Kaz Brekker had become a legend in his own lifetime. He had spent enough time crafting his myth to know there was always some truth to the rumours, but he could never have come up with half of what people said about him.
Kaz was what monsters had nightmares about. Kaz always wore gloves because his hands were permanently stained with blood. Kaz lived alone in the castle on the edge of Ketterdam because he was cursed.
In truth, they were half right. He didn't live alone but he was cursed, just not in the way they thought.
Nobody dared come near his castle anyway, but just to make sure he had added an impenetrable security system that could deter even the most dedicated criminal. He had been there for four years and hadn't encountered a soul from outside.
Which was why Kaz almost didn't believe it when he heard a voice calling from downstairs. For a second he thought he might be hallucinating, but then they called again and he realized they were real. Keeping to the shadows, he went to the main staircase and peered down at the foyer.
"Hello?" It was a Suli girl, about the same age as him, with her dark hair in a braid and wearing a brown cloak over colourful clothes from the Menagerie. She was holding a candelabra and pivoted on the spot, her eyes scanning the dark room for any sign of life. "Is anyone there?"
Kaz began to descend the stairs slowly. At the sound of his cane, the girl stiffened and spun to face him. No one was supposed to be able to get past the gates; unless she could fly there was no way she could have survived. Yet there she stood.
"How did you get in here?" he asked in a low voice.
"Please," she begged. "You have to help me."
"You didn't answer my question," Kaz said. By that time he had reached the bottom of the staircase and stood still, keeping back out of the light.
"I found a way past all your obstacles." She raised her chin defiantly, although her voice quavered slightly. "Please, you need to let me stay here."
"You shouldn't have come," he said.
"I had no other choice. Tante Heleen was going to kill me for escaping. This is the only safe place and if you send me out there I'll die."
Everyone knew about Tante Heleen and her Menagerie. The way she treated the poor girls who had nowhere else to go. Kaz hated her and what she did. There was no way he was going to leave this girl at Heleen's mercy. Besides, someone skilled enough to get past his security measures could be useful in the future.
"Alright," he growled eventually. "You can stay."
The girl let out a small breath and the tight set of her shoulders loosened. "Thank you."
"You shouldn't thank me," Kaz said. "You know who I am. I'm sure you've heard the stories."
"Each more terrifying than the last," she agreed.
"Then I don't know why you think this is a safe place." He turned and was about to make his way back up the stairs, but stopped when she spoke again.
"Wait," she called out, holding the candelabra towards him. "Come into the light."
He slowly took a few steps forward until he entered the small pool of light cast by the candles. He watched as the girl's eyes slid up his body, taking in his perfectly tailored suit, his crow's head cane, his black gloves. Finally they rested on his face.
She didn't seem scared or surprised, and he wondered what sort of monster she had been expecting. She tilted her head to the side and said, "I thought you'd be taller."
Kaz almost smiled.
Another shout was heard, this one an angry voice coming from outside the gates. Kaz's hand tightened on the head of his cane and he looked out of the window, to where he could see the shadow of who he presumed was Tante Heleen.
Kaz turned to speak to the girl, but she had already melted into the shadows. Saints, he hadn't even heard her move.
He went over to the front door and pushed it open, but was careful to stay in the shadowed porch so Heleen couldn't get a good look at his face. "What do you want?" he called out in his most menacing tone.
"Mister Brekker," Heleen shouted. "You need to give me my girl back."
She was wearing the most frivolously adorned outfit Kaz had ever seen. No wonder her nickname was the Peacock. And she was aiming for a serious negotiation tone, but the fact that she had to yell to be heard from outside the gate ruined the effect.
"I can't," he replied. "Once she entered the castle grounds my curse spread to her as well."
A tiny gasp came from above him and he realized the girl had perched behind one of the gargoyles on the foyer roof in order to listen in.
Heleen was lost for words and clearly didn't see any point in arguing with him.
"Good day," Kaz said, then turned and went back inside. The door swung closed behind him. "You can come out now."
The girl dropped down beside him without making a sound. "Was it true? What you said about the curse." She bit her lip.
Kaz kept walking without saying anything, the sound of his cane echoing off the smooth stone walls.
"What is your curse anyway? Since I'm part of it now I deserve to know. I've heard people say you can't leave the castle, you can't fall in love, your life is tied to some mystical object."
"Pick one," he replied sharply. "They're all true enough." He paused. "Since you'll be staying here you might as well make yourself comfortable. There are plenty of bedrooms and clothes in all the wardrobes." He started walking back up the stairs.
"My name is Inej," she called after him.
"I didn't ask."
Inej spent a lot longer wandering around the castle than she had originally intended. It was even bigger than it looked from the outside and apparently Kaz's affinity for crows extended to more than just his cane.
There was the outline of a crow drinking from a goblet carved into the wood above the front door and crow-shaped gargoyles perched on outcrops below the ceiling, with eyes that she could almost feel watching her.
