Read The Rose Society Online

Authors: Marie Lu

Tags: #Fantasy, #Young Adult

The Rose Society (11 page)

Why are powerful men so stupid around a pretty face? Quietly, I begin to weave an illusion around the entire circle. It’s a subtle one, of blurry lantern light and raucous cheering, the illusion of people intoxicated with wine. The Night King rubs at his eyes before smiling at me. “Ah, my beauty,” he slurs. “I seem to have drunk too freely tonight.”

The world’s deadliest mercenaries choose to serve you,
the whispers say,
because they have yet to meet me.
I lean over to kiss him on the cheek. As I do, I reach for his collar. Then I take the real diamond pin off and put it in the pocket within my silks.

“Perhaps you need to rest, my lord,” I reply, rising to my feet.

His hand whips out without warning and grabs my wrist. I freeze—so does everyone else around him. Even Magiano stops, surprised at the man’s speed. The Night King fights against his drunkenness and hardens his smile. “You do not leave until I say so,” he says. “I hope my soldiers told you the rules within this courtyard.”

Everyone around the fire exchanges nervous glances. I meet Violetta’s gaze. She sees my cue, leans toward him, and whispers something in his ear. The Night King listens, frowning—then breaks into laughter.

I can see the relaxing of shoulders around the circle as the other nobles join in. The Night King softens his grip on my wrist, then stands. “So,” he says, winding his arm around my waist while pulling Violetta up beside him. “A pair of adventurous sisters. Where did you say you were from, again?” He follows me as I lead us out of the circle and through the courtyard.

Behind us, several of his soldiers look at one another and follow along behind us. Magiano’s stare stays on us, too, and for an instant, his eyes meet mine. He seems puzzled and curious.

I glance around the courtyard, wondering where the Night King’s mercenaries might be. If they are as dangerous as everyone claims, then I know they must be watching us carefully. As I cast one last, casual glance over my shoulder, I see that Magiano has now disappeared from the circle.

I sustain the hazy, wine-like illusion around the Night King as we pass through the grounds and enter one of the open porticos lining the courtyard. Here, the shadows of the archways cover us, and we are swallowed by darkness. The soldiers following the Night King keep a short distance between us, giving him privacy while still keeping us in sight.

The Night King pulls me close, then pushes me against one of the portico’s pillars. At the same time, I reach within for my energy, find it, and pull the strings close. I start to weave.

One by one, the lights along the portico flicker out. The soldiers startle, bewildered. They glance at the extinguished lanterns. Then one of them looks at us and lets out a shout as I pull a blanket of invisibility over myself and Violetta. We step away from the Night King, slipping out of his grasp.

The Night King opens his eyes to find us gone and stumbles backward.

I silently thank the night for hiding the imperfections of my invisibility. I keep weaving.

“Guards!” the Night King shouts, waving his men over. They hurry to his side. To my surprise, several figures also materialize out of the shadows in the portico. These men are dressed differently from the regular guards—they look like ordinary noblemen, except each of them has a dagger in hand.
His mercenaries,
I think.

“Where did they go?” one of them breathes, looking around and straight through us. Violetta and I stand perfectly still, pressed as tightly as we can against the pillars.

“How can you not have seen them?” the Night King snaps, trying to recover from his own embarrassment. “
Find them.

I smile, amused by the fumbling soldiers. I grit my teeth and reach for the Night King.

Suddenly he gasps. He looks down. Then he lets out a scream, falls, and scrambles backward until he is pinned against the wall. A mass of red, disgusting sores have broken out across his legs, burning through his clothing as if a bucket of poison had just been poured on him. He screams again and again. Around him, his soldiers and mercenaries look on in horror. A wave of dark energy hovers over the crowd, and I drink it in hungrily, letting their fear fill my insides and strengthen me. The whispers in my head burst into a cacophony I can’t understand.

The Night King’s screams echo down the hall. Other spectators are now swarming over him. I catch glimpses of their shocked faces—their disbelief at seeing the all-powerful ruler of Merroutas crouched against a wall, paralyzed with terror. Good. Let them see.

