Chapter no 3

Six of Crows

Cheers greeted Kaz as he emerged from the eastern arch, Jesper trailing behind him and, if Kaz was any judge, already working himself into a sulk.

Dirix, Rotty, and the others charged at them, whooping and shouting, Jesper’s revolvers held aloft. The crew had got the barest glimpse of the proceedings with Geels, but they’d heard most of it. Now they were chanting, “The Burstraat is on fire! The Dregs don’t have no water!”

“I can’t believe he just turned tail!” jeered Rotty. “He had a loaded pistol in his hand!”

“Tell us what you had on the guard,” Dirix begged. “Can’t be the usual stuff.”

“I heard about a guy in Sloken who liked to roll around in apple syrup and then get two—”

“I’m not talking,” said Kaz. “Holst could prove useful in the future.”

The mood was jittery, and their laughter had the frantic serration that came with near disaster. Some of them had expected a fight and were still itching for one. But Kaz knew there was more to it, and he hadn’t missed the fact that no one had mentioned Big Bolliger’s name. They’d been badly shaken by his betrayal – both the revelation and the way Kaz had delivered punishment. Beneath all that jostling and whooping, there was fear. Good. Kaz relied on the fact that the Dregs were all murderers,

thieves, and liars. He just had to make sure they didn’t make a habit of lying to him.

Kaz dispatched two of them to keep an eye on Big Bol and to make sure that if he made it to his feet, he left the city. The rest could return to the Slat and the Crow Club to drink off their worry, make some trouble, and spread word of the night’s events. They’d tell what they’d seen, embroider the rest, and with every retelling, Dirtyhands would get crazier and more ruthless. But Kaz had business to attend to, and his first stop would be Fifth Harbour.

Jesper stepped into his path. “You should have let me know about Big Bolliger,” he said in a furious whisper.

“Don’t tell me my business, Jes.” “You think I’m dirty, too?”

“If I thought you were dirty, you’d be holding your guts in on the floor of the Exchange like Big Bol, so stop running your mouth.”

Jesper shook his head and rested his hands on the revolvers he’d reclaimed from Dirix. Whenever he got cranky, he liked to lay hands on a gun, like a child seeking the comfort of a favoured doll.

It would have been easy enough to make peace. Kaz could have told Jesper that he knew he wasn’t dirty, reminded him that he’d trusted him enough to make him his only real second in a fight that could have gone badly wrong tonight. Instead, he said, “Go on, Jesper. There’s a line of credit waiting for you at the Crow Club. Play till morning or your luck runs out, whichever comes first.”

Jesper scowled, but he couldn’t keep the hungry gleam from his eye. “Another bribe?”

“I’m a creature of habit.”

“Lucky for you, I am, too.” He hesitated long enough to say, “You don’t want us with you? Geels’ boys are gonna be riled after that.”

“Let them come,” Kaz said, and turned down Nemstraat without another word. If you couldn’t walk by yourself through Ketterdam after dark, then you might as well just hang a sign that read ‘soft’ around your neck and lie down for a beating.

He could feel the Dregs’ eyes on his back as he headed over the bridge. He didn’t need to hear their whispers to know what they would say. They wanted to drink with him, hear him explain how he’d known Big Bolliger had gone over to the Black Tips, listen to him describe the look in Geels’ eyes when he’d dropped his pistol. But they’d never get it

from Kaz, and if they didn’t like it, they could find another crew to run with.

No matter what they thought of him, they’d walk a little taller tonight. It was why they stayed, why they gave their best approximation of loyalty for him. When he’d officially become a member of the Dregs, he’d been twelve and the gang had been a laughing stock, street kids and washed-up cadgers running shell games and penny-poor cons out of a run-down house in the worst part of the Barrel. But he hadn’t needed a great gang, just one he could make great – one that needed him.

Now they had their own territory, their own gambling hall, and that run-down house had become the Slat, a dry, warm place to get a hot meal or hole up when you were wounded. Now the Dregs were feared. Kaz had given them that. He didn’t owe them small talk on top of it.

Besides, Jesper would smoothe it all over. A few drinks in and a few hands up and the sharpshooter’s good nature would return. He held a grudge about as well as he held his liquor, and he had a gift for making Kaz’s victories sound like they belonged to everyone.

As Kaz headed down one of the little canals that would take him past Fifth Harbour, he realised he felt – Saints, he almost felt hopeful. Maybe he should see a medik. The Black Tips had been nipping at his heels for weeks, and now he’d forced them to play their hand. His leg wasn’t too bad either, despite the winter chill. The ache was always there, but tonight it was just a dull throb. Still, a part of him wondered if the parlay was some sort of test Per Haskell had set for him. Haskell was perfectly capable of convincing himself that he was the genius making the Dregs prosper, especially if one of his cronies was whispering in his ear. That idea didn’t sit easy, but Kaz could worry about Per Haskell tomorrow. For now, he’d make sure everything was running on schedule at the harbour and then head home to the Slat for some much-needed sleep.

