'The Midnight Star' Concludes Marie Lu's Dark, Twisted Young Elites Series — EXCLUSIVE EXCERPT

Marie Lu isn't afraid of dark, twisted characters. In fact, her New York Times bestselling series, The Young Elites, features a protagonist who also happens to be the major villain. Adelina Amouteru, also known as the White Wolf, is a malfetto, a person who survived a lethal 'blood fever' as a child and was left with a physical mark — in her case: a missing eye, a scarred face, and hair that has turned white as snow. Some of these malfettos were also blessed with a supernatural power. Adelina is one such malfetto — a Young Elite — as she has the power to manipulate illusions. But what happens when her power proves to be much too overwhelming? Over the course of the first two novels, readers watched as Adelina descended further and further into darkness in her ruthless quest for power and revenge. 

In The Midnight Star, the final installment of the series, Lu will finally reveal her plans for Adelina. Will she get a 'happily ever after'? Or will she meet a more sinister fate — an ending befitting a villain? 

"How do you end a story where the main villain is actually the main character? I wanted to make sure the ending felt appropriate given the characters and their gray journeys," Marie Lu tells Bustle. "All I can say is that the third book follows a path that I think fits Adelina."

"Without giving away too many spoilers, I'll say that Adelina spends book three understanding what she really wants," Lu says. "So far, it seems like she's been 'winning' — but at what price? Book three explores the ramifications of her wins and what victory really means."

Though The Midnight Star is the last book in the series, fans of Marie Lu have much to celebrate: the bestselling author, who also penned the Legend series, has a duology in the works with Penguin Young Readers. The first in the series, Warcross, will be released in Fall 2017, and the book sounds like one crazy adventure. Warcross and its unnamed sequel follows two teenage bounty hunters who are hired to catch a hacker in the world's most popular virtual reality game.

Seriously. Where can we pre-order? 

Though Marie Lu has already turned an eye to the next project, she admits she had a tough time saying goodbye to The Young Elites.

"Saying farewell to Adelina was a weird thing for me," she says. "She has such a dark history and harsh journey that telling her story — living her harshness — was a challenge. Even though I was sad to leave her at the end of this, I still felt kind of happy for her, and proud of her."

"I do miss her deeply, though, and the rest of her crew," Lu says. "It's like saying goodbye to old friends." 

Bustle is proud to reveal an exclusive excerpt of The Midnight Star to tide you over until October. Read chapter one below, and pre-order The Midnight Star now, available wherever books are sold from G.P. Putnam's Sons Books For Young Readers on October 11, 2016. 

I saw her, once. 

“She passed through our village, through fields littered with dead soldiers after her forces overwhelmed the nation of Dumor. Her other Elites followed and then rows of white-robed Inquisitors, wielding the white-and-silver banners of the White Wolf. Where they went, the sky dimmed and the ground cracked—the clouds gathered behind the army as if a creature alive, black and churning in fury. As if the goddess of Death herself had come. 

“She paused to look down at one of our dying soldiers. He trembled on the ground, but his eyes stayed on her. He spat something at her. She only stared back at him. I don’t know what he saw in her expression, but his muscles tightened, his legs pushing against the dirt as he tried in vain to get away from her. Then the man started to scream. It is a sound I shall never forget as long as I live. She nodded to her Rainmaker, and he descended from his horse to plunge a sword through the dying soldier. Her face did not change at all. She simply rode on. 

“I never saw her again. But even now, as an old man, I remember her as clearly as if she were standing before me. She was ice personified. There was once a time when darkness shrouded the world, and the darkness had a queen.” 

A witness’s account of Queen Adelina’s siege on the nation of Dumor 

The Village of Pon-de-Terre

 28 Marzien, 1402

Tarannen, Dumor: The Sealands 

Moritas was sealed in the Underworld by the other gods. But Amare, the god of Love, took pity on the young, dark-hearted goddess. He brought her gifts from the living world, rays of sunshine bundled in baskets, fresh rain in glass jars. Amare fell in love—as he was frequently wont to do—with Moritas, and his visits resulted in the births of Formidite and Caldora. 

