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Six's Legacy

Six's Legacy

Page 3


“Yeah,” I say, starting to grin myself.

“And how’d you pull off that feat?”

“My Legacy. It just kicked in. Turns out, I can freeze stuff.”

This is make-believe. I have yet to develop my Legacies, and I have no idea what they’ll be when they arrive.

“That’s a good one,” says Katarina.

CHAPTER FIVE

We crossed the U.S. border hours back, without a hitch. I have never understood how Katarina manages to make such incredible forgeries.

Katarina is pulling us into a dusty pit stop off the highway. There’s a tiny, single-story motel, an old-fashioned and decrepit diner, and a gas station, newer and brighter than the other two buildings.

It is barely dusk when we step out of the truck. The faintest pink of sunrise creeps over the horizon, just enough to add a strange hue to our flesh as we stumble out onto the gravel.

Katarina curses, getting back into the car. “Forgot to get gas,” she says. “Wait here.”

I do as I’m told, watching her pull the truck from the motel parking lot towards one of the pumps. We have agreed to rest up at the motel for a day or two, to recover from our grueling, fifteen-hour drive and the shock of recent events. But even though we’ll be here for some time, the tank must be filled: that’s Katarina’s policy.

“Never leave an empty tank,” she says. I think she says it as much to remind herself as to educate me.

It’s a good policy. You never know when you’ll have to leave in a hurry.

I watch Katarina pull up to the pump and start filling the car.

I examine my surroundings. Through the front window of the diner across the lot, I can see a few grizzled-looking truckers eating. Through the scent of exhaust and the faint odor of gas fumes from the pumps, I can smell breakfast food in the air.

Or maybe I’m just imagining it. I am incredibly hungry. My mouth waters at the thought of breakfast.

I turn my back on the diner, trying not to think about food, and look at the town on the other side of the fence from the pit stop. Houses only a step up from clapboard shacks. A ragged, desolate place.

“Hello, miss.” Startled, I whizz around to see a tall, gray-haired cowboy strutting past. It takes me a second to realize that he’s not starting a conversation, merely being polite as he passes. He gives a little nod of his ten-gallon hat and proceeds past me into the diner.

My heart rate is up.

I had forgotten this aspect of the road. When we’re settled in a place, even a remote one like Puerto Blanco, we get to know the local faces. We know, more or less, who to trust. I’ve never seen a Mogadorian in my life, but Katarina says that most of the Mogadorians look like anyone else. After what happened to One and Two, I feel a deep unease all around me, a new alertness. A roadside rest stop is especially troublesome in that everyone is a stranger to everyone, so no one raises any eyebrows, not really. For us that means anyone could be a threat.

Katarina has parked the car and approaches me with a weary grin.

“Eat or sleep?” she asks. Before I can answer, she’s raised her hand hopefully. “My vote for sleep.”

“My vote is to eat.” Katarina deflates at this. “You know eat beats sleep,” I say. “Always does.” It is one of our rules of the road, and Katarina quickly accepts the verdict.

“Okay, Maren Elizabeth,” she says. “Lead the way.”

CHAPTER SIX

The diner is humid with grease. It is barely six a.m. but almost all of the booths are full, mostly with truckers. While I wait for our food I watch these men shovel hearty, well-syruped forksful of breakfast meat—sausage, bacon, scrapple—into their mouths. When my food finally comes I find myself more than holding my own. Three pancakes, four strips of bacon, a side of hash, one tall OJ.

I finish with a rude belch that Katarina is too tired to chastise me for.

“Do you think . . . ?” I ask.

Katarina laughs, anticipating my question. “How is that possible?”

I shrug. She nods, and calls the waitress over. With a guilty grin, I order another stack of pancakes.

“Well,” says the waitress, with a dry smoker’s cackle, “your little girl sure can put it down.” The waitress is an older woman, with a face so lined and haggard you could mistake it for a man’s.

“Yes, ma’am,” I say. The waitress leaves.

“Your appetite will never cease to amaze me,” Katarina says. But she knows the reason for it. I train constantly, and though I’m only thirteen years old I already have the tightly muscled body of a gymnast. I need a lot of fuel, and am not ashamed of my appetite.

Another customer enters the crowded diner.

I notice the other men give him a suspicious glance as he makes his way to a booth in the rear. They looked at me and Katarina with similar suspicion when we first entered. I took this place for a way station, filled with strangers, but apparently some strangers are worthy of suspicion and others aren’t. Katarina and I are doing our best, dressed in generic American mall clothes: T-shirts and khaki shorts. I can see why we stand out—apparently they have a different definition of “generic” here in the far reaches of West Texas.

This other stranger is harder to figure, though. He’s dressed the part, more or less: wearing one of those Texas ties, with the dangly strands of black leather. And like the rest of the men here, he’s wearing boots.

