Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo Read Online (FREE)
They were met by uniformed female guards.
“I don’t see her,” said Nina.
“Just wait. The Peacock will enter last.”
And sure enough, there she was: Heleen Van Houden, shimmering in teal satin, an elaborate ruff of peacock feathers framing her golden head.
“Subtle,” said Nina.
“Subtle doesn’t sell in the Barrel.”
Inej gave a high, trilling whistle. Jesper’s whistle came back from somewhere in the distance. This is it, Inej thought. She’d shoved, and now the boulder was rolling down the hill. Who knew what damage it might do and what might be built on the rubble?
Nina squinted down through the glass. “How does she keep from collapsing under the weight of those diamonds? They can’t possibly be real.”
“Oh, they’re real,” said Inej. Those jewels had been purchased with the sweat and blood and sorrow of girls like her.
The guards divided the members of the Menagerie into three groups, while Heleen was escorted separately. The Peacock would never be expected to turn out her clothes and lift her skirts in front of her girls.
“Them,” Inej said, pointing to the group that included the Suli lynx and Kaelish mare. They were heading to the doors on the left of the rotunda.
As Nina tracked the group with her eyes, Inej moved over the roof, following their trajectory.
“Which door?” she called.
“Third on the right,” Nina said. Inej moved to the nearest air duct and lifted the grate. It would be a tight squeeze for Nina, but they’d manage. She slid down into the ventilation duct, crouching and moving along the narrow shaft between rooms. Behind her, she heard a grunt and then a loud whump as Nina hit the bottom of the shaft like a sack of laundry. Inej winced. Hopefully the noises of the crowd below would lend them cover. Or maybe the Ice Court had really big rats.
They crawled along, peering in vents as they went. Finally, they were looking down into some kind of small meeting room that had been commandeered for the purpose of guards searching guests.
The Exotics had removed their capes and laid them on the long oval table. One of the blond guards was patting the girls down, feeling along the seams and hems of their costumes, and even poking fingers into their hair, while the other guard kept watch with her hand resting on her rifle. She looked ill at ease with the gun. Inej knew Fjerdans didn’t let women serve in the army in a combat capacity. Maybe the female guards had been conscripted from some other unit.
Inej and Nina waited until the guards had finished searching the girls, their capes, and their little beaded purses.
“Ven tidder,” one of the guards said as they exited the room to let the Menagerie girls set themselves to rights.
“Five minutes,” translated Nina in a whisper.
“Go,” said Inej.
“I need you to move.”
“Because I need a clear line of sight, and right now all I can see is your ass.”