Chapter 23

Bleeding from the face, hands, and lower back, Gray was led into the Paleo through an entrance he'd never seen before. They were above the arena and the massive circle of cages. He'd been flashed to an exterior platform several stories up by Feeyan, then handed off to four Pureblood guards.

Clearly he had a thing for making trouble with guards. He'd fought them on his way out of Mondrar and fought them on his way into the Paleo.

The thoughts from the guards that surrounded him staged a violent invasion of his head.

"Another animal to be tamed."

"You won't be flashing those fangs for much longer, Impure."

The curious Impures who huddled inside their cages added their thoughts to the already potent cocktail as he was led down to the arena.

"What is it?"

"Who is it?"

"Oh God. Covered in blood and bruises. What did he do?"

Though his temper remained hot, Gray forced himself to keep a cool head. He had to figure that at this point he was on his own and fighting for his life.

The guards kept him on a short leash as they moved into the arena and walked him to the very center stone slab. Gray saw the dried drops and smears of blood that decorated the stone and hissed. But he cut himself off immediately. They all had to assume he'd given up-the guards and the Impures-that he'd accepted his blood was next, that his would join the blood of his fellow castration victims.

But he wasn't going down nice and easy.

That's right. Not without a fight, assholes.

Gray waited for the very second when the guards shifted their hold to get him onto the slab. When they did, he sprang into action. He jerked down, slammed his fist into one, two, three groins, then rocketed back up to head butt whoever was in his way. Their groans of pain and spurts of blood were his signal to run, but the fourth guard caught him around the neck. Squeezing the air out of Gray's lungs with his side-of-beef-sized arm. Gray sent his elbow back with a grunt. He made contact, but just as he thought he'd gained his freedom, one of the now-recovered guards got in his face. The paven slammed one hard and blinding right cross into Gray's temple.

Stars hijacked his vision; then blackness closed in as he heard Feeyan's irritated command. "Do what you will to restrain him, but make sure to leave enough blood for the castration."

* * *

Team player, she wasn't. Or hadn't been, before him. But this was a grand mission-bigger than any of them realized or wanted to admit. Gathered inside the abandoned club, heading for the elevator that would take them down to the Paleo were Dillon, Uma, Kate, Celestine, the Impure warriors, the Romans, and the Beasts. The only two not there were Sara, who was in swell and had offered to remain home with Ladd, and Bronwyn, who couldn't leave her young balas yet.

As the majority of the group piled into the elevator, Piper, Rio, and Vincent stayed where they were.

"This is where we part company," Piper informed them as the other two warriors moved to either side of her. "We have your blood inside us, Dillon. We'll keep in contact and let you know if and when we break through."

Dillon nodded as the metal door closed. "Good luck." Then she stabbed the button to send them all down into the pits of the Paleo.

The three Impure warriors had found a fissure inside the Order's mainframe and were going to attempt to put pressure on it to open as the battle waged. They believed that in the chaos of their attack, the Order's defenses would be down and they might be able to push their way in through that tiny crack. And if they were really at their best? Maybe they could unplug the power grid.

Dillon had shared blood with all three, forging a mental connection. Like a walkie-talkie through the brain.

The metal box hit the ground floor, and as they'd planned, the group surged out, weapons ready-eyes, ears, fists, and fangs ready too as they moved cautiously down the long, dim hallway. They knew they were expected, and they knew the moment they entered the main section of the Paleo, every guard-Pureblood, Impure, and Order member-would be on them.

Up until this point, Dillon had forced Gray to the back of her mind. She needed a clear head for leadership and control, strong instincts and quick thought. But as she neared the secret way into the arena, the thought of him stretched out on that stone, the Order's fangs pricking his thigh, removing all the desire for mating from his beautiful male body, made her jaguar emerge and snarl.

Helo moved along beside her. "Easy, Dilly. Control your shift. Control your mind."

What about my heart? she wanted to ask. The one no one thought I had, or would ever have? The one Gray Donohue had given her.

When they hit the door and the tension for battle within the group was palpable, Dillon turned and faced them all. "I want to say one last time that the Order wants me. None of you have reason to risk your lives here."

"None of us?" Erion said, his nostrils flaring, his Beast, his lionlike demon, flickering in and out of his expression.

