Kitty Saves the World Page 52

I’d spent enough time with Cormac, Amelia, and Odysseus Grant, I thought I knew what they’d say: destroying, marring the coins didn’t just negate their power. It was a repudiation. A declaration not just of independence, but of opposition. And there was power in that—a deep, protective magic. Maybe entirely unintentional, but I wasn’t going to question it.

“You can’t hurt me,” I said madly.

He leered back. “No, I can’t kill you. I’m pretty sure I can hurt you.”

The ground under me cracked and collapsed. Finally, I screamed.

Chapter 16

A SINKHOLE OPENED under me, dropping me into an underground pool of steaming-hot water, one of the sources that fed the aboveground geyser systems. The water was so hot it didn’t register as heat at first—I splashed in, and felt numb. When the searing came, it was almost from the inside out, muscles flaring then flashing to a burn on my skin.

I was still a werewolf, I was still tough. The burning wouldn’t kill me. Whatever happened, I would heal. I kept telling myself that.

Snarling with the effort, clothes dripping, I splashed to my feet and looked for escape. I was in a crevice, a cleft jagging its way across the pockmarked rock. Exposed to air, my burned skin seared as if every cell were on fire. My feet, still in the pool of water, were boiling. I could smell my own flesh cooking.

I ran, but the ground under me shook and I tripped, falling again into the hot stream.

Lightman stood over me at the edge of the crevice, ready to inflict the next blow. He couldn’t touch me, but he could affect everything around me. The ground rumbled, edges of the crevice crumbling further, stones pattering down. Another earthquake—he could keep opening sinkholes under me until I baked to death in a pool of magma. And he would watch, grinning that smug Hollywood grin.

He expected me to run; he figured all he had to do was keep me from running away. I couldn’t shift, but I still had Wolf’s power. She was still inside me, and unthinking I moved with her drive, her fierceness. Scrambling over debris up the side of the crevice, I went straight toward him. Didn’t stop, didn’t plan. This was a hunt; I only focused on the target.

I could tell by the startled roundness in his eyes he hadn’t expected me to run at him. I discovered, gratefully, that while he couldn’t touch me, I could touch him. But I wasn’t interested in touching so much as grabbing, shoving, and stomping. Wrapping my hand in the first bit of convenient shirt, at the buttons, I yanked, swung him around, and put my shoulder into knocking him over the side, right into the water where I’d been. He made a shout. I didn’t look back. I didn’t have time. I barely paused, kept moving forward.

Any minute now I expected the ground to open under me. It wouldn’t even have been him doing it; it might have just been the soft dirt weakened by thermals. My feet sank a few times, but I scrambled on. Avoided anyplace with cracks or steam spitting out. I made for the trees and the ridge marking the edge of the basin.

When I finally fell, skidding into a bank of ice-crusted snow lingering in shadows, I curled up and didn’t get back up again. My skin and all my nerves throbbed. My cheek, pressed into the ice, was the only part of me not on fire, so I focused on that, the soothing chill. The rest of me, though—all my muscles locked up with the pain.

I’d heal. I’d get better. I had to be patient. In the meantime, blacking out would be nice. Instead, I listened for following footsteps, for a suave voice taunting me from beyond the next row of trees. I had to hold my breath, to keep from gasping loudly.

Quiet, all quiet.

I unfolded—carefully, slowly. I didn’t want to look at myself. My muscles seemed to pop, and my skin stretched, feeling like it was blistered and falling off. But it was still there, though tender, and probably lobster-red. My feet were blistered, swollen. My shoes were just gone. But I was still conscious. I was still in one piece. Lucifer hadn’t found me yet.

I was in the middle of Yellowstone, with no clue what to do next. I patted my jeans pocket—my phone was there. Whether I’d get any reception—No, no I would not.

Run.

The word run was sometimes a euphemism among werewolves. It didn’t just mean the physical movement of running. It also meant turn, shift, flee to the wilderness. Run with me, meant something more.

“You’re back,” I murmured. “You’re awake.”

My Wolf stirred, and I felt something like claws press against the inside of my gut. Wolf, awake, wanting to run. It’s time to go.

Whatever Lightman had done to lock her away, we were out of range now, and he couldn’t stop us. We had to get away before he found us.

This was going to hurt.

Even taking off my clothes hurt, so I worked it like a Band-Aid—ripping it off fast rather than prolonging the torture, shoving off my jeans, and dealing with the flaming agony of fabric rubbing against blistered skin. Before I was too far gone, I checked for the coin, made sure the cord was tight and solidly around my neck, pressed it firmly to my chest, and repeated over and over, don’t lose it, don’t lose it. Maybe Wolf would remember, maybe Wolf would keep the coin safe. We needed it.

Then I let go of the bars of the cage in my gut, and Wolf roared out. My neck arched back, my teeth bared, my limbs stretched. Fur prickled along my burned skin, but I shut my eyes and let it wash through me. I was strong, I was Wolf—

*   *   *

Run, that’s all there is. There is pain, but it will pass. The danger is too large to manage. Some hunts aren’t worth the effort, so you leave off and wait for better odds. Running means being able to try again later.

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