Legendary (Caraval, #2): Chapter no 14

Legendary (Caraval, #2)

For a moment Tella’s entire world stopped breathing. Every person near the dance floor had ceased moving, their rapt faces frozen in exaggerated states of shock at Tella and Jacks’s display. For a heartbeat Tella could only hear the cut-glass glitter tinkling softly as it continued to fall to the floor.

The Prince of Hearts—the Fate famous for his fatal kisses, who had haunted both her dreams and nightmares, and cursed her to unrequited love after drawing his card from her mother’s Deck of Destiny—was not merely a myth. He was real, and he was standing right in front of Tella. His pale skin glowed so unnaturally, if the entire ballroom hadn’t been frozen, she imagined they’d have all seen him for what he truly was.

He wasn’t entirely human, or human at all. He was something magical, something other, something wrong. A Fate.

And she had kissed him.

“I didn’t expect you to look so surprised. The coin I sent was a rather obvious hint.” Jacks reached for her and carefully smoothed out one of her curls, his hands much gentler than they’d been moments ago. She wanted to rage, to scream, to slap his reddened mouth, but it seemed he’d put her, along with the entire ballroom, under a spell.

“What have you done to everyone?” she breathed.

“Stopped their hearts. It’s like pausing time. It won’t last long, unlike what I’ve done to yours.” His jaw twitched as his cold gaze traveled toward her chest.

Tella took a shallow breath, because apparently that was all she was capable of. When they’d danced her heart had pounded, her veins had

heated, her blood had raced. But now she could feel her heart struggling, beating too slowly, a weak echo of what it should have been. “Am I going to die?”

“Not yet.”

Tella’s knees buckled.

Jacks gleamed brighter. “This is going to be so much fun, I almost hate to tell you there’s still a way to save yourself.”


“Bring me the second thing I want.” “What is that?” Tella gritted out.

Jacks’s long fingers finished smoothing her hair, and his eyes met her gaze once more. She’d called his eyes silver-blue before, but now they shined just silver, twinkling with growing pleasure as her terror multiplied. “I want Legend the man, not just his identity. I want you to win the game and then give him to me.”

Before Tella could react, the moment shattered and the ballroom flooded with sound once again. She swore she’d never witnessed so many intentionally loud whispers, covered up with artificial smiles, as partygoers pretended not to be scandalized by Jacks and Tella’s display. Though one person did not appear to be hiding how he felt. Dante.

Tella’s already mangled insides twisted further.

Dante stood casually with one elbow propped against a thick metal bar near the mouth of the cage, but the rigid set of his jaw, the hooded sweep of his gaze, and the derisive line of his lips told Tella that he was far from calm. He looked furious.

His reaction shouldn’t have angered her. And her kiss shouldn’t have angered him, given that Dante was partly responsible for this mess. Unless he was only acting, which made more sense. Pretending to care about her was probably one of the roles he’d been given for Caraval.

Jacks’s gaze followed Tella’s and sharpened.

“I think he still believes you’re his.” Jacks’s pale skin gleamed brighter as he stroked a thumb under his chin, looking as if he were coming up with a truly terrible idea.

“This doesn’t involve him. Dante is one of Legend’s performers,” Tella hissed. “He’s just playing a role. He doesn’t even like me.”

“That’s not how it looks from here.” Jacks pressed his cold lips to her forehead, a mockery of a kiss, as he said, “I don’t give second chances, but I’m giving one to you. I wasn’t lying when I said that I want this charade to be convincing. If anyone discovers this engagement is a lie, or uncovers the truth about me or our arrangement, the consequences will be unfortunate. Take your tattooed friend over there.” Jacks turned his eyes toward Dante again. “You said he’s one of Legend’s performers, so I can’t kill him this week. But if he discovers the truth, I could easily end his life once the game is over.”

“No!” Tella objected, right as Jacks raised his voice above hers to announce, “Since it seems I’ve momentarily stolen everyone’s attention, now would probably be a good time to share some excellent news.”

As if the partygoers were puppets or part of an orchestrated dance, each of their coiffed heads angled his way.

“Many of you know my former fiancée, Alessandra, died late last year. Her death was a great loss to the Empire, one I thought I’d never recover from. But as you can see, I’ve found someone else, someone who I hope you will all adore as much as I do. Meet my new fiancée, Donatella.”

The room filled with applause and fresh clouds of stardust as the performers above tossed sparkling paper stars onto the scrambling people below.

To Tella’s eyes it all looked like ash.

Her own smile had never felt so wrong as she forced her lips to curve for the crowd.

“I hate you,” she whispered.

“Have I been unfair?” Jacks murmured. “I gave you what you asked for, now I want what I’m owed.”

