Chapter no 21

A Darker Shade of Magic

When Kell came to, he was tied to a bed.

Coarse rope wound over his wrists, pinning them to the headboard behind him. His head was pounding, and dull pain spread through his ribs when he tried to move, but at least the bleeding had stopped, and when he reached for his power, he was relieved to feel it rise to meet him. The royal blade’s spell had worn off.

After a few moments of self-assessment, Kell realized he wasn’t alone in the room. Dragging his head up off the pillow, he found the thief perched in a chair at the foot of the bed, winding up a silver timepiece and watching him over her knees. She’d done away with her disguise, and Kell was surprised by the face beneath. Her dark hair was cut short along her jaw, which ended at a pointed chin. She looked young, but sharp, bony in a starved-bird kind of way. The only roundness came from her eyes, both brown, but not quite the same shade. He opened his mouth, intending to start their conversation with a question, like, Will you untie me? or Where is the stone? but instead found himself saying, “One of your eyes is lighter than the other.”

“And one of your eyes is black,” she shot back. She sounded cautious, but not frightened. Or, if she was, she was very good at hiding it. “What are you?” she asked.

“A monster,” said Kell hoarsely. “You’d better let me go.”

The girl gave a small, mocking laugh. “Monsters don’t faint in the presence of ladies.”

“Ladies don’t dress like men and pick pockets,” retorted Kell. Her smile only sharpened. “What are you really?”

“Tied to your bed,” said Kell matter-of-factly. “And?”

His brow furrowed. “And in trouble.”

That, at least, garnered a sliver of surprise. “Aside from the obvious being tied to my bed?”

“Yes,” said Kell, struggling to sit up a little despite the binds so he could look her in the eye. “I need you to let me go and give me back the thing you

stole.” He scanned the room, hoping to catch sight of the stone, but it no longer sat on the table. “I won’t turn you in,” he added. “We’ll pretend this never happened, but I need it.”

He hoped she would glance, inch, even lean in the direction of the talisman, but she stayed perfectly still, her gaze unwavering. “How did you get in here?” she asked.

Kell chewed his cheek. “You wouldn’t believe me,” he said dismissively. She shrugged. “I suppose we’ll find out.”

He hesitated. She hadn’t flinched at the sight of his eye, and she hadn’t turned him in or called for help when he marched bloodstained through a wall and into her room. The Grey world knew so little of magic, had forgotten so much, but there was something in the girl’s gaze, a challenge that made him wonder if she would prove him wrong. If she could.

“What is your name?” he asked. “Don’t change the subject.”

“I’m not,” he said, twining his fingers around the ropes binding him to the bed. “I want only to know my captor.”

She considered him a moment before answering. “Delilah Bard,” she said. “But Lila will do.” Lila. A soft name but she used it like a knife, slashing out on the first syllable, the second barely a whisper of metal through air. “And my captive?”

“Kell,” he said. “My name is Kell, and I come from another London, and I got into your room using magic.”

Sure enough, her lips quirked. “Magic,” she echoed drily.

“Yes,” he said. “Magic.” This time when he said the word, his grip tightened on the ropes and they caught fire and burned instantly to ash. A bit showy, perhaps, but it had the desired effect. Lila stiffened visibly in her chair as Kell sat fully upright on the bed. A wave of dizziness rolled over him, and he paused there, rubbing his wrists while he waited for the room to right itself.

“Specifically,” he said, “I used magic to make a door.”

He patted himself down and discovered that his knife was missing. She’d disarmed him. He frowned and swung his legs slowly off the bed, boots coming to rest against the floor. “When you picked my pocket in the alley, you gave me your kerchief. I was able to use it to make a door, one that led from me to you.” Which was, incidentally, much harder than it sounded. Doors were meant to lead to places, not people. It was only the second time Kell had ever successfully used his magic to find his way to someone. Not to mention, he had been bleeding power with every step. It had been too much. The last dregs of magic had gotten him here, and then …

“Another London,” said Lila. “Yes.”

“And you made a door.” “Yes.”

“Using magic.”

“Yes.” He met her eyes then, expecting confusion, skepticism, disbelief, and finding something else. She was staring at him blankly—no, not blankly. Her gaze was intense. Assessing. Kell hoped she wouldn’t ask for another demonstration. His power was only just trickling back, and he needed to save it.

She lifted a finger to the wall, where the ghosted echo of his door still lingered. “I guess that explains the mark.”

