Authors: Marie Lu
Tags: #Fantasy, #Young Adult
I don’t know why I feel a desire to keep following the group. If he’s not Magiano, then I have no reason to help him. Perhaps it’s pent-up frustration or the allure of dark feelings. Or the memory of the Daggers’ refusal to ever risk saving
unless they were Elites. Perhaps it’s the memory of myself pushed against an iron stake, pelted with stones, waiting to burn before an entire city.
For a fleeting moment, I imagine that if I were queen, I could make the act of hurting
a crime. I could execute this boy’s pursuers with a single command.
I start hurrying after them. “Come on,” I urge Violetta.
“Don’t,” she starts to tell me, even though she knows it’s pointless.
“I’ll be nice.” I smile.
She raises an eyebrow at me. “Your idea of
is different from others’.”
We hurry along in the darkness, invisible behind an illusion I’ve woven. Shouts come from up ahead as the boy turns a corner in an attempt to throw off his pursuers. No use. As we draw near, I hear the others catch up to him and his cry of pain ring out. When we turn the corner too, the attackers have completely surrounded him. One of them knocks the boy to the ground with a blow to the face.
I act before I can stop myself. In one move, I reach out and push aside the threads hiding us from view. Then I walk straight into their circle. Violetta stays where she is, looking on quietly.
It takes a moment for the attackers to notice me there—not until I walk right over to the quivering
boy and stand in front of him do they finally see me. They hesitate.
“What’s this?” the ringleader mutters, confused for a moment. His eyes dart across the illusion still covering my scarred face. What he sees is a whole, beautiful girl. His grin returns. “Is this your whore, filthy
?” he taunts the boy. “How did you get so lucky?”
A woman beside him gives me a suspicious look. “She was the other gambler in our circle,” she says to the others. “She probably helped the boy win.”
“Ah, you’re right,” the ringleader replies. He turns on me. “Do you have other winnings on you, then? Your share, perhaps?”
A couple of the other attackers don’t seem so sure. One of them notices the smile on my face and gives me a nervous stare, then looks back at where Violetta waits. “Let’s just finish this,” he protests, holding up a pouch. “We got the money back already.”
The ringleader clicks his tongue. “We are not making a habit of letting people go,” he replies. “Nobody likes a cheat.”
I shouldn’t be using my powers so carelessly. But this is a secluded alley, and I can’t resist the temptation anymore. Outside their ring, Violetta tugs faintly against my energy
in protest, sensing my next move. I ignore her and stand my ground, slowly unraveling the illusion over my face. My features quiver, transforming gradually so that a long scar begins to emerge over my left eye, then the disfigured skin where my eye used to be, the rough, abused flesh from an old wound. My dark lashes turn pale silver. I’ve been working on the precision of my illusions, how fast and slow I can weave them. I can wield my threads of energy more accurately now. Bit by bit, I reveal my true self to the ring of people.
They stare, frozen in place, at the scarred side of my face. I’m surprised that I enjoy their reaction. They don’t even seem to notice the
boy scrambling out of the circle to press himself against the closest wall.
The ringleader scowls at me before pulling out a knife. “A demon,” he says, with a subtle note of uncertainty.
“Perhaps,” I reply. My voice comes out cold. It’s a voice I am still getting used to.
The man is about to attack when something on the ground distracts him. He looks down at the cobblestones—and there, he sees a tiny ribbon of bright red snaking its way along the grooves. It looks like a little lost creature, wandering back and forth. The man’s brows furrow. He leans down toward the tiny illusion.
Then the red line bursts into a dozen more lines, all darting away in different directions, leaving trails of blood in their wake. Everyone jerks backward.
“What in the gods—?” he starts.
I weave the lines furiously across the ground and then up along the walls, dozens turning into hundreds into thousands, until the entire street is covered in a harsh field of them. I blot out the light filtering down from the lanterns and create an illusion of scarlet storm clouds overhead.
The man’s composure cracks, revealing alarm. His companions take hurried steps away from me as the bloody lines cover the street. Fear clouds their chests, and the feeling sends a surge of strength and hunger through me. My illusions make them afraid and, in turn, their fear makes me stronger.
