Poison Princess

Page 36


Shrug.

“The only coo-yôn in the world who could drown himself after the Flash,” Jackson grated. “And you owe me a buck knife, boy.”

“Come on, J.D.,” Selena said, “we’ll let these two crazy kids catch up. I’ll bet you the other fifth I packed that I can beat you at darts.”

Smart girl, packing whiskey—for the boy nicknamed after it. Well played, sage foe.

Jackson gazed from Matthew to me, looking unconvinced.

Impulses warred inside me: my curiosity’s need to ask Matthew questions in private, and my jealousy’s need to separate Jackson from Selena, to find out what had happened between them last night.

Curiosity won. “You guys go have fun,” I said. “We’ll be fine. I think I’ll be able to talk to him better alone.”

Selena started dragging Jackson away.

“You yell if you need anything. I’ll be listening,” he added darkly for Matthew’s benefit. Then in French he murmured to me, “We need to talk. Tonight.”

“Gawd, you are sexy,” Selena cried, “when you speak French!” And then they were gone.

Slore! Jackson was right—jalousie did rip at you inside.

I made my face expressionless before I faced Matthew again. “Hey, kid, you need to be a little nicer to those two. Unfortunately, we’re kind of dependent on them.”

He chuckled at that.

“Can you hunt? Or shoot?”

“Had a slingshot once!”

“Okay, then, neither can I. But they both hunt. They’ll source food and protect us. So, seriously, we are going to have to rely on them.”

He grinned. “Empress has a sense of humor this time.” It was one thing to be called Empress in my head, quite another in real life.

Matthew truly was here. With me. “Thank you for the visions, kid.” That was a sentence I’d never thought I would say. “You saved my life from the Flash.”

He nodded gravely. “I am a lifesaver.”

“But I couldn’t have been one. I mean, I couldn’t have prevented the Flash, right?”

He gave a bark of laughter. “That’s just crazy talk.”

Guilt easing . . . “Matthew, exactly how psychic are you?”

“So psychic that other psychics should be called Mattics.”

I smiled, excitement coursing through me. “What all can you see?”

He gazed up at the ceiling, his eyes going vacant. “The last two monarch butterflies are thousands of miles apart and flying away from each other. A boy is skateboarding across old Lake Michigan. The next card is close. Don’t look at this hand . . .”

“Look at that one,” I finished. “I know it. When you hear the voices, do they go quiet whenever you make contact?”

“Don’t want them quiet. Dee-vee-oh makes them quiet for you. Whenever he helps, he hurts.”

“Do you want to elaborate on that?” He gave me a wide grin. Apparently not. “So you can send your visions to anyone? And you can spread them through touch?”

His hair was drying, now flopped charmingly over his forehead. “Messages.”

“Did you send them to other Arcana?”

He looked insulted. As if I’d accused him of cheating on me. “You are my friend and ally.”

“So why’d you send me visions of Selena? What did that one in the woods mean?”

“Mean?” he asked in a baffled tone. “Is it bedtime?”

“Um, not quite. Tell me this, is Selena good like us or bad . . . like Death?”

“She’s the Moon,” he said matter-of-factly.

Obviously this subject was a dead end. I raised a new one. “Can you see my grandmother?”

“Tarasova,” Matthew murmured.

Just as she’d described herself to me. “Is she okay?” Nothing. “We’re on our way to find her. She has all the answers.”

“You have matching questions.”

Surely he’d tell me if she hadn’t survived—since we were going there? “If you’re psychic, and I can control plants, what are some of the other Arcana powers?”

“Vast.”

“Are we genetically altered or something? How did we get our powers?”

“We are born.”

Okay. “Does Selena have other abilities besides her archery?” Other than always looking perfect, bike racing, and cooking like Top Chef? “Does she know what we are? Is she literally the Bringer of Doubt? And how many Arcana are there? Why was that vision of Death more lifelike than all the others?”

Instead of replying to any of my questions, Matthew yawned widely, his eyes less clairvoyant-y—more a sleepy, childlike brown.

