The sun beat down on Kaydee as she opened her eyes. Hard, sandy ground was beneath her, baked by the sun and trodden by many panicked feet. As she lifted her head, she saw a rusty stain on the ground near her. Her head was foggy and she couldn’t remember how she had gotten here. Where was she?
A scream from behind her made her sit up quickly and whip around. Two adults, two complete strangers, were engaged in battle. One was impaled through a broken spear and went down in a gurgling, bleeding mess. The victor quickly moved on, not checking to see if his opponent had been slain properly. There were more people around her, once she looked around. Dozens of people were around her, fighting each other senselessly, staining the ground with their blood.
She backed away from the rusty stain once she realized what it was.
There was the sound of cheering all around her, amidst the blood and chaos. That was when she realized that this was not a random battlefield she was in. This was a staged battlefield, a forced battlefield. This was a coliseum of blood and death, where people gambled on lives lost and cheered as though this was meant to be entertainment.
She was back in the Blood Coliseum. The same ring of death that Atrimalous had saved her from.
A scream rose up in her throat and died before she could let it loose. Terror washed over her, threatening to wipe out all logical function in her limbs and muscles. Why was she back here? How did she get here? It was bad enough that she had been forced into this place the first time.
Why was she back?
She remembered very little of what had happened beforehand. She had been traveling with her friends. There was something about a cave within a mountain. That was all she remembered. Everything else was hazy. How did she wind up from a mountain chain to this desert of harsh sun and death?
She was going to be sick.
She scrambled away from the crowd, to the edge of the battlefield. With all the debris that piled up in the Blood Coliseum, from piled bodies and weapons, to props and stages that the coordinators of the so-called Death Games built to make battles more interesting to their audience, there was plenty of room to hide, as long as no one knew she was there. She scrambled behind part of a discarded platform used as a stage, half destroyed and carelessly flung onto its side. It provided a bit of shelter for her, as she wedged herself under the splintered wood and avoided rusty nails.
Her throat pinched up on her as she held back heavy tears. Her first run in with this place had given her nightmares, had scared her and had infuriated her into almost killing a man after she had been freed from its bloody grasp. To be back in the Blood Coliseum completely debilitated her. Her legs shook and turned to jelly at the thought of facing the battlefield, of having to take on complete strangers and end their lives as though they meant nothing. She had only killed once the last time she had been here, thankfully, but once was too much for her. She enjoyed taking care of plants. Her earth mage powers gave her the ability to create life, in the form of plants and flowers. She wasn’t meant to take life away from anyone, even if they threatened her.
“Hey, I think there’s someone hiding over here,” a voice said, too close to her.
Kaydee stifled a gasp and clamped a hand over her mouth. She could feel hot tears streaming down her face and she felt as though she might throw up at any moment. If she was found, she didn’t think she could fight to defend herself. If she was found…
Help me, she thought, as a plea she directed to no one in particular.
If she was found, she would be killed.
There was a muffled curse as someone crawled in under the mangled staging platform. The curse sounded all too familiar, in a voice she had heard curse many times.
“Jesus, you better be right, Marco. I’m not some dainty princess, here.”
Kaydee’s heart soared and her head perked up, ready to find her friend. Evangeline would be able to calm her down, refocus her on how to get them out safely. Hell, Evangeline could probably clear most of the arena herself. Her demon form was not something to take lightly.
Evangeline squeezed through the splintered space and her eyes lit on Kaydee, strangely greedy, as if she had found something worthwhile. “Get down here, Marco! There’s this little chick hiding!”
Kaydee’s eyes widened. Evangeline spoke as though she didn’t recognize Kaydee at all. It seemed so familiar, to see a stranger glancing through a friend’s eyes, but she couldn’t quite place it. Memories tried to float up to the surface of her mind, but they were weak and hazy, floating away before she could grasp them.
“You’re not going to run on me, are you?” Evangeline asked her. As she squeezed her way further into the space, the sword she was carrying clanged into the damaged wood.
Kaydee had never seen her friend use a sword before. She had never seen that fierce gaze focused on her, either. Evangeline stood before her, a predator, deadly and elegant like the tiger form Kaleb used. She didn’t know why, but she knew Evangeline meant to kill her.
“She’s shaking like a rabbit,” Marco said as he squeezed himself into the space.
The space under the turned over stage was barely large enough to hide one person. With three people underneath the stage, the dark refuge was now claustrophobic and cramped. Kaydee backed away from them, exposing her back to the other open end. She hoped no one would see her. Her entire back was exposed.
“Don’t run, little rabbit,” Evangeline said, her voice quiet and deadly. She was mocking Kaydee. Her voice had a strange, hard edge to it.
“Don’t kill me,” she whispered, hating how weak she sounded. “Don’t you remember me?”
Evangeline stared at her, not one ounce of recognition in her gaze. “Does it look like I’ve ever met you?”
Kaydee’s shaking only grew worse as she stared at Evangeline. How was that right? How could her own friend not recognize her? Worse – how could Evangeline want to hurt her? Intentionally hurt her? That wasn’t the woman Kaydee knew. The woman before her looked like Evangeline, talked like her and moved like her, but somehow, everything was wrong. She was both familiar and a stranger.
She was also likely to kill Kaydee.
The earth mage wasn’t sure why Evangeline wielded a sword. Her demonic side could easily overpower a sword, which was why in Moonlight Hills, the half-demon, half-angel never bothered with any other weaponry aside from her silver-plated switch blades, for close combat with vampires who bore a deadly silver allergy that poisoned them. Swords were gaudy, she said, and useless when she could slash with claws instead of blades.
So why a sword? Why now?
Of all the things Kaydee could have been stuck on, her choice of weapon seemed most absurd. Yet, somehow it alerted Kaydee to the fact that something was not right, aside from the obvious. There was no recognition in that dark gaze at all, but the sword practically screamed at Kaydee.
Something was not right.
“She’s too dumb to run away,” Evangeline sneered at her companion. “Do you see this?”
That seemed to thaw Kaydee. She understood her friend’s intent well enough, even if she didn’t understand what was going on. Evangeline was going to kill her, completely in cold blood. She could probably have killed everyone in the arena easily enough.
Kaydee tumbled out of her hiding spot, blinking in the bright sun. Panic overrode her mind, clouding out all logical thought until she was no more than instinct and adrenaline. If Evangeline meant to kill her, she wasn’t going to give her the chance to do it.
She took off blindly, running straight ahead. She wasn’t thinking clearly as she ran back into the center of the carnage, but thankfully, no one else seemed to see her. There were plenty of deadly, armed, adrenaline-fueled fighters around her, yet none seemed to see her, except for Evangeline. Her friend, or the woman she thought was a friend, was barreling along behind her, viscous like a charging bull. Anyone who got in her way was dealt with, sloppily, but in a way that debilitated them from getting up. A flurry of death and profanity tailed Kaydee and she knew that she couldn’t keep running. The arena was only so large and Evangeline would eventually catch her.
The last time Kaydee had been here, she had been forced to kill, in order to survive. Atrimalous had saved her shortly after. From the looks of things, Atrimalous wouldn’t be here this time. She was on her own, with a friend determined to kill her.
This excerpt was found in the back of Warpath
Featured image via Wikipedia