A Gathering of Shadows

Four months have passed since the shadow stone fell into Kell’s possession. Four months since his path crossed with Delilah Bard. Four months since Rhy was wounded and the Dane twins fell, and the stone was cast with Holland’s dying body through the rift, and into Black London.

In many ways, things have almost returned to normal, though Rhy is more sober, and Kell is now plagued by his guilt. Restless, and having given up smuggling, Kell is visited by dreams of ominous magical events, waking only to think of Lila, who disappeared from the docks like she always meant to do. As Red London finalizes preparations for the Element Games-an extravagent international competition of magic, meant to entertain and keep healthy the ties between neighboring countries-a certain pirate ship draws closer, carrying old friends back into port.

But while Red London is caught up in the pageantry and thrills of the Games, another London is coming back to life, and those who were thought to be forever gone have returned. After all, a shadow that was gone in the night reappears in the morning, and so it seems Black London has risen again—and so to keep magic’s balance, another London must fall.

V.E. Schwab’s A Gathering of Shadows, sequel to A Darker Shade of Magic, is available February 23, 2016 from Tor Books (US) and Titan (UK).

 

 

I
The Arnesian Sea

 

Delilah Bard had a way of finding trouble.

She’d always thought it was better than letting trouble find her, but floating in the ocean in a two-person skiff with no oars, no view of land, and no real resources save the ropes binding her wrists, she was beginning to reconsider.

The night was moonless overhead, the sea and sky mirroring the starry darkness to every side; only the ripple of water beneath the rocking boat marked the difference between up and down. That infinite reflection usually made Lila feel like she was perched at the center of the universe.

Tonight, adrift, it made her want to scream.

Instead, she squinted at the twinkle of lights in the distance, the reddish hue alone setting the craft’s lanterns apart from the starlight. And she watched as the ship—her ship—moved slowly but decidedly away.

Panic crawled its way up her throat, but she held her ground.

I am Delilah Bard, she thought, as the ropes cut into her skin. I am a thief and a pirate and a traveler. I have set foot in three different worlds, and lived. I have shed the blood of royals and held magic in my hands. And a ship full of men cannot do what I can. I don’t need any of you.

I am one of a damned kind.

Feeling suitably empowered, she set her back to the ship, and gazed out at the sprawling night ahead.

It could be worse, she reasoned, just before she felt cold water licking her boots and looked down to see that there was a hole in the boat. Not a large hole by any stretch, but the size was little comfort; a small hole could sink a boat just as effectively, if not as fast.

Lila groaned and looked down at the coarse rope cinched tight around her hands, doubly grateful that the bastards had left her legs free, even if she was trapped in an abominable dress. A full-skirted, flimsy green contraption with too much gossamer and a waist so tight she could hardly breathe and why in god’s name must women do this to themselves?

The water inched higher in the skiff, and Lila forced herself to focus. She drew what little breath her outfit would allow and took stock of her meager, quickly dampening inventory: a single cask of ale (a parting gift), three knives (all concealed), half a dozen flares (bequeathed by the men who’d set her adrift), the aforementioned dress (damn it to hell), and the contents of that dress’s skirts and pockets (necessary, if she was to prevail).

Lila took up one of the flares—a device like a firework that, when struck against any surface, produced a stream of colored light. Not a burst, but a steady beam strong enough to cut the darkness like a knife. Each flare was supposed to last a quarter of an hour, and the different colors had their own code on the open water: yellow for a sinking ship, green for illness aboard, white for unnamed distress, and red for pirates.

She had one of each, and her fingers danced over their ends as she considered her options. She eyed the rising water and settled on the yellow flare, taking it up with both hands and striking it against the side of the little boat.

Light burst forth, sudden and blinding. It split the world in two, the violent gold-white of the flare and the dense black nothing around it. Lila spent half a minute cursing and blinking back tears at the brightness as she angled the flare up and away from her face. And then she began to count. Just as her eyes were finally adjusting, the flare faltered, flickered, and went out. She scanned the horizon for a ship but saw none, and the water in the boat continued its slow but steady rise up the calf of her boot. She took up a second flare—white for distress—and struck it on the wood, shielding her eyes. She counted the minutes as they ticked by, scouring the night beyond the boat for signs of life.

“Come on,” she whispered. “Come on, come on, come on…” The words were lost beneath the hiss of the flare as it died, plunging her back into darkness.

Lila gritted her teeth.

Judging by the level of the water in the little boat, she had only a quarter of an hour—one flare’s worth of time—before she was well and truly in danger of sinking.

