Arcana Rising (The Arcana Chronicles #4)(8)


by Kresley Cole

Barking up the wrong oak. He had no idea how untouchable I was. “Get one of your men to collect some clothes and boots. If he’s not back before the gas cans are loaded, you can raid corpses like the rest of us.”

He waved a Skin over and gave him the orders. Then he turned to me. “What will you do to my worshippers?”

Really? “They all committed murder—just to walk around without a shirt.” Most of them remained under my net.

“You heard them say victi vincimus? That’s Latin for conquered, we conquer. Some of them might have killed in self-defense.”

Maybe some were good; maybe some weren’t. I answered, “Maybe some can get loose. Maybe some can’t.” None of this mattered anyway! “We’re on a clock.”

One of the Skins signaled that the truck was loaded.

I ordered Sol, “Load your pets into the back, then get in.”

With a wave of his hand, the two zombies marched up a loading ramp. I gestured to one of the Skins to close it, and Sol and I climbed into the cab of the truck.

He settled behind the wheel. “Now that we’re traveling together, shouldn’t I know your name?”

“No.”

His lips turned down. “My worshipper isn’t back with my clothes. After teaching me the error of my ways, you expect me to go without boots and jeans?”

“Not if there’s a body nearby when we refuel.”

“You can’t be comfortable in your own wet, muddy clothes,” he pointed out. “I can provide dry jeans and a sweatshirt. A warm pair of socks. What’s the rush?”

Get to Tess. Get to Tess. Get to Tess. Eleven minutes on the carousel versus nine days. Thousands and thousands of minutes.

When I had forced Tess to reverse time and she’d narrowly survived, I’d been worried that she would hate me forever. But Joules had told me, “She’ll be glad she helped. Lass likes to help.”

That sweet girl had been glad.

Which meant she would be willing to work.

Together, we could do this! But I wouldn’t stack the deck against us by adding unnecessary minutes. I told Sol, “That’s my business.” I used a rose stalk to lash one of his wrists to the wheel, the other to the gearshift.

He sighed. “I’m down with kink, but these bindings are quite painful.”

“Oh dear. Are they?” I tightened them. “Go.”

Clenching his wide jaw, Sol clumsily ground the truck into gear. Could he suck at driving worse than I did? I’d never even gotten my learner’s permit—because I’d been locked up in a mental ward the summer before I turned sixteen.

After the Flash, Jack had driven most of the time.

In a grave tone, Sol said, “All you had to do was ask me to go with you. I would have, without your threats hanging over my head.”

“Did you ask your prisoners if they wanted to fight for survival? Now drive.”

He shrugged and gave the truck some gas. We headed for the highway.

I watched in the side mirror as a shirtless “worshipper” sprinted after us with a duffel bag. He hurled it toward the back of the truck. . . . The bag landed well short.

This just wasn’t Sol’s day.

6

“Since you refuse to give me your name, what should I call you?” Sol asked. We were climbing higher into the hills, the road getting more treacherous. “O Great Empress? The Blond One? How about the Green Queen?”

I’d been staring out the window in silence, ignoring his attempts at conversation. As I took in one Flash-fried scene after another, I alternated from Evie to full-on Empress—leaf-strewn red hair, rose crown, dripping thorn claws, glowing glyphs—and back. At one point, I’d drummed my claws on the armrest with impatience, absently stabbing holes in it. Poison had collected.

Sol had shuddered in horror.

“Call me Empress.”

“We’re not on a first-name basis? Fine. You can call me Illuminator.”

“Yeah. That will never happen, Sol.”

Snow began to drift down. Jack’s words rang in my head, his voice over the radio when I’d ridden out to meet him: “So this is snow. . . .” A bayou boy, he’d never seen it before.

I’d been delighted by the clean white drifts. After a year of ever-present ash, the white had seemed like a blank slate.

With our voices linked, Jack and I had marveled at the snow.

My chest twisted so hard I almost screamed. Blinders! I fully believed that I would get him back. But the mere idea that we weren’t on the same plane made me crazed.

Sol said, “I still can’t believe the Empress is a real girl. For months, I’ve been hearing all these voices in my head, and then up pops one of them—in the very lovely flesh.” He’d been hearing our Arcana calls.

Matthew had told me mine was louder than everyone else’s. Apparently, my call had broadcast all the way to Indiana. Yet I’d never heard Sol’s.

He imitated my voice, “‘Come, touch . . . but you’ll pay a price.’” He raked his gaze over me. “Who wouldn’t pay it?”

Jack had. He would still be alive if he’d never met me. Or if I’d let him go after my battle against the Hermit Card.

Aric had paid over and over again.

He still hadn’t contacted me. Maybe the Arcana switchboard was down once more. After all, I hadn’t heard Sol’s call from mere feet away. Which would mean I had no mental link to my allies and friends.

And no idea where my enemies were.

Or maybe I just couldn’t consider the alternative: that Aric was too injured to respond. It wouldn’t matter anyway, because of time travel. Once I went back, I would keep him safe.

God, I could go nuts thinking about this! For days, I’d had zero sleep and little food. I wasn’t exactly tracking well. And the Sun’s leer wasn’t helping. “Are you done, Sol? Just pay attention to where you’re going.”

He wasn’t done. “I saw an image flash over you. You had your arms open, were beckoning me.” My Arcana tableau. “Some of the Azey soldiers spoke of supernatural people called Arcana. Even after so many baffling events—and my own powers—I scarcely believed.” I hadn’t either. “So if the voices are real, then the game must be too. I’ve heard enough to glean the basics. There are more than a dozen of us, right? And we’re all supposed to fight? To take each other’s—what are they called?—icons.”

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