Then, I stumble. One of the soldiers has accidentally staggered backward, right into me, and shoves me out of my place. The sudden jolt distracts me from my invisibility illusion—and suddenly, for a moment, Violetta and I are exposed. A dozen pairs of eyes are upon us.

On the ground, the Night King sees us—his lips curl into a snarl. “
You,
” he spits, looking at me and then at my sister.

I lift my chin and release the illusion from him. My heart pounds furiously in my chest.

“A demon. Damn
malfettos
,” he hisses. “Thieves, whores—” His voice has turned threatening and ugly. His eyes settle on Violetta, and within them, I see murder. My sister takes a step back and his focus shifts to me. “I’ll cut you to pieces and burn you in the central square.”

I look around at the others, letting my stare settle on the mercenaries. When we first came here tonight, I thought I would terrify the Night King in front of his men and mercenaries, so that they would realize how powerful I am—and come to serve me.
I did not consider killing anyone.

But now, I stare at the Night King, hear his threats against my sister and me, and feel the full force of hatred in my heart. If my goal is to win over his ruthless mercenaries—to truly be a threat to Queen Giulietta and the Inquisition—then maybe I should do more than just terrify him.

“Seize her!” one of the guards shouts.

I glare at them. I am not sure what they see, but something in my gaze makes them hesitate. Their swords stay drawn, hanging in the air, unmoving. “How can you seize me,” I say calmly, “if you cannot see me?”

One finally lunges for me. I vanish. The whispers in my head burst into chaos. Violetta shrieks for me to keep going, but a blur of thoughts is rushing through me with the speed of a howling wind. I grit my teeth and gather my energy. I reach out, seeking the darkness in those around us, the Night King’s anger, the soldiers’ fear, letting it strengthen me. I snap an illusion around the closest soldier like a whip.

He screams, faltering in his steps. To him, he is suddenly poised over a yawning cliff.

I reach for the Night King and wrap him in an illusion.

“What are you doing?” Violetta shouts. “This isn’t part of—”

The Night King draws his sword, points it at Violetta, and lunges. The blade sings through the air, aiming straight for my sister’s throat.

Too late, he realizes that his blade is an illusion. I vanish it in a puff of smoke. At the same time, I grab the real sword strapped to his waist. My limbs move of their own accord—I blink in and out of existence. The whispers in my mind burst from their cages, roaring, filling me with their hisses. I hold the sword straight out at him, right as he lunges into me.

His weight shoves me back. I feel the blade pierce through soft flesh. He lets out a gurgling scream as his own sword runs him through.

The man’s eyes bulge, and he lets out a strangled cry, like how the roasting pig must have sounded in its final moment. Blood spills down the front of his fine silks. I immediately let go of the sword, and he staggers backward several steps, both hands clutched tightly around the sword’s hilt in a vain attempt to pull it out. He looks back at me in confusion, as if he can’t believe he’s meeting his end at the hands of a young girl. He tries to say something, but he is too weak. He falls forward, going still as his side hits the ground, and blood spills around him in a widening circle.

For an instant, everyone—Violetta and I, the soldiers, the mercenaries—can only look on.
Save your fury for something greater,
she’d said to me.

When I was a little girl, I wanted to believe that my father would love me if I could just do the right thing. I tried and tried, but he didn’t care. Then, after he died, the Inquisition Axis came and arrested me. I tried to tell them of my innocence, but still they weighed me down in chains and dragged me off to burn at the stake. When I joined the Dagger Society in my search for Young Elites like myself, I did everything in my power to become one of them, to please them, and to fit in. I opened my heart to them. I tried to free myself from the trap that Teren Santoro set for me, forcing me to betray my newfound friends. I made mistakes. I trusted both too little and too much. But, by the gods, I tried so hard. I gave everything I had.

I have always done the best I could, and yet, somehow, it has never been enough. No one cared what I did. They always turned their backs on me.

Why can’t
I
be like that? Why can’t
I
be the father who just shrugs off the love of his daughter? Why can’t
I
be the Lead Inquisitor who enjoys watching his pleading victims burn at the stake? Why can’t
I
be the one who befriends a lonely, lost girl and then casts her out? Why can’t
I
be the one to strike
first
, to hit so early and with such fury that my enemies cower before they can ever think of turning on me?

