Chapter no 19

A Darker Shade of Magic

A London away, the city bells struck eight.

The sound came from the sanctuary at the city’s edge, but it rang out over the glittering Isle and through the streets, pouring in open windows and out open doors and down alleys until it reached the Ruby Fields and, just beyond, the frozen figure of a man in the dark.

A man with an on the back of his hand and a stolen royal sword still raised above his head. A man trapped in ice, or stone, or something stranger.

As the bells trailed off, a jagged crack formed in the shell over the man’s face. And then another, down his arm. And a third, along the blade. Small fissures that deepened quickly, spreading like fingers through the casing.

“Stop,” the young Antari had ordered his attacker, and the attacker had not listened, but the magic had. It had poured out of the black stone in the Antari’s hand, coiled around the man, and hardened into a shell.

And now, the shell was breaking.

Not as a shell should break, the surface fracturing and the shards crumbling away, raining down upon the street. No, this shell broke apart and yet never let go of the man beneath. Instead, it clung to him as it melted, not down his body, but into it. Seeping in through his clothes and his skin until it was gone

—or not gone. Absorbed.

The once-frozen man shuddered, then took a breath. The royal half-sword slipped from his fingers and clattered to the stones as the last shimmering drops of magic glistened like oil on his skin before sinking in, the veins darkening, tracing over him like ink. The man’s head hung forward, eyes open, but empty. And fully black, pupils blown and spreading through irises and into whites.

The compulsion spell already cast on him had stripped the man’s resistance and allowed the other magic to slip right in, through vein and brain and muscle, taking hold of everything it touched, the once-red core of life now burning pure and dark. Slowly, the man—or rather now, the thing inside him

—lifted his head. His black eyes shone, slick against the dry dark as he surveyed the alley. The body of the second cutthroat lay nearby, but he was

already quite dead, the light snuffed out. Nothing to salvage. Nothing to burn. There wasn’t much life left in his own body, either—just enough flame to feed on—but it would do for now.

He rolled his shoulders and began to walk, haltingly at first, as a man unused to his body. And then faster, surer. His posture straightened, and his legs strode toward the lights of the nearest building. The man’s mouth drew into a smile. It was late, but the lanterns were lit in the windows, and laughter, high and sweet and promising, filled the air like the sound of bells.

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