Home > Prodigy (Legend #2)(6)

Prodigy (Legend #2)(6)
Marie Lu

The corporal watches as she drags me to my feet and claps me hard on the back. I wince, but give her a grin that says I’ve known her all my life. “Missed you,” I decide to say.

The corporal gestures impatiently at the new girl. “You know him?”

The girl flips her black, bobbed hair and gives him the most flirtatious grin I’ve ever seen in my life. “Know him, sir? We were in the same squadron our first year.” She winks at me. “Seems like he’s been up to no good in the clubs again.”

The corporal snorts in disinterest and rolls his eyes. “Air force kids, eh? Well, make sure he doesn’t cause another public scene. I’ve half a mind to call your commander.” Then he seems to remember what he’d been rushing to do and hurries away.

I exhale. Could we have pulled any closer of a call?

After he leaves, the girl smiles winsomely at me. Even under a sleeve, I can tell that one of her arms is in a cast. “My barracks are close by,” she suggests. Her voice has an edge to it that tells me she’s not happy to see us. “How about you rest there for a while? You can even bring your new plaything.” The girl nods at June as she says this.

Kaede. She hasn’t changed a bit since the afternoon I met her, when I thought she was just a bartender with a vine tattoo. Back before I knew she was a Patriot.

“Lead the way,” I reply.

Kaede helps June guide me down another block. She stops us at the elaborately carved front doors of Venezia, a high-rise set of barracks, then ushers us past a bored entrance guard and through the building’s main hall. The ceiling is high enough to make me dizzy, and I catch glimpses of Republic flags and Elector portraits hanging between each stone pillar that lines the walls. Guards are already rushing to replace the portraits with updated ones. Kaede guides us along while blabbing a nonstop stream of random small talk. Her black hair’s even shorter now, cut straight and even with her chin, and her smooth-lidded eyes are smudged with deep navy eye shadow. I never noticed that she and I are pretty much the same height. Soldiers swarm back and forth, and I keep expecting one of them to recognize me from my wanted ads and sound the alarm. They’ll notice June behind her disguise. Or realize that Kaede isn’t a real soldier. Then they’ll all be on top of us, and we won’t even have a chance.

But no one questions us, and my limp actually helps us blend in here; I can see several other soldiers with arm and leg casts. Kaede guides us onto the elevators—I’ve never ridden one, because I’ve never been in a building with full electricity. We get off on the eighth floor. Fewer soldiers are up here. In fact, we pass through a completely empty section of hallway.

Here, she finally drops her perky façade. “You two look about as good as gutter rats,” Kaede mutters as she taps softly against one of the doors. “That leg still buggin’ you, yeah? You’re pretty stubborn if you came all the way out here to find us.” She sneers at June. “Those goddy obnoxious lights strung on your dress nearly blinded me.”

June exchanges a glance with me. I know exactly what she’s thinking. How in the world can a group of criminals be living in one of Vegas’s largest military barracks?

Something clicks behind the door. Kaede throws it open, then walks in with her arms outstretched. “Welcome to our humble home,” she declares with a grand sweep of her hands. “At least for the next few days. Not too shabby, yeah?”

I don’t know what I expected to see. A group of teens, maybe, or some low-budget operation.

Instead we enter a room where only two other people are waiting for us. I look around in surprise. I’ve never been inside a real Republic barrack before, but this one must be reserved for officers—there’s no way they’d use this to house regular soldiers. First off, it’s not a long room with rows of bunk beds. It could be an upscale apartment for one or two officials. There are electric lights on the ceiling and in the lamps. Marble tiles of silver and cream cover the floor, the walls are painted in alternating shades of off-white and a deep wine color, and the couches and tables have thick red rugs cushioning their legs. A small monitor sits flush against one of the walls, mutely showing the same newsreel that’s playing on the JumboTrons outside.

I let out a low whistle. “Not shabby at all.” I smile, but it fades away when I glance over at June. Her face is tense beneath her phoenix tattoo. Even though her eyes stay neutral, she’s definitely unhappy and not as impressed as I am. Well, why should she be? I bet her own apartment had been just as nice as this. Her eyes wander around the room in an organized sweep, noticing things that I’d probably never see. Sharp and calculating like any good Republic soldier. One of her hands lingers near her waist, where she keeps a pair of knives.

An instant later, my attention turns to a girl standing behind the center couch. She locks her eyes onto mine and squints as if to make sure she’s really seeing me. Her mouth opens in shock, small pink lips formed into an O. Her hair is too short to braid now—it drapes to the middle of her neck in a messy bob. Wait a sec. My heart skips a beat. I hadn’t recognized her because of that hair.

Tess.

“You’re here!” she exclaims. Before I can reply, Tess runs over to me and throws her arms around my neck. I hobble backward, struggling to keep my balance. “It’s really you—I can’t believe it, you’re here! You’re okay!”

I can’t think straight. For a second, I can’t even feel the pain in my leg. All I can do is wrap my arms tight around Tess’s waist, bury my head in her shoulder, and close my eyes. The weight on my mind lifts and leaves me weak with relief. I take a deep breath, taking comfort in her warmth and the sweet scent of her hair. I’d seen her every single day since I was twelve years old—but after only a few weeks apart, I can suddenly see that she’s not that ten-year-old kid I’d met in a back alley. She seems different. Older. I feel something stir in my chest.

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