Main Crooked Kingdom: Book 2 (Six of Crows)

Crooked Kingdom: Book 2 (Six of Crows)

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Year:
2016
Publisher:
Hachette Children's Group
Language:
english
ISBN:
B0117K9N3Q
File:
PDF, 6.48 MB
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Contents
By the Same Author
Part One Forsaken
1 Retvenko
2 Wylan
3 Matthias
4 Inej
Part Two A Killing Wind
5 Jesper
6 Nina
7 Inej
8 Matthias
9 Kaz
10 Jesper
Part Three Brick by Brick
11 Inej
12 Kaz
13 Nina
14 Wylan
15 Matthias
16 Jesper
Part Four The Unexpected Visitor
17 Inej
18 Kaz
19 Matthias
20 Inej
21 Kaz
22 Nina

23 Wylan
Part Five Kings & Queens
24 Jesper
25 Matthias
26 Kaz
27 Inej
28 Jesper
29 Nina
30 Kaz
31 Wylan
32 Inej
Part Six Action & Echo
33 Matthias
34 Nina
35 Inej
36 Jesper
37 Kaz
38 Matthias
39 Nina
40 Matthias
41 Wylan
42 Jesper
43 Kaz
44 Inej
45 Pekka
Cast of Characters
Acknowledgments
Dedication
Copyright
If you liked this, you’ll love…

ALSO BY

LEIGH BARDUGO

THE GRISHA TRILOGY

Shadow and Bone
Siege and Storm
Ruin and Rising
THE SIX OF CROWS DUOLOGY

Six of Crows

R etvenko leaned against the bar and tucked his nose into his dirty shot
glass. The whiskey had failed to warm him. Nothing could get you warm
in this Saintsforsaken city. And there was no escaping the smell, the
throat-choking stew of bilge, clams, and wet stone that seemed to have
soaked into his pores as if he’d been steeping in the city’s essence like
the world’s worst cup of tea.
It was most noticeable in the Barrel, even more so in a miserable
dump like this one—a squat tavern wedged into the lower floor of one of
the slum’s grimmest apartment buildings, its ceiling bowed by weather
and shoddy construction, its beams blackened by soot from a fireplace
that had long since ceased to function, the flue clogged by debris. The
floor was covered in sawdust to soak up spilled lager, vomit, and
whatever else the bar’s patrons lost control of. Retvenko wondered how
long it had been since the boards had been swept clean. He buried his
nose more deeply in the glass, inhaling the sweet perfume of bad
whiskey. It made his eyes water.
“You’re supposed to drink it, not snort it,” said the barkeep with a
laugh.
Retvenko put his glass down and gazed at the man blearily. He was
thick necked;  and barrel chested, a real bruiser. Retvenko had seen him
toss more than one rowdy patron into the street, but it was hard to take
him seriously dressed in the absurd fashion favored by the young men of
the Barrel—a pink shirt with sleeves that looked fit to split over huge
biceps, a garish red-and-orange plaid waistcoat. He looked like a

dandified soft-shell crab.
“Tell me,” said Retvenko. His Kerch wasn’t good to begin with, and it
was worse after a few drinks. “Why does city smell so bad? Like old
soup? Like sink full of dishes?”
The barman laughed. “That’s just Ketterdam. You get used to it.”
Retvenko shook his head. He didn’t want to get used to this city or its
stink. His job with Councilman Hoede had been dull, but at least his
rooms had been dry and warm. As a treasured Grisha indenture,
Retvenko had been kept in comfort, his belly full. He’d cursed Hoede at
the time, bored with his work shepherding the merchant’s expensive
cargo shipments across the sea, resenting the terms of his contract, the
foolish bargain he’d made to get himself out of Ravka after the civil war.
But now? Now he couldn’t help thinking of the Grisha workshop at
Hoede’s house, the fire burning merrily in the grate, brown bread served
with slabs of butter and thick cuts of ham. After Hoede had died, the
Kerch Merchant Council had let Retvenko take on sea voyages to pay his
way out of the indenture. The money was terrible, but what other options
did he have? He was a Grisha Squaller in a hostile city with no skills but
the gifts with which he’d been born.
“Another?” the barman asked, gesturing at Retvenko’s empty glass.
Retvenko hesitated. He shouldn’t waste his money. If he was smart
with his pennies, he would only need to rent himself out for one more
voyage, maybe two, and he’d have enough money to pay off his
indenture and buy himself a ticket to Ravka in a third-class berth. That
was all he needed.
He was due on the docks in less than an hour. Storms had been
predicted, so the crew would rely on Retvenko to master the air currents
and guide the ship calmly to whatever port they needed to reach. He
didn’t know where and he didn’t care. The captain would call
coordinates; Retvenko would fill the sails or calm the skies. And then he
would collect his pay. But the winds hadn’t picked up yet. Maybe he
could sleep through the first part of the voyage. Retvenko tapped the bar
and nodded. What was a man to do? He deserved some comfort in this
world.
“I am not errand boy,” he muttered.
“What’s that?” the barman asked as he poured out another drink.
Retvenko gave a dismissive wave. This person, this common lout,
could never understand. He toiled away in obscurity. Hoping for what?

An extra coin in his pocket? A warm glance from a pretty girl? He knew
nothing of glory in battle, what it was to be revered.
“You Ravkan?”
Through the muzzy blur the whiskey had created, Retvenko came
alert. “Why?”
“No reason. You just sound Ravkan.”
Retvenko told himself to relax. Plenty of Ravkans came through
Ketterdam looking for work. There was nothing on him that said Grisha.
His cowardice filled him with disgust—at himself, the barman, this city.
He wanted to sit and enjoy his drink. There was no one in the bar to
jump him, and despite the barman’s muscles, Retvenko knew he could
handle him easily. But when you were Grisha, even staying still could
mean courting trouble. There had been more rumors of disappearances in
Ketterdam recently—Grisha vanishing from the streets or their homes,
probably snapped up by slavers and sold to the highest bidder. Retvenko
would not let that happen to him, not when he was so close to buying his
way back to Ravka.
He downed his whiskey, slammed a coin on the counter, and rose from
the barstool. He left no tip. A man could work for a living.
Retvenko felt a little unsteady as he headed outside, and the moist
stink of the air didn’t help. He put his head down and set his feet toward
Fourth Harbor, letting the walk clear his head. Two more voyages , he
repeated to himself, a few more weeks at sea, a few more months in this
city. He’d find a way to make it bearable. He wondered if some of his
old friends might be waiting for him in Ravka. The young king was said
to be handing out pardons like penny candy, eager to rebuild the Second
Army, the Grisha military that had been decimated by the war.
“Just two more trips,” he said to no one, stamping his boots against the
spring damp. How could it be this cold and wet this late in the year?
Living in this city was like being trapped in the chilly armpit of a frost
giant. He passed along Grafcanal, shivering as he glimpsed Black Veil
Island tucked into the water’s bend. That was where the Kerch wealthy
had once buried their dead, in little stone houses above water level. Some
trick of the climate kept the island shrouded in shifting mists, and there
were rumors that the place was haunted. Retvenko hastened his steps. He
wasn’t a superstitious man—when you had power like his, there was no
reason to fear what might lurk in the shadows—but who liked to walk by
a graveyard?

He burrowed deeper into his coat and made quick time down
Havenstraat, keeping alert to the movements in every twisting alley.
Soon he’d be back in Ravka, where he could stroll the streets without
fear. Assuming he got his pardon.
Retvenko squirmed uncomfortably in his coat. The war had pitted
Grisha against Grisha, and his side had been particularly brutal. He’d
murdered former comrades, civilians, even children. But what was done
could not be undone. King Nikolai needed soldiers, and Retvenko was a
very good soldier.
Retvenko nodded once to the guard stashed in the little booth at the
entrance to Fourth Harbor and glanced over his shoulder, confirming he
hadn’t been followed. He made his way past the cargo containers to the
docks, found the appropriate berth, and stood in line to register with the
first mate. Retvenko recognized him from past voyages, always harried
and ill-humored, scrawny neck poking from the collar of his coat. He
held a thick sheaf of documents, and Retvenko glimpsed the purple wax
seal of one of the members of the Kerch Merchant Council. Those seals
were better than gold in this city, guaranteeing the best berths in the
harbor and preferred access to the docks. And why did the councilmen
garner such respect, such advantage? Because of coin. Because their
missions brought profit to Ketterdam. Power meant something more in
Ravka, where the elements bent to the will of the Grisha and the country
was ruled by a proper king instead of a cadre of upstart merchants.
Admittedly, Retvenko had tried to depose that king’s father, but the point
remained.
“We’re not ready for the rest of the crew just yet,” the first mate said
as Retvenko gave his name. “You can keep warm in the harbormaster’s
office. We’re waiting on our signal from the Council of Tides.”
“Good for you,” Retvenko said, unimpressed. He glanced up at one of
the black obelisk towers that loomed over the harbor. If there were any
chance that the high and mighty Council of Tides could see him from
their watchtower, he would have let them know exactly what he thought
with a few choice gestures. They were supposedly Grisha, but had they
ever lifted a finger to help the other Grisha in the city? To help those
down on their luck who might have welcomed a bit of kindness? “No,
they have not,” he answered himself.
The first mate winced. “Ghezen , Retvenko. Have you been drinking?”
“No.”

“You stink of whiskey.”
Retvenko sniffed. “Little bit whiskey.”
“Just dry out. Get yourself some coffee or strong jurda . This cotton
has to be in Djerholm in two weeks’ time, and we aren’t paying you to
nurse a hangover belowdecks. Understood?”
“Yes, yes,” Retvenko said with a dismissive wave, already heading
toward the harbormaster’s office. But when he was a few steps away, he
flicked his wrist. A tiny whirlwind caught the papers the first mate was
holding, sending them flying over the docks.
“Damn it!” he shouted as he went scrambling over the wooden planks,
trying to capture the pages of his manifest before they blew into the sea.
Retvenko smiled with grim pleasure, then felt a wave of sadness
overtake him. He was a giant among men, a gifted Squaller, a great
soldier, but here he was just an employee , a sad old Ravkan who spoke
broken Kerch and drank too much. Home , he told himself. Soon I’ll be
home. He would get his pardon and prove himself once more. He would
fight for his country. He would sleep under a roof that didn’t leak and
wear a blue wool kefta lined with silver fox fur. He would be Emil
Retvenko again, not this pathetic shadow.
“There’s coffee,” said the clerk when Retvenko entered the
harbormaster’s office, gesturing toward a copper urn in the corner.
“Tea?”
“There’s coffee.”
This country. Retvenko filled a mug full of the dark sludge, more to
warm his hands than anything. He couldn’t bear the taste of it, certainly
not without a healthy dose of sugar, which the harbormaster had
neglected to supply.
“Wind blowing in,” said the clerk as a bell clanged outside, shaken by
the rising breeze.
“I have ears,” Retvenko grumbled.
“Don’t think it will amount to much here, but once you get out of the
harbor—”
“Be silent,” Retvenko said sharply. He was on his feet, listening.
“What?” said the clerk. “There’s—”
Retvenko put a finger to his lips. “Someone cries out.” The sound had
come from where the ship was docked.
“It’s just gulls. Sun’s coming up soon and—”
Retvenko raised a hand, and a gust of air slammed the clerk back into

