Aric rode in with both swords raised, and my bullet-riddled heart wanted to beat for him.

But I’d led our enemies straight to him! I needed to warn him. Which meant escaping. Stay awake. Stay alert.

“Where’s the mounted gun?” Sol yelled to Zara, panic in his voice.

If a knight in black armor on a red-eyed steed charged for me, I’d be panicked too. In fact, I had been terrified when in his sights.

Now I was proud. Lark’s giant wolves sped forward to flank Aric.

“I told you,” Zara snapped. “The copter’s stripped!” Since the helicopter was Fortune’s weapon this game, she should’ve conserved her fuel.

The first law of an Arcana’s arsenal, Zara? Conserve, conserve, conserve.

She yelled, “Flare your rays!”

His eyes emitted light, a spotlight on Aric. I choked out: “Don’t.”

We seemed to hover in place for several moments. “Nada. Death’s still coming!” Sol’s beams faded. “I don’t think it works on him.”

“You’ve got Baggers nearby,” Zara said. “Use them.”

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“On it.”

Damn it, I had to get off this helicopter. I could jump from the open door, if I could muster the strength to move my legs.

I summoned a single claw, nearly blacking out from the effort. When my vision cleared, Aric looked so far away on the ground. How high were we? I blinked—then again.

Behind him . . . thousands of Bagmen swarmed the field, sprinting after him.

Scarface charged ahead of Aric. With a spine-chilling growl, the wolf sprang for the copter . . . we were too high . . .

Caught us! We pitched sharply to the side. Another growl sounded from so close.

Zara screamed, “Porra!”

“The wolf’s latched onto the skids!” Sol was barely hanging on by that handle.

I clawed my seatbelt free. My body crumpled to the slimy floor. As the copter rolled sideways, I slid toward the open doorway, my head at the edge.

“No, pequeña!” Sol reached for me, struggling to keep his footing. “Estúpida!”

Scarface was just below me. I met gazes with him—and with Lark through her familiar. “Kill . . . them,” I choked out. “They’re coming . . . for you.”

The wolf thrashed its massive head, shaking the copter like a chew toy. Bea, never belted in, almost fell out of her seat. Sol scrambled for balance.

Lark had once explained why wolves thrashed their prey: to snap a creature’s neck instantly. Scarface was about to take this metal buzzard out.

If Death didn’t do it first; with a bellow, he hurled one of his swords right at me.

My lips curled.

The sword struck the helicopter. Sparks rained. Grinding sounded, like a giant lawn mower hitting a steel pipe. The engines whined. Alarms blared.

BEEEEEEEEPPPPPPPPP. BEEEEEEEEPPPPPPPPP. BEEEEEEEEPPPPPPPPP.

We spun like Fortune’s wheel. Dizziness and nausea surged.

“Fucker took out the tail rotor!” Zara fought that lever. “We’re going DOWN!”

BEEEEEEEEPPPPPPPPP. BEEEEEEEEPPPPPPPPP. BEEEEEEEEPPPPPPPPP.

Sol crawled toward me, just as Scarface thrashed again. Bea and Sol slammed into each other. I slid out farther and vomited blood; it spattered onto the snarling wolf’s muzzle.

Spinning, spinning. Like a whirlpool in a flood.

To my left: Scarface. To my right, Bea scrabbled at the edge.

Sol had a grip on one of my ankles and one of hers. But he was slipping over the slick floor. He had to make a choice: save me or Bea.

A last thrash from Scarface—the buzzard’s deathblow.

Sol chose.

I tumbled through the sky, weightless.

I glimpsed the copter diving into a nearby canyon, about to crash like me; the wolf released its hold at the last second.

Then—

Impact. I landed in a standing position. The ground pulverized my legs.

15

“I have you,” Aric grated. “Hold on, sievā!”

Consciousness wavered. I wanted to warn Aric, but speech felt impossible. So I tried to reach him mentally. The Emperor is coming. He’s recharging.

Aric clutched me with one arm. With his other, he wielded a sword, cleaving his way through Bagmen.

So many. Thousands. Their wails were deafening.

Aric needed both hands, or he’d never get through this swarm alive. I would probably turn into a Bagger anyway. I was handicapping him. Leave me.

If Aric heard me, he didn’t react, just continued to fight. As he swung and slashed, I saw flashes from the canyon: a blast, then billowing smoke. The helicopter had exploded! Would Aric get Sol and Zara’s icons? Or would Lark?

The giant fireball from the crash lit our way.

Two howls sounded over the wails. Scarface and Maneater leapt in front of Thanatos, clearing a path through Baggers like a snowplow.

Aric murmured, “Good show, Fauna.”

I was about to black out. “D-Dying. Sorry . . .”

He spurred Thanatos. “You are not dying!” We galloped faster. “Empress?”

All my reserves of strength were gone. I couldn’t even answer him.

“Sievā?” The last thing I heard was his agonized bellow. . . .

When I roused again, I heard thundering hooves. Aric’s ragged breaths. Steady rain.

I cracked open my eyes. Had we escaped the Bagmen? I whispered, “Aric?” I’d never been so cold; my body shuddered.

“Ah, gods, you’re awake.” He raised his helmet visor. “Don’t talk. We’re almost home.” He looked exhausted. Rain pelted his armor and dripped down his proud face. If he’d been burned from the searing flood, his enhanced healing had already mended his skin.