Chapter no 42

A Darker Shade of Magic

Kell spat blood onto Rhy’s lovely inlaid floor, marring the intricate pattern. If Rhy himself were here, he would not be happy. But Rhy wasn’t here.

“The stone, my rose.” Astrid’s sultry tone poured between Rhy’s lips. “Where is it?”

Kell struggled to get to his knees with his arms still pinned behind his back. “What do you want with it?” he growled as the two guards dragged him to his feet.

“To take the throne, of course.”

“You already have a throne,” observed Kell.

“In a dying London. And do you know why it dies? Because of you. Because of this city and its cowardly retreat. It made of us a shield, and now it thrives while we perish. It seems only just that I should take it, as reparation. Retribution.”

“So you would, what?” asked Kell. “Abandon your brother to the decaying corpse of your world so you can enjoy the splendors of this one?”

A cold, dry laugh escaped Rhy’s throat. “Not at all. That would make me a very poor sister. Athos and I will rule together. Side by side.”

Kell’s eyes narrowed. “What do you mean?”

“We are going to restore balance to the worlds. Reopen the doors. Or rather, tear them down, create one that stays open, so that anyone—everyone

—can move between. A merger, if you will, of our two illustrious Londons.” Kell paled. Even when the doors had been unlocked, they had been doors.

And they were kept closed. An open door between the worlds wouldn’t only be dangerous. It would be unstable.

“The stone is not strong enough to do that,” he said, trying to sound sure. But he wasn’t. The stone had made a door for Lila. But making a pinprick in a piece of cloth was very different from tearing the fabric in half.

“Are you certain?” teased Astrid. “Perhaps you are right. Perhaps your half of the stone is not enough.”

Kell’s blood went cold. “My half?”

Rhy’s mouth curled into a smile. “Haven’t you noticed that it is broken?”

Kell reeled. “The jagged edge.”

“Athos found it like that, in two pieces. He likes to find treasure, you see. Always has. Growing up, we used to scavenge the rocks along the coast, searching for anything of value. A habit he never lost. His searching merely became a bit more sophisticated. A bit more pointed. Of course, we knew of the Black London purge, of the eradication of artifacts, but he was so sure there must be something—anything—to help save our dying world.”

“And he found it,” said Kell, digging his wrists into the metal cuff. The edges were smooth, not sharp, and dull pain spread up his arm, but the skin refused to break. He stared down at the blood from his lip on Rhy’s floor, but the guards were holding him up, their grip unyielding.

“He scoured,” continued Astrid in Rhy’s tongue. “Found a few useless things secreted away—a notebook, a piece of cloth—and then, lo and behold, he found the stone. Broken in two, yes, but, as I’m sure you’ve noticed, its state has not stopped it from working. It is magic, after all. It may divide, but it does not weaken. The two halves remain connected, even when they are apart. Each half is strong enough on its own, strong enough to change the world. But they want each other, you see. They are drawn together through the wall. If a drop of your blood is enough to make a door, think what two halves of the stone could do.”

It could tear down the wall itself, thought Kell. Tear reality apart.

Rhy’s fingers rapped along the back of a chair. “It was my idea, I confess, giving you the stone, allowing you to carry it across the line.”

Kell grimaced as he twisted his wrists against the iron binding them. “Why not use Holland?” he asked, trying to buy more time. “To smuggle the stone here? He obviously delivered that necklace to Rhy.”

Astrid drew Rhy’s lips into a smile and ran a finger lightly over Kell’s cheek. “I wanted you.” Rhy’s hand continued up and tangled in Kell’s hair as Astrid leaned in, pressed her stolen cheek to Kell’s bloody one, and whispered in his ear, “I told you once, that I would own your life.” Kell wrenched back, and Rhy’s hand fell away.

“Besides,” she said with a sigh. “It made sense. If things went wrong, and Holland was caught, the guilt would lie on our crown, and we would not have another chance. If things went wrong and you were caught, the guilt would lie on your head. I know of your hobbies, Kell. You think the Scorched Bone keeps secrets? Nothing goes unnoticed in my city.” Rhy’s tongue clicked. “A royal servant with a bad habit of smuggling things across borders. Not so hard to believe. And if things went right, and I succeeded in taking this castle, this kingdom, I couldn’t have you out there, unaccounted for, fighting against me. I wanted you here, where you belong. At my feet.”

Dark energy began to crackle in Rhy’s palm, and Kell braced himself, but Astrid couldn’t seem to control it, not with Rhy’s crude skills. The lightning shot to the left, striking the metal post of the prince’s bed.

Kell forced himself to chuckle thinly. “You should have picked a better body,” he said. “My brother has never had a gift for magic.”

Astrid rolled Rhy’s wrist, considering his fingers. “No matter,” she said. “I have an entire family to choose from.”

Kell had an idea. “Why don’t you try on someone a little stronger?” he goaded.

“Like you?” asked Astrid coolly. “Would you like me to take your body for a spin?”

