Legendary (Caraval, #2): Chapter no 34

Legendary (Caraval, #2)

Tella shoved up from the fountain and turned away. She didn’t even pay attention to where she went as she wiped her lips with her hands. Blood kept pouring out of the corners of her mouth, mercilessly bringing her back to the reality of her situation, and to the game that she and Dante were on different sides of. Her mother might have no longer deserved saving, but Tella still needed it.

Beat … Nothing. Beat … Nothing. Beat … Nothing.

It was almost as if Jacks were watching, waiting for Tella’s one moment of happiness so that he could rip it away.

In between her dying heartbeats, she heard Dante’s heavy footsteps as he rose from the fountain and followed until he stood directly behind her.

“Tella, please, don’t run.” His voice was as gentle as the hand he placed on her bare upper back. Her entire body had gone suddenly cold except for where his palm rested. Such a contrast to Jacks’s forever cold touch and unbeating heart. And yet at the end of it all Jacks would be the one to triumph.

Tella might have been the only person capable of retrieving her mother’s Deck of Destiny from the stars’ vaults and winning Caraval, but Jacks and the Fates he planned on setting free would be the true victors. Once she

gave Legend to Jacks, Tella would no longer be cursed, but she’d be enslaved to the stars for using her mother’s ring. The freedom she’d fought so hard for would vanish. And there was a good chance Legend and Caraval would disappear as well.

Tella really was the villain after all.

She still might have felt as if giving Legend to Jacks was the right path to take if she believed her mother was worth saving. But in that moment, Tella preferred the idea of keeping Paloma trapped in a card.

“Tella, please talk to me,” Dante said.

“I’m not going to run. But I need a moment.”

Without letting Dante see her face, Tella returned to the fountain. She cupped the wine in her hands, careful not to swallow any as she rinsed the blood from her mouth. Once she finished, she spat it out into the bushes and picked up her cloak to wipe her lips before placing it back on her shoulders. She was stalling. Dante had seen her crying, he’d seen her bleeding, seen her on the verge of death. A little blood on her mouth wasn’t about to scare him away.

“You still don’t trust me, do you?” he asked. Finally she turned around.

The night had grown darker, but Tella could see Dante’s forehead was covered in lines and his hands were stiff at his side, as if holding back from touching her.

“I don’t trust myself,” she admitted.

Dante took a slow step closer. “Is it because you now believe it’s not a game?”

“Does it matter what I say? Would you tell me the truth, if I asked if it was all real?”

“If you have to ask, I’m guessing you wouldn’t believe me.” “Try me,” Tella said.

“Yes.” Dante took another step. “To everything.” “Even us?”

His head dipped a little. “After all that just happened, I would think that was already obvious.”

“But maybe I still want to hear it.” More important, she needed to hear it. Tella believed the game was real. She wanted to believe whatever was happening between her and Dante was real as well. But she knew that just because she’d finally admitted to herself that she wanted more with him didn’t mean he felt the same. The game might have been genuine but that didn’t mean everything about their relationship was. “Dante, please, I need to know if you’re only here because of Legend, or if this is real.”

“What makes something real, Tella?” Dante hooked a finger into the rope around her waist. “Does seeing something make it real?” He tugged on the rope and pulled her closer, until all she could see was his face. “Or does hearing something make it real?” His voice turned a little rough. “What about feeling something, is that enough to make it real?” His free hand slid up and underneath her cloak until it rested over her heart. If Tella’s heart had been working properly it might have leaped into his palm from the intensity of his rough voice and his dark, depthless eyes as he lowered his head toward hers.

“I swear to you, this—us—we were never a part of Legend’s plan. The first time I kissed you I did it because I’d just died and come back to life, but I wasn’t feeling alive. I needed something real. But tonight I kissed you because I wanted you. I haven’t stopped wanting you since the night of the Fated Ball when you were willing to risk your life because you wanted to make me angry. After that, I couldn’t stay away.”

His hand slowly slid up from her heart to around the back of her neck, pressing against her tender skin as he leaned in even more. “I kept coming back to you, not because of Legend, or the game. But because you’re so real and alive and fearless and daring and beautiful and if what’s between us isn’t real, then I don’t know what is.”

Dante’s fingers tensed around her neck and he kissed her again, as if it were the only way he knew how to finish what he’d been saying.

It didn’t last nearly long enough. But it upended her. It made her wonder if jewels hidden away safely in boxes sometimes longed to be stolen by thieves—because now he was definitely stealing her heart, and she wanted him to take even more.

When he ended the kiss, his hands wrapped gently around her waist, a soft contrast to the barbed tone of his voice as he said, “Now, tell me why you were bleeding.”

Tella took an uneven breath.

It was time to confess the truth.

“It happened the night of the ball when Jacks kissed me,” she said. She’d meant to keep it short and simple, but the moment she opened her mouth it all started spilling out, as fast and sloppy as water pouring from a shattered jug. The entire history of her relationship with Jacks, why she first made a deal with him, how she’d failed him, how he’d given her a card with her mother trapped inside of it, and everything he’d threatened if Tella failed him again.

For his part, Dante remained still and unreadable as the statue poured an endless stream behind them, except for whenever Tella said Jacks’s name; Dante’s teeth would grind together then. Otherwise he remained painfully calm.

