One Tin Soldier, the last book in my The Murder of Crows trilogy, launches November 9th, 2021! I’m counting down to its release by sharing sample chapters, advance reviews, content warnings, and whatever else seems fun. On to Chapter 1!
If you haven’t read See These Bones or Red Right Hand yet, please be aware that these sample chapters will absolutely include spoilers from those books. Also, be aware that expletives abound. Read at your own risk!
When I was five, my father murdered my mom.
Shit only got worse from there.
Thirteen years in the Bakersfield orphanage, then two and a half more at the Academy, learning to defend the country as a Cape. A month trapped in the belly of the beast of Reno, where I lost my hand but learned the truth of what I was.
Just an experiment.
One of many attempts to breed a new crop of necromancers, to see if any of us would escape the madness of our power. To the man responsible, Mr. Grey to some, Tyrant to the rest, we were all just disposable vessels… temporary carriers of one of the powers he’d yet to claim as his own. We were tools to be leveraged in a war he had not yet begun to fight.
There’s always a fucker who wants to take over the world, isn’t there? Just our luck that the Free States got two: Tyrant and Tezcatlipoca, mastermind and self-proclaimed god. Pick your poison and hope like hell you survive.
I survived Reno. Freed a handful of people Tyrant had kidnapped. Killed the shit out of some others who had it coming and burned the whole god-damned building down, but I didn’t do it alone. And the help I got didn’t come for free.
Can’t say it changed everything, because I probably would have ended down here eventually anyway, talking to all of you, telling you my tale. Can’t even say that favor was the reason things went the way they did, but it was a reason.
The past is the past. All that matters is what you do with it.
The people of the Free States will call me a murderer. The Capes and Black Hats call me Walker. A long time ago—so long that I can’t even remember her voice—my mom called me Damian.
This is the story of how I died.
“You didn’t climb the wall this time, Bakersfield?”
In the shadow of the alleyway, Her Majesty was darkness in the shape of a woman. As she stepped into the light, the details became apparent: a long-legged body sheathed in leather, her head and face hidden beneath the ever-present motorcycle helmet. The yellow smiley face decal on that helmet’s visor looked a little more tired than normal, but I could’ve just been projecting.
I looked back to where the Academy rose above the surrounding streets and waved the stump of my wrist. “Climbing’s not really my thing these days.”
“I thought your little school’s Healers would have taken care of that.”
“It takes more than a Two to regenerate limbs.” I wasn’t sure even Unicorn would have been able to do it, and he would have been the best Healer the Free States had seen in decades. “I’ve got a prosthetic but it’s more trouble than it’s worth, most days. Anyway, Bard’s loosened my leash this year. I’m allowed the occasional trip off campus.”
I was supposed to notify people of my destination in advance, in case Tyrant was lurking outside waiting to snatch me again… but telling the guards that I was off to meet the wanted mercenary known as the Queen of Smiles had seemed like a dumb fucking idea. And a good way to get a bunch of well-meaning guards killed, for that matter.
Besides, Tyrant was public enemy number one in the Free States right now, hunted by Cape teams and Alexa’s black-ops agency. Nobody had seen him in months, and the sociopath certainly wasn’t stupid enough to show up outside the Academy. Especially not with the way the school’s defenses had been bolstered after Fallout’s attack.
“I wasn’t sure you’d even show.”
“We made a deal,” I said, “and you saved my ass. I’m not going to forget that.”
“Actually, I saved your ass and then we made a deal.” As usual, her voice was a snarl of metal, barbed wire dragged over the teeth of a chainsaw, a crowbar jammed into the gears of some Technomancer’s creation. That didn’t bother me anymore. It was the times her voice went all liquid and soft that still fucked with my brain. “Even so, I’m glad you came. Guess that school hasn’t totally broken you yet.”
“Guess not. What can I do for you, Your Majesty?”
“Just like that? No foreplay? No small talk? Just wham, bam, thank you ma’am? Baby Crow gets a girlfriend and suddenly the rest of the world is chopped liver.”
I’d had chopped liver a few times at the Academy cafeteria, and it wasn’t bad. Beat the hell out of the synth-rations we’d grown up on at the orphanage. But I got what she was saying. I reached for the emptiness at my core, let it spill out of that hole inside of me to smother my frustration and nerves.
“Sorry. I didn’t sleep at all last night and we’ve got our internship assembly tomorrow. The Mission and all those Cape reps. Our whole fucking class has been on edge for the past week. It’s nothing personal.”
“And the walker stashed around the corner? Is that personal?”
“That’s just insurance.” There weren’t any corpses in or around the Academy, now that my zombie cat had finally met its maker again, but I’d been off campus twice for power-related experiments, and the last such trip had been to one of Los Angeles’ cemeteries. I’d snuck this guy back the following night and stashed him in one of the city’s many abandoned homes. “Even in the daytime, L.A.’s not the safest place to wander. All sorts of bad elements, they tell me.”
She barked a laugh. “Fair enough. Anyway, I won’t keep you in suspense. I’m here to call in my favor. And in a roundabout way, it has to do with that assembly tomorrow.”
“I don’t do assassinations,” I told her.
“That makes precisely one of us,” came the reply, the smiley face briefly maniacal in the alley’s dim light. “I want you to find someone, not kill them.”
“At the Assembly?”
Her sigh echoed within the confines of the motorcycle helmet. “If they were at the Assembly, I wouldn’t need you to find them, would I? The person I’m looking for is out in the Badlands, near as I can tell. I want you to go there and find him. Or her.”
“By interning with the Mission for the next six months.”
“Got it in one.”
“No, I mean how am I supposed to find one person that could be anywhere in the Badlands. I’m happy to keep my eyes open, assuming you have a description or a name, but—”
“No name. Not a real one anyway. No description either.”
“You talked to Sally Cemetery, right? Her ghost?”
“And your mom and the little girl at the orphanage too?”
“Nyah.” The emotions that name generated skated across the emptiness, leaving me to wonder how the hell Her Majesty knew it. Or the fact that I had a girlfriend, for that matter. “But in those cases, it was less talking, and more them showing me how they died.”
“Bingo. I want you to do the same thing. Travel the Badlands. Talk to the dead. Find the person I’m looking for.”
I put two and two together and got three and a half. “So, I’m going to have to seek out ghosts whose deaths were linked to the guy you’re hunting.”
“That’s the easy part.” She rolled her shoulders, but her helmet remained steady. “This person is responsible for more deaths than anyone in the fucking world. More than that pretend-god south of us, even.”
Tezcatlipoca had taken over the vast majority of Mexico, turning the surviving inhabitants into little more than drones, and was now extending his domain into San Diego. Who the hell could have killed more people than that?
In the end, there was only one possible answer.
“Thing I like about you, Bakersfield,” said Her Majesty, somehow divining where my thoughts had taken me, “is that you’ve got brains in your head to go along with that sweet little ass.”
“I want you to find Dr. Nowhere.”
One Tin Soldier releases November 9th, and is now available for pre-order in digital format!
Next week, I’ll be back with Chapters 2 and 3. See you then!