Later, at the newly appointed Razor City Courthouse…
Grey was tense. Beside him, Petra folded his hand in hers. He glanced at her. A storm of emotion raged behind his eyes. “What are you worried about?” she whispered. “They didn’t seek execution.”
He sighed. “I know. And I know he will be found guilty. He is guilty. I agree with his imprisonment. It’s just…he’s still my father, Petra. It’s hard to see him like this.”
The trials for Ezra Scarlet and his Nobles had been long and hard. There were so many people who had been wronged by the King’s reign, so many people who had been hurt. Erika Brana had not pulled any punches. Grey and Cage had been called to answer for their parts in the crimes, but their work to restore the city had protected them from punishment. They would, however, be paying reparations to their own victims for a long time. As far as Grey was concerned, it was only right. Cage, too, seemed eager to atone for his own sins.
The citizens of Razor City were happy to see the end of the trials. It was as though a heavy weight was lifting off their shoulders. It was as though the entire city had been suspended and breathless. Now, they could breath again. There had been a great public outcry about the decision not to execute the former King and his Nobles, but the media had supported the representatives’ decision to be merciful toward the former regime. Eventually, the city had reconciled to the idea, though there were still protests even outside the courtroom that day.
The street militia from Sector 5 stood guard outside the courtroom. Anna Bane had argued over the loss of their presence from the outlands, but Grey had insisted. He wasn’t taking any chances on one of the angrier citizens dispensing their own vigilante justice against his father and the Nobles. So far, nothing terrible had happened. Grey hoped the city would remain calm, even after the verdicts were read.
They were certain to be found guilty. They had carefully selected the jurors, but there wasn’t a life in Razor City that hadn’t been touched by Scarlet and his men. They would not get off easily for their crimes. No one believed they should. Except maybe Scarlet and his Nobles.
His father had not repented for his crimes. He’d reminded the citizens of the good he had done in the beginning, right after the world had been thrust in chaos and needed a heavy hand to unite the city. He’d insisted that his deeds had been just. Grey thought he almost seemed surprised to hear the droves of citizens testifying to his wickedness.
Perhaps he’d never been aware of the level of corruption he’d reached. Grey knew his father didn’t expect to be found justified in his actions. He’d known from the beginning what would come of the trial. Grey hoped that, someday, he might actually understand the impact of everything he’d done.
“It’s almost over,” Petra told him in a low voice.
“I know. Once it is, we can finally put this all behind us. Maybe someday my father will learn from his mistakes.”
“Perhaps it’s more important that you learn from his mistakes.”
Grey smiled wanly. “I like to think I have. But I probably have a lot left to learn.”
She squeezed his hand. “Knowing it is what makes you better than him.”
He sighed. “I don’t know if I want to be better than him. He is still my father, and I think there is good in him. He simply went the wrong way with his power and his influence. Perhaps I just want to make better choices about how I handle them.”
“You will. You already have. You started out on the wrong track, but you got rebooted. You got start over.”
He smiled. “Rebooted. Yeah, I guess a bump on the head was exactly what I needed.”
“Sometimes you have to shut down and restart. It usually doesn’t work as well for people as machines, but this time it worked out pretty good.”
“If not for you, I might have gone back and never known what I could have made of myself.”
She considered. “Do you think you would have gone back to your father if the Uprising hadn’t struck when it did?”
He’d thought about this a lot. “I don’t know if I ever would have gone back to the way I was, but I don’t know if I would have taken over the city by force, like I’d planned. At the time, I thought my father was trying to have me killed. When I realized he wasn’t, I tried to make a fresh start with him. I thought maybe I could change him.” He sighed. “I don’t think I could have. I’d like to think I could, but I don’t think anything but a complete revolution would have changed him. I like to think I would have stayed good, but who knows what could have happened. I don’t like to think about it.”
She smiled at him. “You would have stayed good. Perhaps you would have reached a point when you realized you had to do something.”
If he thought the same, he didn’t get a chance to say. The bailiff called for attention. The judge strode into the courtroom. The spectators stopped talking and rose. The silence was tense and charged. The judge was a stiff-jawed man in his late fifties with steely grey hair combed back from his strong, humorless face. His dark eyes swept the courtroom with an uncanny alertness. He nodded and motioned them to sit.
