Summary: At twelve years old, Kate Daniels entered the ring at Hoyo de Sangre. Cyclone remembered her, thirteen years later. What did she do, to make such an impact?
A/N: I love tournaments. Along with Kate, Curran, and Ilona. Speaking of which, I don't own Magic Bites, or anything related. All property of Ilona Andrews.
The sun beat down, merciless, and she sweated in the sand. Sweated salt and water until even that wasn't enough, and the heat made her dizzy. But her father was watching from the sidelines, and she couldn't afford to show weakness.
It was a test, he'd told her, not of skill. Of mettle. Could she do it? Or would the sight of pain, frighten her, freeze her to the spot? Would the smell of blood wipe her mind like a child's slate, make her forget her goal?
Would the taste of death drive her to madness?
They would find out, here, in a ring of sand so hot it smoked.
She looked harmless enough, at first sight. Tall for her age, and unusually muscular, but still small. Only a girl of twelve or thirteen, at most. She didn't wear the silver belt that indicated divine heritage—m-scans had been mandatory.
(Only the insane would challenge a god.)
No lycanthropy, either. Clearly not a vampire. Skinny, foolish, human child. She walked to her death, head held high, surrounded by monsters that howled for blood.
But there was a fierceness in her eyes that made would-be challengers give her a second glance. And when she stepped forward into the circle, the air shuddered, and all eyes were on her. She drew her sword calmly, ignoring them, and raised it in a salute to someone in the crowd.
When she turned back, there was almost complete silence. She was the final challenger. The crowd waited with bated breath. The competitors tensed their muscles.
A gong sounded, tearing through the silence like a gunshot. A woman with empty eyes and runes carved into her skin let the reverberations die away before she spoke.
There were whoops and catcalls as the two contestants stepped forward. Seven was a beast of a man, the requisite dark green band that marked him as a shapeshifter barely spanned his monstrous wrist. He wore a loincloth and nothing else. Muscle rippled with every move.
Thirteen was his polar opposite. Female, with slanted eyes and dark hair like a straight sheet of metal hinted at Asian origins. An intricate tattoo of two snakes wound around her wrists, and circled her neck like an ornament. Her band was the silver blue of the faithful, human divine. She held a dagger like she knew how to use it.
Another peal of the gong, and they were off. Thirteen moved quickly and precisely, she won first blood. The shapeshifter roared and morphed into the horrifying meld of man and beast that made them so dangerous. Warrior form. Jaguar.
But it wasn't enough. Thirteen spoke a harsh word, and the man-beast spliced as half his body pulled in one direction, and the other half ripped in another. Thirteen shook her hair away from her face disdainfully, and stepped over the remains of her opponent.
The crowd had a mixed reaction—some cursed her for ending it so quickly, without torture or slow dismemberment. Others cheered her efficiency.
The girl with the sword was silent. And so the tournament went on, as the sun arced through the sky. Until, finally, eleven remained of the original twenty.
Six looked to be the youngest, apart from the girl. He carried a crossbow and walked with confidence. His band was blue, and his eyes were triumphant. He'd drawn the easy lot, for his first round. The child.
Seventeen gave him a cursory glance, before dismissing him and stepping into the ring. She drew her sword, and it shimmered. She waited, her posture almost bored. It infuriated Six to no end. He stepped up to join her, and smiled, baring his teeth.
Her expression remained unchanged. The gong sounded. He never saw her move. All he knew was the sudden pain in his gut, and a grim child's face that had appeared before his own.
No, not a child's face. Death.
She pulled her sword from his stomach, and swung it in one quick movement. The headless body fell forward to lie beside her. The crowd was utterly silent. Then, someone began to clap slowly. The sound freed the audience, and a roar rose up.
The girl knelt, wiped her sword on the man's tunic, and stepped out of the ring.
She fought twice more, as the day wore on. The victories didn't come as easily as her first, but they came. Oh, there had been pain, and she was afraid. But the fear didn't rule her, and the death didn't incapacitate her.
In the end, there were two left standing.
And this was the final battle. Thirteen stood warily, more cautious than her predecessors. Possibly because she'd seen what the young Seventeen was capable of.
And the girl with the sword refused to underestimate her opponent, either. When the gong rang for the last time, they circled each other instead of attacking. Thirteen, armed with her blessed dagger and god-enhanced magic. Seventeen with her hungry sword.
Thirteen threw the dagger, in a blur of motion. Seventeen raised her sword almost lazily to deflect it. Dumb move, her eyes mocked. You've thrown away your weapon. For the first time since she was very small, Thirteen was afraid. She was afraid because this place was godforsaken, and her magic drew its strength through faith. She was afraid because the girl before her, no matter how human she looked, could not be.
Seventeen stood still, waiting for the next move.
It was Thirteen who decided she had a better chance to strike quickly, with magic. She took a breath, and sang the incantation for death. Not a showy breaking of bones, or splitting of the skull. A simple spell to stop the heart.
Seventeen glanced at her sharply, sucking in a breath of air, before snapping into action. She wrapped her hand around the blade of her sword, and squeezed. Blood trickled down the blade, and she whispered one word.
The earth shattered.
Thirteen heard the shriek of blood magic in her ears, felt it quench with ease the killing curse she'd called. The sand had split before her feet, and she stared into the gaping chasm. She looked into the merciless eyes of the girl the crowd had nicknamed Death, and saw only fierce determination. Then she saw nothing at all.
The crowd was on their feet, screaming at the upset win. They chanted her name—or what passed for a name, in the ring. Seventeen. Seventeen. Death.
A Frenchman had stepped up beside the blank-faced gong ringer. His face was pale, and he held a slim gold circlet in his hands. A crown of sorts. She was Queen of this sand. The hole in the ground slowly mended itself, and she sealed it shut with another curt word, too quiet to be heard.
The Frenchman looked terrified at the casual display of power. She's not even breathing hard.
Seventeen stared at him, and the crown he offered with shaking hands. Then she turned on her heel and walked away.
One man detached himself from the crowd and followed at a distance, smiling slightly at the shock on the faces of the crowd and the crown-bearer. It was inconceivable to them that one might go through the trouble of winning, and not claim the glory that went with.
It was simple, Voron knew. For Seventeen, his adopted daughter, the act of killing was still distasteful (someone would have to break her of that notion) and merited no glory.
She wasn't there for honor. She hadn't come for pride. She had come because he demanded it. And now he knew: he had taught her all he could. She no longer needed him, and his presence was only drawing Roland's forces closer.
Without him, his girl would have at least a decade of freedom in which to gain experience, forge alliances, and prepare for the final battle.
He watched her as she walked ahead of him, shoulders stiff, chin up. And he loved her with all his heart.
"Kate Daniels," he whispered to the wind, "you will accomplish your goal. And you will find the peace you seek."
It was a prophecy. Or a promise. But he knew it to be truth.
Fin. Kate's always been a fascinating character, and I love doing stories of the past. Maybe Curran's rise to the position of Beast Lord, next? Now that we know the Andorf story ;)