Authors: Marie Lu
Tags: #Fantasy, #Young Adult
But I’m not. This time, when I close my eye and open it again, the feeling doesn’t go away. The world takes on a strange yellow tint, and the sounds around me turn quiet, as if none of it were quite real. Am I creating an illusion? I glance at Magiano, suddenly suspicious. Is he mimicking my power?
the whispers hiss, eager to accuse.
All of this is a ruse. What if he’s betraying you, mimicking your illusions so that he can hand you over to the Night King’s men? To the Inquisition? This was all a trick all along.
But Magiano doesn’t seem to be using his power. He isn’t even paying attention to me. His focus is entirely on the direction of the canal, and he has a concentrated frown on his face. Violetta doesn’t seem to sense him doing anything, either. In fact, she’s staring at me with a concerned expression. She takes my hand.
It feels numb and very far away.
“Adelina,” Violetta whispers in my ear, “your energy feels strange. Are you …?”
The rest of her words fade away, so that I can’t understand her anymore. Something else has caught my attention. At the next bend of the canal, a man is sitting with his legs dangling over the edge. He turns when we approach.
It’s my father.
He wears that dark smile that I remember all too well. Suddenly terror seizes my throat so hard that I can barely breathe.
He’s here. He’s supposed to be dead.
“Heading the wrong way, Adelina?” he says. As we glide past, he gets up onto his feet and starts to walk the canal’s edge along with us.
“Go away,” I whisper up at him.
He doesn’t respond. As we sail around a corner, he follows us—and even though we should be moving faster than he can walk, he manages to stay right behind us. I grit my teeth and turn around in my seat. Beside me, Violetta looks more alarmed. She calls out something—my name, perhaps—but it doesn’t seem important to answer her. All I can do is stare at my father’s silhouette as it follows us.
” I hiss again through my teeth. This time, I say it loud enough for both Violetta and Magiano to turn their heads.
“I beg your pardon?” I can hear Magiano say.
I ignore him. I turn away from my father’s figure and try to catch my breath. I close my eye again. The world presses down on me. “It’s just an illusion,” I say, trying not to panic.
An illusion like always.
But my fear only fuels it, making it stronger. The lines of reality start to blur.
No, no, it’s not an illusion at all.
My father has come back from the dead. When he catches up to me, he is going to kill me. I tremble all over.
When I glance behind me, my father is gone.
In his place is Enzo.
His dark hood and
silver mask cover his face, but I know it’s him, can tell by his tall, lean, lethal shape, the predatory grace of his walk. He holds a dagger in each hand, both blades glowing white hot with heat. For an instant, my heart jumps into my throat. The edges of my vision turn red, and I remember the way he used to train with me, how he’d touch my hand and mold my grip on my daggers to the correct shape. I want to run to him. I want to take his mask off and wrap my arms around him. I want to tell him that I’m sorry. But I don’t. He walks with the stride of a killer.
He is hunting me.
The Reaper flicks his wrists.
Lines of fire explode from his hands and rush down the canal toward us. Above, the edges of the canal burst into flames. The roar and heat drown out everything—my skin turns scorching hot. The fire closes in all around us. It licks at the buildings, climbing higher and higher until the flames consume the rooftops. I bury my head in my hands and scream. Somewhere, my sister is calling for me, but I don’t care.
I’m back at my burning again, chained to the iron stake. Teren tosses a blazing torch onto the kindling at my feet.
I need water.
I scramble to the edge of the boat. Magiano lunges for me, but I move too fast. The next moment, I feel the sudden splash of cold water and the fire crisping my skin extinguishes. All around me is darkness. Shapes glide in the depths. A haunting voice calls my name, beckoning me deeper. Claws loom in the eerie water around me.
A bony hand seizes my arm. I open my mouth to scream,
but bubbles rush out instead in a torrent. Something is trying to pull me under.
I’m in the Underworld. The angel of Fear is calling me.
