Unbreakable by Kami Garcia

  Priest slid the strawberry shake in front of him. “Alara’s grandmother was the only member of the Legion my granddad knew how to contact. If he left the clue for her at Lilburn, it makes sense that it leads to a place Alara’s grandmother would know about.”

  “Were they friends?” I asked.

  Alara shook her head, dark curls falling over her shoulder. “No, the chain of information moves in one direction. Priest’s grandfather knew my grandmother’s name, but she didn’t know his. Lukas’ uncle was the only member she knew how to contact.”

  “Even our uncle didn’t know the identity of anyone in the Legion except our father,” Lukas added. “Dad’s contact was the missing member. He was the only person in the Legion who would’ve known information about two different members—his brother and your mom.”

  I mapped it out in my mind: Priest’s grandfather to Alara’s grandmother; her grandmother to Lukas and Jared’s uncle; their uncle to their dad; their dad to the fifth member; and the fifth member to Priest’s grandfather. I realized why the missing member was so important. The fifth member didn’t just make the Legion stronger. That person also completed the chain of information.

  I looked at Alara. “If your grandmother and Priest’s granddad weren’t friends, how did he know to hide the disk in Middle River?”

  “My grandmother owned a bakery in El Portal, where we lived in Florida. Sometimes messages showed up. They were always encrypted, in envelopes with no return address. She’d take them in the back to her real shop where she made her wards, and decipher them. Maybe he sent her the article about Millicent Avery, or told her the piece was there.”

  I tried to imagine living with the rules and secrets the four of them seemed so comfortable with. Jared and Lukas had each other, but what about Alara and Priest? Did they have friends back home?

  Alara touched the newspaper clipping. “My grandmother told me that story so many times. She said a good mother always protects her child.”

  “Maybe Millicent is protecting something else now,” I said.

  “If part of the Shift is with her, you know what that means.” Priest shook his head.

  “It’s in the well,” Lukas finished.

  Alara threw a napkin over the offensive pink shake. “Then we should get going sooner than later.”

  Jared nodded at the TV mounted on the wall. “I vote for sooner,” he whispered.

  The volume was turned down low, but an orange news ticker ran across the bottom of the morning show feed: AMBER ALERT—KENNEDY WATERS, AGE 17. LAST SEEN AT HER HOME IN GEORGETOWN. My yearbook photo smiled back from the screen.

  I strained to hear the newscaster’s voice. “Kennedy Waters is seventeen years old, five foot four and one hundred twenty pounds, with long brown hair and brown eyes. She was last seen on November thirtieth at her home on O Street, in Georgetown.” A shaky camera panned my street and stopped on what was left of my front yard. There were cops everywhere—red and blue lights flashed in the background.

  Jared dropped the van keys in my hand and gestured at the door without a word. Then he walked up to the register and ordered a cup of coffee to distract the waitress while I slipped out.

  From the front seat of the van, I watched Jared flirt with a woman old enough to be his mom, while Lukas casually gathered up the journals. Alara put on her black leather jacket, and Priest stuffed his gadgets and screwdrivers in his backpack.

  If you didn’t know any better, they looked like four regular teenagers grabbing coffee on their way to school—the guy no one knew anything about because he wouldn’t let anyone get close, the kid genius who skipped three grades and still knew all the answers in Calculus, the girl all the guys wanted to date but were too intimidated to approach, and the boy-next-door who had too many secrets but was too sweet not to trust. But I knew they were all those things and none of them.

  They were part of something bigger.

  As they walked through the glass door, for the first time I imagined that I was part of it, too.


  A Good Mother

  The abandoned estate was a few miles outside of Middle River, its perimeter marked by a barbed-wire fence nailed into a row of scarred birch trees. A gate secured by a rusty chain blocked the dirt road leading up to the house. Whoever lived here definitely hadn’t wanted any visitors.

