We failed her, but we will never fail her again.
“Death,” Lycus snarls.
“Wait!” he calls, getting to his feet, glaring from Druig to us.
“No,” Althea murmurs and then pushes between us. “No more death. There has been enough. He was spared for a reason, and no matter our own anger at him, we cannot take a life that does not deserve it. He was judged and left alive for a reason. They need him.”
“He tried to kill you even after being given a second chance. That isn’t right,” I snap.
“He made his choice, as did we. We cannot take his life this night.”
“You might not be able to, but I can.” We all turn to see her father behind Sinclair. With a snarl, he slams his fist into the king’s chest and rips out his heart. We all gape in shock as the wide-eyed king falls, his heart clutched in Althea’s father’s hand. “He tried to kill my daughter. That’s reason enough for me.”
“He was judged,” she whispers.
“He was not a good man, Althea, nor was he a terrible one. He could have become a good king if he wished to be, but his action this night only proved he didn’t. Instead of choosing life and healing like everyone else here, he chose the old ways of death and murder to get what he wanted. He got what he deserved, and now it is not on your conscience as a judge. I will always protect my little girl, even if you do not wish me to.”
They stare at each other, the king’s heart still in his hand.
He committed treason against his court to protect his daughter. They have every right to come for him, despite the fact that the king tried to kill someone.
However, it seems like they, too, have had enough death. Balthasar, the older man on the council, steps forward. “I declare you innocent of all wrongdoing. It was clear he meant harm to her, and he has paid the price. There will be no more death tonight.” He looks at our queen. “I cannot condone what has happened here this evening, but I understand why it has come to this. Our race thought they were above the law, and I sadly did nothing to try and change it, even if I hated it. I will now, and you are right. We need to be better. For now, we go home and mourn.” He looks around. “The council will rebuild. Go back to your courts.”
“But who will lead us now?” someone from Sinclair’s court asks.
“He will,” Balthasar states, pointing at Althea’s father. “As enforcer, he was next in line. He will lead until another is officially voted in. As for the other courts without a leader, do the same. Whoever is next in line will lead until another is chosen. The council will support you in every way, but for now, we need to heal our wounds and figure out what is next.” He turns to us. “We will be in touch, if that is allowed?”
“Yes,” Althea answers without pause. “The judges have long been separated from our world, but we must be part of it. We will do anything we can to help.”
“I guess the name of this place is accurate—Court of Nightmares. I know I will definitely be having some, but maybe we need some nightmares. Scare those who think they are untouchable to keep them in line.” He smiles as he says it and nods at Althea. “We will be in touch, my queen. Thank you for an . . . interesting party.”
We watch as those who remain of our race gather. There is no longer a divide between them as, young and old, they walk out the doors they entered so confidently at the beginning of the night. They have been humbled, stripped of their anonymity for their crimes.
They have been seen.
They have been judged.
They have been cleansed.
* * *
Nathair sends everyone out to inspect each inch of the court. We cannot sense anyone nearby, but that doesn’t matter because we can’t be too safe. Our monsters fade back into the forest without a word, probably sensing how tired I am. Everything led to tonight, and now that it is done, I’m weary.
Once the guys return, they start the process of putting the bodies into a pile to burn, which is the only way to ensure their true death so Osis can guide them across the veil. I go to help, and Conall frowns at me.
“We just have to burn the bodies. You can go, Althea. You don’t need to—”
“No, I am a judge. That means I’m a part of everything. I don’t get to dip out of the ugly side of things simply because you love me. I am your equal.” I bend down and drag a body over the pile, still wearing my fancy dress. When I turn to grab another, my power quivers in warning.
“Something is coming,” I murmur just as the god of death himself emerges into view in the middle of the room, wearing a wicked grin on his lips.
“Bravo, little godling. I couldn’t have done better myself—well, I could have, but still.” He wanders around, looking at the bodies and blood, and stops before the man still hanging in Lycus’s silk. “This one is interesting. It reminds me of my time in France.”
“What are you doing here?” I ask as kindly as I can, but I am tired of people, being covered in blood, and having to monitor my words and actions. I just want to curl up with my men and let them hold me until the sun rises once more, reminding me of the beauty of the world.