The whispers of Formidite change into my sister’s voice, and the bony hand on my arm turns into a boy’s hand. Magiano pulls me to the surface. I suck in a lungful of air. Someone lifts me back into the boat, inch by inch—I think it is the boatman and my sister. I scramble to one side. My clothes cling heavily to my skin, as if still trying to drag me into the water and give me to the Underworld. I look around frantically.
The flames are gone. The odd yellow tone of the world has faded away, and the pressure in the air has disappeared. Enzo is nowhere to be seen. Neither is my father. All I see are Magiano, Violetta, and the boatman, all staring at me in bewilderment, while a few spectators have gathered along the canal’s edge. Some of those spectators are soldiers.
Magiano acts first. He turns to the onlookers and waves his arms. “She’s fine,” he calls out. “Just afraid of dragonflies. I know. I worry for her too.”
A few mutters of disbelief come from the crowd, but it works well enough that the people start to disperse, their attention turning back to the other chaos of the city.
“We have to go,” Violetta says as she moves close to me. She puts a hand on my face. It takes me a moment to realize
that the visions stopped only because she took my power away. Already, I can feel her slowly giving it back. Behind her, Magiano shoots me an irritated look as he talks to the boatman.
“You didn’t see anything?” I stammer to Violetta. “The fire on the streets? Our father watching us from the canal bridge?”
Violetta frowns. “No. But we
make a scene.”
I collapse backward against the boat and cover my face with my hands.
It was all an illusion I must have created. But I don’t understand—no one else saw what I did. A
. How is that possible? I think of the precision of the white banners I’d woven over the Night King’s dark ones. I thought I was improving in my powers. Why couldn’t I control them?
A moment later, I realize that because Violetta had to wrench my power away, I had also stopped holding the illusions over our faces. I quickly sit up.
Too late. Magiano’s having some sort of argument with the boatman, who points his oar angrily at me. He doesn’t want us on board anymore. I rise to my feet. The day had felt so hot earlier—now, the air nips at my wet clothes, chilling me.
The boatman pulls to a small dock along the canal, then ushers us off with a string of curses. Magiano skips ahead, bidding him a cheerful farewell. When the boat pulls away from us, he turns to me and holds up a purse stolen off the man.
“If he’s going to be rude about it,” Magiano says, “he might as well pay.”
I’m about to respond when I recognize a soldier in the street. It’s the same young man who had stopped us earlier and turned us onto a different route. He is now leaning over the canal’s edge, listening intently to something our former boatman is yelling up at him. Then the boatman points in our direction. The soldier’s attention turns to us.
Magiano grabs Violetta’s hand and nods. “Follow me.”
We break into a run. Behind us, soldiers shout something and start to push their way through the crowd in our direction. Magiano veers sharply onto a small side street, then darts back into a huge main square. I recognize it immediately as the square where the Night King’s estate is located. We weave through the throngs that have gathered out here. Some mourn, although I can’t tell how sincere they are. Others cheer. I don’t have time to study the scene more closely. Behind us, we can hear the soldiers’ hurried footsteps.
Magiano scowls. “An illusion would be really helpful right now.”
I try, but my strength scatters as soon as I attempt it. I’m too exhausted from my strange hallucination to even pull a shadow from the ground. I shake my head at him. He curses under his breath.
“And here I thought you were powerful,” he snaps.
For an instant, I think he’s going to leave us behind to fend for ourselves, while he vanishes into the crowd.
Instead, he pulls at my energy.
He’s going to try to mimic me.
I can feel the faint tug of his power against mine—his eyes dart to one side, and there in the crowd, I see him evoke the fleeting shapes of identical versions of us, running in a different direction through the square. At the same time, he pulls us into a thick cluster of people.
“There!” one of the soldiers shouts behind us. I turn to catch a glimpse of them between the milling bodies in the crowd. They are following the decoys’ path.
Magiano lets the illusion drop. It’s most likely all he can do, given my weakened state. We reach the end of the square. From here, the harbor comes into view between the streets’ buildings. I run faster. Beside me, Violetta’s breath comes in gasps.
“Keep going straight,” Magiano calls over his shoulder. “Until you hit the piers. Hide when you get there. I’ll find you.” He takes an abrupt detour, veering sharply left of us.
