I shrugged a shoulder. “With Circe.”

“I was wondering if I could get a rise out of you.”

Rise and walk.

“For the record, you and I are not allies,” he said. “We are one entity now. Everything that is mine is yours.”

In a quiet tone, I asked, “Is my need for revenge yours as well?”

“Yes, I vow to you we will kill the Emperor. Which means training for you. Be careful what you wish for, sievā.”

42

Day 485 A.F.

“Strike with both,” Aric snapped, swatting my ass with the flat of his sword.

I was pouring sweat, exhausted, and in no mood.

“The oak and the vines—at the same time. Come now, wife, I’ve seen you do this before. I’ve felt you do this before.”

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I put my hands on my knees, gazing at the oak I’d barely managed to grow, much less control. Between breaths, I said, “I think this is . . . one of those situations . . . where actions look easier . . . than they are.”

He expected me to practice on him. And he was too freaking quick. That hadn’t been the first time he’d swatted me.

The man hadn’t been kidding when he’d promised training. Every day for the last month, drizzle or downpour, he would escort me to the yard and then push me to the limit.

He pointed his sword toward the river. “Circe is brimming, and Fauna builds her army. If you want the Emperor dead, you must become stronger as well.”

The Priestess’s moat grew broader and deeper by the day, overflowing more of the countryside, creeping up the mountain. We were officially an island.

Lark continued breeding her creatures, our island population swelling.

Aric and I helped with them whenever she searched for Richter and Finn. She still hadn’t lost hope that she’d find him. He might have died, but without the Arcana calls, we couldn’t know.

Aric and I had recently delivered Maneater’s litter of six war-wolves. Lark said Scarface was the father, but I refused to believe it. I’d told Cyclops, “You old dog, you’ve still got it going on, don’t you?”

Though I’d cooed at the (huge) squirming bundles, Aric’s gaze had gone distant. “She grows more formidable each day.”

Now I waved at the castle, telling him, “I’m not doing too shabby with my powers.” Ivy and roses draped the walls. Inside, vines ran along every hallway, climbing over ceilings. Past Circe’s moat, my thorns covered acres of uplands. They would act as more sentries—because I could sense through them—and possibly help ensnare an advancing Bagger army.

Yet something was definitely off with my abilities. Had been for a while. They seemed muted.

Aric rested his sword over his shoulder. “But you can do more.”

I straightened. “Like you? You’re faster and stronger than ever before.” Each time I watched him train in his sexy chain mail, with his sword raised as he controlled his massive warhorse, I would disbelieve he was mine. The actual Grim Reaper.

Whenever he caught me checking him out, he would cast me a smoldering look, his eyes promising wicked things for later. He always delivered. . . .

Now he yanked off a glove to cup my cheek. Never enough touch. “I attribute my strength to you. Now I have something to protect.”

In return for everything Aric had given me, I showered him with affection. If he’d been arrogant before, now he was growing breathtakingly cocky.

He’d begun to change in other ways as well. He no longer drank, unless the two of us shot vodka. He grinned a lot. Even laughed.

All he’d needed was a companion, someone to call his own. The Endless Knight had been no more equipped to handle solitude than I would be.

Circe had commented, “He’s disgustingly happy, Evie Greene. As if he’s not even an Arcana anymore. It grows embarrassing.”

I was succeeding in at least one of my missions. Making Aric content distracted me from grief. From the past. Whenever we had sex, I lost myself in him, finding oblivion, my mind blanking. . . .

He gazed down at me now. “I will always protect you.” He’d told my grandmother that before she’d died. Like Jack had died. And my mom.

Aric leaned down and pressed his lips to mine.

Oblivion. I sighed, going soft against him.

But when he deepened the kiss, I somehow remembered to draw back. We tried not to flaunt our relationship in front of Lark’s creatures or Circe’s river.

“Very well, little wife. I’ll endeavor to wait until tonight. Seems you’re more in the mood for training.”

I almost groaned.

He stepped back from me. “Throw the seeds from your pocket and grow them in midair.”

“No way. I’m not strong enough for that right now.” I would pass out.

In a measured tone, he asked, “Why do you think that is?”

“Aric, what if those Bagman bites . . .” I hesitated, then said in a rush, “permanently damaged my powers?” There. My secret fear was out.

He shook his head. “Not a chance. You wouldn’t be this healthy overall. You have boundless energy when you dance.”

A few times a week, I would dance for him in the studio—which usually landed me back in our bed as soon as my skin grew damp from exertion. “Then what is it?”

“I’m not certain yet. I’ll let you know once I work out a theory.”

When the drizzle intensified to a downpour, I pulled up the hood of my poncho.

“Come.” Aric took my hand. “This was enough for today.”

We started back toward the castle, both lost in thought.