Legendary (Caraval, #2): Chapter no 18

Legendary (Caraval, #2)

A crimson constellation of stars glittered above the Temple District.

From Tella’s sky carriage it had looked like an enchanted cluster of roses in full bloom. Now that she was in the district, standing beneath the stars, the entire image was harder to take in. Instead of seeing a constellation of roses, the ruby lights looked like drops of spilled star-blood, shimmering unnatural light on the world below.

Even without the eerie rose-gold glow from above, the Temple District would have been an odd place. Wailing cries of worshippers, whispered prayers of sinners, ancient chants, and a number of strangely dressed people surrounded Tella as she trod a mosaic of timeworn streets lit by torches as tall as people.

Tella didn’t know if this part of the city was always so popular or if the crowds were only because of everyone participating in Caraval and searching for the second clue.

She reached into her velvet pocket and reread the first clue under the burning red torchlight:


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


This region of Valenda was once so tragic,



The description definitely fit the Temple District, where all manner of interesting religions and beliefs were practiced, but it could have applied to almost any of the worship houses.

Tella passed towering tabernacles, antique missions, and fresh young bathhouses where visitors could wash themselves in holy spirits—or at least those were the claims.

On Trisda, religion was unornamented and simple. People prayed to specific saints for what they wanted and asked priests for forgiveness by writing their sins on paper that the holy women and men would burn. But here, Tella wasn’t sure if people were actually worshipping or performing.

She’d heard people could practice whatever faith they wanted as long as they remained within the district borders. But only a few of the religions looked as if they were true faiths in higher powers. Many of the spiritual practices Tella observed looked more like shows meant to thrill and tantalize tourists into willingly emptying their pockets.

Before arriving she’d been told there was even a Church of Legend, which seemed like the most obvious place to search for the next clue. Unfortunately, the Church of Legend was hidden from plain view. Finding it was supposed to be like a game. Tella might not have minded if she’d been at her full strength, but her legs were shakier than they should have been, and her breath was a little shallow.

As she searched street after street, Tella saw churches dedicated to each element. The fire worshippers were her favorite; they danced in front of their temple with sticks made of flames. Next door was a church formed of waterfalls, which flowed over statues of mermen and mermaids that people threw shells before as offerings. From there Tella passed a row of tabernacles dedicated to the various Fates. These crumbling structures looked older than the rest. Some were merely ruins, remnants of the days when the Fates still ruled. Few people currently worshipped the Fates, though there was a large group gathered in front of Mistress Luck’s Shrine, all of them dressed in elaborate green-feathered caps and voluminous capes.

But no matter how hard Tella searched, she saw no symbols of Caraval. No roses—other than those in the sky. No black hearts. No top hats. Although there were people in costume—or “religious garments,” as she’d heard others call them. As Tella pushed her tired limbs to keep going, she spied horned helmets for those who honored ancient warrior gods, and necklaces made of bones for those who worshipped Death. She didn’t know if she needed different attire for her destination, but it seemed whatever she didn’t own could be bought from one of the carts on the street.

“Would you like a ghost hood?” someone called. “Keeps away the demons. Only three coppers.”

“Or if you’d prefer to meet the demons, we have beads of depravity!” called his partner. “Only one copper.”

“What makes you think I’m interested in demons?” Tella teased.

The vendor flashed a grin of missing teeth. “You’re here. People claim they search these streets looking for saviors, but that’s rarely what they find.”

“Then I suppose it’s good the man I’m looking for has never claimed to be a savior.” Tella blew the vendor a kiss and delved farther into the crush of eager tourists, greedy traders, and enthusiastic Valendans participating in Caraval.

The people on the streets were thicker than maggots on death, except for on the stretch of ivory road in front of the Temple of the Stars.

Tella’s legs slowed a little. She knew she couldn’t stop, but it was distressingly tempting. This was by far the prettiest of the temples. A bastion of stones as white as goddess robes and innocent sacrifices. But Tella knew the temple’s insides were far from pure or holy.

The stars supposedly walked on earth long before the Fates, so long ago that they were more legends than anything else. But people whispered with true belief that no matter how they looked up in the skies, the stars were not angelic creatures made of light and angel dust. Some said the stars were the ones who’d created the Fates, which many claimed made the stars the most vicious beings of all.

Yet, there were still those who willingly joined the congregation believing someday the stars would return and richly reward all those who

followed them. Tella had heard the richest of people tithed things like their free will, their beauty, and their firstborn children for a chance to become members.

“If you want to enter you’ll need the right clothes!” someone called from across the way. “We sell acolyte sheaths for only five coppers.”

“You don’t want to join that temple, not when I can offer you something better at a lower price!” another merchant cried. His voice was familiar.

Tella turned and promptly wished she hadn’t.

Julian, dressed in alexandrite-green traders’ robes, stood with his arms spread wide, drawing Tella’s stunned attention to a series of altars with men tied to them, chilled smiles on their moon-white lips, and eyes on the ruby skies as if they were the most willing of sacrifices.