the wall. “I said be silent .”
The clerk’s mouth dropped open as he hung pinned to the slats.
“You’re the Grisha they got for the crew?”
For Saints’ sake, was Retvenko going to have to pull the air from this
boy’s lungs and suffocate him into quiet?
Through the waxy windows, Retvenko could see the sky beginning to
turn blue as dawn arrived. He heard the squawking of gulls searching the
waves for breakfast. Maybe the liquor was muddling his mind.
Retvenko let the clerk drop to the ground. He’d spilled his coffee, but
he didn’t want to bother with another cup.
“Told you it was nothing,” said the clerk as he dragged himself to his
feet. “Didn’t have to get all heated up.” The clerk dusted himself off and
got resettled behind the desk. “I never met one of you before. Grisha.”
Retvenko snorted. The clerk probably had and simply didn’t know it.
“You get paid pretty good for the voyages?”
“Not good enough.”
“I—” But whatever the clerk was going to say next was lost as the
door to the office exploded in a hail of splinters.
Retvenko’s hands went up to shield his face. He ducked and rolled
behind the clerk’s desk for cover. A woman entered the office—black
hair, golden eyes. Shu.
The clerk reached for a shotgun Retvenko saw strapped beneath the
desk. “They’ve come for the payroll!” he shouted. “Ain’t no one taking
the payroll.”
Retvenko watched in shock as the gangly clerk stood like some kind
of avenging warrior and opened fire. By all that was holy, nothing could
motivate the Kerch like cash.
Retvenko peeked around the desk in time to see the shotgun blast
strike the woman directly in the chest. She was thrown backward and
collided with the doorjamb, crumpling to the floor. He smelled the sharp
burn of gunpowder, the metallic tang of blood. Retvenko’s belly gave a
shaming lurch. It had been a long time since he’d seen someone shot
down in front of him—and that had been in a time of war.
“Ain’t no one taking the payroll,” the clerk repeated with satisfaction.
But before Retvenko could reply, the Shu woman wrapped her bloody
hand around the door frame, hauling herself to her feet.
Retvenko blinked. Just how much whiskey had he had?
The woman marched forward. Through the remains of her tattered

blouse, Retvenko saw blood, flesh pocked with buckshot, and the glint of
what looked like metal.
The clerk fumbled to reload, but the woman was too fast. She grabbed
the gun from his hands and swatted him down with it, knocking him
sideways with terrible force. She tossed the gun aside and turned her
golden eyes on Retvenko.
“Take payroll!” Retvenko shouted, clambering backward. He dug in
his pockets and tossed his nearly empty wallet at her. “Take what you
want.”
The woman smiled slightly at that—with pity? Amusement? Retvenko
did not know. But he understood that she had not come for the money at
all. She had come for him. And it didn’t matter if she was a slaver or a
mercenary or something else entirely. She would face a soldier, not some
cowering weakling.
He leapt to his feet, muscles responding reluctantly to his demands,
and shifted into fighting stance. His arms arced forward. A howling wind
swept through the room, tossing a chair, then the clerk’s desk, then the
steaming coffee urn at the woman. She batted each item away with little
interest, as if she were brushing aside stray cobwebs.
Retvenko focused his power and shoved both his hands forward,
feeling his ears pop as the pressure dropped and the wind swelled in a
surging thunderhead. Maybe this woman couldn’t be stopped by bullets.
Let’s see how she fared against the fury of a storm.
The woman growled as the gale seized her, hurtling her back through
the open doorway. She seized the jamb, trying to keep hold.
Retvenko laughed. He’d forgotten how good it felt to fight. Then,
from behind him, he heard a loud crack , the shriek of nails torn free and
rending timber. He looked over his shoulder and caught the briefest
glimpse of the dawn sky, the wharf. The wall was gone.
Strong arms seized him, clasping his hands to his sides, preventing
him from using his power. He was rising, sailing upward, the harbor
shrinking beneath him. He saw the roof of the harbormaster’s office, the
body of the first mate in a heap on the dock, the ship Retvenko had been
meant to sail on—its deck a mess of broken boards, bodies piled near the
shattered masts. His attackers had been there first.
The air was cold on his face. His heart pounded a ragged rhythm in his
ears.
“Please,” he begged as they soared higher, unsure of what he was

pleading for. Afraid to move too suddenly or too much, he craned his
neck to look at his captor. Retvenko released a terrified moan,
somewhere between a sob and the panicked whine of an animal caught in
a trap.
The man holding him was Shu, his black hair pulled into a tight bun,
his golden eyes narrowed against the rush of the wind—and from his
back emerged two vast wings that beat against the sky, hinged, gracefully
wrought in looping silver filigree and taut canvas. Was he an angel? A
demon? Some strange mechanical come to life? Had Retvenko simply
lost his mind?
In the arms of his captor, Emil Retvenko saw the shadow they made
cast upon the glittering surface of the sea far below: two heads, two
wings, four legs. He had become a great beast, and yet that beast would
devour him. His prayers turned to screams, but both went unanswered.

W hat am I doing here?
That thought had run through Wylan’s head at least six times a day
since he’d met Kaz Brekker. But on a night like this, a night when they
were “working,” it rose and fell in his head like a nervous tenor
practicing
his
scales:
WhatamIdoingherewhatamIdoingherewhatamIdoing
here.
Wylan tugged at the hem of his sky-blue jacket, the uniform worn by
the waiters of Club Cumulus, and tried to look at ease. Think of it as a
dinner party , he told himself. He’d endured countless uncomfortable
meals at his father’s house. This was no different. In fact, it was easier.
No awkward conversations about his studies or when he planned to start
classes at the university. All he had to do was stay quiet, follow Kaz’s
instructions, and figure out what to do with his hands. Clasp them in
front? Too much like a singer at a recital. In back? Too military. He tried
just dangling them at his sides, but that didn’t feel right either. Why
hadn’t he paid better attention to the way waiters stood? Despite Kaz’s
assurances that the second-floor parlor was theirs for the night, Wylan
felt certain that at any minute a real member of the staff would enter the
room, point at him, and shout, “Impostor!” Then again, Wylan felt like
an impostor most days.
It had been just under a week since they’d reached Ketterdam, almost
a month since they’d left Djerholm. Wylan had been wearing Kuwei’s
features for most of that time, but whenever he caught a glimpse of his

reflection in a mirror or a shop window, it took a long moment to realize
he wasn’t looking at a stranger. This was his face now—golden eyes,
wide brow, black hair. His old self had been scrubbed away, and Wylan
wasn’t sure he knew the person who remained—the person who was
standing in a private parlor in one of the Lid’s most luxurious gambling
dens, caught up in another of Kaz Brekker’s schemes.
A player at the table lifted his champagne glass for a refill, and Wylan
darted forward from his perch against the wall. His hands were shaking
as he took the bottle from the silver ice bucket, but there were some
benefits to the years he’d spent at his father’s social functions. He at least
knew how to pour a proper glass of champagne without it foaming over.
Wylan could almost hear Jesper’s mocking voice. Marketable skills,
merchling.
He dared a glance at Jesper now. The sharpshooter was seated at the
table, hunched over his cards. He wore a battered navy waistcoat
embroidered with small gold stars, and his rumpled shirt shone white
against his dark brown skin. Jesper rubbed a tired hand over his face.
They’d been playing cards for more than two hours. Wylan couldn’t tell
if Jesper’s fatigue was real or part of the act.
Wylan filled another glass, focusing on Kaz’s instructions.
“Just take the players’ orders and keep one ear on Smeet’s
conversation,” he’d said. “It’s a job, Wylan. Get it done.”
Why did they all call it a job? It didn’t feel like working. It felt like
missing a step and suddenly finding yourself falling. It felt like panic. So
Wylan took stock of the room’s details—a trick he’d often used to steady
himself whenever he arrived someplace new or when his father was in a
particularly foul mood. He inventoried the pattern of interlocking
starbursts that formed the polished wood floor, the shell-shaped nodes of
the blown-glass chandelier, the cobalt silk wallpaper flocked with silver
clouds. No windows to allow in natural light. Kaz said none of the
gambling dens had them, because the bosses wanted players to lose track
of time.
Wylan watched Kaz deal another hand to Smeet, Jesper, and the other
players at the round table. He wore the same sky-blue staff jacket as
Wylan and his hands were bare. Wylan had to fight not to stare at them.
It wasn’t just the strangeness, the wrongness of seeing Kaz without his
gloves, it was that his hands seemed animated by a secret machinery
Wylan didn’t understand. When he had started to learn figure drawing,

Wylan had studied anatomy illustrations. He had a good grasp of
musculature, the way bones and joints and ligaments fit together. But
Kaz’s hands moved as if they’d been made for no other purpose than to
manipulate cards, long white fingers flexing in easy rhythm, the shuffle
precise, each turn economical. Kaz had claimed he could control any
deck. So why was Jesper losing so badly?
When Kaz had outlined this part of the plan at the hideout on Black
Veil, Wylan had been incredulous, and for once, he hadn’t been the only
one with questions.
“Let me get this straight,” Nina had said. “Your grand scheme is to
give Jesper a line of credit and make him play cards with Cornelis
Smeet?”
“Smeet likes high-stakes Three Man Bramble and blondes,” said Kaz.
“So we’re going to give him both. I’ll deal the first half of the night, then
Specht will take over.”
Wylan didn’t know Specht well. He was a former navy seaman, a
member of the Dregs who had piloted their ship to and from the Ice
Court. If Wylan was honest, between the grizzled jaw and the tattoos that
ran halfway up Specht’s neck, he found the sailor slightly frightening.
But even Specht had looked concerned when he said, “I can deal cards,
Kaz, but I can’t control a deck.”
“You don’t have to. From the time you sit down, it will be an honest
game. The important thing is to keep Smeet at the tables until midnight.
The shift change is when we risk losing him. As soon as I stand up, he’s
going to start thinking about moving on to another game or calling it a
night, so you all need to do everything you can to keep his ass firmly
planted at that table.”
“I can handle it,” Jesper said.
Nina had just scowled. “Sure, and maybe for phase two of this plan I
can masquerade as a jurda parem dealer. What could possibly go
wrong?”
Wylan wouldn’t have put it that way exactly, but he agreed. Strongly.
They should be keeping Jesper away from gambling dens, not
encouraging his love of risk. But Kaz hadn’t been moved.
“Just do your job and keep Smeet thoroughly enthralled until
midnight,” he’d said. “You know what’s on the line.” They all did. Inej’s
life. And how could Wylan argue with that? He felt a pang of guilt every
time he thought about it. Van Eck had said he would give them seven

days to give up Kuwei Yul-Bo—then he would begin torturing Inej. They
were almost out of time. Wylan knew he couldn’t have prevented his
father from double-crossing the crew and kidnapping her. He knew that,
but he still felt responsible.
“What am I supposed to do with Cornelis Smeet after midnight?” Nina
asked.
“Try to talk him into spending the night with you.”
“What?” Matthias had sputtered, red flooding his face all the way up
to his ears.
“He won’t say yes.”
Nina sniffed. “Like hell he won’t.”
“Nina—” Matthias growled.
“Smeet never cheats at cards or on his wife,” Kaz said. “He’s like half
the amateurs strutting around the Barrel. Most of the time he’s
respectable, scrupulous—strict economies and half a glass of wine at
dinner. But once a week he enjoys feeling like he’s an outlaw matching
wits with the high rollers on East Stave, and he likes a pretty blonde on
his arm when he does it.”
Nina pursed her lips. “If he’s so moral, then why do you want me to
try to—”
“Because Smeet’s rolling in coin, and any self-respecting girl from
West Stave would at least make the effort.”
“I don’t like this,” said Matthias.
Jesper had smiled his reckless gunslinger’s grin. “To be fair, Matthias,
you don’t like much.”
“Keep Smeet at Club Cumulus from eight bells until midnight,” Kaz
said. “That’s four hours of play, so stay smart about it.”
Nina was certainly doing her best, and Wylan didn’t know whether to
be impressed or concerned. She was dressed in a sheer lavender gown
rigged with some kind of corset that pushed her cleavage to alarming
heights, and though she’d lost weight since her battle with parem , there
was still plenty of her for Smeet to grab onto. She’d settled her rump
firmly on his knee, arm around his shoulder, and was cooing prettily in
his ear, her hands caressing his chest and occasionally slipping beneath
his jacket like a beagle searching for treats. She stopped only to order
oysters or another bottle of champagne. Wylan knew Nina could handle
just about any man and any situation, but he didn’t think she should have
to sit half-dressed in a drafty gambling parlor, perched on some leering

