Home > Day Zero (The Arcana Chronicles #3.5)

Day Zero (The Arcana Chronicles #3.5)
Author: Kresley Cole

Death (XIII)


Aric Domīnija, the Endless Knight, Reigning Arcana Champion

Unspecified call

 

 

A.k.a.: The Reaper, Tredici

Powers: Touch of Death (can kill with contact). Death awareness (can sense dead things and approaching death). Superhuman speed, strength, endurance, dexterity, senses, healing. Controlled telepathy.

Special Skills: Gifted horseman, unmatched swordsman.

Weapons: Swords, scythe, his warhorse Thanatos.

Tableau: A Reaper clad in black armor, scythe at the ready, riding a pale horse with evil red eyes. He carries a black flag emblazoned with a white rose.

Icon: Scythe.

Unique Arcana Characteristics: Wears impenetrable armor, spiked gloves, and a helmet. Eyes turn starry with emotion.

Before Flash: A mysterious, reclusive billionaire, securing his mountain compound against any foreseeable disaster.

 

 

Lethe Castle

Day 0

 

 

Of course hers would be the last icon to fade. The rose symbol.

In the shower, I stare at the back of my right hand. Of the twenty-one icons that have marked my skin for so long, only fragments remain of the rose that represented the great Empress’s life.

I took this icon when I beheaded her. For centuries, I have stared at it with a mixture of fury, guilt, and yearning.

It connected me to her. My wife.

Whenever the beginning of our lethal game nears, the icons borne by the winner fade. Telepathic Arcana calls start to sound. We are on the brink.

Anticipation strains even my eternal patience. I will capture this new reincarnation of the Empress and make her pay.

At last.

I have waited 677 years, 3 months, and 13 days for this time to come.

Other Arcana have envied my immortality. I would gladly give it up if not for her—my fantasy and nightmare, all wrapped in one.

I have no choice except to win. If I’d died in the past, I would have been reincarnated for another game, losing my memories of her and our history. My soul would have entered a new body, one lacking the warning that I had tattooed over my torso.

Three scenarios might play out in a future game. . . .

I wouldn’t go out of my way to find her, missing her entirely.

I would find her, only to kill her before I discovered I could touch her.

Or, worst of all, I would find her, touch her, then trust her.

My hands ball into fists, and I hang my head under the stream of water. With the memories I’ve retained, I’ve already been able to locate her, and other Arcana as well. They tend to stand out, and in this age of information, I possess every advantage.

To find the Empress, I searched all over the world for farms named Haven. Her home has always been called that. In more than one Arcana chronicle, I’ve read the advice: “Never attack an Empress in her Haven.”

Only one farm of that name has a girl of the right age living on the property. She is a Louisiana teenager named Evangeline Greene.

She has no idea that a few states away, she has a husband who plots to destroy her.

I found her social media accounts with pictures of her friends (surprisingly many), her boyfriend (a football player who looks as dim as he is handsome), and her home.

The manor at Haven is circled by twelve oaks, like the twelve stars in her Empress crown, and is surrounded by miles of sugarcane in every direction. Strategically genius.

I’ve also seen pictures of her, this Evangeline Greene. My wife.

She is . . . stunning. Shining golden locks. Merry eyes. Curving lips and cheeks pink with health.

In games past, she had a formidable physical presence, tall and commanding, more Demeter then Aphrodite. In this game, she is all Aphrodite. Comelier than anything I’ve seen in all my years.

I torture myself imagining what thoughts go on behind those merry eyes. There exists a way for me to know. But what would the clever Fool demand for such a boon?

Even now I hear the Empress’s Arcana call. —Come . . . touch . . . but you’ll pay a price.—

My gut clenches with want. My blood burns for her.

I touched, and by all the gods, I’ve paid.

Naturally, the one game I’ve vowed not to be seduced, she turns out to be breathtakingly beautiful.

Yet more than her beauty attracts me. She is brimming with life; as ever, she calls to me, to Death.

My fist shoots out against the shower tile, shattering it.

_______________

In my study at Lethe Castle, I strip off my hated gloves and pour a vodka.

The catastrophe that marks the beginning of each game could happen at any instant, but I’ve finalized the preparations of Lethe.

My home sits atop an isolated mountain, chosen for its strategic location. Considering the Emperor’s powers, I’d made sure the property was some distance from any major seismic activity. With my Empress in mind, I’d selected a site without trees.

Cold-war renovations had already been in place when I bought the castle, and then I outfitted it for whatever catastrophe might befall us now.

Electrical storms? Copper sheets line the walls and ceilings. Flood? We are well above the flood zone. Wildfires? The castle was constructed of flame-proof slate and stone. With the touch of a button, blast-proof shutters will cover all the windows and doors.

Should there be another famine, a subterranean farm with acres of sun lamps will sustain Lethe. Another drought? Sunken reservoirs and wells will provide water.

If marauders actually find this place, a reinforced stone perimeter wall surrounding the entire mountaintop will hinder a raid.

The Arcana players come from all over the world; why should I not believe the scope of the disaster will be global? Communications will go first. I have prepared for that as well.

I possess so many advantages over the others. The deck is eternally stacked in my favor. My allies will benefit as well, at least for a time.

Among the players I’ve located, I have chosen four.

A Kenya Special Forces soldier named Kentarch is the Centurion, my first ally. His family line has forever named the firstborn son Kentarch. I’ve messengered a satellite phone to him with instructions to contact me.

Circe Rémire, a Bermudan PhD student obsessed with Atlantean folklore and witchcraft must be the Priestess. Her photo online bears a slight resemblance to her previous incarnation, and she was named for Circe’s Abyss (according to her university bio). Ages ago, the abyss had been named for her.

Like me, she has been beguiled and betrayed in the past by the Empress. I’ve dispatched the Priestess’s trident to her. It should accelerate her witchly protection and memory spells.

My third ally will be the Devil. In a small Ohioan gazette, I read an account of a misshapen boy with horns. I will collect him after the disaster. As ever, he will be a vile beast, but he has two advantages. He is immune to the Empress’s poison, and his hands will be able to work metal like a forge.

I think of my armor displayed on a stand in my room. Its fit is close, its movements silent. Made from an unidentifiable black ore, the entire suit weighs less than my longswords, as light as it is impenetrable.

This mysterious material can only be reworked by the Devil Card. With each game, I have him update and perfect the armor.

I’ve already secured my fourth ally. In past months, I’d found stories online about a teenage girl with a remarkable talent for training and rehabilitating dangerous beasts. She had to be the Strength Card, also known as Fauna.

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