Then something snaked along the skiff’s wooden side. Something with teeth.

If there is a god, she thought, a celestial body, a heavenly power, or anyone above—or below—who might just like to see me live another day, for pity’s or entertainment’s sake, now would be a good time to intercede.

And with that, she took up the red flare—the one for pirates—and struck it, bathing the night around her in an eerie crimson light. It reminded her for an instant of the Isle River back in London. Not her London—if the dreary place had ever been hers—or the terrifyingly pale London responsible for Athos and Astrid and Holland, but his London. Kell’s London.

He flashed up in her vision like a flare, auburn hair and that constant furrow between his eyes: one blue, one black. Antari. Magic boy. Prince.

Lila stared straight into the flare’s red light until it burned the image out. She had more pressing concerns right now. The water was rising. The flare was dying. Shadows were slithering against the boat.

Just as the red light of the pirate’s flare began to peter out, she saw it.

It began as nothing—a tendril of mist on the surface of the sea—but soon the fog drew itself into the phantom of a ship. The polished black hull and shining black sails reflected the night to every side, the lanterns aboard small and colorless enough to pass for starlight. Only when it drew close enough for the flare’s dying red light to dance across the reflective surfaces did the ship come into focus. And by then, it was nearly on top of her.

By the flare’s sputtering glow, Lila could make out the ship’s name, streaked in shimmering paint along the hull. Is Ranes Gast.

The Copper Thief.

Lila’s eyes widened in amazement and relief. She smiled a small, private smile, and then buried the look beneath something more fitting—an expression somewhere between grateful and beseeching, with a dash of wary hope.

The flare guttered and went out, but the ship was beside her now, close enough for her to see the faces of the men leaning over the rail.

Tosa!” she called in Arnesian, getting to her feet, careful not to rock the tiny, sinking craft.

Help. Vulnerability had never come naturally, but she did her best to imitate it as the men looked down at her, huddled there in her little waterlogged boat with her bound wrists and her soggy green dress. She felt ridiculous.

Kers la?” asked one, more to the others than to her. What is this?

“A gift?” said another.

“You’d have to share,” muttered a third.

A few of the other men said less pleasant things, and Lila tensed, glad that their accents were too full of mud and ocean spray for her to understand all the words, even if she gleaned their meaning.

“What are you doing down there?” asked one of them, his skin so dark his edges smudged into the night.

Her Arnesian was still far from solid, but four months at sea surrounded by people who spoke no English had certainly improved it.

Sensan,” answered Lila—sinking—which earned a laugh from the gathering crew. But they seemed in no hurry to haul her up. Lila held her hands aloft so they could see the rope. “I could use some help,” she said slowly, the wording practiced.

“Can see that,” said the man.

“Who throws away a pretty thing?” chimed in another.

“Maybe she’s all used up.”

“Nah.”

“Hey, girl! You got all your bits and pieces?”

“Better let us see!”

“What’s with all the shouting?” boomed a voice, and a moment later a rail-thin man with deep-set eyes and receding black hair came into sight at the side of the ship. The others shied away in deference as he took hold of the wooden rail and looked down at Lila. His eyes raked over her, the dress, the rope, the cask, the boat.

The captain, she wagered.

“You seem to be in trouble,” he called down. He didn’t raise his voice, but it carried nonetheless, his Arnesian accent clipped but clear.

“How perceptive,” Lila called back before she could stop herself. The insolence was a gamble, but no matter where she was, the one thing she knew was how to read a mark. And sure enough, the thin man smiled.

“My ship’s been taken,” she continued, “and my new one won’t last long, and as you can see—”

He cut her off. “Might be easier to talk if you come up here?”

Lila nodded with a wisp of relief. She was beginning to fear they’d sail on and leave her to drown. Which, judging by the crew’s lewd tones and lewder looks, might actually be the better option, but down here she had nothing and up there she had a chance.

A rope was flung over the side; the weighted end landed in the rising water near her feet. She took hold and used it to guide her craft against the ship’s side, where a ladder had been lowered; but before she could hoist herself up, two men came down and landed in the boat beside her, causing it to sink considerably faster. Neither of them seemed bothered. One proceeded to haul up the cask of ale, and the other, much to Lila’s dismay, began to haul up her. He threw her over his shoulder, and it took every ounce of her control—which had never been plentiful—not to bury a knife in his back, especially when his hands began to wander up her skirt.

