The rise of nine, p.24
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       The Rise of Nine, p.24

         Part #3 of Lorien Legacies series by Pittacus Lore
 
Page 24

 

  I have no idea what he is about to do, so I stop walking to watch his next move. Without breaking stride, he sprints straight up the spire until he reaches the top. The spire is swaying in the wind and I’m dizzy just looking at him, teetering up there. Nine pulls the red staff over his head and, before I can register what he is doing, he hurls it. The second it leaves his hand, Nine dives headfirst towards me, and I’m faced with dodging two flying objects at once. I just manage to roll away from the sharp staff as it nears me, and I watch as it plunges into a metal beam at an angle. I turn to deal with Nine’s approach and as he’s about to tackle, I land a blow so hard I send him flying across the roof.

  I reach over and yank Nine’s red staff out of the metal beam. Henri never trained me with anything like it, but I twist it over my head and charge anyway. Nine stands and steels himself for my attack. I swing the staff across his body, but he parries it away with his wrist and immediately moves to kick my newly repaired knee. I pull my leg back so he misses, but he’s able to get his hands on the staff. We both struggle to gain control of it, circling and kicking, dodging and blocking. He uses his telekinesis to float my feet off the ground. I start to resist but then realize I can use it to my advantage with the strong wind up here. Carefully timing my moves with a hearty gust, I flip over the staff; in a fraction of a second, I’m behind Nine with the staff against his throat.

  ‘We should be on our way to New Mexico,’ I say, pulling us towards the door that leads back to the elevator.

  Nine head-butts me with the back of his skull, right into my nose, and I lose my grip on the staff. He grabs it as I stumble backwards and slam into an electrical box.

  ‘Is that you talking, Johnny? Or, is it Pittacus?’ he says mockingly as he swings the staff. My bracelet expands just in time to deflect his blow. The electrical box I’m next to has been sliced in half by his near miss. Sparks fly everywhere, including inside my open shield and onto me. When they bounce onto my shirt, I let the fire catch and spread. My shield shrinks, and Nine stares, stunned at the sight of me consumed by flames.

  He shakes the surprise off. ‘Why didn’t you turn into a human fireball when we were on the same team?’ he shouts.

  The fire around my body crackles and hums in the strong wind. I walk towards him. He may think this is all fun and games. I don’t. ‘Are we done now?’

  ‘Not quite. ’ He smirks.

  I form a small ball of fire in my palm. I figure I’ll make my lack of humor about the situation clear enough if I bowl the ball of fire at his legs, but he knocks it away with the end of the staff like a hockey player. I skip two more fireballs down the roof, each one faster than the last, but he uses his mind to push them to the side. The first one rolls off and ineffectually burns out; the other makes its way to the edge of a fan casing. The heat melts it away, and the high winds tip the whole cover off the enormous fan, leaving it exposed.

  I raise my hands over my head to create a fireball the size of a refrigerator, but as it grows, Nine charges at me with the staff over his shoulder. He plants one end of the staff in the ground and vaults himself, feetfirst, at my flaming chest. He screams in pain as the soles of his shoes connect with my burning body, and I’m sent flying backwards. The world that had been reds and yellows is now grays and blues. On my final rotation, I realize I’m flying directly into the exposed fan. At the last possible moment, I spread my arms and legs out and catch myself, mere inches from its blades. The fan is powerful enough to nearly extinguish what’s left of my dwindling fire before I dive off and roll away.

  ‘Trying to cool off?’ Nine asks, hands on hips, as if simply observing my technique. He’s kicked off his half-melted shoes.

  ‘I’m just getting warmed up!’ I leap to my feet to ready myself to respond to his next move.

  Nine sprints to his left and I follow. He jumps over some pipes onto the raised ledge. Again I follow. We are now both inches from a thousand-foot drop onto the street below. To my utter shock, Nine then steps off the ledge. I yell and lean over to grab him, but when I do, I don’t see him sailing to his death. He’s standing, horizontal, on a window with his arms crossed, that same, big, smile on his face. I’ve leaned too far, trying to grab him, and I frantically wheel my arms to regain my balance. But I can’t catch myself and suddenly I’m tipping further over the abyss. Nine sprints back up the side of the building and hits me with a powerful uppercut to my jaw. I’m knocked backwards but I don’t have the chance to land. Nine catches me by the neck, spins and holds me over the ledge.

  ‘Now, Number Four. All you have to do to get me to set you down, all safe and sound, is say it. ’ He holds the staff with his other hand over his head. ‘Say you’re not Pittacus. ’

  I kick at him, but he holds me out, just out of range. I end up swinging back and forth like a pendulum.

  ‘Say it,’ he repeats, his teeth gritted. I open my mouth, but can’t bring myself to deny what I feel with such certainty to be true. I believe I am Pittacus Lore. I believe I am the one who can and will end this war. ‘You want to go running to New Mexico to find our ship. You can’t believe for even a second it might be a trap. Then you talk about taking on Setrákus Ra, but you can’t even beat me in hand-to-hand combat. You are not him. You’re not Pittacus. So, let’s stop the bull right now. Just say it, Four. ’

  He tightens his grip on my throat. My vision blurs. I look up into the cloudless sky and it turns red, just like the night the Mogadorians invaded Lorien. I see flashes of the faces of Loric who were slaughtered. Their screams ring in my ears. I see the explosions, the fire, all of the death. I see krauls with Loric children in their teeth. The pain I feel for all of them at that moment is so overwhelming that I know I can withstand whatever is done to me now, including Nine crushing my neck.

