Chapter no 51 – Kazi

Dance of Thieves

“Positions!” I yelled.

In less than a second, we had our prisoners knocked to their knees. Synové, Eben, and Natiya stood behind them with arrows drawn, and Wren’s ziethe circled around the captain’s neck. I was a dozen feet in front of them all, with a dagger gripped in my hand.

The smell of sulfur burned the air, and my eyes adjusted to the sudden blinding flames of a hundred torches in the night.

And then I saw Jase.

He was standing in front of me, only steps away, blocking my path.

His family stood behind him—Vairlyn, Priya, Gunner, Titus, Mason, Aram, Samuel—even Jalaine. Their expressions were condemning, hurt, seething. The grounds were thick with guards, their arrows aimed, and straza with swords drawn.

Jase’s eyes glistened, his head shaking, looking like he’d been kicked in the stomach. His mouth opened but he struggled to find words. “This?” he finally asked, holding up a canister of white crystals. “Is this what you meant to get?”

He switched the birchwings? His whole family had played along, even Jalaine. That was what Jase’s last minute whisper in her ear was. “You knew,” I said.

“Not for sure. I didn’t want to believe it.” He threw the canister, and it shattered somewhere in the darkness. He looked back at Eben and Natiya,

the cook and her husband now revealed as Rahtan too.

“You were planning this all along.” His eyes cut through me, accusing. “That’s all this was ever about?”

By this, I knew he meant we. My anger flared. He had harbored ruthless killers, conspired with them, lied about them, used me to lure the queen here. I was the one who was betrayed. He had no right to reproach me.

My next words were sharp, trying to cut him loose. “That’s right. That’s all it was ever about. These men are under our arrest for murder and treason, and you’re guilty of harboring them. Now step aside before we arrest you too.”

He blew out a disbelieving breath. “Have you lost your mind? Look where you are! You’re surrounded. Put your weapons down! Now!” he ordered.

We didn’t move. Bows pulled tighter, stretching with more threat on both sides. Poised arms shook.

The tension grew more taut with every passing second. Shouting erupted.

“You’re not taking them anywhere!” Titus bellowed. “You’re trespassing in Ballenger territory!”

“You’ll pay for this,” Aram sneered.

“We’re a sovereign domain,” Priya yelled. “Your queen has no jurisdiction at Tor’s Watch, and you definitely don’t!”

“You’re our prisoners now! Drop your weapons!” Mason shouted, his sword drawn.

Our captives screamed through their gags.

Save this, Kazi. Somehow save this.

“Move aside, Jase. Now.” Please. I don’t want to hurt you. I stepped forward, and more swords sliced free from scabbards.

Jase looked around at the growing tension. “Hold your weapons!” he yelled, and he held his hand up in a stopping motion toward me. “Don’t move, Kazi. You’re going to get yourself killed. You’re going to get your friends killed.”

“Let them shoot, Jase!” Titus yelled. “They’re outnumbered!” And we were. By far.

“Shut up!” Jase yelled over his shoulder and turned back to me. “Put it down, Kazi. There’s nowhere for you to go. We need these men. We have

an agreement with them for—”

“There’s nothing that will make me give them back to you, Jase. Nothing. If we die, they die with us—and the scholars will die first.” I was in the way of most of their shots. I would go down first, but there would be time for the others to slit our captives’ throats.

The scholars moaned beneath their gags.

Jase’s gaze locked on mine. There was no going back, but I still saw pleading in his eyesFor these men? He slowly edged closer as if I wouldn’t notice.

“Give me your knife,” he demanded.

“I’m asking you one last time, step aside.”

“I can’t do that, Kazi. Everything we’ve said is true. We’re the law here, not you or your queen.” He took another step closer, his hand still outstretched. “There are thirty guards with their arrows aimed, and a lot of nervous straza. Someone’s going to make a mistake and one of you will—”

And then there was a shout in the darkness. From Gunner. “This is what you really want, isn’t it?” he called. “We’ll trade.”

Gunner stepped forward, his arm crooked around a man’s neck. The man struggled beneath Gunner’s grip, and our gazes met. Shiny onyx eyes looked back into mine.

My chest burned.

The air vanished.

My dagger shook in my hand.

I heard Jase shouting, Gunner, no!

More shouting. But it all seemed far away.



Where is the brat?

Time spun. Sweat trickled down my back.

Torches flickered and all I could see was golden light bouncing off walls. My mother reaching for a stick.

Come out, girl!


He was here.

How was that even possible?

