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A Darker Shade of Magic

Page 14

   


“Shouldn’t a done that,” growled Powell, face red. His fingers fumbled with his buckle. Lila didn’t wait. She went for the pistol in the drawer, but Powell’s head snapped up and he lunged and caught her wrist, dragging her toward him. He threw her bodily back onto the cot, and she landed on the hat and the gloves and the cloak and the discarded knife.
Lila scrambled for the dagger as Powell charged forward. He grabbed her knee as her fingers wrapped around the leather sheath. He jerked her toward him as she drew the blade free, and when he caught her other hand with his, she used his grip to pull herself to her feet and drive the knife into his gut.
And just like that, all the struggle went out of the cramped little room.
Powell stared down at the blade jutting out of his front, eyes wide with surprise, and for a moment it looked like he might carry on despite it, but Lila knew how to use a knife, knew where to cut to hurt and where to cut to kill.
Powell’s grip on her tightened. And then it went slack. He swayed and frowned, and then his knees buckled.
“Shouldn’t a done that,” she echoed, pulling the knife free before he could collapse forward onto it.
Powell’s body hit the floor and stayed there. Lila stared down at it a moment, marveling at the stillness, the quiet broken only by her pulse and the hush of the water against the hull of the ship. She toed the man with her boot.
Dead.
Dead … and making a mess.
Blood was spreading across the boards, filling in the cracks and dripping through to lower parts of the ship. Lila needed to do something. Now.
She crouched, wiped her blade on Powell’s shirt, and recovered the silver from his pocket. And then she stepped over his body, retrieved the revolver from its drawer, and got dressed. When the belt was back around her waist and the cloak around her shoulders, she took up the bottle of whiskey from the floor. It hadn’t broken when it fell. Lila pulled the cork free with her teeth and emptied the contents onto Powell, even though there was probably enough alcohol in his blood to burn without it.
She took up a candle and was about to touch it to the floor when she remembered the map. The one to anywhere. She freed it from the desk and tucked it under her cloak, and then, with a last look around the room, she set fire to the dead man and the boat.
Lila stood on the dock and watched the Sea King burn.
She stared up at it, face warmed by the fire that danced on her chin and cheeks the way the lamp light had before the constable. It’s a shame, she thought. She’d rather liked the rotting ship. But it wasn’t hers. No, hers would be much better.
The Sea King groaned as the flames gnawed its skin and then its bones, and Lila watched the dead ship begin to sink. She stayed until she could hear the far-off cries and the sound of boots, too late, of course, but coming all the same.
And then she sighed and went in search of another place to spend the night.
 
 
III

Barron was standing on the steps of the Stone’s Throw, staring absently toward the docks when Lila strolled up, the top hat and the map both tucked under her arm. When she followed his gaze, she could see the dregs of the fire over the building tops, the smoke ghosted against the cloudy night. Barron pretended not to notice her at first. She couldn’t blame him. The last time he’d seen her, almost a year before, he’d kicked her out for thieving—not from him, of course, from a patron—and she’d stormed off, damning him and his little tavern inn alike.
“Where you going, then?” he’d rumbled after her like thunder. It was as close as he’d ever come to shouting.
“To find an adventure,” she’d called without looking back.
Now she scuffed her boots along the street stones. He sucked on a cigar. “Back so soon?” he said without looking up. She climbed the steps, and slouched against the tavern door. “You find adventure already? Or it find you?”
Lila didn’t answer. She could hear the clink of cups inside and the chatter of drunk men getting drunker. She hated that noise, hated most taverns altogether, but not the Stone’s Throw. The others all repulsed her, repelled her, but this place dragged at her like gravity, a low and constant pull. Even when she didn’t mean to, she always seemed to end up here. How many times in the last year had her feet carried her back to these steps? How many times had she almost gone inside? Not that Barron needed to know about that. She watched him tip his head back and stare up at the sky as if he could see something there besides clouds.
“What happened to the Sea King?” he asked.
“It burned down.” A defiant flutter of pride filled her chest when his eyes widened a fraction in surprise. She liked surprising Barron. It wasn’t an easy thing to do.
“Did it now?” he asked lightly.
“You know how it is,” said Lila with a shrug. “Old wood goes up so easy.”
Barron gave her a long look, then exhaled a smoke-filled breath. “Powell should’ve been more careful with his brig.”
“Yeah,” said Lila. She fiddled with the brim of the top hat.
“You smell like smoke.”
“I need to rent a room.” The words stuck in her throat.
“Funny,” said Barron, taking another puff. “I distinctly remember you suggesting that I take my tavern and all its many—albeit modest—rooms and shove each and every one of them up my—”
“Things change,” she said as she plucked the cigar from his mouth and took a drag.
He studied her in the lamplight. “You okay?”
Lila studied the smoke as it poured through her lips. “I’m always okay.”
She handed back the cigar and dug the silver watch out of her vest pocket. It was warm and smooth, and she didn’t know why she liked it so much, but she did. Maybe because it was a choice. Taking it had been a choice. Keeping it had been one, too. And maybe the choice started as a random one, but there was something to it. Maybe she’d kept it for a reason. Or maybe she’d only kept it for this. She held it out to Barron. “Will this buy me a few nights?”
The owner of the Stone’s Throw considered the watch. And then he reached out and curled Lila’s fingers over it.
“Keep it,” he said casually. “I know you’re good for the coin.”
Lila slid the trinket back into her pocket, thankful for its weight as she realized she was back to nothing. Well, almost nothing. A top hat, a map to anywhere—or nowhere—a handful of knives, a flintlock, a few coins, and a silver watch.