Chapter no 49

A Darker Shade of Magic

The first thing Kell saw when he stepped into White London was Lila brandishing two knives, both of them bloody. She’d managed to cut a path through several men—their bodies littered the street—but four or five were circling her, and more hung back and watched with hungry eyes and whispered in their guttural tongue.

“Pretty red blood.” “Smells like magic.” “Open her up.” “See what’s inside.”

Kell lowered Holland’s body to the ground, and stepped forward.

“Vös rensk torejk!” he boomed, rumbling the ground for good measure.

Back away from her.

A ripple went through the crowd when they saw him—some fled, but others, too curious, took only a step or two back. The moment Lila saw him, her eyes narrowed.

“You are very, very late,” she growled. Her usual calm had cracked, and underneath she looked tense with fear. “And why are you wet?” Kell looked down at his dripping clothes. He ran his hands along them, willing the water out, and a moment later, he stood, dry except for the puddle at his boots.

“I hit a snag,” he said, gesturing back toward Holland. But several dark-eyed citizens were already beginning to investigate the body. One pulled out a knife and pressed it to the dying Antari’s wrist.

“Stop,” ordered Kell, slamming the assailants backward with a gust of wind. He hauled the Antari up over his shoulder.

“Leave him,” spat Lila. “Let them pick his bones clean.” But Kell shook his head.

“If you don’t,” she said. “They’ll pick ours.

Kell turned and saw the men and women closing in around them.

The people of White London knew the orders, knew the Danes would take the head of any who touched their guest from afar, but it was night, and the lure of fresh magic and Holland’s defenseless state—“Let me make a crown

from him,” murmured one; “I bet there’s still blood left,” said another— seemed to tip them off their senses. Lila and Kell moved backward until their heels met the bridge.

“Lila?” said Kell as they backed onto it. “Yeah?” she said, her voice low and tight. “Run.”

She didn’t hesitate, but turned and took off sprinting across the bridge. Kell’s hand shot up, and with it, a wall of stone, a barricade to buy them time. And then he, too, was running. As fast as he could, with Holland’s body over his narrow shoulder and the black magic surging in his veins.

Kell was halfway across the bridge—and Lila nearly to the other side— when the commoners finally tore down the wall and surged after them onto the structure. The moment he reached the opposite bank, Kell sank to the ground and touched his bloody hand to the floor of the bridge.

“As Steno,” he commanded, just as Holland had, and instantly, the bridge began to crumble, plunging stone and bodies down into the icy Sijlt. Kell fought for breath, his pulse thudding his ears. Lila was standing over him, glaring at Holland’s body.

“Is he dead?”

“Close enough,” said Kell, getting to his feet, hauling the Antari’s body with him.

“I hope you made him suffer,” she spat, turning toward the looming castle.

No, thought Kell as they set off. He suffered long enough.

He could feel the people watching as they moved through the streets, but no one came out of their houses. They were too near the castle now, and the castle had eyes. Soon, it loomed before them, the stone citadel behind its high wall, the archway like a gaping mouth, leading onto the darkened courtyard and its statues.

The stone hummed against Kell’s palm, and he realized it wasn’t calling only to him now. It was calling to its other half. Beside him, Lila drew yet another blade from beneath her coat. But this one wasn’t an ordinary knife. It was a royal half-sword from Red London.

Kell’s mouth fell open. “Where did you get that?” he asked.

“Nicked it off the guard who tried to kill me,” she said, admiring the weapon. He could see the markings scrawled across the blade. Metal that disabled magic. “Like I said, you can never have too many knives.”

Kell held out his hand. “Can you spare it?”

Lila considered him a moment, then shrugged and handed it over. Kell fingered the grip as she drew out her pistol and began to reload it.

“Are you ready?” she asked, spinning the chamber.

Kell gazed through the gate at the waiting castle. “No.”

At that, she offered him the sharpest edge of a grin. “Good,” she said. “The ones who think they’re ready always end up dead.”

Kell managed a ghost of a smile. “Thank you, Lila.” “For what?”

But Kell didn’t answer, only stepped forward into the waiting dark.

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