Arcana Rising (The Arcana Chronicles #4)(2)


by Kresley Cole

The blackness lightened to murk, and rain drummed my head again. Out of the tunnel!

I blinked at my raft. Blinked again. A skull-and-bones tattoo? A bloated belly. I was clinging to a headless, limbless body.

“Ahhh!” I flailed away, but it seemed to follow me. I kept my eyes on that corpse as it floated alongside me for what might have been days—

I collided with something hard. Metal gouged my skin. I craned my head up: a cell tower! The current trapped me against the structure, pinning my back and arm.

I couldn’t move. A pinned insect. The tower groaned in the waves, swaying.

More Bagmen sped toward me. I was completely vulnerable, laid out for a bite. If they turned me into a zombie, would I float forever?

Maybe that was how the game would be won. By an Arcana who would never quite die.

The Baggers thrashed to reach me, pale eyes frenzied. The flood defended me for once, sweeping them away like twigs.

Ah, God, a house rushed toward me. Adrenaline flared; I gritted my teeth and somehow twisted my body to face the tower. With one arm, I climbed the service ladder.

I imagined Jack climbing out of that lake of lava unharmed. We would both reach the top. He’d be waiting for me there, offering his strong hand and his heartbreaking smile. Missed you, bébé.

Another rung higher. Memories surged like Circe’s wave. Agony ripped at my chest as I recalled my last words with Jack. He and I had marveled at the snow. At tiny drifts of falling white.

Another rung. The house bore down on me . . .

It passed the swaying tower within inches. I wouldn’t be so lucky next time.

Lucky? I laughed into the wind.

At the gusty top of the tower, I coiled my arm around the ladder and laughed till I sobbed.

Jack is dead.

2

Day 385 A.F.?

Tess.

My eyes shot open, my shaking arm tightening around a ladder rung. Tess had the power to go back in time!

Jack might be dead. He didn’t have to stay that way.

She and I had saved his sight by reversing time; we could save his life! And Selena’s. We could save Jack’s entire Azey army. I just had to reach Tess.

She, Gabriel, and Joules had been a couple of days out of Fort Arcana. The three would have heard the attack, would’ve returned.

I had to get back there. How? I didn’t know its location—or my own. I believed the fort was in northern Tennessee. Or Kentucky. Ish.

The storm had dwindled, the winds not as fierce, and the water had receded until the depth looked to be no more than a few feet. Which meant I teetered a hundred feet in the air.

From this height, I craned my head around. In the gloomy dimness, I spied rocky foothills to my left. To my right, I could just make out the remains of a town. I could determine my location there.

Energy filled me, my mind sparking with purpose. The stump of my arm finally twitched with regeneration, my scalded skin beginning to heal. My glyphs radiated like a spotlight, a beacon in the black.

With one arm, I started climbing down. Muscles so stiff. Each time I released my grip, I had to lean into the tower to balance my body, then painstakingly place my feet lower down. So slow.

And every moment since that massacre counted. Each second that Tess went back in time drained her of life; she’d nearly died when I’d forced her to go back just eleven or so minutes. With my claws sunk into her arms, she’d withered away to a husk, her hair falling out, her bones jutting.

How much time had passed since the Emperor’s attack? I could have been unconscious for hours—or days. How far away had the flood carried me?

Why hadn’t Circe killed me? Didn’t matter. Gotta get to Tess.

I would need so much more from her than minutes. But I could work with her until her power bloomed, until she could withstand the demands of her ability.

What if I got her to reverse time by days, yet we still missed Jack by an instant? We needed to go back long enough to take out the Emperor before he struck. We could get Circe to attack him sooner!

I frowned. I’d heard Richter’s evil laughter in my head . . . after Circe’s flood, not just before. How had he survived? If the Priestess couldn’t take him out, was Richter invulnerable?

I couldn’t worry about that. Not yet. Aric had killed the Emperor in a past game, so he knew Richter’s weaknesses. My grandmother would be a wealth of information as well. Because of Aric, she was alive and safe at his castle.

With their help, I could learn how to destroy Richter. For now, I just needed to get to Tess. On a clock. Tick-tock. No time to waste descending one rung at a time.

Sucking in a breath, I closed my eyes and let myself pitch backward, free-falling from the tower.

Falling . . .

Landing . . .

Pain!

Rebar jutted from my side. Shit, shit! Don’t panic. . . . I forced myself to examine the wound. Wasn’t as deep as I’d thought, but I was trapped on the ringed metal. No time for this!

I huffed in breaths through gnashed teeth, then pushed with my arm. The bar scored me inside, inch by ragged inch, till I freed myself. I struggled to my feet, reeling for balance. My wobbly legs didn’t want to hold me. Each breath was agony.

If I could take one step, it’d be one step closer to Jack.

I took that step. And another. And another, until I was slogging through filthy water toward the town. I wound around debris—and half-submerged Baggers trapped under storm wreckage.

That could’ve been my fate. How close those Bagmen had come to biting me! No wonder Aric had held on to me so tightly.

Aric, where are you?

No answer to my telepathic call. No Arcana voices at all.

Baggers snapped their teeth at me as I passed. For each one I could see, how many were concealed? Would I step on one? Like a Bagmine?

Focus. In this situation, Jack would keep his cool and work out logistics. Everything depended on me reaching Tess as quickly as possible.

When Aric had abducted me from the Hierophant’s mine, I’d believed Jack had died, and I’d decided to live for vengeance. But this time, I would simply refuse to believe he was gone.

I swung my head left and right, searching for any clue about my location. As I trudged, supplies floated past me—food, bottles of water. I never would’ve passed by these treasures when I was on the road with Jack, but I didn’t have my bug-out bag, nothing to stow them in.

I’d lost it when I’d lost my arm.

Jack’s training still resonated within me; I needed survival gear. To save him, I had to survive long enough to find Tess. So I snagged a floating tackle box and found a utility knife inside. A good start. I shoved it into my jacket pocket.