I was learning a lesson, painfully: maybe fate couldn’t be changed.

And we were all fated to fight. Or die.

When Aric and I just stared at each other, Lark muttered a curse. “I forgot you two have . . . unresolved issues.”

My need for revenge overshadowed everything. The Emperor was all I could think about now. I felt as if I hadn’t taken a real breath since the massacre, hadn’t truly slept between nightmares. All-business, I asked Aric, “What do you think Richter will do next?”

Aric’s demeanor was equally emotionless. “In time, he and his alliance will locate us. If Fortune finds another helicopter, she could fly the Emperor here when he is at full power. If she acquires a military helicopter, she could fire on us herself, even deploying missiles. But Fauna’s creatures will be our sentries, alerting us to any attack in advance.”

Lark lifted her chin. “Damn straight.”

Her animals would be our PEWS, a perimeter early warning system. Jack had taught me about that the day my mother had died. The day we’d burned down Haven and escaped together.

To keep from reacting, I imagined how Richter would look when I injected him with poison—the first time.

“But we’ll be blind whenever she sleeps,” Aric said. “So the Priestess keeps watch through her rivers. She has surrounded this area with water and controls the only road to the castle.”

I somewhat recalled him yelling for Circe to let him pass. “Did she spare me because of you?”

He knocked back a shot. “Ask her.”

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I intended to. I’d been talking to puddles all this time; why stop now?

Then understanding dawned on me. “Whoa, whoa, it sounds like we’re preparing for . . . a defense. I need the Emperor dead.”

Aric’s gaze fell on one of his shelves. “I forfeited the one weapon that could have defeated him from afar.” The lightning javelin? He’d stolen it from Joules and safeguarded it for millennia. To save Selena from the Lovers—and gain my favor—he’d used the weapon intended for Richter.

In order to win me. Another decision he must regret.

Selena had died anyway. I’d chosen another man, and Aric had missed an opportunity to take Richter out the night of the massacre.

Can’t change fate. “Then I will kill him. You promised that you and my grandmother would teach me how.” In a past game, I’d taken down galleons, cracking them open like eggs. If I could tap into my full potential . . .

“The Tarasova will have more information about your abilities,” he said. “I can help you train. But even if we felt confident of a victory, how will we find the Emperor without the Arcana calls?”

The idea of waiting to get vengeance nauseated me. I couldn’t continue like this for much longer. It felt an awful lot like enduring—which was a slippery slope toward acceptance. “Lark and Circe will find him.”

Lark’s eyes flashed. “I’ve already got my scouts combing the area for Finn—and Richter. I’ll merge with my animals as much as possible. On that note, I’m gonna make like a stray and get lost.” She rose with her ferret. “Oh, here,” she said, reaching into her pocket. She handed me the red ribbon, then slipped out of the room.

Feeling Aric’s gaze on me, I fought not to react. He would suspect it had something to do with Jack—

“A token from the mortal, no doubt.” Of course Aric would know. “You’re taking this better than I’d expected.”

He should’ve seen me at the gravestone. I clenched the ribbon and remained mute.

“Outwardly at least. Are we not to talk about Jack?”

His name was like a sudden gunshot about to free an avalanche. “No, we’re not. I can’t.” Not yet.

“This is consuming you, but I’m not to be privy to your thoughts? Then you’ve turned your back on me again.”

“Don’t think of it like that, please.” If Jack had been the love of my life, Aric was my soul mate. I loved this man, I regretted his lonely existence, and I appreciated everything he’d ever done for me. But I felt as if I’d lost Jack mere days ago.

The weeks I’d spent unconscious hadn’t blunted my grief. When I’d had the hope of going back in time, I hadn’t allowed myself to grieve. After that, I’d been too busy trying to reach Aric. “I’m hanging on by a thread here.” As Jack had once told me.

“Then let me help you.” Aric seemed to be saying so much with his eyes, yet I understood so little. I got the sense that he wanted me to remember something—but my mind wasn’t up to speed.

I shook my aching head, struggling not to bleed out. Not quite yet.

He raked his fingers through his hair. “If you won’t let me help, then what am I to you?”

Now, on the spot, I was supposed to label our relationship? We loved each other, but we weren’t together romantically. If I believed that the game demanded blood and that fate couldn’t be changed, then we never should be.

I didn’t want to say the wrong thing, so I settled on the safest: “I . . . don’t know?”

“Then Fauna is mistaken.” His tone was like ice. “There is nothing unresolved on my part.”

“What does that mean?” Where was the man who’d urged me to live, who’d cared for me?

“You are welcome in my home. We are allies, of a sort. That will be the extent of our relationship.”

Of a sort? “I see.” What were my eyes telling him?

I love you, but I have nothing left inside me. I’m a drained husk like Tess. My head’s not right and won’t be till Richter begs me to kill him.