Legendary (Caraval, #2): Chapter no 27

Legendary (Caraval, #2)

It should have felt like the end of existence when Tella came back to consciousness once more. Her everything should have hurt in every possible way. She should have awoken to a world of pain, to a screaming wrist, a swollen face, and battered feet. Instead her body felt whole and rested, and her heart was beating stronger than it had the night before. Wherever she was, this new universe was delightfully cozy and sweet, as if someone had tucked her into the center of a holiday.

Something crackled, a fire that smelled faintly of cinnamon and cloves. There were curling streams of laughter too, uneven and gasping, her sister’s laugh when she thought her companion genuinely funny.

If Scarlett was giggling, it couldn’t be all bad. Tella cautiously cracked her eyelids.

And slammed them shut immediately. Or she tried to shut her eyes, but they refused to close, as if they were unable to look away from the vivid sight of her sister, clad in seductive shades of red, and Jacks, glowing faintly as he leaned lazily across one of the tufted lounges in Tella’s tower suite. Her sister and her fake fiancé both laughed and chatted and gazed as if they could not have been more taken with each other.

Tella sat up. It seemed she was atop but not inside her bed. She wasn’t sure if she wanted to know who had changed her out of her decimated gown, or how. But somehow she was in a brand-new dress—the same silver sea salt and blue as Jacks’s eyes, with sleeves held together by a simple tie, a flowing skirt, and a bodice strung with dark thistle ribbons that made her look like a present someone had halfway unwrapped.

Dante didn’t appear to be anywhere and neither did Julian. Tella’s gaze took in every corner of the room. The dull peach light streaming through the window gave the impression of a sluggish morning, but there were no hints that Julian or Dante had been there. Just thinking about Dante brought a rush of dizziness that made her want to close her eyes again. Her skin warmed as she recalled the protective way he’d cradled her in his arms. But then it burned when she thought of the last words he’d said to Julian. She wanted to believe everything she’d overhead was only a dream. But then who had healed her? And how had she ended up here?

In front of the dying fire, Jacks and Scarlett were still chatting; neither of them noticed Tella was no longer asleep. Jacks was tossing around a pale blue apple and saying something too low for Tella to hear, but it made her sister’s cheeks turn pink.

Tella coughed. Loudly.

“Oh, Tella!” Scarlett jumped up from her seat, and Tella swore her sister’s face reddened further. “I’m so glad you’re awake. Jacks and I have been so worried.”

Tella’s head snapped toward the villain in question. “I didn’t even think you were allowed in here.”

“I love how you forget I’m the heir to the throne,” Jacks said smoothly. “This palace is practically mine. But even if it wasn’t, no one could keep me from your side, even after such a minor incident.”

His eyes hooked on to Tella’s as he came to her side of the bed, silently commanding her to go along with whatever he said next. “I know you only fell a few feet, after accidentally leaving the carriage too early and hitting your head. But I still worry what would have happened if I hadn’t been there to catch you and carry you back here, my love.” He spoke it all affectionately, as if he found everything about her entirely endearing.

Tella swore Scarlett’s eyes turned into little hearts.

Tella began to wonder if perhaps this was the actual dream, although it was feeling more akin to a nightmare. Scarlett appeared far too taken with Jacks, who wasn’t even supposed to be there. Dante and Julian had saved her—where were they?

Jacks picked up Tella’s wrist and gently squeezed. If she hadn’t known better, she’d have said he looked concerned. “Your pulse feels strong. But you probably need some food.” He turned back to Scarlett. “Would you be a treasure and fetch your sister a fresh tray of fruit and tea and biscuits? It will take too long to ring for a servant and I don’t think we should risk letting her pass out again.”

“Of course,” Scarlett said. A few seconds later she was gone, leaving Tella and Jacks alone.

For a moment there was only the crackle of the fire and Jacks’s worried gaze, as silver as falling stars; he seemed to be better at mimicking real emotions than when she’d seen him three nights ago.

“What are you doing here?” Tella asked. Jacks’s gaze instantly turned dispassionate.

“I have spies all over the palace,” he said. His tone was bored, as if it disappointed him she’d not asked a more original question. “I know everything that happens in here. The moment that actor carried you in through the tunnels I was alerted, and it’s a good thing. Your sister rushed in here minutes after I arrived and I had to make up that story about you falling out of a carriage, because she was under the impression you almost died.”

“I did almost die! Why didn’t you tell me other Fates were free?” “Who did you encounter?” he asked coolly.

“The Undead Queen and Her Handmaidens.”

Jacks took a careless bite of his blue apple, but Tella swore his features sharpened while he chewed, as if he weren’t as indifferent as he seemed. “You’re lucky they were weak.”

“They didn’t seem weak to me. Those Handmaidens nearly killed me.

How many other Fates are free?”

Jacks gave a bitter laugh. “Just because a few of us are out of those cards doesn’t mean we’re free. When that witch cursed us, she took half our powers. I’m a shadow of what I once was. You think my only power was having a deadly kiss? I was called the Prince of Hearts because I could control more than just the beat of someone’s heart. With one touch I could give or take away feelings and emotions. If I were at my full powers, we

wouldn’t even be having this conversation. You’d be so uncontrollably in love with me, you’d do whatever I asked without question.”

Tella didn’t even bother to hold back her laugh. “No power on earth could make me fall in love with you.”

“We’ll see. Unless you don’t live past the week.” Jacks tossed his apple into the fire. It sparked celestial blue, briefly covering the room in a shimmer incongruent with their deadly conversation. It reminded Tella of Legend’s stars from the night before.

Or were they Dante’s stars?

