To Steal a Moon
By Erin MacMichael
Excerpt from Chapter 5: “Games”
Bálok stalked back and forth in front of his men, impatient at having to wait through six matches of the round before he could fight. The moment his name was called, he bolted into the ring, wound tighter than a spring, claws extended and ready to fly. Across from him stood the young Lord of Grumium, eying him warily. Howls went up from the Eltanin section as Bálok made a leisurely circle around the smaller man and came to a halt with his head tilted to the side.
“Nakkár, we meet at last,” he said, his eyes narrowing on the one-time nuisance.
The Grumium nobleman shifted nervously from foot to foot, shaking out his arms and readying himself to take on the giant across from him.
Dropping into a crouch, Bálok trained his eyes on Nakkár and exploded into action. Before Nakkár could advance, he tore across the ring, hitting him with a running jump kick to knock him off balance and a brutal swipe to his belly, bringing shouts of excitement from the crowds. He plowed on with controlled, lightning-quick strikes at Nakkár’s head and chest, alternating with barrages of roundhouse and front kicks, forcing the young fighter to concentrate on blocking to avoid Bálok’s feet and claws. As soon as Nakkár sprinted away, he attacked again, driving him against the boundary of the ring time after time, giving him no chance to initiate any kind of offensive of his own.
Bálok was peripherally aware that the noise in the stands had escalated, but all he could see was a small man he needed to hammer, someone he needed to nail to the floor. Nakkár danced skillfully and blocked his thrusts, but the young fighter’s anxiety level spiked sharply under the blitz of well-aimed strikes.
Bálok felt the instant Nakkár’s fear turned into panic for his life. He soaked up the man’s terror, energized by his distress, and used it to fuel his relentless drive forward, pushing Nakkár hard, watching for the moment his concentration wavered.
When Nakkár threw a desperate strike toward his head, Bálok lashed out with his left hand and seized his wrist, twisting it downward and back behind Nakkár, forcing him to turn away while he kicked the back of his right knee, bringing him to his knees in front of him. Bálok reached down and grabbed Nakkár’s throat from behind and squeezed, piercing his neck muscles with his claws before he released him and raked across the top of his back, kicking him forward to the floor.
Bálok stood over the stunned man, oblivious of the pandemonium all over the stadium, waiting while Nakkár pushed himself over onto his back and looked up at him with shock.
“I thought you were going to kill me,” the young man croaked, holding a trembling hand over the cuts in his neck.
“I could have in a heartbeat—don’t forget it,” Bálok barked down at him over the noise. “You’re damned lucky I didn’t come after your sorry ass ten years ago and blow you out of the sky. Don’t ever cost me lives or money again, Nakkár.”
The Grumium nobleman shook his head nervously, his eyes wide with fear.
Retracting his claws, Bálok glanced up and realized Zirik and the entire section of his Eltanin officers were shrieking and whooping their heads off, ecstatic that their lord had bashed Nakkár so thoroughly. In an uncharacteristic display, he raised his right fist in the air, bringing another round of screams from his men and a small smile to his son’s face. The Emperor looked perturbed that he hadn’t killed Nakkár, but gave him a begrudging nod of approval. Panting, he turned and walked back across the floor to his silent but grinning band of guardsmen.