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Chapter no 38

Caraval (Caraval, 1)

Scarlett would only remember fragments and pieces of what happened next. She would not remember how Tella had looked like a doll, knocked from a very high shelf, until the blood started pooling around her.

Even then Scarlett couldn’t look away from her sister’s lifeless body. She just kept wishing. Wishing Tella would move. Wishing Tella would get up and walk. Wishing for a clock that could turn back time and give Scarlett one last chance to save her.

Scarlett remembered the time-twisting pocket watch she’d seen her first day there. If only Julian had stolen that watch instead.

But Julian was dead too.

Scarlett choked on a sob. She’d lost both of them. Scarlett cried until her eyes and her chest and parts of her body she didn’t know could hurt began to ache.

The count stepped closer, as if to offer some form of consolation.

“Stop.” Scarlett held out a shaking hand. “Please.” She choked on the word, but she couldn’t bear anyone’s comfort, especially not his.

“Scarlett,” said her father. He approached her as the count backed away. Or rather, her father shuffled. Hunched over, as if an invisible pack were tied to his back, and for the first time Scarlett didn’t see a monster but rather just a sad, old bully. She saw how his fair hair had grayed at the edges, and his eyes were shot with blood. A dragon with no fire and broken wings. “I’m sorry—”

“Don’t.” Scarlett cut him off; he deserved this. “I don’t ever want to see you again. I don’t ever want to hear your voice, and I don’t want you to try to ease your conscience by apologizing. You brought this about. You drove her

to this place.”

“I was just trying to protect you.” Governor Dragna’s nostrils flared. His wings might have been broken but he still had his flames after all. “If you’d listened to me, rather than always being such a disobedient, ungrateful wretch of a—”

“Sir!” Jovan, who Scarlett had failed to notice before, boldly stepped in front of Governor Dragna. “I think you’ve said en—”

“Get out of my way.” The governor slapped Jovan across the face.

“Don’t touch her!” Scarlett and Legend both spoke at once, though it was Legend who moved forward in a flash. Sharp, pale lines and dark, dark eyes now focused on the governor. “You will not hurt any more of my players.”

“Or what are you going to do?” Governor Dragna snarled. “I know the rules. I know you can’t harm me as long as the game is in play.”

“Then you also know the game ends at sunrise, which is approaching fast. When that happens, I’m no longer bound by those rules.” Legend bared his teeth. “Since you have seen my true face, that’s even more incentive for me to rid the world of you.”

Legend flicked his wrist, and every candled lamp and fire pit throughout the balcony turned brighter, casting a hellish red-orange glow over the obsidian floor.

Governor Dragna paled.

“I may not have cared about your daughter,” Legend went on, “but I do care about my players, and I know what you have done.”

“What is he talking about?” Scarlett asked. “Don’t listen to him,” said the governor.

“Your father thought he could kill me,” Legend said. “The governor mistakenly believed Dante was the master of Caraval, and took his life instead.”

Scarlett looked at her father aghast. “You murdered Dante?”

Even the count, who now stood at a distance, looked unsettled by this.

Governor Dragna’s breathing turned heavy. “I was just trying to protect you!”

“Maybe you should think about protecting yourself,” Legend went on. “If I were you, Governor, I’d leave now and never come back, to this place or anywhere else you might find me. Things will not end as favorably next time I see you.”

The count backed away first. “I had nothing to do with any murders. I was only here for her.” The count’s eye cut to Scarlett, holding her gaze far past that initial moment of being uncomfortable. He didn’t say another word. But his lips curved just enough to show a flash of white teeth. It was the same way he had looked at her the first time she’d run away from him; as if a game between the two of them had just begun and he was eager to play.

Scarlett got the impression that although Count Nicolas d’Arcy was leaving, their business was far from complete.

The count tilted his head in a mockery of a bow. Then he turned and strode out of the door, silver boots echoing as he disappeared.

