Legendary (Caraval, #2): Chapter no 6

Legendary (Caraval, #2)

There were shipwrecks more graceful than Tella. As she stumbled away from Nigel’s quarters her legs refused to walk a straight line. Her hips continued to bump into walls. Her head knocked against more than one hanging lantern. The journey to her room was so perilous she lost her slippers, yet again. But she was almost there.

The door wobbled before her eyes, one final obstacle to conquer. Tella focused all her strength to pull it open. And—

Either she’d entered the wrong room, or she’d already begun to dream.

Dante had wings. And, holy mother of saints, they were beautiful— soulless jet-black with midnight-blue veins, the color of lost wishes and fallen stardust. He was turned toward his nightstand washing his face, or maybe he was kissing his reflection in the mirror.

Tella wasn’t entirely sure what the arrogant boy was doing. All her blurring eyes could see was that his shirt and coat were gone and a massive pair of inky wings stretched across the ridges of his back.

“You could be an angel of death with those things.”

Dante tossed a look over his shoulder. Damp hair the color of black fox fur clung to his forehead. “I’ve been called many things, but I don’t know if anyone has ever said I’m an angel.”

“Does that mean you’ve been called death?” Tella slumped in the doorway, legs finally giving out. She hit the floor with a graceless thud.

A laugh, delicate and light and very female, came from the other side of the room. “I think she swooned at the sight of you.”

And now she was going to throw up. There was another girl in the room. Tella got a noxious glimpse of a jade-green dress and shining brunette hair before Dante’s body stepped into her line of her vision.

He slowly shook his head. “What did—”

Dante’s gaze landed on the closed pair of eyes painted on her wrist.

He made a jagged sound that could have been a chuckle. But Tella wasn’t sure. Her hearing was nearly as muddled as her head. Her eyes gave up and closed.

“I’m surprised he got to you.” Dante’s words were very close now, and low.

“I was bored,” Tella mumbled. “It seemed like an interesting way to pass the time.”

“If that’s true you should have just come to me.” Dante was definitely laughing now.

* * *

The next several days were a blur of unfortunate hallucinations. Nigel took all of Tella’s dreams, but he left her with the nightmares. There were terrifyingly realistic images of her father forever taking off his purple gloves, as well as visions of shadows and shades of dark that did not exist in the mortal world. Cold, damp hands stroked her hair and others ripped out her heart, while bloodless lips drank the marrow from her bones.

Before experiencing death during Caraval, Tella would have said the dreams felt like dying over and over again. But nothing felt like death, except for Death. She should have known better than to think Death wouldn’t haunt her after she’d escaped. Tella was amazing; of course Death would want to keep her.

But although she’d dreamed of Death’s demons, when Tella came to consciousness, she was greeted by a goddess.

Scarlett stood next to her bed holding a tray of treasure, one laden with cream biscuits, eggs fried in butter, nutmeg custards, thick brown-sugared bacon, and a mug of spicy drinking chocolate.

Tella stole the fattest cream biscuit. She felt groggy, despite sleeping for days, but eating helped. “Have I told you how much I love you?”

“I thought you would be hungry after what happened.” “Scar, I’m sorry, I—”

“There’s nothing to apologize for. I understand how easy it is to be tricked by Legend’s performers. And everyone on board this ship thinks Nigel took too much from you.” Scarlett eyed Tella, as if hoping she’d confess exactly why she’d gone to the fortune-teller.

Although Tella wanted to justify her actions, she sensed this was not the time to bring up the deal she’d made with her friend. Scarlett would be horrified to learn her sister had been writing to a stranger she’d met through Elantine’s Most Wanted, which was a shady establishment at best.

Tella had been telling Julian the truth when she’d said she didn’t enjoy lying to her sister. Unfortunately, that didn’t always prevent her from doing so. Tella kept secrets from Scarlett to protect her from worrying. Their mother’s disappearance meant Scarlett stopped being a carefree girl at an early age and became more of a caretaker for Tella. It wasn’t fair, and Tella hated adding to the burdens her sister already carried.

But Tella wondered if Scarlett had already found out what she’d done.

Scarlett kept nervously smoothing out wrinkles in her skirt, which seemed to grow more rumpled with every touch. During Caraval, Legend had given Scarlett a magic dress that shifted in appearance—and right now it looked as anxious as Scarlett. Her sleeves had been made of pink lace but now they were turning gray.

Tella took a fortifying sip of chocolate and forced herself to sit up straighter in the bed. “Scar, if you’re not upset about the deal I made with Nigel, what’s bothering you?”

Scarlett’s mouth tilted down. “I wanted to talk to you about Dante.”

Damn it all. It wasn’t what she’d expected, but it wasn’t good, either. Tella had forgotten about passing out in Dante’s room. He must have carried Tella back here and Scarlett must have seen him, half-naked and holding Tella close to his chest.

“Scar, I don’t know what you’re thinking, but I swear there is nothing going on between Dante and me. You know how I feel about boys who are prettier than me.”

“So, nothing happened between the two of you after Caraval ended?” Scarlett crossed the small cabin and picked up a pair of silver slippers, the same ones Tella had left in the forest. “He dropped these off last night along with an interesting note.”

Tella’s stomach turned as she plucked the thin sheaf of paper poking out from one of the shoes.