Lila dug her nails into her palms, and by the time the man finally set her down on the ship’s desk beside the waiting cask (“Heavier than she looks,” he muttered, “and only half as soft…”) she’d made eight small crescents in her skin.

“Bastard,” growled Lila in English under her breath. He gave her a wink and murmured something about being soft where it mattered, and Lila silently vowed to kill him. Slowly.

And then she straightened and found herself standing in a circle of sailors.

No, not sailors, of course.

Pirates.

Grimy, sea stained and sun bleached, their skin darkened and their clothes faded, each and every one of them had a knife tattooed across his throat. The mark of the pirates of the Copper Thief. She counted seven surrounding her, five tending to the rigging and sails, and assumed another half dozen below deck. Eighteen. Round it up to twenty.

The rail-thin man broke the circle and stepped forward.

Solase,” he said, spreading his arms. “What my men have in balls, they lack in manners.” He brought his hands to the shoulders of her green dress. There was blood under his nails. “You are shaking.”

“I’ve had a bad night,” said Lila, hoping, as she surveyed the rough crew, that it wasn’t about to get worse.

The thin man smiled, his mouth surprisingly full of teeth. “Anesh,” he said, “but you are in better hands now.”

Lila knew enough about the crew of the Copper Thief to know that was a lie, but she feigned ignorance. “Whose hands would those be?” she asked, as the skeletal figure took her fingers and pressed his cracked lips to her knuckles, ignoring the rope still wound tightly around her wrists. “Baliz Kasnov,” he said. “Illustrious captain of the Copper Thief.”

Perfect. Kasnov was a legend on the Arnesian sea. His crew was small but nimble, and they had a penchant for boarding ships and slitting throats in the darkest hours before dawn, slipping away with their cargo and leaving the dead behind to rot. He may have looked starved, but he was an alleged glutton for treasure, especially the consumable kind, and Lila knew that the Copper Thief was sailing for the northern coast of a city named Sol in hopes of ambushing the owners of a particularly large shipment of fine liquor. “Baliz Kasnov,” she said, sounding out the name as if she’d never heard it.

“And you are?” he pressed.

“Delilah Bard,” she said. “Formerly of the Golden Fish.”

“Formerly?” prompted Kasnov as his men, obviously bored by the fact she was still clothed, began to tap into the cask. “Well, Miss Bard,” he said, linking his arm through hers conspiratorially. “Why don’t you tell me how you came to be in that little boat? The sea is no place for a fair young lady such as yourself.”

Vaskens,” she said—pirates—as if she had no idea the word applied to present company. “They stole my ship. It was a gift, from my father, for my wedding. We were meant to sail toward Faro—we set out two nights ago—but they came out of nowhere, stormed the Golden Fish…” She’d practiced this speech, not only the words but the pauses. “They… they killed my husband. My captain. Most of my crew.” Here Lila let herself lapse into English. “It happened so fast—” She caught herself, as if the slip were accidental.

But the captain’s attention snagged, like a fish on a hook. “Where are you from?”

“London,” said Lila, letting her accent show. A murmur went through the group. She pressed on, intent on finishing her story. “The Fish was small,” she said, “but precious. Laden down with a month’s supplies. Food, drink… money. As I said, it was a gift. And now it’s gone.”

But it wasn’t really, not yet. She looked back over the rail. The ship was a smudge of light on the far horizon. It had stopped its retreat and seemed to be waiting. The pirates followed her gaze with hungry eyes.

“How many men?” asked Kasnov.

“Enough,” she said. “Seven? Eight?”

The pirates smiled greedily, and Lila knew what they were thinking. They had more than twice that number, and a ship that hid like a shadow in the dark. If they could catch the fleeing bounty… she could feel Baliz Kasnov’s deep-set eyes scrutinizing her. She stared back at him and wondered, absently, if he could do any magic. Most ships were warded with a handful of spells—things to make their lives safer and more convenient—but she had been surprised to find that most of the men she met at sea had little inclination for the elemental arts. Alucard said that magical proficiency was a valued skill, and that true affinity would usually land one gainful employment on land. Magicians at sea almost always focused on the elements of relevance—water and wind—but few hands could turn the tide, and in the end most still favored good old-fashioned steel. Which Lila could certainly appreciate, having several pieces currently hidden on her person.

“Why did they spare you?” asked Kasnov.

“Did they?” challenged Lila.

The captain licked his lips. He’d already decided what to do about the ship, she could tell; now he was deciding what to do about her. The Copper Thieves had no reputation for mercy.

