Lorenzo tried to orient himself. The corridors and hallways of Order headquarters all looked the same. Dark. Silent. Deserted.
He had made his way through the enormous building twice before. But the first time had been with a bag over his head on the way to certain death and the second time had been in desperate flight. Not exactly ideal conditions for paying attention. He kept his bearings the best he could by counting right and left turns.
The rooms he passed were empty and disordered, as though hastily abandoned. He wondered if the rumors he had started had driven the MOWD into the streets. Or perhaps Uncle had sent them out to try to restore order. Either way, he was glad not to run into anyone.
"Why?" asked a strange voice in his head.
For a hopeful, terrified moment, he thought it was Shabby. But the voice was too dry. Too fierce and acerbic. His hope died even before he unbuttoned his shirt far enough to look down and find out what the egg has hatched into.
There was a tattoo of a phoenix on his chest again. But it wasn't Shabby. Shabby had been red and black. Fire and soot made flesh. This phoenix looked smaller and its feathers were green and gold. Precise and cold. It stuck its head out from Lorenzo's chest and looked up at him severely.
"Why?" it repeated.
'You're not Shabby," Lorenzo said, his voice bouncing hollowly down the empty hallway. Saying the truth out loud made it real.
The phoenix reached a claw out into the air and pressed a single talon against Lorenzo's chest. The phoenix's head and claw looked larger in life than they had as a tattoo. But he couldn't feel anything; the fire had damaged his nerves too badly.
"You like nicknames, Lorenzo? Do they make you feel big? Or maybe they give you a sense of control? Do they, Enzo? Or should I call you Lori? How about Zoe?"
"Call me whatever you want," said Lorenzo. He tried not to think about Shabby. Shabby had been gruff and proud. Warm. He could hear Shabby. Scolding him. Telling him stories. He wanted to grab this green and gold reminder by the neck and fling it down the hall, back the way he'd come, into the darkness and away.
"Pet owners often wait before naming an animal," said the phoenix coldly. "They take the time to learn its temperament. I will do the same." Golden pupils latched onto Lorenzo's gaze. "You will call me Gos."
"Can't wait." Another set of stairs. Another empty corridor.
"Now, answer the question." Gos didn't sound impatient, just imperial. "Why are you glad? Because you don't want to hurt someone? Or because you don't want to get hurt?"
"Implying I'm a coward either way," said Lorenzo. "Thanks for the vote of confidence. Maybe it's because I do want to hurt someone." A double set of doors loomed ahead of him at the end of the corridor. They were closed, which was unusual.
Gos said, "You're still a coward if you're afraid of what you might do. And cowardice isn't a luxury you can afford right now."
Lorenzo stopped mid-step. "Why not?"
"I hear breathing. From the other side of those doors."
"Maybe we can talk to them," suggested Lorenzo. A door leading off the corridor was ajar. He padded over as quietly as he could and checked the office inside. Deserted. He rummaged through the desk and drawers for a moment, looking for makeshift weapons, and found a letter opener. Just great. "We're trying to avoid violence," he explained, stepping back out of the room. "Win people over to our side."
"Oh, Zoe. Let me guess. Rainbows and hugs." The phoenix stuck its beak out of Lorenzo's chest again and screamed raucously. A maniacal cry of attack, of blood and terror and death. Lorenzo froze, facing the double doors, his hand gripping the letter opener, ready.
Nothing happened. Impossible. They must have heard. The dead had probably heard. Unless—
"Unless they can't hear you," said Gos. "Unless they're deaf. Deafened, most likely. Probably twins. Loyal, to have not left their post. Strong, to be so near the center. So what's the plan, not-a-coward?"
"Listen, small stuff, I've killed." He considered going around. But who knew how long that would take, or what else he'd encounter. Holdfast was crumbling. He needed to move fast.
"In passion," said Gos contemptuously. "Easy enough to forgive yourself for that. You've resisted being a leader the whole way. Happiest when others took up the burden. But leaders carry the load. Especially when every option is terrible. So you've killed. Congratulations. Can you be a killer?"
He could backtrack. Try to find Enrico. Ask for help. But the task was his. What right did he have, asking others to sacrifice, if he refused to risk becoming colder in order to protect the people he was responsible for? He could hide from the world or he could admit that not everyone could be saved.
"How free are you?" he asked Gos. "Can you take the one on the right?"
"Enough," replied Gos. "And yes."
"If you don't," Lorenzo said, "I die. And that means—"
"You must have talked Shabby to death," interrupted Gos. The phoenix's eyes shone with eagerness. "Stop stalling!"
