CatwomanSarah J. Maas
Wonder Woman: Warbringer
by Leigh Bardugo
by Marie Lu
by Sarah J. Maas
by Matt de la Peña
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2018 DC Comics.
BATMAN and all related characters and elements © & TM DC Comics. WB SHIELD: TM & © WBEI. (s18)
Cover photography by Howard Huang
Logo design by Stuart Wade
All rights reserved. Published in the United States by Random House Children’s Books, a division of Penguin Random House LLC, New York.
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Names: Maas, Sarah J., author
Title: Catwoman: Soulstealer / Sarah J. Maas.
Other titles: Soulstealer
Description: First edition. | New York : Random House, . | Series: DC icons | “DC Comics.”
Identifiers: LCCN 2017051966 | ISBN 9780399549694 (hardback) | ISBN 9780399549700 (lib. bdg.) | ISBN 9780525644569 (intl.) | ebook ISBN 9780399549717
Classification: LCC PZ7.M111575 Cat 2018 | DDC [Fic]—dc23
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Two Years Later
About the Author
Excerpt from Batman: Nightwalker
Excerpt from Wonder Woman: Warbringer
FOR THE WOMEN WHO RAISE HELL AND HAVE FUN DOING IT
The roaring crowd in the makeshift arena didn’t set her blood on fire.
It did not shake her, or rile her, or set her hopping from foot to foot. No, Selina Kyle only rolled her shoulders—once, twice.
The wild cheering that barreled down the grimy hallway to the prep room was little more than a distant rumble of thunder. A storm, just like the one that had swept over the East End on her walk from the apartment complex. She’d been soaked before she reached the covert subway entrance that led into the underground gaming warren owned by Carmine Falcone, the latest of Gotham City’s endless parade of mob bosses.
But like any other storm, this fight, too, would be weathered.
Rain still drying in her long, dark hair, Selina checked that it was indeed tucked into its tight bun atop her head. She’d made the mistake once of wearing a ponytail—in her second street fight. The other girl had managed to grab it, and those few seconds when Selina’s neck had been exposed had lasted longer than any in her life.
But she’d won—barely. And she’d learned. Had learned at every fight since, whether on the streets above or in the arena carved into the sewers beneath Gotham City.
It didn’t matter who her opponent was tonight. The challengers were all usually variations of the same: desperate men who owed more than they could repay to Falcone. Fools willing to risk their lives for a chance to lift their debt by taking on one of his Leopards in the ring.
The prize: never having to look over their shoulder for a waiting shadow. The cost of failing: having their asses handed to them—and the debts remained. Usually with the promise of a one-way ticket to the bottom of the Sprang River. The odds of winning: slim to none.
Regardless of whatever sad sack she’d be battling tonight, Selina prayed Falcone would give her the nod faster than last time. That fight…He’d made her keep that particularly brutal match going. The crowd had been too excited, too ready to spend money on the cheap alcohol and everything else for sale in the subterranean warren. She’d taken home more bruises than usual, and the man she’d beaten to unconsciousness…
Not her problem, she told herself again and again. Even when she saw her adversaries’ bloodied faces in her dreams, both asleep and waking. What Falcone did with them after the fight was not her problem. She left her opponents breathing. At least she had that.
And at least she wasn’t dumb enough to push back outright, like some of the other Leopards. The ones who were too proud or too stupid or too young to get how the game was played. No, her small rebellions against Carmine Falcone were subtler. He wanted men dead—she left them unconscious, but did it so well that not one person in the crowd objected.
A fine line to walk, especially with her sister’s life hanging in the balance. Push back too much, and Falcone might ask questions, start wondering who meant the most to her. Where to strike hardest. She’d never allow it to get to that point. Never risk Maggie’s safety like that—even if these fights were all for her. Every one of them.
It had been three years since Selina had joined the Leopards, and nearly two and a half since she’d proved herself against the other girl gangs well enough that Mika, her Alpha, had introduced her to Falcone. Selina hadn’t dared miss that meeting.
Order in the girl gangs was simple: The Alpha of each gang ruled and protected, laid down punishment and reward. The Alphas’ commands were law. And the enforcers of those commands were their Seconds and Thirds. From there, the pecking order turned murkier. Fighting offered a way to rise in the ranks—or you could fall, depending on how badly a match went. Even an Alpha might be challenged if you were dumb or brave enough to do so.
