Kitty Saves the World Page 19

The decay of the grave, many hundreds of years of death, caught up with her all at once. Her body, even her clothing, dried, shrank, fell in on itself, and crumbled. Even dying, she was still angry, still fighting, hate and fury written on her face, until her face vanished. Crumbled to dust.

Gone, just like that.

The moment of shocked stillness that came after lasted only a breath. Cormac—Amelia—marched on toward the demon, chanting in Latin. Fearless, as always. Even years after him leaving prison, seeing him weaponless was still odd. Before prison, he’d have had a shotgun in hand, firing over and over, a relentless assault. And it wouldn’t have worked, not against the demon.

The demon sneered, hefting another spear from her collection—this one tipped with metal. But she didn’t move forward to meet him. She took a step back.

“It’s a litany from an exorcism,” Tina said. Her voice was hoarse, obviously in pain. She was still bleeding horrendously from the cut on her head. “But since he’s not an ordained priest I don’t know if it’ll work.”

I tore off a piece of my shirt and put it on the wound. She hissed, but held the makeshift bandage in place.

Cormac kept on, and again the demon stepped back. Straightening, she lowered her weapons, waited—and a whirlwind rose around her. Made of smoke and fire, stinking of ash and brimstone, it swirled liked a curtain, a cape. Biting sand reached across the park, and I ducked against it. When the storm collapsed, the demon was gone. A strategic departure. The wind roared for a second, then faded to nothing.

The park turned still, quiet, as if nothing had happened. Not a clump of sagebrush was out of place, not even smashed from all the fighting. The pile of ash that used to be Mercedes had blown away in the whirlwind.

Roman was gone. He was the one who’d taken advantage of the distraction to get out. His work here was done, evidently. I supposed I could comfort myself that he deemed us enough of a risk that leaving was a better option than sticking around to finish us off.

Either that, or we simply weren’t a threat at all.

Time for roll call. “Ben? Hardin?” I helped Tina to her feet, and we met up with the others.

Ben came over, put a hand on my cheek, leaned in to smell my hair, and I took a deep breath of his scent, which meant home, safety. Maybe things would be okay. His T-shirt had provided the scrap of cloth for the torch. I looked at his shredded shirt, and mine, and had to chuckle. What a pair.

“You’re psychic—can’t you see these things coming?” Ben demanded. He was fuming. I hoped Tina realized he wasn’t angry at her, he was just angry. Burning off anxiety.

“It doesn’t work that way!” she shot back. Then, quieter, “You know it doesn’t work that way.”

“Is everyone okay?” I asked, cutting through.

No one answered right away. I would have been worried, except I could see them all, Ben and Cormac, Tina and Hardin. All awake, all conscious, all catching their breath as we gathered at the edge of the parking lot.

Ben said, “You stopped that thing, right? It’s not going to come back?”

He hadn’t ever seen the demon before. Cormac and Hardin had. I’d faced her down twice.

Cormac sighed. “I didn’t stop her. She decided I wasn’t worth fighting. Just like last time.” He threw down the torch and stomped out the flame.

The driver of the town car had fallen to his knees, dropped his gun and stake, and held his face in his hands, crying. Mercedes’s human servant, grieving. I almost felt sorry for him. Hardin stood nearby, gun holstered and handcuffs in hand, but she seemed to reconsider arresting him. Finally, she picked up his gun from the pavement.

“Get out of here before I change my mind,” she said, backing off.

He looked up at her, his expression stark. Made his own calculations and climbed to his feet like a creaking old man. “This isn’t over,” he said. “You’ll pay for this.”

“We didn’t even kill her!” I exclaimed. He glared at me. It obviously didn’t matter.

Hardin crossed her arms. “I’m about to change my mind.”

He hurried into his car, started the engine, and swung around on squealing tires.

“Not sure that was the best idea,” Cormac said.

“What did you want me to do, shoot him?” Hardin answered.

Cormac raised a brow as if to say yes. Hardin shook her head and turned to the rest of us, focusing on Tina, with the wadded-up cloth clamped on her head. The bandage was soaked red, and blood was still dripping.

“That’s going to need stitches,” Hardin said.

Tina closed her eyes, sighed. “Ashtoreth,” she said. “I don’t know if that’s her name, or a type of demon. But if you want to call her something, it’s Ashtoreth.” That was how the psychic thing worked. Flashes of insight, slivers of knowledge. Hardly ever the whole picture. It wasn’t predicting the future, it was untangling puzzles.

The name didn’t mean anything, but I had a stack of reference books and an Internet connection at home that I was sure would have a listing. But right here we had Amelia, a walking reference library.

Cormac spoke—the words were Amelia’s, more precise, less brusque. “The name is a derivation of Astoreth, a Canaanite goddess cast as a demon by later Judeo-Christian mythologists wishing to discredit pagan religions. Some alchemists and demonologists began to use the term to refer to a collection of female or hermaphroditic spirits. She appears in Milton: ‘With these in troop came Astoreth, whom the Phoenicians called Astartè, queen of heav’n, with crescent horns.’”

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