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. Last week, I shared Chapter 1 and Chapter 2. Now it’s time for Red Right Hand: Chapter 3.
If you haven’t read See These Bones, please be aware that these sample chapters do include spoilers. Also? Expletives abound.
There wasn’t much to our sub-dorm. A small kitchen was just past the common room, while four bedrooms and a bathroom were off the long hall.
One bathroom, and a small one at that. Growing up at Mama Rawlins’ orphanage told me that was going to be annoying.
I was halfway to the empty bedroom next to Muse’s, when Winter cleared her throat, sounding like a cartoon cat trying to cough up a hairball. I politely ignored the disgusting noise, but she made it again. This time, she also stepped into my path.
“What do you want, Winter?”
“We’re going to be living together for a year,” she said, reedy voice firm, “so I think we need to take care of the elephant in the room.”
I’d never seen an elephant, but I was pretty sure she was being metaphorical.
“I know you like me.” The look she sent my way was almost pitying. “And I suppose I should be flattered, but I really don’t—”
“What are you talking about?” I interrupted.
“You don’t have to pretend, Damian. Or Walker, if you prefer. We all saw how you tried to defend my honor against Backstreet.”
“Defend your honor?” Backstreet was one of the San Francisco Capes who had been down at the Academy for the Graduation Games. He’d been drunk and set on making an ass of himself. “This isn’t a vid, Penelope.”
“When he insulted me, you got in his face.”
I shrugged. “I don’t like bullies.”
“Seriously. I’d have stood up for anyone in our class. Even Poltergeist, for fuck’s sake.”
Tessa, who’d been halfway down the hall to the bathroom, stopped, looking less than pleased. Women made no damn sense sometimes.
“If that’s how you want to play this, then fine,” said Winter. “I just wanted to make things clear. I’m here to train and to learn. I won’t be another Vibe.”
“Kayleigh? The pink-haired Empath you asked to the Remembrance Day dance and then stood up?!” said Poltergeist, coming back down the hall. Apparently, we were all having this conversation now.
“I know who Vibe is…” I trailed off. “Pink-haired?”
“She changed it over the break.”
“I have no idea. Stop changing the subject.”
I rolled my eyes. “I didn’t stand Kayleigh up. Not really. I just had to be elsewhere. Besides, I asked Matthew to take her instead. Or did he not show up?” If so, I was going to kick that blonde automaton’s ass. After dosing his water with stim-weed, anyway… as a Stalwart, he was a much better fighter than I was.
“Paladin showed up in a tux with flowers. That’s not the point.”
“It’s totally the point! Vibe got to go to the dance. Matthew got to pretend to be human. And I almost died at the Hole. Everyone won.”
“Kayleigh’s right,” said Winter. “You really are a selfish jerk.”
“Vibe said that?” The little Japanese Empath was one of the few friends I had at the Academy. What I hadn’t realized until far too late was that she also had a crush on me. Apparently, that crush was over. “I’ll talk to her tomorrow and get things straightened out.”
“I don’t think she wants anything to do with you,” said Poltergeist. “Especially now that she and Matthew are dating.”
“They’re what?!” Nothing about this conversation was making sense. “There were only two days left in the school year when I left. How the fuck did everything go crazy?”
“You didn’t just miss a few days of school. You missed a dance.” Tessa said it like it should mean something, but I’d been an orphan for most of my life. The only dances I’d ever seen had been in vids.
And honestly, they’d seemed pretty dull.
“Whatever.” I shook my head. “Vibe can date whoever she wants.” I turned to Winter. “I’m as happy to keep things professional as you are, so let’s never, ever talk about this again.” I looked to Tessa. “And I need to take a leak, so you should either use the bathroom or get out of my way.”
Winter disappeared into her bedroom with a huff and Tessa did the same into the bathroom at the end of the hall. With them gone, I could now clearly hear the loud snores coming from Muse’s bedroom.
It’d be a miracle if I made it through second-year without murdering my teammates.
The next morning, as Tessa and the other team leaders met Dean Bard for coffee and donuts, the rest of us headed to the concrete bunker that Professor Nikolai Tsarnaev called a classroom, and most students simply referred to as Hell.
As far as I could tell, the other teams traveled as units. Team Five went as three separate units of one.
Winter was first, nose in the air as if she wasn’t wearing the same grey sweats as everyone else, her long hair braided and tied back from her face. She’d monopolized the bathroom, exiting only after I threatened to kick down the door, and that had left Muse and me less than fifteen minutes to get ready.
Not that Freddy had taken advantage of that time. He was a small guy, but that morning, his smell was anything but. It was like every pore in his body was leaking alcohol.
I’d waited for him to leave and then opened all the windows in our sub-dorm in the hopes of airing the place out before we returned. Winter’s room was spotless, the bed made with military precision, and all of her possessions neatly put away in their proper place. Tessa’s was a bit of a mess, not unlike mine, although she had four times as much stuff as I did.
The less said about Muse’s room, the better.
When we’d been first-years, we’d gotten breakfast before our first class with Nikolai. This year, nobody bothered. As good as the food tasted going down, it wasn’t worth having it all come right back up again. Whenever the fights—and resulting Healings—were done, we’d be able to migrate over to the cafeteria… especially since our second class wasn’t until nine.
Between Winter’s monopolization of the bathroom and Muse’s sub-dorm funk, I barely made it to class on time. The other second-years were already seated on the old metal bleachers at the back wall of the bunker. Opposite them, standing in front of the glass wall that gave an overhead view of the fighting pits, was the man himself.
