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Authors: V.E. Schwab

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

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BOOK: A Darker Shade of Magic
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“Do you know what Black London and yours have in common, Your Highness?” The Prince Regent’s eyes narrowed, but he didn’t interrupt. “Both lack temperance,” said Kell. “Both hunger for power. The only reason your London still exists is because it was cut off. It learned to forget. You do not want it to remember.” What Kell didn’t say was that Black London had a wealth of magic in its veins, and Grey London hardly any; he wanted to make a point. And by the looks of it, he had. This time, when he held out his hand for the letter, the prince didn’t refuse, or even resist. Kell tucked the parchment into his pocket along with the stolen quill.

“Thank you, as ever, for your hospitality,” he said, offering an exaggerated bow.

The Prince Regent summoned a guard with a single snap of his fingers. “See that Master Kell gets where he is going.” And then, without another word, he turned and strode away.

The royal guards left Kell at the edge of the park. St. James Palace loomed behind him. Grey London lay ahead. He took a deep breath and tasted smoke on the air. As eager as he was to get back home, he had some business to attend to, and after dealing with the king’s ailments and the prince’s attitude, Kell could use a drink. He brushed off his sleeves, straightened his collar, and set out toward the heart of the city.

His feet carried him through St. James Park, down an ambling dirt path that ran beside the river. The sun was setting, and the air was crisp if not clean, a fall breeze fluttering the edges of his black coat. He came upon a wooden footbridge that spanned the stream, and his boots sounded softly as he crossed it. Kell paused at the arc of the bridge, Buckingham House lantern-lit behind him and the Thames ahead. Water sloshed gently under the wooden slats, and he rested his elbows on the rail and stared down at it. When he flexed his fingers absently, the current stopped, the water stilling, smooth as glass, beneath him.

He considered his reflection.

“You’re not
that
handsome,” Rhy would say whenever he caught Kell gazing into a mirror.

“I can’t get enough of myself,” Kell would answer, even though he was never looking at himself—not
all
of himself anyway—only his eye. His right one. Even in Red London, where magic flourished, the eye set him apart. Marked him always as
other
.

A tinkling laugh sounded off to Kell’s right, followed by a grunt, and a few other, less distinct noises, and the tension went out of his hand, the stream surging back into motion beneath him. He continued on until the park gave way to the streets of London, and then the looming form of Westminster. Kell had a fondness for the abbey, and he nodded to it, as if to an old friend. Despite the city’s soot and dirt, its clutter and its poor, it had something Red London lacked: a resistance to change. An appreciation for the enduring, and the effort it took to make something so.

How many years had it taken to construct the abbey? How many more would it stand? In Red London, tastes turned as often as seasons, and with them, buildings went up and came down and went up again in different forms. Magic made things simple.
Sometimes
, thought Kell,
it made things
too
simple.

There had been nights back home when he felt like he went to bed in one place and woke up in another.

But here, Westminster Abbey always stood, waiting to greet him.

He made his way past the towering stone structure, through the streets, crowded with carriages, and down a narrow road that hugged the dean’s yard, walled by mossy stone. The narrow road grew narrower still before it finally stopped in front of a tavern.

And here Kell stopped, too, and shrugged out of his coat. He turned it once more from right to left, exchanging the black affair with silver buttons for a more modest, street-worn look: a brown high-collared jacket with fraying hems and scuffed elbows. He patted the pockets and, satisfied that he was ready, went inside.

III

The Stone’s Throw was an odd little tavern.

Its walls were dingy and its floors were stained, and Kell knew for a fact that its owner, Barron, watered down the drinks, but despite it all, he kept coming back.

It fascinated him, this place, because despite its grungy appearance and grungier customers, the fact was that, by luck or design, the Stone’s Throw was
always there
. The name changed, of course, and so did the drinks it served, but at this very spot in Grey, Red, and White London alike, stood a tavern. It wasn’t a
source
, per se, not like the Thames, or Stonehenge, or the dozens of lesser-known beacons of magic in the world, but it was
something
. A phenomenon. A fixed point.

And since Kell conducted his affairs in the tavern (whether the sign read the Stone’s Throw, or the Setting Sun, or the Scorched Bone), it made Kell himself a kind of fixed point, too.

Few people would appreciate the poetry. Holland might. If Holland appreciated anything.

But poetry aside, the tavern was a perfect place to do business. Grey London’s rare believers—those whimsical few who clung to the idea of magic, who caught hold of a whisper or a whiff—gravitated here, drawn by the sense of something else, something more. Kell was drawn to it, too. The difference was that
he
knew what was tugging at them.

Of course, the magically inclined patrons of the Stone’s Throw weren’t drawn only by the subtle, bone-deep pull of power, or the promise of something different, something more. They were also drawn by
him
. Or at least, the rumor of him. Word of mouth was its own kind of magic, and here, in the Stone’s Throw, word of
the magician
passed men’s lips as often as the diluted ale.

He studied the amber liquid in his own cup.

“Evening, Kell,” said Barron, pausing to top off his drink.

“Evening, Barron,” said Kell.

It was as much as they ever said to each other.

The owner of the Stone’s Throw was built like a brick wall—if a brick wall decided to grow a beard—tall and wide and impressively steady. No doubt Barron had seen his share of strange, but it never seemed to faze him.

Or if it did, he knew how to keep it to himself.

