Home > Prodigy (Legend #2)(3)

Prodigy (Legend #2)(3)
Marie Lu

This is a military city, a world of soldiers.

The sun has just set when Day and I make our way out onto the main strip and head toward the other end of the street. Day leans heavily on my shoulder as we try to blend in with the crowds, his breath shallow and his face drawn with pain. I try my best to support him without looking out of place, but his weight makes me walk in an unbalanced line, as if I’d had too much to drink. “How are we doing?” he murmurs into my ear, his lips hot against my skin. I’m not sure if he’s half-delirious from the pain or if it’s my outfit, but I can’t say I mind his blatant flirtation tonight. It’s a nice change from our awkward train ride. He’s careful to keep his head down, his eyes hidden under long lashes and tilted away from the soldiers bustling back and forth along the sidewalks. He shifts uncomfortably in his military jacket and pants. A black soldier’s cap hides his white-blond hair and blocks a good portion of his face.

“Well enough,” I reply. “Remember, you’re drunk. And happy. You’re supposed to be lusting over your escort. Try smiling a little more.”

Day plasters a giant artificial smile on his face. As charming as ever. “Aw, come on, sweetheart. I thought I was doing a pretty good job. I got my arm around the prettiest escort on this block—how could I not be lusting over you? Don’t I look like I’m lusting? This is me, lusting.” His lashes flutter at me.

He looks so ridiculous that I can’t help laughing. Another passerby glances at me. “Much better.” I shiver when he nudges his face into the hollow of my neck. Stay in character. Concentrate. The gold trinkets lining my waist and ankles jingle as we walk. “How’s your leg?”

Day pulls away a little. “Was doing fine until you brought it up,” he whispers, then winces as he trips over a crack in the sidewalk. I tighten my grip around him. “I’ll make it to our next rest stop.”

“Remember, two fingers against your brow if you need to stop.”

“Yeah, yeah. I’ll let you know if I’m in trouble.”

Another pair of soldiers pushes past us with their own escorts, grinning girls decked out in sparkling eye shadow and elegantly painted face tattoos, their bodies covered thinly by dancer costumes and fake red feathers. One of the soldiers catches sight of me, laughs, and widens his glazed eyes.

“What club you from, gorgeous?” he slurs. “Don’t remember your face around here.” His hand goes for my exposed waist, hungering for skin. Before he can reach me, Day’s arm whips out and shoves the soldier roughly away.

“Don’t touch her.” Day grins and winks at the soldier, keeping up his carefree demeanor, but the warning in his eyes and voice makes the other man back off. He blinks at both of us, mumbles something under his breath, and staggers away with his friends.

I try to imitate the way those escorts giggle, then give my hair a toss. “Next time, just go with it,” I hiss in Day’s ear even as I kiss him on the cheek, as if he were the best customer ever. “Last thing we need is a fight.”

“What?” Day shrugs and returns to his painful walk. “It’d be a pretty pathetic fight. He could barely stand.”

I shake my head and decide not to point out the irony.

A third group of soldiers stumbles past us in a loud, drunken daze. (Seven cadets, two lieutenants, gold armbands with Dakota insignias, which means they just arrived here from the north and haven’t yet exchanged their armbands for new ones with their warfront battalions.) They have their arms wrapped around escorts from the Bellagio clubs—glittering girls with scarlet chokers and B arm tattoos. These soldiers are probably stationed in the barracks above the clubs.

I check my own costume again. Stolen from the dressing rooms of the Sun Palace. On the surface, I seem like any other escort. Gold chains and trinkets around my waist and ankles. Feathers and gold ribbons pinned into my scarlet (spray-painted), braided hair. Smoky eye shadow coated with glitter. A ferocious phoenix tattoo painted across my upper cheek and eyelid. Red silks leave my arms and waist exposed, and dark laces line my boots.

But there’s one thing on my costume that the other girls don’t wear.

A chain of thirteen little glittering mirrors. They’re partially hidden amongst the other ornaments wrapped around my ankle, and from a distance it would seem like another decoration. Completely forgettable. But every now and then, when streetlights catch it, it becomes a row of brilliant, sparkling lights. Thirteen, the Patriots’ unofficial number. This is our signal to them. They must be watching the main Vegas strip all the time, so I know they’ll at least notice a row of flashing lights on me. And when they do, they’ll recognize us as the same pair they helped rescue in Los Angeles.

The JumboTrons lining the street crackle for a second. The pledge should start again any minute now. Unlike Los Angeles, Vegas runs the national pledge five times a day—all the JumboTrons will pause in whatever ads or news they’re showing, replace them with enormous images of the Elector Primo, and then play the following on the city’s speaker system: I pledge allegiance to the flag of the great Republic of America, to our Elector Primo, to our glorious states, to unity against the Colonies, to our impending victory!

Not long ago, I used to recite that pledge every morning and afternoon with the same enthusiasm as anyone else, determined to keep the east coast Colonies from taking control of our precious west coast land. That was before I knew about the Republic’s role in my family’s deaths. I’m not sure what I think now. Let the Colonies win?

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