Read 10.1 here
Read 10.2 here
Their bodies ached with every step they took, but there was not time to stop or even slow down.
The pair of them looked like they’d been hurled into a vat of red paint.
‘Pleasure being alive right now,’ King Solomon said, nodding thoughtfully.
Davey looked at him like he was insane.
‘Lot of us didn’t make it, Davey lad,’ Solomon said. His brave face dipped ever so slightly as tears filled his eyes. ‘And it’s my fault. Crushed beneath the weight of that fucking crown.’
‘Don’t blame yourself.’
Solomon shook his head, his expression mournful. ‘Well, I told you we’d get out of there, didn’t I? Thank the Gods for that bulldozer bringing down the fence next to us.’
Davey nodded. ‘For all the good it’s done. I feel like death warmed up.’
‘That’s just your nerves screaming out in victory, Davey lad. That’s the feel of a hard won fight.’
‘I didn’t see anything that suggested we won that fight.’
‘Well think of it this way. Cross and most of Serenity waded in there after us. What’s to say they ain’t chow right now?’
‘They had guns – with bullets. They were organised.’
‘They probably did get out. But I’m saying there’s a chance they’re all in someone’s belly right now. And ain’t that a relaxing thought?’
Davey laughed and shook his head. ‘Not really, cos we almost ended up in someone’s belly too.’
Solomon laughed maniacally. ‘And wasn’t it a fucking rush?’ He grabbed Davey by the shoulders almost hard enough to crush his collarbones to dust. ‘I feel so alive right now.’ His face cracked in a grin as massive as his frame.
‘Well, when you’re finished enjoying the fact that we almost got blown up, eaten alive and riddled with bullets all within the same half an hour, why don’t we make a decision on where the hell we’re going now?’
‘Easy, Davey lad. I made the decision as soon as I heard them dozers rolling in to demolish what I spent a good few years of my life building.’
‘Ain’t it obvious?’
Davey lost his rag momentarily. ‘No it isn’t fucking obvious or I would’ve figured it out by now, wouldn’t I?’
‘Alright, alright. Settle, Davey lad. Any dickhead can stand strong beside the strong. That’s the easy bit. The true measure of a man – and to an even greater degree, a king – is how well you can comfort the broken.’
‘Did you get hit round the head down there? Cos you’re making no sense to me at all.’
‘Well, the man leading the attack on the Freelands was unmistakably Reverend Cross. Which leads to a number of questions. But we don’t need to concern ourselves with those right now.’
‘So what do we need to concern ourselves with?’
‘Reverend Cross is back. He knows Deborah is dealing with us. How do you think he has taken it?’
The penny dropped for Davey.
‘Finally,’ Solomon said as the expression of understanding fell upon Davey’s face.
‘But we’d be walking right through them to get to Serenity,’ Davey said, his face falling.
‘Yes, lad. But I owe that woman my life. And I’m fucked if I’m going to leave her behind with Cross back on the planet.’
King Solomon’s plan followed his usual go-charging-in-headfirst-and-see-what-happens approach.
Most of Serenity’s inhabitants were doing their best to smash and burn the Freelands into the dirt. So naturally, Serenity itself was relatively unguarded.
Some of those who had fled the Freelands seemed to have already figured this one out; a horde of bloody, black-robed Grims were merrily ransacking the walls of Serenity.
Rifle shots rang out from the guard towers, but it seemed that only every other post was occupied.
‘Gods bless them,’ Solomon said. ‘They’re already seeking vengeance on our enemies.’
The guard tower went up in a rush of flames as one Grim hurled a glass jar full of blazing liquid through the air.
‘Fuck yas all,’ the Grim shouted, flashing dirty middle fingers as guards fell from the blazing tower. Smoke rose from their backs as they screamed their final moments out into the dirt.
King Solomon grabbed Davey’s arm in a vice grip and dragged him down as rifle fire began from the nearest occupied tower.
