Page 21

“Not if I defeat him. When.” I rolled my shoulders and the ground beneath my feet rumbled. The center of the coliseum where Mako and I stood lowered. Dolph stepped out of the center and moved to a seat along the tiers. Within seconds, I was staring up at the crowd. Mako and I had been dropped into a pit twice my height, and four times as wide that was quickly filling with water. Just below my waist, the flow stopped rising; deep enough to make someone think they could survive, but too deep to have any real range of motion. This was going to suck.

Mako circled toward me, cutting through the water like his namesake.

“Let it begin!” Requiem roared above us, and the Undines gave a weak cheer. Obviously, they weren’t any happier about this than I was.

Mako splashed water at me, spraying my face. “Little Ender, you are too pretty. After I kill you, I’ll ask for your body.”

I curled my lips, tasted the salt water, but didn’t take my eyes from him. Nor did I answer. The water pulled at me, slowing my movements to the point I wasn’t sure how the hell I was going to—

Mako struck, his foot slicing through the water and slamming into my thigh. I sloshed in the water as I stumbled backward. He grinned at me. “Pretty little starfish . . . I’m going to lick your cold, dead titties.”

Okay, that was disgusting, and I wasn’t letting him push me around with words or fists. I stopped moving. “Come then, you twisted, tiny man. It’s obvious you can’t get laid unless the woman is dead.”

He nodded with such violence that his teeth clacked together. “Dead is better. No nagging.”

Above us, Requiem roared with laughter. “That is the truth, my friends. Dead women don’t nag.”

Mako slid through the water toward me and I held my ground. I had a couple of inches of height on Mako and I had to use it to my advantage. He came within range of my reach, then closer.

“You aren’t afraid of me, why not?” He circled me and I moved with him, waiting for the perfect moment.

“I don’t fear death.”

He dropped into the water. Just his eyes peered up at me. He swam a circle, spitting water like a fountain through his two front teeth. Like this was a game.

Of course, to him it probably was.

Above us, the crowd was silent. I didn’t dare glance up.

“Mako, show her your teeth, man!” Requiem called out.

Mako dove under the water and kicked toward me with his mouth open wide. I jumped straight into the air and when I came down, I landed on his back, pressing him to the bottom. He twisted, throwing me off with ease and I went under.

Fighting panic, I pushed off, flailing to get to the surface.

I stood, water dripping off me to the sound of laughter. Mako and Requiem were howling.

“Oh, pretty starfish, you should see your face.” Mako grinned at me. “That was just the start, wait ‘til you’re breathing the water and I’m riding your body and tasting your blood.” He strode toward me, splashing water. A game.

A game he thought there was no way he could lose.

And if he believed I was weak . . . that might help me. I stumbled back and held out a hand. “You stay there, don’t come any closer.”

Laughing, he grabbed my wrist and I gave token resistance. “Let me go.”

“You can do better than that,” he licked his lips and then blew me a kiss as he began to draw me toward him.

Again, I fought, but not enough to throw him off. Not enough to tip my hand.

He let me go and I tumbled back into the wall with a hard thump, slumped, and cringed against the wall.

From above us came a heavy, drawn out sigh. “Enough, Mako. She obviously isn’t a fighter. Just kill her.”

“Req, let me play,” Mako whined as he wiggled his fingers toward me.

“No. I have things to do and I want these two dealt with. I gave my word, so kill her and I can finish this one off.”

Well, that wasn’t exactly subtle. Belladonna let out a low moan. “Lark. Please don’t die.”

“Kill her now!” Requiem roared.

Snarling, Mako lunged at me. This was it. I sidestepped and grabbed his throat with both hands. Or tried to anyway. I only managed to catch him with my left hand; he punched my right forearm knocking it away. Squeezing my fingers tightly around his neck, I dug my nails into the flesh, gripping with everything I had. Years of working the fields in the Rim made my hands strong, the muscles in my forearms like iron bands. He squirmed like a fish on a hook, eyes bugging. The crowd above us roared, their energy and excitement contagious and buoying me.

Mako twisted and kicked out at me, clawed toes digging furrows into my thighs and hips. Blood tinted the water, but I didn’t take my eyes from him, couldn’t let him go. This was my chance. He’d underestimated me and now I had him dead to rights. But if I let go I knew I wouldn’t get another chance.

His fingers scrabbled at my hand as he tried to pry my fingers off. A shot of adrenaline-fueled fear lanced me as I stared at him. His skin glowed with a soft blue that swirled up his arms.

He was calling on his connection to the water and from the intent I saw in the power, he was going to drown me. Or at least, he was going to try. I got my right hand up and wrapped it around his throat, as the water yanked my feet out from under me. We went down and I kept my eyes open, salt stinging them. I couldn’t let go.

Mako fought to get closer to me, his shorter, muscle-bound arms reaching for my eyes as I stared him down through the swirling pink water. His face darkened to a deep purple as I bore down with both hands, crushing his windpipe. His gills fluttered against the tops of my hands . . . gills.

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