Authors: Marie Lu
Tags: #Fantasy, #Young Adult
“You forgot your ring last night,” he says.
My ring? I hurry over to the pool, kneel, and peer into the water. The silver ring sparkles in a ray of light, winking at me. It is the ring I’d worn on my fourth finger. I roll up my sleeve, reach for it, and clench it in my fist.
He couldn’t have taken it from me last night. Impossible. He didn’t even touch my hands. He didn’t even come down from the balcony!
The boy laughs before tossing something else down, this time in Violetta’s direction. “Let’s see, what else …” As it floats down, I see that it’s a ribbon of cloth. “A sash from
your dress, my lady,” he says to Violetta with a mock bow of his head. “Right as you walked into this bathhouse.”
He throws down more of our things, including a gold pin from my head wrap, and three jewels from Violetta’s sleeves. The hairs on my arms rise. “You two are very forgetful,” he chides as he goes.
Violetta bends down to retrieve her belongings. She shoots a glare at Magiano as she carefully clips the jewels back onto her sleeves. “I see we’ve found an upstanding citizen, Adelina,” she mutters to me.
“Is this supposed to impress us?” I call up to him. “A demonstration of cheap street tricks?”
“Silly girl. I know what you’re really asking.” He hops into the light. “You’re asking how I managed to do it. You have no idea, do you?” He’s the same boy we met yesterday. Thick ropes of braids hang over his shoulders, and he’s wearing a colorful tunic that has everything from patches of silk to enormous brown leaves sewn into it. When I look more closely, I realize that the leaves are actually made out of metal. Of
His smile is the one I remember—feral, sharp in a way that tells me he is observing everything about us. Studying our possessions. Something about his eyes sends a chill through me. A pleasant chill.
The famed Magiano.
“I admit I don’t know how you took our possessions,” I say, with a stiff jerk of my head. “Please. Enlighten us.”
He pulls his lute from behind his back and plucks a few notes. “So, you’re impressed, after all.”
My gaze shifts to the lute. It’s different from the lute he had yesterday. The instrument he has now is an opulent one, encrusted with glittering diamonds and emeralds, the strings painted gold, the knobs on the lute’s neck made out of jewels. The entire thing looks like a gaudy mess.
Magiano holds out the lute for us to admire. It twinkles madly in the light. “Isn’t she amazing? It’s the best lute that a night of gambling can buy.”
So this is how a famous thief spends his winnings. “Where do you even
to buy a monstrosity like that?” I say, before I can stop myself.
Magiano blinks at me in surprise, then gives me a hurt frown. He hugs the lute to his chest. “I think it’s pretty,” he says defensively.
Violetta and I share a look. “What is your power?” I ask him. “All the rumors say that you’re a Young Elite. Is it true, or are you simply a boy with a talent for theft?”
“And what if I’m not an Elite?” he says with a grin. “Would you be disappointed?”
Magiano leans back on the beam, hugs his lute, and regards me in the way that an animal might. He says, “All right. I’ll enlighten you.” He picks at his teeth. “You are a worker of illusions. Yes?”
He gestures at me. “Create something. Anything. Go ahead. Make this broken place beautiful.”
He’s challenging me.
I look at Violetta, and she shrugs, as if giving me permission. So I take a deep breath, reach for the threads buried inside me, pull them out into the air, and begin to weave.
All around us, the interior of the bathhouse transforms into a vision of green hills underneath a stormy sky. Steep waterfalls line one side of the landscape, and baliras lift ships from the ocean to the top of the falls, setting them safely on the shallow, elevated seas. Dalia, my birth city. I keep weaving. A warm wind blows past us, and the air fills with the scent of oncoming rain.
Magiano watches the shifting illusion with wide eyes. In this moment, his mischief and bravado vanish—he blinks, as if unable to believe what he’s seeing. When he finally looks back at me, his smile is full of wonder. He takes a deep breath. “Again,” he whispers. “Make something else.”
His admiration of my powers makes me stand a little straighter. I wave away the illusion of Dalia, then plunge us into the twilit depths of a nighttime ocean. We float in the dark water, illuminated only by shafts of dim blue light. The ocean transforms into midnight on a hill overlooking Estenzia, with the three moons hanging huge over the horizon.