“Baliz…” said one of the pirates, a man with skin darker than the rest. He clasped the captain’s shoulder and whispered in his ear. Lila could only make out a few of the muttered words. Londoners. Rich. And ransom.

A slow smile spread across the captain’s lips. “Anesh,” he said with a nod. And then, to the entire gathered crew, “Sails up! Course south by west! We have a golden fish to catch.”

The men rumbled their approval.

“My lady,” said Kasnov, leading Lila toward the steps. “You’ve had a hard night. Let me show you to my chamber, where you’ll surely be more comfortable.”

Behind her, she heard the sounds of the cask being opened and the ale being poured, and she smiled as the captain led her belowdecks.

* * *

Kasnov didn’t linger, thank God.

Gathering-of-Shadows_UKcoverHe deposited her in his quarters, the rope still around her wrists, and vanished again, locking the door behind him. To her relief, she’d only seen three men belowdecks. That meant fifteen aboard the Copper Thief.

Lila perched on the edge of the captain’s bed and counted to ten, twenty, then thirty, as the steps sounded above and the ship banked toward her own fleeing vessel. They hadn’t even bothered to search her for weapons, which Lila thought a bit presumptuous as she dug a blade from her boot and, with a single practiced gesture, spun it in her grip and slashed the ropes. They fell to the floor as she rubbed her wrists, humming to herself. A shanty about the Sarows, a phantom said to haunt wayward ships at night.

How do you know when the Sarows is coming?
(Is coming is coming is coming aboard?)

Lila took the waist of her dress in two hands, and ripped; the skirt tore away, revealing close-fitting black pants—holsters pinning a knife above each knee—that tapered into her boots. She took the blade and slid it up the corset at her back, slicing the ribbons so she could breathe.

When the wind dies away but still sings in your ears,
(In your ears in your head in your blood in your bones.)

She tossed the green skirt onto the bed and slit it open from hem to tattered waist. Hidden among the gossamer were half a dozen thin sticks that passed for boning and looked like flares, but were neither. She slid her blade back into her boot and freed the tapers.

When the current goes still but the ship, it drifts along,
(Drifts on drifts away drifts alone.)

Overhead, Lila heard a thud, like dead weight. And then another, and another, as the ale took effect. She took up a piece of black cloth, rubbed charcoal on one side, and tied it over her nose and mouth.

When the moon and the stars all hide from the dark,
(For the dark is not empty at all at all.)
(For the dark is not empty at all.)

The last thing Lila took from deep within the folds of the green skirt was her mask. A black leather face-piece, simple but for the horns that curled with strange and frightening grace over the brow. Lila settled the mask on her nose and tied it in place.

How do you know when the Sarows is coming?
(Is coming is coming is coming aboard?)

A looking glass, half-silvered with age, leaned in the corner of the captain’s cabin, and she caught her reflection as footsteps sounded on the stairs.

Why you don’t and you don’t and you won’t see it coming,
(You won’t see it coming at all.)

Lila smiled behind the mask. And then she turned and pressed her back against the wall. She struck a taper against the wood, the way she had the flares—but unlike flares, no light poured forth, only clouds of pale smoke.

An instant later, the captain’s door burst open, but the pirates were too late. She tossed the pluming taper into the room and heard footsteps stumble, and men cough, before the drugged smoke brought them down.

Two down, thought Lila, stepping over their bodies.

Thirteen to go.

 


II

No one was steering the ship.

It had banked against the waves and was now breaching, being hit sidelong instead of head-on in a way that made the whole thing rock unpleasantly beneath Lila’s feet.

She was halfway to the stairs before the first pirate barreled into her. He was massive, but his steps were slowed a measure and made clumsy by the drug dissolved in the ale. Lila rolled out of his grip and drove her boot into his sternum, slamming him back into the wall hard enough to crack bones. He groaned and slid down the wooden boards, half a curse across his lips before the toe of her boot met his jaw. His head snapped sideways then lolled forward against his chest.

Twelve.

Footsteps echoed overhead. She lit another taper and threw it up against the steps just as three more men poured belowdecks. The first saw the smoke and tried to backtrack, but the momentum of the second and third barred his retreat, and soon all three were coughing and gasping and crumpling on the wooden stairs.

Nine.

Lila toed the nearest with her boot, then stepped over and up the steps. She paused at the lip of the deck, hidden in the shadow of the stairs, and watched for signs of life. When she saw none, she dragged the charcoal cloth from her mouth, dragging in deep breaths of crisp winter air before stepping out into the night.

