The Em­press Game

SFX: The Sci-Fi and Fantasy Magazine - - Books - By Rhonda Ma­son

The first in a brand new glad­i­a­to­rial space opera se­ries from an ex­cit­ing new voice in SF,

with a badass fe­male lead.

Here we meet our kick- ass hero­ine, Kayla Re­u­ni­mon, AKA Shadow Pan­the, and catch a glimpse of the mys­te­ri­ous stranger who is to make her a life- chang­ing of­fer. them, but not more than she hated her­self for be­ing Shadow Pan­the. For giv­ing them ex­actly what they wanted.

An­gelic rolled and re­cov­ered quickly. Im­pres­sive. Kayla glanced at the wavy edge of her own kris dag­gers be­fore toss­ing the left one away. It skit­tered to the limit of the pit, out of reach.

“You’ll wish you had that back,” An­gelic called. A round of boos met her dec­la­ra­tion – the crowd didn’t be­lieve it any more than Kayla did. “We’ll see.” Kayla twirled her re­main­ing kris. “Come.” An­gelic lunged again, grab­bing at Kayla’s knife hand even as she stabbed at her with her long, thin blade. Clever girl. Not a wor­thy op­po­nent for Shadow Pan­the, but clever nonethe­less.

The fight ranged across the pit floor, as Lu­mar liked it to. De­spite her dis­gust for the owner of the Blood Pit, she knew who paid her prize money and how he liked things done. Lu­mar wanted a show. If Kayla and her brother, Corinth, didn’t de­pend on the cred­its the Blood Pit fights brought in she would have ended the fight in a heart­beat, spat at the spec­ta­tors and told Lu­mar ex­actly where to shove his “show.”

But they did need the cred­its, so Kayla ig­nored the self­loathing and toyed with the blonde girl. If in­flict­ing half- adozen mi­nor cuts and bruises could be con­sid­ered toy­ing. Kayla her­self had al­most as many in­juries. The fight had to look good, af­ter all. The crowd wanted their sport.

Kayla closed with the girl again. Her sleek, cat- like move­ments and mi­cro- fine re­flexes had earned Kayla the moniker Shadow Pan­the long be­fore her nights in the Blood Pit. It had taken fight­ing like a caged an­i­mal in front of a crowd to make her hate the ti­tle and all the skill it im­plied. They chanted it now, the syl­la­bles elon­gated, the sound drawn out. SHA- DOEPANTH. SHA- DOE- PANTH.

The crowd’s mood turned. They’d seen enough sport, now they wanted blood – An­gelic’s blood, never Shadow Pan­the’s. Not their in­fa­mous cham­pion wench. Screw ’ em. She’d given them enough al­ready, and she still had a fi­nal

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