Authors: Marie Lu
Tags: #Fantasy, #Young Adult
“Who were they?” I whisper. I’m still not entirely sure that any of this is happening.
“The Beldish, I think,” Magiano mutters. “They must have sent a hunting party out after us.”
I shudder. The knife stabbing into my chest had felt so real—my father had been right there, Teren had slammed me against the wall. My wild illusions, like my powers, are starting to take on more facets than just sight and sound. They can touch me, make me think they are hurting me. I think of all the times I have used this against others. Then, the thought of it turning against
I look up at Magiano. He stares at me with a worried expression. His eyes are not slitted. His pupils are black, and his gold eyes are warm and bright. “This is your tether making things worse,” he says. “I know it. You told me you aligned with passion. It calls to you when you’re tied to him, doesn’t it?”
My alignment to passion. He’s right, of course. Enzo has returned from the dead, and with him has come all of my old passion, the same passion that caused my powers to leap out of control, that had made Raffaele so distrusting of me in the first place. Now, with this tether between us, my instability has only grown.
“Why …” I fight to clear my head. “What did they want?”
I know the answer before Magiano even replies. “The Daggers came for Enzo,” he says.
The pain returns to my chest as I realize that the Daggers will tell him everything about me—both lies and truths. He will find out what I did to Raffaele.
The distant rumble of explosions makes us both freeze. At first, I think it must be the thunder. Then I see something on the horizon, filling the dark, furious oceans around Estenzia as dawn slowly creeps forward. The light of fire.
Magiano sees it too. We freeze where we stand, and together we see a trail of fire arc through the air, then send up a burst of flames.
I try to see what is going on through the rain and darkness. “Is that …?”
Then a fork of lightning cuts through the sky, illuminating the clouds and land and sea, and my question dies on my tongue. Yes, it is. Warships dot the horizon, their blue-and-white banners unmistakable even from this distance, an endless trail of beads on a necklace, stretching as far as the eye can see. Their hulls curve high, and their sails loom tall. The Beldish navy has arrived.
Such blinding dreams of white ice and spinning dice, I watched them all vanish in a trice. What will be your sacrifice?
Leven Night: A Collection
, by Enadia Hateon
Never in my life have I seen so many ships. They cover the sea like a swarm of insects, and from here I feel as if I could hear the buzz of their wings. The sound of horns and the deep rhythm of war drums float to us. Estenzian horns answer back. From the Fortunata Court’s vantage point, I can see the Inquisition spilling into the streets, swarming in the direction of the palace. Kenettran warships cover the ocean closest to our harbor. But our ships are outnumbered.
There is no time for me to recover from my illusion. I shake my head violently, trying to force the terrifying images away. “We have to go,” I breathe, forcing myself up off the bed. “Now.”
To my grateful surprise, Magiano doesn’t argue. Instead, we rush to join the others. They are already waiting near the court’s side door. Sergio has horses for us, while my other
mercenaries have already melted into the forest. I go to the stallion Violetta is astride, and she reaches a hand down to help me. I take it and swing up behind her.
“We will be surrounded by Inquisition forces,” Magiano reminds me as we turn our horses in the direction of the palace. He raises an eyebrow at me. “Are you strong enough?”
He is concerned for me, but he doesn’t stop me either. “Yes,” I say, and he nods. It’s all he needs to hear from me. Without another word, we set off in the rain. Off in the distance, the Beldish war horns blare again.
I feel a faint tug on the tether linking me to Enzo. The feeling makes my stomach seize painfully. The Daggers had come to sabotage me. They are making their move with their Beldish queen, and now Enzo will be at their side instead of mine. I grit my teeth.
But not for long. They cannot control him like I can.
By the end of this day, someone shall take this country.
As a bleak, rainy dawn breaks, we draw closer to the harbor. The canal where Teren told us to meet already has a line of gondolas waiting for us. The boats are painted a deep black so that they blend right in with the dark, stormy waters. I hold my breath as we rock along, the sides of the gondolas buffeted by waves.
As we sail closer to the plaza bordering the palace, a vision of white cloaks comes into view—a patrol of Inquisitors, all with their attention pointed at us. At the front of the patrol of Inquisitors stands Teren. He catches sight of me, and I hold my breath. Magiano’s doubts echo in my mind.
