House of Dragons (Royal Houses #1) - K.A. Linde
Kerrigan was losing.
Blood dripped into her eye from a gash at her brow. Her feet danced back and forth on the hard stone floor, light and eager with her hands protecting her face—little good it had done.
Her form was in complete contrast to the bruiser before her. He was nearly seven feet tall and built like the haunches of a dragon—massive and muscular. Though he was all power and no finesse.
“You going to dance on your twinkle toes all day, or are we going to fight?” Bruiser grunted.
“I was considering it,” she bit back.
He laughed gruffly. “Fine. Make it easy for me, Red.”
Bruiser stepped forward, using his limited elemental magic to give him an edge as he rushed toward her. The earth rattled beneath her feet, and she shuffled side to side in an attempt to stay upright. But then he was in front of her, his eyes keen on victory before his fist even shot for her face.
She blocked him with her forearm, taking a bone-crunching amount of pressure. Then she dodged the second blow and used a trickle of air to shove his fist out of the way. She hated being on the defensive, but she’d never seen Bruiser fight before. She always spent the first couple of minutes discovering her opponent’s strengths and weaknesses, assessing the situation to her advantage. Unfortunately, that meant getting punched in the stomach with a giant rock.
All the air gasped out of Kerrigan’s lungs as she was propelled backward into the ropes. She collapsed forward onto her knees, coughing spastically. She spat blood onto the floor. An offering to whatever gods were watching.
Her eyes lifted. Bruiser was smirking, holding his hands up to the crowd as if he’d already won the match. Overconfident, arrogant bastard.
She heaved herself back to her feet and kicked the rock he’d thrown off the edge of the ring. Her bright red mess of hair had come out of its braid with that throw, and now, unruly curls framed her narrow face.
At least her gold headband still held. She had no interest in revealing her short, barely pointed ears.
“You still in it?” Bruiser taunted as he sauntered in her direction. He didn’t even lift his defenses. He didn’t so much as reach for a speck of earth. He was used to using his fists and getting his way. “Poor little thing. I’m going to have to put you to sleep.”
“We’ll see if you can, Bruiser.”
Kerrigan’s eyes blurred at the edges. The fumes from the Wastes—the deplorable underground crime building where she was currently fighting—sure didn’t help matters. The Dragon Ring was on the bottom level and smelled like stale ale and blood and vomit. She preferred it down here to nearly everything up above but, gods, the smell.
It was all the worse because her eyes teared up. Gods, she looked like an amateur.
A small smile cracked her frightened facade.
Sometimes, looking like an amateur worked to her advantage.
Kerrigan jabbed out with her left hand, swirling the sand on the ground into a tight cyclone. She swung it in an arc before throwing it.
Bruiser’s eyes widened in shock. Then he dove out of the way of the maelstrom. Too slow. The sand yanked him off his feet and threw him halfway across the ring. He rolled over his shoulder and came back up in a crouch. His beady eyes assessed her more strategically than when he’d casually tried to beat her face in.
Kerrigan was losing …on purpose.
After nearly a dozen fights, she had learned that no one wanted the fight to end too soon. And no one wanted it to end without blood.
The only thing more important than Dozan Rook in these halls—blood.
Blood was the real king of the Wastes.
Bruiser hauled himself up onto his feet again. He shook the sand out of his dark hair and then ran toward her. His feet plodded hard against the packed earth. His hulking figure could make elephants look nimble. Still, she waited with her hands at her sides, ready to strike when he was closer.
Kerrigan lifted her hand and slashed downward, cutting the front of his shirt open. Blood welled dark red against the dull beige of his shirt. He slammed to a halt, staring down in bewilderment at the cut.
Cheers rang out overhead.
The uproarious, drunken crowd was chanting her name, “Red! Red! Red!”
“I’ll paint you red by the end of this,” Bruiser taunted. He flexed his muscles.
Kerrigan lifted her hands again and gestured him forward.
Then, a rock slammed into the back