Kitty Rocks the House Page 32

“Kitty—” Hardin said, but I ignored her. Cormac was busy tying knots.

At dusk, after classes and meetings, I figured the front would be locked, but the door I tried opened. Stepping into an unassuming lobby, I almost shouted Rick’s name, but a sound stopped me—the voice of a lecturing professor, coming from the next room. Late classes. Right. I poked around as much as I thought I could without drawing too much attention, turning down a couple of side hallways, peeking into a few equipment closets. I didn’t even smell much vampire—just a trace of a corpse-like chill, as if one had passed by recently. Too faint of a trail to follow.

I returned to the front of the church and shut the door quietly behind me on my way out. Back outside, Cormac’s spell, counterspell, whatever, seemed to be progressing. He was still managing to tie lengths of yarn into patterns. I’d kind of hoped that whatever he was planning really did need two working arms, and he’d get frustrated and give up.

“There are people inside,” I said. “Living people, not vampires. You’re not going to do anything that’ll get anyone hurt, will you?”

He gave me a look, kept tying knots. I heaved a frustrated sigh.

“Don’t worry, I’m keeping an eye on things,” Hardin said, which didn’t give me any more confidence. She had a hungry expression, a hunter on the prowl, waiting for her chance to strike.

Cormac walked clockwise around the church, making his knotted charms and dropping them at the cardinal and ordinal points, eight in all. His plan probably took twice as long as it would have if he’d been able to use both hands to full capacity.

Maybe this wouldn’t work.

Both Hardin and I stood with our arms crossed, to keep from reaching to help him.

I tried to make conversation. “You talk to Rick yet?” Not that I thought she had. I would have been offended if she had, that Rick would talk to her and not me.

“He doesn’t seem to be answering his phone. You?”

I shrugged, noncommittal.

“So what’s his deal?” she said.

“He’s five hundred years old,” I said. “He doesn’t owe us anything.”

Rick had spent much of his time as a vampire being nomadic, wandering throughout the West, from Mexico to San Francisco to Albuquerque and who knew where else. People who’d known him for a long time—other vampires—expressed surprise that he’d settled down and become Master of a city. Maybe … maybe Rick wasn’t cut out for the settled life after all. Maybe he really had left town, taken up his wandering ways again. And why should he tell any of us? We were mortal, we’d be dead soon anyway, from his point of view. I didn’t think Rick was like that, but what did I know, really?

If Rick was with Columban, he was here. Maybe in one of those square bell towers, looking down on us from the shadows, suitably mysterious and vampiric. I didn’t sense more than a trace of vampire on the air. If they were here, they were keeping themselves inside, and they hadn’t left the building in the last few days. Finding food would be easy enough for them to do, after dark on a college campus. Use their powers to draw in prey who’d be none the wiser. They only needed a few sips, and didn’t need to kill.

After half an hour or so, Cormac arrived back at his starting point.

We waited. Full twilight had fallen; thin strings of clouds were black against a dark blue sky. Streetlights had come on around us. The pink on the walls of the church had faded, so the building now loomed, a dark, hulking object.

“What is this supposed to do?” I said.

“Just giving the door a kick,” he said. “See what happens.”

I gave him a look. “And what happens if something actually, you know—kicks back?”

“I’ve got some backup,” he said. Despite the broken arm, despite Hardin standing right there, he seemed to be enjoying himself. His moustache showed his lips pressed in a thin, satisfied smile. Another hunter on the hunt.

“How long until something happens?” Hardin said.

“Just wait.”

“If nothing happens, I might think twice about paying you.”

He didn’t say anything to that.

Cormac was patient. He could stand here all night, waiting for something to happen, sure that something would. The spell that Amelia had woven made sense to him. I couldn’t guess what would come next. If nothing else, I stayed to make sure I could talk Hardin out of arresting Cormac for something that might be interpreted as breaking his parole.

About twenty minutes into the vigil, my nose wrinkled, catching a scent before I was entirely aware of what I was smelling. I cocked my head as if listening, focusing on my nose, and the acrid tickling that now caught my attention. A burning, like the ozone that tinged the air during a bad thunderstorm. Lightning was brewing somewhere, but no clouds hung overhead, no thunderheads were blowing in from the mountains like they sometimes did, a late spring storm.

The knotted bits of yarn around the boundary of the church had started glowing. Orange, intense, like the heating elements in a toaster. I squinted against the light, which was searing in the dusk’s gloom.

“Cormac,” I hissed, not sure why I felt the need to whisper.

He was digging in his jeans pocket for something—a butane lighter, which he nestled in the fingers of his bad arm, then went to his jacket pocket for something else. He’d turned his gaze away from the heated circle now forming around the church.

“Kitty…” Hardin stared at the church, at a loss like I was.

Under my rib cage, my gut turned, Wolf wanting out. To leap, claw attack, even though we didn’t know what to attack, we had no direct enemy. Just this vague, arcane magic. Incomprensible. I curled my lips to snarl. The air smelled of brimstone; I could taste it in the back of my throat.

Sparks started popping from each of the knotted pieces of yarn, static-like crackles of energy. Then they gathered, forming tendrils, linking to one another. But one of them—the one closest to Cormac—drew the rest of the tendrils to itself, forming a pulsing will-o’-the-wisp. It threw off short, tentative streaks of energy, miniature bolts of lightning—testing, I thought. Seeking out its target.

“Cormac!” I shouted this time.

He saw the gathered lightning storm, glanced at it calmly, and struggled to light his lighter one-handed while holding a smudge stick, a bundle of dried sage bound together with twine. He couldn’t get the lighter to strike.

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