lawyer’s lap. At the very least, she was probably going to catch cold.
Jesper folded yet again and blew out a long, exasperated breath. He’d
been losing slowly for the last two hours. He’d kept his bids cautious,
but neither luck nor Kaz seemed to be on his side tonight. How were
they supposed to keep Smeet at the table if Jesper ran out of funds?
Would the other high-stakes players be enough of a lure? There were a
few of them in the room, lingering by the walls, watching the game, each
hoping to nab a seat if someone cashed out. None of them knew the real
game Kaz was running.
As Wylan leaned down to refill Nina’s glass, he heard Smeet murmur,
“A card game is like a duel. It’s the little cuts and slashes that set the
stage for the final killing stroke.” He glanced across the table to Jesper.
“That lad is bleeding all over the table.”
“I don’t know how you keep the rules straight in your head,” Nina said
with a giggle.
Smeet grinned, clearly pleased. “This is nothing compared to
managing a business.”
“I can’t imagine how you do that either.”
“Sometimes I don’t know myself,” Smeet said on a sigh. “It’s been a
hard week. One of my clerks never came back from his holiday, and that
meant I was stuck shorthanded.”
Wylan nearly dropped the bottle he was holding; champagne splashed
onto the floor.
“I’m paying to drink it, not wear it, boy,” snapped Smeet. He wiped at
his trousers and muttered, “That’s what comes of hiring foreigners.”
He means me , Wylan realized as he backed away hurriedly. He didn’t
know how to make the reality of his new Shu features sink in. He
couldn’t even speak Shu, a fact that hadn’t worried him until two Shu
tourists with a map in hand had waylaid him on East Stave. Wylan had
panicked, made an elaborate shrugging gesture, and bolted for the
servants’ entrance to Club Cumulus.
“Poor baby,” Nina said to Smeet, running her fingers through his
thinning hair and adjusting one of the flowers tucked into her silky
blonde tresses. Wylan wasn’t sure if she’d actually told Smeet she was
from the House of the Blue Iris, but he certainly would have assumed so.
Jesper leaned back in his seat, fingers tapping the handles of his
revolvers. The movement seemed to draw Smeet’s eye.
“Those guns are remarkable. Real mother-of-pearl in the handles, if

I’m not mistaken,” Smeet said in the tones of a man who was rarely
mistaken. “I have a fine collection of firearms myself, though nothing in
the line of Zemeni repeating revolvers.”
“Oh, I’d love to see your guns,” Nina cooed, and Wylan looked at the
ceiling in an attempt to avoid rolling his eyes. “Are we going to sit here
all night?”
Wylan tried to hide his confusion. Wasn’t the whole point to get him
to stay? But apparently Nina knew better, because Smeet’s face took on a
slightly mulish cast. “Hush now. If I win big, I may buy you something
pretty.”
“I’ll settle for some more oysters.”
“You haven’t finished those.”
Wylan caught the quiver of Nina’s nostrils and thought she might be
drawing a fortifying breath. She’d had no appetite since she’d recovered
from her bout with parem , and he didn’t know how she’d managed to
slurp down nearly a dozen oysters.
Now he watched her swallow the last of them with a shudder.
“Delicious,” she managed with a glance at Wylan. “Let’s have some
more.”
That was the signal. Wylan swooped in and picked up the big dish
laden with ice and discarded shells.
“The lady has a craving,” Smeet said.
“Oysters, miss?” Wylan asked. His voice sounded too high. “Buttered
prawns?” Too low.
“She’ll have both,” said Smeet indulgently. “And another flute of
champagne.”
“Marvelous,” Nina said, looking slightly green.
Wylan rushed through the swinging door to the servants’ pantry. It was
stocked with plates, glassware, napkins, and a tin tub full of ice. A
dumbwaiter took up a large section of the far wall, and there was a
trumpet-shaped speaking tube next to it to allow the staff to
communicate with the kitchen. Wylan set the dish of ice and shells on the
table, then called down to the kitchen for oysters and buttered prawns.
“Oh, and another bottle of champagne.”
“What vintage?”
“Uh … more of the same?” Wylan had heard his father’s friends talk
about which wines made for good investments, but he didn’t quite trust
himself to choose a year.

By the time he returned to the parlor with Nina’s order, Kaz was
standing up from the table. He made a gesture as if he was dusting off his
hands—the sign that a dealer had finished his shift. Specht sat down, a
blue silk cravat tied at his throat to hide his tattoos. He shook out his
cuffs and called for players to ante up or cash out.
Kaz’s eyes met Wylan’s as he vanished into the pantry.
This was the moment. According to Kaz and Jesper, a player often
thought his luck was bound to the dealer and would stop play at the shift
change.
Wylan watched in distress as Smeet stretched and gave Nina’s bottom
a firm pat. “We’ve had a good run,” he said, glancing at Jesper, who was
staring dejectedly at his meager pile of remaining chips. “We may find
fatter game elsewhere.”
“But my food just came,” pouted Nina.
Wylan stepped forward, unsure of what to say, only knowing that they
had to delay Smeet. “Is everything to your liking, sir? Can I offer you
and the lady something more?”
Smeet ignored him, hand still hovering over Nina’s backside. “There’s
finer vittles and better service to be had all over the Lid, my dear.”
A big man in a striped suit approached Smeet, eager to snag his seat.
“Cashing out?”
Smeet gave Jesper a friendly nod. “Looks like we both are, eh, lad?
Better luck next time.”
Jesper didn’t return the smile. “I’m not done here.”
Smeet gestured to Jesper’s sad stack of chips. “Certainly looks like
you are.”
Jesper rose and reached for his guns. Wylan clutched the bottle of
champagne in his hands as the other players pushed back from the table,
ready to grab their own weapons or dive for cover. But all Jesper did was
unsling his gun belt. Gently, he laid the revolvers on the table, fingers
brushing over their high-gloss ridges with care.
“How much for these?” he asked.
Wylan tried to catch Jesper’s eye. Was this part of the plan? And even
if it was, what was Jesper thinking? He loved those guns. He might as
well cut off his own hand and throw it into the pot.
Specht cleared his throat and said, “The Cumulus isn’t a pawnshop.
We accept cash and credit from the Gemensbank only.”
“I’ll stake you,” Smeet said with studied disinterest, “if it will get the

game moving again. One thousand kruge for the guns?”
“They’re worth ten times that.”
“Five thousand kruge .”
“Seven.”
“Six, and that’s only because I’m feeling generous.”
“Don’t!” Wylan blurted. The room went silent.
Jesper’s voice was cold. “I don’t remember asking for your advice.”
“The insolence!” said Smeet. “Since when do waiters involve
themselves in game play?”
Nina glared at Wylan, and Specht’s tone was furious with disbelief
when he said, “Gentlemen, shall we get this game rolling again? Ante
up!”
Jesper shoved his revolvers across the table to Smeet, and Smeet slid a
tall stack of chips over to Jesper in return.
“All right,” said Jesper, his gray eyes bleak. “Deal me in.”
Wylan stepped back from the table and disappeared into the pantry as
quickly as he could. The dish of ice and shells was gone, and Kaz was
waiting. He’d thrown a long orange cape over his blue jacket. His gloves
were already back in place.
“Kaz,” Wylan said desperately. “Jesper just put his guns up.”
“How much did he get for them?”
“Why does that matter? He—”
“Five thousand kruge ?”
“Six.”
“Good. Not even Jesper should be able to run through that in less than
two hours.” He tossed Wylan a cape and mask, the trappings of the Gray
Imp, one of the characters of the Komedie Brute. “Let’s go.”
“Me?”
“No, the idiot behind you.” Kaz picked up the speaking trumpet and
said, “Send up another waiter. This one managed to spill champagne on
some high roller’s shoes.”
Someone in the kitchen laughed and said, “You got it.”
They were down the stairs and out the servants’ entrance bare
moments later, their costumes allowing them to move anonymously
through the crowds of East Stave.
“You knew Jesper would lose. You made sure of it,” Wylan accused.
Kaz rarely used his cane when they were roaming parts of the city where
he might be recognized. But despite his lopsided gait, Wylan had to jog

to keep up with him.
“Of course I did. I control the game, Wylan, or I don’t play. I could
have made sure Jesper won every hand.”
“Then why—”
“We weren’t there to win at cards. We needed Smeet to stay at the
tables. He was ogling those guns almost as much as Nina’s cleavage.
Now he’s feeling confident, like he’s in for a good night—if he loses,
he’ll still keep playing. Who knows? Jesper may even win his revolvers
back.”
“I hope so,” said Wylan as they hopped onto a browboat crowded with
tourists and headed south down the Stave.
“You would.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“Someone like Jesper wins two hands and starts to call it a streak.
Eventually he loses, and that just leaves him hungrier for the next run of
good luck. The house relies on it.”
Then why make him walk into a gambling den? Wylan thought but
didn’t say. And why make Jesper give up something that meant so much
to him? There had to be another way to keep Smeet playing. But those
weren’t even the right questions. The real question was why Jesper did it
all without hesitating. Maybe he was still looking for Kaz’s approval,
hoping to earn back his favor after Jesper’s slip had led them into the
ambush at the docks that had nearly cost Inej her life. Or maybe Jesper
wanted something more than forgiveness from Kaz.
What am I doing here? Wylan wondered again. He found himself
gnawing on his thumb and forced himself to stop. He was here for Inej.
She’d saved their lives more than once, and he wasn’t going to forget
that. He was here because he desperately needed the money. And if there
was another reason, a tall, lanky reason with a too-strong taste for games
of chance, he wasn’t going to think about that right now.
As soon as they made it to the outskirts of the Barrel, Wylan and Kaz
ditched their capes and sky-blue jackets and wended their way east into
the Zelver district.
Matthias was waiting for them beneath a darkened doorway on
Handelcanal. “All clear?” Kaz asked.
“All clear,” said the big Fjerdan. “The lights went out on the top floor
of Smeet’s house more than an hour ago, but I don’t know if the servants
are awake.”

“He only has a daily maid and cook,” Kaz said. “He’s too cheap for
full-time servants.”
“How is—”
“Nina is fine. Jesper is fine. Everyone is fine except for me because
I’m stuck with a gang of hand-wringing nursemaids. Keep a watch.”
Wylan shrugged apologetically at Matthias, who looked like he was
considering dashing Kaz’s skull against a wall, then hurried along the
cobblestones after Kaz. Smeet’s home also served as his office, and it
was located on a dark street with sparse foot traffic. The lamps were lit
along the canal and candles burned in some of the windows, but after ten
bells, most of the neighborhood’s respectable citizens had already
retired.
“Are we just going in through the front door?”
“Use your eyes instead of running your mouth,” said Kaz, lockpicks
already flashing in his gloved hands.
I am , Wylan thought. But that wasn’t strictly true. He’d taken in the
house’s proportions, the pitch of its gabled roof, the roses beginning to
bloom in its window boxes. But he hadn’t looked at the house as a
puzzle. With some frustration, Wylan could admit this was an easy solve.
The Zelver district was prosperous, but not truly wealthy—a place for
successful artisans, bookkeepers, and barristers. Though the houses were
well built and tidy, with views of a wide canal, they were tightly packed
together, and there were no grand gardens or private docks. To access the
windows of the upper floors, he and Kaz would have had to break into a
neighboring home and go through two sets of locks instead of one. Better
to risk the front door, to simply act as if they had every right to be there
—even if Kaz was carrying picks instead of keys.
Use your eyes. But Wylan didn’t like looking at the world the way Kaz
did. And once they’d gotten their money, he’d never have to again.
A bare second later, Kaz pressed down on the handle and the door
swung open. Immediately, Wylan heard the patter of paws, claws on hard
wood, low snarls, as Smeet’s pack of hounds rushed the door, white teeth
flashing, growls rumbling deep in their chests. Before they could realize
someone other than their master had come to call, Kaz pushed Smeet’s
whistle between his lips and blew. Nina had managed to slip it from the
chain the lawyer always wore around his neck, then tucked it beneath an
empty oyster shell for Wylan to whisk into the kitchen.
There was no sound from the whistle—at least not one that Wylan

