Here's a sneak peek at book one in my upcoming YA SciFi Dystopian series EVERMARKED coming in 2020 set in the WORLD OF WATCHER!
**Quick Note: This series can be read before or after Watcher. It is in the same world but entirely new characters so feel free to start with either series**
Chapter 1 - Sienna
“Blaze, Blaze, Blaze,” the crowd chanted.
My heart thumped hard against my chest in anticipation, but any fear I once had disappeared the moment I stepped in the arena. This was what I was good at, what I was made for. Maybe not intentionally, but if I had been given a gift—an advantage—who was I not to use it?
The arena silenced as the Maestro stepped forward. He tapped once on his mic before speaking. “Ladies and Gentlemen, my fellow humans and esteemed Carbons. I welcome you all on this monumental occasion as we watch our Champion, Blaze, take on The Beast.”
The crowd went wild, cheers and boos and screams surrounding me, but my focus narrowed on The Beast. An apt nickname, if it weren’t so obvious. She looked more like a beast than a woman—that was clear enough—but I would expect nothing less from these vagabonds who came here every weekend to bet on the fights.
A few hours ago when I’d entered this place, I wasn’t thinking about my opponent or how large the payout might be tonight. The only thought running through my mind was simple—don’t lose. It was the same thought I had each time I entered the ring. And it was the fear of failure that had made me their champion.
This was the world I lived in, where a seventeen-year-old girl prepared to fight. For sport, not war or conflict. For fun.
I squeezed and flexed my hands, zoning in on my opponent. The black tape covering my knuckles and wrist trailed up my forearm until it covered the crisp, black marks stained across my pale skin just below my elbow. My first identifiers.
The black mask across my eyes was secured at the back of my head under the tightly braided hair falling down the middle of my back. The mask hid my second identifier from view—my eyes. Two narrow slits were all I needed to assess my opponent, to pick out potential strengths and weaknesses.
The Beast stood across the cage, rotating her wrists and cracking her neck, as she sneered down on me. She was nearly a foot taller and probably double my weight—all muscle—but I wasn’t worried. They didn’t pay me to worry. They paid me to win.
My eyes closed, and the Maestro’s voice faded. The roaring beat of the music washed out as my focus centered on my breaths—deep, slow, intentional. A calm swept through me.
“Blaze, Blaze, Blaze,” the crowd continued, referring to another of my identifiers, the one I let them see. They hadn’t given me the name for a fire burning inside me, or because I could create flames with the flick of my wrist like some Carbons once could.
No, I was human.
Rolling my shoulders, I flipped my hair over my back. The name they gave me came from the red-orange locks flowing behind me like a whip of fire. It was the only thing I would let them see, the only part of me known to them. Because if I revealed any more of myself, they would tear me apart.
The Underground was nearly full tonight, and people still filtered in, pushing against each other to get a better view of the cage. A large crowd meant a large payout, so I welcomed the attention. These people had come to watch their champion defeat the giant. I was their champion, so I acted like one. The corner of my lips curved into a low, wicked smile, and they ate it up. Screams and cheers filled the room. Music pounded with a heavy beat fuelling the crowd even more. It fuelled me.
The crowd moved in closer, pressing up against the caged walls meant to keep us in, but soon I would be leaving victorious. The only options were to win or die trying. Failure was not an option.
I scanned the crowd. Humans, mostly workers who probably couldn’t afford to throw away money on this useless sport, made up the bulk of the mob. Some Carbons had come out tonight, too. They were elite, human-like machines who had been integrated into society after the war nearly a hundred and fifty years ago. We were meant to respect them, accept them, but I saw them for what they really were. Terrifying, spoiled, near immortal creatures who could wipe our species off this planet in the blink of an eye if they felt like it.
“Let the games begin,” the Maestro shouted over the screams of the crowd.
A bell rang, and I pushed off the cage and stepped forward to face my opponent, a cocky swagger in my stance as I waited for her to make the first move.
The Beast wasted no time, dropping her shoulder and aiming full speed for me, but I danced out of the way. She was enormous. Her reach probably doubled my own, which meant I was better off using my quickness to avoid getting too close. She crashed hard into the cage. The crowd roared and banged on the metal she leaned against.
I kept my feet light, taking a few steps back. The Beast pushed off the cage. Closing the space between us lightning fast, she swung a heavy fist toward my face. I dropped in time for it to soar past me, getting two quick punches to her side before skipping back out of reach.
Alcohol and overused cologne filled my nostrils. Blood from earlier fights covered the soles of my bare feet. These people had come for a show; I would give them one.
I tested a kick to her leg, but the Beast only cracked a toothy grin, closing in on me quicker than I anticipated. Her shoulder slammed into my chest, and I was thrown against the cage wall. My breath caught in my lungs, and a slight ringing filled my ears.
My body’s instincts did the work while I focused on getting my air back. My knee drove hard into her midsection, causing her to pull away enough for me to aim another knee to her chin.
Her head whipped back, and blood sprayed from her mouth. She collapsed hard to the ground, and I made my move to pounce on her. She was back on her feet before I could react. The Beast wasn’t just strong or quick…she was smart.
I took a deep breath while we circled again, taking our time assessing each other. The lion and the mouse. David and Goliath. I knew how the stories ended.
Out of the corner of my eye, something caught my attention. Brief and insignificant, but costly. A set of fiery red eyes stared back at me from the crowd across the arena only for a second before I blinked, and they were gone. In that moment, I made my first mistake. The Beast was already spinning toward me before I registered what was happening. Her tree trunk of a leg flew smoothly through the air, and I wasn’t quick enough to avoid the blow smashing into my side.
Pain erupted through me, ribs cracked under the force, and my body crumpled to the ground. Hugging myself in tight, the Beast kicked at my back and my side repeatedly.
I tried to collect myself, to remind myself to breathe, to respond. Why was I here? What was I doing this for? Who was I doing this for? That question alone focused me, and I managed to roll out of the way before a heavy foot stomped down where I had just been. The Beast had a heavy advantage while I was still on the floor, so I rolled onto my back and kicked my feet up toward her. She swatted them away and flashed another toothy grin, crimson with blood. This time when she took another step forward, I aimed both feet at her knee. It buckled backwards, and she crumpled with a scream. An audible gasp sounded from the crowd.
I scrambled to my feet, lunging behind her. She was on one knee, unable to stand on the other, and I quickly went for her exposed neck. I slid my hand under her jaw and wrapped my arm around her throat. The Beast threw elbows back into my broken ribs, and my grip loosened for a moment, but the fighting rage kept me going. She pulled so hard at my arm wrapping around her neck that I couldn’t secure it tight enough to end it. If I could get my other hand clasped on to my arm, I’d be able to cinch the small gap closed.
With a speedy move, I had one leg wrapped around her waist, pulling her in closer and closing the gap around her neck even more. Her fist connected with the side of my head as she aimed blindly behind her, but I continued to dig in tighter, grimacing with effort until my hand reached my opposite arm and locked into place. The noose tightened.
She panicked, clawing at my arm, swinging at my face, but I held tight. I didn’t let go until her body went limp under my own, and I knew she was out.
The crowd responded even louder than before. Over their screams, I heard, “and still champion…” That was when I allowed myself to smile. To enjoy the moment. I’d won, maybe not the prettiest fight, but I’d won.
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