Dangerous Games
Chapter One

 Keri Arthur

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I stood in the shadows and watched the dead man.
The night was bitterly cold, and rain fell in a heavy, constant stream. Water sluiced down the vampire's long causeway of a nose, leaping to the square thrust of his jaw before joining the mad rush down the front of his yellow raincoat. The puddle around his bare feet had reached his ankles and was slowly beginning to creep up his hairy legs.
Like most of the newly risen, he was little more than flesh stretched tautly over bone. But his skin possessed a rosy glow that suggested he'd eaten well and often. Even if his pale eyes were sunken. Haunted.
Which in itself wasn't really surprising. Thanks to the willingness of both Hollywood and literature to romanticize vampirism, far too many humans seemed to think that by becoming a vampire they'd instantly gain all the power, sex, and wealth they could ever want. It wasn't until after the change that they began to realize that being undead wasn't the fun time often depicted. That wealth, sex, and popularity might come, but only if they survived the horrendous first few years when a vampire was all instinct and blood need. And of course, if they did survive, they then learned that endless loneliness - never feeling the full warmth of the sun again, never being able to savor the taste of food, and being feared or ostracized by a good percentage of the population - was also part of the equation.
Yeah, there were laws in place to stop discrimination against vampires and other nonhumans, but the laws were only a recent development. And while there might now be vampire groupies, they were also a recent phenomenon and only a small portion of the population. Hatred and fear of vamps had been around for centuries, and I had no doubt it would take centuries tor it to abate. If it ever did.
And the bloody rampages of vamps like the one ahead weren't helping any.
A total of twelve people had disappeared over the last month, and we were pretty sure this vamp was responsible for nine of them. But there were enough differences in method of killing between this vamp's nine and the remaining three to suggest we had a second psycho on the loose. For a start, nine had met their death as a result of a vamp feeding frenzy. The other three had been meticulously sliced open neck to knee with a knife and their innards carefully removed - not something the newly turned were generally capable of. When presented with the opportunity for a feed, they fed. There was nothing neat or meticulous about it.
Then there were the multiple, barely healed scars marring the backs of the three anomalous women, the missing pinky on their left hands, and the odd, almost satisfied smiles that seemed frozen on their dead lips. Women who were the victims of a vamp's frenzy didn't die with that sort of smile, as the souls of the dead nine could probably attest if they were still hanging about.
And I seriously hoped that they weren't. I'd seen more than enough souls rising in recent times - I certainly didn't want to make a habit of it.
But dealing with two psychos on top of coping with the usual guardian patrols had the Directorate stretched to the limit, and that meant everyone had been pulling extra shifts. Which explained why Rhoan and I were out hunting rogue suckers on this bitch of a night after working all day trying to find some leads on what Jack - our boss, and the vamp who ran the whole guardian division at the Directorate of Other Races - charmingly called The Cleaver.
I yawned and leaned a shoulder against the concrete wall lining one side of the small alleyway I was hiding in. The wall, which was part of the massive factory complex that dominated a good part of the old West Footscray area, protected me from the worst of the wind, but it didn't do a whole lot against the goddamn rain.
If the vamp felt any discomfort about standing in a pothole in the middle of a storm-drenched night, he certainly wasn't showing it. But then, the dead rarely cared about such things.
I might have vampire blood running through my veins, but I wasn't dead and I hated it.
Winter in Melbourne was never a joy, but this year we'd had so much rain I was beginning to forget what sunshine looked like. Most wolves were immune to the cold, but I was a half-breed and obviously lacked that particular gene. My feet were icy and I was beginning to lose feeling in several toes. And this despite the fact I was wearing two pairs of thick woolen socks underneath my rubber-heeled shoes. Which were not waterproof, no matter what the makers claimed.
I should have worn stilettos. My feet would have been no worse off, and I would have felt more at home. And hey, if he happened to spot me, I could have pretended to be nothing more than a bedraggled, desperate hooker. But Jack kept insisting that high heels and my job just didn't go together.
