Chapter no 7

Caraval (Caraval, 1)

The island’s gauzy clouds had sailed into a position covering the sun and casting the coastline in a haze of gray-blue shadows. No longer white, the untouched snow at Scarlett’s feet winked up at her with periwinkle sparkles, as if it were in on some private joke.

“Where’s Tella?” Scarlett repeated.

“I must have dropped her off on a different part of the beach.” Julian reached for Scarlett’s hand again, but she pulled away. “We need to keep moving or we’re both going to freeze. Once we warm up, we can find your sister.”

“But what if she’s freezing too? Dona—tella!” Scarlett yelled between chattering teeth. The snow beneath her toes and the wet fabric clinging to her icy skin left her colder than she had been the night her father made her sleep outside after he discovered Tella had kissed her first boy. Still, Scarlett was not going to leave without finding her sister. “Donatella!”

“You’re wasting your breath.” Dripping wet and shirtless, Julian looked more dangerous than usual as he glared at Scarlett. “When I dropped your sister off, she was dry. She had on a coat and gloves. Wherever she is, she’s not going to freeze, but we will if we stay here. We should head for whatever’s between those trees.”

Past where the beach’s mantle of snow met lines of thick green trees, a spire of sunset-orange smoke twisted into the sky. Scarlett could have sworn it hadn’t been there a minute ago. She didn’t even remember seeing the trees. Different from the bony shrubs on Trisda, all of these trunks looked like thick braids, twisted together and covered in snowy blue-and-green moss.

“No—” Scarlett shivered. “We—”

“We can’t keep walking around like this,” Julian cut her off. “Your lips are turning purple. We need to locate the smoke.”

“I don’t care. If my sister is still out there—”

“Your sister probably left to find the entrance to the game. We have only until the end of the day to make it inside Caraval, which means we should follow the smoke, and then do the same.” He marched ahead, bare feet crunching the snow.

Scarlett’s eyes darted around the untouched beach a final time. Tella had never been good at patiently waiting—or even impatiently waiting. But if she had gone into Caraval, why were there no signs of her?

Reluctantly, Scarlett followed Julian into the forest. Bits of piney needles stuck to toes she could no longer feel as a chestnut dirt path replaced the snow. But while her feet left damp footprints, she saw no marks from Tella’s heeled boots.

“She probably took a different route from the beach.” Julian’s teeth didn’t chatter, yet his brown skin was taking on an indigo hue, matching the trees’ distorted shadows.

Scarlett wanted to argue, but the wet fabric of her clothes was turning to ice. The forest was colder than the coastline had been. She wrapped frigid arms across her chest, but all that did was add to her chill.

A flicker of concern crossed Julian’s features. “We need to get you somewhere warm.”

“But my sister—”

“—is smart enough to already be inside the game. If you freeze out here you’re not going to find her.” Julian’s arm wrapped around Scarlett’s shoulders.

She stiffened.

His dark brows formed an offended line. “I’m just trying to keep you warm.”

“But you’re freezing too—” And practically naked.

Scarlett pulled away, half stumbling, as the forest of trees came to an end

and the soft dirt floor transformed into a firmer road paved with opalescent stones, smooth as polished sea glass. The cobbled road stretched farther than she could see, multiplying into a maze of twisting streets. All were lined with mismatched, rounded shops, painted shades of jewels or pastels, and piled on top of one another like sloppily stacked hatboxes.

It was charming and enchanting, but it was also unnaturally still. The shops were all closed and the snow on their rooftops rested like dust on abandoned storybooks. Scarlett didn’t know what sort of place this was, but it was not how she imagined Caraval.

Sunset smoke still streamed in the air, but it looked as far away as when they were on the beach.

“Crimson, we need to keep moving.” Julian urged her down the curious street.

Scarlett didn’t know if it was possible for the cold to make her hallucinate, or if there was just something wrong with her head. On top of being strangely quiet, none of the signs on the hatbox-shaped shops made any sense. Each was printed in a variety of languages. Some said Open: Sometime Around Midnight. Other signs said Come Back Yesterday.

“Why is everything closed?” she asked. Her words came out in fragile puffs. “And where is everyone?”

“We just need to keep going. Don’t stop walking. We need to find somewhere warm.” Julian pressed forward, past the most peculiar shops Scarlett had ever seen.