Grey’s breath caught. His grip on Petra’s hand tightened almost painfully. She moved closer to him. The warmth and weight of her beside him was oddly reassuring. He wrapped an arm around her shoulders. His heart thumped. He watched the door for his father to enter.
The courtroom, too, sat back down to await King Scarlet. A guard brought him into the room from a side door. He looked grim, but he held his head high. Grey watched him as though he were the only person in the room. Scarlet had lost weight. His charcoal grey suit looked too large. His hair was combed back from his face, but it didn’t look as flawless as it used to. It stuck up slightly in the back as though he hadn’t been able to tame it. He looked as though he hadn’t slept well, either. Grey had seen him since his arrest. He visited him often. His father had not yet forgiven him for helping to overthrow his empire, but they were attempting to reconcile.
Grey thought they were talking more now than they’d ever talked in his life. He wished there could be another outcome to the trial. There couldn’t. Even Grey couldn’t have let his father off for his crimes.
The judge was anxious to end the spectacle. “Has the jury reached a verdict?” he asked immediately.
“Yes, Your Honor.”
The silence that ensued was deafening. The clerk passed the jury’s verdict to the judge. He looked at Scarlet. “Ezra Scarlet, please rise.”
Scarlet looked almost as though he might refuse this last indignity, but he finally rose. His attorney rose to stand at his side. The man looked as though he’d been through a terrible ordeal. He looked like a beaten, hopeless man. He’d tried his best. He was a good lawyer. There was no defending a man like Scarlet, a man who refused to show even the slightest remorse for his sins. Grey felt a little bad for the attorney.
“In the case of Razor City versus Ezra Scarlet, we find the defendant guilty. He will be sentenced to life imprisonment in a facility chosen by the city leader. There will be no hope of ever getting out.”
Scarlet lifted his chin. His dark eyes were unreadable. The courtroom exploded in a cacophony of cheering and shouting. Grey closed his eyes. He didn’t want to see his father dragged out of the courtroom in chains. He didn’t want to see his face as they took him away.
“I’m sorry, Grey,” Petra said beside him. She remained firmly planted in her seat, despite the pandemonium around them. “I know you wish it could be different.”
He sighed. He opened his eyes and looked at her. “I do wish it could be different.”
He glanced around them at the citizens in the courtroom. They were happy. They were happier than he had ever seen them. The man who’d been oppressing, terrorizing and destroying their lives for a decade was finally going to face justice.
“I wish it could be different,” he said. “But it can’t. This is the only way it can be.”
Petra smiled wanly. “It’s finally over, Grey. We can finally start over.”
“Do me a favor, Petra.”
She glanced at him in surprise. “Okay.”
“Just make sure I don’t end up in the same place in ten years.”
He looked so serious, she couldn’t bring herself to laugh. She patted his arm comfortingly. “Don’t worry. If you start to turn into an evil overlord, I’ll overthrow you long before you get the chance to wind up here.”
“Thanks, Petra. I knew I could count on you.”
Later, at a deeply depressing prison in Razor City…
The drab grey prison uniform did not flatter Scarlet, but he walked as though he were still a king among his subjects. The guards didn’t like him, and the prisoners blamed him for losing his foothold in the city. Prison did not suit Ezra Scarlet. There was something different in his eyes when he sat across from his son in the small, private meeting room in the newly minted Razor City Detention Center.
For a long moment, Scarlet stared at his son as though he’d never seen him before. Finally, he said, “You look good, son.”
Grey inclined his head. “You look…”
“I know.” Scarlet waved his hand. He sighed and leaned back in his chair.
“How are you?”
“I’m in the worst place I’ve ever been in my life, and it’s never going to end,” he admitted dryly.
“You are still alive.”
“There are many who believe I should not be.”
“Yes, there are. I’m not one of them.”
“Was it you who vetoed execution, city leader?”
Grey couldn’t tell if he was angry or if he was making fun of him. “No. I did not think it would be appropriate for me to make the decision. It was put to a vote. Against all expectation, your life was spared.”
