V.E. Schwab introduced us to her four Londons in A Darker Shade of Magic and A Gathering of Shadows. Now, in A Conjuring of Light, the thrilling conclusion to her Shades of Magic fantasy series, these Londons fall while other kingdoms rise, and darkness sweeps through the Maresh Empire.
Below, check out EW’s exclusive cover reveal and excerpt for A Conjuring of Light — which hits shelves February 21, 2017.
Excerpt from A Conjuring of Light by V.E. Schwab
Delilah Bard—once thief, current magician, and one-day pirate —was running as fast as she could.
Hold on, Kell, she thought as she sprinted through the streets of Red London, still clutching the shard of stone that had once been part of Astrid Dane’s mouth, stolen in another life, when magic and the idea of multiple worlds were new to her. When she had only just discovered that people could be possessed, or turned to stone, or bound like rope.
Kell. The word was an order, a plea. I’m coming.
In the distance, there were fireworks, music, calls, and all the sounds of a city celebrating the end of the Essen Tasch, oblivious to the horror happening at its heart. Back at the Arnesian palace, Prince Rhy Maresh was dying, which meant that somewhere, a world away, so was Kell.
Lila reached the road she was looking for, and staggered to a stop, knife already out, blade pressing to the flesh of her hand. Her heart pounded as she turned her back on the chaos, and pressed her bleeding palm, and the stone within it, to the wall.
Twice before she’d made this journey, but always as a passenger.
Always using Kell’s magic.
Never her own.
And never alone.
But there was no time to think, no time to be afraid, and certainly no time to wait.
Chest heaving and pulse high, Lila swallowed and said the words, as boldly as she could.
The magic sang up her arm, and then the city lurched around her, gravity twisting as the world gave way.
She thought it was be easy, or at least, simple.
Something you either survived, or did not.
She was wrong.
For one horrifying moment, Lila ceased to exist.
She felt herself unravel, break apart into a million threads, each one stretching, fraying, threatening to tear as she stepped out of the world, out of life and air and weight and into nothing. And then, just as suddenly she was staggering forward onto her hands and knees in the street.
She let out an short, involuntary scream as she landed, limbs shaking, head ringing like a bell.
The ground beneath her palms—and there was ground, so that was a good sign—was rough and cold, the air quiet. No fireworks. No music. She dragged herself back to her feet, blood dripping from her fingers, her nose. She wiped it away, red dots speckling the stone as she drew her knife and put her back to the icy wall, remembering the last time she was here, the hungry eyes of men and women starved for power.
And then she looked up.
The sky was streaked with reds and purples and golds.
Only White London didn’t have color, not like this, and for a terrible second, Lila thought she’d crossed into yet another London, another world, had trapped herself even farther from home—wherever that was now.
But no, Lila recognized the stone street beneath her boots, the castle rising to gothic points against the setting sun. It was the same, and yet entirely changed. It had only been four months since she’d been here, four months since she and Kell had faced the Dane twins. It had been a world of ice and ash and white stone. And now…a man walked past her on the street, and he was smiling. Not the rictus grin of the starving, but the private smile of the happy, the blessed.
This was wrong.
Four months, and in that time she’d learned to sense magic, its presence, its intent. She couldn’t see it, not like Alucard did, but with every breath, she tasted power on the air as if it were sugar. Sweet, and strong enough that it was cloying. The world shimmered with it.
What the hell was going on?
And where was Kell?
Lila knew where she was, where she’d chosen to make her door, and she followed the tall stone wall around a corner to the castle gates. They stood open, winter ivy winding through the iron. Lila dragged to a stop a second time. The stone forest—once a garden filled with bodies—was gone, replaced by an actual stretch of trees, but guards in polished armor flanked the castle steps, all of them alert.
Kell had to be inside—a tether ran between them, thin as thread, but strangely strong—and it drew her toward the castle like a weight, but beyond that, she couldn’t tell. The pull of him was buried behind too many walls, too much magic.
Wasn’t there a finding spell? Lila dragged her mind for the words. As Tascen, that was the way to move between different places in the same world, but what if she wanted to find a person, not a place?
She cursed herself for not knowing, never asking. Kell had told her once, of finding Rhy after he’d been taken. What had he used? A wooden horse. Something Rhy had made. Another image sprang to mind, of the kerchief—her kerchief—clenched in Kell’s hand when he first found her at the Stone’s Throw. But Lila didn’t have anything of his. No tokens. No trinkets.
