Home > Arcana Rising (The Arcana Chronicles #4)(16)

Arcana Rising (The Arcana Chronicles #4)(16)
Author: Kresley Cole

When Sol got his first good look at the fort, his lips thinned with disgust. “Pedazo de mierda. What is this piece-of-shit place?”

I had my hand wrapped around his neck so fast, my claws dripping. “This is a place where people dreamed of having a better life. While you were holed up in your coliseum stronghold, others were out in the Ash fighting and scrapping for everything they got.”

“I-I’m sorry, Empress.”

I released him with a glare. “You’re like the Hermit Card—you crawled into a ready-made shell. It cost you nothing.” Choking back my fury, I commanded, “Drive around that stretch of dirt.”

At the edge of the minefield, a rutted trail meandered this way and that. Tire tracks. As if from a mass retreat. “Follow those ruts. Carefully. There are mines everywhere.”

He swallowed, and drove along the trail. As the truck closed in on the fort’s outer wall, we passed chunks of some charred animal. A huge one with frizzy black fur. “Oh, my God.” Cyclops. Or half of him.

“What was that?” Sol’s eyes went wide. “A giant dog?”

I muttered, “Something like that.”

Tracks and furrows led away from the legs and tail, as if the wolf had dragged itself from its severed hindquarters. Why was his pelt riddled with bullet holes?

Who would’ve shot him?

Though a favorite of mine, he’d remained here to help Finn reunite with Lark once the Magician had healed enough to make the journey.

I reminded myself that the wolf couldn’t die. Not as long as Lark lived. Cyclops could be holed up in the neighboring rock forest, regenerating. He might even pick up my scent, and then Lark would know I’d survived.

I told Sol, “Drive up to the entrance and park.”

As we neared the gates, I replayed my memory of Jack riding through them with his chin up, his bearing proud. All the army soldiers had respected the legendary Hunter, as he’d been known. They’d made him their general. So many of those men had died.

Not permanently. Not if I can help it.

Sol had just turned off the ignition when the gates swung open, wind battering them against the wall. No one manned them. The metal groaned like a Bagman’s wail.

“Come with me,” I said, climbing from the cab. When Sol joined me on the ground, I stretched the stalks circling his wrists to bind his ankles as well.

“Is this really necessary, pequeña?”

“Really is, Sol.” As I approached the wall, I cried, “Hello! Is someone here? Please answer me!” Aric! Finn! Tess!

I half expected to find Aric waiting here for me. Would I hear his horse nickering in the stable? Had Thanatos survived the flood?

Had Aric?

Of course, he would have. So where is he?

Inside, I swept my gaze around and found a ghost town. No fires, no animals, no voices. Just the blustery winds and desolation.

This place was a shell. Fort Arcana had . . . died.

Crates of supplies had been abandoned. The fort’s inhabitants must’ve thought the Emperor would continue his path of hell straight for them.

Maybe some Azey South survivors were camped across the river? I hopped onto a plankway and ran to the tower. Sol hobbled after me, but I couldn’t wait for him.

I climbed the stairs, then peeked from the lookout, hoping to spy a campfire, any sign of life.


I turned back to the fort. In one corner, I saw the orange tree I’d grown for Tess. Without sun, its leaves had already begun to brown.

Beside the tree was a mound of dirt. Was that a . . . grave? Whose? A horrible idea arose—no. No. I quashed it as I raced down the stairs and lurched past Sol.

I tripped over another plankway, blundering around empty animal pens. I passed Jack’s tent and imagined I heard his deep voice saying, “Ma fille aux yeux bleus.” My blue-eyed girl.

Heart in my throat, I slowed when the mound came into sight. The ground was trampled as if someone had been buried in a hurry. A single staff jutted from the dirt to mark the grave.

Tess’s staff.

A cry slipped from my lips. No, no, that didn’t mean Tess was buried here! Her death was my nightmare scenario: the one that couldn’t possibly be.

The one in which Jack had been burned alive by a monster—and I could do nothing to save him.

Someone had just wanted to mark a burial, and her staff had been handy. She had left it behind on occasion. Only one way to be sure.

Sol had hobbled closer. Uncaring of his gaze on me, I knelt and started digging, stabbing my claws through the icy soil in a frenzy.

One foot down; two feet down. Three. Four.

I reached cloth and pulled on it. More dirt gave way to reveal . . .

A husk wrapped in a sheet.

Choking back bile, I peeled away the material and found what had once been a sweet girl named Tess.

Her body was like this fort—a shell of her former self. Without life inside.

My nightmare. One look at her wasted body, and I knew how she’d died. She had already tried to reverse time. To save Jack, Selena, and the army . . .

Tess had tried so hard that she’d lost control of her incomprehensible powers. Lass likes to help. She’d killed herself to bring others back. And she’d still failed.

Jack is dead.

I cradled what was left of Tess in my arms and mindlessly rocked her body like a doll.

From a distance, Sol watched grief destroy me.


Day 393 A.F.

I was covered in mud and out of breath, my muscles knotted. But I neared the top of that peak.

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