Authors: Marie Lu
Tags: #Fantasy, #Young Adult
Maeve doesn’t look back at me, which is just as well. A gust of wind blows the hood of her cloak back, revealing black and gold hair before she pulls the hood back on again. I admire her marking. In fact, I’ve done nothing but obsess over her energy. She is the first Elite I can actually
—there is a darkness in her power that reminds me of myself, something deep and black, connecting her to the world of the dead. I wonder whether she ever has nightmares about the Underworld in the way that I do.
The feeling of being watched hits me, and the hairs on the back of my neck rise. I remind myself to stay focused on my disguise. Even though I can’t see them, the other Daggers must be scattered around the arena, watching, along with
anyone else who came with Maeve. So far, no one has raised an alarm over my appearance.
Raffaele’s pained face.
Images flash before me of my confrontation with Raffaele. He didn’t even try to fight back. He knew he was defenseless against me alone, that his power was useless against mine. He resisted well, I have to admit, much longer than most—he can see the reality behind my games. At least, for a little while.
But I didn’t kill him. I couldn’t bear to do it.
I’m not sure why. Maybe a part of me still wishes we could be friends, still remembers the sound of his voice when he sang my mother’s lullaby for me. Maybe I couldn’t bear to kill a creature as beautiful as he is.
Why do you care?
the whispers sneer.
“Stay close, Messenger,” Maeve calls over her shoulder. My steps quicken. The damp edges of my robes catch on my feet, threatening to trip me.
You must stay calm,
I tell myself. I slow to a more dignified walk, something more befitting a high-class consort. Raffaele’s old lessons run through my mind.
We reach the center of the platform. I find myself staring numbly at the ground here. It had once been covered in Enzo’s blood, dripping a pattern on the ground from Teren’s sword, the dark stain spilling out around the prince—
prince—as he lay dying. I can still feel my hands coated with it. But the bloodstains are gone now. Rain and the churning
lake have washed the stones clean again, as if no death had happened here.
He is not
the whispers remind me.
He never was. He was only a boy, and you’d do well to remember that.
Maeve stops in the center. She turns to face me for the first time. Her eyes are cold, and her cheeks are streaked with water. “Did he die here?” she says, gesturing to the ground beneath her boots.
Strange, how I can remember the exact spot, right down to the stones. “Yes.”
Maeve looks up and around the arena’s top row of seats. “Remember the signal,” she tells me, holding two arms up and out to her sides. “If you see any of the others give this signal, you must take me out of the arena. Do not waste your time waking me from my trance.”
I bow my head in the best imitation of Raffaele I can do. “Yes, Your Majesty,” I reply. I pause to look at both ends of the arena’s stone path. Maeve’s brothers are watching me down here too. I can see them now, barely noticeable in the night, and now and then I can see the gleam of their arrow tips fixed on me.
Maeve pulls the hood from her face. Rain soaks her hair. She takes a deep breath, almost as if she were afraid of what will happen next. She
afraid, I realize, because I can feel the fear building in her heart. In spite of everything, I recall that she has only ever brought her brother back from the dead. We are all venturing into strange territory.
“Come closer,” she commands me.
I do as she says. She gives me a long look for the first time, her eyes lingering long enough that I start to wonder whether she can see through my disguise. She pulls a knife from her belt.
Maybe she does know. And now she will kill me.
I lean hesitantly away, ready to defend myself.
But Maeve instead beckons me forward again. She reaches out and grabs a lock of my soaked hair. In one deft move, she slices a length of the lock off.
“Give me your palm,” she says next.
I hold one hand out at her, palm facing up. She murmurs for me to brace myself, digs the blade into my flesh, and makes a small, deep slice. I flinch. My blood wells against her skin. The pain sparks something inside me, but I force it back down. Maeve lets my blood drip on the strands of my cut lock.
