Kitty's Big Trouble Page 40

On our last trek, we’d moved forward with some amount of purpose, confident that we’d find what we were looking for at the end of the journey. This time, we walked cautiously, uncertain that any amount of vigilance would help us. I didn’t think any of us believed that we’d find the Dragon’s Pearl just lying there, waiting for us to take it.

“Ben, Kitty—you guys smell anything?” Cormac called back to us.

“I need a shower,” Ben said. “That’s about it.”

“Hm, shower,” I murmured. “Incentive for getting this over with and getting out of here as quickly as possible.”

Our footsteps sounded loud on the floor.

“We ought to be getting close,” Grace whispered.

We turned the next corner and saw a glow ahead. It could have been anything—a stray lamp, the first light of dawn breaking through a street-side aperture. But as we approached, it took on the quality of a lantern burning—yellow, warm, dancing. Whether we found ourselves in a room, in another part of the tunnel, or in some kind of alternate reality, someone was there, waiting for us. My nostrils widened as I tried to take in as much air as I could, hoping to sense what was waiting for us. I only smelled burning wax, heat, and lingering smoke. It masked whoever was there.

The corridor opened into a room; fanning out, we all saw him at the same time. A man, pale, his dark hair shorn close, his face stern, angular. He wore conservative clothing, a dark button-up shirt, black trousers, and a long overcoat.

It was Roman. He stepped back, his eyes widening for just a moment before he donned his stony, superior mask. I’d have sworn he looked surprised to see us.

“You do have the pearl!” Anastasia said.

“Anastasia,” he said simply, flatly. He might have been greeting her as they passed one another on the street. “It’s been a long time.”

She hissed at him, teeth bared, fangs showing, furious. When she sprang forward, Henry grabbed her, moving in front of her to force her back. At the moment, she didn’t look like a cool and collected player. What showed on her now was hatred. Henry had to wrap his arms around her and lean into her to keep her in check.

Roman looked at each of us in turn. I had an urge to grab Ben with one hand, Cormac with the other, and run hard the other way. Get me and mine out of there. Save ourselves while we still could. If this was a trap that Roman had set, we had little chance of escaping.

Then, I really looked.

Five candles burned in a circle around him, and he’d drawn symbols on the floor in red chalk. He, too, had a map of San Francisco spread before him, but his was drawn directly onto the floor, and I only recognized it by the shape of the coast. The streets were all different, wrong—twisting and haphazard, branching oddly and ending in wide blocks or dead ends. It was a map of the phantom tunnel system. Roman wasn’t just a vampire, he was also some kind of magician. He’d had lots of time to pick up hobbies here and there, one gathered. He was casting a search spell as Cormac had, to try to find the Dragon’s Pearl.

We hadn’t found the pearl at all. We’d found him, also searching for the pearl.

“Cormac?” I murmured, in lieu of a more useful question. His spell had gone awry, evidently.

“Huh,” he said. “Weird.”

Ben’s hand closed on my arm, transmitting his tension. Were we going to run? Fight? Those were the wolves’ choices. My choice was usually to talk. I had to swallow a couple of times, because my voice stuck.

“So, have you found it?” I said finally.

Roman cocked his head, and I couldn’t tell if he was amused or annoyed. Maybe he was trying to decide. “The elusive Katherine Norville,” he said. If only he had a handlebar moustache to twirl.

“Not really. I’m pretty easy to find.”

“Yes,” he said. “You keep throwing yourself in front of avalanches.”

Yeah, about that … “I guess this means you haven’t found it, either.” Roman—not omnipotent. I should have been pleased.

“It’s mine!” Anastasia shouted. “I’ll find it! You’ll never get it, you’ll never have its power!”

“You were my slave, and you’re still little more than that, aren’t you?” Roman said to Anastasia, dismissing her with a glance, without a wasted emotion. “It’s only a matter of time. One of us will find it. If you do, I’ll simply take it from you.”

Someday, I would get the long and sordid story about those two and all the centuries they’d been at each other’s throats. But enough of the witty banter. I squeezed Ben’s arm. “It’s time to go, I think. Henry, get her out of here.”

“Henry, wait,” Roman said.

Henry stopped. His attention turned to Roman, drawn as if on a thread.

“Bring her to me.”

Henry moved toward him, steps slow and heavy. He tilted his head, and his expression turned pursed, confused, as if he could not understand why he was obeying. And yet he kept moving.

“Henry, stop,” Anastasia said, and he did. But he didn’t let her go.

“It’s all right,” Roman said. “It’s going to be fine. Bring her here.”

The anxious lines in Henry’s face went slack as his will vanished. Anastasia struggled, pulling against his grasp as he dragged her forward.

This wasn’t happening. I didn’t care if Roman thought he was god-emperor of vampires, this wasn’t happening. I sprang at Henry, hoping to knock him off balance enough that Anastasia could break free. Then I hoped she’d have the sense to get herself out of here instead of going after Roman again.

I slammed my weight on his arms to break that grip. Instead, we all crashed into the wall. I didn’t have much that worked against vampires, but I tried, jamming my elbow into his throat and biting a meaty bicep. I didn’t want to hurt him, I just wanted to rattle him. Shake him loose from Roman’s control. I had no idea if it would work.

Anastasia wrenched free with a snarl, and I scrambled away from them both.

She was getting ready to pounce at Roman again. I grabbed her arm.

“Go, get Grace out of here,” I said. “You guys have to find the pearl before he does.” Her expression twisted with the indecision—stay to fight her nemesis, or be the first to get the artifact. The big-picture goal must have won because she took Grace by the hand, and together they ran. “Henry?” I said, hoping to get through to him. “Henry!”

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