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. I’ve already shared the first four chapters. Now it’s time for the final sample chapter, Red Right Hand: Chapter 5.
If you haven’t read See These Bones, please be aware that these sample chapters do include spoilers. Also? Expletives abound.
Sitting on the bench on the west side of campus, eyes closed as I listened to the distant sounds of the ocean, I felt as much as heard her approach. Heavy steps, no pause as she cleared the tree line and found me sitting there, not even a sigh as she came and dropped onto the bench next to me.
“Hey Silt. Welcome back.”
“You know, if you keep coming out here to stare at the edge of the world, people are going to talk.”
“Oh yeah?” I finally opened my eyes. Sofia was short and almost as wide as she was tall, built like a tree stump with legs. A year at the Academy had only made her more formidable. She was a mix of brown shades… dark brown hair, golden brown skin, and eyes as warm as fresh baked bread. Those eyes were dancing.
“That Crow’s gone wet between the ears,” she quoted in a cracked falsetto. “Thinks he’s a damn Hydromancer or something.”
“I like the ocean. Doesn’t mean I’m going to jump the wall and go for a swim. Besides, the Pacific’s hardly the edge of the world. Japan and the rest of Asia are out there somewhere.”
“On the other side of a continent-sized storm, sure. A storm that never ends and which even Dominion can’t fly around or through.”
“Do you believe the legend?”
“That it’s actually a Full-Five Weather Witch, marooned on an island and gone insane?” She frowned. “Maybe. That wouldn’t explain all the other horrors living in the ocean though. I’m pretty sure Dr. Nowhere’s dream did more than just give the world superpowers.”
“Scary fucking thought.” I looked out across the Pacific, watching the sun flicker on distant waves. It looked peaceful from this far away, but even Hydromancers were wary when it came to open water. “Anyway, I wasn’t staring at the ocean. I was meditating.”
“You didn’t get enough of that in Control class today?”
“The new guy does seem a bit obsessed with getting back to the basics, doesn’t he?” Given Gabriella Stein’s role in Shane’s death and Ishmae’s departure, the Academy had decided to bring in a new professor of Control. Gabriella’s replacement was bald, ancient, and hard as nails. After he’d split us into groups, we’d spent the entire class in silent, powers-free meditation. Nobody had enjoyed it. “It’s different out here, away from the dampeners.”
“If you say so.” We sat in silence for all of twenty seconds. “So. Team Five, huh? What on earth made you all decide to put Poltergeist in charge?”
“Sometimes, there are no good choices. Now if I’d been on a team with a certain Earthshaker…”
“Wouldn’t that have been nice?”
“A whole lot better than Tessa, Winter, and Muse. How’s your team looking? Already ruling your minions with an iron fist?”
“Hell yeah. I’ve got things to do after graduation. I figure the more I know about leadership and tactics, the better my odds.”
“Brownsville?” Silt was from a small town in Texas, the former state that was now one part Badlands and two parts warlords engaged in bloody civil wars. I wasn’t sure what had forced her to leave, but whatever it was, it was apparently a long way from over.
“Well, seeing as how Bard saw fit to make me a second-year, you can count me back in for that trip.”
“Already done. Assuming Evie doesn’t kill you first.” She grinned and waved her hand. In front of us a statue of Wormhole formed out of the dirt. Even the simulacrum’s glare was a perfect likeness. “Never saw the little Teleporter so mad as when she heard you’d come back. What did you say to her out in the desert?”
“Promised I wouldn’t. Come back, I mean.” I sighed. “That was before all the shit happened at the Hole.”
“Ah.” The statue crumbled, returning to the earth. “Well, she’ll get over it. Or she’ll teleport you to the far side of the moon and leave you there. One or the other.”
“And speaking of pocket-sized women…” Sofia gave me the side-eye from beneath surprisingly long lashes. “Did you hear about Vibe?”
“Her and Paladin? Yeah. Winter told me before I’d even made it to my new bedroom.”
“Is that why you—” She mimed squeezing something in her hand. Or two somethings. Apparently, the story had already spread.
“Is that what you think?”
“You did tell the class you’d murder the world for her last year.”
I shook my head. I was never going to live that down. “Kayleigh’s an adult. She can make her own decisions.”