Nikolai was a Titan, with all the size and strength that power type suggested. Our own Titan, Erik the Viking, was six and a half feet tall, but the professor still topped him by a head. His beady eyes flickered over to me on my entry, and the familiar sadist’s smile spread across his broad face.
“Now that we’re all here—”
“What do you mean all?” That was Winter. Because of course it would be. “There’s only fifteen of us.”
“The five team leaders are at Bard’s office,” said a sharp voice behind me, “or did your team not get the memo?”
I turned to find a sneering Caleb Mikkazi, two rows behind me and still every inch the spiky-haired asshole.
“That makes twenty, Supersonic,” shot back Winter. “There were twenty-one of us at the end of last year. Twenty-two if you count Damian.”
Given that I was there in the fucking room, I wasn’t sure why I wouldn’t be counted.
“Jason and Becky didn’t come back,” said Olympia, the silver-eyed Lightbringer who went by Spectra.
“Guess they couldn’t cut it.”
“Not everyone can, Supersonic.” Nikolai’s voice was a baritone rumble. “Better to realize it now than on the battlefield, where they might get their teammates killed.”
“So… they’re just going to forget about being Capes?” That was Muse, sitting in his own circle of space on the top row of the bleachers, and sounding every bit as rough as he looked. It was the first time I’d ever heard him speak in class without being specifically called upon.
“I heard they were transferred to one of the vocational colleges,” said Spectra. “Jason will work at one of the hydro-electric plants, while Becky—”
“Will likewise be trained for a job suited to her power,” finished Nikolai. “If you want to know more, I’m sure Dean Bard will be happy to answer your questions. But for the next ninety minutes, you’re mine.” He glowered at Winter. “Interrupt me again and you’ll spend every minute of it in the pits.”
For once, Winter swallowed her retort.
The older Titan shook his massive head. “You all know the drill from last year. When your name is called, head to your assigned pit. Fight and fight hard, or I will make you go again.” He paused. “You have a question, El Bosque?”
Santiago Tomayo, our resident Druid, was near the top of the bleachers, wearing his Academy greys like they were a three-piece suit. For some reason, his girlfriend, London, was several rows away. “Yeah. What about the Crow? If the news reports on the battle at the Hole were true…”
“Walker will fight last,” said Nikolai, “and the dampeners will be turned up to full to make sure he doesn’t accidentally kill anyone.”
“It wasn’t a fucking accident,” I announced to the suddenly quiet room. Which was a lie, as most of you already know. I didn’t know how I’d killed Carnage, an unstoppable, damn-near invulnerable Black Hat, but it sure as hell hadn’t been on purpose. I was also pretty sure it had had something to do with the sheer number of dead people on the battlefield around me, making a repeat occurrence unlikely, but I wasn’t going to tell anyone that either. “But whatever makes you all feel safe, I guess.”
“I wasn’t asking permission.” Nikolai shook his head a second time. “Goddamn second-years.”
This year, nobody protested when their name was called. Not even Spectra. After a year of training, even the ranged Powers were comfortable with hand-to-hand combat.
Which wasn’t to say they were all good at it, although Nikolai did his best to keep the matchups as even as possible. The Stalwarts and Titans were paired up against one another, each able to partially draw upon their abilities at the dampeners’ current setting. The remaining students, whose more active powers were blocked by those same dampeners, were ranked and paired off according to their respective capabilities as mundane fighters.
In the first group of fights, Winter faced off with Spectra. For all her bravado, it was my teammate who ended up on the floor. Olympia had one knee in Penelope’s back and torqued the other woman’s arm until she banged the stone floor in frustrated submission. Muse didn’t fare much better against the somehow still-chubby Prince.
One pit over, Santi and Caleb fought, reprising their matchup as first-years, but this time Caleb gave as good as he got. Both men were bleeding and wobbly by the time El Bosque finally managed to put Supersonic down. Meanwhile, my old roommate, Jeremiah, again had the misfortune of being paired with Alan-fucking-Jackson. Both were Shifters, but even without access to their powers, that was where the similarities ended. At the end of the match, the Healers scraped Jeremiah off the floor and onto a gurney, rolling him down the underground tunnel to the med ward.
As I watched fight after fight, one truth was unmistakable. After a year of training, we were all in drastically better shape. Even the worst of us—Muse and Prince—were starting to move like they knew what they were doing. As much as I hated to admit it, Nikolai’s psychotic training methods were actually working. I’d seen that much out at the Hole.
I’d also seen just how far we all still had to go before we could stand as real Capes.
Vibe was nowhere to be found, which meant she’d been picked as a team leader. Six months ago, when her empathic powers still made interaction almost impossible, that would’ve been unthinkable. I’d expected Paladin to take on a leadership role, given that his dad was the leader of the Defenders, but Kayleigh’s new boyfriend was down in the pits instead, giving the Viking a thrashing that was eerily reminiscent of their first fight.
By process of elimination, I figured out the other team leads. Silt and Wormhole were both absent, which meant the former roommates were not only on different teams, but were also leaders of their respective teams. Last but not at all least was Nadia, known as Orca, a Stalwart who could outfight Paladin with one hand tied behind her back.
Orca and Silt both made sense to me as leaders. Even Kayleigh had shown on multiple occasions that she was a Cape to the core. But Wormhole? She just didn’t seem like leadership material.
Then again, I’d voted for Poltergeist as Team Five’s leader. Who was I to throw stones?
Thursday, I’ll be back with Chapter 4. See you then!