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Six's Legacy

Six's Legacy

Page 6


I snap to.

“Your gag?” I ask.

“I worked it off. It’s taken this whole time to get it off.”

“Oh,” I say stupidly. I don’t know what else to say, what good it does us to speak. We are caught, without defense.

“They bugged our car. Back in Texas. That’s how they found us.”

How stupid of us, I think. How careless.

“It was my job to think of that,” she says, as if reading my thoughts. “Never mind that. I need you to prepare for what’s coming.”

What’s that? I think. Death?

“They will torture you for information. They will . . . ” I hear Katarina succumb to weeping, but she pulls herself together and resumes. “They will inflict unthinkable torments on you. But you must bear them.”

“I will,” I say, as firmly as I can.

“They will use me to make you bend. You can’t let them . . . no matter what. . . . ”

My heart freezes in my chest. They will kill Katarina in front of me if they think it will make me talk.

“Promise me, Six. Please . . . they can’t know your number. We can’t give them any more power over the others than they already have, or power over you. The less they know about the charm, the better. Promise me. You have to.”

Imagining the horrors to come, I can’t. I know my vow is all Katarina wants to hear, but I just can’t.

CHAPTER THIRTEEN

I have been in my cell for three days. I have nothing in here with me but a bucket of water, another bucket to use as a toilet, and an empty metal tray from yesterday’s meal.

There is not a speck of food left on the tray: I licked it clean yesterday. When I woke up in my cell three days ago it had been my intention to mount a hunger strike against my captors, to refuse all food and water until they let me see my Katarina. But two days passed with no food or water from them anyway. I had begun to imagine I’d been forgotten in my cell. By the time the food arrived, I was so far out of my mind with hopelessness that I forgot my original plan and wolfed down the slop they shoved through the little slot of my cell door.

The odd thing is that I wasn’t even particularly hungry. My spirits were low but I didn’t feel weak from hunger. My pendant throbbed dully against my chest during my days in the dark, and I began to suspect the charm was keeping me safe from hunger and dehydration. But even though I wasn’t starving, or dehydrated, I’d never gone so long without food or water in my life, and the experience of being deprived drove me to a kind of temporary madness. I wasn’t hungry or thirsty physically, but I was mentally.

The walls are made of heavy, rough stone. It feels less like a prison cell and more like a makeshift burrow. It seems to have been carved out of a natural stone formation instead of built. I take this as a clue that we’re in some natural structure: a cave, or the inside of a mountain.

I know I may never find out the answer.

I have attempted to chip at the walls of my cell, but even I know there is nothing I can do. In my attempts, all I accomplished was to wear my nails down until the tips of my fingers bled.

The only thing left now is to sit in my cell and try to hold on to my sanity.

That is my sole mission: to not let my solitary confinement drive me to madness. I can let it harden me, I can let it toughen me, but I must not let it make me crazy. It’s a strange challenge, staying sane. If you focus too hard on maintaining your sanity, the slipperiness of the task can only make you crazier. On the other hand, if you forget your mission, if you try to maintain your sanity by not thinking about the matter at all, you can find your mind wandering in such dizzying patterns that you wind up, again, at madness. The trick is to forge a middle ground between the two: a detachment, a state of neutrality.

I focus on my breathing. In, out. In, out.

When I’m not stretching or doing push-ups in the corner, this is what I do: just breathe.

In, out. In, out.

Katarina calls this meditating. She used to try to encourage me to do meditation exercises to keep my focus. She felt it would aid me in combat. I never followed her advice. It seemed too boring. But now that I’m in my cell, I find it is a lifeline, the best way for me to keep my sanity.

I am meditating when the door to my cell opens. I turn around, my eyes straining to adjust to the light coming in from the hall. A Mog stands in the light, backed by several others.

I see he’s holding a bucket, and for a second I imagine he’s brought fresh water for me to drink.

Instead, he steps forward and empties the bucket over my head, dousing me in cold water. It is a harsh indignity and I shiver at the cold, but it’s also bracing, restorative. It brings me back to life, back to my pure hatred of these bastard Mogs.

He lifts me off my feet, dripping wet, and wraps a blindfold around my head.

He drops me again and I struggle to stay upright.

“Come,” he says, shoving me out of my cell and into the hall.

The blindfold is thick, so I am walking in total blackness. But my senses are keen and I manage a nearly straight line. I can also sense other Mogs all around me.

As I walk, my feet cold against the rough stone floors, I hear the varied screams and moans of my fellow prisoners. Some are human, some are animal. They must be locked inside cells like mine. I have no idea who they are or what the Mogs want them for. But I am too focused on my survival right now to care: I am deaf to pity.

After a long march, the Mog leading the guard says “Right!” and shoves me to the right. He shoves me hard, and I land on my knees, scraping them against stone.

I struggle to get to my feet, but I am picked up before I can, two Mogs throwing me against a wall. My hands are raised and chained to a steel cord dangling from the ceiling. My torso is stretched, my toes just barely touching the ground.

