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Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo Read Online (FREE)

Kaz expected to wake in the next world, warm and safe, his belly full, Jordie beside him. Instead, he woke surrounded by corpses. He was lying in the shallows of the Reaper’s Barge, his clothes soaked through, skin wrinkled from the damp. Jordie’s body was beside him, barely recognizable, white and swollen with rot, floating on the surface like some kind of gruesome deep sea fish.

Kaz’s vision had cleared, and the rash had receded. His fever had broken. He’d forgotten his hunger, but he was thirsty enough that he thought he would go mad.

All that day and night, he waited in the pile of bodies, looking out at the harbor, hoping the flatboat would return. They had to come to set the fires that would burn the corpses, but when? Did the body men collect every day? Every other day? He was weak and dehydrated. He knew he wouldn’t last much longer. The coast seemed so far away, and he knew he was too weak to swim the distance. He had survived the fever, but he might well die out here on the Reaper’s Barge. Did he care? There was nothing waiting for him in the city but more hunger and dark alleys and the damp of the canals. Even as he thought it, he knew it wasn’t true. Vengeance was waiting, vengeance for Jordie and maybe for himself, too. But he would have to go to meet it.

When night came, and the tide changed direction, Kaz forced himself to lay hands on Jordie’s body. He was too frail to swim on his own, but with Jordie’s help, he could float. He held tight to his brother and kicked toward the lights of Ketterdam. Together, they drifted, Jordie’s distended body acting as a raft. Kaz kept kicking, trying not to think of his brother, of the taut, bloated feel of Jordie’s flesh beneath his hands; he tried not to think of anything but the rhythm of his legs moving through the sea. He’d heard there were sharks in these waters, but he knew they wouldn’t touch him. He was a monster now, too.

He kept kicking, and when dawn came, he looked up to find himself at the east end of the Lid. The harbor was nearly deserted; the plague had caused shipping in and out of Kerch to grind to a halt.

The last hundred yards were hard. The tide had turned once more, and it was working against him. But Kaz had hope now, hope and fury, twin flames burning inside him. They guided him to the dock and up the ladder. When he reached the top, he flopped down on his back on the wooden slats, then forced himself to roll over. Jordie’s body was caught in the current, bumping against the pylon below. His eyes were still open, and for a moment, Kaz thought his brother was staring back at him. But Jordie didn’t speak, he didn’t blink, his gaze didn’t shift as the tide dragged him free of the pylon and began to carry him out to sea.