“In Beldain,” Maeve says, her voice steady and low, “when a person lies dying, we send a prayer to our patron goddess, Fortuna. We believe she goes to the Underworld as our ambassador, to speak with her sister Moritas and vouch for the life she wants to take. Holy Fortuna is the goddess of Prosperity, and Prosperity requires payment. This is what I did when I brought my brother back—a ritual prayer.” Maeve’s brows furrow in concentration. “A lock of your hair, drops of your blood. The tokens we give to bind a dead soul to a living one.”
She bends down on one knee, then presses the bloody
lock against the stone. The blood smears against her fingers. She closes her eyes. I feel her energy grow, dark and pulsing. “Every life I pull back to the surface takes a piece of my own life,” she mutters. “A few lost threads of my own energy.” She turns her eyes up at me. “It will take a piece of yours too.”
I swallow. “So be it.”
She falls silent. All around us, the storm rages on, whipping at Maeve’s cloak and throwing fresh rain into my eye. I squint against it. Up on the arena’s top row, a silhouette with curls of hair turns toward us. The Windwalker, perhaps? She makes a subtle gesture, and a moment later, the wind around us dies down, pushed back by a funnel of wind that shields us in its center. The storm’s gusts rage in vain against the Windwalker’s shield. Maeve’s cloak drapes back down behind her, soaking in the rain, and I wipe water from my face.
Maeve bows her head. She stays still for a long moment. As I watch, a faint blue light starts to glow from under the edges of her hand. I can barely see it at first. But then the light begins to pulse, growing in strength from a faint, narrow outline to a soft glow that stretches all around her hand. Overhead, a streak of lightning brings with it an instant clap of thunder. It echoes around the arena.
A surge of fear emanates from Maeve now. I feel the change like water to a parched man, as intense as the storm. In order to reach the Underworld, one must gain the permission of she who walks the Underworld’s surface, Formidite, the angel of Fear, the same deity I’ve seen before in my
nightmares. Somehow, I know that Maeve must be at that surface now, seeking a way in.
Something starts to
from the depths of the arena’s lake. No, deeper than that. Deeper than the ocean, something that stretches all the way down, past the world of the living and into the realm of the dead. A darkness, something I have only sensed before in dreams. Threads of energy in the mortal world are infused with life, even the darkest, most twisted threads. But
new energy … it is something else altogether. Threads that are black, through and through, lacking the pulse of life and ice cold to the touch. My mind coils away from it—but at the same time, I hunger for it in a way I’ve never felt before.
This energy feels like … it belongs to a part of me.
Maeve shifts to press both of her hands against the ground. Out in the lake, the waters turn choppier. The waves crash against either side of the path, sending white foam up into the air. The energy from deep in the ocean starts to surge upward. It pushes past the barrier between death and life, and I gasp as the darkness permeates the water around us, staining the water with something not of this world.
A balira surfaces from the depths of the lake. It gives a cry of distress, then pushes itself up out of the water and launches into the sky. Its wings soar over my head, sprinkling a trail of ocean water across us. I shield myself. Salt water mixes with fresh rain on my tongue. Another balira follows after it, and their absence sends the water churning
violently. A large wave crashes against the path, spraying us both.
The glow under Maeve’s hand now wraps all around her body. The energy in the water has changed too … to something familiar.
I recognize the touch of these threads. There is fire in them—that which aligns with diamond—an intense, ferocious heat that I’ve only ever associated with one person.
Maeve’s eyes open. They look glazed, as if she were not really here. She leans forward to where the stone path meets the lake, and dips her arms down into the water. Water drips from her chin. She cringes, from pain or fear or strain. Her teeth clench harder.
Then her arms surge out of the water, pulling on something invisible.
And the ocean bursts open.
The waves of the lake explode, sending a jet of water high into the sky, level with the top of the arena. Thunder roars overhead in the same moment. As I look on in awe, the jet of water bursts into flames. Water rains down on us.
The water is hot.
Fire races all across the surface of the lake. It rages in whirlwinds, funnels of flames twisting and turning to meet with the wind and sky. The arena, so dark a moment ago, is now alight with scarlet and gold, and heat pulses across the surface, scalding my skin. I shield myself against the brightness.