If Teren goes back on his word now, then we will have to fight here.
But then I remember the anguish in his voice, the force of his hands clutching my face, and I know that his fury in the temple was real. He does not move as we approach. Instead, when we dock, he commands his Inquisitors to pull our gondolas forward and secure them. He holds a hand out to me.
I step out of the gondola without taking it. Behind me, Violetta follows. Magiano hops out with a nimble leap, his eyes fixed warily on the former Lead Inquisitor. A low rumble of thunder echoes across the sky. I know Violetta is trembling behind me.
I stare at Teren too. For a moment, neither of us says a word. I realize that this is the first time his eerie eyes are trained on me like an ally, and the feeling turns me cold.
All I need is for him to take us into the palace,
I remind myself.
“Do your work,” he says, and turns in the direction of the palace gates.
Teren cannot set foot inside the gates if he looks like himself. He has been banished by the queen, after all, and if he reveals himself too soon, the palace’s soldiers will stop him. So I weave an illusion over him, changing his nose and the tilt of his eyes, the lines of his jaw and the arc of his cheekbones. His eyes shift from ice to something dark and murky. His patrols look on as I transform their leader into a complete stranger. Their fear is directed at me, and I cherish it. It will be useful later.
I finish disguising Teren. “Well done, illusion worker,” he says to me. Magiano steps closer to me at Teren’s words, but Teren only smiles at him. “Don’t fear for her,” he goes on. “We are allies, remember?”
Magiano does not smile back.
We head toward the palace. Above us, a flash of lightning punctuates the darkening dawn. The closer we get, the stronger the tether pulls between me and wherever Enzo is. We must be drawing near to the Daggers too. The feeling makes me restless, impatient for us to move faster.
The Inquisitors at the main gate don’t stop us. Neither do those in the palace’s front courtyard, or those lining the palace’s main entrance. We fool guard after guard. I walk beside Violetta, our steps in sync, the illusion of white cloaks trailing behind us. Teren does not turn around, but his Inquisitors press close beside us, ready to stop us if we give the faintest sign of moving against him. I stare at his back, fantasizing that I could reach out and twist him, that I could let pain wash over him. The thought fuels my powers further. We make our way down long corridors and halls lined with windows from floor to ceiling. The storm clouds gathering outside have thickened now into blankets so that I can no longer see the sky through its gaps.
Finally, we reach the hall leading to the throne room. The number of Inquisitors here would not be able to stop us now. So I reach out for Teren’s disguise and slowly unravel it. The illusion of his dark, murky eyes gives way once again to his pale ones; his blond hair and cold, chiseled face return.
The Inquisitors standing at the throne room’s door stiffen at the sight of him. I smile at their confusion. They must be wondering where Teren suddenly appeared from, and how he had gotten past all of the other soldiers in the palace.
Teren stops before them. “Stand aside,” he orders.
The guards hesitate for a moment longer. Teren had been the Lead Inquisitor for long enough that it is hard for them to break the habit of obeying him. But then one shakes his head nervously. “I’m sorry, sir,” he says, standing as straight as he can and putting his hand on his sword’s hilt. “I don’t know how you got this far, but we’ll have to escort you out of the palace. The queen has ordered you—”
Teren doesn’t wait for him to finish. He draws his own sword, steps forward, and slashes it across the man’s throat. The man’s eyes bulge, and his jaw drops. The second guard starts to raise the alarm, but I lash out with my illusions. A thousand imaginary hooks dig into his flesh, yanking hard, and he collapses to the floor. Teren crouches down and stabs him before he can scream. The man convulses, gurgling, on the ground. I stand and watch, remembering the Inquisitors I’d sentenced to die on the ship.
Teren steps over the bodies, pushes open the throne room doors, and goes in.
The first person I see is Queen Giulietta.
I have only caught glimpses of her from afar, but I recognize her immediately because of her resemblance to Enzo. On this dark morning, she has shed her long silk robes and replaced them with traveling gear—a heavy cloak drapes
from her shoulders, and the hood covers her head, revealing only a sliver of her dark locks and the glint of a thin crown. My eye goes to the balcony. The shadow of an enormous ray-like wing glides past, and I realize that baliras are circling the palace, waiting to take the queen and her personal Inquisition guard out of the palace. They are preparing to escort her out of dangerous territory.
