I’ll be counting down to the November 10th release of Red Right Hand by sharing sample chapters, advance reviews, content warnings, and whatever else seems fun. We’ve already seen Chapter 1. Now it’s time for Red Right Hand: Chapter 2.
If you haven’t read See These Bones, please be aware that these sample chapters do include spoilers. Also? Expletives abound.
As I left the woods, the sound of orientation hit me like a Titan’s fist; music and cheering and a godawful number of eighteen-year-olds relishing their first day away from Mommy and Daddy. For the normals who formed the bulk of the Academy’s student body, it was a day of celebration.
The Powers who made up the incoming class of first-years weren’t getting a party. They were in an auditorium near the center of campus, where Dean Bard was telling them they were all going to die. Welcome to life as a Cape in the only democracy left in North America. Shit’s not easy. Even making it to graduation isn’t a guarantee.
As if the thought had summoned him, I saw Shane’s ghost in the distance; a teenage ginger named Unicorn who’d had dreams of healing the world. He’d died in our first semester. Wish I could say his death had been for something. Wish I could say seeing him didn’t still hurt. Wish I could say a lot of things, but wish is just another word for dream, and ever since the Break, Dr. Nowhere’s dream is the only one that matters.
I met Unicorn’s vacant eyes, unleashed some of that emptiness that makes me a Crow, and watched my friend’s ghost fade away.
If you’re a first-year, Orientation gets you a seat in the auditorium and the dubious pleasure of Dean Bard’s one and only speech. If you’re a second-year, all you get is a note on your Glass, telling you what sub-dorm you’ve been assigned to. See, that initial year at the Academy is about testing future Capes as individuals; seeing who has what it takes to not snap under the pressure.
Can’t say I handled it all that well, given I’d quit school and run off to murder my dad, but the expulsion board had seen fit to give me another chance anyway.
By second-year, the Academy was done testing us as individuals. Now, it was time to see how we performed in teams. That’s where the sub-dorm thing came in. Second-years lived with their teammates in one of ten smaller buildings on the east side of campus. Four bedrooms, one bathroom, and a common area for me and three people who, chances were, hated my guts.
Knowing my luck, I’d be stuck with Wormhole, Supersonic and Paladin. Or worse… I’d share a bedroom wall with Santiago like I had as a first-year. Another year forced to listen to him and London having sex would drive me crazy faster than my power ever could.
I checked my Glass one last time before sliding it into the bag that held my possessions; underwear and toiletries, a half-dozen sets of Academy grey sweats that matched the ones I was currently wearing, a faded t-shirt with the adult Paladin’s logo across the chest, and a glossy black card with a single-use net address in raised lettering.
I’d already used the card, making it little more than a reminder of the woman who’d given it to me, the leather-clad Shifter mercenary known to me as Her Majesty and to the Free States as the Queen of Smiles. I now knew she’d been hired by Tyrant to get me to the Academy. What I didn’t know was why she’d helped me afterwards, bringing me the gun I’d smuggled into the Hole to kill my Dad.
Had all of that been part of Tyrant’s plan too? Hell if I knew, but I was tired of feeling like a pawn.
Only five of the ten sub-dorms were in use. The Academy had been built to house hundreds of potential Capes, but those numbers had yet to materialize. To hear Bard talk, the Capes of the Free States were fighting a war of attrition… and losing.
My home for the year was distinguished from the other sub-dorms by a V on its door. That’s the Roman numeral five, for you lucky bastards who never had to sit through a full year of pre-Break history. Loud and angry voices were already coming from inside. Fights were kind of a staple of our class—from Supersonic coming after me at Unicorn’s funeral to the brawl at the Liquid Hero that had made us all famous as first-years—but I wasn’t used to having them start without me.
The door opened on a small common room with a couch, a vid screen, two easy chairs, and a pair of furiously arguing women. One of the women had dark hair, shoulder-length and curly, while the other had silken white hair to her waist and a nose almost as crooked as mine.
Tessa McShane and Penelope Von Pell. Better known to our class as Poltergeist and Winter.
Because of course I’d get stuck on a team with both.
Fuck my fucking life.
Both women turned as I entered. I watched the emotions parade across their faces, terminating in what could only be described as disappointment.
“You’ve got to be kidding.” For once, Winter had her hair down instead of up in one of the ridiculous styles she favored. It might have softened the narrow planes of her face if she hadn’t been so busy frowning.
“Of course it would be you.” Poltergeist scowled.
“That’s my line.” They weren’t my least favorite people in the class, but it wasn’t for lack of trying. “Is it just the three of us? I don’t know if I can deal with you two by myself for an entire year.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” demanded Winter.
“Our fourth is in his room,” said Poltergeist, nodding to the hallway and the one door off of it that was closed. “Sleeping.”
“With the noise you two were making? Yeah, right.”
“Sleeping,” she repeated, this time adding air quotes. “He was drunk when I got here.”
“Shit.” There was only one person I could think of who would already be drunk before school even started. Frederic Ficus, sometimes called Freddy, but mostly referred to by his Cape name. “Muse?”
“If he pukes, I’m not cleaning it up.” Winter wrinkled her long nose and sighed. “I guess it could have been worse. None of us like each other—” For some reason, she gave me the side-eye. “—but powers-wise, we’re going to be tough to handle.”
“You’ve got to be kidding.” Poltergeist shook her head. “This team is a disaster!”
