"I know that." He swallowed. "For the final rite, she has to eat a human child. She'll do it because she is weak and then there will be no turning back."

"If your roles were reversed, she wouldn't do the same for you. She's using you."

"It doesn't matter what she does. It only matters what I do."

He quoted me. Nice. Hard to argue with your own words.

I dreaded what I had to say next, but it needed to be said. "Rescuing her won't resurrect your sisters."

He winced. "I was weak back then. I couldn't do anything. I tried, but I couldn't. I'm stronger now."

And there it was. Four years of being trapped in a house with a loup father who raped, tortured, and ate his children one by one, with Derek powerless to do anything about it. He saw his sisters in Livie's face. He couldn't let go any more than I could let go of my blood debts. He would persist until the rakshasas killed him.

THE INVALID DECIDED HE WANTED TO BE MOBILE and I lent him my shoulder.

Together we managed the trip to the kitchen, where Jim, Dali, Doolittle, and Raphael were eating little chocolate cookies. Dali was nursing another cup of coffee next to Jim.

Across the table, Raphael was playing with a steak knife. The good doctor on his right looked like a man who'd run to Marathon and then was told he had to run back. He saw Derek and his eyes bulged. "So help me God, I shall have to kill you myself, boy. What are you doing out of bed?"

Derek grinned. Dali winced. Doolittle's eyes bulged a bit more. Jim remained stoic and Raphael just smiled.

I deposited Derek into a chair. "Why is it that you always gather in the kitchen?"

Dali shrugged. "That's where the food is."

Jim glanced at me. "We must get the Diamond."

"Agreed. The Diamond is too dangerous to the Pack. The rakshasas intend to use it as a weapon against you." I stole a cookie from the stash. "We have to get the Diamond. And Cesare's head."

They looked at me.

"Why the head?" Doolittle asked.

"Because it's easy to carry and I can torture it for a long time." And I didn't just say it out loud, did I? I checked their faces. Yep, I did.

"How do you torture a head?" Dali asked.

"You resurrect it and make it relive its death."

Jim cleared his throat. "We can't steal the Diamond and we can't buy it."

"The only way to get it is through the Games," Raphael said. Apparently Jim had brought him up to speed.

"You got something in mind?" Jim asked me.

"The tournament begins the day after tomorrow. It's a team event. We get Saiman to enter us into it."

"What makes you think he'll do it?" Jim asked.

"The question is, how did the shards get from the gem to the rakshasas? Somebody is helping them. Somebody with access to the stone. Saiman hates them. They threatened him, attacked him, and embarrassed him by killing his minotaur."

Dali came to life. "He had a minotaur?"

"Yep. He dragged him here all the way from Greece and Mart nuked him in ten seconds flat.

Saiman hates the Reapers." I smiled. "But he can't really do that much to them. Once he finds out that somebody provided the Reapers with shards, he'll be livid. We offer him two things: a chance to go against the Reapers in the Pit, and an opportunity to find out who within the House is aiding them and why. He won't pass it up."

"Okay," Jim said. I realized he had already worked through it in his head. Why exactly was he using me for his mouthpiece?

"What about Livie?" Derek asked.

"They are very arrogant." I glanced to Dali for confirmation. She nodded. "Once they recognize you, chances are they will surmise we have entered the tournament to rescue her and will bring Livie out to taunt us. That's our only shot at her, because there is no way we could storm their flying barn and survive."

"They should be too overconfident to pass it up," Dali said.

"Once we go in, there is no turning back," Jim said. "It's the Reapers inside and Curran outside. If you're going to back out, now is the only time you can do it."

The kitchen fell silent. They mulled it over.

Jim reached behind him and handed me the phone from the counter. I dialed Saiman's number. He picked up immediately. It took me less than a minute to outline my proposal.

Ominous silence claimed the other end of the phone.

"How sure are you of this?" he said finally.

"I'm in possession of five shards and two corpses," I told him. "You're welcome to examine them if you wish. Can you get us into the Games?"

"This is rather short notice," Saiman said. "But yes. I can. Provided I go as Stone."

"Done," I said.

"You'll need seven fighters."

I made writing motions. Everybody except the doctor looked for a pencil.

"I've never seen such a collection of idiots in my whole life." Doolittle shook his head. "If you participate in this lunacy, y'all will get yourselves killed. Then don't come crying to me."

Now that would be a neat trick.

Dali handed me a pencil. No paper materialized and I scribbled on the tablecloth.

"Stratego, Stone, Sling, Swordmaster, Shield, Shiv, and Spell. They must all be at the Games by tonight at nine p.m. We'll be sequestered for the duration of the Games. Once you enter, there is no going back, Kate. You don't get to change your mind and go home. You fight until you can't continue."

"Understood."

"You need a name."

I covered the receiver for a moment. "We need a team name."

"Hunters," Raphael said.

"Valiant Knights of the Fur," Dali said.

"Justice Group," Jim said. "Since Justice League is taken."

"Fools." Doolittle shook his head.

"Fools," I said into the receiver.

"Fools?" Saiman asked.

"Yes."

"It will be arranged, then. The crew?"

"We'll have a doctor," I said.

"No, you won't!" Doolittle declared.

"Very good," Saiman's tone was brisk. "Remember, every member of the team must be there by nine. Don't be late."

I hung up.

Jim looked at the list. "The freak is Stone. Kate, you'll take Swordmaster. Derek?"

"Shield," Derek said. "Defensive fighter."

"Will you be able to fight in two days' time?"

He smiled. Dali winced again and said, "You have to stop doing that."

"You should take Stratego," I told Jim. "You have the most experience."


Tags: Ilona Andrews Kate Daniels Vampires
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