He knew Inej was shadowing him. She’d been with him all the way from the Exchange. He didn’t call out to her. She would make herself visible when she was good and ready. Usually he liked the quiet; in fact, he would have happily sewn most people’s lips shut. But when she wanted to, Inej had a way of making you feel her silence. It tugged at your edges.

Kaz managed to endure it all the way past the iron railings of Zentzbridge, the grating covered in little bits of rope tied in elaborate

knots, sailors’ prayers for safe return from sea. Superstitious rot. Finally he gave in and said, “Spit it out already, Wraith.”

Her voice came from the dark. “You didn’t send anyone to Burstraat.” “Why would I?”

“If Geels doesn’t get there in time—”

“No one’s setting fires at Nineteen Burstraat.” “I heard the siren …”

“A happy accident. I take inspiration where I find it.” “You were bluffing, then. She was never in danger.”

Kaz shrugged, unwilling to give her an answer. Inej was always trying to wring little bits of decency from him. “When everyone knows you’re a monster, you needn’t waste time doing every monstrous thing.”

“Why did you even agree to the meet if you knew it was a set-up?” She was somewhere to the right of him, moving without a sound. He’d heard other members of the gang say she moved like a cat, but he suspected cats would sit attentively at her feet to learn her methods.

“I’d call the night a success,” he said. “Wouldn’t you?” “You were nearly killed. So was Jesper.”

“Geels emptied the Black Tips’ coffers paying useless bribes. We’ve outed a traitor, re-established our claim on Fifth Harbour, and I don’t have a scratch on me. It was a good night.”

“How long have you known about Big Bolliger?”

“Weeks. We’re going to be short-staffed. That reminds me, let Rojakke go.”

“Why? There’s no one like him at the tables.”

“Lots of sobs know their way around a deck of cards. Rojakke is a little too quick. He’s skimming.”

“He’s a good dealer, and he has a family to provide for. You could give him a warning, take a finger.”

“Then he wouldn’t be a good dealer any more, would he?”

When a dealer was caught skimming money from a gambling hall, the floor boss would cut off one of his pinkie fingers. It was one of those ridiculous punishments that had somehow become codified in the gangs. It threw off the skimmer’s balance, forced him to relearn his shuffle, and showed any future employer that he had to be watched. But it also made him clumsy at the tables. It meant he was focusing on simple things like the mechanics of the deal instead of watching the players.

Kaz couldn’t see Inej’s face in the dark, but he sensed her disapproval.

“Greed is your god, Kaz.”

He almost laughed at that. “No, Inej. Greed bows to me. It is my servant and my lever.”

“And what god do you serve, then?” “Whichever will grant me good fortune.” “I don’t think gods work that way.”

“I don’t think I care.”

She blew out an exasperated breath. Despite everything she’d been through, Inej still believed her Suli Saints were watching over her. Kaz knew it, and for some reason he loved to rile her. He wished he could read her expression now. There was always something so satisfying about the little furrow between her black brows.

“How did you know I would get to Van Daal in time?” she asked. “Because you always do.”

“You should have given me more warning.”

“I thought your Saints would appreciate the challenge.”

For a while she said nothing, then from somewhere behind him he heard her. “Men mock the gods until they need them, Kaz.”

He didn’t see her go, only sensed her absence.

Kaz gave an irritated shake of his head. To say he trusted Inej would be stretching the point, but he could admit to himself that he’d come to rely on her. It had been a gut decision to pay off her indenture with the Menagerie, and it had cost the Dregs sorely. Per Haskell had needed convincing, but Inej was one of the best investments Kaz had ever made. That she was so very good at remaining unseen made her an excellent thief of secrets, the best in the Barrel. But the fact that she could simply erase herself bothered him. She didn’t even have a scent. All people carried scents, and those scents told stories – the hint of carbolic on a woman’s fingers or woodsmoke in her hair, the wet wool of a man’s suit, or the tinge of gunpowder lingering in his shirt cuffs. But not Inej. She’d somehow mastered invisibility. She was a valuable asset. So why couldn’t she just do her job and spare him her moods?

Suddenly, Kaz knew he wasn’t alone. He paused, listening. He’d cut through a tight alley split by a murky canal. There were no streetlamps here and little foot traffic, nothing but the bright moon and the small

boats bumping against their moorings. He’d dropped his guard, let his mind give in to distraction.

A man’s dark shape appeared at the head of the alley. “What business?” Kaz asked.

The shape lunged at him. Kaz swung his cane in a low arc. It should have made direct contact with his attacker’s legs, but instead it sailed through empty space. Kaz stumbled, thrown off balance by the force of his swing.

Then, somehow, the man was standing right in front of him. A fist connected with Kaz’s jaw. Kaz shook off the stars that rocketed through his head. He spun back around and swung again. But no one was there. The weighted head of Kaz’s walking stick whooshed through nothing and cracked against the wall.

