Meanwhile, in a room in the King’s palace that had now become a prison…
Grey paced the length of his room. It was larger than the rooms he’d been sleeping in for the last several days, but it felt like a prison. He couldn’t catch his breath. He felt as though the walls were closing in. He’d been under house arrest since he’d returned from the outlands.
But he was safe. At least, he felt safe. There hadn’t been any attacks since he’d returned. He didn’t know if his father had called off his attack dog or if he’d been mistaken all along. Maybe his compliance had been what Scarlet had wanted all along. Maybe now that he had fallen into Scarlet’s plan for his life, his father had seen no further need to send his hit man after him. Either way, he hadn’t seen or heard anything from Saer.
He hadn’t seen or heard anything about anything. The palace was quiet. The city was quiet. There hadn’t been a peep from the rebels. He wondered where Petra was. He hoped she was safe. He couldn’t reach her. He’d never even gotten her number.
His friends in the palace guards and the Marshals–well, they weren’t friends, exactly. They were people who he had bullied or threatened into giving him information in the past. They didn’t know he’d never follow through now. They still passed him information, but they didn’t have any now. Even the bounty hunters were minding their own business. They hadn’t brought anyone to the palace in several days. He hadn’t asked if Petra or her people had been captured. He didn’t want anyone to wonder why he’d asked. He didn’t want them to know her name. Once they had her name, they would have her.
Now that Dante had been found, Razor City was peaceful and serene. As peaceful and serene as a city suspended in fear and misery could be.
He knew Cage was all right. The King hadn’t cottoned onto his hand in the Uprising yet. If he had, Grey would have known. When a Noble went down, everyone knew about it, even if they were on the bottom of the hierarchy. Most people in Razor City were on the bottom of the hierarchy. It helped to show even the ones on top fell when they stood against Scarlet. And they always fell even harder.
Dante waited. If the Uprising intended to move on the palace, they hadn’t shown any signs yet. But they would. Eventually. He wished he knew when. If he hadn’t snuck out and returned to the palace, he would know what was happening. He wished he hadn’t acted rashly, but he’d had to know if Scarlet was behind Saer’s attacks.
He still didn’t know.
His stomach growled insistently. He’d been too sick with worry to notice before now. His room wasn’t locked. He wasn’t to leave the house, but he could still move freely around the palace. He hadn’t eaten much in days. He was losing weight. His expensive, carefully tailored clothes hung on him like rags. He should get something to eat.
He peeked out of his room. His body guards were there, in the hall. Sean stepped in front of the door. “Where are you going, Dante?”
He didn’t remember a time when he hadn’t lied to them. It felt strange telling the truth. “I’m going to the kitchen to get something to eat.”
Sean and Errol glanced at each other. They eyed him suspiciously. His hair was mussed and he wore the same jeans and tee shirt he’d worn the past two days. He wasn’t dressed to go out. He wasn’t even wearing shoes. They nodded. Apparently, they appreciated the break. “Fifteen minutes.”
“Okay. Bring you some cookies or something.”
They were the only people he passed in the halls of the palace. It was strangely quiet. The silence felt charged and dangerous. The hairs on the back of his neck stood up. His heart thumped. The palace felt wrong. Where were the guards? Where were the Nobles wandering in and out to meet with his father even late into the evening? Where were the servant girls bustling around the house, cleaning up after the day’s business meetings and luncheons?
Petra’s face flashed in his mind. He hoped she was all right. In the kitchen, he forgot about getting something to eat. Something was happening. He felt it in his bones, but he didn’t know what it was. His bodyguards obviously didn’t suspect anything. Perhaps he was simply going stir crazy. Perhaps his worry and fear and anxiety was getting the better of him.
The kitchen was quiet. The pots and pans from the evening’s meal had been cleaned and put away. The cook had gone home for the night. If he had prepared the morning’s breakfast, it was put away. It looked as though no one had used the room in days. He knew they had. Claire had brought a tray of food to him earlier in the day, but he’d only picked at it.
He moved out of the room and peeked down the stairs to the servant’s entrance. It was dark and silent. At the foot of the stairs, the door was sealed shut. He didn’t think it was locked. It was never locked. No one had come in. If they had, he would know. At least, he was sure he would notice if the Uprising was here.