A clock on the wall behind the counter struck seven, and Kell pulled a trinket from his now-worn brown coat. It was a wooden box, roughly the size of his palm and fastened with a simple metal clasp. When he undid the clasp and slid the lid off with his thumb, the box unfolded into a game board with five grooves, each of which held an element.

In the first groove, a lump of earth.

In the second, a spoon’s worth of water.

In the third, in place of air, sat a thimble of loose sand.

In the fourth, a drop of oil, highly flammable.

And in the fifth, final groove, a bit of bone.

Back in Kell’s world, the box and its contents served not only as a toy, but as a test, a way for children to discover which elements they were drawn to, and which were drawn to them. Most quickly outgrew the game, moving on to either spellwork or larger, more complicated versions as they honed their skills. Because of both its prevalence and its limitations, the element set could be found in almost every household in Red London, and most likely in the villages beyond, (though Kell could not be certain). But here, in a city without magic, it was truly rare, and Kell was certain his client would approve. After all, the man was a Collector.

In Grey London, only two kinds of people came to find Kell.

Collectors and Enthusiasts.

Collectors were wealthy and bored and usually had no interest in magic itself—they wouldn’t know the difference between a healing rune and a binding spell—and Kell enjoyed their patronage immensely.

Enthusiasts were more troublesome. They fancied themselves true magicians, and wanted to purchase trinkets, not for the sake of owning them or for the luxury of putting them on display, but for
use
. Kell did not like Enthusiasts—in part because he found their aspirations wasted, and in part because serving them felt so much closer to treason—which is why, when a young man came to sit beside him, and Kell looked up, expecting his Collector client and finding instead an unknown Enthusiast, his mood soured considerably.

“Seat taken?” asked the Enthusiast, even though he was already sitting.

“Go away,” said Kell evenly.

But the Enthusiast did not leave.

Kell knew the man was an Enthusiast—he was gangly and awkward, his jacket a fraction too short for his build, and when he brought his long arms to rest on the counter and the fabric inched up, Kell could make out the end of a tattoo. A poorly drawn power rune meant to bind magic to one’s body.

“Is it true?” the Enthusiast persisted. “What they say?”

“Depends on who’s talking,” said Kell, closing the box, sliding the lid and clasp back into place, “and what’s being said.” He had done this dance a hundred times. Out of the corner of his blue eye he watched the man’s lips choreograph his next move. If he’d been a Collector, Kell might have cut him some slack, but men who waded into waters claiming they could swim should not need a raft.

“That you bring
things
,” said the Enthusiast, eyes darting around the tavern. “
Things
from other places.”

Kell took a sip of his drink, and the Enthusiast took his silence for assent.

“I suppose I should introduce myself,” the man went on. “Edward Archibald Tuttle, the third. But I go by Ned.” Kell raised a brow. The young Enthusiast was obviously waiting for him to respond with an introduction of his own, but as the man clearly already had a notion of who he was, Kell bypassed the formalities and said, “What do you want?”

Edward Archibald—
Ned
—twisted in his seat, and leaned in conspiratorially. “I’m looking for a bit of earth.”

Kell tipped his glass toward the door. “Check the park.”

The young man managed a low, uncomfortable laugh. Kell finished his drink.
A bit of earth.
It seemed like a small request. It wasn’t. Most Enthusiasts knew that their own world held little power, but many believed that possessing a piece of
another
world would allow them to tap into its magic.

And there was a time when they would have been right. A time when the doors stood open at the sources, and power flowed between the worlds, and anyone with a bit of magic in their veins and a token from another world could not only tap into that power, but could also move with it, step from one London to another.

But that time was gone.

The doors were gone. Destroyed centuries ago, after Black London fell and took the rest of its world with it, leaving nothing but stories in its wake. Now only the
Antari
possessed enough power to make new doors, and even then only they could pass through them.
Antari
had always been rare, but none knew
how
rare until the doors were closed, and their numbers began to wane. The source of
Antari
power had always been a mystery (it followed no bloodline) but one thing was certain: the longer the worlds were kept apart, the fewer
Antari
emerged.

Now, Kell and Holland seemed to be the last of a rapidly dying breed.

“Well?” pressed Ned. “Will you bring me the earth or not?”

Kell’s eyes went to the tattoo on the Enthusiast’s wrist. What so many Grey-worlders didn’t seem to grasp was that a spell was only as strong as the person casting it. How strong was this one?

A smiled tugged at the corner of Kell’s lips as he nudged the game box in the man’s direction. “Know what that is?”

Ned lifted the child’s game gingerly, as if it might burst into flames at any moment (Kell briefly considered igniting it, but restrained himself). He fiddled with the box until his fingers found the clasp and the board fell open on the counter. The elements glittered in the flickering pub light.

“Tell you what,” said Kell. “Choose one element. Move it from its notch—without touching it, of course—and I’ll bring you your dirt.”

Ned’s brow furrowed. He considered the options, then jabbed a finger at the water. “That one.”

At least he wasn’t fool enough to try for the bone
, thought Kell. Air, earth, and water were the easiest to will—even Rhy, who showed no affinity whatsoever, could manage to rouse those. Fire was a bit trickier, but by far, the hardest piece to move was the bit of bone. And for good reason. Those who could move bones could move bodies. It was strong magic, even in Red London.

BOOK: A Darker Shade of Magic
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