Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo Read Online (FREE)
The Elderclock began to chime a soft three-quarter-hour. She was late. Still, she forced her steps to slow before she opened the door into the stairway. There was no one there, not even Kaz. She ducked her head into the opposite passage to see if he was coming. Nothing—iron doors, deep shadow, no sign of Kaz.
Nina waited, unsure of what to do. They’d been meant to meet on the landing with fifteen minutes to spare before the hour. What if he was in some kind of trouble? She hesitated, then plunged down the corridor Kaz had been responsible for searching. She raced past the cells, the hallways snaking back and forth, but Kaz was nowhere to be found.
Enough, thought Nina when she reached the end of the second corridor. Either Kaz had abandoned her and was already downstairs with the others, or he’d been caught and dragged off somewhere. Either way, she had to get to the incinerator. Once she found the others they could figure out what to do.
She sped back through the halls and threw open the door to the landing. Two guards stood chatting at the head of the stairs. For a moment, they stared at her, open-mouthed.
“Sten!” one shouted in Fjerdan, ordering her to halt as they fumbled for their guns. Nina threw out both hands, fingers forming fists, and watched the guards topple backward. One fell flat on the landing, but the other tumbled down the stairs, his rifle firing, sending bullets pinging against the stone walls, the sound echoing down the stairwell. Kaz was going to kill her. She was going to kill Kaz.
Nina hurtled past the guards’ bodies, down one flight, two flights. On the third-floor landing a door flew open as a guard burst into the stairwell. Nina twisted her hands in the air, and the guard’s neck broke with an audible snap. She was plunging down the next flight before his body struck the ground.
That was when the Elderclock began to chime. Not the steady tolling of the hour, but a shrill clamor, high and percussive—a sound of alarm.
Inej looked up, into the dark. High above her floated a small, gray patch of evening sky. Six levels to climb in the dark with her hands slippery from sweat and the fires of hell burning below, with the rope weighing her down and no net to catch her. Climb, Inej.
Bare hands were best for climbing, but the incinerator walls were far too hot to permit that. So Wylan and Jesper had helped her fish Kaz’s gloves from the laundry bins. She hesitated briefly. Kaz would tell her to just put the gloves on, to do whatever it took to get the job done. And yet, she felt curiously guilty as she slid the supple black leather over her hands, as if she had crept into his rooms without his permission, read his letters, lain down in his bed. The gloves were unlined, with the slenderest slashes hidden in the fingertips. For sleight of hand, she realized, so that he can keep contact with coins or cards or finesse the workings of a lock. Touch without touch.