Kitty's Big Trouble Page 38

“Gunpowder,” he said.

This ought to be good. The last item in Cormac’s hands was a lighter.

I didn’t know enough about magic to be able to guess what spell, incantation, ritual, divination, cantrip, or whatever Cormac was going to work. I was learning more all the time. Amelia’s magic seemed to be rooted in items and in ritual. Objects she could manipulate, procedures she could perform, tapping into external symbols rather than drawing on any innate power. Apparently, in some cases magic could be learned and didn’t depend on natural psychic ability. This should have been comforting—it meant anyone could control it, and it wasn’t so mysterious after all, right? But for the true wizards and magicians I’d met—Odysseus Grant, Harold Franklin, and Amelia Parker—magic wasn’t a hobby they’d picked up in a few classes or weekly knitting circles. They’d dedicated their whole lives to the study. It consumed them. In some ways, they became something other than human—as monstrous as I was. They no longer fit with the human community.

That wasn’t such a huge change for Cormac, as it turned out. Maybe that was how Amelia had found him—or how they’d found each other. I wondered if I’d ever learn the whole story.

“Are you finished?” he asked Grace after a moment.

She sketched the last couple of lines, then got back to her feet, brushing her hands on her jeans. “Yeah. Don’t know how much good it will do you.” She gave him back the piece of chalk, which he used to draw a circle around both the map and Grace’s drawing. I scooted forward, trying one more time to get a look at what the Dragon’s Pearl looked like—she’d drawn something square with squiggles in the middle.

Cormac shot me a look. “Stand back.”

I raised my hands in a gesture of innocence and backed away.

Cormac stood just outside the circle. The room was so quiet, I could hear us breathe—at least, those of us who did breathe. The moment demanded stillness. I was about to say something, unable to bear the tension of anticipation any longer, when the sometime-wizard flicked the lighter on and knelt, touching the flame to the map.

A spark flared on the paper, and a tongue of fire leaped a few inches high. Just as quickly, it vanished, leaving behind a wisp of smoke and the smell of sulfur. Cormac remained kneeling, his hand over the map, the smoke curling around him.

“Whoa,” Ben murmured. We all leaned forward for a better look at what had happened.

Cormac shook a layer of fine soot off the map and held it up to the light. The flame had burned a perfect pinpoint mark into the map. X marks the spot.

“Really? It’s there?” Grace said, moving to Cormac’s side to look over his arm at the image.

“I guess so,” Cormac said. I studied him, searching for a sign that it was really him, that he was back in control instead of Amelia. His posture seemed more like himself. He smelled like books and leather, a confusing mix that didn’t tell me anything.

“That seems too easy,” she said.

“Sometimes you just have to lay out what you really want,” he said.

“So what,” Grace said. “We go pick it up?”

“I doubt it,” he said. He began scuffing out the chalk marks with his shoe, erasing the circle and then the drawing, until the whole area was a vague red smudge.

She looked confused, and I explained. “We still don’t know who took the thing from the safe in the first place. I assume we’re going to have to take it back from them.”

Anastasia hadn’t spoken through the whole spell casting. The other vampires seemed interested and amused, as if we were entertaining them.

“We’ll have to move slow,” Cormac said. “Scout ahead and check it out before we go in. Make sure this is even right.”

That was Cormac. The hunter was back in charge. Grudgingly, I had to admit that they made a pretty good team, however weird I thought the arrangement.

“Part of the tunnel system goes there,” Grace said. “We should be able to get to it, no problem.”

“This time we stick together,” Cormac said. “Nobody gets lost.”

“That’s going to depend on what we find,” Grace said.

I turned to the vampires. “Anastasia?”

“I think it’s a trap,” she said.

“Just like last time,” I said cheerfully. “Shall we get moving and get this over with?”

Anastasia turned toward the door. “Yes.”

“Just like that?” Boss said after her. “You’re not going to ask me for help? For an army?”

“As if you would give it.”

Boss turned to his right. “Henry? You want to go with them?”

“Sure,” the vampire said, shrugging.

“Ah, so now you’re sending a spy,” Anastasia said, glaring at Boss, sneering at Henry, who actually wilted a bit.

“Yeah. But you don’t have anything to hide and he might really be able to help,” Boss said.

They couldn’t do a damned thing without arguing. I said, “Do vampires ever just help anybody out of the goodness of their hearts?”

“Didn’t you know, we don’t have hearts,” Boss said, and he and his minions laughed.

Cormac looked at me. “I hate vampires.”

“Yeah,” I muttered.

Boss shrugged. “If you don’t want Henry along, just say so and you can go on your merry way.”

“He can come,” I said before Anastasia could pitch a fit about it. “Thanks for the offer. I’m sure we can use all the help we can get.”

Boss inclined his head, the hint of a bow, and Henry winked at me.

Anastasia pursed her lips. “Fine. But you’ll listen to me.” She pointed at Henry.

“Yes, ma’am,” he said.

Boss sighed and shook his head. “I bet we can even find a shirt for Mr. Kitty here. You see how helpful we are?”

“Mr. Kitty?” Ben said, eyebrows raised.

“I may have to borrow that one,” Cormac said, smirking.

“Don’t even think about it,” his cousin said.

I butted in. “A shirt would be great.” We could argue about name calling later, though I had to admit I was hating Ben’s reaction. Seriously?

Henry went to fetch a shirt.

“Well,” Anastasia said to Boss. “At least you’ll learn how it all turns out.”

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