Page 104 of Court of Nightmares

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She thinks I will rape her too.

Like my brother just was.

Turning my head, I purge my stomach of its contents.

“Brother,” he calls again. “You can have her next if you want. I didn’t know you were usually into the rewards, but feel free. She’s the youngest and most attractive, my reward for so many kills—”

I slam him back to the wall, growling in his face, and he frowns, his expression clouding even as he struggles, but he should know better. After all, I raised him. I taught him everything he knows, so he cannot best me.

Warriors have integrity.

“Why?” I demand.

His features become stiff as he watches me. “It’s our reward. We protected these peasants and saved them from certain death. It is the way.”

“It is not our way!” I roar, slamming him back into the wall. “We do not take what is not ours.”

“No? We take lands that are not ours. We also take their food and shelter,” he argues. “What is one more thing? We deserve it. We live and die to protect them. They owe us this.”

Sickness turns my stomach again as I stare into my brother’s eyes, seeing nothing but his utter belief—beliefthat he is in the right and that I will side with him. That everyone else will too. What happened to the little boy who used to chase me around with the wooden practice sword, laughing as we danced? What happened to the little boy who used to clean the wounds of the little girl next door when she fell?

Is he truly gone?

When I search his face, I realise he is, and I never saw it happening.

I drop him as I step back. “How many?”

Standing, he rolls his shoulders back and smirks at me cockily. “Who knows? Every battle.”

Oh god. My soul shrivels from knowing that he had raped and pillaged after every battle we had won, while I hid in my tent, so intent on our future victories that I was blinded by my own greed and need. We vowed to protect these people . . .

Instead, we have been destroying them. I’m almost sick again at the memory of me riding out of their villages after battle with my head held high and mighty. They had watched us with mistrust and pain, and I thought it was from their losses, but no. It’s because of what was done to their people by the very warriors meant to save them.

“We took an oath,” I croak. “How dare you?”

“Everyone does it, brother,” he snaps. “Stop being so fucking good and just take what you want. It is our right as warriors!” he yells.

“No, it’s not true.” I stumble back, my eyes going to the young girl holding her ripped brown sack dress together. Her eyes are darting between us and the blood pooled under her and across her legs. The sight sears me to my very soul.

He stole her innocence, and with it, he sold his soul and lost his own.

Gripping my sword tighter, I look back at him. His hands are spread wide as he watches me, yet he doesn’t seem scared, as if he knows I will always protect him like I have before. “Brother, go back to your tent and hide away like you always do. Let us true warriors rejoice and collect our rewards. Our king does not care.”

“No, he cannot know,” I snap. He cannot. I trust him, love him like a brother.

“Of course he knows.” He laughs. “Are you really so naïve, brother? How do you think he controls so many warriors? He doesn’t care what we do as long as we win. He’s even partaken in the spoils before.”

“No,” I snap. “No, not my warriors, not my king.”

My world falls apart around me. All the good I thought we were doing . . . all the battles I have almost died in to protect those at my side, my king, and my brother were all for naught.

“You are such a fool!” My brother laughs, and for the first time, I do not see the warrior or the little boy I raised. I see the evil for what it truly is. His fangs are covered in blood, and his eyes are as dark as his soul. “You think the world is all battles and fighting for good, and look where it got you. You are completely alone. Even your own men hide their truth from you. You know nothing. You are a fool, Lycus—”

His words cut off into a gargle as I slice his neck. My heart is saddened but hard as I watch my brother drop to his knees, disbelief and fear flashing in his gaze as he grips his wound.

“Ly—” He chokes on the word, reaching for me in his panic.

Once I would have done everything to save him, but now I step back and watch him choke to death on his own sins. When his eyes lose all signs of life and he falls back, I kneel beside him.