They remove my blindfold. I’m in another cell; this one is lit, brightly, and my eyes feel like they will burn out adjusting from three days of nearly total darkness. Once they do, I see her.

Katarina.

She is chained to the ceiling, as I am. She looks far worse than me, bloody, bruised, and beaten.

They started with her.

“Katarina,” I whisper. “Are you okay . . . ?”

She looks up at me, her eyes brimming with tears. “Don’t look at me,” she says, her eyes drifting down to the floor.

A new Mog enters the room. He is wearing, of all things, a white polo shirt and a crisp pair of khaki pants. His haircut is short. His shoes—loafers—scuff quietly across the floor. He could be a suburban dad, or the manager of a neighborhood store.

“Howdy,” he says. He grins at me, his hands in his pocket. His teeth are white like in a toothpaste commercial.

“Hope you’re enjoying your stay with us so far.” I notice the bristly hair on his tan arms. He is handsome, in a bland way, with a compact but strong-looking build. “These caves can be awfully drafty, but we try to make it as cozy as possible. I trust you have two buckets in your cell? Wouldn’t want you to go without.”

His hand reaches out so casually that for a second I think he is going to caress my cheek. Instead, he pinches it, hard, giving my flesh a twist. “You are our guests of honor, after all,” he says, the venom at last creeping into his salesman’s voice.

I hate myself for doing it, but I begin to cry. My legs give out entirely, and I dangle hard against my cuffs. I don’t allow myself to sob audibly, though: he can see me cry, but I won’t let him hear it.

“Okay, ladies,” he says, clapping his hands together and approaching a little desk tucked into the corner of the cell. He opens a drawer and pulls out a vinyl case, which he unwraps on the surface of the desk. The ceiling light glints off an array of sharp steel objects. He picks them up, one at a time, so I can see them all. Scalpels, razors, pliers. Blades of every kind. A pocket-size electric drill. He gives it a few nerve-shattering whirs before putting it down.

He strides over to me, putting his face right up in mine. He speaks, and his breath forces its way into my nostrils. I want to retch.

“Do you see all of these?”

I don’t respond. His breath smells like the breath of the beast in the cage. Despite his bland exterior, he’s made of the same foul stuff.

“I intend to use each and every one of them on you and your Cêpan, unless you answer every question I ask truthfully. If you don’t, I assure you that both of you will wish you were dead.”

He gives a hateful little grin and walks back over to the desk, picking up a thin-looking razor blade with a thick rubber handle. He returns to me, rubbing the dull side of the blade against my cheek. It’s cold.

“I’ve been hunting you kids for a very long time,” he says. “We’ve killed two of you, and now we have one right here, whatever number you are. As you might imagine, I hope you are Number Three.”

I try to inch away from him, pressing my back hard against the cell wall, wishing I could disappear into the stone. He smiles at me, again pressing the dull side of the razor into my cheek, harder this time.

“Oops,” he says, tauntingly. “That’s not the right side.”

With a single dexterous motion, he reverses the blade in his wrist, the sharp side now facing me. “Let’s try it this way, shall we.”

With reptilian pleasure he brings the blade to the side of my face and swipes hard against my flesh. I feel a familiar warmth, but no pain, and watch with shock as his own cheek begins to bleed instead.

Blood flows from his wound as it splits open like a seam. He drops the blade, clutching his face, and begins stamping around the room in pain and frustration. He kicks over the desk, sending his instruments of torture scattering across the cell, then flees the room. The Mog guards who’d been standing behind him exchange indecipherable glances.

Before I even have a chance to say anything to Katarina, the Mogs move forward, unshackle me, and drag me back to my cell.

CHAPTER FOURTEEN

Two days pass. In the dark of my cell I now have more than madness and boredom to contend with. I must also work to burn the image of a bloody and broken Katarina from my mind. I want to remember Katrina as I know her: wise and strong.

I continue with my breathing exercises. They help.

But not much.

Eventually the cell door opens, and again I’m doused with cold water, gagged this time, blindfolded, and dragged back to the same cell. Once I’ve been chained to the ceiling, my blindfold is removed.

Katarina is right where I last saw her, as broken and battered as before. I can only hope she’s been let down at some point.

The same Mog as before sits across from us, on the edge of the desk, a bandage across his sliced cheek. I can see he is straining to be as menacing as he was before. But he regards us with a new fear.

I hate him. More than anyone I have ever met. If I could tear him apart with my bare hands I would. If I couldn’t use my hands, I would rip him apart with my teeth.

He sees me looking at him. He leaps forward suddenly, tearing the gag from my mouth. He wields the rubber-handled razor in front of my face again, twisting it, letting the ceiling light dance across its edge.

“I don’t know what number you are . . . ” he says. I cringe involuntarily, expecting him to try and cut me again, but he holds back. Then, with sadistic deliberateness, he crosses over to Katarina, pulling on her hair. Still gagged, she manages only a whimper. “But you’re going to tell me right now.”

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