Legendary (Caraval, #2): Chapter no 10

Legendary (Caraval, #2)

Night and his mistress the moon were both out to play when Tella reached the starlit stone garden where she was supposed to meet Scarlett before beginning their grand adventure.

The Fated Ball at Idyllwild Castle marked the official beginning of Caraval. But that night there’d be celebrations all over the city. At each one, the first sets of clues would be distributed so that people from across Valenda could play.

Even the air buzzed with anticipation and excitement. Tella could feel it licking her skin, as if it wanted to drink in her frenzied emotions as well.

Tella wasn’t usually anxious. She liked the thrill that came with taking risks. She loved the feeling of doing something bold enough to make her future hold its breath while she closed her eyes and reveled in the sensation that she’d made a choice with the power to alter the course of her life. It was the closest she ever came to holding real power.

But, Tella also knew not every gamble paid off.

She’d spent all day thinking about it as she explored the palace grounds in a failed search for rumored secret passages. She felt mostly certain tonight would go as planned. Scarlett would understand when Tella confessed all of her secrets. Tella’s friend would then give her a week to play the game and uncover Legend’s name, so she could erase the terrible future that the Aracle had showed, and finally find out who her mother really was and why she’d left so many years ago.

Tella had succeeded at far more complicated plots and yet she could not shake the growing premonition that all her plans were about to unravel.

She ran her fingers over the luckless coin concealed in her pocket. Her friend said that he would be sure to find her as long as she had the coin, and Tella wondered if he was already at Idyllwild Castle searching for her.

Perhaps the heir was looking for her as well.

Tella released a nervous laugh. She was definitely in over her head, but at least she’d soon have her sister with her.

In the distance a bell sang out, marking the time as a quarter past eleven. Less than one hour left until Caraval officially began. Tella was running out of time.

Her friend had wanted her at the party before midnight. But Scarlett was nowhere in sight.

A few skyfall-blue petals rained from Tella’s flowering gown as she shot an uneasy look around the garden, hoping for a glimpse of one of her sister’s cherry dresses. But Tella’s only companions were the immobile statues.

The legends claimed that at one point during the Fates’ indomitable rule, the statues in Elantine’s stone garden had been real people. Mostly outdoor servants, going about their palace duties, pruning shrubs, picking flowers, and sweeping paths, when, for no fault of their own, they’d been turned to stone.

It was said the Undead Queen had done it. Apparently she didn’t believe the current sculptures looked lifelike enough, so she asked another Fate to transform a group of servants into statues.

Tella looked into the wide stone eyes of a young maid, imagining that her panic now mirrored Tella’s own.

It wasn’t like Scarlett to be tardy.

Unless her sister wasn’t coming, or something had happened to her.

Nervously Tella went to the edge of the garden, craning her head toward the hedge-lined path back to the palace. She might have started down it to try to find her sister, but another person was already on it.


Tella’s already anxious stomach did another flip.

He’d traded in the black clothes he seemed to favor for nevermore gray. But his tall boots and the silk cravat around his neck were both deep shades

of blue-black smoke, matching the curls of ink on his ungloved fingers. He looked like a freshly woken storm, or a beautiful nightmare come to life so he could personally haunt her.

Tella considered darting behind one of the statues. He was supposed to spot her from far away at the ball. He was supposed to be dazzled by her extravagant gown, and jealous when he spied her flirting with another man. He was not supposed to see her nervously standing in a garden by herself.

She hoped he’d walk right by the statues without noticing her. But Dante’s gaze had already found her. It took hold of Tella like a pair of hands wrapping around her waist and holding her in place as he approached. His shadowed eyes took their time trailing from her unbound hair to the ribbon tied around her throat, where they darkened and rested a full second before dropping.

Tella didn’t usually blush, but she felt a rush of color find her cheeks.

Dante looked up and gave her a fallen star’s smile. “You should always wear flowers.”

A few of the shyer blossoms on her gown finally bloomed, and Tella met Dante’s eyes with one of her most dazzling smiles. “I’m not wearing these for you. The dress was a gift from my fiancé.”

Dante’s eyebrows arched, but it wasn’t with the jealousy she’d hoped for. He eyed the gown as if it were something filthy, and then he looked at Tella as if she’d gone completely mad. “You need to be more careful with what you say.”

“Why’s that? Are you jealous and afraid someone other than a matron might actually believe me? Or are you suddenly nervous because Elantine’s heir—the fiancé you gave me—is a murderous fiend who might kill me for claiming we’re engaged?”

Before Dante could answer, Tella swept past him, toward the path to the palace and hopefully her sister. It was now half past eleven and growing closer to midnight. She needed—

“Donatella.” Dante snatched her wrist before she could take a second step. “Just tell me you’re not going to the Fated Ball at Idyllwild Castle.”

“That would be a lie.”

Dante’s fingers tensed around her wrist. “There are other parties. You shouldn’t be going to that one.”

“Why not?” Tella pulled away. “I enjoy drinking and dancing, and even you acknowledged that I look rather spectacular.” She did a half twirl, letting the petals of her skirt brush against his polished boots.

Dante gave her a look so withering the flowers that had just swept his trousers retreated back into buds. “Idyllwild Castle belongs to Elantine’s heir. Do you know what will happen to you there if he discovers you’re claiming to be his fiancée?”

“No, but it might be interesting to find out.” She flashed an impish smile. A line of frustrated red started up Dante’s neck. “Elantine’s heir is unhinged; he hasn’t just killed the other heirs—he’s murdered anyone who he’s believed might get in his way to the throne. If he suspects for a second

you’re one of those people, he will end you, too.”