“Come on.” The governor waved Scarlett forward with an unsteady hand. “We’re leaving.”

“No.” Scarlett was shaking again, but she stood her ground. “I’m not going anywhere with you.”

“You stupid—” The governor swore. “If you stay, he’s defeated our family. This is what he wanted. But if you want to come with me, he loses. I’m sure the count will—”

“I’m not marrying him, and you cannot make me. Youre the one who destroyed our family. All you want is power and control,” Scarlett said, “but you will not have either over me any longer. You have nothing left to hold me now that Tella is gone.”

For a moment Scarlett was tempted to step up on the ledge and add, Now leave, before you lose both your daughters. But she would not let him destroy her as he had her sister. She would do what she should have done long ago.

“I know your secrets, Father. I was always too afraid before, but now that you can’t use Tella to control me, I have no reason to stay quiet. I know you think you can get away with murder, but I don’t imagine your guards will stay loyal much longer when I tell everyone you murdered one of their own sons. I

will tell the entire isle how you killed Felipe, drowned him with your own hands, just to frighten me into obeying you. How well do you think you’ll sleep once Felipe’s father learns about that? And I know other secrets too, ones that will put an end to everything you’ve built.”

Scarlett had never been so bold in all her life. Her heart and her soul and even her memories managed to hurt. Everything ached. She felt hollow and heavy all at once. It pained her to breathe and it took effort to speak. But she was still alive. She was still breathing and speaking and feeling. Most of what she felt was agony, but she also didn’t feel afraid of anything.

And for the first time, her father looked afraid of her.

He looked more frightened of Legend. But, either way, he was leaving and she didn’t imagine he would come after her again. A governor did not live long without loyal guards. The Conquered Isles were not the most prestigious place to rule, but there was always someone looking to usurp power.

So it should have felt like a victory when he walked out the door. Scarlett was finally free. Free of her father. Free to go wherever she wanted—Julian had given her that with the coordinates in his pocket watch.

Julian. The grief she felt for him was different from the loss she felt for Tella: each tore apart a separate half of her, but they weighed her down equally. She could feel fresh sobs building in her chest, swelling like waves about to crash, but at the thought of Julian, she recalled something else. She remembered why she’d abandoned his body in those tunnels.

She’d won the game. She still had her wish and Legend was there to grant

it.

For a moment she felt hope, lighter than the weight of her grief.

Indescribable and iridescent—and utterly impossible to hold on to.

Because it wasn’t only Julian she needed to save.

Scarlett’s chest ached again. Tella and Julian were both gone. She felt as if it shouldn’t even have been a choice. But it was a choice, which made her feel like less of a sister. Or maybe Julian mattered even more than she realized, because although she knew she was going to choose Tella, she couldn’t say it right away, as if maybe there was a way to save them both that she hadn’t

figured out yet.

Her sister, or the boy Scarlett had almost certainly fallen in love with.

Julian had died because of her. He’d risked everything for her by facing her father and then by giving her that pocket watch just before Scarlet would meet Legend. Scarlett thought of how strained his voice sounded as he struggled to tell her the truth. It wasn’t his job to protect her, but he’d done what he could. He also made her feel things she never knew she could desire, and for that she would always love him.

But Tella was not only her sister, she was Scarlett’s best friend, the one person in the world she should have loved more than anything or anyone else, the person she was responsible to take care of.

Scarlett turned to Legend, her decision made. “I won. You owe me a wish.”

Legend snorted, as if amused. “I’m afraid my answer to that is no.” “What do you mean, no?”

Legend responded dryly, “From your tone, I think you know exactly what I mean.”

“But I won the game,” Scarlett argued. “I solved your confusing clues. I found my sister. You owe me a wish.”

“You really expect me to grant you a wish after all of this?” Around Legend the candles flickered, as if they were all laughing along with him.

Scarlett fisted her hands, telling herself she would not cry again, even as tears burned the backs of her eyes. Giving her only one wish, and making her choose between the two people she loved, was cruelty enough, but no wish at all was unspeakable. “What is wrong with you? Don’t you care that two innocent people are dead? You’re absolutely heartless.”

