Home > Day Zero (The Arcana Chronicles #3.5)(4)

Day Zero (The Arcana Chronicles #3.5)(4)
Author: Kresley Cole

“Converse?” She narrows her green eyes. “If that were true, then why are you covered in metal?”

Taking a calculated risk, I remove my helmet, but keep it in hand. “Better?”

Her gaze sweeps from my sword to my helmet. She’s assessing her odds. She knows I can cut through her vines with my inhuman speed. Then she studies my face.

I make my expression blank, refusing to show my yearning for a wife, a companion.

“You’re a handsome man. Very handsome.” Observing how the sunlight strikes my gaze, she murmurs, “With spellbinding eyes.”

I stifle my ridiculous flare of pleasure.

“Yet so grim. Is it because you’re untouched? Or perhaps a male like you has no wish to be caressed?”

I would do murder for it! But I say nothing. We continue circling each other.

“Fitting that we—life and death—should meet in a time of pestilence and famine.” She tilts her head, her red locks swaying over a pale shoulder. “Why do you follow me throughout this game, Reaper?”

“To determine your character.”

“You’ve seen me make many kills.”

She’d defeated the Lovers before I could reach her, but I’d watched her annihilate humans in a bloodbath, taunting them all the while. At the time, I hadn’t known why she’d lashed out at them. “You attacked those men because they attempted to burn you at the stake. I did not know you sought retribution.”

“They blamed me for their starvation.” She shrugs. “They have no idea that I lament the famine as well.” It weakens her powers. Each plant is a potential weapon for her. “When I smelled my flesh cooking like a savory leg of venison, I bayed for their blood.” Still we circle. “Between the humans and the Arcana, I’ve been quite busy. And the Emperor must be nearing soon.”

“In the last game, he killed you. Gruesomely.”

“Unlike when you killed me—cleanly.” Her tone is amused.

I incline my head.

“If I recall my chronicles, you defeated the Emperor last,” she says, “but in contrast to all the rest of your kills, you tortured him. Why?”

Because he destroyed you before I could get to you. Because I’ll never know what might have been. “What would you say if I told you I did it for you?”

She smiles, and it fills me with wariness and lust. “I would say do it again, my Grim Reaper.”

_______________

“After disappearing for weeks, you are back again?” The Empress’s tone is teasing. “Perhaps to converse more?”

I don’t remove my helmet this time. I have heard through the Arcana calls that she betrayed one of her staunch allies. “You murdered Fauna in cold blood.” Upon the Empress’s hand are three icons, those of the Lovers, the Magician, and Fauna.

“No, I defended myself. She and the Magician plotted against me. She attacked with her lions . . . one creature seized my leg in its fangs.” She pulls up her skirt to reveal her thigh. “Oh, thank the gods, I have already healed.”

My heart begins to thunder at the sight of her bare flesh. Noting my interest, she glides the material higher, as if searching for the wound.

Unable to stop myself, I step closer. Words leave my lips: “Empress, I can touch you.”

“Should I believe that?” She drops her skirt. “If I trusted you, and you lied, I would die.”

“Our Lady of Thorns suspects me of lying.” I shake my head at the irony. “Not only can I touch you, we were together two games ago.”

“Together on a raid? In an alliance? My chronicles say nothing of this.”

I gaze past her. “You were separated from your chronicler.” After I’d captured the Empress.

“And then?”

“And then we . . . wed.”

She laughs. “My Grim Reaper has a sense of humor after all.”

I give her a tight nod. “I see I will have to prove it to you.”

_______________

That night, she wakes with my palm over her mouth. Her eyes flash open.

My bare skin against hers. With Fauna’s sentries gone, I easily slipped past the Empress’s vines into this villa.

She casts me a murderous look, thinking her life is over.

Seconds tick by. Yet nothing happens. No pain. No streaks of black across her skin. Even though I’d discovered her immunity centuries ago, it still strikes me as miraculous.

Of all the people in the world, over all time, she is the only one I can touch without killing.

She frowns.

“I told you.” I remove my hand from her mouth, unable to keep myself from stroking the silken skin of her cheek. So starved for touch.

She blinks at me. “Were we truly married?”

“Yes. Empress, you were born for me, and I for you. One day I will convince you of this.”

Brows drawn, she admits, “I’ve had thoughts of you that I could not reconcile. Desires for you.” She runs the pad of her finger over her lips, gaze growing distant.

I swallow thickly. Can she tell how badly I want this to be true? “What are you thinking, Empress?”

She meets my eyes. “Guess.”

I answer as honestly as ever. “I believe you plot to take my icon and all those I’ve harvested. You wish for them to join your three, and eventually the Priestess’s.”

“I would never harm the Priestess; she is my best friend. Fauna was a friend until . . .” She casts me a hurt look. “Why do you think so terribly of me?”

   
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