Chapter no 17

A Darker Shade of Magic

Lila trailed the group of thugs through the winding London streets, waiting for them to go their separate ways. Barron was right: the odds weren’t great against all three, but she had her sights set on one. And as the three broke into two and the two at last diverged, she followed her mark.

It was the thin one she was after, the rat who’d taken the coins off skin-and-bones back on the step. She hugged the shadows as she trailed him through the maze of narrowing roads, the stolen copper rattling in his pocket, a sliver of wood between his teeth. Finally, he turned off down an alley, and Lila slipped after, unheard, unseen, unnoticed.

As soon as they were alone, she closed the gap between them in a single stride and brought her knife up to the skinny rat’s throat, pressing down hard enough to draw blood.

“Empty the pockets,” she growled in a husky voice.

He didn’t move. “Yer making a mistake,” he said, shifting the wooden pick in his mouth.

She shifted her grip so the knife bit into his throat. “Am I?”

And then she heard the shuffle of steps rushing up behind her and ducked just in time to dodge a fist. Another one of the rats stood there, the short sod, one meaty hand clenched, the other gripping a metal bar. And then, an instant later, the fat one finally caught up, red-cheeked and breathless.

“It’s you,” he said, and for an instant Lila thought he recognized her. Then she realized he recognized the sketch in the WANTED ad. “The Shadow Thief.”

The skinny one spit out his chewing stick and broke into a grin. “Looks like we caught ourselves a prize, gents.”

Lila hesitated. She knew she could win against one street rat, and thought she might even be able to win against two, but three? Maybe, if they’d stand still, but they kept shifting so she couldn’t see all of them at once. She heard the snick of a switchblade, the tap of the metal bar against the street stones. She had the gun in her holster and the knife in her hand, and another in her boot, but she wouldn’t be fast enough to level all three boys.

“Did the poster say dead or alive?” asked the short one.

“You know, I don’t think it specified,” said the skinny one, wiping the blood from his throat.

“I think it said dead,” added the fat one.

“Even if it said alive,” reasoned the skinny one, “I don’t suppose they’d mind if he were missing pieces.” He lunged for her and she lunged away, accidentally stepping into the fat one’s reach. He grabbed for her and she slashed, drawing blood before the short one got his hands on her. But when his arms circled her chest, she felt his grip stiffen.

“What’s this now?” he hissed. “Our boy’s a—”

Lila didn’t wait. She slammed her boot into his foot, hard, and he gasped and let go. Only an instant, but it was enough for Lila to do the thing she knew she had to do, the one thing she hated to do.

She ran.

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