Home > Poison Princess (The Arcana Chronicles #1)

Poison Princess (The Arcana Chronicles #1)
Author: Kresley Cole

DAY 246 A.F.

REQUIEM, TENNESSEE FOOTHILLS OF THE SMOKY MOUNTAINS


She’s so lovely, so fragile. Those haunted eyes. Those rosebud lips . . . they’ll scream so prettily.

I gaze out my door’s peephole, willing the girl to come closer. A female so near! Come to me.

In the ash-filled twilight, she paces the sidewalk fronting my charred Victorian home, wrestling with the decision of whether to approach.

Chill winds toss her heavy mane of blond hair. She wears frayed jeans, battered hiking boots, and has her hands buried in the pockets of a threadbare hoodie.

Her clothes are no match for the temperature outside, which has only recently dropped from the punishing heat we’ve had all winter. The weather worsens as summer nears. . . .

She glances up. Has she caught the food scents carrying from my home? I have canned beef stew simmering atop a wood-burning stove. Does she note the smoke curling from the chimney?

She looks hungry; after the Flash, they’re always hungry.

Everything about my lair is meant to lure her to me. If the brightly glowing kerosene lantern isn’t enough of a beacon for travelers, I have a poster-board sign—written in marker and covered with plastic wrap—pinned by the door:

VOICES OF THE FLASH

HOT MEALS, SAFE SHELTER, JUST TELL ME YOUR STORY OF THE APOCALYPSE.

My house is ideally situated at a crossroads in this ghost town. Most of my guests tell me their lives are at a crossroads too. This girl’s obviously is as well.

Earlier, she followed me from a distance, watching as I pruned away wasted plant life to uncover the town’s singed welcome sign. Requiem, Tennessee, population 1212.

The Flash whittled that number down to single digits. Now it’s just me and mine.

As I worked on the sign, I whistled a jaunty tune for effect. She’ll think I’m a decent person, trying for normalcy.

Now she stills, looks straight at the door. Her mind is made up. I can see it in the set of her slim shoulders.

As she nears the front entrance, I make out her features more distinctly. She’s maybe a couple of inches over five feet tall. Her willowy figure and delicate face tell me she can’t be more than sixteen. But the hint of womanly curves I detect beneath that hoodie indicates that she’s older.

Her eyes are a cornflower blue—the color bold against her pale cheeks—but they’re heartbroken. This waif has known loss.

Who hasn’t since the apocalypse?

She’s about to know more. Come closer.

She hesitates to set foot on the front porch. No, come to me! After taking a deep breath, she makes her way to my door; I shudder in anticipation, a spider poised on its web.

Already I feel a connection to this girl. I’ve said this in the past—others like me have spoken of a bond with their subjects—but this time I do feel an unprecedented tension.

I want to possess her so badly I barely stifle a groan.

If I can get her inside, she will be trapped. The interior half of the doorknob is missing; the only way to open it is with my pliers. The windows are made from clear sheeting, unbreakable. All the other doors to the outside are nailed shut.

She raises her hand and knocks lightly, then retreats a skittish step. I wait for several seconds—an eternity—then stomp my feet as if I’m approaching.

When I open the door with a broad smile, she relaxes a touch. I’m not what she was expecting. I don’t look much older than my early twenties.

Actually, I’m younger. Closer to her age, I’d imagine. But my skin has been weathered from the Flash. My experiments have taken their toll as well.

Yet the girls below, my little rats, assure me I’m the most handsome boy they’ve ever seen. I’ve no reason to think otherwise.

Ah, but my mind feels ancient. A wise man in the guise of a boy.

“Please come in out of the cold,” I tell her, opening my arm wide. “Look at you—you must be freezing!”

She warily peers inside, gaze darting from wall to wall. The interior is cheery, candlelit. A homemade quilt stretches over a couch arm. A rocking chair sits directly in front of the crackling fire.

My lair looks safe, warm, grandmotherly. It should; an old woman lived here before I slaughtered her and made it my home.

The girl eyes that rocking chair and fire with longing, yet her muscles are still tensed to bolt.

Feigning sadness, I say, “I’m afraid it’s just me. After the Flash . . .” I trail off, letting her assume that my loved ones were lost in the apocalypse.

Pity me. Until you first set eyes on your new collar.

At last, she crosses the threshold! To keep from roaring with pleasure, I bite the inside of my cheek until the tang of blood hits my tongue. Somehow I manage an even tone when I tell her, “I’m Arthur. Please take a seat by the fire.”

Her fragile form is trembling, her eyes stark as she gazes up at me. “Th-thank you.” She heads for the rocking chair. “I’m Evangeline. Evie.”

Behind her, I furtively pocket my pliers and close the door. As it clicks shut, I smile.

She’s mine. She will never leave this place.

Whether she remains alive or dead within depends on her. “Are you hungry, Evie? I’ve got stew simmering. And maybe a cup of hot chocolate?” I can all but hear her salivating.

“Yes, p-please, if it’s not too much trouble.” She sits, raising her hands to the flames. “I’m starving.”

“I’ll be right back.” In the kitchen, I ladle stew into a bowl, arranging the dinner carefully on a TV tray. It’s her first meal with me. It must be perfect. In things like this, I am fastidious. My clothing is spotless, my hair neatly combed. My organized sleeve of scalpels sits tucked in my blazer pocket.

The dungeon, however, is a different story.

Beside the bowl, I add a steaming cup of cocoa, made from my dwindling water stores. From the sugar dispenser, I pour one teaspoonful of white powder—not sweetener. With each sip of her drink, she will relax more and more until her muscles fail her, yet her consciousness will remain.

Unmoving yet aware. It’s important that she experience our communion fully. My homemade concoctions never fail.

In fact, it’s time for my own elixir. I collect a stoppered vial from my cabinet, downing the clear, sour contents. My thoughts grow even more centered, my focus laser-sharp.

“Here we are,” I say when I return. Her eyes go wide at the bounty. When she licks her plump bottom lip, the tray rattles in my quaking hands. “If you’ll just grab that stand . . .”

She all but lunges to help me set it up, and in no time, she’s digging in. I sit on the couch—not too close, careful not to crowd her.

“So, Evie, I’m sure you saw the sign out front.” She nods, too busy chewing to utter an answer. “I want you to know that I’m delighted to help you. All I ask is that you share some information with me.” And cry as I touch you, flinch whenever I near you. “I’m archiving folks’ stories, trying to collect them for the future. We need a history of how people’s lives were rocked by this catastrophe.”

This is essentially true. I tape my girls’ stories—background on my subjects—and later their screams. “Would you be interested in sharing?”

She eyes me cagily as she finishes her stew. “What would you want to know?”

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