Charlie Tristan Moore isn't a hero. She's a survivor. Already wrestling with the demons of her past, she is tested as never before when she arrives home one night to find herself under attack by three monstrous skinhounds straight out of a nightmare. Just as hope seems lost, she is saved by the sinister Man in Black, dressed in a long, dark coat that seems to possess a life of its own and wielding a black-bladed sword in his grisly red right hand.
But her rescue comes at a cost. The Man in Black, a diabolical Elder God, demands she become his Acolyte and embrace a dark magick she never knew she possessed. To ensure her obedience, he takes her friend and possible love, Daniel, in thrall as a hostage. Now she must join The Man in Black in his crusade to track down and destroy his fellow Elder Gods, supposedly to save humanity from being devoured for all eternity.
But is The Man in Black truly the lesser of two evils - or a menace far more treacherous than the eldritch horrors she's battling in his name?
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Red Right Hand
By Levi Black
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2016 James R. Tuck
All rights reserved.
The cheap alcohol burned as it splashed down my throat.
Fumes roiled up the back of my esophagus, making me choke. It felt like getting punched in the tonsils with a fistful of kerosene.
I sucked in a breath, swallowing hard.
Dammit, Daniel ...
I really like you.
Holding the dented, plastic bottle of vodka, I smeared my arm across my face, wiping away hot tears.
The first guy I ... and he knew. He knew.
I fumbled keys out of my pocket and held them up, jangling them in front of my face. They woozed and blended in a fuzz of eyestrain, tears, and alcohol.
Now you know there's nobody in this crappy world you can trust.
My rage had cooled on the walk home, devolving into a ball of hurt and anger and drunken fog. The stairs to the townhouse I shared were treacherous, threatening to throw me back down them with each step, but I wasn't going to let them get the best of me.
I'm stubborn that way.
Besides, it was cold outside.
The key in my hand stabbed at the keyhole, brass clicking on brass. I had to lean my forehead against the door frame to get the key to slide into the lock. It turned in a smooth motion, barely a click to tell me it had unlocked. I stumbled across the threshold, slamming the door closed behind me, harder than I meant to.
At least the night is over. Just go to bed and try again in the morning. You've got jujitsu at ten. You can take it out on the mat.
My keys hit the table by the door with a metallic clatter, clashing against my roommates' keys.
Keep it down, or you'll have the whole house up. Shasta'll want to know what's wrong, and you do NOT want to get into that. Not tonight.
I looked up the stairs to my room.
Just get to bed.
I'd taken only a few wobbly steps when the first skinless dog stepped from the shadows.CHAPTER 2
My mind stuttered, jut-jut-jittering around what I saw.
I didn't have a dog. None of my roommates had a dog, and no one I knew had ever had a dog that looked like this.
It stood on the hardwood floor in four slowly widening puddles of goo. Wet ran in rivulets down its legs, the musculature of it strung tight over a rack of bones. It stood by the stairs leading up to my room, watching me with a low-slung head. Skinless hackles bunched over its neck in knotted cables of raw meat.
Adrenaline slammed through my bloodstream, driven in a stampede by my heart suddenly trying to pound its way out of my chest. It burned away the fog of alcohol, shocking me sober. The jug of cheap vodka slipped from my fingers, tumbling to the floor. It bounced, spun, and lay on its side, spilling astringent alcohol over my shoes in a splash.
The dog stepped closer, a low growl rumbling from its vivisected chest.
The growl echoed in the stairwell, doubling, then tripling as two more hounds trotted out of the shadows. These two were leaner than the first, their rib cages hollow and caved in. They stalked toward me, the three moving in unison with the same squelching lift of paws, then the same click-clack of crescent razor claws as descended again. Their shoulders moved up and down; heads swinging side to side, panting rib bones expanding and contracting in time with harsh snuffles as long, blister-pink tongues lolled out of jaws over-filled with bone-cracking teeth. The rasping sound of their breath scraped my ears like a nail file on the membrane of my eardrum, dragging down and flicking up with just enough pressure to never quite tear through.