Lorenzo grabbed the door handles and pulled, flinging the doors open. A giant of a man stood to his left. He held a massive two-handed longsword. The man raised the sword and swung it down at Lorenzo with ferocious strength. Lorenzo reached out with his left arm and grabbed the man's wrists. Then, with lightning speed, he stabbed the letter opener straight through the man's jugular and jerked it back out.
In the same moment, even as he was reaching up to block the sword's descent, he felt an enormous wash of heat from his right and, from the corner of his eye, saw a billow of flame.
The man dropped to his knees. Blood pulsed steadily from his neck in rhythm with his heartbeat. The enormous downward force of the blade slacked. The man reached up and touched the hole in his neck gently, almost curiously. Blood ran down his arm. His sword fell to the floor. The man opened his mouth. Lorenzo could see the stub of his tongue. Someone had cut it off.
Lorenzo risked a glance to his right. There was no one there. No sign of a sword. Gos's head slid back into his chest.
The man he had stabbed fell sideways. The blood flow slowed to a trickle.
Lorenzo looked up for the first time. He knew this room. Vast and circular. Red and white stripes radiating out from the massive central pillar. Stone tables standing at even intervals. A single wooden desk cluttered with papers. But the chair was empty. Where was Uncle?
He stepped over the dead body and absently picked up the sword, intent on examining the massive brick pillar in the middle of Uncle's office. The sword was heavy. He had a responsibility to its former owner now, as well.
Lorenzo walked slowly around the pillar. He ran his hand over the bricks. The bricks were smooth. They formed a perfect cylinder. Except in one place. Directly behind Uncle's desk, one small section was rougher and jutted out slightly.
He pushed. A section of the pillar sighed and slide aside, revealing a hidden door. He pulled the door open.
Inside the pillar was a small garden. The garden was clearly neglected, even abandoned. Plants grew on top of each other. Weeds were everywhere. A thick carpet of rot and mold covered the thin path that ran through the garden. He saw several stone sculptures, placed seemingly at random, but they were so encrusted with moss and tangled with creepers that he couldn't make them out.
He wondered at the contrast between the orderly office and the chaotic garden. From somewhere underground, he could hear water trickling. The air was heavy and moist, full of corruption and decay.
In the center of the garden was a round patch of white sand. In the center of the sand was a hole, where a circular staircase curved down into the earth. Very carefully, holding the sword in front of him, he climbed down. The sound of water grew louder.
As he descended, the garden disappeared above him. A stone grotto emerged below. In the middle of the grotto, sticking up from the rough ground, was something that at first appeared to be a stubby pillar of rock, as wide as he was tall. The rocks, set together without mortar, looked as old as the world and just as unmovable. It must have been a well, once upon a time, but large stones had been heaped into a pile over its mouth.
Lorenzo turned in place. He rubbed his eyes again. Water and time had carved gaps in the walls of the grotto. The gaps led into other caverns, dim and fathomless. Uncle could be anywhere. Could attack from any direction.
Through one of the gaps he saw the corner of a cage. Warily, steadying himself with his hands, he stepped through the gap and into the next cavern. The bars of the cage were brown with rust. Inside the cage, laying down, was an old man with a wild grey beard, apparently asleep. He looked like he had lost a lot of weight very rapidly. His damp clothes hung limply.
Lorenzo examined the lock on the top of the cage. It, too, was covered with rust. He tugged at it a couple times. Flakes of rust covered his hand. The bars rattled.
"Gos, you can melt this lock, right?" he said into his mind. "Do me a solid."
No answer. The phoenix must be ignoring him. Even after he'd killed the guard. Lorenzo unbuttoned his shirt and looked down. The green and gold tattoo was frozen. He poked at it with his finger. Gos didn't move.
The old man in the cage groaned. "What are you doing?" he asked querulously. He tried to sit up. His head banged against the bars. Grumbling, he slouched back. "Ouch. Don't just stand there. Get me out of here. I command it."
Lorenzo didn't move. "Let me guess," he said. "You're this king they mentioned. The one who's supposed to be sick."
"Sick?!" barked the old man. He pushed up against the bars of the cage uselessly. "Imprisoned! Left here to die. By my own brother."
"Fascinating," said Lorenzo politely. He could not have cared less. What was the king to him, or he to the king? He looked around again. The old man was making a lot of noise. Uncle might have heard.
