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Parrish grimaced and threw his remaining cards facedown on the table. He could accuse Gen of cheating, but there was no point. Gen gathered up the winnings and began to shuffle the deck. A cloak´┐Żheavy panels of red and gold fanning like rays of sun´┐Żspilled over his armored shoulders as he stood, the layered metal plates of his chest piece and leg guards clanking as they slid into place.

The common tongue. Made of cherrywood, the doors were carved with the royal emblem of Arnes, the chalice and rising sun, the grooves filled with melted gold, and above the emblem, the threads of metallic light traced an R across the polished wood. Parrish was fond of the prince. If anything, Rhy seemed to feel guilty for the persistent presence of the guards, as if surely they had something better to do with their time than stand outside his door and be vigilant and in truth, most nights it was more a matter of discretion than vigilance.

But Kell was still away´┐Ża fact that had put the ever-restless Rhy in a mood´┐Żand so the prince had withdrawn early to his chambers, and Parrish and Gen had taken up their watch, and Gen had robbed Parrish of most of his pocket money.

Parrish scooped up his helmet from the table, and went to relieve himself; the sound of Gen counting his coins followed him out. Gen was nowhere to be seen. Parrish frowned; leniency went only so far.

The words were English, but accented, the edges rougher than an Arnesian tongue. It was a voice like a shadow in the woods at night. Quiet and dark and cold. And it belonged to Holland. The Antari from afar. Parrish paled a little. He worshipped Master Kell´┐Ża fact Gen gave him grief for daily´┐Żbut Holland terrified him. Or perhaps it was the way he seemed to be made more of water and stone than flesh and blood and soul.

Whatever it was, the foreign Antari had always given Parrish the shivers. Some of the guards called him Hollow behind his back, but Parrish never dared.

Was he supposed to be there? Who had let him in? Where was Gen? 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. Parrish heard the shuffle of a parcel being passed and opened. Holland made a sound, something between a smile and a laugh, neither of which Parrish had borne witness to before. 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.

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´┐Żof harmony between power and humanity´┐Żthen 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. 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. 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.

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. 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. 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.

It only made Kell cringe more. 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. Rhy knew how to deal with these moments, how to twist them, how to own them. Kell wanted only to disappear. The guards did not move from their posts, acknowledging him with only a slight tilt of their heads as he ascended the stairs. 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. A few days of celebration hardly seems excessive. Who am I to deny them? Rhy flashed his winning smile. Kell will support my thinking. You might as well throw the party here at the palace, where we can all keep him out of trouble.

Or at least minimize it. The king set aside the paper he was holding and considered Kell. King Maxim took it and set it aside, unread. With fair skin and reddish hair, Kell felt perpetually out of place. The queen brushed a handful of copper strands off his forehead. She always went looking for the truth in his right eye, as if it were a scrying board, something to be gazed into, seen past. But what she saw, she never shared. Kell took her hand and kissed it. When he could barely keep his eyes open, he excused himself.

Rhy pushed up from the sofa with him. Now, as the two bid their parents good night, Rhy trailed Kell into the hall, fiddling with the circle of gold nested in his black curls. He only just left. Red London and White kept in much closer contact than Red and Grey, but their communication still held a kind of routine.

Holland was off schedule by nearly a week. A nearby painting of the king and queen shuddered, but did not fall. The guards dotting the hall looked up but did not move from their posts. Kell was a year older than Rhy but built like an afternoon shadow, tall and slim, while Rhy was built like a statue, and nearly as strong. Rhy had caught him, two years before.

Not caught in the act, of course, but snagged him in another, more devious way. It was to ask why. Rhy had sat up, eyes bleary from drink. I feel more like a possession than a prince. Rhy shook his head. Rhy sighed. My closest friend. And I need you there beside me. Rhy patted his shoulder and went to bed. Kell shoved his hands into his pockets and watched him go. The people of London´┐Żand of the country beyond´┐Żloved their prince.

He was young and handsome and kind. Perhaps he played the part of rake too often and too well, but behind the charismatic smile and the flirtatious air was a sharp mind and a good intent, the desire to make everyone around him happy.

He had little gift for magic´┐Żand even less focus for it´┐Żbut what he lacked in power he more than made up for in charm. Besides, if Kell had learned anything from his trips to White London, it was that magic made rulers worse, not better. He continued down the hall to his own rooms, where a dark set of oak doors led onto a sprawling chamber. Instead, he crossed through the chamber and into a second smaller room lined with books´┐Ża variety of tomes on magic, including what little he could find on Antari and their blood commands, the majority destroyed out of fear in the Black London purge´┐Żand closed the door behind him.

He snapped his fingers absently and a candle perching on the edge of a shelf sparked to life. In its light he could make out a series of marks on the back of the door. Doors to different places in Red London. His eyes went to the one in the middle. It was made up of two crossed lines. X marks the spot, he thought to himself, pressing his fingers to the most recent cut on his arm´┐Żthe blood still wet´┐Ż then tracing the mark. The wall gave way beneath his touch, and his private library became a cramped little room, the lush quiet of his royal chambers replaced by the din of the tavern below and the city beyond, much nearer than it had been a mere moment before.

The place was run by an old woman named Fauna; she had the body of a gran, the mouth of a sailor, and the temper of a drunk. Kell had cut a deal with her when he was young she was still old then, always old , and the room at the top of the stairs became his. The room itself was rough and worn and several strides too small, but it belonged entirely to him. Spellwork´┐Żand not strictly legal at that´┐Żmarked the window and the door, so that no one else could find the room, or perceive that it was there.

At first glance, the chamber looked fairly empty, but a closer inspection would reveal that the space under the cot and the drawers in the dresser were filled with boxes and in those boxes were treasures from every London. Kell supposed that he was a Collector, too. The only items on display were a book of poems, a glass ball filled with black sand, and a set of maps. The poems were by a man named Blake, and had been given to Kell by a Collector in Grey London the year before, the spine already worn to nothing.

The maps were a reminder. The three canvases were tacked side by side, the sole decoration on the walls. From a distance, they could have passed for the same map´┐Żthe same outline of the same island country´┐Żbut up close, only the word London could be found on all three.

Grey London. Red London. White London. The map on the left was of Great Britain, from the English Channel up through the tips of Scotland, every facet rendered in detail. By contrast, the map on the right held almost none. Makt, the country called itself, the capital city held by the ruthless Dane twins, but the territory beyond was in constant flux.

The map in the middle Kell knew best, for it was home. Three very different Londons, in three very different countries, and Kell was one of the only living souls to have seen them all. The great irony, he supposed, was that he had never seen the worlds beyond the cities.

The ache in his arm drew him back, and he set the music box aside and turned his attention to the dresser. A basin of water and a set of jars waited there, and Kell rolled up the sleeve of his black tunic and set to work on his forearm. As it was, the cuts on his arm were already beginning to mend.

Antari healed quickly, thanks to the amount of magic in their veins, and by morning the shallow marks would be gone, the skin smooth. He was about to pull down his sleeve when the small shiny scar captured his attention. It always did. Just below the crook of his elbow, the lines were so blurred that the symbol was almost unreadable. Kell had lived in the palace since he was five.

He first noticed the mark when he was twelve. He had spent weeks searching for the rune in the palace libraries. He ran his thumb over the scar. It was meant to make one forget. Forget a moment. A day. A life. Those accused and convicted were stripped of their power, a fate some found worse than death in a world ruled by magic. And yet, Kell bore the mark of such a spell. Worse, he suspected that the king and queen themselves had sanctioned it.

The initials on his knife. Were the letters English? Or Arnesian? The letters could be found in both alphabets. What did the L stand for? Or even the K, for that matter? He knew nothing of the letters that had formed his name´┐ŻK. He was only a child when he was brought to the palace.

Had the knife always been his? Who had he been? The absence of memory ate at him. Magic might live in the blood, but not in the bloodline. It chose its own way. Chose its shape. The strong sometimes gave birth to the weak, or the other way around. Fire wielders were often born from water mages, earth movers from healers.

Power could not be cultivated like a crop, distilled through generations. If it could, Antari would be sewn and reaped. They were ideal vessels, capable of controlling any element, of drawing any spell, of using their own blood to command the world around them. They were tools, and in the wrong hands, weapons. In truth, none knew what led to the birth of an Antari.