“Julian, what—what are you doing?” Tella stammered.

“My apologies, lovely miss, have we met before?” He studied her as if he’d never seen her.

Tella knew he was playing the role he’d been assigned for Caraval. But it was still disturbing to watch his gaze turn greedy, as if she were a lamb he wanted to shepherd down the wrong path.

“I don’t remember you,” he purred, “but you’re pretty so I’ll give you a deal. You can feel the same ecstasy as my tied-up friends for only four coppers!”

“Or you can atone for your sins for free.” A woman in a dazzling white cowl drew Tella’s attention away from this alarming version of Julian, and toward another unnerving site. She motioned to a series of cages and stocks, reeking of sweat and regret and unwashed bodies. These people didn’t look quite so willing as Julian’s sky-worshipping sacrifices. And Tella wasn’t looking for redemption or atonement; she wanted to find Legend.

“You probably shouldn’t stare, or they’ll take it as a yes and shove you in one of those prisons as well.”

Tella turned to see Dante, standing across from a Bleeding Throne fountain.

He leaned one jacketed elbow against a tarnished silver door, the color of disillusioned dreams and bad decisions. Or maybe he was the one who looked like a bad decision.

In Decks of Destiny, Fallen Stars were always pictured as deceptive gods or goddesses in twinkling golden capes and thin white sheaths. But as Tella looked at Dante, covered in ink-dark shades of black that blended in with the night, she imagined the pictures on the cards could have been mistaken. Gold shimmered no matter what, but few people could make darkness glitter the way he did.

“You need to quit following me,” Tella said.

“Maybe I’m actually helping you.” He straightened the fresh black cravat around his neck as his gaze latched on to the door behind him, landing on a Caraval symbol etched atop the doorknob’s bulbous brass handle.

The entrance to the Church of Legend.

“I would have found it on my own,” Tella huffed.

“Of course you would have.” Dante continued to stand directly in front of the door, grinning a little too wide as Tella stepped closer.

“Weren’t you the one who said you see girls the same way we see party dresses, only to be used once?”

“Clearly I view you a little differently.” He reached for one of her errant curls and wound it around one tattooed finger, the black rose on the back of his hand spinning until it turned red beneath the ruby starlight. With every turn he drew her closer. He made it easy to ignore her achy legs and her dying heart. He twisted the hair around his finger in the same way she imagined he wanted to wrap her around his finger.

As if she would ever let him.

Arrogant. Overconfident. Vain. Impossible. She hated the way he refused to leave her alone, how he took her insults the same way other boys might take a compliment, and that his interest in her was clearly only part of his role. And yet she could never seem to push him away.

“If you’re here to learn about Legend,” he said, “I can tell you more than anyone inside there.”

“Would you tell me who he is?” Tella asked. “You know I can’t do that.”

“You could if you were Legend.”

Dante’s voice rumbled with a laugh. “If I was Legend I’d definitely never tell you.”

“Because you don’t trust me?”

“No,” he answered slowly, gently tugging her even closer. “I’d hold on to my secret because I’d want to keep playing the game with you, and if I told you the truth it would spoil all the fun.”

His eyes stayed locked with hers, as if there was something unspoken he was trying to say. If another boy had looked at her that way she might have felt momentarily special. People rarely looked each other in the eye for prolonged periods of time. There was almost something more intimate about it than touching. When Dante looked in Tella’s eyes he wasn’t watching the rest of the world. He wasn’t looking out for himself. He was risking part of his person to focus solely on her.

Tella wondered if this was the true allure of Caraval, not the magic or the mystery, but the way Legend’s players knew how to make people feel. During the last game, Julian had constantly pushed Scarlett outside of her comfort zone. Dante was doing the same thing to Tella, but instead of pushing, he was pulling her toward him, attempting to reel her into his intoxicating sphere by pretending he cared, and that he didn’t merely want her, but a part of him needed her. She sensed it in the subtle way he held his breath as he waited for her answer. It was terrifying how such a small thing could hold so much power.

He was definitely good at his job. She knew he was only acting. That he didn’t actually care or need her. And yet instead of walking past him into the Church of Legend she found herself wanting to play along with him for just a little longer. “So if you were Legend and we were partners, would you be helping me win or sabotaging my efforts?”

“Definitely helping.” Dante began untwisting her hair, letting his warm fingers brush her neck, and then leaving them on her pulse as he whispered, “Even if I wasn’t Legend I would want you to win.”

He kept his eyes on hers as if there was something else he needed to say, and it scared Tella how much she wanted to hear it, even though she couldn’t have believed it. She didn’t really believe Dante was Legend either. As fun and clever as Tella was, so were countless other girls, and she

imagined the master of Caraval had better things to do than follow any of them around. And yet, she couldn’t completely dismiss the idea, because as much as it might hurt later on, and as foolish as it could make her in the end, a part of her wanted it to be true, wanted to believe that something inside of her burned bright enough to capture Legend’s uncapturable attention.

