Joules might as well have struck me.
Aric’s voice turned menacing. “If you ever speak about Deveaux again, you will use respectful words—or I swear to the gods, I will spit you on one of your javelins.”
Finn, Gabriel, and Joules looked shocked by Aric’s defense of Jack. Even I was surprised.
Joules muttered, “Talk about singin’ a new tune.”
The street shook again, vibrating the truck. “The Emperor’s getting closer.”
Aric accelerated even more. “We must make that pass before he takes out the road.”
I peered out the window; a fracture was opening up beside us, racing us. But we were pulling ahead. “We’ve got it. We’re beating it.”
Aric suddenly slammed on the brakes. I jerked my gaze forward.
A skin-and-bones horse trotted in front of us. We all gaped to see an animal—
Fissures forked across the road leading to the valley. The horse disappeared into a crevasse not ten feet from us. Our escape had been sabotaged.
Aric whipped the truck into reverse. “Wings down, Archangel.” When Gabriel tried in vain to lower them, Aric punched out his window, leaning out as he steered.
“Where do we go?” I asked.
“Fortune is coming up behind us. There’s only one other way.”
Aric backed up to the turnoff, then slammed the truck into gear. Though Richter could bring down that mountain on our heads, we raced through the tunnel entrance. Aric killed the lights, speeding into the pitch dark. In the center of the tunnel, he braked. “Listen.”
Swoop swoop swoop. Zara’s copter. “She’s flying over. She’ll be waiting for us on the other side.”
Aric nodded. “She might have a missile left. Even without one, she could use her guns to set off a rock slide, trapping us until the Emperor arrives.”
“Some of us know how that feels, Death,” Finn said quietly. Because Aric had told Ogen to batter a mountain—while my allies and I had been inside it.
Aric said simply, “Yes.”
To Joules and Gabriel, Finn added, “And you two are not the friends I wanted to spend my final moments with.” He petted the falcon, straightening its little helmet.
“I’ll see you soon, Cally lass,” Joules said, again seeming so young, almost . . . innocent. He even crossed himself, reminding me of Jack. . . .
I turned to Aric. If this was the end, I was grateful for even two months with him.
Making a sound of frustration, he gazed over his shoulder at Finn. “Magician, you need to disguise this truck.”
Finn looked surprised that the Endless Knight was addressing him. Adjusting the bird to see Aric better, he said, “Zara will still be able to detect the heat from the engine.”
“Conceal that too.”
The falcon gave a low cry, as if to say, “Listen.”
“Uh, I only create illusions. Like pictures, you know? I ride the pine for the big stuff.”
As though the words were pulled from him, Aric said, “You’re a magician. You wield magic. Work a cloaking spell to make us truly undetectable. Not an illusion.”
Finn perked up. “For real? I can do that?”
“You can, and you must. I don’t know the exact incantation, but it started with the words . . .” Aric recited something that sounded Latin-y.
I had no clue what he’d said, but Finn tensed, as if jolted by Joules’s electricity. “Dude. I’ve dreamed that.”
“It means: I command and conjure. Begin the invocation, imagine what you want to happen, and the rest should follow.”
Finn’s illusions distorted reality for others, but not necessarily for the people he worked his magic on. We would still look the same. The truck would. “How will we know if he’s done it?”
Aric met my gaze. “If we make it past Fortune alive.”
Finn repeated Aric’s words, then looked shocked when more mysterious commands followed. His breath blurred as he spoke his Magician’s language. He started to sweat.
“That’s it,” Aric said. “Concentrate.”
Finn’s body quaked; the falcon fluttered.
The little hairs on my nape rose. Something was happening. Magic seemed to swirl all around us. Joules and Gabriel shared a look. They’d felt it too.
After another minute or two of speaking, Finn paused. “I feel like I completed a spell, or something. Could be that a white rabbit’s appearing in a black hat somewhere on earth.” With a grimace, he added, “But whatever spell I worked, I’m definitely fueling it.”
Though we had no idea if he’d produced an illusion, much less a total concealment, Aric eased the truck toward the end of the tunnel—and straight into Zara’s spotlight beam.
From here, we could see the copter up close.
“She has one missile left,” Gabriel murmured.
“What’s your plan?” I whispered to Aric.
“To drive under her.”
I hissed, “There’s not enough room!” The moon roof was still open; I didn’t know if I wanted to see how close it would be.
The spotlight was blinding as we emerged from the mountain. If Finn’s power wavered . . . if Zara floated lower . . .
Aric inched toward the helicopter.
Then under it.
We all craned our heads up, holding our breath. . . .
Joules muttered, “Jaysus, the skids are too close.”
If the copter descended by a hair, it’d meet the racks on the truck roof.
“Faster, Reaper,” Joules grated. “Get us bloody out of here.”