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Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo Read Online (FREE)

“Spin the wheel!” the young man commanded.

The prisoner lifted his shackled hands and gave the wheel a hard spin. A red needle ticked along the edges as it spun, making a cheerful clattering noise, then slowly the wheel came to a stop. Nina couldn’t quite make out the symbol, but the crowd bellowed, and the man’s shoulders drooped as a guard came forward to unlock his chains.

The prisoner cast them aside into the sand, and a second later Nina heard it—a roar that carried even over the excited baying of the crowd. The man in the lion cape and the prison guard stepped hurriedly onto a rope ladder and were lifted out of the pit to the safety of a ledge as the prisoner seized a flimsy-looking knife from a bloody bunch of weapons lying in the sand. He backed as far away from the mouth of the tunnel as he could get.

Nina had never seen a creature like the one that crawled into view from the tunnel. It was some kind of reptile, its thick body covered in gray-green scales, its head wide and flat, its yellow eyes slitted. It moved slowly, sinuously, its low-slung body sliding lazily over the ground. There was a white crust around the broad crescent of its mouth, and when it opened its jaws to roar again, something wet, white, and foaming dripped from its pointed teeth.

“What is that thing?” Nina asked.

Rinca moten,” said Inej. “A desert lizard. The poison from its mouth is lethal.”

“It seems pretty slow on its feet.”

“Yes. It seems that way.”

The prisoner lunged forward with his knife. The big lizard moved so quickly Nina could barely track it. One moment the prisoner was bearing down on it; the next, the lizard was on the other side of the arena. Bare seconds later, it had slammed into the prisoner, pinning him to the ground as he screamed, its poison dripping over his face, leaving smoky trails wherever it touched his skin.

The creature dropped its weight on the prisoner with a sickening crunch and set about slowly mauling his shoulder as he lay there shrieking.

The crowd was booing.

Nina averted her eyes, unable to watch. “What is this?”

“Welcome to the Hellshow,” said Kaz. “Pekka Rollins got the idea a few years back and pitched it to the right Council member.”

“The Merchant Council knows?”

“Of course they know, Nina. There’s money to be made here.”

Nina dug her fingernails into her palms. That condescending tone made Kaz so slappable.

She knew Pekka Rollins’ name well. He was the reigning king of the Barrel, the owner of not one but two gambling palaces—one luxurious, the other catering to sailors with less to line their pockets—and several of the higher-end brothels. When Nina had arrived in Ketterdam a year ago, she’d been friendless, penniless, and far from home. She’d spent the first week in the Kerch law courts, dealing with the charges against Matthias. But once her testimony was complete, she’d been unceremoniously dumped at First Harbor with just enough money to book passage back to Ravka. Desperate as she’d been to return to her country, she’d known she couldn’t leave Matthias to languish in Hellgate.