His stomach growled again. He turned back to the kitchen. He’d make a sandwich or something. He thought he could remember how to do that, though he couldn’t remember the last time he’d made anything for himself. He wondered if Sean and Errol really wanted those cookies. Even if they didn’t, no one said no to cookies. He rummaged through the fridge and slapped together a turkey sandwich. He didn’t bother with condiments or dressing. He stuffed the bread and meat in his mouth without thinking about what he was eating.
There were cookies in the pantry. He grabbed a stack still sealed in cellophane. His fifteen minutes were nearly up. Sean and Errol would come looking for him. At least he’d have something to show for it. Maybe the cookies could be a peace offering. He probably owed them something, anyway. He’d been the worst charge anyone could have asked for.
He wondered for the first time what they’d done to get put on prince duty. It was probably something really bad.
He started up the stone stairs in the kitchen toward the upper levels, toward his room on the third floor. They were as silent as the rest of the house. Most of the staff didn’t use them, but Claire did. He almost hoped to meet her there. He wasn’t sure what he wanted to say. Sorry, maybe. Perhaps he wanted to tell her it would be over soon. She wouldn’t be a slave for much longer. She wouldn’t have to fear that her parents would be executed. Perhaps he just wanted to tell her that he’d changed.
She probably wouldn’t believe him. She probably wouldn’t even listen. She’d stand there and stare at him with those huge, terrified eyes, but his words would fall on deaf ears. He wished he hadn’t spent so much time frightening her. He wished he could take back all the terrible things he’d done. It would have taken a lifetime to make up for them.
He’d have his work cut out for him. He needed a good head start. Claire wasn’t on the stairs, though. Wherever she was, he thought she was probably avoiding him. He hadn’t called her to his room since he’d returned, and she hadn’t come on her own. If she was the one cleaning his room, she did it while he was with his father. He’d never even seen her.
After a moment, he realized he wasn’t alone on the stairs. There was hardly a noise, but he felt the air changed. He thought he could feel someone breathing. He spun around.
Saer rushed toward him from the foot of the stairs. Grey was so startled, he forgot the gun stuffed into his waistband. He never went anywhere without it these days. He was amazed no one had noticed it. Saer reached him before he had a chance to realize what was happening. He gripped the front of Grey’s tee shirt and spun him around. For a moment, Grey was suspended in the air above the stairs. He felt his feet leave the ground.
When Saer let him go, he reached for the lapels of Saer’s long, brown duster. The assassin’s cold, pale eyes widened. Grey didn’t let go. He yanked hard on Saer’s coat. Saer fell forward while Grey fell backward. The assassin flailed in the air to catch the railing, but he couldn’t get a grip on it. With all of his strength, Grey spun him in midair.
They landed at the foot of the stairs. It hurt, but Grey hadn’t landed on the hard, stone floor. He’d landed on Saer. He looked down. The assassin’s eyes were closed. He didn’t open them or stir. Grey didn’t wait to check his pulse. He probably wasn’t dead. He didn’t seem like the type of man who was so easy to kill. He would probably live forever, doing the King’s bidding until the King was gone. Maybe after that, he would retire somewhere quiet.
Grey scrambled to his feet and up several stairs. When he was out of Saer’s reach, he leaned a hand against the wall and gasped for breath. His heart pounded. The stack of cookies had burst open. They lay in a pile of crumbs around Saer’s head. For a moment, Grey felt horribly disappointed. He’d only meant to be nice. Now he would have to explain to his bodyguards that he’d failed to bring them his peace offering because his father had sent someone to kill him.
He couldn’t stay in the palace. He needed to leave. He would probably never see the guards again. If they knew what he was planning, they would stop him.
He turned back toward the foot of the stairs. The servants’ door was close enough. Saer wasn’t moving. He still had the gun. He could just shoot him now, and it would all be over. He would never come after him again. He yanked his gun out and lifted it. He took a deep, steadying breath.