Kell frowned a little. Most people here couldn’t see the echoes of spellwork, or at least, they didn’t notice them. The marks, like most magic, passed beneath the spectrum of their senses.

“And the rock?” she asked.

“Magic,” he said. Black magic. Strong magic. Dead magic. Bad magic.”

Finally, Lila slipped. For the briefest moment, her eyes flicked to a chest along the wall. Kell didn’t hesitate. He lunged for the top drawer, but before his fingers met the wood, a knife found his throat. It had come out of nowhere. A pocket. A sleeve. A thin blade resting just below his chin. Lila’s smile was as sharp as its metal edge.

“Sit down before you fall down, magic boy.”

Lila lowered the knife, and Kell sank slowly onto the foot of the bed. And then, she surprised him a second time by producing the talisman, not from the top drawer of the chest as she’d hinted, but out of thin air. One moment her palm was empty, and the next the stone was simply there, her sleight of hand flawless. Kell swallowed, thinking. He could strip the knife from her grip, but she probably had another, and worse, she had the stone. She was human and knew nothing of magic, but if she made a request, the stone might very well answer. Kell thought of the cutthroat, encased in rock.

Lila ran her thumb over the talisman. “What’s so bad about it?” He hesitated, choosing his words. “It should not exist.”

“What is it worth?”

“Your life,” said Kell, clenching his fists. “Because trust me, whoever’s after me will kill you in a blink to take it back.”

Lila’s gaze went to the window. “Were you followed?”

Kell shook his head. “No,” he said slowly. “They can’t follow me here.” “Then I have nothing to worry about.” Her attention returned to the

talisman. Kell could see the curiosity burning through her, and he wondered if

the stone pulled at her the way it had at him. “Lila,” he said slowly. “Please put it down.”

She squinted at the symbol on its face, as if somehow that would help her read it. “What does it mean?” Kell did not answer. “If you tell me, I will give it back.”

Kell did not believe her but answered anyway. “It’s the symbol for magic,” he said. “Vitari.”

“A magic stone called ‘magic’? Not very original. What does it do?” “I don’t know.” It was a kind of truth.

“I don’t believe you.” “I don’t care.”

Lila frowned. “I’m beginning to think you don’t want it back.”

“I don’t,” said Kell, and it was mostly true, though a part of him wanted nothing more than to hold it again. “But I need it. And I answered your question.”

Lila considered the stone. “A magic stone called magic,” she mused, turning it over in her palm. “Which leads me to believe that it, what? Makes magic? Or makes things out of magic?” She must have seen the answer in Kell’s worried face, because she smiled triumphantly. “A source of power, then …” She appeared to be having a conversation with herself. “Can it make anything? I wonder how it wor—”

Kell went for the talisman. His hand made it halfway there before Lila’s knife slashed through the air and across his palm. He gasped as blood dripped to the floor.

“I warned you,” she said, wagging the knife like a finger.

“Lila,” he said wearily, cradling his hand to his chest. “Please. Give it back.”

But Kell knew she wouldn’t. There was a glint of mischief in her eye—a look, he knew, he had worn himself—as her fingers curled around the stone. What would she summon? What could she summon, this gangly little human? She held both hands ceremoniously out before her, and Kell watched, half in curiosity and half in concern, as smoke plumed out between her fingers. It wrapped around her free hand, twisting and hardening until she was holding a beautiful sword in a polished scabbard.

Her eyes widened with shock and pleasure. “It worked,” she whispered, half to herself.

The hilt shone the same glossy black of Kell’s eye and the stolen stone, and when she pulled the sword free of its sheath, the metal glinted—black as well

—in the candlelight, and solid as any hammered steel. Lila let out a delighted

sound. Kell let out a breath of relief at the sight of the sword—it could have been worse—and watched as she set it against the wall.

“So you see,” said Kell carefully. “Now hand it over.” She didn’t realize— couldn’t realize—that this kind of magic was wrong, or that the stone was feeding on her energy. “Please. Before you hurt yourself.”

Lila gave him a derisive glare and fondled the stone. “Oh no,” she said. “I’m just getting started.”

“Lila … ,” began Kell, but it was too late. Black smoke was already pouring between her knuckles, much more of it than before, and taking shape in the room between them. This time, instead of a weapon, it pulled itself into the form of a young man. Not just any young man, Kell realized as the features smoothed from smoke into flesh.

It was Kell.