Clickety-clack squelch, clickety-clack squelch, pant-pant-pant ...
My mind screamed at me.
Move! Get out! Don't just stand here!
I wanted to turn, wanted to run. Panic clawed at the front of my throat. Somehow I knew that if I took my eyes off the hounds they would take me. They would lunge and snap and latch and drag me to the ground where they would rip me open and bury their snouts inside my shredded body. My mind bounced around, unable to latch on to any one thing, unable to focus, desperate for a way to escape.
You didn't lock the door.
I stepped backward, slowly, carefully. The hounds matched me step for step, their baleful eyes pinned me, glowing the color of rotten squash. Lidless, they stared at me from deep sockets of raw gristle.
I stuck my hand out, fingers twisted in a ward against the evil eye my grandmother always used on a neighbor she accused of being a witch. I don't know why I did it. It was just instinct, a fetish from childhood — worthless and, worse, ineffectual. I used the same sign whenever I thought a car might not stop for its red light when I crossed an intersection. A tiny, stupid, reflexive habit.
My keys still sat on the little table in the center of the foyer. I snatched them up. The weight of them hung familiar in my fingers, a sliver of comfort, the merest ease to my jangled nerves.
The first hound growled again. It stepped quicker, trotting closer.
My throat closed, the pounding of my pulse throbbing through each side. Tension stabbed inside my lungs, stilettos sliding in.
Breathe. Remember, you have to breathe.
The air between me and the hounds became a plucked string singing with tension. They stopped, raw haunches crouching, front paws click-clacking against the floor as they spread apart, preparing to lunge.
Grabbing the table, I yanked it around me, tipping it over, letting it crash to the floor between me and the hounds. I turned to the door as they pushed off, leaping over the table. My hand had closed on the door knob when I felt the hot, sharp slash of claws down the backs of my legs. I was driven to the floor, knees banging hard, pain shooting up my thighs. My fingers scrabbled as my hand slipped off the slick brass knob.
A weight slammed into my back, smashing my face against the door. Pain blasted across my forehead, flaring white behind my eyes. My ears closed, turning the snap and snarl of the hounds all tinny and hollow. A blow knocked me sideways, scraping my cheek raw on the wood of the door. I tumbled across the floor, banging knees, elbows, and hips until the wall stopped me.
My body went numb, skull stuffed with cotton. Nothing worked. Panic screamed.
Get up! Get the hell up or you are dead!
My eyes were the only things I could move. I rolled them around, watching the dogs as they circled. The big one lunged, snapping at my face. Its teeth clacked together, its lips pulled back in a snarl. A string of brackish saliva slung off those raw lips, slapping across one of my eyes. It hit, itching and burning like jalapeño juice on steroids.
The hound pulled back.
It shook its head, jerking from side to side. Its jaw distended with a loud POP, dislocating to take a bigger bite. Cold, baleful eyes were pinned on my throat. My fingers flexed, scratching the floor. Striated muscle on the hound's shoulders quivered as it prepared to lunge and tear my throat out in a spray of hot arterial blood.
I couldn't close my eyes. Couldn't look away.
My eyelids were glued open, eyes stuck wide in their sockets as the door slammed open and a tall man in a long black coat strode in with amusement in his glittering eyes and death in his red right hand.CHAPTER 3
The hound jerked around, its skinless head still looming over and dripping on me. The rumble in its chest shook loose fat droplets of slick liquid that drizzled across my arm, my shoulder, my neck. They splattered, as warm and thick as fresh milk. Its brother hounds moved back as the Man in Black filled the doorway.
The wind swept in behind him, blowing and billowing his long coat around a slender frame. The black leather fwapped around his legs, the sound reminding me of bat wings. The wind cleared the air of the moist, green-rot smell of the hounds, filling my nose with the scent of woodsmoke and blackberries.