I can feel Violetta pulling on my energy again. Maybe I should. These attackers have already lost their thirst for more money, after all. But instead, I shrug her off and keep going. This game is fun. I used to be more ashamed of such a feeling, but now I think—why shouldn’t I hate? Why shouldn’t it bring me joy?
The man suddenly lifts his knife again. I keep weaving.
You can’t see the knife,
the whispers in my head taunt him.
Where is it? You just had it a moment ago, but you must have left it somewhere.
Even though I can see the weapon, he looks down at his hand with rage and bewilderment. To him, the knife has vanished completely.
The attackers finally give in to their fear—several flee, while others huddle against the wall, frozen. The ringleader turns and tries to run away. I bare my teeth. Then I snap the thousands of bloody lines across him, pulling them as tight as I can, making him feel the slice and burn of razor-thin
threads ripping across his flesh. The ringleader’s eyes bulge for a moment before he falls, shrieking, to the ground. I tighten the sharp threads around him like a spider trapping prey in her silken web.
It feels like the strings are sawing through your skin, doesn’t it?
“Adelina,” my sister calls out urgently. “The others.”
I take in her warning just in time to see two others gather enough courage to rush toward me—the woman from earlier and another man. I lash out, washing the illusion over them too. They fall. They think their skin is being ripped from their flesh, and the agony bends them over double.
I am concentrating so hard that my hands are shaking. The man struggles toward the end of the street, and I let him crawl. What must it be like, seeing the world right now from his point of view? I continue pouring the illusion over him, imagining what he must be seeing and feeling. He begins to sob, using all of his strength for every movement.
It is nice, being powerful. Seeing others bend to your will. I imagine this must be how kings and queens feel—that with just a few words, they can ignite a war or enslave an entire population. This must be what I fantasized about as a little girl, crouching on the stairs of my old home, pretending to wear a heavy crown on my head and look out at a sea of kneeling figures.
“Adelina, no,” Violetta whispers. She’s standing beside me now, but I am so focused on what I’m doing that I hardly sense her there. “You’ve taught them enough of a lesson. Let them go.”
I tighten my fists and keep going. “You could stop me,” I reply with a tight smile, “if you really wanted to.”
Violetta doesn’t argue my point. Perhaps, deep down, she even wants me to do it. She wants to see me defend myself. So instead of forcing me to stop, she puts a hand on my arm, reminding me of our promise to each other.
boy escaped,” she says. Her voice is very soft. “Save your fury for something greater.”
Something in her voice cuts through my anger. Suddenly, I feel the exhaustion of using so much energy all at once. I release the man from my illusion’s hold. He collapses onto the cobblestones, clutching at his chest as if he could still feel the threads cutting through his flesh. His face is a mess of tears and spit. I take a step back, feeling weak.
“You’re right,” I mutter at Violetta.
She only sighs in relief and steadies me.
I lean down toward the trembling ringleader so that he can have a good look at my scarred face. He can’t even bring himself to look up at me. “I’ll be watching you,” I say. It doesn’t matter if my words are true or not. In his state, I know he won’t dare test it. Instead, he just nods in a rapid, jerky movement. Then he staggers to his feet and runs away.
The others do the same. Their footsteps echo down the street until they turn the corner, where the sound blends into the noise of the festivities. In their absence, I release my breath, my courage spent, and turn to Violetta. She looks deathly pale. Her hand has clasped mine so tightly that our
fingers have turned white. We stand together on the nowsilent street. I shake my head.
boy we saved couldn’t have been Magiano. He isn’t an Elite. And even if he were, he’s already run away. I sigh, then kneel down and steady myself against the ground. The entire incident has only left me bitter.
Why didn’t you kill him?
the whispers in the back of my head say to me, upset.
I don’t know how long we stay here before a faint, muffled voice overhead startles us.
“So much for being nice, eh?” it says.