Personally, I think he was a little afraid of my shoes. Not so much because of the color - which, admittedly. was often outrageous - but because of the nifty wooden heels. Wood and vamps were never an easy mix.
I flicked up the collar of my leather jacket and tried to ignore the fat drops of water dribbling down my spine. What I really needed - more than decent-looking shoes - was a hot bath, a seriously large cup of coffee, and a thick steak sandwich. Preferably with onions and ketchup. God, my mouth was salivating just thinking about it. Of course, given we were in the middle of this ghost town of factories, none of those things were likely to appear in my immediate future.
I thrust wet hair out of my eyes, and wished, for the umpteenth time, that he would just get on with it. Whatever it was.
Following him might be part of my job as a guardian, but that didn't mean I had to be happy about it. I'd never had much choice about joining the guardian ranks, thanks to the experimental drugs several lunatics had forced into my system, and the psychic talents that were developing as a result. It was either stay with the Directorate as a guardian, so my growing abilities could be monitored and harnessed, or be shipped off to the military with the other unfortunates who had received similar doses of ARC1-23. I might not have wanted to be a guardian, but I sure as hell didn't want to be sent to the military. Give me the devil I know any day.
I shifted weight from one foot to the other again. What was this piece of dead meat waiting for? He couldn't have sensed me - I was far enough away that he wouldn't hear the beat of my heart or the rush of blood through my veins. He hadn't looked over his shoulder, so he couldn't have spotted me with the infrared of his vampire vision, and bloodsuckers generally didn't have a very keen olfactory sense.
So why stand in a puddle in the middle of this abandoned factory complex looking like a little lost soul?
Part of me itched to shoot the bastard and just get the whole ordeal over with. But we needed to follow this baby vamp home to discover if he had any nasty surprises hidden in his nest. Like other victims, or perhaps even his maker.
Because it was unusual for one of the newly turned to survive nine rogue kills without getting himself caught or killed. Not without help, anyway.
The vampire suddenly stepped out of the puddle and began walking down the slight incline, his bare feet slapping noisily against the broken road. The shadows and the night hovered all around him, but he didn't bother cloaking his form. Given the whiteness of his hairy legs and the brightness of his yellow raincoat, that was strange. Though we were in the middle of nowhere. Maybe he figured he was safe.
I stepped out of the alleyway. The wind hit full force, pushing me sideways for several steps before I regained my balance. I padded across the road and stopped in the shadows again. The rain beat a tattoo against my back and the water seeping through my coat became a river, making me feel colder than I'd ever dreamed possible. Forget the coffee and the sandwich. What I wanted more than anything right now was to get warm.
I pressed the small com-link button that had been inserted into my ear lobe just over four months ago. It doubled as a two-way communicator and a tracker, and jack had not only insisted that I keep it, but that all guardians were to have them from now on. He wanted to be able to find his people at all times, even when not on duty.
Which smacked of "big brother" syndrome to me, even if I could understand his reasoning. Guardians didn't grow on trees. Finding vamps with just the right mix of killing instinct and moral sensibilities was difficult, which was why guardian numbers at the Directorate still hadn't fully recovered from the eleven we'd lost ten months ago.
One of those eleven had been a friend of mine, and on my worst nights, I still dreamed of her death - even though the only thing I'd ever witnessed was the bloody patch of sand that had contained her DNA. Like most of the other guardians who had gone missing, her remains had never been found.
Of course, the tracking measures had not only come too late for those eleven, but for one other - Gautier. Not that he was dead, however much I might wish otherwise. Four months ago he'd been the Directorate's top guardian. Now he was rogue and on top of the Directorate's hit list. So far he'd escaped every search, every trap. Meaning he was still out there, waiting and watching and plotting his revenge.
On me.