He stood, outlined by the streetlights behind him, his face in shadow. Just a shape, just the form of a man, all shadowed moving edges and hard silhouette. His eyes glittered deep in his face. Other than that I couldn't see anything about his countenance.
Then he smiled.
It was a shark-toothed grin, a glistening grimace from a mouthful of murder. A chill slid slowly down my spine. The gleam across his teeth was the same gleam that slid down the edge of a sword like a drop of quicksilver. Gooseflesh that had nothing to do with the chill night air rushing through the open door rose from the base of my skull to the bottom of my shoulder blades.
The hound standing over me growled from within its exposed rib cage.
"Shut up, mongrel. Recognize your better."
The voice was deep and clear, a tolling bell that echoed in the tiny vestibule. The hound tilted its head, watching the man with an unblinking sulfurous eye. Fear pulled tight every tendon in my body, squeezing like a python, making me want to scream. The tension in the air suffocated me and clamped around my chest, thick with the potential for violence.
The hound above me turned, snapping at its brethren with a hoarse bark and a clack of wicked teeth.
The two smaller hounds sprang in an explosion of deadly, liquid grace. They were a blur, hanging in the air at the same time. Ropes of spittle and foam slung from raw-lipped snouts as their teeth gnashed.
The Man in Black turned, flicking the black-bladed sword in his terrible, red right hand. The slender length of steel licked out, not slowing as it bit deep into the belly of one airborne hound. Muscle parted like water in a gushing plop of strange organs on the floor. The hound fell as if struck down by the hand of God. Both halves of it twitched, sloshing out more of the chunky stew its entrails had become.
With a twist of the red right hand, the sword's curved blade sliced the air again, cleaving the second hound's side with a hollow, drumming thunk. It struck deep, a hack instead of a slash, driving through contracting, skinless muscle and grating along the vertebrae of the hound's spine. The hellhound fell at the man's feet, spasming its life out in a gout of black, runny ichor that spread like sewage underneath it.
The Man in Black spun the sword, slinging gore off the blade. It flicked in a wet arc across the wall. He pointed the weapon at the last hound.
"Your move, cur."
The last hound took a half step back. Clackety squelch. It stopped, stood, and quivered.
Then it turned its head and latched its teeth into my ear.
Pain exploded, hot and immediate from my eyebrow to my chin. The fangs scissored in, puncturing the skin, the cartilage, and the flesh, ripping furrows deep in my cheek and temple. Saliva sizzled and popped like bacon grease in a hot pan.
I tried to jerk away from the agony. The skinless dog shook its jaws, worrying the meat in its mouth. It felt like my face was being yanked off the bone, pulled away like a rind from a melon. The teeth that had punched through my earlobe ripped free in a spit of hot, thin blood, but the ones through the rim of cartilage around my ear held fast, the gristle strung tight in the hound's mouth.
My ear filled with blood, but I could still hear the hound's breath whuff and hiss as though we were in an echo chamber. Blood ran down my ear canal, filling my brain with sound, the moist snuff of canine breath bouncing off walls of throbbing, pulsing agony.
My feet slid and slipped on the gore-covered tile of the floor. I jerked as an electric current of pain jolted all the way down to my heels. My nerves burned as one hand slapped against the smooth, skinless muscle of the hound's chest, trying to push away, the other cramped around the keys I still held.
Hard metal dug into my palm.
My mind went animal blank, panic slaughtering all rational thought, leaving behind only hollow, raw instinct. Deep in the lizard part of my brainpan, that base-of-the-skull place, a spark flared and my training kicked in.
I drove my keys into the hound's face as hard as I could.
The metal sticking up between my knuckles bit deep. Punching through muscle, scraping on bone. The long, serrated key to my car punctured a lidless eye, spilling spoiled aqueous liquid across my fingers like runny egg yolk.