“Let me make sure I have this right,” Dante said. “If you don’t win this game and give Legend to Jacks, then you’ll die.”

Tella nodded.

Dante worked his jaw as if preparing for another round of curses. “Did Jacks say why he wants Legend?”

“Jacks told me he wants his full powers back, but I think it’s more than that. I believe Jacks wants to harness Legend’s power to free all the Fates from the cards they’re trapped in.”

Dante’s hands tightened around Tella. “This is my fault. I should have admitted it was a mistake you weren’t on the list. If I hadn’t told that lie about you being engaged—”

“I probably still would have kissed him,” Tella finished. She no longer wanted to believe in fate, but that night had felt fated. Even without Dante’s lie Jacks would have found her at the ball. She wouldn’t have had what he wanted and things would have progressed the same way. “It’s not your fault. Jacks is the one who cursed me. He did this.”

“I could kill him.” Dante’s hands fell away from Tella as a splinter of moonlight cut across his face, slicing between the two sides of his torn

expression. It was the way someone looked in the middle of a fight when they were debating between what they should say and what they wanted to say.

Then his hands went around her once more, as if he’d come to a sudden decision. “Do you trust me?”

Tella took a ragged breath. When Dante was gone she wanted him there. When he was there she wanted him close. She liked the feel of his hands and the sound of his voice. She liked the things he said, and she wanted to believe them. She wanted to trust him. She just wasn’t sure that she did. “Yes,” she said, hoping that by saying the words it would make it true. “I do trust you.”

A sliver of a smile. “Good. There’s a way to fix all of this, but I need your trust. Legend is at his most powerful during Caraval, and his magic comes from the same origin as Jacks’s. If you win the game, Legend will heal you. You don’t need Jacks.”

“But to win, I have to give myself over to the stars, and I don’t know that I can do that.”

“You aren’t going to do that,” Dante promised. “I’ll find another way for you to get inside their vaults.”

“How? You heard Theron. He said only my ring can open the vault, but it’s cursed until my mother’s debt is paid.”

“Then I’ll find another way to pay it.” “No!”

Dante’s grin widened. “If you’re afraid I plan on giving myself to the stars instead, don’t be, I’m not that selfless.”

“Then what are you going to do?”

“Every curse has a way to be broken, and a loophole. If the stars won’t accept another payment to break the curse on your ring, I’ll find the loophole.”

Tella had never heard it phrased like this, but she supposed it made sense. It aligned with what Jacks had said about there being only two ways to free someone from a card—either break the curse, or take a person’s place. The latter must have been the loophole. But the idea of it scared Tella more than the thought of breaking the curse.

“Don’t worry.” Dante pressed his lips to her forehead, his kiss hot against her skin as he whispered, “Trust me, Tella. I’m not going to let anything happen to you.”

But suddenly he was the one she was concerned about. And Tella wasn’t used to trusting others with her secrets, let alone her life. She sensed Dante was experiencing conflicting emotions as well.

A cloud covered the vanishing moon, leaving his entire face shadowed in darkness as he pulled away, but Tella thought he still looked as if he were battling something. “Do you think you can make it back to the palace safely?”

“Why?” she asked. “Where are you going?”

“I still have a job to do tonight. But don’t worry, I’ll meet you on the steps of the Temple of the Stars after the fireworks tomorrow night.”

The following night was the last night of Caraval. The fireworks would be at midnight, marking the end of Elantine’s Eve and the start of Elantine’s Day. It would be cutting it close to when the game ended at dawn.

Tella wanted to argue, but Dante was already walking away. He’d reached the edge of the garden. He was still close enough to call after. But Tella found herself quietly trailing him instead.

She told herself she trusted him; she was only following because she was concerned about what he might do to save her. But the truth was she wanted to trust him more than she actually did. A part of her still had not ruled out the possibility that he was Legend. But if he was Legend and he cared about Tella at all, he would have uncursed her in the garden with his blood rather than pushing her to win the game and retrieve her mother’s cards first.

Either Dante really cared about Tella, or he was the master of Caraval and he didn’t care at all.

Maybe if she found out where he was always running off to she could figure it out. But Tella was too slow. Or perhaps Dante knew she was following him. By the time she reached the exit of the garden, he was gone.

Tella searched the nearby ruins for a while. She even dared to return to the park where she’d stolen the cloak. But there were no signs of him, and her legs were starting to wobble with fatigue.

It was almost sunrise when Tella’s sky carriage neared the palace. Legend’s heart-shaped constellation was gone. Torches dotted the grounds with light, but the air still felt frigid after a night of being separated from the sun. Tella wanted to close her eyes and collapse inside her tower room, but her coach halted. Whoever was in the carriage before hers was taking forever to disembark.

Tella opened her window and poked out her head, as if glaring at the box before her might hasten its occupants’ pace. To her astonishment, it worked. The carriage door opened, followed by a flash of familiar cerise fabric.

Tella couldn’t be positive—other than the dress, all she saw was a curtain of thick dark hair. But from the back, the young woman looked exactly like Scarlett.

Tella continued to watch, but her sister didn’t turn around. She scurried forward, flitting out of the carriage house before Tella’s coach had even moved. Then the door to the carriage before her opened again. Tella only saw the back of this person as well, but she instantly recognized his careless walk, his wrinkled clothes, and his head of golden hair. Jacks.

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