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Authors: V.E. Schwab

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

A Darker Shade of Magic (5 page)

BOOK: A Darker Shade of Magic
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Some of the guards called him Hollow behind his back, but Parrish never dared.

“What?” Gen would tease. “Not like he can hear you through the wall between worlds.”

“You don’t know,” Parrish would whisper back. “Maybe he can.”

And now Holland was in Rhy’s room. Was he supposed to be there? Who had let him in?

Where
was
Gen?
wondered Parrish as he took up his spot in front of the door. He didn’t mean to eavesdrop, but there was a narrow gap between the left side of the door and the right, and when he turned his head slightly, the conversation reached him through the crack.

“Pardon my intrusion,” came Holland’s voice, steady and low.

“It’s none at all,” answered Rhy casually. “But what business brings you to me instead of to my father?”

“I have been to your father for business already,” said Holland. “I come to you for something else.”

Parrish’s cheeks reddened at the seductiveness in Holland’s tone. Perhaps it would be better to abandon his post than listen in, but he held his ground, and heard Rhy slump back onto a cushioned seat.

“And what’s that?” asked the prince, mirroring the flirtation.

“It is nearly your birthday, is it not?”

“It is nearly,” answered Rhy. “You should attend the celebrations, if your king and queen will spare you.”

“They will not, I fear,” replied Holland. “But my king and queen are the reason I’ve come. They’ve bid me deliver a gift.”

Parrish could hear Rhy hesitate. “Holland,” he said, the sound of cushions shifting as he sat forward, “you know the laws. I cannot take—”

“I know the laws, young prince,” soothed Holland. “As to the gift, I picked it out here, in your own city, on my masters’ behalf.”

There was a long pause, followed by the sound of Rhy standing. “Very well,” he said.

Parrish heard the shuffle of a parcel being passed and opened.

“What is it for?” asked the prince after another stretch of quiet.

Holland made a sound, something between a smile and a laugh, neither of which Parrish had borne witness to before. “For strength,” he said.

Rhy began to say something else, but at the same instant, a set of clocks went off through the palace, marking the hour and masking whatever else was said between the
Antari
and the prince. The bells were still echoing through the hall when the door opened and Holland stepped out, his two-toned eyes landing instantly on Parrish.

Holland guided the door shut and considered the royal guard with a resigned sigh. He ran a hand through his charcoal hair.

“Send away one guard,” he said, half to himself, “and another takes his place.”

Before Parrish could think of a response, the
Antari
dug a coin from his pocket and flicked it into the air toward him.

“I wasn’t here,” said Holland as the coin rose and fell. And by the time it hit Parrish’s palm, he was alone in the hall, staring down at the disk, wondering how it got there, and certain he was forgetting something. He clutched the coin as if he could catch the slipping memory, and hold on.

But it was already gone.

II

Even at night, the river shone red.

As Kell stepped from the bank of one London onto the bank of another, the black slick of the Thames was replaced by the warm, steady glow of the Isle. It glittered like a jewel, lit from within, a ribbon of constant light unraveling through Red London. A source.

A vein of power. An artery.

Some thought magic came from the mind, others the soul, or the heart, or the will.

But Kell knew it came from the blood.

Blood was magic made manifest. There it thrived. And there it poisoned. Kell had seen what happened when power warred with the body, watched it darken in the veins of corrupted men, turning their blood from crimson to black. If red was the color of magic in balance—of harmony between power and humanity—then black was the color of magic without balance, without order, without restraint.

As an
Antari
, Kell was made of both, balance and chaos; the blood in his veins, like the Isle of Red London, ran a shimmering, healthy crimson, while his right eye was the color of spilled ink, a glistening black.

He wanted to believe that his strength came from his blood alone, but he could not ignore the signature of dark magic that marred his face. It gazed back at him from every looking glass and every pair of ordinary eyes as they widened in awe or fear. It hummed in his skull whenever he summoned power.

But his blood never darkened. It ran true and red. Just as the Isle did.

Arcing over the river, in a bridge of glass and bronze and stone, stretched the royal palace. It was known as the Soner Rast. The “Beating Heart” of the city. Its curved spires glittered like beads of light.

People flocked to the river palace day and night, some to bring cases to the king or queen, but many simply to be near the Isle that ran beneath. Scholars came to the river’s edge to study the source, and magicians came hoping to tap into its strength, while visitors from the Arnesian countryside only wanted to gaze upon the palace and river alike, and to lay flowers—from lilies to shooting stars, azaleas to moondrops—all along the bank.