Scarlet looked somewhat surprised by this. “So that is how it is now in my city? The people make decisions together? They decide what’s best for them?”
“It is. It is the only way a city can live in peace.”
“People don’t like being responsible for their own lives. They want someone to tell them want to do. They want someone else to take responsibility. They want someone else to blame when something goes wrong.”
“They do not want to be told how to live their lives. They do not want to live in fear of stepping out of line or saying the wrong thing to the wrong person. They want to know that the decisions that are being made are in their best interest.”
“Are you suggesting I did not intend to act in the best interest of my people?”
Grey stared at him. “Do you believe you did?”
He considered this a long time. Finally, he sighed. “I liked to think that I was acting in the interest of the people, but I think we both know the truth.”
“Everyone knows the truth, Father.”
Scarlet looked away. “It is a small comfort, Dante, but I am proud of you.”
Grey blinked. He wasn’t sure what to say to this.
“I made many mistakes during my time as King of this city. I did have good intentions in the beginning. I had good intentions throughout, but I am not a good man at my core. I was so sure you would go the same way, but I was wrong. You did what I couldn’t do.”
Grey smiled sadly. “I wish you’d realized your mistakes sooner. You will be paying for them now for a very long time.”
“Yes. For the rest of my life, even if I am pardoned some day. But I will be able to see my son grow into the man I could never be.”
Grey was so startled by this he did not speak for several moments. Scarlet, too, seemed not to want to say anything else. Finally, Grey asked, “How is Warin?”
Scarlet sighed. “I do not see him often. He hasn’t given up his grudge against me. He doesn’t leave his cell often. When he does, he won’t speak to anyone much, least of all me.” He frowned slightly. “I wish I could tell him I am sorry about Elia, but it’s too late now, I’m afraid.”
“He did try to kill me. Can’t he call it even?”
Scarlet snorted. “I think not. I don’t think he will ever consider us even. It’s not something you can square.”
An intercom buzzed beside the door. “Five minutes,” a guard barked.
Scarlet smirked at Grey. “There’s the warning bell. You’re the city leader. Can’t you bend the rules?”
“That not the way I run things. I don’t bend rules. I have to set examples.”
Scarlet smiled. It was a small smile, but it was genuine. Grey didn’t think he’d seen it in a very long time. “I’m not surprised, I suppose. You are like your mother. She was always good. Perhaps if she had lived, I would have been a better man and none of this would have happened.”
Grey sighed. “Things would have been very different for us both if she were still here.”
Scarlet reached across the table and patted his hand. “Speaking of the city leader, I hear there is an election coming up.”
“Yes. Now that the representatives have been elected, I thought it was only right the city get to choose their own leader.”
Scarlet shook his head. He looked amused. “Who is the competition?”
“Neil Burns, the former city councilman from before the war.”
“The man’s past his prime. He wasn’t any good when he was running the show. He didn’t have the mettle to step in when the city was falling apart; now he wants to take over what he never earned to begin with.”
Grey shrugged. “I hear he is very savvy in politics. He might put on a good campaign.”
Scarlet scoffed and waved his hand. “Who else?”
His father laughed out loud. “Brilliant. That should be an interesting show.”
“He does have quite a following.”
“Among the outlaws and vigilantes. Is there anyone who will be competition?”
“Marshal Wolf is running.”
“Ah. I am not surprised. I always suspected he had designs on power. I am not certain his reign would be any less tyrannical than the city considered mine.”
“He seems like a good man.”
“He is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. If he gets control, it will only be a matter of time before things begin to look dark for your little rebellion.”
“Victor Harrington is running.”
Scarlet lifted his eyebrows. “My old business manager? Well, well. I never would have expected. He always kept his head down and his hands clean.”
“Is he a good man?”
“He was a good business manager. Beyond that, I know little about him. He managed to keep his job and keep out of my way. Perhaps he’s got something up his sleeve. I wouldn’t trust him.”
“I’m not sure I trust anyone who wants to be the leader of the city.”
Scarlet laughed. “That is a wise position.”
