Chapter no 43

A Darker Shade of Magic

It happened so fast, the pendant moving at the same time as the blade. Kell saw Lila lunge out of the charm’s reach, and he twisted back in time to see Rhy burying the knife between his ribs.

“No!” screamed Kell, surging forward.

The necklace skidded along the floor and fetched up against a guard’s boot, and Rhy crumpled forward, the blade driven in to the hilt as Kell scrambled to his side and pulled the knife free.

Rhy—and it was Rhy now—let out a choked sound, and Kell pressed his blood-streaked fingers to his brother’s chest. Rhy’s shirtfront was already wet, and he shuddered under Kell’s touch. Kell had just began to speak, to command the magic to heal the prince, when a guard slammed into him from the side and they both went down on the inlaid floor.

Several feet away Lila was grappling with the other guard while Kell’s attacker clutched the talisman in one hand and tried to wrap the other around Kell’s throat. Kell kicked and fought and dragged himself free, and when the guard (and Astrid within) charged forward, he threw up his hand. The metal armor—and the body inside—went flying backward, not into the wall, but into the banister at the balcony, which crumbled under the force and sent the guard’s body over and down. It landed with a crash on the courtyard stones below, the sound followed instantly by screams, and Kell ran to the patio to see a dozen of the ball’s dancers circling the body. One of them, a woman in a lovely green gown, reached out curiously for the pendant, now discarded on the courtyard stones.

“Stop!” called Kell, but it was too late. The moment the woman’s fingers curled around it, he could see her change, the possession rippling through her in a single drawn-out shiver before her head flicked up at him, mouth drawing into a cold grim smile. She turned on her heel and plunged into the palace.

“Kell!” called Lila, and he spun, taking in the room for the first time as it was, in disarray. The remaining guard lay motionless on the floor, a dagger driven through the visor of his helmet, and Lila crouched over Rhy, her mask

lifted and her tangled hands pressing against the prince’s chest. She was covered in blood, but it wasn’t hers. Rhy’s shirt was soaked through.

“Rhy,” said Kell, the word a sob, a shuddering breath as he knelt over his brother. He drew his dagger and slashed his hand, cutting deep. “Hold on, Rhy.” He pressed his wounded palm to the prince’s chest—it was rising and falling in staccato breaths—and said, “As Hasari.”


Rhy coughed up blood.

The courtyard below had exploded into activity, voices pouring up through the broken balcony. Footsteps were sounding through the halls, fists banging on the chamber doors, which Kell now saw were scrawled with spellwork. Locking charms.

“We have to go,” said Lila.

“As Hasari,” said Kell again, putting pressure on the wound. There was so much blood. Too much.

“I’m sorry,” murmured Rhy. “Shut up, Rhy,” said Kell. “Kell,” ordered Lila.

“I’m not leaving him,” he said simply.

“So take him with us.” Kell hesitated. “You said the magic needs time to work. We can’t wait. Bring him with us if you will, but we need to go.”

Kell swallowed. “I’m sorry,” he said, just before forcing himself—and Rhy

—to his feet. The prince gasped in pain. “I’m sorry.”

They couldn’t go by the door. Couldn’t parade the wounded prince in front of a palace full of people there to celebrate his birthday. And, somewhere among them, Astrid Dane. But there was a private hall between Rhy’s room and Kell’s, one they’d used since they were boys, and now he half dragged, half carried his brother toward a concealed door, and then through it. He led the prince and Lila down the narrow corridor, the walls of which were covered with an assortment of odd marks—bets and challenges and personal scores kept by tallies, the tasks themselves long forgotten. A trail through their strange and sheltered youth.

Now they left a trail of blood.

“Stay with me,” said Kell. “Stay with me. Rhy. Listen to my voice.” “Such a nice voice,” said Rhy quietly, his head lolling forward. “Rhy.”

Kell heard armored bodies break into the prince’s room as they reached his own, and he shut the door to the hall and pressed his bloodied hand to the wood and said, “As Staro.” Seal.

As the word left his lips, metalwork spread out from his fingers, tracing back and forth over the door and binding it shut.

“We can’t keep running from bedroom to bedroom,” snapped Lila. “We have to get out of this palace!”

Kell knew that. Knew they had to get away. He led them to the private study at the far edge of his room, the one with the blood markings on the back of the door. Shortcuts to half a dozen places in the city. The one that led to the Ruby Fields was useless now, but the others would work. He scanned the options until he found the one—the only one—he knew would be safe.

“Will this work?” asked Lila.

Kell wasn’t sure. Doors within worlds were harder to make but easier to use; they could only be created by Antari, but others could—hypothetically— pass through. Indeed, Kell had led Rhy through a portal once before—the day he found him on the boat—but there had been only two of them then, and now there were three.

“Don’t let go,” said Kell. He drew fresh blood over the mark and held Rhy and Lila as closely as he could, hoping the door—and the magic—would be strong enough to lead them all to sanctuary.

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