The bodies were strewn across the deck. She counted them as she walked, deducting each from the number of pirates aboard.

Eight.

Seven.

Six.

Five.

Four.

Three.

Two.

Lila paused, looking down at the men. And then, over by the rail, something moved. She drew one of the knives from its sheath against her thigh—one of her favorites, a thick blade with a grip guard shaped into metal knuckles—and strode toward the shuffling form, humming as she went.

How do you when the Sarows is coming?
(Is coming is coming is coming aboard?)

The man was crawling on his hands and knees across the deck, his face swollen from the drugged ale. At first Lila didn’t recognize him. But then he looked up, and she saw it was the man who’d carried her aboard. The one with the wandering hands. The one who’d talked about finding her soft places.

“Stupid bitch,” he muttered in Arnesian. It was almost hard to understand him through the wheezing. The drug wasn’t lethal, at least not in low doses (she hadn’t exactly erred on the side of caution with the cask), but it swelled the veins and airways, starving the body of oxygen until the victim passed out.

Looking down at the pirate now, with his face puffy and his lips blue and his breath coming out in ragged gasps, she supposed she might have been too liberal in her measurements. The man was currently trying—and failing—to get to his feet. Lila reached down, tangled the fingers of her free hand in the collar of his shirt, and helped him up.

“What did you call me?” she asked.

“I said,” he wheezed, “stupid… bitch. You’ll pay… for this. I’m gonna—”

He never finished. Lila gave him a sharp shove backward, and he toppled over the rail and crashed down into the sea.

“Show the Sarows some respect,” she muttered, watching him flail briefly and then vanish beneath the surface of the tide.

One.

She heard the boards behind her groan, and she managed to get her knife up the instant before the rope wrapped around her throat. Coarse fibers scraped her neck before she sawed herself free. When she did, she staggered forward and spun to find the captain of the Copper Thief, his eyes sharp, his steps sure.

Baliz Kasnov had not partaken of the ale with his crew.

He tossed the pieces of rope aside, and Lila’s grip tightened on her knife as she braced for a fight, but the captain drew no weapon. Instead, he brought his hands out before him, palms up.

Lila tilted her head, the horns of the mask tipping toward him. “Are you surrendering?” she asked.

The captain’s dark eyes glittered, and his mouth twitched. In the lantern light the knife tattoo across his throat seemed to glint.

“No one takes the Copper Thief,” he said.

His lips moved and his fingers twitched as flames leapt across them. Lila looked down and saw the ruined marking at his feet, and knew what he was about to do. Most ships were warded against fire, but he’d broken the spell. He lunged for the nearest sail, and Lila spun the blade in her hand, then threw. It was ill weighted, with the metal guard on the hilt, and it struck him in the neck instead of the head. He toppled forward, his hands thrown out to break his fall, the conjured fire meeting a coil of ropes instead of sail.

It caught hold, but Kasnov’s own body smothered most of it when he fell. The blood pouring from his neck extinguished more. Only a few tendrils of flame persisted, chewing their way up the ropes. Lila reached out toward the fire; when she closed her fingers into a fist, the flames died.

Lila smiled and retrieved her favorite knife from the dead captain’s throat, wiping the blood from the blade on his clothes. She was sheathing it again when she heard a whistle, and she looked up to see her ship, the Night Spire, drawing up beside the Copper Thief.

Men had gathered along the rail, and she crossed the width of the Thief to greet them, pushing the mask up onto her brow. Most of the men were frowning, but in the center, a tall figure stood, wearing a black sash and an amused smile, his tawny brown hair swept back and a sapphire in his brow. Alucard Emery. Her captain.

Mas aven,” growled the first mate, Stross, in disbelief.

“Not fucking possible,” said the cook, Olo, surveying the bodies scattered across the deck.

Handsome Vasry and Tavestronask (who went simply by Tav) both applauded, Kobis watched with crossed arms, and Lenos gaped like a fish.

Lila relished the mixture of shock and approval as she went to the rail and spread her arms wide. “Captain,” she said cheerfully. “It appears I have a ship for you.”

Alucard smiled. “It appears you do.”

A plank was laid between the two vessels, and Lila strode deftly across it, never once looking down. She landed on the deck of the Night Spire and turned toward the lanky young man with shadows beneath his eyes, as if he’d never slept. “Pay up, Lenos.”

His brow crinkled. “Captain,” he pleaded, with a nervous laugh.

