Chapter no 36

Caraval (Caraval, 1)

There’s nothing threatening about this.” Tella laughed. “Not unless you’re nervous about the idea of Legend fancying you?”

“No! That’s not what it said before. It was an invitation to a funeral, your funeral.” Scarlett looked at Tella, her eyes pleading. “I’m not crazy,” she insisted. “This note was different when I read it in the tunnels.”

“The ones beneath the game?” Tella interrupted. “Aren’t the tunnels where people go mad?”

“It was a different set. Tella, I swear, I’m not insane. The note said you would die tomorrow unless I could stop it. Please, even if you don’t believe me, I need you to try.”

Tella must have seen her desperation. “Let me see the paper again.”

Scarlett handed it back. Her sister examined the invite with particular care this time, holding it close to one of the fire pits. But no matter what, the script didn’t change.

“Tella, I swear, it was for a funeral, not a party.” “I believe you,” Tella said.

“You do?”

“Well, I’m guessing it’s like the tickets you received on Trisda, it changes in certain lights. But, Scar…” That painfully careful voice once more. “Couldn’t it be just another part of the game, a device to get you up here, because it was taking you so long, and now that you are here: ta-da! The note has changed from a threat to a reward. Tell me, which makes more sense?”

The way Tella said it sounded so very reasonable. And oh, how Scarlett wanted her to be right. She knew how deceiving the tunnels—and Legend—

could be. But Legend was not the only threat.

“Tella, even if you don’t believe me about this, I swear, Father’s here. He’s looking for you, for us both, right now. And trust me when I say his presence is not a magical mirage of Caraval. He’s here with Count Nicolas d’Arcy, my fiancé. To escape, I had to knock d’Arcy out with a protection elixir and then tie him to a bed—I’m sure you can imagine how furious Father will be if he finds us now.”

“You tied your fiancé to a bed?” Tella snickered.

“This isn’t a joke! Did you miss what I said about what will happen if Father finds us?”

“Scar, I didn’t know you had it in you! I wonder what else the game has changed about you.” Tella grinned wider, looking truly awed and impressed, which might have pleased Scarlett if she hadn’t hoped her sister might grow frightened and panicked instead.

“You’re missing the point. I had to do that because Father was going to make me—” Shame choked her throat as she tried to get the words out. Thinking of what her father had attempted to force upon her made her feel like not quite a person. More like a thing.

Tella’s expression softened. She wrapped her arms around Scarlett, hugging her in a way only a sister could. Fierce as a kitten who’d just gotten claws, willing to shred the whole world to make this right. And for a moment Scarlett thought it would be.

“Do you believe me now?” she asked.

“I believe you’ve been through a bit of madness this week, but it’s over now. None of that was real.” Tella gently smoothed a dark lock of hair from Scarlett’s face. “You don’t have to worry, sister. And,” she added, “someday, Father will pay for all his sins. Every night I pray an angel will come down and cut off his hands so he won’t hurt anyone again.”

“I don’t think that’s what angels do,” Scarlett mumbled.

“Maybe not the kind up in heaven, but there are different kinds of angels.” Tella pulled away, pink lips parting into a smile made of hopes and dreams and other treacherous things.

“Don’t tell me you’re planning to cut off Father’s hands yourself.”

“After tonight I don’t think Father’s hands will be a problem anymore, at least not for us.” Tella’s eyes twinkled with the same dangerous glint as her smile. “I haven’t been up here alone this whole time. I’ve met someone. He knows all about our father and he’s promised to take care of us. Both of us.” Tella beamed, brighter than candlelight and glass-cut glitter, the type of joy that could only mean one terrible thing.

When Tella had first said the word bored, Scarlett dared to hope Legend hadn’t gotten to her. But from the pitch of Tella’s voice and the way she looked just then, it made Scarlett fear he had—every ounce of reason had left her eyes. Tella’s expression had turned dreamy in a way that said she was either in love or insane.

