Low Midnight Page 65

“And Judi gave you the key, just like that?” Kitty said.

“Whole code, all laid out.”

“So she could have helped you all along.”

He said, “I think they wanted to make sure I was serious. That I wasn’t just screwing around.”

“So it really was a test like in a fairy tale.” Kitty wrinkled her nose.

“Whatever it was—the key worked. Amelia decoded the whole thing.” He thumbed the stack of pages he’d brought. He figured Kitty would appreciate the reading. “I also asked your Web guy to take down the online version. Figure we didn’t need it hanging around anymore.”

“And … what?” she said, and sure enough she was reaching for the stack with curved, clawlike fingers. “You find anything? Did she say anything?”

He could sit there with half a grin on his face and drive her nuts, but he didn’t. He had the page folded down, the one where Amy explained why Kumarbis dedicated himself to destroying Roman, and drew it out to hand to Kitty.

Her eyes scanned over the lines, written in Amelia’s pointed cursive, and she started reading out loud.

“‘So amazing, thinking that such a power might exist. And yet utterly chilling. Kumarbis, for all his vague notions, for all his damaged psyche, is right—even if Dux Bellorum did nothing else, what he did at Herculaneum means he is viciously dangerous and must be stopped.’”

“Herculaneum?” Ben said. “What’s that have to do with anything?”

Cormac said, “Herculaneum is another town buried by the eruption of Vesuvius that destroyed Pompeii.”

“I know, but what does it have to do—”

“Wait. Be quiet, I have to think.” Kitty put up her hand, scrunched up her face, held her head as if she could squeeze the memory out. “It was something Kumarbis said, but it was right before everything went to hell. It’s all a mess … I can’t remember.” She opened her eyes wide. “Herculaneum. When I asked him about the Manus Herculei, that artifact Roman was going after, he said it didn’t refer to Hercules, it was Herculaneum. I just remember thinking, what the hell is that? Then I had other things to deal with.” Her thoughts darkened, turned inward. The trauma surfaced, sometimes. But she buried it quickly.

Ben was the one who broke the heavy silence. “Wait—so we are saying that Roman used magic to cause the eruption of Vesuvius? That’s the implication here, right?”

Because this wasn’t the first time Cormac and Amelia had been presented with that possibility, they weren’t surprised.

“Could he do it again?” Kitty asked softly.

That was the implication. They still weren’t any closer to finding Roman or knowing how to stop him.

Ben said, “So, what, we need a geologist on the team now? Wecan’t guard every active volcano on the planet. Even if he was able to make a volcano explode, why would he do it? What would it accomplish? Who’s to say he didn’t just, I don’t know, hate Pompeii?”

Kitty reached for the bottle of wine to pour another glass, but it was empty. She sighed. “I’ll spread the word. I’ll let everyone know what we’ve found. Maybe the old vampires like Marid can shed some light on things. Um, no pun intended.” She considered her empty glass of wine and furrowed her brow.

Meanwhile, Ben had gone to the cupboard to fetch another bottle, and he refilled Kitty’s glass. Cormac shook his head at the offer of more. He needed to hit the road soon.

He’d gone and solved a whole collection of mysteries, a hundred-year-old murder and a magician’s secret code. He even got paid—even if it was Layne’s dirty money. Still spent the same. He ought to feel satisfied. Instead, he had a nagging suspicion he was missing something.

*   *   *

CORMAC LAID them all out on his table at home: one of the mangled coins of Dux Bellorum, the first one that had belonged to Kumarbis himself; a pair of goggles with very dark glass and aged leather that once belonged to a demon who might very well have come from Hell; the USB drive that had belonged to Amy Scanlon, in its reliquary; and Milo Kuzniak’s mirrored amulet, which didn’t have anything to do with the others, but he might as well keep it with the rest of the trophies. The rest of the clues. Mysteries with loose ends hanging.

If only objects could talk, to find out where this had come from, who it had belonged to, and did the elder Kuzniak find it or steal it, and on and on. He still didn’t have a way to look into the future to see what was coming next.

We could find a practitioner of psychometry—

No. It didn’t matter, it wasn’t important. What was important: looking forward.

The Long Game—it’s bigger than the vampires, isn’t it?

Likely. But he was betting the only vampire who knew that was Roman. He was manipulating the whole thing, gathering power, collecting spells and rituals, and it couldn’t be for any good purpose.

He could walk away. This wasn’t his fight.

But you won’t. You can’t.

Kitty and Ben wouldn’t walk away. He wasn’t in this to figure out what Roman was really up to and what he planned next. He was here to make sure they didn’t get themselves killed or worse. That was good enough for him.

*   *   *

SINCE SOLVING the problem of Amy’s book, he hadn’t checked the e-mail tied to the online version, which the Webmaster had left active. Before heading to bed for the night, he looked and found unread messages waiting for him, including one from his learned correspondent. The one Amelia had a crush on.

Prev Next