An Exploration of Ancient and Modern Myths, by Mordove Senia 

Chapter 1: Adelina Amouteru 

I have had the same nightmare for the past month. Every night, without fail.

 I am asleep in my royal chambers at the Estenzian palace when a creaking sound wakes me. I sit up in bed and look around. Rain lashes the windowpanes. Violetta sleeps next to me, having crept into my chambers at the sound of the thunder, and under the blankets, her body is curled close at my side. I hear the creaking again. The door of my room is slightly ajar and slowly opening. Beyond it is something horrifying, a darkness full of claws and fangs, something I never see but always know is there. The silks I’m wearing turn unbearably cold, as if I am neck deep in a winter sea, and I cannot stop myself from trembling. I shake Violetta, but she does not stir.

 Then I jump out of bed and rush to close the door, but I can’t—whatever is on the other side is too strong. I turn to my sister. 

 “Help me!” I call to her desperately. She still does not move, and I realize that she is not asleep, but dead. 

 I startle awake, in the same bed and same chambers, with Violetta sleeping beside me. Just a nightmare, I tell myself. I lie there for a moment, trembling. Then I hear that creaking sound, and I see the door is starting to open once more. Again, I jump out of bed and rush to close it, shouting for Violetta. Again, I realize that my sister is dead. Again, I will bolt awake in bed and see the door opening. 


 I will wake a hundred times, lost in the madness of this nightmare, until the sunlight streaming through my windows finally burns the scene away. Even then, hours later, I cannot be sure I am not still in my dream. 

I am afraid that, one night, I will never wake. I will be doomed to rush to that door over and over again, running from a nightmare in which I am always, forever, lost.

***

  A year ago, it would have been my sister, Violetta, riding at my side. Today, it is Sergio and my Inquisition. They are the same white-robed, ruthless army that Kenettra’s always known—except, of course, they now serve me. When I glance back at them, all I see is a river of white, their pristine cloaks contrasted against the somber sky. I turn around in my saddle and return to gazing at the burned houses that go by as we ride. 

 I look different from when I first took the throne. My hair has grown long again, silver as a sheet of shifting metal, and I no longer wear a mask or an illusion to hide the scarred side of my face. Instead, my hair is pulled back in a braided bun, jewels woven into the locks. My long, dark cape billows behind me and down my horse’s quarters. My face is fully exposed. 

 I want the people of Dumor to see their new queen. 

 Finally, as we pass through an abandoned temple square, I find who I’m looking for. Magiano had initially left me and the rest of my Kenettran troops right after we entered the city of Tarannen, no doubt wandered off somewhere in search of leftover treasures from homes abandoned by fleeing citizens. It’s a habit he picked up soon after I became queen, when I first turned my sights on the states and nations around Kenettra. 

 As we approach, he rides through the empty square and slows his horse to a trot beside me. Sergio shoots him an annoyed look, although he says nothing. Magiano just winks back. His mess of long braids is tied high on his head today, his menagerie of mismatched robes replaced with a gold breastplate and heavy cloak. His armor is ornate, dotted with gemstones, and if one didn’t know better, one would assume at first glance that he was the ruler here. The pupils of his eyes are slitted, and his expression is lazy under the midday sun. An assortment of musical instruments is looped across his shoulders. Heavy bags clink at his horse’s flanks. 

 "You are all looking magnificent this morning!” he calls out cheerfully to my Inquisitors. They just bow their heads at his arrival. Everyone knows that openly showing any disrespect for Magiano means instant death at my hands. 

 I raise an eyebrow. “Treasure hunting?” I say. 

 He gives me a teasing nod. “It took me all morning to cover one district of this city,” he replies, his voice nonchalant, his fingers floating absently across the strings of a lute strapped in front of him. Even this small gesture sounds like a perfect chord. “We’d have to stay here for weeks for me to collect all of the valuables left behind. Just look at this. Never saw anything this finely crafted in Merroutas, have you?” 