The flames form a circle around the water before where
There is too much fire.
I feel an overwhelming urge to run away, but instead I force myself to keep concentrating.
It won’t be long now.
A silhouette rises from the surface of the water.
The water parts for him, and fire rushes in, engulfing his body. He tilts his head up to the sky, taking a deep gasp of air, and then bows, his shoulders hunched, kneeling over the water. Flames lick at his limbs, but don’t burn his skin. Slowly, he rises to his feet in the middle of the water. Flames rush around him, as if eager to be reunited with their master. His dark hair is wild and unruly, hiding his face from view. His clothing is still the same, exactly what he wore when he died. Blood stains the front of his doublet. Flames engulf his hands, curling around him in spools of golden heat.
When he opens his eyes, they are pools of blackness.
Leader. Prince. Reaper.
“Enzo,” I whisper, unable to look away.
It is Enzo, truly him, here.
Maeve turns to me from where she crouches, and holds out a hand to me. A net of threads whips around my heart, ice cold, linking me to Enzo. I stagger forward, then dig my feet into the stone path and push back. I feel as if these new threads would yank me straight into the water.
“Do not resist it,” Maeve commands.
The threads twist, growing tighter and tighter until they seem like they will suffocate me. My own energy responds to the darkness in Enzo. Then something cleaves together. A
new bond has suddenly formed, made of threads from the Underworld, a tether that links
We are bound. I know it as instinctively as I know how to breathe.
Enzo walks toward us across the water. His face is turned toward me now, recognizing our bond, and I cannot bear to look anywhere else. He is exactly how I remember him … all except his eyes, which stay as black as empty sockets.
I continue to repeat to myself, but it becomes a constant drone in the back of my mind. I wait as he draws closer, until he steps from the surface of the lake onto the stone path. Fire surrounds us. The heat coming from Enzo goes straight through me, scorching my insides. What a familiar feeling.
I can’t believe how much I’ve missed it.
Enzo stops a foot away from me. Fire loops around us, closing in and rising higher until it forms a funnel up into the air, so that it seems like we are the only two people in a world of flames. He looks down at me.
It takes a moment for me to realize that the water running down my face is no longer from the rain, but from my tears.
Enzo blinks twice. The black pools in his eyes swirl and fade, until they reveal the whites of his eyes, the familiar dark irises and scarlet slashes. Suddenly, he seems less like a phantom risen from the Underworld, and more like a young prince. His strength leaves him. He falls to his knees. There he crouches, shaking his head. The flames surrounding him
vanish, leaving a circle of smoke, and the arena comes back into view, the lake returned to dark, stormy waters, the rain still pouring down in sheets.
I kneel too. I reach out with slender hands to touch Enzo’s cheeks. Enzo lifts his head weakly to look at me, and suddenly, I can no longer hold back. I pull Enzo toward me, then touch my lips gently to his.
A second. No more than that.
The kiss ends. Enzo searches my gaze. Somehow, he sees straight through the illusion.
“Adelina?” he whispers.
And that is all it takes to undo me. Raffaele’s face disintegrates into my own, revealing silver and scars. My shoulders hunch in abrupt exhaustion. It feels like all the energy in my body has been sucked away, leaving nothing but the strange, otherworldly threads that now bind me to my prince. I’m exposed before the entire arena, and I don’t care at all.
“It’s me,” I whisper back.
They waged war for decades, never realizing that they were fighting for the same cause.
Campaigns of East and West Tamoura, 1152–1180
, by Scholar Tennan
The Beldish queen reacts first. She has never met me before, but somehow, she knows who I am.
“White Wolf,” she says. She tries to get up, but she’s still too weak from using so much of her power. She spits out a curse, then glances at the young man standing beside her.
“Tristan!” she shouts.
The boy turns to me. I can sense the dark energy building in him, something far more terrifying than anything I have ever felt within me. My darkness is a blanket that shrouds the patches of light in my heart. But this boy—his darkness
his heart. There is no light anywhere.