“You can’t trust him,” Scarlett blurted. “Haven’t you been listening to what I’ve said? Legend hates us. He’s a murderer!”

“Who said anything about Legend?” “Isn’t that who you were talking about?”

Tella made a funny face. “I’ve never even met him.” “But you’ve been up in this tower. His tower.”

“I know,” Tella said. “And you have no idea how vexing it’s been watching everyone down below, while I’ve been stuck up here.” With a huff, she cast her gaze over the rimless balcony.

They were a good twelve feet away from the edge, but Scarlett did not feel safe. It would still be far too easy to jump. Tella might not have been seduced by Legend, but knowing the master of Caraval had placed both Dante and Julian in Scarlett’s path, she could not imagine Tella’s new suitor was any different—the perfect boy to drive her mad.

“What’s his name?” Scarlett asked.

“Daniel DeEngl,” Tella announced. “He’s a bastard lord from the Far Northern Empire. Isn’t that terribly delicious? You’ll love it, Scar, they have castles up there, with moats and towers and all sorts of dramatic things.”

“But, if you’ve been up here all this time, how did you ever meet?”

“I wasn’t up here this entire time.” Tella’s cheeks took on the faintest pink

blush and Scarlett recalled the man’s voice she’d heard coming from Tella’s room after the end of that first night. “I was with Daniel when I was abducted for the game. He actually tried to fight them off, but they just took him as well.” She smiled as if it were the most romantic thing that had ever happened to her.

“Tella, this is wrong,” Scarlett said. “You can’t be in love with someone you just met.”

Tella flinched, the hue of her cheeks deepening into an angrier red. “I know you’ve been through a lot. So I’m not going to point out that you were going to marry someone you’d never even met.”

“That was different.”

“I know, because unlike you, I actually know my fiancé.” “Did you say fiancé?”

Tella nodded proudly.

“You’re not serious,” Scarlett said. “When did he ask you to marry him?” “Why aren’t you happy for me?” Tella’s expression fell, like a doll Scarlett

had dropped.

Scarlett bit back her first five responses.

“Scar, I know I’ve prayed for some awful things, the types of things angels don’t do, but I’ve also prayed for something exactly like this. I might be able to get a boy to follow me into the barrel room, but until Daniel, no one had ever actually cared about me.”

“I’m sure this Daniel person seems wonderful,” Scarlett said carefully. “And I want to be happy for you, I really do. But doesn’t this seem a little coincidental? I keep thinking, maybe Legend is just playing a different game with you, and what if this Daniel is part of it?”

“He’s not,” Tella said. “I know you don’t have a lot of experience with men, but I do, and trust me when I say my relationship with Daniel is very real.” Tella took a sharp step back, feet pale against the dark onyx floor as she plucked a silver bell from one of the cushioned lounges.

“What are you doing?” Scarlett asked.

“I’m ringing for Daniel so you can meet him and see for yourself.”

The door opened and Jovan appeared, looking like a rainbow in the same colorful outfit she’d worn the first night, on the unicycle. “Oh, hello.” She perked up when she saw Scarlett. “You’ve finally found your sister.”

“You can’t trust her,” Scarlett whispered to Tella. “She works for Legend.” “Of course she works for Legend,” Tella said. “Forgive my sister, Jo, she’s

still caught up in the game. She thinks Legend is out to kill us both.”

“Are you certain she’s wrong?” Jovan winked as if she was joking, but when her eyes cut to Scarlett her playfulness vanished.

“Did you see that?” Scarlett said. “She knows!”

Tella ignored her. “Can you fetch Lord DeEngl for me, please?”

Before Scarlett could protest, Jovan nodded and disappeared the way she’d come, through a hidden door tucked into the back wall.

“Tella, please,” Scarlett begged. “We need to get out of here. You have no idea how dangerous this is. Even if you’re right about Daniel, it’s still not safe. Legend won’t let you be together.”

