A familiar figure blocked the doorway. My feet froze to the floor.
"Play nice," Rene said and departed.
Funereal silence descended upon the room. Nobody moved.
"All right," Curran said. "Let's talk."
He took Raphael by his arm, dragging him off the bench like he was a day-old kitten. He swiped naked Dali with his other hand, brought them both to the bedroom, and shut the doors behind him.
ANDREA SAT DOWN ON THE BENCH, FACING THE door. She put one SIG-Sauer on each side. Her face wore a grim expression.
"If he injures Raphael, I'm going to shoot him. Just letting you know."
"You changed your mind about Raphael?"
"I'm still deciding," she said. "And I'm not going to let the Beast Lord take it from me by crippling him."
"Aim for the nuts," I advised and left.
I wandered through the hallway to the Gold Gate. The huge chamber of the Arena lay empty.
Nothing but me and the sand.
I crossed the floor to the wire door and stepped into the Pit. The sand lay placid. In my dreams it was always splattered with blood, but now it was clean and yellow. I crouched, picked up a handful, and let it slide through my fingers. Strange how it was cold.
The grains of sand fell in a feathery curtain. Memories came. Heat. The taste of blood in my mouth. Flesh sliced, bright red. Dead eyes staring into the sky. Blinding sun. The roar of the crowd. Pain - left shoulder, a werejaguar's bite, side - a spear thrust, right calf - the razor-sharp tail of a quick reptilian monster for which I had no name . . .
"Like greeting an old friend, no?"
I turned to see an older man looking at me through the wire of the fence. Hard lines creased his face, worn and tanned to leather by years spent in the sun. His face was wide. His black hair, pulled back and gathered at the nape of his neck, was liberally salted with gray. He looked familiar.
"Hardly a friend," I told him.
Mart emerged from the Midnight Gate. He crossed the floor, silent like a shadow, in his black suit, and sailed into the air, landing effortlessly on the fence. The man hadn't heard him.
"Have you fought here before?" His voice was tinted with a light sprinkling of French.
I shook my head.
Where hadn't I? I chose the first one. " Hoyo de Sangre. A long time ago."
Mart watched me. He had an odd look on his face. It was definitely predatory, but there was a hint of something else to his expression, something disturbing and almost wistful.
"Ahh." The man nodded. "Ghastly place. Do not worry. The sand is the same everywhere."
I smiled. "Here it's cold."
He nodded again. "That is true. But it will make little difference. Once you hear them clamor" - he gazed at the empty seats - "you will remember. How long has it been?"
His eyebrows crept up. "Twelve? Surely not. You are far too young and too beautiful . . ." His voice faltered. "Mon Dieu, je me souviens de toi. Petite Tueuse . . ."
He took a step back, as if the fence between us had grown red-hot, and walked away.
I looked at Mart. "Hey, Goldilocks. Where's your tattooed friend? He and I have a date."
He just looked at me.
"You don't say much, do you?" I pulled Slayer out and ran it between my fingers. He watched the sword.
The fence was too high. Even if I made a running jump, I still couldn't leap high enough for a good strike.
"Scaring the competition?"
I went six inches into the air and about two feet to my left, away from the voice, and saw Curran standing by the fence.
Throwing a handful of sand at him would only hammer home the point. I hadn't heard him move at all. No man of his size should be that quiet, but he snuck around like a ghost. How long he had been standing there was anybody's guess.
"Do I scare you or are you just jumpy?"
I scowled at him. "Perhaps the sound of your voice repulses me. It's an instinctual response."
"And he doesn't trigger your instincts?"
"He and I have a rendezvous in the sand. I don't have to do anything about him till then."
Curran scrutinized Mart's face. "I can't figure out if he wants to kill you or screw you."
"I'll be glad to make the choice for him."
Curran looked back at me. "Why is it you always attract creeps?"
"You tell me." Ha! Walked right into that one, yes, he did.
Mart leapt off the fence and vanished into the Midnight Gate.
I headed in the opposite direction, to the Gold. Curran stepped up and opened the fence door for me. I halted. That was a bit unexpected. Men didn't open the door for me.
"What is it?"
"I'm trying to decide if it's a trap."
"Get out of there," he growled.
"Are you going to pounce on me?"
"Do you want me to pounce on you?"
I wisely decided not to ponder that question. The answer could've been scary.
I went through the door. He pushed the door shut and caught up with me.
"Are we busted? Did you make them pack up and go home?"
"You're definitely busted. And no. I'm fighting with you."
I stopped and looked at him.
"With us? In the Pit?"
"Yes. Not good enough for you? Would you prefer Saiman?"
Mmm, Beast Lord the God Killer versus the hysterical Frost Giant. Was that even a choice?
"But what about Andorf and the first law?"
"What about Andorf?" he asked.
"Did you really take him down at fifteen years old?" I just blurted it out.
No smart follow-up came to mind. We turned the corner, and I saw Cesare at the end of the hallway.
I stopped. I wanted Cesare so bad I could taste his blood on my lips. Curran looked at me.
"He supervised Derek's beating," I said softly.
Curran's eyes went gold.
If we went after him now, we'd be disqualified. Oh, but we both wanted to kill him. Very, very much.
Cesare turned, saw us, and stumbled. For a moment he froze, caught like a deer in the headlights, and then he ducked into a room.
I turned and went into our quarters. Curran didn't follow.
Andrea greeted me with a wave. She sat on a bench, a variety of strange mechanical parts, which no doubt combined into a deadly firearm, spread before her on a white towel. I sat next to her.
"Where is everybody?"
"Hiding," she said. "Except for Doolittle. He was excused from the chewing-out due to having been kidnapped. He's napping now like he doesn't have a care in the world. I got to hear all sorts of interesting stuff through the door."