Kitty's Big Trouble Page 56

Earnest now, she said, “Stay vigilant, Kitty. Stay watchful. Roman isn’t finished.”

“I don’t exactly need an archvillain in my life.”

“It’s a little late for that.”

I shook my head. “I don’t know why you think I can do this. I don’t have your contacts, your experience.”

“Just do what you’ve been doing. Find allies.”

Build the army to stand against Roman’s army. I was going to need to get myself a new Rolodex.

I reached out a hand, and she shook it. “Take care of yourself,” I said. “I don’t know what’s ahead for you, but, well, be careful.”

“I don’t know what’s ahead, either. I think I like the feeling.” She actually smiled—a genuine, open smile, full of hope. Maybe her first in a very long time.

She squeezed my hand, then turned her shining smile back to Xiwangmu. After giving each of us a look and a quick nod—a blessing, maybe—the goddess walked side by side with Anastasia back through the doorway and disappeared into the shadows of the tunnel.

I had a feeling that if I ran after them, I would find the tunnel empty. I didn’t try, and so saved myself another round of bafflement.

“Who was that?” Henry asked, a tad awestruck.

He’d missed that little bit of the previous night’s adventure. “Queen Mother of the West,” I said, unable to explain beyond that.

“Who?” he replied.

“Where are they going?” I asked Sun.

“Into the West,” he said. “The Queen Mother’s realm.”

“But where is that?”

He gave me a look, like I should know better than to ask such a question. There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio …

Heaven, earth, and how many places in between?

“We should get this one home,” Sun said, nodding at Henry, who was hugging himself and looking longingly after Anastasia, who’d been his anchor.


“I’m fine,” he murmured, not seeming altogether present.

“Yeah,” I said to Sun. “Let’s go.”

Grace was standing with her head bowed, eyes closed.

“Grace?” I said, tentatively touching her shoulder. “We have to get going.”

Sighing, she pulled herself from the wall and joined us.

Now to find that escape ladder.

Sun Wukong gave the monster’s body one last, sad look before leading us down a different hallway than the one we’d come from or the one the others had left through. We continued on in semidarkness. Our lantern seemed to grow dimmer, and the shadows more pervasive. I reached, and found Ben’s hand reaching for mine. We walked together, shoulder to shoulder, as wolves do. Cormac kept glancing behind us.

Finally, Sun stopped and put his hand on the rusted rung of a ladder climbing up toward a grating. What do you know? An escape ladder.

I regarded it wryly. “Can I have a pony, too?”

“She doesn’t want a pony,” Ben said.

I frowned. “Why can’t I have a pony?”

“What are you going to do with a pony?”

Eat it? Wolf helpfully contributed. Maybe Ben was right.

“The grate should pop right out,” Sun said. “Here is where I leave you.”

“Just like that?” Grace said.

“I’d have thought you’d have had enough of the tunnels,” he said.

“Yeah, and my whole life I’m going to wonder when someone else is going to come along needing a guide. Don’t send them to me, okay?”

“I can’t make that promise,” Sun said, grinning.

“That’s it, I’m out of here,” Grace said, and started climbing.

We waited until she got to the top, and as Sun had said, the grate swung up on well-oiled hinges, and Grace pulled herself to the sidewalk, where she was lit by the orange-ish glow of a streetlight.

“Henry?” I said.

He still looked far too pale, even for a vampire, but he set his jaw, nodded, and started the climb. I turned to Cormac next, but he shook his head.

“I’ll cover the back.”

That was his role—watching our backs. I would never be able to argue him out of it.

I looked at Sun. “If you give me a phone number I can get you your shirt back.”

“Keep it. Consider it a souvenir,” he said. So much for my underhanded attempt to find a way to track him.

Next he held his hand out to Cormac and said, “But I will be taking back that crossbow.” Cormac just stared. “It’s a priceless antique,” Sun said. “I can’t let you keep it. Sorry.”

“Priceless?” he said.

Sun chuckled. “You’re a funny guy, you know that?”

Cormac handed it over.

After that, all I could do was hold my hand out. “Sir, it’s been an honor.”

I wasn’t sure he’d shake my hand. But he did, flashing me his grin. “Good-bye, Kitty Norville.”

I climbed the ladder, about twenty feet to street level. It seemed like we should have been much farther underground, for all the darkness and weirdness we’d encountered. We should have been in another world entirely. Yet here we were. Ben came up right behind me—I could feel him, sense movement close to my feet. Finally, up came Cormac. When he was off the ladder, he swung the grate closed, then stomped on it a couple of times for good measure. He might as well have muttered “Good riddance.”

We were in an alley. The night was still early, and the street a few yards away was busy—cars passing, pedestrians walking in clusters heading for dinner or an evening out. Restaurants were still open, though other stores had closed the grilles over their fronts. Traffic flowed, and a car radio playing very loudly passed by. The noise, the sights—the astonishing normality of the scene—was jarring. Part of me was still in the tunnels, waiting for mythological creatures to appear.

The five of us looked at each other, bemused. Had it really happened? Or had we been standing here all night?

Grace walked to the end of the alley and looked out, tentative, as if she wasn’t sure that the world we’d emerged into was the same as the one we left. But she turned back to us, smiling. “We’re right at the store. And Chuck didn’t come in to open. Of course.” She sighed. “I gotta get going.”

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