Alucard shrugged. “You made the bet,” he said. “You and Stross,” he added, nodding to his first mate, a brutish man with a beard. “With your own heads and your own coin.”

And they had. Sure, Lila had boasted that she could take the Copper Thief herself, but they’d been the ones who thought she couldn’t. It had taken her nearly a month to buy enough of the drug for the tapers and ale, a little every time her ship had docked. It was worth it.

“But it was a trick!” countered Lenos.

“Fools,” said Olo, his voice low, thunderous.

“She clearly planned it,” grumbled Stross.

“Yeah,” said Lenos, “how were we supposed to know she’d been planning it?”

“You should have known better than to gamble with Bard in the first place.” Alucard met her gaze and winked. “Rules are rules, and unless you want to be left with the bodies on that ship when we’re done, I suggest you pay my thief her due.”

Stross dragged the purse from his pocket. “How did you do it?” he demanded, shoving the purse into her hands.

“Doesn’t matter,” said Lila, taking the coin. “Only matters that I did.”

Lenos went to forfeit his own purse, but she shook her head. “That’s not what I bet for, and you know it.” Lenos proceeded to slouch even lower than usual as he unstrapped the blade from his forearm.

“Don’t you have enough knives?” he grumbled, his lip thrust forward in a pout.

Lila’s smile sharpened. “No such thing,” she said, wrapping her fingers around the blade. Besides, she thought, this one is special. She’d been coveting the weapon since she first saw Lenos use it, back in Korma.

“I’ll win it back from you,” he mumbled.

Lila patted his shoulder. “You can try.”

Anesh!” boomed Alucard, pounding his hand on the plank. “Enough standing around, Spires, we’ve got a ship to sack. Take it all. I want those bastards left waking up with nothing in their hands but their own cocks.”

The men cheered, and Lila chuckled despite herself.

She’d never met a man who loved his job more than Alucard Emery. He relished it the way children relish a game, the way men and women relish acting, throwing themselves into their plays with glee and abandon. There was a measure of theatre to everything Alucard did. She wondered how many other parts he could play. Wondered which, if any, were not a part, but the actor beneath.

His eyes found hers in the dark. They were a storm of blue and grey, at times bright and at others almost colorless. He tipped his head wordlessly in the direction of his chambers, and she followed.

Alucard’s cabin smelled as it always did, of summer wine and clean silk and dying embers. He liked nice things, that much was obvious. But unlike collectors or boasters who put their fineries on display only to be seen and envied, all of Alucard’s luxuries looked thoroughly enjoyed.

“Well, Bard,” he said, sliding into English as soon as they were alone. “Are you going to tell me how you managed it?”

“What fun would that be?” she challenged, sinking into one of the two high-backed chairs before his hearth, where a pale fire blazed, as it always did, and two short glasses sat on the table, waiting to be filled. “Mysteries are always more exciting than truths.”

Alucard crossed to the table and took up a bottle, while his white cat, Esa, appeared and brushed against Lila’s boot. “Are you made of anything but mysteries?”

“Were there bets?” she asked, ignoring both him and the cat.

“Of course,” said Alucard, uncorking the bottle. “All kinds of small wagers. Whether you’d drown, whether the Thief would actually pick you up, whether we’d find anything left of you if they did…” He poured amber liquid into the glasses and held one out to Lila. She took it, and as she did, he plucked the horned mask off her head and tossed it onto the table between them. “It was an impressive performance,” he said, sinking into his own chair. “Those aboard who didn’t fear you before tonight surely do now.”

Lila stared into the glass, the way some stared into fire. “There were some aboard who didn’t fear me?” she asked archly.

“Some of them still call you the Sarows, you know,” he rambled on, “when you’re not around. They say it in a whisper, as if they’re think you can hear.”

“Maybe I can.” She rolled the glass between her fingers.

There was no clever retort, and she looked up from her glass and saw Alucard watching her, as he always did, searching her face the way thieves search pockets, trying to turn something out.

“Well,” he said at last, raising his glass, “to what should we toast? To the Sarows? To Baliz Kasnov and his copper fools? To handsome captains and elegant ships?”

But Lila shook her head. “No,” she said, raising her glass with a sharpened smile. “To the best thief.”

Alucard laughed, soft and soundless. “To the best thief,” he said.

And then he tipped his glass to hers, and they both drank.

Excerpted from A Gathering of Shadows © V.E. Schwab, 2016

2 Comments

Subscribe to this thread