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Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo Read Online (FREE)

The noises grew as the guards clambered down the stairs, loud Fjerdan reverberating off the walls. Nina held her breath, watching the door, hands ready. Kaz had no weapon, but he’d dropped into a fighting stance, waiting to see if the door would crash open. Instead, the guards continued on past the landing, down to the next floor.

When the sounds had faded, Kaz signaled to her, and they slipped back out the door, closing it as silently as possible behind them, and continued their ascent.

Seven bells struck as they reached the top floor. One hour had passed since they’d knocked out the prisoners in the holding area. They had forty-five minutes to search the high-security cells, meet back at the landing, and get to the basement. Kaz gestured for her to take the corridor on the left while he took the right.

The door creaked loudly as Nina stepped inside. The lanterns were spaced far apart here, and the shadows between them looked deep enough to fall into. She told herself to be grateful for the cover, but she couldn’t deny it was eerie. The cells were different, too, with doors of solid steel instead of iron bars. A viewing grate was lodged into each of them at eye level. Well, eye level for a Fjerdan. Nina was tall, but she still had to stand on tiptoe to peek into them.

Most of the prisoners were asleep or resting, curled into corners or flat on their backs with an arm thrown over their eyes to block out the dim lamplight that filtered through the grate. Others sat propped against the walls, staring listlessly at nothing. Occasionally she found someone pacing back and forth and had to step away quickly. None of them were Shu.

Ajor?” one called after her in Fjerdan. She ignored him and moved on, heart thudding.

What if Bo Yul-Bayur really was in these cells? She knew it was unlikely, and yet … she could kill him in his cell, put him in a deep, painless sleep, and simply stop his heart. She’d tell Kaz she hadn’t found him. And what if Kaz located Bo Yul-Bayur? She might have to wait until they were out of the Ice Court to find a solution, but she could at least count on Matthias to help her. What a strange, grim bargain they’d struck.

But as she worked her way back and forth along the corridors, the tiny hope that the scientist might be there withered away to nothing. One more row of cells, she thought, then back down to the basement with nothing to show for it. Except when she entered the final corridor, she saw it was shorter than the others. Where there should have been more cells there was a steel door, bright light shining beneath it.

A flutter of unease passed through her as she approached, but she made herself push the door open. She had to squint against the brightness. The light was harsh—as clear as daylight but with none of its warmth—and she couldn’t locate its source. She heard the door whooshing closed behind her. At the last moment she whirled and grabbed it by the edge. Something told her this door would need a key to unlock it from the inside. She looked for anything she might use to prop it open, and had to settle for tearing off a piece from the bottom of her prison trousers and stuffing it in the lock.