What is so
great
about being good?

One of the mercenaries meets my gaze. “White Wolf,” he whispers, barely able to get the words out.

I stare back into his wide eyes. The fact that he recognizes my power and knows my Elite name would have frightened me, once—some will know that I was here, many will be after me. But I am not afraid, not at all. Let them know who did this, and let word of it get back to Kenettra.

“I can give you more than he ever did,” I reply, nodding once at the Night King’s body.

A whistle sounds out above us. I jerk my head up to see Magiano perched on the top of the wall. He scowls, then throws a rope to us. I just manage to shield my face with my arms before the rope hits me.

“You’re helping us?” Violetta calls up at him from her place by the wall.

Magiano puts something against the edge of the wall, then tightens the rope on top of it. “
Help
is a strong word for what I’m doing,” he calls, before vanishing over the top. Some of the mercenaries have broken out of their trance—they draw their weapons and lunge for us. I react the only way I know how. I throw invisibility over us, then seize the rope. Violetta grabs hold as well. The instant we do, the rope yanks us up into the air. As the mercenaries pause below us, we fly to the top of the wall and pull ourselves over. Violetta gets her footing first and helps me scramble to the other side. We jump down, tumbling several times before staggering to our feet.

Outside the estate, more soldiers race toward us. I feel the sudden sag of lost energy now, and my curtain over us flickers in and out, leaving us exposed. An arrow sings past my shoulder, nicking my sleeve. We rush toward the shadows of the closest alleyway, but the soldiers pursue us. They’re going to cut us off.

Suddenly, an illusion goes up behind us—a brick wall, as solid in appearance as something real. The soldiers send up bewildered shouts. Violetta glances back, startled, and then looks down at herself. We are invisible. Overhead, Magiano whistles at us again.
He is mimicking me,
I realize.
And he’s protecting us.

As we run through a maze of narrow alleys, Magiano continues to create rapid illusions behind us, slowing the soldiers down until they sound far away. We dash through corridors of smoke and spice sacks, listening to the call of merchants blur into one long note around us. People make startled sounds whenever our invisible figures bump into them. We run for a long time, until we finally turn from the narrow marketplaces onto a quiet street, with nothing but lines of damp clothing hanging above us.

Magiano is nowhere to be seen. I slide down the wall until I’m crouched with my knees to my chin. I lower my head into my hands. Violetta does the same. Sweat beads our foreheads, and our breaths come at rapid speed. I can’t stop shaking. The terror that comes over someone before death is one of the sharpest surges of energy I can feel, and the death of the Night King now catches up to me. I want to
lash out at something, anything, but I hold back and try to steady my breathing.
Calm down.
All I can do is picture the Night King’s shocked expression, the blood pooling around him. The scene plays over and over. My thoughts are a blur.

Violetta’s hand touches my shoulder. She tugs hesitantly at my power, asking permission to take it away if I desire. I shake my head. No, I must become used to this.

“You promised,” she says to me.

I glance up at her in surprise. She has narrowed her eyes, and I can sense a tide of anger in her. “I broke no promises,” I reply.

Violetta takes her hand off my shoulder and tightens her jaw so hard that I think it might break. “You said you wouldn’t kill anyone. That you only wanted to frighten them and show off our powers.”

“I said that
you
wouldn’t kill anyone,” I snap, wiping sweat from my forehead.

“You didn’t have to do it.” Violetta’s voice sharpens. “Now we will be hunted all throughout Merroutas. They will seal the ports, I’m sure of it. How will we leave? Why do you do this?”

“You think they wouldn’t have hunted us if we just intimidated the Night King and stole his pin? Did you see the way his mercenaries looked at me after it was done?”

Violetta looks sickly pale. “They are going to find us, and kill us for this.”

“Not all of them. Some of them will be impressed by what we’ve done, and join us.”

“This could have been done in a different way.”

I glare at her. “Fine. Next time, you can ask them all nicely. Don’t worry. You still won’t have to dirty
your
hands with blood.”

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