The intercom buzzed again. “Time’s up,” the guard said.
Scarlet sighed. He stood. Grey rose to meet him. Scarlet patted his shoulder. “Good luck, son. I hope you win.”
Grey smiled humorlessly. “I’m not sure I want to.”
“That’s how I know you’ll be good for the job; I would have wanted to.”
The door opened. The guard strode inside to reclaim his prisoner.
Scarlet hugged Grey. It surprised him. It always surprised him, though his father did it after every visit. “Good bye, son. Good luck. Come see me again soon. It’s the only entertainment I get in this place.”
Grey nodded. “I will, Dad. Goodbye.”
He watched the guard snap the shackles on his father’s feet and wrists. Scarlet held his head high, but the weight must have been terrible. Grey sighed. If he was going to lead this city, he’d better do it right.
He enjoyed visiting with his father, but he didn’t want to join him.
Later, in the dazzling courtyard outside the former King’s palace…
The courtyard was teeming with people. They had been at the voting poles all day. Even those who had already voted gathered inside the gates and spilled out into the streets outside to await the results of the election. The atmosphere was festive and charged with excitement.
Petra and Cage stood on either side of Grey as he stood on the steps outside the palace, peering out at the crowd as though he was afraid they would scoop him up and carry him off. Petra held tightly to his hand. She was smiling, but Grey sensed that she was nervous. She’d worked day and night for weeks on his campaign. Soon, they would all discover the fate of Razor City.
A television news reporter stood in front of the podium outside the palace. She was a petite, pretty blonde woman in a hot pink dress. She looked as excited as everyone else seemed to be feeling. The news these days wasn’t as thrilling as it used to be. Grey didn’t showboat for the camera like Scarlet had. He almost never talked to the media. Now that the King was gone and no longer limiting the media to pro-Scarlet propaganda, they had to come up with their own stories. They were struggling a bit. The campaigns and election had been the most interesting news Razor City had seen since the trials.
If they spent a little more time in the outlands, Grey thought, they’d have plenty of news to report. Anna was still struggling with the residents of Section 5, but things were improving. It was the best they could hope for. At least the street militia seemed to be doing some good. The outlaws were a bit more humble than they used to be. Most of them even tried to keep their heads down most of the time.
The news reporter was speaking to the camera. “The officiators are counting ballots now, and in just a few minutes, the winner of the election for Razor City leader will be announced. This is the first city wide election in the history of Razor City since King Scarlet took control and reigned over the city for a long, bloody decade of terror and oppression. The candidates have run a long, intense race, and now we’re facing the moment of truth. The people will finally make their own choice of who they want to lead them into what city officials are claiming to be a new era of peace, security and liberty.”
She turned to jab her microphone at Grey. He didn’t like speaking in front of cameras, but he’d gotten used to it over the course of the campaign. Cage nudged him forward.
“Prince Dante, do you have anything to tell our viewers before the numbers are in?”
“I’m no longer a Prince. You can just call me Grey.”
The reporter smiled. “Yes, we’ve been hearing the name all over the city. How did you get the name Grey?”
He glanced at Petra. She wasn’t paying attention to the interview. She was craning her neck to peer out at the crowd. Her long, pale blonde hair glinted in the sun. She was still as beautiful as the moment she’d leaned over him in that dark alley, but now she was more than that. He smiled. “It’s the nickname given to me by a friend when I broke away from my father and decided to join the rebels. It seems appropriate.”
He didn’t know the reporter’s name, but she had a nice smile. It never slipped from her face. “How are you feeling about the election, Grey?”
“I’m feeling good. All the candidates fought a good fight. I would be proud to be led by any of them.”
“What are you planning to do if you win today?”
“If I win this election, I will do what I can to continue the changes we’ve been making in Razor City to make it a safe, happy place to live.”
“Will you continue the city council system?”
“Yes. It’s the only way to ensure no single person ever has too much power. It’s the only way for the people to have a voice and help make the decisions that affect them.”
“And it seems to be working. Crime is at its lowest in decades, and the citizens report that they haven’t been as content since before the war.”
“I’m very happy to hear that.”