Some believed that it was random, a lucky throw of dice. Others claimed that Antari were divine, destined for greatness. Some scholars, like Tieren, believed that Antari were the result of transference between the worlds, magic of different kinds intertwining, and that that was why they were dying out.

But no matter the theory on how they came to be, most believed that Antari were sacred. Chosen by magic or blessed by it, perhaps. But certainly marked by it. Kell brought his fingers absently to his right eye. Whatever one chose to believe, the fact remained that Antari had grown even more rare, and therefore more precious. Their talent had always made them something to be coveted, but now their scarcity made them something to be gathered and guarded and kept.

And whether or not Rhy wanted to admit it, Kell belonged to the royal collection. He took up the silver music box, winding the tiny metal crank. A valuable trinket, he thought, but a trinket all the same. Instead, he held it tight, the notes whispering out as he fell back onto the stiff cot and considered the small beautiful contraption. How had he ended up on this shelf? What had happened when his eye turned black? Was he born that way and hidden, or did the mark of magic manifest?

Five years. Had they been sad to let him go? Or had they gratefully offered him up to the crown? What life had he forgotten?

How much could a child of five really have to remember? A tip of the top hat and a pleasant good night, and she was the proud new owner of a timepiece, and he was on his way and none the wiser.

A poor excuse for it, to be sure, but better than a prison or a poorhouse. She ran a gloved thumb over the crystal watch face. It was a constable. Her hand went to the brim of her top hat´┐Żstolen from a dozing chauffeur the week before´┐Żand she hoped the gesture passed for a greeting and not a nervous slip, an attempt to hide her face. Lila was tall and thin, with a boyish frame that helped her pass for a young man, but only from a distance.

Too close an inspection, and the illusion would crumble. Lila knew she should turn and go while she could, but when the constable searched for something to light his pipe and came up empty, she found herself fetching up a sliver of wood from the street. She put one boot up on the base of the lamppost and stepped lithely up to light the stick in the flame.

Lantern light glanced off her jawline, lips, cheekbones, the edges of her face exposed beneath the top hat. A delicious thrill ran through her chest, spurned on by the closeness of danger, and Lila wondered, not for the first time, if something was wrong with her.

Barron used to say so, but Barron was a bore. It keeps looking till it finds you. Might as well find it first. Why do you want to die? I just want to live. He offered a muttered thanks and lit the pipe, gave a few puffs, and seemed about to go, but then he paused.

Likely to get your pocket picked. Lila reached out and took it, even though she knew at first glance what it was. She stared down at a sketch that was little more than a shadowy outline wearing a mask´┐Ża haphazard swatch of fabric over the eyes´┐Żand a broad brim hat.

A right audacious crook, this one. It was true. Nicking spare change in South Bank was one thing, stealing silver and gold from the carriage-bound in Mayfair quite another, but thieves were fools to stay in slums. The poor kept up their guards. But Lila knew there were no good parts. Only smart parts and stupid parts, and she was quick enough to know which one to play.

She handed back the paper and tipped the stolen top hat to the constable. The moment he was out of sight, Lila sighed and slumped back against the lamppost, dizzy with relief. She dragged the top hat from her head and considered the mask and the broad brim cap stuffed inside. She smiled to herself. And then she put the hat back on, pushed off the post, and made her way to the docks, whistling as she walked.

The ship leaned heavily against the dock, its paint stripped by salt, its wooden hull half rotted in some places, and fully rotted in others. The whole thing seemed to be sinking very, very slowly into the Thames.

Powell claimed that the Sea King was as sturdy as ever. Still fit for the high seas, he swore. She put a boot up on the ramp, and the boards groaned underfoot, the sound rippling back until it seemed like the whole boat was protesting her arrival.

The cold wood against her palms, the gentle roll of the deck beneath her feet, it all felt right. Lila Bard knew in her bones that she was meant to be a pirate. All she needed was a working ship. And once she had one ´┐Ż A breeze caught up her coat, and for a moment she saw herself far from the London port, far from any land, plowing forward across the high seas.

She closed her eyes and tried to imagine the feel of the sea breeze rushing through her threadbare sleeves. The thrill of freedom´┐Żtrue freedom´┐Żand adventure. She tipped her chin up as an imaginary spray of salty water tickled her chin. She drew a deep breath and smiled at the taste of the sea air. By the time she opened her eyes, she was surprised to find the Sea King just as it had been. Docked and dead. Lila pushed off the rail and made her way across the deck, and for the first time all night, as her boots echoed on the wood, she felt something like safe.

Familiar ´┐Ż was that it? Or maybe simply hidden. That was as close to safe as it got. No eyes watched her cross the deck. None followed her through the dank little hall, or into the cabin at the end. The knot at her throat finally came loose, and Lila pulled the cloak from her shoulders and tossed it onto a cot that hugged one of the cabin walls.

It fell fluttering to the bed, soon followed by the top hat, which spilled its disguise like jewels onto the dark fabric. Lila stirred them up and used the stick to light a couple of tallow candles scattered around the cabin. She then tugged off her gloves and lobbed them onto the cot with the rest. Finally, she slid off her belt, freeing holster and dagger both from the leather strap. Caster´┐Żfor all good weapons deserved a name´┐Żwas a beauty of a gun, and she slipped him gently, almost reverently, into the drawer of her desk.

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. 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. 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. How many ladies had flirted with her? Swooned and leaned and pretended to marvel at her strength? It served them right, for playing weak. 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.

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. Powell stood there, swaying from drink and the gentle rock of the boat. He held out the other, palm up. He closed his fist and jingled the money.

Or maybe she was afraid that if she started offering such pricey goods, Powell would come to expect them. Her tone was sweet but her teeth were sharp. Go to bed. His fingers fumbled with his buckle. 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.

And then it went slack. 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 ´┐Ż 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. 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. 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. 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.

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. Now she scuffed her boots along the street stones. He sucked on a cigar. She climbed the steps, and slouched against the tavern door. Or it find you? She could hear the clink of cups inside and the chatter of drunk men getting drunker. The others all repulsed her, repelled her, but this place dragged at her like gravity, a low and constant pull.

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. She liked surprising Barron. She fiddled with the brim of the top hat. He studied her in the lamplight.

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. She held it out to Barron.

Well, almost nothing. A top hat, a map to anywhere´┐Żor nowhere´┐Ża 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. You got that? It was hardly a pirate ship, a place for freedom and adventure. Just till the smoke clears, she echoed to herself. 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. The stuff of fairy tales. And legends.

Lila winked at the shadow before going in. Something with a bit of flare. Pay attention. 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. Kell sighed. His boots hit the floor with a thud as he straightened and held the glass ball up between them.

But the earth did not move. At last, the dirt shifted albeit halfheartedly within the glass. Nor the water in your cup. Nor the air you breathe. You must speak to them as equal, or even better, as supplicant. I know. Kell frowned. Rhy looked genuinely upset. He shoved up from his chair and crossed the chamber to pour himself one from a sideboard against the wall. I want to be good, or at least better. The word he assumed Rhy was looking for was Antari. Delivering mail. 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. That he could simply think the words, feel them, and the element listened, and answered. Whatever flowed through the water´┐Żand the sand, and the earth, and the rest´┐Żflowed 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´┐Żit 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´┐Żit was meditative, a chant as much as a summoning´┐Żthe 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. Kell dragged his attention away from the glass, but the water kept spinning inside it. To see the other Londons. What are they like?

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. With the table, Kell could show him. Let Rhy see the other Londons as he saw them. They thought they did, but knowing only made them miserable. What good would it do Rhy, who, for all the privileges his royal status might grant him, could never set foot in another London?

As soon as his fingers left its surface, the cyclone fell apart, the water sloshing and settling to a stop. Rhy tried again´┐Żand failed again´┐Żto move the earth within the glass. He made a frustrated noise and knocked the sphere away across the table. You only want to learn it because you think it will help you lure people into your bed. 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 coin-size pool, and Rhy cracked his knuckles, rolled his neck, and pushed up his sleeves.

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.

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.

The enchanted fire died instantly, vanishing into air. Rhy stood there, breathless. 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. We just finished. I told him I would send it back with you. They felt responsible for the dying city. And they were. It was a decision that haunted centuries of kings and queens, but at the time, White London was strong´┐Żstronger even than Red´┐Żand the Red crown believed or claimed to believe it was the only way they would all survive.

