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Authors: V.E. Schwab

Tags: #Fiction, #Mystery & Detective, #General, #Fantasy

A Darker Shade of Magic

BOOK: A Darker Shade of Magic
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Contents

Cover

Also by V.E. Schwab

Title Page

Copyright

Dedication

Epigraph

I: The Traveler

I

II

III

II: Red Royal

I

II

III

III: Grey Thief

I

II

III

IV: White Throne

I

II

III

IV

V

V: Black Stone

I

II

III

IV

V

VI: Thieves Meet

I

II

III

IV

VII: The Follower

I

II

III

VIII: An Arrangement

I

II

III

IX: Festival & Fire

I

II

III

IV

X: One White Rook

I

II

III

IV

V

VI

XI: Masquerade

I

II

III

IV

V

XII: Sanctuary & Sacrifice

I

II

III

IV

V

VI

XIII: The Waiting King

I

II

III

IV

V

VI

XIV: The Final Door

I

II

III

IV

Acknowledgments

About the Author

Also Available from Titan Books

Also by V.E. SCHWAB and available from TITAN BOOKS

Vicious

A DARKER SHADE OF MAGIC

Print edition ISBN: 9781783295401

E-book edition ISBN: 9781783295418

Published by Titan Books

A division of Titan Publishing Group Ltd

144 Southwark Street, London SE1 0UP

First Titan edition: February 2015

10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1

Names, places and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead (except for satirical purposes), is entirely coincidental.

V.E Schwab asserts the moral right to be identified as the author of this work.

Copyright © 2015 V.E Schwab.

No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.

A CIP catalogue record for this title is available from the British Library.

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For the ones who dream of stranger worlds

Such is the quandary when it comes to magic, that it is not an issue of strength but of balance. For too little power, and we become weak. Too much, and we become something else entirely.

TIEREN SERENSE,
head priest of the London Sanctuary

I
THE TRAVELER
I

Kell wore a very peculiar coat.

It had neither one side, which would be conventional, nor two, which would be unexpected, but
several
, which was, of course, impossible.

The first thing he did whenever he stepped out of one London and into another was take off the coat and turn it inside out once or twice (or even three times) until he found the side he needed. Not
all
of them were fashionable, but they each served a purpose. There were ones that blended in and ones that stood out, and one that served no purpose but of which he was just particularly fond.

So when Kell passed through the palace wall and into the anteroom, he took a moment to steady himself—it took its toll, moving between worlds—and then shrugged out of his red, high-collared coat and turned it inside out from right to left so that it became a simple black jacket. Well, a simple black jacket elegantly lined with silver thread and adorned with two gleaming columns of silver buttons. Just because he adopted a more modest palette when he was abroad (wishing neither to offend the local royalty nor to draw attention) didn’t mean he had to sacrifice style.

Oh, kings
, thought Kell as he fastened the buttons on the coat. He was starting to think like Rhy.

On the wall behind him, he could just make out the ghosted symbol made by his passage. Like a footprint in sand, already fading.

He’d never bothered to mark the door from
this
side, simply because he never went back this way. Windsor’s distance from London was terribly inconvenient considering the fact that, when traveling between worlds, Kell could only move between a place in one and the same
exact
place in another. Which was a problem because there was no Windsor Castle a day’s journey from
Red
London. In fact, Kell had just come through the stone wall of a courtyard belonging to a wealthy gentleman in a town called Disan. Disan was, on the whole, a very pleasant place.

Windsor was not.

Impressive, to be sure. But not pleasant.

A marble counter ran against the wall, and on it a basin of water waited for him, as it always did. He rinsed his bloody hand, as well as the silver crown he’d used for passage, then slipped the cord it hung on over his head, and tucked the coin back beneath his collar. In the hall beyond, he could hear the shuffle of feet, the low murmur of servants and guards. He’d chosen the anteroom specifically to avoid them. He knew very well how little the Prince Regent liked him being here, and the last thing Kell wanted was an audience, a cluster of ears and eyes and mouths reporting the details of his visit back to the throne.

