Home > The Midnight Star (The Young Elites #3)(5)

The Midnight Star (The Young Elites #3)(5)
Author: Marie Lu

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.

Raffaele Laurent Bessette

The sound of the surf outside reminds Raffaele of stormy nights at the Estenzian harbor. Here in the Sunland nation of Tamoura, though, there are no canals, no gondolas that have drifted away from their moorings to bob alongside the stone walls. There is only a beach of red and gold sand, and land dotted with low shrubs and sparse trees. High on a hill, a sprawling palace overlooks the ocean, its silhouette black in the night, its famous entrance illuminated by the glow of lanterns.

Tonight, a warm early spring breeze comes in through the windows of one of the palace apartments, and the candles burn low. Enzo Valenciano sits on a gilded chair, his figure hunched over, his arms resting on his knees. Waves of his dark hair fall over his face, and his jaw is clenched tight. His eyes stay shut in pain, his cheeks moist with tears.

Raffaele kneels before him, carefully undoing the white cloth bandages that run all the way up to the prince’s elbows. The smell of burned flesh and cloyingly sweet ointment fills the room. Every time Raffaele pulls the bandage from a segment of Enzo’s arm, tugging on the wounded skin as it goes, Enzo’s jaw tightens. His shirt hangs loose, slick with sweat. Raffaele winds the bandages in a roll. He can sense the agony hovering over the prince, and the feeling scalds his own heart as surely as if he were wounded himself.

Underneath the bandages, Enzo’s arms are a mass of burns that never seem to heal. The original scars and wounds that had always covered the prince’s hands have now spread upward, aggravated by his spectacular display during the battle against Adelina in the Estenzian harbor. Destroying almost all of Queen Maeve’s Beldish navy with fire has taken its toll.

A piece of skin tears away with the bandages. Enzo utters a soft groan.

Raffaele flinches at the sight of the charred flesh. “Do you want to rest for a moment?” he asks.

“No,” Enzo replies through clenched teeth.

Raffaele obeys. Slowly, painstakingly, he removes the last of the bandages from Enzo’s right arm. Both of the prince’s arms are now exposed.

Raffaele lets out a sigh, then reaches for the bowl of cool, clean water sitting beside him. He places the bowl in Enzo’s lap. “Here,” he says. “Soak.”

Enzo eases his arms into the cool water. He slowly exhales. They sit in silence for a while, letting the minutes drag on. Raffaele watches Enzo closely. Day by day, the prince has grown more withdrawn, his eyes turned frequently and longingly to the sea. There is a new energy in the air that Raffaele cannot quite put his finger on.

“You still feel her pull?” Raffaele asks at last.

Enzo nods. He turns instinctively toward the window again, in the direction of the ocean. Another long moment passes before he answers. “Some days, it is quiet,” he says. “Not tonight.”

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