There were bowler hats covered in taxidermy crows. Parasol holsters. Women’s headbands studded with human teeth. Mirrors that could reflect the darkness in a person’s soul. The cold was definitely toying with her vision. She hoped Julian was right and Tella was someplace warm. Scarlett continued searching for glimpses of her sister’s honey-blond hair, listening for echoes of her vibrant giggles, but every store was empty, silent.

Julian tried a few doorknobs; nothing budged.

The following row of abandoned shops boasted a series of fantastical things. Fallen stars. Seeds to grow wishes. Odette’s Ocular sold eyeglasses

that saw the future. (Available in four colors.) “Those would be nice,” Scarlett muttered.

Next door to Odette’s, a banner claimed its shop proprietor could fix broken imaginations. That message floated above bottles of dreams and nightmares and something called daymares, which Scarlett imagined she was experiencing that moment as icicles formed in her dark hair.

Beside her Julian cursed. Beyond several more blocks of hatbox-shaped shops, they could almost see where the smoke came from, and now it was twisting into a sun with a star inside and a teardrop inside of the star—the symbol for Caraval. But the cold had reached into Scarlett’s bones and her teeth; even her eyelids were turning frosty.

“Wait—what—about there!” With a trembling hand, Scarlett waved Julian toward Casabian’s Clocks. At first she thought it was just the brass window lining, but behind the glass, past a forest of pendulums and weights and shiny wooden cabinets, a fireplace blazed. And a sign on the door said Always Open.

A chorus of tick-tocks, cuckoos, second hands, and windup gears greeted the frozen couple as they dashed inside. Limbs Scarlett had stopped feeling prickled from the sudden warmth, while the heated air scorched her lungs as it went down.

Her frozen vocal chords cracked as she called, “Hello?”

Tick-tock. Tock-tick.

Only gears and cogs answered back.

The shop was round, like a clock’s face. The floor was tiled in a mosaic of different styles of numbers, while various timepieces covered almost every surface. Some ran backward; others were full of exposed wheels and levers. On the back wall several moved like puzzles with their pieces drawing together as the hour approached. A heavy glass locked box in the center of the open room claimed that the pocket watch inside wound back time. Another day Scarlett would have been curious, but all she cared about was getting closer to the roaring circle of warmth coming from the fireplace.

She would have gladly melted into a puddle in front of it.

Julian pulled the grate away and stoked the logs with a nearby poker. “We should get out of our clothes.”

“I—” Scarlett stopped her protest when Julian crossed over to a rosewood grandfather clock. Two sets of boots rested at its feet and two hangers of garments were swinging from the pediments on each side.

“Looks like someone is watching out for you.” The mocking lilt had returned to Julian’s voice.

Scarlett tried to ignore it as she inched closer. Next to the clothes, on top of a gilded table covered in moon dials, a curvy vase of red roses sat next to a tray laden with fig bread, cinnamon tea, and a note.

For Scarlett Dragna, and her companion.

I’m so pleased you could make it.



The message was written on the same gold-edged paper as the letter Scarlett had received on Trisda. She wondered if Legend went to such pains for all his guests. It was difficult for Scarlett to believe she was special, yet she couldn’t imagine the master of Caraval bestowed personalized greetings and bloodred roses upon every visitor.

Julian coughed. “Do you mind?” The sailor reached past Scarlett, pulled off a hunk of bread, and yanked down the set of clothes meant for him. Then he started undoing the belt holding up his pants. “You going to watch me undress, because I don’t mind.”

Immediately embarrassed, Scarlett looked away. He had no decency.

She needed to dress as well, but there was no place to do it safely concealed. It seemed impossible that the room had grown smaller since they’d arrived, yet she could now see how truly minuscule it was. Less than ten feet of space lay between her and the front door. “If you turn your back to me, we

can both change.”

“We can both change facing each other too.” There was a smile in his voice now.

“That’s not what I meant,” Scarlett said.

Julian chuckled under his breath. But when Scarlett brought her head up, his back was to her. She tried not to stare. Every inch of it was muscled, just as his torso had been, but that wasn’t the only part that captivated her attention. A thick scar disfigured the space between his shoulder blades. Two more crossed his lower back. As if someone had stabbed him multiple times.