They were right and wrong. Grey London receded into quiet obliviousness. Red not only survived but flourished. But White was forever changed. The city, once glorious, fell to chaos and conquering. Blood and ash. Kell moved to follow when Rhy caught his arm. But as he pulled a pale piece of silver from beneath his collar, he hoped that this time they might prove true.

II Kell stepped through the door in the world and shivered. Red London had vanished, taking the warmth with it; his boots hit cold stone, and his breath blossomed in the air before his lips, and he pulled his coat´┐Żthe black one with the silver buttons´┐Żtightly around his shoulders.

Priste ir Essen. Essen ir Priste. Balance in Power. It was meant to be used but not abused, wielded with reverence as well as caution.

White London had a very different notion. Here, magic was not seen as equal. It was seen as something to be conquered. Black London had let magic in, let it take over, let it consume. Power in Balance became Power in Dominance. And when the people fought to control the magic, the magic resisted them. Shrank away into itself, burrowed down into the earth and out of reach. The people clawed the surface of the world, digging up what little magic they could still grasp, but it was thin and only growing thinner, as were those fighting for it.

The magic seemed determined to starve its captors out. And slowly, surely, it was succeeding. This struggle had a side effect, and that effect was the reason Kell had named White London white: every inch of the city, day or night, summer or winter, bore the same pall, as though a fine coat of snow´┐Żor ash´┐Żhad settled over everything. And everyone.

Kell looped the White London coin´┐Ża weighty iron thing´┐Żaround his neck, and tucked it back beneath his collar. The crisp blackness of his coat made him stand out against the faded backdrop of the city streets, and he shoved his blood-streaked hand into his pocket before the rich red sight of it gave anyone ideas. The pearl-toned surface of the half-frozen river´┐Żhere called neither the Thames, nor the Isle, but the Sijlt´┐Żstretched at his back, and across it, the north side of the city reached to the horizon.

In front of him, the south side waited, and several blocks ahead, the castle lunged into the air with knifelike spires, its stone mass dwarfing the buildings on every side. At home, Kell masked his power. Here he knew better. He let his magic fill the air, and the starving air ate it up, warming against his skin, wicking off in tendrils of fog.

It was a fine line to walk. He had to show his strength while still holding fast to it. In theory, the people of the city knew Kell, or of him, and knew that he was under the protection of the white crown. And in theory, no one would be foolish enough to defy the Dane twins.

But hunger´┐Ż for energy, for life´┐Żdid things to people. Made them do things. And so Kell kept his guard up and watched the sinking sun as he walked, knowing that White London was at its most docile in the light of day. The city changed at night. The quiet´┐Żan unnatural, heavy, held-breath kind of silence´┐Żbroke and gave way to noise, sounds of laughter, of passion´┐Ż some thought it a way to summon power´┐Żbut mostly those of fighting, and killing.

A city of extremes. Thrilling, maybe, but deadly. With the sun still up, the lowly and the lost lingered in doorways, and hung out of windows, and loitered in the gaps between buildings. And all of them watched Kell as he passed, gaunt stares and bony edges. Their clothes had the same faded quality as the rest of the city. So did their hair, their eyes, and their skin, the surface of which was covered in markings. Brands and scars, mutilations meant to bind what magic they could summon to their bodies.

The weaker they were, the more scars they made on themselves, ruining their flesh in a frantic attempt to hold on to what little power they had. In Red London, such markings would be seen as base, tainting not only body but also magic by binding it to them. Here, only the strong could afford to scorn the marks, and even then, they did not see them as defiling´┐Żmerely desperate. But even those above such brands relied on amulets and charms Holland alone went without any jewelry, save the broach that marked him as a servant of the throne.

Magic did not come willingly here. The language of elements had been abandoned when they ceased to listen the only element that could be summoned was a perverted kind of energy, a bastard of fire and something darker, corrupted.

What magic could be had was taken, forced into shape by amulets and spells and bindings. It was never enough, never filling. But the people did not leave. The power of the Sijlt´┐Żeven in its half-frozen state´┐Żtethered them to the city, its magic the only remaining flicker of warmth.

And so they stayed, and life went on. Those who had not yet fallen victim to the gnawing hunger for magic went about their daily work, and minded their own, and did their best to forget about the slow way their world was dying. Many clung to the belief that the magic would return. That a strong enough ruler would be able to force the power back into the veins of the world and revive it.

And so they waited. Kell wondered if the people of White London truly believed that Astrid and Athos Dane were strong enough, or if they were simply waiting for the next magician to rise up and overthrow them. Which someone would, eventually. Someone always did. The quiet got heavier as the castle came into sight. White London had a fortress. Search the history of over billion web pages on the Internet. Capture a web page as it appears now for use as a trusted citation in the future.

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Others claimed that Antari were divine, destined for greatness. Some scholars, like Tieren, believed that Antari were the result of transference between the worlds, magic of different kinds intertwining, and that that was why they were dying out.

But no matter the theory on how they came to be, most believed that Antari were sacred. Chosen by magic or blessed by it, perhaps. But certainly marked by it. Kell brought his fingers absently to his right eye. Whatever one chose to believe, the fact remained that Antari had grown even more rare, and therefore more precious.

Their talent had always made them something to be coveted, but now their scarcity made them something to be gathered and guarded and kept. And whether or not Rhy wanted to admit it, Kell belonged to the royal collection.

He took up the silver music box, winding the tiny metal crank. A valuable trinket, he thought, but a trinket all the same. Instead, he held it tight, the notes whispering out as he fell back onto the stiff cot and considered the small beautiful contraption.

How had he ended up on this shelf? What had happened when his eye turned black? Was he born that way and hidden, or did the mark of magic manifest? Five years. Had they been sad to let him go? Or had they gratefully offered him up to the crown? What life had he forgotten? How much could a child of five really have to remember? A tip of the top hat and a pleasant good night, and she was the proud new owner of a timepiece, and he was on his way and none the wiser.

A poor excuse for it, to be sure, but better than a prison or a poorhouse. She ran a gloved thumb over the crystal watch face. It was a constable. Her hand went to the brim of her top hat´┐Żstolen from a dozing chauffeur the week before´┐Żand she hoped the gesture passed for a greeting and not a nervous slip, an attempt to hide her face.

Lila was tall and thin, with a boyish frame that helped her pass for a young man, but only from a distance. Too close an inspection, and the illusion would crumble. Lila knew she should turn and go while she could, but when the constable searched for something to light his pipe and came up empty, she found herself fetching up a sliver of wood from the street. She put one boot up on the base of the lamppost and stepped lithely up to light the stick in the flame.

Lantern light glanced off her jawline, lips, cheekbones, the edges of her face exposed beneath the top hat. A delicious thrill ran through her chest, spurned on by the closeness of danger, and Lila wondered, not for the first time, if something was wrong with her. Barron used to say so, but Barron was a bore. It keeps looking till it finds you. Might as well find it first.

Why do you want to die? I just want to live. He offered a muttered thanks and lit the pipe, gave a few puffs, and seemed about to go, but then he paused. Likely to get your pocket picked. Lila reached out and took it, even though she knew at first glance what it was. She stared down at a sketch that was little more than a shadowy outline wearing a mask´┐Ża haphazard swatch of fabric over the eyes´┐Żand a broad brim hat. A right audacious crook, this one. It was true. Nicking spare change in South Bank was one thing, stealing silver and gold from the carriage-bound in Mayfair quite another, but thieves were fools to stay in slums.

The poor kept up their guards. But Lila knew there were no good parts. Only smart parts and stupid parts, and she was quick enough to know which one to play. She handed back the paper and tipped the stolen top hat to the constable.

The moment he was out of sight, Lila sighed and slumped back against the lamppost, dizzy with relief. She dragged the top hat from her head and considered the mask and the broad brim cap stuffed inside. She smiled to herself. And then she put the hat back on, pushed off the post, and made her way to the docks, whistling as she walked. The ship leaned heavily against the dock, its paint stripped by salt, its wooden hull half rotted in some places, and fully rotted in others.