  Lukas opened the storage space in the floor of the van. Priest grabbed a nylon rope and an EMF, while Lukas unearthed a pair of bolt cutters. Considering that Priest traveled with his own blowtorch, bolt cutters weren’t a shock. Alara used them to cut the chain.

  Jared tossed the broken links in the dirt, and she leaned in and whispered something to him. His eyes darted in my direction.

  “It’s safer for everyone,” Alara said, a little loud.

  “What’s safer for everyone?” They were obviously talking about me.

  Alara crossed her arms. “I think you should wait here.”

  I thought about Lilburn, and the way I froze instead of running when Lukas told me to get out of the house. “I know I made some mistakes—”

  “Mistakes?” Alara snapped. “You almost got us all killed last night.”

  My throat went dry. She knew.

  Lukas turned to Alara. “What are you talking about?”

  She looked right at me. “Who do you think broke the salt line?”

  I wanted to sink into the ground and disappear, but I deserved whatever Alara dished out. I thought about Markus’ journal entry, and the way one misplaced line had been the difference between controlling a demon and unleashing one. My ignorance could’ve cost them their lives. Despite the millions of pointless images and textbook pages my memory had recorded over the years, it couldn’t help me with the one piece of information I had actually needed.

  “She didn’t know.” Jared answered before I had a chance to say anything. “It was an accident.”

  “I should have—”

  Jared cut me off. “I told her not to say anything. There was no point.”

  Why was he defending me?

  Lukas leaned against the van, watching his brother. “You still should’ve told us. Secrets are dangerous.” The way he said it sounded like a threat.

  Jared didn’t respond.

  “I—I’m so sorry,” I stammered.

  Priest stepped between them. “We’ve been training for years, and Kennedy only found out about all this a couple days ago. There’s a learning curve.”

  “Look at her.” Alara said it like an accusation. “She belongs at a football game with a plastic cup in her hand.”

  Lukas walked over and squeezed her shoulder gently. “It was an accident.”

  Alara shrugged him off, and they stared at each other until they seemed to arrive at a silent agreement. But she still didn’t say a word as we walked toward the gate that stood between us and the hill leading up to Lilburn. Or when we stepped over the broken chain snaking through the dirt like another line I shouldn’t cross.

  I watched the four of them climb the hill ahead of me. How many mistakes would they forgive?

  How many more would I make?

  Lukas slowed his pace until I fell in step next to him. I kept my eyes trained on the ground.

  “Don’t worry about Alara. You’ll be swapping weapons in a few days.”

  A smile tugged at the corners of my lips.

  He dipped his head trying to see my face. “Is that a smile?”

  I flashed him a real one.

  The crumbling stone house came into view, an empty shell left to rot in the middle of nowhere. “Creepy, huh?” he said.

  “And the house with the psychotic kid and her broken doll wasn’t?”

  “True. But something about this place feels wrong.”

  Alara stood at the top of the rise. “That’s because people were murdered here.”

  The stone well waited in the distance, looking more like an illustration from a fairy tale than the scene of two vicious killings.

“I’ll check it out,” Jared said, but Lukas was already walking past him.

  “I’ve got it.”

  Lukas crossed the dead grass, and I held my breath as he leaned over the edge of the well. He stepped back and waved an EMF detector around the chipped stones. “I’ve got nothing.”

  We crowded around the opening. The stones spiraled into the black water below. I imagined falling in and trying to grab the slick rocks to climb back up. It would be impossible, especially if you were a little boy.

  “Where would your grandmother hide the disk?” Jared asked.

  I swallowed hard, anticipating her answer.

  “Knowing her?” Alara stared into the well. “Down there.”

  “Why would your families hide the pieces in such dangerous places?” I asked. “They knew you guys would have to find them eventually.”

  “Not necessarily.” Priest dropped a rock in the well and waited for it to hit the bottom. “Maybe they planned to go back for the pieces themselves. Or they were going to prepare us, but never got the chance. I doubt they all expected to die on the same day.”

