I sigh. I can’t face Teren like this. Powerless. “First you tell me that I need to master my abilities before I’m a Dagger,” I say, turning back to Raffaele. “How am I supposed to learn anything if I stay separate from everyone else?”
Behind Raffaele’s serene face, I notice a flash of something calculating. “The ambition is restless in you today. But the surest way to slow your own progress is to rush yourself into situations you’re not yet ready for.” A firm note enters his voice. “Patience.”
Careful, Adelina. You don’t want Raffaele suspecting you. “Why can I only call on my powers when threatened?” I whisper instead. From the corner of my vision, I see Enzo leave the cavern. My shoulders hunch slightly in disappointment.
“Think of this scenario,” Raffaele says. “A hundred years ago, when the Beldish tried to invade our northern isles, a doomed army of forty Kenettran soldiers managed to fight off four hundred Beldish men, buying us time to get our reinforcements there. Sometimes, your body gives you strength that you ordinarily wouldn’t have. Right?”
I nod. The Battle for Cordonna Isle is a well-known piece of history.
“Your specific power works the same way. When you’re pushed to extreme fear or anger, your body magnifies your energy tenfold, sometimes a hundredfold. It isn’t like this for everyone—certainly not for me, nor for our Star Thief, whose alignment with joy means that her strength scatters when she’s frightened or angry. But you?” Raffaele leans back and regards me thoughtfully. “Now we just need to figure out how you can use that strength without death clawing at your throat. Enzo would rather you not risk your life every time you call on your abilities.”
I lean back against the pillar. I almost want to laugh. If my life must be threatened in order to bring out my abilities, then I should be swimming in power by now.
Raffaele watches me with a small smile on his lips that sends my heart racing. Today he’s dressed in robes of pale gold, and his smooth face is unadorned except for some shimmering powder lining his eyes. How is it possible for such small things to accent his beauty so much? There is no one immune to his charms, I’ve noticed. He makes even the sarcastic Windwalker blush with a tilt of his head, and when he teases Spider, the hulking boy coughs in embarrassment in spite of himself. Over the past few days, I’ve occasionally glimpsed Raffaele down at the court’s entrance with clients. Yesterday, he was with a beautiful young lady. The day before, a handsome nobleman. It did not matter who the client was. I watched him ensnare them with nothing more than a smile and a sweep of his eyes. Every time, the client’s face looked stricken with desire. Every time, I could believe wholeheartedly that he was in love with them.
Raffaele picks up several smooth pebbles from the floor. He places them in a line before me. “Let’s start simple,” he says. “Use the darkness inside you before seeking it out in the world around you.” He nods down at the pebbles. “These stones are light gray. I want you to convince me that they are black.”
I turn my attention to them. Use the darkness inside you. I tell myself to focus on my fear and hatred, dragging my darker thoughts and memories to the surface. Then I reach for the threads of energy inside me. I can feel them, but they stay just out of my grasp. Beside me, Raffaele takes some notes on his paper. Recording my progress and shifts in energy, no doubt.
I try for several minutes before I sigh and look up. Raffaele only nods at me. “Cheer up, mi Adelinetta,” he says. “You were able to conjure your energy during your first test. Take your time and keep trying.”
I concentrate on the rocks again. This time, I close my eye. In the darkness, I tune out the sounds of the others training, revisiting instead the night of my father’s death. My thoughts turn from my father to my sister. A memory emerges of our early days, the way she would tuck my hair behind my ears, how she’d fall asleep against my shoulder in the warm slant of afternoon light. The image flashes away, replaced by one of her crouched in the corner of a dark prison cell. Teren stands behind me, whispering in my ear. Trapping me. Anger stirs painfully in the pit of my stomach, and I let it fester there, gathering weight and pulling my heart down until I feel the familiar lurch in my chest.
I open my eye and reach into myself. This time, I feel strings of energy pulled taut inside me, and my mind brushes past them like hands on a harp. I pull on them. My pull is unsteady, and I struggle to control the grasp. My brows furrow with the effort of hanging on to them. Before me, the rocks still stay as gray as ever . . . but a few feet away from them, a small ribbon of darkness creeps up from the ground. I gasp at the sight.
“Raffaele,” I breathe. “Look!”
The instant I say it, my concentration breaks and the strings of energy slip out of my grasp. My illusion falls back into the ground. I let out my breath as the fear pooling in my stomach trembles. Raffaele watches me quietly. I try again. My hand brushes past the strings of energy. I grab at them.
Suddenly a blade flashes silver before me. I duck on instinct. Someone laughs over me, and I realize that it’s the Spider. He’s rushed at me from the other side of the cavern. “A little dark ribbon,” he says with disdain. “I’m terrified.”
Raffaele gives the enormous boy a warning stare. “Don’t,” he says.
“Or what, consort?” Spider sneers at me as he sheathes his dagger. “Does it scare the little lamb?”
Raffaele arches an eyebrow. “Would you like to take this up with Enzo? I would not test his temper a few weeks before the Tournament of Storms.”