Goose bumps traveled down my spine and, just for a second, I'd swear his dead scent teased my nostrils. Whether it was real or just imagination I couldn't say, because the gusting wind snatched it away.
Even it wasn't real, it was reminder that I had to be extra careful. Gautier had never really functioned on the same sane field as the rest of us. Worse still, he liked playing with his prey. Liked watching the pain and fear grow before he killed.
He might now consider me his mouse but he'd yet to try any of his games on me. But something told me that all that would change tonight.
I grimaced and did my best to ignore the insight. Clairvoyance might have been okay if it had come in a truly usable form - like clear glimpses of future scenes and happenings - but not, that was apparently asking too much of fate. Instead, I just got these weird feelings of upcoming doom that were frustratingly vague on any sort of concrete detail. And training something like that was nigh on impossible - not that that stopped Jack from getting his people to at least try.
Whether the elusiveness would change as the talent became more settled was anyone's guess. Personally, I just wished it would go back to being latent. I knew Gautier was out there, somewhere. Knew he was coming after me. I didn't need some half-assed talent sending me spooky little half-warnings every other day.
Still, even though I knew Gautier probably wasn't out here tonight, I couldn't help looking around and checking all the shadows as I said, "Brother dearest, I hate this fucking job."
Rhoan's soft laughter ran into my ear. lust hearing it made me feel better. Safer. "Nights like this arc a bitch, aren't they?"
"Understatement of the year." I quickly peeked around the corner and saw the vampire turning left. I padded after him, keeping to the wall and well away from the puddles. Though given the state of my feet, it really wouldn't have mattered. "And I feel obligated to point out that I didn't sign up for night work."
Rhoan chuckled softly. "And I feel obliged to point out that you weren't actually signed up, but forcibly drafted. Therefore, you can bitch all you want but it isn't going to make a damned bit of difference."
Wasn't that the truth. "Where are you?"
"West side, near the old biscuit factory."
Which was practically opposite my position. Between the two of us, we had him penned. Hopefully that meant we wouldn't lose him.
I stopped as I neared the corner and carefully peered around. The wind slapped against my face, and the rain on my skin seemed to turn to ice. The vamp had stopped near the far end of the building and was looking around. I ducked back as he looked my way, barely daring to breathe even though common sense suggested there was no way he could have seen me. Not only did I have vampire genes, but I had many of their skills, as well. Like the ability to cloak under the shadow of night, the infrared vision, and their faster-than-a-blink speed.
The creak of a door sounded. I risked another look. A metal door stood ajar and the vamp was nowhere in sight.
An invitation or a trap?
I didn't know, but I sure as hell wasn't going to take a chance. Not alone, anyway.
"Rhoan, he's gone inside building number four. Rear entrance, right-hand side."
"Wait for me to get there before you go in."
"I'm foolhardy, but I'm not stupid."
He chuckled again. I slipped around the corner and crept toward the door. The wind caught the edge of it and flung it back against the brick wall, the crash echoing across the night. It was an oddly lonely sound.
I froze and concentrated, using the keenness of my wolf hearing to sort through the noises running with the wind. But the howl of it was just too strong, overriding everything else.
Nor could I smell anything more than ice, age, and abandonment. If there were such smells and it wasn't just my overactive imagination.
Yet a feeling of wrongness was growing deep inside. I rubbed my leather-covered arms and hoped like hell my brother got here fast.
"Okay," Rhoan said eventually, the suddenness of his soft voice running through my ear making me jump. "I'm around at the front. The main door is locked, but there's several broken windows. I'm going in."
"Can you smell anyone other than our vampire?"
"No." He paused. "Can you?"
"No. But there's something - or someone - else here that feels evil."
He didn't question my certainty. Over the years, my instincts for trouble had saved us from as many situations as they had gotten us into. The only difference now was the fact that my developing clairvoyance gave us some warning of the type of trouble we were heading into rather than us discovering it the hard way.