Tella’s sluggish heart skipped a beat at the thought. With Dante’s warm fingers on her pulse she imagined he felt it. His eyes were shining brighter than his smile, but maybe it was because he could also feel her starting to give in to him, falling for the act he was inevitably putting on.

“I wish I could believe you.” She said it like a joke as she leaned back, until his hand fell away from her neck.

She started to reach for the door.

Then his fingers were around her wrist, tugging her back to him. There was something almost desperate about the way he held on to her. “What if I told you the real reason for this game? Would you believe I wanted to help you then?”

“Dante, I never believe anything you say.”

“But you remember my words well enough to repeat them.”

Tella didn’t respond, which he took as an invitation to continue. “Do you know how Legend gained his magic?”

“I thought it came from a wish, that one impossible wish we’re all supposed to get if we want something enough.” She said it skeptically. Although her sister had used a wish to bring Tella back to life in the last game, a part of Tella had always doubted Legend’s epic magic came from something so simple. And maybe Tella liked the way Dante responded when she challenged him, the way his eyes shimmered and his fingers tightened around her wrist, as if he didn’t plan on letting her go until he had the last word.

“Everyone does get a wish,” Dante said, “but each wish needs magic to help it along. And Legend wanted especially powerful magic. So he sought out the witch who’d cursed the Fates.”

“How did he find her?”

“In a land far away. If Legend wants something, he’ll go beyond the ends of this earth for it.” Dante’s tone was intentionally untrustworthy, as if telling a mythical story to a child, and yet the hand around her wrist grew hotter with each word. He kept speaking in the same devil-may-care tone, but the weight of what he’d said felt heavier than anything else he’d told her that night.

“When the witch that Legend visited banished the Fates, she took half of their magic, so that even if the Fates returned, they would not have the same power as before. It was this magic that she used for Legend’s wish. But she warned Legend that if the Fates ever managed to break her curse, they would kill to get their magic back. I think this was her way of ensuring the Fates never returned. The witch knew that in order to keep his powers forever, Legend would eventually have to destroy the Fates, or be destroyed.”

Dante stood close enough to whisper as he finished. He didn’t mention Jacks, but he didn’t need to. Tella couldn’t help adding what she already knew about the Fates to what Dante had just said. The pieces fit too well not to put them together.

She’d learned from Jacks that the Fates had all been imprisoned in a deck of cards. If there was any truth to what Dante said, half of the Fates’ powers had been taken as well, which possibly explained why Jacks wanted Legend. Maybe Jacks had escaped from the cards but he wasn’t at his full power, so he needed to take them back.

Jacks had made it sound as if the other Fates were still trapped. But Legend must have known that the Prince of Hearts was free. For Legend, that was probably enough to make him decide it was time to destroy all the Fates.

For centuries the Fates were locked away, but now they wish to come out and play.

If they regain their magic the world will never be the same, but you can help stop them by winning the game.

Tella shook her head. This was just what Scarlett had warned her would happen. She’d said Tella would be unable to tell the difference between the parts that were real and the parts that were merely a game.

Tella knew Jacks was real. But it was madness to start believing the game was real as well.

Tella slid her wrist from Dante’s grip. “Thank you for that interesting history.”

“Wait, before you—” Dante cut off.

Tella tensed, afraid she’d started bleeding again, but Dante’s eyes weren’t on her. She looked over her shoulder, to where his gaze had abruptly gone. She thought she saw Jovan. Only instead of being dressed like Jester Mad, as she had been last night, she was cloaked in a robe. It whipped around her ankles as she scurried away.

Dante turned back to Tella, quickly reached inside his jacket, and pulled out a pair of black elbow-length gloves. “If you won’t accept my help, at least take these.” He pressed on one of the pearl buttons lining the gloves.

Click. Click. Click. Click. Click.

Five knife-sharp razors shot out from the fingertips. “You’re giving me gloves with razor blades?”

Tella felt suddenly relieved Dante’s fingers were no longer on her rapidly heating skin, as Scarlett’s words rushed back: “Gloves are a symbolic gift … connected with asking for a girl’s hand in marriage … a young man’s way of saying he’ll take care of a girl, by giving her gloves to protect her hands.”

Tella’s skin burned even hotter as the razors glinted in the torchlight. Ten tiny promises of protection. But Tella knew Dante wanted to marry her about as much Jacks did. He’d probably just stolen the gloves on his way out of Minerva’s, from a girl who just happened to have the same size arms and fingers as Tella.

“What do you want in exchange for these?”

“Maybe I just want to make sure I see you again.” Dante pressed the pearls once more to retract the blades before folding the gloves into her


Then the impossible bastard was striding away.

He went in the same direction as the cloaked figure who looked like Jovan. Tella was half tempted to follow, but that was probably what Dante wanted—to distract her from entering the Church of Legend and finding the next clue.

Tella turned back to the door, but the symbol of Caraval was gone, vanished like magic, which felt like further confirmation she was in the right place.

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