“If I’m so vile, then why are you still here?” Legend said. But when he slid his eyes to her, they were no longer the sparkling gems she’d seen at their first meeting. If it were anyone else, she would have sworn he almost looked sad.

It must have been her grief. Scarlett was seeing things, because Legend now seemed dimmer as well. Duller than he had been in the tunnels or when he’d first arrived at the balcony. As if a glamour had been cast over him, and

it was somehow disappearing, making him less of the Legend he had been before. Where his pale skin had glittered in the tunnels, it now appeared dusty, blurry almost, as if she were looking at a rendering of him that had grown dull over time.

For years Scarlett had believed no one could be worse than her father, and no one could be more magical than Legend, but despite his tricks with the fire, the master of Caraval didn’t look so magical now. Maybe he said he wouldn’t grant her wish because he couldn’t grant her wish.

But Scarlett had seen enough wonder to believe that wishes had to be real. She tried to remember every story she’d ever been told about magic. Jovan had said different things fueled it, like time. Her grandmother had said it was desire. When Julian had given her a day of her life, he’d used his own blood.

Blood. That was it.

In the world of Caraval, blood possessed some sort of magic. If a drop could give a person a day of life, maybe Scarlett could bring Julian and Tella both back to life if she gave them enough of her blood.

She turned to Jo. “How do I get down to the street?” Scarlett wasn’t sure if the girl would give her an answer, but Jo quickly told her how to find exactly what Scarlett sought.

Outside, it was growing darker by the second, as the lamps were burning low, signaling the final hour of the night.

A crowd had gathered around Tella. Precious Tella, who already wasn’t Scarlett’s Tella anymore. Without her smile and her laugh and her secrets and her teases and all the things that made her Scarlett’s beloved sister.

Ignoring the onlookers, Scarlett plunged to her knees, sinking into the puddle of blood around her sister, who looked broken in every possible way. Her arms and legs were skewed at awful angles, her bright honey curls soaked in red.

Scarlett bit down hard on her finger, until blood dripped down to her palm.

She pressed it to her sister’s blue, unmoving lips.

“Tella, drink!” Scarlett said. Her fingers trembled as she continued holding them to Tella’s mouth, but Tella didn’t move or breathe.

“Please, you told me there was more to life,” Scarlett whispered. “You can’t stop living now. I wish you would come back to me.”

Scarlett closed her eyes and repeated the wish like a supplication. She’d stopped believing in wishes the day her father had killed Felipe, but Caraval had restored her faith in magic once again. It didn’t matter that Legend said he wouldn’t grant her wish. It was like her nana had said: Every person gets one impossible wish, if the person wants something more than anything, and they can find a bit of magic to help them along. Scarlett loved her sister more than anything; maybe that, combined with the magic of Caraval, would be enough.

She continued to wish, as all around her the candled lamps slowly burned out until there was no more flame, like the unmoving girl in Scarlett’s arms.

It hadn’t worked.

Fresh tears ran down Scarlett’s cheeks. She could have held Tella until they dried up and she and her sister both turned to dust, a warning to any others who dared to get too swept away in the deception of Caraval.

* * *

The story could have ended there. In a storm of tears and muttered words. But just as the sun was about to rise, in the black instant before dawn, the darkest moment of the night, a dark brown hand gently rocked Scarlett’s shoulder.

Scarlett looked up to find Jovan. The candles and lanterns had almost turned to smoke, so Scarlett could barely see her, but she recognized the light lilt of her voice. “The game’s about to officially end. Soon the morning bells will toll, and people will start packing up. I thought you might want to collect your sister’s things.”

Scarlett craned her neck toward Tella’s rimless balcony—no, Legend’s rimless balcony. “Whatever is up there, I don’t want it.”

“Oh, but you may want these items,” said Jo.

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