He lowered his arm. He couldn’t shoot an unconscious man in cold blood. He didn’t think the old Dante could have done it, either. Perhaps he was nothing more than a coward.
Behind him, on the floor above, a door burst open and banged against the wall. Grey spun. He expected to see Sean or Errol or even Claire, coming to see what the commotion was about. It wasn’t any of them.
It was Warin Scanlan, his father’s right hand man.
Warin stared between Grey and the silent man at the foot of the stairs. For several seconds, he goggled silently. “What happened?” he demanded finally.
Grey fell back against the wall. “He tried to kill me. I defended myself.”
Warin cursed. “He failed again? What sort of unstoppable killer is he?”
His words took several seconds to sink in. “What?”
The older man didn’t say anything. His face twisted, and he rushed down the stairs toward Grey.
Grey staggered back a few steps and raised his gun. Warin stopped dead on the stairs. His eyes glinted angrily. He glared at Grey as though he wished he could lunged toward him and shove him down the stairs.
“What the hell is going on?” Grey demanded. “Did my father send Saer to kill me?”
“Put the gun away, Dante.” His voice was low and cold.
“You knew he sent him?”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about. Put the gun away. You’re acting crazy.”
“I’m not the one who’s crazy! You tell me what is going on, or I will shoot you!”
Warin laughed bitterly. “You won’t shoot me. You’re not a killer. You’re just a spoiled child.”
“I will shoot you! Saer tried to kill me three times, and you know something about it.” Grey cocked the gun. His hand didn’t even waver. “If you don’t start telling me the truth, I will do it.”
Warin held up his hands. “Okay. Okay.”
“Was it my father who hired him?”
Grey stared at him for several seconds. There was something in his eyes. Suddenly, he knew. “You’re lying. It wasn’t my dad, was it? But you knew about it. You came here expecting to find me dead. You wanted to find me dead. It was you. You hired Saer. You planned to kill me to–what? To take over the city? To be the next in line?”
Warin glared at him. “I have no interest in your father’s power.” He lifted his chin. “What are you going to do? Shoot me? Go on, then. My life is worth nothing anymore. Not since my son died.”
Grey blinked in surprise. “What? Your son?” And then he remembered. He’d been remembering all this time. He just hadn’t understood what he’d seen. “Elia. He died…I was there.”
“It was supposed to be you! It was supposed to be you who died that day. They were after you, not Elia. They wanted to hurt your father, but they made a mistake and took my son instead.”
Grey shook his head. “So you hired Saer to kill me–to pay me back?”
Warin sighed. “Not you. You’re just a child, just a spoiled brat. You don’t mean anything to me. You’re a disgrace. But he still loves you. You’re his son.”
“My father. You wanted to pay him back for Elia. It wasn’t his fault! He didn’t pull the trigger. He isn’t the one who killed him.”
“But if not for him, if not for you, my boy would still be alive.”
“I have nothing to lose now. Just shoot me, Dante. Let me be at peace. Finally, I can be with Elia again.”
“No. I’m not going to shoot you.” But he didn’t lower his gun. “That’s not the sort of man I am.”
Warin laughed humorlessly. “What sort of man do you think you are, Dante? Do you even know? Do you think because you got a bump on the head and have decided to be a good boy for your father that you’re suddenly decent? You’re still his son. You’re still corrupt and vicious. I’ve seen the way you behave. You’re nothing but a mean, spoiled bully.”
“No. No! Not anymore. I’ve changed.”
“Please. You think nineteen years of being a spoiled brat goes away in a week? It doesn’t. You’re still the man you always were, and you will become your father someday. You will hurt and kill and imprison those who oppose you. You will let innocent children die to protect your own interests. You are just like him. Elia was a good boy. He was sweet and innocent. He never hurt anyone. He didn’t deserve to die. You do!”
“No,” Grey said in a soft voice. “He didn’t deserve to die. I’m sorry he’s dead. I’m sorry it was meant for me. But I am not like my father. I want the corruption and the imprisonments and executions to stop.”
Warin barked with laughter. “You think it will be so easy? You think you can just convince your father to stop”
“No. I think there are others who will convince him.”
