Kitty Saves the World Page 50

She hadn’t drawn any of her weapons. She stood before me, expressionless, the lenses of her goggles two depthless holes. Her arms reached for me, grabbed me, and everything vanished.

Chapter 15

I HAD A glimpse of something red hot, a powerful sun bearing down on me, and then darkness fell. We were flying, or falling. Ashtoreth had locked me in an iron embrace and I couldn’t catch my breath. A hurricane wind blew around us, sweeping us to somewhere. I might have tried to scream. I struggled, but I was trapped. Unable to make out any of the world around me, I shut my eyes. Even when I tried to open them again, I couldn’t see anything. Darkness, all in darkness.

Then the wind stopped, and the demon let me go.

I fell hard, like being dumped out of a fast-moving car. Rolled for a ways on rocky ground, scuffing my arms and face, and came to rest with a mouthful of dirt. I spat it out. Lashing out, I got ready for the fight I was sure was coming, a battle with the demon and her silver-tainted weapons. I swung, kicked, scrambled into a defensive crouch—but no one was there. Ashtoreth was gone; she’d thrown me away, then apparently vanished. I couldn’t see her, smell her. Then again, I couldn’t smell anything. A rotten egg stink overpowered me. I sneezed and tried to breathe through my mouth. Checked for anything worse than aches or bruises, and took stock of where I’d ended up.

The air reeked, concentrated sulfur in a thick miasma. Noises surrounded me: water boiling, steam jetting from vents. The sound of heat, power, and danger. The ground under me felt hot, but despite the heat my skin broke out in gooseflesh. The air was hazy, chilled. The ground around me was barren, stained and blasted with heat and chemicals. A wintry sunlight made everything seem faded.

Rather than kill me, Ashtoreth had taken me somewhere else—her home, her origin. Capital H hell. Killing wasn’t good enough for me, so she brought me here. She was gone now, and I didn’t know what happened next. There had to be a way out of here. I straightened, brushed my hands on my jeans, and looked around.

I was only a little surprised to see Charles Lightman standing there, hands in pockets, polished shoe scuffing the chalky ground like he really was sorry. Mostly I felt this wash of horror that things were much, much worse than they looked. At this point, that was really saying something.

Run, Wolf growled in the back of my throat. My muscles tensed, getting ready to do just that. Not that it would help. I stared a challenge at Lightman. It was the only thing I could do, waiting for answers he wasn’t giving.

“Is this hell?” I croaked. My throat ached, swollen, as if I’d gone for a week without water. My eyes stung, I was so dried out, and my skin felt stretched. I could still feel that boiling sun roasting me.

“No,” he said. He seemed quite pleased with himself, giving a wry wink. “You’re in the Norris Geyser Basin, in Yellowstone National Park. It’s not quite open for tourist season, so we have the place to ourselves. I thought it would be fun—you can see everything up close when it blows. Should be exciting. A once-in-a-lifetime experience. Ha.”

My senses finally cleared enough for me to really look around.

I was on a pale, dusty plain cupped in a shallow valley, surrounded by a pine forest. The few scattered trees on the plain were stunted and bleached, and the plain itself was awash in stinking pools of water joined by wide streams of runoff. Steam rose everywhere, and geysers spit, sloshed, and hissed around me. In some spots the crust was broken, sinkholes dropping through, lined with the orange-tinged washes. Steam rose lazily from pools, other springs bubbled with heat, and water spit noisily from holes in the ground. Yeah, it kind of looked like hell. But I was just five hundred miles from home.

Which meant I could get out of here. After I killed the guy, before Ashtoreth came back. In daylight, though, Ashtoreth wouldn’t appear. Neither would Roman. I had time, I hoped, before Roman launched the Manus Herculei.

Lightman kept talking. “Regina Luporum. I hear that’s what they’re calling you. And you, an American, I thought you all were supposed to be against kings and queens and monarchs and all that. All democratic and egalitarian. But Queen of the Wolves—you’re okay with that?”

Who was this guy? “It’s just a metaphor. It doesn’t mean anything.”

“Oh, but it does. Monarchy, authoritarianism, has been the dominant method of organizing people for most of human history. Everything else is an anomaly. A deviation.”

This area was ostensibly part of a forest in the Rocky Mountains, but it didn’t feel anything like home. None of the smells were familiar. Even the ground felt unstable, boiling just under the surface. Lightman seemed unconcerned by it all. He was just as casual and pointedly charming as he had been back in Denver.

“Who are you?” I asked softly.

“Kitty, tell me—where do vampires and werewolves come from?”

This was obviously a trick question. I took the bait. “Some kind of infectious retrovirus—”

He put up a hand, shook his head. “That’s a mechanism. I’m looking for why. How about I just tell you? Those stories about how vampires and lycanthropes, all the creatures of darkness, were made by Lucifer to pervert God’s greatest creation of humanity? About how Lucifer made monsters to stand against His righteousness at the end of time? Those stories that annoy you so much when people call into your show with them? Turns out, they’re true.

“But there’s one thing I couldn’t change. One part of His creation I couldn’t break: free will. No matter how monstrous I made you, the vampires and werewolves, my soldiers and my children, I couldn’t make you be monsters. You still had a choice, to follow me or not. And Katherine Norville. Kitty. You, all on your own, have been convincing a great many of my soldiers to choose the side of angels.”

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