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Authors: V.E. Schwab

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

A Darker Shade of Magic (9 page)

BOOK: A Darker Shade of Magic
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Lila winked at the shadow before going in.

IV
WHITE THRONE
I

“Perhaps it should be a masquerade instead.”

“Focus.”

“Or maybe a costume ball. Something with a bit of flare.”

“Come on, Rhy. Pay attention.”

The prince sat in a high-backed chair, gold-buckled boots kicked up on the table, rolling a glass ball between his hands. The orb was part of a larger, more intricate version of the game Kell had pawned off in the Stone’s Throw. In place of pebbles or puddles or piles of sand nesting on the little board, there were five glass balls, each containing an element. Four still sat in the dark wood chest on the table, its inside lined with silk and its edges capped in gold. The one in Rhy’s hands held a handful of earth, and it tipped side to side with the motion of his fingers. “Costumes with layers, ones that can be taken off …” he went on.

Kell sighed.

“We can all start the night in full-dress and end in—”

“You’re not even trying.”

Rhy groaned. His boots hit the floor with a thud as he straightened and held the glass ball up between them. “Fine,” he said. “Observe my magical prowess.” Rhy squinted at the dirt trapped inside the glass and, attempting to focus, spoke to the earth under his breath in low murmuring English. But the earth did not move. Kell watched a crease appear between Rhy’s eyes as he focused and whispered and waited and grew increasingly irritated. At last, the dirt shifted (albeit half-heartedly) within the glass.

“I did it!” exclaimed Rhy.

“You shook it,” said Kell.

“I wouldn’t dare!”

“Try again.”

Rhy made a sound of dismay as he slumped in his chair. “Sanct, Kell. What’s wrong with me?”

“Nothing is wrong,” insisted Kell.

“I speak eleven languages,” said Rhy. “Some for countries I have never seen, nor am likely to set foot in, yet I cannot coax a clod of dirt to move, or a drop of water to rise from its pool.” His temper flared. “It’s maddening!” he growled. “Why is the language of magic so hard for my tongue to master?”

“Because you cannot win the elements over with your charm or your smile or your status,” said Kell.

“They disrespect me,” said Rhy with a dry smile.

“The earth beneath your feet does not care you will be king. Nor the water in your cup. Nor the air you breathe. You must speak to them as equal, or even better, as supplicant.”

Rhy sighed and rubbed his eyes. “I know. I know. I only wish …” he trailed off.

Kell frowned. Rhy looked genuinely upset. “Wish what?”

Rhy’s gaze lifted to meet Kell’s, the pale gold glittering even as a wall went up behind them. “I wish I had a drink,” he said, burying the matter. He shoved up from his chair and crossed the chamber to pour himself one from a sideboard against the wall. “I do try, Kell. I want to be good, or at least better. But we can’t all be …” Rhy took a sip and waved his hand at Kell.

The word he assumed Rhy was looking for was
Antari
. The word he used was
“You.”

“What can I say?” said Kell, running his hand through his hair. “I’m one of a kind.”

“Two of a kind,” corrected Rhy.

Kell’s brow creased. “I’ve been meaning to ask; what was Holland doing here?”

Rhy shrugged and wandered back toward the chest of elements. “The same thing he always is. Delivering mail.” Kell considered the prince. Something was off. Rhy was a notorious fidgeter whenever he was lying, and Kell watched him shift his weight from foot to foot and tap his fingers against the open lid of the chest. But rather than press the issue, Kell let it drop and, instead, reached down and plucked another of the glass balls from the chest, this one filled with water. He balanced it in his palm, fingers splayed.

“You’re trying too hard.” Kell bid the water in the glass to move, and it moved, swirling first loosely within the orb and then faster and tighter, creating a small, contained cyclone.

“That’s because it
is
hard,” said Rhy. “Just because
you
make it look easy doesn’t mean it is.”

Kell wouldn’t tell Rhy that he didn’t even need to speak in order to move the water. That he could simply think the words, feel them, and the element listened, and answered. Whatever flowed through the water—and the sand, and the earth, and the rest—flowed through him, too, and he could will it, as he would a limb, to move for him. The only exception was blood. Though it flowed as readily as the rest, blood itself did not obey the laws of elements—it could not be manipulated, told to move, or forced to still. Blood had a will of its own, and had to be addressed not as an object, but as an equal, an adversary. Which was why
Antari
stood apart. For they alone held dominion not only over elements, but also over blood. Where elemental invocation was designed simply to help the mind focus, to find a personal synchronicity with the magic—it was meditative, a chant as much as a summoning—the
Antari
blood commands were, as the term suggested,
commands
. The words Kell spoke to open doors or heal wounds with his blood were
orders
. And they had to be given in order to be obeyed.

“What’s it like?” asked Rhy out of nowhere.

Kell dragged his attention away from the glass, but the water kept spinning inside it. “What’s what like?”

“Being able to travel. To see the other Londons. What are
they
like?”

Kell hesitated. A scrying table sat against one wall. Unlike the smooth black panels of slate that broadcast messages throughout the city, the table served a different purpose. Instead of stone, it held a shallow pool of still water, enchanted to project one’s ideas, memories, images from their mind onto the surface of the water. It was used for reflection, yes, but also to share one’s thoughts with others, to help when words failed to convey, or simply fell short.

With the table, Kell could show him. Let Rhy see the other Londons as he saw them. A selfish part of Kell wanted to share them with his brother, so that he wouldn’t feel so alone, so that someone else would see, would know. But the thing about people, Kell had discovered, is that they didn’t
really
want to know. They thought they did, but knowing only made them miserable. Why fill up a mind with things you can’t use? Why dwell on places you can’t go? What good would it do Rhy, who, for all the privileges his royal status might grant him, could never set foot in another London?