The whole thing seemed to be sinking very, very slowly into the Thames. Powell claimed that the Sea King was as sturdy as ever. Still fit for the high seas, he swore. She put a boot up on the ramp, and the boards groaned underfoot, the sound rippling back until it seemed like the whole boat was protesting her arrival. The cold wood against her palms, the gentle roll of the deck beneath her feet, it all felt right. Lila Bard knew in her bones that she was meant to be a pirate. All she needed was a working ship.

And once she had one ´┐Ż A breeze caught up her coat, and for a moment she saw herself far from the London port, far from any land, plowing forward across the high seas. She closed her eyes and tried to imagine the feel of the sea breeze rushing through her threadbare sleeves. The thrill of freedom´┐Żtrue freedom´┐Żand adventure. She tipped her chin up as an imaginary spray of salty water tickled her chin. She drew a deep breath and smiled at the taste of the sea air.

By the time she opened her eyes, she was surprised to find the Sea King just as it had been. Docked and dead. Lila pushed off the rail and made her way across the deck, and for the first time all night, as her boots echoed on the wood, she felt something like safe.

Familiar ´┐Ż was that it? Or maybe simply hidden. That was as close to safe as it got. No eyes watched her cross the deck. None followed her through the dank little hall, or into the cabin at the end.

The knot at her throat finally came loose, and Lila pulled the cloak from her shoulders and tossed it onto a cot that hugged one of the cabin walls. It fell fluttering to the bed, soon followed by the top hat, which spilled its disguise like jewels onto the dark fabric.

Lila stirred them up and used the stick to light a couple of tallow candles scattered around the cabin. She then tugged off her gloves and lobbed them onto the cot with the rest. Finally, she slid off her belt, freeing holster and dagger both from the leather strap. Caster´┐Żfor all good weapons deserved a name´┐Żwas a beauty of a gun, and she slipped him gently, almost reverently, into the drawer of her desk. 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. 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. 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. How many ladies had flirted with her? Swooned and leaned and pretended to marvel at her strength? It served them right, for playing weak.

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. 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. Powell stood there, swaying from drink and the gentle rock of the boat. He held out the other, palm up. He closed his fist and jingled the money. Or maybe she was afraid that if she started offering such pricey goods, Powell would come to expect them. Her tone was sweet but her teeth were sharp.

Go to bed. His fingers fumbled with his buckle. 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.

And then it went slack. 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 ´┐Ż 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. Now she scuffed her boots along the street stones. He sucked on a cigar. She climbed the steps, and slouched against the tavern door. Or it find you? She could hear the clink of cups inside and the chatter of drunk men getting drunker. The others all repulsed her, repelled her, but this place dragged at her like gravity, a low and constant pull. 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. She liked surprising Barron. She fiddled with the brim of the top hat. He studied her in the lamplight. 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.

She held it out to Barron. Well, almost nothing. A top hat, a map to anywhere´┐Żor nowhere´┐Ża 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. You got that? It was hardly a pirate ship, a place for freedom and adventure. Just till the smoke clears, she echoed to herself. 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. The stuff of fairy tales. And legends. Lila winked at the shadow before going in. Something with a bit of flare. Pay attention. 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. Kell sighed.

His boots hit the floor with a thud as he straightened and held the glass ball up between them. But the earth did not move. At last, the dirt shifted albeit halfheartedly within the glass. Nor the water in your cup. Nor the air you breathe. You must speak to them as equal, or even better, as supplicant. I know. Kell frowned. Rhy looked genuinely upset. He shoved up from his chair and crossed the chamber to pour himself one from a sideboard against the wall. I want to be good, or at least better.

The word he assumed Rhy was looking for was Antari. Delivering mail. 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.

That he could simply think the words, feel them, and the element listened, and answered. Whatever flowed through the water´┐Żand the sand, and the earth, and the rest´┐Żflowed 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´┐Żit 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´┐Żit was meditative, a chant as much as a summoning´┐Żthe 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. Kell dragged his attention away from the glass, but the water kept spinning inside it. To see the other Londons. What are they like? 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. With the table, Kell could show him. Let Rhy see the other Londons as he saw them. They thought they did, but knowing only made them miserable.

What good would it do Rhy, who, for all the privileges his royal status might grant him, could never set foot in another London? As soon as his fingers left its surface, the cyclone fell apart, the water sloshing and settling to a stop. Rhy tried again´┐Żand failed again´┐Żto move the earth within the glass. He made a frustrated noise and knocked the sphere away across the table. You only want to learn it because you think it will help you lure people into your bed. 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 coin-size pool, and Rhy cracked his knuckles, rolled his neck, and pushed up his sleeves.

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. 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.

The enchanted fire died instantly, vanishing into air. Rhy stood there, breathless. 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. We just finished. I told him I would send it back with you. They felt responsible for the dying city. And they were. It was a decision that haunted centuries of kings and queens, but at the time, White London was strong´┐Żstronger even than Red´┐Żand the Red crown believed or claimed to believe it was the only way they would all survive.

They were right and wrong. Grey London receded into quiet obliviousness. Red not only survived but flourished. But White was forever changed. The city, once glorious, fell to chaos and conquering.

Blood and ash. Kell moved to follow when Rhy caught his arm. But as he pulled a pale piece of silver from beneath his collar, he hoped that this time they might prove true. II Kell stepped through the door in the world and shivered. Red London had vanished, taking the warmth with it; his boots hit cold stone, and his breath blossomed in the air before his lips, and he pulled his coat´┐Żthe black one with the silver buttons´┐Żtightly around his shoulders. Priste ir Essen. Essen ir Priste.

Balance in Power. It was meant to be used but not abused, wielded with reverence as well as caution. White London had a very different notion. Here, magic was not seen as equal. It was seen as something to be conquered. Black London had let magic in, let it take over, let it consume. Power in Balance became Power in Dominance. And when the people fought to control the magic, the magic resisted them. Shrank away into itself, burrowed down into the earth and out of reach.

The people clawed the surface of the world, digging up what little magic they could still grasp, but it was thin and only growing thinner, as were those fighting for it. The magic seemed determined to starve its captors out. And slowly, surely, it was succeeding. This struggle had a side effect, and that effect was the reason Kell had named White London white: every inch of the city, day or night, summer or winter, bore the same pall, as though a fine coat of snow´┐Żor ash´┐Żhad settled over everything.

And everyone. Kell looped the White London coin´┐Ża weighty iron thing´┐Żaround his neck, and tucked it back beneath his collar. The crisp blackness of his coat made him stand out against the faded backdrop of the city streets, and he shoved his blood-streaked hand into his pocket before the rich red sight of it gave anyone ideas. The pearl-toned surface of the half-frozen river´┐Żhere called neither the Thames, nor the Isle, but the Sijlt´┐Żstretched at his back, and across it, the north side of the city reached to the horizon.

In front of him, the south side waited, and several blocks ahead, the castle lunged into the air with knifelike spires, its stone mass dwarfing the buildings on every side. At home, Kell masked his power. Here he knew better. He let his magic fill the air, and the starving air ate it up, warming against his skin, wicking off in tendrils of fog.

It was a fine line to walk. He had to show his strength while still holding fast to it. In theory, the people of the city knew Kell, or of him, and knew that he was under the protection of the white crown. And in theory, no one would be foolish enough to defy the Dane twins. But hunger´┐Ż for energy, for life´┐Żdid things to people. Made them do things. And so Kell kept his guard up and watched the sinking sun as he walked, knowing that White London was at its most docile in the light of day.

The city changed at night. The quiet´┐Żan unnatural, heavy, held-breath kind of silence´┐Żbroke and gave way to noise, sounds of laughter, of passion´┐Ż some thought it a way to summon power´┐Żbut mostly those of fighting, and killing. A city of extremes. Thrilling, maybe, but deadly. With the sun still up, the lowly and the lost lingered in doorways, and hung out of windows, and loitered in the gaps between buildings.

And all of them watched Kell as he passed, gaunt stares and bony edges. Their clothes had the same faded quality as the rest of the city. So did their hair, their eyes, and their skin, the surface of which was covered in markings. Brands and scars, mutilations meant to bind what magic they could summon to their bodies. The weaker they were, the more scars they made on themselves, ruining their flesh in a frantic attempt to hold on to what little power they had.

In Red London, such markings would be seen as base, tainting not only body but also magic by binding it to them. Here, only the strong could afford to scorn the marks, and even then, they did not see them as defiling´┐Żmerely desperate.

