Read The Rose Society Online

Authors: Marie Lu

Tags: #Fantasy, #Young Adult

The Rose Society (39 page)

“I know,” I say.

“Do you care for him?”

“I don’t know how to,” I reply.

Violetta gives me a sidelong look. I know she can hear in my voice the evidence that he means more to me than I’m revealing. She sighs, then waves for me as she walks toward the steps leading up to the throne. Our footsteps echo in unison. She sits down on the bottom step, and I join her.

“Let him in,” she says. “I know you’re holding back.” She stares out at the long, empty expanse of the chamber. “Keep him close. His love is light, and it calls out the light in you.” Her eyes come to settle on me.

Something whispers in irritation at the back of my mind, resisting the advice. “You’re telling me this because you think I love him?”

“I’m telling you this because he calms you,” she says, her tone uncharacteristically sharp and biting. “You’re going to need it.”

“Why?”

Violetta doesn’t say anything more. I watch her tiny movements—the tightening of the skin around her eyes, the way she squeezes her hands together in her lap. There is definitely something she’s not telling me. Again, the whispers in my mind hum their disapproval.

“What’s wrong?” I say, firmer this time.

Violetta’s fidgeting hands separate from each other. One of them tucks into a pocket in her skirt. She swallows, then turns to me. “There was something I found on board Queen Maeve’s ship,” she begins. “I thought it wise to tell you later, when we had a moment alone.”

“What is it?”

“It is … from Raffaele, I think.” Violetta hesitates. “Here.” She reaches down into the pockets of her skirts, then takes out a wrinkled parchment. She unfurls it and holds it before both of us. Our heads lean in together. I squint, trying to make sense of what I’m seeing. It is a smattering of sketches, interspersed with words written in Raffaele’s unmistakably beautiful calligraphy.

“Yes,” I agree, taking the parchment from Violetta. “This is his writing, without doubt.”

“Yes,” Violetta echoes.

I run my hand along the parchment, imagining Raffaele’s deft quill gliding across the surface. I remember him writing pages and pages of notes about Elites back at the Fortunata Court, how he would always record everything he saw in my training. He is the Messenger, after all, tasked with immortalizing us and our powers in writing. I begin to read the parchment.

“He talks about Lucent,” Violetta says. “Do you remember the night at the arena, when Lucent broke her wrist?”

I nod. My hands start to tremble as I read each of Raffaele’s notes.

“Raffaele says … that her wrist did not break because of combat. It broke because her powers … her ability to control the wind, to move the air …” Violetta takes a deep breath. “Adelina, Lucent’s wrist broke because her power has started to eat away at her. Wind is hollowing out her bones. It
seems the more powerful we are, the faster our bodies will crumble.”

I shake my head, unwilling to understand. “What is he suggesting? That we …”

“That, in a few years, Lucent will die from this.”

I frown. That cannot be right. I stop and start again at the top, analyzing Raffaele’s sketches, reading his writing, wondering what I’m missing. Violetta must be misinterpreting this. My gaze lingers on the sketches Raffaele has drawn of threads of energy in the air, his observations about Lucent.

Wind is hollowing out her bones.
Lucent will die from this.

But that means … I read further, looking at a brief note about Michel at the bottom of the parchment. The faster I read, the more I realize what he is saying. He is saying that, someday, Michel will die because his body will bleed from pulling objects through the air. That Maeve will succumb to the poisons of the Underworld. That Sergio’s body will starve from being unable to retain water. That Magiano will go mad from mimicking other powers.

“This is impossible,” I whisper.

Violetta’s voice trembles. “Raffaele is saying that all of us,
all
Elites, are in danger.”

That we are doomed to be forever young.

I’m silent. Then I shake my head. The parchment’s edges crinkle in my grip. “No. But that makes no sense,” I say, turning my back on Violetta and walking close to the windows. From here, we can make out the commotion down
below, the noise of thousands of uncertain civilians and anxious
malfettos
, none of whom know what rule under an Elite will be like. “Our powers are our
strengths
. How can Raffaele possibly know such a thing, just from one broken wrist?”

