Kell opened his eyes and saw stars.
They floated high above the castle walls, nothing but pricks of pale white light in the distance.
The stone slipped from his fingers, hitting the ground with a dull clink. There was nothing to it now, no hum, no urge, no promise. It was just a piece of rock.
Lila was saying something, and for once she didn’t sound angry, not as angry as usual, but he couldn’t hear her over the pounding of his heart as he brought one shaking hand to the collar of his shirt. He didn’t really want to see. Didn’t want to know. But he tugged his collar down anyway and looked at the skin over his heart, the place where the seal had bonded Rhy’s life to his own.
The black tracery of the magic was gone.
But the scar of it wasn’t. The seal itself was still intact. Which meant it hadn’t only been tethered to Vitari. It had been tethered to him.
Kell let out a small sobbing sound of relief.
And finally, the world around him came back into focus. The cold stone of the courtyard and Athos’s corpse and the shards of Astrid, and Lila, with her arms flung around his shoulders for an instant—and only an instant, gone before he could appreciate their presence.
“Miss me?” whispered Kell, his throat raw.
“Sure,” she said, her eyes red. She toed the talisman with her boot. “Is it dead?” she asked.
Kell picked up the stone, feeling nothing but its weight.
“You can’t kill magic,” said Kell, getting slowly to his feet. “Only dispel it.
But it’s gone.”
Lila chewed her lip. “Do you still have to send it back?”
Kell considered the hollow rock and nodded slowly. “To be safe,” he said. But maybe, now that he was finally free of its grip, he didn’t have to be the one to go with it. Kell scanned the courtyard until he saw Holland’s body. In the fight the Antari had fallen from the stone bench, and now lay stretched on
the ground, his blood-soaked cloak the only sign that Holland wasn’t merely sleeping.
Kell got to his feet, every inch of him protesting, and went to Holland’s side. He knelt and took one of the Antari’s hands in his. Holland’s skin was going cold, the pulse at his wrist weak, and getting weaker, his heart dragging itself through the final beats. But he was still alive.
It’s really quite hard to kill Antari, he had once said. It appeared he was right.
Kell felt Lila hovering behind him. He didn’t know if this would work, if one Antari could command for another, but he pressed his fingers to the wound at Holland’s chest and drew a single line on the ground beside his body. And then he touched the hollow stone to the blood and set it on the line, bringing Holland’s hand to rest on top of it.
“Peace,” he said softly, a parting word for a broken man. And then he pressed his hand on top of Holland’s and said, “As Travars.”
The ground beneath the Antari gave way, bending into shadow. Kell pulled back as the darkness, and whatever lay beyond, swallowed Holland’s body and the stone, leaving only blood-streaked ground behind.
Kell stared at the stained earth, unwilling to believe that it had actually worked. That he had been spared. That he was alive. That he could go home.
He swayed on his feet, and Lila caught him. “Stay with me,” she said.
Kell nodded, dizzy. The stone had masked the pain, but in its absence, his vision blurred with it. Rhy’s wounds layered on top of his own, and when he tried to bite back a groan, he tasted blood.
“We have to go,” said Kell. Now that the city was absent a ruler—or two— the fighting would start again. Someone would claw their bloody way to the throne. They always did.
“Let’s get you home,” said Lila. Relief poured over him in a wave before the hard reality caught up.
“Lila,” he said, stiffening. “I don’t know if I can take you with me.” The stone had guaranteed her passage through the worlds, made a door for her where none should be. Without it, the chances of the world allowing her through …
Lila seemed to understand. She looked around and wrapped her arms around herself. She was bruised and bleeding. How long would she last here alone? Then again, it was Lila. She’d probably survive anything.
“Well,” she said. “We can try.” Kell swallowed.
“What’s the worst that could happen?” she added as they made their way to the courtyard wall. “I get pulled into a hundred little pieces between worlds?” She said it with a wry smile, but he could see the fear in her eyes. “I’m prepared to stay. But I want to try and leave.”
“If it doesn’t work—”
“Then I’ll find my way,” said Lila.
Kell nodded and led her to the courtyard wall. He made a mark on the pale stones and dug the Red London coin from his pocket. And then he pulled Lila close, wrapped his broken body around hers, and tipped his forehead against hers.
“Hey, Lila,” he said softly into the space between them. “Yeah?”
He pressed his mouth to hers for one brief moment, the warmth there and then gone. She frowned up at him, but did not pull away.
“What was that for?” she asked.
“For luck,” he said. “Not that you need it.”
And then he pressed his hand against the wall and thought of home.