With a mental shrug, Trehan turned his attention to Gourlav, hoping to spy some weakness. Yet the demon merely leaned back against a wall, eyes closed, breathing deep and even.
Trehan could glean little, other than the fact that the pre-demon's body had been made for war. A rippled plate of bone covered its heart; those tusks hung down from its chin, protecting its neck like a shield. Three pairs of horns only added more protection. Even its green eyelids were thick, doubled over with many scaly folds. All vulnerabilities defended.
How to deliver an immortal death blow-without spilling a single drop of blood?
There had to be a solution. Every conundrum had one. What I wouldn't give to research this in my library. He rubbed his palm over his nape, feeling another's gaze.
Ah, Caspion studies me. Though incredibly young-not much older than Bettina-the demon wasn't without skill. Trehan suspected he would advance far in the tournament.
Trying to uncover my weaknesses, whelp?
In times past, Trehan had few. If the sun threatened to burn his skin, he'd always been able to turn to mist. Now he had to keep that talent hidden. Fortunately, he also possessed the ability to half-trace: manifesting himself just enough to be visible-and poised to attack-yet still insubstantial enough for the sun's rays to pass through him.
No, Trehan's greatest weakness was one brand-new to him: any threat to his Bride.
Caspion chose that moment to trace in front of him. "You often take advantage of innocent young females, old man? Stealing into their bedrooms?"
"Not one in an eternity." Trehan viewed him as he might an annoying insect. "You feel misplaced anger toward me. I've done nothing to you. Yet."
"You sneaked into the room of my best friend and future wife, compromising her."
"Future wife?" Control your anger, Trehan, lest it control you. "And how would your fated demon mate feel about your marriage to another?"
"You're a prick, Daciano. No wonder Bettina hates you."
Hates me? "So you know she's not yours. She indicated to me that you hadn't planned to enter-did you change your mind to avoid my sword for mere days?"
"I entered for her. And we won't know if she's mine until I bed her for the first time."
The idea of them together enraged Trehan. His fangs went sharp as he imagined her saying those words to Caspion: You can do anything to me.
Calm! Control! "You and I both know you won't get out of this tournament alive, boy. I had to save your forsaken life in the first godsdamned round. I could have ended you then."
"I had that under control!" His horns straightened with aggression. "And the only reason you helped me is because you want to kill me yourself."
Trehan had helped solely for an advantage with Bettina. Considering last night, I'd do it again. "Right now I very much wish to kill you myself."
"If you do that, you'll devastate Bettina."
"Which is regrettable. Luckily, as you pointed out, she's young. I'll make sure she recovers." Why am I baiting him?
"She loves me. She always will. She might be your Bride, but she'll never be your wife."
Trehan clutched his sword hilt, fury burning inside him. Control your anger. Control your instinct.
His rational mind knew Caspion had no fated claim on Bettina. After this conversation, Trehan also knew that the demon didn't feel love for her-at least, not romantic love.
But his heated instincts still demanded satisfaction, a swift death as punishment. Since encountering Bettina, Trehan had been inundated with a ferocity unlike any he'd ever known.
Control . . . control. Inhale. Exhale.
The horn blared then. Ignoring Caspion, Trehan turned his attention to Gourlav, due to fight the young animus demon this round.
Gourlav eased his massive body to his feet. Had he been slow to move initially? Had his primordial joints creaked?
Or was he feigning weakness?
Instead of tracing, Gourlav stomped from the sanctum to the ring, his horns scraping the top of the twelve-foot-high entryway, gouging the rock. His horns were unmarked.
The animus demon followed with leaden feet. Sweat covered the male's pallid face. When the iron gate closed behind them, he lost control of his bladder.
Trehan traced to the gate to watch the bout. Caspion made a frustrated sound and followed.
Just outside the ring, a cadre of Rune's soldiers had gathered, readying to fight Child Terrors, should any arise from Gourlav's blood. They needn't have bothered.
As the match began, so would it end-abruptly.
With one blow, Gourlav sliced his opponent from balls to scalp. Another sword strike took both halves of his victim's head.
Gourlav gave a monstrous roar to the sky then disappeared, likely returning to whatever hell dimension he ruled.
Trehan glanced at Caspion, finding the young male's eyes narrowed, his expression determined. Trehan imagined them both sharing a singular thought: I will do anything to keep that creature from Bettina.
The vampire's match was next.
Once Rune's guards had cleaned up the remains of Gourlav's opponent-who'd been halved like ripe fruit-Daciano and the troll entered the ring.
The vampire was dressed all in black, again in tailored pieces of obvious expense. Bettina alone knew what he concealed beneath those garments.
His unique sword was at his side. His one cold weapon.
The troll was at least a dozen feet tall, wearing what looked like the largest-and rattiest-toga Bettina had ever seen. It thumped its spiked tail aggressively, but Daciano ignored his opponent, instead gazing up at her, alone at her table.