Ella is what Crayton calls an Aeternus, someone born with the ability to move back and forth between ages. But she’s still young and her Legacies have not yet developed. They will come in their own time, no matter how impatiently she wills them to develop now.
Ella came to Earth on another ship, one I didn’t know existed until John Smith, Number Four, told me he saw it in his visions. She was just a baby, which means she’s almost twelve now. Crayton says he is her unofficial Cêpan, since there wasn’t time for him to be officially appointed to her. He, like all of our Cêpans, has a duty to help Ella develop her Legacies. He told us that there was also a small herd of Chimæra on their ship, Loric animals capable of shifting forms and battling alongside us.
I’m happy she’s here. After Numbers One, Two, and Three died, only six of us remained. With Ella, we number seven. Lucky number seven, if you believe in luck. I don’t, though. I believe in strength.
Finally, Crayton squeezes down the aisle, carrying a black briefcase. He’s wearing eyeglasses and a brown suit that looks too big for him. Under his strong chin is a blue bow tie. He’s supposed to be our teacher.
‘Hello, girls,’ he says, stopping next to us.
‘Hi, Mr. Collins,’ Ella responds.
‘It’s a full flight,’ Marina says. That’s code for everyone on board looks okay. To tell him everything on the ground appears normal, I say, ‘I’m going to try to sleep. ’
He nods and takes his seat directly behind Ella. Leaning forward between Marina and Ella, he says, ‘Use your time on the plane wisely, please. Study hard. ’
That means, don’t let your guard down.
I didn’t know what to think of Crayton when we first met. He’s stern and quick tempered, but his heart seems to be in the right place and his knowledge of the world and current events is incredible. Official or not, he has taken his Cêpan role seriously. He says he would die for any one of us. He will do anything to defeat the Mogadorians; anything to exact our revenge. I believe him on all counts.
Crayton thinks he’s found him – the Garde who holds Pittacus’ powers.
‘I’ve read about a boy who seems to have extraordinary powers in India,’ he told us then. ‘He lives high up in the Himalayas. Some believe him to be the Hindu god Vishnu reincarnated, others believe the boy is an alien imposter with the power to physically alter his form. ’
‘Like me, Papa?’ Ella had asked. Their fatherdaughter relationship took me by surprise. I couldn’t help but feel a touch of jealousy – jealousy that she still had her Cêpan, someone to turn to for guidance.
‘He’s not changing ages, Ella. He’s changing into beasts and other beings. The more I read about him, the more I believe he is a member of the Garde, and the more I believe he may be the one to possess all of the Legacies, the one who can fight and kill Setrákus. We need to find him as soon as possible. ’
I don’t want to be on a wild goose chase for another member of the Garde right now. I know where John is, or where he is supposed to be. I can hear Katarina’s voice, urging me to follow my in stincts, which are telling me we should connect with John first before anything else. It’s the least risky move. Certainly less risky than flying around the world based on Crayton’s hunch and rumors on the Internet.
‘It could be a trap,’ I said. ‘What if those stories were planted for us to find so we would do exactly this?’
‘I understand your concern, Six, but, trust me, I’m the master of planting stories on the Internet. This is no plant. There are far too many sources pointing to this boy in India. He hasn’t been running. He hasn’t been hiding. He’s just being , and he appears to be very powerful. If he is one of you, then we must get to him before the Mogadorians do. We’ll go to America to meet up with Number Four as soon as this trip is over,’ Crayton said.
Marina looked at me. She wanted to find John almost as much as I did – she’d been following the news of his exploits online and she’d had a similar feeling in her gut that he was one of us, a feeling I had confirmed for her. ‘Promise?’ she asked Crayton. He nodded.
The captain’s voice breaks through my reverie. We’re about to take off. I want so badly to redirect the plane to point it towards West Virginia. Towards John and Sam. I hope they’re okay. Images of John being held in a prison cell keep entering my mind. I never should have told him about the Mog base in the mountain, but John wanted to get his Chest back and there was no way I could convince him to leave it behind.
The plane taxis down the runway and Marina grabs my wrist. ‘I really wish Héctor was here. He’d have something smart to say right now to make me feel better. ’
‘It’s okay,’ Ella says, holding Marina’s other hand. ‘You have us. ’
‘And I’ll work on something smart to say,’ I offer.
‘Thanks,’ Marina says, though it sounds like something between a hiccup and a gulp. I let her nails dig into my wrist. I give her a supportive smile, and a minute later we’re airborne.
I’ve been in and out of consciousness for the past two days, rolling back and forth in a hallucinating sickness. The effects from the blue force field outside the Mogadorians’ mountain have lingered far longer than Nine told me they would, both mentally and physically. Every few minutes, my muscles seize and sear with pain.
