Legendary (Caraval, #2): Chapter no 41

Legendary (Caraval, #2)

Tella should not have possessed the ability to open her eyelids. A moment ago she’d been unable to breathe or move or feel anything other than trapped. She’d been inanimate, powerless.

But now she could feel the midnight breeze playing with her curls and the warm hand against her back, holding her to an even warmer body— Legend’s body.

He was Legend now, not Dante. Tella could feel it in the magic pulsing from his heated hands—hands with enough power to rip worlds in half. But they were gentle against her back, holding her up and keeping her recovering body from crumbling to the ground. She didn’t know how long she’d been trapped in the card, but the life-stealing effects still lingered. Her heartbeat was fine, but her legs were liquid, her arms were boneless. She could barely move.

She concentrated on blinking, fluttering her eyelids up and down as her vision slowly returned and found focus. They were still on the Temple of the Stars’ moonstone steps. The evening was unchanged, as if no time had passed, though perhaps the sky was a little brighter than before. Glittering with additional stars. But Tella didn’t want to look at the stars. She wanted to see him.

His expression was so harsh he looked as if he’d stolen a piece of dark from the night. She wanted to reach up and smooth the deep crease between his eyes, to ease the pain from his expression, but she didn’t have the strength to move.

“What happened?” she breathed. “Why didn’t it work?”

“It did.” His grip tightened, pressing her closer to his chest as he rubbed his hands up and down her back as if to make sure she was still corporeal. “I watched you vanish and reappear in your mother’s place in the card.”

“But then how am I here? And where is my mother?” Tella’s gaze drifted around the glowing steps, at the immobile statues that she would have sworn were watching them both intently.

“Don’t worry. She’s safe,” Legend said. His low voice was strained, pained, as if for each word he spoke, there was another word he couldn’t bring himself to utter. “I imagine your mother is in the same place she was right before she was turned into a card, otherwise she’d be here with us.”

“I still don’t understand,” Tella said.

The hands against her back stilled. “I know you were willing to sacrifice yourself for her, but I wasn’t willing to sacrifice you.”

He removed one of his hands from around her and a beam of moonlight fell over his bronze palm, illuminating a jagged cut down the center. “I broke the curse on the cards.”

“But—” Tella cut off, unsure which part of all of this to protest. She’d been willing to sacrifice everything, prepared to remain trapped in a card to save her mother and him, and to keep the Fates from going free and ruling over the Empire once more. But a very selfish part of her was so relieved. It seemed her story might someday have a happy true ending after all.

Tella could have sunk into the steps and wept from relief and disbelief. Legend could have destroyed the cards and taken the power of all the Fates. He could have had everything he’d wanted. If he’d destroyed the Fates, his magic wouldn’t be limited to peaking during Caraval. He’d have the power of the Fates: the Aracle’s ability to see the future; Mistress Luck’s good fortune; the Assassin’s ability to travel through space and time; the Lady Prisoner’s wisdom. And he’d chosen to save Tella instead.

“I can’t believe you did this for me.” She looked up from Legend’s wounded palm to his beautiful face. “I think that means you’re the hero after all.”

His expression darkened at the word hero, as if it was something he’d rather not be called. But she didn’t care. He was her hero.

Tella could still barely move her limbs, but she managed to wrap a hand around the back of Legend’s neck as the first of many fireworks burst into the sky. She heard them shimmer and pop as she leaned in closer and bought his full mouth down to hers. At first his lips didn’t move. Panic tore through her that something was wrong, that perhaps he regretted what he’d done. Her lips moved more tentatively, about to pull away, when he softly kissed the corner of her mouth.

Maybe he’d been afraid of hurting her before.

He was impossibly gentle as he kissed her again; hands barely stroking her waist as his lips slowly traveled along her jaw and then down her neck. So light it was almost painful. It was the delicate sound of music, the distant crash of ocean waves; there but still too far away. Tella wanted to erase the distance. It should have felt like the beginning of something, but somehow it felt like the end. As if every feather-light press of his lips was an unspoken good-bye.

More fireworks exploded above, gold and violet and brighter than before.

She tightened her grip around his neck, trying to hold on to him and this moment, but he was already pulling away as he lowered her toward the steps.

“What’s wrong?” Tella asked.

“I need to leave.” His gaze shuttered, his lips moved into a severe line, and then he let her go, completely. He set her weak body down, abandoning her atop the cold moonstone steps. “Good-bye, Tella.”

Her stomach went hollow. If she’d been standing her legs might have crumbled.

He was striding away. Leaving her. “Wait—where are you going?”

He continued down the steps.

For a moment she feared he wouldn’t turn back around. But it was almost worse that he did. His eyes, which earlier had been so heated, so full of emotion, didn’t glitter or shine or spark any longer. They were flat, black, and growing colder with every heartbeat like the fading fireworks above.

“There’s somewhere else I need to be. And, no matter what this looks like, I’m still not the hero in your story.”

Something cracked inside of Tella. It might have been her heart, breaking while he walked away—as if he hadn’t just freed the Fates and damned the entire world for her.

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