"Let him go!" I said. As stupid as it was, I reached out and tried to shake her, but I would have had as much luck budging the huge glacial rock beside her.
"I should never have relied on someone who was close to-"
Her words were cut off when she suddenly went flying through the air, slamming into the rock. The impact seemed to surprise more than it hurt her, and mercifully, her torture of Dante stopped. She looked around, eyes wide and confused.
Roman materialized out of the air and strode toward her, fierce and frightening. Finally, I thought. Without my immortal senses, I couldn't feel his aura or signature, but something told me he was wielding a considerable chunk of his power as he advanced. Doing so was risky. It would make his identity known to any greater immortals nearby, though with all the drama in Seattle, there probably weren't any in the area to sense him. Cedric certainly wasn't around.
Grace gave a sharp intake of breath. "You...I remember your signature."
That was all the warning she gave before fire streaked from her hands toward Roman. He didn't move or bat an eyelid, but the fire hit an invisible wall. It arced around him, leaving him unscathed.
"Georgina," he said, not taking his eyes off Grace. "The vessel's over by the north side of the stone's base."
I wasted no time in hurrying over to the spot he'd indicated. I heard Grace's outrage and caught her moving toward me in my periphery. But then, her anger turned to pain. Roman had blasted her with something, and her attention returned to him. My own attention was on the rocky ground as I began digging with my bare hands. In my zeal, I'd once again forgotten a spade. Seth was by my side in an instant, clawing at the sandy surface with me. Large, fat drops of rain began falling on us, but I didn't have time to care.
"Who's stronger?" he asked as the sounds of fighting raged behind us. If Roman's appearance startled him, he was ignoring it for now.
"I don't know," I said. The ground was getting harder to dig in. It was damp and caked together from a recent rain, and I could feel it building up under my nails. "Roman can theoretically be as strong as Jerome, and I'm guessing she's less powerful than Jerome. I don't know for sure, and he might be holding back. The more power he uses, the more he alerts others that he's here."
My fingers hit something hard, and Seth and I both worked to pry it out. It was a wooden box, an old cigar case from the looks of it. I managed a good hold on it, and it began lifting out.
"Here," I said, pausing. I tossed him my purse and then immediately returned to my digging. "Get my phone. Look in the numbers, and you'll find Mei. Call her. Tell her where we're at." The cigar box came up out of the earth.
"You want me to call a demon?" he asked in shock.
"We need her. Tell her where we're at. Then get away from here. Get in my car and go."
"Go!" I shouted.
Seth hesitated for the space of a heartbeat, then got up and ran with my purse, keeping well away from the combatants. I didn't know if Mei would react to a call from a mortal. I didn't even know if she'd answer, nor did I know if she could be trusted. I was relying on instinct-and that naïve hope about everyone's good side-that she and Grace weren't collaborating.
Roman's scream caused me to look up sharply. He was on his back, Grace advancing. What looked like lightning crackled toward him, though just with the fire, it split away. Only, it got a lot closer to him than before. He was weakening.
Frantically, I scraped sand off the cigar box. It looked deceptively easy to open, but when I attempted to pry the lid up, nothing happened. It wouldn't budge, and I knew no efforts of mine would make it happen. Turning to the watch I'd taken from Dante, I peered at it. The face was a pale brown marbleized pattern-one that easily blended in with the seal. It was an ingenious hiding spot. I smashed the watch against the cigar case, and on the third try, the glass cracked. I plucked away the pieces and tried to pull up the face. It was embedded firmly. Taking a small shard of the watch's surface, I slipped it under the seal's edge, and after a few moment's pressure, everything fell apart, and...there was no seal.
I stared. Gears, watch hands, pieces of glass, and the face...but no seal. Seth had been certain. I had been certain. Dante had no other place on him that he would keep it. Carter had said it was possible that the summoner might hide the seal elsewhere, and if Dante had done that, we were screwed.
I cut my own profanity off and stared at my wrist, at the glittering watch winking up at me. No. Surely it wasn't this obvious. Dante had given me the watch before Jerome had been summoned, and then I'd lost it right around the time of the summoning. I'd blamed it on myself, but was it possible that Dante had actually briefly taken it back...?
Jerking the watch off my wrist, I didn't hesitate to give it the same treatment as Dante's watch. It killed me to shatter that beautiful gold-and-glass piece of work, but when the filigree face popped out, I found a piece of smoky quartz that complemented Grace's. Dante needed more credit. He'd kept the seal close to him and hidden it where no one who was looking for it-i.e., me-would ever think to search.
The seal was useless, though, without the other half. Looking up, I saw that Grace had her hand around Roman's neck and was lifting him off the ground. He was completely limp. I didn't quite understand, but something told me he'd completely shut off all his power. Why? It was suicide. I wanted to scream, to run over and save him, but there was nothing I could do. Her back was to me, but I could imagine the gleam in her eyes.
"When I kill you," she hissed, "my position will be secured."
Suddenly, she jerked her head back toward me. For a moment, I thought I'd attracted her attention, but she wasn't looking at me. She was looking beside me, having sensed what I no longer could: the signature of another greater immortal. Mei stood there, hard and grim. I'd always considered her stone-faced, but the look she wore was truly terrifying, and I cringed.
She and Grace locked gazes, and then a few seconds later, Grace flung Roman away. He landed with a hard thud and lay still for a moment. Then, he lifted his head and slowly began crawling across the sand toward me, every movement seeming to cause him agony.
"You have seriously screwed things up," said Mei.
"I have improved my situation," said Grace evenly. "And I can improve yours."
"I don't need your help-especially when I reveal that you were behind all this. The others will reward me. Jerome will reward me."
"You're an idiot! Do you want to spend the rest of eternity working for someone else?"
"My time will come," Mei returned smoothly. "And I'd rather work for him than you."
And without any more banter, they lunged at each other. It was a bizarre fight. Half of it seemed very human, complete with physical blows and grappling. At the same time, there was definitely a supernatural element to it, as they wielded the same kind of elements and invisible blows Grace and Roman had. The rain was pouring down, drenching both of them. With their abilities, they could have remained impervious, but they were too distracted by each other.
Roman was still crawling toward me. Holding onto the seal and the box, I hesitantly moved to meet him half-way.
"Can you open it?" I asked, handing him the box.
His breathing was heavy and pained, but he gripped the box like I had and tried to pry the lid open. His fingers clenched the wood, and I saw exertion on his face, both of a physical and magical level. At last, he grimaced. "No. Not a greater immortal power I inherited."
I looked up at the demonesses. There was a slight shimmer around both of them. As the battle intensified, they were in danger of shifting to their true immortal forms, which would be bad for me to see. "Who's stronger?" I asked.
"They're evenly matched," said Roman, following my gaze. "Grace is a little worn down, though."
I hoped it would be enough. Hugging the box to my chest, I watched them fight, ready to look away if they totally shifted form. I'd always thought they had a hard sort of beauty, but now, it was all hardness and no beauty, and it wasn't difficult to see that under their human facades, they were truly demons of hell. I could also see what Roman meant about them being evenly matched. Each time one gained an advantage, the other took it back.
Until, just when it seemed Grace might be getting the better of Mei, Mei suddenly came on full force with an attack of unseen blasts that caught Grace off-guard and made her stumble back. With inhuman speed, Mei reached forward and ripped the choker from Grace's neck. Equally fast, she threw it toward me and then turned back to block Grace, who seemed to realize the end was near.