“It
does
make sense. None of our bodies were ever designed to wield powers like this. We may be the children of the gods, but we are
not gods
. Don’t you see? The blood fever left us tied to the immortal energy of the world in such a way that our fragile, mortal bodies cannot possibly hope to keep up.”

As Violetta speaks, the sound of her voice changes. The sweetness of it, which reminds me so much of our mother’s voice, is transformed into something eerie, a chorus of off-pitch voices that send a shiver down my spine. I lean away, wary. The whispers in my head shove a memory forward at me—I remember my sister and me, alone in a chamber, her power used against mine.

I think of Enzo’s burned hands. Then, of my uncontrollable illusions. My hallucinations and bursts of temper. My trouble recognizing familiar faces around me, twisting them into strangers. I know it is true, with chilling certainty. My power of illusion is destroying my mind as surely as Lucent’s power is breaking her bones.

No,
something hisses in my mind. The hiss sounds urgent, the whispers more agitated than usual.
She is lying to you. She wants something from you.

“We will all die,” Violetta says, again in her new, frightening
chorus of voices. It sends a jolt of fear through me. Why does she sound like this? “We were never meant to be.”

“This cannot be happening to all Elites,” I murmur. My gaze goes back to her. “What about you? You’ve felt no effects.”

She only shakes her head. “I am not powerful, Adelina,” she replies. Her teeth flash. Did I see that? It seemed for a moment as if she had fangs. “Not like you, or Lucent, or Enzo. I take power away. I don’t even have markings. But someday I may manifest something too. It’s inevitable.”

I move away from her.
She is dangerous,
the whispers in my mind say, louder now.
Stay away from her.
“No. We will find a way,” I whisper. “We are chosen by the gods. There
must
be a way.”

“I have thought about this. The only way will be to remove our powers permanently,” Violetta says.

The whispers let out a deafening howl in my mind at that. The fear crawling along my spine turns from a trickle into a river. It roars through me.

What kind of life will that be,
the whispers say to me,
without powers?

I try to imagine my world without my ability to change reality. Without the addictive rush of darkness and fear, the sheer power to create anything at will, anytime I want. How can I live a life without that? I blink, and my illusions spark out of control for a moment, weaving for me an image of what my life once was—the helplessness I felt when my
father held my finger between his hands and snapped it like a twig; the way I pounded weakly at my locked door and begged for food and water. The way I cowered under my bed, sobbing, until my father’s hands would seize me and drag me out, screaming, to face his bloody fists.

That is life without power,
the whispers remind me.

“No,” I say to Violetta. “There must be another way.”

It takes me a moment to realize that Violetta is looking at me. Her face suddenly terrifies me. I push myself up from the steps and back away from her. “You will not touch me,” I whisper.

“Adelina, I’ve seen you deteriorating over the past months.” Violetta speaks now with tears in her eyes. Why do her tears look tinged with blood? I blink.
My illusions. They must be getting away from me again …
but the whispers in my mind force my thoughts away, filling my head instead with more of my own fear. “I’ve held back many times, I haven’t said nearly everything I wanted to say, all because I don’t want you to be angry with me. I’ve seen your powers spiral wildly out of control, have seen you terrified by illusions that aren’t really there.” Violetta glances to one wall of the chamber, where the gold of the pillars reflects our image. “Just
look
, mi Adelinetta,” she whispers. “Can you see yourself?”

I barely recognize the girl reflected back at me in the pillar. The scarred side of her face is hollow with anger. Dark circles line the skin under her good eye. There is a savagery in her expression, a hardness, that I do not remember
being there before. Behind me float ghosts, fanged creatures with glittering eyes. I know immediately that these are the whispers in my head. They crowd the reflection in the pillar, until they start to claw their way out of it and onto the floor.

I look away from them and back to Violetta. Her eyes are still bloody.

“Those moments are fleeting,” I snap at her, widening the gap between us.
I have to get out of here.
“Nothing more. I always recover. What Raffaele has learned is a mistake.”