 He edges his horse closer. Now I see, wrapped in cloth in the front of his saddle, bunches of plants. Yellow thistle. Blue daisies. A small, twisted blackroot. I recognize the plants immediately, and suppress a small smile. Without saying a word, I untie my canteen from the side of my saddle and hand it to Magiano so that the others don’t see. Only Sergio notices, but he just looks away and guzzles water from his own bottle. Sergio has been complaining of thirst for weeks now. 

 “You slept poorly last night,” Magiano murmurs as he gets to work, crushing the plants and mixing them into my water. 

 I had been careful this morning to weave an illusion over the dark circles under my eyes. But Magiano can always tell when I’ve had my nightmares. “I’ll sleep better tonight, after this.” I motion at the drink he’s preparing for me.

 "I found some blackroot,” he says, handing my canteen back to me. “It grows like a weed here in Dumor. You should take another tonight, if you want to keep the . . . well, them at bay.”


 The voices. I hear them constantly now. Their chittering sounds like a cloud of noise right behind my ears, always present, never silent. They whisper at me when I wake in the morning and when I go to bed. Sometimes they speak nonsense. Other times, they tell me violent stories. Right now, they’re mocking me. 


 How sweet, they sneer as Magiano pulls his horse slightly away and goes back to plucking at his lute. He doesn’t like us very much, does he? Always trying to keep us away from you. But you don’t want us to leave, do you, Adelina? We are a part of you, birthed in your mind. And why would such a sweet boy love you, anyway? Don’t you see? He’s trying to change who you are. Just like your sister.

 Do you even remember her?

 I grit my teeth and take a drink of my tonic. The herbs are bitter on my tongue, but I welcome the taste. I’m supposed to look the part of an invading queen today. I can’t afford to have my illusions spinning out of control in front of my new subjects. Immediately, I feel the herbs working—the voices are muffled, as if they have been pushed farther back—and the rest of the world comes into sharper focus. 

 Magiano strums another chord. “I’ve been thinking, mi Adelinetta,” he continues in his usual, lighthearted manner, “that I’ve collected far too many lutes and trinkets and these delightful little sapphire coins.” He pauses to turn around in his saddle and digs some gold from one of his heavy new satchels. He holds out a few coins with tiny blue jewels embedded in their centers, each one equivalent to ten gold Kenettran talents. 

 I laugh at him, and behind us, several Inquisitors stir in surprise at the sound. Only Magiano can coax joy out of me so easily. “What’s this? The great prince of thieves is suddenly overwhelmed by too much wealth?” 

 He shrugs. “What am I going to do with fifty lutes and ten thousand sapphire coins? If I wear any more gold, I’ll fall off my horse.” 

 Then his voice quiets a little. “I was thinking you could dole it out to your new citizens instead. It doesn’t have to be much. A few sapphire coins each, some handfuls of gold from your coffers. They’re overflowing as it is, especially after Merroutas fell to you.” 

 My good mood instantly sours, and the voices in my head start up. He’s telling you to buy the loyalty of your new citizens. Love can be purchased, didn’t you know that? After all, you bought Magiano’s love. It is the only reason why he’s still here with you. Isn’t it?

 I take another swig from my canteen, and the voices fade a little again. “You want me to show these Dumorians some kindness.” 

 “I think it could reduce the frequency of attacks on you, yes.” Magiano stops playing his lute. “There was the assassin in Merroutas. Then we saw the beginning of that rebel group—the Saccorists, wasn’t it?—when your forces set foot in Domacca.” 

 “They never got within a league of me.” 

 “Still, they killed several of your Inquisitors in the middle of the night, burned down your tents, stole your weapons. And you never found them. What about the incident in northern Tamoura, after you secured that territory?” 

 “Which incident did you have in mind?” I say, my voice growing clipped and cold. “The intruder waiting in my tents? The explosion on board my ship? The dead marked boy left outside our camps?” 

