Home > The Midnight Star (The Young Elites #3)(4)

The Midnight Star (The Young Elites #3)(4)
Author: Marie Lu

I peer down at them. As expected, all those chosen by Sergio and his team are strong, muscled men and women. They tremble, their heads lowered. “You have the chance to join my army,” I tell them. “If you do, you will train with my captains. You will ride with me to the Sunlands and the Skylands. You will be armed, fed, and clothed, and your families will be looked after.”

To make my point, Magiano descends from his stallion and approaches them. At each one, he makes a show of digging into his bag and dropping heavy satchels of gold Kenettran talents in front of them. The people only stare. One of them grabs his satchel so frantically that the coins tumble out, glittering in the light.

“If you refuse my offer, you and your family will be imprisoned.” My tone deepens. “I shall not tolerate potential rebels in my midst. Pledge your loyalty, and I will make sure that promise is worth your while.”

From the corner of my eye, I see Sergio stir uneasily. His eyes turn to the perimeter of the square. I stiffen. I’ve become very good at knowing when Sergio senses danger. He mutters to several of his men, and they head off into the shadows, disappearing behind a door.

“Do you pledge?” Magiano asks them.

One by one, they answer without hesitation. I motion for them to rise, and a patrol of Inquisitors comes to lead them away. More able-bodied men and women are brought before me. We repeat the same ritual with them. Then, another group. An hour passes.

Someone in one of the groups refuses to pledge. She spits at me, then calls me some name in Dumorian that I don’t understand. I turn my glare on her, but she doesn’t back down. Instead, she curls her lips. A defiant one.

“You want us to fear you,” she growls at me, speaking now in accented Kenettran. “You think that you can come here and destroy our homes, kill our loved ones—then make us grovel at your feet. You think we will sell you our souls for a few coins.” She lifts her chin. “But I am not afraid of you.”

“Is that so?” I tilt my head at her curiously. “You should be.”

She challenges me with a smile. “You can’t even bring yourself to spill our blood.” She nods in the direction of Sergio, who has already started to draw his sword. “You have one of your lackeys do it for you. You’re a coward queen, hiding behind your army. But you cannot crush our spirits beneath your Roses’ heels—you cannot win.”

At one time, I might have been intimidated by words like these. But now I just sigh. You see, Magiano? This is what happens when I show kindness. So while the woman continues her speech, I swing down from my stallion. Sergio and Magiano watch me in silence.

The woman is still talking, even as I stop before her. “The day will come when we strike you down,” she’s saying. “Mark my words. We will haunt your nightmares.”

I clench my fists and fling an illusion of pain across her body. “I am the nightmare.”

The woman’s eyes bulge. She lets out a choked scream as she falls to the ground and claws at the dirt. Behind her, the entire crowd flinches in unison as eyes and heads turn away from the sight. The terror flowing from her feeds directly into me, and the voices in my head explode into shouts, filling my ears with their delight. Perfect. Keep going. Let the pain force her heart to beat so rapidly that it bursts. So I listen. My fists clench tighter—I think back to the night when I’d taken my first life, when I’d stood over Dante’s body. The woman convulses, her eyes flickering about wildly, seeing monsters that are not there. Crimson drops fly from her lips. I take a step back so that her blood doesn’t reach the hem of my dress.

At last, the woman freezes, falling unconscious.

I calmly turn back to the rest of our captives, who have become as still as statues. I could slice their terror with my knife. “Anyone else?” My voice echoes in the square. “No?” The silence lingers.

I lean down. The bag of coins that Magiano had originally thrown at the woman’s feet now lies untouched next to her body. I pick the bag up delicately with two fingers. Then I walk back to my stallion and swing up into the saddle.

“As you can see, I keep my word,” I call to the rest of the crowd. “Do not take advantage of my generosity, and I will not take advantage of your weakness.” I toss the woman’s satchel of coins to the closest Inquisitor. “Chain her up. And track down her family.”

My soldiers drag the woman away, and a new group is brought before me. This time, they each accept their gold quietly and bow their heads to me, and I nod my acceptance in return. The procedure continues without incident. If I’ve learned anything from my past and my present, it’s the power of fear. You can give your subjects all the generosity in the world, and still they will demand more. But those who are afraid don’t fight back. I know this well enough.

The sun rises higher, and two more groups pledge their loyalty to my army.

Suddenly, a sharp object glints in the light. My gaze darts up. A blade, a needlelike weapon, hurled from the roofs. On instinct, I pull on my energy and whip an illusion of invisibility around myself. But I do not react quickly enough. A dagger flies right past my arm, slicing deep through my flesh. My body lurches back at the impact, and my invisibility flickers out.

Shouts from the captives, then the sound of a hundred swords scraping against sheaths as my Inquisitors draw their weapons. Magiano is at my side before I can even sense his presence. He reaches for me as I sway in my seat, but I wave him away. “No,” I manage to gasp out. I can’t afford for these Dumorians to see me bleed. It’s all they need to rise up.

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