‘Watch this,’ he said, pulling something familiar but hard to place from his pocket.
Davey squinted trying to see it, but his attention was diverted by a vast explosion in the distance.
‘That should give those fucking guards something else to worry about,’ Solomon beamed, again with that crazy look in his eye.
Davey’s brow furrowed as smoke began to billow from the heart of Serenity, then he remembered the events on the day of the funeral, when King Solomon had told him about the bomb in Cross’s coffin.
‘That’s right, Davey lad. I knew that bomb would come in handy one day.’
Sure enough, the guards were spilling from the towers and racing to investigate the explosion so close to their hallowed church.
‘Much bigger than I thought, actually,’ Solomon muttered to himself, then pulled Davey over to the wall.
He grabbed Davey by the legs and shoved him up so fast he struggled to breathe.
His hands caught the top of the wall as he came down and he just managed to hold on.
With Solomon pushing the soles of his feet upwards, it was no struggle to get over the wall.
‘Get to the gate,’ Solomon said. ‘And open it for us.’
Davey nodded and began running along the fence towards the gate.
Davey froze like a rabbit in the headlights as a torch beam landed upon him.
The guard raised his rifle to fire, but then a hail of rocks came over the fence.
None of them hit the guard’s head, but one did smash into his hand, making him cry out and drop his gun.
Davey already had his knife in his hand and he took mere seconds to cover the distance between them.
The knife found its home just under the floating rib on the guard’s left side.
His sickly gurgle as he fell back was nothing out of the ordinary to Davey now, though he still felt as though another sliver of his soul had been shaved away.
The guard puked blood then fell on his back, fountaining gore all over his face.
He hadn’t stopped twitching by the time Davey had taken his weapons – a rifle and a handgun – and resumed running along the fence.
The centre of Serenity was hidden in billowing clouds of smoke.
It seemed the entire world was ablaze again.
It was like a small scale recreation of the day that before had turned to after.
He saw a few figures in the distance, rushing towards the inferno at Serenity’s heart, but a few were still manning the perimeter.
One raised his gun and got a shot off at Davey but it missed and clanged harmlessly off the metal fence behind him.
Before the guard could pull the trigger again, Davey had fired and sent him to the dirt with a hole in his left pectoral.
As Davey ran past, he slit the guard’s throat to avoid further problems.
He saw one more guard on his way in, but he was facing the wrong way, staring off into the blazing inferno at the centre of the village.
Davey was loathe to get more blood on his hands, so he slammed the butt of the rifle into the back of his head.
He fell, already snoring, and bounced off the floor as he landed.
Davey took his weapons too.
The huge gates were padlocked and fastened up with a thick chain.
Evidently Serenity had been prepared for a return attack.
Davey shoved the gun against the padlock and pulled the trigger. The padlock fell, now just a useless hunk of metal, and Solomon was already pulling the chains off the gates.
Seconds later, Solomon hurled the heavy gates open.
A dozen or so Grims were with him, streaming in, bellowing war cries that chilled Davey’s blood despite him being on their side.
The Grims spread out, seemingly already knowing what they were going to fuck up first.
Solomon bellowed, ‘Make sure Deborah is safe,’ at their fleeing backs.
They raised thumbs in the air without breaking stride then they were lost to the smoke.
The flames and smoke gave Serenity an eerie glow.
It made it look like it was an evil place instead of its alleged modern version of Eden.
It took years to build this and a matter of minutes to destroy it, Davey thought solemnly.
Just like the Freelands.
Just like the whole region.
Gone in the blink of an eye.
A guard was pressed against the corner of one of the buildings.
Solomon grabbed his throat hard enough to crush his windpipe and slammed him into the wall.
He let go of him and he slid down the wall to land in a crumpled heap.
Solomon took his weapons and they carried on to the middle of the village.
The flames seemed to be stopping at the side of the church, as though God himself was keeping them away this time.