Finally, I take the illusions away, bringing back the ruins that surround us. Magiano shakes his head at me, but doesn’t say a word.
“Your turn,” I say, crossing my arms. My body hums with the ache of using energy. “Show us your power.”
Magiano bows his head once. “Fair enough,” he replies.
Violetta takes my hand. At the same time, something invisible shoves against my hold on my dark energy—and the world around us vanishes.
I throw my hands up to shield my eye from the brilliant light. It is searing bright—is this his power?
No, that can’t be right.
As the light gradually fades, I chance a look around. The bathhouse is still here, still all around us … but, to my shock, it has transformed into its former self. No ivy or moss hangs from broken pillars, no holes in its crumbling dome roof let light paint patterns on the floor. Instead, the rows of pillars are new and polished, and the water in the pool—its surface adorned with floating petals—gives off clouds of steam. Statues of the gods line the pool’s edge. I frown at the sight, then try to blink it away. Beside me, Violetta’s mouth hangs open. She tries to speak.
“It’s not real,” she finally whispers.
It’s not real.
Of course it’s not—with those words, I realize that I recognize the energy this place is giving off, the millions of threads holding everything together. The renewed bathhouse is an
Just like something I would have created. In fact, the threads of energy that created this image of the perfect bathhouse feel exactly like my own threads.
Another illusion worker?
I don’t understand. How could he have created something with a power that should belong to me?
The illusion breaks without warning. The brightly lit temple, the steaming water and statues—all disappear in an instant, leaving us back in the dark recesses of the broken bathhouse and its overgrown shell. Spots of light still float across my vision. I have to adjust to the darkness, almost as if I’d been blinded by something real.
Magiano swings his legs idly. “The things I could’ve done,” he muses, “had I known you earlier.”
I clear my throat and try not to look too stunned. “You … you have the same power as I do?”
He laughs at the hesitation in my voice. With a grandiose half bow, he jumps onto his feet and spins once on the beam, like he is dancing. It looks effortless. “Don’t be stupid,” he replies. “No two Elites have the
“I imitate,” he continues. “Whenever I encounter another Elite, and she uses her power, I can briefly glimpse the weave of her energy in the air. Then I copy what I see—if only for a moment.” He pauses to give me a grin so large that it appears to split his face in two. “This is how you saved my life, and you didn’t even know it. When you were in the dungeon cell next to mine, I mimicked you. I tricked my way out of my cell by making the soldiers think my cell was empty. They came over to investigate, and I stepped right out when they opened the door.”
Gradually, the realization hits me. “You can mimic any Elite?”
He shrugs. “When I was lost and penniless in the Sunlands, I mimicked an Elite named the Alchemist, and transformed an entire wagon’s worth of silks into gold. When I ran from the Inquisition in Kenettra, I mimicked the Lead Inquisitor’s healing abilities in order to protect myself against the arrows his men launched at me.” He spreads his hands, nearly drops his lute, and grabs it again. “I am the brightly colored fish that pretends to be poisonous. You see?”
A mimic. I look down at my hand and move my fingers, watching my ring glint in the light. I eye the sash Violetta has tied back onto her dress. “When you stole our things,” I say slowly, “you used my power against us.”
Magiano tunes one of the lute’s strings. “Why yes. I replaced your ring with an illusion of it, slipped it off while convincing you that I was just idling on the balcony.”
Of course. It’s something I would have done—something I
done before—when stealing money from noblemen’s purses. I swallow, trying to grasp the sheer extent of his power. My heart beats faster.
Violetta’s mistrust of him has turned to fascination. “That means—around the right people—you can do anything.”
Magiano pretends to have the same realization she does, and his jaw drops, mocking her. “Well, now. I do believe you’re right.” He swings the lute over his back again, skips along the ceiling beam until he reaches a pillar, then hops down to a lower beam so that he now crouches close to us, close enough for me to see the wide array of colorful
necklaces hanging around his neck. More jewels. And now I can see what bothered me about his eyes. His pupils look strangely oval—slitted, like a cat’s.
“Now, then,” he says. “We have been introduced to each other and gotten all our pleasantries out of the way. Tell me. What do you want?”
