Legendary (Caraval, #2): Chapter no 7

Legendary (Caraval, #2)

According to the myths, Valenda had once been the ancient city of Alcara, home of the Fates pictured inside every Deck of Destiny. They’d built the city with their magic. Magic so ancient and undiluted, even centuries after the Fates had vanished, remnants of their glowing enchantments remained, turning the hills of Valenda so bright that at night it could illuminate half the Meridian Empire.

Tella didn’t know if this entire myth was true, but she believed it as she took her first glimpse of Valenda’s twilight port.

A violet sunset cast everything in deep purple shadows and yet the world before her still glittered, from the tips of its primeval ruins, formed of crumbling columns and massive archways, to the concord waters lapping La Esmeralda. The rickety piers on her home isle of Trisda looked like brittle bones compared to the thick, living wharfs that stretched before her now, flanked with clippers and schooners waving billowing mermaid-green flags. Some were captained by women sailors, boldly dressed in slick leather skirts and boots that went up to their thighs.

Tella already loved it here.

Her imagination stretched as she craned her neck to look up.

She’d heard there were sky carriages that flew above the hilly city like birds, but it was different to view them in person. They moved through the darkening lavender sky with the grace of painted clouds, bobbing up and down in pops of orchid, topaz, magenta, lilac, corn silk, mint, and other shades Tella had yet to see. They didn’t actually fly so much as dangle from thick cords that crisscrossed Valenda’s various districts.

“Come on,” Scarlett urged, clutching Julian’s hand as they started down the crowded dock. “A special group of sky coaches will take us directly to the palace. We don’t want to miss them.”

Their ship had arrived late, so everyone was moving at a heightened pace. There were lots of Careful theres and Watch yourselfs. Tella’s short legs hurried to keep up as she clutched the tiny trunk in her hands, which held the Aracle along with most of her fortune.

“Pardon me.” A wisp of a boy dressed like a courier appeared at the end of the pier. “Are you Miss Donatella Dragna?”

“Yes,” Tella answered.

The courier beckoned her toward a group of barrels at the edge of another dock.

Tella wasn’t about to follow. She never fully believed her nana’s stories about how dangerous the streets of Valenda could be for a girl. But she did know how easily a person could disappear on a dock. All it would take was for someone to drag her onto a ship and shove her belowdecks while heads were turned the other way.

“I need to catch up to my sister,” Tella said.

“Please, miss, don’t run off. I won’t get paid if you leave.” The young courier showed her an envelope sealed with a circle of golden wax that formed an intricate combination of daggers and shattered swords. Tella recognized it instantly. Her friend.

How did he already know she was in Valenda?

As if answering her question, the luckless coin in Tella’s pocket pulsed like a heartbeat. He must have been using it to track her, further proof he was skilled at finding people.

Tella called toward Scarlett and Julian, telling them that she’d catch up later, and slipped onto the other dock with the courier.

Once hidden behind a cluster of heavy barrels, the messenger quickly passed Tella the communiqué and then darted away before Tella could break the seal.

Inside the envelope were two squares. First was a simple sheet covered in familiar writing.


Welcome to Valenda, Donatella—

My apologies for failing to greet you in person, but don’t worry, I won’t remain a stranger. I’m sure

you’re as eager to find your mother as I am to learn Legend’s name.

Knowing you, I imagine you’ll be participating in Caraval, but just in case, I’ve included an invitation to the first night’s festivities.

Bring the coin I gave you to the ball before midnight. Keep it in your palm, and I’ll be sure to find you.

Don’t be late—I will not linger. Until then,

—A friend


Tella pulled out the other card, revealing a pearlescent page covered in ornate royal-blue ink.

Legend has chosen you to play a game that may change your destiny.

In honor of Empress Elantine’s 75th birthday,

Caraval will visit the streets of Valenda for six magical nights.

Your journey will begin at the Fated Ball inside Idyllwild Castle.

The game officially begins at midnight, on the 30th day of the Growing Season, and ends at dawn on Elantine’s Day.

The thirtieth was the following day.

Far too soon for Tella to meet her friend.

Nigel had said the only way for her to uncover Legend’s name was to win Caraval. She needed another week to play—and win—the game. Surely her friend would give her one more week.

But what if he said no and refused to reunite her with her mother?

An unruly wave rocked the dock, but even after it stabilized Tella remained unsteady, as if fate had blinked and the future of her world had reshaped.

