“How old are you?” I found myself asking.
“Twenty-three. You must be”—he took his time checking me out—“twenty?”
His lips parted. “I’ve been lusting after a girl that young?”
I rolled my eyes. The effect was ruined by a yawn. The soup had warmed me, making me drowsy. Plus I hadn’t slept in days.
“You look wiped out. Understandable, since you are a child, pequeña.”
“What does that mean?”
“Little one. You should get some sleep.”
“With a hostage nearby? An evil hostage?” Not unless he was contained.
“Evil? I’m layered.” He grew serious. “Empress, what can I do to convince you that I’m not all bad? What will make you trust me?”
“Even if you’re half bad, I still wouldn’t trust you.”
He was an Arcana. He might be targeting me for betrayal, the way Lark had. He might know more about the game than he was letting on, as Selena had done.
Hadn’t I heard music drifting from Olympus right when I’d been on the jagged edge? It had drawn me straight to Sol’s lair. Beware the lures.
With a wave of my hand, I stretched the Baggers’ thorn cage over him as well, then released his wrists—keeping the collar in place.
How ironic that Sol wanted me to trust him—just as I’d wished Aric and Circe would trust me. But then, I’d once been as evil as they came.
I might not trust Sol. Or want to be his friend. But I couldn’t judge him.
He tested his cage. “Red roses, pequeña? Only yellow ones are fit for a sun god.”
The nerve of this guy. I glowered at him, just as irritated at myself.
I’d had the briefest impulse to turn the red to yellow.
I shot upright with a scream, tears streaming down my face.
“Empress!” Sol was ripping at his cage, trying to get to me. “You’re having a nightmare! Wake up, pequeña!” His skin glowed from emotion, and his hands were bloody from my thorns.
My gaze darted as I slowly recalled real life. Substation. Sol as my prisoner. On our way to Fort Arcana.
I buried my face in my hands when my tears kept coming. I’d stifled my grief so much, I should have expected it to bubble up as I slept.
In my nightmare, Jack had told me, “Why didn’t you let me go? I’d still be alive. I asked you to set me free.” Then he burned from the inside, lava pouring from his body.
His bellow of pain still rang in my ears. Followed by the Emperor’s laugh. . . .
“What was your nightmare about?” Sol’s skin dimmed, but my thorns had grown from his blaze of light.
“Th-the Emperor’s massacre,” I murmured. “Richter . . .”
“You fear another attack?”
“You would too. You should.” Some detail was nagging me about Richter’s escape from Circe. That night, had I heard a . . . helicopter? “Olympus isn’t out of his range.” Was anyplace?
“You screamed a name. Who’s Jack?”
My tears came faster.
“Was he family?” Sol’s brows drew together. “Or did the Emperor kill the man you love?”
I ran my sleeve over my eyes. “Richter killed him, and a loyal friend of mine, and an entire army.” I freed Sol from his cage, mainly to have something to do.
He swiped his hands down his toga, the blood stark on the material. He’d hurt himself trying to help me. After tossing wood on the embers of the fire, he sat on the other side. “What happened to Jack?”
Unguarded, I found myself saying, “I was riding to meet him, to go away with him, starting a future together.” A blank slate. “We were talking on a two-way radio . . . he told me he was going to marry me . . . and we talked about the snow.”
“I-I was just about to tell him I loved him, was wondering why I had never said those three words, when I heard three other ones: ‘Quake before me.’ The Emperor’s call. In seconds, the entire valley was a lake of lava. All those people, dead instantly.”
Sol’s lips parted. “Why would he attack so many?”
“Richter enjoys killing. He gets off on using his power to destroy. I’d been warned about him. No one is safe while he lives.”
“But aren’t we all supposed to kill each other?”
“Some of us have been fighting not to,” I said. “We’ve made an alliance.”
Sol seemed to consider this, then he said, “You must miss Jack very much.”
“Every second.” And each second took him farther out of my reach. Damn it, the winds still howled outside. Desperate for a change of subject, I said, “What about you? Have you been in love?”
“Sí. Before the apocalypse.”
My hand shook as I raised my canteen for a drink. “Did your girlfriend die in the Flash?”
He cast me a playful grin. “You assume I was with a girl?”
Given the way he’d been flirting with me . . . yeah. “Did you lose your boyfriend, then?”
“I had both.”
“You loved two people?” I handed him the canteen.
He took it, drinking deep. “Desperately.”
God, I could relate. Sol and I now had something in common outside of the game. He’d probably just ensured I could never kill him.
“Bea, Joe, and I were committed.” He squared his shoulders proudly. “Everyone doubted we could make a go of our trio, but we’d been together for two years.”