Panic welled, and she fought it down.
So she didn’t have a charm to guide her. People were more than what they owned, and surely objects weren’t the only things that held a mark. They were made of pieces, words…memories.
And Lila had a few of those.
She slashed her hand, and pressed it to the castle gate, the cold stone biting at the shallow wound as she squeezed her eyes shut, and summoned Kell. The memory of the night they met, first in the alley when she robbed him, and then later, when he’d walked through her wall. A stranger tied to her bed, the taste of magic, the promise of freedom, the fear of being left behind. Hand in hand through one world, and then another, pressed together as they hid from Holland, faced down sly Fletcher, fought the not-Rhy. The horror at the palace and the battle in White London, Kell’s blood-streaked body wrapped around hers in the rubble of the stone forest. The broken pieces of their lives. And then, a new embrace. His hand burning on her waist as they danced, his mouth burning against hers as they kissed, bodies clashing like swords on the palace balcony. The terrifying heat, and then, too soon, the cold. Her collapse in the arena. His anger hurled like a weapon before he turned away. Before she’d let him go.
But she was here to take him back.
Lila steeled herself again, jaw clenched against the expectation of the pain to come.
She held the memories in her mind, pressed them to the wall as if they were a token, and said the words.
As Tascen Kell.”
Against her hand, the wall—the world—shuddered and—
Once more, the world fell away as Lila staggered through, out of the street and into the polished stone chamber of a castle hallway.
Torches burned in sconces along the walls, and footsteps rang in the distance.
She allowed herself the briefest moment of satisfaction, maybe even relief, before realizing Kell wasn’t here. And then beyond a door to her left, she heard a muffled scream of desperation.
Lila’s blood went cold.
She reached for the door’s handle, and at the same moment, heard the low whistle of metal through air, just before a knife buried itself in the wood above her hand. A black cord drew a path from the hilt back through the air, and so Lila turned, following the line to a woman in a pale cloak. A scar traced the other woman’s cheekbone, but that was the only ordinary thing about her. Black filled one eye, but spilled over like wax, running down her cheek and up her temple, tracing the line of her jaw and vanishing into hair so red—redder than Kell’s coat, redder even than the River in Arnes. A color so vibrant it seemed to singe the air. A color too bright for this world. Or, at least, the world it had been. But Lila felt the wrongness here, and it was more than vivid colors and ruined eyes.
This woman reminded her not of Kell, or even Holland, but of the black stone from months ago with its strange pull, its heavy beat.
With a flick of her wrist, a second knife glinted in the enigmatic figure’s other hand, hilt tethered to the cord’s other end. A swift tug, and the first knife freed itself from the wood and went flying back into the woman’s fingers. Graceful as a bird gliding into formation.
Lila was almost impressed. “Who are you supposed to be?” she asked.
“I am the messenger,” said the woman, even though Lila knew a trained killer when she saw one. “And you?”
Lila drew her own knives. “I am the thief.”
“You cannot go in.”
Lila put her back to the door, Kell’s power like a dying pulse against her spine. Hold on, she thought desperately. “Try and stop me.”
“What is your name?” asked the woman.
“What’s it to you?”
She smiled, then, a wicked, murderous grin. “My king will want to know who I’ve—”
Lila didn’t wait for her to finish.
Her first blade flew through the air, and as the woman’s hand moved to deflect it, Lila struck with the second. She was halfway to meeting flesh when the corded blade came at her and she had to dodge, diving out of the way. She spun, ready to slash again, only to find herself parrying another scorpion strike. The cord between the knives was elastic, and the woman wielded the blades the way Jinnar did wind, Kisimyr earth, Alucard water. They were wrapped in will, and when they flew, they did so with the force of momentum, and the elegance of magic.
The woman moved with a disturbing grace, the fluid gestures of a dancer.
A dancer with two very sharp blades.
Lila ducked, the knife biting through the air beside her face. Several strands of dark hair fell to the floor. The weapons blurred with speed, drawing her attention in different directions. It was all Lila could do to dodge the glints of silver.
She’d been in her fair share of knife fights. Had started most of them herself. She knew the trick was to find the guard and get behind it, to force a moment of defense, an opening for attack, but this wasn’t hand-to-hand combat.
How was she supposed to fight a woman whose knives didn’t even stay in her hands?
The answer, of course, was simple: the same way she fought anyone else.
Quick and dirty.