Rupert laughed. Hes doing me a favor. Ive asked him to pull you out if you drown. You know, Cyrus.
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Jeb cocked his head. You are only thirteen.
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Theres not much point in trying for this stuff until your bodys ready. Dont bother yourself, Jeb. Rupert slapped Cyruss shoulders. The boys a Smith. Hed walk on glass if you told him not to.
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He only learns one waycrash and burn, yeah? Now get loose. I dont have all day to sweat out here. Cyrus watched Jeb bounce and stretch his legs. Antigone glared at him. Stretch, Cy. Its hot.
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Im ready. Jeb laughed and puffed a drop of sweat off his nose. I know what you mean. He nodded at Rupert. Rupert Greeves pulled a stopwatch out of one of his deep pockets. Cyrus worked the ball of his left foot into the ground. He bent his knees and leaned forward, coiled, ready to spring. His limbs were long, and they loved to cover ground.
Beside him, Jeb bounced in place. Next to any thirteen-year-old in Ashtown or in his old school in his old life Cyrus would have been confident. But next to a nineteen-year-old named Boone? His nerves were tingling. Breathing slowly, he looked down the hill between the trees and tried to focus on the distant water.
He didnt have to beat him. Just beat the clock. It wasnt a race. Cyrus tried to relax. But if I do beat him Just the thought, the mere possibility of triumph, tightened every muscle fiber in his legs. Somehow, Rupert knew. Your own pace, Cyrus Smith. Not his. Run your own pace. Marked in three, Rupert said.
Cyrus sprang forward, legs straining, splayed toes grabbing at the ground. His long strides settled quickly into pace. Really fast for the distance. He tried to even out his breathing and relax his shoulders. He could hold it. He knew he could. On his left, Jeb Boone swooped past. Cyrus didnt have to tell his legs what to do.
He was Grass and leaves flew up behind Jeb, and Cyrus sputtered and spat in the older boys wake. Antigone Smith winced. Her brother was nuts, and always had been. He was practically sprinting. He was going to kill himself.
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You know, Antigone said, that was really mean. Rupert looked at her, widening his eyes in innocence. Antigone, Im only doing whats best for him. Antigone crossed her arms. And you just had to get Dianas brother?
Rupert grinned. Cyrus wants to be trained? Today, I have arranged for him to run faster than he has ever run. He turned and watched the two shrinking shapes. Hell find a new speed. Im giving him that. And when he finally collapses in failure, hell have found a little more wisdom. Im giving him that as well. Antigone watched for a moment. Hes going to die.
Hell try to, Rupert said. He turned to the Jeep, knocking his sunglasses down over his eyes.
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But Jeb wont let him. Come on. In this heat, the wise ones drive. Antigone followed him, eyeing his battered cheek. What happened to your face? You had to have gotten close to Phoenix if you were getting your face smacked. Rupert grunted as he slid back behind the wheel and fired the engine.
He only fit because the Jeep had no doors and his left knee was jutting out the side. Antigone grabbed the roll bar and hopped in next to him. The Jeep was ancient. She could see grass through holes in the floor. Come on, Rupe. She smiled at the big man. Youll feel way better if you tell someone. Was it animal, vegetable, or mineral?
Rupert looked at her. I approached a somewhat irritable transmortal who was yammering about a pair of kids named Smith and what he thinks they gave to a villain named Phoenix. He ground the Jeep into gear. Antigones smile disappeared. The red-winged blackbird watched the Jeep go. After a moment of indecision, she dropped out of the tree, wove her way around trunks beneath the canopy, and flew down the hill after Cyrus. Cyruss splitting ribs were breathing for him. His legs were on fire as they churned, and his shoulders were clenched as tight as wire knots.
His throat was closing, his tongue swollen and dry, and still he needed to spit. And spit.