Above the counter and the basin hung a mirror in a gilded frame, and Kell checked his reflection quickly—his hair, a reddish brown, swept down across one eye, and he did not fix it, though he did take a moment to smooth the shoulders of his coat—before passing through a set of doors to meet his host.

The room was stiflingly warm—the windows latched despite what looked like a lovely October day—and a fire raged oppressively in the hearth.

George III sat beside it, a robe dwarfing his withered frame and a tea tray untouched before his knees. When Kell came in, the king gripped the edges of his chair.

“Who’s there?” he called out without turning. “Robbers? Ghosts?”

“I don’t believe ghosts would answer, Your Majesty,” said Kell, announcing himself.

The ailing king broke into a rotting grin. “Master Kell,” he said. “You’ve kept me waiting.”

“No more than a month,” he said, stepping forward.

King George squinted his blind eyes. “It’s been longer, I’m sure.”

“I promise, it hasn’t.”

“Maybe not for
you
,” said the king. “But time isn’t the same for the mad and the blind.”

Kell smiled. The king was in good form today. It wasn’t always so. He was never sure what state he’d find his majesty in. Perhaps it had seemed like more than a month because the last time Kell visited, the king had been in one of his moods, and Kell had barely been able to calm his fraying nerves long enough to deliver his message.

“Maybe it’s the year that has changed,” continued the king, “and not the month.”

“Ah, but the year is the same.”

“And what year is that?”

Kell’s brow furrowed. “Eighteen nineteen,” he said.

A cloud passed across King George’s face, and then he simply shook his head and said, “Time,” as if that one word could be to blame for everything. “Sit, sit,” he added, gesturing at the room. “There must be another chair here somewhere.”

There wasn’t. The room was shockingly sparse, and Kell was certain the doors in the hall were locked and unlocked from without, not within.

The king held out a gnarled hand. They’d taken away his rings, to keep him from hurting himself, and his nails were cut to nothing.

“My letter,” he said, and for an instant Kell saw a glimmer of George as he once was. Regal.

Kell patted the pockets of his coat and realized he’d forgotten to take the notes out before changing. He shrugged out of the jacket and returned it for a moment to its red self, digging through its folds until he found the envelope. When he pressed it into the king’s hand, the latter fondled it and caressed the wax seal—the red throne’s emblem, a chalice with a rising sun—then brought the paper to his nose and inhaled.

“Roses,” he said wistfully.

He meant the magic. Kell never noticed the faint aromatic scent of Red London clinging to his clothes, but whenever he traveled, someone invariably told him that he smelled like freshly cut flowers. Some said tulips. Others stargazers. Chrysanthemums. Peonies. To the king of England, it was always roses. Kell was glad to know it was a pleasant scent, even if he couldn’t smell it. He could smell Grey London (smoke) and White London (blood), but to him, Red London simply smelled like home.

“Open it for me,” instructed the king. “But don’t mar the seal.”

Kell did as he was told, and withdrew the contents. For once, he was grateful the king could no longer see, so he could not know how brief the letter was. Three short lines. A courtesy paid to an ailing figurehead, but nothing more.

“It’s from my queen,” explained Kell.

The king nodded. “Go on,” he commanded, affecting a stately countenance that warred with his fragile form and his faltering voice.
“Go on.”

Kell swallowed. “‘Greetings to his majesty, King George III,’” he read, “‘from a neighboring throne.’”

The queen did not refer to it as the
red
throne, or send greetings from
Red
London (even though the city was in fact quite crimson, thanks to the rich, pervasive light of the river), because she did not think of it that way. To her, and to everyone else who inhabited only one London, there was little need to differentiate among them. When the rulers of one conversed with those of another, they simply called them
others
, or
neighbors
, or on occasion (and particularly in regard to White London) less flattering terms.

Only those few who could move among the Londons needed a way to keep them straight. And so Kell—inspired by the lost city known to all as Black London—had given each remaining capital a color.

Grey for the magic-less city.

Red, for the healthy empire.

White, for the starving world.

BOOK: A Darker Shade of Magic
7.83Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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