But even those above such brands relied on amulets and charms Holland alone went without any jewelry, save the broach that marked him as a servant of the throne. Magic did not come willingly here. The language of elements had been abandoned when they ceased to listen the only element that could be summoned was a perverted kind of energy, a bastard of fire and something darker, corrupted. What magic could be had was taken, forced into shape by amulets and spells and bindings.

It was never enough, never filling. But the people did not leave. The power of the Sijlt´┐Żeven in its half-frozen state´┐Żtethered them to the city, its magic the only remaining flicker of warmth. And so they stayed, and life went on. Those who had not yet fallen victim to the gnawing hunger for magic went about their daily work, and minded their own, and did their best to forget about the slow way their world was dying.

Many clung to the belief that the magic would return. That a strong enough ruler would be able to force the power back into the veins of the world and revive it.

And so they waited. Kell wondered if the people of White London truly believed that Astrid and Athos Dane were strong enough, or if they were simply waiting for the next magician to rise up and overthrow them.

Which someone would, eventually. Someone always did. The quiet got heavier as the castle came into sight. White London had a fortress. A high wall surrounded the castle, and between the vaulting citadel and its outer wall stood an expansive stone courtyard, running like a moat around the looming structure and brimming with marble forms. Passing under the entryway and through the courtyard, Kell approached the massive stone steps.

Ten guards flanked the stairs of the fortress, still as the statues in the forest. They were nothing but puppets, stripped by King Athos of everything but the breath in their lungs and the blood in their veins and his order in their ears. The sight of them made Kell shiver. In Red London, using magic to control, possess, or bind the body and mind of another person was forbidden. The guards stood motionless; only their empty eyes followed him as he approached and passed through the heavy doors.

Beyond, more guards lined the walls of an arching antechamber, still as stone save for their shifting gazes. Kell crossed the room and into a second corridor, this one empty. A moment later a shape stepped out of them. Torches lined the walls, burning but never burning out, and in their flickering light Kell saw the man.

One of them was a greyish green, but the other was glossy and black. But riddles had right answers, and when it came to the Dane twins, there was none. Kell could never decide which one he would rather face. Holland gave no indication, only nodded, and led the way. The castle was built like a church and maybe it had been one, once , its skeleton vast and hollow. Wind whistled through the halls, and their steps echoed over the stone. Holland moved with the terrifying grace of a predator.

A white half-cloak draped over one of his shoulders, billowing behind him as he walked. It was held together by a clasp, a silver circular broach, etched with markings that at a distance looked like nothing more than decoration.

But Kell knew the story of Holland and the silver clasp. He had been different then, younger and more arrogant, yes, but there was also something else, something more, a light in his eyes. A fire. And then, between one visit and the next, the fire was gone, and so was the king, replaced by the Danes. Holland was still there, at their side as if nothing had changed.

But he had changed, gone cold and dark, and Kell wanted to know what had happened´┐Żwhat had really happened. So he went looking for an answer. And he found it, as he found most things´┐Żand most found him ´┐Żin the tavern that never moved. Here it was called the Scorched Bone. The storyteller clutched the coin as if for warmth as he hunched on his stool and spun the tale in Maktahn, the guttural native tongue of the harsh city.

But taken by it. Someone cuts their way to the throne and holds it as long as they can´┐Ża year, maybe two´┐Żuntil they fall, and someone else rises. Kings come and go. It is a constant cycle.

And usually, it is a simple enough matter. The murderer takes the place of the murdered. Astrid, Athos, and Holland. While he knew Holland had served the prior crown, he had not known of his aspirations to be king. Though it made sense; Holland was Antari in a world where power meant everything. He should have been the obvious victor.

Still, the Dane twins proved nearly as powerful as they were ruthless and cunning. And together, they defeated him. Instead, they bound him. And a dark one at that. Made by Athos himself. It only made him do. He watched as the White Antari brought his hand to the door, where a circle of symbols was burned into the wood.

He drew his fingers deftly across them, touching four in sequence; a lock yielded within, and he led Kell through. The throne room was just as sprawling and hollow as the rest of the castle, but it was circular and made of brilliant white stone, from the rounded walls and the arching ribs of the ceiling to the glittering floors and the twin thrones on the raised platform in its center. It only looked like ice.

He felt Holland slip away, but did not turn his attention from the throne, or the woman sitting on it. They stood out like dark threads on her hands and at her temples; the rest of her was a study in white. So many tried to hide the fact they were fading, covering their skin or painting it up to look healthier.

The queen of White London did not. Her long colorless hair was woven back into a braid, and her porcelain skin bled straight into the edges of her tunic. Her entire outfit was fitted to her like armor; the collar of her shirt was high and rigid, guarding her throat, and the tunic itself ran from chin to wrist to waist, less out of a sense of modesty, Kell was sure, than protection.

The only bits of color were the pale blue of her eyes and the greens and reds of the talismans that hung from her neck and wrists and were threaded through her hair.

Astrid had draped herself over one of the two thrones, her long thin body like taut wire under her clothes. Sinewy, but far from weak. She fiddled with a pendant at her neck, its surface like frosted glass, its edges as red as freshly drawn blood. Strange, thought Kell, to see something so bright in White London. Now her eyes wandered down and landed on Kell. Somewhere under her close-fitting clothes, a translation rune was scarred into her skin.

Red London treated English as a mark of high society, but White London found little use for it. Holland had told Kell once that this was a land of warriors, not diplomats. They valued battle more than ballrooms and saw no value in a tongue that their own people did not understand.

Rather than waste years learning the common tongue between kings, those who took the throne simply took the rune as well. The queen drew herself up into a sitting position. The laziness of her motions was a farce.

Astrid Dane was a serpent, slow only until she chose to strike. She drew a nail down the arm of the throne. He did not scream´┐ŻAthos wished he would´┐Żbut a gasp of pain whistled through his clenched teeth. His head hung forward, sweat and blood trickling down the lines of his face, dripping from his chin. The boy was sixteen, and he had not bowed.

Knees hit stone. Heads bowed low. But one boy´┐ŻAthos later learned his name was Beloc, the word coughed through bloody lips´┐Ż stood there, his head barely tipped forward. The eyes of the crowd had gone to him, a visceral ripple rolling through them´┐Żshock, yes, but underneath it, amazement bordering on approval. Athos had pulled his horse to a stop and gazed down at the boy, considering his moment of stubborn youthful defiance.

Athos had been a boy once, of course. He had done foolish, headstrong things. But he had learned many lessons in the struggle for the White crown, and many more since taking it as his own, and he knew above all that defiance was like a weed, something to be ripped out at the roots. He began to coil it around his hand. On it sat a metal chalice filled with ink, and beside it, a very sharp blade. Athos smiled.

The length of the blade was grooved, the ink filling the notch as if it were a pen. When it was ready, the king drew the stained knife out, the gesture seductively slow, cruel. Athos whispered something low and constant as he drew the lines of the binding spell.

When it was over, he set the blade aside and stepped back to admire his work. Beloc was slumped against his binds, chest heaving.

Blood and ink ran down his skin. As if the sight meant nothing to him. Which was a lie. Holland liked to play at being hollow, but Athos knew it was a ruse. He might have feigned numbness, but he was hardly immune to sensation. To pain. Are you busy? What is it? His white cloak hung on a chair, and he took it up and slung it around his shoulders in one fluid motion, fastening the clasp at his throat.

Athos smiled, victorious. Kell wished he could set the letter on the narrow table that sat between the thrones and go, keep his distance, but the queen sat there holding out her hand for it, for him. He pulled back on instinct, but her grip only tightened. The letter tumbled from his hand as the magic in his blood surged forward, willing him to act, to react, but he fought the urge. It was a game. She wanted him to fight back, so he willed himself not to, even when her power´┐Żthe closest thing to an element she could summon, something sharp, electric, and unnatural´┐Żforced a leg to buckle beneath him.

Kell pressed his hands flat against the cool stone floor and took a shaky breath. Astrid swiped the letter from the ground and set it on the table before sinking back into her throne. Kell rose slowly to his feet. Her hand fell from the charm. Now I walk on them to tea. There were rumors, of course, about the bits of duller white that studded the stone. Just then the door swung open behind him, and Kell turned to see King Athos striding in, Holland trailing several steps behind.