Kaz felt the cane torn from his hands by someone on his right. Was there more than one of them?

And then a man stepped through the wall. Kaz’s mind stuttered and reeled, trying to explain what he was seeing as a cluster of mist became a cloak, boots, the pale flash of a face.

Ghosts, Kaz thought. A boy’s fear, but it came with absolute surety. Jordie had come for his vengeance at last. It’s time to pay your debts, Kaz. You never get something for nothing.

The thought passed through Kaz’s mind in a humiliating, gibbering wave of panic, then the phantom was upon him, and he felt the sharp jab of a needle in his neck. A ghost with a syringe?

Fool, he thought. And then he was in the dark.



Kaz woke to the sharp scent of ammonia. His head jerked back as he returned fully to consciousness.

The old man in front of him wore the robes of a university medik. He had a bottle of wuftsalts in his hand that he was waving beneath Kaz’s nose. The stink was nearly unbearable.

“Get away from me,” Kaz rasped.

The medik eyed him dispassionately, returning the wuftsalts to their leather pouch. Kaz flexed his fingers, but that was all he could do. He’d been shackled to a chair with his arms behind his back. Whatever they’d injected him with had left him groggy.

The medik moved aside, and Kaz blinked twice, trying to clear his vision and make sense of the absurd luxury of his surroundings. He’d expected to wake in the den of the Black Tips or some other rival gang. But this wasn’t cheap Barrel flash. A squat decked out like this took real money – mahogany panels dense with carvings of frothing waves and flying fish, shelves lined with books, leaded windows, and he was fairly sure that was a real DeKappel. One of those demure oil portraits of a lady with a book open in her lap and a lamb lying at her feet. The man observing him from behind a broad desk had the prosperous look of a mercher. But if this was his house, why were there armed members of the stadwatch guarding the door?

Damn it, Kaz thought, am I under arrest? If so, this merch was in for a surprise. Thanks to Inej, he had information on every judge, bailiff, and high councilman in Kerch. He’d be out of his cell before sunrise. Except he wasn’t in a cell, he was chained to a chair, so what the hell was going on?

The man was in his forties with a gaunt but handsome face and a hairline making a determined retreat from his forehead. When Kaz met his gaze, the man cleared his throat and pressed his fingers together.

“Mister Brekker, I hope you’re not feeling too poorly.” “Get this old canker away from me. I feel fine.”

The merch gave a nod to the medik. “You may go. Please send me your bill. And I would, of course, appreciate your discretion in this matter.”

The medik secured his bag and exited the room. As he did, the mercher rose and picked up a sheaf of papers from his desk. He wore the perfectly cut frock coat and vest of all Kerch merchants – dark, refined, deliberately staid. But the pocket watch and tie pin told Kaz all he needed to know: Heavy links of laurel leaves made up the watch’s gold fob, and the pin was a massive, perfect ruby.

I’m going to pry that fat jewel from its setting and jab the pin right through your mercher neck for chaining me to a chair, Kaz thought. But all he said was, “Van Eck.”

The man nodded. No bow, of course. Merchants didn’t bow to scum from the Barrel. “You know me, then?”

Kaz knew the symbols and jewels of all the Kerch merchant houses. Van Eck’s crest was the red laurel. It didn’t take a professor to make the connection.

“I know you,” he said. “You’re one of those merch crusaders always trying to clean up the Barrel.”

Van Eck gave another small nod. “I try to find men honest work.”

Kaz laughed. “What’s the difference between wagering at the Crow Club and speculating on the floor of the Exchange?”

“One is theft and the other is commerce.”

“When a man loses his money, he may have trouble telling them apart.”

“The Barrel is a den of filth, vice, violence—”

“How many of the ships you send sailing out of the Ketterdam harbours never return?”

“That doesn’t—”

“One out of five, Van Eck. One out of every five vessels you send seeking coffee and jurda and bolts of silk sinks to the bottom of the sea, crashes on the rocks, falls prey to pirates. One out of five crews dead, their bodies lost to foreign waters, food for deep sea fishes. Let’s not speak of violence.”

“I won’t argue ethics with a stripling from the Barrel.”

Kaz didn’t really expect him to. He was just stalling for time as he tested the tightness of the cuffs around his wrists. He let his fingers feel along the length of chain as far as they were able, still puzzling over where Van Eck had brought him. Though Kaz had never met the man himself, he’d had cause to learn the layout of Van Eck’s house inside and out. Wherever they were, it wasn’t the mercher’s mansion.

“Since you didn’t bring me here to philosophise, what business?” It was the question spoken at the opening of any meeting. A greeting from a peer, not a plea from a prisoner.

“I have a proposition for you. Rather, the Council does.”

Kaz hid his surprise. “Does the Merchant Council begin all negotiations with a beating?”

“Consider it a warning. And a demonstration.”

