Arcana Rising (The Arcana Chronicles #4)(3)


by Kresley Cole

Something was already stuffed inside?

I gave a cry. The red ribbon! The ribbon he’d taken from me a lifetime ago, the night before the Flash. The one he’d saved and carried for more than a year. I was supposed to give it back to him when I chose him above all others, when I was ready to make my life with him.

I’d intended to.

Jack was . . . dead.

Not forever.

Something else was in my pocket . . . His letter! I snatched it out. The drenched paper disintegrated in my trembling hand, and I could only watch it. He’d left me this letter, urging me to go with Aric, to live in a place with sunlamps and food and safety.

Because I love you, Jack had written. This might be the most noble thing I’ve ever done. Noble, for the record, cuts like a blade to the heart.

Why had I never told him I loved him? In all the months I’d known him, I’d never said those three words.

I didn’t grieve the letter, because I was going to go back in time. It would never have been lost. I shoved the ribbon back into my pocket. One day, I swore to God, I would give it to him. I pushed on with even more determination.

Finally I reached a cluster of brick buildings—the only things left standing here after the firestorm of the Flash. I limped toward the middle of them. In what must have been the town square stood a monument: a man on a horse with trash wrapped around him. Wasn’t it always a freaking man on a freaking horse?

By the light of my glyphs, I read the plaque: GREEN HILLS, INDIANA

My heart stopped. My glyphs sputtered. Indiana???

A completely different state from the fort’s location. Reaching Tess might take a week—if I had transportation, fuel, and directions.

I sagged against the monument, and tears welled.

Crying is a waste of time, Evie!

Tick. Goddamn. Tock.

I wiped my wet sleeve over my face and raised my chin. My plan was still sound. I’d find Tess, and then I wouldn’t rest until she could reverse time—by months. By years! Hell, I’d go back to before the Flash and save my mom and Mel!

Step one was getting a vehicle for the journey. Step two: fuel. Step three: directions.

I had a mission. I would be like Lark, with her single-minded focus. I would have strength and fortitude. I imagined myself as a horse with blinders on, seeing only the road before me. Nothing else mattered. I would bury my grief and destroy anything that got in the way of my mission.

Vehicle.

Fuel.

Directions.

Any vehicle near this town would be sunk, stuck, or swept away. I needed to get out of the path of that flood. I needed highlands. I turned toward the foothills.

I ran.

Holding my injured side, I fought the resistance of the water, moving my legs through sheer will.

I ran until I splashed out of the edge of the receding flood. I headed upland toward the line of rocky hills. A road snaked through them. I followed it.

My deadened legs tripped. I lurched forward; only one hand to catch me. I face-planted onto a shelf of stone.

Tick-tock. I scrambled back up. Spat blood. Blinders on.

I ran.

3

Day 389 A.F.?

“Who let the dogs out? WHO? WHO? WHO?”

Even over the freezing winds and drizzle, I heard a song blaring from over the next rise.

Maybe I’d gone crazy and was having—what had the mental-ward docs called it?—an auditory hallucination. Likely. I hadn’t slept in days. Hadn’t stopped running.

Get to Tess. Get to Tess. Get to Tess.

Though I was filled with purpose, my glyphs had dimmed, my abilities on the fritz. Regeneration was agonizingly slow—my arm had regrown just a couple inches, and the wound in my side still gaped. My broken bones weren’t knitting. Exhaustion threatened to consume me.

But my mind was all-powerful. My mind told my body not to stop, and it obeyed. The ribbon was a talisman that kept me moving.

Aric had said I possessed untapped potential. I drew on anything—everything—I had. I reminded myself that Demeter had scoured the earth looking for her daughter, never resting. My search for Tess would be just as relentless.

I ran toward the music. Music meant people. People meant victims I could rob.

Over the last several days, I’d become one of the bad guys, a black hat, threatening the few survivors I’d encountered (even though all I could manage was the merest show of a vine).

Do you have a map? I would steal it from you.

Food? Hand it over.

I like your backpack. It’s mine now.

To keep myself alive for Jack, for Aric—and for Richter—I’d become the monster lurking in the shadows.

As a black hat, I understood so much better how Baggers, cannibals, and militias worked. Always seek out people; they’ll have something you want.

I had no qualms that I was stranding or starving others. As I told them, “Tick-tock. On a clock. None of this will ever have happened.” Because I was going to reverse time.

Thanks to my thievery, I now wore a hooded poncho over my jacket and one of a pair of fingerless gloves. On my back was a bug-out pack with gear: MREs for another couple of days, a knife, glow sticks, and salt for Baggers. . . .

I trudged up that hill, digging with one hand into the muck, fighting against streams of water. Between breaths, I said, “You there, Circe?”

The more I thought about that epic clash, the more I realized the flood had been the unintended aftermath of her attack on the Emperor.

While her tidal wave had vibrated with her presence and hostility, the flood had been violent but . . . lifeless.

Controlling a wave like that couldn’t have been easy for her. Hell, I’d nearly poisoned Jack with my powers. Tess had almost died from hers.

Deciding that Circe hadn’t been trying to murder me, I’d hailed her in puddles. She could see and hear from any body of water. She would know where Aric was.

She’d never answered. No one did. I hadn’t heard a single telepathic Arcana call. Unless I’d been running in circles—possible—I should have covered a lot of ground. Had I not neared any Arcana?

Damn it, we were supposed to converge!

I tried again: Aric? Tess? Gabriel? Joules?

Nothing. I was tempted to hail Matthew—but he had allowed the massacre.

Yet he’d also taught me about Tess’s time traveling: “Sometimes the World spins in reverse. Sometimes battles do too. The word carousel means little battle.”

Maybe all this was an exercise to enhance Tess’s unimaginable power? He might have known all along that I would bring Jack back! Matthew always did things like this.

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