All Katsa could think about was how excited she was to see Po again after the long absence that they both had to endure. While she had decided to teach young girls how to fight, starting in Monsea, Po had returned to Lienid to spend some time with his family, and then return to his castle. After stopping in the Middluns to confront Randa about her comings and goings in his kingdom, Katsa was on her way to Suncliff to catch a boat to Lienid. Hopefully, I’ll be able to sail with Captain Faun and her crew again, she thought. It would be better than having to find a whole new way of getting over there, and they were good people.
Katsa’s musings were interrupted by the door slamming open. In the inn’s dining room, where she was eating dinner before planning to mount up and ride through the night to Suncliff, every eye turned to where a small figure turned in the doorway.
Alanna surveyed the room. Most of the travelers were men, nursing pints of ale. But one person stood out above the others: though her hair was as short as a man’s, even shorter than Alanna’s, her figure proved to be that of a woman’s. Katsa, for it must have been her, looked at her with two different colored eyes—one as green as the forest surrounding Corus, and the other as blue as the ocean. Found her! Alanna thought, seething.
The girl, for Katsa could now tell that this copper-haired, purple-eyed being was indeed a woman, marched straight up to her. She had a powerful aura that seemed to be physical; she radiated strength and anger. Katsa had no idea what had made this girl so angry with her, but she knew that she would easily be able to snap this newcomer like a twig, if it came to that.
“You!” Alanna exclaimed. She slammed the letter she had received days prior down onto the table and glared at Katsa, her gaze full of malice. “Do you want to tell me what in Mithros’ name this is about?”
Katsa glared right back at the girl. She definitely wasn’t from anywhere in the Seven Kingdoms that Katsa herself had been; she had a strange accent. Only sparing a second to think about who “Mithros” was, she swiped up the letter. She began to read:
Greetings, Alanna of Pirate’s Swoop and Olau.
As requested of hundreds of readers, you are required to duel, to the death, with Lady Katsa of the Middluns. In precisely twenty-four hours, you will be transported to her location, and you are to fight for the amusement of others. Sorry for any inconvenience,
the Creators of YA Fantasy Showdown
Katsa stared at the paper in confusion before shoving it back to the girl—Alanna. “What in the name of the Seven Kingdoms was that?” she questioned.
“I don’t know!” Alanna screeched. “All I know is that one of George’s messengers brought it to me yesterday, and now I magically appeared at the door of this inn. And this is most certainly not Tortall.” She was beginning to panic and just wanted to get the gods-cursed fight over with already.
Now Katsa was even more confused. She fingered her knife’s hilt absentmindedly, attached to her sturdy leather belt, as she replied, “I have no idea who George is, and do not know of the Tortall that you speak of; this is Sunder. And it seems we need to fight. To the death.” Katsa held back a shudder; she hadn’t killed anyone since she had silenced Leck months ago, and she had never wanted to again, unless there was no choice.
“Well, then,” Alanna said shortly, “I guess if I kill you, I can finally go home.” Hopefully, she mentally added.
Katsa’s eyes narrowed. “I have no plans that include being killed by you,” Katsa growled. She looked around briefly and saw that the entire inn’s eyes were on the two of them. “Maybe we should do this outside.” Alanna nodded sharply before heading for the door. Katsa followed, leaving some money on the table to pay for her food.
They ended up in a clear area next to the stables. “How would you like to do this?” Katsa questioned. She knew no matter what Alanna chose, she would easily be able to kill the small girl.
“Swords,” Alanna responded, drawing hers. It shone faintly in the moonlight, and was obviously of good make.
Katsa told Alanna to wait just a moment while she went to retrieve her sword from her horse’s saddlebags; she had always kept it in there, for it seemed to get in the way while she was hand-fighting, and all the really needed where her knives. Katsa exited the stable seconds later, and Alanna lunged, nearly catching Katsa off guard.
But no one could ever fully catch Katsa off guard. She quickly deflected the other blade and attacked with a combination of blows, which Alanna was barely able to parry; Katsa was surprised she was able to at all.
Alanna danced back, light on her feet, and the two swordswomen began to appraise each other. Katsa knew that it wouldn’t be as easy as she had originally thought to defeat the strange girl, but she was still confident that their duel wouldn’t last that much longer.
She’s much better than I thought she would be, Alanna thought bitterly. She knew that she might have finally met her match. But she was determined to get back to Tortall. She also knew that she would have an interesting story to tell over a pint of ale when she returned—if she made it back. She prayed to the Goddess she would.
This time, Katsa struck first. Alanna tried to counter with a right butterfly-sweep, but Katsa tucked her blade under and jerked Alanna’s from her hand. Not sparing a moment, Katsa darted in and slit the foreigner’s throat.
A thin line appeared on the small girl’s neck. Then, the cut turned into a gaping red smile and a waterfall of blood cascaded down her chest. Alanna, fell to the ground, dead; she would never be able to see George, Jon, or any of her other friends until they joined her in the Peaceful Realms.
Katsa’s stomach clenched a bit at the sight of the dead girl. For this, she was glad; Randa hadn’t managed to turn her into a guiltless killer, after all. Maybe there was some way that she could have avoided the confrontation so they both could have walked away alive, but she would not let guilt pollute her thoughts; she had to get to Lienid to see Po.
Po, she thought, a bit dejected, how disappointed you will be with me when you hear of this…
Predicted winner: Katsa