"You missed your chance. I'm not coming anywhere near you, so you might as well turn your headlights off."
He moved toward me.
"No." I'd sunk a lot of steel into that "no." He stopped.
"You wanted me," he said.
Lying would only give him greater satisfaction. I had to keep him on the other end of the tub or I would throw myself at him again. "Yes, I did."
"I remembered who I am and who you are."
"And who am I? Enlighten me."
"You're the man who likes to play games and hates losing. And I'm the idiot who keeps forgetting that. Turn around, so I can get out, please." And he almost had me, too.
He sprawled against the tub wall in a leisurely fashion, showing absolutely no indication of moving.
"Fine." Let's get this over with. I crouched on the bench and rose quickly. The water came to my midthigh.
A rough noise emanated from him. It sounded almost like a groan.
I climbed out of the tub, grabbed my towel, wrapped it around myself, and left. No more tubs for me. Not for a long, long time.
I AWOKE EARLY. TOO EARLY - THE CLOCK ON THE wall said three thirty. I lay with my eyes open for a few minutes and finally rose, swiped Slayer, and snuck out of the bedroom to the outer door. Derek perched on a chair by the doorway. He looked at me with yellow eyes.
"Where are the Guards?" I murmured.
He shrugged. "Must be a shift change. They sat by the door for the last six hours and then got up and left."
"How long have they been gone?"
Could be a shift change. I doubted the Reapers would try anything funny.
The curse of the Wolf Diamond guaranteed they would try to win it. Mart's goal was the gem, since he had to have it to attack the Pack. The rakshasas didn't seem to like even odds. They preferred to have an advantage, and without the Wolf Diamond, the shapeshifters would wipe the floor with them.
I felt reasonably confident about tomorrow's fights. True, Mart's speed was ungodly and their magic was nothing to spit at, but our team was well-balanced and the shapeshifters fought like an oiled machine. Even when the Reapers entered the Pit as a team, they broke the fights into individual duels.
"I'll be back," I said.
"Where are you going?"
I told him the truth. "I want to see the Pit."
I snuck through the hallway and headed to the Pit. I just wanted to run my hand through the sand and settle my memories, then I would be able to sleep. The fastest way to the sand lay through the gym. I just had to cross it and I'd come out next to the Gold Gate.
I ducked inside and jogged barefoot across the floor. Another moment and I was out of the gates into the Pit. The covers hiding enormous skylights in the roof had been removed in preparation for the championship fight. Moonlight sifted on the sand.
By the Pit, bathed in the gauze shroud of moonrays, Hugh d'Ambray, flanked by Nick and the young fighter, handed a wrapped item to Mart and Cesare.
Ice rolled down my spine. I stopped. The item was long and looked like a sword wrapped in canvas. So that was where the Guards went. He bought them off to make the exchange.
Hugh was no fool. He had seen the fights and he realized we had a decent chance of winning tomorrow. He had decided to even the odds. That would be no ordinary sword.
Cesare's upper lip wrinkled in a grimace. Mart flashed his teeth at me and the two Reapers melted into the darkness. Hugh d'Ambray looked at me and I looked back at him.
"It's not surprising that Roland would ally with the rakshasas. They're an ancient race, dependent on magic. They respect his power," I said. "It's not surprising he would use them to weaken the Pack. They're vicious and sly but not too bright. If they win, they'll make a much weaker enemy than the shapeshifters. If they lose, the Pack will be bloodied anyway.
However, having Hugh d'Ambray pay off the Guards and slink about in the night like a thief to provide the rakshasas with a weapon just before the final fight, that I find surprising. That feels almost like cheating. How very unsavory."
He strode to me with a short nod. "Walk with me."
I had to find out what he gave them. Our survival depended on it. I walked next to him. Nick and the other fighter fell behind a few steps. We began making a circle around the fence.
"I like the way you move. Where have we met before?"
"Just out of curiosity, what did you give them?"
"A sword," he said.
Duh. "It would have to be something very valuable. They view weapons as toys. They melted all of your precious electrum so they could pour it onto the face of one shapeshifter."
The corners of Hugh's mouth twitched. He caught the expression and froze it before it could bloom into a grimace, but I saw it. Score one for me.
"So this sword must be very special. Something they probably shouldn't be trusted with, something that would tip the odds in their favor tomorrow. Is it one of Roland's personal weapons?"
"I liked what you did with the golem," he said. "Fast, precise, economical. Good technique."
"Was it Scourge you gave them?"
The sword he'd given them had a wide blade. It could've been Scourge, although I really hoped it wasn't. Scourge unleashed the kind of magic that decimated armies. No, it had to be something else. A sword that could be used short range with some precision.
"If you hadn't allied with the wrong side, I could've used you," he said.
"Thank you for not insulting me with an offer."
"You're welcome. I do regret that you'll die tomorrow."
"And that fact matters to you why?"
He shrugged. "It's a waste of talent."
Here he stood, my father's replacement. Voron had trained him, as he had trained me, although he didn't get Hugh from birth. Hugh was ten when he started. He was a master swordsman. My father told me he had never seen a more talented fighter. I supposed the acknowledgment of my skill by him was a compliment.
"Why do you serve him?" I asked.
A faint veneer of puzzlement overlaid his features.
I really wanted to know. Voron took him in. Voron made him who he was. Roland's magic only kept him young - he had the body and face of a man barely older than me, but he had to be close to fifty. He wouldn't age. None of Roland's top cadre felt time. It was his gift to those who served him. But surely, that alone wasn't enough.
"He's stronger than me. I haven't found anyone else who could best me." Hugh studied me.
"How often do you take orders from those who are weaker, dumber, and more inept than you?"