  ‘Say it!’

  ‘I can’t,’ I manage to squeak out.

  ‘You’ve got to be delusional!’ he yells, squeezing harder. Now I see the bombs falling on Lorien. I see the torn bodies of my people, my planet being destroyed. At the top of one mound of bodies, I see my dead father wearing his silver and blue suit. Nine shakes me violently, my feet swinging wildly. ‘You’re not Pittacus!’

  I close my eyes to escape the visions of carnage swimming in front of me, dreading whatever comes next. I can see Henri’s letter in my mind: ‘When the ten of you were born, Lorien recognized your strong hearts, your wills, your compassion, and in turn she bestowed the ten of you the roles you’re all meant to assume: the roles of the original ten Elders. What this means is that, in time, those of you left will grow to be far stronger than anything Lorien has ever seen before, far stronger even than the original ten Elders from whom you’ve received your Inheritances. The Mogadorians know this, which is why they’re hunting you so feverishly now. ’

  Whatever it all means, I know Nine wouldn’t actually kill me. Each member of the Garde is too important, Pittacus or not. More than anything, coming together and fighting as one, as the Garde we were born to be, is more important than any fight he and I might have. That’s small comfort, given the fact that my body is still swinging when I feel the wind change slightly. The hand around my neck opens and my stomach drops as I start to fall. Could I have been wrong? Instead I feel my feet touch down in less than a second. I open my eyes and find myself back on the roof. Nine walks away, his head down. He snaps his wrist and the long red staff shrinks into a piece of silver. Over his shoulder, he yells, ‘Next time, I drop you!’

  19.

  I’m facedown in scorching hot sand. It’s in my mouth, up my nose, I can barely breathe. I know I should get up, try to roll over, but my bones ache too much. I squeeze my eyes shut, trying to block the pain all over my body. I finally muster the strength to rise, but when I place my hands down to push myself up, the sand burns them. I let myself fall back.

  ‘Marina?’ I groan.

  She doesn’t respond. I still can’t open my eyes, but I listen carefully for any signs of
life. All I hear is the wind and sand whipping against my body.

  I try to speak again, but can only muster a whisper. ‘Marina? Somebody, help me. Eight? Ella? Anyone?’ I’m so confused I even call out for Crayton. As I wait and hope for a response, I’m hit with the memory of Crayton’s dead body. I see it all happening again. Ella’s tears. The Mog attack. Hooking my hand inside Marina’s elbow and Eight saying, ‘Here we go. ’

  The sun is so hot above me my hair feels like a blanket of fire on my neck and shoulders. Finally, I manage to roll onto my back, and to lift my arm and shield my eyes from the blinding light. Slowly, blinking, I open them a bit at a time. I don’t see anyone. Just sand. I struggle to my feet and hear Eight’s voice echoing in my head: ‘I really hope this works. I’ve never tried to bring anyone else. ’

  Well, it looks like it didn’t work. Or, it worked, but not for me, for all of us together. Where did Ella and Marina end up? Are they together? Is Eight with them? Are we all in different corners of the world? Or am I the only one alone? My brain is frantically churning through all the different possibilities. If we’ve not only lost Crayton, but also been separated, torn apart, we are so much farther away from our goal. I feel sick with the frustration and panic. All we’ve worked for, everything we sacrificed to go to India and find Eight – it might have been for worse than nothing.

  I’m alone under a cloudless sky and a sweltering sun, with no idea of where I am or how in the world I’m going to find another living soul, Garde or not. I scan every direction, hoping to see Marina stumble over a dune with her hand waving above her head, Ella not far behind, or a laughing Eight, cartwheeling across the sandy expanse, but all I see is a desolate desert.

  I think about what Eight told us about how this teleporting thing works. Wherever it is that I’ve landed, I know I’m near one of the blue Loralite stones. Even if I don’t have his teleporting Legacy, I’m hoping I could still use the Loralite in some way. I drop to my hands and knees and furiously start to dig. I have no way of knowing where the thing is, where to start looking, but I’m desperate. So desperate I barely notice the sand burning my fingers.

  But the only rocks I find are tiny, cracked and ordinary. Out of breath, sweat pouring down my face and into my eyes, I finally stop and sit back. I can’t afford to expend what little energy I have this way. I need to find water and shelter. I cock my head and listen to the wind, hoping for some kind of sign, but there’s nothing and no one. Nothing but sand and dunes for as far as the eye can see. And that leaves nothing for me to do but walk. I look up at the sun, orient myself using my shadow, and start to trudge through the sand.

  I walk north. With no protection from the blazing rays, my eyes stinging from my sweat running into them, and the pain of the hot sand whipping against my entire body, I feel vulnerable in a way I’ve never felt before. Everywhere I look, there is just an endless view of the same, and I know my body can’t endure this intense sun for a long period of time. I struggle for a few more steps, then I turn invisible to escape the relentless heat. This will make it hard for anyone to find me, but I have no choice. Then I use my telekinesis to hover above the Earth, just to keep my feet away from the burning sand. The higher vantage point only confirms my long-distance assessment of sand, sand and more sand. I squint, hoping to see a road or sign of civilization of any kind each time I pass a dune. But the only thing that changes, the only variation in my endlessly sandy view, comes in the form of devilish flowering cacti and chunks of petrified wood. The clear, cloudless sky mocks me, offering not even a bit of white to manipulate into creating a thunderstorm. When I rip open the first cactus I come near, I am devastated to find it doesn’t hold enough water to begin to quench my thirst.

 
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