Kitty Saves the World Page 53

This territory is difficult and unfamiliar. It ought to smell like forest and mountain, like home, but there’s a stench masking the air, confusing her. Finally, she finds a deer trail, follows it not to hunt, but to find water. A river, close. She heads toward this. It smells safe. Stretching, she lopes faster, her stride covering ground. The pain lessens the faster she goes, as if she is fleeing pain. Wind through her fur doesn’t hurt the way air on skin did.

Along the way she smells wolves—musky and alien. She avoids those scents and trails. She’s in foreign territory, and she isn’t strong enough to meet new wolves, especially ones that clearly aren’t like her. Wild wolves, pure wolves.

The daylight is too bright and feels wrong; she’s used to running at night.

Something hard and uncomfortable thumps against her chest with every stride. She could stop, scratch it off and get rid of it, but her other self whispers urgently, don’t lose it. She must carry it in her teeth if she has to, but she must not lose it. So she leaves it around her neck, and its weight is a reminder of what she flees.

She runs a long time until her tongue hangs out and her breath pants, but she finds a place that doesn’t smell of rot and steam, where young pine trees slope down to a clean-running river. Here, she smells prey and other predators, competition. Bear and fox as well as wolf. She avoids these. Is too tired and hurt to hunt. Isn’t even hungry, much. Sleep now, hunt later. Survive, the rest will come. She snugs into a den by a fallen tree, on fresh earth, rich with dead leaves and living forest.

*   *   *

I HEARD voices, one male and one female, talking nearby. I couldn’t understand them because they were speaking a different language. Chinese maybe? Though I was woozy, I was sure if I just concentrated hard enough I’d be able to understand them. Their manner was low and urgent.

I looked, but wasn’t sure I was really awake. Somehow I could feel that my eyes were amber, like Wolf’s, and saw the world through wavering, hyperfocused senses. But I had human hands, human fingers with hardened, pointed nails—not quite claws but definitely not normal nails. Gray and tawny fur covered my arms. I felt my face—a human face, flat with a small nose, but dusted in fur. My ears were Wolf’s pointed ears. I rubbed my arms, ruffling the fur, and shivered. It was like I was caught halfway between forms, stuck between myself and her. We are the same.

In a dark forest I saw trees drawn out in hard lines, with movement flickering in the underbrush. The silver cast of a full moon edged it all, but that wasn’t right, either—full moon was still a week off. And the moon was too close, filling up a quarter of the sky, like in a drawing or a dream.

I breathed and moved slowly.

They were still talking. My voice came out groggy when I said, “I can’t understand you … do you speak English?”

They stopped. I felt like the speakers should be right next to me, but I couldn’t see them. Their air felt thick, like I had to swim through it.

“She’s awake,” the male voice said, and I recognized it. It was right at the corner of my memory …

“Are we taking her home?” I recognized her voice, too.

“No, she has to stay, to stop the thing. We just have to watch her until the others get here.”

“That may overstep our bounds. We can only interfere so much—”

“If that jerk can bring her here, we can watch over her,” he said decisively.

“He isn’t even part of our mythology,” she muttered.

The man was almost cheerful when he said, “Yeah, it’s all just a big old muddle now. I blame globalization.”

I knew those voices. I knew who they were.

A figure stood among the trees, cloaked and regal, long black hair draped over one shoulder, her dark eyes shining and pale lips pressed in a thin smile.

“Anastasia,” I breathed, and ran. I stopped short before pouncing on her for a massive hug because I was suddenly afraid that if I touched her, she would vanish, this strangeness would all disappear.

From behind her emerged the man, Chinese like her, slender, young looking, with wild black hair and an infectious smile. He wore an embroidered silk tunic, a far cry from the jeans and T-shirt I’d last seen him in.

“And Sun,” I said. My eyes leaked tears. Sun Wukong. The Monkey King. For real.

“Hey,” he said, raising a hand. “You’re a mess, kid.”

“I know,” I whined.

“What a strange road we’ve traveled,” Anastasia said. She had a beautiful face, the finely wrought features of a figure in a Chinese painting. When I knew her, she’d been a vampire, born in the Song dynasty as Li Hua. I didn’t know what she was now. She’d followed her goddess Xiwangmu, Queen Mother of the West, into another world. Sun Wukong—we all called him Sun—had been there, too. And now they were here. To help, I hoped.

“Where are you? Where is this? What’s going on?” My own voice was low, scratching, like I was getting over a cold, but clearing my throat didn’t help. I sounded like a wolf speaking through a growl.

“We’re between worlds, of course,” she said.

Between worlds, sleeping and waking, human and animal, alive and dead.

“Are … are you okay?”

She tilted her head, looking amused. “Are you?”

“I—I don’t know. I think I just dumped Lucifer into a geyser. Not that that’ll stop him.”

Sun said, “There’s a war on, and this is only one small part of it. We’re all caught up in it. But you’re really caught up in it.”

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