Kaz remembered the shape from the alley, the way it had appeared and disappeared like a ghost. Jordie.

He gave himself an internal shake. Not Jordie, you podge. Focus. They’d nabbed him because he’d been flush off a victory and distracted. This was his punishment, and it wasn’t a mistake he’d make again. That doesn’t explain the phantom. For now, he pushed the thought aside.

“What possible use would the Merchant Council have for me?”

Van Eck thumbed through the papers in his hand. “You were first arrested at ten,” he said, scanning the page.

“Everyone remembers his first time.”

“Twice again that year, twice at eleven. You were picked up when the stadwatch rousted a gambling hall when you were fourteen, but you haven’t served any time since.”

It was true. No one had managed a pinch on Kaz in three years. “I cleaned up,” Kaz said. “Found honest work, live a life of industry and prayer.”

“Don’t blaspheme,” Van Eck said mildly, but his eyes flashed briefly with anger.

A man of faith, Kaz noted, as his mind sorted through everything he knew about Van Eck – prosperous, pious, a widower recently remarried to a bride not much older than Kaz himself. And, of course, there was the mystery of Van Eck’s son.

Van Eck continued paging through the file. “You run book on prize fights, horses, and your own games of chance. You’ve been floor boss at the Crow Club for more than two years. You’re the youngest to ever run a betting shop, and you’ve doubled its profits in that time. You’re a blackmailer—”

“I broker information.” “A con artist—”

“I create opportunity.”

“A bawd and a murderer—”

“I don’t run whores, and I kill for a cause.” “And what cause is that?”

“Same as yours, merch. Profit.”

“How do you get your information, Mister Brekker?” “You might say I’m a lockpick.”

“You must be a very gifted one.”

“I am indeed.” Kaz leaned back slightly. “You see, every man is a safe, a vault of secrets and longings. Now, there are those who take the brute’s way, but I prefer a gentler approach – the right pressure applied at the right moment, in the right place. It’s a delicate thing.”

“Do you always speak in metaphors, Mister Brekker?” Kaz smiled. “It’s not a metaphor.”

He was out of his chair before his chains hit the ground. He leaped the desk, snatching a letter opener from its surface in one hand, and catching

hold of the front of Van Eck’s shirt with the other. The fine fabric bunched as he pressed the blade to Van Eck’s throat. Kaz was dizzy, and his limbs felt creaky from being trapped in the chair, but everything seemed sunnier with a weapon in his hand.

Van Eck’s guards were facing him, all with guns and swords drawn.

He could feel the merch’s heart pounding beneath the wool of his suit.

“I don’t think I need to waste breath on threats,” Kaz said. “Tell me how to get to the door or I’m taking you through the window with me.”

“I think I can change your mind.”

Kaz gave him a little jostle. “I don’t care who you are or how big that ruby is. You don’t take me from my own streets. And you don’t try to make a deal with me while I’m in chains.”

“Mikka,” Van Eck called.

And then it happened again. A boy walked through the library wall. He was pale as a corpse and wore an embroidered blue Grisha Tidemaker’s coat with a red-and-gold ribbon at the lapel indicating his association with Van Eck’s house. But not even Grisha could just stroll through a wall.

Drugged, Kaz thought, trying not to panic. I’ve been drugged. Or it was some kind of illusion, the kind they performed in the theatres off East Stave – a girl cut in half, doves from a teapot.

“What the hell is this?” he growled. “Let me go and I’ll explain.”

“You can explain right where you are.”

Van Eck huffed a short, shaky breath. “What you’re seeing are the effects of jurda parem.”

Jurda is just a stimulant.” The little dried blossoms were grown in Novyi Zem and sold in shops all over Ketterdam. In his early days in the Dregs, Kaz had chewed them to stay alert during stakeouts. It had stained his teeth orange for days after. “It’s harmless,” he said.

Jurda parem is something completely different, and it is most definitely not harmless.”

“So you did drug me.”

“Not you, Mister Brekker. Mikka.”

Kaz took in the sickly pallor of the Grisha’s face. He had dark hollows beneath his eyes, and the fragile, trembling build of someone who had missed several meals and didn’t seem to care.

Jurda parem is a cousin to ordinary jurda,” Van Eck continued. “It comes from the same plant. We’re not sure of the process by which the drug is made, but a sample of it was sent to the Kerch Merchant Council by a scientist named Bo Yul-Bayur.”


“Yes. He wished to defect, so he sent us a sample to convince us of his claims regarding the drug’s extraordinary effects. Please, Mister Brekker, this is a most uncomfortable position. If you’d like, I will give you a pistol, and we can sit and discuss this in more civilised fashion.”

“A pistol and my cane.”

Van Eck gestured to one of his guards, who exited the room and returned a moment later with Kaz’s walking stick – Kaz was just glad he used the damn door.