Which I guess made it of some use, no matter how frustrating it was otherwise.
"Use the laser, then," he said. "Better safe than sorry."
I reached into my coat pocket and slipped the weapon into my hand. It was the latest in laser technology - a palm-sized weapon that packed enough power to blow the shit out of the thickest brick wall. Needless to say, it had a pretty nasty effect on humans and nonhumans alike.
"Jack will have our skins if we laser that vamp before he questions him about his maker." Because the maker had the responsibility of care, and by letting his baby go rogue, he'd basically signed his own death warrant.
"I'd rather face his wrath than have a dead sister."
I grinned. "You just don't want to face doing the laundry by yourself."
"I can sweet-talk Liander into doing my laundry. It's your charming early morning cheeriness I'd miss."
"I'm fine as long as you feed me coffee first thing," I replied mildly. "And I wouldn't be placing bets on Liander doing your clothes. He sounded pretty pissed off with you last time I talked to him."
"Yeah, well, he shouldn't try placing unreasonable restraints on me."
"Didn't we have this very same discussion four months ago?" I did a quick peek around the doorway. Nothing but darkness. I blinked, flicking to the infrared of my vampire vision. Still nothing but rubbish-strewn emptiness. "I'm ready to head in."
"Me, too." He paused, "And yeah, we did have this same discussion."
"So, did you talk to him like I told you to?"
"Sort of."
Meaning he'd gone for the ignore-everything-and-give-good-sex option. No wonder Liander had a smile a mile wide the next morning.
And no wonder he was back to being an unhappy camper now.
"Can I remind you that a good man is hard to find?"
"Can I remind you're here to capture a vampire, not to lecture your older, more experienced, brother?"
I grinned. He'd beaten me into this world by a whole five minutes. "Heading in now."
"Me, too."
I snuck around the corner, keeping low and close to the wall as I scanned the immediate surroundings. The room was large, and had a wide platform running around the edges. It looked like a loading bay, one where the trucks just reversed to the ramp and the goods were wheeled directly out. Two double-swing doors were visible, one directly ahead and one to my left. The left one swung slightly - an obvious indication that someone had gone through it recently.
So why did the scent trail lead straight ahead?
I wasn't sure, but I wasn't trusting visual evidence, not in a place that smelled so much like a trap. I padded right, keeping to the walls, following the muted odor of death up the ramp and through the door.
A long hallway dotted with doorways greeted me. The air here was close, and had a stale, almost rotten smell. Like something had been decaying here for a very long time.
I wrinkled my nose and hoped like hell it was just putrid rubbish of the non-flesh kind, even as my wolf senses told me that at least some of the smells weren't.
Obviously, there'd been more victims snatched by the baby vamp and perhaps his maker than had been reported.
I continued on, opening each door and trying to ignore the more tangible signs of decay and death in each room as I went. The baby vamp couldn't be working alone, that much was obvious. There were at least ten whole bodies, as well as an assortment of various body parts - limbs, heads, and organs - scattered throughout the rooms. Even a newly turned vamp at the height of his feeding frenzy couldn't consume that much blood.
I eventually reached another swinging door. The scent of death was stronger here, meaning the baby vampire was closer. Much closer. Like just beyond the door. Trying for an ambush, perhaps? If so, he might have considered a shower first. His natural odor was a dead giveaway to anyone with a decent honker.
I stepped back a little and kicked the doors open. As they crashed back, I dove through, rolling onto my feet and sighting the laser's target on the vamp in one smooth movement.
He was younger than I'd presumed - a teenager rather than someone in his late twenties. This close, the veins under his pale skin were very visible, and were the healthy blue of a well-fed bloodsucker.
His sudden laugh had goose bumps fleeing across my skin. Not because of the low, chilling sound, but because his laugh reminded me of another's.
Did that mean our rogue guardian was the kid's maker? It would certainly explain how he'd escaped the Directorate for nine kills.