could hear. It’s not going to work , he thought, imagining those huge jaws
tearing into his throat. But the dogs skittered to a halt, bumping into one
another in a confused tangle.
Kaz blew again, lips pursing in time with the pattern of a new
command. The dogs quieted and flopped to the floor with a disgruntled
whine. One even rolled over on its back.
“Now why can’t people be this easily trained?” Kaz murmured as he
crouched to oblige the dog with a belly rub, black-gloved fingers
smoothing the short fur. “Close the door behind you.”
Wylan did and stood with his back pressed to it, keeping a wary eye
on the pile of slavering hounds. The whole house smelled of dog—damp
fur, oily hides, warm breath moist with the stink of raw meat.
“Not fond of animals?” Kaz asked.
“I like dogs,” Wylan said. “Just not when they’re the size of bears.”
Wylan knew the real puzzle of Smeet’s house had been a thorny one
for Kaz to solve. Kaz could pick just about any lock and outthink any
system of alarms, but he hadn’t been able to come up with a simple way
around Smeet’s bloodthirsty hounds that wouldn’t leave their plan
exposed. During the day, the dogs were kept in a kennel, but at night
they were given free run of the house while Smeet’s family slept
peacefully in the richly appointed rooms of the third floor, the staircase
closed off by an iron gate. Smeet walked the dogs himself, up and down
the Handelcanal, trailing after them like a tubby sled in an expensive hat.
Nina had suggested drugging the dogs’ food. Smeet went to the
butcher every morning to select cuts of meat for the pack, and it would
have been easy enough to switch the parcels. But Smeet wanted his dogs
hungry at night, so he fed them in the mornings. He would have noticed
if his prized pets had been sluggish all day, and they couldn’t risk Smeet
staying home to care for his hounds. He had to spend the evening on East
Stave, and when he returned home, it was essential that he find nothing
amiss. Inej’s life depended upon it.
Kaz had arranged for the private parlor in the Cumulus, Nina had
caressed the whistle from beneath Smeet’s shirt, and, piece by piece, the
plan had come together. Wylan did not want to think about what they’d
done to obtain the whistle commands. He shivered when he remembered
what Smeet had said: One of my clerks never came back from his
holiday. He never would. Wylan could still hear the clerk screaming as
Kaz dangled him by the ankles from the top of the Hanraat Point

Lighthouse. I’m a good man , he’d shouted. I’m a good man. They were
the last words he’d spoken. If he’d talked less, he might have lived.
Now Wylan watched Kaz give the drooling dog a scratch behind the
ears and rise. “Let’s go. Watch your feet.”
They sidestepped the pile of dog bodies in the hall and made their way
quietly up the stairs. The layout of Smeet’s house was familiar to Wylan.
Most businesses in the city followed the same plan: a kitchen and public
rooms for meeting with clients on the ground floor, offices and storage
on the second floor, sleeping rooms for the family on the third floor. Very
wealthy homes had a fourth floor for servants’ quarters. As a boy, Wylan
had spent more than a few hours hiding from his father in his own
home’s upper rooms.
“Not even locked,” Kaz murmured as they entered Smeet’s office.
“Those hounds have made him lazy.”
Kaz closed the door and lit a lamp, turning the flame down low.
The office had three small desks arranged by the windows to take
advantage of the natural light, one for Smeet and two for his clerks. I’m a
good man.
Wylan shook off the memory and focused on the shelves that ran from
floor to ceiling. They were lined with ledgers and boxes full of
documents, each carefully labeled with what Wylan assumed were the
names of clients and companies.
“So many pigeons,” Kaz murmured, eyes scanning the boxes. “Naten
Boreg, that sad little skiv Karl Dryden. Smeet represents half the
Merchant Council.”
Including Wylan’s father. Smeet had served as Jan Van Eck’s attorney
and property man ager for as long as Wylan could remember.
“Where do we start?” Wylan whispered.
Kaz pulled a fat ledger from the shelves. “First we make sure your
father has no new acquisitions under his name. Then we search under
your stepmother’s name, and yours.”
“Don’t call her that. Alys is barely older than I am. And my father
won’t have kept property in my name.”
“You’d be surprised at what a man will do to avoid paying taxes.”
They spent the better part of the next hour digging through Smeet’s
files. They knew all about Van Eck’s public properties—the factories,
hotels, and manufacturing plants, the shipyard, the country house and
farmland in southern Kerch. But Kaz believed Wylan’s father had to

have private holdings, places he’d kept off the public registers, places
he’d stash something—or someone—he didn’t want found.
Kaz read names and ledger entries aloud, asking Wylan questions and
trying to find connections to properties or companies they hadn’t yet
discovered. Wylan knew he owed his father nothing, but it still felt like a
betrayal.
“Geldspin?” asked Kaz.
“A cotton mill. I think it’s in Zierfoort.”
“Too far. He won’t be keeping her there. What about Firma
Allerbest?”
Wylan searched his memory. “I think that one’s a cannery.”
“They’re both practically printing cash, and they’re both in Alys’
name. But Van Eck keeps the big earners to himself—the shipyard, the
silos at Sweet Reef.”
“I told you,” Wylan said, fiddling with a pen on one of the blotters.
“My father trusts himself first, Alys only so far. He wouldn’t leave
anything in my name.”
Kaz just said, “Next ledger. Let’s start with the commercial
properties.”
Wylan stopped fiddling with the pen. “Was there something in my
name?”
Kaz leaned back. His look was almost challenging when he said, “A
printing press.”
The same old joke. So why did it still sting? Wylan set the pen down.
“I see.”
“He’s not what I would call a subtle man. Eil Komedie is in your name
too.”
“Of course it is,” Wylan replied, wishing he sounded less bitter.
Another private laugh for his father to enjoy—an abandoned island with
nothing on it but a broken-down amusement park, a worthless place for
his worthless, illiterate son. He shouldn’t have asked.
As the minutes ticked away and Kaz continued reading aloud, Wylan
became increasingly agitated. If he could just read, they’d be moving
twice as fast through the files. In fact, Wylan would already know his
father’s business inside out. “I’m slowing you down,” he said.
Kaz flipped open another sheaf of documents. “I knew exactly how
long this would take. What was your mother’s family name?”
“There’s nothing in her name.”

“Humor me.”
“Hendriks.”
Kaz walked to the shelves and selected another ledger. “When did she
die?”
“When I was eight.” Wylan picked up the pen again. “My father got
worse after she was gone.” At least that was how Wylan remembered it.
The months after his mother’s death were a blur of sadness and silence.
“He wouldn’t let me go to her funeral. I don’t even know where she’s
buried. Why do you guys say that, anyway? No mourners, no funerals?
Why not just say good luck or be safe?”
“We like to keep our expectations low.” Kaz’s gloved finger trailed
down a column of numbers and stopped. His eyes moved back and forth
between the two ledgers, then he snapped the leather covers shut. “Let’s
go.”
“Did you find something?”
Kaz nodded once. “I know where she is.”
Wylan didn’t think he imagined the tension in the rasp of Kaz’s voice.
Kaz never yelled the way Wylan’s father did, but Wylan had learned to
listen for that low note, that bit of black harmony that crept into Kaz’s
tone when things were about to get dangerous. He’d heard it after the
fight at the docks when Inej lay bleeding from Oomen’s knife, then when
Kaz had learned it was Pekka Rollins who had tried to ambush them,
again when they’d been double-crossed by Wylan’s father. He’d heard it
loud and clear atop the lighthouse as the clerk screamed for his life.
Wylan watched as Kaz set the room to rights. He moved an envelope a
little more to the left, pulled a drawer on the largest file cabinet out a bit
farther, pushed the chair back just so. When he was done he scanned the
room, then plucked the pen from Wylan’s hands and set it carefully in its
place on the desk.
“A proper thief is like a proper poison, merchling. He leaves no trace.”
Kaz blew the lamp out. “Your father much for charity?”
“No. He tithes to Ghezen, but he says charity robs men of the chance
at honest labor.”
“Well, he’s been making donations to the Church of Saint Hilde for the
last eight years. If you want to pay your respects to your mother, that’s
probably the place to start.”
Wylan stared at Kaz dumbly in the shadowy room. He’d never heard
of the Church of Saint Hilde. And he’d never known Dirtyhands to share

any bit of information that wouldn’t serve him. “What—”
“If Nina and Jesper did their jobs right, Smeet will be home soon. We
can’t be here when he gets back or the whole plan goes to hell. Come
on.”
Wylan felt like he’d been bashed over the head with a ledger and then
told to just forget about it.
Kaz cracked opened the door. They both stopped short.
Over Kaz’s shoulder, Wylan saw a little girl standing on the landing,
leaning on the neck of one of the massive gray dogs. She had to be about
five, her toes barely visible beneath the hem of her flannel nightgown.
“Oh Ghezen,” Wylan whispered.
Kaz stepped out into the hall, pulling the door nearly shut behind him.
Wylan hesitated in the darkened office, unsure of what he should do,
terrified of what Kaz might do.
The girl looked up at Kaz with big eyes, then removed her thumb from
her mouth. “Do you work for my da?”
“No.”
The memory came at Wylan again. I’m a good man. They’d ambushed
the clerk coming out of the Menagerie and hauled him to the top of the
lighthouse. Kaz had held him by his ankles and the clerk had wet
himself, screaming and begging for mercy before he’d finally given up
Smeet’s whistle commands. Kaz had been about to reel him back up
when the clerk had started offering things: money, bank account numbers
for Smeet’s clients, and then—I’ve got information on one of the girls at
the Menagerie, the Zemeni.
Kaz had paused. What do you have on her?
Wylan had heard it then, that low, dangerous note of warning. But the
clerk didn’t know Kaz, didn’t recognize the change in the rough scrape
of his voice. He thought he’d found a wedge, something Kaz wanted.
One of her clients is giving her expensive gifts. She’s keeping the
money. You know what the Peacock did to the last girl she caught
holding out on her?
I do , Kaz said, his eyes glinting like the edge of a straight razor. Tante
Heleen beat her to death.
Kaz— Wylan had attempted, but the clerk kept talking.
Right there in the parlor. This girl knows she’s cooked if I tell. She sees
me for free just so I keep my mouth shut. Sneaks me in. She’ll do the
same for you, your friends. What ever you like.