"The mutore have every reason," Phane confirmed with growling heat, his mismatched eyes bright with the fire of battle.

"Yes, my sister." Fangs dropped low, Alexander gave her a grave look. "We all have reason. Family, mates, my Impure balas that grows within my true mate."

"My son," said Celestine simply.

"Justice," Nicholas said resolutely, Glocks heavy at his sides.

"Freedom," Lucian said. "For all who want it. For all who have ever felt as though they had to fucking run to get it." He grunted, held up his blade and Glock. "No more."

Dillon stared at them all, truly understanding for the first time that this was about far more than just answering the call to battle. Each one who stood before her had conviction, drive, and a desperate need to prove their worth that maybe they'd been holding on to forever-until this day could pull it from them.

She grinned broadly, flashed them a quick growl from her jaguar, and raised her weapons. "Let's go get my true mate."

When Gray came to he was staring at a ceiling-broad, curved, and lit with hundreds of candles. It was only when he felt the wet burn of wax hit his face that he realized where he was-and why. With a grunt, he bolted upright, but got only about a foot high. He was stretched out on the stone slab, arms and legs strapped down by heavy, thick ropes. His entire body ached with the pain of his wounds, both open and internal, but he didn't give a shit. This wasn't about him.

It was about them.

All around him, Impures were flattened against the bars of their cages, eyes wide, staring into the center of the arena, watching him. No Order members, no guards. He was alone-an example. For a moment, he wondered if his father had been privy to the same view. What had he done? What had he thought, said?

He felt the pressure of the surrounding Impures' thoughts and opened his mind to allow them all to enter, allow their fears, questions, and prayers to rain down on him. His nostrils flared at the sudden onslaught. So many of them wondered who he was and why he was being singled out-some even thought they recognized him from the rescue missions.

His gaze took in each one as far as his neck could stretch. Maybe it was time to tell them.

"I am Impure warrior Gray Donohue," he shouted into the din, then waited a moment for the space and the minds around him to quiet. "The Order wants to kill my voice by castrating my body, but I will never stop fighting."

A sudden menacing heat moved through him, stealing his breath for a moment. The Order? Had they heard him? From wherever they were?

He inhaled, heavy and purposeful. "Remember, you choose!" he shouted. "All of you! You make the decision to lie down and have your blood stripped."

"Return to the arena. Muzzle him."

"They're coming to strip my voice from me now! But they can't take it from all of us! Don't you see? Only together, with one mind, can we defeat them!"

"Move, you idiots! He is rousing them!"

Fuck! They were near. His eyes wild, Gray cried out into the frenzied air, "Look around you! At one another! You are powerful! Together, you are power-"

It was all he could say before the pressure in his throat silenced him. But even though his words were taken, they were echoed in his mind by the Impures around him. Louder and louder, more and more, until their thoughts gave way to actual sound.

Feeyan flashed to his side then, her face a mask of disgust and fury as she leaned in close to his ear. "They may be ready to fight," she whispered. "But all it will take to break them again is more castrations, more blood spilled."

For one moment, Gray felt the true depth of that statement. Fear, pain, it was a powerful motivator, especially to a group that had been held down under the thumb of the Order for so long-no, forever. They didn't know what freedom looked like, what it felt like.

"Your father was castrated on this very table. Did you know that?" she whispered, an eager smile in her tone.

Ire slammed into Gray, and in one sweeping movement, he jerked his head up, bared his fangs, and sliced into her ear.

Feeyan bolted up, her eyes white hot. "Bastard." She hit him hard across the face, splitting his lip.

Gray lapped at the blood and for a split second tasted Dillon.

"It was useless to fight back then," Feeyan hissed, "and it is useless to fight now."

"Don't listen to her, Gray."

Gray froze, every muscle in his body on sudden alert. That voice, among all the others inside his head. He closed his eyes, sifting through all the voices until one floated to the top.


"We're all here, Gray. Ready to fight."

Gray's eyes opened. He glanced up at Feeyan, who was healing her torn ear, wondering if she'd heard it too. But she gave no sign that she had.

"You will not be castrated today," Alexander continued, and Gray could practically hear the grin on his face. "And if all goes as planned, neither will anyone else in this hellhole."

And then came the words that made it all right, made the bruises and the blood heal in their way, made his heart swell and ache with belief.

"Your jaguar won't allow it."

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