Chapter no 26 – KAZI

Vow of Thieves (Dance of Thieves, #2)

Tomorrow. I just had to make it through one more day. Once Lydia and Nash were safe, there would be no holding back. No biding my time. Munitions would be found and destroyed. Kings and generals would die. The papers the queen ordered me to find would be confiscated from Gunner, who certainly had them stashed somewhere. And I would be with Jase again. I would take care of him. Nurse him back to health in the root cellar until he could manage to ride again, no matter how long it took. Whatever it took. And then we would rebuild Tor’s Watch together. A dream that I thought was stolen began to bloom in me again, unfurling like spring in the middle of winter.

I finished lacing my dress, taking a good long look at myself in the mirror, and frowned. It wasn’t a dress for a quiet dinner or an interrogation. It was more of a party dress for a grand occasion and it was far too revealing, but whatever was in store for tonight, I had to play along. Distract and deflect. It was another kind of juggling, and for one night I could do it. I had to secure the king’s trust in a greater way so he would drop his guard. Feed his fantasies. Let his ego be your accomplice. He’s only a mark, like any other, I told myself.

But he wasn’t like any other. I knew that. Even bloated merchants had rules they had to follow, people they had to answer to. The king answered to no one, and the only rules he followed were the ones he had made and could change on a whim.

I pulled on my bodice, trying to stretch it upward. I felt like Wren trying to make sense of an impractical piece of clothing. It was—

Stay. Don’t move.

I spun. The room was quiet, unnaturally still, yet the air prickled. I felt the ghosts hovering, watching. Their cold feet paced, nervous. One of them slid a cool fingertip along my jaw. Shhh, Kazi, don’t—

A firm knock on my door had me turning again. The chill vanished. Had Paxton forgotten something? Or maybe my escort had arrived early. The fact that I still required an escort at all showed I hadn’t earned their trust yet, even if I was officially now in the king’s employ. I had to chisel away their remaining doubts by tomorrow. If Paxton could do his job, I could do mine.

“Coming,” I called.

I turned the bedside lantern to low and grabbed my cloak, eager to get this evening behind me, eager for tomorrow to begin. But when I opened the door, the face that greeted me made no sense. Shadows swam in my vision. For a moment I was nowhere in time, floating, lost. My blood drained and my breath disappeared. I couldn’t move, every muscle suddenly useless. Liquid. Then terror shot through me, and on its heels, a hot rush of awareness returned. I slammed the door shut, but before I could latch it, he burst in, a fit of strength and rage, the door flying open, striking me and sending me stumbling back.

He pounced, pinning me against the wall, one hand a vise on my wrists, the other on my throat, not leaving any space between us for leverage, as if he had practiced this move for months. His skin burned against mine. “Surprise,” he whispered.

My throat closed, air struggling to find a way in. “I’m your escort for tonight,” he said. “A lieutenant in the king’s army now. How’s that for sweet justice?”

His voice was a thousand spiders crawling over my skin. My shoulders trembled against my will. It was only the two of us, and there was nowhere to go. You’re not powerless anymore, Kazi. Fight back. Instinct and reason battled inside me. Natiya’s constant words in training knocked inside my head. Know your weaknesses, but play to your strengths.

He was taller, stronger, heavier, a terrible weight pressing against me, but the greatest weakness I had were the king’s rules. If you ever so much as bruise …

“I almost lost a finger because of you,” he hissed. “Maybe I should take one of yours now as payment. Or maybe I should take something else?” He

pushed harder, his full weight crushing me against the wall. “Your dead lover nearly killed me. I wish he could see this now.”

Zane wasn’t as afraid of me as I thought he would be. He was loose, hungry, emboldened, because now he had the strength of the king behind him. Because I was trapped, just like my mother had been.

Almost trapped.

As Natiya had ordered, I knew my strengths. I had practiced too. In my mind.

A hundred times. A thousand times. All the ways. Spit.

A twist of a wrist.

The jerk of an elbow jamming into a nose. A knee in a groin.

Knuckles in the throat.

A strong kick to the kneecap.

A house of cards fluttering to the ground. I didn’t need a knife. Or a scalpel.

I knew all the ways.

And then as he lay writhing on the floor, a final crushing heel to the temple.

It was amazing how vulnerable the human body was. He would be disabled, if not dead.

And very bruised.

If I killed him now, it would jeopardize everything. The king was expecting Zane to deliver me to his side, not to find him dead on the floor of my room. Besides breaking the rules, it would make all trust vanish. Killing him would unravel our plan and make this chance of saving Lydia and Nash disappear. It might even mean their deaths. Paxton was already busy setting our plan in motion. We were too close now. Tomorrow was too close.

“The king is expecting me,” I said.

“Don’t worry. I’m taking you to him—but I’m early. You didn’t notice? There’s a lot that can happen in twenty minutes. Don’t you want to know what happened to your mother? Go ahead. Ask me.” The faint lantern light

glowed in his dark eyes, his taunt bringing him pleasure. Where is the brat?

The room whirled. My skin burned. Think, Kazi. Steady. Find your escape.

“Banques,” I choked out. “What?”

I forced in a ragged breath. I had something more deadly than a fist to his throat. Something that would both frighten and finish him. He was already a dead man. He just didn’t know it yet.

“You won’t be doing anything once I tell Banques about you.” “Tell him what?”

“That you betrayed him. That you caved under questioning and gave up his name to Jase. Devereux. You told Jase he was the one who gave you the money for the labor hunters. How do you think that will sit with the general? Think you’ll still be his lieutenant? No, you’ll be swinging from a rope faster than you can wet your pants.”

Instant panic shone in his eyes. He knew the general was fond of hanging, and his confession giving Banques over to Jase was easily a hanging offense.

“I only gave up his first name,” he reasoned. “Not the rest. Your lover was about to cut me into pieces.”

“You think that will matter to Banques?”

“I could just kill you now,” he said, his hand tightening on my throat. “And how would you explain that to the king who has added me to his

payroll? I’m an employee now, just like you—and one he is far more fond of, in case you hadn’t noticed.”

His chest heaved and his eyes shrunk to tiny glass beads as he searched for a way out of this conundrum. His words tripped out ahead of his thoughts. “If you—if I’m dead, you’ll never find your mother.”

I flinched, feeling like I had been struck, my skin stinging. “My mother is dead,” I replied.

“No, she isn’t. And I know where she is. It’s not far from here.” “You’re lying. I know—”

“She’s alive. I’ll take you to her as soon as I can. But you keep your mouth shut about me to Banques. Understand? Or you’ll never find out where she is.”

His words were flat, dull, dead inside me. He was only searching for a way out of this. A way to keep me quiet. She wasn’t alive. But what if—

Only this morning, I had thought Jase was dead too. What if.

I didn’t believe it, but I agreed to his terms. Having something deadly to hold over Zane’s head could be useful if events spun out of control—an unwilling ally at best. I made a bargain with this devil, the very man who had ripped out my soul and now bribed me with the false hope of returning it.

I agreed because right now tomorrow mattered more than eleven years of wanting. But after tomorrow, I would still know where to find him. After tomorrow, everything would change. But he didn’t know that. Yet.

Walking down a hallway with a monster I had feared for more than half of my life was the longest walk I had ever taken. It was endless and I was an empty shell by the time we reached the dining room. My resolve floated somewhere outside of me, like a ghost I couldn’t see.

Head up, Kazi.

You can do this.

Feet forward. We’re almost there.



He was alive.

That was all I needed to remember. And that tomorrow was almost here.

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