The hellhound gave a shrill yelp, and my pain cut away in a wash of cool sensation as its teeth slipped free. I popped my eyelids open in time to see the Man in Black slash with his sword. The hound turned skeletal tail, bounding across the room. A wide gash gaped open along its flank, the meat split wide and peeled back. The hound didn't slow or turn or hesitate, and when it hit the corner behind the stairwell it disappeared.
The world flickered in my mind, sputtering like the end of a movie reel. The Man in Black knelt beside me, his dripping sword held out and away. The fingers on his left hand touched the side of my face. They were cool and clean. He smiled a crooked, shark-tooth grin. His voice came to me clearly, more inside my mind than out.
"Do not die yet, Charlotte Tristan Moore. We have much to discuss."CHAPTER 4
"Do you have cream or sugar?"
The side of my head throbbed, pulsing in time with my heartbeat. I could feel the blood lurching underneath the skin, slouching its way toward the Bethlehem of my face. It hurt. Like claw hammer to the skull hurt. Even my teeth were sore.
I held a towel against my shredded ear to catch the blood that poured out, running hot and sticky down my neck. The world sounded half muffled through the blood-soaked cloth.
I stared at the tablecloth in front of me, elbow propped on the red-and-white checked vinyl my roommate Shasta had brought back from her last visit home. The little red squares wavered with every pulse from under the towel.
What the hell is going on?
A dark hand sat a steaming cup of black coffee on the table under my face.
"I asked you a question, Charlotte Tristan Moore. I would appreciate an answer before this turns cold."
I looked up. The Man in Black stood close beside me. My neck hurt as I twisted my face up to take all of him in. Tall, he loomed, his head seeming to brush the ceiling — though some small part of me knew that was a trick of perspective, the angle I looked up from. A black coat stretched from his neck all the way down to the floor. It moved even though he stood still, shifting subtly, delicately, as though it was breathing. Not that coats breathed.
It must be a trick of the light.
Or my head injury.
Oh, shit. Do I have a head injury? Something cracked inside my skull, making me think weirdly?
The Man in Black held a second steaming cup in his right hand. My eyes locked on that hand. It thrust from the edge of his coat sleeve, the one bright patch of color on the doom-black darkness of him. This close, it glistened in the incandescent kitchen light. Wet, or possibly greasy — as though it had been flayed, dusky skin peeled off, leaving behind the raw red of meat, the exposed underflesh. Subtly shiny like it had been dipped in crimson liquid latex.
Or fresh-spilled blood.
Now that hand held my favorite mug, a bright yellow cup with a picture of George Takei doing heart hands to the camera.
I caught myself leaning away, threatening to slip off my chair and onto the floor, trying to get as far from him as possible. Dammit. I was cowering.
I pulled myself upright.
My voice didn't tremble when I spoke. That surprised me.
"My name is Charlie. Only my family calls me Charlotte. Sugar is in the cabinet above the coffee maker, creamer is in the fridge. Help yourself."
He nodded, turning away in a swirl of coat.
As he rummaged through the cabinet, I pulled my hand away from the towel. The hand moved, but the towel stuck, held to the side of my face by a clot of dried blood.
I pulled on one corner, tugging sharply. It peeled free with a tearing sound. I winced — I couldn't help it — the pain flaring hot and bright like a struck match laid against my skin.
You've been hurt worse. Get it over with.
My fingers closed on the corner of the towel, and with a swift, sharp yank I pulled the whole cloth free from the clotted wound. It felt like being slapped with a belt sander. I sucked in air hard and fast between clenched teeth.
Damn that hurt like hell!
The man was there, next to me.
I didn't see him move — my eyes hadn't been shut longer than a second — but he somehow crossed the room to me. He was just there. As though he'd teleported. His red right hand reached for my face.
His voice came, a dark murmur. "Do not move."
My nerves locked, freezing me in one spot. That hand moved closer, drifting lazily near. It hung, exposed and obscene, from the end of his sleeve, almost limp, its fingers slightly curled like those of a dead man.
Excerpted from Red Right Hand by Levi Black. Copyright © 2016 James R. Tuck. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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