Today's Reading

I don't wait for him to reach me and throw the first punch. I close the distance between us and hammer a side kick to his upper torso. I lighten the force of the blow so I don't crack a rib that could puncture a lung. Punctured lungs collapse and his biochip won't circumvent a mortal wound. I'm not so far gone that my aim is to kill him. That would be more than reckless. He's one of the Republic's precious soldiers. It would be signing my own execution sentence. Though the raging inferno in his eyes makes it clear he means to kill me, I have to content myself with the fact that his ribs will ache like a bitch for weeks even with expedited healing.

He doesn't allow me to land a second kick. He hurls four punches at me in rapid succession. I dodge each one except the last. A right hook crashes into my left shoulder. It snaps out of socket. I shove aside the searing fire that explodes up and down my arm.
 
He attempts to inflict maximum damage and ram another punch into my dislocated shoulder. I dodge it, wrenching to the side and sweeping my leg out in a wide arc. He's so focused on my upper body that he forgets to monitor my legs. I sweep his out from under him and he crashes to the floor. He springs back to his feet without the aid of his hands.

There are about seventy people in the bar in addition to the waitstaff, but none of them are going to get in between Praetorians fighting. They don't have a death wish. Most of them stand around ogling the fight and casting pitying looks my way, despite the fact that I'm the one winning.

Radson and I circle each other, reassessing and recalibrating. Grandfather taught me that everyone has a tell. Radson telegraphs his movements by shifting his weight to the side he's going to strike with. He prematurely tenses the muscles he's going to use. I shoot forward before a left hook can splinter my jaw and gift him a vicious roundhouse kick to the chest. Needing a good, cathartic fight—something that petty brawls with my academy peers hasn't given me—I hammer kicks to his stomach, left hip, and knee. Bones pop and he curses as he falls to the ground.

He struggles to stand. He heaves himself a quarter of the way up before his shattered knee gives out. When he falls down, he stays down.

Sensing movement behind me, I spin around to the Praetorian that grabbed me when the fight first started. I recenter my weight, remaining light on the balls of my feet. He throws a punch that never connects.

Because Reed blocks it. "It's over, Chance."

Chance growls at me around Reed's formidable stature. I meet his eyes with an unaffected, bored stare, goading him into fight two of the night. Fight one was the best time I've had in months. My blood is still whooshing in my ears, adrenaline is at a peak, and the electric current of something much more dangerous yet thrilling surges in my veins.

My death gleams in Chance's eyes. Praetorian cohorts operate as fiercely loyal units, and I kicked his friend's ass and embarrassed him in the worst way. Allegiance to his cohort demands he answer that with retribution.

He's welcome to try.

I crack my neck, ready to fight the whole of Alpha cohort in one night. Reed gives Chance his back and faces me. "Walk away. Go home."

Home. I inwardly flinch at the word, though he could mean the barracks as much as Grandfather's apartments.

"Kenna, let's leave." Selene touches my elbow. Zayne appears at my other side. I guess the Alpha cohort assholes restraining them finally let them go.

As much as I want to fight the entire world, I let them pull me toward the exit. Standing in the bar among the Gamma cohort team, Grandfather's old team, and hearing the word home on Commencement Eve opens up a devastating dam of grief that threatens to drown me. I should be going home. I should be spending the night at Grandfather's apartments, dressing for Commencement in the morning with his help, and being escorted to the ceremonial hall by him. But he won't be at the apartments, and he won't be at Commencement. Selene will be among a legion of family. Zayne's labourii parents will be in town from the Southern Isles to see their son become the first in their family to declare Praetorian.

Nobody will be at Commencement for me.

Selene emits a shrill whistle once we're outside the bar. "I know the Legatus Commander taught you some killer moves, but damn. I don't think I've ever seen anybody move like that. Not even him, the times he conducted our training sessions. You were quicker than Praetorian-quick."

I grimace as she, Zayne, and I crowd onto a steel bench curbside to wait for the public craft Zayne hails on his Comm Unit. I didn't mean to show off like that. Because while biochips give Praetorians extraordinary abilities, something detested by the Republic confers my abilities. With my high completely worn off, the full weight of what I did crashes into me. I didn't get tangled up in some dumb squabble with a fellow cadet. I fought a Praetorian. And I put a good extent of my skill level on display. The Praetorians and everybody else in the bar are going to be talking about how fast and with how much prowess they saw Verne Amari's granddaughter move. Grandfather would be incensed. Igniting that kind of talk is the opposite of everything he taught me.

In places like Mareen that suffer no love for the Pantheon, people like you survive by laying low in plain sight.

It's the second time tonight his voice rings in my head. This time, it's laced with censure. I'd been fully responsible for myself for all of three months, and I was already massively screwing up. I catch my shoulders slumping inward in shame and straighten them. Grandfather's ghost doesn't get to lecture me or make me feel further like shit.

I study the scarlet spots staining my hands, navy cadet jacket, and white pants. I'm positive all of the blood is Radson's. I still inspect my knuckles for cuts because I really was an idiot tonight. Magic signatures are left behind in the blood, that nagging echo of Grandfather's voice scowls at me.


This excerpt ends on page 13 of the hardcover edition.

Monday, August 22nd, we begin the book Resolute by Jack Campbell.
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