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Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo Read Online (FREE)

The problem was that Inej was no longer certain what she was aiming for. When she’d been little, it had been easy—a smile from her father, the tightrope raised another foot, orange cakes wrapped in white paper. Then it had been getting free of Tante Heleen and the Menagerie, and after that, surviving each day, getting a little stronger with every morning. Now she didn’t know what she wanted.

Just this minute, I’ll settle for an apology, she decided. And I won’t board the boat without one. Even if Kaz isn’t sorry, he can pretend. He at least owes me his best imitation of a human being.

If she hadn’t been running late, she would have looped around West Stave or simply traveled over the rooftops—that was the Ketterdam she loved, empty and quiet, high above the crowds, a moonlit mountain range of gabled peaks and off-kilter chimneys. But tonight she was short on time. Kaz had sent her scouring the shops for two lumps of paraffin at the last minute. He wouldn’t even tell her what they were for or why they were so necessary. And snow goggles? She’d had to visit three different outfitters to acquire them. She was so tired she didn’t entirely trust herself to make the climb over the gables, not after two nights without sleep and a day spent wrangling supplies for their trek to the Ice Court.

She supposed she was daring herself, too.

She never walked West Stave alone. With the Dregs at her side, she could stroll by the Menagerie without a glance toward the golden bars on the windows. But tonight, her heart was pounding, and she could hear the roar of blood in her ears as the gilded facade came into view. The Menagerie had been built to look like a tiered cage, its first two stories left open but for the widely spaced golden bars. It was also known as the House of Exotics. If you had a taste for a Shu girl or a Fjerdan giant, a redhead from the Wandering Isle, a dark-skinned Zemeni, the Menagerie was your destination. Each girl was known by her animal name—leopard, mare, fox, raven, ermine, fawn, snake. Suli seers wore the jackal mask when they plied their trade and looked into a person’s fate. But what man would want to bed a jackal? So the Suli girl—and the Menagerie always stocked a Suli girl—was known as the lynx. Clients didn’t come looking for the girls themselves, just brown Suli skin, the fire of Kaelish hair, the tilt of golden Shu eyes. The animals remained the same, though the girls came and went.

Inej glimpsed peacock feathers in the parlor, and her heart stuttered. It was just a bit of decoration, part of a lavish flower arrangement, but the panic inside her didn’t care. It rose up, clutching at her breath. People crowded in on all sides, men in masks, women in veils—or maybe they were men in veils and women in masks. It was impossible to tell. The horns of the Imp. The goggling eyes of the Madman, the sad face of the Scarab Queen wrought in black and gold. Artists loved to paint scenes of West Stave, the boys and girls who worked the brothels, the pleasure seekers dressed as characters of the Komedie Brute. But there was no beauty here, no real merriment or joy, just transactions, people seeking escape or some colorful oblivion, some dream of decadence that they could wake from whenever they wished.