"What are you waiting for!" rasped the old man. Then his anger dissolved into a fit of coughing and he doubled over, hacking into the ground.
Lorenzo said, "From what I heard, you were a pretty poor king. Going to knock down the Wall. Maybe Uncle was right to put you away. Keep you out of mischief."
"Maybe I wasn't a great king," the old man admitted. He looked up at Lorenzo, his chest heaving as he caught his breath. His eyes were rheumy but hard. "I was too weak. Let the factions gain too much power. They were only loyal to their own interests, not to the people. But tell me, oh wise man, is Holdfast better off under my brother?"
Lorenzo raised the sword. He'd been thinking backwards. Noise was what he wanted, not what he feared. Uncle wouldn't hear him. Instead, he would summon Uncle. He brought the blade down. The bars of the cage clashed and groaned. The lock jumped around like a netted fish. Again. The lock shrieked. The old man strained against the bars. Again. The lock snapped.
Lorenzo pulled the cage door up, pivoting it around the rusty hinge. The edge of the bars slammed against the ground. The old man tried to stand and failed. Lorenzo pulled him to his feet.
The old man groaned and rubbed his legs, then straightened up. He was taller than he'd looked folded up in the cage. He nodded his thanks, then stopped and stared at Lorenzo, his eyes wide with shock. He grabbed Lorenzo's right hand with surprising strength. With his left hand, he clutched his right shoulder like he was having a heart attack.
"He said you had all died. He said…" The old man stumbled over his words, then shook his head impatiently. He pulled up his right sleeve. His arm was pale and thick, as though he had once been strong but had gone to seed. Suddenly, his face tightened with pain. Sweat stood on his forehead.
A tattoo emerged from beneath the sleeve and crawled slowly down the old man's arm. The tattoo had been cleverly inked: a white crown with a black stone. The tattoo slid across the man's wrist and down his fingers, which were laced through Lorenzo's like bands of iron.
Lorenzo grunted and tried to pull away, but the old man clung to him inexorably. Pain bit his hand. Then his wrist. He could feel the tattoo of the crown moving, as though someone were running a red-hot poker slowly up his right arm. The pain reached his shoulder and stopped. The old man let go with a sigh of relief.
Lorenzo pushed the old man away and dropped the sword. He scrambled to tear off his shirt, horrified at the thought of what he would see.
The tattoo of the white crown with its black stone stood proudly on his right shoulder. The black dragon with its white flame nestled on his left. And the green and gold tattoo of Gos, immobile and silent, heaved on his chest with each breath.
At that moment, Uncle entered the cavern, as silent as a cat. Lorenzo blinked rapidly. He could barely make out Uncle's black glass eye in the dim light. Rather, it looked like part of Uncle's head was missing.
"What an unpleasant surprise," said Uncle. He was playing with a long dagger. "You were even more profligate than I imagined, Hyperion."
The old man almost snarled. "No thanks to you, brother."
Uncle looked at Lorenzo. This time, he didn't look at Lorenzo as though Lorenzo were a shovel. This time, Lorenzo was dog excrement on a new pair of shoes.
Uncle said, "Would have sworn that phoenix wasn't there, last time I checked."
"It was hiding," said Lorenzo shortly.
"I didn't know that was possible," Uncle admitted, circling around them.
Lorenzo felt with his toe for the sword. He didn't dare look down. "But I'm not."
Uncle ignored him. "You kept that a secret from me, didn't you brother? Of course, maybe you'd forgotten. How long has it been, since you last saw a phoenix?"
"Since the day you killed mine," said Hyperion.
Uncle shrugged. "I've never been afraid to get my hands dirty." He was still staring with revulsion at Lorenzo. "But I prefer killing women. Especially expectant mothers. You could say it was a hobby. How did I overlook yours, Lorenzo?"
"I was premature," Lorenzo said. He looked at the king, bewildered. "She died in childbirth. The father was already long gone."
Uncle made a sound of disappointment. "Tsk-tsk. But then, you always were, brother," he said to Hyperion. "Gone. On the road. When you should have been in Holdfast, where a king belongs."
"A good king visits his people," said Hyperion defensively. "It's tradition."
Uncle sneered. "Visiting all those women. Never staying with any."
"It's a large country!" Hyperion protested. "A king always has new problems to deal with! That's why I asked you to keep an eye on them!"
"I did, brother. And how!"
"You killed them!" Hyperion shouted.
Uncle smiled. "Tell me, how long did you believe me when I reported they were all barren? Or had miscarried? How many times did you believe my lie?"