“Pistol first,” Kaz said. “Slowly.” The guard unholstered his weapon and handed it to Kaz by the grip. Kaz grabbed and cocked it in one quick movement, then released Van Eck, tossed the letter opener on to the desk, and snatched his cane from the guard’s hand. The pistol was more useful, but the cane brought Kaz a relief he didn’t care to quantify.

Van Eck took a few steps backwards, putting distance between himself and Kaz’s loaded gun. He didn’t seem eager to sit. Neither was Kaz, so he kept close to the window, ready to bolt if need be.

Van Eck took a deep breath and tried to set his suit to rights. “That cane is quite a piece of hardware, Mister Brekker. Is it Fabrikator made?” It was, in fact, the work of a Grisha Fabrikator, lead-lined and perfectly weighted for breaking bones. “None of your business. Get

talking, Van Eck.”

The mercher cleared his throat. “When Bo Yul-Bayur sent us the sample of jurda parem, we fed it to three Grisha, one from each Order.”

“Happy volunteers?”

“Indentures,” Van Eck conceded. “The first two were a Fabrikator and a Healer indentured to Councilman Hoede. Mikka is a Tidemaker. He’s mine. You’ve seen what he can do using the drug.”

Hoede. Why did that name ring a bell?

“I don’t know what I’ve seen,” Kaz said as he glanced at Mikka. The boy’s gaze was focused intently on Van Eck as if awaiting his next command. Or maybe another fix.

“An ordinary Tidemaker can control currents, summon water or moisture from the air or a nearby source. They manage the tides in our

harbour. But under the influence of jurda parem, a Tidemaker can alter his own state from solid to liquid to gas and back again, and do the same with other objects. Even a wall.”

Kaz was tempted to deny it, but he couldn’t explain what he’d just seen any other way. “How?”

“It’s hard to say. You’re aware of the amplifiers some Grisha wear?” “I’ve seen them,” Kaz said. Animal bones, teeth, scales. “I hear

they’re hard to come by.”

“Very. But they only increase a Grisha’s power. Jurda parem alters a Grisha’s perception.”


“Grisha manipulate matter at its most fundamental levels. They call it the Small Science. Under the influence of parem, those manipulations become faster and far more precise. In theory, jurda parem is just a stimulant like its ordinary cousin. But it seems to sharpen and hone a Grisha’s senses. They can make connections with extraordinary speed. Things become possible that simply shouldn’t be.”

“What does it do to sorry sobs like you and me?”

Van Eck seemed to bristle slightly at being lumped in with Kaz, but he said, “It’s lethal. An ordinary mind cannot tolerate parem in even the lowest doses.”

“You said you gave it to three Grisha. What can the others do?” “Here,” Van Eck said, reaching for a drawer in his desk.

Kat lifted his pistol. “Easy.”

With exaggerated slowness, Van Eck slid his hand into the desk drawer and pulled out a lump of gold. “This started as lead.”

“Like hell it did.”

Van Eck shrugged. “I can only tell you what I saw. The Fabrikator took a piece of lead in his hands, and moments later we had this.”

“How do you even know it’s real?” asked Kaz.

“It has the same melting point as gold, the same weight and malleability. If it’s not identical to gold in every way, the difference has eluded us. Have it tested if you like.”

Kaz tucked his cane under his arm and took the heavy lump from Van Eck’s hand. He slipped it into his pocket. Whether it was real or just a convincing imitation, a chunk of yellow that big could buy plenty on the streets of the Barrel.

“You could have got that anywhere,” Kaz pointed out.

“I would bring Hoede’s Fabrikator here to show you himself, but he isn’t well.”

Kaz’s gaze flicked to Mikka’s sickly face and damp brow. The drug clearly came with a price.

“Let’s say this is all true and not cheap, coin-trick magic. What does it have to do with me?”

“Perhaps you heard of the Shu paying off the entirety of their debt to Kerch with a sudden influx of gold? The assassination of the trade ambassador from Novyi Zem? The theft of documents from a military base in Ravka?”

So that was the secret behind the murder of the ambassador in the washroom. And the gold in those three Shu ships must have been Fabrikator made. Kaz hadn’t heard anything about Ravkan documents, but he nodded anyway.

“We believe all these occurrences are the work of Grisha under the control of the Shu government and under the influence of jurda parem.” Van Eck scrubbed a hand over his jaw. “Mister Brekker, I want you to think for a moment about what I’m telling you. Men who can walk through walls – no vault or fortress will ever be safe again. People who can make gold from lead, or anything else for that matter, who can alter the very material of the world – financial markets would be thrown into chaos. The world economy would collapse.”

“Very exciting. What is it you want from me, Van Eck? You want me to steal a shipment? The formula?”

“No, I want you to steal the man.” “Kidnap Bo Yul-Bayur?”

“Save him. A month ago we received a message from Yul-Bayur begging for asylum. He was concerned about his government’s plans for jurda parem, and we agreed to help him defect. We set up a rendezvous, but there was a skirmish at the drop point.”

