Kitty Saves the World Page 51

He didn’t look like much. That was probably the point. Dux Bellorum was only the general, we’d realized. Who then was the Caesar holding his leash? Ah yes. Of course.

I always told my callers, you can choose. You can decide what to do. Don’t blame your homicidal urges or basic assholeness on being a monster, because you can choose. God help me.

God, help me.

“Are you saying,” I said, gasping a little. Wolf had gone strangely quiet—neither running nor fighting would likely do us much good here. I tried again. “Are you saying, that you, you, are afraid of me?” I tilted my head, narrowed my gaze, like a dog who’d heard a far-off noise. But there was just the hissing of geysers and bubbling of hot springs. I couldn’t even tell if this man, this being, was breathing, or if he had a heartbeat.

“That’s a strong word,” he said. “But you did get my attention. That’s something to be proud of, I’ll give you that.”

I could not stop glaring at him. One way or another, I suspected I was not going to get out of this. I could talk, I could fight, I could howl, I could run—and he was Lucifer. I might as well challenge him, because I didn’t have anything to lose.

“What now?” I breathed.

“I’ll kill you,” he said. “Kill all your friends. Smooth the way so Dux Bellorum can finish his work and end the world. That line about it being better to reign in hell? Yeah, not so much. But Earth? I can make myself a worthy hell right here.” He gazed around, as if contemplating a change of drapes in a suburban living room. Softer, he said, “Stick it to the Old Man, you know?”

I ran. Then I fell. The earth itself tripped me, with sudden cracks opening underfoot. My foot fell into already weakened crust, and when I tried to push myself back up, my hands fell through, and the earth held me there. I ripped free, spun onto my back—and again the crumbling earth trapped me, locking me in place, bands of soil folding tight over my arms and legs.

Lightman—Lucifer, though I was having trouble calling him that, it seemed so outrageous—strolled over to me. He had a sword in his right hand. I hadn’t seen him carrying one; he’d probably drawn it out of thin air. He held it up, looking it over, seeming pleased. Flicked a finger over the no-doubt razor-sharp edge. It was probably silver. Wouldn’t matter, because it was big enough he could chop my head off with it just by leaning a little.

“And Kitty—what is up with that? Please tell me that name’s an accident and that you didn’t decide to call yourself that to spite me.”

I struggled to break free because I couldn’t not, but my limbs were locked down tight. But maybe, maybe …

Let it go, let it wash over me. I imagined Wolf living behind the bars of a cage in my gut, and if those bars disappeared, I could summon her, and she would rise up, change my body, change me and we would run, escape, run all the way back home if we had to—

Nothing happened.

She was there, I could sense her, a curled-up mass of predator, of monster. Usually she was right there. When we were in danger, she came to the surface, breaking free to fight with her stronger teeth and claws. I curled my fingers, willing claws to break through the skin. But nothing happened. She wasn’t waiting to break free. It was as if she slept.

“Oh no,” he said, showing teeth as he grinned. “You don’t get that power. Not while I’m here. You won’t be a wolf for me, you certainly won’t be one against me.”

Being a werewolf was a disease, a curse. I’d spent most of the last ten years working not to shape-shift, to keep it together, to control the urge to turn Wolf and run. But now, now, I needed her, I needed Wolf, I needed to shift and fight and flee on her long animal legs.

Wolf slept.

I whined, a breath exhaling on the verge of a scream.

“Yeah,” Lucifer murmured. “You’re not so tough.”

He took the hilt in both hands, held the point over my heart, and a look of blazing hatred crossed his face as he prepared to drive down. I kept my eyes open. I could do that. No life flashing before me. Not much of anything. Just glaring at him, with animal focus.

He stabbed down, grunting with effort—and the point of the sword stopped cold an inch above my breastbone. It didn’t move, didn’t waver, no matter how hard he pressed. He tried again, slashing at my neck this time, then my face. Instinctively, I winced away. But he didn’t kill me. He couldn’t even hurt me.

Falling to his knees beside me, he began pawing me. But he couldn’t touch me. His hands skittered an inch away from my skin, my clothes. He threw the sword away; it vanished.

His expression went slack, his eyes focusing on the collar of my shirt.

“What are you wearing around your neck? Show me. Show me now.”

My right hand burst away from the dirt trapping it. I went to punch him with it, but I didn’t get very far with the rest of my body pinned down, and he smoothly leaned away from the hit.

“Show. Me,” he said, teeth bared.

“Ha,” I said, teeth also bared. “Pissed you off.”

“What are you wearing around your neck?”

I pulled at the cord and let the coin hang over my shirt. My wedding ring, which I wore on a chain rather than on my finger most of the time, came with it, but I pushed it aside, hiding it from him. What was left: the marked-up coin of Dux Bellorum, the one worn by Angelo. His betrayal, turned on its head.

He drew back, then laughed. “These were supposed to mark my followers, my acolytes. Identify them to each other, connect them to me. Nothing more. But this? I have no idea what this means.” He tried again to reach for the coin, but once again his touch skittered away from me.

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