Kitty Rocks the House Page 56

Rick murmured, “I might have some ideas.”

At the same time Cormac nodded, “Yeah, I think I do.”

“I want to see her eyes,” I said vaguely, frustrated at the dark lenses that made her expression blank. The face turned to me, and I flinched. I couldn’t see her eyes, but I could feel her attention.

“The light hurts her eyes,” Rick said. “It’s dark where she comes from.”

“But it’s night,” I said. “There isn’t any light.”

“It’s very dark, where she comes from.”

She let a smile flash. Just a tilting of her lips. One gloved hand flexed on the spear; the other closed into a fist. I hoped Cormac’s spell held.

Moments passed. The scene froze, the area around the church remaining incongruously quiet. Hardin’s backup officers stood a ways off, guns at their sides, but they didn’t know what to do next any more than the rest of us.

“Now that we’ve got her, what do we do with her?” I asked. What was she? Demon, I was guessing. But that covered so much ground and didn’t tell me anything.

“Can I arrest her?” Hardin said. She was probably put out that she didn’t get Columban after all.

Father Columban, who’d known what was coming all along. This demon had been hunting him, maybe for centuries. And now he was gone.

The first thing to do when you wanted information was to ask. Nicely, if possible. I stood and faced her. “You said you had a bounty on the priest, but that ‘I’d do.’ Father Columban said that all three of us were in danger.” I gestured to include Rick, and asked, “Why?”

She actually answered, in clipped words. I couldn’t place her accent. “He was a traitor. Like him. Like you.”

“A traitor?” I said, indignant. “I’m not a traitor, I haven’t betrayed anyone—”

“A bounty,” Rick said, interrupting. “Placed by whom? Whom do you serve?”

She bared her teeth—straight, white, normal. I expected them to be sharpened, vicious. She gave the impression of laughing at us and said nothing.

“Did Roman send you?” I asked. “Dux Bellorum, Gaius Albinus?” He probably had a dozen other names I didn’t know.

Now she did laugh, a short and mirthless sound. “Idiots.”

“If not him, then who?” I said. Pleading.

“You know so little,” she said, showing her teeth again.

“Then tell me. Educate me. What are we up against here?”

She said, “I was sent by the one who commands Dux Bellorum.”

I tilted my head, as if that would help me hear better, though I’d heard her perfectly well. “And who is that?” I said.

Rick answered me: “Dux Bellorum is the general. The one who leads the army. Not the one who rules the nation. That would be Caesar.”

I stared at Rick. I had never considered such a proposition, and now it rattled in my brain like bells. Church bells, sonorous, tolling doom.

Hardin was getting frustrated. “You still haven’t said if I can arrest her or not.”

“No,” Cormac said. “I don’t think you can.”

“Well, I can’t condone killing her if that’s your other option.”

“You don’t kill something like this,” Cormac said. “You banish it.”

“Then you know what she is?” I said, my ears still ringing. Who was Caesar?

“Demon,” Cormac said, which I’d already known—

I heard the wind before I felt it, a sucking noise, a single, powerful blast of air. The oily vortex reappeared. Narrow this time, it focused on a point—on the woman in leather. She braced against her bindings and tilted her head back.

Dust and debris smacked my face, but I didn’t want to turn away. The tornado shrank, closing the demon in its circle, sucking black smoke into the ground. She opened her mouth, and I couldn’t tell if she was laughing or screaming. The vortex collapsed, taking her with it, wind, dust, smoke, and demon, all of it falling into the ground, to nothing. The firelit ribbons that had bound her fell to the sidewalk, then turned to ash and scattered.

The air fell still, dust and smoke vanished. She was gone. My nose itched with the smell of soot.

Hardin spoke first. “What happened?” She looked around, not questioning anyone in particular.

I looked at Cormac. “What did you do?”

“I didn’t do anything,” Cormac said.

“Yes you did, something happened—”

“That wasn’t me. Something yanked her back before I could do anything.”

“Yanked her back? What? To where?” I asked.

“To wherever she came from. I don’t know.” Turning away, he rubbed his forehead, like he had a headache. I know I did.

Beside me, Rick looked lost for a moment, glancing around him, returning again and again to the spot where Columban had been. His expression was stark, eyes unblinking. I wanted to reach out to him—anyone else I would have hugged, tried to comfort. Tried to share the grief. But I couldn’t touch him. I reached out my hand, then drew it back.

“Rick,” I said softly.

Rick’s gaze came to rest on Cormac. “You might as well have killed him yourself.”

The vampire closed on him in a second, almost invisible with speed. Cormac had a stake in hand just as the vampire reached him. The tip of the stake rested on Rick’s chest, but Rick’s hands gripped Cormac’s neck and squeezed. Cormac choked, but his hold on the stake didn’t waver. Both were ready to deliver killing blows. Rick bared his teeth, showing prominent fangs. He was usually so good at keeping them hidden.

Shouting, I ran, the strength of my Wolf carrying me in a couple of long strides, and crashed between them. “Stop it!”

They fell back. Cormac held the stake at the ready; Rick was braced to fight. But they waited. Really, they didn’t have to listen to me. But they did. I held out my arms, keeping a space between them.

Rick spat his words past me. “You knew what would happen when you broke his protections. You knew something would attack.”

“Question is, did you?” Cormac appeared calm, but he was sweating with nerves. “Did he tell you what was after you both?”

“Both of you shut up,” I said, the words growling, my teeth bared.

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