Athos was a reflection of his sister, only faintly distorted by his broader shoulders and shorter hair. But everything else about him, from complexion to wiry muscle to the wanton cruelty they shared, was an exact replica.

Athos smiled at his indecision. Antari or not, the Danes made him feel like a mouse in the company of snakes. Kell did not. He watched the king ascend the dais and approach the table between the thrones. On it sat a decanter of golden liquid and two empty glass goblets.

Athos lifted one of the glasses, but did not pour from the decanter. Instead, he turned toward Holland. Now he came forward with his slow and silent steps. He rolled up his sleeve, revealing the tracery of his veins, but also a mess of scars.

Antari healed faster than most. The cuts must have been deep. He drew a knife from his belt and raised arm and blade both over the goblet. Could I trouble you for something else? The king frowned. The cut was shallow, a graze, just deep enough to draw blood. It welled and spilled in a thin ribbon into the glass. The knife bit into his arm, deep, and the blood flowed, a rich dark red, into the glass. He held it up for Kell to see, then drank to show the glass and contents alike were safe before pouring a new measure and offering it to Kell.

The gesture of a man used to sabotage. Kell took the glass and drank too fast and too deep in an effort to calm his nerves. As soon as the goblet was empty, Athos filled it again. The drink itself was light and sweet and strong, and went down easily. Power lies in the blood, thought Kell as his own began to warm. V Kell should have stopped at one drink.

Or two. And Kell had done nothing. Had not pleaded´┐Żor even pressed´┐Żfor Athos to yield. They were both Antari. Luck alone cast Holland here in ruthless White and Kell in vibrant Red. What if their fortunes had been reversed? Kell took a shaky breath, the air fogging before his lips. This, too, was foolish.

He was always being reckless. Why did he always do this? Step out of safety and into shadow, into risk, into danger? All he knew was that he wanted to stop. The anger bled away, leaving something warm and steady. Or maybe that was the drink. It had been a good drink, whatever it was. A strong drink. But not the kind of strong that made you weak. No, no, the kind of strong that made you strong.

That made your blood sing. That made ´┐Ż Kell tipped his chin to look at the sky, and nearly lost his balance. He needed to focus. He was fairly sure he was heading in the general direction of the river. The air was biting against his lips, and it was getting dark´┐Żwhen had the sun gone down? Silence cracking into noise. Pretty bones. As soon as he managed to gather a few, a breeze would blow through his head and scatter them, leaving him dazed and a little dizzy.

Danger prickled at the edge of his senses. His feet had set out on their own. His body had made its way. Now he found himself staring at the sign over the door of the Scorched Bone. It still pulled at him, but the air smelled like blood as well as ash, and the street stones were cold beneath his boots. They tugged at his warmth. His power. His feet tried to carry him forward, but he willed them to stay.

Go home, thought Kell. Rhy was right. Nothing good could come of these deals. Nothing good enough. The baubles he traded for, they brought him no peace. It was just a silly game. And it was time to stop.

He held on to that thought as he drew the knife from its holster and brought it to his forearm. Kell turned, the blade sliding back to his side. A woman stood there at the mouth of the alley, her face hidden by the hood of a threadbare blue cloak. Here it was the faintest shade, like the sky through layers and layers of clouds. She shook her head. A letter? The worlds had been sealed off from one another for centuries. Who could she be writing to? Everyone here is dead but myself, and everyone there is dead but one.

He brought me a letter. Not that he was selfless, but Kell doubted that he was greedy in this way, doubted that he cared about that kind of payment. The woman thrust out the letter again. And technically, under the laws set out by the crowns of all three Londons, letters were a necessary exemption from the rule of no transference. This is the last and only letter.

A strange feeling shot through him as the fabric of the parcel met his skin. To save all of the worlds, they'll first need to stay alive. By Victoria Schwab Author. In Fiction , Literature. Facebook Twitter. Ebook description Por usuario. Language: english. ISBN Related PDF Documents. Close Log In. Username or Email :. Password :.

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Sign up for free Log in. A darker shade of magic Item Preview. EMBED for wordpress. Want more? Advanced embedding details, examples, and help! Schwab, the critically acclaimed author of Vicious, comes a new universe of daring adventure, thrilling power, and parallel Londons, beginning with A Darker Shade of Magic. Kell is one of the last Travelers--magicians with a rare, coveted ability to travel between parallel universes--as such, he can choose where he lands.

There's Grey London, dirty and boring, without any magic, ruled by a mad King George. Then there's Red London, where life and magic are revered, and the Maresh Dynasty presides over a flourishing empire.

White London, ruled by whoever has murdered their way to the throne--a place where people fight to control magic, and the magic fights back, draining the city to its very bones.

And once upon a time, there was Black London Officially, Kell is the Red Traveler, personal ambassador and adopted Prince of Red London, carrying the monthly correspondences between the royals of each London. II Between one stride and the next, dreary Windsor became elegant St.

Dancing on the tables talking of magic and other Londons. What trick did you do for him this time? Convince him he could fly? He learned on his next visit that the King of England had nearly walked out a window. On the third floor.

He occupied himself by drumming his fingers on the edge of the gilded table. He held out his hand for the letter, but the Prince Regent did not give it to him.

Walk with me. Two members of the royal guard had joined them in the hall and now slunk behind like shadows. The royals were always expected to know, but the understanding of those in their service was left to their discretion. What is it you call us ´┐Ż Grey London? These days that is far too apt a name.

Stay for dinner. Even the questions. Rhy was the same way, and Kell thought it must simply be a by-product of never being told no. The table is set. What did the prince want? To put him on display?

Kell often suspected that he would like to do as much, if for no other reason than that the younger George found secrets cumbersome, preferring spectacle. Grey London had forgotten magic long ago. A black that ran edge to edge, filling white and iris both. There was nothing human about that eye. It was pure magic. The mark of a blood magician. Of an Antari. Caution, discomfort ´┐Ż and fear. You see, there was a time, ages ago, when they were not so separate.

When doors ran between your world and mine, and others, and anyone with a bit of power could pass through. Magic itself could pass through. The people fed on the magic and the magic fed on them until it ate their bodies and their minds and then their souls. Kell nodded. Everyone´┐Żat least everyone in Red London and White, and those few in Grey who knew anything at all´┐Żknew the legend of Black London.

It was a bedtime story. A fairy tale. A warning. The only reason your London still exists is because it was cut off. It learned to forget. You do not want it to remember. And by the looks of it, he had. Kell tucked the parchment into his pocket along with the stolen quill. The Prince Regent summoned a guard with a single snap of his fingers.

The royal guards left Kell at the edge of the park. James Palace loomed behind him. Grey London lay ahead. He took a deep breath and tasted smoke on the air. 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. His right one. Even in Red London, where magic flourished, the eye set him apart. Marked him always as other. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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. A phenomenon.

A fixed point. Few people would appreciate the poetry. Holland might. If Holland appreciated anything. But poetry aside, the tavern was a perfect place to do business. Kell was drawn to it, too. The difference was that he knew what was tugging at them.

They were also drawn by him. Or at least, the rumor of him. He studied the amber liquid in his own cup. It was as much as they ever said to each other. 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 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. 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. 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´┐Żin part because he found their aspirations wasted, and in part because serving them felt so much closer to treason´┐Żwhich 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.

But the Enthusiast did not leave. Kell knew the man was an Enthusiast´┐Żhe 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. But I go by Ned. Kell finished his drink. A bit of earth. It seemed like a small request. 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. How strong was this one? 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. He considered the options, then jabbed a finger at the water. Air, earth, and water were the easiest to will´┐Żeven 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. Elements had no tongue, or rather, they could be spoken to in any. In short, the language did not matter, only the intention did. The Enthusiast could have spoken to the water in plain English for all the good it would do him and yet he muttered on in his invented language.

And as he did, he moved his hand clockwise over the small board. After several long moments, the water gave a single ripple it could have been caused by Kell yawning or the man gripping the counter and then went still. Ned stared down at the board, veins bulging. Kell lifted his head from his hand. He flexed his fingers a fraction, and the clod of earth rose from its groove and drifted casually into his palm. The earth and ice hit their grooves with a thud and a clink while the sand settled soundlessly in its bowl and the flame dancing on the oil died.

