“The Empress moves her vines as she dreams.”
In a wry tone, he says, “I believe that is the most disturbing thing I’ve ever heard.”
I also move my vines on purpose, so an Arcana like Fauna will ignore any sounds I might make up here. Her hearing is remarkable, as is her sense of smell.
Fauna would surely scent my presence—if she and the Magician didn’t meet among my flowers.
She smiles at the boy. “And do my creatures also disturb you? Or my fangs?”
He casts her a mischievous grin. “Why would I be disturbed? I adore your fangs. And all of your creatures adore me.”
The boy has shown a surprising lack of fear of her lions. The great beasts laze among my plants, their muzzles still stained with blood from an earlier kill. They’d taken out a band of the Hierophant’s demented followers.
Fauna shyly says, “I adore your illusions.”
The Magician conjures a ball of light above them, then shapes it into an infinity symbol: an unbroken line that stretches through eternity—and back on itself.
Fauna is duly impressed. The light reflects in her eyes.
He turns to her and brushes his fingers over her cheek.
Are they in love? How does one know? If love has moved them to be so careless, it seems a dangerous emotion.
He leans in, catching her gaze, just before he presses his lips to hers.
I tilt my head, running the pad of my forefinger over my lips. What does kissing feel like? By the sound of her sighs and his groans, it must be heavenly.
For some reason, my last meeting with the Reaper dances in my thoughts. He continues to trail me through this game. Observing, watching, lying in wait, no doubt. Why is his attention so fixed upon me? Because he is Death and I am life?
What would it be like to kiss him? I shiver, and my heart starts racing, which shames me. He is my worst enemy, can kill with his very skin. Despite his godlike looks, he’s a monster who proudly wields his Touch of Death. . . .
Even if he could kiss me, it wouldn’t last long—for I would expel poison through my lips to end him.
Fauna draws back, then she and the Magician sit forehead to forehead, catching their breath.
He says, “I want you to run away with me.”
I roll my eyes. This has gone on long enough. I shall have to kill Fauna and her admirer sooner than I’d anticipated. . . .
I woke with a cry, my eyes darting.
Cyclops was in the bed again. He glanced up, but I couldn’t meet the wolf’s gaze.
Oh, just remembering how I planned to kill your mistress. No big deal. How casual I’d been when deciding to murder a young couple.
They’d had no idea that some evil force plotted to punish them because they’d dared to fall in love—and to want out of the game.
As I lay in the dark centuries later, I couldn’t help drawing parallels to my own life—and to any future I might imagine with Aric.
Day 432 A.F.
I’d buried myself in the chronicles, uncovering one secret after another. Shocking, gut-wrenching secrets.
Each day over the past week, I’d headed to Gran’s room to read. Naturally, she wouldn’t allow me to take the book anywhere else. But to guard it when I wasn’t around, she actually . . . slept with it in her bed.
Now I gazed over at her. She’d nodded off again after dinner. She was sleeping more and more, but eating less. While all my injuries had healed, she continued to deteriorate. Yet no matter how much I’d pleaded, she wouldn’t let Paul examine her, insisting she would rally.
Though I no longer believed her, I refused to think about her dying. . . .
When she and I weren’t discussing the book—everything from the section on Minor Arcana to the pros/cons of my last alliances—I read on my own.
I knew more than I’d thought about the players just from my own encounters with them, but the book held so many surprises.
With each one, I would muse, Jack will think this is cool. Then I would remember. He’d been murdered.
Jack and I had marveled at the snow.
The temperature continued to drop. Soon the rain would turn to snow again. I thought I’d lose it then. The tourniquet would snap, my heart would swell, and I’d bleed out in the white.
For now, I would strangle the pain and keep studying my chronicles.
I’d also begun editing and updating the book. I’d added details from my vision-dreams and recorded battles from this game. I’d even illustrated certain plants. The process was slow going, but I didn’t have anything else to do.
Aric avoided me, seeming as if he could barely stand to look at me. We hadn’t spoken since our fight, and I hated how we’d left things.
Did he miss me at all?
I missed him, had begun to dream about him more and more. I missed simply visiting with him—discussing books and playing cards, sharing meals together. When things had been good between us, I’d loved every second with him, panicking whenever he’d ventured out into the dangerous world.
I hadn’t spoken to Lark either. She hunted for Finn—and Richter—with the single-minded focus her card was named for, running Scarface, the falcon, and a team of other creatures ragged out in the Ash. She kept Cyclops on the property as her weapon (though he slept with me), and Maneater remained—because the she-wolf was pregnant.
A lot of creatures were. Lark’s animals were breeding like crazy. . . .
I’d headed down to the river a few times seeking Circe, but she hadn’t answered. Was she avoiding me as well? Too busy replaying my betrayals?
I knew I’d been evil; the chronicles told me I was in good company.