Day 499 A.F.
“No male ever had roommates like this trio of females,” Aric said drily.
He and I lay in bed, gazing at each other by firelight, trying not to notice how the entire mountaintop trembled.
Circe’s moat sloshed with whirlpools and eddies, like barely contained violence. In fact, the river often swelled up into rapids, the castle all but waterfront property. Last week, she’d sent a geyser a mile in the air.
All that pent-up energy, just waiting to be unleashed.
I lowered my voice to say, “I caught you eyeing the river earlier with an uneasy look. She could swamp us as an afterthought.”
Even worse? I’d seen the Priestess’s girl water-form moving in the fog—walking among us, like a ghost. When she’d gone still, she’d turned fully transparent. I’d looked right through her.
The other night Aric and I had found wet footsteps leading out of the indoor pool, but no steps leading in. Circe had hydro-ported from one body of water to another, then had been loose inside the castle.
He exhaled. “Swamp us? Or possibly erode the mountain right out from under us?”
“Whoa.” I hadn’t thought of that. “I believe she genuinely cares about you. Looking back, I can see she was doing anything she could to help get us together. But will the heat of battle make her strike?”
“She has garnered a lot of control over the games.”
He inclined his head. “Yes. In any case, she’s never betrayed me.”
“But I have betrayed her.” I’d finally gotten him to explain what had happened between me and Circe in the last game.
After convincing her that I was different—from the previous times I’d backstabbed her—we’d become friends. But when I’d murdered my ally Fauna, Circe had grown suspicious. Before she could slip away to safety, I’d abducted her, chaining her in my cellar, delaying the kill so Death wouldn’t hear of it or see a new icon.
Aric had found her down there—directly after I’d tried to poison him. He’d saved her life, earning her loyalty.
I bit my lip. “Maybe she’ll only target me.” Had my countdown feeling been about Circe? Maybe I shouldn’t be waiting for the other shoe to drop; I should be waiting for the wave to crest.
“Sievā, targeting you is targeting me.”
Some beast roared in the night. The animal calls and cries were a constant reminder of Lark’s growing arsenal.
“The longer the game stretches on, the stronger we each become.”
Except me. “Does Richter?”
“Yes,” Aric said quietly. “And Fortune and the Sun.”
“Sol said he would be able to light up the entire world, controlling millions of Baggers. Could he?”
“Possibly. But if Fortune alone realizes her full powers, then she has already defeated us.”
“What do you mean?”
“Her luck-energy manipulation,” he said. “She could blindly affect a battle—before it even started. Her ability could guarantee that her alliance would win any conflict.”
“The odds would always be fixed in their favor?”
He shook his head. “Not odds. Fixed outcomes. We would have no odds.”
Maybe she was the root of what I’d sensed. Damn it, something was coming! I grabbed Aric’s shoulder. “I want you to wear your armor as much as possible. Please. If you died . . .”
He clasped my face. “I need you to understand something. No matter what happens in the future, no matter what this game brings, these months with you have been worth all my loneliness and pain.” He gave me brief, hard kiss. “I would repeat those millennia, just for this taste of life with you.”
“Again, I love you too, Aric. Now, wear your fucking armor.”
His thumb brushed over my cheekbone. “I’m likely to fall in battle.”
“You haven’t in two thousand years.” Then I frowned. “Do you no longer expect us to have a life together?”
“A long one?” He shook his head. “I told you the odds of us both living to eighty in this world was exceedingly slim, especially if the game toils on. We’re soldiers, and we’re at war. But we will return.”
“Where will players come from in the future?” I asked. “Most of us have no family left.”
“But every Arcana has a closest relative somewhere in the world. That person will continue the line.”
Digesting everything he’d told me, I said, “If we’re soldiers at war, then let’s go out in a blaze of glory—together.”
“Should both of us lose, how will we know not to kill each other in the future? The mere idea that I might hurt you again . . .” His eyes flickered with emotion. “We could write to our next incarnations, but who will deliver such a missive?”
“When you asked me to be with you months ago, how had you planned for this?”
“I would have trusted Lark to carry letters on,” he said. “Now we each have a target on our back.”
“I couldn’t ask you to do another seven-century stint.” He’d told me and Jack that immortality was the utterest hell. “But I couldn’t handle it either. I’m not built to be alone. Aric, if something happened to you . . . I couldn’t . . .” Losing them both? There was no tourniquet tight enough. “Winning the game would be my absolute worst nightmare.”
Voice gone gruff, he said, “You truly mean that.”
I nodded. “We need to figure out another way to preserve our memories.”