“Oh. You have an army now? What were you doing while you were away? Did you fall in with the Uprising while you were in the outlands? Or were you just in hiding?”
Grey lifted his chin. “I’m not in hiding anymore.”
“No, now you can fall right back under your father’s wing.”
“You don’t know anything about me!”
“Oh, no, Dante. It is you who know nothing. I know everything about you. I have been watching you for a long time, and you are not near as good a man as my son would have become. Just kill me.” He lifted his arms at his sides. “Do it and seal your fate. Do what you are meant to do. Become Ezra. Become a monster and murderer.”
“No. I will have you arrested instead.”
Warin laughed again. “You will have to kill me. I won’t go.” He crouched suddenly as though preparing to strike.
Grey braced himself and steadied his gun. He didn’t want to pull the trigger. He would if he had to.
There was a crash somewhere in the palace. And then someone shouted. Grey started and turned his head. In the moment he looked away from him, Warin rushed at him. Grey spun back toward him.
He pulled the trigger. Warin clutched at his chest in shock. For a moment, Grey was certain he saw his lips curl into a smile. He didn’t wait to see him fall. He pushed past him and raced up the stairs.
His father was innocent. He hadn’t been trying to kill him, anyway. It changed everything.
And it was too late. The Uprising was here.
He pounded up the stairs toward his father’s office on the forth floor. If he could reach him, maybe he could save his life. The rebels hadn’t made it to the main floors yet. They must have streamed silently in through the servants’ entrance and up into the entrance hall. He could hear them below. He could hear shouting and gunfire.
They’d struck just exactly as he’d suggested.
His heart felt as though it might leap from his chest. He wondered if Petra was there with the rebels. He knew her well enough by now. She would be. And she would be coming for him. He missed her. He ached to see her, to ensure she was all right, but he needed to make it to his father first. He didn’t stop.
Petra could take care of herself. She was the one on the winning side.
His father’s office door was closed. He’d never dared to enter without knocking before. Now he burst in. The door banged violently against the wall. Scarlet shot to his feet behind his desk. His expression was thunderous. “Dante? What are you doing bursting in here like this?”
“Dad, the rebels are attacking the palace!”
Scarlet frowned in confusion. “What?”
“We have to get you into hiding. They’re coming for you.”
His father scoffed. “They won’t get past my people. This is the safest room in the house.”
“Do you have a panic room?”
“A panic room?” He sounded completely disdainful.
“You don’t have a panic room? Are you crazy?”
“Son, this palace is a fortress. How could they even get in? They won’t get past the gates.”
“They already have! They came in through the servants’ entrance on the west side.”
“What? How did they know about that? I thought it was sealed up.”
Grey shook his head. “It isn’t.”
“How do you know?”
“I use it all the time. I…” He took a deep breath and met his father’s eyes. “I told them about it”
Scarlet’s face turned purple with rage. “What? You what? You’re a rebel?”
He lifted his chin. “I am.”
“But why? I thought you had finally decided to join me, to take what is rightfully yours.”
“I don’t want it! This isn’t right. We can’t keep controlling the city and the people this way.”
Scarlet slapped a hand on the surface of his desk. “You are my son! How could you do this?”
“I’m sorry, Dad. I thought you were trying to kill me.”
Scarlet blinked in surprise. “So you sided with them? With the Uprising? To get back at me? To take me down?”
“I am trying to save your life!”
“By bringing them here, into our home?” Scarlet stepped forward to face him. He didn’t reach out to strike him, but his expression was so furious, Grey thought he might. “I will not lose my empire, Dante. If you are with the Uprising, you are my enemy.”
“Dad, we have to get out of here–“
Scarlet reached into his jacket before Grey realized what he was doing. He drew out a long barreled pistol. He aimed it at Grey’s head. Grey raised his own gun.
For a moment, they didn’t say anything. They didn’t move. They stared at each other.
Petra burst into the room. “Grey!”
Both men looked at her in shock. “Petra!” Grey said finally.
Scarlet’s lip curled. “And is this one of the rebels? Of course it is.”
He swiveled and aimed the gun at Petra. She had one, too. That was three too many in the room, by Grey’s estimation. He dove in front of her and lifted his hands. “Father, no!”
