Sounded like something he’d say! Could this truly be coo-yôn? My heart got to pounding—made my leg throb like the devil. “You real?”
In a too-loud voice, he said, “We’re leaving.”
“Shhh! You are real.” I choked out words: “Did Evie . . . d-did my girl . . . live?” I held my breath, waiting for his answer. The next few seconds would decide whether I hoped for a future—or accepted the end of a life that already felt too long.
Every moment of my existence seemed to lead up to this strange kid’s next words. All the pain. All the confusion. And then that sweet, sweet time when Evangeline Greene was all mine . . .
“Empress lived. Her smile died.”
“Ah, God, my girl’s alive.” Relief made me even more lightheaded. “Alive.” I shuddered, and my eyes grew damp. Couldn’t control my emotions, me. “How? I thought I got her killed like the rest.”
“Tredici saved her.”
“Tre-what?” Was he talking about Domīnija? I’d figured as much.
“Quiet, coo-yôn.” I slept apart from the other captives, but somebody would hear him before long. “I gotta get to Evie.” I tried to scramble up on my good leg. Only busted my ass.
Waves of dizziness hit. I had to gnash my teeth to keep from blacking out. “How’d you sneak past the guards?” Shackled slaves could move around down here at the terminus, but two armed guards kept anyone from getting near the mine elevator.
Coo-yôn shrugged. “Mad skillz.”
“Who’s with you? They comin’ in guns blazing?” I was going to get free of this hellhole! I’d get back to my girl.
He lowered his lantern. “I’m rogue.”
I tried sitting up again, slowly. “What’s that mean? Is Evie close?” God, let her be.
The fuck? “No other Arcana with you? Then I’m trapped here. And soon you will be too if you doan go.” I sank back against the stone wall. “Tell her I love her. Tell her . . . tell her I’ll see her again. Somewhere, someway. Now leave!”
He shook his head and covered his lips with a forefinger. He was shushing me? After he’d been so loud? “Time for you to go.”
Started to ask him if he was crazy. Already knew the answer to that, me. “You must mean I’m about to die. You here to see me out?”
“To see you up.”
“You talking topside?” I squinted again. Was that blood on the backs of his hands?
Blood on his hands. Just like I had blood on mine. An army’s worth. “Why didn’t you warn me about Richter?” Jaw clenched, I grabbed the hem of his coat. “We lost Selena to that fils de pute. We lost an army.”
“I see far.”
“Goddamn it, why. Tell me you had a reason to let everyone die.”
“I had a reason.”
“More important than the future of mankind? ’Cause that’s what we were dealing with.” Maybe that attack had kept Richter from targeting even more people. Maybe the entire army would’ve gotten bonebreak fever and died in agony. “How can I trust you again?”
“Attempt escape, Hunter. Or be cut up for meat.”
Trusting him would be like playing Russian roulette with more than one bullet in the chamber.
He slanted his head. “It’s time for you to go. I thought you’d want to see her.”
“Of course I want to! Desperate to. But unless you got a hacksaw . . .” My blurry eyes tried to follow his movements.
From a backpack, coo-yôn produced a goddamned hacksaw! The Fool was saving my ass? The rescuer being rescued?
Dizziness had the mine spinning. I gave my head a hard shake. “Might pass out, coo-yôn. You got a plan to get us out of here?”
He knelt to saw. “No plan.”
Merde! “You ready to fight your way out of here, boy?” I asked, though he’d never lifted a finger to fight in the past. “If we doan win, they’re goan to catch us and lock you down here.”
When he peered up at me again, my blurred vision failed to place him for a second, almost as if I were seeing another face. Or a . . . mask. He didn’t look like the boy I’d spent months working beside.
Then he gave me his usual blank grin, back to the Fool again. He truly didn’t have a plan.
All the sudden I could read the future. By tonight, he would be in chains, and I’d be butchered. . . .
Creepy book in hand, I sat beside the fire in Gran’s room.
Sure enough, the Empress’s line had chronicles.
Either I was going crazy, had gone crazy, or my grandmother was lying. Had she truly shown the book to me half my life ago? How could my memories have gotten so scrambled?
Both Matthew and Selena had said my line chronicled, but I’d thought the knowledge had been passed down verbally or something.
After Gran’s revelation, she’d dug an ancient-looking book out of her bag, having trouble lifting the weighty thing. The battered leather of the cover looked like the skin of a Bagman.
She’d been stunned by my lack of recognition, sinking down on her bed, looking ten years older. “No wonder you hesitate to kill them,” she’d said, as if explaining the worst tragedy. . . .
Now she watched me like a hawk. “Nothing?” I shook my head. “How could you not remember?”
“I was only eight when you went away, and I was forbidden to talk about anything you taught me.” Young as I was, I’d been old enough to know that Mom had banished my grandmother for her beliefs. Why wouldn’t I have pushed Arcana stuff from my mind to avoid a similar fate? “When I got older and I had visions of the apocalypse, Mom blamed you, so she sent me to a head-shrink place, like the one you went to. I got . . . deprogrammed.”