Legendary (Caraval, #2): Chapter no 28

Legendary (Caraval, #2)

Scarlett gripped the door’s glass handle with five white knuckles while her back pressed against it, as if she were barring it to prevent a particular person’s reentry.

“Tella, what are you doing with the heir to the throne?” Scarlett’s smile had vanished, and her voice had gone from treacle-sweetness to sour.

“I thought you liked him, from the way you kept grinning.”

“His reputation is vicious, and he’s royalty—I’ve seen his pictures all over the palace. How else was I supposed to act?” Scarlett marched back over to the bed and perched on the edge, a brilliant crimson bird about to strike. “Tella, what is going on? When Julian told me to come here earlier he made it sound as if you’d almost died, but then Jacks told me a ridiculous story about you falling from a carriage. Did he hurt you?”

“No, Jacks didn’t lay a finger on me.”

“Then tell me what happened. Julian refused to explain. He ran off, and this time I didn’t even tell him to go.”

Tella tugged at the sea-salt blue ribbons hanging off her dress, avoiding her sister’s demanding gaze. Scarlett kept looking at Tella as if she’d done something wrong. But Tella wouldn’t have been in this situation if Scarlett hadn’t been keeping secrets.

“You want to know what happened?” Tella asked. “I was out searching for you. I went by your suite after midnight, but you were gone.” Tella finally looked up. “Where were you, Scarlett?”

“I wasn’t anywhere,” she answered flatly. “I was in my room, sleeping.” Tella’s eyes narrowed. “I knocked.”

“I must have slept through it.”

“I pounded hard enough to bruise my knuckles.”

“I was exhausted.” Scarlett pressed her hands against her skirt and smoothed a nonexistent wrinkle. “You know how heavy I can sleep.”

Tella didn’t want to doubt her sister. Scarlett’s tone was sincere, but the way her hands continued to fidget with the even folds of her gown gave Tella the impression that even if she was telling the truth, it wasn’t the entire story. She just kept smoothing and smoothing and smoothing.

Scarlett seemed to sense her sister’s growing doubts. “I’m not playing the game. Where would I have been, Tella?”

“Maybe you’re not playing because you’re working for Legend,” Tella accused.

“You—you think I’m in on the game?” Scarlett sputtered.

“I don’t know what to think! After everything that happened last night I’m not even sure I still believe it’s just a game,” admitted Tella.

To her credit Scarlett didn’t say this was exactly what she’d warned her about. Instead she took a deep breath and smoothed her skirt again before calmly saying, “Have you already forgotten what Legend put me through in the last game? Do you really believe I would be a part of doing something like that to you? Don’t answer, because it’s clear from the look on your face that you do. But I would never hurt you like that, Tella. I swear, I’m not working for Legend and if you believe otherwise, then Legend’s tricks are working on you.”

Scarlett took one of Tella’s hands, her grip warm and firm but a little bit shaky. Tella could have interpreted it to mean her sister was being dishonest, or that Scarlett, who rarely ever lied to Tella, was genuinely hurt.

Tella felt an arrow of guilt.

“I’m sorry,” Tella said. “You’re right. I shouldn’t have jumped to the conclusion you were working with Legend just because you didn’t answer your door.”

Tella almost laughed when she said the words out loud; she had made a rather large leap. But it seemed too soon to joke about. Scarlett still held on to Tella’s hand, and yet the bond between them felt unusually fragile, as if the weight of Tella’s many secrets might break it.

She gazed out the window. The light had changed from lazy peach to brilliant apricot, turning everything in the room a little more gilded. Tella had not been paying attention to the bells, but she imagined it was sometime around or after noon. There were enough hours before nightfall and her dinner with the empress to confess everything to Scarlett. And Tella considered it. But she doubted Scarlett would believe anything that Tella had learned during the game, which scared her almost as much as the idea of Scarlett believing everything.

Tella almost wanted to hear her sister’s reassurance that it was all only a game. But if Caraval was all real—as this morning’s run-in with the Undead Queen had started to convince Tella—pretending it was just a game would not do Tella any good. However, convincing Scarlett it was real would not do Scarlett any good, either. She would only worry more about Tella.

But maybe there was one secret Tella could reveal that would make things better instead of worse. “I think Dante might be Julian’s brother.”

“Why would you say that?” Scarlett’s tone was pure skepticism. “The two don’t even like each other.”

“I overheard something last night.”

“It was probably just an act for the game.” “It sounded very convincing.”

Scarlett slit her eyes. “You really are starting to believe it’s not just a game, aren’t you?”

“No,” Tella lied.

“But you think Julian and Legend are brothers?”

“Yes,” Tella said. “I do.” Or she did, until her sister had started looking at her as if she’d lost her mind.

Scarlett drew a heavy breath. “I wish I could believe you, but I’m not even playing and it’s making me question things.” She motioned toward the door. “I still can’t figure out why you and the heir are claiming to be engaged. I’m sure it has something to do with the game, but I can’t imagine what. All I know is that it scares me, Tella. And if I’m this confused, you must be even more confused.” Scarlett’s voice cracked and something inside of Tella broke along with it.

Tella didn’t want to lie to her sister again, but she also knew that she couldn’t tell her the entire truth.

“I’m playing the game on behalf of Jacks,” Tella confessed. “If I win and give him the prize,” she hedged, “then he’ll reunite us with our mother.”

Scarlett’s expression hardened, but she didn’t say a word. Seconds passed.

Tella almost feared her sister wouldn’t respond, that she’d ignore the topic as she always did. But it was almost worse when she spoke.

Scarlett uttered every word as if it were a curse, as if she’d rather have learned their mother was dead. “Why are you still looking for that woman?” “Because she’s not some woman, she’s our mother.” Tella considered walking over to her little trunk and pulling out the card that Paloma was trapped inside of, but it wasn’t indestructible like the Aracle, and she feared

Scarlett might do something rash like try to rip it in half.

The color of Scarlett’s dress shifted, darkening from sultry crimson to raging burgundy, matching the dark tone of her voice as she said, “I know you want to believe the best about her. For a long time I did too. But she left us, Tella, and she didn’t just abandon us, she left us with our father. I know you keep hoping there’s a good reason for it. But the truth is, if she’d loved us at all, she’d have stayed, or taken us with her.”

Tella considered telling her sister that their mother had left to protect them from a cursed Deck of Destiny containing all the Fates, but when she thought it all at once, it sounded ludicrous. And, if Tella told Scarlett about the cards, she’d also have to confess that their mother was a criminal who had stolen the cards in the first place, and she doubted that would help her case, either.

“I’m sorry we view this so differently,” Tella said.

“I just don’t want to see you hurt again.” Scarlett sagged against the closest bedpost. “Looking at this situation—at the fact that you’ve teamed up with a violent heir to find her—screams to me that it won’t end well.”

“I know you don’t like this,” Tella said, “but if it’s Jacks you’re worried about, trust me when I tell you that this business between us will end as soon as the game is over.”

“Are you sure about that?” Scarlett said. “When he was in here, he didn’t look as if he wanted to let you go anytime soon.”

“He’s a good performer.” “I don’t think that’s it.”

“That’s why I’m asking you to trust me.” Tella squeezed her sister’s hand. “I trusted you when you told me you weren’t working for Legend. I promise, three days from now, neither you nor I will ever have to see Jacks again.”

“A lot can change in three days,” Scarlett said.

But she didn’t argue after that, making Tella wonder if perhaps her sister had a secret of her own after all.

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