Scarlet did not fire. His eyes narrowed as he looked at his son. “You’re protecting her?”
“Yes. You will have to shoot me if you want to get to her, and you won’t be able to before I kill you.”
Petra didn’t have time for this. “Grey, the rebels are here. They’re attacking. What are you planning to do? Who’s side are you on now? You have to choose.”
Grey didn’t look at her. His eyes locked with his father’s. “He isn’t the one who was trying to kill me. It was Warin.”
“What?” Scarlet demanded. “Warin was trying to kill you?”
“He hired Saer Dagon.”
Scarlet scoffed. “But that’s ridiculous.”
“No. It isn’t. He was trying paying you have back for Elia.”
“Elia…” Scarlet’s eyes slid away. “I have not thought of the boy in years.”
“Grey! The rebels are here!” Petra reminded him. “They’re taking out the guards. They’re following your plan.”
“You planned this?” Scarlet asked.
Grey did not waver. “I gave them information. Now I have to try to get you out of here alive.”
“My own son is a traitor!”
“The Uprising is powerful,” Petra told him over Grey’s shoulder. Her eyes narrowed. “Their army is big, and your people are falling. All your holdings are being attacked as we speak. None of your people will make it out unless they are absorbed by us. Your reign is over. All you have left is a chance to live, if you even have that.”
Scarlet glared at her. “Don’t tell me what to do! No one tells me what to do!” He aimed his gun between them as though he couldn’t decide who he wanted to shoot first.
“Father, it’s over.” Grey’s voice was low and almost gentle. “Please. Let me save your life.”
There was shouting on the floors below. It was getting closer. They were nearly upon them.
“It’s the rebels,” Petra said. “They’re coming, Grey.”
Grey looked at his father. His eyes glinted tempestuously. “This is your last chance, Dad! Please. I don’t know what they will do if they catch you. I don’t want you to die. You are still my father. I love you.”
“You are no son of mine! You betrayed me! You brought the Uprising down upon me. You took down my entire empire!” He didn’t lower his gun. He swung it toward Grey’s face.
Grey’s shoulders trembled, but he didn’t waver or lower his own gun. He didn’t want to shoot his father, but he had gotten them into this. If he had to, he would take it all the way. He’d always known it might come to this. He was relieved, at least, that it was him and not someone else. At least he would show his father mercy.
“Petra, Grey, send out the King!” Cage’s voice came from the hall outside the door. It sounded firm. It sounded triumphant.
“Grey?” Scarlet repeated. He looked at his son with narrow eyes. “Who the hell is Grey?”
He lifted his chin. “I am.”
“You are? What is this?”
“Grey?” Petra demanded, glancing behind her at the door. “What do we do?”
“If we send him out, they will execute him, Petra. He’s my father.”
“Grey, we will come in,” Cage told them. “Send him out or we will come get him.”
“He means it, Grey. What are you going to do?”
“We can’t send him out!”
“Let them in,” Scarlet said coldly. “Let them in, and I will kill them all.”
“Don’t be a fool!” Grey hissed. “You will die! I don’t want to lose you.”
“I’ll go out to them,” Petra said. “I will tell them there is another way. We can do what you planned. We can lock him up, lock him away and keep him out of it. I can talk to Cage. He may agree.”
Grey shook his head. “I will go.”
“No! You’re the one holding out on them. I don’t want them getting into their head they’ll kill you, too.” She backed up slowly, but Scarlet did not try to fire at her. He stared down the barrel of Grey’s gun. She opened the door and stepped out into the hall.
“Where is the King, Petra?” Cage demanded.
Behind him, the Uprising gathered in the hall. They weren’t carrying a noose, but they looked like a lynch mob all the same.
“You don’t have to kill him, Cage. You can just imprison him.”
Cage lifted an eyebrow, but his expression didn’t change. “He murdered hundreds of people. He murdered our loved ones. And you want to let him live?”
“We don’t have to do it this way.”
“Get out of the way, Petra.” He caught her arm and propelled her toward the group of rebels in the hall.
