Chapter no 15

A Darker Shade of Magic

The silver jingled in Lila’s pocket as she made her way back to the Stone’s Throw.

The sun had barely set on the city, but she’d already managed a fair take that day. It was risky, picking pockets by anything but night—especially with her particular disguise, which required a blurred eye or low light—but Lila had to shoulder the risk if she was going to rebuild. A map and a silver watch did not a ship buy or a fortune make.

Besides, she liked the weight of coins in her pocket. They sang like a promise. Added swagger to her step. A pirate without a ship, that’s what she was, through and through. And one day, she’d have the ship, and then she’d sail away and be done with this wretched city once and for all.

As Lila strolled down the cobblestones, she began making a mental list (as she often did) of all the things she’d need to be a proper privateer. A pair of good leather sea boots, for one. And a sword and scabbard, of course. She had the pistol, Caster—beauty that it was—and her knives, all sharp enough to cut, but every pirate had a sword and scabbard. At least the ones she’d met … and the ones she’d read about in books. Lila had never had much time for reading, but she could read—it was a good skill for a thief, and she turned out to be a quick study—and on the occasion that she nicked books, she nicked only the ones about pirates and adventures.

So, a pair of good boots, a sword, and scabbard. Oh, and a hat. Lila had the black, broad-brim one, but it wasn’t very flashy. Didn’t even have a feather, or a ribbon, or—

Lila passed a boy perched on a stoop a few doors shy of the Stone’s Throw, and slowed, her thoughts trailing off. The boy was ragged and thin, half her age and as dirty as a chimney broom. He was holding out his hands, palms skyward, and Lila reached into her pocket. She didn’t know what made her do it—good spirits, maybe, or the fact that the night was young—but she dropped a few coppers into the kid’s cupped hands as she walked by. She didn’t stop, didn’t talk, and didn’t acknowledge his thanks, but she did it all the same.

“Careful now,” said Barron when she reached the tavern steps. She hadn’t heard him come out. “Someone might think you’ve got a heart under all that brass.”

“No heart,” said Lila, pulling aside her cloak to reveal the holstered pistol and one of her knives. “Just these.”

Barron sighed and shook his head, but she caught the edge of a smile, and behind it, something like pride. It made her squirm.

“Got anything to eat?” she asked, toeing the step with her worn-out boot.

He tipped his head toward the door, and she was about to follow him inside for a pint and a bowl of soup—she could spare that much coin, if he’d take it

—when she heard a scuffle behind her. She turned to see a cluster of street rats—three of them, no older than she was—hustling the ragged boy. One of the rats was fat and one of them was skinny and one of them was short, and all of them were obviously scum. Lila watched as the short one barred the boy’s path. The fat one shoved him up against the wall. The skinny one snatched the copper coins from his fingers. The boy barely fought back. He just looked down at his hands with a kind of grim resignation. They had been empty moments before, and they were empty again.

Lila’s fists clenched as the three thugs vanished down a side road. “Lila,” warned Barron.

They weren’t worth the work, Lila knew that. She robbed from the rich for a reason: they had more to steal. These boys probably didn’t have anything worth taking besides what they’d already picked off of the boy in the street. A few coins Lila obviously hadn’t minded parting with. But that wasn’t the point.

“I don’t like that look,” said Barron when she didn’t come inside.

“Hold my hat.” She thrust the top hat into his hands, but reached in as she did and pulled the nested disguise from its depths.

“They’re not worth it,” he said. “And in case you didn’t notice, there were three of them, and one of you.”

“So little faith,” she said, snapping the soft broad-brim hat into form. “And besides, it’s the principle of the thing, Barron.”

The tavern owner sighed. “Principle or not, Lila, one of these days, you’re going to get yourself killed.”

“Would you miss me?” she asked. “Like an itch,” he shot back.

She gave him the edge of a grin and tied the mask over her eyes. “Look after the kid,” she said, pulling the brim of the hat down over her face. Barron grunted as she hopped down from the step.

“Hey, you,” she heard Barron calling to the boy huddled on the nearby stoop, still staring at his empty hands. “Come over here. …”

And then she was off.

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