  It made sense.

  Alara unpacked her gear. “If they made it easy for us, it would be easy for Andras, too. He controls a lot of spirits.”

  “Okay,” Jared said. “So who’s going in?”

  “Are you insane?” Even if you ignored the fact that two people had died in there already, the well was a death trap. It looked as if it got progressively wider toward the bottom, but the mouth was barely the width of my shoulders. And there was no telling what was lurking under the water. Bones, for one thing.

  “You think Priest’s grandfather randomly wrote the name of this place in a doll with the disk inside?” Jared took off his jacket and tossed it in the grass.

  Alara rolled her eyes. “You’ll never fit in there. It’s too narrow at the top.”

  “I’ll go.” Priest started tying the nylon rope around his waist.

  Jared yanked it loose. “Forget it.”

  “Why? Because I’m not as strong or fast as the rest of the superheroes?” Priest’s huge headphones were still hanging around his neck, which didn’t help his case.

  “No one said that.” Lukas reached out to put his hand on Priest’s shoulder, but he jerked away.

  “You don’t have to.” Priest’s expression hardened. “How many times have I stayed behind? And when I do get to come, I always go with Jared so he can babysit me.”

  “That’s because you’re valuable,” Lukas said. “We can’t afford to lose you.”

  “We’re all valuable. But you guys think I’m a kid who can’t take care of himself.” There was a hopelessness in his voice I’d never heard before.

  Alara pulled her hair into a ponytail. “I’ll do it.”

  Lukas sighed. “You’re claustrophobic. You’ll have a panic attack and pass out before you make it halfway down.”

  She leaned over the edge of the well again. “I don’t have a choice. I’m the only one aside from Priest and Kennedy who can fit through the opening.”

  My skin went cold. I didn’t want to climb in that hole—a dark space that disappeared into a reeking pit of water where two people died.

  Jared bent down to grab his jacket. “Screw it. Let’s get out of here.”

  “You’re going to walk away without the disk instead of letting me try?” Priest’s shoulders sagged.

  “I’ll go,” I offered halfheartedly.

  Alara rolled her eyes. “Nice try. You look like you’re going to puke.”

  Lukas studied me for a second like he was considering the possibility, and Priest lost it. “Are you seriously thinking about letting her go instead of me? She just learned how to use an EMF.”

  Jared and Lukas exchanged a silent question.

  “Fine,” Jared said, tossing Priest the rope. “But you’d better do exactly what I tell you.”

  “I’ll do exactly what you tell me, and what you don’t.” Priest took off his green and black high-tops and peeled off his hoodie before Jared could change his mind.

  Lukas tied the other end of the rope around his own waist, and Jared grabbed the section between his brother and the edge of the well.

  Alara handed Priest a long cold-iron rod. “After this, you need to invent a gun that works underwater.”

  “I’ll get right on it.” Priest swung his other leg over the side and slid down the moldy stones.

  He was almost at the bottom when he looked up and smiled, just as a gnarled hand broke through the surface.


  Dark Water

  The hand reached up from beneath the rancid water and grabbed Priest’s leg. His eyes widened in terror as the hand jerked his body away from the wall. He let out one strangled scream before the water swallowed him whole.

  A terrifying reality hit me.

  Spirits are capable of touching people.

  Priest’s head burst through the black surface for a second. He thrashed desperately, only to disappear again.

  “We have to do something!” I shouted.

  Jared threw his leg over the side and tried to force his body into the narrow opening. But his shoulders were too wide.

  Alara grabbed the back of his shirt and dragged him out. “Move or I can’t take a shot.”

  She fired liquid-salt rounds into the well, but they didn’t have any effect.

  Priest’s head pushed up through the churning water again, a bony arm locked around his throat. A woman’s bruised and bloated face rose from the waves, filthy well water running down her cheeks like black tears. Her neck was broken, hanging unnaturally to one side.