“With the Shu?” “No, with Fjerdans.”

Kaz frowned. The Fjerdans must have spies deep in Shu Han or Kerch if they had learned about the drug and Bo Yul-Bayur’s plans so quickly. “So send some of your agents after him.”

“The diplomatic situation is somewhat delicate. It is essential that our government not be tied to Yul-Bayur in any way.”

“You have to know he’s probably dead. The Fjerdans hate Grisha.

There’s no way they’d let knowledge of this drug get out.”

“Our sources say he is very much alive and that he is awaiting trial.” Van Eck cleared his throat. “At the Ice Court.”

Kaz stared at Van Eck for a long minute, then burst out laughing. “Well, it’s been a pleasure being knocked unconscious and taken captive by you, Van Eck. You can be sure your hospitality will be repaid when the time is right. Now have one of your lackeys show me to the door.”

“We’re prepared to offer you five million kruge.”

Kaz pocketed the pistol. He wasn’t afraid for his life now, just irritated that this fink had wasted his time. “This may come as a surprise to you, Van Eck, but we canal rats value our lives just as much as you do yours.”

“Ten million.”

“There’s no point to a fortune I won’t be alive to spend. Where’s my hat – did your Tidemaker leave it behind in the alley?”


Kaz paused. He had the eerie sense that the carved fish on the walls had halted mid-leap to listen. “Twenty million kruge?”

Van Eck nodded. He didn’t look happy.

“I’d need to convince a team to walk into a suicide mission. That won’t come cheap.” That wasn’t entirely true. Despite what he’d said to Van Eck, there were plenty of people in the Barrel who didn’t have much to live for.

“Twenty million kruge is hardly cheap,” Van Eck snapped. “The Ice Court has never been breached.”

“That’s why we need you, Mister Brekker. It’s possible Bo Yul-Bayur is already dead or that he’s given up all his secrets to the Fjerdans, but we think we have at least a little time to act before the secret of jurda parem is put into play.”

“If the Shu have the formula—”

“Yul-Bayur claimed he’d managed to mislead his superiors and keep the specifics of the formula secret. We think they’re operating from whatever limited supply Yul-Bayur left behind.”

Greed bows to me. Maybe Kaz had been a bit too cocky on that front. Now greed was doing Van Eck’s bidding. The lever was at work, overcoming Kaz’s resistance, moving him into place.

Twenty million kruge. What kind of job would this be? Kaz didn’t know anything about espionage or government squabbles, but why should stealing Bo Yul-Bayur from the Ice Court be any different from liberating valuables from a mercher’s safe? The most well-protected safe in the world, he reminded himself. He’d need a very specialised team, a desperate team that wouldn’t balk at the real possibility that they’d never come back from this job. And he wouldn’t be able to just pull from the Dregs. He didn’t have the talent he’d need in their ranks. That meant he’d have to watch his back more than usual.

But if they managed it, even after Per Haskell got his cut, Kaz’s share of the scrub would be enough to change everything, to finally put into motion the dream he’d had since he’d first crawled out of a cold harbour with revenge burning a hole in his heart. His debt to Jordie would be paid at last.

There would be other benefits, too. The Kerch Council would owe him, to say nothing of what this particular heist would do for his reputation. To infiltrate the impenetrable Ice Court and snatch a prize from the bastion of Fjerdan nobility and military might? With a job like this under his belt and that kind of scrub at his fingertips, he wouldn’t need Per Haskell any more. He could start his own operation.

But something was off. “Why me? Why the Dregs? There are more experienced crews out there.”

Mikka started to cough, and Kaz saw blood on his sleeve.

“Sit,” Van Eck instructed gently, helping Mikka into a chair and offering the Grisha his handkerchief. He signalled to a guard. “Some water.”

“Well?” prodded Kaz.

“How old are you, Mister Brekker?” “Seventeen.”

“You haven’t been arrested since you were fourteen, and since I know you are not an honest man any more than you were an honest boy, I can only assume you have the quality I most need in a criminal: You don’t get caught.” Van Eck smiled slightly then. “There’s also the matter of my DeKappel.”

“I’m sure I don’t know what you mean.”

“Six months ago, a DeKappel oil worth nearly one hundred thousand

kruge disappeared from my home.” “Quite a loss.”

“It was, especially since I had been assured that my gallery was impenetrable and that the locks on its doors were foolproof.”

“I do seem to remember reading about that.”

“Yes,” admitted Van Eck with a small sigh. “Pride is a perilous thing. I was eager to show off my acquisition and the lengths I’d gone to in order to protect it. And yet, despite all my safeguards, despite dogs and alarms and the most loyal staff in all of Ketterdam, my painting is gone.”

“My condolences.”

“It has yet to surface anywhere on the world market.” “Maybe your thief already had a buyer lined up.”

“A possibility, of course. But I’m inclined to believe that the thief took it for a different reason.”

“What would that be?”

“Just to prove that he could.” “Seems like a stupid risk to me.”