Though I burned for answers, I sensed that pushing him on any subject would help as much as pushing my own memories had. In other words, not at all.

Sometimes you have to let things unfold. But I had to know one thing. “When you were knocked out earlier, I saw a vision of you today. You didn’t look surprised when your mom locked you in. You saw your future?”

“Not my own. Never my own. Hers.”

He could only see others’ futures? “You didn’t want to, um, intervene with her?” Maybe to keep her from attempting to murder her son and committing suicide?

Had she snapped under the stress? Or had she wanted to spare him a ghastly Bagman death—with a drowning instead? Why wouldn’t she just take him with her in the car?

Then I remembered; Matthew had already told me. She’d known he wouldn’t stay in the car.

“Wouldn’t have mattered with her. Not for long.” With glinting eyes, he whispered, “I see far, Evie.”

So she would have died soon after? Or maybe her fate would have been worse?

Even as I debated whether there was a fate worse than death, I wondered how Matthew handled making these excruciating decisions for others.

You poor boy. I reached forward to smooth his hair from his forehead, as my own mother used to do to me. How could I feel this much affection for him so quickly?

But then, we had known each other for months.

He blinked up at me with endless trust. “I believed you’d make it in time.” Another yawn.

Watching him yawn was equivalent to watching a puppy dozing off—about the cutest thing I’d ever seen. Will I ever see a puppy again? “Why don’t you try to go to sleep? We’ll have hours tomorrow to talk.”

“Don’t leave me.”

“I won’t, I promise.”

His lids grew heavier. “It begins with me . . . and ends with him.”

“Ends with who, Matthew?”

He’d already drifted to sleep.

I headed toward the other twin bed, lying down, reflecting on the hectic day. Of course Selena had wanted to come with us: “Hell, J.D., I could use some adventure.” She’d had her survival gear, high-performance clothes, and high-energy food packed in minutes. Bitch.

At least she had let us rummage for sleeping bags and portable food of our own.

And she was certainly equal to the journey, handling her own bike like a professional stuntwoman. In fact, she’d wanted me to ride with her—no doubt to prevent me from clinging to Jackson like a dryer sheet.

But in a tone that had brooked no argument, Jackson had said, “Evie’s with me.”

Had I reclaimed his attention from Selena? I couldn’t decide! At times, as we’d sped north, my thoughts had turned to the night before, but then I’d remember that Matthew’s life was at stake, and I’d feel ashamed.

Now I could mull it all I wanted to. Facts: Last night, Jackson had been drunk and pissed off at me. She’d been all over him. This morning, when Jackson had shepherded me back to the mansion, Selena had acted indignant, like a spurned girlfriend.

Three possibilities. One, they’d been at it like minks and would be again tonight. Two, they’d gotten together, but now Jackson regretted it. Or, three, he’d kept his hands to himself, and Selena was psycho-jealous over nothing.

I had to know. Yet while nothing they’d done or said convinced me they were a couple, they’d also done nothing that would allow me to rule that out.

“Empress?” Matthew said, waking.

“Did you have a bad dream, kid? Are you hungry? We have food.”

Gazing at me intently, he rose—then climbed onto the bed with me.

“Whoa! What are you doing?”

He took my hand, covered it with both of his own. At once, I relaxed.

Being with him like this felt normal, natural. Familiar.

“They play, Evie.”

“Who?” I grew warm, unable to keep my eyes open.

The last thing I heard: “The Arcana.”

Chapter 32

Matthew and I were standing at the edge of a great charred field. Above us, continuous lightning bolts fractured an ink-black sky.

He was still holding my hand in his, allowing me to experience his foresight. This scene was even more vibrant than the ones he’d sent my way. In fact, it was seamless from reality. How could he even tell reality from a vision?

He whispered in my mind, “Hit or miss.”

From his thoughts, I knew that we were here to secretly observe a battle of the Arcana—one happening right now, somewhere out in the world.

There were five Arcana, divided into two small alliances. Already, it neared its conclusion.

