But I was helpless, Baggers continuing to drain me. My body would soon be a husk like Tess’s.
The copter landed in the field not twenty feet away, kicking up ash. The wind gusts sent the falcon tumbling away from my attackers.
I turned my gaze toward Sol. He mouthed something to me. I couldn’t be sure what.
The four Bagmen abruptly stopped drinking. They stood and moved back, their lips coated with my blood.
The rotors slowed. Not Richter—a girl climbed from the pilot’s seat and stepped down. Long, jet-black hair curled from her helmet. Behind her mic, her lips were bright red. She wore a green jumpsuit and gloves, and had a pistol holstered to one thigh and a long blade strapped to her other. To take my head?
She strode over to us, yanking off her helmet. Her eyes were vivid hazel, her expression livid. A tableau flickered over her. I saw a wheel spinning in a night sky with a sphinx running on top of it and a winged dragon dancing along the bottom. Ancient clay dice rained down.
The Fortune Card!
Was Lark seeing this? The falcon had taken to the air, circling overhead.
“Que porra é essa?” Fortune snapped at Sol.
“Good to see you too, Zara,” he grated. “And one more time: I don’t understand your Portuguese.” They had known each other all along—Sol and Zara. “Dios mío, that accent!”
“What the fuck?” she said. “Why’d you summon a horde of Bagman freaks?”
Huh? There were only four besides Sol’s pets.
He shrugged. “I can’t help that they’re attracted to me.”
My head was splitting, my stomach churned, and those bites burned like acid. But I wanted answers. Why had Sol played along with me? He’d known who I was the instant my tableau had appeared in Olympus, maybe even sooner, if he could see through his Bagmen.
Sol asked her, “Where is Richter?”
“Kicked back, recharging for the big finale,” she said. “He doesn’t come out for B-team bullshit like her. Did you find out where Death’s lair is?”
Sol had used me to locate Aric’s? For the big finale.
How badly I needed to live, to warn Aric and Lark. But I’d lost so much blood, and the mutation weakened me even more.
Because I was already turning?
“The Empress seemed confident his place is somewhere around here,” Sol said. “Since we’re in the area, we should do a flyover.”
Zara shook her head. “Can’t. I’m on fuel reserves just to pick you up. My whirlybird’s stripped down.”
Sol rubbed the back of his neck. “We need to get airborne.” He pointed up at the falcon. “That’s one of Fauna’s scouts. She allies with the Empress.”
The falcon screeched and dove yet again. Zara snatched her pistol from her holster, trained her aim on the moving target, then fired. The falcon plummeted in a lifeless heap.
My eyes stung, but I reminded myself that the bird would regenerate.
“There. No more scouts.” Zara asked Sol, “Do your Baggers like poultry?”
“Bitch,” I sneered—or tried to. Only a wheeze crossed my lips.
Zara kicked my leg, asking Sol, “Is she contained?”
I couldn’t scream. Couldn’t die. I struggled to keep my eyes open.
“She’s been bitten enough.” Again, Sol didn’t sound proud or regretful. “She has tried to muster her powers, but can’t.”
Zara aimed her gun at my chest. “Just in case.” She fired.
Once. Twice. Three times.
Three shots—to the heart? I laughed at her, choking on blood. Bullets couldn’t hurt something that had already been destroyed.
“What a freak.” Zara holstered her weapon, shaking her head at me. “I can’t believe you have icons. The great Empress? You’re just a weak little girl.” She knelt beside me, pulling off one glove. “And you’re about to become a very unlucky one.” She reached for my face—
A wolf howled not far away, then another. Lark!
Zara shot to her feet, her gaze darting. “Fauna again?” She brandished her pistol once more, aiming it in all directions.
Sol nodded. “Makes sense.”
“Get the Empress and let’s go.” She hurried to the copter. “Come on, Sun, anda logo!”
When Sol waved his hand, one of the Bagmen grabbed my ankle and dragged me over the ground to the copter.
The Sun and Fortune were taking me to the Emperor.
As Sol strapped my limp body into a helicopter seat, he yelled to Zara, “We have to GO!” With another wave of his hand, he directed his pet Baggers into two more seats.
In the cockpit, Zara flipped switches and twisted dials. The engines roared louder. Wind swept through the open side door.
She answered with a spiel about “overtorque” and “max RPM” and “collective pitch,” ending with “asshole.”
She sounded like she knew what she was doing, and she certainly had Sol’s number. So this helicopter was a weapon for her. Part of Fortune’s Arcana arsenal.
Sol had just belted in Joe when she snapped, “Fuck it!” and pulled on some lever between her knees. We lurched into the air.
I slumped against my seat belt. Sol lunged to close the side door, but slipped over the metal-plated floor before he reached it. My blood and Bagger slime had slickened it.
He grabbed a handle for balance. Then his eyes went wide. “Oh, estoy jodido! Death’s riding for us!”
Aric? He was alive! With effort, I turned my lolling head. Death charged into the clearing on Thanatos. The warhorse had survived as well. I shouldn’t have been surprised. Thanatos bench-pressed three-eighty and swished his tail at floods.