The graveyard was obliterated; clods of mud, broken headstones and chunks of rotten corpses were strewn across the beautifully tended lawns.
‘If she’s anywhere she’s in there,’ Solomon said, tearing Davey from his thoughts. His beefy finger pointed to the church tower.
Guards were milling around, trying to put the fires out.
A few of them were near the doors, but they seemed to move away of their own accord, as though God was saving them from the inevitable death that Solomon’s hand would have provided.
‘Quick, get in there, Davey lad,’ Solomon said.
Davey raced in as King Solomon held the door open.
The flames coming through the stained glass windows lit everything in an eerie light.
‘Of course,’ King Solomon said, staring in awe at the huge stained glass window at the back of the church. ‘It all makes sense now.’
‘What does?’ Davey said.
Solomon pointed to the window. ‘Twin Crosses. And on the top of the spire. They were flaunting it right in front of everyone and we never even clicked on.’
Davey still didn’t understand.
‘There were two of ’em all along,’ King Solomon grinned. ‘The sneaky bastards.’
Davey thought back to being chased through the tunnels.
About thinking he’d seen Cross following him, even though he was lying, throat slit, in a cell a few hundred yards away.
‘I know, lad. I’m telling ya, that’s what’s happened. And if there is one of ’em still alive, he’s gonna be mad as hell at Deborah for betraying him.’
They’d scoured every inch of the church downstairs, including the tunnels, but could see no sign of her.
When they went upstairs, they found a section of wall had been slid back.
A door hung open behind it.
‘You seen this shit?’ Solomon said, shaking his head at the ingenuity of it all. ‘I’d bet that was where the motherfucker was hiding out all this time.’
They moved in.
Their eyes scanned every inch of the hidden quarters, but it soon became clear no one was there.
A converted bathroom was housed at the very back of the room.
There was no bath, no toilet, no sink, though the room still bore the scars of where the furnishings had been ripped loose.
The bare concrete floor put Davey in mind of the dank basement where Cross had held him prisoner.
It brought back memories he wished had stayed buried. His hand made its own way to the scars Cross’s scalpel had made on his leg.
‘It’s ok, Davey lad. He can’t hurt you now.’ Solomon gave his shoulder a reassuring squeeze that nearly cracked his clavicle.
‘Shit,’ Solomon said as the dim light from the corridor – the room’s light fitting had been rived loose – hit the floor.
He bent down, the crack of his knees as loud as shotgun blasts in the eerie silence.
On the floor was a dark, congealing pool of blood roughly the size of a human head.
Scattered around its edges were half a dozen teeth.
‘He’s given her one hell of a beating,’ Solomon said, shaking his head in rage. ‘If I ever get my hands on him…’
Even in the semi-dark, Davey could see the beetroot shade that his face had taken on.
Solomon’s hands shook with anger.
‘Look,’ Davey said, distracting him from his musings.
He followed Davey’s finger and saw a blood-smeared section of rope, one of its strands looking like it had been chewed straight through.
Another section of rope lay on the floor a few feet away.
A longer length was still bound around a huge metal pipe on the wall at the back of the room, just behind the hole in the concrete floor which now served as the toilet.
‘Well it looks like she got out of here anyway,’ Davey said.
‘But how far’s she got if she’s been beaten like that?’
Davey left the question unanswered.
Solomon put his hand in the blood to try and see how fresh it was.
‘It’s started to get a skin like your mamma’s custard. Remember that stuff?’
Again the thought of yet another little pleasure that he’d always taken for granted hit Davey.
‘That means she’s been gone a while now.’
‘At least she’s safe.’
‘Yeah, but she could be miles away. We’re gonna struggle to find her.’
‘Where do you think she would go?’
‘Well, you could argue she’d head to the Freelands either to warn us or to seek our protection. But if she knew that was where it was all going to kick off, she may well have gone as far as possible in the opposite direction. So the short answer is, I don’t have a fucking clue, Davey lad.’
Next chapter is here