Kitty Goes to War Page 59

“Stay away from me!” he shouted again.

I smelled blood on him—such a sharp, sweet scent. My mouth watered. He’d skinned his cheek in the crash, and the red dripped along his jaw to his chin. He may not even have noticed. Ben curled a lip and growled, teeth showing. “Wait,” I murmured. Yeah, Franklin was asking for it. That didn’t mean we were going to give it to him. Guy wasn’t in his right mind.

Still, I wanted to get in his face. Not to do anything to him. Just to scare him a little. “Who hired you?” I shouted. “Who are you working for? Who wants to destroy my city?”

“This is bigger than you, little girl!”

I stepped forward, imagining I was stalking on wolf’s paws, snow and ice crunching lightly under my feet. I held his gaze, staring hard, and wondered if he understood the challenge.

“Back!” he shouted, waving his little charm. Then he said something in a language I didn’t understand. Couldn’t even guess what.

Thunder bellowed, the ear-shattering crack of a powerful summer thunderhead striking right overhead, along with an atomic flash of light. The sound was wrong in the middle of a snowstorm. I ducked, arms wrapped around my head. We’d all dropped to the ground—except for Franklin, who grinned at me. The talisman in his hand seemed to glow.

I straightened, angry that he’d made me put myself lower than him. Lightning had struck, right on top of us—maybe one of the vehicles or a streetlamp. I couldn’t tell where, but smelled sulfur and burning.

“You think that makes you tough?” I said. “You’re all powerful and stuff because you can destroy entire cities?”

“You wouldn’t understand. You have no faith! You’re an animal!”

Oh, why did I bother? I put my hands on my hips. “We’ll stop you. We’ve already stopped you.” I didn’t know if that was true. Shaun and the others had five more stores to mark. I hoped they were doing that now.

Franklin wore the triumphant expression of a conqueror. “You can’t stop us!”

From the darkness up the street, another vehicle appeared and skidded to a stop, enough behind Franklin’s Hummer that there was no danger of a collision. Cormac’s Jeep, hunched like a creature in the fog. Cormac slid out of the front seat and strode forward without a pause, until he stood about ten yards behind Franklin.

“Hey,” Cormac said. “If you’re done with them, you come deal with me.”

Franklin turned and slipped, nearly toppling over. He windmilled his arms to recover and then stood unsteadily, legs braced, arms outstretched. Straightening quickly, he faced down Cormac with his former air of superiority.

That he turned his back to me—that he thought I wasn’t a threat—made me angry. I wanted to snarl and pounce on him. But I also wanted to see what Cormac was going to do to the guy. I still wasn’t sure we had him cornered; he could call the cops on us and it would be just like the libel suit. Sure, I was right that he was a bad guy, and he really was using his Speedy Mart franchise to work magic, and he really was working on a spell to put Denver under ten feet of snow. And I would prove all that, how?

“You’re too late!” Franklin said, right out of the bad-guy handbook, as if there were any remaining doubt. “The divine power lives on, through me!”

“We’ll just see about that,” Cormac said.

Franklin thrust his amulet at Cormac, as though brandishing a cross at a vampire, and repeated the phrase he’d used before. I cringed, ducking, expecting a crack of thunder to crash over our heads. It didn’t. Franklin also seemed surprised, and he tried the gesture again.

Cormac seemed amused when he pulled his own amulet, a metal disk, out of the pocket of his leather coat. He studied it a moment, then threw it at Franklin, underhanded, as if he expected the guy to catch it.

Franklin didn’t catch it. He flinched in a panic, and the amulet hit him, then fell into the snow. Maybe we all expected an explosion, for flames to burst forth and devour him, but nothing happened. Franklin pawed in the snow for the object. When he found it, lying it flat on his hand, he stared at it with as much terror as if it really had rained physical destruction on him.

It showed the gromoviti znaci, wanna bet?

“Told you,” I said at him. I’d about decided we had to take him down and damn the consequences, if he didn’t just admit defeat and crawl away.

Then clouds parted. It seemed to happen suddenly, but more likely it had come upon us gradually, the clouds thinning, fading from gray to nothing, until fissures appeared, and a dark sky showed through, edged by lingering curls of mist. I felt as if a blanket lifted off me, like I could breathe freely again. Which meant that Shaun and the others had succeeded, and the spell was broken. While the blizzard had caused havoc, it wasn’t any worse now than the usual impressive winter storms that struck Denver every couple of years. People wouldn’t be talking about this one as the storm of the century.

Franklin stared up at the clearing sky with the rest of us. I couldn’t see his expression, but his shoulders sagged.

He put the amulet in his coat pocket and turned back to Cormac. “It’s your fault, isn’t it?”

“I guess so.”

Cormac and Franklin faced each other down like a couple of Old West gunslingers. Cormac even stood ready, arms loose, hands at his hips, ready to yank pistols from holsters. He looked wrong without his guns. But he didn’t look worried.

“What are you?” Franklin’s tone was both frightened and angry. He’d probably never been defeated. He was used to a world where few people knew anything about magic. “Who do you serve?”

“No one. I’m just a guy,” Cormac said, a tilt to his head.

That seemed to infuriate Franklin. He began chanting, not a one-phrase curse, a moment of power, and then done. He didn’t have an amulet this time. Above, clouds that had been clearing began to coalesce again, sinking low, as if drawn toward him. The temperature dropped—to even feel it at this point meant it was plummeting, going from freezing to arctic. And all the power gathered toward Franklin, who was pointing outstretched arms at Cormac.

“Kitty, what’s he doing?” Ben said, standing close behind me, taking hold of my shoulder. “Does Cormac need help?” Nearby, Tyler was breathing deep, fogging breaths.

“I don’t know,” I said, and my voice sounded thin, lost. I had seen magic at work before. I hadn’t seen anything like this.

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