If Tante Heleen found out, she’d kill your Zemeni , said Kaz. She’d
make an example of her to the other girls.
Yes , the clerk gasped eagerly. She’ll do anything you want, everything.
Slowly, Kaz began to let the man’s legs slide through his grasp. It’s
terrible, isn’t it? Knowing someone holds your life in his hands.
The clerk’s voice rose another octave as he realized his mistake. She’s
just a working girl , he screamed. She knows the score! I’m a good man.
I’m a good man!
There are no good men in Ketterdam , Kaz said. The climate doesn’t
agree with them. And then he’d simply let go.
Wylan shuddered. Through the crack in the door, he saw Kaz squat
down so he could look the little girl in the eye. “What’s this big fellow’s
name?” Kaz said, laying a hand on the dog’s wrinkled neck.
“This is Maestro Spots.”
“Is that so?”
“He has a very fine howl. Da lets me name all the puppies.”
“Is Maestro Spots your favorite?” asked Kaz.
She appeared to think, then shook her head. “I like Duke Addam Von
Silverhaunch best, then Fuzzmuzzle, then Maestro Spots.”
“That’s good to know, Hanna.”
Her mouth opened into a little O. “How do you know my name?”
“I know all children’s names.”
“You do?”
“Oh, yes. Albert who lives next door and Gertrude on Ammberstraat. I
live under their beds and in the backs of the closets.”
“I knew it,” the girl breathed, fear and triumph in her voice. “Mama
said there was nothing there, but I knew it.” She cocked her head to one
side. “You don’t look like a monster.”
“I’ll tell you a secret, Hanna. The really bad monsters never look like
monsters.”
Now the little girl’s lip trembled. “Did you come to eat me? Da says
monsters eat children who don’t go to bed when they’re told.”
“They do. But I won’t. Not tonight. If you do two things for me.” His
voice was calm, almost hypnotic. It had the coarse rasp of an overrosined bow. “First, you must crawl into bed. And second, you must
never tell anyone you’ve seen us, especially your da.” He leaned forward
and gave Hanna’s braid a playful tug. “Because if you do, I’ll slit your
mother’s throat and then your father’s, and then I’ll cut out the hearts of

all these sweet slobbering hounds. I shall save Duke Silverhaunch for
last so that you will know it’s all your fault.” The little girl’s face was as
white as the lace on the neck of her nightgown, her eyes wide and bright
as new moons. “Do you understand?” She nodded frantically, chin
wobbling. “Now, now, no tears. Monsters see tears and it only whets
their appetites. Off to bed with you, and take that useless Maestro Spots
along too.”
She skittered backward over the landing and up the stairs. When she
was halfway up, she cast a terrified glance back at Kaz. He raised one
gloved finger to his lips.
When she was gone, Wylan slipped out from behind the door and
followed Kaz down the steps. “How could you say something like that to
her? She’s just a child.”
“We were all just children once.”
“But—”
“It was that or snap her neck and make it look like she fell down the
stairs, Wylan. I think I showed remarkable restraint. Move.”
They picked their way past the rest of the dogs still flopped down in
the hallway. “Incredible,” Kaz said. “They’d probably stay like that all
night.” He blew on the whistle and they leapt up, ears pricked, ready to
guard the house. When Smeet returned home, all would be as it should:
hounds pacing the ground floor; office intact on the second floor; wife
snoozing comfortably on the third floor, and daughter pretending to do
the same.
Kaz checked the street and then waved Wylan outside, pausing only to
lock the door behind them.
They hurried down the cobblestones. Wylan peered over his shoulder.
He couldn’t quite believe they’d gotten away with it.
“Stop looking around like you think someone’s following you,” Kaz
said. “And stop scurrying. You couldn’t look guiltier if you were
performing the role of Thief Number Three in a penny play on East
Stave. Next time walk normally. Try to look like you belong.”
“There isn’t going to be a next time.”
“Of course not. Keep your collar up.”
Wylan didn’t argue. Until Inej was safe, until they’d gotten the money
they’d been promised, he couldn’t make any grand ultimatums. But there
would be an end to this. There had to be, didn’t there?
Matthias gave a high birdcall from the other end of the street. Kaz

glanced at his watch and ran a hand through his hair, ruffling it wildly.
“Right on time.”
They rounded the corner and slammed directly into Cornelis Smeet.

M atthias kept to the shadows, watching this strange play unfold.
Cornelis Smeet tipped, losing his footing, hat sliding from his nearly
bald head. The boy who had run into him stepped forward, offering
assistance.
The boy was Kaz, but he was not Kaz. His dark hair was mussed, his
manner flustered. He kept his eyes averted, his chin tucked into his collar
as if hopelessly embarrassed—a green youth, respectful of his elders.
Wylan hovered behind him, shrunken so deeply into his coat Matthias
thought he might actually disappear.
“Watch where you’re going!” Smeet huffed indignantly, resettling the
hat on his head.
“Terribly sorry, sir,” Kaz said, brushing the shoulders of Smeet’s
jacket. “Curse my clumsiness!” He bent to the cobblestones. “Oh dear, I
think you dropped your wallet.”
“So I did!” Smeet said in surprise. “Thank you. Thank you very
much.” Then, as Matthias watched in disbelief, Smeet opened his billfold
and drew out a crisp five-kruge bill. “There you are, young man. Pays to
be honest.”
Kaz kept his head down but somehow managed to convey humble
appreciation as he murmured, “Too kind, sir. Too kind. May Ghezen be
as generous.”
The portly lawyer went on his way, hat askew, humming a little tune,
oblivious to the fact that he’d just run directly into the card dealer who
had sat across from him for two hours in Club Cumulus. Smeet arrived at

his door and pulled a chain from his shirt, then frantically patted his
waistcoat, searching for his whistle.
“You didn’t put it on the chain?” asked Matthias as Kaz and Wylan
joined him in the dark doorway. He knew such tricks were well within
Kaz’s abilities.
“Didn’t bother.”
Smeet rooted around in his shirt, then fished out the whistle and
unlocked the door, humming once more. Matthias could not fathom it.
He’d kept his gaze trained on Kaz’s gloved hands as he’d fussed over
Smeet, but even knowing that Kaz intended to return the whistle,
Matthias hadn’t been able to detect the moment of deception. He was
tempted to drag Smeet back and make Kaz perform the trick again.
Kaz neatened his hair with his fingers and handed the five kruge to
Wylan. “Don’t spend it all in one place. Let’s move.”
Matthias ushered them along to the narrow side canal where he’d
moored the rowboat. He tossed Kaz his cane, and they clambered down.
Kaz had been wise not to allow himself the use of his walking stick this
night. If someone noticed a boy with a crow’s head cane lurking around
the offices of Cornelis Smeet at an unusual hour, if an offhand mention
of that fact somehow reached Van Eck’s ears, all their work would be for
nothing. To get Inej back, they would need surprise on their side, and the
demjin was not the type to leave anything to chance.
“Well?” Matthias asked as the boat slid along the dark waters of the
canal.
“Hold your tongue, Helvar. Words like to ride the water. Put yourself
to use and help work the oars.”
Matthias fought the urge to snap his oars in half. Why was Kaz
incapable of keeping a civil tongue? He gave orders as if he simply
expected everyone to follow his commands, and he’d been twice as
insufferable since Van Eck had taken Inej. But Matthias wanted to get
back to Black Veil and Nina as fast as possible, so he did as he was bid,
feeling his shoulders flex as the boat moved against the current.
He put his mind to keeping track of the landmarks they passed, trying
to remember street and bridge names. Though Matthias studied a map of
the city every night, he had found Ketterdam’s knots of alleys and canals
nearly impossible to untangle. He’d always prided himself on a good
sense of direction, but this city had defeated it, and he frequently found
himself cursing whatever mad hand had thought it wise to raise a city

from a swamp and then arrange it without order or logic.
Once they passed beneath Havenbridge, he was relieved to find his
surroundings becoming familiar again. Kaz tipped his oars, steering them
into the murky waters of Beggars’ Bend, where the canal widened, and
guided them into the shallows of Black Veil Island. They tucked the boat
behind the drooping limbs of a white willow and then picked their way
up through the graves that dotted the steep bank.
Black Veil was an eerie place, a miniature city of white marble
mausoleums, many carved into the shape of ships, their stone
figureheads weeping as they cut across an invisible sea. Some bore the
stamp of Ghezen’s Coins of Favor, others the three flying fishes of Kerch
that Nina said indicated a member of the family had served in the
government. A few were watched over by Ravkan Saints in flowing
marble robes. There was no sign of Djel or his ash tree. Fjerdans would
not want to be interred above the earth, where they could not take root.
Almost all the mausoleums had fallen into disrepair, and many were
little more than piles of slumped rock overgrown with vines and clusters
of spring flowers. Matthias had been horrified at the idea of using a
cemetery as a safe house, no matter how long it had been abandoned. But
of course, nothing was sacred to Kaz Brekker.
“Why don’t they use this place anymore?” Matthias had asked when
they’d taken over a vast tomb at the island’s center as their hideout.
“Plague,” Kaz replied. “The first bad outbreak was more than a
hundred years ago, and the Merchant Council prohibited burial within
city limits. Now bodies have to be cremated.”
“Not if you’re rich,” Jesper added. “Then they take you to a cemetery
in the country, where your corpse can enjoy the fresh air.”
Matthias hated Black Veil, but he could acknowledge it had served
them well. The rumors of hauntings kept squatters at bay, and the mist
that surrounded the twisting willows and stone masts of the graves
obscured the occasional lantern light.
Of course, none of that would matter if people heard Nina and Jesper
arguing at the top of their lungs. They must have returned to the island
and left their gondel on the north side. Nina’s irritated voice floated over
the graves, and Matthias felt a surge of relief, his steps quickening, eager
for the sight of her.
“I don’t think you’re showing proper appreciation for what I just went
through,” Jesper was saying as he stomped through the cemetery.

“You spent a night at the tables losing someone else’s money,” Nina
shot back. “Isn’t that essentially a holiday for you?”
Kaz knocked his cane hard against a gravestone and they both went
quiet, moving swiftly into fighting stances.
Nina relaxed as soon as she caught sight of the three of them in the
shadows. “Oh, it’s you.”
“Yes, it’s us.” Kaz used his cane to herd them both toward the center
of the island. “And you would have heard us if you hadn’t been busy
shouting at each other. Stop gawking like you’ve never seen a girl in a
dress before, Matthias.”
“I wasn’t gawking,” Matthias said with as much dignity as he could
muster. But for Djel’s sake, what was he supposed to look at when Nina
had irises tucked between … everything.
“Be quiet, Brekker,” Nina said. “I like it when he gawks.”
“How did the mission go?” Matthias asked, trying to keep his eyes on
her face. It was easy when he realized how tired she looked beneath the
cosmetics she’d applied. She even took the arm he offered, leaning on
him slightly as they made their way over the uneven terrain. The night
had taken a toll. She shouldn’t be traipsing around the Barrel in scraps of
silk; she should be resting. But the days until Van Eck’s deadline were
dwindling, and Matthias knew Nina would allow herself no comfort until
Inej was safe.
“It’s not a mission; it’s a job,” Nina corrected. “And it went
splendidly.”
“Yeah,” said Jesper. “Splendidly. Except that my revolvers are
currently collecting dust in the Club Cumulus safe. Smeet was afraid to
walk home with them, the hopeless podge. Just thinking of my babies in
his sweaty hands—”
“No one told you to wager them,” said Kaz.
“You dealt me into a corner. How the hell else was I supposed to get
Smeet to stay at the tables?”
Kuwei poked his head out of the huge stone tomb as they approached.
“What did I tell you?” Kaz growled, pointing his cane at him.
“My Kerch isn’t very good,” protested Kuwei.
“Don’t run game on me, kid. It’s good enough. Stay in the tomb.”
Kuwei hung his head. “Stay in the tomb,” he repeated glumly.
They followed the Shu boy inside. Matthias loathed this place. Why
build such monuments to death? The tomb was constructed to look like

an ancient cargo ship, its interior carved into a vast stone hull. It even
had stained-glass portholes that cast rainbows on the crypt floor in the
late afternoon. According to Nina, the carvings of palm trees and snakes
on the walls indicated that the family had been spice traders. But they
must have fallen on hard times or simply taken their dead elsewhere,
because only one of the vaults had a resident, and the narrow passages on
either side of the main hull were equally empty.
Nina pulled the pins from her hair, shucked off the blonde wig, and
tossed it on the table they’d set in the middle of the tomb. She slumped
into a chair, rubbing her fingers along her scalp. “So much better,” she
said with a happy sigh. But Matthias could not ignore the almost
greenish cast to her skin.
She was worse tonight. Either she’d run into trouble with Smeet or
she’d simply overexerted herself. And yet, watching her, Matthias felt
something in him ease. At least now she looked like Nina again, her
brown hair in damp tangles, her eyes half-shut. Was it normal to be
fascinated by the way someone slouched?
“Guess what we saw on our way out of the Lid?” she asked.
Jesper started digging through their food stores. “Two Shu warships
sitting in the harbor.”
She threw a hairpin at him. “I was going to make them guess.”
“Shu?” asked Kuwei, returning to where he’d spread his notebooks
over the table.
Nina nodded. “Cannons out, red flags flying.”
“I talked to Specht earlier,” said Kaz. “The embassies are full up with
diplomats and soldiers. Zemeni, Kaelish, Ravkan.”
“You think they know about Kuwei?” Jesper asked.
“I think they know about parem ,” said Kaz. “Rumors, at least. And
there were plenty of interested parties at the Ice Court to pick up gossip
about Kuwei’s … liberation.” He turned his gaze on Matthias. “The
Fjerdans are here too. They’ve got a whole contingent of drüskelle with
them.”
Kuwei sighed mournfully, and Jesper plunked down next to him,
giving him a nudge with his shoulder. “Isn’t it nice to be wanted?”
Matthias said nothing. He did not like to think about the fact that his
old friends, his old commander, might be only a few miles from them.
He wasn’t sorry for the things he’d done at the Ice Court, but that didn’t
mean he had made peace with them either.