I try to distract myself from the agony by looking around the tiny bedroom of this decaying, abandoned house. Nine couldn’t have picked a more disgusting place for us to hide. I can’t trust my eyes. I watch the pattern on the yellow wallpaper come to life, the design marching like ants over patches of mold. The cracked ceiling appears to breathe, rising and falling at frightening speeds. A large jagged hole in the wall separates the bedroom and living room, as if someone tossed a sledgehammer through it. Smashed beer cans are strewn around the room, and the baseboards have been torn to shreds by animals. I’ve been hearing things rustling in the trees outside the house, but I’m too weak to be alarmed. Last night I woke to find a cockroach on my cheek. I barely had the energy to swat it off.
‘Hey, Four?’ I hear through the hole in the wall. ‘You awake or what? It’s time for lunch and your food’s getting cold. ’
I heave myself to my feet. My head spins as I stumble through the doorway into what used to be the living room, and I collapse on the dingy gray carpet. I know Nine’s in here, but I can’t keep my eyes open long enough to find him. All I want is to lay my head in Sarah’s lap. Or in Six’s. Either one. I can’t think straight.
Something warm hits my shoulder. I roll over to see Nine sitting on the ceiling above me, his long black hair hanging down into the room. He’s gnawing on something and his hands are greasy.
‘Where are we again?’ I ask. The sunlight coming
through the windows is too much and I close my eyes. I need more sleep. I need something, anything, to clear my head and regain my strength. My fingers fumble over my blue pendant, hoping to somehow gather energy through it, but it remains cold against my chest.
‘The northern part of West Virginia,’ Nine says between bites. ‘Ran out of gas, remember?’
‘Barely,’ I whisper. ‘Where’s Bernie Kosar?’
‘Outside. That one is always on patrol. He is one cool animal. Tell me, Four, how did you of all the Garde end up with him?’
I crawl into the corner of the room and push my back up against a wall. ‘ BK was with me on Lorien. His name was Hadley back then. I guess Henri thought it would be good to bring him along for the trip. ’
Nine throws a tiny bone across the ceiling. ‘I had a couple of Chimæras as a kid too. Don’t remember their names, but I can still see them running around our house tearing stuff up. They died in the war, protecting my family. ’ Nine is silent for a moment, clenching his jaw. This is the first time I’ve seen him act anything other than tough. It’s nice to see, even if it’s short lived. ‘At least, that’s what my Cêpan told me, anyway. ’
I stare at my bare feet. ‘What was your Cêpan’s name?’
‘Sandor,’ he says, standing up on the ceiling. He’s wearing my shoes. ‘It’s weird. I literally can’t remember the last time I said his name out loud. Some days, I can barely picture his face. ’ Nine’s voice hardens, and he closes his eyes. ‘But that’s how it goes, I guess. Whatever. They’re the expendable ones. ’
His last sentence sends shockwaves through me. ‘Henri was not expendable, and neither was Sandor! No Loric was ever expendable. And give me back my shoes!’
Nine kicks my shoes into the middle of the floor, then takes his time walking first along the ceiling and then down the back wall. ‘All right, all right. I know he wasn’t expendable, man. Sometimes it’s just easier to think of him that way, you know? Truth is, Sandor was an amazing Cêpan. ’ Nine reaches the floor and towers over me. I forgot how tall he is. Intimidating. He shoves a handful of what he’s been eating in my face. ‘You want some of this or not? Because I’m about to finish it off. ’
The sight of it makes my stomach churn. ‘What is it?’
‘Barbecued rabbit. Nature’s finest. ’
I don’t dare open my mouth to respond, afraid that I might get sick. Instead, I stumble back towards the bedroom, ignoring the laughter that follows me. The bedroom door is so warped it’s nearly impossible to close, but I wedge it into the doorframe as tightly as I can. I lie down on the floor, using my sweatshirt as a pillow, and think about how I ended up here, ended up like this. Without Henri. Without Sam. Sam is my best friend, and I can’t believe we left him behind. As thoughtful and loyal and supportive as Sam is – traveling and fighting alongside me for the last several months – Nine is so very not. He’s reckless, arrogant, selfish and just flat-out rude. I picture Sam, back in the Mog cave, a gun rocking against his shoulder as a dozen Mogadorian soldiers swarmed him. I couldn’t get to him. I couldn’t save him. I should have fought harder, ran faster. I should have ignored Nine and gone back to Sam. He would have done that for me. The immense amount of guilt I feel paralyzes me, until I finally fall asleep.