be up to Prince Dante. Her breath hitched. She hoped he was all right, wherever he was. She hadn’t heard from him or heard anything of his reappearance on the news. The Uprising had not allowed her to leave the compound to check on him. She couldn’t have done much anyway; she couldn’t march upon the palace and demand to see him. It could put both their lives at risk. It could ruin everything.
She wanted to talk to Cage. He might have information about Dante, about what had happened when he’d returned home. He was still a Noble, even if he was the leader of the rebellion. His position had not yet been compromised. Cage, though, was staying away from the mall kids. He wouldn’t speak to any of them,. He seemed particularly keen to avoid her. She didn’t really blame him.
No one spoke much to her aside from Beth, and that was only to wish her good night. Even Key was staying away. Perhaps he was angrier than he’d let on about the mistakes she’d made and the trouble she’d brought down upon them. Perhaps he had simply become so absorbed in life with the Uprising, he hardly had time for her anymore.
She missed him. She wished he would come back. She felt more alone and more frightened than she ever had. She felt out of control. She didn’t like leaving the fate of her people and the city in the hands of others, especially people she was fairly certain she couldn’t trust. She hadn’t wanted anything to do with any of it.
Not until Grey had come along. And then everything had changed.
She paced the tiny room. She opened her laptop, but there wasn’t any news. It was as though the world stood still while she was in the farmhouse on the edge of town. Scarlet and his people were silent. Dante was silent. Even the people around her were silent. It seemed oddly appropriate.
She had tried to access the King’s email again, to find any news of Grey or even what the palace had learned about the Uprising, but Scarlet’s passwords had been changed. It was troubling, but she tried not to think too closely about what that meant. Perhaps the King’s information security had noticed the breech.
Or perhaps Grey had warned him that someone was looking in on him. Perhaps it had been part of the King’s and his son’s plan all along.
She felt ill, but she couldn’t stop trusting Grey now. If she did, everything would fall apart. She might fall apart. Grey was her very last hope.
She hoped he was all right.
There was a knock on her door. She was so startled, she almost screamed. Instead, she yelped and turned toward the door. She really needed to relax.
Beth opened the door without waiting for her to reply. It was her room, too. Petra didn’t know why she’d knocked, unless she’d intended to frighten her. She pressed her hand to her chest. “Hey,” she gasped.
Beth looked serious. “Anything from Grey?”
“No. Nothing. I haven’t heard anything new from the palace. The media is quiet. There’s nothing at all going on.”
“Or if there is, it’s nothing that we know about. What about your contacts around town?”
Petra shook her head. “I’m almost too afraid to talk to them. I’m not sure what they would know, and I don’t want them somehow putting anything together.” She sighed. “I’m so worried, Beth.”
“I know.” She squared her shoulders. “Cage has made a decision.”
“What? Why didn’t you say so before?”
“He wants to see you..”
Petra’s heart leapt. Her stomach roiled. She hadn’t eaten in days. She was glad. She doubted she’d be able to hold it down.
Beth tilted her head. “Come with me.”
Cage was waiting in the enormous, lavish meeting room. He wasn’t alone. Pablo and a few rebels whose names she didn’t know were with him. They sat around the large table in the center of the room. Lux, Key and Ellis were with them. Petra lifted her eyebrows. So they had joined them, after all.
They all looked up at her as she entered, but they didn’t say anything. Their expressions were unreadable. Beth directed her to a chair at the foot of the table, directly across from Cage. The Uprising leader eyed her silently for a long moment.
Finally, he spoke in his cold, calm voice. “Petra, we have decided to move on the palace.”
“I thought you weren’t ready!”
“We are ready. We have been ready for a very long time.”
“You lied to us!”
“We were protecting ourselves. The prince’s information helped us, but we have always known that we would strike and when it would happen. We will hit all the King’s holdings at once. We will strike at all points. We have already mobilized the teams.”
Petra rose. “You’re hitting all the holdings, including the prisons?”
“You have enough people for that?”
“You have no idea how wide our influence spreads. The King will never see it coming. While the other teams are striking, we will attack the palace.”
“But…but Grey’s in there!”
“Yes, and he seems to be back under his father’s wing.”
“What? What are you talking about?”
“I have been in the palace. He is under lock and key.”
Petra’s breath caught. “Is he all right?”
Cage ignored this. “He is at his father’s side at all times. Scarlet is teaching him the family business.”
“You’ve seen him.”
“I have seen him, but he has not seen me. For what it is worth, he has not revealed my identity to his father.”
“So he is not a spy! He is innocent. He is trying to work from the inside. If we strike, he might be killed!”
“We have to take that risk. He went back on his own. We can’t jeopardize our only chance because he might be caught in the crossfire.”
She narrowed her eyes at him. “Right. You don’t care about that, do you?”
He didn’t not seem bothered by her remarks. “I am sorry about your brother. I am sorry about all the people who have been caught up in this fight, who were innocent. My family, too, was accused of treason, but they weren’t lucky enough to be imprisoned. They were executed. I have spent years working my way through the King’s ranks to become a trusted Noble and get inside. I still hadn’t gotten the information we needed to plan our strike. We needed locations, the people he’s working with. We needed to know what Dante gave us. And now we are finally ready. He gave himself to this cause. We have to use what he has given us now, before it is too late.”
Petra scowled. “You don’t have to be part of this, Petra,” Beth told her. “You don’t have to be involved in the strike. You can stay here.”
“No. No! If Grey is in there, I’m going. And I will try to get him out before he gets hurt.”
“Fine,” Cage said. “As long as you do not get in our way, you may do as you like, but if you get in the way–if anyone gets in the way–they will fall with the King. We are not playing games here. There is no time for love, compassion or mercy. We go in, we bring them down, and we take the palace.”
She frowned. “What about Ren?”
“We aren’t sure where he’s being kept,” Beth answered. “But when we liberate the prisoners, we will bring them to safety. He will be all right.”
Petra stuck out her chin. “Okay. Fine. I am ready when you are. I just want to move. I want to make something happen. When are we doing it?”
Cage’s expression did not change. He was as impassive as ever. “We move right now.”