Home > Champion (Legend #3)(10)

Champion (Legend #3)(10)
Marie Lu

We wander the lush, open setting of Colburn Hall for several minutes, lost in the sea of politicians. The tassels of my epaulettes clink together. I’m looking for her, even though I don’t know what I’ll say when—if—I find her. How will I even catch a glimpse of her in the middle of all this goddy luxury? Wherever we turn, I see another flurry of colorful gowns and polished suits, fountains and pianos, waiters carrying skinny glasses of champagne, fancy people wearing their fake smiles. I feel a sudden sense of claustrophobia.

Where am I? What am I doing here?

As if on cue, the instant I ask myself these questions is the instant I finally see her. Somehow, in the midst of these aristocrats who blend into one blurry portrait, my eyes catch her silhouette and pause. June. The noise around me fades into a dull hum, quiet and uninteresting, and all of my attention turns helplessly to the girl I thought I’d be able to face.

She’s dressed in a floor-length gown of deep scarlet, and her thick, shining hair is piled high on her head in dark waves, pinned into place with red, gem-studded combs that catch the light. She’s the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen, easily the most breathtaking girl in the room. She’s grown taller in the eight months since I’ve seen her, and the way she holds herself—poised and graceful, with her slender, swanlike neck and her deep, dark eyes—is the image of perfection.

Almost perfection. At closer look, I notice something that makes me frown. There’s an air of restraint about her, something uncertain and unconfident. Not like the June I know. As if powerless against the sight, I find myself guiding both Faline and me toward her. I only stop when the people around her move apart, revealing the man standing at her side.

It’s Anden. Of course, I shouldn’t be surprised. Off to the side, several well-dressed girls are trying in vain to catch his attention, but he seems focused only on June. I watch as he leans in to whisper something in her ear, then continues his relaxed conversation with her and several others.

When I turn silently away, Faline frowns at my sudden shift. “Are you okay?” she asks.

I attempt a reassuring smile. “Oh, absolutely. Don’t worry.” I feel so out of place among these aristocrats, with their bank accounts and posh manners. No matter how much money the Republic throws at me, I will forever be the boy from the streets.

And I’d forgotten that a boy from the streets is no match for the future Princeps.

1935 HOURS.

COLBURN HALL, MAIN BALLROOM.

68°F.

I THINK I SEE DAY IN THE CROWD. A FLASH OF WHITE-GOLD HAIR, of bright blue eyes. My attention suddenly breaks from my conversation with Anden and the other Princeps-Elects, and I crane my neck, hoping to get a better look—but he’s gone again, if he was ever there. Disappointed, I return my gaze to the others and give them my well-rehearsed smile. Will Day show up tonight? Surely Anden’s men would have alerted us if Day had refused to get on the private jet sent for him this morning. But he’d sounded so distant and awkward over the mike that night, perhaps he just decided it wasn’t worth coming out here after all. Maybe he hates me, now that we’ve had enough time apart for him to think clearly about our friendship. I scan the crowd again when the other Princeps-Elects are laughing at Anden’s jokes.

A feeling in my stomach tells me Day will be here. But I am hardly a person who relies on gut instinct. I absently touch the jewels in my hair, making sure they’re all still in the right places. They’re not the most comfortable things I’ve ever worn, but the hairdresser had gasped at how the rubies stood out against my dark locks, and that reaction was enough for me to think they’re worth the trouble. I’m not sure why I bothered to look so nice for tonight. It is Independence Day, I suppose, and the occasion is a large one.

“Miss Iparis is as precocious as we all assumed she would be,” Anden’s saying to the Senators now, turning his smile on me. His apparent happiness is all for show, of course. I’ve shadowed Anden for long enough now to know when he is tense, and tonight the nervousness reflects off every gesture he makes. I’m nervous too. A month from now, the Republic might have Colonies flags flying over her cities. “Her tutors say they’ve never seen a student progress so rapidly through her political texts.”

“Thank you, Elector,” I reply automatically to his compliment. The Senators both chuckle, but underneath their jolly expressions lies the lingering resentment they have against me, this child who has been tapped by the Elector to potentially become their leader one day. Mariana gives me a diplomatic, albeit stern, nod, but Serge doesn’t look too pleased with the way Anden singles me out. I ignore the dark scowl that the Senator casts in my direction. His scowls used to bother me—now I’m just tired of them.

“Ah, well.” Senator Tanaka of California tugs on the collar of his military jacket and exchanges a look with his wife. “That’s wonderful news, Elector. Of course, I’m sure the tutors also know how much of a Senator’s job is learned outside of texts and from years of experience in the Senate chamber. Like our dear Senator Carmichael here.” He pauses to nod graciously at Serge, who puffs up.

Anden waves off his concern. “Of course,” he echoes. “All in good time, Senator.”

Beside me, Mariana sighs, leans over, and tilts her chin at Serge. “If you stare at his head long enough, it might sprout wings and take flight,” she mutters.

I smile at that.

They steer off the topic of me and onto the topic of how to better sort students into high schools now that the Trials are discontinued. The political chatter grates on my nerves. I start scanning the crowd again for Day. After more futile searching, I finally put a hand on Anden’s arm and lean over to whisper, “Excuse me. I’ll be right back.” He nods in return. When I turn away and start blending in with the crowd, I can feel his stare lingering on me.

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