“Yeah. Maybe you should remember that next time you decide to set her up on a date.”
This was the second time in two days someone was giving me shit about my behavior toward Vibe. It hit a little bit harder coming from Silt. “You think she would’ve wanted to just stay in her dorm room after I stood her up?”
“I think she’d have preferred not being stood up at all.” She waved down my objections. “I know. You had places to go, and that’s fair. But instead of telling her so, you bugged out, and picked a replacement date for her.”
“And now they’re a couple. Which means it all worked out! Why’s everyone busting my balls over this?”
“You, Poltergeist, and Winter.”
“Huh. Maybe you being stuck with those two won’t be a total disaster.” Silt’s voice softened. “You know I’m on Team Skeletor, right?”
I still didn’t know who or what Skeletor was, other than one of Sofia’s many nicknames for me. I also hadn’t known I had my own team, but I nodded anyway.
“Good. Then take this as constructive feedback from someone who wants to see you happy and not so horribly undersexed. We’re Powers, not gods. We don’t get to make people’s choices for them. And yeah,” she allowed, “Matthew and Kayleigh are dating now. Maybe it’ll even end up being a long-term thing, although relationships in our class seem to have the life expectancies of fruit flies. But somewhere at the back of their minds, they’re both going to remember that you were Vibe’s first choice, and that Paladin was just the replacement you assigned her. And that sucks.”
Constructive feedback or not, I had a shitload of angry replies on the tip of my tongue. Problem was, Silt didn’t deserve any of them. So I opened myself up to the hole in my center and let the emptiness chase away my irritation. What was left behind was cold logic, hard as steel rails. And that logic told me…
“Boneboy, I’m always right! It’s one of my superpowers.” Silt’s grin was wide. “Just something to think about for the future.”
“Which part? That we’re not gods or that you’re always right?”
“Both, obviously. Things seems to have worked out with Vibe and Paladin, but—”
“But I still owe her an apology.”
“That’s your call, not mine, but it wouldn’t hurt.”
Fuck. I hated apologizing almost as much as I hated being in someone’s debt.
“Anyway,” Silt continued, “we were all pretty surprised when those two became a couple, but I guess someone had to fill the vacuum left by Santi and London.”
“What? They broke up?”
“Combusted, really. At the dance, no less.”
“After almost a year of going at it on the other side of my room’s paper-thin walls? What is it with you people and dances?”
“I think it was less about the dance and more about the pregnancy scare that came right before.”
“Oh.” Teen pregnancies were fairly common, helped by both the government’s push for repopulation and the exorbitant price of birth control, but I couldn’t even fathom being a father at nineteen.
Not that I’d had a great experience with family.
“Turns out El Bosque wants kids, while Ember is… less enthused. Especially seeing as how pregnancy would get in the way of her becoming a Cape.”
“I can’t blame her for that.”
“No kidding. It’s a whole lot safer playing on my side of the fence.”
“You and Debbie are still together though, right?”
“Sorry to hear it. She seemed nice.”
“Too nice for someone like me, I think.” Sofia made a show of shrugging it off. “Anyway, there are lots of fish in the dating pool, and I’ve got skills and a net. I’m not worried.”
“If you can’t find a date—”
“Have we met? Once I put the word out, women will be lined up outside my team’s sub-dorm.”
“—then we could always go to next year’s dance. As friends.” The words were eerily similar to when Vibe had asked me out as a first-year. “Actual friends, I mean… not ‘I’m-secretly-into-you-but-will-date-the-guy-you-sent-as-a-replacement’ friends.”
“Hmm.” Silt shot me a thoughtful look.
“Just trying to figure out what sort of dress you should wear. Pink would pair nicely with your eyes.”
“Hilarity is definitely not one of your powers.”
“My adoring public disagrees. Anyway, I thought you hated dances?”
“I’ve never actually been to one. I just assumed from last year’s endless dress discussions that they’d be boring. High on the dancing, low on the drama. Clearly, I was way off base.”
“Relationship meltdowns aside, it was still just a dance. Nothing like what you were dealing with out at the Hole.”
“That’s a good thing. Trust me.”
“Was it as bad as the vids made it out to be?”