“Oh, look!” someone cried. “The falling stars! They’re the first clue.”

The ballroom erupted into even more chaos. Some of the falling stars were clues, but it seemed others were full of nothing save for dazzling dust, which filled the cage with fantastic shimmering clouds when touched by the partygoers.

Caraval’s games had truly begun. As everyone around her reached for falling stars, Tella thought of all the times she and Scarlett had dreamed about Caraval, about Legend. Now Tella had to win the game or she would never dream again. And she doubted her sister would either. Tella had promised Scarlett she’d be careful, but already Tella had failed her.

The edge of Jacks’s poisonous mouth twitched. “You should take one of the clues, my love.”

“Don’t call me—”

“Careful, darling.” Quick as a snake, he pressed two firm fingers to Tella’s bruised lips. “You don’t want to destroy the beautiful deception we’ve just created. Now,” he said sweetly, “give my fingers a kiss for everyone still watching.”

Tella bit them instead. They tasted like frost and wishes gone wrong.

She expected him to pull away, for his sharp face to fill with color and his words to turn ugly and angry. But Jacks just left his cold fingers in her mouth, pressing them against her teeth and her tongue. Her stomach filled with lead, as something purely evil shimmered in his unearthly eyes.

“I’ll let you get away with this for now, but this is my last mercy.” He brushed his fingers over the spot where he’d bitten her lip, before pulling them from her mouth. “If you do not win Caraval and bring me Legend before Elantine’s Day, you’ll learn just how deadly my kisses really are.”

* * *

Up until that accursed night, Tella had loved glitter. As a little girl she’d often stolen tiny bottles of it from shops, imagining one might contain real dust from the stars, full of magic able to grant her wishes, or turn dirt into diamonds. But none of the bottles had been enchanted, and the glitter from the ball wasn’t real stardust, either, just pulverized glass. By the time the bells cried out three in the morning and she climbed into the sky coach with Jacks, it didn’t even sparkle; it clung like a parasite to her arms and the parts of her gown where flowers had once been.

You should have brought me Legend’s name.

Jacks hadn’t said a word to her since they’d exited his wretched castle. He lounged across from her, a lazy nobleman once again, unknotting his

bronze cravat as if he’d just finished a series of tedious tasks: attending a balldancingcursing Tella with his murderous lips.

“I take it you’re afraid of me now,” he drawled.

“You’re mistaking fear with disgust. You’re a loathsome monster.” And she had trusted him. “You tricked me.”

“Would you have preferred me to make the kiss kill you right away?” “Yes.”

The bow of Jacks’s mouth dipped down, though not a trace of sadness touched his eyes. He probably wasn’t capable of it, just as he was said to be incapable of love.

… his heart had stopped beating long ago. Only one person could make it beat again: his one true love. They said his kiss had been fatal to all but her—his only weakness.

Oh, how Tella wished she was his weakness. She’d have loved to destroy him.

Tella often imagined she knew what people thought when they saw her. One look at her honey-blond curls, her girlish smile, and her pretty dresses, coupled with the fact that she liked to enjoy herself, and people dismissed her as a silly girl. Tella might have been many things, but she was far from silly or worthless or whatever labels people liked to affix because a person was young and female. Tella liked to think that was where much of her strength came from.

She was bold. She was brave. She was cunning. And she was going to come out of this triumphant—no matter the cost.

“If you’d brought me Legend’s name,” Jacks said, “this would have turned out differently.”

“If that’s true, why do you now want more than just his name?”

“Why settle for only a name when you can win the game and give me Legend?” Jacks’s tone was dismissive, as careless as his idle posture. But Tella believed there had to be much more to his demand. She wanted to press him further, but she doubted he’d tell her exactly what he wanted with Legend. And there were other questions Tella needed answers to more.

She leaned back in her seat, mimicking Jacks’s cavalier pose. “How do I know any of this is real? How do I know you’re not merely playing a part in

Legend’s game?”

“You want proof that I’m a Fate and my kiss will truly kill you?” Amusement lit Jacks’s eyes; it seemed he was capable of emotion after all, because the idea of demonstrating how deadly he was appeared to excite him a bit too much.

“I’ll pass on that,” Tella said. She didn’t actually believe Jacks was part of Legend’s game. His kiss had not been worth dying for, although if Tella had never actually died, she might have argued otherwise. Kisses were meant to be temporal, brief but exquisite moments of pleasure. But Tella could have kissed Jacks into eternity. It wasn’t just the way his lips had moved over hers, it was the desire behind them, the wanting, the way Jacks had made Tella feel as if she were the one person on earth he’d spent his entire existence searching for. In that moment she’d managed to forget she’d been left by her mother and repeatedly suffered at the hands of her father, because Jacks had made her feel as if he’d hold on to her forever. It might have been the most convincing lie she’d ever been told.

