“To remind you to mark some detail or remember some moment. Symbols are waypoints on your journey.” She took a sip of water. “Learn this: as with life, so with the cards.”
Was that why so many things had begun to feel connected? “Gabriel sees symbols from up on high, things he says can’t be random. He told me he has the senses of both animal and angel—and he recognizes the gods’ return.”
“Ah, the Archangel, the errand spirit.” I’d read that he sometimes acted as a messenger between allies. Like a herald or courier. “He is an uneasy hybrid of angel and animal, both halves at war inside him. His animal senses are as keen as Fauna’s, and he has claw-tipped fingers like her.” His claws were actually more like talons. “Yet he also possesses angelic wings. Those are his strength—and his weakness.”
“Is he right about the gods’ return? Will they hear prayers now?”
“Perhaps they have returned. He would recognize such a thing. If they have, they will hear us. Prayers fuel them, the way food fuels us.” Her lips thinned. “But they won’t hear prayers asking to end their game, if that’s what you’re wondering. There’s only one possible way to right the earth: by finishing this.”
At my expression, she sighed, as if I’d just exhausted her. Again. She no longer hid her disappointment. “You read the origin of the Arcana?”
“I’d already heard the story from Aric.” He’d told me and Jack on the way to the Lovers. The three of us had shared a bottle of whiskey while sitting around a fire. When I’d passed out, Jack and Aric had finished it together. In a different time and place, they might have been friends.
“How strange that Death has been teaching you,” she said. “I would expect him to be a miser with his knowledge.”
“Oh, in general, he’s still tightfisted with it.” Yes, my recovery had distracted him from translating the Lovers’ chronicles, but he’d already gotten a start on them. He could’ve divulged some tidbit from those pages.
“Did he tell you about Tar Ro?”
I nodded. “It was a sacred realm as big as a thousand kingdoms. In the first game, twenty-two players were sent there to fight.”
“Think of Tar Ro as an arena”—like Sol’s Olympus?—“with deities in the stands. Why do you think the gods would end their amusement? Would you stop the Super Bowl because one athlete didn’t want to play?”
The gods sounded like dicks—not exactly the types to care if their “amusement” caused an apocalypse. Except . . . “If they consume prayers, how many people are feeding them right now? Does Demeter receive prayers for a good crop? There are no crops. What about Aphrodite? Few people are thinking about love after the Flash. A death deity? Who prays over the dead anymore? Most survivors leave their fallen on the side of the road.”
If I’d gone to a funeral for every friend or loved one who’d died since the night of the Flash, I would have attended more than a dozen.
“This is not for you to question,” Gran said, steel in her tone. “Your purpose is to follow the rules of the gods. Anything else is blasphemy.”
Aric had said, “I was twice a blasphemer.” I was one as well. And I’d been punished. “I plan to follow the rules with Richter. Tell me how to defeat him.”
“Death has killed him before. Your best play is to seduce your protector into bringing you the Emperor’s head. We can hope both will fall in the clash.”
My fists balled. Inside, I primal-screamed. “That’s it?” I was getting nowhere with her.
“Until you fully embrace your viciousness, you have no chance against the Emperor. I can’t teach you to develop powers you don’t yet possess.”
Not the first time she’d told me that. Another impasse.
Maybe I should dig for information about my parents. She was my last link to Mom, and even to my dad. “Gran, what was Mom like as a girl?”
“Stubborn. Refusing to believe what was right before her eyes! Like you.”
I was proud to be like my mother. “What about my dad? Mom used to talk about him a lot, but over time I heard less and less.”
“David Greene was kind, and he had a sense of humor. He made your mother laugh.”
That was all Gran could muster up? “Did you not like him?”
“He wasn’t a big believer in Tarot. Humor aside, he was a very practical man. From New England,” she added, as if that explained everything. “I’d been wearing Karen down about the Arcana—until she met him. Before I knew it, your mother was pregnant. Even then, I sensed you were the Empress.”
“He didn’t want us to live up north?”
“David planned to move there.” Her gaze went distant. “To move you—the great Empress—away from her Haven.” That must have gone over well. “In the end, I convinced them not to go.”
My dad had disappeared in the Basin just two years after I was born. If he’d insisted on moving north, would he still be alive? Or would he have been—at least until the Flash? I might have grown up with a father. “He died so young.” Twenty-nine.
She nodded. “That man only adored one thing as much as Karen: you.”
Mom had told me he’d doted on me—
My head snapped up. I sensed something outside: energy, a faint thrumming. Circe was here—just down the mountain. Had she come to visit her ally Death? Were they together right now? If so, I would drop in on their members-only meeting. “I’ll be back.” I rose and headed toward the door.