His expression grew proud, and a calmness flowed over me. By the end of this night, we would either die retrieving Finn—or I would give him the ring.

_______________

“Blondie!” Finn’s face lit up to see me when I hopped out of the truck.

He’d been waiting for us in the rest area parking lot, leaning against his scorched sedan, the falcon perched on the hood.

Aric had pulled up not far away, strategically parked for a fast exit. He stepped out, seeming on high alert.

I glared at his lack of helmet. Damn it, I’d just handed it to him before I got out. “Really, Aric?” Okay, maybe he still needed some husband training.

He hiked his shoulders. “Stay close to me, sievā.” I had a flash memory of Jack saying, “. . . like a shadow, you.”

Tourniquet.

I hadn’t seen Finn in months, but the Magician was still using a crutch, hobbling over to hug me. He looked like he’d lost a twenty pounds, and his clothes were threadbare.

I hugged him, shocked by how skinny he was. “I missed you, Finn.” I truly hoped he hadn’t plotted against Aric. “How did you part ways with Joules and Gabe?”

“Told them I needed to see my girl.” He shrugged. “And that I wasn’t really cool with ganking Death, since the Reaper’s gonna let me crash on his couch for the rest of my life and all.”

Advertisement..

Aric scowled. “By whose goddamned leave?”

“Don’t mind him.” I believed Finn, so I ushered him to the truck. When I opened the back door, the falcon swooped inside.

Lark didn’t want to take her eyes off her guy. Aww.

Finn hesitated at the door. “Really sorry about Jack, Eves. The Cajun was a class act. One of the best guys I’ve ever met.” Finn had spent months out in the Ash with him, Selena, and Matthew, scrabbling together a home. I knew the Magician would’ve given his life for Jack.

I managed to say, “And Selena. She was right by his side till the end.” Twist, tighten, constrict. I felt Aric’s gaze on me. Was he wondering why my eyes didn’t water? They would soon, if he had his way.

“Yeah. She was. I miss ’em.” Finn brushed his long dirty-blond hair off his forehead. “You ever hear from Matto?”

Aric suddenly drew one of his swords. “We aren’t alone, sievā. Get into the car.”

Not likely. I shoved Finn into the back, then turned and readied for a fight. My thorn claws sharpened, and I bled vines into the broken pavement.

Out of the murk, a streak of light shot toward Aric. A javelin! “Aric, watch out—”

Like a blur, he’d . . . caught it with one hand—before I’d even finished my warning. I gaped at his speed.

“Obliged for this, Tower!” he called. “You can never have too many.” He spun the gleaming, silver javelin in his palm, and it retracted into a baton.

Holy shit! We’d scored another lightning javelin! My eyes went wide with realization, and I said, “You planned this.”

He winked at me, then gently tossed me the baton. I fumbled before dropping it. He grinned, as if he found my clumsiness endearing.

“Bite me,” I muttered, picking up the baton and slipping it into my coat pocket. “Hand-eye coordination is not my power.”

“Just so.” Expression gone cold, he yelled, “Show yourself, Tower!”

Joules swaggered out from the remains of a building, twirling another baton, his skin sparking with hostility. Gabriel descended in a dark rush of wings. He bowed formally to Aric and myself.

They looked like hell. They’d been missing meals too, and their clothing was ragged. Even Gabriel’s old-timey suit—normally so immaculate—was bloodstained and tattered.

I noticed Tess’s icon on the back of his hand. He noticed me noticing, and his face fell, his leaf-green eyes full of sadness.

“I knew you’d use the Magician to find me,” Aric said. “Was your plan to kill solely me? Or the Empress and Fauna as well?”

Joules said, “We only got to the part where I electrocute you.”

Finn stuck his head out from the backseat, falcon in his arms. “What the hell, dudes?” He was genuinely wounded. “You guys were following me? Freaking harsh, man. Harsh. I thought we were friends.”

Aric cast me a look. See? Most Arcana couldn’t be trusted.

“Oi, Empress, I’ll be havin’ that javelin back,” Joules said. “Even if I have to fight you for it.”

“I do believe you gave your vow never to hurt her,” Aric said. “In any event, you’ll have to go through me.”

Joules turned to Gabriel. “What do you think, Gabe? Should I—” Joules hurled his next javelin at Aric with shocking speed—and a second one that I’d never seen from his other hand!

Aric caught one javelin, even as his sword flashed out to deflect the second strike.

Before I’d had time to blink.

From the truck, Finn breathed, “Duuude.”

Aric smirked. “Ever wonder where the phrase lightning-fast reflexes came from?” God, he was so cocky. I loved it.

I caught the baton this time. We’d scored a pair of javelins!

Joules gave a strangled yell. “I don’t care how long it takes. I will kill you!”

“Concentrate your minuscule talents on the Emperor and his allies. Or die.”

I told them, “We should all be concentrating on Richter. Where is he?”

Finn said, “He and his alliance have a lair, but we haven’t been able to find it. Especially now . . .”

“Why now?”