Kitty Saves the World Page 69

“Why are you still here?” he asked.

“Because I kind of always wanted to just talk to you. Old vampires usually have such good stories.”

“Your standards are low. I’ve listened to your show.” He shuddered.

I had never seen a vampire so injured and still moving. It was a shock, seeing him like this. He was the vampire other vampires told stories about to scare each other. My friends and I had spent years opposing him. And now, weirdly, perversely, I felt sorry for him. He was a horror.

Blood would heal him. If an injured vampire survived long enough to have a conversation, he’d live. But he needed blood. I’d moved out of his arm’s reach for a reason.

“I met Kumarbis,” I said.

I couldn’t tell this time if he was chuckling or coughing. “So I gathered. What did you think of him?”

“He was crazy.”

“He was crazy from the start.”

“You probably guessed this, but he’s dead. Ashtoreth destroyed him.”

“Stupid old man. Thought he heard the voice of God. It wasn’t God. He’d been a vampire for four thousand years, did you know that? He couldn’t even remember being alive anymore. He didn’t remember what his name had been, where he was from. He was a fossil walking the earth.”

I’d guessed that he’d been old. Without really believing he’d been that old. How did you wrap your brain around that? “He told a lot of stories. Some of them about you. You must have hated him, after he turned you. You must have been so angry.”

“I do not need your pity. I was born a citizen of Rome. We are a race of engineers, of builders. Problem solvers. You choose your road, and you build it straight and strong, to last for generations. Rage would have been a waste. I built a road instead. Archimedes said that if you gave him a lever long enough and a fulcrum on which to place it, he would move the world. Immortality is that lever. I have spent two thousand years placing the fulcrum. Only to have it all … slip.”

His shining gaze turned upward to the sky, which was growing pale. The landscape around me had taken on detail; I could see the needles on pine trees and ripples in the water. Somehow, the whole night had passed. Dawn was almost here, and I hadn’t noticed. That always seemed to happen, that moment sneaking up on me.

In moments, the sun would rise, and Roman was out in the open. I felt a panic at that—but I wasn’t supposed to care. I wanted him to die. I would sit here and watch him crumble, and be happy.

“What are you going to do?” I asked him.

“Nothing, it seems.”

That didn’t seem right, none of it did. He’d failed, the world was saved, he was injured, and maybe he even deserved it. Do nothing, Wolf says. And she was right, and she was wrong.

Speaking faster than I was thinking, I said, “I can get you to the woods, we can find a cave, a hollow, something—”

“That isn’t what you really want to do,” he said. “You only offer because it’s the ethical thing to do. The moral thing.”

“The right thing.”

“The right thing for you to do is let me die. I am your enemy, I have caused great harm to you and yours. You should be lording your victory over me.”

“I’m too damned tired,” I said.

“You make the offer to save me because you think it absolves you. But you simply sit there.”

He was right. I just sat there.

He reached out, clawing at the soil. This time, he managed to turn over, to get into a position where he could crawl. He didn’t get far, but he didn’t have to. He was reaching for something, and when he grabbed it, he collapsed to his side.

His hand had closed around a broken piece of wood, a thin branch that had been blasted in the explosion. It was naturally sharp on its broken end.

He spoke, his voice growing louder as he gained strength, or will, and he placed the point of the branch on his chest. Like a good Roman soldier.

I scrambled forward, hand reaching to grab the stake. He was so weak, I could have just pulled it away. But I didn’t. He met my gaze—I let him catch my gaze. But he didn’t use his hypnotic power, either because he couldn’t, or because he didn’t need to. His message was obvious: let him do this. I pulled my hand away.

“Roman,” I said, my voice breaking. “Gaius—”

He spoke softly, reciting something with the quality of a prayer. “His ibi me rebus quaedam divina voluptas percipit atque horror, quod sic natura tua vitam manifesta patens ex omni parte retecta est…”

I didn’t stop him. I bore witness, and that was all.

He shifted his weight, leaned on the point, and his already weak body slid cleanly onto the stake of wood, through the heart. In seconds, his body turned to ash and dust, though it was hard to see through the injuries. Bone turned gray, scattered. His form decayed, collapsed. He kept speaking until the words were lost in a failing breath.

The sun broke, light stabbing over distant hills. Roman would not be finished by something as simple as sunlight, oh no. He wasn’t at the mercy of anything.

The light on my face was warm, caressing, and the most joyful sensation I’d ever felt in my life. I was alive. Another day had come.

Standing, I wiped my mud-streaked hand across my face. I didn’t know why I should be crying, but I was. I was just tired, that was it. I could sleep now. Go home, sleep. Not worry quite so much.

Amid Roman’s ashes lay a hard metal object. When I knelt to examine it, I knew what I would find: a bronze coin, like those he’d given to his followers. The first of them, the master. I picked it up gingerly, trying to avoid the flakes and ashes. I hoped for a wind to come and blow him away, but the air was still. His remains lingered, like the charred bits of an abandoned campfire.

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