Then she’d seen him glowing, and Tella had known. She still didn’t understand how no one else at the ball had seemed to notice it. Even now, some of the glow had worn off, but Jacks still looked utterly inhuman, viciously beautiful. Capable of killing with only one press of his lips.

It was still surreal to believe he was a Fate. She wondered how long he’d been back on earth, and if the other Fates had returned as well. But she didn’t know how many more minutes he’d humor her, and she still needed answers to other questions.

“I want my mother’s real name,” she said, “and proof you know where she is and that you’ll bring me to her after all of this is done. That’s the only way I’ll believe this is all real.”

Jacks twisted one of his teardrop cuff links—or was it supposed to represent a drop of blood? “I think you know this is real, but I’ll humor you.”

The coach dipped as Jacks reached into his pocket and pulled out a crisp rectangular card.

Even in the carriage’s dim lighting the print on it was unmistakable. Such a dark hue of nightshade it was almost black, with tiny hints of gold

flecks that sparkled in the light and swirly strands of deep red-violet embossing that still made Tella think of damp flowers, witch’s blood, and magic.

Bumps rose all over Tella’s arms.

It was one of the cards from her mother’s Deck of Destiny. Tella had seen other decks over the years, but all of them had been inferior to the glowing, almost magical images on the deck of cards her mother had possessed.

Tella warred with the desire to reach for it and leap out of the carriage before it could predict another ill future.

But when Jacks turned the card around it did not reveal a Fate. It showed an alarmingly lifelike picture of her mother, Paloma, with dark locks of hair cascading over shoulders that looked thinner than Tella remembered. Paloma stood with her palms outward, as though pressed hard against a window, almost as if she were trapped inside of the card.

“This is where your mother has been for the past seven years,” Jacks said.

Tella pried her eyes away from the card to see if the Fate was toying with her, but the amused glimmer that lit his eyes moments ago was gone. His face had turned as cold as the blood now chilling Tella’s insides.

“I don’t believe you,” she said.

“Which part? That it’s your mother, or that she’s been trapped inside this card?”

Jacks set the card atop Tella’s clenched fists. It did not tingle like the Aracle, it throbbed, painfully slow, a dying heartbeat. Tella knew it was dying because it matched her own slowly beating heart.

It couldn’t be real. It shouldn’t be real. But Tella found herself believing it was real as the card’s weak heartbeat continued to thud against her fist. “How is this possible?”

“It’s easier than you would think,” Jacks said, “and I can tell you from experience it’s torturous.”

A slice of moonlight fell into the carriage, illuminating Jacks’s face. His expression was impassive, but for a moment he looked so pale, Tella swore she saw the skeleton beneath his skin. She’d definitely been wrong to think

him incapable of emotion. Perhaps he was unable to love, and maybe his other feelings weren’t that of a human being, but the terror that had just pulsed from him was so powerful she’d felt it.

“You were trapped inside of a card,” Tella breathed.

Jacks tilted his head away from the moonlight so that his features were shadowed in dark, making it impossible to read his face as he said, “Where do you think all the Fates went when we disappeared so long ago?”

Tella’s stomach plummeted as the coach began its descent. She’d heard rumors the Fates had been banished by a witch. Others said they’d turned on one another. There was even one story that claimed the stars had transformed them back into humans. But she’d never heard that the Fates were all trapped inside of cards.

“But that’s a tale for another time,” Jacks said. “All you need to worry about is winning the game so you can bring me Legend.”

Jacks’s gaze fell to the crumpled star in Tella’s hand—the first clue, which she’d not even looked at. “Open it.”

When Tella didn’t move, Jacks took it from her hand, unfolded it, and read aloud:


The other clues you’ll need are hidden throughout the city;


This region of Valenda was once so tragic, but now it promises faith and magic.


He paused. “It sounds like the Temple District.”

“Am I supposed to thank you for that insight?” Tella snarled.

“I’m attempting to save you time.” His tone took on more of a bite. “I might have delayed the full power of my kiss, but you will still experience some of its effects. The game ends at dawn on Elantine’s Day, giving you five more nights to find the remaining clues. I’m the only one who can free

your mother. If you lose the game and fail to bring me Legend, she will remain trapped inside this card forever, and you will die—”

He cut off as the coach landed heavily on the ground. Tella reached for the door.

“One more thing.” Jacks nodded toward the card with her mother. “Keep her safe. If anything happens to this card, not even I will be able to save her. When you win the game, make sure you have the luckless coin I gave you and I’ll find you before Legend arrives. Until then, my love, try not to die.”

Jacks blew Tella a kiss as she stepped out into the biting night.

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