Winter pulled herself up to her full height and looked scornfully at the other woman. “You’re a Low Four, I’m amazing, we have the class’ only Switch, and Damian…”
“What about me?” I couldn’t wait to see where Winter went with this.
“You’re a jerk, but you fought at the Hole and killed Carnage with a touch. Who in our class can stand up to that?”
“Anyone with ranged abilities,” Tessa and I said at the same time. The dark-haired woman shot me an irritated look, then continued. “Do you really think the Academy will let the Crow just start killing our classmates?”
“I have a name, Poltergeist.”
“I meant my Cape name.”
“I’m not calling you Walker. Bad enough that the Academy has a Crow student. You don’t need to rub what you are in everyone’s face.”
“Nobody died and made you the boss of Cape names, Tessa,” interjected Penelope.
“Winter’s right, for once,” I said. From the twin glares shot my way, neither woman appreciated my contribution. “Anyway, Dominion didn’t have a problem with the name, and I value his opinion a lot more than either of yours.”
That ended the debate, like I’d hoped it would. As the country’s only Full-Five, Dominion had been the very first Cape and remained far and away our greatest.
“Fine. Whatever. Walker.” If Poltergeist’s tone hadn’t already communicated how she still felt about my name, her rolled eyes would have done so. “My point stands. The teachers aren’t going to let you kill our classmates, even if you do somehow get your hands on them. That makes you useless as a front-line fighter. And once Muse amplifies us, he’s basically just a normal.”
“So what?” argued Winter. “We’ll be the only boosted Powers on the field. Even if there are only three of us actually fighting, that should be plenty.”
“Unless we’re in a situation where numbers matter.”
“Right.” It was Penelope’s turn to roll her eyes. “This is why I should be team leader. We need someone with ideas instead of excuses!”
Normally, I’d have sat back and let the two go at it—better they attack each other than me, after all—but after a month of near-isolation on campus, all the noise was giving me a headache. I opened myself to my power, letting emptiness drown out the dull throb, and interrupted the argument.
Poltergeist scowled. “Every team needs to pick one tonight. Bard wants the leaders in his office tomorrow morning.”
“That’s what you two were fighting about?”
Winter’s scowl mirrored Tessa’s. “We weren’t fighting. Just… discussing.”
“I could hear your discussion all the way down the quad.” I glanced down the hallway to the one bedroom whose door remained shut. “Let’s just wake up Muse and put it to a vote.”
“He said he didn’t care who was leader, as long as it wasn’t him.” Winter’s sigh was long and exasperated. “I’m the obvious choice. My grades as a first-year put all of yours to shame.”
“How do you know that?” I’d flunked my last semester, of course, but I was pretty sure grades weren’t public knowledge.
Poltergeist shook her head. “She’s the only person in class who got straight A’s… which would matter if we were supposed to debate the other teams. Otherwise, it’s as meaningful as Muse’s ability to identify beers blindfolded.”
“So she thinks she should lead because she’s the smartest—” Classic Winter. “—and you think you should lead because…?”
“I’m the only Four on the team. And one of only two in our whole class. Strength matters.”
“Sounds like the sort of thing a Four would say.”
She rolled her eyes. “I guess we’ll have to wake up Muse anyway so he can break the tie.”
“Winter’s voting for herself, I’m voting for myself, and you—”
“Wouldn’t be team leader if you fucking paid me.”
That was a lie, actually. Given that I’d left my last six dollars on a store counter in Ludlow, there were a lot of things I’d do if it meant getting paid. But still…
“Why don’t you want to be leader?” Winter looked offended for some reason.
“With this team? Way too much work.”
Now they both looked annoyed.
“Besides, it should be someone who can actually benefit from the experience.”
“And that’s not you because you’re—”
“Never going to be a team leader in the real world.” After a year of my Empath friend, Vibe, interrupting me every other sentence, it was actually kind of fun to do the same to Poltergeist. “Who would willingly follow a Crow?”
“You think I’m wrong?”
“No. I’m just surprised you realize it.”
I gritted my teeth and continued. “So if Muse isn’t campaigning for the role and you two are literally the only remaining options—”
“You’re enjoying this, aren’t you?”
“—then I guess my vote goes to Poltergeist.”
“What?” I couldn’t tell which of the women was more shocked.
“Why her?” demanded Penelope.
“Why not her?” I shrugged. “Everyone knows I’m not Tessa’s biggest fan. She’s been a pain in my ass since day one—”
“I’m right fucking here,” muttered the dark-haired Telekinetic.
“—but she’s right. Strength matters. And if we have to elect a leader, I want someone who also acknowledges our weaknesses. Anything else will just get us killed.”
Poltergeist looked torn between confusion and irritation, but she shrugged both emotions away. “Fine. That’s two votes for me, one for Winter, and one drunken abstention… unless you want to try waking up Muse, Penelope?”
The Weather Witch shook her head. “I’m not going near him until he sobers up. And showers. And maybe not even then.”
“Then it’s settled. I’ll report to Bard’s office tomorrow, while the rest of you head to Nikolai’s.”
“It’s the first day of school,” said Winter, the words as frosty as her name. “Time for our physical evaluations.”
Meaning all the non-leaders would be beating each other senseless in the fighting pits of Nikolai Tsarnaev’s concrete bunker.
No wonder they’d both wanted command.
Next week, I’ll be back with Chapters 3 and 4. See you then!