I’ve been meaning to return these since that night we spent in the forest.


He really was a blackguard. Tella crumpled the note in her fist. Dante must have written it to torment Scarlett for rejecting him during Caraval.

“All right,” Tella said. “I confess, Dante and I did kiss the night of the party. But it was terrible, one of the worst kisses I’ve ever had, definitely not something I would wish to repeat! And I’m so sorry if doing that hurt you, I know he was terrible to you during Caraval.”

Scarlett pursed her lips.

Tella had probably taken the lie a little too far. One look at Dante and any girl could tell he knew what to do with his lips.

“I don’t care that you kissed him,” Scarlett said. “If I’d met him before Julian, I might have ended up kissing him too.”

A highly disturbing image popped into Tella’s head, and she understood her sister’s unease even more acutely. The idea of Scarlett and Dante together made Tella want to threaten him to stay far away from her sister, not that Tella thought it was even a possibility. But if just the notion worried Tella—who was all for Scarlett enjoying herself—she could only imagine how troubled her overprotective sister felt.

“I don’t want to control you,” Scarlett continued. “We’ve both experienced enough of that. I just don’t want you hurt. Caraval begins tomorrow at midnight, but as I learned during the last game, Legend puts his game pieces in place far in advance.” Scarlett shot another uneasy look at the slippers Dante had returned.

“You don’t have to worry, Scar.” And for once Tella spoke the absolute truth. “I trust Dante even less than I trust most people, and I know better than to let myself get swept away by Caraval.”

“I thought you said you weren’t going to play.” “Maybe I’ve changed my mind.”

“Tella, I wish you wouldn’t.” Scarlett smoothed her now completely gray skirts, this time leaving sweaty streaks. “What happened with Nigel reminded me of the more regretful things I experienced. I don’t want that for you.”

“Then play with me.” Tella’s words flew out impulsively, but even after giving them a second thought, it felt like a brilliant idea. Tella had watched Caraval from behind the scenes, but her sister had actually played and won. As a team they would be unbeatable. “If we’re together, you can make sure I don’t get tricked by performers like Nigel again. And I can ensure you’ll have fun. We’ll take care of each other.”

Scarlett’s dress immediately perked up, as if it were all for the idea. Its drab gray lace turned raspberry red and spread from her sleeves to her bodice, like attractive armor. Unfortunately, Scarlett still appeared wary. She’d gone from endlessly smoothing her skirts to anxiously wrapping her piece of silver hair around her finger, a streak she’d earned after losing a day of her life in the last Caraval.

Tella considered telling Scarlett the real reason she needed to play and win, but she doubted mentioning their mother would help her cause. Scarlett didn’t talk about their mother. Ever. Whenever Tella had tried to talk about Paloma, Scarlett either changed the subject or ignored her completely. Tella used to think it was too difficult for Scarlett, but now Tella thought Scarlett’s hurt had turned to hatred for the way their mother had left them.

Tella understood the feeling; she preferred never to talk about their father, and she avoided thinking of him as well.

But their mother wasn’t monstrous like their father.

“Crimson”—several knocks rattled the door to their small cabin—“are you in there?”

Scarlett’s expression immediately changed at the sound of Julian’s voice; worry lines softened to smile lines.

“We’ve reached Valenda,” Julian added. “I came to see if I could carry you and your sister’s trunks to the deck.”

“If he wants to haul my luggage, please let him in,” Tella said. Scarlett didn’t need to be told twice.

The moment she opened the door Julian grinned like a pirate who’d just found his treasure. Tella swore his eyes genuinely smoldered as he looked her sister over.

Scarlett beamed back. So did the lace on her dress, deepening into a fiery shade of red as her skirt went from full to fitted.

Tella slurped her chocolate, loudly, interrupting the couple before their longing looks could shift into lustful kisses. “Julian, please help me out,” Tella said. “I’m trying to get Scarlett to partner with me during Caraval.”

Julian sobered instantly. His gaze flickered to Tella, suddenly sharp. It was as brief as a flash of lightning, but unmistakably clear. He did not want Scarlett to play the game. And Tella knew exactly why. She should have thought of it herself.

If Scarlett played, she’d learn the truth about Armando—that he’d performed the role of her fiancé in the last Caraval—and both Julian and Tella’s lies would be exposed. It would be far worse for Julian than it would be for Tella, but it would be the most painful of all for Scarlett.

“On second thought,” Tella said lightly, attempting to correct her mistake, “maybe I should play alone. You’ll probably slow me down.”

“Too bad. I want to play now.” Scarlett’s large hazel eyes returned to Julian, glittering in a way they never had back on Trisda. “I just remembered how fun the game could be.”

Tella smiled in agreement, but it felt so forced it was hard to hold on to.

Nigel had warned her that if she won the game it would come at a cost she’d later regret. Scarlett had tried to warn her about the game as well. But until this moment Tella hadn’t felt the force of either warning. It was one thing to be told about the risks of Caraval, but it was another to see them playing out. Even though the last game was over, her sister hadn’t fully escaped.

Tella didn’t want to end up like that, and she didn’t want to drag Scarlett through anything that might bring her more pain. But if Tella didn’t play and win the game, she might never see her mother again.

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