Kitty Saves the World Page 67

The harpoon struck, sinking through her leather armor and her chest, like a knife through butter. Ashtoreth threw her head back and screamed, a thunderous, echoing noise that rattled through the woods and across the lake. The harpoon blazed gold, and the light engulfed the demon. She kept screaming, and I pressed my hands over my ears to stop the noise. Heat came off her, the heat from the sun on a bright summer’s day. This was sunlight in the darkest night. It was glorious.

Covered and protected in their cloaks and hoods, Rick and his companions ducked away, and I did, too. There was a boom, then stillness.

I looked, and she was gone. Not even ash remained. The hooks, cords, and stakes were gone. The harpoon was gone, even. The ground where she’d stood was scuffed up, that was all. I couldn’t smell a whiff of brimstone, and the air was amazingly still.

“Rick?” I said, my voice taut, and ran out of the shelter of the trees.

“Kitty!” He actually smiled.

I jumped at him, and he had enough wherewithal to catch me and return the hug I gave him. I had my friend back.

We separated, still gripping each other’s arms. My mouth opened, but I had nothing to say. Or too much to say. This had taken too long, it had already taken too long. I might already be too late.

His companions joined us after brushing themselves off and retrieving their staves. They’d pulled back their hoods, revealing their faces. The first was a woman, tall and well muscled, strong and supple, with ebony skin and close-cropped hair. Her expression was calm and stern. The second was a man who might have been Arabic, his skin cinnamon colored, his black hair tied in a ponytail. He smiled crookedly, wryly. They stood together, lined up next to Rick. They were a team, and I wondered what he’d been doing for the last year.

“This is your Regina Luporum?” the vampire with the ponytail said. His accent was Middle Eastern, musical.

“Oh, she isn’t mine,” Rick said. “She is all her own.”

Too many questions. So I just stood there.

“Speechless?” Rick asked, clearly amused.

“What are you doing here?”

“We’ve been tracking you all night, but you hardly slowed down for us to catch up. Until now.”

“You killed her,” I breathed. “Finally.”

“No, I don’t think I did,” he said, and sighed. “She’s not dead. But she won’t be coming back anytime soon.”

“What did it take—that spear, blessed by the pope?”

“Better than the pope. Turns out an entire convent of nuns praying over a thing for a hundred years does give it a certain amount of power.”

“Oh, is that all it took.” Amelia would be happy to know why her spells never worked against Ashtoreth. She just wasn’t holy enough, obviously.

“Kitty. You need to go. We’ll talk later.”

“Yes. Yes—I have so much to tell you.” I backed away, my mind already running ahead.

“Go!” he said, and I ran. I hoped we would have a chance to talk later.

I ran on, following the scent I’d picked up before Ashtoreth attacked.

The land sloped up until I found myself at the top of a rise, looking down to where the forest curved around a stretch of open shore and a gravelly beach. Roman was there.

The vampire knelt, surrounded by lit candles, scratching symbols into the beach with a dagger. Dozens and dozens of symbols. Grant and Amelia were right—this was a complicated spell. He’d been at this for hours.

So. Now what did I do?

Attack, of course.

Wolf was right. Nothing else for it but charge down the rise and across the beach. Maybe all I needed to do was scratch out some of those symbols. Stop the spell, not the man. That was all I had to do, and whatever happened after that didn’t matter. I started down at a run.

Roman saw me. He looked up, and even from fifty yards away I could see his frown. I wasn’t supposed to be here, he was probably thinking. Ashtoreth was supposed to stop me, to guard him.

He had a dilemma now, I realized: he’d most likely been depending on Ashtoreth to zap him out of here as soon as he launched his spell, so he could avoid the blast and still be around to enjoy his new vampire-friendly world. His escape path was gone. Would he still pull the trigger, launch the volcano, destroy the world as we knew it?

He would. He did.

He stood, and in his hands he held a lamp of some kind, an ancient clay oil lamp, a primitive version of Aladdin’s lamp. A thick buttery flame burned from the spout, and the words that Roman chanted over it echoed. This was it—the Manus Herculei. It was the lamp. I was still too far away to stop him, even if all I did was run full tilt and crash into him.

I almost shouted at him to stop, but I didn’t even have time to cry out.

Roman lowered the lamp to the water, then below the surface. The light should have gone out. Instead, the flame spread, a sheet of fire pouring across the surface of the lake as if it were oil instead of water. When there was enough, the fuse would light, the caldera would ignite. This was it, all of it, down to one moment.

I yanked the Maltese cross over my head, stretched back, and threw as hard as I could. The piece of bronze flew, turning, flashing the orange of reflected firelight.

It splashed maybe thirty yards out. It’d been a pretty good throw, with my werewolf strength behind it. But the cross sank and disappeared into the dark water with barely a ripple. I could have howled to the sky, I was so angry, so full of disbelief that I had come so far and failed.

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