SHE’S DESTINED TO DESTROY THE WORLD…
BUT NOT IF SHE CAN HELP IT
“Cat” Catalia Fisa has been running from her destiny since she could crawl. But now, her newfound loved ones are caught between the shadow of Cat’s tortured past and the threat of her world-shattering future. So what’s a warrior queen to do when she knows it’s her fate to be the harbinger of doom? Everything in her power.
Griffin knows Cat is destined to change the world—for the better. As the realms are descending into all-out war, Cat and Griffin risk sacrificing everything they’ve fought for. Gods willing, they will emerge side-by-side in the heart of their future kingdom…or die trying.
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“I did it!” Jocasta shouts.
I grin at the target. Her knife isn’t in the middle, but it’s pretty damn close.
“My turn.” Kaia positions herself in the way I showed them both, the movement fluid and automatic by now. She completely ignores the way the reddened skin on her hand must chafe and lets her blade fly. It sticks dead center, and she jumps up and down, cheering.
I let out a long, low whistle, making her flush with pride.
It’s our final day out, and both of them are hitting the bull’s-eye more often than not. It’s time to move back a few more paces, or aim from the side.
“I still think we should have used your usual practice range instead of making this new one.” Kaia’s naturally bright eyes turn dreamy. “We would surely have seen Kato that way. And Flynn,” she adds as an afterthought.
Hmm. No wonder she’s not running around kissing the pages. She’s already in love.
“We’re trying to avoid them, remember? This is a secret.” Jocasta gets ready to throw again.
Kato already knows. He took me into the city, and I bought the girls each a set of knives the morning we started target practice. The knives are double-edged at the tip and medium weight with sleek metal handles wrapped in sinew for grip. They were hideously expensive because the sinew comes from Kobaloi, gnome-like creatures fond of playing tricks. The vendor said the sinew retains the creature’s magic, which is always useful. I bought myself a set, too. I just hope the knives don’t play tricks on us.
“I don’t see why it has to be a secret. They could have taught us, too. With swords.” Pink infuses Kaia’s cheeks, and I have a feeling she’s imagining Kato’s strong arms around her and his big body cupping hers from behind as he shows her the right way to move. She’s tall for her age, taller than either Jocasta or I am, and as dark-haired as Kato is fair. They’d fit well together.
Gah! What am I thinking? He’s way too old for her.
I frown. What is she thinking?
“Neither of them actually prefers the sword.” I motion for Kaia to stand farther away from the target. She’s so good that anything too close range will start to get boring. “And knives are a good start. They’re lighter, easier to conceal, and you can defend yourself without letting anyone get too close.” Or else they’re really close, but we’re working on throwing, not stabbing.
While Kaia moves back and gets ready again, I help Jocasta with her position. She tends to throw high and to the right. I reposition her shoulders and slowly extend my arm, holding hers by the wrist. “Let go here,” I say when our arms are straight. “When the tip points to where you want it to go.”
Kaia listens and makes a minor adjustment before she throws, keeping her wrist stiff to avoid wild rotations. She hits the red hibiscus flower we pinned to the target as a bull’s-eye and lets out a shriek. She bounces over and hugs me.
“You’re a natural.” I awkwardly pat her back.
“I wish Kato could have seen that.” She grins so wide I see her molars. “He would have been impressed.”
“Kato is more than twice your age,” Jocasta points out gently but firmly. “And he wouldn’t approve.”
Actually, considering the overprotective, grrr factor of the four male members of Beta Team—which meant I couldn’t go shopping without one of them as an escort—he was fairly casual about the whole thing. Then again, I did present it to him as a fun new hobby for the princesses rather than a vital self-defense technique.
“Why not?” Kaia asks. “Would Flynn approve?”
“No, he would not.” Jocasta sounds like she just bit down on half a lemon—and broke a tooth on a seed.
“But Cat has knives. And a sword. They fight together. They’re a team.”
Jocasta looks to me for help. I wish she wouldn’t. I don’t exactly have a delicate way with words.
I flip a knife in my hand, the sinew-wrapped hilt hitting my palm with rhythmic, dull thuds. I wish I could spin it vertically like my friend Vasili at the circus does, with the hilt twirling on my hand, but it always tilts right off. “The difference is that I came to them that way. A grown woman. Already a warrior. They know I can handle myself, and they’ve seen me take my fair share of hits and come out stronger for them.” I point back and forth between the two of them with the tip of my new blade. “You, on the other hand, came to them as little baby girls, and they’ve watched you grow up. They’ve seen you scrape your knees and play in the mud after the first rains. Helped you climb trees. With you, their only thought is to shelter and defend. It wouldn’t even occur to them to let you protect yourselves.”
Kaia’s youthful face scrunches up. “That’s obnoxiously unfair.”
“That’s men. Stubborn.” I throw my knife. The blade scrapes against Kaia’s in the heart of the flower.
“Does Griffin treat you that way?” Kaia asks.
I snort. “He can try.”
They both grin at my choice of words. “You’re officially family now. You’ve adopted our motto,” Jocasta says.
My insides take a sudden, violent dive. Griffin would like to make it a lot more official than that.
To distract myself from that alarming train of thought, I whip around, slip my foot behind Kaia, and shove hard on her upper body. With Kaia down, I snake my arm around Jocasta’s neck and haul her up against my body, cutting off most of her air. She squeaks and slaps at my forearm.
Laughing, I let go of her and step back, shaking my head. “At the very least, you should have stomped on my toes or elbowed me in the ribs.”
Jocasta glares at me, but her mouth moves like she might smile. Kaia gets up, grinning. She doesn’t bother brushing herself off. They’re both flushed and disheveled.
“We have time before dark. I finally got you two wearing tunics and pants, so let’s work on balance and grappling.” I shift into a fighting stance. “I’ll show you how to take someone down and hold them there. Then you’ll have to practice on each other while I’m gone.”
They look disturbingly eager, and I wonder what I’ve started, and whether I should have left well enough alone.
About Amanda Bouchet
Award-winning author Amanda Bouchet grew up in New England and studied French at the undergraduate and graduate levels, first at Bowdoin College and then at Bowling Green State University. She moved to Paris, France in 2001 and has been there ever since. She met her husband while studying abroad, and the family now includes two bilingual children, who will soon be correcting her French.