But the thought of ascending the ranks had been far from Selina’s mind when Mika had brought Falcone over to watch her take on the Second of the Wolf Pack and leave the girl leaking blood onto the concrete of the alley.
Before that fight, only four leopard spots had been inked onto Selina’s pale left arm, each a trophy of a figh
Selina adjusted the hem of her white tank. At seventeen, she now had twenty-seven spots inked across both arms.
That’s what the match emcee was declaring down the hall. Selina could just make out the croon of words: The undefeated champion, the fiercest of Leopards…
Her hand drifted to the one item she was allowed to bring into the arena: the bullwhip.
Some Leopards opted for signature makeup or clothes to make their identities stand out in the ring. Selina had little money to spare for that kind of thing—not when a tube of lip gloss could cost as much as a small meal. But Mika had been unimpressed when Selina had shown up to her first official fight in her old gymnastics leotard and a pair of leggings.
You look like you’re going to Jazzercise, her Alpha had said. Let’s give you some claws at least.
All sorts of small weapons were allowed in the ring, short of knives and guns. But there hadn’t been any on hand that night. No, there had only been the bullwhip, discarded in a pile of props from when this place had hosted some sort of alternative circus.
You’ve got ten minutes to figure out how to use it, Mika had warned Selina before leaving her to it.
She’d barely figured out how to snap the thing before she was shoved into the fighting ring. The whip had been more of a hindrance than a help in that first fight, but the crowd had loved it. And some small part of her had loved it, the crack that cleaved through the world.
So she’d learned to wield it. Until it became an extension of her arm, until it gave her an edge that her slight frame didn’t offer. The high drama it provided in the ring didn’t hurt, either.
A thump on the metal door was her signal to go.
Selina checked the bullwhip at her hip, her black spandex pants, the green sneakers that matched her eyes—though no one had ever commented on it. She flexed her fingers within their wrappings. All good.
Or as good as could be.
Her muscles were loose, her body limber, courtesy of her old gymnastics warm-up, which she’d repurposed for these fights. Between the physical fighting, the whip, and the sheer acrobatics that she used both for show and to throw her heavier opponents off-balance, making sure her body was ready for these fights was half the battle.
The rusty door groaned as Selina opened it. Mika was tending to the new girl in the hall beyond, the flickering fluorescent lights draining the Alpha’s golden skin of its usual glow.
Mika threw Selina an assessing look over her narrow shoulder, her black braid shifting with the movement. The white girl sniffling in front of her gingerly wiped away the blood streaming from her swollen nose. One of the kitten’s eyes was already puffy and red, the other swimming with unshed tears.
No wonder the crowd was riled. If a Leopard had taken that bad a beating, it must have been one hell of a fight. Brutal enough that Mika put a hand on the girl’s pale arm to keep her from swaying.
Down the shadowy hall that led into the arena, one of Falcone’s bouncers beckoned. Selina shut the door behind her. She’d left no valuables. She had nothing worth stealing, anyway.
“Be careful,” Mika said as Selina passed, the Asian girl’s voice low and soft. “He’s got a worse batch than usual tonight.” The kitten hissed, yanking her head away as Mika dabbed her split lip with a disinfectant wipe. Mika snarled a warning at her, and the kitten wisely fell still, trembling a bit as the Alpha cleaned out the cut. Mika added without glancing back, “He saved the best for you. Sorry.”
“He always does,” Selina said coolly, even as her stomach roiled. “I can handle it.”
She didn’t have any other choice. Losing would leave Maggie with no one to look after her. And refusing to fight? Not an option, either.
In the three years that Selina had known Mika, the Alpha had never suggested ending their arrangement with Carmine Falcone. Not when having Falcone back the Leopards made the other East End gangs think twice about pushing in on their territory. Even if it meant doing these fights and offering up Leopards for the crowd’s enjoyment.
Falcone turned it into a weekly spectacle—a veritable Roman circus to make the underbelly of Gotham City love and fear him. It certainly helped that many of the other notorious lowlifes had been imprisoned thanks to certain do-gooders running around the city in capes.
Mika eased the kitten to the prep room, giving Selina a jerk of the chin—an order to go.
But Selina paused to scan the hall, the exits. Even down here, in the heart of Falcone’s territory, it was a death wish to be defenseless in the open. Especially if you were an Alpha with as many enemies as Mika.