"Until now," Hyperion said. He choked up. "Until I saw my—"
"Son," interrupted Lorenzo. He blinked with surprise. For the first time since killing the Dragon, his eyes were clear. They didn't sting anymore. He could see.
"In the land of the blind," said Uncle. He began to laugh harshly. "You think this is about you, Lorenzo? You think this is your story? How arrogant!"
Lorenzo shivered as he finally realized the truth. With the truth came nausea. "You just… moved on?" he asked Hyperion, incredulous. "You left my mother alone? With him?"
"I trusted your uncle, Lorenzo." The old man sounded desperate. "If I had known—"
"You never bothered to check?! How many of your children died because of your carelessness? How many mothers!"
"What a touching reunion," said Uncle. He tapped the point of his dagger against his black glass eye.
Hyperion picked up the sword and pointed it at Uncle. "You killed my children," he said. "You imprisoned me. You call yourself Uncle to awe the people, but you're just Crius, my little brother. You say you're creating the perfect future, but you're just a tyrant."
Crius chuckled. "Strong nations, brother, are like your women. They have bloody childbirths." He walked towards them. "I am the midwife of history. And your mud-caked bastard won't stand in my way." He drove his knife towards Lorenzo's throat.
Hyperion stepped in front of Lorenzo, sword up, blocking the thrust.
Crius stepped back. "A little late now, to start protecting your sons." He feinted high, then dropped the dagger into his other hand. Hyperion was slow to block. Crius buried the blade in his chest. Hyperion choked. Blood gushed from his mouth.
Crius leaned in, his mouth at his dying brother's ear. "Don't worry. Your son will join you in a minute." He pulled the sword from Hyperion's hand.
Hyperion reached up and forked two fingers into his brother's good eye. Then he made a fist and pulled back. Crius screamed. Blood sprayed out from the empty socket. Hyperion crumbled to the ground, still holding the eyeball. His rheumy eyes stared blankly. They didn't blink.
Lorenzo lunged for the sword. His foot scraped on the cavern's rough floor. Crius slashed out, just catching Lorenzo on his outstretched arm. Lorenzo yelped and fell back.
"Is baby going to cry?" asked Crius. His voice trembled with pain and shock. He reached into his pocket, then back up to his ruined eye. His hand steadied. The gold glass eye, smeared red, stared from the socket. The black glass eye bulged out next to it. "Let dear uncle kiss the owie and make it better."
Lorenzo knelt down and tried to pull the dagger out of his father's chest. The blade stuck. He tried again. Crius turned towards him, smiling.
"Grieving a man you never knew? I killed him, Lorenzo. What are you going to do about it?"
Lorenzo backed away, abandoning the dagger. "I'm going to forgive him," he said.
Uncle moved towards him, stepping carefully. Lorenzo ducked into the other cavern. He noticed the stone-covered well again, the smell of water. This far down, it was likely the well tapped the river underneath Holdfast. The river that ran all the way to the sea. A plan began to form. A completely absurd plan, except for a memory that nagged at his mind. A memory he couldn't forget. A look from vertically slit pupils, then a splash.
"Because he was your father? Rank sentimentality."
"Hardly," said Lorenzo. Blood trickled away from Hyperion's body and pooled in the dust on the cavern's floor. "I never knew the man."
"Because I've tasted responsibility, these last few weeks. I've had to keep others safe, for the first time in my life. I can't even imagine the pressures of being a king. It's a tough job."
Lorenzo backed away as he spoke, drawing Crius further away from the well. It was like a game of blind man's bluff, he realized. He could pull Crius around with his voice.
"Hyperion was a failure," said Crius. "The crown was wasted on him."
"And you think you're succeeding?" Lorenzo reached behind him. His fingers touched slippery rock. He couldn't retreat any farther. "Do you even know what's going on beyond the Wall? Or does the truth not reach you?"
"I am the truth. I am creating the perfect system."
"Failed harvest. Starved people. Broken machinery. This is your perfect system?" Lorenzo dropped to one knee, hastily pulling off one of his boots.
"Sabotage," bellowed Crius. "Setbacks are signs of the enemy, not the failure of the system. When every enemy is purged, only perfection will remain."
"You think it's chaos that requires an explanation?" asked Lorenzo. He fumbled with the laces of the other boot. "Chaos is the norm. I battled nature every day on my farm, just to keep chaos at bay. It's anything that works that's the miracle. You see the infinite complexity of a working farm or city, and you're so ignorant you think that's what's natural and unbreakable. So you break them like a child playing too roughly with his toys."
