Home > Arcana Rising (The Arcana Chronicles #4)(18)

Arcana Rising (The Arcana Chronicles #4)(18)
Author: Kresley Cole

Why had I made the decision not to fight in this game? Maybe the game was punishing me for daring to challenge it. Or the gods were.

By trying to reverse time and bring back Jack, I’d challenged fate as well. And I’d failed.

Did that mean I always would? Could a fate ever be changed?

In a daze, I trudged across the stone. Roughly halfway across, I stopped. Here the wind blew even harder, the rain stinging.

With a sob, I dropped to my knees to mark Jack’s and Selena’s graves. How could I sum up their lives in a few short lines? They’d been so much more.

Flaring my claws, I began to engrave the rock, starting with Selena.

Then . . . Jack. Sweating, bleeding, hyperventilating, I carved. Time passed. Who knew how long? Night rolled over into more night.

When I finished, I’d worn my bloody fingertips to the bone, and insanity beckoned as seductively as a blossom. I collapsed onto my back and lay between the two memorials, dripping blood on them.

I grew friendship ivy for Selena.

And honeysuckle for Jack.

I wondered if grief could be so strong it was fatal. My heart hurt so badly it must be bleeding out inside my chest. I must be bleeding to death. Ten swords pierced me through.

But something else was competing with my heartache, a thread of fury.

After Jack and I had watched the smoke plume from my mother’s funeral pyre, he’d told me, “She died in grace. I only hope to go out so clean.”

He hadn’t. Because of the Emperor. Richter had laughed as he’d murdered Jack and all those people.

Richter would die. The red witch would annihilate him. Hatred made me rise. Hatred forced one foot in front of the other as I staggered away from the graves.

With each step, blood dripped from my ragged fingers, dotting a trail across the vast black gravestone. A tether from me to Jack.

As I neared the edge of the stone, I remembered those last moments with Aric, my new arm aching. What if he hadn’t survived that searing flood? Maybe he wasn’t invincible.

No! No Arcana had gloated over Death’s death; none of us had sensed it.

Then I frowned. We were all disconnected now. And I didn’t know when the switchboard had gone down.

What if he’d . . . drowned? He might’ve called for me as he’d died. His lifeless body could be washed up somewhere along the flood’s path. Maybe that was why Circe’s river wouldn’t answer me.

I’d assumed Jack’s death was the worst that I could endure. Matthew might have been preparing me for both of their murders.

Dear God. Both.

I shrieked with fury and pain. As I screamed and screamed, rose stalks burst from my trail of blood, spreading until they’d blanketed the gravestone and the surrounding mountains.

If Aric lived, I had to find him. But how, when I was dying from grief?

I pictured a tourniquet around my pierced heart, stopping the bleeding and keeping me alive long enough to reach Aric and then to get revenge. Yes, I would twist the tourniquet, tightening it to constrict my heart, starving it of blood. Strangling it.

A bloodless heart couldn’t feel.

Twist, tighten, constrict.

Numbness settled over me. My emotions shut down. Like this, I reasoned that Aric must still live. He had for so long. He was strong.

We might have simply missed each other over all this distance. The flood waters had parted often; he could have been carried in a different direction. I seized on that thinking.

Yes. This was what I needed. Numbness. Just until I’d completed my two missions:

Find Aric.

Annihilate Richter.

After that, I would release the tourniquet and let myself bleed out.

Jack and I had marveled at the snow.


The Fool

Whereabouts unknown

My eyes flashed open.

The Empress’s screams had awakened the dark in me. Reverse, perverse.

The Dark Calling.

Her smile was broken. It was time. I always know best.


The Empress

Sol sat at the edge of the black stone. As I closed in on him, I tilted my head. “You followed me. You were watching me.” The Sun’s icon would look so good on my hand.

He stood, his gaze bouncing from my eyes, to my reddened hair, to my bloody fingers. “You, uh, get everything taken care of?” He backed up a step. And another.

I advanced. “You should have escaped me while you could.”

“I considered it,” Sol said, as I struggled not to slice him. “But I’m trying to earn your trust.”

The red witch ached for a kill. Until the Emperor’s turn, this card would do. “By spying on me?”

He stumbled backward, nearly falling. “What did you carve?”

“Epitaphs. Have you ever written one? Ever summed up someone’s life in a few lines?”

“No, I haven’t.”

“I’m going to pay the Emperor back for these murders.” Aric and my grandmother would teach me Richter’s weaknesses, and I would figure out how to use Sol as well. Which meant I didn’t get to kill him.

Seething with displeasure, the red witch receded.

I had to get the Sun to Death. Maybe with this card strengthening me—and the help of every player in our alliance—we could take out Richter.

But then, our small alliance had recently dwindled by two Arcana.

The game seemed to be speeding up, building on itself. Right around the deaths of Tess and Selena, I’d met the Sun.

Were we spinning to an end?

How stupid I’d been to think I could avoid fighting—that Jack and I could live happily ever after. The Arcana did converge; I’d face them for the rest of my life. Unless they all died.

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