“Well, who can guess at the motives of thieves?” “Not me, certainly.”

“From what I know of the Ice Court, whoever stole my DeKappel is exactly who I need for this job.”

“Then you’d be better off hiring him. Or her.” “Indeed. But I’ll have to settle for you.”

Van Eck held Kaz’s gaze as if he hoped to find a confession written between his eyes. At last, Van Eck asked, “We have a deal then?”

“Not so fast. What about the Healer?” Van Eck looked baffled. “Who?”

“You said you gave the drug to a Grisha from each Order. Mikka’s a Tidemaker – he’s your Etherealnik. The Fabrikator who mocked up that gold was a Materialnik. So what happened to the Corporalnik? The Healer?”

Van Eck winced slightly, but simply said, “Will you accompany me, Mister Brekker?”

Warily, keeping one eye on Mikka and the guards, Kaz followed Van Eck out of the library and down the hall. The house dripped mercher wealth – walls panelled in dark wood, floors tiled in clean black and white, all in good taste, all perfectly restrained and impeccably crafted. But it had the feel of a graveyard. The rooms were deserted, the curtains drawn, the furniture covered in white sheets so that each shadowy

chamber they passed looked like some kind of forgotten seascape cluttered with icebergs.

Hoede. Now the name clicked into place. There’d been some kind of incident at Hoede’s mansion on the Geldstraat last week. The whole place had been cordoned off and crawling with stadwatch. Kaz had heard rumours of a firepox outbreak, but even Inej hadn’t been able to learn more.

“This is Councilman Hoede’s house,” Kaz said, skin crawling. He wanted no part of a plague, but the merch and his guards didn’t seem remotely concerned. “I thought this place was under quarantine.”

“What happened here is no danger to us. And if you do your job, Mister Brekker, it never will be.”

Van Eck led him through a door and into a manicured garden, thick with the new nectar scent of early crocuses. The smell hit Kaz like a blow to the jaw. Memories of Jordie were already too fresh in his mind, and for a moment, Kaz wasn’t walking through the canal-side garden of a rich merch, he was knee-deep in spring grasses, hot sun beating down on his cheeks, his brother’s voice calling him home.

Kaz gave himself a shake. I need a mug of the darkest, bitterest coffee I can find, he thought. Or maybe a real punch to the jaw.

Van Eck was leading him to a boathouse that faced the canal. The light filtering out between its shuttered windows cast patterns on the garden path. A single city guard stood at attention beside the door as Van Eck slid a key from his pocket and into the heavy lock. Kaz put his sleeve up to his mouth as the stink from the closed-up room reached him – urine, excrement. So much for spring crocuses.

The room was lit by two glass lanterns on the wall. A group of guards stood facing a large iron box, shattered glass littering the floor at their feet. Some wore the purple uniform of the stadwatch, others the sea green livery of the Hoede house. Through what Kaz now understood had been an observation window, he saw another city guard standing in front of an empty table and two overturned chairs. Like the others, the guard stood with his arms loose at his sides, face blank, eyes forwards, gazing at nothing. Van Eck turned up the light on one of the lanterns, and Kaz saw a body in a purple uniform slumped on the floor, eyes closed.

Van Eck sighed and crouched down to turn the body over. “We’ve lost another,” he said.

The boy was young, the bare scraps of a moustache on his upper lip.

Van Eck gave orders to the guard who had let them in, and with help from one of Van Eck’s retinue they lifted the corpse and took it from the room. The other guards didn’t react, just continued to stare ahead.

Kaz recognised one of them – Henrik Dahlman, the captain of the


“Dahlman?” he queried, but the man made no response. Kaz waved a hand in front of the captain’s face, then gave him a hard flick on the ear. Nothing but a slow, disinterested blink. Kaz raised his pistol and aimed it directly at the captain’s forehead. He cocked the hammer. The captain didn’t flinch, didn’t react. His pupils didn’t contract.

“He’s as good as dead,” said Van Eck. “Shoot. Blow his brains out.

He won’t protest and the others won’t react.”

Kaz lowered his weapon, a chill settling deep into his bones. “What is this? What happened to them?”

“The Grisha was a Corporalnik serving her indenture with Councilman Hoede’s household. He thought because she was a Healer and not a Heartrender, he was making the safe choice to test the parem.”

Seemed smart enough. Kaz had seen Heartrenders at work. They could rupture your cells, burst your heart in your chest, steal the breath from your lungs, or lower your pulse so that you dropped into a coma, all while never laying a finger on you. If even part of what Van Eck said was true, the idea of one of them dosed with jurda parem was a daunting proposition. So the merchers had tried the drug on a Healer instead. But apparently things hadn’t gone according to plan.

“You gave her the drug, and she killed her master?”

“Not exactly,” Van Eck said, clearing his throat. “They had her in that observation cell. Within seconds of consuming the parem, she took control of the guard inside the chamber—”


“We don’t know exactly. But whatever method she used, it allowed her to subdue these guards as well.”

