Chapter no 40

A Darker Shade of Magic

Colors blossomed over Kell’s head, blurs of red and gold and rich dark blue. At first they were nothing more than broad streaks, but as his vision came into focus, he recognized them as palace draperies, the kind that hung from the ceilings in each of the royal bedrooms, drawing sky-like patterns out of cloth.

Squinting up, Kell realized he must be in Rhy’s room.

He knew this because the ceiling in his own was decorated like midnight, billows of near-black fabric studded with silver thread, and the queen’s ceiling was like noon, cloudless and blue, and the king’s was like dusk with its bands of yellow and orange. Only Rhy’s was draped like this. Like dawn. Kell’s head spun, and he closed his eyes and took a deep breath as he tried to piece his thoughts together.

He was lying on a couch, his body sinking into the soft cushions beneath him. Music played beyond the walls of the room, an orchestra, and woven through it, the sounds of laughter and revelry. Of course. Rhy’s birthday ball. Just then, someone cleared his throat, and Kell dragged his eyes back open and turned his head to see Rhy himself sitting across from him.

The prince was draped in a chair, one ankle across his knee, sipping tea and looking thoroughly annoyed.

“Brother,” said Rhy, tipping his cup. He was dressed in all black, his coat and pants and boots adorned with dozens of gold buttons. A mask—a gaudy thing, decorated with thousands of tiny sparkling gold scales—rested on top of his head in place of his usual crown.

Kell went to push the hair out of his eyes and quickly discovered that he could not. His hands were cuffed behind his back.

“You’ve got to be joking …” He shuffled himself up into a sitting position. “Rhy, why in king’s name am I wearing these?” The cuffs weren’t like those ordinary manacles found in Grey London, made of metal links. Nor were they like the binds in White, which caused blinding pain upon resistance. No, these were sculpted out of a solid piece of iron and carved with spellwork designed to dampen magic. Not as severe as the royal swords, to be sure, but effective.

Rhy set his teacup on an ornate side table. “I couldn’t very well have you running away again.”

Kell sighed and tipped his head back against the couch. “This is preposterous. I suppose that’s why you had me drugged, too? Honestly, Rhy.” Rhy crossed his arms. He was clearly sulking. Kell dragged his head up and looked around, noticing that there were two members of the royal guard in the room with them, still dressed in formal armor, their helmets on, their visors down. But Kell knew Rhy’s personal guard well enough to recognize them,

armor or none, and these were not them. “Where are Gen and Parrish?” asked Kell.

Rhy shrugged lazily. “Having a little too much fun, I imagine.”

Kell shifted on the couch, trying to free himself from the cuffs. They were too tight. “Don’t you think you’re blowing this a little out of proportion?”

“Where have you been, brother?”

“Rhy,” said Kell sternly. “Take these off.”

Rhy’s boot slid from his knee and came to rest firmly on the ground. He straightened in his seat, squaring himself to Kell. “Is it true?”

Kell’s brow furrowed. “Is what true?” “That you have a piece of Black London?”

Kell stiffened. “What are you talking about?” “Is it true?” persisted the prince.

“Rhy,” said Kell slowly. “Who told you that?” No one knew, none except those who wanted the stone gone and those who wanted it reclaimed.

Rhy shook his head sadly. “What have you brought into our city, Kell?

What have you brought upon it?” “Rhy, I—”

“I warned you this would happen. I told you that if you carried on with your deals, you would be caught and that even I could not protect you then.”

Kell’s blood ran cold.

“Do the king and queen know?” Rhy’s eyes narrowed. “No. Not yet.”

Kell let out a small sigh of relief. “They don’t need to. I’m doing what I have to do. I’m taking it back, Rhy. All the way back to the fallen city.”

Rhy’s brow crinkled. “I can’t let you do that.”

“Why not?” demanded Kell. “It is the only place the talisman belongs.” “Where is it now?”

“Safe,” said Kell, hoping that was true. “Kell, I can’t help you if you won’t let me.”

“I’m taking care of it, Rhy. I promise you I am.”

The prince was shaking his head. “Promises are not enough,” he said. “Not anymore. Tell me where the stone is.”

Kell froze. “I never told you it was a stone.”

Heavy silence fell between them. Rhy held his gaze. And then, finally, his lips drew into a small, dark smile, twisting his face in a way that made it look like someone else’s.

“Oh, Kell,” he said. He leaned forward, resting his elbows on his knees, and Kell caught sight of something under the collar of his shirt and stiffened. It was a pendant. A glass necklace with blood-red edges. He knew it, had seen it before only days earlier.

On Astrid Dane.

Kell lunged to his feet, but the guards were upon him, holding him back. Their motions were too even, their grip too crushing. Compelled. Of course. No wonder their visors were down. Compulsion showed in the eyes.

“Hello, flower boy.” The words came from Rhy’s mouth in a voice that was, and wasn’t, his.

“Astrid,” hissed Kell. “Have you compelled everyone in this palace?” A low chuckle escaped Rhy’s lips. “Not yet, but I’m working on it.” “What have you done with my brother?”

“I’ve only borrowed him.” Rhy’s fingers curled under his shirt collar and drew out the pendant. There was only one thing it could be: a possession charm. “Antari blood,” she said proudly. “Allows the spell to exist in both worlds.”

“You will pay for this,” growled Kell. “I will—”

“You will what? Hurt me? And risk hurting your dear prince? I doubt it.” Again, that cold smile, so foreign to Rhy’s face, spread across his lips. “Where is the stone, Kell?”

“What are you doing here?”

“Isn’t it obvious?” Rhy’s hand swept across the room. “I’m branching out.” Kell pulled against his binds, the metal digging into his wrists. The dampening cuffs were strong enough to mute elemental abilities and prevent

spellwork, but they couldn’t prevent Antari magic. If he could only— “Tell me where you’ve hidden the stone.”

“Tell me why you are wearing my brother’s body,” he shot back, trying to buy time.

Astrid sighed from within the prince’s shell. “You know so little of war. Battles may be fought from the outside in, but wars are won from the inside out.” She gestured down at Rhy’s body. “Kingdoms and crowns are taken from within. The strongest fortress can withstand any attack from beyond its walls, and yet even it is not fortified against an attack from behind them. Had

I marched upon your palace from the steps, would I have made it this far? But now, now no one will see me coming. Not the king, nor the queen, nor the people. I am their beloved prince, and will be so until the moment I choose not to be.”

“I know,” said Kell. “I know what and who you are. What will you do, Astrid? Kill me?”

Rhy’s face lit up with a strange kind of glee. “No”—the word slid over his tongue—“but I’m sure you’ll wish I had. Now”—Rhy’s hand lifted Kell’s chin—“where is my stone?”

Kell looked into his brother’s amber eyes, and beyond them, to the thing lurking in his brother’s body. He wanted to beg Rhy, to plead with him to fight against the spell. But it wouldn’t work. As long as she was in there, he wasn’t.

“I don’t know where it is,” said Kell.

Rhy’s smile spread, wolfish and sharp. “You know. …” Rhy’s mouth formed the words, and Rhy held up his hand, considering his long fingers, the knuckles adorned with glittering rings. Those same hands began twisting the rings so that their jeweled settings were on the inside. “A little piece of me was hoping you would say that.”

And then Rhy’s fingers curled into a fist and connected with Kell’s jaw.

Kell’s head cracked to the side, and he nearly stumbled, but the guards tightened their grips and held him on his feet. Kell tasted blood, but Rhy just smiled that horrible smile and rubbed his knuckles. “This is going to be fun.”

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