 “Those too,” Magiano replies, waving his hand in the air. “But I was thinking about when you ignored the letters from the Tamouran royals, the Golden Triad. They offered you a truce, mi Adelinetta. Their northern strip of terrain in exchange for releasing their prisoners and the return of the farmlands near their only major river. They offered you a very generous trade deal. And you sent their ambassador back bearing your crest dipped in the blood of their fallen soldiers.” He gave me a pointed look. “I seem to remember suggesting something subtler.” 

 I shake my head. We already argued about this, when I initially arrived in Tamoura, and I’m not about to debate it again. “I’m not here to make friends. Our forces successfully conquered their northern territories regardless of their deals. And I will take the rest of Tamoura next.” 

 “Yes—at the cost of a third of your army. What will happen when you try to seize what remains of Tamoura? When the Beldish strike at you again? Queen Maeve is watching you, I’m sure.” He takes a deep breath. “Adelina, you’re Queen of the Sealands now. You’ve annexed Domacca and northern Tamoura in the Sunlands. At some point, your goal should be not to conquer more territories but to keep order in the territories you do have. And you won’t achieve that by ordering your Inquisitors to drag unmarked civilians out into the streets and brand them with a hot iron.” 

 “You think me cruel.” 

 “No.” Magiano hesitates for a long moment. “Maybe a little.”


 “I’m not branding them because I am cruel,” I say calmly. “I’m doing it as a reminder of what they’ve done to us. To the marked. You’re so quick to forget.” 


 “I never forget,” Magiano replies. This time, there is a slight sharpness to his tone. His hand hovers near his side, where his childhood wound continues to plague him. “But branding the unmarked with your crest will not make them any more loyal to you.” 

 “It makes them fear me.” 

 “Fear works best with some love,” Magiano says. “Show them that you can be terrifying, yet generous.” The gold bands in his braids clink. “Let the people love you a little, mi Adelinetta.” 

 My first reaction is bitterness. Always love with this insufferable thief. I must appear strong in order to control my army, and the thought of handing out gold to the people who once burned the marked at the stake disgusts me. 

 But Magiano does have a point. 

 On my other side, Sergio, my Rainmaker, rides on without comment. The color of his skin looks pallid, and he seems like he still hasn’t fully recovered from the chill he’d taken several weeks ago. But other than his silence and the way he wraps his cloak around his shoulders even in this mild weather, he tries not to show it. 

 I turn away from Magiano and say nothing. He looks ahead too, but a smile plays at the corners of his lips. He can tell that I’m considering his suggestion. How does he read my thoughts so well? It irritates me even more. I’m at least grateful to him for not mentioning Violetta, for not confirming out loud that part of why I am sending my Inquisitors to force the unmarked into the streets. He knows it is because I am searching. Searching for her

 Why do you still want to find her? The whispers taunt me. Why? Why?

 It’s a question they ask over and over again. And my answer is always the same. Because I decide when she can leave. Not her. 


 But no matter how many times I answer the whispers, they keep asking, because they don’t believe me. 

We’ve reached the inner districts of Tarannen now, and although it looks deserted, Sergio’s eyes stay focused on the buildings surrounding the main square. Lately, the insurgents known as the Saccorists—taken from the Domaccan word for anarchy—have attacked our troops on several occasions. It has left Sergio searching constantly for the hidden rebels. 

 A tall archway leads into the main square, its stones engraved with an elaborate chain of the moons and their various shapes, their waxes and wanes. I pass under it with Sergio and Magiano, then pause before a sea of Dumorian captives. My horse stamps the ground in impatience. I sit straighter and lift my chin, refusing to show my exhaustion.

 None of these Dumorians here are marked, of course. The ones in chains are those with no markings at all, the sort of people who used to throw rotten food at me and chant for my death. Now I lift a hand at Sergio and Magiano; they guide their stallions away from me to stand at either end of the square, facing the people.

 My Inquisitors spread out too. Our captives shrink back at the sight of us all, their stares fixed hesitantly on me. It is so quiet that if I closed my eye, I could pretend that I am standing alone in this square. Still, I can feel the cloud of terror blanketing them, waves of their reluctance and uncertainty beating against my bones. The whispers in my head dart out like hungry snakes at scurrying mice, eager to feed on the fear.

