Arcana Rising (The Arcana Chronicles #4)(11)


by Kresley Cole

And where had they gotten the blood? From the fallen men on Olympus’s field? “Your pets don’t smell as bad as some.” Still, I grew red roses on their thorn cage to scent the air.

“The slime is what stinks. It takes a few days after it seeps to rot. I keep their skin clean.”

“Why are these particular ones special to you?”

His gaze grew shuttered. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

“Fine.” Switching subjects. “How did you get good soil for crops?”

“We harvested it from caves. If you get deep enough, it’s still fertile.”

He and his followers had figured out a way to cultivate crops, and they’d discovered the Bagger mutation. If Sol could be believed, then they were doing some good.

“We’ve been growing for about half a year, so no trees yet,” he said. “No apples, pears, or oranges.”

I’d grown Tess an orange tree to atone for nearly killing her. As if that would make up for the risk I’d forced her to take when she’d unleashed her power. At least my own powers couldn’t end me.

Sol asked, “You don’t need dirt to grow things, do you?”

I shook my head, figuring that reveal couldn’t hurt.

“Do you have any seeds? Maybe apple? I could give you some sun, and we could have apples tonight!” he said, as if it were an apple-pie-in-the-sky dream.

I sliced my thumb with a claw, and started a tree. When it grew to a sprout, I said, “Be my guest.”

Excitement lit his gaze—heated brown eyes framed with thick dark lashes. He beamed, sunlight pouring from his chest, arms, and legs.

I went heavy-lidded as the tree shot to the ceiling.

“Dios!”

I directed one of its limbs to him and one to me. We each plucked a shiny red apple. At his first bite, he groaned. “I don’t think I’ll ever get used to that.”

I tasted mine. Not bad. “What did you do before the Flash?”

“I was a history student, and I ran a party promotion service with some partners. We hosted raves in abandoned buildings. Everyone thought we got paid to have fun, but actually a lot of work was involved.”

“So you went from raves to bloody free-for-alls?”

He answered with a Russell Crowe Gladiator impression: “Are you not entertained???”

“You didn’t just do that.”

He shrugged.

“Why’d you go Roman?”

His eyes lit up again. I’d compared Aric’s starry gaze to a sunrise, but Sol’s blazing eyes were like high noon at the equator. His irises went from dark brown to backlit caramel. “I learned from my job: presentation is everything. And talk about a culture that understood presentation! The Romans had emblems, symbols, elaborate uniforms, pageants. They were ruthless, but had codes of honor. They adored warriors and contests. And they worshipped me.”

Ugh! “FYI, you are not a sun god. We were enabled by gods, but we are not divine.”

“Speak for yourself, querida.” He flashed me his seductive smile. “Kiss my lips, then tell me I’m not divine.”

If I hadn’t seen him hosting a death match, I would’ve found him charming. He was as playful as Finn, but also possessed a simmering charisma.

“In Roman times, one fighter with a sword could change the world,” he said, his excitement making him seem younger.

“How old are you?” I found myself asking.

“Twenty-three. You must be”—he took his time checking me out—“twenty?”

“Seventeen.”

His lips parted. “I’ve been lusting after a girl that young?”

I rolled my eyes. The effect was ruined by a yawn. The soup had warmed me, making me drowsy. Plus I hadn’t slept in days.

“You look wiped out. Understandable, since you are a child, pequeña.”

“What does that mean?”

“Little one. You should get some sleep.”

“With a hostage nearby? An evil hostage?” Not unless he was contained.

“Evil? I’m layered.” He grew serious. “Empress, what can I do to convince you that I’m not all bad? What will make you trust me?”

“Even if you’re half bad, I still wouldn’t trust you.”

He was an Arcana. He might be targeting me for betrayal, the way Lark had. He might know more about the game than he was letting on, as Selena had done.

Hadn’t I heard music drifting from Olympus right when I’d been on the jagged edge? It had drawn me straight to Sol’s lair. Beware the lures.

With a wave of my hand, I stretched the Baggers’ thorn cage over him as well, then released his wrists—keeping the collar in place.

How ironic that Sol wanted me to trust him—just as I’d wished Aric and Circe would trust me. But then, I’d once been as evil as they came.

I might not trust Sol. Or want to be his friend. But I couldn’t judge him.

He tested his cage. “Red roses, pequeña? Only yellow ones are fit for a sun god.”

The nerve of this guy. I glowered at him, just as irritated at myself.

I’d had the briefest impulse to turn the red to yellow.

8

I shot upright with a scream, tears streaming down my face.

“Empress!” Sol was ripping at his cage, trying to get to me. “You’re having a nightmare! Wake up, pequeña!” His skin glowed from emotion, and his hands were bloody from my thorns.

My gaze darted as I slowly recalled real life. Substation. Sol as my prisoner. On our way to Fort Arcana.

I buried my face in my hands when my tears kept coming. I’d stifled my grief so much, I should have expected it to bubble up as I slept.

In my nightmare, Jack had told me, “Why didn’t you let me go? I’d still be alive. I asked you to set me free.” Then he burned from the inside, lava pouring from his body.

His bellow of pain still rang in my ears. Followed by the Emperor’s laugh. . . .

“What was your nightmare about?” Sol’s skin dimmed, but my thorns had grown from his blaze of light.

“Th-the Emperor’s massacre,” I murmured. “Richter . . .”

“You fear another attack?”

“You would too. You should.” Some detail was nagging me about Richter’s escape from Circe. That night, had I heard a . . . helicopter? “Olympus isn’t out of his range.” Was anyplace?

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