Kitty's Big Trouble Page 47

“We need to discuss,” Xiwangmu said. She clapped twice and a pair of girls appeared from the shadows, dressed in elaborate silk gowns, their hair done up with pins and charms. They carried trays stacked with bowls and saucers and a steaming pot of what smelled like earthy, spicy tea. They spread a cloth on the floor and began arranging tea service for seven.

“Do we have time for this?” I said. “It must be getting close to dawn.”

“It’s an hour away,” Anastasia said.

I didn’t have a watch; our phones had gone back to dead, and we had no way of telling time. The night seemed to have gone on for days already. It had gone on forever. But clearly Anastasia knew exactly how close sunrise was. Not that she seemed worried about it—she’d gone back to her poised, superior self. She was also staying close to Xiwangmu, within reach of her throne, as if she planned on kneeling at the goddess’s feet at any moment. She and Grace both stayed close to her, like an honor guard.

“This is a war council,” Xiwangmu said. “Now, sit.”

The serving girls had vanished when I wasn’t looking. Xiwangmu left her throne to take her place in the circle, and Anastasia and Grace sat on either side of her. The nine-tailed fox crept out from under the table and pressed itself to its mistress’s side, and she clicked at it and scratched its ears. I sat across from her, flanked by my own escort of Cormac and Ben. Ben was looking growly; Cormac looked like he wanted to take notes. He still had a bruised eye and cuts from his fight with Roman, but he didn’t seem to mind. The injuries were fading, as if just being here had a healing influence. Maybe it did.

Sun Wukong dropped his staff, which vanished. I was looking right at it and it vanished. He let go, it should have fallen to the floor, but it never did. He flopped cross-legged in the spot between Grace and Cormac, the two magicians. I kept staring.

“What?” he said.

“Where’d it go?”

He tilted his head and smirked, clearly admonishing me for asking such a silly question.

Xiwangmu raised an apple-size bowl of tea and sipped. The rest of us followed suit. I didn’t know what I expected the tea to taste like—something magical and divine, probably. Exotic and full of sparks and fireworks. A tea that would fill me with enlightenment and reveal the answers to all my abstract questions.

It was just green tea, maybe with a hint of mint. It tasted very good, maybe the best green tea I’d ever had—perfect leaves harvested at the perfect time and brewed perfectly in exactly the right temperature water. But I couldn’t sense anything magic in it. I wasn’t sure I was supposed to.

Xiwangmu said, “You seem disappointed.”

“What? Oh, no, it’s fine. It’s really good. It’s just I wondered if maybe you’d spike it with the nectar of the gods or something.” I shrugged and ducked a sheepish gaze. Anastasia frowned at me, and Grace gaped at me, appalled. “Stupid idea. Forget I said it.”

Sun laughed, but it was good-natured, not mocking. Friendly. He said, “You want the Elixir of Immortality from her, you have to steal it.”

“You would know, wouldn’t you,” Xiwangmu said to him darkly, hinting at a story between old, old friends. The kind that neither party would ever let the other forget. For all their power, for all their talk, they seemed like friends. Like people. Which made it even harder to believe in gods.

The council began.

* * *

XIWANGMU HAD known what she was doing with the council. We hadn’t stopped, rested, eaten, drunk anything, done anything but hunt, fight, seek, and flee for hours. Even ten minutes of sitting, sipping tea and nibbling on little rice crackers that the young women brought out, made me feel better—a little more ready to head back into the tunnels and face what was there.

But only a little. We were talking about confronting Roman, after all.

“How do we know he’s even still here?” Ben said. “He’s got the pearl, why do you think he’s going to stick around?”

“Because Anastasia’s here,” I said. “He wouldn’t pass up a chance to finish her off.”

“Or you, really,” Anastasia said.

Yeah, I supposed there was that, though I didn’t like to think of being that high up on Roman’s hit list.

Sun said, “I’d really love to know who’s helping him.”

“Yes,” Xiwangmu said. “So would I.”

Ben said, “There’s still the problem of where exactly he is, and what you’re going to do once you find him.”

Sun chuckled. “Oh, I’ll take care of that, don’t worry.”

As to how to find him, I had an idea. “What do you do when you want to draw someone out?” I said. “You lure him. Your fox taught us that.”

The creature yipped and opened its mouth wide; Xiwangmu scratched its ears.

“So, what, we use you as bait? No way,” Ben said.

Cormac said, “We’ve got his tokens. We ought to be able to track them backward.”

“But they’ve been neutralized,” Anastasia said. “The magic in them is gone.”

“Maybe it is,” he said. “They still came from him.”

The idea seemed chancy, but it also gave me a little hope. If Roman was still around then so was Henry, so was the pearl. All wasn’t lost, yet.

“We have to try,” I said, pulling the coin from my pocket and giving it to Cormac.

The vampire closed her eyes, and for a moment was so still she seemed truly dead. Her chest was still, her skin lacked color. I could push her and she’d fall over.

Finally, she opened her eyes and said, “I would love to see that devil gone. Forever, so he can never hurt anyone else.”

Xiwangmu said, “I agree that Gaius Albinus will look for a chance to destroy you. You can use that desire against him.”

Anastasia nodded. “Yes. Let’s catch Roman.”

We made a plan.

The problem was, we didn’t know anything about Roman’s guide. He or she was Chinese, most likely, to know the secrets, tricks, and magic of the tunnels. Sun Wukong and Xiwangmu seemed confident that he or she was a god. They also said there were hundreds of Chinese gods and goddesses. “Even we need books to keep track of them all,” Sun said, laughing. Still joking at a time like this.

Whoever it was, Roman had kept the guide hidden. We didn’t know what its powers were, or its weaknesses. Now, had Roman hidden the guide because he/she/it was weak? Or because he was a powerful ace in the hole that Roman would only use in an emergency? Like if, say, Sun Wukong showed up again?

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