Finally, Tella allowed herself to really consider what she’d overheard between Dante and Julian. Not only had they magically healed her with blood, but Dante had called Julian his brother.

If Julian had been telling Scarlett the truth about Legend being his brother, then Dante was Legend. But if Dante was Legend, why had he brought Tella to Julian for him to heal? Maybe Julian was really Legend.

Tella wished she’d been able to open her eyes and see whose blood she’d been drinking. There was a chance it didn’t belong to Julian or Dante; maybe Julian kept stores of magical blood somewhere. That seemed highly unlikely. But it also felt surreal to imagine that one of the brothers was actually Legend, and that he’d fed her blood to keep her alive.

Either way, handing Legend over to Jacks at the end of the game didn’t feel quite the same as it had before, not even close.

And yet there was a vicious part of Tella that took pleasure in the idea that Dante was really Legend. After hearing Dante tell Julian he only cared about Tella because she could find the cards, part of her would have gladly given him over to Jacks—even as the rest of her warned that this was a terrible idea.

Tella turned back to Jacks to find him toying with one of her honey- blond curls. It sent a chill over her entire body, making the pieces of her that had been healed feel shattered once again. She tried to shake off the sensation. Instead she found herself imagining what Jacks would be like at full power. When the Fates had ruled before, they were said to be more like gods than humans. She pictured his lips forever stained with blood and a pile of dead maidens at his feet.

“Is this why you want Legend?” Tella asked Jacks. “To get the rest of your powers back?”

“I think you already know the answer to that,” Jacks drawled. “What happens to Legend once this transaction is done?”

Irritation flashed in Jacks’s eyes. “Are you worried about the immortal Master Caraval?”

“No, but I am worried about giving monsters like you and the Undead Queen more power.”

“Monsters are going to be given power no matter how this story ends,” Jacks said pleasantly. “What do you think will happen to Legend if he destroys us and acquires all of our magic? I like power, but no human or immortal should have that much of it. If Legend gets what he wants, he’ll be a greater villain than the world has ever seen.”

“So you believe the game is real?”

“Maybe not for everyone who’s playing, but it is for you and me and Legend. Does that change things for you, pet? Because if you’re having second thoughts let me remind you of two things. You fail to hold up your bargain with me, you will die at the end of this week, and so will your mother. There are only two ways to free someone from a card. A human must willingly take their place inside the card, or an immortal with great power must break the curse and free all of those imprisoned in cards. Legend would never choose freeing the Fates. If he gets his hands on the cards, he’ll destroy them, including your mother.”

Jacks leaned close enough to brush Tella’s ear with cold lips, as he tucked her hair behind it and whispered, “The card your mother’s trapped inside of is linked to the deck of cards imprisoning all the Fates. Unless you want your mother dead, as soon as you win the game you’ll contact me with the luckless coin and give me Legend like you promised.”

“I hate you,” Tella growled.

Jacks chuckled against her earlobe, as if the sentiment gave him a thrill. “Am I interrupting something?” Scarlett’s voice rang out from the


Tella looked over to see her sister holding a colorful tray of food and still smiling a little too widely at Jacks.

“I was just saying good-bye.” Jacks smoothed back an errant hair from Tella’s forehead, frowning, as if he hated to leave her.

Scarlett looked as if she might swoon from the sight. And Tella imagined it probably did appear unspeakably elegant, with her lying there all pale atop the cushions, and Jacks looking wild, glowing, and golden, with his gilded hair falling over one uncanny eye.

“I wish I could stay longer. But don’t worry, my love, I’ll be back to collect you this evening for our dinner with the empress.”

Scarlett gasped as she set her tray down next to the bed. “You’re having dinner with the empress?”

“Oh, yes,” Jacks cut in, before Tella could react to this new piece of information. “Her Majesty is very eager to meet the girl who’s stolen my heart. She didn’t care for my last fiancée, but I know she’ll love Donatella as much as I do.”

His tone couldn’t have been sweeter if he’d dipped it in honey, and this time Tella could not discern if what he’d just said was for Scarlett’s benefit, or Tella’s torment. If the empress loved Tella as much as Jacks did, then she would not love her at all.

This dinner suddenly felt like a very bad idea.

In a way the empress had always been as mythical to Tella as the Fates; a powerful ruler she’d heard about but never seen. And, though she was curious, Tella could have done without the honor of meeting Her Majesty. More important, one night with the empress meant one fewer night Tella would have to play the game and find her mother’s cards, which Tella was now certain were the key to winning the game.

“I can’t have dinner with you tonight,” Tella said. “There are only three nights left of Caraval.”

“You keep forgetting how important I am,” said Jacks. “This means you’re significant now, too. I’ve told the empress how much you’ve been enjoying the game, and she’s cancelled everything they’d planned for tonight so that you don’t fall behind.”


“It’s already done,” Jacks purred, with a glance at her sister and a hint of mettle in his voice that hadn’t been there before, reminding Tella of exactly

what she had to lose if this sham of an engagement was exposed.

Tella wanted to ask why it mattered to him so much. When they’d first met he’d claimed exposing the lie would paint him as weak and put his life in jeopardy. As soon as she found out he was a Fate she imagined that was a lie, but perhaps he was vulnerable until he had his full powers.

“Now,” he added loudly, “I really must leave.” He said a quick good-bye to Scarlett. Thankfully, he made no attempt to kiss her hand or cheek.

Though from the way Scarlett fluttered her lashes as she closed the door behind him, Tella imagined her sister had wanted Jacks to at least brush his lips against her fingers.

“Scar, you need to be careful with him.”

“That’s funny,” Scarlett said, her head turning sharply back toward Tella. “I was about to tell you the same thing.”

You'll Also Like