But his clothes seem somehow out-of-date, and there’s something creepy about his thin black mustache: it looks straight at first glance, but the more I consider it, something about it just seems crooked.

“It’s impolite to stare.” Katarina, chiding me again.

“I wasn’t staring,” I lie. “I was looking, with interest.”

Katarina laughs. She’s laughed more in the past twenty-four hours than she has in months. This new Katrina is going to take some getting used to.

Not that I mind.

I stretch out luxuriantly on the hotel bed while Katarina showers in the bathroom. The sheets are cheap, polyester or rayon, but I’m so tired from the road they may as well be silk.

When Katarina first pulled the sheets down we found a live earwig under the pillow, which grossed her out but didn’t bother me.

“Kill it,” she begged, covering her eyes.

I refused. “It’s just an insect.”

“Kill it!” she begged.

Instead, I swept it off the bed and hopped into the cool sheets. “Nope,” I said stubbornly.

“Fine,” she said, and went to shower. She turned the faucets on, but stepped out of the bathroom again a moment later. “I worry—” she started.

“About what?” I asked.

“I worry that I haven’t trained you well.”

I rolled my eyes. “’Cause I won’t kill a bug?!”

“Yes. No, I mean, it’s what got me thinking. You need to learn to kill without hesitation. I haven’t even taught you to hunt rodents, let alone Mogadorians . . . you’ve never killed anything—”

Katarina paused, the water still running behind her. Thinking.

I could tell she was tired, lost in a thought. She gets like that sometimes, if we’ve been training too gruelingly. “Kat,” I said. “Go shower.”

She looked up, her reverie broken. She chuckled and closed the door behind her.

Waiting for her to finish, I turned on the TV from the bed. The previous tenant had left it on CNN and I’m greeted with the site of helicopter footage of the “event” in England. I watch only long enough to learn that both the press and English authorities are confused as to what exactly happened yesterday. I’m too tired to think about this; I’ll get the details later.

I shut off the TV and lay back on the bed, eager for sleep to take me.

Katarina steps out of the bathroom moments later, wearing a robe and brushing out her hair. I watch her through half-closed eyes.

There is a knock on the door.

Katarina drops her brush on the bureau.

“Who is it?” she asks.

“Manager, miss. I brought ya some fresh towels.”

I’m so annoyed by the interruption—I want to sleep, and it’s pretty obvious we don’t need fresh towels since we only just got to the room—that I propel myself right off the bed, barely thinking.

“We don’t need any,” I say, already swinging the door open.

I just have time to hear Katarina say, “Don’t—” before I see him, standing before me. The crooked mustache man.

The scream catches in my throat as he enters the room and shuts the door behind him.

CHAPTER SEVEN

I react without thinking, pushing him towards the door, but he flings me back easily, against the bed. I clutch my chest and realize with horror that my pendant is out from under my shirt. In plain view.

“Pretty necklace,” he growls, his eyes flashing with recognition.

If he had any doubt about who I am, it is long gone.

Katarina charges forward but he strikes her hard. She crashes against the TV set, smashing the screen with a bare elbow, and falls to the ground.

He pulls something from his waist—a long, thin blade—and raises it so quickly I don’t even have time to stand. I see only the flash of his blade as he swings it down—straight down, like a railroad spike—into my brain.

My head floods instantly with warmth and light.

This is what death feels like, I think.

But no. The pain doesn’t come.

I look up—how can I see? I think. I’m dead. But I do see, and realize that I’m covered, from head to toe, in hot red blood. The Crooked Mustache Man still has his arm outstretched, his mouth is still frozen in victory, but his skull has been split open, as if by a knife, and his blood is spilling out across my knees.

I hear Katarina wail—it’s such a primal noise that I can’t tell if it’s a cry of grief or a scream of relief—as the man, emptied of blood, turns quickly to dust, collapsing in on himself as an ashy heap.

Before I can take a breath, Katarina is up, shedding her robe and throwing on clothes, grabbing our bags.

“He died,” I say. “I didn’t.”

“Yes,” Katarina replies. She puts on a white blouse, which she instantly ruins with the blood from her elbow, shredded from the TV screen. She throws it out, blots the blood from her elbow with a towel, and puts on another shirt.

I feel like a child, speechless, immobile, covered in blood on the floor.

That was it—the moment I’ve been training for my whole life—and all I managed was a feeble, easily deflected shove before getting tossed aside and stabbed.

“He didn’t know,” I say.

“He didn’t know,” she says.

What he didn’t know is that any harm inflicted on me out of order would instead be inflicted upon my attacker. I was safe from direct attack. I knew it, but I also didn’t really know it. When he stabbed me in the head, I thought I was dead. It took seeing it to believe it.

I reach up and touch my scalp. The flesh there is unbroken, it’s not even damp. . . .

There’s the proof. We are protected by the charm. As long as we stay apart from each other, we can only be killed in the order of our number.

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