“I knew you would, which is why I stayed put,” she said. “I figured the one thing stronger than my desire to return to Haven would be Karen’s strength of will to reunite with me—once she realized I’d been right.” Gran’s dark eyes glinted. “Death told me she . . . died a few months ago.”

Gran already knew; she wouldn’t have rested until she’d found out Mom’s fate. “She regretted not believing you. It tore at her.”

“I hate that she was hurting from it.”

I took her hand. Her grip felt weak, her bones brittle. “About Haven . . .”

“Was the house hurt on Day Zero? I thought for sure the oaks would protect it.”

“They did.” Those twelve mighty oaks had given their lives. “Months after the Flash, the Lovers closed in with an army. I didn’t want them to have our home. So we, uh . . . we burned it down.”

“H-Haven’s . . . gone?”

“I’m so sorry.”

She shook her head. “No. Don’t be. From what I’ve heard, the Lovers were as evil as they’d ever been. I’d rather you destroy our home than let them have it.” She frowned. “You said we burned it.”

“Jack and I.” Just saying his name tested my tourniquet. “He was a bayou boy I met in school. He saved me from the Lovers, and about a dozen other times.”

Her perceptive gaze flicked over my face. “You’re in love with him?”

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I nodded. “But he . . . died in the Emperor’s attack.”

“I heard Death and Fauna talking about a massacre.” Gran tucked a curl behind my ear. “Jack was a human? A regular man?”

Regular? Not in any way. “He was an extraordinary non-Arcana.” I found myself recounting a fraction of the brave, incredible things he’d done. Through the stories, Gran learned about the past several months of my life and some of my encounters with other Arcana.

I left out the part when Aric had abducted me, mentally and physically torturing me.

She gave me another hug, saying, “I’m so sorry Jack has passed on. I would’ve liked to see you with a boy from the Basin.” She’d had friends there, visiting all the time. She drew back. “Did you speak Cajun French with him?”

Twist, tighten, constrict. “He loved that I could. Thank you for teaching me.”

“Ah, Evie, you lost your love young, didn’t you? Just like your mother.”

When my dad had gone missing in the Basin, Mom had searched more than a million acres of swamp trying to recover him. I’d tried to reverse time to recover Jack.

In the end, Mom had been forced to just . . . accept her loss. I understood bravery in battle and dying; I now understood true pain. But I couldn’t wrap my mind around . . . enduring.

Acceptance seemed out of the realm of my abilities. “The Emperor took Jack from me forever. I need to kill Richter. It’s all I can think about.” I’d had more nightmares about Jack burning. My mind seemed to be filled with fog, but I clearly recalled those dreams. They bubbled up like lava.

“You will have your vengeance in time,” she assured me. “But the most important thing is the overarching game. You’ve done a great job setting this one up.” She finally smiled. “We can’t ruin all your work by acting rashly.”

“Pardon?”

“Death walks around without his armor—because you have disarmed him. Well done, sweetheart. He’s already defeated.”

The dinner I’d managed to get down now threatened to come back up.

She patted my hand. “Look at those icons. You’ve already made two kills, and you’ve teed up two more. And if I’m not mistaken, the Priestess lingers nearby. Soon she’ll be within reach. You always lure her out of her murky hiding places.”

I had feared my grandmother would be hardcore about the game, about killing all Arcana. But to see and hear her . . . “I don’t look at the people here as enemies. I will never hurt any of them,” I said firmly. Aric had brought her to me; shouldn’t gratitude or decency have softened her stance? At least in regard to him?

She winked at me and whispered, “You don’t have to act. They’re down at dinner. They can’t hear us.”

Oh, God. No wonder Aric hadn’t trusted me for so long. Aside from my history of stabbing him in the back, he’d believed I would think like Gran.

And I might have—if Mom hadn’t sent her away.

How could I tell my grandmother that I hadn’t turned out as she’d hoped? Would the shock hurt her worse? I needed to know what was going on with her health before I dropped this bombshell on her.

My body vine budded, as if to comfort me.

She looked delighted by the tiny show of my powers. “We’ll bring this game to an end sooner than I thought. My Empress is a bold killer—and a sly manipulator. Victory will be yours.”

Don’t get sick, don’t get sick. “Aric has saved my life repeatedly, risking his own. So has Lark. I’m alive right now because she directed him how to find me.”

“I know! It’s astonishing how you’ve got them working for you.” Totally missed the point. “Oh, listen to me. There’s plenty of time for us to strategize. For now, you need to get back to full strength.”

“I am tired.” Eventually I would change Gran’s mind and make her see things my way, but in the meantime, I planned to sneak down and meet with my allies.

“Rest up. I’ll see you first thing in the morning.” She patted my hand again. “I couldn’t be prouder of you, Evie,” she said, but she wasn’t looking at my face; she was tracing those icons.