Scarlett paused and held out her hands, showing her sister all the precious blood once more. “See—this?” Her voice cracked. “This is real. Before I came up here, I watched Legend kill someone—”

“Or you thought you did,” Tella interrupted. “Whatever you believe you saw, I’m sure it wasn’t real. You keep forgetting, what happens down there is all part of the game. And I’m not running from Daniel because you got too caught up in it.”

Tella’s mouth formed a soft downward curve. “I know no one loves me more than you do, Scar, I’d be desolate without you. Please, don’t leave me now. And do not ask me to leave Daniel.” Tella’s lips shifted into a deeper frown. “Don’t make me choose between the two loves of my life.”

Two loves. Scarlett’s heart ached at her sister’s choice of words. Suddenly she was on the steps again, watching Julian’s head fall before his breathing stopped. She needed to find a way to bring him back, but she also had to get her sister safely out of this tower and far away from this balcony.

“Now,” Tella said brightly, as if everything were settled, though Scarlett had not uttered a word. “Help me become beautiful for Lord Daniel!” Tella

skipped off toward her dressing area. “You might want to clean up as well,” she called. “I have some gowns that would look stunning on you.”

The night grew even darker as Scarlett remained rooted in place.

She knew she looked halfway to dead, and she was tempted to keep it that way. She liked the idea of frightening Tella’s fiancé. Scarlett liked the idea of leaving even more—but Tella was not the sort who’d run after Scarlett if she left. And what if Tella was right? Perhaps it was grandiose to assume the entire game revolved around the two of them. If her sister was correct, and Scarlett ruined this, Tella really would never forgive her.

But if Scarlett wasn’t crazy, and Julian was really dead, then Scarlett needed to retrieve her wish and save him.

Behind Tella’s dressing curtain, one wardrobe and multiple trunks were opened, overflowing with an assortment of clothes. Scarlett watched as her sister debated between several gowns.

Hopefully after she met this Daniel person, Scarlett could figure out a way to convince Tella to leave with her. In the meantime she would stay by her side and discover a way to collect her wish from Legend.

“The periwinkle,” Scarlett said. “Blue is always the most becoming on you.”

“I knew you’d stay,” Tella said. “Here, this one’s for you, it will look so dramatic with your dark hair and that new little streak. Sorry, I don’t have any slippers your size, you’ll just have to let your boots dry.” She gave Scarlett a cranberry dress with a frothy ball-gown skirt, longer in the back than in the front, and covered in teardrop-shaped red beads.

The dress matched the blood on Scarlett’s palms. As Scarlett finally washed it away, she vowed to herself once more that she’d find a way to bring Julian back. No more wounds would stain her hands that night.

“Promise me one thing,” Scarlett said. “Whatever happens, swear you won’t jump off any balconies.”

“Only if you promise me not to say strange things like that when Daniel arrives.”

“I’m being serious, Tella.”

“So am I. Please don’t spoil this—” A knock at the door.

“That must be Daniel.” Tella slid into a pair of silver slippers before spinning around in her periwinkle dress. The color of sweet dreams and happy endings.

“You look beautiful,” Scarlett said. But even as she dared to hope her sister was the one who’d been right all along, Scarlett could not ignore the bitter yellow puddle of dread in her stomach as Tella swept out from behind the dressing curtain and toward the hidden door against the back wall.

The world swayed as Tella opened it, everything tilting as Scarlett watched the man on the other side reach around her sister’s waist and reel her in for a kiss.

Two spots of pink colored Tella’s cheeks as she pulled away. “Daniel, we have company.” Tella drew the man she called Daniel back toward the cushioned lounges where Scarlett stood, immobile.

“I’d like you to meet my sister, Scarlett.” Tella beamed again, so brightly, she didn’t notice the way Scarlett had involuntarily taken a step back, or how the young man at her side ran his tongue over his lips when Tella wasn’t looking.

“Donatella, step away from him,” Scarlett said. “His name is not Daniel.”

You'll Also Like