SHE SITS AMONG THE CACTUS AND STONES AS THE RISING Texas sun ignites the edges of her silhouette. Her eyes are closed, her legs crossed, as if she is meditating. But the only higher plane she’s trying to reach involves killing and maiming her enemies. She barks at her fish god, the one she calls the Great Abyss, repeating an endless diatribe that deals with ripping out entrails, and severing heads from necks. This is how Arcade prays, and it can take hours. I was out here waiting when the temperature dropped and my bones froze stiff. Now the sun is rising and the air is broiling and I have run out of patience. We’re supposed to be training. We’re supposed to be getting ready for Tempest, but nothing happens until the Great Abyss gets an earful.
I kick a stone, a passive-aggressive reminder to her that I am still here.
I kick another.
“Come on!” I growl, giving up on the passive.
She opens her sharp blue eyes and stares at me. They form narrow slits that I’m sure would shoot lasers if they could. I have broken her unspoken rule—no talking when she’s doing her fiery-religion thing.
“The Great Abyss is owed praise for his favors,” she says. “He is the giver and the taker, the creator of all things, the beginning and the end of this world, and it would be wise for you to kneel and prostrate yourself before him.”
“I don’t believe in the Great Abyss.”
“The Great Abyss does not need you to believe in him. He is, whether you accept his existence or not. Dismiss him at your own peril.”
“Thanks for the warning.”
“Do humans not have a god of their own you could speak to?”
“We’ve got hundreds of them, but the one I picked isn’t much of a talker,” I say as I raise my hand into the sky. My palm is encased in a thick metal glove that wraps around my wrist and exposes the fingers. With just a thought, it explodes with power and energy, turning my whole arm into a supernova of bright blue light. I smile. It wasn’t so long ago that I was terrified of this thing, but now I’m digging it—a lot. Wearing it makes me feel intimidating, like I’m an Amazonian warrior. I feel dangerous, gigantic, and five hundred feet tall. “We’re wasting time! If I don’t break something, I’m going to go crazy.”
“You want to break something, little minnow? Then break me,” Arcade says as she climbs to her feet. Once there, she ignites her own glove, and without warning, the ground heaves, first left, then right, bucking me like I’m a pesky flea it wants to shake off its hide. A crevice opens beneath me, and mud, silt, and water belch through it, rocketing high into the sky and knocking me to the ground.
I should have seen that coming.
I bear down on my thoughts, turning Arcade’s geyser into a baseball bat as big as a man. I fill it with sand and stones, and then I swing for the fences, right into her rib cage. The impact knocks her off her feet and sends her flailing across the dusty field. She lands with a bone-crunching thud that would kill a normal person. Arcade is made of tougher stuff. She is a Triton, a warrior from an undersea empire flung to the surface by war and horror. Before she set foot on land, she lived her whole life in an inhospitable environment that made her stronger and faster and meaner. My attack was no more than a swat in a pillow fight. She runs toward me, roaring in my ears, with her glove leaving a comet’s trail behind her. It’s her turn to clobber me.
Two weeks ago, I would never have stood my ground like I do now. When Arcade agreed to train me to fight, I was still clinging to the quiet little girl I had been for so long. When she demanded that I think of myself as a weapon, I just couldn’t do it, even though I knew it was confidence and passion that fueled the crazy weapon on my hand. Don’t ask me how it works. All I know is the more badass I feel, the more damage I can do. But getting over years of invisibility wasn’t easy, and my cowardice held me back. Now that wall I built around me is falling down. Now I’m feeling like the wild thing I was always meant to be. Which is convenient, because now we’re in Texas, where Tempest is, where they are keeping my family. Anyone who gets in my way has a big frickin’ problem on their hands. Even Arcade.
Oh, wait—here she comes.
A huge watery fist materializes before me and catches me in the face. I flail backwards, end over end, like a pickup truck just hit me in the mouth. I crash onto my back, hard. Pain stampedes through my hips, neck, and chin. I see stars, and I’m suddenly not sure where I am.
Arcade stands over me, impatient and unsympathetic.
“Get up!” she demands. “Do you think the soldiers at Tempest will give you a chance to recover? They will shoot you where you lie, half-breed.”
I hate when she calls me that word, which is exactly why she does it. She knows it sets me off. She’s asking for it, so I wrap water around a nearby boulder, one that would take ten men to heft an inch, and use the liquid to wrench it free from the soil. It hovers between the teacher and the student. I want Arcade to see what I’ve learned, let her think I will fling it at her if she doesn’t stop insulting me, but her eyes are full of smiles. She’s calling my bluff.
Furious, I send it sailing in her direction. It’s too fast to dodge, and it slams into her with all the power of a subway train. Her body is flung fifty feet away, narrowly missing a patch of wild cacti when she lands. I’m sure I’ve killed her this time. I scamper to my feet in a panic and rush to her side.
“You are the only person in the world who bleeds when she attacks someone else,” she says.
I reach up and touch my nose. It’s wet, and when I look at my fingers, they are smeared in red. I’m not sure why this keeps happening. It seems if I go overboard with the glove, it breaks something inside my head. It’s probably killing me.
“Maybe I need a break,” I confess.
“A break?” she scoffs. “An Alpha does not need a break. Your mother’s blood runs through you, Lyric Walker. Can’t you hear its call for war?”
“My mother was a yoga teacher!”
“Your mother is a Daughter of Sirena. She fought off a pack of barracudas when she could barely lift her own head. Her father was Lan, hero of the Trill campaigns. There are songs about him that will be sung for generations. Your grandmother Shar was also known throughout the hunting grounds for her bloodthirstiness. She once defeated an Orlandi chieftain in hand-to-hand combat, all with a broken arm.&rdquo...