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Chapter no 27

A Darker Shade of Magic

The rain had ended and left the streets dreary and damp, but despite the wet ground and the October chill, London was beginning to drag itself awake. The sound of rickety carts filled the air, met with the smell of fresh bread and new fires, and merchants and buyers began the slow revival of work, pinning back the doors and shutters of shops and readying their businesses for the day. Kell and Lila made their way through the rousing city, moving briskly in the thin dawn light.

“You’re sure you have the stone?” pressed Kell.

“Yes,” said Lila, lips quirking. “And if you’re thinking of stealing it back, I would advise against it, as you’d have to search me, and magic or no, I’m willing to bet my knife could find your heart before your hand could find the rock.” She said it with such casual confidence that Kell suspected she might be right, but he had no desire to find out. Instead, he turned his attention to the streets around them, trying to picture them as if they were a world away. “We’re nearly there.”

“Where’s there?” she asked. “Whitbury Street,” he said.

He’d crossed through at Whitbury before (it put him near his rooms at the Ruby Fields, which meant that he could drop any newly acquired items before reporting to the palace). But more important, the row of shops on Whitbury did not sit directly on top of the Ruby Fields, but sat a short two blocks shy. He’d learned long ago never to walk into a world exactly where you wanted to be. If trouble were waiting, you’d land right on top of it.

“There’s an inn in Red London,” he explained, trying not to think about the last time he was there. About the tracing spell and the attack and the corpses of the men in the alley beyond. Corpses he’d made. “I keep a room there,” he went on. “It will have what I need to make a door to White London.” Lila didn’t pick up on his use of instead of we, or if she did, she didn’t bother to correct him. In fact, she seemed lost in her own thoughts as they wove through the network of back streets. Kell kept his chin up, his senses tuned.

“I’m not going to run into myself, am I?” asked Lila, breaking the silence.

Kell glanced her way. “What are you talking about?”

She kicked a loose stone. “Well, I mean, it’s another world, isn’t it?

Another version of London? Is there another version of me?” Kell frowned. “I’ve never met anyone like you.”

He hadn’t meant it as a compliment, but Lila took it that way, flashing him a grin. “What can I say,” she said, “I’m one of a kind.”

Kell managed an echo of her smile, and she gasped. “What’s that on your face?”

The smile vanished. “What?”

“Never mind,” she said, laughing. “It’s gone.” Kell only shook his head— he didn’t grasp the joke—but whatever it was, it seemed to delight Lila, and she chuckled to herself all the way to Whitbury.

As they turned onto the pleasant little lane, Kell came to a stop on the curb between two shop fronts. One belonged to a dentist and the other a barber (in Red London, it was an herbalist and stonesmith), and if Kell squinted he could still see traces of his blood on the brick wall in front of him, the surface sheltered by a narrow overhang. Lila was staring intently at the wall. “Is this where they are? Your rooms?”

“No,” he said, “but this is where we go through.”

Lila’s fists clenched and unclenched at her side. He thought she must be frightened, but when she glanced his way, her eyes were bright, the edge of a smile on her lips.

Kell swallowed and stepped up to the wall, and Lila joined him. He hesitated.

“What are we waiting for?”

“Nothing,” said Kell. “It’s just …” He slipped out of his coat and wrapped it around her shoulders, as if the magic could be so easily deceived. As if it wouldn’t know the difference between human and Antari. He doubted his coat would make a difference—either the stone would let her through or it wouldn’t—but he still relinquished it.

In response, Lila fetched her kerchief—the one she’d given him when she picked his pocket and reclaimed when he passed out on her floor—and tucked it into his back pocket.

“What are you doing?” he asked.

“Seems right somehow,” she said. “You gave me something of yours. I give you something of mine. Now we’re linked.”

“It doesn’t work that way,” he said. Lila shrugged. “Can’t hurt.”

Kell supposed she was right. He slid his knife free and drew the blade across his palm, a thin line of blood welling up. He dabbed it with his fingers

and made a mark on the wall. “Take out the stone,” he said. Lila eyed him distrustfully. “You’ll need it,” he pressed.

She sighed and pulled her broad-brim hat from a fold in her coat. It was crumpled, but with a flick of her wrist it unfolded, and she reached into the hat’s bowl like a magician and drew out the black rock. Something in Kell twisted at the sight of it, an ache in his blood, and it took all his strength not to reach for the talisman. He bit back the urge and thought for the first time that perhaps it was better if he didn’t hold it.

Lila closed her fingers around the stone, and Kell closed his fingers around Lila’s, and as it was he could feel the talisman humming through the flesh and bone of her hand. He tried not to think about the way it sang to him.

“Are you sure?” he asked one last time.

“It will work,” said Lila. Her voice sounded less certain now than it had been, less like she believed and more like she wanted to, so Kell nodded. “You said yourself,” she added, “that everyone has a mix of humanity and magic in them. That means I do, too.” She turned her gaze up to his. “What happens now?”

“I don’t know,” he said truthfully.

Lila drew closer, so close their ribs were touching and he could feel her heart racing through them. She was so good at hiding it, her fear. It didn’t show in her eyes, or the lines of her face, but her pulse betrayed her. And then Lila’s lips tugged into a grin, and Kell wondered if it was fear she felt after all, or something else entirely.

“I’m not going to die,” she said. “Not till I’ve seen it.” “Seen what?”

Her smile widened. “Everything.”

Kell smiled back. And then Lila brought her free hand to his jaw and tugged his mouth toward hers. The kiss was there and then gone, like one of her smiles.

“What was that for?” he asked, dazed.

“For luck,” she said, squaring her shoulders to the wall. “Not that I need it.”

Kell stared at her a moment and then forced himself to turn toward the bloodstained bricks. He tightened his hand over hers, and he brought his fingers to the mark.

“As Travars,” he said.

The wall gave way, and the traveler and the thief stepped forward and through.

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