Raffaele is out on the balcony. He has already boarded a balira, and several Inquisitors are climbing upon the creature’s back with him. His eyes dart to me—he is the only one in the room who I know realizes who we really are. I can feel the wave of fear surge from him, and a burst of anxiety.
The other Daggers.
Where is Enzo? I search frantically. No. The bond is still too far away. He isn’t here.
Giulietta turns in our direction as Teren strides toward her, Inquisitors trailing in his wake. She focuses her eyes on us menacingly. “What is this?” she says. “
” Even the tenor of her voice, rich and deep and mysterious, reminds me of Enzo’s.
A beat later, her eyes dart to the chamber doors. She catches sight of the dead guards’ blood pooling on the floor. Her stare shifts to me. A faint recognition sparks there. Even though she has never met me, she
who I am—and I want to drink the trickle of fear that appears over her. “The White Wolf,” she murmurs.
Teren smiles a broken smile at her. “Hello, Your Majesty,” he replies. He stops before her and drops into a deep bow.
Giulietta frowns, then tenses. She glances at me again before turning her attention back to him. “You shouldn’t be here, Master Santoro.”
Teren seems unconcerned with her words. “I live to serve your crown,” he says. He glances behind her—his eyes, gleaming with hatred, settle on Raffaele. “But you turned me away, Your Majesty, and let these other abominations near you.”
Giulietta lifts her head. “You do not serve me by being here,” she snaps. She starts to move in the direction of the balcony, where one of the baliras has slowed its circling to hover outside. She glances at Raffaele. “See to it that your Daggers take care of this.”
But Raffaele doesn’t make a move. Of course he doesn’t. Instead, he takes a step back and folds his arms into his sleeves. Overhead, several baliras are flying in the balcony’s direction. I recognize the tiny spot of copper hair on one of the riders. It’s Lucent.
Giulietta gives Raffaele a harsh look. She narrows her eyes. Realizes the danger she is now in. She glances at the Inquisitors behind Teren. “Seize him,” she calls out. One of her Inquisitors shouts at her to board a balira, and she starts rushing in its direction.
A tingling begins in my fingers and travels up my arms. My power is so strong now that the edges of my vision are starting to blur, illusions of memories and people flashing in and out of my periphery.
I could kill the queen myself, right now.
The thought rushes through me with exhilarating
speed. Teren and his Inquisitors have gotten us into the palace, and now I stand a mere few feet from the ruler of Kenettra. I could twist her so hard with pain that she could die, writhing, here on the floor. This is what we came here to do. Beside me, Magiano gives me a quick glance. He expects it too.
What are you waiting for, Adelina?
But a better idea occurs to me. I came here for revenge, didn’t I? So, instead, I let
move forward. Then I reach out with my threads and coil them around Giulietta’s wrist. I yank hard, weaving.
Giulietta lets out a shocked cry of agony as a sudden, searing pain twists her wrist. She looks down in horror as she sees blood dripping down her hand. I smile, strengthening the illusion. She looks up at me. My illusion wavers as she realizes what I’m doing, but she is not strong enough to see past it.
The Inquisitors behind Teren do not move at Giulietta’s command. For the first time, I sense a flicker of uncertainty in her. Giulietta gathers her strength. “I said,
Still, the Inquisitors do not move.
Teren lifts his bowed head to look at Giulietta. I expect him to smile, but instead his eyes are filled with tears. “You sent me away,” he says. “I loved you. Do you know how much I
you?” His voice trembles. I shudder at the blackness that has started to rise within him.
“You are a
!” Giulietta retorts back. “Do you still not
understand why I sent you away? It is because I am your
, Master Santoro. You do not disobey your queen.”
“Yes, you are my queen!” Teren shouts. “And yet you no longer act like one! You are supposed to be chosen by the gods. Pure of blood,
. But look at whom you surrounded yourself with!” He gestures to Raffaele. “You commanded that abomination to touch you? You accepted the Daggers as part of your army, in exchange for halting the cleansing of
?” Teren’s words turn uglier, his voice harsher and louder. He is entirely oblivious to the hypocrisy of what he is saying.