Quickly, she set the small trunk in her hands down on the dock. Behind the barrels, she was concealed from view. No one saw her open the trunk, though even if an entire boatload of people had been watching, it might not have stopped her. Tella needed to check the Aracle.

Her fingers usually tingled upon contact, but when she touched the paper rectangle they went numb; everything went numb as Tella saw a new image. Her mother was no longer trapped behind prison bars—she was blue-lipped, pale, and dead.

Tella gripped the card so tight it should have crumpled in her hand. But the magical little thing seemed to be indestructible. She sagged against the damp barrels.

Something new must have happened to alter her mother’s future. Tella had slept the past four days. The shift shouldn’t have been a result of her actions, unless it had something to do with the conversation she’d had with Nigel.

Julian had warned Tella that fortune-tellers like Nigel toyed with the future. Maybe he had sensed something in Tella’s destiny that put Legend at risk. Or perhaps Legend wanted to toy with Tella for trying to uncover his most closely guarded secret, and whatever Legend now planned had shifted her mother’s fate.

The thought should have frightened her. Legend was not a good person to have as an enemy. But for some twisted reason the idea only made Tella want to play his game more. Now, she just needed to convince her friend to give her another week so she could win Caraval, uncover Legend’s name, and save her mother’s life.

* * *

By the time Tella reached the carriage house, night had covered the city with its cloak. Outside the evening was chilled, but inside the carriage house the air was balmy, hazy with amber lantern light.

Tella walked past stall after stall of colorful coaches, all attached to thick cords that led to every part of the city. The line dedicated to the palace was at the very end. But Scarlett was nowhere in sight. She’d told her sister that she’d catch up later, yet Tella was still surprised Scarlett hadn’t waited for her.

The carriage hanging before Tella bobbed as a burly coachman opened an ivory door and directed her into a snug compartment covered in buttery cushions laced with thick royal-blue trim that matched the curtains lining the oval windows.

The only other passenger was a golden-haired young man Tella didn’t recognize.

Legend’s performers had taken two ships to Valenda, and Tella imagined there were performers working for Legend whom she’d never met. But she suspected this young man was not one of them. He was only a few years older than her, yet he looked as if he’d spent centuries practicing disinterest. Even his rumpled velvet tailcoat appeared bored as he lounged against the plush leather seats.

Intentionally looking away from Tella, he bit into an intensely white apple. “You can’t ride in here.”

“Pardon me?”

“You heard me clearly. You need to get out.” His drawl was as lazy as his cavalier posture, making Tella think that either he was completely careless, or this young man was so used to people hanging on his words, he didn’t even try to sound commanding.

Spoiled nobleman.

Tella had never met an aristocrat she liked. They’d often come to her father for illegal favors, offering him money, but never respect; they all seemed to think their trickle of royal blood made them superior to everyone else.

“If you don’t wish to ride with me, you can get out,” she said.

The young noble responded with a mild tilt of his golden head, followed by a slow curl of narrow lips as if he’d bitten into a mealy part of his apple.

Just leave the coach, warned a voice in her head. He’s more dangerous than he looks. But Tella wasn’t about to be bullied by a young man too lazy to brush the hair from his bloodshot eyes. She hated it when people used their wealth or title as an excuse to treat others poorly; it reminded her too much of her father. And the carriage was already ascending, flying higher into the night sky with every one of Tella’s rapid heartbeats.

“You must be one of Legend’s performers.” The young man might have laughed, but it sounded too cruel for Tella to be sure. He leaned across the intimate space, filling the carriage with the sharp scent of apples and irritation. “I wonder if you could help me with something I’ve been curious about,” he continued. “I’ve heard Legend’s performers never truly die. So maybe I’ll push you out to see if the rumors are true?”

Tella didn’t know if the young man’s threat was serious, but it was too tempting to hold back from saying, “Not if I shove you out first.”

This earned her a flash of dimples that might have been charming, yet somehow they managed to look unkind, like a winking gemstone in the hilt of a double-edged sword. Tella couldn’t decide if his features were too sharp to be attractive, or if he was just the sort of handsome that hurt to look at, the devastating type of lovely that would slit your throat while you were busy staring into its cold quicksilver eyes.

“Careful, pet. You might be one of the empress’s guests, but many in her court are not as forgiving as I am. And I’m not forgiving at all.”

Crunch. Sharp teeth took another bite of his white apple before he let it slip from his fingers and drop onto her slippers.

