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Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo Read Online (FREE)

They followed a row of torches up an uneven path to the leeward side of the prison. Nina tilted her head back to gaze at the high black towers of the fortress known as Hellgate, a dark fist of stone thrusting up from the sea. She’d seen it from afar before, when she’d paid a fisherman to take her out to the island. But when she’d asked him to bring her closer, he’d refused. “Sharks get mean there,” he’d claimed. “Bellies full of convict blood.” Nina shuddered at the memory.

A door had been propped open, and another member of the Dime Lions led Nina and the others inside. They entered a dark, surprisingly clean kitchen, its walls lined with huge vats that looked better suited to laundry than cooking. The room smelled strange, like vinegar and sage. Like a mercher’s kitchen, Nina thought. The Kerch believed that work was akin to prayer. Maybe the merchant wives came here to scrub the floors and walls and windows, to honor Ghezen, the god of industry and commerce, with soap and water and the chafing of their hands. Nina resisted the urge to gag. They could scrub all they liked. Beneath that wholesome scent was the indelible stench of mildew, urine, and unwashed bodies. It might take an actual miracle to dislodge it.

They passed through a dank entry hall, and she thought they would head up into the cells, but instead they passed through another door and onto a high stone walkway that connected the main prison to what looked like another tower.

“Where are we going?” Nina whispered. Kaz didn’t answer. The wind picked up, lifting her veil and lashing her cheeks with salt spray.

As they entered the second tower, a figure emerged from the shadows, and Nina barely stifled a scream.

“Inej,” she said on a wavering breath. The Suli girl wore the horns and high-necked tunic of the Gray Imp, but Nina recognized her anyway. No one else moved liked that, as if the world were smoke and she was just passing through it.

“How did you even get here?” Nina whispered to her.

“I came earlier on a supply barge.”

Nina ground her teeth. “Do people just come and go from Hellgate for fun?”

“Once a week they do,” said Inej, her little imp horns bobbing along with her head.

“What do you mean once a—”

“Keep quiet,” Kaz growled.

“Don’t shush me, Brekker,” Nina whispered furiously. “If it’s this easy to get into Hellgate—”

“The problem isn’t getting in, it’s getting out. Now shut up and stay alert.”

Nina swallowed her anger. She had to trust Kaz to run the game. He’d made sure she didn’t have any other choice.

They entered a tight passageway. This tower felt different from the first, older, its rough-hewn stone walls blackened by smoking torches. Their Dime Lion guide pushed open a heavy iron door and gestured for them to follow him down a steep staircase. Here the smell of bodies and refuse was worse, trapped by the sweating moisture of salt water.