The captain signaled to his sergeant. “Second sequence.”
“Put out your arm,” the sergeant said to the boy once again.
The kitchen boy shook his head. “I don’t like that part.”
The boy’s lower lip trembled, but he put out his arm. The guard cut him once more. Then he placed a small wax paper envelope on the table in front of Anya.
“Swallow the contents of the packet,” Hoede instructed Anya.
“What is it?” she asked, voice trembling.
“That isn’t your concern.”
“What is it?” she repeated.
“It’s not going to kill you. We’re going to ask you to perform some simple tasks to judge the drug’s effects. The sergeant is there to make sure you do only what you’re told and no more, understood?”
Her jaw set, but she nodded.
“No one will harm you,” said Hoede. “But remember, if you hurt the sergeant, you have no way out of that cell. The doors are locked from the outside.”
“What is that stuff?” whispered Joost.
“Don’t know,” said Rutger.
“What do you know?” he muttered.
“Enough to keep my trap shut.”
With shaking hands, Anya lifted the little wax envelope and opened the flap.
“Go on,” said Hoede.
She tipped her head back and swallowed the powder. For a moment she sat, waiting, lips pressed together.
“Is it just jurda?” she asked hopefully. Joost found himself hoping, too. Jurda was nothing to fear, a stimulant everyone in the stadwatch chewed to stay awake on late watches.
“What does it taste like?” Hoede asked.
“Like jurda but sweeter, it—”
Anya inhaled sharply. Her hands seized the table, her pupils dilating enough that her eyes looked nearly black. “Ohhh,” she said, sighing. It was nearly a purr.
The guard tightened his grip on her shoulder.
“How do you feel?”
She stared at the mirror and smiled. Her tongue peeked through her white teeth, stained like rust. Joost felt suddenly cold.
“Just as it was with the Fabrikator,” murmured the merchant.
“Heal the boy,” Hoede commanded.
She waved her hand through the air, the gesture almost dismissive, and the cut on the boy’s arm sealed instantly. The blood lifted briefly from his skin in droplets of red then vanished. His skin looked perfectly smooth, all trace of blood or redness gone. The boy beamed. “That was definitely magic.”
“It feels like magic,” Anya said with that same eerie smile.
“She didn’t touch him,” marveled the captain.
“Anya,” said Hoede. “Listen closely. We’re going to tell the guard to perform the next test now.”
“Mmm,” hummed Anya.
“Sergeant,” said Hoede. “Cut off the boy’s thumb.”
The boy howled and started to cry again. He shoved his hands beneath his legs to protect them.
I should stop this, Joost thought. I should find a way to protect her, both of them. But what then? He was a nobody, new to the stadwatch, new to this house. Besides, he discovered in a burst of shame, I want to keep my job.
Anya merely smiled and tipped her head back so she was looking at the sergeant. “Shoot the glass.”
“What did she say?” asked the merchant.
“Sergeant!” the captain barked out.
“Shoot the glass,” Anya repeated. The sergeant’s face went slack. He cocked his head to one side as if listening to a distant melody, then unslung his rifle and aimed at the observation window.
“Get down!” someone yelled.
Joost threw himself to the ground, covering his head as the rapid hammer of gunfire filled his ears and bits of glass rained down on his hands and back. His thoughts were a panicked clamor. His mind tried to deny it, but he knew what he’d just seen. Anya had commanded the sergeant to shoot the glass. She’d made him do it. But that couldn’t be. Grisha Corporalki specialized in the human body. They could stop your heart, slow your breathing, snap your bones. They couldn’t get inside your head.
For a moment there was silence. Then Joost was on his feet with everyone else, reaching for his rifle. Hoede and the captain shouted at the same time.
“Do you know how much money she’s worth?” Hoede retorted. “Someone restrain her! Do not shoot!”
Anya raised her hands, red sleeves spread wide. “Wait,” she said.
Joost’s panic vanished. He knew he’d been frightened, but his fear was a distant thing. He was filled with expectation. He wasn’t sure what was coming, or when, only that it would arrive and that it was essential he be ready to meet it. It might be bad or good. He didn’t really care. His heart was free of worry and desire. He longed for nothing, wanted for nothing, his mind silent, his breath steady. He only needed to wait.