Only the bone was left, hovering in the air between them. Money changed. What would he do with shillings in Red London? And pounds? He supposed he could spend the money here, but what ever would he spend it on? No, Kell was playing a different game. It was cruel, he knew, but he wanted to see how far the Enthusiast was willing to go. And if his resolve held firm and he were here next month, decided Kell, he would bring the man his bag of earth.

Kell plucked the bit of bone out of the air and returned it to its box as the bespectacled man approached the now-vacant stool. Kell nodded and offered it to the Collector, who lifted it gingerly from his hand. He let the gentleman fiddle with it, then proceeded to show him how it worked. It made a thud when he set it on the counter. Kell reached out and unwrapped the parcel to find a glimmering silver box with a miniature crank on the side.

A music box. Kell smiled to himself. They had music in Red London, and music boxes, too, but most of theirs played by enchantment, not cog, and Kell was rather taken by the effort that went into the little machines. So much of the Grey world was clunky, but now and then its lack of magic led to ingenuity.

Take its music boxes. A complex but elegant design. So many parts, so much work, all to create a little tune. Kell shook his head. Besides, it was time to go home. Kell made his way toward the Thames, listening to the sounds of the city around him, the nearby carriages and faraway cries, some in pleasure, some in pain though they were still nothing compared to the screams that carried through White London.

The river soon came into sight, a streak of black in the night as church bells rang out in the distance, eight of them in all. Time to go. He reached the brick wall of a shop that faced the water, and stopped in its shadow, pushing up his sleeve.

His arm had started to ache from the first two cuts, but he drew out his knife and carved a third, touching his fingers first to the blood and then to the wall. One of the cords around his throat held a red lin, like the one King George had returned to him that afternoon, and he took hold of the coin and pressed it to the blood on the bricks. Not commanding, simply conversing.

Magic was a living thing´┐Żthat, everyone knew´┐Żbut to Kell it felt like more, like a friend, like family. He was, after all, Antari. And Antari could speak to blood. To life. To magic itself. The first and final element, the one that lived in all and was of none.

He could feel the magic stir against his palm, the brick wall warming and cooling at the same time with it, and Kell hesitated, waiting to see if it would answer without being asked. But it held, waiting for him to give voice to his command. Elemental magic may speak any tongue, but Antari magic´┐Ż true magic, blood magic´┐Żspoke one, and only one. Kell flexed his fingers on the wall.

This time, the magic listened, and obeyed. The world rippled, and Kell stepped forward through the door and into darkness, shrugging off Grey London like a coat.

On its front, a hooded figure with a bowed head held up a rune like a chalice, and in his chair, Gen grinned triumphantly. Parrish grimaced and threw his remaining cards facedown on the table. He could accuse Gen of cheating, but there was no point. Gen gathered up the winnings and began to shuffle the deck. A cloak´┐Żheavy panels of red and gold fanning like rays of sun´┐Żspilled over his armored shoulders as he stood, the layered metal plates of his chest piece and leg guards clanking as they slid into place.

The common tongue. Made of cherrywood, the doors were carved with the royal emblem of Arnes, the chalice and rising sun, the grooves filled with melted gold, and above the emblem, the threads of metallic light traced an R across the polished wood. Parrish was fond of the prince. If anything, Rhy seemed to feel guilty for the persistent presence of the guards, as if surely they had something better to do with their time than stand outside his door and be vigilant and in truth, most nights it was more a matter of discretion than vigilance.

But Kell was still away´┐Ża fact that had put the ever-restless Rhy in a mood´┐Żand so the prince had withdrawn early to his chambers, and Parrish and Gen had taken up their watch, and Gen had robbed Parrish of most of his pocket money.

Parrish scooped up his helmet from the table, and went to relieve himself; the sound of Gen counting his coins followed him out. Gen was nowhere to be seen. Parrish frowned; leniency went only so far. The words were English, but accented, the edges rougher than an Arnesian tongue. It was a voice like a shadow in the woods at night.

Quiet and dark and cold. And it belonged to Holland. The Antari from afar. Parrish paled a little. He worshipped Master Kell´┐Ża fact Gen gave him grief for daily´┐Żbut Holland terrified him. Or perhaps it was the way he seemed to be made more of water and stone than flesh and blood and soul. Whatever it was, the foreign Antari had always given Parrish the shivers.

Some of the guards called him Hollow behind his back, but Parrish never dared. Was he supposed to be there? Who had let him in? Where was Gen? 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. Parrish heard the shuffle of a parcel being passed and opened.

Holland made a sound, something between a smile and a laugh, neither of which Parrish had borne witness to before. 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. 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´┐Żof harmony between power and humanity´┐Żthen 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. 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. 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. 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.

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. 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.

It only made Kell cringe more. 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. Rhy knew how to deal with these moments, how to twist them, how to own them. Kell wanted only to disappear. The guards did not move from their posts, acknowledging him with only a slight tilt of their heads as he ascended the stairs.

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. A few days of celebration hardly seems excessive. Who am I to deny them? Rhy flashed his winning smile. Kell will support my thinking.

You might as well throw the party here at the palace, where we can all keep him out of trouble. Or at least minimize it. The king set aside the paper he was holding and considered Kell. King Maxim took it and set it aside, unread.

With fair skin and reddish hair, Kell felt perpetually out of place. The queen brushed a handful of copper strands off his forehead. She always went looking for the truth in his right eye, as if it were a scrying board, something to be gazed into, seen past. But what she saw, she never shared. Kell took her hand and kissed it. When he could barely keep his eyes open, he excused himself. Rhy pushed up from the sofa with him. Now, as the two bid their parents good night, Rhy trailed Kell into the hall, fiddling with the circle of gold nested in his black curls.

He only just left. Red London and White kept in much closer contact than Red and Grey, but their communication still held a kind of routine. Holland was off schedule by nearly a week. A nearby painting of the king and queen shuddered, but did not fall. The guards dotting the hall looked up but did not move from their posts.

Kell was a year older than Rhy but built like an afternoon shadow, tall and slim, while Rhy was built like a statue, and nearly as strong. Rhy had caught him, two years before. Not caught in the act, of course, but snagged him in another, more devious way. It was to ask why. Rhy had sat up, eyes bleary from drink. I feel more like a possession than a prince. Rhy shook his head.

Rhy sighed. My closest friend. And I need you there beside me. Rhy patted his shoulder and went to bed. Kell shoved his hands into his pockets and watched him go. The people of London´┐Żand of the country beyond´┐Żloved their prince. He was young and handsome and kind. Perhaps he played the part of rake too often and too well, but behind the charismatic smile and the flirtatious air was a sharp mind and a good intent, the desire to make everyone around him happy.

He had little gift for magic´┐Żand even less focus for it´┐Żbut what he lacked in power he more than made up for in charm. Besides, if Kell had learned anything from his trips to White London, it was that magic made rulers worse, not better. He continued down the hall to his own rooms, where a dark set of oak doors led onto a sprawling chamber. Instead, he crossed through the chamber and into a second smaller room lined with books´┐Ża variety of tomes on magic, including what little he could find on Antari and their blood commands, the majority destroyed out of fear in the Black London purge´┐Żand closed the door behind him.

He snapped his fingers absently and a candle perching on the edge of a shelf sparked to life. In its light he could make out a series of marks on the back of the door. Doors to different places in Red London. His eyes went to the one in the middle. It was made up of two crossed lines. X marks the spot, he thought to himself, pressing his fingers to the most recent cut on his arm´┐Żthe blood still wet´┐Ż then tracing the mark.

The wall gave way beneath his touch, and his private library became a cramped little room, the lush quiet of his royal chambers replaced by the din of the tavern below and the city beyond, much nearer than it had been a mere moment before. The place was run by an old woman named Fauna; she had the body of a gran, the mouth of a sailor, and the temper of a drunk.

Kell had cut a deal with her when he was young she was still old then, always old , and the room at the top of the stairs became his.

The room itself was rough and worn and several strides too small, but it belonged entirely to him. Spellwork´┐Żand not strictly legal at that´┐Żmarked the window and the door, so that no one else could find the room, or perceive that it was there. At first glance, the chamber looked fairly empty, but a closer inspection would reveal that the space under the cot and the drawers in the dresser were filled with boxes and in those boxes were treasures from every London.

