When his eyes went starry as he gazed down at me, I released the tourniquet on my heart and started to bleed out, was dying anyway. “My powerful knight.” I peered up at him with all the love I felt for him. “Knew you . . . couldn’t be dead.” I reached for his face, but my arm collapsed halfway.
“Save your strength, sievā.”
“Baggers bit me . . . a lot. You’ll . . . kill me . . . before I turn. Right?”
“It will not come to that,” he said, his voice a rasp. “I will get you well from this.”
Mist swirled around us as we rode at a breakneck pace. How was he still going? “Will you take care . . . of Gran?”
“You will not die! I will not allow it.”
I tried to shake my head. Mistake. Neck broken? “Emperor will find your home . . . destroy you. Big finale.”
“You led the Sun in the exact wrong direction, love.”
I had? Naturally. “Will you kill . . . Richter for me?”
“Do not talk! If you save your strength, you will regenerate.”
“Sol said the bites . . . neutralize Arcana powers. Healing myself . . . is a power.” Something was very wrong inside me. Sickness had me by the throat, wouldn’t let go.
Like a wolf slowly breaking my neck.
After the tiniest hesitation, Aric said, “Doesn’t matter. This will be different.”
I disagreed. Which meant I needed to talk to him. “Have to . . . tell you things.” All the things I might have regretted. I began murmuring the thoughts in my head, not really aware of what I was saying.
I trusted Aric to pick what was important from my ramblings. I spoke until I was on the verge of unconsciousness again.
Whatever I’d said affected him. He yanked off his helmet so he could press his lips to my forehead as he clutched me close. . . .
I must have blacked out again; I jolted back to awareness when Aric yelled, “Circe, let us pass!”
The sound of waves, and then water receding. Was the Priestess nearby?
Thanatos galloped upward, upward, the air growing even colder. Just when I was about to drift off again, Aric told me, “We’re home.”
I was back at the castle of lost time? I opened my eyes, squinting. We rode through the giant gate and into the courtyard. Hooves clattered on the brick. Gas lights stung my eyes.
“I’m getting you help. Just hold on.” Aric cradled me against his chest as he dropped from Thanatos and rushed inside, spurs ringing. “Lark, get the EMT!”
Lark . . . I’d missed her over the last few weeks. She’d led Aric to me. They’d both fought to save me.
“We’re prepped and ready to go in the nursery, boss,” she answered. “Under the sunlamps, just like you said.”
Sunlamps. Clever Aric. They had strengthened me before. But I sensed I was beyond help. He hurried down the many steps to the underground nursery, telling me, “Stay with me. You must stay with me.”
He laid me on a bed. I squeezed my eyes closed against the blazing overhead light. I heard shears as my clothes were cut away.
Lark sucked in a breath. “She’s one big wound. I’ve seen roadkill in better shape.”
“Enough!” Aric snapped.
A man said, “She’s been bitten multiple times. Those are bullet wounds in her chest. The EMT? Wasn’t his name Paul? He’d patched up Lark after Ogen’s attack. “Her legs are . . . done. What do you expect me to do for her?”
His tone murderous, Aric grated, “Unless you want to die by my sword, I suggest you—save—her.” I knew how menacing his face would look right now. I’d been on the receiving end of his threats enough.
“I-I’ll try to clean these wounds, sir,” Paul said, his voice scaling higher. “And start a drip. Lark, can you help me? She’s lost a lot of blood.”
“Shouldn’t Eves have started healing?” Lark asked. “When I sliced off her cilice down here, she was regenerating in seconds.”
“Give her time,” Aric said. “The injuries are significant.” He brushed damp hair off my forehead. “Feel the light, sievā. You will heal. You always heal.”
I could feel the warm lamps, but I didn’t sense even a twitch of regeneration—
A woman’s scream. “E-Evie!” Was that . . . my grandmother?
I tried to say, “Gran.” Blood came out of my mouth. For so long, I’d fought to reach her. She was with me at last, but I couldn’t speak a word.
“The Sun did this to her,” Gran said. “Did you kill him, knight?” I sensed her and Paul on one side of me, Aric and Lark on the other.
“No. I believe they survived the helicopter crash.” They had?
“Then why don’t you leave my granddaughter’s care to us? While you go finish the job?” She sounded as murderous as Aric had.
“I won’t leave until she’s healed.”
“You should have found her sooner! How could you not find her before this happened?” Why was my grandmother baiting him? “You’ve located her so many times before.”
I knew she considered him a villain, but couldn’t she see that he cared for me? He’d rescued her from North Carolina, bringing her back to this castle—for me. He’d taken on two Arcana and a Bagger army to save my life.
To try to save me.
I still might turn.
Sounding like he was about to strangle her, Aric said, “The Fool has silenced our calls.” No wonder I’d heard nothing. What was Matthew up to? “After following every mile of the flood’s path, every fork, every twist and turn, I scoured the countryside for the Empress—from here to Fort Arcana. For some reason, she went in the opposite direction of this castle. I wisely had Lark dispatch sentries in all directions.”