Tella resisted the urge to flinch or cower. A part of her recognized that wearing the dress and risking the heir’s attention might have been a poor idea, but it rattled Dante, so Tella refused to think of it as a mistake.

“Isn’t everything you just described what you wanted to happen when you told your lie?”

Silence followed and a fresh chill ripped through the garden, making Tella suddenly aware of how cold the night had grown. Unseasonably cold, as if the weather were taking Dante’s side and warning Tella to go back inside Elantine’s palace.

“You looked pathetic,” Dante finally said. “I wanted to help, but I was also upset with you for what you’d said on the boat, so I picked the worst person I could imagine without thinking it through.” He didn’t tell her he was sorry, but his thick brows creased and his eyes tipped into something that looked like genuine regret. People tossed around the word sorry far too easily, as if it were worth even less than the promise of a copper. Tella rarely believed it, but she found she believed this. Probably because it was the sort of thing she would have done.

“Now this is an interesting pairing.” Armando strode into the garden tapping a fashionable silver walking stick against several of the more frightened-looking statues.

“What do you want?” Dante asked.

“I was going to ask you a similar question.” The elegant accent Armando had used to play the count during Caraval was replaced by a raspier voice as he angled his perfectly groomed head from Tella to Dante, and said, “I thought you were interested in the prudish sister.”

Tella’s hand worked on instinct, pulling back and slapping Armando across his face. “You don’t get to talk about my sister, ever.”

Armando lifted a gloved hand to his purpling jaw. “I wish you’d given me that warning an hour ago. Your sister slaps even harder than you do.”

Alarm flooded Tella. “You talked to her.”

“It seems she didn’t fully understand the concept that Caraval is only a game. Pretty, but not terribly bright.”

“Watch it,” Dante warned. “I’ll do more than slap you.”

Armando’s sharp emerald eyes lit up with amusement. “You must really like this one, or does Legend have you working her the way Julian worked her sister?”

Tella could have smacked him again, but Armando was already gliding backward.

“A word of advice before tonight’s party: Don’t repeat the mistakes your sister made in the last game. And you might not want to wait around for her, either.” Armando continued to the exit as he said, “She wasn’t pleased to find out I wasn’t her real fiancé. When I left her and poor Julian, their conversation was heated; I don’t imagine it will simmer until after the ball.” “Filthy, wretched—” Tella loosed a string of inelegant curses at his disappearing back. She knew nothing could really be believed during Caraval, but she was convinced that even when he wasn’t acting, Armando was as vile as the roles he played. “I’m going to pray that angels come

down and cut out his tongue.”

Dante’s gaze traveled skyward, and Tella swore more than one star blinked out of existence as he said, “I’m sure many would thank you for that.”

Tella still fumed. “Why does Legend even keep him around?” “Every good story needs a villain.”

“But the best villains are the ones you secretly like, and my nana always said Legend was the villain in Caraval.”

Dante’s lips twisted into something like a smirk. “Of course she did.” “Are you saying she was lying?”

“Everyone either wants Legend, or wants to be Legend. The only way to keep innocent young girls from running off to find him is to tell them he’s a monster. But that doesn’t mean it’s all a lie.” Dante’s lips widened into a taunting smile and his dark eyes shimmered as they returned to Tella.

The scoundrel was teasing her. Or perhaps he was Legend and couldn’t resist talking about how others were so obsessed with him. Dante was definitely handsome and arrogant enough to be Legend, but Tella imagined the master of Caraval had more important things to do on the first night of the game than torment her.

Another bell rang in the distance. Midnight would approach in fifteen minutes. If Tella didn’t leave at this moment she would be late to meet her friend.

It felt wrong not to run back to Scarlett; Tella could only imagine how upset her sister must have been to learn how deeply Armando, and everyone else, had deceived her during Caraval. Tella hadn’t wanted her to find out this way. But Tella’s friend was already at the ball, and in his letter he’d said he would not wait past midnight.

Tella did not enjoy the idea of abandoning her sister. But Scarlett would forgive her, and the same could not be said for her friend if Tella arrived late.

“As delightful as this rendezvous has been,” she told Dante, “I’m tardy for a party, and I imagine you have a job to do.”

Before he could attempt to stop her, she loped toward the garden’s exit. More stars winked out as Tella made her way to the glowing carriage house, where a servant helped her inside of a topaz coach still smelling of its last rider’s perfume.

Dante slid in right behind her.

“Will you please stop following me?”

“Maybe Armando was being honest, for once, and it’s my job to follow you.” Dante stretched out in the seat across from her, his long legs

practically filling all the empty space between them.

“You know what I think?” Tella said. “You want an excuse to spend the evening with me.”

Dante’s mouth formed a wry smile as he slowly ran a wide thumb over his lower lip. “I hate to break your heart, but I think of girls the way I imagine you think of ball gowns; it’s never a good idea to wear the same one more than once.”

If Tella could have shoved him out of the carriage and replaced him with the spoiled nobleman from the other day, she would have. Instead she gave him her sweetest smile.

“What a coincidence, that’s the same way I see young men.”

Dante held her gaze for a moment and then he laughed, the same deliciously low sound that always made her stomach tumble.

Attempting to ignore him, Tella turned toward the window as the box lifted into the lightless night.

She didn’t know where the stars had gone, but somewhere in between the garden and the carriage they’d vanished, turning the sky into an ocean of dark. Sooty and black and—

The night shimmered.

In between one moment and the next the world exploded with silver.

Tella shot her gaze toward the carriage window just in time to see the lost stars return. Glowing brighter than before, they danced into new constellations. She counted more than a dozen, all forming the same bewitching image—a sun with a starburst inside and a glittering teardrop inside of the star. The symbol of Caraval.

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