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Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo Read Online (FREE)

They spiraled lower, into the bowels of the rock. Nina clung to the wall. There was no banister, and though she could not see the bottom, she doubted the fall would be kind. They didn’t go far, but by the time they reached their destination, she was trembling, her muscles wound taut, less from exertion than the knowledge that Matthias was somewhere in this terrible place. He is here. He is under this roof.

“Where are we?” she whispered as they ducked through cramped stone tunnels, passing dark caves fitted with iron bars.

“This is the old prison,” Kaz said. “When they built the new tower, they left this one standing.”

She heard moaning from inside one of the cells.

“They still keep prisoners here?”

“Only the worst of them.”

She peered between the bars of an empty cell. There were shackles on the wall, dark with rust and what might have been blood.

Through the walls, a sound reached Nina’s ears, a steady pounding. She thought it was the ocean at first, but then she realized it was chanting. They emerged into a curving tunnel. To her right were more old cells, but light poured into the tunnel from staggered archways on the left, and through them she glimpsed a roaring, rowdy crowd.

The Dime Lion led them around the tunnel to the third archway, where a prison guard dressed in a blue-and-gray uniform was posted, rifle slung across his back. “Four more for you,” the Dime Lion shouted over the crowd. Then he turned to Kaz. “If you need to leave, the guard will call for an escort. No one goes wandering off without a guide, understood?”

“Of course, of course, wouldn’t dream of it,” Kaz said from behind his ridiculous mask.

“Enjoy,” the Dime Lion said with an ugly grin. The prison guard waved them through.

Nina stepped under the arch and felt as if she’d fallen into some strange nightmare. They were on a jutting stone ledge, looking down into a shallow, crudely made amphitheater. The tower had been gutted to create an arena. Only the black walls of the old prison remained, the roof long since fallen in or destroyed so that the night sky was visible high above, dense with clouds and free of stars. It was like standing in the hollowed-out trunk of a massive tree, something long dead and howling with echoes.

Around her, masked and veiled men and women crowded onto the terraced ledges, stamping their feet as the action proceeded below. The walls surrounding the fighting pit blazed with torchlight and the sand of the arena floor was red and damp where it had soaked up blood.

In front of the dark mouth of a cave, a scrawny, bearded man in shackles stood next to a big wooden wheel marked with what looked like drawings of little animals. He’d clearly once been strong, but now his skin hung in loose folds and his muscles sagged. A younger man stood beside him in a mangy cape made from a lion’s skin, his face framed by the big cat’s mouth. A garish gold crown had been secured between the lion’s ears, and its eyes had been replaced with bright silver dimes.