“I . . . I . . .” She trailed off, going quiet for tense moments, before finally saying, “Enough of that.” She airily waved her hand, and water swayed in the river. “We’re talking about you and Death now. You have the potential to harm him much more than in games past.”

I let her change the subject. “How?”

“He is two millennia in age. He has spent all of those years one way. Now, for this short span—really only a blink of an eye over his lifetime—a nobleman knight from a different age finds himself in love. You’ve been with him for a heartbeat’s time, but he is reeling.”

As though with an affliction. Like the Lovers had said.

“Death craves knowledge,” Circe said. “How frustrating that some mysteries must go unsolved even after thousands of years. He now comprehends what it means to love another—but not to be loved in return.”

“I do love him.”

She arched a brow. “Clearly.”

What could I say? Why convince her?

“Death told me the Fool showed you a vision with ten swords in your back.”

I nodded. “The ten of swords card indicates that a devastating catastrophe is headed one’s way and will strike without warning. Bingo, Matthew.”

“Hmm.”

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“Hmm, what?”

“That card is also about letting go and accepting one’s current circumstances.”

Accepting that you can’t change fate. As my mom had done with my dad. “Should I let go of Jack? Like you let go of the man you lost?”

She lifted one slim shoulder. “You’d already fallen for another.”

“I swore revenge on Richter. How can I think of surrendering that need?” Richter, I’m . . . not coming for you? “Do you know what I fear more than marching off to die fighting him? That I might have to live with what he did.”

“No one’s suggesting you give up your revenge. But what if we can’t find him for half a year? Two years? Will you cease living till then? Will you force Death to stop as well? He yearns to be a normal man. Even if just for a day. Will you not give that to him?”

“I made the point to him about our limited time,” I said, still cringing at my clumsiness. “All I did was insult him.”

“He wanted a wife. Not a buddy.”

Was she listening to everything in the castle? “I don’t want to hurt him, but I don’t know what to do.”

She pinned my gaze with her own. “Therein lies the lesson of the card, Evie Greene. The lesson of life. When you can’t change your situation, you must change yourself. You must rise and walk—despite the ten swords in your back.”

What was harder than dying? Living a nightmare.

Mom had learned to live without Dad. I had learned to live without Mom. Could I go on without Jack? “I shouldn’t even be thinking about Aric. I disobeyed the dictates of the game, and I got Jack killed. What if I do the same to Aric?”

Circe made a sound of amusement. “You always did think highly of yourself. Do you believe you had something to do with that massacre? Think logically. Richter could have reversed the order of his attacks—targeting Fort Arcana earlier, vaporizing the Magician, one of Fauna’s wolves, and the stronghold of his enemies. He could have shot at the army by helicopter afterward. Instead he targeted mortals and one player. The Moon.”

My lips parted. “Because she was more of a threat to him.”

“She was the only one in the area who could slay him from a distance. Richter will target the Tower as well, since Joules shares that ability,” she said. “So if we should blame any card for your mortal’s death, blame the Moon.”

“I’ll never blame her.”

“Yet you’ll blame yourself?” Circe shook her head, and the river swirled. “I say we blame the Emperor.” Could it be that easy?

Had Richter always had Selena in his sights? If fate couldn’t be changed—then she’d been doomed to die the second we’d saved her from the Lovers.

I swallowed. I’d never forget how hard she’d hugged me that night, shocked that I was truly her loyal friend. To the end, Selena.

“The game spools on.” Deep in her abyss, Circe spun a finger, and a whirlpool circled here.

Ever since my grandmother had told me to look for symbols, I’d been seeing them everywhere. Infinity symbols. A bow. A jagged fracture of rock like a lightning bolt.

A vortex.

I recalled my dreams: When the Magician had created that infinity symbol for Fauna, there’d already been one in that scene. Behind the two of them, the lions’ long tails had curved over each other, making two perfect loops.

Patterns continued to appear before my eyes. Circe’s whirlpool was like a helicopter’s tailspin on its way down. Or a carousel that would never spin backward again. Like a tourniquet twisting.

“But for how long?” she murmured, and her whirlpool tightened.

“Has any game lasted more than a couple of years?”

“What you really want to know is whether you have any time left to let go. To accept ten swords in your back and still rise. To live. Ask the question, and I’ll answer.”

I had to clear my throat to say, “Do I have any time left?”

“Even if you had a mere hour, you should rise.” Her eyes seemed to glow like phosphorescence. “Emotions are like tides. While you wait for your grief to ebb, Death is being carried farther and farther from you. Soon he’ll be out of your reach forever.”

Panic flared. “I’m the only one he can touch. He has to want me.” Just as Gran had said.