“That’s not possible.”

“Isn’t it? The brain is just one more organ, a cluster of cells and impulses. Why shouldn’t a Grisha under the influence of jurda parem be able to manipulate those impulses?”

Kaz’s disbelief must have shown.

“Look at these people,” Van Eck insisted. “She told them to wait. And that’s exactly what they’ve done – that’s all they’ve done since.”

Kaz studied the silent group more closely. Their eyes weren’t blank or dead, their bodies weren’t quite at rest. They were expectant. He suppressed a shiver. He’d seen peculiar things, extraordinary things, but nothing like what he’d witnessed tonight.

“What happened to Hoede?”

“She commanded him to open the door, and when he did, she ordered him to cut the thumb from his hand. We only know how it all happened because a kitchen boy was present. The Grisha girl left him untouched, but he claims Hoede carved away his own thumb, smiling all the while.”

Kaz didn’t like the idea of some Grisha moving things around in his head. But he wouldn’t be surprised if Hoede deserved whatever he’d got. During Ravka’s civil war, a lot of Grisha had fled the fighting and paid their way to Kerch by becoming indentures without realising that they’d essentially sold themselves into slavery.

“The merch is dead?”

“Councilman Hoede lost a great deal of blood, but he’s in the same state as these men. He’s been removed to the country with his family and the staff from his house.”

“Did the Grisha Healer go back to Ravka?” Kaz asked.

Van Eck gestured Kaz out of the eerie boathouse and locked the door behind them.

“She may have attempted it,” he said as they retraced their steps through the garden and along the side of the house. “We know she secured a small craft, and we suspect she was headed to Ravka, but we found her body washed up two days ago near Third Harbour. We think she drowned trying to get back into the city.”

“Why would she come back here?” “For more jurda parem.”

Kaz thought of Mikka’s glittering eyes and waxy skin. “It’s that addictive?”

“It seems to take only one dose. Once the drug has run its course, it leaves the Grisha’s body weakened and the craving is intense. It’s quite debilitating.”

Quite debilitating seemed like a bit of an understatement. The Council of Tides controlled entry to the Ketterdam harbours. If the drugged Healer had tried to return at night in a small boat, she wouldn’t have had much of a chance against the current. Kaz thought of Mikka’s gaunt face, the way his clothes hung from his body. The drug had done

that to him. He’d been high on jurda parem and already greedy for the next dose. He’d also looked ready to keel over. How long could a Grisha go on that way?

It was an interesting question, but not relevant to the matter at hand.

They’d arrived at the front gate. It was time to settle up. “Thirty million kruge,” Kaz said.

“We said twenty!” sputtered Van Eck.

You said twenty. It’s clear you’re desperate.” Kaz glanced back in the direction of the boathouse, where a room full of men simply waited to die. “And now I see why.”

“The Council will have my head.”

“They’ll sing your praises once you have Bo Yul-Bayur safely hidden away wherever you intend to keep him.”

“Novyi Zem.”

Kaz shrugged. “You can put him in a coffeepot for all I care.”

Van Eck’s gaze locked on his. “You’ve seen what this drug can do. I assure you it is just the beginning. If jurda parem is unleashed on the world, war is inevitable. Our trade lines will be destroyed, and our markets will collapse. Kerch will not survive it. Our hopes rest with you, Mister Brekker. If you fail, all the world will suffer for it.”

“Oh, it’s worse than that, Van Eck. If I fail, I don’t get paid.”

The look of disgust on the merch’s face was something that deserved its own DeKappel oil to commemorate it.

“Don’t look so disappointed. Just think how miserable you would have been to discover this canal rat had a patriotic streak. You might actually have had to uncurl that lip and treat me with something closer to respect.”

“Thank you for sparing me that discomfort,” Van Eck said disdainfully. He opened the door, then paused. “I do wonder what a boy of your intelligence might have amounted to under different circumstances.”

Ask Jordie, Kaz thought with a bitter pang. But he simply shrugged. “I’d just be stealing from a better class of sucker. Thirty million kruge.”

Van Eck nodded. “Thirty. The deal is the deal.” “The deal is the deal,” Kaz said. They shook.

As Van Eck’s neatly manicured hand clasped Kaz’s leather-clad fingers, the merch narrowed his eyes.

“Why do you wear the gloves, Mister Brekker?”

Kaz raised a brow. “I’m sure you’ve heard the stories.” “Each more grotesque than the last.”

Kaz had heard them, too. Brekker’s hands were stained with blood. Brekker’s hands were covered in scars. Brekker had claws and not fingers because he was part demon. Brekker’s touch burned like brimstone – a single brush of his bare skin caused your flesh to wither and die.

“Pick one,” Kaz said as he vanished into the night, thoughts already turning to thirty million kruge and the crew he’d need to help him get it. “They’re all true enough.”

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