The fight was over. Two hundred pounds plus of defeated cage fighter hit the floor, groaning his pain into the matting. Victorious, Edan spun in the centre of the ring, sweat-soaked blond hair whipping around his shoulders as he looked for his next target.
There wasn't one.
He roared in triumph. The crowd gasped as he loosed his hold on the dragon within and gave the creature full voice. The window panes, set high in the walls, rattled, and glasses danced over the tables with the force of the sound. His dragon drew closer to the surface, scales pressing against the inside of his skin as his bones ached with the effort of holding it inside.
Edan lifted his head and looked around the crowd as he forced the creature to recede. He didn't bother to hide the contempt written across his face. The room was filled. Every seat at every table occupied for this blood-thirsty spectacular. He recognized politicians, police chiefs and wealthy businessmen. Kneeling at their feet, wearing near identical collars and expressions of misery, were their paranormal "pets."
Edan gritted his teeth until his jaw ached with the pressure. He could see numerous weres and several variety of fae. Nothing too powerful of course... certainly nothing like him. A dragon would take this place apart in seconds if anyone was stupid enough to even try and put a collar on it.
"And the winner is... Edan Lisander!" The announcer's voice rolled around the small room.
Mac, Edan's owner, ducked into the cage to grab Edan's wrist, shoving it into the air in the traditional winner's salute. "Good job, big guy. Thought you were a goner at one point."
Dark haired and lean, Mac appeared human. Especially next to Edan, who looked like he could break the smaller man in half. Nothing could be further from the truth. In Mac's case, what walked and talked like a duck was anything but a duck.
Edan knew if he tried anything, he'd just end up bruising his knuckles. Mac was a gargoyle; one of the only creatures who could suck up more damage than a dragon. Which made them perfect partners -- a deadly duo in their bloody little game.
"Pfft, to him?" Edan nodded at the crumpled figure of his opponent. "You've gotta be kidding me. He couldn't fight his way out of a paper bag, no matter how much Fairy-dust they pump into him."
Like his contempt, Edan didn't bother to hide his disgust. The guy had been high before he stepped into the cage, and there was nothing that pissed Edan off quicker than a user. Particularly one who thought he was the biggest bad-ass out there. Of course, there had been nothing else for it... Edan had been forced to introduce him to the mesh of the cage several times.
"Oh yeah?" Mac threw back, "I suppose hitting his fist with your face was part of you wearing him down then?"
"Behave." Edan bit out while Mac paraded him around the cage like a good little pet. "Or you'll end up as a garden ornament. A butt-ugly one."
"Yeah, yeah, you and whose army, scale-boy?"
Edan just shook his head. Mac had the gift of the gab for sure. "So, how'd we do?"
Mac's grin was quick, the look in his silver eyes almost feral. "We got him bang to rights. Bastard was counting on his boy winning this fight and for you to take a fall in the fourth. Right about now he's making a run for it with the takings."
"We've got all his escape routes covered?"
Edan ducked out of the cage, slipping a little on the blood and snot by the hatch but recovering within a second. He slanted a look over his shoulder in the vain hope that Mac wouldn't notice it and go arse over tit. No such luck. For a creature made of the biological equivalent of granite, the gargoyle was damned light on his feet.
Mac threw a towel around the dragon's neck as Edan flopped into a chair near their "corner." "Of course, what do you take me for? No matter where he runs, Steel and Reese'll track him down."
Edan used the edge of the towel to wipe the sweat from his face. They'd spent too long tracking Carmicheal down, put in too many man hours getting their ducks in a row, for it to all go to shit now. With heavy hitters like Steel and Reese on the case though -- both of whom had more than enough reason to hate Carmicheal's guts -- Edan didn't have to worry about anything. Well, other than the two weres ripping each other to pieces.
Edan's eyebrow arched. "You sure it was a good idea to put those two together?"
