Home > Arcana Rising (The Arcana Chronicles #4)(17)

Arcana Rising (The Arcana Chronicles #4)(17)
Author: Kresley Cole

The one I’d stood upon while witnessing a massacre.

When I’d last journeyed to this vantage I’d been filled with hope, riding a hard-working mare that I’d never even named. Her remains must’ve been washed away in the flood.

What would I find atop the peak now? Having no idea, I trudged upward.

I’d remembered more of the Emperor’s attack, and every detail confirmed that Jack had died. But I’d also told him I would never underestimate him again. Maybe I could find some clue, some hint that there’d been survivors.

At the very least, I had to see for myself his . . . final resting place.

And so I gritted my teeth and climbed. Circe’s flood had gouged this slope, making it much steeper.

What will I find at the top?

I’d told Sol to wait in the truck. Had I tied him down? I was so numb with grief that I couldn’t remember.

As I searched for a handhold, I recalled the vision Matthew had given me before he’d disappeared. He’d shown me ten swords in my back—like the ten of swords Tarot card—vowing that the darkest days were ahead. He’d told me, “Matthew knows best.”

On the way back from the Lovers’ lair, I’d asked Selena what she made of his message. Her brusque answer: “That he’s a freaking nutjob?” At my disapproving expression, she’d added, “I know that the ten of swords card means that somebody’s about to be crushed by a merciless power—with no warning. I mean, totaled. It’s supposed to represent rock bottom, when you can’t sink any lower.” Her dark eyes had grown serious. “Doesn’t sound good, Evie.”

Matthew had been preparing me for Jack’s death. Or trying to.

The Fool had no idea. There was no preparing to have one’s heart destroyed. Those ten swords had stabbed me through, piercing it.

He’d asked me what I would sacrifice. I hadn’t been able to answer then, but I could now.

Not Jack.

I pulled myself higher. What will I find at the top of this rise?

The Fool had also begged me never to hate him. I would give him as much mercy as he’d shown me. He could have prevented Jack’s and Selena’s deaths, the entire army’s.

All of those people had set off, filled with hope about a place called Acadiana. Jack would’ve made good on his promise of a refuge.

Matthew knows best? He’d ridden away like a coward before the Emperor attacked, telling Finn one last cryptic statement: I’ve made peace with it.

With letting my Jack die.

I blamed Matthew as much as Richter. One of those ten swords had been the Fool’s. He had stabbed me in the back.

What will I find at the top . . . ?

I blamed myself as well. It should have been me. I had been fated to die.

At the very least, if I had listened to Circe’s advice—leaving Selena in the hands of the Lovers—Jack and all those people might’ve been spared. Selena had died anyway.

I’d made those choices—I’d pretended to be a leader—so those deaths were on my head. Tess’s was as well.

Last night, after I’d reburied her body, I’d run down to the shore outside the fort, where Circe and I had once talked. I’d yelled to the river, “I know you’re here, Circe! Show yourself!” Nothing. “Have you seen Aric?”

She hadn’t given me even a ripple on the surface. “You were right about taking out the Emperor!”

When she’d still refused to answer me, I’d waded into the river and kicked the water to provoke her. “Damn you! Why won’t you appear?”

Silence. Even as my tears had spilled into her domain. . . .

Finally, I reached the top. Gasping for breath, I levered myself up on my feet—and stared in shock.

The peak was no longer a peak. Circe’s tidal wave must have flash-cooled Richter’s lava because a sea of smooth black stone stretched from the top of this mountain to a distant one, across what used to be a valley. The drizzle made the surface shine.

“Mark this image,” Aric had told me as he’d pointed to the cauldron of bubbling lava. “Where will you search for him?”

A sob burst from my chest. I’d watched Jack’s murder.

No, I refused this! There must’ve been a way for him to escape. I fought to clear my dazed mind, to recall what I’d seen before the attack.

The long line of the army’s caravan had inched across that valley, a glowworm in the dark. Cars and trucks had sprawled for about a mile, a fraction of the valley’s length. Jack and Selena would have been riding at the forefront, but had turned back toward me when I’d radioed.

Jack and I had marveled at the snow. At tiny drifts of white. He’d marveled that I’d chosen him.

He and Selena might have ridden a mile or two at most before Richter had struck. Lava had buried the line of trucks from front to back—as well as this entire valley and several rises all around.

Even if Jack and Selena had covered ten miles, they still would’ve been in the middle.

Selena, the girl who’d just endured the Lovers’ hell, had died. Part of me had sensed that kill. Other Arcana had as well, and Matthew, in his own way, had confirmed it.

She’d had superhuman speed, agility, and senses, yet she’d perished. And she’d been right beside Jack.

He’s dead.

No one could have survived this.

That battle had left behind a vast gravestone. Buried beneath it were hundreds of victims. My Jack was buried there.

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