The thought had barely crossed my mind when awareness surged, prickling like fire across my skin.
He was here. Gautier was here.
Panic surged, but I thrust it down ruthlessly. To give in to panic would be playing into Gautier's hand. He loved fear. Fed on it.
But I couldn't deal with Gautier and keep an eye on the baby vamp. I'd fought and beaten more than one vampire at a time in the past, but Gautier was the most successful killing machine the Directorate had ever trained. The one time we'd fought, he'd beaten the crap out of me.
I wasn't even sure that Rhoan and I, as a team, could defeat him.
"Rhoan, we have a problem."
"Don't tell me we've lost him. I do not want to spend another night in weather like this."
"I have the vamp. The problem is bigger than that." Bigger and closer. A chill ran over me, but I resisted the urge to look over my shoulder. But my senses told me the darkness that was Gautier was moving forward from the far side of the room.
"Bigger in what way?"
I gave in to temptation and looked my shoulder. "I know you're out there, Gautier."
The words were barely out of my mouth when the baby vamp attacked. He was on me like a rash - a spindly whirlwind of arms, legs, and desperation. I staggered back under the force of his attack, somehow managing to get my arm between us. His teeth slashed my palm rather than my neck, and sliced deep. Pain roiled white hot through my body. I hissed, but it was his greedy sucking that got to me more than the pain. I wasn't about to beany vampire's last meal. I swung my fist, hitting him over the head with the body of the laser as hard as I could. The force of the blow tore him from my flesh, and with a grunt of effort, I thrust him away from me. He landed on his back and slid along several more feet, until he was close to the still-shadowed Gautier.
"Kill him," Rhoan said. "Gautier's probably his maker, and if he's not, we'll worry about it later."
I blew out a breath and hoped like hell he was right - otherwise, Jack was going to be extremely pissed. I raised the laser and fired the weapon, sweeping the bright beam from left to right across the vampire's bony neck. Skin and bone sliced as easy as paper, and the smell of burnt flesh stung the air.
My stomach flip-flopped, but I ignored it, concentrating on Gautier's unseen presence. A presence that seemed even darker and more menacing than usual - and that was something I'd never thought possible until now. "You really can stop hiding, Gautier. I know you're here. Your rotten stench always gives your presence away."
His chuckle ran across the night, a low sound that set my teeth on edge. He walked free of the shadows hiding his form, and strolled toward me. Gautier was an even longer, meaner stick of vampire than the vamp who lay on the ground, and his flesh was just as pale. But like the baby vamp, there was nothing translucent about Gautier's skin - he too had the wholeness of a vampire who ate often and well.
I remembered the stink in the hall, the decaying bodies and many body parts in the various rooms. A chill ran through me. Apparently, Gautier was off the Directorate leash in more ways than one.
"I'm on the landing above and to your left," Rhoan said. "The minute he comes into range, we both fire."
Sounded like a perfectly acceptable option to me. Jack might want to interrogate this sick bastard and uncover what other macabre games he'd been playing since leaving the Directorate, but I was perfectly happy to disobey orders when it came to Gautier.
Though I very much doubted he'd fall into our hands so easily.
As if to give emphasis to this thought, he stopped just near the body of the baby vamp - tantalizingly close to the required laser range - and gave another low chuckle. The sound crawled over my skin and made me shiver. Gautier in a happy mood boded no one any good.
"Shame on you for killing my little friend," he said, tone oily and amused. "Don't you know the Directorate likes to question baby vamps and get the name of their maker first?"
"We both know who the maker is, Gautier," I replied, itching to pull the laser's trigger even though I knew it would be useless. "Though I am at a loss to know why you'd bother with such a poor specimen."
"Good help is so hard to find these days."
Especially when the employer was a bloodthirsty psycho. "So, does your appearance here tonight mean you've finally come to your senses and decided to give yourself up?"
He raised an eyebrow, expression mocking. "Do you really think I would make it so easy for you?"
