The Darkest SurrenderBy: Gena Showalter
Fifteen hundred years ago…
A million years ago…
(Just depends on who you ask.)
FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER, the bi-century Harpy Games ended with more participants dead than alive, and every single one of the survivors knew fourteen-year-old Kaia Skyhawk was to blame.
The day began innocently enough. With the morning sun shining brightly, Kaia strolled through the overcrowded camp hand in hand with her beloved twin sister, Bianka. Tents of every size littered the area, and multiple fires crackled to ward off the early-morning chill. The scents of filched biscuits and honey coated the air, making her mouth water.
Forever cursed by the gods, Harpies could only eat what they stole or earned. If they ate anything else, they sickened horribly. So Kaia’s breakfast had been a meager affair: a stale rice cake and half a flagon of water, both of which she’d pilfered from a human’s saddle.
Maybe she’d appropriate a biscuit from a member of a rival clan, she mused, then shook her head. No, she’d just have to remain semi-hungry. Her kind didn’t live by many rules, but the ones they had, they revered. Such as: never fall asleep where humans could find you, never reveal a weakness to anyone and, most importantly, never thieve a single morsel of food from one of your own race, even if you hated her.
“Kaia?” her sister said, her tone curious.
“Am I the prettiest girl here?”
“Of course.” Kaia didn’t even have to look around to confirm that fact. Bianka was the prettiest girl in the entire world. Sometimes she forgot, though, and had to be reminded.
While Kaia had a disgusting mop of red hair and unremarkable gray-gold eyes, Bianka had luxurious black hair, shimmering amber eyes and was the image of their exalted mother, Tabitha the Vicious.
“Thank you,” Bianka said, grinning with satisfaction. “And I think you’re the strongest. By far.”
Kaia never tired of hearing her sister’s praise. The more powerful a Harpy was, the more respect she earned. From everyone. More than anything, Kaia craved respect. “Stronger, even, than…” She studied the Harpies in the area, searching for someone to compare herself to.
Those who were old enough to participate in the traditional tests of might and cunning bustled about, preparing for the one remaining event—Last Immortal Standing. Swords whistled as they were tugged from sheaths. Metal ground against stone as daggers were sharpened.
Finally, Kaia spotted a contender for her comparison. “Am I stronger, even, than her?” she asked, pointing to a brute of a woman with bulging muscles and thick crisscrossing scars adorning her arms.
The injuries that had left those scars must have been severe indeed; immortality caused their race to heal quickly and efficiently, rarely allowing any evidence of hard living to show.
“No question,” Bianka said loyally. “I bet she’d run and hide if you decided to challenge her.”
“No doubt you’re right.” Actually, who wouldn’t run from her? Kaia trained harder than anyone and had even felled her own instructor. Twice.
She didn’t want to boast, but she’d always trained harder than any other Harpy in their clan. When everyone else stopped for the day, she continued until sweat ran down her chest in rivulets, until her muscles trembled from the strain…until her bones could no longer support her weight.
One day, perhaps even one day soon, her mother would be proud of her. Why, just a few nights ago, Tabitha had slapped her on the shoulder and said her dagger throwing skills had almost improved. Almost improved. No sweeter praise had ever left Tabitha’s mouth.
“Come on,” Bianka said, tugging at her. “If we don’t hurry, we won’t have time to wash in the river, and I really want to look my best when I watch our clan destroy the competition. Again.”
Just thinking of the prizes her mother would collect caused Kaia’s small body to puff up with pride.
The Harpy Games had begun thousands of years ago as a way for clans to “discuss” their grievances without causing a war—well, without causing any more wars—as well as allowing allied clans to showcase their superiority, even against each other. Elders from each of the twenty tribes met and agreed on the competitions and awards.