“It’s
not
a mistake,” Violetta snaps back desperately. “It’s truth, and you don’t want to accept it.”

“He’s
lying
!” I shout, trying to drown out the whispers that have turned into a roar. The fanged creatures continue to crawl their way along the floor toward us. I try to erase them with my mind, but I can’t. “He has
always
been a manipulator!”

“What if he’s not?” Violetta replies, throwing her hands in the air. “Then what? Should we all stand by and watch one another fall apart?”

I turn away from her, then whirl back around.
She is your sister,
the whispers growl at me.
How can she understand you so little?
“Do you realize what my power means to me? It is my
life
. There is
nothing
more important to me than it. It has given me all of this.” I gesture around us at the opulent chamber, the gold-lined marble, the beautiful curtains. The reward for my revenge. “Are you trying to say that you want
to take it away from me? Have you forgotten our promise to each other?”

“Our promise was
always
to protect each other,” Violetta says. “You protect me with your illusions. You comfort me from thunderstorms, you weave illusions around me to protect me from the horrors of war. Our promise was to never use our powers
against
each other.” She steps toward me. Bloody tears run down her face. “I am not against you!”

“Stay away from me,” I say through clenched teeth, holding one trembling hand out before me.

“You’ve
won
, Adelina!” Violetta snaps at me. Her anger contorts her face as if in a nightmare. Maybe this
is
a nightmare. Why does everything seem so hazy? “Just
look
! You have everything now—you control your prince, you control Teren, you control your Roses and your mercenaries, you control an entire Inquisition army. You rule a nation.”

My breathing turns rapid. “They follow me because of my power.”

“They follow you because they
fear
you.” Violetta tightens her lips. “Other kings and queens are human too. They rule with fear and mercy. So can you. You don’t need your power to lead this country.”

No. I want more than that. I want real weight behind my fear, I want the reassurance of—

“You want to keep your ability to hurt, don’t you?” Violetta suddenly says. “You want your power because you genuinely enjoy what you do to others.”

The tone of her voice turns me cold. The whispers swarm inside me and along the floor. Darkness appears in the corners of the chamber. “Well, Violetta?” I taunt. My words come out all on their own, vicious in a way I cannot control. “Tell me what I do to others.”

Violetta hardens her expression. In this instance, my gentle, beautiful sister is unrecognizable. “You destroy people.”

You see?
The whispers roar.
She has turned her back on you. She has always planned to betray you.

“And what do
you
do?” I shout. The whispers take over my words. It is as if I were watching myself speak. “
You
, my
righteous
little sister? You left me to suffer our father alone. Do you know what it was like for me, to lie bleeding on the floor, while he showered you with dresses in the next bedchamber? Do you know what it was like for our father to threaten to kill me, and then for me to murder him in return? No,
you don’t
. You stand on the sidelines and wait for me to do your dirty work. You hide in the shadows so that I can
bleed
for you. You give me your pitiful look when I kill, but you do not stop me. And now you judge me for that?”

Scarlet tears spill from Violetta’s eyes. “I
am
a coward,” she says. “I’ve been one all my life, and I am sorry for it. I never thought I had a right to stop you, after what you did for us. For freeing us from our father.”

“We are
never free
from our father,” I—the whispers in my head—spit at her. “Do you know that, even now, I can see his illusion in the corner of my eye? He is there, behind the banister.” I shove a finger in the direction of where my father
watches us, his mouth curved into a dark smile. He holds out his hands, as if encouraging the swarming creatures on the floor to draw nearer to us.

“Then let me free you!” Violetta cries. Her cry sounds like a shriek. I cover my ears.

“I would rather
die
than let you take my power away from me,” I snap.

“You
will
die, at this rate!”

Get out of here! You are in danger!
the whispers scream at me. I turn away from her.

And then I feel it. Violetta reaching for my threads of energy. Pushing them away, out of my grasp. For an instant, I can’t breathe. I claw at the air in front of me, grabbing for the threads, but they are already gone, out of reach. I whirl, staggering, to look at Violetta. No. She wouldn’t.

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