Kitty Rocks the House Page 3

Rick’s apparent age was thirty or so. He had refined features and an elegant bearing; he made his dark silk shirt and tailored trousers look good. Though he was some five hundred years old, he’d held the position of Master for only a few years, which made him a newcomer compared to someone like Nasser. But the visitor regarded him as an equal, without a bit of condescension in his voice.

He drew a pendant from an inner jacket pocket and set it on the coffee table before Rick and me. “I’m given to understand that you’ve seen one of these before?” His accent was crisp.

The pendant was a bronze coin about the size of a nickel, worn and darkened with age. Whatever image had once appeared on it was mangled beyond recognition, smashed flat and scored in furious crosshatches.

I nodded. “Several, actually.”

His lips pressed thoughtfully, he glanced at Rick for confirmation.

“They’re Dux Bellorum’s marks of … ownership, I suppose you’d say,” Rick said. “His followers wear them. They bind them to him. Where did you find yours?”

“It belonged to one of my predecessors. A group of us mounted a coup against him, oh, quite some time ago now.”

I leaned forward. “How long ago? I mean for you, exactly how long ago is that?”

“She’s very concerned with precision of timekeeping, isn’t she?” Nasser said to Rick.

“It’s an obsession with her,” he said, shrugging with his hands, and I scowled at them both.

I had four of the mangled coins sealed in a jar and locked in the safe at New Moon, the downtown restaurant Ben and I owned. The place was the spiritual, if not actual, center of our territory, and we’d had some evidence that vampires couldn’t cross the threshold without permission. Roman—Dux Bellorum—shouldn’t be able to track them there. Destroying the image was supposed to break the spells attached to them. But you could never be too careful about this sort of thing.

Maybe we should have just thrown the things away, or melted them down. But I was keeping them as if they were some kind of perverse forensic evidence that we didn’t yet have the means to understand. They might be able to tell us more about their creator someday, and I couldn’t throw away a tool like that.

That Nasser had kept his encouraged me that I’d made the right decision.

I said, “I keep thinking there must be a way to use the magic in these against him.”

Nasser shook his head. “I’ve searched for a wizard or magician who could do such a thing, and haven’t found one. I think such a thing is impossible.”

“No, I don’t believe that. I’ve got a couple of leads,” I said.

I had my own networks, my own resources to tap when a supernatural problem presented itself. Tina McCannon, resident psychic for the TV show Paradox PI, hadn’t known anything about the coins offhand, but offered to scry for information. She’d handle the coins herself the next time she was in Denver. Odysseus Grant, a magician hiding in plain sight with his own Vegas stage show, knew about the Long Game and what it meant. He offered to research the coins as well, but hadn’t found anything yet. Then there was Cormac, right here in Denver.

Nasser furrowed a skeptical brow, and who could blame him? If a thousand-year-old vampire couldn’t find a powerful wizard, could a loudmouth nearly-thirty werewolf do it?

“Even if we can’t find a way to use them,” Nasser said, “they are proof that Roman can be defeated. His followers can be defeated. There are many more like us, who do not wish to trade our autonomy for power, to sacrifice ourselves to some arcane war. No matter what great reward was promised to us.”

“What great reward is that?” I asked.

“Dominion over humanity,” he said matter-of-factly. “We emerge from the shadows, not to live as equals among the mortals, but to rule over them as a shepherd does his flock.”

I’d heard vague gossip along those lines for years. The rumors were easy to dismiss because they sounded like something out of a bad thriller. But having met Roman, having fought him and his followers, I could well believe that this was their goal.

It would be easy to sit back and scoff that this could never happen, that vampires would never accomplish such an outrageous objective. Mortal humans outnumbered them. But Roman’s vampires had a plan. They were slowly coming into the public eye. Broadway star Mercedes Cook had publicly declared herself a vampire—she was one of Roman’s. A respected historian had published a book of interviews with vampires giving their eyewitness accounts of great events in history—the defeat of the Spanish Armada, the Battle of Agincourt, the army of Genghis Khan. That one infuriated me—I’d have given any of those vampires an interview slot on my show. But I had a feeling they were all followers of Roman, which meant they’d never talk to me. They were building public trust—promoting themselves, promoting vampires in general. Getting on the good side of public opinion, inserting themselves into pop culture—probably exerting influence over the politicians of a dozen countries as well. If … when … if vampires managed to take over, they’d probably convince us it was humanity’s idea to let them do so all along.

If they succeeded, vampires like Roman and his followers would make werewolves their slaves, their enforcers in this new world order. I couldn’t let that happen; I had a pack to protect.

So we gathered allies of our own. As Nasser said, many vampires didn’t want to trade their autonomy for some future, nebulous power. They didn’t want to be in Roman’s debt, or wear his coins.

“Can it really happen?” I asked. “How close is it to happening?”

“I don’t know,” Nasser said, which wasn’t comforting. “He has been traveling across Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and North Africa for two thousand years. The Americas and Australia, he does not have such a firm hold on. He’s sent followers and has come here himself only recently. Only a few cities in South America have Families—I hesitate to guess how many of them owe their allegiance to Dux Bellorum. I’m also not certain of Australia. As far as I know, no vampires live in Antarctica.”

“I’d have thought the long winter nights would be just the thing for you guys,” I said.

“Perhaps. But the food supply is a bit wanting.”

I didn’t want to think about that too hard.

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