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The Rise of Nine

Pittacus Lore

Page 10


  ‘It doesn’t matter how slowly we go? This message brought to you from the guy who says very strange things happen at nightfall,’ Six snorts. ‘I think you need to tell us how much further we have to go, and if it’s longer than three hours on foot, then I say we enter the forest and forgo these obstacles,’ she says, staring him down.

  I look at the small branch in my hand and an idea comes to me. I concentrate on the trees around us, lowering branches in from both sides. Suddenly we have a way to pull ourselves up wards, rope climbing the Lorien way. ‘How about this?’ I ask.

  Six grabs the line of branches and tests their strength, moving up a few feet. Over her shoulder, she yells, ‘Brilliant move, Marina! You rock!’

  I continue to bend the trees as we climb. Still wearing the dark glasses, Ella watches the woods around us, occassionally glancing over her shoulder. Once the path levels out and it’s easier to maintain our footing, Six digs in and starts to run up the trail ahead of us, circling back regularly to report on what she’s seen ahead. Every time it’s the same: ‘It just keeps going. ’ Finally, she returns to say there’s a fork up ahead. Hearing this, Commander Sharma looks confused and picks up the pace.

  When we reach the fork in the dirt path, Commander Sharma frowns. ‘This is new. ’

  ‘How can it be new?’ Crayton asks. ‘Both paths look exactly the same. Well traveled and equally so. ’

  The commander paces in front of the fork. ‘I promise you the path on the left did not exist before. We are very close to Vishnu. We go this way. ’ He begins to walk confidently up the path to the right and Crayton follows.

  ‘Wait,’ Ella says, ‘I see nothing up ahead on the right. The glasses are just showing me dark emptiness. ’

  ‘That’s all I need to hear,’ Six says.

  ‘No. We go right,’ the commander says to Six. ‘I’ve traveled this many times, my dear. ’ Six pauses, then slowly turns to look at him.

  ‘Do not call me dear,’ Six warns.

  As Commander Sharma and Six glare at each other my eyes are drawn to something scratched in the mouth of the path on the left. The figure is shallow and just a few inches long, and I have to look closely, but there is no question. It’s the number eight.

  ‘According to this, Ella’s right. We go left,’ I say, pointing at the number.

  Six walks over to the markings and drags the toe of her shoe under the number eight. ‘Good eye, Marina. ’ Crayton looks at it too, and smiles.

  We fall back into our normal positions, with Six and a reluctant Commander Sharma up front and me taking up the rear. The path ascends slightly, turning rocky. Then, to everyone’s surprise, a steady stream of water begins to flow from ahead of us, down the trail. The rocks under our feet soon become tiny islands. I jump from one rock to another, but in a few minutes the rocks are submerged. All of a sudden, we’re walking through a river.

  Ella is the first one to speak. ‘Maybe the glasses were wrong? Maybe this path wasn’t the right one after all. ’

  ‘No. This is correct,’ the commander says, bending down to drag the tips of his fingers along the surface of the water. ‘This is a sign I’ve seen before. ’ We have no idea what this cryptic comment means but we’ve gone this far, so we might as well keep going.

  The river current becomes faster and it’s harder to move against it. We trudge higher up the path until the water is to Ella’s waist and I’m having trouble keeping my balance. But just as quickly as it began, the water slows and the land levels out and opens into a large pool of water. A jagged wall of stone stands high behind the pool, and four separate waterfalls descend from its top, crashing into the water.

  ‘What’s that?’ Ella points.

  In the middle of the giant pool, a white boulder juts out of the surface. A gleaming blue statue of a crowned man with four arms rests atop the boulder.

  ‘The Almighty Lord Vishnu,’ Commander Sharma whispers.

  ‘Wait. That’s supposed to be Eight? A statue?’ Six says, turning to Crayton.

  ‘What’s he holding?’ Ella asks. I follow her gaze and see that there’s an object in each of his four hands: a pink flower, a white shell, a gold wand, and on the tip of one of his index fingers, a small blue disc that looks like a CD.

  The commander wades further into the pool. He’s smiling and his hands are shaking. He turns to us. ‘Vishnu is the Supreme God. In his left hands, he holds a conch shell to show he has the power to create and maintain the universe, and under that is a mace to signify his power to destroy materialistic and demoniac tendencies. In his right hands are the chakra, to show he has a purified spiritual mind, below that there is the beautiful lotus flower. ’

  ‘Which shows divine perfection and purity,’ Crayton adds.

  ‘Among other things, yes! That is right, Mr. Crayton. Very good. ’

  I stare at the statue, at its serene blue face and gold crown and the objects in its hands, and I feel myself forgetting about everything else. About the battle at the base of the mountain and the carnage back in Spain. About Adelina and John Smith and Héctor. I forget about my Chest and Lorien and the fact that I’m standing in cold water. The energy flowing through me is magnificent. And judging by the peaceful looks on the faces of the others, the energy is contagious. I find myself closing my eyes and feeling blessed to be here.

  ‘Hey! He’s gone!’ Ella yells. My eyes snap open to see her whipping off the dark glasses. ‘Vishnu’s gone!’

