Chapter 47

For the first time in his long, wearying existence, he fully gave himself over to rage.

Daciano had become a creature possessed, with more fury even than the Lykae-and far less reason.

He told me he'd rip Cas apart with his bare hands.

Already the vampire had fractured Cas's right arm and pummeled his head and face with bone-shattering hits. Cas's visage was unrecognizable, his left eye a swollen pulp; blood streamed from his mouth.

In a desperate bid to retrieve his sword, Cas lunged into a clumsy trace, diving for it; Daciano predicted his move-and backhanded him across the ring.

Cas went flying, crashing into the mud, sending a wave of it up and over the first row of spectators.

The vampire followed, snatching Cas by a horn, dragging him to his knees to deliver more vicious blows.

"Oh, dear gods," Bettina muttered. "This isn't happening." She'd thought Cas could recover, or that Daciano would see reason. "Please stop them, Morgana!" Her godmother ignored her, leaning forward, riveted by the battle.

"Raum!" Bettina cried.

"What do the rules state about this, m'girl?" he said. "You've called mercy-what more can we do?"

"I don't know!"

As Cas struggled to free himself, delivering futile hits to Daciano's body, the vampire bared his fangs, stark white against his bloody face. A chilling predator's smile.

He's reached his limit.

Obviously Bettina had screwed up; she'd thought she was saving his life, never imagining that he could shake off such a severe dose.

When she'd pled mercy, Daciano's expression of stunned realization had transformed into one of pure hatred. The savagery in his onyx eyes . . . He must believe that she'd cheated him out of the tournament win-in favor of the demon before him.

She'd only wanted to protect Daciano. And now Cas was going to pay for her mistake if she didn't intervene.

"I have rarely in all my long years seen a being dominate a match like this," Raum said to Morgana. "It calls to mind the legends. Does it not?"

"Indeed. Lachlain, Demestriu, Furie, the Enemy of Old."

Agreeing with each other? In a conversational tone? What was happening here-why was no one else freaking out?

Daciano picked Cas up bodily, launching him across the cage like a missile. When Cas connected with the bars, one of the spikes embedded itself into the base of his skull, breaking off inside it.

Bettina gave a sob as Cas moaned mindlessly, swinging wildly-the spike had . . . blinded him? Still, he struggled to defend himself as Daciano snatched his matted hair.

The vampire's fist smashed Cas's face with another series of crushing blows, over and over, as Bettina begged, "No, no, no!"

Then came the final hit. She heard the crack of bone. Mud splashed up Cas's body when he collapsed to his back. Limp.

Sprawled in the mud, broken, Cas didn't move again.

The vampire loomed over him and unsheathed his sword. She could never reach the ring in time-

"You're about to lose both of them," Morgana said. "One dead-and one never to be forgiven." To Raum, she suggested, "Do send in the guards, demon. They might be able to keep the vampire busy long enough to smuggle Caspion's body away."

Raum glanced at Bettina. When she gave a desperate nod, he signaled the troop at the ready.

At once, they traced into the ring, swords drawn, surrounding Daciano.

Like an animal guarding a kill, the vampire positioned himself in front of Cas. His fangs dripped blood, his muscles rippling with raw power.

When the guards charged as one, he reared up with a deafening roar. The sound reverberated like thunder, shaking the arena, the very city.

Demons in the crowd held their ears.

With ungodsly strength and speed, he batted the guards away, felling them one by one-until each was left crawling or unconscious in the filth.

"There went that plan!" Morgana said with a shrug. "Freakling, only one person can stop this now."

"Who?!"

The sorceress smiled widely, taking a deep, dramatic breath. "The Queen of Hearts."

Me? Bettina's lips parted. Could she use her power against the male she loved? The vampire who'd claimed her body-less than twenty-four hours ago?

I made his heart beat, and now I'm to stop it? Even if briefly?

"Vampire, don't do this!" she cried, desperate not to hurt him. "Please, no!"

He bared his fangs at her, gave a bloody hiss, then turned back to his prey, so clearly wanting to murder Cas.

If she didn't act, Bettina would lose both of them. "You leave me no choice," she said, raising her hands. Power amplified inside her like a building storm. Tears poured down her face as she aimed it at the vampire, unleashing utter agony-

He recoiled as if lightning struck. Then he lurched, clutching his chest.

When he swung his head around at her, his hair whipped over his bloody cheek. She could see comprehension dawning on his ghastly face, accusation in his rage-black eyes.

He cast her a look so murderous that she flinched.

Resisting her hold over him, the vampire yelled to the crowd, "Mark me, and listen well! I've won this tournament. . . . No one here can deny my victory. . . . I've won this crown"-he pointed his bloodied sword at her-"and Bettina as my wife." Claws digging into his chest, lungs failing, he bellowed, "I forsake you both!"

Trehan held her gaze, scorned her tears, withstood the blistering pain in his chest.




Line : 46

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