Wylan reached for one of the crackers Jesper had dumped on the table.
It was still disconcerting to see him and Kuwei in the same room. Nina’s
tailoring had been so successful that Matthias often had trouble telling
them apart until they spoke. He wished one of them would do him the
courtesy of wearing a hat.
“This is good for us,” said Kaz. “The Shu and the Fjerdans don’t know
where to start looking for Kuwei, and all those diplos making trouble at
the Stadhall are going to create some nice noise to distract Van Eck.”
“What happened at Smeet’s office?” Nina asked. “Did you find out
where Van Eck is keeping her?”
“I have a pretty good idea. We strike tomorrow at midnight.”
“Is that enough time to prepare?” asked Wylan.
“It’s all the time we have. We’re not going to wait for an engraved
invitation. What’s your progress on the weevil?”
Jesper’s brows shot up. “The weevil?”
Wylan removed a small vial from his coat and set it down on the table.
Matthias bent to peer at it. It looked like a bunch of pebbles. “That’s a
weevil?” He thought of weevils as pests that got into grain stores.
“Not a real weevil,” said Wylan. “It’s a chemical weevil. It doesn’t
really have a name yet.”
“You’ve got to give it a name,” said Jesper. “How else will you call it
to dinner?”
“Forget what it’s called,” Kaz said. “What matters is that this little vial
is going to eat Van Eck’s bank accounts and his reputation.”
Wylan cleared his throat. “Possibly. The chemistry is complicated. I
was hoping Kuwei would help.”
Nina said something to Kuwei in Shu. He shrugged and looked away,
lip jutting out slightly. Whether it was the recent death of his father or
the fact that he’d found himself stuck in a cemetery with a band of
thieves, the boy had become increasingly sullen.
“Well?” Jesper prodded.
“I have other interests,” Kuwei replied.
Kaz’s black gaze pinned Kuwei like the tip of a dagger. “I suggest
rethinking your priorities.”
Jesper gave Kuwei another nudge. “That’s Kaz’s way of saying, ‘Help
Wylan or I’ll seal you up in one of these tombs and see how that suits
your interests.’ ”
Matthias was no longer sure what the Shu boy understood or didn’t,

but apparently he’d received the message. Kuwei swallowed and nodded
grudgingly.
“The power of negotiation,” Jesper said, and shoved a cracker in his
mouth.
“Wylan—and the obliging Kuwei—will get the weevil working,” Kaz
continued. “Once we have Inej, we can move on Van Eck’s silos.”
Nina rolled her eyes. “Good thing this is all about getting our money
and not about saving Inej. Definitely not about that.”
“If you don’t care about money, Nina dear, call it by its other names.”
“Kruge? Scrub? Kaz’s one true love?”
“Freedom, security, retribution.”
“You can’t put a price on those things.”
“No? I bet Jesper can. It’s the price of the lien on his father’s farm.”
The sharpshooter looked at the toes of his boots. “What about you,
Wylan? Can you put a price on the chance to walk away from Ketterdam
and live your own life? And Nina, I suspect you and your Fjerdan may
want something more to subsist on than patriotism and longing glances.
Inej might have a number in mind too. It’s the price of a future, and it’s
Van Eck’s turn to pay.”
Matthias was not fooled. Kaz always spoke logic, but that didn’t mean
he always told truth. “The Wraith’s life is worth more than that,” said
Matthias. “To all of us.”
“We get Inej. We get our money. It’s as simple as that.”
“Simple as that,” said Nina. “Did you know I’m next in line for the
Fjerdan throne? They call me Princess Ilse of Engelsberg.”
“There is no princess of Engelsberg,” said Matthias. “It’s a fishing
town.”
Nina shrugged. “If we’re going to lie to ourselves, we might as well be
grand about it.”
Kaz ignored her, spreading a map of the city over the table, and
Matthias heard Wylan murmur to Jesper, “Why won’t he just say he
wants her back?”
“You’ve met Kaz, right?”
“But she’s one of us.”
Jesper’s brows rose again. “One of us? Does that mean she knows the
secret handshake? Does that mean you’re ready to get a tattoo?” He ran a
finger up Wylan’s forearm, and Wylan flushed a vibrant pink. Matthias
couldn’t help but sympathize with the boy. He knew what it was to be

out of your depth, and he sometimes suspected they could forgo all of
Kaz’s planning and simply let Jesper and Nina flirt the entirety of
Ketterdam into submission.
Wylan pulled his sleeve down self-consciously. “Inej is part of the
crew.”
“Just don’t push it.”
“Why not?”
“Because the practical thing would be for Kaz to auction Kuwei to the
highest bidder and forget about Inej entirely.”
“He wouldn’t—” Wylan broke off abruptly, doubt creeping over his
features.
None of them really knew what Kaz would or wouldn’t do. Sometimes
Matthias wondered if even Kaz was sure.
“Okay, Kaz,” said Nina, slipping off her shoes and wiggling her toes.
“Since this is about the almighty plan, how about you stop meditating
over that map and tell us just what we’re in for.”
“I want you focused on what we have to do tomorrow night. After
that, you’ll get all the information you want.”
“Really?” asked Nina, tugging at her corset. Pollen from one of the
irises had scattered over her bare shoulder. Matthias had the
overwhelming urge to brush it away with his lips. It’s probably
poisonous , he told himself sternly. Maybe he should take a walk.
“Van Eck promised us thirty million kruge ,” said Kaz. “That’s exactly
what we’re going to take. With another one million for interest,
expenses, and just because we can.”
Wylan broke a cracker in two. “My father doesn’t have thirty million
kruge lying around. Even if you took all his assets together.”
“You should leave, then,” said Jesper. “We only associate with the
disgraced heirs of the very finest fortunes.”
Kaz stretched his bad leg out, flexing his foot slightly. “If Van Eck had
that kind of money on hand, we would have just robbed him instead of
breaking into the Ice Court in the first place. He could only offer a
reward that big because he claimed the Merchant Council was putting
city funds toward it.”
“What about that chest full of bills he brought to Vellgeluk?” asked
Jesper.
“Bunk,” said Kaz, disgust in his voice. “Probably quality
counterfeits.”

“So then how do we get the money? Rob the city? Rob the Council?”
Jesper sat up straighter, hands drumming eagerly on the table. “Hit
twelve vaults in one night?”
Wylan shifted in his chair, and Matthias saw the disquiet in his
expression. At least someone else in this band of miscreants was
reluctant to keep committing crimes.
“No,” said Kaz. “We’re going to make like merchers and let the
market do the work for us.” He leaned back, gloved hands resting on his
crow’s head cane. “We’re going to take Van Eck’s money, and then we’re
going to take his reputation. We’re going to make sure he can never do
business in Ketterdam or anywhere in Kerch ever again.”
“And what happens to Kuwei?” asked Nina.
“Once the job is done, Kuwei—and any other convicts, Grisha, and
disinherited youths who may or may not have prices on their heads—can
lie low in the Southern Colonies.”
Jesper frowned. “Where will you be?”
“Right here. I’ve still got plenty of business that requires my
attention.”
Though Kaz’s tone was easy, Matthias heard the dark anticipation in
his words. He had often wondered how people survived this city, but it
was possible Ketterdam would not survive Kaz Brekker.
“Wait a minute,” said Nina. “I thought Kuwei was going to Ravka.”
“Why would you think that?”
“When you sold your Crow Club shares to Pekka Rollins, you asked
him to send a message to the Ravkan capital. We all heard it.”
“I thought it was a request for aid,” said Matthias, “not an invitation to
bargain.” They had never discussed giving Kuwei to Ravka.
Kaz considered them with some amusement. “It was neither. Let’s just
hope Rollins is as gullible as you two.”
“It was a decoy,” Nina moaned. “You were just keeping Rollins busy.”
“I wanted Pekka Rollins preoccupied. Hopefully, he has his people
trying to chase down our Ravkan contacts. They should prove difficult to
find, given that they don’t exist.”
Kuwei cleared his throat. “I would prefer to go to Ravka.”
“I’d prefer a pair of sable-lined swimming trunks,” said Jesper. “But
we can’t always get what we want.”
A furrow appeared between Kuwei’s brows. The limits to his
understanding of Kerch had apparently been reached and surpassed.

“I would prefer to go to Ravka,” he repeated more firmly. Kaz’s flat
black gaze fastened on Kuwei and held. Kuwei squirmed nervously.
“Why is he looking at me this way?”
“Kaz is wondering if he should keep you alive,” said Jesper. “Terrible
for the nerves. I recommend deep breathing. Maybe a tonic.”
“Jesper, stop,” said Wylan.
“Both of you need to relax.” Jesper patted Kuwei’s hand. “We’re not
going to let him put you in the ground.”
Kaz raised a brow. “Let’s not make any promises just yet.”
“Come on, Kaz. We didn’t go to all that trouble to save Kuwei just to
make him worm food.”
“Why do you want to go to Ravka?” Nina asked, unable to hide her
eagerness.
“We never agreed to that,” Matthias said. He did not want to argue
about this, especially not with Nina. They were supposed to set Kuwei
loose to live an anonymous life in Novyi Zem, not hand him over to
Fjerda’s greatest enemy.
Nina shrugged. “Maybe we need to rethink our options.”
Kuwei spoke slowly, choosing his words with care. “It’s safer there.
For Grisha. For me. I don’t want to hide. I want to train.” Kuwei touched
the notebooks in front of him. “My father’s work can help find—” He
hesitated, exchanged a few words with Nina. “An antidote for parem .”
Nina clasped her hands together, beaming.
Jesper tipped back farther in his chair. “I think Nina may be about to
burst into song.”
An antidote. Was that what Kuwei had been scribbling about in his
notebooks? The prospect of something that might neutralize the powers
of parem was appealing, and yet Matthias couldn’t help but be wary. “To
put this knowledge in the hands of one nation—” he began.
But Kuwei interrupted. “My father brought this drug into the world.
Even without me, what I know, it will be made again.”
“You’re saying someone else is going to solve the riddle of parem ?”
Matthias asked. Was there truly no hope this abomination could be
contained?
“Sometimes scientific discoveries are like that,” said Wylan. “Once
people know something is possible, the pace of new findings increases.
After that, it’s like trying to get a swarm of hornets back into their nest.”
“Do you really think an antidote is possible?” Nina asked.

