Kitty Raises Hell Page 68

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“You’ll see.”

I held the box under one arm, and held Ben’s arm with the other, as we followed Peter. He walked briskly, almost jogging through the lobby and past the tourists and gamblers and noise. I was so focused I barely registered the area. I was in hunting mode, and the prey was in sight.

Peter led us to the King of Beasts theater, then to a side door. It was unlocked. We went in, and before us was the stage, just as it looked at the end of the show: torches, palm trees, vegetation dripping off the backdrop of a giant fake ziggurat, like we’d landed in some lost jungle temple. I’d seen the show—way up close. It was on this stage and setting that the cult of Tiamat had tried to kill me.

Now Odysseus Grant stood downstage center, next to a six-and-a-half-foot-high coffinlike box, painted black and covered with faded decorations, vines and flowers, arcane symbols. Part of his magic show, he put people inside and made them disappear. He always brought them back—during the show, at least.

I knew better than to ask how he’d managed to get the box here from his own theater at the Diablo Hotel, at least a mile away. Grant just did things.

Ben hadn’t seen any of this. He’d just heard the aftermath stories. He stopped halfway down the aisle and stared at the setting, agog.

“When I said this was fucked up, that was an understatement,” he said.

“Is that it?” Grant said to me, marching to the edge of the stage, reaching toward me. I fished the jar out of the box and handed it to him.

He held it up to the light, turning it, as if he could see through the mostly opaque glass. As if he could see anything inside. For all I knew, the ifrit had simply vanished and the jar was empty. Except for the way Tina had stared at it, and how carefully she handled it.

“Extraordinary,” Grant said softly. When he glanced at us, he was actually smiling. “Do you know what you’ve done here?”

I shrugged. “We weren’t trying to do anything fancy. I just wanted to keep my city safe.”

Peter had lingered by the theater door, and now slammed it shut. “They’re coming.”

“Get out of sight,” Grant said to us. We didn’t argue. Not that it would help; we were facing a vampire and a pack of lycanthropes. They’d be able to smell us. Peter waved us over to the far edge of the stage, where we could hide in the wings, at least for a little while. This was going to come down to the face-to-face battle I’d been hoping to avoid.

I whispered to Peter, “This is going to get ugly. You should get out of here, okay? I don’t want you to get tossed around or bitten.”

“Shh.” He didn’t promise. I decided that my first priority was going to have to be looking after him. Might not be the best policy. But I owed it to him—and his brother.

Downstage, Grant had opened the door to the box of vanishing and placed the ifrit’ s jar inside.

A breath of cold passed through the theater, like an air conditioner had just come on. Then she was standing before the stage, looking up at him. I’d seen the woman only twice, once as part of Balthasar’s show, the dark priestess of a mock ceremony, and once as the real priestess, wielding a silver dagger over my heart. That time, I’d gotten a good look at her, a good smell of her, and knew she was a vampire. Now she was dressed in a black flowing gown, a robe wrapped around her, belted with gold. Her hair was long and loose down her back. She was like a statue, unbreathing, solid as stone. I swallowed back a growl. Ben squeezed my hand.

Her entourage accompanied her, a half-dozen young men who walked with graceful, easy strides and spread out around the theater, blocking the exits. They were handsome, decorative, and smug; they knew how gorgeous they were and knew how to show it off. The fur and wild smell of lycanthrope was thick around them. Their leader, Nick, stood at the top of the center aisle, gazing over the stage as if they’d already won.

I wasn’t sure Grant would be able to hold his own against the group.

“This is a trap,” the vampire, Farida, said, in a rich, clipped accent I couldn’t identify.

Flat on his palm, facing her, Grant held a cross. It wouldn’t stop her in an attack, but maybe it would make her hesitate. She stepped forward, moving to the side of the stage and a set of steps hidden there. Though she seemed to move slowly, she was on the stage in moments, approaching him. I blinked, sure I’d missed something.

Grant stood his ground and spoke as if placating a wild animal. “I’m only returning what belongs to you.”

She glanced at the jar with a look of distaste. “I do not want it. It has failed. As you will.”

“I should have done this a long time ago,” Odysseus Grant murmured.

I had to keep my breathing slow. I didn’t want to panic. Grant looked nervous, which made my heart sink. His lips were thin, his breathing was deep—I could see his chest moving. That cross wasn’t going to protect him if the vampire made a move.

He was drawing her in, waiting for, to her to get closer. I could almost see him counting, ticking off seconds as she stepped forward. She moved like she didn’t think his magic could hurt her, and I wondered if it was true, if there was a reason Grant had hidden himself away all this time rather than confronting her and stopping the cult earlier. For all his air of power, he was mortal.

She paid no attention to the box or the ifrit’ s jar. Her gaze focused on him. A vampire’s gaze had power—all she had to do was make Grant look into her eyes, and she could immobilize him.

I crouched, getting ready to spring. I couldn’t defeat her, but I had to try. I couldn’t let her take down Grant. Ben put his hand on my shoulder, squeezed, holding me back like he knew what I was going to do.

Grant threw something to the floor at the base of the box, at the jar. A puff of smoke and sparks exploded around it. Special effects, I thought—a smoke bomb or explosive squib of some kind, a distraction. But the smoke spread, rose up, and from it emerged the outline of a figure, broad and hunched, licked all around with tongues of flame, rising from the broken jar.

I almost screamed, jumping forward and shouting a denial. All that work—we’d set a neighborhood on fire to capture that thing—and he just let it go. Ben held me back.

The ifrit clenched blurred, fiery fists, tipped its head back, and screamed, a sound like that of a flamethrower. Grant had vanished—probably not literally vanished, but had gotten well out of the way and out of sight. The demon hovering before the box had turned its rage toward the vampire—who took a step back.

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