Kitty's Big Trouble Page 48

Assuming we could draw them both out—assuming that Roman hadn’t decided to flee since he had the pearl and he didn’t need to bother with Anastasia—we had to hope we had enough firepower to get the pearl back and drive them both off, if not destroy them entirely.

It would be such a relief to drive that stake through Roman’s heart here and now, and never worry about him again.

We didn’t have much time to gather supplies and organize. Dawn was close—I was afraid that Roman had left Henry senseless on street level in full view of sunrise where he’d go up in flames at the first hint of daylight. Cormac made a whole list of items he wanted—a crossbow, wooden bolts, holy water, stakes, crosses. Sun Wukong found him a crossbow, and Cormac looked at it askance—it was old, the wood weathered, the mechanism stiff and unwieldly, as if it hadn’t been used in a century. I think he was hoping for something big and modern, made of plastic and steel.

Grace had a bag full of charms, spells, and unlikely weapons—sticks of incense, bells and rattles, firecrackers. “Noises drive off demons,” she explained.

“So I could just scream real loud?” I wasn’t helping very much. All I had were my convictions. And teeth and claws, if it came to that.

Xiwangmu was our ace in the hole, which meant she was staying here. It seemed somehow unfair. I was in awe of her, but also perplexed. I didn’t know how to act around her. Maybe she really was a god and not some powerful sorceress with delusions of grandeur. But she wasn’t my god. The world may have been stranger than even I ever imagined, but I wasn’t going to fall on my knees before every being who came along claiming to be divine. Seemed like a person could get in a lot of trouble doing that.

“My warrior days are behind me,” she said, seeing us off at the doorway to her garden.

“I thought gods were supposed to be eternal. Once a warrior, always a warrior,” I said.

Her smile was amused—and way too human. She didn’t match my idea of divinity—austere, distant, unknowable. Metaphor and literary invention. Obviously, I was going to have to think about this.

“We live our lives same as anyone else.”

I pursed my lips. “Does that mean you can die?”

“You ask too many questions.”

“Yeah, I get that a lot.”

She folded her hands before her, so they were hidden in the sleeves of her robe. “I will be here, if you need refuge.”

If this went badly, we’d have someplace to flee to. But if this went that badly, I wasn’t sure we’d have the opportunity.

Sun Wukong’s job was to deliver the Dragon’s Pearl to Xiwangmu. If our trap failed, if Roman turned it back on us, he would do everything he could to retrieve it and then flee. That was his priority. He would help us if he could, but we weren’t as important as the pearl. They hadn’t actually said that, but the implication was clear, and Anastasia and Grace had seemed to take the conclusion as a matter of course.

I wasn’t so sure that was the best strategy. I had my own plan, unspoken to the others: to protect my pack, Ben and Cormac, and get us out of there safe. If we could bring down Roman, fine. But I wouldn’t do that at the cost of my pack, and I wouldn’t defend the pearl at the cost of my pack. A wise wolf gave up a difficult hunt. You didn’t want to spend more calories than you’d get from the kill. Simple economics.

Six of us went into the tunnel, which closed us in darkness as soon as the door shut. Grace lit her lantern, and with her leading, we traveled down the tunnel to find our battleground. Cormac walked a step behind her, both Anastasia’s and the Dodge City coins in hand. Amelia had some kind of spell planned for them. We’d see.

Only Grace’s footsteps scraped on the stone floor. The rest of us were hunters, warriors. I watched, eyes and ears straining, for any hint of our enemy. Tipping my nose up, I breathed deep to take in as much of the air, as many scents, as I could. All I smelled was stone and incense.

Ben and Cormac stayed within reach; I always knew where they were.

The tunnel opened into a room, not terribly spacious—twenty by twenty, maybe. Large enough to move in, small enough to be defensible. The problem was, each of the four walls had an open doorway leading to another tunnel. This was a crossroads, and Roman could come from anywhere.

“I don’t like this,” I said. “Too many ways to sneak up on us.”

“No, we can use this,” Cormac said. He produced tools and items, the ones he’d used for the compass spell earlier. He drew the chalk circle and design on the floor, set the mangled coins—both Anastasia’s and the one from Dodge City—within the circle, then set a silver dagger in the middle.

Holding my breath, I watched.

The dagger scraped on the stone floor as it began to turn. It inched clockwise, then slipped counterclockwise, more confidently, turning until it stopped—pointing solidly at one of the doorways.

“So he’s there?” I said.

“Yes,” Anastasia said. “He’s coming.”

Oh. Well then.

“Let’s go, then,” Cormac said, scooping up the objects and scuffing out the chalk markings. He then went to one of the corners, set down his bundle of stakes, and worked to draw the crossbow.

Ben squeezed my hand. We stood in the center of the room, side by side, facing the doorway the dagger had marked. The tunnel beyond looked like a black throat.

Grace was laying strings of firecrackers around all four walls. If she had to set those things off, it was going to get real loud in here. My ears hurt just thinking about it.

Anastasia waited in the middle of the room, placing herself in the line of fire as bait. Sun Wukong stationed himself in the opposite corner as Cormac, where he smiled over the proceedings, leaning on his staff, which had reappeared as inexplicably as it had vanished. His otherworldly sense of amusement was starting to wear thin.

Finished with the firecrackers, Grace lit four sticks of incense and set them in each corner. After that, I couldn’t smell much from the tunnels, just the spicy-sweet reek of the burning sticks.

“Is that really necessary?” Ben said. She’d blinded us, scent-wise.

“Yes,” she snapped back.

My shoulders were bunched, my hackles raised. I had to wonder, had we set this trap for Roman, or had he set it for us?

“Keep it together,” Ben whispered, pressing his shoulder to mine. Funny, I’d been just about to tell him the same thing.

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