“I don’t know,” said Kuwei. “My father was a Fabrikator. I am just an
Inferni.”
“You’re our chemist, Wylan,” said Nina hopefully. “What do you
think?”
Wylan shrugged. “Maybe. Not all poisons have an antidote.”
Jesper snorted. “That’s why we call him Wylan Van Sunshine.”
“In Ravka, there are more talented Fabrikators,” Kuwei said. “They
could help.”
Nina nodded emphatically. “It’s true. Genya Safin knows poisons like
no one else, and David Kostyk developed all kinds of new weapons for
King Nikolai.” She glanced at Matthias. “And other things too! Nice
things. Very peaceable.”
Matthias shook his head. “This isn’t a decision to be made lightly.”
Kuwei’s jaw set. “I would prefer to go to Ravka.”
“See?” said Nina.
“No, I do not,” said Matthias. “We can’t just hand such a prize over to
Ravka.”
“He’s a person, not a prize, and he wants to go.”
“Do we all get to do what we want now?” asked Jesper. “Because I
have a list.”
There was a long, tense pause, then Kaz ran a gloved thumb over the
crease of his trousers and said, “Nina, love, translate for me? I want to
make sure Kuwei and I understand each other.”
“Kaz—” she said warningly.
Kaz shifted forward and rested his hands on his knees, a kind older
brother offering some friendly advice. “I think it’s important that you
understand the changes in your circumstances. Van Eck knows the first
place you’d go for sanctuary would be Ravka, so any ship bound for its
shores is going to be searched top to bottom. The only Tailors powerful
enough to make you look like someone else are in Ravka, unless Nina
wants to take another dose of parem .”
Matthias growled.
“Which is unlikely,” Kaz conceded. “Now, I assume you don’t want
me to cart you back to Fjerda or the Shu Han?”
It was clear Nina had finished the translation when Kuwei yelped,
“No!”
“Then your choices are Novyi Zem and the Southern Colonies, but the
Kerch presence in the colonies is far lower. Also, the weather is better, if

you’re partial to that kind of thing. You are a stolen painting, Kuwei. Too
recognizable to sell on the open market, too valuable to leave lying
around. You are worthless to me.”
“I’m not translating that,” Nina snapped.
“Then translate this: My sole concern is keeping you away from Jan
Van Eck, and if you want me to start exploring more definite options, a
bullet is a lot cheaper than putting you on a ship to the Southern
Colonies.”
Nina did translate, though haltingly.
Kuwei responded in Shu. She hesitated. “He says you’re cruel.”
“I’m pragmatic. If I were cruel, I’d give him a eulogy instead of a
conversation. So, Kuwei, you’ll go to the Southern Colonies, and when
the heat has died down, you can find your way to Ravka or Matthias’
grandmother’s house for all I care.”
“Leave my grandmother out of this,” Matthias said.
Nina translated, and at last, Kuwei gave a stiff nod. Though Matthias
had gotten his way, the dejection on Nina’s face left a hollow feeling in
his chest.
Kaz checked his watch. “Now that we’re in agreement, you all know
what your responsibilities are. There are a lot of things that can go wrong
between now and tomorrow night, so talk through the plan and then talk
through it again. We only have one shot at this.”
“Van Eck will set up a perimeter. He’ll have her heavily guarded,” said
Matthias.
“That’s right. He has more guns, more men, and more resources. All
we have is surprise, and we’re not going to squander it.”
A soft scraping sounded from outside. Instantly, they were on their
feet and ready, even Kuwei.
But a moment later Rotty and Specht slipped into the tomb.
Matthias released a breath and returned his rifle to where he kept it,
always within arm’s reach.
“What business?” asked Kaz.
“The Shu have set up at their embassy,” said Specht. “Everyone on the
Lid is talking about it.”
“Numbers?”
“Forty, give or take,” said Rotty, kicking the mud from his boots.
“Heavily armed, but still operating under diplomatic flags. No one
knows exactly what they want.”

“We do,” said Jesper.
“I didn’t get too near the Slat,” said Rotty, “but Per Haskell’s antsy,
and he’s not being quiet about it. Without you around, work’s piling up
for the old man. Now there are rumors you’re back in the city and had a
run-in with a merch. Oh, and there was some kind of attack at one of the
harbors a few days ago. Bunch of sailors killed, harbormaster’s office
turned into a pile of splinters, but no one knows details.”
Matthias saw Kaz’s expression darken. He was hungry for more
information. Matthias knew the demjin had other reasons for going after
Inej, but the fact remained that, without her, their ability to gather
intelligence had been severely compromised.
“All right,” said Kaz. “But no one’s connected us to the raid at the Ice
Court or parem ?”
“Not that I heard,” said Rotty.
“Nope,” said Specht.
Wylan looked surprised. “That means Pekka Rollins hasn’t talked.”
“Give him time,” said Kaz. “He knows we have Kuwei stashed
somewhere. The letter to Ravka will only keep him chasing his tail for so
long.”
Jesper tapped his fingers restlessly on his thighs. “Has anyone noticed
this whole city is looking for us, mad at us, or wants to kill us?”
“So?” said Kaz.
“Well, usually it’s just half the city.”
Jesper might joke, but Matthias wondered if any of them really
understood the powers arraying against them. Fjerda, the Shu Han,
Novyi Zem, the Kaelish, the Kerch. These were not rival gangs or angry
business partners. They were nations, determined to protect their people
and secure their futures.
“There’s more,” said Specht. “Matthias, you’re dead.”
“Pardon?” Matthias’ Kerch was good, but perhaps there were still
gaps.
“You were shanked in the Hellgate infirmary.”
The room went quiet. Jesper sat down heavily. “Muzzen is dead?”
“Muzzen?” Matthias could not place the name.
“He took your place in Hellgate,” Jesper said. “So you could join the
Ice Court job.”
Matthias remembered the fight with the wolves, Nina standing in his
cell, the prison break. Nina had covered a member of the Dregs in false

sores and given him a fever to make sure he was quarantined and kept
from the larger prison population. Muzzen. Matthias should not have
forgotten such a thing.
“I thought you said you had a contact in the infirmary,” said Nina.
“To keep him sick, not to keep him safe.” Kaz’s face was grim. “It was
a hit.”
“The Fjerdans,” said Nina.
Matthias folded his arms. “That’s not possible.”
“Why not?” Nina said. “We know there are drüskelle here. If they
came to town looking for you and made noise at the Stadhall, they would
have been told you were in Hellgate.”
“No,” said Matthias. “They wouldn’t resort to such an underhanded
tactic. Hiring a killer? Murdering someone in his sickbed?” But even as
he said the words, Matthias wasn’t sure he believed them. Jarl Brum and
his officers had done worse without a twinge of conscience.
“Big, blond, and blind,” Jesper said. “The Fjerdan way.”
He died in my stead , Matthias thought. And I didn’t even recognize his
name.
“Did Muzzen have family?” Matthias asked at last.
“Just the Dregs,” said Kaz.
“No mourners,” Nina murmured.
“No funerals,” Matthias replied quietly.
“How does it feel to be dead?” asked Jesper. The merry light had gone
from his eyes.
Matthias had no answer. The knife that had killed Muzzen had been
meant for Matthias, and the Fjerdans might well be responsible. The
drüskelle. His brothers. They’d wanted him to die without honor,
murdered in an infirmary bed. It was a death fit for a traitor. It was the
death he had earned. Now Matthias owed Muzzen a blood debt, but how
would he ever pay it? “What will they do with his body?” he asked.
“It’s probably already ashes on the Reaper’s Barge,” said Kaz.
“There’s something else,” said Rotty. “Someone’s kicking up dust
looking for Jesper.”
“His creditors will have to wait,” said Kaz, and Jesper winced.
“No,” Rotty said with a shake of his head. “A man showed up at the
university. Jesper, he claims he’s your father.”

I nej lay on her belly, arms extended in front of her, wriggling like a
worm through the dark. Despite the fact that she’d been as good as
starving herself, the vent was still a tight fit. She couldn’t see where she
was going; she just kept moving forward, pulling herself along by her
fingertips.
She’d woken sometime after the fight on Vellgeluk, with no sense of
how long she’d been unconscious and no idea where she was. She
remembered plummeting from a great height as one of Van Eck’s
Squallers dropped her, only to be snatched up by another—arms like
steel bands around her, the air buffeting her face, gray sky all around,
and then pain exploding over her skull. The next thing she knew she was
awake, head pounding, in the dark. Her hands and ankles were bound,
and she could feel a blindfold tight across her face. For a moment, she
was fourteen, being tossed into the hold of a slaver ship, frightened and
alone. She forced herself to breathe. Wherever she was, she felt no ship’s
sway, heard no creak of sails. The ground was solid beneath her.
Where would Van Eck have brought her? She could be in a
warehouse, someone’s home. She might not even be in Kerch anymore.
It didn’t matter. She was Inej Ghafa, and she would not quiver like a
rabbit in a snare. Wherever I am, I just have to get out.
She’d managed to nudge her blindfold down by scraping her face
against the wall. The room was pitch-black, and all she could hear in the
silence was her own rapid breathing as panic seized her again. She’d
leashed it by controlling her breath, in through the nose, out through the

mouth, letting her mind turn to prayer as her Saints gathered around her.
She imagined them checking the ropes at her wrists, rubbing life into her
hands. She did not tell herself she wasn’t afraid. Long ago, after a bad
fall, her father had explained that only fools were fearless. We meet fear ,
he’d said. We greet the unexpected visitor and listen to what he has to
tell us. When fear arrives, something is about to happen.
Inej intended to make something happen. She’d ignored the ache in
her head and forced herself to inch around the room, estimating its
dimensions. Then she’d used the wall to push to her feet and felt along it,
shuffling and hopping, searching for any doors or windows. When she’d
heard footsteps approaching, she’d dropped to the ground, but she hadn’t
had time to get her blindfold back in place. From then on, the guards tied
it tighter. But that didn’t matter, because she’d found the vent. All she
needed then was a way out of her ropes. Kaz could have managed it in
the dark and probably underwater.
The only thorough look she got at the room where she was being held
was during meals, when they brought in a lantern. She’d hear keys
turning in a series of locks, the door swinging open, the sound of the tray
being placed on the table. A moment later, the blindfold would be gently
lifted from her face—Bajan was never rough or abrupt. It wasn’t in his
nature. In fact, she suspected it was beyond the capabilities of his
manicured musician’s hands.
There was never any cutlery on the tray, of course. Van Eck was wise
enough not to trust her with so much as a spoon, but Inej had taken
advantage of each unblindfolded moment to study every inch of the
barren room, seeking clues that might help her to assess her location and
plan her escape. There wasn’t much to go on—a concrete floor marked
by nothing but the pile of blankets she’d been given to burrow into at
night, walls lined with empty shelves, the table and chair where she took
her meals. There were no windows, and the only hint that they might still
be near Ketterdam was the damp trace of salt in the air.
Bajan would untie her wrists, then bind them again in front of her so
that she could eat—though once she’d discovered the vent, she’d only
picked at her food, eating enough to keep up her strength and nothing
more. Still, when Bajan and the guards had brought her tray tonight, her
stomach had growled audibly at the smell of soft sausages and porridge.
She’d been woozy with hunger, and when she’d tried to sit down, she’d
tipped the tray from its perch on the table, smashing the white ceramic

mug and bowl. Her dinner slopped to the floor in a steaming heap of
savory mush and broken crockery and she’d landed ungracefully next to
it, barely avoiding a face full of porridge.
Bajan had shaken his dark, silky head. “You are weak because you
don’t eat. Mister Van Eck says I must force-feed you if necessary.”
“Try,” she’d said, looking up at him from the floor and baring her
teeth. “You’ll have trouble teaching piano without all your fingers.”
But Bajan had only laughed, white grin flashing. He and one of the
guards had helped her back into the chair, and he’d sent for another tray.
Van Eck could not have chosen her jailer better. Bajan was Suli, only a
few years older than Inej, with thick black hair that curled around his
collar and black gem eyes framed by lashes long enough to swat flies. He
told her he was a music teacher indentured to Van Eck, and Inej
wondered that the merch would bring a boy like that into his house hold
given that his new wife was less than half his own age. Van Eck was
either very confident or very stupid. He double-crossed Kaz , she
reminded herself. He’s leaning heavily into the stupid column.
Once the mess had been cleaned up—by a guard; Bajan didn’t stoop to
such work—and a new meal procured, he’d leaned against the wall to
watch her eat. She’d scooped up a lump of porridge with her fingers,
allowing herself only a few awkward bites.
“You must eat more than that,” Bajan chided. “If you make yourself a
bit more obliging, if you answer his questions, you’ll find Van Eck is a
reasonable man.”
“A reasonable liar, cheat, and kidnapper,” she said, then cursed herself
for replying.
Bajan couldn’t hide his pleasure. They had the same routine at each
meal: She picked at her food. He made small talk, peppering his chatter
with pointed questions about Kaz and the Dregs. Every time she spoke,
he considered it a victory. Unfortunately, the less she ate, the weaker she
got, and the harder it was to keep her wits about her.
“Given the company you keep, I’d think lying and cheating would be
points in Mister Van Eck’s favor.”
“Shevrati ,” Inej said distinctly. Know-nothing. She’d called Kaz that
on more than one occasion. She thought of Jesper toying with his guns,
Nina squeezing the life from a man with the flick of a wrist, Kaz picking
a lock in his black gloves. Thugs. Thieves. Murderers. And all worth
more than a thousand Jan Van Ecks.