“How much of that do you think is contributed to your own vision, and how much is from the help of the advisers you like to keep so close?”
Grey laughed. “If you’re asking if Cage Spears influences my decisions, he does, and there are many other people who give me help, advice and wisdom when I need it.”
“What do you say to the rumors that Cage Spears is the true power behind Razor City?”
Cage stepped in. He was smiling. He almost never smiled, but he looked genuinely amused by this remark. “I can answer that one for myself, Grey.” He turned to the reporter. “Grey is his own man. He makes his own decisions. The vision for this city was his. He told it to me when he came to the Uprising and offered his allegiance. He did the work to put it into motion. I offer guidance as a friend when he needs it, but I do not make his choices for him.”
The reporter seemed to like this. She smiled radiantly at Cage. She might just have liked him. He’d become popular since his people had helped overthrow an evil overlord. She turned back to Grey. “Have you seen your father since the sentence was passed down?”
“Yes. I visit him regularly.”
“Has he forgiven you for helping take down his empire?”
Grey thought about this. “It took time. It is still taking time, but we are repairing our relationship slowly. My father’s reign was terrible, but I am trying to learn from his mistakes and avoid them.”
“Does he feel remorse for his actions and crimes when he was King?”
“I believe my father has realized that he made mistakes and that he’d become corrupt and greedy. But I also think he has much more to reconcile and many more mistakes to admit to himself. It will be a process, and it will not be easy. My father is a proud and stubborn man. He believes much of what he did was well-intentioned. I think he reached a point at which he did not realize was too far.”
“Well, he’ll have plenty of time to think about his actions and his crimes.”
“Yes. And I will do my best to help as I can.”
“There are some people who think there is no help for him.”
“I understand feeling that way. But he is still my father. I would like to think there is.” He smiled. “I am, of course, extremely biased.”
The reporter smiled and turned back to the camera. “There you have it, everybody. Rebel Grey. In just a few minutes, we will find out if he will continue as leader of Razor City. Stay tuned to Razor City News 2 where we will be talking to the other candidates before the final decision is announced.” She slashed her hand across her chest to cut the camera. She lowered her microphone and turned back to Grey. “Thanks for the interview. Good luck with the election.” She looked around as though she were afraid of being overhead. Then she whispered, “I voted for you.”
Grey smiled as she strode away to jab her microphone toward Hansel Graves, who stood nearby in black jeans and a western-style button up shirt. A large, black cowboy hat topped his long, wild blonde hair. He smiled like a Wild West movie star, and he looked as dangerous as the outlaws.
Cage smiled and clapped Grey on the shoulder. “That was good.”
Grey sighed. “I hate cameras.”
Petra rolled her eyes. “Get used to them. You’re the one who wanted to take over the city and make all these newsworthy changes. You have to face the music.”
“I really don’t think that I wanted to do any of those things.”
“What you wanted doesn’t matter. You did them.”
Cage gripped Grey’s arm. He nodded toward a young man in a blue suit. “I think it’s about to happen.”
The young man strode toward the sector representatives, who sat at a table set up on the lawn. He whispered in Tru Haven’s ear. She nodded and glanced at the others. The young man handed her a piece of paper. She held it out to the other representatives. Danny Chang snatched it from her fingers and rose.
Grey’s heart thumped. Petra slid her hand into his and squeezed it soothingly. She smiled at him. He felt a little better. Claire strode up to them. She looked very smart in her black suit. She nodded curtly to them all. “It’s time, Grey. The count is in. They’re announcing the winner. You have to go up to the podium.”
“Just another minute?”
She rolled her eyes. “No. Go.”
He sighed and glanced at Petra and Cage. “I guess that means it’s time.”
Petra gave him a little shove. “Go on. Good luck.”
He smiled wanly and stepped up to the podium with the other four candidates. They all nodded to each other. They were all smiling, and they all looked extremely confident. Grey felt very small and very young compared to them all, but he lifted his chin and tried to look as cool as they did. He suspected they really all felt as nervous as he did. It helped.
“Good luck, everybody,” he said quietly.
