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Chapter no 64 – KAZI

Vow of Thieves (Dance of Thieves, #2)

The barn behind the inn was dark. Most of the stalls were empty, the gates left haphazardly open by the ransacking mercenaries when they left on their rampage. The mournful coo of a dove floated down from the rafters as if still recovering from the riotous disturbance. Other than that, the barn was silent. A single lantern lit the interior with a flickering golden light, a beacon waving me forward.

He was here. Somewhere.

I pulled my dagger from its sheath.

My heart pounded more strongly than it had in the height of battle when I had taken on unnatural soldiers twice my size. Then again, I was about to confront a greater monster.

I heard the nicker of a horse. The heavy thunk of a saddle. I crept forward. Dim slivers of light spilled across my path.

Come out, I wanted to say. Where are you? I wanted him to know I was the one coming for him this time. But I remained silent, a ghost floating across the floor, the shadow I had become, because of him.

He was in a large double stall at the end, his back to me. He rushed to buckle a saddlebag to the pack on his horse. He was in a hurry. Of course he was. His weapons were still piled on the floor waiting to be loaded.

“Going somewhere?”

Zane whirled and hissed, shaking his head when he realized it was me. “You just don’t give up, do you?”

“Give them to me,” I ordered, holding out my hand. He looked at me, confused. “What?”

“The papers,” I answered.

He smiled. “I don’t know anything about any papers,” he said. “You here about your mother? Want more answers? Let’s talk about her.” He took a step toward me.

I lifted my dagger. I didn’t need to tell him I knew how to use it. He saw the archers go down, though the long hilted dagger was not meant for throwing, but for gutting.

“The papers,” I said again, firmly. “I know you have them. Probably in that saddlebag.”

He glanced from my dagger to the bag, his eyes doing a slight nervous circle in their sockets. Yes, that is where they are.

“I figured it out after I spoke to Gunner,” I told him. “The timing. It all added up. When you escaped that night, the first place you went was back to Cave’s End. No one would have looked for you there, and you were the only one who knew those papers were of any value at all. You were the king’s go-between. What I’m curious about is why you didn’t hand them over to him. It would have brought you great favor. You might have even displaced Banques as his right-hand man.”

“Favor?” Zane laughed. “These papers are worth far more than that. I plan to have them copied—many times over. I already have several interested buyers. Do you have any idea what every kingdom on the continent would pay for these? The magic of the stars? There’s plenty more Montegues out there.” He rocked on his feet, edging closer like I wouldn’t notice. “And not just kingdoms. When I was a Previzi driver, I met power- hungry lords in every town I visited, hundreds of them, and every one of those lords would pay a king’s sum for a chance to control the wind, rain, and one another. While they’re figuring out formulas and fighting among themselves, I’ll be in my own hilltop fortress counting my fortune, richer than them all. As our dear departed king would say, imagine the possibilities.” He shrugged. “So no, the papers are mine, and they’re going to stay mine. But I will tell you about your mother. What details would you like to know? I have a lot.”

His tone was vulgar, insinuating, and he studied me, gauging my

reaction. He wanted to destroy my focus, watch me unravel.

“Now,” I said, “by order of the Queen of Venda and Alliance of Kingdoms.”

He laughed and brushed his stringy hair from his eyes. “You think your Rahtan credentials impress me? It doesn’t change what you really are. The

kind of filthy illiterate trash I used to pick up all the time in Venda. Your mother was relieved the day I showed up. Happy to be rid of you, for one thing. She told me—”

He lunged and I spun, the tip of my dagger slashing across his middle as I moved to the other side of the stall. The slash wasn’t deep enough to cut anything vital, but it got his attention. He staggered back against the wall, holding his stomach, and then looked in disbelief at his bloody hand. His eyes darted back to me. “You stupid bitch!”

“Step aside. I have orders to secure the papers. I intend to do just that.” He grabbed a hay hook from the post beside him and slashed the air,

stepping closer to me with every swipe, backing me into the corner. His reach was longer than mine. “This? This what you want, girl?” he taunted, stabbing the hook toward me. “I gave you a chance. You could have walked away.”

I looked at his hand jabbing the air, the hair on his knuckles, the mole on his wrist, his face distorted in the shadows, his voice thick with smugness and threat, all of it like it was eleven years ago. Except I wasn’t six years old anymore. He swiped again, clumsy in his steps, the sharp hook whirring close to my head. I ducked and dove past him, tumbling to the ground, but as I passed, my dagger slashed again, this time deeply into his thigh. He screamed, then looked down at me, his eyes wild, incredulous. I was fighting back, and I was winning. Blood streamed down his leg, his trousers already soaked, and then he charged, stumbling forward, the hook raised, but I rose up first and we met face-to-face. His eyes widened, his pupils shrinking to pinpoints. The hook clattered to the floor. He stood there, frozen, my long dagger thrust upward, deep into his belly. I pulled it free, and he slipped to the floor like he had no bones at all.

He lay on his back panting, his breaths small, and his hand trembled, searching for his wound. “What have you done?” he cried.

What I wish I could have done eleven years ago.

“Where is she?” I asked. “Where did you take my mother?” His chest jumped with what seemed like a laugh.

“Tell me,” I pleaded, knowing he only had seconds left.

“The old king’s farm—in the highlands. That’s where she is now—” He coughed, a weak grin tugging at his mouth. “But you’ll never get there in time.”

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