Then where are they? The question tore at some hastily stitched seam
inside of her. Where is Kaz? She didn’t want to look at that question too
closely. Above everything else, Kaz was practical. Why would he come
for her when he could walk away from Van Eck with the most valuable
hostage in the world?
Bajan wrinkled his nose. “Let’s not speak Suli. It makes me maudlin.”
He wore tapered silk trousers and an elegantly cut coat. Pinned to his
lapel, a golden lyre crowned with laurel leaves and a small ruby
indicated both his profession and the house of his indenture.
Inej knew she shouldn’t continue to talk with him, but she was still a
gatherer of secrets. “What instruments do you teach?” she said. “Harp?
Pianoforte?”
“Also flute, and voice for ladies.”
“And how does Alys Van Eck sing?”
Bajan gave her a lazy grin. “Most prettily under my instruction. I
could teach you to make all manner of pleasing sounds.”
Inej rolled her eyes. He was just like the boys she’d grown up with, a
head full of nonsense and a mouth full of easy charm. “I am bound and
facing the prospect of torture or worse. Are you actually flirting with
me?”
Bajan tsked. “Mister Van Eck and your Mister Brekker will reach an
arrangement. Van Eck is a businessman. From what I understand, he is
simply protecting his interests. I cannot imagine he would resort to
torture.”
“Were you the one tied up and blindfolded every night, your
imagination might not fail you so completely.”
And if Bajan had known Kaz at all, he wouldn’t be so certain of an
exchange.
In the long hours she was left alone, Inej tried to rest and put her mind
to escape, but inevitably her thoughts turned to Kaz and the others. Van
Eck wanted to trade her for Kuwei Yul-Bo, the Shu boy they had stolen
from the deadliest fortress in the world. He was the only person who had
a hope of re-creating his father’s work on the drug known as jurda parem
, and the price of his ransom would give Kaz all he had ever wanted—all
the money and prestige he needed to take his rightful place among the
bosses of the Barrel, and the chance at revenge on Pekka Rollins for the
death of his brother. The facts lined up one after another, an army of
doubts assembled against the hope she tried to keep steady inside her.

Kaz’s course was obvious: Ransom Kuwei, take the money, find
himself a new spider to scale the walls of the Barrel and steal secrets for
him. And hadn’t she told him she planned on leaving Ketterdam as soon
as they were paid? Stay with me. Had he meant it? What value did her
life carry in the face of the reward Kuwei might garner? Nina would
never let Kaz abandon her. She’d fight with everything she had to free
Inej even if she was still in the grips of parem . Matthias would stand by
her with that great heart full of honor. And Jesper … well, Jesper would
never do Inej harm, but he needed money badly if he didn’t want his
father to lose his livelihood. He would do his best, but that might not
necessarily mean what was best for her. Besides, without Kaz, were any
of them a match for Van Eck’s ruthlessness and resources? I am , Inej
told herself. I may not have Kaz’s devious mind, but I am a dangerous
girl.
Van Eck had sent Bajan to her every day, and he’d been nothing but
amiable and pleasant even as he’d prodded her for the locations of Kaz’s
safe houses. She suspected that Van Eck didn’t come himself because he
knew Kaz would be keeping a close eye on his movements. Or maybe he
thought she’d be more vulnerable to a Suli boy than a wily merch. But
tonight something had changed.
Bajan usually left when Inej had made it clear she would eat no more
—a parting smile, a small bow, and away he went, duty dispatched until
the following morning. Tonight he had lingered.
Instead of taking his cue to vanish when she used her bound hands to
nudge away her dish, he’d said, “When did you see your family last?”
A new approach. “Has Van Eck offered you some reward if you can
extract information from me?”
“It was just a question.”
“And I am just a captive. Did he threaten you with punishment?”
Bajan glanced at the guards and said quietly, “Van Eck could bring
you back to your family. He could pay off your contract with Per
Haskell. It is well within his means.”
“Was this your idea or your master’s?”
“Why does it matter?” Bajan asked. There was an urgency in his voice
that pricked at Inej’s defenses. When fear arrives, something is about to
happen. But was he afraid of Van Eck or afraid for her? “You can walk
away from the Dregs and Per Haskell and that horrid Kaz Brekker free
and clear. Van Eck could give you transport to Ravka, money to travel.”

An offer or a threat? Could Van Eck have found her mother and
father? The Suli were not easy to track, and they would be wary of
strangers asking questions. But what if Van Eck had sent men claiming
to have knowledge of a lost girl? A girl who had vanished one chilly
dawn as if the tide had reached up to the shore to claim her?
“What does Van Eck know about my family?” she asked, anger rising.
“He knows you’re far from home. He knows the terms of your
indenture with the Menagerie.”
“Then he knows I was a slave. Will he have Tante Heleen arrested?”
“I … don’t think—”
“Of course not. Van Eck doesn’t care that I was bought and sold like a
bolt of cotton. He’s just looking for leverage.”
But what Bajan asked next took Inej by surprise. “Did your mother
make skillet bread?”
She frowned. “Of course.” It was a Suli staple. Inej could have made
skillet bread in her sleep.
“With rosemary?”
“Dill, when we had it.” She knew what Bajan was doing, trying to
make her think of home. But she was so hungry and the memory was so
strong that her stomach growled anyway. She could see her mother
damping the fire, see her flipping the bread with quick pinches of her
fingers, smell the dough cooking over the ashes.
“Your friends are not coming,” said Bajan. “It is time to think of your
own survival. You could be home with your family by summer’s end.
Van Eck can help you if you let him.”
Every alarm inside Inej had sounded danger. The play was too
obvious. Beneath Bajan’s charm, his dark eyes, his easy promises, there
was fear. And yet amid the clamor of suspicion, she could hear the soft
chiming of another bell, the sound of What if? What if she let herself be
comforted, gave up the pretense of being beyond the things she’d lost?
What if she simply let Van Eck put her on a ship, send her home? She
could taste the skillet bread, warm from the pan, see her mother’s dark
braid twined with ribbons, strands of silk the color of ripe persimmons.
But Inej knew better than that. She’d learned from the best. Better
terrible truths than kind lies. Kaz had never offered her happiness, and
she didn’t trust the men promising to serve it up to her now. Her
suffering had not been for nothing. Her Saints had brought her to
Ketterdam for a reason—a ship to hunt slavers, a mission to give

meaning to all she’d been through. She would not betray that purpose or
her friends for some dream of the past.
Inej hissed at Bajan, an animal sound that made him flinch backward.
“Tell your master to honor his old deals before he starts making new
ones,” she said. “Now leave me alone.”
Bajan had scurried away like the well-dressed rat he was, but Inej
knew it was time to go. Bajan’s new insistence could mean nothing good
for her. I have to get out of this trap , she’d thought, before this creature
lures me with memories and sympathy. Maybe Kaz and the others were
coming for her, but she didn’t intend to wait around and see.
Once Bajan and the guards had left, she’d slipped the shard of broken
bowl from where she’d hidden it beneath the ropes around her ankles and
set to work. Weak and wobbly as she’d felt when Bajan had arrived with
that heavenly smelling bowl of mush, she’d only pretended to swoon so
that she could deliberately knock her tray off the table. If Van Eck had
really done his research, he would have warned Bajan that the Wraith did
not fall. Certainly not in a clumsy heap on the floor where she could
easily tuck a sharp piece of crockery between her bonds.
After what seemed like a lifetime of sawing and scraping and
bloodying her fingertips on the shard’s edge, she’d finally severed her
ropes and freed her hands, then untied her ankles and felt her way to the
vent. Bajan and the guards wouldn’t be back until morning. That gave
her the whole night to escape this place and get as far away as she
possibly could.
The passage was a miserably tight fit, the air inside musty with smells
she couldn’t quite identify, the dark so complete she might as well have
kept her blindfold on. She had no idea where the vent might lead. It
could run for a few more feet or for half a mile. She needed to be gone
by morning or they’d find the grating that covered the vent loosened on
its hinges and know exactly where she was.
Good luck getting me out , she thought grimly. She doubted any of
Van Eck’s guards could squeeze inside the air shaft. They’d have to find
some kitchen boy and grease him down with lard.
She inched forward. How far had she gone? Every time she took a
deep breath, it felt like the air shaft was tightening around her ribs. For
all she knew, she could be atop a building. She might pop her head out
the other side only to find a busy Ketterdam street far below. Inej could
contend with that. But if the shaft just ended? If it was walled up on the

other side? She’d have to squirm backward the entire distance and hope
to refasten her ropes so that her captors wouldn’t know what she’d done.
Impossible. There could be no dead ends tonight.
Faster , she told herself, sweat beading on her brow. It was hard not to
imagine the building compressing around her, its walls squeezing the
breath from her lungs. She couldn’t make a real plan until she reached
the end of this tunnel, until she knew just how far she’d have to go to
evade Van Eck’s men.
Then she felt it, the barest gust of air brushing against her damp
forehead. She whispered a quick prayer of thanks. There must be some
kind of opening up ahead. She sniffed, searching for a hint of coal smoke
or the wet green fields of a country town. Cautiously, she wiggled
forward until her fingers made contact with the slats of the vent. There
was no light trickling through, which she supposed was a good thing.
The room she was about to drop into must be unoccupied. Saints, what if
she was in Van Eck’s mansion? What if she was about to land on a
sleeping merch? She listened for some human sound—snores, deep
breathing. Nothing.
She wished for her knives, for the comforting weight of them in her
palms. Did Van Eck still have them in his possession? Had he sold them
off? Tossed them into the sea? She named the blades anyway—Petyr,
Marya, Anastasia, Lizabeta, Sankt Vladimir, Sankta Alina —and found
courage in each whispered word. Then she jiggled the vent and gave it a
hard shove. It flew open, but instead of swinging on its hinges, it came
completely loose. She tried to grab it, but it slid past her fingertips and
clattered to the floor.
Inej waited, heart pounding. A minute passed in silence. Another. No
one came. The room was empty. Maybe the whole building was empty.
Van Eck wouldn’t have left her unguarded, so his men must be stationed
outside. If that was the case, she knew slipping past them would present
little challenge. And at least now she knew roughly how far away the
floor was.
There was no graceful way to accomplish what came next. She slid
down headfirst, gripping the wall. Then, when she was more than
halfway out and her body began to tip, she let momentum carry her
forward, curling into a ball and tucking her arms over her head to protect
her skull and neck as she fell.
The impact was fairly painless. The floor was hard concrete like the

floor of her cell, but she rolled as she struck and came up against what
seemed to be the back of something solid. She pulled herself to her feet,
hands exploring whatever she’d banged into. It was upholstered in
velvet. As she moved along, she felt another identical object next to it.
Seats , she realized. I’m in a theater.
There were plenty of music halls and theaters in the Barrel. Could she
be so close to home? Or maybe in one of the respectable opera houses of
the Lid?
She moved slowly, hands out before her until she reached a wall at
what she thought was the back of the theater. She groped along it,
seeking a door, a window, even another vent. Finally, her fingers hooked
over a door frame and her hands wrapped around the knob. It wouldn’t
budge. Locked. She gave it a tentative rattle.
The room flooded with light. Inej shrank back against the door,
squinting in the sudden brightness.
“If you wanted a tour, Miss Ghafa, you might simply have asked,”
said Jan Van Eck.
He stood on the stage of the decrepit theater, his bl