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Authors: V.E. Schwab

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

A Darker Shade of Magic (8 page)

BOOK: A Darker Shade of Magic
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The thrill of the night had gone cold with the walk to the docks, excitement burned to ash, and Lila found herself slouching into a chair. It protested as much as everything else on the ship, groaning roundly as she kicked her boots up onto the desk, the worn wooden surface of which was piled with maps, most rolled, but one spread and pinned in place by stones or stolen trinkets. It was her favorite one, that map, because none of the places on it were labeled. Surely, someone knew what kind of map it was, and where it led, but Lila didn’t. To her, it was a map to anywhere.

A large slab of mirror sat propped on the desk, leaning back against the hull wall, its edges fogged and silvering. Lila found her gaze in the glass and cringed a little. She ran her fingers through her hair. It was ragged and dark and scraped against her jaw.

Lila was nineteen.

Nineteen, and every one of the years felt carved into her. She poked at the skin under her eyes, tugged at her cheeks, ran a finger along her lips. It had been a long time since anyone had called her pretty.

Not that Lila wanted to be pretty. Pretty wouldn’t serve her well. And lord knew she didn’t envy the
ladies
with their cinched corsets and abundant skirts, their falsetto laughs and the ridiculous way they used them. The way they swooned and leaned on men, feigning weakness to savor their strength.

Why anyone would ever
pretend
to be weak was beyond her.

Lila tried to picture herself as one of the ladies she’d stolen from that night—so easy to get tangled up in all that fabric, so easy to stumble and be caught—and smiled. How many ladies had flirted with
her
? Swooned and leaned and pretended to marvel at
her
strength?

She felt the weight of the night’s take in her pocket.

Enough.

It served them right, for playing weak. Maybe they wouldn’t be so quick to swoon at every top hat and take hold of every offered hand.

Lila tipped her head back against the back of the chair. She could hear Powell in his quarters, acting out his own nightly routine of drinking and cursing and muttering stories to the bowed walls of the rotting ship. Stories of lands he’d never visited. Maidens he’d never wooed. Treasures he’d never plundered. He was a liar and a drunkard and a fool—she’d seen him be all three on any given night in the Barren Tide—but he had an extra cabin and she had need of one, and they had reached an agreement. She lost a cut of every night’s take to his hospitality, and in return he forgot that he was renting the room to a wanted criminal, let alone a girl.

Powell rambled on within his room. He carried on for hours, but Lila was so used to the noise that soon it faded in with the other groans and moans and murmurings of the old
Sea King
.

Her head had just started to slump when someone knocked on her door three times. Well, someone knocked twice, but was clearly too drunk to finish the third, dragging their hand down the wood. Lila’s boots slid from the desk and landed heavily on the floor.

“What is it?” she called, getting to her feet as the door swung open. Powell stood there, swaying from drink and the gentle rock of the boat.

“Liiiila,” he sang her name. “Liiiiilaaaaaa.”

“What?”

A bottle sloshed in one hand. He held out the other, palm up. “My cut.”

Lila shoved her hand into her pocket and came out with a handful of coins. Most of them were faded, but a few bits of silver glinted in the mix, and she picked them out and dropped them into Powell’s palm. He closed his fist and jingled the money.

“It’s not enough,” he said as she returned the coppers to her pocket. She felt the silver watch in her vest, warm against her ribs, but didn’t pull it out. She wasn’t sure why. Maybe she’d taken a liking to the timepiece after all. Or maybe she was afraid that if she started offering such pricey goods, Powell would come to expect them.

“Slow night,” she said, crossing her arms. “I’ll make up the difference tomorrow.”

“You’re trouble,” slurred Powell.

“Indeed,” she said, flashing a grin. Her tone was sweet but her teeth were sharp.

“Maybe more trouble than you’re worth,” he slurred. “Certainly more than you’re worth tonight.”

“I’ll get you the rest tomorrow,” she said, hands slipping back to her side. “You’re drunk. Go to bed.” She started to turn away, but Powell caught her elbow.

“I’ll take it tonight,” he said with a sneer.

“I said I don’t—”

The bottle tumbled from Powell’s other hand as he forced her back into the desk, pinning her with his hips.

“Doesn’t have to be coin,” he whispered, dragging his eyes down her shirtfront. “Must be a girl’s body under there somewhere.” His hands began to roam, and Lila drove her knee into his stomach and sent him staggering backward.

“Shouldn’t a done that,” growled Powell, face red. His fingers fumbled with his buckle. Lila didn’t wait. She went for the pistol in the drawer, but Powell’s head snapped up and he lunged and caught her wrist, dragging her toward him. He threw her bodily back onto the cot, and she landed on the hat and the gloves and the cloak and the discarded knife.

Lila scrambled for the dagger as Powell charged forward. He grabbed her knee as her fingers wrapped around the leather sheath. He jerked her toward him as she drew the blade free, and when he caught her other hand with his, she used his grip to pull herself to her feet and drive the knife into his gut.

And just like that, all the struggle went out of the cramped little room.

Powell stared down at the blade jutting out of his front, eyes wide with surprise, and for a moment it looked like he might carry on despite it, but Lila knew how to use a knife, knew where to cut to hurt and where to cut to kill.

Powell’s grip on her tightened. And then it went slack. He swayed and frowned, and then his knees buckled.

“Shouldn’t a done that,” she echoed, pulling the knife free before he could collapse forward onto it.

Powell’s body hit the floor and stayed there. Lila stared down at it a moment, marveling at the stillness, the quiet broken only by her pulse and the hush of the water against the hull of the ship. She toed the man with her boot.

Dead.

Dead … and making a mess.

Blood was spreading across the boards, filling in the cracks and dripping through to lower parts of the ship. Lila needed to do something.
Now.

She crouched, wiped her blade on Powell’s shirt, and recovered the silver from his pocket. And then she stepped over his body, retrieved the revolver from its drawer, and got dressed. When the belt was back around her waist and the cloak around her shoulders, she took up the bottle of whiskey from the floor. It hadn’t broken when it fell. Lila pulled the cork free with her teeth and emptied the contents onto Powell, even though there was probably enough alcohol in his blood to burn without it.

She took up a candle and was about to touch it to the floor when she remembered the map. The one to anywhere. She freed it from the desk and tucked it under her cloak, and then, with a last look around the room, she set fire to the dead man and the boat.

Lila stood on the dock and watched the
Sea King
burn.

She stared up at it, face warmed by the fire that danced on her chin and cheeks the way the lamp light had before the constable.
It’s a shame
, she thought. She’d rather liked the rotting ship. But it wasn’t hers. No, hers would be much better.

The
Sea King
groaned as the flames gnawed its skin and then its bones, and Lila watched the dead ship begin to sink. She stayed until she could hear the far-off cries and the sound of boots, too late, of course, but coming all the same.

And then she sighed and went in search of another place to spend the night.

III

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.

BOOK: A Darker Shade of Magic
8.29Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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