Chapter no 9

A Darker Shade of Magic

Barron was standing on the steps of the Stone’s Throw, staring absently toward the docks when Lila strolled up, the top hat and the map both tucked under her arm. When she followed his gaze, she could see the dregs of the fire over the building tops, the smoke ghosted against the cloudy night.

Barron pretended not to notice her at first. She couldn’t blame him. The last time he’d seen her, almost a year before, he’d kicked her out for thieving— not from him, of course, from a patron—and she’d stormed off, damning him and his little tavern inn alike.

“Where you going, then?” he’d rumbled after her like thunder. It was as close as he’d ever come to shouting.

“To find an adventure,” she’d called without looking back.

Now she scuffed her boots along the street stones. He sucked on a cigar. “Back so soon?” he said without looking up. She climbed the steps, and slouched against the tavern door. “You find adventure already? Or it find you?”

Lila didn’t answer. She could hear the clink of cups inside and the chatter of drunk men getting drunker. She hated that noise, hated most taverns altogether, but not the Stone’s Throw. The others all repulsed her, repelled her, but this place dragged at her like gravity, a low and constant pull. Even when she didn’t mean to, she always seemed to end up here. How many times in the last year had her feet carried her back to these steps? How many times had she almost gone inside? Not that Barron needed to know about that. She watched him tip his head back and stare up at the sky as if he could see something there besides clouds.

“What happened to the Sea King?” he asked.

“It burned down.” A defiant flutter of pride filled her chest when his eyes widened a fraction in surprise. She liked surprising Barron. It wasn’t an easy thing to do.

“Did it now?” he asked lightly.

“You know how it is,” said Lila with a shrug. “Old wood goes up so easy.”

Barron gave her a long look, then exhaled a smoke-filled breath. “Powell should’ve been more careful with his brig.”

“Yeah,” said Lila. She fiddled with the brim of the top hat. “You smell like smoke.”

“I need to rent a room.” The words stuck in her throat.

“Funny,” said Barron, taking another puff. “I distinctly remember you suggesting that I take my tavern and all its many—albeit modest—rooms and shove each and every one of them up my—”

“Things change,” she said as she plucked the cigar from his mouth and took a drag.

He studied her in the lamplight. “You okay?”

Lila studied the smoke as it poured through her lips. “I’m always okay.” She handed back the cigar and dug the silver watch out of her vest pocket.

It was warm and smooth, and she didn’t know why she liked it so much, but she did. Maybe because it was a choice. Taking it had been a choice. Keeping it had been one, too. And maybe the choice started as a random one, but there was something to it. Maybe she’d kept it for a reason. Or maybe she’d only kept it for this. She held it out to Barron. “Will this buy me a few nights?”

The owner of the Stone’s Throw considered the watch. And then he reached out and curled Lila’s fingers over it.

“Keep it,” he said casually. “I know you’re good for the coin.”

Lila slid the trinket back into her pocket, thankful for its weight as she realized she was back to nothing. Well, almost nothing. A top hat, a map to anywhere—or nowhere—a handful of knives, a flintlock, a few coins, and a silver watch.

Barron pushed the door open, but when she turned to go inside, he barred her path. “No one here’s a mark. You got that?”

Lila nodded stiffly. “I’m not staying long,” she said. “Just till the smoke clears.”

The sound of glass breaking reached them beyond the doorway, and Barron sighed and went inside, calling over his shoulder, “Welcome back.”

Lila sighed and looked up, not at the sky but at the upper windows of the dingy little tavern. It was hardly a pirate ship, a place for freedom and adventure.

Just till the smoke clears, she echoed to herself.

Maybe it wasn’t so bad. After all, she hadn’t come back to the Stone’s Throw with her tail tucked between her legs. She was in hiding. A wanted man. She smiled at the irony of the term.

A piece of paper flapped on a post beside the door. It was the same notice the constable had showed her, and she smiled at the figure in the broad-

brimmed hat and mask staring out at her beneath the word WANTED. The Shadow Thief, they called her. They’d drawn her even taller and thinner than she actually was, stretched her into a wraith, black-clad and fearsome. The stuff of fairy tales. And legends.

Lila winked at the shadow before going in.

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