Chapter no 16

A Darker Shade of Magic

Naresk Vas.

That was the address written on the envelope.

Kell had sobered considerably, and decided to go straight to the point of delivery and be done with the peculiar business of the letter. Rhy need never know. Kell would even drop the trinket—whatever it was—in his private room at the Ruby Fields before heading back to the palace so that he could, in good conscience, return empty-handed.

It seemed like a good plan, or at least, like the best of several bad ones.

But as he reached the corner of Otrech and Naresk, and the address on the paper came into sight, Kell slowed, and stopped, and then took two steps sideways into the nearest shadow.

Something was wrong.

Not in an obvious way, but under his skin, in his bones. Naresk Vas looked empty, but it wasn’t.

That was the thing about magic. It was everywhere. In everything. In everyone. And while it coursed like a low and steady pulse, through the air and the earth, it beat louder in the bodies of living things. And if Kell tried— if he reached—he could feel it. It was a sense, not as strong as sight or sound or smell, but there all the same, its presence now drifting toward him from the shadows across the street.

Which meant that Kell was not alone.

He held his breath and hung back in the alley, eyes fixed on the address across the street. And then, sure enough, he saw something move. A hooded figure hovered in the dark between 7 and 9 Naresk Vas. Kell couldn’t see anything about him except the glint of a weapon at his side.

For a second, Kell—still a little off from his time with the Danes—thought it might be Olivar, the man whose letter he was holding. But it couldn’t be Olivar. The woman said the man was dying, and even if he were well enough to meet Kell on the street, he couldn’t know to meet him there, not when Kell himself had only just accepted the task. Which meant it wasn’t Olivar. But if it wasn’t him, who was it?

Danger prickled at the edges of Kell’s skin.

He dragged the letter from his pocket, studying the address, then held his breath as he broke the seal and pulled the letter free. He bit back a curse.

Even in the dark, he could see that the paper was blank. Nothing but a piece of folded parchment.

Kell’s mind reeled. He’d been set up.

If they—whoever they were—weren’t after the letter, then …

Sanct. Kell’s hand went to the parcel still in his pocket. The payment. When his fingers curled around the folded cloth, that strange sensation ran up his arm again. What had he taken?

What had he done?

Just then, the shadow across the street looked up.

The paper in Kell’s hand had caught the lantern light, just for a moment, but a moment was all it took. The shadow charged forward toward Kell.

And Kell turned, and ran.

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