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Chapter no 46

A Darker Shade of Magic

The palace was in a state of upheaval.

Guests were spilling, confused and concerned, down the great stairs, ushered out by the royal guards. Rumors spread like fire through the crowd, rumors of violence and death and wounded royalty. Words like treason and coup and assassin filled the air, only feeding the frenzy.

Someone claimed that a guard had been murdered. Another claimed to have seen that guard fall from the prince’s balcony to the courtyard below. Another still said that a woman in a green gown had stolen a necklace from the gruesome scene and rushed into the palace. Another insisted he’d seen her thrust the pendant into the hands of another guard and then collapse at his feet. The guard had not even called for help. He’d simply stormed away toward the royal chambers.

There the king and queen had withdrawn, their strange calm only adding to the guests’ confusion. The guard had vanished into their room, and a moment later, the king had apparently burst forth, his steadiness cast off as he shouted about treason. He claimed that the prince had been stabbed and that Kell was to blame, demanding the Antari’s arrest. And just like that, the confusion shattered into to panic, chaos billowing like smoke through the night.

By the time Gen’s boots approached the palace, the stairs were crowded with worried guests. The thing inside Gen’s armor turned its black eyes up at the dancing lights and jostling bodies. It wasn’t the mayhem that drew him there. It was the scent. Someone had used strong magic, beautiful magic, and he meant to find out who.

He set off up the stairs, pressing past the flustered guests. No one seemed to notice that his armor was rent, peeled back over the heart, a stain like black wax across his front. Nor did they notice the blood—Parrish’s blood— splashed across the metal.

When he reached the top of the stairs, he drew a deep breath and smiled; the night hung heavy with panic and power, the energy filling his lungs, stoking him like coals. He could smell the magic now. He could taste it.

And he was hungry.

He’d chosen his latest shell quite well; the guards, in their commotion, let him pass. It wasn’t until he was inside, through the flower-lined antechamber and striding across the emptied ballroom, that a helmeted figure stopped him.

“Gen,” demanded the guard, “where have you …” But the words died in the guard’s throat when he saw the man’s eyes. “Mas aven—”

The oath was cut off by Gen’s sword, sliding through armor and between ribs. The guard dragged in a single, shuddering breath and tried to cry out, but the sword cut sideways and up, and the air died in his throat. Easing the body down, the thing wearing Gen’s skin resheathed his weapon and removed the guard’s helmet, sliding it over his own head. When he pulled the visor down, his black eyes were nothing but a glint through the metal slit.

Footsteps sounded through the palace, and shouted orders echoed overhead. He straightened. The air was full of blood and magic, and he went to find its source.

* * *

The stone still sang in Kell’s hand, but not quite the way it had before. Now the melody, the thrum of power, seemed to be singing in his bones instead of over them. Every moment, he felt it in his heartbeat and in his head. With it came a strange quiet, a calm, one he trusted even less than the initial surge of power. The calm told him everything would be well. It cooed and soothed and steadied his heart and made Kell forget that anything was wrong, made him forget that he was holding the stone at all. That was the worst part. It was bound to his hand, and yet it hung at the outside of his senses; he had to fight to remember it was there with him. Inside of him. Every time he remembered, it was like waking from a dream, full of panic and fear, only to be dragged down into sleep again. In those brief moments of clarity, he wanted to claw free, break or tear or cut the stone from his skin. But he didn’t, because competing with that urge to cast it off was the equal, opposite desire to hold it close, to cling to its warmth as if he were dying of cold. He needed its strength. Now more than ever.

Kell didn’t want Lila to see how scared he was, but he thought she saw it

anyway.

They had woven back toward the city center, the streets mostly deserted on this side of the river, but had yet to cross any of the bridges that arced back and forth over the Isle. It was too dangerous, too exposed. Especially since, halfway there, Kell’s face had reappeared on the scrying boards that lined the streets.

Only this time, instead of saying:

It now said:

MISSING

WANTED

For treason, murder, and abduction.

Kell’s chest tightened at the accusations, and he held fast to the fact that Rhy was safe—as safe as he could possibly be. His fingers went to the brand over his heart; if he focused, he could feel the echo of Rhy’s heartbeat, the pulse a fraction of time after his own.

He looked around, trying to picture the streets not only as they were here, but as they would be in White London, superimposing the images in his mind.

“This will have to do,” he said.

Where they stood now, at the mouth of an alley across from a string of ships—Lila had surveyed them with an appraising eye—they would stand before a bridge in the next city. A bridge that led to a street that ended at the walls of the White Castle. As they’d walked, Kell had described to Lila the dangers of the other London, from its twin rulers to its starving, power-hungry populace. And then he had described the castle and the bones of his plan, because bones were all he had right now.

Bones and hope. Hope that they would make it, that he would be able to hold on to himself long enough to beat Athos and retrieve the second half of the stone and then—

Kell closed his eyes and took a low, steadying breath. One adventure at a time. Lila’s words echoed in his mind.

“What are we waiting for?”

Lila was leaning against the wall. She tapped the bricks. “Come on, Kell. Door time.” And her casual air, her defiant energy, the way, even now, she didn’t seem concerned or afraid, only excited him, gave him strength.

The gash across his palm, though now partially obscured by the black stone, was still fresh. He touched the cut with his finger and drew a mark on the brick wall in front of them. Lila took his hand, palm to palm with the stone singing between them, and offered him the white rook, and he brought it to the blood on the wall, swallowing his nerves.

“As Travars,” he commanded, and the world softened and darkened around them as they stepped forward and through the newly hewn doorway.

Or at least, that’s how it should have happened.

But halfway through the stride, a force jarred Kell backward, tearing Lila’s hand from his as it ripped him out of the place between worlds and back onto

the hard stone street of Red London. Kell blinked up at the night, dazed, and then realized he was not alone. Someone was standing over him. At first, the figure was no more than a shadow, rolling up his sleeves. And then Kell saw the silver circle glittering at his collar.

Holland looked down at him and frowned. “Leaving so soon?”

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