Some people use things; they destroy. You're a creator, a builder.
The words came unbidden to her mind, completely inappropriate at
Distracted by the memory, Turquoise missed a block. She hissed
in pain as the knife cut deep into the meaty underside of her arm.
She caught her attacker's wrist and twisted, sending the young woman
attached sprawling to the ground, as her father's words faded from
her mind. Once, they might have been right, but now, they could
not have been further from the truth.
The woman Turquoise was fighting wasn't clumsy for long. In a near-blur
of burgundy hair and black leather, Ravyn Aniketos sprang to her
Turquoise rolled her shoulders, trying to work out the kinks in
them, and blinked quickly to clear her tired eyes. This match had
been going on for too long. She was bleeding from where Ravyn's
knife had sliced through her arm, and she could feel the warm, sticky
drip of blood down her back from a second wound on her left shoulder.
Ravyn's black leather pants had been slit open in the thigh, and
she had a shallow wound low on her jaw, which would probably heal
Earlier, there had been other combatants; most slunk out the back
door, defeated, within the first few minutes.
The fight was a competition of stealth and hunting ability. In
near darkness, the competitors found and marked one another--a quick
knife slice, just enough to draw blood. If a hunter was marked three
times, he or she was out of the running. Turquoise was pleased to
have lasted so long, but only victory would satisfy her pride. Ravyn
likely felt the same. The next one of them to land a blow would
win, becoming the leader of Crimson, the most elite unit of the
Somewhere in the building, a clock struck, once, twice . . .
Turquoise lost track of the clock's tones as she struck again.
Ravyn cursed as the blade narrowly missed her stomach, and Turquoise
barely managed to evade an answering strike to her cheek.
They were both getting tired, and tired quickly became clumsy.
Only the fact that they had both been fighting for hours kept them
The clock finished its song, and left the room in eerie silence,
broken only by the ragged, heavy breathing as the two fought.
Turquoise slid a fraction of her attention to the voice but did
not allow her gaze to leave Ravyn.
"Sheathe your weapons," Bruja's leader, Sarta, instructed.
Someone flipped the switch and both fighters blinked against the
sudden light. "I have a feeling that this competition could
go on for days if I let it," she announced, "but Bruja
law does call for a limit."
Ravyn licked the blade of her knife clean, her cranberry-colored
gaze resting on Turquoise all the while, as if daring her to react.
Ravyn had no fetish for blood, and she professed to hate vampires,
but she did love to give a show.
"Well, Sarta, if you're going to call a halt to our fun, do
you also plan to name a winner?" Ravyn was still panting slightly,
but not enough to affect the smooth drawl in her voice.
Turquoise wiped her own blade on the leg of her ruined jeans. She
didn't speak yet, preferring to catch her breath. If it was ten
now, then she and Ravyn had been sparring for almost five hours.
This fight had begun at sunrise.
Five hours, and they were left in a draw. Turquoise's muscles ached
with fatigue, but she would rather have finished this than stopped
now. She wanted the title.
Crimson. It was the most elite of the three Bruja guilds. Cold-blooded
as snakes and vicious as hyenas, members of Bruja were the best
predators in existence. To be recognized as the guild's leader would
fulfill the promise Turquoise had once made. She had sworn that
no one would ever mistake her for prey again. If that meant abandoning
a few of the social mores of the daylight world, as Bruja members
so frequently did, so be it.
The leader of Crimson was second only to Sarta, the leader of all
three Bruja guilds. Turquoise had trained and fought and competed
for the position. She knew she was the best Crimson had. She could
out-stalk and out-fight any vampire and had, many times. She would
win this title, whatever it took.
"Rematch," Sarta said simply. "Onyx and Frost still
need to compete today. You two are obviously matched evenly with
daggers, but a Bruja member needs to be able to use any weapon at
his or her command." She paused for dramatic effect. "A
tie is decided in a private duel, one month after Challenge, witnessed
only by the other leaders. The weapon is decided by the member who
has been in the guild the longest--in this case, Ravyn--and the
bout goes to third blood."
Ravyn sighed, looking at Turquoise past burgundy lashes. "In
one month, and I choose the weapon. In that case . . ." She
walked around the room, examining the walls, which were decorated
with weapons of all sizes, all shapes, and all designs.
She paused to run a finger down the blade of a broadsword, but
then shook her head and moved on. She glanced at the crossbows,
but they were the traditional weapon of Crimson's sister guild,
Onyx--not appropriate for a Crimson duel. She passed foils, epees
and sabers, and did not even pause to glance at the thick wooden
Finally, she pulled down two leather whips, and cracked one expertly.
"I choose these."
Ravyn tossed one of them to Turquoise with a sly grin, and Turquoise
almost let it fall to the ground before reflex made her catch the
handle. Of the entire selection of weapons in the Bruja hall, the
whip was the only one she hated. Ravyn could not have made a better
"Turquoise, do you accept the challenge?" Sarta asked.
"I accept." She was grateful that her voice stayed even.
She hated whips. She could use one if she needed to, but not with
"Then get out of here," Sarta ordered. "Come back
the day of the next full moon. The match will begin at sunrise."
Turquoise nodded, then turned her back to Sarta and Ravyn, and
stalked as gracefully as she could from the fighting floor.