Danny Chang marched up to the podium to speak into the microphone. He turned to look back at the candidates. He was grinning, and Grey wondered what that meant. He wasn’t sure Danny had even looked at the slip of paper in his hand yet.
“Thank you all for coming today and casting your votes,” Danny said brightly. He was a good speaker. The people liked him. “This is a historic occasion. You have all participated in the first ever city wide election in Razor City since the beginning of the great war. You have all listened to the candidates, and you have made your choice.” He grinned and opened the slip of paper. There was a breathless silence.
“Razor City’s leader for the next three years is…” He paused. The crowd waited. If they waited much longer, Grey thought, someone was going to start a riot. It might be him.
“Dante Scarlet, otherwise known as Grey.”
The crowd exploded in cheers. For a moment, Grey looked around at them, stunned. Hansel Graves was the first to shake his hand. “Congratulations, Grey,” he said. His voice was a low, gravelly growl. He looked a little disappointed, but he smiled all the same.
The other candidates stepped forward to congratulate him. Marshal Wolf looked a little sour, but he didn’t complain. “I’ll get you next time, kid,” he promised, and then he smiled.
Grey smiled back. “I’ll look forward to it.”
“At least I still command the Marshals.”
“I suppose the people have spoken,” Neil Burns said a little coldly.
“I suppose they have,” Victor Harrington added. He didn’t look pleased. He turned on his heel without another word and strode away from the others. He leaned over to talk to Randall Wiley at the representatives table. They both glared in Grey’s direction.
Grey didn’t care. As the realization struck him that it was over, that the people wanted him to lead them, exhilaration thrilled through him. He strode toward Petra and Cage. Cage looked a little surprised. He jerked his head toward the podium.
“Go on,” Petra ordered, spinning him back around to face the crowd. “They expect you to make a speech.”
“I didn’t prepare one. I didn’t actually expect to win.”
“Are you kidding? After everything you’ve done for this city?”
Cage rolled his eyes. “Go on. You’d better make it good.”
Grey sighed, but he stepped up to the podium. His voice was nearly drowned out by the cheers. “Thank you all,” he said over the crowd. After several seconds, they quieted to listen to him. “It was a good race, and I would have been proud to concede to any one of the candidates. But I am honored and humbled that you chose me. I promise to continue to work toward the changes in the city. I promise to work with you to solve our problems and make this city what we want it to be. Most of all, I promise to continue to listen to you and continue to be the best leader to you I can be and make this city everything we know it can be.”
The people cheered. They probably hadn’t even listened to his speech. They were ready to celebrate. They deserved to celebrate. For the first time since the war, they had the sense that they were in control of their own lives. They’d waited long enough.
“Thank you,” he repeated, and he ducked away from the flashbulbs and the television cameras.
Petra strode to meet him. She smiled. He sighed in relief. “Was that okay?” he asked.
“Yeah. It was good. How do you feel?”
“Pretty good, actually. To tell the truth, I was a little worried.”
“I wasn’t really sure if losing the post meant I had to give up the palace. I might have to write a provision about that.”
Petra laughed. “Is that what you were worried about?”
“Well, there were other things too, and I suppose it wouldn’t have been so bad to go back to the mall, but…well, I really like the palace.”
Petra smirked. “Yeah, I like it, too. You can have Claire put it on the next meeting agenda.”
“So, what do you say? Are you finally ready to leave the compound and move in here with me?”
“Whoa, buddy. I think the power high is going to your head.”
He laughed. “I don’t think so. Maybe the first couple times I asked, but not this time.”
She smiled and looked around at the crowd. Everyone looked happy, even the losing candidates. The terror of Scarlet’s reign was over. The city had a chance to rebuild. Everyone was feeling the excitement of a new era. She saw her brother in the crowd, laughing with Key, Beth and Lux. They were celebrating with the others. For the first time since she’d known most of them, they looked genuinely carefree. There was no worry in their faces.
Everyone was going to be okay.
Grey lifted an eyebrow. “So? What do you think?”
Petra looked up at him. His smile was so beautiful, and his eyes were so intensely, stormy grey, her heart skipped a beat. She threaded her fingers with his and smiled back at him. “I’ll think about it.”