Mac shrugged. "They'll either work out their differences or kill each other. Either way, I won't have to put up with their bitching and bellyaching about each other anymore. I call it a win-win situation."
Edan snorted a laugh and reached up. Gathering his hair at the nape of his neck, he snapped a band around it.
"What the fuck? What do you mean he's gone? I put good money on this fight and I want my damn winnings!"
The shrill voice of complaint was just the first. Before either Edan or Mac could turn and identify the speaker, more voices had joined the fray. The noise in the room increased as the crowd realized there might be a problem.
"Looks like the peasants are revolting." Mac threw the bigger man his shirt and grabbed Edan's bag. "Come on, big guy, time to haul ass before things get ugly."
The shirt hit Edan mid-stomach as he rose to his feet, his movements graceful even after seven rounds and a pounding in the cage. His attention wasn't on Mac though. Instead, it was riveted on the other side of the room where a fish tank covered the wall. In fact, it was the wall, he realized, now he got a good look at it. There was something in there, something big.
"You go on. I'll be out in a moment."
If she heard one more "ooooh, he's so manly," Dualla was going to throw up. Lounging on her favorite rock to one side of the village's communal area, the mermaid closed her eyes and basked in the weak sun as it filtered down from the surface. It wasn't as good as sunbathing, but down here, it was the best she could do.
"Melody, tell us again how he rescued you!"
Merilea's high-pitched demand broke through her older cousin's tranquility. Dualla's brow pinched. Inner happy meal, she thought in determination, reach for the inner happy meal. I am a chicken nugget, a happy chicken nugget. One who doesn't give a damn about daring rescues and handsome bloody heroes.
"Oh, he was so brave... and handsome. Did I mention he was handsome?"
Only about a million times.
"Ohhhh, was he big and strong?"
Dualla's tail swished in irritation as she fought to control her annoyance. That was the trouble with her tribe... with mertribes in general. They were mostly female and tended to be isolated. She'd say inbred -- what with the women around her acting like complete ninnies over her aunt's rescue -- but inbreeding relied on there being some men around.
Mermen were rare these days, and those who were left had banded together into all male groups. Hunter groups. They roamed the oceans without regard for tribal territories and offered their services -- hunting or more... intimate services -- to the tribes. Arrogant and violent, they were the main reason many mermaids went to the surface for their lovers, returning to the sea pregnant. Some, like Dualla's mother, spent their lives between land and the sea while their kids were growing up. It was easier than contracting with a merman.
"Oh, yes... and handsome --"
Dualla cracked an eyelid and treated her aunt to a glare. Older than Dualla by ten years, although no one would have guessed with Melody's delicate beauty, she was sitting like a queen on the speaker's rock, winding strands of golden seaweed through her dark hair. If she mentioned the word handsome one more time, Dualla was going to throttle her with it.
" -- he was tall and so muscled... I nearly fainted when he scooped me out of that filthy tank..."
I wish you'd faint now and spare me. Dualla wasn't ungrateful to have her aunt back. Not at all. Like the rest of the tribe, she'd been beside herself with worry when Melody had been taken -- kidnapped by fishermen and sold to a surface dweller like some kind of goldfish. Just... there was a limit on how many times she could hear the same story over and over again before she snapped and tried to beat Melody to death with a cockle.
"His hair was like spun gold."
Dualla kept her eyes closed, zoned the chatter out and tried to doze. A healer like her long dead mother, she was often plagued with dreams that disturbed her sleep. Unlike her mother, Dualla only ever had the one dream.
The same dream over and over again. A dream of a man... a surface dweller, dark and dangerous despite his blond good looks, with the kind of darkness that came from the soul. A dream of a dragon with purple scales to match the line that ran down Dualla's own tail, and who breathed fire and set the sea alight.
She had no idea what it meant. As dreams went, it was the smallest snippet, no more than a few seconds. A man with long blond hair swirling around his shoulders turned toward her and pinned her with those intense eyes. Then the dragon opened its maw to burn her up.