Three figures slipped in from a door at the opposite end of the hall, and Selina’s shoulders loosened a bit at the sight of the Latina girl who emerged. Ani, Mika’s Second, with two other low-ranking Leopards flanking her.
Good. They’d guard the exit while their Alpha tended to their own.
The crowd’s cheering rumbled through the concrete floor, rattling the loose ceramic tiles on the walls, echoing along Selina’s bones and breath as she neared the dented metal door to the arena. The bouncer gestured for her to hurry the hell up, but she kept her strides even. Stalking.
The Leopards, these fights…they were her job. And it paid well. With her mother gone and her sister sick, no legit job could pay as much or as quickly.
The Leopards had asked no questions three years ago. They hadn’t wondered if she’d deliberately picked that fight with the Razor girl in the block courtyard—and another and another, until Mika came sniffing about the hothead in Building C.
Mika only told her that pulling this sort of shit in the East End would get her killed pretty fast, and that the Leopards could use a fighter like her. The Alpha didn’t ask who had taught her to fight. Or how to take a punch.
The bouncer opened the door, the unfiltered roar of the crowd bursting down the hall like a pack of rabid wolves.
Selina Kyle blew out a long breath as she lifted her chin and stepped into the sound and the light and the wrath.
Let the bloodying begin.
* * *
Her hands were so swollen that she could barely handle her keys.
Their jangling filled her apartment complex’s hallway, loud as a goddamn dinner bell.
It took every lingering scrap of concentration to keep her hand steady enough to slide the key into the top lock. Selina refused to look at the three others beneath it—each as imposing as a mountain peak.
Too long. Falcone had dragged out the fight for too long.
Mika hadn’t been lying about her opponent. The man had been a fighter himself. Not well trained, but big. Twice her weight. And desperate to repay his debt. His blows had hurt. To say the least.
But she’d won. Not by brute strength, but because she’d been smarter. When the injuries had started to pile up, when he’d managed to snatch the whip from her hand, when she’d temporarily lost sight in one eye thanks to the blood…she’d used simple physics against him. Her science teacher would be proud.
If she showed up to class tomorrow. Or next week.
The top lock snapped open.
Against larger, heavier opponents, pure physical strength wasn’t her greatest ally. No, her own arsenal was something different: speed, agility, flexibility, mostly thanks to those countless gymnastics classes. And the bullwhip. All things that she might use to surprise her opponents—to harness the speed of a two-hundred-pound man charging at her and wield it against him. A few maneuvers, and that blind rush at her would turn into a flip onto his back. Or a face-first collision with one of the posts. Or the bullwhip around his leg, yanking his balance out from under him as she drove her elbow into his gut.
Always aim for the soft parts. She’d learned that before she’d ever set foot in the ring.
Her left eye still a bit b
lurry, Selina surveyed either side of the grayish-blue-painted hallway, skimming over the graffiti, the puddle of something that wasn’t water. None of it threatening.
The shadowy parts of the hall…Precisely why there were four locks on this door. Why Maggie was to open it under zero circumstances. Especially for their mother. And whoever her mother might have with her.
There was still a dent in the metal door from the last time—six months ago.
A large, round dent, right beside the peephole, where the sweaty man who’d stood beside her strung-out mother had planted his fist when Selina refused to answer the door. They’d left only when a neighbor had threatened to call the cops.
There were nice people in this building. Good people. But calling the cops would have made things worse. Cops meant questions. Questions about their living situation.
Selina turned back to the door, assured that no one had slipped into those shadows. In the shape she was in…She managed to open the second lock. And the third.
Selina was just starting on the final lock when the elevator grumbled down the hall. The dented doors parted to reveal Mrs. Sullivan, grocery bags in one hand, keys threaded like metal claws through the fingers of her other.
Their eyes met as the ancient white woman hobbled down the hall, and Selina gave her a nod, praying the hood of the sweatshirt beneath her jacket concealed her face. The bullwhip, at least, was hidden down her back. Mrs. Sullivan frowned deeply, clicking her tongue, and hurried for her apartment. The woman had five locks.
Selina took her time with the final lock, well aware the woman was monitoring her every movement. She debated telling Mrs. Sullivan that she wasn’t lingering because she was thinking of robbing her. Debated it, and decided against it at the sneer the old woman threw her way.