Arcana Rising (The Arcana Chronicles #4)(10)


by Kresley Cole

Though I was racking up minutes I didn’t have to spare, I figured I couldn’t help Jack if I was in the bottom of a ravine somewhere.

I’d made a thorn cage inside for the Baggers, keeping them close for leverage. While I’d used flints to start a fire, my vines had dismantled a storage crate for wood. The smoke wisped upward and vanished through some crack or vent overhead. The flames were a reminder of Jack’s death, but soon I’d have him back.

I glanced over at Sol on the other side of the fire. He was still sullen because I’d yelled at him. Sure enough, there’d been a fairly new corpse when we’d stopped to refuel. I’d ordered Sol to remove the dead man’s boots.

The Sun had put up his nose. “That’s disgusting. I’d rather go without.”

I remembered when I’d been too freaked out to source sunglasses off a body. Or to retrieve a precious arrow out of a Bagger. How had Jack put up with me all that time? “You hang out with slimy Bagmen,” I’d pointed out, “and you’re calling a corpse disgusting? Baggers are corpses.”

He’d looked at me like I’d insulted his mother.

“Boots, Sol. Now!”

He’d refused, launching into a diatribe in Spanish, and things had gone downhill from there. . . .

Now I dug into my bag for a package of freeze-dried soup and a collapsible pot, courtesy of Sol’s “worshippers.” I’d always depended on easy-to-carry energy bars, but beggars, choosers, blah blah.

When had I eaten last? Couldn’t remember.

I dumped the package into the pot, mixing in water from my canteen. After the last week, I’d never take having two hands for granted. I set the pot over the flames, and stirred with an all-purpose utensil.

Sol’s stomach growled. “Are you going to share any with your captive?” He gestured to the soup with his bound hands.

“I might have, if my captive had offered to heat this room—and this meal—with his powers.”

His lips thinned. “If you’re not nicer to me, I’ll make sure you get a Bagman bite. Maybe not tonight, or even this week. But someday.”

I took the pot off the fire. “Try it, Sol. See where that lands you. I’m sure I’m immune.” Well, five percent sure. At his frown, I said, “Poison’s my thing.” I started to eat, blowing to cool my first spoonful. Pretty good.

“Bagmen don’t inject poison, venom, or even a pathogen. It’s a radiation-based mutation. Like something you’d find in comics.”

“I’ll just take your word for it. Besides, I regenerate. I can’t get sick,” I lied. I had no idea how my body would react to a comic-book mutation. I hadn’t caught bonebreak fever—but then, I hadn’t had the plague injected into my skin via a zombie’s mouth.

“One of my worshippers is a scientist,” Sol said. “He’s been studying Bagmen. Besides, I wouldn’t order a bite to turn you—I’d do it just to be a dick.”

“Ah. So I should watch my back for them?” I pointed to his caged pets. Silent and motionless, the two stared blankly ahead, gruesome with their creased skin.

“Those particular ones don’t bite anyone.”

The pot had cooled, so I drank straight from it. “Again, I’ll take your word for it.” And your icon, if you don’t shut up.

Once I’d finished about half the soup, I gazed at his seemingly sincere expression. Maybe I shouldn’t be trying to shut Sol up when I could be learning about an enemy. “So . . . does it make you tired to shine?” I took one last swig of dinner, then passed the pot to him.

He beamed. “Sí, it does.” He drank the soup straight down, then swiped his brawny arm over his mouth. “The colder the weather, the harder it becomes. But I’m getting more efficient with practice, so I use less power. Soon I’ll be able to light up the entire world, commanding a legion of Bagmen.”

Good to have goals, Sol. I wondered if the Sun Card had possessed this kind of control over Baggers in past games, latent within him, but had never discovered his ability. After all, there’d been no zombies to experiment with, no Flash to create them. “How’d you figure out you could direct them?”

“I was attacked on Day Zero.” His gaze grew unfocused, and he winced at whatever he was remembering. “I wanted them to stop hurting me, and suddenly they did.”

So he was immune to their bites as well. “Why didn’t your Bagmen react when you were shining? I thought they feared the sunlight.”

“If they’re not starving or dried out, the light doesn’t seem to bother them too much. In fact, they are drawn to me, seeming to sense me, even ones I’m not controlling.” He shrugged. “Unless they’re simply attracted to what they fear.”

As I’d been with Death? Aric, where are you? Silence. I glanced over at the two Baggers. “Can you talk to them in any way?”

“I can command them with my thoughts, see through their eyes, and hear through their ears. I can merge my mind with any Bagman within a certain range.”

“You borrow their senses?” As the Lovers had with their carnates, and Lark did with animals.

“Sí.” His eyes turned filmy white. “I can see the scorched Statue of Liberty through one Bagger’s eyes. Another Bagger just limped down a highway exit for Disney World.”

“What else?” Vincent had said his carnates had ranged all over, finding only ash and waste. “What about people?”

“Lots of fighting. Murders. Rapes.” Sol’s eyes cleared. “If you saw what I do every day, you would not have so much sympathy for the men in those cages.”

Probably.

“Each week, my range extends, and I’m able to meld with Bagmen farther away. One day I hope to reach my native Spain.” In a softer tone, he said, “Maybe my family survived.”

“Would you know if they were . . . turned?”

He nodded. “It’s likely they were. So many were transformed.”

I thought about those boys in the Lovers’ tent, the ones they’d purposely infected. I cringed to remember a half-turned boy crying over a trough of blood, fully aware of what was happening to him. I asked Sol, “What do you feed these two?”

“Blood. There will be a jug of it in the back of the truck. My worshippers would know to pack some.”

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