The resemblance was nearly flawless, from the coat with its fraying hem to the reddish hair that fell across his face, obscuring his black eye. Only this Kell had no blue eye. Both glistened as hard and black as the rock in Lila’s hand. The apparition didn’t move, not at first, only stood there waiting.

The Kell that was Kell glared at the Kell that wasn’t. “What do you think you’re doing?” The question was directed at Lila.

“Just having a bit of fun,” she said. “You can’t go around making people.” “Obviously I can,” she said.

And then, the black-eyed Kell began to move. He shrugged off his coat and tossed it onto the nearest chair. And then, Kell watched with horror as his echo began to unfasten his tunic, one button at a time.

Kell gave a small, strangled laugh. “You’ve got to be kidding me.” Lila only smiled and rolled the stone in her palm as the Kell that wasn’t Kell slid slowly, teasingly, out of his tunic and stood there, bare chested. His fingers began to undo the belt at his waist.

“Okay, enough,” said Kell. “Dispel it.” She sighed. “You’re no fun.”

“This isn’t fun.”

“Maybe not for you,” she said with a smirk as the other Kell continued his striptease, sliding the belt from its loops.

But Lila didn’t see what he saw: the once-blank face of the echo was beginning to change. It was a subtle shift in the magic, a hollow thing starting to fill.

“Lila,” insisted Kell. “Listen to me. Dispel it now.”

“Fine, fine,” she said, meeting the black-eyed Kell’s gaze. “Um … how do I do that?”

“You willed him into being,” said Kell, getting to his feet. “Now will him


Lila’s brow creased, and the phantom stopped divesting himself of clothes but did not disappear.


“I’m trying,” she said, tightening her grip on the stone.

At that, the phantom Kell’s face contorted, shifting rapidly from vacant to aware to angry. It was as if he knew what was happening. His eyes flicked from Lila’s face to her hand and back to her face. And then he lunged. He moved so fast, an instant, a blink, and he was upon her. The stone tumbled from Lila’s grip as the Kell that wasn’t Kell slammed her back against the wall. His mouth opened to speak, but before he could, his hands dissolved

he dissolved—suddenly back into smoke, and then into nothing, and Lila found herself face-to-face with the Kell that was Kell, his bloody hand raised to the place where the illusion had been, his command—As Anasae—still echoing through the room.

Lila swayed on her feet and caught herself on the chest of drawers, her brief possession of the stone clearly taking its toll, the way it had on Kell. She managed to drag in a single shaky breath before he closed his bleeding hand around her throat.

“Where is my knife?” he growled. “Top drawer,” she said, gasping.

Kell nodded but didn’t let her go. Instead, he grabbed her wrist and pinned it back to the wall beside her head.

“What are you doing?” she snapped, but Kell didn’t answer. He focused on the wood, and it began to crack and warp, peeling away and growing up around her wrist. Lila struggled, but in an instant it was done. When Kell let go, the wall did not. He retrieved the stone from the floor as Lila twisted and fought against the makeshift bind.

“What the bloody hell … ?” She tried to pull free of the wooden cuff as Kell forced himself to pocket the stone. “You’ve ruined the wall. How am I supposed to pay for this? How am I supposed to explain this?”

Kell went to the drawer. There he found most of the contents of his pockets

—thankfully she’d only raided the black coat he’d been wearing—and his knife.

“You can’t leave me here like this,” she muttered.

Kell refilled his pockets and ran a thumb over the familiar letters on his blade before returning it to the holster against his forearm. And then he heard the sound of metal sliding free of leather behind him as Lila fetched another dagger from a sheath at her back.

“I wouldn’t throw that if I were you,” he said, crossing to the window. “Why’s that?” she growled.

“Because,” he said, sliding up the glass. “You’re going to need it to saw yourself free.”

And with that Kell stepped up onto the sill, and through.

It was a longer drop than he had hoped for, but he landed in a crouch, the air in the alley rushing up to ease his fall. The window had seemed the safest route, since Kell wasn’t actually sure where in Grey London he was, or even what kind of house he’d been kept in. From the street, he realized it was not a house at all, but a tavern, and when he rounded the corner, he saw the sign swaying in the evening air. It swung from shadow into lamplight and then back to shadow, but Kell knew at a glimpse what it said.


He shouldn’t have been surprised to see it—all roads seemed to lead here— but it still threw him. What are the odds? he thought, even though he knew that the thing about magic was that it bent the odds. But still.

Kell had a strange feeling about the girl, but he pushed it aside. She didn’t matter. He had the stone.

Now he just had to figure out what to do about it.

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