Had Matthew foreseen who would win?

He shook his head. “Future flows like waves—or eddies. Can’t always see. But bet on him to win.” Matthew pointed to the field, to the tall, armored male striding across the sooty earth, a sword in each hand. “Death.”

Exactly as I remembered him from Haven, the Reaper wore a full set of black armor and a helmet with light glowing behind the grille.

He was awing, and so clearly at ease with those swords. A perfect killer.

Had I actually once looked at his card and pitied him?

All around him, lightning javelins exploded, spitting electricity. Far in the distance, the sparking outline of a boy’s form blazed in the night. “Eyes to the skies, lads!” he yelled as the spears came down faster and faster.

Just as I wondered what his name was, Matthew whispered, “Joules. Master of Electricity. The Tower Card.”

Bolts were striking all around Death, but he didn’t alter his course, didn’t even hunch down in the fray. Occasionally he’d deflect a javelin with one of his swords.

I caught sight of his target—a black-haired girl who looked even younger than me. She was limping across that barren landscape, dragging a leg, struggling to escape him.

I feared it was a lost cause. Though she had weapons—a trident-looking blade in each hand—he wore armor. I didn’t think she could pierce it unless she could reach his helmet grille.

And her body had already been damaged in some way. I squinted at the veins of black forking over her olive skin. They grew thicker and thicker until they intersected in large patches.

“Touch of Death,” Matthew explained.

Out of breath and whimpering, she twisted to keep the Reaper in sight.

“The Temperance Card,” Matthew whispered. “Calanthe. She wields the Weight of Sins.”

She stumbled, losing her balance, collapsing to her back. A cloud of ash wafted up, haloing her body—

A trident blade came flying out of the soot, twirling end over end, directly for Death’s helmet.

With a flick of his wrist, he batted the blade away with his sword. Like a gnat.

Once the ash settled, I could see that her expression was one of utter terror—this girl knew she was about to die.

When those javelins rained down with even more force and number around Death, I realized that Joules was trying to save her. He was hurtling spears on the run—because a horned beast stalked him.

I recognized the skulking creature on my own. Ogen, El Diablo—the Devil Card. Death’s repulsive ally.

Yet Ogen’s body was now morphing, expanding—first into a colossal ogre, then into a giant. His brutish strength was unbelievable.

Joules kept up his maddened volley, retreating from Ogen. If that creature seized the boy . . .

Death spun his swords all around him, deflecting the bolts with uncanny speed. He was striding through a shower of lightning—and his demeanor seemed bored.

Just before Death reached Calanthe, a blur from above started to dive down like a comet. A flying boy! I’d seen him before, with his old-timey clothes and majestic black wings. I’d heard him before as well: I watch you like a hawk.

Through Matthew’s thoughts, I discovered that he was Gabriel, the Judgment Card. Also known as the archangel, his MO was to hover above the battle, choosing the perfect moment to attack. Then he would dive, increasing his missilelike speed, leveling off just above the ground.

Now he was plummeting so fast, he displaced the air with a whistle.

With his first flyby, he knocked Death’s helmet away. At once, Calanthe hurled her remaining blade at the Reaper’s face—as if according to plan.

But he dodged it with ease. How fast was he?

I wanted to see Death’s face, but ash swirled all around, obscuring it. His long white-blond hair concealed his features as well.

Losing little velocity, Gabriel bowed his back, muscles and tendons straining as he looped his body into the air once more. His speed was still a shrill whistle as he made his second strike.

But the Reaper was too fast even for the archangel. His swords flashed out, slashing one silken black wing, sending the boy careening across the night sky.

I heard Joules yelling—clashing with Ogen? No more javelins to blitz Death; nothing to save the girl now.

Could we help her?

Matthew whispered, “We’re not here, Empress.”

So we could only watch as Death took her life. With his armored back to me, he loomed over Calanthe. When she began to beg for mercy, he gave one curt shake of his head, and she trailed off.

With a weak cry, she raised one hand, as if to wield some kind of power against him.

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