  “Get out of our well.” Her raspy voice echoed against the stones.

  “Millicent.” Alara leaned over the edge. “I know what happened to your son. I know what they did.”

  Jared and Lukas pulled the rope. But even their combined strength was no match for the spirit of a mother who had witnessed her child’s murder.

  The spirit tightened her hold around Priest’s neck. He sputtered and coughed, choking on the sloshing water.

  “I won’t let you take anything else from us,” she hissed.

  Priest was drowning in a putrid sewer of rot. I was the only one who could help him. There was nothing to think about—not the darkness or the depth or the murderous spirit.

  I wound the rope around my arm and climbed over the side.

  Jared’s fingers clamped down on my wrist, his blue eyes wild. “What are you doing?”

  It wasn’t the same fear I saw when Priest hit the water. This fear was for me.

  “He’s drowning. Just tell me how to stop her.” Bile rose in my throat as Priest gagged and thrashed below us.

  Millicent looked up at me, a milky film coating her eyes like cataracts. “They took what was mine. Now I’ll take what is yours.”

  The spirit flung her withered arm around Priest’s neck. Her nails dug into his skin as she forced him under with her.

  “Jared, you have to let me do this.” I eased my hand from his grasp and started sliding down the rope.

  “Wait.” Jared held out a long iron rod like the one Priest took with him. “If you stab her with this, it’ll destroy her.”

  My hand closed over the metal, but he didn’t let go.

  “Don’t get hurt.” It was a plea, not an order.

  The well grew wider about halfway down. I lowered myself into the water carefully, aware that Priest was somewhere below me. There was no way to predict the depth—until the slimy liquid rose to my chin and my feet still hadn’t touched the bottom. I treaded water, reaching out blindly for Priest.

  Something grabbed my waist.

  Priest’s head burst through the surface again. He gagged and coughed up water, his skin blue.

  I managed to pull him toward me without going under. “Priest? Can you hear me?”

  He only nodded.

  A cold hand touched my leg and brittle hair brushed against my neck.

  “I can hear
you,” Millicent whispered.

  I thrust the rod behind me and it slid effortlessly through the water. How would I know if I hit her? Would she feel solid?

  Millicent wound my hair around her arm, yanking hard. The rod slipped out of my hand. I tried to grab for it, but my head snapped back. Priest shouted something, but I couldn’t hear him over Millicent’s breath and the blood pounding in my ears.

  Rancid water filled my mouth. The curtain of water closed above me. The world swayed with the ripples, shapes distorting and disappearing.

  Until I ran out of air.

  I fought the instinct to breathe, but it was impossible. Water filled my lungs, and the pressure hit me like a fist. Millicent slid one arm around my neck, pressing my head down with the other. My body bucked against her.

  Voices echoed above me.

  My thoughts tripped over themselves and my vision blurred….

  Without warning, the vise grip released me.

  I shot up to the surface, the light getting closer and closer until I broke through.

  My body convulsed, the water forcing its way back out of my lungs in violent bursts. I gasped, desperate for air.

  “Kennedy?” Priest held the collar of my T-shirt, trying to keep my head above water. He shoved me behind him, and I clung to the stones, my hands slipping down the sludge-covered walls.

  I coughed, the air coming in huge gulps.

  A hand emerged from the water, long nails dragging across the stone.

  Priest raised his arm above his head. Something gleamed in his hand, thin and sharp at one end. He drove it down into the spirit’s neck.

  Millicent let out a tortured wail before she exploded like the girl in my bedroom. A spray of filthy water rained over us.

  Priest wrapped the rope around my waist and pulled it tight, tethering us together. “Are you okay?”

  “I think so.” My throat burned, every word tearing at my vocal cords. “How did you stop her?”

  “I still had one of the bolts I made for Lukas’ crossbow in my pocket. It took two hits to take her down.” His voice swelled with pride. “I can’t believe you came after me. That was Legion all the way.”

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