"I destroy in order to build paradise," Crius said easily. He was almost on top of Lorenzo. The laces gave. Lorenzo tucked the boots against the wall and stood up.
"You cannot build paradise on the backs of slaves." Lorenzo said. Crius lunged with the sword. Lorenzo jumped aside. Then, noiselessly, he almost danced back across the cavern. He lifted one rock off the pile that covered the well and placed it on the ground. Then another.
"It is necessary," said Crius. He swept the sword back and forth as though it were a water rod. "And temporary. Who else is going to split rock? Mine coal? Dig ditches? Every society relies on slave labor, Lorenzo. We'll eliminate the unproductive classes and make use of their labor while we do it. It's the only rational approach."
Lorenzo fled back to the wall. He seized his boots and walked around the edge of the cavern, stooped like a frog. As he walked, he banged the boots against the floor. Uncle turned towards the sound.
"And what institutions carry out this cleansing?" Lorenzo asked loudly. "MOWD. Order Police. They're cancers, Crius. Spreading, growing stronger. If they can't find enemies to destroy, they'll create them." He set down the boots again and slipped back to the well, holding his breath. He shifted another rock to the ground. The pile was getting smaller.
"Enemies will always be with us." Crius spoke more boldly now. He moved faster. "You think the South Quarry was a mistake. It is my triumph! My only error was unnecessary gentleness. No longer! Not after the chaos you've brought to my city."
Lorenzo dodged back to his boots. This approach wasn't fast enough. He had to enrage Crius, throw him off balance.
"Virtue requires mercilessness!" Crius cried. "All units of labor must serve the state. And the state must distribute the output of that labor. Only in equality of outcome can there be justice."
"You want a city of ants," said Lorenzo. He walked backwards towards the well, carrying his boots. This time he didn't move quietly. "Weak people don't make a strong city, Crius. Help each individual person make themselves strong and Holdfast won't need a wall."
Crius ground his teeth. "The Wall protects us from the Dragon."
Lorenzo laughed as provokingly as he could. "I've seen your Dragon, uncle! She flies. She melts stone. Tell me again how the Wall keeps the city safe!" He lifted another rock off the dwindling pile.
Crius just smiled. "I'm not a fool, nephew. I saw the dragon's mark on your shoulder, before—." He pointed at his bloody gold eye with a jabbing motion. "I know what it means. But once you're dead, who's to know the truth?"
"By now, half the city's seen the evidence."
"Memories fade," said Crius confidently. "Fear remains. With a little help, fear of the Dragon will once again be useful." The sword twitched in his hands. He was only a few paces away.
"Belief in a lie is fragile," said Lorenzo. He threw one of the boots, hard. It glanced off the gold glass eye. Crius bellowed with pain and retreated slightly, a hand cradling the wound. "That's why your precious Order crumbled into dust at the touch of a feather! Because it was built on a lie!"
Crius ground his teeth. "What lie?"
Lorenzo heaved another rock off the pile. He was so close. "The lie that what matters isn't who you are as an individual, only your identity as part of a group."
Crius gasped, incredulous. "Who are you talking about, Lorenzo?" He pointed wildly up and out, presumably at Holdfast. "Those hate-filled, weak, craven, filthy masses? Individuals? Hardly!"
Lorenzo stepped back around the well, putting it between him and Crius. All he had to do was give the remaining rocks a good shove and they'd tumble down into the well, clearing it. He looked at Crius with something approaching pity. But he couldn't save everyone.
"You were so close to understanding, uncle. You want to become a god. But everyone has the potential to be a god. They need freedom to realize that potential."
Crius started laughing in disbelief.
"You want a society built on obedience and conformism," said Lorenzo quietly, almost to himself. "But I prefer flawed humans to perfect slaves." He threw the other boot. It struck Crius in the face.
Crius stopped laughing. He lifted his hand to his nose and wiped away blood. "Enough, Lorenzo. Enough ignorance. Enough stupidity. Enough malice. You think they will achieve virtue through freedom?" The word sounded mealy in his mouth. "When has that ever worked? Never! Virtue must be dictated. Or the result is chaos."
"Can an abused dog, kicked and starved, choose to do the right thing?" asked Lorenzo. A final plea. "No. How much worse for a human being, then, to be forced to obey! To be forced to be weak! Weak people cannot be virtuous!"
