Into the abyss.
Circe appeared, seated upon the coral throne in her underwater temple. With her flowing black hair and luminous eyes, she was drop-dead gorgeous.
The Priestess inclined her head regally. In her temple’s firelight, the dazzling blue scales on her forearms and the backs of her hands shimmered, almost the same blue as the fins jutting from her elbows.
Talk about presentation, Sol.
When skittering sounded around her throne, I cocked my head. Possibly a tentacle? I’d never seen below her knees, so the jury was still out. And how did one go about asking that? I was also curious how she made clothes out of sea-foam, but I didn’t want to come across as juvenile.
“When are you going to meet the other member of our alliance?” I asked. “I think you’ll like Lark.” I’d been trying to set up a meeting.
“You presume much.” Circe adjusted the golden trident over her lap. “I’m not in an alliance with you and Fauna. I ally only with Death and Kentarch. Besides, Fauna has her hands full.” With her search—and with animal breeding. “Even your grandmother has noticed.”
Gran had murmured, “The animal calls ring out in the night! Every new beast is a weapon. I hear predators prowling around this castle. Their claws skitter over the floor. They’ll eat your entrails while you watch!”
The last time I’d visited Lark, her room had been an overflowing ark. I’d stopped by to confess my behavior in past games, and to talk about her deal with Death to win this one.
As usual, her eyes had pulsed red. Her hair was growing out into a wild mane, and her fangs and claws were getting even longer. The more time she spent mingling her senses with her creatures’, the more animalistic she grew. She’d been in no mood to talk. “Make it snappy.”
Once her eyes had returned to normal, I’d said, “You were in love with Finn in at least one other life. In that game, I betrayed the two of you. I kind of . . . killed you guys.”
“Yeah, Eves, the boss already told me that part, pretty much on Day Zero.” She’d once said that her family chronicled, a lie to conceal where she’d really gotten her information. “He told me lots.” Her eyes had turned red again, but as I’d exited, she’d called, “Don’t let any animals out! Boss said the castle’s off-limits to anything but Cyclops.”
Had Aric made that exception for me because that wolf was my favorite . . . ?
Now Circe pointed out, “Of course, your grandmother also warns against me.”
Gran had told me that she heard waves right outside her window, and that my lungs would explode and my eyeballs burst from my skull. Oh, and that Circe would take me down to her murky hiding places where I’d never see the light again.
Circe chuckled. “Considering her feelings on the subject, I doubt ‘Gran’ would approve of our visits.”
I raised a brow. I did come down most nights. Sometimes the Priestess and I discussed past games. Other times, I could sense her presence as we sat in companionable silence.
Each visit I had to create a new patch of grass—because her river truly was rising. Water covered the bridge to the castle and continued to climb up the mountain.
While Fauna increased the number of her “weapons” and Circe’s floodwaters gained momentum, I’d managed a few more vines in my room.
For some reason, my powers seemed to be . . . weakening.
“You haven’t spoken with Death?” Circe asked.
I shook my head. How easily he could go without talking to me.
“He is hurting. He knows the only reason you might choose him is because there’s no choice. I wonder if he wasn’t born to suffer.”
Cursed to want me. “He visits you a lot.” They talked “often.” Though my memories of him were sporadic, Aric and the beautiful Circe remembered each other over all these ages. They might not be able to touch, but what if they felt . . . affection?
“Look at your eyes go green with jealousy.” Jack had said the same thing.
I wasn’t merely jealous of Circe. I was jealous—of myself. My dreamed memories of Aric and Phyta together made me crazed—like the night she’d planned to poison him with her kiss: By the time I release my poison, I will have him so far gone in the throes, he’ll wonder if it’s not worth it.
I wanted to touch him. I wanted to send him into the throes. Not to hurt him, but because I loved him.
He’d told Phyta, “Empress, you were born for me, and I for you. One day I will convince you of this.”
What if he already had?
Circe laughed. “Your glyphs are glowing again, Evie Greene.”
“Do you have feelings for him?” I demanded.
“My heart belongs to someone else,” she said. “I will never love another.”
Her eyes were filled with sorrow. “Do you think you’re the only one who’s lost someone? My wedding was supposed to have been on . . . Day Zero.” The river grew choppy.
“Oh, God, Circe, I didn’t know.” That day had been fateful for several Arcana in more ways than one.
My birthday. Sol’s anniversary. Circe’s wedding.
Her gaze grew distant. “After the Flash evaporated the seas, I was trapped inside an aquifer beneath the ocean floor, unable to reach my island home, unable to reach my fiancé, my entire family. It took months for me to get free. Once I found what remained of them, I was so dried out and thirsty I couldn’t manage two tears of grief.”
“What did you do?” Petals appeared on the surface of the river. Without thought, I’d grown roses for her pain, scattering them.