Title: Gregor and the Code of Claw (Book 5)
Author: Suzanne Collins
Read In: 2023
Purchase: Bookshop.org (affiliate link)
“Are you sure you wish me to say this?” asked Vikus.
“Why wouldn’t I?” said Gregor.
“It gains you nothing and it reveals much of your hand,” said Vikus. “I myself find it wiser to keep certain thoughts to myself until they can be to my advantage.”
Gregor sank to the floor, panting, as the waves of tremors ran through him. He struggled to get ahold of himself. This had to stop! He couldn’t flip out every time he thought about what lay before him. Of all the people he would never see, or all the things he would never do. He would be worthless. Of no use at all. He had to have something in his mind to hold on to. Something that gave him strength. Images flew through his head, of his family, of his friends, of places and things he loved. None of them were of any help.
Then he remembered the stone knight in the Cloisters. Cold, hard, unyielding, long since removed from anything in life that could hurt him. A long time ago, the knight had fought . . . maybe died in a horrible battle, too . . . everybody had to die eventually . . . but now he was invulnerable. Sleeping on his marble bed. Safe. Peaceful even. Somehow the thought of this other soldier from another time comforted Gregor in a way that nothing living could. He had gone through something awful, but it was over, and he was now in a place where no one could ever harm him again. The shaking began to subside. Gregor inhaled and the pain in his chest lost its grip. “That’s me. I have to remember that’s me from now on,” he thought. “I’m that knight, I’m made of stone, and in the end nothing can touch me. Okay. Okay, then. That’s how it is.”
Henry was Luxa’s cousin and Ares’s old bond. He had betrayed them all to the rats on Gregor’s first trip to the Underland. Neither Luxa nor Ares spoke about him very often. At first, Gregor had supposed this was because they now hated him so much. Later, he’d understood it was because they still loved him so much, too. When Henry came up, their voices would become tight, their eyes pained. That was the hard part. Still caring. Not being able to simply write Henry off.
Gregor was just going to have to keep an eye out and hope for the best. In the meantime, he didn’t exactly know how to join in the battle. Should he report to someone? Was there some plan being executed? Because if there was, he couldn’t see it. The whole thing just looked like some big free-for-all.
“What do we do?” Gregor said. “Can we jump in anywhere?”
“Anywhere,” said Ares.
But even now, even after all he had been through and witnessed, something in Gregor balked at the idea of simply going down and running his sword through a rat. His ambivalence was interfering with his ability to connect with his rager side. He concentrated hard for a second to establish his place in all of this chaos. The reason he must kill the rats, the reason they must die had to do with . . . had to do with . . . the gasping mice in the pit and his mother lying in the hospital and Boots and those baby mice in the nursery—and Luxa, who must be, had to be somewhere out in this mayhem. It had to do with what had happened, and would happen, not only to him but to those who were not warriors, if these rats were not stopped.
Oh, how wonderful it would be to have a parent who was in charge again, who could protect him, who could tell him what to do.
Gregor set Boots back on her feet and went over to help Luxa with the strips of code. “I truly believed her dead, Gregor,” she whispered.
“I know,” said Gregor. “I guess I must have, too. But I didn’t deal with it. I had, like, this fantasy that she’d escaped. She was safe back in the Dead Land or something.”
“She is safe now,” Luxa said wanly.
“That’s how it works down here,” Gregor said. Nothing was really safe until it was dead.
It wasn’t much of a letter. He felt stingy using just thirteen words. But even if he’d had boxes of markers, what more would he have said? Maybe explained better why one of them had to live. So both of them could. So one of them would remember the other as they went through life. That it wasn’t going to be him, so it had to be her. And he had to be able to think of her growing up and doing things and someday being happy if he was going to be brave enough for his last moments with the Bane.
His echolocation ability was improving by leaps and bounds. He could see so much—the jagged edges of the ceiling, individual pebbles on the floor, even small details in the rough surface of the walls. He experimented using different sounds—coughing, humming, whistling. In a quiet moment, he realized that even the sound of his own breathing could send images back to him. He felt comforted, because that meant as long as he was alive he would be able to see.
Then she sat on the side of the bed, lifted Gregor’s hand, and carefully dried it. “It does not seem to be injured. How does it feel?” she asked
“Empty,” said Gregor. Luxa entwined her fingers with his. Her skin was warm, like the water, but alive. “That’s better.”
There were probably a million things they should be saying to each other, but they just stayed like that for hours, not talking, until his dad woke with a start from a nightmare, and Gregor had to reassure him that everything was going to be okay. “Maybe if we just keep telling each other that, one day it will be true,” he thought.
In public, Luxa was steady and strong, but sometimes when she was alone with Gregor, she would bury her head in her hands, repeating again and again, “I do not know what to do.” And he would put his arms around her and hold her, but he had no idea what to tell her. In his mind, Gregor knew how to kill things, not bring them back to life.
“How did this happen?” asked Lizzie. reaching up to lightly touch the new slash on his face.
“Oh, a rat cut me. It’s nothing. Now up you go.” He nudged Lizzie up onto a patch of fur on his back.
“I’ll hurt you,” she said.
“No. You’ll remind me why I’m here,” said Ripred, and locked eyes with Luxa.
“Remember, it’s a lot easier to lose your head than to keep it.”
His skin was like a map where you could trace all of the terrible things that had happened.
“It’s like this. You spend your whole childhood hearing about being nice to other people and how hurting someone’s a crime, and then they ship you off to some war and tell you to kill. What’s that going to do to your head, huh?”
“Nothing good,” Gregor said.
He wandered through a couple of rooms before he found the tomb. The knight was just as Gregor had last seen him, lying beneath the window, his hands resting on his sword, sleeping away eternity. Thinking of this knight had gotten Gregor through some tough times. He had made the trip today because he expected to find some comfort in the stone figure. But now, he realized it was no longer of use to him. He had spent the last months learning how to die, and now he was going to have to learn how to live again. The knight couldn’t help him with that.