He saw Anya rise and pick up the little boy. He heard her crooning tenderly to him, some Ravkan lullaby.
“Open the door and come in, Hoede,” she said. Joost heard the words, understood them, forgot them.
Hoede walked to the door and slid the bolt free. He entered the steel cell.
“Do as you’re told, and this will be over quickly, ja?” Anya murmured with a smile. Her eyes were black and bottomless pools. Her skin was alight, glowing, incandescent. A thought flickered through Joost’s mind—beautiful as the moon.
Anya shifted the boy’s weight in her arms. “Don’t look,” she murmured against his hair. “Now,” she said to Hoede. “Pick up the knife.”
Kaz Brekker didn’t need a reason. Those were the words whispered on the streets of Ketterdam, in the taverns and coffeehouses, in the dark and bleeding alleys of the pleasure district known as the Barrel. The boy they called Dirtyhands didn’t need a reason any more than he needed permission—to break a leg, sever an alliance, or change a man’s fortunes with the turn of a card.
Of course they were wrong, Inej considered as she crossed the bridge over the black waters of the Beurskanal to the deserted main square that fronted the Exchange. Every act of violence was deliberate, and every favor came with enough strings attached to stage a puppet show. Kaz always had his reasons. Inej could just never be sure they were good ones. Especially tonight.
Inej checked her knives, silently reciting their names as she
always did when she thought there might be trouble. It was a practical habit, but a comfort, too. The blades were her companions. She liked knowing they were ready for whatever the night might bring.
She saw Kaz and the others gathered near the great stone arch that marked the eastern entrance to the Exchange. Three words had been carved into the rock above them: Enjent, Voorhent, Almhent. Industry, Integrity, Prosperity.
She kept close to the shuttered storefronts that lined the square, avoiding the pockets of flickering gaslight cast by the streetlamps. As she moved, she inventoried the crew Kaz had brought with him: Dirix, Rotty, Muzzen and Keeg, Anika and Pim, and his chosen seconds for tonight’s parley, Jesper and Big Bolliger. They jostled and bumped each other, laughing, stamping their feet against the cold snap that had surprised the city this week, the last gasp of winter before spring began in earnest. They were all bruisers and brawlers, culled from the younger members of the Dregs, the people Kaz trusted most. Inej noted the glint of knives tucked into their belts, lead pipes, weighted chains, axe handles studded with rusty nails, and here and there, the oily gleam of a gun barrel. She slipped silently into their ranks, scanning the shadows near the Exchange for signs of Black Tip spies.
“Three ships!” Jesper was saying. “The Shu sent them. They were just sitting in First Harbor, cannons out, red flags flying, stuffed to the sails with gold.”
Big Bolliger gave a low whistle. “Would have liked to see that.”
“Would have liked to steal that,” replied Jesper. “Half the Merchant Council was down there flapping and squawking, trying to figure out what to do.”
“Don’t they want the Shu paying their debts?” Big Bolliger asked.
Kaz shook his head, dark hair glinting in the lamplight. He was a collection of hard lines and tailored edges—sharp jaw, lean build, wool coat snug across his shoulders. “Yes and no,” he said in his rock salt rasp. “It’s always good to have a country in debt to you. Makes for friendlier negotiations.”
“Maybe the Shu are done being friendly,” said Jesper. “They didn’t have to send all that treasure at once. You think they stuck that trade ambassador?”
Kaz’s eyes found Inej unerringly in the crowd. Ketterdam had been buzzing about the assassination of the ambassador for weeks. It had nearly destroyed Kerch-Zemeni relations and sent the Merchant Council into an uproar. The Zemeni blamed the Kerch. The Kerch suspected the Shu. Kaz didn’t care who was responsible; the murder fascinated him because he couldn’t figure out how it had been accomplished. In one of the busiest corridors of the Stadhall, in full view of more than a dozen government officials, the Zemeni trade ambassador had stepped into a washroom. No one else had entered or left, but when his aide knocked on the door a few minutes later, there had been no answer. When they’d broken down the door, they’d found the ambassador facedown on the white tiles, a knife in his back, the sink still running.