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I led the way past Bella, leaving her in the barracks. I glanced back once to see her touch the shoulder of each guard or Ender. She would make a good queen. Perhaps not as good as Lark would have, but a good queen nonetheless, and a far, far better leader than her father.

“Tactics?” Elk moved up to stride next to me as he adjusted a whip on his belt.

“Circle the prey. Cut it off from help and hamstring it,” I said. “Drive it to the ground and we will collar it swiftly.”

In other words, knock the king out and get him into the dungeons as fast as possible.

I had helped to put together the various tactics that an Ender could take when facing a variety of situations. It had been part of my job as second-in-command to Granite all those years.

The dungeons would block the king from his ability, and that would give Bella time to take the throne and bring Lark back. Then perhaps, together, they could figure out what to do with their father. Perhaps they could find a healer, though that thought flickered into the air like dust motes. Healing was a false hope, and even I knew it.

Whatever damage had been done to his mind was too great. I had a bad feeling banishment wouldn’t work on him. Nor would he permanently step down from the throne if we let him out of the dungeons—his pride was too much for him do that. I suspected the only way to deal with him would be death. But I would not go that route unless I had to.

Keeping our pace steady, I could feel the energy shift in the warriors around me. The call to battle was upon us and it rushed through our veins as if we were one beast. I loosened my weapons and listened as they followed my lead, the sound of metal and leather shifting around me.

Into the Spiral we strode, three abreast in a line of ten. Thirty warriors to take down a single mad king.

The door to the throne room was still shut, locked against outsiders. I put a hand to it, feeling the power of the earth running through the layers of the wood. I called up my own connection to the earth and threaded it through the door. I’d seen Lark do what I was about to attempt, only once.

I pulled the door apart, fiber by fiber, sending splinters of wood flying into the throne room.

“Impressive” came a voice I knew all too well. “I should say you’ve been learning naughty things from Lark.” He laughed. “But we all knew that already, didn’t we?”

Raven sat next to his father on the throne. His blue eyes flashed with irritation. I wasn’t sure if it was because we were there, or because I’d been in Lark’s bed and he had not. Raven had no issue with bedding family, as his twisted relationship with his mother proved.

My blood ran cold. “Circle,” I breathed out, and my men and women rushed into the throne room, keeping to the edges. Thirty to two.

The odds were not in our favor with Raven standing with his father.

“Raven, we have no quarrel with you,” I said. “The king, on the other hand, must answer for his crimes against this family.”

Basileus didn’t move from his spot. His eyes were vacant and he sat slumped, as though drugged. But drugged I doubted. Raven laughed. “Oh, he won’t be waking up anytime soon, Ash.” He patted his father on the face and stepped down from the throne. “You, though, are going to be a thorn in my side, aren’t you?”

Tight-lipped, I motioned to him with the tip of my right sword. The Enders and guards around the room adjusted their stances and we circled Raven. He grinned. “Oh, so that’s how it is? What will my father say when he awakens and you are attacking me?”

“Thank you,” I said.

Raven laughed and raised both his hands above his head. “Oh, you have such a sense of humor, Ash. Are you sure you do not wish to fight on my side? I think you will find we are actually already there, you just can’t see it.” Something in his tone tugged at me and I realized he was weaving Spirit through my mind.

I began to close the distance between us, both swords held up and ready to strike. He pointed a finger at me, but I didn’t slow.

“Brave, so very brave. I can see why Lark likes you so much.” He winked. “I have to ask, is she any good in bed? With those long legs, I can imagine the fantastic positions she could get into, and all that long hair to grab hold of. Just . . . lovely.”

I didn’t flinch, nor did any of the other Enders, though several of the guards did. This was a classic tactic of distraction Raven was using—try and shock those who were coming at you and force them to make a mistake.

I didn’t make mistakes like that. “Arrows ready,” I said.

The three that had bows had their weapons up in a flash. I held a hand up. “Hold.”

Raven went still, his eyebrows arched high. “Damn, I underestimated you. You really would kill me?”

“In a heartbeat, but I am not here for you today.” I stopped moving. He was playing with us. But as much as I would like to take him out, I needed to collar the king. “Elk, take the king to the barracks as we discussed.”

Elk jogged to the king and, with ease, pulled him up and over his shoulder. This was going too smoothly, and I knew it. There was no way Raven was going to just let us make this coup happen. I could feel it under my skin, the tension of something on the horizon, that same tension that had started when I made the decision to try for a coup in the first place.

Raven smiled. “Enders and guards, you are all so sure. But would you not rather stand with the rightful king?”

The shift around me was palatable, a shaking of the heads, a lowering of weapons. Son of a bitch . . . I didn’t have to see it to know that Raven was using Spirit on them, twisting their minds.

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