Kell supposed that he was a Collector, too. The only items on display were a book of poems, a glass ball filled with black sand, and a set of maps. The poems were by a man named Blake, and had been given to Kell by a Collector in Grey London the year before, the spine already worn to nothing. The maps were a reminder. The three canvases were tacked side by side, the sole decoration on the walls.

From a distance, they could have passed for the same map´┐Żthe same outline of the same island country´┐Żbut up close, only the word London could be found on all three. Grey London. Red London. White London. The map on the left was of Great Britain, from the English Channel up through the tips of Scotland, every facet rendered in detail. By contrast, the map on the right held almost none.

Makt, the country called itself, the capital city held by the ruthless Dane twins, but the territory beyond was in constant flux.

The map in the middle Kell knew best, for it was home. Three very different Londons, in three very different countries, and Kell was one of the only living souls to have seen them all.

The great irony, he supposed, was that he had never seen the worlds beyond the cities. The ache in his arm drew him back, and he set the music box aside and turned his attention to the dresser. A basin of water and a set of jars waited there, and Kell rolled up the sleeve of his black tunic and set to work on his forearm.

As it was, the cuts on his arm were already beginning to mend. Antari healed quickly, thanks to the amount of magic in their veins, and by morning the shallow marks would be gone, the skin smooth. He was about to pull down his sleeve when the small shiny scar captured his attention. It always did. Just below the crook of his elbow, the lines were so blurred that the symbol was almost unreadable.

Kell had lived in the palace since he was five. He first noticed the mark when he was twelve. He had spent weeks searching for the rune in the palace libraries.

He ran his thumb over the scar. It was meant to make one forget. Forget a moment. A day. A life. Those accused and convicted were stripped of their power, a fate some found worse than death in a world ruled by magic. And yet, Kell bore the mark of such a spell. Worse, he suspected that the king and queen themselves had sanctioned it. The initials on his knife.

Were the letters English? Or Arnesian? The letters could be found in both alphabets. What did the L stand for? Or even the K, for that matter? He knew nothing of the letters that had formed his name´┐ŻK. He was only a child when he was brought to the palace. Had the knife always been his? Who had he been? The absence of memory ate at him. Magic might live in the blood, but not in the bloodline. It chose its own way.

Chose its shape. The strong sometimes gave birth to the weak, or the other way around. Fire wielders were often born from water mages, earth movers from healers. Power could not be cultivated like a crop, distilled through generations. If it could, Antari would be sewn and reaped. They were ideal vessels, capable of controlling any element, of drawing any spell, of using their own blood to command the world around them.

They were tools, and in the wrong hands, weapons. In truth, none knew what led to the birth of an Antari. Some believed that it was random, a lucky throw of dice. Others claimed that Antari were divine, destined for greatness.

Some scholars, like Tieren, believed that Antari were the result of transference between the worlds, magic of different kinds intertwining, and that that was why they were dying out. But no matter the theory on how they came to be, most believed that Antari were sacred. Chosen by magic or blessed by it, perhaps. But certainly marked by it. Kell brought his fingers absently to his right eye. Whatever one chose to believe, the fact remained that Antari had grown even more rare, and therefore more precious.

Their talent had always made them something to be coveted, but now their scarcity made them something to be gathered and guarded and kept. And whether or not Rhy wanted to admit it, Kell belonged to the royal collection. He took up the silver music box, winding the tiny metal crank.

A valuable trinket, he thought, but a trinket all the same. Instead, he held it tight, the notes whispering out as he fell back onto the stiff cot and considered the small beautiful contraption. How had he ended up on this shelf? What had happened when his eye turned black? Was he born that way and hidden, or did the mark of magic manifest?

Five years. Had they been sad to let him go? Or had they gratefully offered him up to the crown? What life had he forgotten? How much could a child of five really have to remember? A tip of the top hat and a pleasant good night, and she was the proud new owner of a timepiece, and he was on his way and none the wiser. A poor excuse for it, to be sure, but better than a prison or a poorhouse.

She ran a gloved thumb over the crystal watch face. It was a constable. Her hand went to the brim of her top hat´┐Żstolen from a dozing chauffeur the week before´┐Żand she hoped the gesture passed for a greeting and not a nervous slip, an attempt to hide her face.

Lila was tall and thin, with a boyish frame that helped her pass for a young man, but only from a distance. Too close an inspection, and the illusion would crumble.

Lila knew she should turn and go while she could, but when the constable searched for something to light his pipe and came up empty, she found herself fetching up a sliver of wood from the street. She put one boot up on the base of the lamppost and stepped lithely up to light the stick in the flame. Lantern light glanced off her jawline, lips, cheekbones, the edges of her face exposed beneath the top hat.

A delicious thrill ran through her chest, spurned on by the closeness of danger, and Lila wondered, not for the first time, if something was wrong with her. Barron used to say so, but Barron was a bore. It keeps looking till it finds you. Might as well find it first. Why do you want to die? I just want to live.

He offered a muttered thanks and lit the pipe, gave a few puffs, and seemed about to go, but then he paused. Likely to get your pocket picked. Lila reached out and took it, even though she knew at first glance what it was. She stared down at a sketch that was little more than a shadowy outline wearing a mask´┐Ża haphazard swatch of fabric over the eyes´┐Żand a broad brim hat. A right audacious crook, this one. It was true. Nicking spare change in South Bank was one thing, stealing silver and gold from the carriage-bound in Mayfair quite another, but thieves were fools to stay in slums.

The poor kept up their guards. But Lila knew there were no good parts. Only smart parts and stupid parts, and she was quick enough to know which one to play. She handed back the paper and tipped the stolen top hat to the constable. The moment he was out of sight, Lila sighed and slumped back against the lamppost, dizzy with relief. She dragged the top hat from her head and considered the mask and the broad brim cap stuffed inside.

She smiled to herself. And then she put the hat back on, pushed off the post, and made her way to the docks, whistling as she walked. The ship leaned heavily against the dock, its paint stripped by salt, its wooden hull half rotted in some places, and fully rotted in others. The whole thing seemed to be sinking very, very slowly into the Thames. Powell claimed that the Sea King was as sturdy as ever. Still fit for the high seas, he swore. She put a boot up on the ramp, and the boards groaned underfoot, the sound rippling back until it seemed like the whole boat was protesting her arrival.

The cold wood against her palms, the gentle roll of the deck beneath her feet, it all felt right. Lila Bard knew in her bones that she was meant to be a pirate. All she needed was a working ship. And once she had one ´┐Ż A breeze caught up her coat, and for a moment she saw herself far from the London port, far from any land, plowing forward across the high seas.

She closed her eyes and tried to imagine the feel of the sea breeze rushing through her threadbare sleeves. The thrill of freedom´┐Żtrue freedom´┐Żand adventure.

She tipped her chin up as an imaginary spray of salty water tickled her chin. She drew a deep breath and smiled at the taste of the sea air. By the time she opened her eyes, she was surprised to find the Sea King just as it had been. Docked and dead. Lila pushed off the rail and made her way across the deck, and for the first time all night, as her boots echoed on the wood, she felt something like safe. Familiar ´┐Ż was that it? Or maybe simply hidden.

That was as close to safe as it got. No eyes watched her cross the deck. None followed her through the dank little hall, or into the cabin at the end.

The knot at her throat finally came loose, and Lila pulled the cloak from her shoulders and tossed it onto a cot that hugged one of the cabin walls. It fell fluttering to the bed, soon followed by the top hat, which spilled its disguise like jewels onto the dark fabric. Lila stirred them up and used the stick to light a couple of tallow candles scattered around the cabin. She then tugged off her gloves and lobbed them onto the cot with the rest. Finally, she slid off her belt, freeing holster and dagger both from the leather strap.

Caster´┐Żfor all good weapons deserved a name´┐Żwas a beauty of a gun, and she slipped him gently, almost reverently, into the drawer of her desk. 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. 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. 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. How many ladies had flirted with her? Swooned and leaned and pretended to marvel at her strength? It served them right, for playing weak.

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.

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. Powell stood there, swaying from drink and the gentle rock of the boat. He held out the other, palm up. He closed his fist and jingled the money. Or maybe she was afraid that if she started offering such pricey goods, Powell would come to expect them. Her tone was sweet but her teeth were sharp. Go to bed.

His fingers fumbled with his buckle. 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.

And then it went slack. 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 ´┐Ż 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. 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. 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.