Kitty Rocks the House Page 55

Whatever they were saying didn’t seem to be helping.

Hands closed around my neck.

Again, I could feel the action, make out the pressure of fingers on my throat, note the strength of the arms that hauled me backward. I thrashed, fighting against it, ignoring the fact that it had cut off my air. Didn’t need air, just had to get free. Claws wouldn’t do me any good—I had nothing to slash. When I reached back, my hands passed through nothing.

But I heard a voice near my ear, soft, a murmur under the wind. “My bounty is for the priest, but you’ll do.” Indistinct, impossible, like the whisper of a tornado.

I struggled harder, but how did you escape a storm when you couldn’t run? Especially one that seemed to be speaking to you?

Rick flew. Or seemed to. His leap had sent him into the wind, and he sailed above the space between me and the steps.

He couldn’t see our opponent any more than I could, so he grabbed onto me, wrenching me down as he dropped back to the ground. My captor kept its grip and would rip my head off, I thought. I wouldn’t survive that, and I twisted to try to keep whole. My muscle and bone seemed to crack. Suddenly, it let go, and I fell along with Rick.

Visible above me, I finally saw something clearly: a weapon—a long staff with a sharpened point reaching out of the black wind. A wooden staff, expressly designed for killing vampires. My bounty is for the priest …

The spear aimed at Rick.

I lunged at it, hoping to shove it away, maybe even take the strike meant for him. I’d survive it, even if it struck my heart. It was only wood. But the spear withdrew, looped around me, and thrust again. Rick dodged, of course he did. Impossibly, though, the staff anticipated his movement. As fast as the vampire was, the spear tracked him, moving just as fast. He couldn’t escape.

Columban shouted. “No!” He leapt from the stairs, toward the battle.

Rick fell away from the spear; Columban pushed him. And the spear went into Columban.

The priest fell, gripping the wooden shaft that protruded from his chest.

Columban was old, and in seconds his body returned to the state it would have been, buried in the ground all this time: rotting, blackened skin crumbling to ash, revealing muscle and bone that also crumbled to ash, his cassock decaying along with the flesh. Rick stumbled, staring at the disintegrating body with shock-widened eyes. The dust scattered, dispersing into the wind, leaving nothing behind. Columban might never have existed.

Rick stayed frozen at the spot where the vampire priest had been. I could have knocked him over myself. I paced around him, back and forth, manically trying to keep myself between him and the spear, which had pulled back into the whirling smoke. The point of it still tracked us. Since Rick wasn’t paying attention, I had to defend him. It might strike at any moment.

Now Cormac was chanting, and it wasn’t Latin.

He might have been at it for a while, and I hadn’t noticed. Hardin was beside him, holding something—an extra hand to make up for Cormac’s broken one. In his good hand, Cormac held a lighter, though getting it to work in the tempest would be a trick. They pressed toward us, opposing the gusts of wind. Hardin cupped both hands together, protecting whatever she held.

Rick looked up at Cormac, and his expression darkened into rage.

“Rick,” I muttered, my voice rasping, dried out from the wind and full of repressed growling. That spear still lurked, and I prepared to leap at it, an attack of desperation.

Cormac’s chanting increased in speed and volume, doing battle with the blasting of the wind until it reached a climax, a series of shouted, individual words. Then he flicked the lighter, using his body as a windbreak. Amazingly—magically, even—the flame came to life, flaring yellow. At the same moment, Hardin threw her handful into the air. Bits of dried herbs, shredded paper, who knew what else. The potpourri passed over the lighter flame and caught fire.

The burning debris rocketed toward us, propelled by the wind, by the spell, by Cormac’s chanting. I ducked, pulling a still-stunned Rick down with me.

The spear had been moving toward Rick, ready to strike—but the cloud of fiery debris hit it. And vanished.

So did the smoke, wind, swirling dust, and oily vortex that had engulfed the church for what seemed like hours, but had probably only been a minute or two. The world fell still, and I could see the sky again, its dark arc and haze of reflected city lights. I gave a deep sigh—I’d been holding my breath. The air smelled burned.

A figure stood nearby, holding the spear. A woman. And she was bound. Flickering yellow ribbons, like fire given solid form, wrapped around the wooden shaft of her spear; around her arms, pulling them from her body so that she couldn’t move; and around her legs and torso, anchoring her in place. Color and light slid along the bindings, giving the illusion of movement. But the figure remained immobilized.

She seemed tall—hard to tell how tall, because I was on the ground at her feet, looking up. From my vantage, she seemed to fill the sky. Muscular, she wore a close-fitting jacket, thick leather pants, tall boots. A biker’s armor. Her dark hair was short, spiky. Straps fitting across her chest and around her waist held weapons. More wooden spears, along with blades, whips, a sword across her back, a nightstick at her hip. Nothing with moving parts, no guns, nothing apparently explosive, but lethal in so many ways all the same. She also wore tinted goggles strapped to her head, sealed tightly to her face, making her eyes seem huge, stark, against her pale skin. I couldn’t tell if she was looking back at us. Her chest worked, taking in deep breaths, as if she were exhausted. A lingering cloud of black fog roiled in a layer at her feet.

Her mouth twisting, she lunged against ribbons that bound her. They didn’t budge, and she threw herself forward again. The bindings only tightened. She didn’t waste her energy struggling for long, and after the second attempt, she simply stared. At least, she seemed to. Who could tell with those goggles? Her lips pressed into a thin line. She might have been admitting defeat.

“Cormac…” I murmured.

“Huh,” he said, as if surprised how this had turned out. “Hoped we’d catch something.”

He hoped?

“Who the fuck are you?” Hardin said, gasping to recover her breath as much as the rest of us. All of us except Rick, at least.

The woman tipped up her chin in stoic refusal, like a prisoner of war.

“Do you have any idea who she is? Do you?” Hardin demanded of Cormac and Rick in turn.

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