Scarlett swallowed a gasp and felt instantly guilty. She shouldn’t have been looking. Hastily she grabbed the clothes meant for her and focused on dressing. She tried not to imagine what could have happened to him. She wouldn’t want anyone seeing her scars.

Mostly her father just left bruises, but for years she’d dressed herself without the help of a maid so no one would see. She had imagined that experience would come in handy now, but the dress Legend left her would require no assistance; it was rather plain, disappointing. The opposite of how she’d imagined clothes from Caraval. There was no corset. The bodice fabric was an unappealing shade of beige, with a flat skirt. No petticoats or underskirts or bustles.

“Can I turn around now?” Julian asked. “It’s nothing I haven’t seen before.”

The firm way he’d gripped her waist while he’d sliced off her dress instantly came to mind, making her tingle from her breastbone down to her hips. “Thank you for that reminder.”

“I wasn’t talking about you. I barely even saw your—”

“Not making it better. But you can turn around,” she said. “I’m buttoning my boots.”

When Scarlett looked up, Julian was in front of her, and Legend definitely had not given him an unattractive set of clothes.

Scarlett’s eyes traveled from the midnight-blue cravat around his throat to the fitted burgundy waistcoat it tucked into. A deep-blue tailcoat emphasized

strong shoulders and a narrow waist. The only item reminiscent of the sailor was the knife belt slung over the hips of his slender pants.

“You look—different,” Scarlett said. “It no longer appears as though you’ve just come from a brawl.”

Julian stood a little straighter, as if she’d complimented him, and Scarlett wasn’t sure she hadn’t. It didn’t seem fair that someone so infuriating could look so close to perfect. Although despite his crisp clothes, he still appeared far from gentlemanly—and it wasn’t just his unshaven face or the choppy waves of his brown hair. There was simply something wild about Julian that could not be tamed by Legend’s garments. The sharp planes of his face, the shrewd look in his brown eyes—they weren’t minimized because he now wore a cravat, or … a pocket watch?

“Did you steal that?” Scarlett asked.

“Borrowed,” Julian corrected, twirling the chain around his finger. “Same as the clothes you have on.” He looked her over and nodded approvingly. “I can see why he sent you tickets.”

“What’s that supposed to me—” Scarlett broke off as she caught her reflection in the glass of a mirrored clock. No longer dull shades of bland, the dress was now a rich cerise—the color of seduction and secrets. A stylish row of bows ran down the center of a fitted bodice with a scooped neck, set off by a matching ruffled bustle. The skirts beneath were scalloped and fitted to her form, five slender tiers of different fabrics, alternating between cerise silk and tulle, and bits of black lace. Even her boots had changed, from dull brown to an elegant combination of matching black leather and lace.

She ran her hands over the material of her dress to make sure it wasn’t just a trick of the mirror or the light. Or maybe in her frozen state she’d only thought the dress had been drab before. But deep down Scarlett knew there was only one explanation. Legend had given her an enchanted gown.

Magic like this was only supposed to live in stories, but this dress was very real, leaving Scarlett unsure what to think. The child inside her loved it; the grown-up Scarlett wasn’t sure she felt quite comfortable in it—whether it was magical or not. Her father would never have let her wear something so eye-

catching, and even though he wasn’t there, attention was still not a thing she craved.

Scarlett was a pretty girl, though she often liked to hide it. She’d inherited her mother’s thick dark hair, which complemented her olive skin. Her face was more of an oval than Tella’s, with a petite nose and hazel eyes so large she always felt they gave away too much.

For a moment she almost wished for the drab beige frock. No one noticed girls in ugly clothes. Maybe if she thought about it, the dress would shift again. But even as she visualized a simpler cut and a plainer color, the cherry gown remained vibrant and tight, clinging to curves she’d rather have concealed.

Julian’s cryptic words came to mind—I can see why he sent you tickets— and Scarlett wondered if she’d found a way to escape her father’s deadly games on Trisda, only to become a well-costumed piece on a new game board.

“If you’re finished admiring yourself,” said Julian, “should we search for that sister you’re so eager to find?”

“I would think you’d be worried about her as well,” said Scarlett.

“Then you think too highly of me.” Julian started toward the door as every chime in the shop rang out.

“You might not want to exit that way,” said an unfamiliar voice.

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