Well, no. But it never hurts to be hopeful. One of these days fate might actually throw me a gift rather than a spanner. "Then what game are you playing, Gautier?"
"A dangerous one. For you, and for the inventive fellow who has been torturing the others."
Something akin to fear prickled across my skin. How did Gautier know about the other killings? Was he involved? It wouldn't be surprising if he was - after all, like tended to attract like, so it made sense that Gautier would gravitate toward other evil little psychopaths. He wasn't the world's greatest thinker, even if he was a killer born and bred. "So you know the person behind it?"
"Of course. And I have a lot of admiration for his methods."
I just bet he did.
"I'm going to flank him," Rhoan said. "Keep him talking."
"Have you forgotten, Gautier, that the Directorate specializes in capture of nonhuman criminals? That we guardians are judge, jury, and executioner? We will find the man behind these killings, and we will take him out." I gave him a nasty smile that was more than a little bluff. Gautier scared the crap out of me, and I didn't mind admitting it to myself. But I'd never, ever admit it to him. "And guess what, stinko? You've already been judged, and have been found extremely wanting. Whether you're involved or not, you're a dead man."
His smile faded a little, and the sensation of danger swirled around me. "It's nice to know recent events haven't knocked the bravado out of you. It is something I have always wished to do myself."
"Yeah, yeah, you're the big bad vampire we all have to fear. I've heard the song before. Just get on with whatever shit you're here to deliver."
"Impatient to play the game. That's nice." He paused, and his gaze went to the floor above. In that moment, I knew he knew Rhoan was up there, and something inside me froze.
Everything was about to go to hell in a big, bad way.
"But first," he continued, voice all oily smoothness, "tell your flatmate that if he take one more step, the child dies."
Oh God, oh God... child? What the hell was Gautier talking about? I licked my lips, and tried to control the fear churning my gut. That was what this sick bastard wanted - fear - and I'd be damned if I'd give him it so easily.
"What shit arc you talking now, Gautier?" Rhoan said, voice harsh as he stepped out of the shadows and came closer to the railing. I was glad to note he kept near one of the support beams. It'd give him cover if Gautier suddenly whipped out a weapon.
After all, his hands were behind his back for a reason, and Gautier didn't do anything without a reason.
"I talk of the child who hangs above us."
"That has to be the oldest trick in the book, Gautier." And one I'd used myself - successfully - on my brother. "I'm surprised you'd sink to something less than... creative?"
He gave me another of his flat smiles. "Oh, I am not above using old tricks. However, I do like putting new spins on them. Take the old money or the box question, for example."
What the hell? "Has being off the leash totally fried your brain cells? Because you're not making the tiniest bit of sense at the moment."
"It's simple, really. It's all about options. What do you want more: to capture me, or to save the life of the child above us?"
"What child?" I asked again.
I tensed as one hand came out from behind his back, but all he did was casually lean sideways and pressed a switch. Lights flickered, throwing uneven spats of brightness across the shadow-filled room. Not that any of us actually needed lights. It was just done for effect.
"Fuck," Rhoan said softly.
I didn't look up, as much as I wanted to. I was closer to Gautier. I was the one who had the chance of hitting him if he moved.
"Tell me," I said flatly.
"There's a little girl above us with a rope around her neck. She's standing on her toes on a thin board."
"Dead or alive?" If she was dead, I was going to charge Gautier and kill him, no matter what he had hidden behind his back.
"Alive." Rhoan paused. "Blood still flows, and I can hear a heartbeat. Just."
He was more vampire than me He had to drink blood during the rise of the full moon, and was therefore more attuned to the thud of life. Still, the news that she was alive didn't do anything to ease the tension riding my limbs Quite the opposite, actually.
Just because she was alive now didn't mean that Gautier intended to keep her that way Or that he'd allow us to help her.