 I nudge my stallion forward several steps. My gaze travels from the people up to the roofs of the square. Even now, I find myself searching instinctively for a sign of Enzo, crouched up there like he used to do. The pull between us, the tether that binds him to me and me to him, tenses, as if from somewhere over the seas he knows that Dumor has fallen to my army. Good. I hope he senses my triumph.

 My attention turns back to the captives. “People of Dumor”—my voice rings out across the square—“I am Queen Adelina Amouteru. I am your queen now.” My gaze goes from one person to the next. “You are all part of Kenettra and can consider yourselves Kenettran citizens. Be proud, for you belong to a nation that will soon rule all others. Our empire continues to grow, and you can grow along with it. From this day forth, you shall obey all laws of Kenettra. Calling a marked person a malfetto is punishable by death. Any abuse, harassment, or mistreatment of a marked person, for any reason, shall bring not only your own execution, but the execution of your entire family. Know this: The marked are marked by the hands of the gods. They are your masters and untouchable. In return for your loyalty, each of you will receive a gift of five Dumorian safftons and fifty gold Kenettran talents.”

 People murmur in mild surprise, and when I look to my side, I see Magiano glance at me in appreciation.

 Sergio jumps down from his horse and moves forward with a small team of his former mercenaries. They go through the crowd, picking out a person here and there, then drag them forward where Sergio forces them all to kneel before me. Fear washes over these chosen ones. As well it should.

 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.

 I wait for more arrows and daggers to rain from the roofs—but they don’t. Instead, in the far corner of the square, Sergio and his men reappear. They drag four, five people between them. Saccorists. They’re dressed in clothing the color of sand to blend in with the walls.

 My anger rises again, and the pain in my bleeding arm only fuels my energy. I don’t wait for Sergio to bring them to me. I just lash out. I reach for the sky, weaving, using the fear in the crowd and the strength inside myself. The sky turns a strange, deep blue, then red. The people shrink away, screaming. Then I reach out for the rebels and send an illusion of suffocation around them. They hunch forward in the grips of Sergio’s men, then arch their backs as they sense the air being pulled straight out of their lungs. I grit my teeth and strengthen the illusion.

 The air is not air at all, but water. You are drowning in the middle of this square, and there is no surface for you to breach.

 Sergio releases them. They fall to their knees, struggling to breathe, and thrash on the ground. I expand my illusion, reaching out for the rest of the captives in the square. Then I lash out with all of my power.

 A net of pain blankets all of the captives still sitting on the ground. They shriek all at once, clawing at their skin as if hot pokers were burning them, yanking at their hair as if ants were crawling through the strands, biting at their scalps. I watch them suffer, letting my own pain become theirs, until I finally wave the illusion away.

 Sobs wrack the crowd. I don’t dare reach up to clutch my own bleeding arm—instead, I focus my hard stare on the people. “There,” I say. “You have seen it for yourselves. I will tolerate nothing less than your loyalty.” My heart pounds in my chest. “Betray me, or any of my own, and I will make sure you beg for your death.”

 I nod for my troops to come forward and round up the crying rebels. Only then, with the Inquisitors’ white robes swirling around me, do I turn my stallion and ride out of the square. My Roses follow. When I’m finally out of sight, I let my shoulders droop and descend from my mount.

 Magiano catches me and I lean against his chest. “Back to the tents,” he murmurs as he puts an arm around me. His expression is tense, full of an understanding that goes unspoken. “You need to have that wound sewn up.”

 I lean against him, drained after the sudden blood loss and whirlwind of illusions. Another assassination attempt. Someday, I may not be so lucky. The next time we enter a conquered city, they may ambush me before any of my Roses can react fast enough. I am not Teren—my illusions cannot protect me from the cut of a blade.

 I will need to root out these insurgents before they can become a real threat. I will need to make a harsher example of their deaths. I will need to be more ruthless. 

 This is my life now.

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