“Stay with us!” I shout. I’m suddenly afraid he’ll be captured. “You don’t need to be a noble—”
“Don’t flatter yourself,” he shoots back. “You’d better wait for me.” Then he’s gone, vanished into the crowd before I can even think of what to say. Moments later, he reappears off in a corner of the square, where he hops up onto the stone railing overlooking a canal and pulls his lute from his back. He shouts something into the square that sounds like a taunt.
Behind us, half of the soldiers change their route to head in his direction. But the others continue pursuing us.
I try again to use my energy. Again, I fail. For a moment, I feel like I’m completely new to using my power, searching and reaching but never quite able to touch the threads of energy hovering inside me and all around us. What has happened to me?
Violetta tightens her grip on my hand. She points to where sailors are throwing ropes off one of the docks. She pulls me along.
An arrow whizzes past us from the roofs. It narrowly avoids hitting Violetta in the arm. Several screams go up from the people we pass. Others part the way as soon as they realize the soldiers are after us. Fear emanates from everyone around us—it feeds me, and I feel my strength grow.
I urge myself. I reach again for my energy.
Finally. My mind closes solidly around it. I whip a blanket of invisibility over us, covering us with the brick and marble of the walls, the cobblestone and dirt of the streets, the crowds of people. It’s an imperfect shield, in my tired state and with so many moving people around, but it’s enough to throw off our pursuers. Another arrow comes from overhead, but this time it misses our moving ripple by a wide shot. I grit my teeth and keep the illusion moving as fast as I can. Another arrow lands somewhere behind us.
We reach the docks. Here, the commotion changes to the work of readying crowded ships, and we manage to find a place to huddle behind a cluster of barrels. Our invisibility solidifies, now that we’re still, and we vanish entirely from
sight. My breaths come raggedly, and my hands are shaking violently. Sweat beads on Violetta’s forehead. She looks unnaturally pale, and her eyes dart nervously along the street.
“How is Magiano going to find us?” she asks.
I glance at the ships lined up along the pier, looking for one with a hull that resembles a double-edged sword. The water along the pier churns, frothed up by restless baliras that are still hooked to their ships, waiting as their sailors argue with soldiers who refuse to let them dock. A long rope as thick as I am tall now dangles low across the water behind the docked ships, preventing anyone from entering or leaving. My attention returns to the ships. Minutes drag on. Again, I find myself wishing the Windwalker was with us, knowing how easy it would be to get on board a ship with her help.
we going to find Magiano in all this chaos? What if there is no ship waiting for us?
Then a shadow falls over us. We look up into the faces of two soldiers.
Their hands close around my arms. They seize us before we can even utter a protest. The Night King’s emblems sit prominently on their sleeves, and their faces are partially covered by veils. Violetta shoots me a terrified look.
I reach again for my energy, trying desperately to grab it.
The soldier shoves me roughly before bringing his face closer. “Don’t,” he says quietly.
I suddenly still. Something in his voice stops me—a warning, a signal that they are not arresting us in the way we think. I glance back at Violetta, who stares in silence.
Two other soldiers approach us. One of them draws his sword and nods at the soldier holding me. “Is that them?” he asks.
“Could be,” my captor says. “Go alert the captain.
” He says it with such force that the other two soldiers turn immediately and start running to send up the alert. Our two soldiers quicken their pace. “Move,” the one holding me snaps from underneath his veil. And before us, I see what I’ve been looking for—a gangplank leading up to a ship that looks like a sword.
Together, we make our way toward the gangplank, carefully bypassing others as they hurry back and forth. One foot after the other. The gangplank creaks under our weight. We make it onto the deck of the ship right as another cluster of soldiers hurries by. They pause on the shore. I hold my breath, my hand wrapped so tightly around Violetta’s that my knuckles have turned white. My sister winces. The sails overhead are unfurling, and two crew members are unknotting thick lengths of rope on the railing.
Finally, soldiers on the pier notice us. “Hey!” one of them shouts at the nearest crewmember on our ship. “You were supposed to be tying her in. Lower your mast, port’s still closed!”