Kell lingered in the shadow of a shop across the road from the riverside and looked up at the palace, like a sun caught in constant rise over the city, and for a moment, he saw it the way visitors must. With wonder.

And then a flicker of pain ran through his arm, and he came back to his senses. He winced, slipped the traveling coin back around his neck, and made his way toward the Isle, the banks of the river teeming with life.

The Night Market was in full swing.

Vendors in colored tents sold wares by the light of river and lantern and moon, some food and others trinkets, the magic and mundane alike, to locals and to pilgrims. A young woman held a bushel of starflowers for visitors to set on the palace steps. An old man displayed dozens of necklaces on a raised arm, each adorned with a burnished pebble, tokens said to amplify control over an element.

The subtle scent of flowers was lost beneath the aroma of cooking meat and freshly cut fruit, heavy spices and mulled wine. A man in dark robes offered candied plums beside a woman selling scrying stones. A vendor poured steaming tea into short glass goblets across from another vibrant stall displaying masks and a third offering tiny vials of water drawn from the Isle, the contents still glowing faintly with its light. Every night of the year, the market lived and breathed and thrived. The stalls were always changing, but the energy remained, as much a part of the city as the river it fed on. Kell traced the edge of the bank, weaving through the evening fair, savoring the taste and smell of the air, the sound of laughter and music, the thrum of magic.

A street mage was doing fire tricks for a cluster of children, and when the flames burst up from his cupped hands into the shape of a dragon, a small boy stumbled back in surprise and fell right into Kell’s path. He caught the boy’s sleeve before he hit the street stones, and hoisted him to his feet.

The boy was halfway through mumbling a
thankyousirsorry
when he looked up and caught sight of Kell’s black eye beneath his hair, and the boy’s own eyes—both light brown—went wide.

“Mathieu,” scolded a woman as the boy tore free of Kell’s hand and fled behind her cloak.

“Sorry, sir,” she said in Arnesian, shaking her head. “I don’t know what’s gotten—”

And then she saw Kell’s face, and the words died. She had the decency not to turn and flee like her son, but what she did was much worse. The woman bowed in the street so deeply that Kell thought she would fall over.


Aven
, Kell,” she said, breathless.

His stomach twisted, and he reached for her arm, hoping to make her straighten before anyone else could see the gesture, but he was only halfway to her, and already too late.

“He was … not l-looking,” she stammered, struggling to find the words in English, the royal tongue. It only made Kell cringe more.

“It was my fault,” he said gently in Arnesian, taking her elbow and urging her up out of the bow.

“He just … he just … he did not recognize you,” she said, clearly grateful to be speaking the common tongue. “Dressed as you are.”

Kell looked down at himself. He was still wearing the brown and fraying coat from the Stone’s Throw, as opposed to his uniform. He hadn’t forgotten; he’d simply wanted to enjoy the fair, just for a few minutes, as one of the pilgrims or locals. But the ruse was at an end. He could feel the news ripple through the crowd, the mood shifting like a tide as the patrons of the Night Market realized who was among them.

By the time he let go of the woman’s arm, the crowd was parting for him, the laughter and shouting reduced to reverent whispers. Rhy knew how to deal with these moments, how to twist them, how to own them.

Kell wanted only to disappear.

He tried to smile, but knew it must look like a grimace, so he bid the woman and her son good night, and made his way quickly down the river’s edge, the murmurings of the vendors and patrons trailing him as he went. He didn’t look back, but the voices followed all the way to the flower-strewn steps of the royal palace.

The guards did not move from their posts, acknowledging him with only a slight tilt of their heads as he ascended the stairs. He was grateful that most of them did not bow—only Rhy’s guard Parrish seemed unable to resist, but at least he had the decency to be discreet. As Kell climbed the steps, he shrugged off his coat and turned it inside out from right to left. When he slid his arms into the sleeves again, they were no longer tattered and soot-stained. Instead, they were lovely, polished, the same shimmering red as the Isle running beneath the palace.

A red reserved for royalty.

Kell paused at the top step, fastened the gleaming gold buttons, and went in.

III

He found them in the courtyard, taking a late tea under the cloudless night and the fall canopy of trees.

The king and queen were sitting at a table, while Rhy was stretched on a sofa, rambling on again about his birthday and the slew of festivities intended to surround it.

BOOK: A Darker Shade of Magic
3.38Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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