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Chapter no 15

Six of Crows

When he emerged on deck, Matthias had to head straight for the railing. All of these canal rats and slum dwellers had easily found their sea legs, used to hopping from boat to boat on the waterways of Ketterdam. Only the soft one, Wylan, seemed to be struggling. He looked as poorly as Matthias felt.

It was better in the fresh air, where he could keep an eye on the horizon. He’d managed sea voyages as a drüskelle, but he’d always felt more comfortable on land, on the ice. It was humiliating to have these foreigners see him vomit over the railing for the third time in as many hours.

At least Nina wasn’t here to witness that particular shame. He kept thinking of her in that cabin, ministering to the bronze girl, all concern and kindness. And fatigue. She’d looked so weary. It was a mistake, she’d said. To have him branded as a slaver, tossed onto a Kerch ship, and thrown in jail? She claimed she’d tried to set things right. But even if that were true, what did it matter? Her kind had no honour. She’d proven that.

Someone had brewed coffee, and he saw the crew drinking it from copper mugs with ceramic lids. The thought to bring Nina a cup entered his head, and he crushed it. He didn’t need to tend to her or tell Brekker that she could use relief. He clenched his fingers, looking at the scabbed knuckles. She had seeded such weakness in him.

Brekker gestured Matthias over to where he, Jesper, and Wylan had gathered on the forecastle deck to examine plans of the Ice Court away from the eyes and ears of the crew. The sight of those drawings was like a knife to his heart. The walls, the gates, the guards. They should have dissuaded these fools, but apparently he was as much a fool as the rest of them.

“Why aren’t there names on anything?” Brekker asked, gesturing at the plans.

“I don’t know Fjerdan, and we need the details right,” Wylan said. “Helvar should do it.” He drew back when he saw Matthias’ expression. “I’m just doing my job. Stop glaring at me.”

“No,” Matthias growled.

“Here,” Kaz said, tossing him a tiny, clear disk that winked in the sun. The demon had propped himself on a barrel and was leaning against the mast, his bad leg elevated on a coil of rope, that cursed walking stick resting on his lap. Matthias liked to imagine breaking it into splinters and feeding them to Brekker one by one.

“What is it?”

“One of Raske’s new inventions.”

Wylan’s head popped up. “I thought he did demo work.” “He does everything,” said Jesper.

“Wedge it between your back teeth,” Kaz said as he handed the disks to the others. “But don’t bite dow—”

Wylan started to sputter and cough, clawing at his mouth. A transparent film had spread over his lips; it bulged like a frog’s gullet as he tried to breathe, eyes darting left and right in panic.

Jesper started laughing, and Kaz just shook his head. “I told you not to bite down, Wylan. Breathe through your nose.”

The boy took deep inhales, nostrils flaring.

“Easy,” said Jesper. “You’re going to make yourself pass out.”

“What is this?” asked Matthias, still holding the tiny disk in his palm. Kaz pushed his deep into his mouth, wiggling it between his teeth.

Baleen. I’d planned to save these, but after that ambush, I don’t know what kind of trouble we may run into on the open sea. If you go over and can’t come up for air, wiggle it free and bite down. It will buy you ten minutes of breathing time. Less if you panic,” he said with a meaningful look at Wylan. He gave the boy another piece of baleen. “Be careful with that one.” Then he tapped the Ice Court plans.

“Names, Helvar. All of them.”

Reluctantly, Matthias picked up the pen and ink Wylan had laid out and began to scratch in the names of the buildings and surrounding roads. Somehow doing it himself felt even more treasonous. Part of him wondered if he could simply find a way to separate from the group once they got there, reveal their location, and thereby win his way back into the good graces of his government. Would anyone at the Ice Court even recognise him? He was probably believed to be dead, drowned in the shipwreck that had killed his closest friends and Commander Brum. He had no proof of his true identity. He would be a stranger who had no business in the Ice Court, and by the time he got anyone to listen—

“You’re holding back,” Brekker said, his dark eyes trained on Matthias.

Matthias ignored the shiver that passed through him. Sometimes it was like the demon could read minds. “I’m telling you what I know.”

“Your conscience is interfering with your memory. Remember the terms of our deal, Helvar.”

“All right,” Matthias said, his anger rising. “You want my expertise?

Your plan won’t work.”

“You don’t even know my plan.”

“In through the prison, out through the embassy?” “As a start.”

“It can’t be done. The prison sector is completely isolated from the rest of the Ice Court. It isn’t connected to the embassy. There’s no way to reach it from there.”

“It has a roof, doesn’t it?”

