Kitty's Big Trouble Page 49

“He may not even come, this close to dawn,” Anastasia said. This had to be nerve racking for her—she wasn’t any safer this close to dawn than Roman was. Her last apprentice—a gorgeous woman, very young in terms of both her age and the length of time she’d been a vampire—died when she was exposed to sunlight. Anastasia had to be thinking about her. I certainly was—I’d watched it happen, and I never wanted to see that again.

“It’ll be all right,” I said to her. Somehow, it would. We were underground—she’d be safe, surely.

“Heads up,” Ben said, leaning toward the doorway, his head cocked, listening.

The room fell so quiet I could hear the muted fizzle of the smoldering incense sticks. From the doorway to Cormac’s right, a set of shuffling footsteps sounded—heavy, clumsy. Like someone big and drunk was dragging himself along the wall. It certainly wasn’t Roman. We’d never hear Roman coming, which was a big part of the problem with setting a manually operated trap for him.

Right then, Roman didn’t matter: something was coming toward us.

I kept my breathing steady and settled myself more firmly into my body, my legs, my muscles—ready to spring in any direction, to leap in an instant, and fight.

Henry stumbled through the doorway, as though the darkness had spat him out. Swaying for a moment, he blinked in confusion. He looked unhurt physically—only his expression was odd, dazed. He wore a bronze coin on a chain around his neck—one of Roman’s binding coins.

He looked at me, opened his hands, and scattered a few dozen small objects on the floor between us. They flashed in the light and tinkled like bells when they hit the stone. Then he collapsed on his side.

I started to run to him, but Ben held me back. “Kitty, look.”

The objects Henry had thrown looked like jacks, a children’s toy. Studying them revealed their sharpened points, like twisted knives—caltrops. And they were silver. If one of them even scratched us, we were done. Clinging to each other, we moved back. Roman had immobilized us without even touching us.

“I hate this!” I growled.

Grace went to check on Henry, touching his face, his arm. How did you tell if a vampire was okay? Feel for a pulse? Make sure he was breathing? No and no. He looked dead—pale and cold, unmoving. Of course he looked dead, he was a vampire.

“Grace?” I said. “How is he?”

Grace rolled him onto his back, smoothed the hair away from his face, and pulled back an eyelid to check his eye. He seemed to be sleeping—except for the not-breathing part. He had to be alive, or whatever the vampire equivalent of alive was. He was still here, he hadn’t disintegrated. So that was something. His clothes hadn’t been mussed or altered—even his shirt was still in place. He’d just appeared. Or rather, he’d been shoved in here as a distraction.

“I think he’s okay,” she said, but sounded uncertain.

“Anastasia, what’s wrong with him?”

“Incoming,” Cormac called before she could answer. He held the crossbow ready, aiming at the opposite doorway from where Henry had appeared. He had a clear shot through the middle of the room.

Grace pulled Henry into a corner, and I reflected on the irony of trying to protect an undead guy who was essentially immortal. If said undead guy was unconscious and possibly injured, how would we ever know? Was there a vampire doctor we could take him to?

I was constantly astonished by the absurdity of it all.

“What are we going to do about this?” Ben said, nodding at the silver knives scattered on the floor. We braced, wolflike and ready to pounce—but away from danger, away from the silver.

All I could smell was the stupid incense, and the hallway appeared darker than it should have—my wolf eyes should have been able to make out something. Something had caught Cormac’s attention. Movement flickered in the shadows, or in my own imagination.

The thing that crept in through the doorway made no sound. At first glance, he was a man, incredibly tall, as tall as the doorway, and bulky, stout and full of muscles. He wore nothing but worn trousers and went barefoot. At second glance, however, the details became uncertain and impossible. The figure moved hunched and low, like a wrestler approaching an opponent. As if he was sizing us up. Except his eyes were sewn shut. Two rows of vertical, swollen stitches marked where eyes should have been. Black stitches also marked his nostrils, mouth, and even his ears—he didn’t really have ears, just crusted stitches crisscrossing holes on the sides of his bald head.

I didn’t know how he could sense anything—I didn’t know how he could breathe. Yet he kept on, stepping carefully, flexing his hands as if preparing to strike.

If he didn’t breathe, could we stop him?

Grace gasped as if she recognized the creature, which would have been great, because then she knew what it was and would know how to stop it. But she didn’t say anything. Maybe he was mortal, human. Maybe we could just beat him up. But that didn’t explain the ruin of his face or how he could function without four of his five senses.

The crossbow fired and a bolt whistled past me, smacking into the monster’s neck. The shaft stuck out of sickly grayish skin, quivering. Behind me, Cormac cranked back the crossbow for reloading.

Not that it would help, because the monster didn’t much notice. He grunted, swiped at the bolt, pulled it out, and tossed it away. A bare trickle of blood ran from the wound. So, he was a near-invincible kind of otherworldly monster. Check.

Cormac slung the crossbow over his shoulder and began rummaging in his coat pockets.

“What are you doing?” I said.

“Not going to waste ammo I’m going to need for the vampire,” he said.

Anastasia stared at it with awe and doubt.

“What is it? Who is it?” I shot at her.

“Hundun,” she murmured. “God of chaos.”

Of course he was; we had to get one of those in the mix.

“I don’t know—I thought the guy was dead,” Sun said.

“Wait a minute—if he’s a god how could he be dead?” I called out.

“Oh, gods die all the time.”

I would have to parse that later. “That means we can kill him, right?”

He didn’t answer.

Common sense—Wolf’s common sense—told me that I didn’t know enough about this enemy to be able to fight him. He wasn’t prey, and this wasn’t a hunt. We weren’t cornered—we could escape through the doorway behind us, avoiding the silver caltrops. We could run. We ought to run. That was common sense. But I couldn’t leave the others. And I couldn’t help.

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