"I've traced the history of the stone three owners back to a German family," Saiman said. "It doesn't appear to have exhibited any supernatural properties. There are a number of legends attached to it, a completely normal occurrence for a precious stone of this size. The predominant belief seems to be that the stone possesses virtue and can't be sold or taken by force, but must be gifted or won, or it will bring death to the one who stole it. I've been unable to determine if that's rubbish. The Reapers seem to feel the curse is true. They approached the House shortly after acquisition asking how they could obtain the stone. Given their propensity for violence, I expected them to attempt theft or burglary, but they have done neither."
I frowned. "Since we know very little, identifying them would be the first step."
"And how do you propose we do that?" Saiman arched an eyebrow and gave me a seductive smile. It failed both because he was Saiman and because he looked like a woman.
"Simple. We kill one."
Saiman pondered this.
Talking through it was a piece of cake. Doing it would be a completely different matter.
"We know that the Reapers travel in packs, which makes them difficult to follow. We also know that they disappear into Unicorn Lane, which makes them difficult to track by scent and magic. However, we're in possession of a tracking unit whose range covers the entire Lane.
We kill a Reaper and plant a bug into his body. Once they leave, we track them to the exact spot in Unicorn and approach it at our leisure. We observe their headquarters. There are all sorts of interesting questions that can be answered. How many of them are there? How are they organized? Do they have guards? Are these guards human? How do they get food? What do they eat? Is there a crew that goes out to forage? Can we apprehend the foragers and" -
tear them apart a shred at a time until the damn bastards tell me how to fix Derek - "and question them?"
"You seem sure you can kill a Reaper." Saiman stared into his empty glass, seemingly amazed by the disappearance of his martini.
I thought of Derek dying slowly in the tub of green liquid. His bones broken, his face gone, his body hurting . . .
Saiman shifted in his love seat. "Kate, your sword seems to be emitting a vapor."
I put a leash on myself. "Get me into the Pit. I'll take care of the rest."
"I would love to, but I can't." Saiman waved his arm in disgust. "The Reapers are scheduled for one final bout before the tournament, which is a team event. The bout has been advertised as Stone class. You don't qualify."
"I can do it," Jim said.
Saiman shook his head. "As much as I would love to have the Pack's chief of security in the Pit, you wouldn't qualify either. Stone class means an extra-large fighter."
True. Jim was never a heavyweight. Even in his half-form, he was lean, quick, and lethal, but not bulky.
"I do have a Stone fighter available." Saiman smiled. "Me."
That beating I had taken from the Pack must've done permanent damage to my hearing. "Me who?"
"Me as in myself."
I squeezed my eyes shut.
"What are you doing?" Saiman asked.
"I'm counting to ten in my head." It worked for Curran; surely it would work for me . . .
Nope, not feeling any better.
I opened my eyes. "I kill on a regular basis. So please understand that I say this with the full weight of my professional expertise behind it: you've gone off the deep end. You're enthusiastic but unskilled, and you lack the physical strength and reflexes needed to kill a Reaper. If you enter the Pit, you will die horribly and in great pain and I won't be able to jump in there and pull you out."
"You've never seen me fight in my original form."
A vision of golden-haired Adonis dancing through the snow flashed before me. "Yes, but I saw you dance. Your original form, while devastating to horny women and gay men, isn't likely to slay any Reapers. You'll get your head bashed in and we'll lose an opportunity to plant the bug."
Saiman smiled, a thin stretching of lips without any humor. "That was not my original form."
Touche. "In that case, I hope your original form is a two-headed dragon spitting fire."
"Give me an opportunity to fail," Saiman said. "I promise that my corpse won't interrupt your
'I told you so' speech. The bout is tonight. May I count on the two of you to act as my crew?"
What choice did we have? "Fine."
Saiman rose. "I'll have to make a formal appearance for the first part of the evening. After the fight, provided we accomplish the actual kill, the Reapers will be grounded by the Red Guards for one hour to allow us a head start. The House doesn't wish any friction between fighters outside the ring. That will give the two of you ample time to arrive in Unicorn and make the
necessary preparations. I'll stay the night in the Arena, in my private rooms, to recuperate."
Or he would stay the night in the morgue. The thought hung in the air like a funeral shroud.
None of us mentioned it.
AFTER JIM AND I WERE FINISHED WITH SAIMAN, Jim dropped me and the Pack horse at my apartment. I wanted to go back with him. I wanted to be there in case Derek woke up. I had this irrational idea that my staying close would somehow fix him.
But it wouldn't. If I had gone back with Jim, I wouldn't have slept, and I needed sleep and food badly. The Reapers wouldn't take kindly to having one of their own knocked out of their lineup. If Saiman managed to deliver on his promise, they might come after us. I needed to be rested and sharp. So I took a shower, scrubbing every square inch of my skin and hair with scented soap to kill the smell of Jim's posse, ate cold beef with black bread, tomato, and a little cheese, took a much-prized and expensive aspirin, and passed out.
I awoke at eight because my phone rang. I raised my head off my pillow and stared at it. It rang and rang, filling my head with noise. The answering machine came on and a familiar voice made me sit straight up.
Curran. Oy. Two hours of sleep wasn't sufficient to deal with him.
"Call me as soon as you can."
I picked up the phone. "I'm here."
"You're screening your calls?"
"Why not? It saves me from conversation with idiots."
"Is that an insult?" His voice dropped into a deep growl.
"You're not an idiot," I told him. "You're just a deadly psychopath with a god complex. What is it you want?"
"Have you seen Jim?"