The Rose Society Page 2

We’ve come to Merroutas to flee the Inquisition’s prying eyes in Kenettra. It is the nearest place outside of Kenettran control, but eventually we’ll make our way south to the Sunlands, far from their reach.

But we also came here for another reason.

If you had heard stories about only one Young Elite, they would have been about a boy named Magiano. Raffaele, the beautiful young consort who was once my friend, mentioned Magiano during my afternoon training sessions with him. Since then, I’ve heard his name on the lips of countless travelers.

Some say he was raised by wolves in the dense forests of the Ember Isles, a tiny chain of islands far east of Kenettra. Others say he was born in the hot Sunland deserts of Domacca, a bastard brought up by wandering nomads. He’s rumored to be a wild boy, almost feral, dressed from head to toe in leaves, with a mind and hands as quicksilver as a midnight fox. He appeared quite suddenly several years ago, and has since avoided arrest by the Inquisition Axis dozens of times, for everything from illegal gambling to stealing the Kenettran queen’s crown jewels. As the stories go, he can lure you straight off a cliff and into the sea with music from his lute. And when he smiles, his teeth shine wickedly bright.

Though we know he is a Young Elite, no one can say for certain what his power is. We can only be sure that he was recently seen here, in Merroutas.

If I were still the same girl from a year ago, before I knew I had powers, I’m not sure I would have the courage to search for such a notorious Elite. But then I killed my father. I joined the Dagger Society. I betrayed them, and they betrayed me. Or perhaps it was the other way around. I can never be sure.

What I do know is that the Daggers are my enemies now. When you’re all alone in a world that hates and fears you, you want to find others like yourself. New friends. Elite friends. Friends who can help you build your own society.

Friends like Magiano.

“Salaam, lovely Tamouran girls!”

We enter another large square near the bay. All along the sides are food stalls with steaming pots and street operators in long-nosed masks, performing table tricks. One of the food vendors smiles when we look at him. His hair is hidden behind a Tamouran wrap, and his beard is dark and well-trimmed. He bows to us. I touch my own head instinctively. My silver hair is still short and scraggly from my attempt to cut it off, and it stays hidden tonight behind two long strips of gold silk, adorned with a headdress of gold tassels dangling above my brows. I have woven an illusion over the scarred side of my face. To this man, my pale lashes are black and my eyes are flawless.

I glance at what he’s selling. Steaming pans of stuffed grape leaves, lamb skewers, and warm flatbread. My mouth waters.

“Pretty girls from the homeland,” he coos at us. I don’t understand the rest of what he says, other than “please, come!” and “break your fast.” I smile back at him and nod. I’ve never been in a city so heavily Tamouran. It almost feels like coming home.

You could rule a place like this, say the whispers in my head, and my heart fills with glee.

Once we approach his stall, Violetta digs out a couple of bronze talents and hands them over to the man. I stay back. I watch as she makes him laugh, then he leans over to murmur something and she blushes demurely. Violetta responds with a smile that could devastate the sun. At the end of this exchange, she turns away with two skewers of meat. As she leaves his stand, the vendor stares at her back before turning his attention to new customers. He switches the language of his greeting again. “Avei, avei! Forget the gambling and come have some fresh flatbread!”

Violetta hands a bronze talent to me. “A discount,” she says. “Because he liked us.”

“Sweet Violetta.” I arch an eyebrow at her as I take one of the skewers. We’ve kept our purses full so far because I can use my powers to steal coins from noblemen. That is my contribution. But Violetta’s skill is entirely different. “At this rate, they’ll be paying us to eat their food.”

“That’s what I’m working toward.” Violetta looks at me with an innocent smile that’s not innocent at all. Her eyes wander the square, pausing where an enormous bonfire burns in front of a temple. “We’re getting closer,” she says as she takes a delicate bite. “His energy isn’t very strong. It shifts as we go.”

After we eat, I follow Violetta as she practices her power, guiding us in a long, jagged pattern through the mass of people. Every night since we fled Estenzia, we’ve sat across from each other and I’ve let her experiment on me, like how she used to braid my hair when we were little. She pulls and tugs. Then I blindfold her and walk silently around the room, testing whether or not she can sense my location. She reaches out to touch the threads of my energy, studying their structure. I can tell she’s getting stronger.

It frightens me. But Violetta and I made a promise after we left the Daggers: We will never use our powers against each other. If Violetta wants protection with my illusions, I will always give it. In return, Violetta will always leave my abilities untouched. That is all.

I have to trust someone.

We wander for almost an hour before Violetta stops in the middle of the square. She frowns. I wait beside her, studying her face. “Did you lose him?”

“Maybe,” Violetta replies. I can barely hear her over the music. We wait a moment longer before she finally turns to her left, nodding for me to follow.

Violetta pauses again. She turns in a circle, and then folds her arms with a sigh. “I lost him again,” she says. “Perhaps we should go back the way we came.”

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