Millennia ago, the gods grew bored.
So Isis, the goddess of magic and wisdom, devised entertainment: a contest to the death for select mortals. She invited gods of other realms to each choose a representative from their most prestigious house, a mortal under the age of twenty-five who would carry the god’s emblem into battle.
These players would fight inside Tar Ro (ancient Egyptian for royal road), a sacred realm as large as a thousand kingdoms. Isis plagued Tar Ro with disasters to honor various gods and to fuel conflicts between the players.
With each kill, a player would harvest a god’s emblem from an opponent, which would then appear on his or her own hand; only the player who collected all the others’ emblems would leave Tar Ro alive—as an immortal victor.
Naturally, the deities cheated, gifting his or her representative with superhuman abilities. Secret abilities. Thus the players became known as Arcana.
A sea god sent the Priestess, a devout girl he blessed with power over all bodies of water. A goddess of learning sought the most brilliant lord from her realm, then struck him mad—to make the Fool unpredictable in the game. An underworld god cursed a young nobleman to kill all he touched, then dispatched his Knight of Death to play.
Nineteen other deities from distant planes sent mortals to almost certain doom.
This vicious Tar Ro game proved so popular with the gods that they decided to host it every few centuries in different lands across the mortal plane until the end of time. . . .
Deprived of their lifeblood—worshippers’ prayers—these old deities are thought to have moved on to other worlds, but their legacies live on. On the eve of a new game, each god’s magic seeks out a descendant from his or her House of Arcana.
Players are transformed; a new game is dealt.
The earth suffers in their wake.
You may have seen symbols of these games on the face of modern Tarot cards. Each trump card represents a player and contains important clues about his or her past battles, allies, foes, strengths, and weaknesses.
The object of the game: trump every other card by any means necessary, slaying opponents to collect their emblems, now known as icons. In the end, the winner “holding all the cards” will be made immortal until all the others reincarnate to play again.
A prize worth killing for.
And now, in the beginning years of this millennium, a new game has begun along a royal road across a land called North America. . . .
Which of the Arcana will triumph? Can the Hanged Man defeat the electrifying Tower? Will the Priestess’s tidal waves extinguish the Emperor’s lava? Can the wily Fool outfox them all?
Hail Tar Ro. May the most powerful card kill, and may the best hand win.
by the books
Laserlike shafts of sunlight had blasted the earth for the course of one entire global night. Those fields of green cane Evie remembered dreamily would’ve been charred to ash. Anything organic—any living thing caught outside shelter—was incinerated.
And so many people, transfixed by the pretty lights, had wandered from their homes, drawn like moths to a flame.
As if by design.
Bodies of water flash-evaporated, but no rain has fallen in eight months. All plant life has been permanently destroyed; nothing will grow anew. And only a small percentage of humans and animals lived through the first night.
In the ensuing days, millions more people perished, unable to survive the new toxic landscape.
For some reason, most females sickened and died.
An unknown number of humans mutated into “Bagmen”—contagious zombielike creatures, cursed with an unending thirst and an aversion to the sun.
Some call them hemophagics—blood-drinkers. I believe they are anything drinkers, but without water to be found, they’ve turned to people, walking bags of liquid.
Night was falling. And across the sky, ethereal lights flickered, crimson and violet, like Mardi Gras streamers. I gaped as flames arced over the school, those eerie lights like a twinkling crown above the fire.
Across the grounds, a river of snakes slithered over each other, their scales reflecting the lights above. Panicked rats scurried alongside the creatures that usually ate them.
Those flames descended, searing them to ash, everything to ash.
Flames blazed across a night sky. Beneath the waves of fire, fleeing rats and serpents roiled over Haven’s front lawn, until the ground looked like it rippled.
The sun had shone—at night—searing people’s eyes till they ran with pus, mutating their bodies and rotting their brains. They became zombielike blood-drinkers, Bagmen, with skin that looked like crinkled paper bags and oozed a rancid slime.
Jack’s description to Evie:
“Everything’s covered in ash, but not every place is burned. Some towns look striped from the lines of flames that hit the ground. Real finger-of-God stuff. One house stands while the one beside it burned down. No rhyme or reason, like how a tornado strikes.”
The Major Arcana*
0. The Fool, Gamekeeper of Old (Matthew)
I. The Magician, Master of Illusions (Finneas)
II. The Priestess, Ruler of the Deep (Circe)
III. The Empress, Our Lady of Thorns (Evie)
IV. The Emperor, Stone Overlord (Richter)
V. The Hierophant, He of the Dark Rites (Guthrie)
VI. The Lovers, Duke & Duchess Most Perverse (Vincent and Violet)
VII. The Centurion, Wicked Champion (Kentarch)
VIII. Strength, Mistress of Fauna (Lark)
IX. The Hermit, Master of Alchemy (Arthur)
X. Fortune, Lady of Chance (Zara)
XI. The Fury, She Who Harrows (Spite)