Tella kicked the apple back in his direction, and pretended she wasn’t concerned in the least that he’d act on his threat. She even went so far as to turn her head away from him and toward the window while their carriage continued to skate above the city. It must have worked; from the corner of her gaze she saw the young man close his eyes as they passed over Valenda’s renowned districts.

Some districts were more infamous than others, like the Spice Quarter, where rumors claimed deliciously illicit items could be found, or the

Temple District, where various religions were practiced—supposedly there was even a Church of Legend.

It was too dark to distinctly see anything, but Tella continued to look until the carriage began its descent toward the palace and she could finally make out more than dim starry-eyed lights sparkling up at the sky.

All she could think was, The storybooks lied.

Tella had never cared much for castles or palaces. Scarlett was the sister who’d fantasized about being whisked away by a rich nobleman or a young king to a secluded stone fortress. To Scarlett, castles were bastions of safety offering protection. Tella saw them as fancy prisons, perfect for watching, controlling, and punishing. They were larger versions of her father’s suffocating estate on Trisda, no better than a cage.

But as her coach continued its slow, downward drop, Tella wondered if she’d been too hasty with her judgments.

She’d always pictured castles to be things of gray stone and mold and musty corridors, but Elantine’s bejeweled palace set fire to the night like treasure snatched from a dragon’s lair.

She thought she heard the young nobleman snort, probably at some dazzled expression she’d made. But Tella didn’t care. In fact, she pitied him if he couldn’t appreciate the beauty.

Elantine’s palace sat atop Valenda’s highest hill. In the center of it, her famed golden tower burned beacon-bright in shades of copper and blazing coral. Regal and straight, until near the top where the structure arched like a crown, it was a mirror image of Tower Lost from Decks of Destiny. Tella held her breath. It was the tallest building she’d ever seen, and somehow it looked alive. It ruled like an ageless monarch, presiding over five arching jeweled wings, which stretched out from the tower like the points of a star. And Tella would get to live inside of this star for a week.

No longer feeling as exhausted, she practically bounced in her seat as the coach finally landed.

Across from her the lazing nobleman ignored her as she slipped out the door into the cavernous carriage house.

Tella wondered if she was the last to arrive. The only sound she heard was the heavy cranking of the notched wheels that moved the carriage lines.

She didn’t see any of Legend’s performers or her sister. But in between the lines of rocking coaches there were a number of armor-clad, expressionless guards.

One guard shadowed Tella’s every move, the clink of his armor following her, as she left the carriages and entered the empress’s luscious grounds. Legend’s performers might have been Elantine’s guests, but as Tella passed timeworn stone gardens and elaborate topiaries, she had a sudden impression that the empress didn’t trust her visitors. It made Tella wonder why she’d invited them to stay in the palace and perform for her birthday.

Tella had heard that when she was younger Empress Elantine had had a wild streak. She’d snuck into the forbidding Spice Quarter and pretended to be a commoner so she could have all sorts of scandalous adventures and romantic trysts. Unfortunately, for most of Tella’s life, the empress had been known to be far less daring. Perhaps inviting Legend’s performers here was her way of being reckless once again. But Tella doubted it; someone who ruled as long as Elantine didn’t do so with thoughtless abandon.

Somehow the inside of the palace was even more magnificent than its jewel-bright exterior. Everything was impossibly large, as if the Fates had built it merely to show off their might, and then simply left it behind when they’d disappeared. Glittering lapis floors reflected Tella’s entrance as she passed blue quartz columns larger than oak trees and crystalline oil lamps as tall as people.

Up and down the massive marble staircase, servants flitted about like flurries of snowflakes, but again Tella saw no signs of her sister or any other performers.

“Welcome.” A woman dressed in a proud shade of blue stepped in front of Tella. “I’m head matron of the sapphire wing.”

“Donatella Dragna. I’m here with Legend’s performers, and I fear I’m a little late.”

“I’d actually say you’re very late,” the matron told her, but she spoke with a smile, which gave Tella a bit of relief as the woman looked down at the list in her hands, softly humming. Until slowly the pleasant sound faded and stopped.

Her smile disappeared next. “Could you repeat your name once more?” “It’s Donatella Dragna.”

“I see a Scarlett Dragna.” “That’s my sister.”

The woman looked up, eyes briefly darting to the guard who’d escorted Tella in. “Your sister might be a welcome guest, but I’m afraid I don’t have you written down. Are you certain you were invited?”

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