Home > Day Zero (The Arcana Chronicles #3.5)(3)

Day Zero (The Arcana Chronicles #3.5)(3)
Author: Kresley Cole

Electrical storms? Copper sheets line the walls and ceilings. Flood? We are well above the flood zone. Wildfires? The castle was constructed of flame-proof slate and stone. With the touch of a button, blast-proof shutters will cover all the windows and doors.

Should there be another famine, a subterranean farm with acres of sun lamps will sustain Lethe. Another drought? Sunken reservoirs and wells will provide water.

If marauders actually find this place, a reinforced stone perimeter wall surrounding the entire mountaintop will hinder a raid.

The Arcana players come from all over the world; why should I not believe the scope of the disaster will be global? Communications will go first. I have prepared for that as well.

I possess so many advantages over the others. The deck is eternally stacked in my favor. My allies will benefit as well, at least for a time.

Among the players I’ve located, I have chosen four.

A Kenya Special Forces soldier named Kentarch is the Centurion, my first ally. His family line has forever named the firstborn son Kentarch. I’ve messengered a satellite phone to him with instructions to contact me.

Circe Rémire, a Bermudan PhD student obsessed with Atlantean folklore and witchcraft must be the Priestess. Her photo online bears a slight resemblance to her previous incarnation, and she was named for Circe’s Abyss (according to her university bio). Ages ago, the abyss had been named for her.

Like me, she has been beguiled and betrayed in the past by the Empress. I’ve dispatched the Priestess’s trident to her. It should accelerate her witchly protection and memory spells.

My third ally will be the Devil. In a small Ohioan gazette, I read an account of a misshapen boy with horns. I will collect him after the disaster. As ever, he will be a vile beast, but he has two advantages. He is immune to the Empress’s poison, and his hands will be able to work metal like a forge.

I think of my armor displayed on a stand in my room. Its fit is close, its movements silent. Made from an unidentifiable black ore, the entire suit weighs less than my longswords, as light as it is impenetrable.

This mysterious material can only be reworked by the Devil Card. With each game, I have him update and perfect the armor.

I’ve already secured my fourth ally. In past months, I’d found stories online about a teenage girl with a remarkable talent for training and rehabilitating dangerous beasts. She had to be the Strength Card, also known as Fauna.

She’d hired out her services, even advertised. In one video, she’d gazed at the camera with clear eyes and chin raised, boldly stating, “My name is Lark Inukai. I defang killers. I defuse their aggression. I find their weaknesses and exploit them ruthlessly. Animals come to me one way and leave another. Do you have a problem case? Call the Killer Chiller.”

Even now I shake my head. Killer Chiller? There is no accounting for taste.

I hired her father, a veterinarian who’d emigrated from Japan, to oversee my vast collection of animals. Takao and Fauna moved to Lethe Castle a few months ago.

I’ve given him an unlimited budget to increase our stock. He is currently on his way back from acquiring a rare Russian leopard. As with many of our creatures, some celebrity had purchased it without much forethought.

I exhale. Mortals.

I called Takao yesterday and told him to make haste returning. If he doesn’t make it back, he could be separated from the safety of the castle when disaster strikes. He could be killed.

All because he couldn’t resist the promise of beauty.

A few weeks ago, I told Fauna, “You and your father gravitate toward beautiful animals. Sometimes the spellbinding creatures are the most dangerous ones of all.” Like the Empress.

Fauna had frowned. “I don’t understand.”

“In life, you should always steel yourself against anything that is alluring. The next time you see something beautiful, turn away from it.” I speak from bitter experience.

Restless, I rise and cross to my wall safe. Combination entered, I open the door to my most valuable treasures. I reach past the necklace I once gave the Empress to collect a small case. Inside is my mother’s wedding ring, an engraved gold band with an oval of inlaid amber.

In two out of the last three games, I almost gifted this ring to the Empress. When I married her millennia ago, it had been in safekeeping hundreds of miles away, and I never had the opportunity to retrieve it. In the game after that, the Emperor killed her before I could reach her. In the last game, she’d tried to poison me before I could slip it on her finger.

I take the ring from its case, and the metal warms against my skin. I give a harsh laugh. The ring doesn’t know my touch is lethal. It reacts to me as it would to anyone.

So did the Empress’s skin.

I recall my last few encounters with her from the previous game—not that I need anything to harden my resolve against her.

All those years ago, I shadowed her, observing her battles, trying to determine whether she was as treacherous as she’d been the last time I’d seen her, when she’d intended to kill me on our wedding night.

She’d been even worse. . . .

“You’ve stalked me long enough, Reaper. Shall we fight at last?” she asks, looking as if she burns for the battle. Her swirling glyphs glow.

We begin to circle each other.

She cants her head. “The fall sun shines. Chaff spreads on the winds. So much birdsong, music fit for murder. Which one of us will it be?” She is stalling. Her roots are likely spreading beneath me, her serpents at the ready.

But I am invulnerable to them in my armor. “I don’t wish to fight today. I only want to converse with you.”

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