“Uneventful,” said Kell, returning his glass to the chest. As soon as his fingers left its surface, the cyclone fell apart, the water sloshing and settling to a stop. Before Rhy could ask any more questions, Kell pointed at the glass in the prince’s hand and told him to try again.

Rhy tried again—and failed again—to move the earth within the glass. He made a frustrated noise and knocked the sphere away across the table. “I’m rubbish at this, and we both know it.”

Kell caught the glass ball as it reached the table’s edge and tumbled over. “Practice—” he started.

“Practice won’t do a damned thing.”

“Your problem, Rhy,” chided Kell, “is that you don’t want to learn magic to learn magic. You only want to learn it because you think it will help you lure people into your bed.”

Rhy’s lips twitched. “I don’t see how that’s a
problem
,” he said, “And it would. I’ve seen the way the girls—and boys—fawn over your pretty black eye, Kell.” He shoved to his feet. “Forget the lesson. I’m in no mood for learning. Let’s go out.”

“Why?” asked Kell. “So you can use
my
magic to lure people into
your
bed?”

“A fine idea,” said Rhy. “But no. We must go out, you see, because we’re on a mission.”

“Oh?” asked Kell.

“Yes. Because unless you plan to wed me yourself—and don’t get me wrong, I think we’d make a dashing pair—I must try and find a mate.”

“And you think you’ll find one traipsing around the city?”

“Goodness, no,” said Rhy with a crooked grin. “But who knows what fun I’ll find while failing.”

Kell rolled his eyes and put the orbs away. “Moving on,” he said.

“Let’s be done with this,” whined Rhy.

“We shall be done,” said Kell. “As soon as you can contain a flame.”

Of all the elements, fire was the only one Rhy had shown a … well,
talent
was too strong a word, but perhaps an
ability
for. Kell cleared the wooden table and set a sloped metal dish before the prince, along with a piece of white chalk, a vial of oil, and an odd little device like a pair of crossed pieces of blackened wood joined by a hinge in the middle. Rhy sighed and drew a binding circle on the table around the dish using the chalk. He then emptied the vial onto the plate, the oil pooling in the center, no bigger than a ten-lin coin. Finally, he lifted the device, which fit easily in his palm. It was a fire starter. When Rhy closed his hand around it and squeezed, the two stems scraped together, and a spark fell from the hinge to the pool of oil, and caught.

A small blue flame danced across the surface of the coinsize pool, and Rhy cracked his knuckles, rolled his neck, and pushed up his sleeves.

“Before the light goes out,” urged Kell.

Rhy shot him a look, but brought his hands to either side of the chalk-binding circle, palms in, and began to speak to the fire not in English, but in Arnesian. It was a more fluid, coaxing tongue that leant itself to magic. The words poured out in a whisper, a smooth, unbroken line of sound that seemed to take shape in the room around them.

And to their mutual amazement, it worked. The flame in the dish turned white and grew, enveloping what was left of the oil and continuing to burn without it. It spread, coating the surface of the plate and flaring up into the air before Rhy’s face.

“Look!” said Rhy, pointing at the light. “Look, I did it!”

And he had. But even though he’d stopped speaking to the flame, it kept growing.

“Don’t lose focus,” said Kell as the white fire spread, licking the edges of the chalk circle.

“What?” challenged Rhy as the fire twisted and pressed against the binding ring. “No word of praise?” He looked away from the fire and toward Kell, his fingers brushing along the table as he turned. “Not even a—”

“Rhy,”
warned Kell, but it was too late. Rhy’s hand had skimmed the circle, smudging the line of chalk. The fire tore free.

It flared up across the table, sudden and hot, and Rhy nearly toppled backward in his chair trying to get out of its way.

In a single motion, Kell had freed his knife, drawn it across his palm, and pressed his bloodied hand to the tabletop.
“As Anasae,”
he ordered—
dispel
. The enchanted fire died instantly, vanishing into air. Kell’s head spun.

Rhy stood there, breathless. “I’m sorry,” he said guiltily. “I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have …”

Rhy hated it when Kell was forced to use blood magic, because he felt personally responsible—he often was—for the sacrifice that came with it. He had caused Kell a great deal of pain once, and had never quite forgiven himself for it. Now Kell took up a cloth and wiped his wounded hand. “It’s fine,” he said, tossing aside the rag. “I’m fine. But I think we’re done for today.”

Rhy nodded shakily. “I could use another drink,” he said. “Something strong.”

“Agreed,” said Kell with a tired smile.

“Hey, we haven’t been to the Aven Stras in ages,” said Rhy.

“We can’t go there,” said Kell. What he meant was,
I can’t let
you
go there
. Despite its name, the Aven Stras—“Blessed Waters”—had become a haunt for the city’s unsavory sorts.

“Come on,” said Rhy, already returned to his sporting self. “We’ll get Parrish and Gen to dig up some uniforms and we’ll all go as—”

Just then a man cleared his throat, and Rhy and Kell both turned to find King Maxim standing in the doorway.

“Sir,” they said in unison.

“Boys,” he said. “How are your studies going?”

Rhy gave Kell a weighted look, and Kell raised a brow, but said only, “They’ve come and gone. We just finished.”

“Good,” said the king, producing a letter.

Kell didn’t realize how much he badly he wanted that drink with Rhy until he saw the envelope, and he knew he wouldn’t get it. His heart sank, but he didn’t let it show.

BOOK: A Darker Shade of Magic
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