Piotr Blodnieks did not look like he was the best at anything. He had a tiny beard under his bottom lip that resembled a paintbrush, a gentle smile, and soft features. His narrow shoulders and sharp joints made him look awkwardly gangly instead of lean and fast. At twenty-one years old, he hadn’t yet grown into his adult muscles.
Speaking to him didn’t give a much better impression: he was a polite, quiet young man who was shy to make friends and seemed to prefer a good book to a fistfight.
Regardless of appearance, Piotr’s name was stamped on Hell’s history books as the greatest living kopis. His name was widely whispered in the night by fearful demons. He was best known for singlehandedly slaughtering a centuria of demons in the Ukraine. And nobody would ever know it by looking at him.
Nobody aside from the dozen kopides he had just beat in a sparring match, anyway.
Hamengku groaned on the ground, cradling his shattered knee, while Piotr wiped blood off his hands with a white towel. Despite having spent the previous three hours fighting, he wasn’t even winded, and only had two bruises. Both of them were from having punched someone else.
“Will he be okay?” Piotr asked his friend, Malcolm, in Russian.
Malcolm helped Hamengku to the sidelines. “Oh, certainly, given a couple weeks of healing.” He switched to his native English. “Isn’t that right?” The loser glared at him without a hint of understanding in his eyes. Most people waiting around the fighting ring didn’t share a common language. “Right! No hard feelings, then? Who’s next up against Piotr?”
The dozen kopides who had lost their sparring matches muttered among themselves. The men still standing only exchanged looks.
Two weeks prior, they had all been summoned to an empty warehouse in Wales by a delegate from the Council of Dis. Over three hundred invitations were sent out, but only the thirty men currently standing in the building had responded, either because it was a convenient distance from their territories, or because they considered the potential honor of being the next greatest kopis worth the time it took to get there.
But nobody could defeat Piotr. He was, in Malcolm’s words, “a bloody machine.” The Council’s delegate—a petite witch with curly black hair—supervised the fight from her seat on a nearby crate, taking notes on the outcomes of each match, and she was rapidly growing bored.
She wasn’t the only getting antsy. The shared bravado in the room rapidly dwindled as Piotr felled one kopis after another.
“Oh, fine. Let me try,” said a man named Brandon when his friend, Shawn, nudged him forward.
They cleared the floor of the warehouse again. Malcolm mopped up a puddle of sweat with a bloody towel, then stood back.
Piotr and Brandon exchanged blows. The air filled with the sounds of knuckles meeting face.
Malcolm hollered, and his cheers encouraged the others to join him.
Nobody noticed a door at the back of the warehouse open, or the two people who entered and took position at the back of the crowd.
The fight between the kopides was short. Brandon didn’t allow himself get knocked out. After a few minutes, he backed off with blood streaming from a cut in his forehead, and held up his hands to indicate that he was done.
The other men booed.
“You’re too fast, man,” he said. “I’ve got to catch a flight tonight. I don’t want a concussion.”
Piotr gave a confused look to Malcolm, who translated. “Looks like you’re stuck being undefeated, mate. Nobody’s going to win against you. Best hope you’re immortal, eh?” He laughed and clapped the greatest kopis on the shoulder. “It’s hard being at the top!”
A quiet, confident voice broke through the laughter. “I’ll fight him.”
One by one, the kopides turned around to search for the speaker, and their eyes fell on the pair at the back.
The first was a man over six feet tall, dark-haired and blue-eyed, who looked like he would have preferred to be anywhere except the warehouse. Stubble shadowed his jaw. He rubbed his hand over his eyes with a low groan.
His companion was a full head and shoulders shorter. Her body had the lean lines of adolescence, aside from thighs thick with muscle, and a bandaged knee. Her red-brown hair was chopped so short that she would have passed for a boy if not for the curve of breasts under her baggy vest.
She was also, clearly and undeniably, the one who had spoken. She was the only woman in the room aside from the Council’s witch.
Malcolm laughed. “Aspides don’t fight.”
The girl pulled off one of her motorcycle gloves and bandaged the knuckles without responding.
“She’s not an aspis, you idiot. Does she look like a witch?” snapped the man at her back. He raked a hand through his hair. “Dear Lord, Elise, do you really think…”
Piotr came to stand beside Malcolm, as did Brandon, and Shawn. They formed a wall of muscular bodies. The tall man trailed off.
“Human girls aren’t eligible for these fights, either,” Malcolm said.
That failed to provoke a reaction from the girl called Elise. She pulled off her other glove and also bandaged that hand.
“You really don’t need to do this,” muttered the tall man. “In fact, I really think it would be best if you didn’t.”
The look she gave him dripped with hatred and disdain. Then she returned her attention to the kopides in the circle, her eyes flicking from one body to the next, and she planted her hands on her hips. Her biceps were almost as well-defined as the line of abs that peeked over her jeans.
“I’ll take all of you.”
The men laughed, but it was getting a little uneasy.
“What’s going on?” Piotr asked in Russian.
Malcolm’s humor had dropped off a degree when he realized she wasn’t joking. “I think she’s a kopis. She wants to fight you.” He switched back to English. “You realize what you’re volunteering for, right?”
She gave a sharp nod and stepped into the ring.
Piotr surveyed her as she lifted her fists and spread her feet into a wide stance.
“I’ll fight,” he finally said.
This will be probably be available next month. End of September. I don't want to get too specific on dates yet, but... 28th-ish? As always, if you want to be among the first to know when it's released, make sure to enlist in the Army of Evil!