It was as if no time had passed. He looked the same.

Fear swelled in my throat. My knees became hot liquid.

You’re not powerless anymore.

He was mine. Mine for a simple trade. For a worthless captain and his cohorts.

Know what is at stake. Kazimyrah, I need you.

Justice for thousands, or justice for one. My feet were on two different paths, my insides splitting, tumbling in two directions.

The Previzi driver spotted the dagger in my hand and struggled to get away. I heard Mason call him Zane. They knew him. He had a name. Zane. Both Mason and Gunner were holding him now. He had seen the murder in my eyes. It fueled me, wanting him even more, a hungry, thirsty, ravenous need to spill his blood a drop at a time. “What happened to her?” I called. “What did you do to my mother?” The questions came out quiet, halting and unexpected. The sound turned my stomach to ice. I heard the voice of the child I used to be. The man called Zane looked at me as if he knew he had no chance.

He opened his mouth to speak, but Gunner clapped his hand over it and shoved him into someone else’s arms behind him. “Trade first. Then you get your answers.”

I stared at Gunner, wishing him dead, my rage so hot I could have torn him in two with my bare hands, but at the same time I was paralyzed. I might as well have had a sword slicing into my soul. The man who had haunted me for my whole life was here and Jase knewHe knew his name.

He had known all along. I looked at him.

I didn’t need to say it. I knew he could see it in my eyes.

This? You lied about this too?

He stepped closer. “Kazi, I was—”

Make a choice, Kazi. There was only one choice. I had to give one thing up to gain another.

Jase lunged toward me, but I was expecting it. I knew things too. Things like the moment a thief closes in on their mark—it’s always when they are at their weakest.

I kicked him to his knees and yanked his hair, pulling his head back with one hand and pressing my knife snug against his throat with my other. A

quick sleight of hand, a dance, a swift, practiced movement that had kept me alive for years, maybe just for this moment.

“I gave you a chance,” I said between gritted teeth. I leaned close to his ear. “I gave you every chance.” I pulled his hair back a little harder, pressed the knife a little closer. “Now tell them to move away.”

“Step back,” Jase said carefully. Even speaking was risky with the blade so tight against his skin. “She’ll do it,” he warned. “She’ll cut my throat.”

“You heard him!” I yelled. “The Patrei is going with us.”

Everyone was shouting now, yelling for me to let go, telling me the horrible things they were going to do to me. I didn’t know if Zane was among them anymore. My throwing knife. Why didn’t I throw it while I had the chance?

Because too much was at stake. Too many crowded around him. A stray knife could have sent everything spinning out of control. My logic battled with my hunger.

I didn’t throw the knife because Zane wasn’t my mission and returning criminals to the queen was.

“Up,” I ordered and moved my knife to the base of Jase’s skull. “I know every vulnerable spot on your body. No more tricks. Lace your hands behind your head. Slowly.”

He did as I instructed, and I began guiding him toward the gate with my crew following close behind. Jase’s family, straza, and guards with their arrows still aimed followed on the sidelines, just waiting for an opportunity. “You won’t get away with this, Kazi,” Jase said as we walked. “How long can you keep a knife pressed to my neck? The minute you drop your

hand, they’ll kill you.”

“Eleven years, Jase. I can keep it here for eleven years if I have to.” “We can still work something out.”

“Shut up. Save your stories for Zane.”

As we passed an outbuilding, I ordered Synové to shoot a fire arrow through the window. It hit the rear wall and lit up the interior. Stacks of papers were scattered on a worktable.

The captain strained against Wren’s grip, groaning and trying to work his gag free.

“What are you doing?” Gunner yelled.

“Kazi, don’t!” Jase pleaded. “We have too much invested—”

“Do it,” I ordered.

Synové shot another fire arrow, this one shattering a kerosene lamp on the table, and the room ignited in flames. I heard the groans, the cursing, damning us all to hell, and saw the furor in the captain’s eyes. I felt the rage rolling off Jase.

“Open the gates,” I said to Drake and Tiago. They looked to Jase for confirmation. He nodded.

The hay wagon and horses were still there, not yet returned to the stables. They didn’t expect us to get this far.

Natiya and Eben were methodical, chaining each man to the rail inside the wagon. More orders were being shouted, this time from Mason. He was calling for horses from the stables. They intended to follow us.

There wasn’t room in the back of the wagon for both Jase and me, and I needed to stay with him. My knife at his neck was all that was keeping us alive. I ordered him up on the front seat. “Drive, Patrei. We’re going to see the queen.”

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