"How long her heart continues to beat is up to you." Gautier moved his other hand and finally revealed what he'd been hiding The biggest fucking laser rifle I'd ever seen. "One move, Riley, and your pack-mate dies. This rifle has a wide-fire beam that will treat flesh much the same as it treats concrete With complete disdain."
"Gautier, if you've got a damn point, please come to it," Rhoan snapped.
Gautier's smile was lazy Obviously, he had this all planned out to the nth degree, and he wasn't about to hurry.
"Do you know anything about hanging?"
"No. But if you'd like to volunteer, I'd gladly experiment on you."
I might as well have not spoken. The great Gautier was on a roll, and there was no stopping him. And as much as I wanted to help the little kid, I believed what he said about that laser.
For good or for bad, I wasn't about to risk my brother's life on the off chance of stopping Gautier.
"Hanging with little or no drop, which is the case with the kiddy above us, usually results in death by strangulation. Asphyxia, to use the correct terminology. The kiddy struggled the usual one to three minutes after suspension, then became as you see her now. However, there have been recorded cases of people being successfully revived even after thirty minutes." He paused and glanced at the watch on his free hand. "Which gives you precisely nineteen minutes."
"You're a bastard, Gautier."
I said it with venom, and he laughed. "Well, I would have thought that was a given."
"And the point of this whole charade?" Rhoan said, voice flat - a sure sign his control was close to the edge.
"As I said, it's all about options." He paused, smiling like a cat who knew the mouse was his. "Option one. Play my game and save the child. Option two, come after me now and let the child die."
"You forgot option three - kill you and save the child."
"There is no option three. You move, Rhoan dies. Rhoan moves, he dies. Either way, I win."
Because he knew we were pack-mates. He might think that Rhoan was a wolf who'd become a vampire, but that didn't matter. He knew that for wolves, the true death of a close pack-mate could incapacitate for weeks, if not months. Particularly with us, because Rhoan wasn't only my pack-mate, he was my twin. We were two halves of a whole - and truth was, I really didn't know if either us would want to live without the other. We were too much a part of each other's lives.
I crossed my arms. Which meant the laser was no longer aimed at the monster in front of me and left me somewhat vulnerable, but I wasn't worried about him shooting me. Far from it. He'd drawn us here for a reason, and it wasn't so he could kill us. "What game is it you wish to play, Gautier?"
"I was hoping you'd choose that one. As much as I like listening to life slowly slipping away, the game has the potential to offer us both so much more."
"For God's sake, just get on with it," Rhoan said.
Gautier's smile faded. The sensation of danger that had been swirling around me sharpened abruptly, and sweat broke out across my skin.
"Jack often commented in the past on how good Rhoan was, and how good he expected you to be, Riley, when you finally gave in and joined the ranks. So I think it only fair that we have a little test to see who truly is the best guardian. And the test is, of course, stopping the madman behind the recent killings."
"I feel inclined to point out that, a, you're no longer a guardian, and, b, you said earlier you know the man behind the killings. That gives a rather good head start, doesn't it?"
He gave me a grin that was all teeth. "I never said the game would be easy for you."
And he had every intention of making it even harder, if the gleam in his eyes was anything to go by. Not that that was so surprising. "So, we play this little game of yours and both hunt The Cleaver. What does the winner get - besides the termination of said killer?"
"Well, you both get the satisfaction of knowing you beat me."
"Lucky us."
He nodded. "And of course, I would leave the state."
And I'd grow wings and fly. "And if you win?"
"Then we begin another game. Me hunting you and all you hold dear, while you try to survive."
Which is precisely what he'd promised to do four months ago. "I can't speak for Rhoan, but if you leave right now, I accept the challenge."
It was worth it, just for the chance to save the kid.
"Leave now, and I agree," Rhoan said, voice little more than a venomous hiss of air.
Gautier smiled. "I thought you'd see it my way. I'll see you on the battlefield." He gave us a salute with the laser.
Then he shot the board out from under the kid.