Home > Champion (Legend #3)(7)

Champion (Legend #3)(7)
Marie Lu

Besides, Day will probably never want to kiss me again. Not after he finds out why I’ve asked him to return to Denver.

Anden’s looking in my direction now. When I catch his gaze, he nods once, excuses himself from his balcony, and a minute later he steps into my balcony. I rise and, along with my guards, snap to a salute. Anden waves a hand impatiently. “Sit, please,” he says. When I’ve relaxed back into my chair, he bends down to my eye level and adds, “How are you holding up, June?”

I fight the blush as it spreads across my cheeks. After eight months without Day in my life, I find myself smiling at Anden, enjoying the attention, occasionally even hoping for it. “Doing fine, thanks. I’ve been looking forward to this day.”

“Of course.” Anden nods. “Don’t worry—it won’t be long before both of them are out of your life forever.” He gives my shoulder a reassuring squeeze. Then he leaves as swiftly as he arrived, vanishing with the faint clink of medals and epaulettes, then reappearing moments later in his own balcony.

I lift my head in a vain attempt at bravery, knowing that Commander Jameson’s icy eyes must still be upon me. As each of the Senators rises to cast aloud his vote on her verdict, I hold my breath and carefully push away each memory I have of her eyes staring me down, folding them into a neat compartment at the back of my mind. The voting seems to take forever, even though the Senators are all quick to say what they think will please the Elector. No one has the courage to risk crossing Anden after watching so many others convicted and executed. By the time my turn comes, my throat is parched. I swallow a few times, then speak up.

“Guilty,” I say, my voice clear and calm.

Serge and Mariana cast their votes after me. We run through another round of voting for Thomas, and then we’re done. Three minutes later, a man (bald, with a round, wrinkled face and scarlet floor-length robes he’s clutching with his left hand) hurries into Anden’s balcony and gives him a rushed bow. Anden leans toward the man and whispers in his ear. I watch their interaction in quiet curiosity, wondering whether I can predict the final verdict by their gestures. After a short deliberation, Anden and the messenger both nod. Then the messenger raises his voice to the entire assembly.

“We are now ready to announce the verdicts for Captain Thomas Alexander Bryant and Commander Natasha Jameson of Los Angeles City Patrol Eight. All rise for the glorious Elector!”

The Senators and I stand with a uniform clatter, while Commander Jameson simply turns to face Anden with a look of utter disdain. Thomas snaps to a sharp salute in Anden’s direction. He holds the position as Anden stands up, straightens, and puts his hands behind his back. There’s a moment of silence as we wait for his final verdict, the one vote that really matters. I fight back a rising urge to cough. My eyes dart instinctively to the other Princeps-Elects, something I now do all the time; Mariana has a satisfied frown on her face, while Serge just looks bored. One of my fists clenches tightly around the paper clip ring I’m working on. I already know it will leave deep grooves in my palm.

“The Senators of the Republic have submitted their individual verdicts,” Anden announces to the courtroom, his words bearing all the formality of a traditions-old speech. I marvel at the way his voice can sound so soft, yet carry so well at the same time. “I have taken their joint decision into account, and now I give my own.” Anden pauses to turn his eyes down toward where both of them are waiting. Thomas is still in full salute, still staring intently at the empty air in front of him. “Captain Thomas Alexander Bryant of Los Angeles City Patrol Eight,” he says, “the Republic of America finds you guilty . . .”

The room stays silent. I fight to keep my breathing even. Think about something. Anything. What about all the political books I’ve been reading this week? I try to recite some of the facts I’ve learned, but suddenly I can’t remember any of it. Most uncharacteristic.

“. . . of the death of Captain Metias Iparis on the night of November thirtieth—of the death of civilian Grace Wing without the warrants necessary for execution—of the single-handed execution of twelve protesters in Batalla Square on the afternoon of—”

His voice comes in and out of the blur of noise in my head. I lean a hand against my chair’s armrest, let out a slow breath, and try to prevent myself from swaying. Guilty. Thomas has been found guilty of killing both my brother and Day’s mother. My hands shake.

“—and thereby sentenced to death by firing squad two days from today, at seventeen hundred hours. Commander Natasha Jameson of Los Angeles City Patrol Eight, the Republic of America finds you guilty . . .”

Anden’s voice fades away into a dull, unrecognizable hum. Everything around me seems so slow, as if I’m living too quickly for it all and leaving the world behind.

A year ago I’d been standing outside Batalla Hall on a different sort of court stage, looking on with a huge crowd as a judge gave Day the exact same sentence. Now Day is alive, and a Republic celebrity. I open my eyes again. Commander Jameson’s lips are set in a tight line as Anden reads out her death penalty. Thomas looks expressionless. Is he expressionless? I’m too far away to tell, but his eyebrows seem furrowed into a strange sort of tragedy. I should feel good about this, I remind myself. Both Day and I should be rejoicing. Thomas killed Metias. He shot Day’s mother in cold blood, without a second’s hesitation.

But now the courtroom falls away and all I can see are memories of Thomas as a teenager, back when he and Metias and I used to eat pork edame inside a warm first-floor street stand, with the rain pouring down all around us. I remember Thomas showing off his first assigned gun to me. I even remember the time Metias brought me to his afternoon drills. I was twelve and had just begun my courses at Drake for a week—how innocent everything seemed back then. Metias picked me up after my classes that afternoon, right on time, and we headed over to the Tanagashi sector, where he was running his patrol through drills. I can still feel the warmth of the sun beating down on my hair, still see the swoosh of Metias’s black half cape, the gleam of his silver epaulettes, and still hear the sharp clicks of his shining boots on the cement. While I settled down on a corner bench and turned my comp on to (pretend to) do some advance reading, Metias lined up his soldiers for inspection. He paused before each soldier to point out flaws in their uniforms.

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