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Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo Read Online (FREE)

Inej wiggled forward so Nina had a better view through the vent, and a moment later, she heard four soft thuds as the Menagerie girls collapsed on the dark blue carpet.

Quickly, she wrenched the grate loose and dropped onto the shiny surface of the table. Nina tumbled down after her, landing in a heap.

“Sorry,” she moaned as she dragged herself upright.

Inej almost laughed. “You’re very graceful in battle, just not when you’re plummeting.”

“Missed that day in school.”

They stripped the Suli and Kaelish girls down to their underclothes, then bound all the girls’ wrists and ankles with cords from the curtains and gagged them with torn pieces of their prison clothes.

“Clock is ticking,” said Inej.

“Sorry,” Nina whispered to the Kaelish girl. Inej knew that ordinarily Nina would have used pigments to alter her own hair color, but there simply wasn’t time. Nina bled the girl’s bright red color directly from the strands of her hair into Nina’s own, leaving the poor Kaelish with a mop of white waves that looked vaguely rusty in places, and Nina with hair that wasn’t quite Kaelish red. Nina’s eyes were green and not blue, but that kind of tailoring couldn’t be rushed, so they’d have to do. She took white powder from the girl’s beaded bag and did her best to pale her skin.

As Nina worked, Inej dragged the other girls into a tall silverwood cabinet on the far wall, arranging their limbs so that there would be room for the Kaelish. She felt a stab of guilt as she made sure the Suli girl’s gag was secure. Tante Heleen must have bought her to replace Inej; she had the same bronze skin, the same thick sheaf of dark hair. She was built differently, though, soft and curving instead of lean and angular. Maybe she’d come to Tante Heleen of her own free will. Maybe she’d chosen this life. Inej hoped that was true. “Saints protect you,” Inej whispered to the unconscious girl.

A rap came at the door and a voice spoke in Fjerdan.

“They need the room for the next girls,” Nina whispered.

Inej and Nina shoved the Kaelish into the cupboard and managed to get the doors closed and locked, then yanked on their costumes. Inej was glad she didn’t have time to dwell on the unwelcome familiarity of the silks on her skin, the horrible tinkling of the bells on her anklets. They swept on their capes and took a quick glance in the mirror.

Neither of the costumes fit properly. Inej’s purple silks were far too loose, and as for Nina …

“What the hell is this supposed to be?” she said, looking down at herself. The plunging gown barely covered her substantial cleavage and clung tightly to her buttocks. It had been wrought to look like blue-green scales, giving way to a shimmering chiffon fan.

“Maybe a mermaid?” suggested Inej. “Or a wave?”

“I thought I was a horse.”

“Well they weren’t going to put you in a dress of hooves.”