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Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo Read Online (FREE)

Matthias knelt over the wolf. Its jaw was broken, and it lay on the ground twitching in pain. He reached for a rock and slammed it hard into the poor animal’s skull. It went still and Matthias’ shoulders slumped. The people howled, stomping their feet. Only Nina knew what this was costing him, that he’d been a drüskelle. Wolves were sacred to his kind, bred for battle like their enormous horses. They were friends and companions, fighting side by side with their drüskelle masters.

The first wolf had recovered and was circling. Move, Matthias, she thought desperately. He got to his feet, but his movements were slow, weary. His heart wasn’t in this fight. His opponents were gray wolves, rangy and wild, but cousins to the white wolves of the Fjerdan north. Matthias had no knife, only the bloody rock in his hand, and the remaining wolf prowled the arena between him and the pile of weapons. The wolf lowered its head and bared its teeth.

Matthias dove left. The wolf lunged, sinking its teeth into his side. He grunted, and hit the ground hard. For a moment, Nina thought he might simply give in and let the wolf take his life. Then he reached out, hand scrabbling through the sand, searching for something. His fingers closed over the shackles that had bound his wrists.

He seized them, looped the chain across the wolf’s throat, and pulled, the veins in his neck cording from the strain. His bloody face was pressed against the wolf’s ruff, his eyes tightly shut, his lips moving. What was he saying? A drüskelle prayer? A farewell?

The wolf’s hind legs scrabbled at the sand. Its eyes rolled, frightened whites showing bright against its matted fur. A high whine rose from its chest. And then it was over. The creature’s body stilled. Both fighters lay unmoving in the sand. Matthias kept his eyes closed, his face still buried in the creature’s fur.

The crowd thundered its approval. The ladder was lowered, and the announcer sprang down, hauling Matthias to his feet and grabbing his wrist to raise his hand in victory. The announcer gave him a little nudge, and Matthias lifted his head. Nina caught her breath.

Tears streaked the dirt on Matthias’ face. The rage was gone, and it was like some flame had gone out with it. His north sea eyes were colder than she’d ever seen them, empty of feeling, stripped of anything human at all. This was what Hellgate had done to him. And it was her fault.

The guards took hold of Matthias again, pulling the shackles from the wolf’s throat and clapping them back on his wrists. As he was led away, the crowd chanted its disapproval, clamoring “More! More!”

“Where are they taking him?” Nina asked, voice trembling.

“To a cell to sleep off the fight,” Kaz said.

“Who will see to his injuries?”

“They have mediks. We’ll wait to make sure he’s alone.”

I could heal him, she thought. But a darker voice rose in her, rich with mocking. Not even you can be that foolish, Nina. No Healer can cure that boy. You made sure of it.