The voice is oddly familiar. I glance around at the higher floors around us, but in the darkness, it’s hard to make out anything. I take a step back into the middle of the street. Off in the distance, the sounds of celebrations continue.
Violetta tugs my hand. Her eyes are fixed on a balcony across from us. “Him,” she whispers. When I look, I finally see a masked figure leaning against the balcony’s marble ledge, watching us in silence—it’s the operator who ran our gambling game.
My sister leans close to me. “He’s an Elite.
the one I sensed.”
The irony of life is that those who wear masks often tell us more truths than those with open faces.
, by Salvatore Laccona
He doesn’t react when he sees us looking back.
Instead, he stays slouched against the wall and unstraps a lute from his back. He plucks a few strings thoughtfully, as if tuning the instrument, and then flings off his
mask with a grunt of impatience. Dozens of long, dark braids tumble down around his shoulders. His robes are loose and unbuttoned halfway down his chest, and rows of thick gold bangles adorn both of his arms, bright against his bronze skin. I can’t make out his features well, but even from here, I can tell that his eyes are a bold honey color and they seem to glow in the night.
“I’ve been watching you two make your way through the crowds,” he continues with a sly smile. His gaze shifts to Violetta. “It’s impossible not to notice someone like you. The trail of broken hearts left in your wake must be long
and fraught with peril. And yet, I’m sure suitors continue to throw themselves at your feet, desperate for a chance to win your affection.”
Violetta frowns. “I beg your pardon?”
Violetta flushes bright red. I step closer to the balcony. “And who are you?” I call up to him.
His notes turn into a melody as he starts to play in earnest. The tune distracts me—despite his flippant attitude, he plays with skill.
skill. There was a place behind my old home where Violetta and I used to hide inside the hollows of the trees. Whenever the wind rustled through the leaves, it sounded like laughter in the air, and we would imagine it was the laughter of the gods as they enjoyed a cool spring afternoon. This mysterious person’s music reminds me of that sound. His fingers run along the length of the lute’s strings in fluid strokes, the song as natural as a sunset.
Violetta glances at me, and I realize he is making up the tune on the spot.
He can lure you straight off a cliff and into the sea with music from his lute.
,” the boy says in between notes, shifting his attention from Violetta to me. “How’d you do it?”
I blink at him, still distracted. “Do what?” I reply.
He pauses long enough to shoot an irritated glance at me. “Oh, for the gods’ sakes, stop being so coy.” His voice stays
nonchalant as he plays. “You’re obviously an Elite. So. How’d you do it, with the blood lines and the knife?”
Violetta gives me a quiet nod before I go on. “My sister and I have been searching for someone for months,” I say.
“Is that so? Didn’t know my little gambling stand was so popular.”
“We’re looking for a Young Elite named Magiano.”
He stops talking and plays through a fast series of notes. His fingers fly along the lute’s strings in a blur of motion, but the notes each come out crisp and clear, absolute perfection. He plays for what seems like a long time. There is a story in his notes as he makes up the melody, something cheery and wistful, maybe even humorous, some secret joke. I want him to answer us, but at the same time, I don’t want him to stop playing.
Finally, he pauses to look at me. “Who’s Magiano?”
Violetta makes a muffled sound, while I can’t help but cross my arms and sniff in disbelief. “Surely you’ve heard of Magiano,” my sister says.
He turns his head to the side, then gives Violetta a winsome smile. “If you came here to ask me my opinions about imaginary people, my love, then you’re wasting your time. The only Magiano I’ve ever heard of is a threat mothers use to make their children tell the truth.” He waves one hand in the air. “You know.
If you don’t stop lying, Magiano will steal your tongue. If you don’t pay proper tribute to the gods on Sapienday, Magiano will devour your pets.
I open my mouth to say something, but he continues as if talking to himself. “That’s enough proof, I think,” he replies with a shrug. “Eating pets is disgusting, and stealing tongues is rude. Who would do such a thing?”
A little ribbon of doubt creeps into my chest. What if he’s telling us the truth? He certainly doesn’t look like the boy from all the stories. “How do you operate your gambling game and win so frequently?”