“I haven’t watched the vids but…” I sighed. “It wasn’t fun.”
Except for the killing Carnage part. That bit I was still pretty okay with.
“Did you even get to see your Dad?”
“I was across the table from him when everything went down.” I carefully avoided looking at his ghost, standing just a few feet away. “He was one of the first people Fallout killed.”
“Shit. I’m sorry, Damian.”
I was quiet for a long moment. “I don’t know if I am.”
Rather than reply, she reached over and gave my hand a squeeze. Her fingers were warm and soft, even with the calluses.
It was the first time someone had voluntarily touched me since the Hole.
Kill one unstoppable asshole with a touch and people get paranoid.
“I know how you get about sharing, but… it might help to talk it over with someone.”
“Is that the voice of experience?”
“Unfortunately.” For a moment, her warm brown eyes were a thousand years old. “Maybe have a chat with Shrink Spooky?”
That was Silt’s name for Alexa, one-time Cape and current psychologist for the Academy’s only Crow.
“That’s the plan on Sunday. Assuming she’ll even see me.” I met her look with a shrug. “I’ve made my peace with Bard for leaving school early, but Alexa was gone all break.”
“Well, if that doesn’t work out, come on over to Team Three. I’m not a professional, but I can listen. As long as you don’t mind the occasional brilliant insight.”
“Ha.” It was a weird thing to admit, even to myself, but I’d really missed Silt. I’d had almost a month to myself on campus, but this was the first time it had really felt like home again. “Actually…”
She had thick eyebrows and knew how to use them. “Yeah?”
“My dad had some weird things to say when I saw him.” I hadn’t planned to share details of that conversation with anyone, even Sofia, but it suddenly felt stupid to keep it a secret. Especially when I needed help getting answers. “Things about my mom, me and… Sally Cemetery, of all people. I don’t know how much of it was him being totally fucked-in-the-head insane, but—”
“You could use somebody to talk it over with? Somebody who’s not faculty?”
“Not just talk it over. Dig into it. Find out how much of it was real. I’m tired of not knowing what’s going on with my life.”
“Well, shit, Boneboy… that sounds like research,” drawled Silt. “What do you think this is? Some kind of university?” She grinned. “I’ve got your back. Pretty sure I can even talk Vibe into helping, since she’s better at this sort of thing. Anyone else you want involved?”
“Maybe Stonewall?” My old roommate, Jeremiah, had been part of a group project bent on digging into my own shitty life story. I still wasn’t happy about that, but at least I knew his research skills were solid. If anyone could find the connection between Sally and my dad, it would be him.
“Alright. I’ll gather the posse. You want to meet back out here this coming weekend? Saturday afternoon?”
“Can we do Sunday instead? After my session with Alexa? I’ve got tutors and work all day Saturday.” I rolled my eyes. “Part of my punishment.”
“The Academy always gets its pound of flesh.”
“In my case, I think they want the whole package.”
“And who can blame them; a sexy-ass skeleton like you?” She snickered. “Sunday then. That gives you six days to think of a team name for our little cabal. The Four Musketeers or something.”
“Thank you, Sofia.” Gratitude didn’t come easy for me, but the battle out in the desert had taught me my solo act was a quick road to an early death.
“Of course. Truthfully, I’m just banking some credit for when you and your undead legions of doom take over the world.”
“You do remember I can’t actually raise the dead, right?”
“A month ago you couldn’t kill Black Hats with a touch either.” She slapped me on the back. “I’m hedging my bets. It’s called strategy, and it’s just one of the many reasons my team is going straight to the top of the rankings.” Silt grinned and rose to her feet. “Speaking of which, your team is having a meeting at the moment. Pretty sure Poltergeist’s pissed that you’re AWOL.”
“Or so I gathered when I stopped by your sub-dorm looking for you. Should’ve known you’d be out here and not in there with them. Anyway, you should probably head back at some point. I can’t imagine your fearless new leader is any happier now than she was fifteen minutes ago.”
One day into Tessa’s reign and she was scheduling meetings.
I was already regretting my vote.
On Thursday, I’ll have another selection of possibly ridiculous stats to share with you about the book. In two weeks, Red Right Hand finally releases, and I’ll share some advance reviews and content warnings. See you then!