Arcana Rising (The Arcana Chronicles #4)(9)

by Kresley Cole

I could confirm that a hand marking accompanied each kill. Instead, I shrugged. I didn’t trust this card whatsoever; keeping him ignorant seemed wise.

“You have icons, right? I thought I saw something on your new hand before you covered it.” When I didn’t answer, he asked, “Will there be other gods at Fort Arcana?”

Other gods. Ugh. Aric had called me a goddess, but he’d meant it figuratively.

“That makes sense,” Sol continued. “This fort of Arcana must shame my humble Olympus.”

The fort didn’t look like much, but it was strong. Jack had built it with his own two hands. “Fort Arcana was constructed out of anything available by people scrapping for a better life out in the Ash. Not everybody got to stroll into a ready-made stronghold.”

In a way, Sol was like the Hermit Card, a worm who slithered from one shell to another.

“Who started the game?” Sol asked. “What happens if you don’t wish to fight anyone?” Casting me a significant look, he said, “I’m a lover, querida, not a fighter.”

“No, you just make others fight. For your entertainment.”

“I could’ve drawn you a map to the fort, and then you could have killed me. Why kidnap me? Because I helped you regenerate?”

“I have plans for you.” If I was going to use Sol in the past to face the Emperor, would he need to be on Tess’s carousel with us? Would more people make it harder for her? Maybe I could go even further back in time, then drive up to Olympus to snag Sol before the clash.

Time-travel conundrums made my head hurt. I’d figure something out. . . .

Sol said, “Plans for me? Like using, then killing me?”

Bingo. But I didn’t want him to think his number would soon be up. “Drive faster.”

“Again, what’s the rush? We must be hurrying to meet other gods.”

I was stuck in this cab with a guy who thought he was divine. “Why don’t you concentrate on the road?”

“Sí. Okay.” Two minutes later: “Where are you from? With that drawl, I’m thinking Deep South.”

My heart ached to think of my native Louisiana. I tucked my hand into my pocket, touching the red ribbon.

Despite my silence, Sol said, “I’m from Barcelona. I came to the States for college. Do you speak Spanish?” Nope. Cajun French. “You don’t talk much, do you?”

Once upon a time, I’d been bubbly and friendly to everyone I’d met. “Maybe I just don’t talk much with murderers.”

“That’s rich, coming from you. I’ve learned enough about the game to say: takes one to know one, Empress.”

“I’ve killed in self-defense. You forced others to kill for sport. Even children.”

“Or perhaps I weeded out my followers based on their actions in that fight. I was well aware of the crying boy. My Bagmen referees wouldn’t have allowed the child to be hurt, and anyone who’d targeted him would’ve been disqualified from Olympus.”

“Yet there were no kids in your stands? Don’t lie to me again.” I tightened the Baggers’ collars in the back.

When they wailed, Sol clenched the steering wheel, and sunlight flickered from his face.

Thanks for the top-off. My body vine sprouted from my neck, nuzzling my cheek.

He grimaced at the sight, then said, “I sent children and parents on their way.”

I raised my hand to hurt the Baggers some more. I was glad I had two zombies to work with. I might have to gank one, just to show Sol I was serious.

“It’s true, Empress! Mierda! I swear it’s true.”

Maybe it was. But . . . “What about those injured prisoners who couldn’t get out of their cages fast enough? Your guards shot them in cold blood.”

“A mercy,” he said firmly. “Anyone injured A.F. is in a literal world of misery. Besides, I’d say eight out of ten of those men have murdered.”

I couldn’t quite disagree. I’d rarely met decent people out on the road. But that didn’t give me an excuse to round them up and play games with them.

Didn’t matter anyway. I wasn’t going to befriend this card. Sol might be better than the Lovers or Richter, but that bar was as low as Circe’s abyss.

“You threaten others so easily,” he said, sounding hurt. “Without a thought. Why are you so cruel?”

“Bagmen aren’t others. They’re monsters.” My mother would be alive if not for them.

“Not to me. They’re my friends.”

The Lovers had called their carnates children. “Then you’re sick.”

“And you’re not? You’re over there necking a slithery vine. For all I know, you could be the most evil of the gods. Maybe I should ally with other Arcana and take you out.”


“I’ve heard of one who could hand you your ass. Doesn’t the Emperor control fire and volcanoes and earthquakes? He should be able to take on some measly plants.”

Enough! “The Emperor is a mass murderer! For sport, he annihilated hundreds of men, women, and children—non-Arcana, people who had nothing to do with this game.”

“Oh, really? And how do you know that?”

“I watched him do it! I heard Richter laugh as his lava burned them alive.”

Right before then . . . Jack and I had marveled at the snow.


Sol frowned at me. “Why should I believe you?”

“Half a day’s ride from Fort Arcana is a valley. You’ll be able to tell that he struck.” I pinched the bridge of my nose. “Why am I even telling you this? You don’t have sympathy for innocent people.”

He quietly asked, “How many people are innocent after the Flash?”

I hated that he had a point.

“Empress, from where I’m sitting, you’re merely the diablo I know.”

No, the Devil had been a totally different card.


I could hear the howl of the wind even through the bunker-thick walls of the electrical substation where we’d holed up. Jack always loved to stay in these—concrete cubes with steel doors and no windows. Good A.F. shelters.

Gale-force gusts had foiled my need to push ahead. The canvas on the back of the truck caught the winds like a sail; when we skidded on a patch of black ice, we’d nearly headed off a cliff. Guard-rail maintenance was a thing of the past.