“You can’t get to the roof,” Matthias said with satisfaction. “The drüskelle spend three months working with Grisha prisoners and guards as part of our training. I’ve been in the prison, and there’s no access to the roof for exactly that reason – if someone manages to get out of his cell, we don’t want him running around the Ice Court. The prison is totally sealed off from the other two sectors in the outer circle. Once you’re in, you’re in.”

“There’s always a way out.” Kaz pulled the prison plan from the stack. “Five floors, right? Processing area, and four levels of cells. So what’s here? In the basement?”

“Nothing. A laundry and the incinerator.” “The incinerator.”

“Yes, where they burn the convicts’ clothes when they arrive. It’s a plague precaution but—” As soon as the words left Matthias’ mouth he understood what Brekker had in mind. “Sweet Djel, you want us to climb six storeys up an incinerator shaft?”

“When does the incinerator run?”

“If I remember right, early morning, but even without the heat, we—” “He doesn’t mean for us to climb it,” said Nina, emerging from

belowdecks.

Kaz sat up straighter. “Who’s watching Inej?”

“Rotty,” she said. “I’ll go back in a minute. I just needed some air. And don’t feign concern for Inej when you’re planning to send her climbing up six storeys of chimney with only a rope and a prayer.”

“The Wraith can manage it.”

“The Wraith is a sixteen-year-old girl currently lying unconscious on a table. She may not even survive the night.”

“She will,” said Kaz, and something savage flashed in his eyes. Matthias suspected that Brekker would drag the girl back from hell himself if he had to.

Jesper picked up his rifle, running a soft cloth over it. “Why are we talking about scaling chimneys when we’ve got a bigger problem?”

“And what’s that?” Kaz asked, though Matthias had the distinct impression he knew.

“We have no business going after Bo Yul-Bayur if Pekka Rollins is involved.”

“Who is Pekka Rollins?” Matthias asked, turning the ridiculous syllables over in his mouth. Kerch names had no dignity to them. He knew that the man was a gang leader and that he lined his pockets with proceeds from the Hellshow. That was bad enough, but Matthias sensed there was more.

Wylan shuddered, pulling at the gummy substance on his lips. “Only the biggest, baddest operator in all of Ketterdam. He has money we don’t have, connections we don’t have, and probably a head start.”

Jesper nodded. “For once, Wylan is making sense. If by some miracle we do manage to spring Bo Yul-Bayur before Rollins does, once he finds out we’re the ones who beat him to it, we’re all dead men.”

“Pekka Rollins is a Barrel boss,” Kaz said. “No more, no less. Stop making him out to be some kind of immortal.”

There’s something else going on here, thought Matthias. Brekker had lost the thrum of violence that seemed to drive him earlier, when he’d murdered Oomen. But there was still a lingering intensity in his words. Matthias felt sure that Kaz Brekker hated Pekka Rollins, and it wasn’t just because he’d blown up their ship and hired thugs to shoot at them. This had the feel of old wounds and bad blood.

Jesper leaned back and said, “You think Per Haskell is going to back you when he finds out you crossed Pekka Rollins? You think the old man wants that war?”

Kaz shook his head, and Matthias saw real frustration there. “Pekka Rollins didn’t come into this world dressed in velvet and rolling in kruge. You’re still thinking small. The way Per Haskell does, the way men like Rollins want you to. We pull off this job and divvy up that haul, we’ll be the legends of the Barrel. We’ll be the crew that beat Pekka Rollins.”

“Maybe we should forget approaching from the north,” said Wylan. “If Pekka’s crew has a head start, we should head straight to Djerholm.”

“The harbour will be crawling with security,” Kaz said. “Not to mention all the usual customs agents and lawmen.”

“The south? Through Ravka?”

“That border is locked down tight,” Nina said. “It’s a big border,” said Matthias.

“But there’s no way to know where it’s most vulnerable,” she replied. “Unless you have some magical knowledge about which watchtowers and outposts are active. Besides, if we enter from Ravka, we have to contend with Ravkans and Fjerdans.”

What she said made sense, but it unnerved him. In Fjerda women didn’t talk this way, didn’t speak of military or strategic matters. But Nina had always been like that.

“We enter from the north as planned,” Kaz said.

Jesper knocked his head against the hull and cast his eyes heavenward. “Fine. But if Pekka Rollins kills us all, I’m going to get Wylan’s ghost to teach my ghost how to play the flute just so that I can annoy the hell out of your ghost.”

Brekker’s lips quirked. “I’ll just hire Matthias’ ghost to kick your ghost’s ass.”

“My ghost won’t associate with your ghost,” Matthias said primly, and then wondered if the sea air was rotting his brain.

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