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

by Kresley Cole

I called for him. Again, nothing.

As I ran, fears threatened my single-minded focus. Even Aric—the king of the airwaves—hadn’t responded to me. What if he’d been injured? What if the Emperor had been able to side-step Circe and advance? Surely I would sense if other Arcana had died.

Focus, Evie. Every second counted. On a clock.

I topped the rise and narrowed my gritty eyes. In the valley below me, fog made a blanket. Some distance away, lights dimly shone beneath it. The music came from that direction.

I skidded down the mucky slope to the bottom. At the base, the air felt warmer, almost sultry. I ran.

Deeper into the valley, I made out more details. A mall-size parking lot was situated off a highway, filled with scorched cars. Baggers must be roaming that foggy vehicle maze; wails carried in the night.

I charged into the lot. The mist thickened around me, right when I needed to see. Shit! I should be terrified—in a murky maze, surrounded by Bagmen—but I didn’t have time. I put the blinders on.

A structure came into view at last. Bowls of oil fires lit a soaring wall. The music thumped from just beyond.

A coliseum? The Flash-charred arena had withstood the apocalypse! A new song—“Welcome to the Jungle”—boomed from inside, the lyrics clear: “I wanna watch you bleed. . . .”

Real? Unreal? Was I dreaming?

Then I sensed something that made my thorn claws tingle. Can’t be right. Going crazy. With a hard shake of my head, I ignored it. Focus, Eves.




This place was a genius location for a settlement, with a built-in defense—lurking Bagmen. The lot reminded me of the minefield fronting Fort Arcana. Jack’s brilliant idea. Blinders.

So who lived here?

I slowed. Damn it, I couldn’t deny my senses any longer. Somewhere nearby . . . plants grew. A lot of them.

How? Even if the earth hadn’t gone fallow, we’d had no sunlight.

I jogged around the coliseum, trying to home in on the plants. This unseen collection must dwarf even Aric’s extensive nursery.

Their nearness fueled me, exciting the red witch, that dark, murderous part of me. When my body vine budded from my neck, I yanked back my poncho hood. The vine divided behind me until it flared like an aura.

Or a cobra’s head.

A wail came from behind me—the Baggers had caught my scent, trailing me. One was on my heels. As the music blared, I straightened and stiffened a vine—then jabbed the creature through the head.

“. . . feel my, my, my serpentine. I wanna hear you scream. . . .”

Another Bagger lunged; I struck again. Putrid slime coated the vine. I let it fall off, growing a new one.

I could see a brighter glow just around the curve of the coliseum; following it, I came upon a line of military trucks. Perfect! I needed the keys to one and as much fuel as I could transport. Which meant I needed the guy in charge of this place trapped in my vines—with my poisonous claws at his throat.

Voices sounded. Ducking between the trucks, I sidled around one and spied two shirtless men guarding an entrance. They carried machine guns and didn’t seem at all concerned about the nearby Bagmen roving the fog.

In my weakened condition, a direct attack wasn’t wise, but if I “surrendered” . . .

The good thing about being a female A.F.—no one wanted to shoot me unless forced to.

Logistics: I could only raise one hand, so they might think I was reaching for a weapon and fire. A gunshot wouldn’t kill me, but it’d draw more guards and Baggers.

I commanded the vines of my cobra’s flare to slip down and twine into my empty poncho sleeve, puffing it out. I moved my green arm; looked like the real thing. Perfect.

In past battles, I’d tried to limit the body count. Now I cared only about what actions would be quickest. Once I completed my mission, none of this would have happened.

I limped into view, working the damsel-in-distress angle. “P-please help!” I cried, both arms raised—the green one emitting poisonous spores. “Can you help me?”

The two guards swiveled and gawked at me. One said, “A female!” and ran to apprehend me. The other reached for his radio.

Neither completed his action before he dropped.

Pulling my poncho hood back up, I strode past their bodies and approached the entrance. I peeked inside; no one right there, so I slipped in.

Lining a dark corridor were cells filled with what must be two hundred men. Past the cells at the far end of the curving hallway was an open doorway. Light, heat, and music spilled through it.

I could tell I neared those plants! My claws budded and sharpened, and I felt the first real tingle of regeneration.

No one had seen me back here in the dark. All eyes were trained in the other direction on two more shirtless men guarding that doorway.

Whimpers and murmurs rippled from the cells: “What happens now?” “Has anyone escaped?” “What will they do to us?”

Nothing good, I wanted to answer.

Since the Flash, I’d been caged by a militia, shoved into a serial killer’s laboratory, dragged down into a cannibal’s subterranean pantry, and forced into a house-of-horrors torture chamber.

These prisoners weren’t headed for a pleasant destination. Would they be slaughtered like cattle? Or used as target practice as some faction mowed them down?

I sidled closer to the cages. In one, a boy of about nine was crying while an older guy—looked like his granddad—tried to comfort him. But the grandfather was clearly just as wigged out. The kid called him Pops.

I eased over to them, keeping a low profile until I got more intel. “What state are we in?” I asked Pops.

He jolted, maybe because he’d just heard the voice of a rare female; or because I was strolling around outside the cages. “Indiana.”

Still? Damn it! “Who runs this place?”

Overhearing our hushed exchange, a burly guy with a bandana over his head turned toward me and said, “Solomón, the leader of the Skins.”


Pops said, “Those are Sol’s fanatical followers.”

Bandana added, “They consider us the Shirts.” Shirts and Skins. As in football? Who makes up this shit? “Sol’s been rounding up survivors all over the state.”

“Why? Why put you in cages?”

“Because Sol likes games,” Bandana said. “For entertainment. You’ll see soon enough.”