Home > The Midnight Star (The Young Elites #3)(7)

The Midnight Star (The Young Elites #3)(7)
Author: Marie Lu

The young man stepped forward. When he stopped before Raffaele, he folded his hands behind his back and nodded once. Raffaele felt the energy shift again, beckoning at him, and he couldn’t help but return the stranger’s gaze. Raffaele forced himself to give the young man a smile, one he had been trained to give for years.

The stranger spoke first. “You noticed me in the crowd,” he said. “I saw your eyes following me around the room. Why is that?”

“I suppose I was drawn to you,” Raffaele replied, turning his eyes down and letting the heat rise to his cheeks again. “What is your name, sir?”

“Enzo Valenciano.” The stranger’s voice was soft and deep, silk hiding steel.

Raffaele’s eyes shot back up to him. Enzo Valenciano. Was that not the name of the disgraced prince of Kenettra? Only now, in the dim light of the chamber, did Raffaele realize that the boy’s hair glinted with a hint of deep red, so deep it looked black. A marking.

The former crown prince.

“Your Highness?” Raffaele whispered, so startled that he didn’t think to bow again.

The young man nodded. “And I’m afraid I have no intention of fulfilling your debut night.”

The scene evaporates as a knock sounds on the door. Raffaele and Enzo look over at it in unison and Raffaele lets out a long breath, pushing the memory to the back of his mind as he puts down the bandages. “Yes?” he calls out.

“Raffaele?” a timid voice answers. “It’s me.”

He folds his hands into his sleeves. “Come in.”

The door opens, and Violetta steps hesitantly inside. Her eyes first meet Raffaele’s, then dart to where Enzo sits with his elbows leaning against his knees. “I’m sorry to interrupt,” she says. “Raffaele, something strange is happening down by the shore. I thought you might want to have a look.”

Raffaele listens with a frown. So, Violetta has sensed something ominous as well. She looks pale tonight, her olive skin ashen, her full lips pulled into a tight line, hair secured behind a Tamouran wrap. She had found the Daggers with her power almost a year ago, all on her own. It’d taken her a week to find the words to tell Raffaele what had happened between her and her sister, then another week still before she begged them through her tears to find a way to help Adelina. Since then, she has stayed at Raffaele’s side, working with him as he tested her alignments and taught her how to concentrate her ability to sense others’ energy. She was a good student. A fantastic student.

She reminds him so much of Adelina. If he let himself, Raffaele could imagine that he was staring at a younger version of the Queen of the Sealands, before she turned her back. Before she was beyond help. The thought always saddened him. It is my fault, what Adelina has become. My fault that it is too late.

Raffaele nods at Violetta. “I’ll come in a moment. Wait for me outside.”

As Violetta retreats to the hallway, he finishes bandaging Enzo’s arms, then rubs his own neck in exhaustion. Too many nights in a row he’s spent like this, weeks that stretched into months, all trying in vain to repair Enzo’s wounds. But every time they began to heal, they would worsen again. “Try to sleep,” Raffaele tells him.

Enzo doesn’t respond. His face is drawn, pale from the pain. He is both here and not.

How long ago was it that they had first lost him in the arena? Two years? It seems a lifetime ago, eons, since the last time Raffaele had seen his prince truly alive, the fire in him burning bright and scarlet. He does not want to give Enzo more reason to suffer right now, to let him know how much his presence—half in the living realm, half in the Underworld—hurts those who love him. Instead, Raffaele walks to the door and quietly lets himself out.

The night is warm, a prelude to Sunland summers, and the heat from the day still lingers in the corridors. Raffaele and Violetta walk in silence under the lanterns, passing through the light and the shadows. At each door, he can sense the energy of every one of his Daggers staying inside the apartments. Michel, who after Gemma’s death has locked himself away for days at a time, losing himself in his paintings. Lucent, whose chamber has a ripple of disturbance in it. Raffaele can sense that she is still awake, perhaps gazing out of her bedchamber window down at the shores. Lucent’s bones have continued to hollow, and now she aches constantly, a development that has made her bitter and short-tempered. Maeve had stayed at first, begging Lucent to return to Beldain with her, even tried bribing and commanding her—but Lucent had refused. She would remain with the Daggers and fight alongside them until her dying breath. After a while, Maeve was forced to lead her soldiers home. But the Beldish queen’s letters still arrive weekly, asking about Lucent’s health, sometimes sending along herbs and medicines. Nothing has helped. Raffaele knows it will never help, for Lucent’s illness is caused by something deep within her own energy.

The last chamber once belonged to Leo, the bald boy whom Raffaele had recently recruited to the Daggers, who had wielded the power to poison. Now the chamber sits empty. Leo died a month earlier. The doctor told Raffaele that it was because of a lingering lung infection. But Raffaele wonders about another possible reason—because Leo’s body had turned on itself, poisoning him from within.

What weakness will soon manifest in him?

“I heard about Adelina’s latest conquest,” Violetta says when they finally reach the stairway leading out of the palace.

Raffaele only nods.

Violetta glances at him furtively. “Do you think . . . ?”

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