Home > The Midnight Star (The Young Elites #3)(8)

The Midnight Star (The Young Elites #3)(8)
Author: Marie Lu

How hard she tries. Raffaele can feel his heart reaching out to her, wishing to comfort her, but all he can do is take her hand and soothe her temporarily with a tug of her heartstrings. He shakes his head.

“But—I hear she is offering generous payments to the citizens of Dumor,” Violetta replies. “She’s been more generous than she could be. Perhaps if we could only find a way to—”

“She is beyond help,” Raffaele says softly. An answer he has given many times. He is not certain that he believes it, not entirely, but he cannot bear to raise Violetta’s hopes only to see them crushed. “I’m sorry. We need to concentrate on defending Tamoura against Adelina’s next move. We must make a stand somewhere.”

Violetta looks back toward the shoreline and nods. “Of course,” she says, as if convincing herself.

She is not like the others. She aligns with gems, of course—with fear, empathy, and joy—but she has no markings to speak of. Her ability to take away others’ powers makes him uneasy. And yet, Raffaele cannot help feeling a bond with her, a comfort in knowing that she, too, can feel the world around her.

None of the three moons nor any stars are visible tonight; only clouds blanket the sky. Raffaele offers Violetta his arm as they pick their way carefully down the stony path. A hint of charge lingers in the warm winds, prickling his skin. As they make their way around the edge of the estate, the shore comes into view, a line of white foam crashing into black space.

Now he senses what had troubled Violetta. Right along the shore where the sand turns cold and wet, the feeling is incredibly strong, as if all the strings in the world were pulled tight. The waves spray him with flecks of salt water. The night is so dark that they cannot make out any other details around them. Large, looming masses of rock lie nearby, nothing more than black silhouettes. Raffaele stares at them, feeling a sense of dread. There is a pungent scent in the air.

Something is wrong.

“There is death here,” Violetta whispers, her hand quivering against Raffaele’s arm. When he looks at her, he notices that her eyes seem haunted, the same look she has whenever she talks about Adelina.

Raffaele scans the horizon. Yes, something is very wrong, an unnatural energy permeating the air. There is so much of it, he cannot tell where it is coming from. His eyes settle on a dark patch far in the distance. He stares at it for a while.

A series of lightning streaks breaks through the sky, carving trails from the clouds to the sea. Violetta flinches, waiting for the thunderclap to follow, but there is none, and the silence raises the hairs on the back of Raffaele’s neck. Finally, after an eternity, a low rumble shakes the ground. His eyes travel down to the waves crashing along the shore, then stop again on the black silhouettes of rock.

The lightning flashes again. This time, the glow lights up the shore for a brief moment. Raffaele steps backward, taking in the sight.

The black silhouettes are not rocks at all. They are baliras, at least a dozen of them, beached and dead.

Violetta’s hands fly to her mouth. For a moment, all Raffaele can do is stay where he is. Many sailors told stories about where baliras went when they died—some said they would go far out into the open ocean, where they would swim lower and lower until they sank to the depths of the Underworld. Others said they would leap out of the water and fly higher and higher, until they were swallowed up by the clouds. The occasional rib bone washed ashore, bleached white. But never had he seen a dead balira in the flesh before. Certainly not like this.

“Don’t come closer,” Raffaele whispers to Violetta. The smell in the air grows more pungent as he draws near, now unmistakably the smell of rotting flesh. As he reaches the first balira, he extends a hand out toward it. He hesitates, then places his fingers gently against its body.

The beast twitches once. This one is just an infant, and it is not dead yet.

Raffaele’s throat tightens, and tears fill his eyes. Something terrible killed these creatures. He can still feel the poisonous energy coursing through its veins, can sense its weakness as it takes another low, rasping gasp of air.

“Raffaele,” Violetta calls out. When he looks over his shoulder, he sees her wading into the waves as they break against the beach. The hem of her dress is soaked, and she is quaking like a leaf. Get out of there, Raffaele wants to warn her.

“This feels like Adelina’s energy,” Violetta finally says.

Raffaele takes a hesitant step toward the ocean, then another. He walks forward until his slippers sink into wet sand. He sucks his breath in sharply.

The water is cold in a way that he has never felt before, cold like death. A thousand threads of energy tug at his feet as the water recedes, as if each one were barbed with tiny hooks, seeking a living being. It sends his skin crawling in the same way a rotting fruit filled with maggots would. The ocean is full of poison, deep and dark and vile. Beneath it churns a layer of energy that is furious and frightening, something he had only once felt in Adelina. He thinks of Enzo’s strange distraction tonight, the faraway look in his half-alive eyes. The way he seemed drawn to the ocean. Raffaele remembers the storm that raged on the night when they’d brought Enzo back from the depths of the sea, where the edge of the living world ended and the world of the dead began.

Beside him, Violetta remains frozen in place as the water sways against her legs.

Raffaele takes a few more steps into the ocean, until the waves come up to his waist. The cold water numbs him. He looks up again to where the silent lightning storm rages, and tears begin to spill down his cheeks.

Indeed, this feels like Adelina’s energy. Like fear and fury. It is energy from another realm, threads from beneath the surface, an immortal place never meant to be disturbed. Raffaele trembles.

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