“Try NOT to hit the sides!”

He craned his head back and cast me a grin.

“Eyes forward!” We scraped another wall. “Doan try to shift. Keep it this speed.”

The lights grew brighter in the mine. Shouts got louder. More gunshots. We had to be getting close.

“They parked a line of trucks,” he said. “Blocking the bay doors.”

“Is there a load in the back of this hauler?”

He glanced over his shoulder. “Yes.”

“Get up some more speed!” Maybe with the size of this truck and the weight of a full bed, we could bust through. “Aim for the space between the two smallest trucks, but hit it head on. Doan angle it, and do not let off that gas—you hear me?” I braced my good leg against the side of the cab. “Faster! Redline this engine!”

“Hold on!” He laid on the horn—


We rammed the blockade. I barely kept myself from slamming into the back of Matthew’s seat.


His head snapped forward, face smacking the steering wheel. Had he let up on the gas? “We’re stuck between trucks, Hunter.”

Bullets pinged the door. Shattered the windshield. The hauler heaved, made like it’d stall. “Drop the hammer! More gas!” Metal shrieked. The engine strained. The cab vibrated till my teeth felt like they’d rattle out of my head. “Pedal down!” More straining. More bullets. Engine about to blow.

I heard a couple of men yelling, latching on to the hauler, climbing to the cab. “Coo-yôn, find the lever that raised the bed!”

He reached forward. “This one?”

The hydraulics engaged. “Rev that one too!” Shafts spun. Pistons pumped. The bed rose faster, dumping salt.

Then . . . the resistance gave way! We were grinding forward between trucks, scraping off men and spewing tons of salt.

“Hunter, hold on. We’re about to hit the—”



Fighting off more dizziness, I said, “Try for the next gear.”

Grind, grind. The transmission shifted, and the hauler rumbled along, still dragging something that screeched.

“The salt buried their trucks on our way out!” Coo-yôn peered back at me again. “All clear.” Blood welled from his forehead, coursing down his face, a crimson mask.

Again my blurred vision made out another face. Matthew was like a sosie, an evil double.

“All clear,” he repeated, but I didn’t feel that way at all.

My head grew light, consciousness fading. “You goan to get me to Evie?” My life was in the hands of somebody I didn’t recognize. “Tell her I’m coming.”

“If you make it. Fifty-fifty.”

I couldn’t fight off the blackness anymore.


The Empress

I banged on the door to Aric’s study. After rereading the Fool’s betrayal for what must’ve been the hundredth time, I’d realized something.

This murder might be the secret Aric had kept for Matthew.

I’d slammed the book shut and announced that I was heading down to talk to Death. As I’d limped out of the room, Gran had called, “Remember not to kill him yet!”

Now Aric muttered from inside his study, “Leave me in peace.”

“Open it, Reaper.” As I’d hobbled down here, the lingering pain in my legs and head had ratcheted up my irritation. “Or I’ll use a claw to jimmy the lock.”

After a while, he opened the door.

I sidled past him and took my customary seat.

He didn’t offer me a shot of vodka, but he poured himself a glass—from the bottle already on his desk. His hair was disheveled, his amber eyes bleary.

Despite everything, concern for him welled, muting some of my anger. I felt as much tenderness toward him as ever. Maybe more. “Aric, why are you drinking so much?”

He scowled at me.

When he’d searched for me and watched over my recovery, had he buried his feelings about my choice? Maybe he’d been too numb to react. Until now. I didn’t want him to hurt, but I didn’t know what to do to ease this pain.

Then I recalled Matthew’s deal, and my irritation rekindled. “Why stop with vodka? You could smoke opium again.”

Smirk. “The thought has occurred.”

I sliced my thumb and grew a poppy plant straight into his desk.

He exhaled. “I liked this desk.”

“Then you should smoke it, Reaper.”

His smirk deepened. “And to what do I owe this pique?”

“Why didn’t you tell me the Fool killed me?”

“That happened quite a while ago.” He shot his glass and poured another. “Ah, I’ll wager your cunning grandmother has chronicles, hasn’t she? I’d wondered why she wouldn’t relinquish her bag. I’d suspected she carried a pistol to use against me. Perhaps your chronicles will prove more dangerous?”

“Answer the question.”

“Keeping that secret was the price I had to pay to hear your thoughts and see your life.”

I knew it! Matthew had said, I’m in Death’s pocket, so he’s in my eyes. “So to prevent me from finding out his murderous past, Matthew gave you access to my mind?”

Aric hiked his shoulders. “I warned you not to underestimate him.”

“You’re just as much at fault! You made that deal with him. Like the deal you made with Lark? To make her win the entire game?”

“Yes,” he said, honest as ever—which made it difficult to stay mad at him. “Obviously both were ill-advised.”