and took it away.
Saiman leaned back in his seat. "As I said, mildly interesting."
"I find it horrific."
"Why? I've seen you kill before, Kate. Granted, you do it with considerably greater skill."
"I kill because I have to. I kill to protect myself or others. I won't take a life to titillate a crowd. Nor would I torture a man for the pleasure of it."
Saiman shrugged. "You kill to survive and to appease your own misguided conscience. Those in the Pit kill for money and the gratification of knowing they are better than the corpse at their feet. At the core, our motives are always self-serving, Kate. Altruism is a fog created by sly minds seeking to benefit from the energy and skill of others. Nothing more."
"You're like a god from a Greek myth, Saiman. You have no empathy. You have no concept of the world beyond your ego. Wanting something gives you an automatic right to obtain it by whatever means necessary with no regard to the damage it may do. I would be careful if I were you. Friends and objects of deities' desires dropped like flies. In the end the gods always ended up miserable and alone."
Saiman gave me a stunned look and fell silent.
FIGHTS CAME ONE AFTER ANOTHER, ENDING IN death far more often than necessary.
Too much blood, too much gore, too much show. Too much amateur enthusiasm cut short by icy experience. Once in a while Saiman asked me who would win. I answered, keeping it short. I was ready to go home.
The gong tolled once again. The scoreboard descended carrying two names: ARSEN VS.
MART. -1200+900. Arsen was a heavy favorite to win.
"I would like to offer you a job," Saiman said.
I was too sickened to muster any disbelief. "No."
"It's not of a sexual nature."
"Out of six fights, you have picked a winner every time. I want to employ you as a consultant.
Members of the House evaluate the fighters prior to the event to determine the odds the House will give for each fight . . ."
Mart walked out onto the sand. He had lost the trench coat, and his black suit clung to his slender frame. He moved quietly, a dark, lean shadow, his blond hair the only spot of color.
He carried two swords like two sunbeams trapped in steel, one long, one short, a classic katana and a wakizashi.
"Three grand per evaluation."
I turned to Saiman and looked at him. "No."
A deep bellow rolled through the Arena. It started low, a long, heavy roar produced by an inhuman throat, grew to a thunder, and broke into a cacophony of snorts and rapid, sharp cries. The crowd went completely silent. My hand went above my shoulder, but my saber wasn't there.
" What is that?"
Saiman's face shone with smug delight. "That's Arsen."
A huge shape appeared in the dim depth of the Gold Gate. Slowly, ponderously, it moved just to the edge of the light. Shadows clung to the contours of vast shoulders and a thick, muscled torso, obscuring a large helmet.
The Red Guard holding open the wire fence door to the Pit looked as though he wanted to be anywhere but there.
Arsen bellowed again and burst into the light, galloping into the Pit. The Red Guard slammed the door closed and took off.
Arsen charged to the center of the Arena, put on the brakes, raising a spray of sand in the air, and roared. The silent audience stared in shock.
He was seven feet tall and layered with slabs of hard, carved muscle that stretched his coal-black hide. His short fur flared into a shaggy mess on his chest and ran down his stomach in a narrow line to widen at his crotch, striving but not quite succeeding in masking his generous endowment. A fringe of hair climbed his thighs and the backs of his arms to droop in a long mane off his massive neck. Two pale horns protruded from his skull. His face was a meld of human and bull: a bovine nose and a bovine mouth, but human eyes peered out under the coarse ridges of his eyebrows. A braided beard dangled from his bottom jaw. His legs terminated in hooves. His arms ended in hands that could enclose my face with their thick, blunt fingers, only two per hand and a thumb. The spear in his right hand was the size of a two-by-two.
I remembered to close my mouth. "A werebull?"
"No. Something much more exotic," Saiman said. "He was born this way and he doesn't shapeshift into a human. He's a minotaur."
Arsen dug the sand with his left hoof, kicking it up, and shook his head. Gold loops of earrings glittered in his left ear. He was power, strength, and rage, bound in flesh and straining to be unleashed.
Mart didn't move. He stood, the two swords in his hands pointing down and apart.
"Arsen is my personal fighter." Saiman's voice vibrated with pride.
"Where did you find him?"
"Greece. Where else?"
"You brought him over from Greece?" By boat. With sea serpents and storms. It must have cost a fortune.
Saiman nodded. "It was worth it. I have no resources to waste on cheap things. I would sacrifice a considerable sum to have the Reapers humiliated. This was a mere pittance."
Arsen bellowed. His eyes locked on Mart. He lowered his head.
Mart simply stood, unmoving and silent.
Moist air puffed from the minotaur's nostrils. Arsen hunched his shoulders and charged.
He came roaring down, impossible to stop, like a battering ram.
Mart made no move to evade.
Twenty feet. Fifteen. Twelve.
Mart leapt into the air, unnaturally high, like a piece of black silk suddenly jerked out of sight.
He sailed over the minotaur and landed on its shoulders. For a moment he actually rode on Arsen's back, balancing with laughable ease, and hopped off, light as a feather, into the sand.
Arsen wheeled about and lunged, thrusting his spear in a classic Greek move. Mart dove under the thrust, deflecting the arm with his shorter blade. His katana kissed the inside of Arsen's right thigh. In a split second, Mart reversed the strike, sliced Arsen's left thigh, and twisted away from the minotaur's reach.
It was blindingly fast. "He's dead."
"What?" Saiman glared at me.
"Arsen's dead. Both femoral veins are cut."
Thick gushes of red stained the minotaur's thighs. Mart turned on his toes, faced our box, and bowed with a flourish, bloody swords held wide.
Rage twisted Saiman's features into an unrecognizable mask.
Mart walked away to the Gold Gate.
Arsen let out a weak moan, more of his lifeblood spilling with every palpitation of his heart.
His knees hit the sand. With a shudder he toppled forward and fell facedown.
The crowd exploded in a rabid crescendo of cheers. Saiman surged to his feet and took off through the balcony door. I waited about thirty seconds to put some distance between us and ran out of there as if my hair were on fire. As far as I was concerned, the night was over. It was time to go and track down the Red Roof Inn.