Kitty Saves the World Page 59

“Hi, guys,” Sun said, waving. “Nice to see you again.”

Cormac was leaning on the hood of the Jeep. He smirked and shook his head. “This just keeps getting weirder.”

“Hey,” Ben said. “Let me guess: Anastasia.”

“Right in one,” Sun said.

Ben shook his head and chuckled.

“I have so much to tell you—”

“Not here,” Cormac said. “Let’s not talk about this in the open with Roman and his crew running around. Tina and the others are getting rooms.” He climbed into the Jeep without waiting for a response.

“You know how you’re always saying you want a vacation?” Ben said. “Well, I’m ready.”

I hitched a thumb toward the park. “Top U.S. tourist destination, right over there.”

“Not the same. Wait a minute—where are your shoes?” His nose wrinkled, as if he was just now noticing my clothes didn’t smell like me.

“Yeah,” I said. “Did I mention I have a lot to tell you?”

The four of us got ourselves to our various vehicles and took off to meet the others.

*   *   *

BEN FORCED a detour to a sporting goods store to buy me hiking boots, socks, jeans, and a coat. Made things a little more comfortable. He was coddling me, which was sweet, and I gave into the urge to let him, sitting curled up against him, both of us crammed into one seat in the Jeep, while he glared out at anything that looked like it might touch me.

The place where we ended up was one of those old-fashioned motor lodges, two stories tall with all the doors and windows overlooking the parking lot. The Pine Tree Inn. Quaint. The parking lot was half filled with cars. We weren’t quite in the tourist season, but the place wasn’t deserted, either. And all I could think was: if the volcano erupts, all these people would die.

The others had gathered in one room. Tina gave me a giant hug when I appeared. We both winced—she still had broken ribs, and my skin was still tender. Grant nodded solemnly, and Hardin looked relieved, like she hadn’t believed I really was still in one piece. The gang was all here, and I felt a sense of awe at the army I’d gathered.

I introduced Sun as Sun, and nothing more. He didn’t elaborate, and everyone accepted him without question. Tina narrowed her gaze when they shook hands; her sixth sense was telling her something, but she didn’t say what. We could deal with his identity as a major figure from Chinese folklore later, I figured.

The eight of us—counting Amelia as eighth—gathered, sitting on the pair of beds and pulling up chairs. I remained standing, and I flashed on an image: that drawing in my office, the memory of a presence behind me, looking over my shoulder. People kept calling me Regina Luporum—people like Anastasia kept calling me that.

They were all looking at me. Not just waiting for me to explain what had happened to me, but wanting me to say what we needed to do next. It was too big—but they were here because of me. I rolled back my shoulders, settled myself, and told them the story. About Lightman, what he’d told me, our fight among the boiling springs. The powers he’d shown, how I managed to get away, and the dream I’d had—that yes, we had help, at least to a point. And how we had until nightfall to make a plan.

It took time because it sounded crazy, and there was no way to make it sound less crazy. I rambled a bit. When I finished, everyone stared at me.

Cormac leaned back in his chair and blew out a breath. “Well, is that all?”

“I’m not letting you out of my sight ever again,” Ben said, squeezing my hand. That was fine with me.

“He’s not invincible,” I said. “Or we wouldn’t have gotten this far.”

The gazes around me did not seem entirely certain. I clung to what momentum I had. Otherwise, it would be too easy to curl up on the bed with Ben and never get up again. Just wait for the inevitable.

Cormac turned to his canvas bag and started laying out a familiar collection of objects: amulets, demon goggles, and old books. “You said the coin stopped Lightman?” He spoke with an intensity that made me think it was Amelia. Magical artifacts were her thing, after all.

“Yes. He could hurt me, but not kill me.”

Grant looked up. “So it confers some kind of invulnerability.”

“No,” I added, wincing, because my brain hurt trying to sort it all out. “Kumarbis was wearing one of these when Ashtoreth killed him. So it may only protect us from Lightman. Is that possible?”

“It’s magic,” Grant said.

Cormac pursed his lips. “Lightman is Caesar to Roman’s Dux Bellorum. The coins mark his followers—identifies them not just to Roman, but to Lightman as well. To break the coin, to mark it up, is to disavow them both. And Lightman loses some of his power as a result.” Definitely Amelia.

“That actually makes sense,” Ben said.

“Right. Everyone gets a coin.” Cormac started handing them out. We had six of them, counting the one I was already wearing. I could identify them all, remembering where each one came from: the starving vampire we’d tracked down in Dodge City, Kansas; the one Anastasia had worn; Jan, the Master vampire we’d confronted in London; Kumarbis; Mercedes; Angelo. Each one marked out the long road that had brought us here.

“We’re one short,” Ben said, after everyone had gotten one—except Sun.

“It’s okay,” he said. “I don’t need one.”

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