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Chapter Two: Kane

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The crack of Kane Blackwater's knuckles against his opponent's nose was like the starting pistol before a race—the echo of it brought the gathered crowd to life. Surrounding men exploded into a cacophony of curses and guttural yells as they elbowed each other aside for a clear view down into the fight pit. He'd once been up there, years ago, hungry for violence.

In the basement of Grisby's tavern, it was easy to get swept away in the vicarious thrill of watching two people clash—fist to face, knee to gut. Even Csilla and Rhoda Abado had jumped into the pit for a bit of fun, but Kane was most often the one doing the beating, putting on a show, filling his leather pouch with gold pieces each time he visited the island capital of Baltessa. Tonight, his pockets would be brimming with Cerulian gold.

Blood trickled from his opponent's nose, rolling over his upper lip. Kane pitied the man—Silas, he believed—because there were only more blows to come. Giving the crowd what they paid Grisby to see would be as simple as shooting fish in a barrel. Kane's knuckles might be busted and bloody by the end, but at least with the gold he would finally be able to pay off his debt to Dominic Rove, captain of the Bonedog. Making deals with him was like bargaining with a snake, and Kane had made one rotten deal too many. Things he'd like to keep buried in the bottom of the Silver Sea.

From above, men roared and stomped their feet in approval, rattling the wooden boards that walled the fighting pit, the ruckus causing dust to unsettle and cloud the air. Kane's eyes watered, and he rubbed his face with the back of his hand, smearing dirt across his cheek. The movement stung a little, his skin still tight from the sun after his voyage here.

"Get him, Silas!" someone yelled. "Don't just stand there!"

Silas bared his teeth and lunged forward, swinging his fist toward Kane's face. The man was all rage and no prudence. Kane stepped aside, smirking as the man blew past him like a rushing boar. Raspy jeers and laughter rumbled from above. Silas growled as he turned back to face Kane. Another swing, another miss. Kane countered and jabbed, grazing Silas's cheekbone and knocking his chin.

The man stumbled back and Kane saw an opening. With a wide sweep of his arms, he used the strike his father had used on him during their brutal training sessions, catching Silas in the ribs with a blow that cracked them and caved in his side. Kane hooked his punch wide again and put his weight into it. His fist connected with Silas's jaw. Blood spewed from his mouth and his body jerked to the side like a broken piece of wood.

Cheers erupted again.

But Kane wasn't quite finished yet.

He took two steps back and the crowd hushed. He surged forward with a roundhouse kick so spot on that Silas didn't stand a chance. The thud of the man's face hitting the floor echoed in the musty basement.

One breath.

Two breaths.

Shit. Had he ended the fight too soon?

He clenched his fists and rolled his neck to ease some of his tension. He could care less if the surrounding men enjoyed his brutality or not—he just needed the damned gold. Someone started clapping and his tight muscles eased.

One breath.

Two breaths.

The basement erupted into an ear-splitting roar of approval—the loudest Kane had received yet from his fights.

Thank the goddesses.

Grisby's payout would be hefty tonight. It would be enough to stop Dominic Rove's Bonedogs from breathing down his neck for repayment on his last . . . loan. The hated captain always collected his debts. If Kane was any other man, Rove would've been murdered in a dark alley by now. Kane's surname had saved him too many times to count, for the Blackwater name was renowned through the history of captains. As the captain of the Iron Jewel, Kane was favored by the ruler of the Cerulian Islands—the King of Bones.

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