The Dawn of the End by Kristen Ashley

Cassius fell in step on his other side.

“Sir Alfie.”

At that, pain raging along his spine, through his gut, in his heart, so intense in all places, it drove up his throat, True stopped dead and looked into Cassius’s eyes.

Cassius read what he saw in True’s and whispered, “Fuck, True.”

“He will never walk again. I suppose, as the arrow struck the spine low, and he still has use of his arms, he has some hope of some semblance of a life, perhaps siring a child, getting himself around. But he’s in agony. And when his pain fades, I am in no doubt he will ask for the Soldier’s Poison. And I must make the decision if I’ll grant it to him.”

All the men got close.

But Cassius repeated, “Fuck, True.”

True looked to Mars. “I was told my father dove under the pew.”

“Do not think of these things in the now, my brother,” Mars said quietly.

“Mars, did…my father…dive under…the gods-damned pew?” True gritted.

“Yes,” Mars answered.

“He did this while Alfie rushed to protect her and any life he would accept was taken from him, but not in that moment. He does not die knowing he served his realm. He makes the decision to die, thinking he failed his queen.”

“Do not think of these things in the now, my brother,” Mars bit. “You will have vengeance. Your man will have vengeance. You will see to it. And if you don’t, I will.”

“As will I,” Cassius said.

“As will I,” Aramus added.

“You’ll have my dragons,” Frey declared.

“And you’ll have my wolves,” Apollo finished.

He looked amongst them.

Then he looked to Wallace and Luther.

Wallace looked grave.

Luther looked murderous.

True again turned and moved to the door that would lead them down.

They were at the bottom level, three floors under the earth. True knew this because he’d ordered them there. But even if he didn’t know, the amount of guards at that landing and along the hall would have proclaimed it.

Nearly every one of the archers in the temple had been subdued after they’d let fly their arrows, either by wedding attendees, or by the palace guard that had been set to protect their king, queen, prince and his new princess.

One, however, had broken his neck after falling down a stone stairwell while attempting to flee.

Nineteen men were held down in that reopened torture chamber, the largest room of the lot.

And True made his way there.

The door was opened for him and the others quite a bit faster than the one they’d been through to visit Carrington.

What he saw when he entered the large, musty room was not the dust and cobwebs.

It was further not Gal and Brix, his gnome spies, who he had not seen since he and Farah had visited the Doors some weeks before.

It was also not Princess Serena of the Nadirii wearing her Nadirii tunic, leg casings and moccasins with the band proclaiming her royalty wrapped around her forehead. A broadsword was at her back, one dagger in her belt, her arse planted on top of a rickety table, legs crossed in front of her, currently engaged in daintily cleaning her fingernails with the tip of her other dagger.

He also did not see Mars’s Trusted, Chu, standing near her wearing his Firenz leathers with the Trusted’s black mantle edged in green and red at his back.

Nor did he see the dozen guards patrolling between the men who were stripped of anything but their underpants, on their knees spread wide on the cold stone floor, their arms tied at the back of their heads with a rough rope that also was tied around their necks.

He saw that there weren’t nineteen of them.

There were twenty-one.

Mars didn’t miss this either, thus he asked his man, “And who are our added guests?”

“They’re the Go’Doan priests we caught with the missives I sent the message to you about. Sadly,” Chu resolutely did not glance at True, “we deciphered their message too late.”

Mars let his breath out his nose and the sound reminded True vaguely of an angry bull.

“You tried to warn us,” True said to Serena.

She was watching Chu talk, but when he spoke, her gaze came to him.

“Your guard is good, True,” she replied, shocking him by speaking complimentary words, the first he’d ever heard from her lips. “They wouldn’t let me anywhere near, and I was in disguise, so they had no idea who I was.”