“Quiet. Faster means more heat and sound; I won’t increase either.” Though everything in me clamored to flee, cool Aric continued gliding forward. A few feet more . . . almost there . . .

Clear! A chorus of exhaled breaths.

Finn shook, dripping sweat. “Guys, I-I don’t know how much more I’ve got in me.”

“Just a little longer, Magician,” Aric said.

We’d driven about half a mile away when Zara floated higher—and launched her last missile.

The tunnel imploded, collapsing half the mountain, the impact shaking the truck even at this distance.

Almost to himself, Aric said, “Such a mistake, Fortune.” Then he told Finn, “We’re almost concealed behind another mountain. If you can maintain the spell till then, they’ll assume we’re trapped in that rubble, slowly dying.”

Though Finn looked like he was about to pass out, he gave a pained nod.

As we curved around a bend, Gabriel said, “Look back to the left. That is the road we were on, heading toward that bridge.”

I followed his gaze to a mangled suspension bridge. “It’s been out for a while.” It reminded me of the one I’d leapt off to escape Death. Joules, Gabriel, Tess, and I had battled Aric and Ogen. How long ago that seemed. Talk about a new tune. . . .

Aric slid me a look. “If we hadn’t followed where the Sun led us, we would be dead.” To Finn, he added, “We’re clear.”

Advertisement..

Finn’s exhalation must’ve lasted a minute.

I cast him a grin. “You’re one badass Magician.”

“Thanks, blondie.” Clammy and pale, he weakly smiled. “And thanks, Death, for the recipe. That was real. And it was fun. But it wasn’t real fun.”

Joules slapped the back of Aric’s seat. “Oi, you cut that close. You got bloody nerves of steel, Reaper, I’ll give you that.”

Gabriel added, “Well played, Death.”

I nodded. “I never would’ve had the discipline to ease under that helicopter.”

Aric caught my gaze. “I never would have had the faith to trust the Sun.”

All of us had contributed powers tonight—except for me—but my belief in Sol had helped save us.

We’d gone a few miles when I spotted another Bagman. This one stood beside the road with his thumb out like a hitchhiker.

Aric raised his brows at me.

“Sol has a unique sense of humor. Can you slow down? I want to say thanks.” And maybe face one of those creatures up close. To face my fear.

Aric slowed, but remained tensed for action.

I sliced my thumb and grew a flower for Sol as a token of gratitude. Battling memories of my attack, I handed it to the Bagger, addressing Sol through the creature: “A yellow rose, fit for a sun god.”

With a horrifying smile, the Bagman took the rose—and gave me a formal bow.

“Sol, you are layered. Thank you, Illuminator.”

Aric drove on into the night.

“Guess what this means?” I told the guys. “We’ve got a man on the inside.”

48

Groaning silence reigned as we continued down the highway. “Now what?” I asked Aric.

“I find a place to dump our unwelcome cargo.”

Gabriel and Joules didn’t look excited about the prospect.

I told them, “We’ve got some supplies in our packs. You can have them.” In a lower tone, I said, “Before we go, I want you to know I’m sorry about Tess and Selena.”

“And we are sorry about Jack,” Gabriel said and even Joules nodded. “I wish Tess had waited for you. But we thought you’d been killed either by Richter or Circe. Tess wanted to bring you back most of all.”

I hadn’t deserved that much of the girl’s respect. To save Jack, I would have sacrificed her.

More groaning silence.

Aric flashed a glance in the rearview mirror at Joules. “Why did the two of you and Temperance target me?”

Joules shrugged like such a tough-guy, but his voice broke as he answered, “Cally said that as long as you live, we’re just walkin’ corpses anyway.”

“True.”

Joules’s face sparked, a bluster session on its way.

“Can we please not fight anymore?” I asked them. “The Priestess said that if Richter wins, there will be hell on earth. Mankind will be doomed.”

“We have already been seeing that,” Gabriel said. “Any supplies Fortune can’t chopper to their hidden lair, he burns. Starvation in this region is worse than it has ever been.”

No wonder Sol had broken ranks. He’d dreamed aloud of feeding thousands. “We’re all going to have to work together to take him down. I’m ready to die; are you?” I gazed from one to the next.

Joules glared at Death as he replied to me, “Like I told you on our first meetin’, Empress: what I want is on the other side.”

“I’m in,” Finn said. “Richter can’t get away with what he did to Selena and Jack and all those people. . . .”

Suddenly his words sounded fainter; I felt light-headed. I frowned when warm moisture dripped onto the back of my hand. Was that blood spilling over my icons? From my nose?

I swiped my sleeve against it, but the blood kept coming. Dizziness hit me, my vision getting fuzzy. “Aric?”

“Sievā, you’re bleeding?” He skidded to a stop. “Gods, were you hurt?”

I remembered Jack balling up his shirt to press against my nose. Even over the blood, I’d savored his scent.

—Empress.—

I tensed. Was that . . . Matthew’s voice? Why would he be in my head after all these months? How dare he contact me now! Leave me alone! A buzz in my ears grew louder and louder, like white-noise on steroids.