I take a deep breath. “My sister and I are running from the Inquisition,” I say. “We are heading south now, out of their reach, until we can gather enough allies to return to Kenettra and strike back.”
“Ah. You want revenge against the Inquisition.”
“You and the rest of us.” Magiano snorts. “Why? Because they imprisoned you? Because they’re horrible? If that’s the case, then you’re better off leaving them alone. Trust me. You’re free now. Why go back?”
“Have you heard the latest news from Estenzia?” I ask. “About Queen Giulietta? And her brother’s—” I choke on the mention of Enzo’s death. Even now, I cannot bring myself to say it.
Magiano nods. “Yes. That news spread rather quickly.”
“Have you also heard that Master Teren Santoro is planning to annihilate all
in Kenettra? He is the queen’s pet—she will give him the power to do it.”
Magiano leans against the beam. If this news disturbs him, he doesn’t show it. Instead, he gathers his braids and pulls them over one shoulder. “So, what you’re trying to say
is that you want to stop Teren’s ruthless little campaign. And you are trying to gather a team of Young Elites to help you do this.”
“Yes.” My hopes rise a little. “And you are the Elite we hear about the most.”
Magiano stands taller, and his eyes glint with pleasure. “You flatter me, my love.” He gives me a rueful smile. “But flattery won’t be enough, I’m afraid. I work alone. I’m quite happy right where I am, and I have no interest in joining a noble cause. You’ve wasted your time on me.”
My rising hopes vanish as quickly as they came. I can’t help letting my shoulders fall. With a reputation like his, of course he must have been approached in the past by other Elites. What made me think he would agree to side with us? “Why do you work alone?” I ask.
“Because I don’t like to share my spoils.”
I lift my head and give him a small frown.
He has to join us,
the whispers in my head urge. The Daggers would have killed for an Elite with his powers on their side. What would Enzo or Raffaele have said to entice him to join the Dagger Society? I think back to the way Enzo had recruited me, what he whispered in my ear.
Do you want to punish those who have wronged you?
Beside me, Violetta squeezes my hand in the darkness. She glances at me from the corners of her eyes. “Find his weakness,” she murmurs to me. “What he wants.”
I try a different tactic. “If you are the most notorious thief
in the world,” I say to him, “and you are so good at what you do, then how did you get captured by the Inquisition?”
Magiano props an elbow up on one knee and swings his legs. He gives me a curious grin … but behind it, I see what I’d hoped for. A spark of irritation. “They got lucky,” he replies, his nonchalant voice a little bit sharper than before.
“Or maybe you were careless?” I press. “Or are you exaggerating your talents?”
Magiano’s grin wavers for an instant. He sighs and rolls his eyes. “If you
know,” he mutters, “I was in Dalia to steal a chest of rare sapphires that had arrived from Dumor as a present for the duke. And the only reason the Inquisition caught me is that I went back for one more sapphire than I should have.” He holds up both hands. “In my defense, it was a very heavy sapphire.”
He can’t help himself,
I realize. This is why one of the world’s most notorious Elites still runs petty street games for money, why he just spent an entire night’s pouch of gold talents on a useless, jewel-encrusted lute, why he has gold leaves sewn into his clothes. There are never enough gold talents in his pockets or jewels on his fingers—not when he knows there are more to gain. I glance at his fine silks again. Money pours into his hands and flows right out between his fingers.
Violetta’s tightened hold tells me she has come to the exact same conclusion. This is our opening.
“Kenettra’s royal treasury holds a thousand times the
sapphires you tried to steal in Dalia. You and I both know this. You managed to steal the crown jewels once before—now imagine all the gold behind that crown.”
As expected, Magiano’s eyes take on a gleam so intense that I have to take a step back. He tilts his head suspiciously at me. “You tell me this as if I’ve never considered stealing the entire Kenettran royal treasury,” he says.
“Then why haven’t you done it yet?”
“You are so naïve.” He shakes his head, disappointed in my answer. “Do you have any idea how many guards watch over that gold? How many locations it’s scattered across? What a fool attempt it would be for anyone to think he could take it all?” He sniffs. “And here I thought for a moment that you had some magical idea to take it too.”