She tried to start forward, but she felt hands on her arms. Beth held onto her. She looked as though she’d been hit in the face, and her blonde hair was unraveling from her braid. Nevertheless, she looked excited. They had won. Whatever happened to the King now, the Uprising had won.
“Don’t, Petra,” she said firmly. “You can’t stop it. Don’t get yourself killed for that bastard.”
“But Grey–!” Petra struggled, but there were more hands on her, holding her back.
Cage drew his pistol and stepped into the King’s office. Grey spun and jumped in front of his father. “You don’t have to kill him, Cage! It doesn’t have to be like this. You don’t have to start it all by killing him. You can be merciful.”
“Like him?” Cage growled, glaring toward Scarlet.
Scarlet didn’t look afraid. He looked furious. “You will have to kill me. If not, I will find a way to destroy you all. Including you, Grey.”
“Step aside, Grey,” Cage ordered.
He stood his ground. “You can’t start a new era like this! With murder in cold blood! It isn’t right! It will just be the same all over again. We can make him stand trial for his crimes. We cannot just execute him! We can have him judged by the people.”
“If you do not step aside, I will consider you to be on his side and act accordingly.”
Petra broke free from the rebels holding her arms. “Petra!” Beth shouted, but Petra was too fast. She raced into the office.
They didn’t glance at her. Cage leveled his gun at Grey. The prince didn’t move. Petra dove for him, but she was too late. The gun exploded. The noise was deafening. Grey barreled into her. They both fell to the ground.
But he wasn’t bleeding. Beside him, Scarlet dropped to his knees, clutching at his side. Blood poured over his hand.
“Dad!” Grey crawled to him. He cradled his father’s head in his lap. “What did you do?”
Scarlet’s dark eyes rolled up to him. “You’re still my son.” His voice was raspy. Petra wasn’t sure he was going to make it. “You would have died for me.”
Grey’s breath hitched. “I love you, Dad. I’m sorry.”
Petra looked up at Cage. “You didn’t have to do that!”
Cage lowered his gun and lifted his chin. He looked cold and remorseless. “It is the end of King Scarlet. I had to make it stick.”
She glared at him and knelt down beside Grey and his father. The wound was bad. Scarlet was bleeding heavily. The color drained from his face. She bent down to examine the wound. She’d seen worse. He might make it, if they could stop the bleeding in time.
She rose to face Cage. “You have your rebellion. You’ve won. Let him live.”
Cage looked down at Scarlet and his son. For a moment, he looked as though he intended to raise his gun and finish them off.
Petra stepped forward and caught his arm. “Cage, please. You can’t shoot him while he’s down. It’s wrong.” He didn’t say anything. Her fingers tightened on his arm. “He can’t do anything this way. He’s finished. Killing him won’t solve anything. He will never be able to hurt anyone again. Don’t start our new life this way. Do the right thing.”
Cage stared at her. Finally, he nodded. He turned his head and barked toward the doorway. “Get a medic in here!”
“We have a hospital wing,” Grey said urgently. “Unless it’s been destroyed.”
“No,” Cage replied. He looked calmer now. Petra sighed in relief. “We didn’t kill anyone innocent. Just the guards who refused to be absorbed. Those who joined us were spared. We did not kill anyone we didn’t need to. It is not the way.”
“Except the King,” Petra whispered.
Cage didn’t reply, he turned and strode out of the room. He paused in front of his people. The gathered outside the door and on the floors below. They waited. He faced them and lifted his arms.
“King Scarlet has fallen!” he shouted.
The cheering was nearly deafening. It didn’t stop for a very long time.
Grey closed his eyes. Scarlet didn’t stir. His breath was shallow and ragged. His eyes were squeezed shut against the pain. Silent tears streaked down Grey’s pale cheeks.
Petra knelt by his side. She wrapped her arms around his shoulders. “I’m so sorry, Grey.”
He shook his head. He clutched his father’s hand. “I’m lucky he’s still alive.”
“He’ll be all right. We’ll make sure of it.”
Grey looked up at her. There was something in his stormy eyes. It might have been relief. “It’s over, Petra.”
She smiled sadly and squeezed his shoulders. “No. It isn’t over. Not yet.”