Crius reached the well. He made a yapping motion with one hand, his fingers flapping, as though asking when Lorenzo would finally shut up. Lorenzo started to push against the rocks, destabilizing what was left of the pile.
"You think you're strong, uncle! You should see yourself! You're weak. So afraid, you built walls within walls within walls to keep you safe. But you're not safe, just isolated. You've entombed yourself!" His words echoed through the caverns. "You've atrophied! A prisoner of your fear, as fragile as your Order."
He gave one last push and stepped back. Gravity took over. The rocks grumbled. Slowly, then all at once, they slid into the gaping maw of the well. Crius reached out towards them in sudden alarm. He raised his head at Lorenzo as he finally understood. His glass eyes bulged and shone.
Lorenzo crossed his arms. "The tiniest bit of chaos could destroy you now."
Crius shrank back. His face was full of fear. He cocked his head, the muscles of his neck tight, desperately listening.
Far beneath them, the rocks hit water. The splash echoed up. Silence.
Lorenzo held his breath.
The Dragon exploded out of the mouth of the well. She had grown a little, but she was still small, no larger than an eagle. Black wings beat heavily against the air. White flame crackled from her mouth. The Dragon swiveled her scaly head in midair and fixed on Crius.
Crius cringed, as though somehow he could see the Dragon. "I kept you fed!" he cried. "Let you grow powerful." He pointed at Lorenzo. "He's your enemy. He's—"
The Dragon flew at Crius. Her jaws stretched like the jaws of a python and grew impossibly large, as though the Dragon wanted to consume the entire world. Her teeth flashed as they closed around Crius. And then the terrible mouth closed again. The jaws returned to their normal size. Crius was gone.
The Dragon turned back towards the well, her slit eyes looking hungrily at Lorenzo. Was it his imagination, or was the Dragon now slightly bigger than she had been just a moment before? He stepped backwards.
With a triumphant scream, Gos burst out of Lorenzo's chest. Lorenzo threw a hand up in shock. Gos was now the size of a horse. The phoenix's massive wings brushed the walls of the grotto. Its talons almost dragged along the ground.
Lorenzo remembered the guard and flinched, ducking down behind the well. He expected a great rush of fire. None came. Slowly, he stood back up.
"He wasn't wrong, you know," said the Dragon in his mind. She was clearly speaking to Gos. Her voice was softer than before, deeper, but Lorenzo could hear the roots of the terrible, crawling voice he'd heard in the mountain. "He provided food. Enough for me to grow strong."
"We, too, will keep you fed," promised Gos silently. If the phoenix had spoken aloud, the pebbles on the floor would have vibrated.
The Dragon sniffed. "Barely."
"As much as is healthy for Holdfast."
The Dragon considered this. "You cannot hold me forever."
Gos seemed to smile, although the burning phoenix was putting out so much light that Lorenzo could barely look at it directly. "For a little while, at least."
She yawned insultingly, like a large dog. "Someday I will spit him back up. Or another like him."
"Someday," agreed Gos. The enormous golden beak opened. The Dragon shrank back, almost flying backwards. "But not today."
The Dragon nodded her head once, then flew over to the staircase and up, disappearing into the rotting garden above. Gos flew towards Lorenzo. As the phoenix approached it shrank, until it sank into his chest and back into position just as small as he remembered.
"We need to work on your timing," said Lorenzo.
Gos ignored him. "There's work to be done. Or did you think this was over, with Crius dead?"
"That's exactly what I thought," admitted Lorenzo. He walked over to the staircase and paused. He looked back at Hyperion's body. He would have to find a way to remove the dagger. Show the body to the people. Bury his father. And grieve for him. For Shabby. For Mauro. For Florian. For all the dead. Before he continued on.
"You know you're not going back to Donet," said Gos.
"I know," said Lorenzo. He pulled himself wearily up the staircase and back into the garden. The Dragon was perched on one of the statues. Her head swiveled like an owl's as she watched him stumble through the overgrown weeds and back into the immaculate red and white office.
Enrico and the exile ran into the room just as Lorenzo closed the door to the garden behind him. They stopped dead, staring. Lorenzo realized he wasn't wearing a shirt. All three tattoos - crown, phoenix, and dragon - were clearly visible.
He wondered if this was what it was like to be a king. Always being examined. Always being expected to know what to do. Always being responsible. Always having to lead.
He wanted to hide. He wanted to vanish back to Donet and rebuild his farm, no matter what Gos said. But his work wasn't finished. And Enrico was looking at the tattoo of the crown on his right shoulder in a way that made his heart sink.