  She’s right – the white boulder in the middle of the lake is empty. I look at Six and Crayton and see they’re on high alert, ready for danger. I glance around us. What is this, a trap?

  ‘He will now test you,’ Commander Sharma says, interrupting my thoughts. He’s the only one among us who doesn’t look shocked by Vishnu’s disappearance. ‘That is why I have brought you here. ’

  We all see it at the same time. Something is blocking the sun on top of the jagged wall above the pool, and a long, oddly shaped shadow is cast along the water. A figure walks slowly along the ridge until it stands directly above the farthest of the four waterfalls on the left.

  ‘Commander?’ I ask. ‘Who is that?’

  ‘That is your first test,’ the commander says, stepping onto the grassy shore around the lake. We all follow, without taking our eyes off the figure.

  A second later it dives gracefully off the cliff. I notice its legs are strangely short and it has a wide, circular torso. It falls slowly, almost floating, as if it can control gravity. When it breaks the surface of the pool, there is no splash. Not even a ripple. Six reaches up and squeezes the large blue pendant that hangs around her neck. Ella takes a few steps back, away from the lake.

  ‘This could be a trap,’ Crayton says quietly, voicing my fear. ‘Prepare to fight. ’

  Six lets the pendant drop from her hands and rubs her palms together. I set my Chest down and begin to mimick her movements, but I feel ridiculous and glance around as surreptitiously as I can to see if anyone noticed. Good thing they are otherwise occupied. Fact is, Six knows how to fight, has trained for this her entire life. Everything she does has a purpose. I’m just rubbing my hands together. I slowly lower my hands back to my side.

  ‘He’ll test you one at a time,’ says the commander. Six snorts.

  ‘You don’t make the rules. Not for us,’ Six says. She turns to Crayton, who nods.

  ‘Commander, this is not what we came here to do,’ Crayton adds. ‘We came here to find our friend, not to be tested or to fight. ’

  Commander Sharma ignores him, walks into a patch of short grass and sits. I never would have taken him for a guy who could pretzel himself into the lotus position. ‘It must be one at a time,’ he says serenely.

  The being – or whatever it is – that dove into the lake is still underwater. And I’m the only one with the Legacy to meet it down there. I know what I have to do. Still, I’m surprised to hear the words come out of my mouth. ‘I’ll go first. �

  I look over at Six. She nods at me and I dive into the lake. The cool water becomes darker the deeper I swim. My eyes are open, and at first I can only see a few inches of murky water in front of me. But my eyes soon adjust and my vision penetrates far into the lake, my ability to see in the dark coming in handy. I allow the water to enter my lungs, and a familiar calm sweeps over me. I start breathing normally, letting my Legacy take over.

  I reach the muddy bottom and spin around, looking in every direction for the thing that dove from the cliff. Something moves over my right shoulder, and I turn to see a figure coming at me. He’s wearing a golden crown over his short, jet-black hair. His eyebrows are perfect semicircles, and his nose is pierced with a gold ring. He is strangely beautiful. I can’t take my eyes off of him.

  I stand perfectly still, waiting to see what he wants. He comes closer. When he gets within a few feet of me and I can see him more clearly, my jaw drops. What I thought was a strangely circular torso is, in fact, the body of a turtle. I’m mesmerized, watching to see what he will do next. So much so, I’m taken by surprise when he lunges towards me and hits me with his two right arms.

  I go spiraling backwards, the force propelling me with a speed that stuns me. But I’m not in motion for long. My feet quickly find the muddy bottom and I twist around in a panic, trying to find him in the darkness, my senses on alert and on guard. Something taps my shoulder and I turn to see the blue turtle man. Damn, he moves fast. He winks at me, then swings both of his left arms, but this time I’m ready for him. I raise my forearm and knee in time to block them. Then I plant the bottom of my foot squarely on his chest and kick as hard as I can. I flip over and come at him from the back, wrapping my arms around his neck, and look around for something, anything, I can use as a weapon. I see a large rock sticking out of the mud in front of us, and I use my telekinesis to send it at this alien turtle, using all of my strength to pull it through the water. He sees the rock coming and when it’s within inches of hitting him, he just disappears. Poof. The rock smashes me instead and I fall back in the mud.

  I lie there dazed, waiting for him to appear again, but he doesn’t come. Eventually, I decide to float to the top.

  The first thing I see as I break the surface is Six, standing at the edge of the water, looking for me. ‘What happened?’ she calls.

  ‘She passed. ’ Commander Sharma nods.

  ‘You okay?’ Ella shouts. ‘I couldn’t see anything through the glasses. ’

  ‘I’m good,’ I yell back. And I really am.

  ‘What do you mean, she passed?’ Crayton demands of the commander. ‘That was one of his tests?’

  The commander just smiles serenely and ignores Crayton.

  ‘Okay, who’s next?’ Treading water, my eyes follow the commander’s finger high over my head. I turn to see a shadowy figure up on the jagged wall again. This time he’s a giant bearded man with an axe in his hand.

  Six wades into the water up to her knees as I climb out, wringing water out of my long, dark hair. She is all steely determination and confidence when she says, ‘Me. ’