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Chapter no 31

Caraval (Caraval, 1)

Can you walk?” Scarlett asked.

“Aren’t I doing that now?” Julian’s voice was playful. But there was nothing humorous about the wound that went from his jaw to his eye. Her arms were wrapped around him, keeping him steady.

“Crimson, don’t worry about me, we should get you to your sister.”

“You need stitches first.” Her eyes returned to the ragged gash on his cheek. It would scar, and while it did not make him any less handsome, it did make her ill to remember how fragile he’d appeared when he’d tumbled out of the wardrobe.

“You’re overreacting,” Julian said. “It’s not half bad. Your father barely scraped me. I doubt he enjoys it unless his victims remain conscious.”

“But you were passed out in the closet.”

“I’ve recovered. I’m a quick healer.” Julian pulled away from her, as if to prove it, when they reached the bottom floor. Light snuck in through the cracks around the doors, illuminating candles growing inside sconces, preparing for another treacherous night. On the floor, a small group of dedicated participants slept huddled together. Waiting for evening to fall and the doors to unlock.

“I still think we should find a way to bandage it up,” Scarlett whispered. “It only needs a little alcohol.” Julian swaggered past the sleeping

participants and into the tavern, though Scarlett swore he was still only half himself. His boots scraped the glass floor with an uneven gait as he went behind the bar and poured half a bottle of clear liquor over his cheek.

“See”—Julian winced, shaking his head, making drops of liquid fall to the

floor—“not as bad as it looks.”

A line still went from near the corner of his eye to the edge of his jaw. It wasn’t as deep as Scarlett thought, yet she could not ignore the ill feeling she had.

Amid all that had happened she’d lost track of time, but she imagined the sun would set in about two hours, welcoming the final night of the game.

To win, Scarlett needed to find her sister before anyone else. And after what she’d just done to the count—not only had she knocked him out, she’d tied him to the bed before leaving—Scarlett could all too clearly imagine how furious her father would be when he woke, and the malicious punishments he would inflict on Tella if he found her before Scarlett. He wouldn’t just kill her; he’d torture her first.

“When I was in the room, I forgot to look at the roses,” Scarlett said.

Julian took a swig of the bottle before putting it away. “You’re the one who said they were all over Caraval.”

Meaning it would be impossible to figure out which roses were actually clues. There were probably hundreds of roses she’d never seen as well. The first clue she’d received said: And number five requires a leap of faith. But Scarlett had no idea how that connected to the flowers. Too many roses and not enough time.

“Crimson, don’t fall apart on me now.”

Scarlett looked up and Julian was in front of her, drawing her close before she could say the words “I’m not.” Though she imagined if Julian were to release her, she would. Fall to the floor. Then fall through it. Fall and fall—

He kissed her, parting her lips with his own until all she could taste or think about was him. He tasted like midnight and wind, and shades of rich brown and light blue. Colors that made her feel safe and guarded.

“It’s going to be all right,” Julian murmured, and he pressed his lips to her forehead.

Now she was tumbling for altogether different reasons. Sinking into a feeling of security that she’d never known before. As Julian’s lips stayed pressed to her temple, his arms wrapped around her as if he wanted to protect

her—not possess her or control her. He wouldn’t let her crumble. He wouldn’t toss her from a balcony as Legend had done in her dream.

“Julian.” Scarlett looked up abruptly, as the words from the clue, leap of faith, suddenly ricocheted through her thoughts.

“What’s wrong?” Julian asked.

“I need to ask you something about your sister.” Julian stiffened.

“I wouldn’t ask this if it wasn’t important, but I think it might help us find Tella.”

“Go ahead,” he said, and despite the shuttered look on his face, his voice was soft. “Ask whatever you want.”

“I’ve heard about your sister’s death, but the accounts were conflicting.

Could you tell me how she actually died?”

Julian took a deep breath. Obviously the subject made him uncomfortable, but he said, “After Legend rejected her, Rosa leaped from a balcony to her death.”

A balcony. Not a window, as Scarlett had overheard in her dream. No wonder Julian hadn’t appeared more excited at the sight of all the balconies at the beginning of the game. They were fifty cruel reminders of what he had lost. Legend truly was monstrous, and if Scarlett was correct, he’d set this game up for a twisted repeat of history with either Scarlett or her sister. A leap of faith indeed.

With a shudder, Scarlett worried that was what it would take—that she would have to jump off a balcony to save her sister.

She kept this suspicion to herself as she told Julian of her dream involving Legend and the balcony. “I think we need to search the balconies to find our last clue.”

Julian ripped a hand through his hair. “There are dozens of them, all with different entrances. I don’t see how that is a better plan.”

“Then we should start searching now.” Expecting an argument, Scarlett went on, “I know going out during daylight is against the rules, but I don’t think Legend really abides by rules. The innkeeper said that if we didn’t make

it in before daybreak after the first night we didn’t get to play, but she didn’t mention the rest of the nights.” Scarlett lowered her voice, just in case some of the people over in the hall were actually awake. “All the doors are locked so people think they can’t get out, but we can leave using the tunnels. If we go right now we can get a head start on the count and my father, and maybe we can win this game.”

“Now you’re finally thinking like a player.” Julian smiled, but it looked as flat as a line in a painting. She wondered if her fearless Julian now feared her father too, or if he dreaded the same thing Scarlett did, that to save her sister one of them would have to take a deadly leap.

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