“I’d like to see you try,” said Kell. If he could get her to take off the necklace, to put it on him instead …

“I could,” she whispered. “But possession doesn’t work on Antari,” she added drily. Kell’s heart sank. “I know that, and so do you. Nice try, though.” Kell watched as his brother turned and lifted a knife from a nearby table. “Now, compulsion,” he said—she said—admiring the glinting edge. “That’s another matter.”

Rhy’s fingers tightened on the blade, and Kell pulled back, but there was nowhere to go. The guards gripped him, visetight, as the prince strode over lazily and raised the knife, slicing the buttons off Kell’s shirt and pushing the collar aside to reveal the smooth, fair flesh over his heart.

“So few scars …” Rhy’s fingers brought the knifepoint to Kell’s skin. “We’ll fix that.”

“Stop right there,” came a voice at the balcony.

Kell twisted, and saw Lila. She was dressed differently, in a black coat and a horned mask, and she was standing atop the banister, bracing herself in the balcony’s doorframe and pointing her pistol at the prince’s chest.

“This is a family matter,” warned Astrid with Rhy’s voice.

“I’ve heard enough to know you’re not really family.” Lila cocked the gun and leveled it on Rhy. “Now step away from Kell.”

Rhy’s mouth made a grim smile. And then his hand flew out. This time the lightning found its mark, striking Lila square in the chest. She gasped and lost her grip on the doorframe, her boots slipping off the banister rail as she stumbled back and plunged into the dark.

“Lila!” shouted Kell as she disappeared over the rail. He jerked free of the guards, the cuff finally cutting into his wrist enough to draw blood. In an instant, he had curled his fingers around the metal and spat out the command to unlock the cuff.

“As Orense.” Open.

His shackles fell away, and the rest of Kell’s power flooded back. The guards lunged at him, but his hands came up and the men went flying backward, one into the wall and the other into the metal frame of Rhy’s bed. Kell freed his dagger and spun on the prince, ready for a fight.

But Rhy only gazed at him, amused. “What do you plan to do now, Kell?

You won’t hurt me, not as long as I’m wearing your brother.”

“But I will.” It was Lila’s voice again, followed instantly by the sound of a gun. Pain and surprise both flashed across Rhy’s face, and then one of his legs crumpled beneath him, blood darkening the fabric around his calf. Lila was standing outside, not on the banister as she’d been before, but in the air above it, feet resting on a plume of black smoke. Relief poured over Kell, followed instantly by horror. She hadn’t just walked into danger. She’d brought the stone with her.

“You’ll have to try harder than that to kill me,” she said, hopping down from the smoke platform and onto the balcony. She strode into the chamber.

Rhy got to his feet. “Is that a challenge?” The guards were recovering, too, one moving behind Lila, the other hovering behind Kell.

“Run,” he said to Lila.

“Nice to see you, too,” she snapped, shoving the talisman back in her pocket. He saw the weakness sweep over her in the magic’s wake, but only in her eyes and jaw. She was good at hiding it.

“You shouldn’t have come here,” growled Kell.

“No,” echoed Rhy. “You shouldn’t have. But you’re here now. And you’ve brought me a gift.” Lila’s hand pressed against her coat, and Rhy’s mouth curled into that horrible smile. Kell readied himself for an attack, but instead, Rhy’s hand brought the blade to his own chest and rested the tip between his ribs, just under his heart. Kell stiffened. “Give me the stone, or I will kill the prince.”

Lila frowned, eyes flicking between Rhy and Kell, uncertain. “You wouldn’t kill him,” challenged Kell.

Rhy raised a dark brow. “Do you really believe that, flower boy, or do you only hope it’s true?”

“You chose his body because he’s part of your plan. You won’t—”

“Never presume to know your enemy.” Rhy’s hand pressed down on the knife, the tip sinking between his ribs. “I have a closetful of kings.”

“Stop,” demanded Kell as blood spread out from the knife’s tip. He tried commanding the bones in Rhy’s arm to still, but Astrid’s own powerful will inside the prince’s body made Kell’s grip tenuous.

“How long can you stay my hand?” challenged Astrid. “What happens when your focus starts to slip?” Rhy’s amber eyes went to Lila. “He doesn’t

want me to hurt his brother. You best give me the stone before I do.”

Lila hesitated, and Rhy’s free hand curled around the possession charm and drew it over his head, holding it loosely in his palm. “The stone, Lila.”

“Don’t do this,” said Kell, and he didn’t know if he meant the words for Astrid or Lila or both.

“The stone.”

“Astrid, please,” whispered Kell, his voice wavering.

At that, Rhy’s mouth twisted into a triumphant smile. “You are mine, Kell, and I will break you. Starting with your heart.”


But it was too late. Rhy’s body twisted toward Lila, and a single word left his mouth—catch—before he cast the pendant into the air and drove the knife into his chest.

You'll Also Like