She had already noticed the hidden passageways running just under the ceiling, with entrances hidden behind the gargoyles, and used one to eavesdrop on Kaz's conversation with Tante Heleen. But she soon realised that they ran all over the building and were a useful way of getting from one place to another.
Although the castle was old, it wasn't dusty and Inej wondered who had cleaned it. She couldn't imagine Kaz with a dustpan and brush.
Eventually she made her way past the library to a small but nicely furnished bedroom. She set the candelabra down on the dressing table and started to look around.
Sure enough, there were plenty of clothes in the wardrobe. She chose the plainest tunic with a pair of trousers and changed out of her Menagerie clothes. It was a small thing, but it still felt like an act of rebellion in reclaiming her body as her own. She rebraided her hair and tied it in its usual coil at the back of her neck.
As she caught sight of herself in the dressing table mirror, the girl looking back at her resembled Inej Ghafa once more. Then a wave of emotion hit her all at once and she sat down on the bed with a thump. She buried her face in her hands and started to cry.
She had come to this castle because it was the one place Tante Heleen couldn’t follow, and now she was a prisoner all over again. Despite that, she had faith life here would be better than at the Menagerie and her Saints were watching over her.
"There's no need for that," someone said from the doorway. “Life here isn’t so bad.” The voice was male, but not raspy enough to be Kaz.
She looked up and saw two boys. One was tall and Zemeni; the other shorter with red-gold hair.
"Who are you?" she asked.
"Jesper Fahey, at your service." The Zemeni boy bowed.
"And I'm Wylan Van Eck," the other boy added.
"Inej Ghafa," she said with a small sniffle. "Do you live here too? I thought Kaz was the only one."
"We do," Jesper replied. He came and sat on the bed next to her, but Wylan stayed in the doorway. "There's also Nina and Matthias, you'll meet them soon."
"Kaz sent us to invite you down to dinner," Wylan said.
Inej was taken aback. Somehow the idea of Kaz and these strange people eating was too ordinary.
“Don’t worry,” Wylan continued. “He won’t be there. He prefers to eat alone like the hermit he is.”
“Well, I am quite hungry,” Inej admitted.
“Excellent!” Jesper announced, leaping to his feet and offering Inej his arm. “You haven’t lived until you’ve tried Nina’s waffles.”
Cautiously, Inej took his arm and allowed herself to be led along the corridor and downstairs to the dining room.
On the way, Jesper explained that there were five of them who had been living here for years as a sort of halfway house because they had nowhere else to go. They called themselves the Dregs. It was a far cry from the stories Inej had heard about this castle and it's terrifying, cursed inhabitant.
They soon reached the dining room, which had a long banquet table running down the middle of it. Jesper and Wylan took their seats at the end nearest the door and Inej sat on Jesper's other side.
A moment later, two people came through the door from the kitchen carrying trays of food. The first was a tall Fjerdan boy who must be Matthias, and he attempted to set his tray in the middle of the table but immediately was told not to.
"Not there, you podge!” said the brunette girl who had to be Nina. “How are we supposed to reach it all the way over there?”
Matthias obligingly moved the tray closer to where everyone was sitting, then the pair took their seats opposite them.
“Dig in everybody,” Nina said. She had deposited her own tray in front of them and removed the cover to reveal a plate full of waffles.
The food was excellent and Inej finally realised how hungry she actually was. The waffles were some of the best she had ever tasted.
“You must be Inej,” Nina said. “It’s nice to have you here. I hope you won’t mind it too much.”
“It’s nothing like I thought it would be,” Inej replied. “The food is certainly a lot better.”
Jesper laughed and winked at her. “You know the service here is never second best.”
As he reached over to spoon some food onto his plate, Inej noticed a tattoo of a crow on his arm. The same design that was carved over the front door. Subconsciously, she tugged at her sleeve to ensure it covered the mangled Menagerie tattoo on her forearm.
“I was wondering,” Inej said, “And I hope it’s alright for me to ask but, why are you all here? I know Jesper said you have nowhere else to go but I was just curious.”
Wylan nodded. “It’s alright to ask. My father tried to kill me because he didn’t think I was good enough.”
“I got too deep in gambling debt,” Jesper added.
“I escaped prison,” Matthias said. His booming voice and impressive physical presence only added to the effect of his words.
“I ran away from the army,” Nina said.
“And Kaz?” Inej asked.
Jesper made a small choking sound and managed to say, “He...has his own agenda.”
As if he had been summoned at the mention of his name, Inej heard the approaching sound of Kaz’s uneven gait punctuated by the thump of his cane.
The door swung open and Kaz took one look at the cheerful dinner scene, then his eyes found Inej. “I see you’ve met everyone else,” he commented. Then he turned to Jesper and his gaze narrowed slightly. “Don’t take too long, Jesper, I want to speak to you later.”
Without waiting for a reply, he turned and left. The door closed behind him with a dramatic bang.
Nina shivered. “I swear, that boy can lower the temperature of a room just by looking at it.”
Everyone else seemed similarly taken aback and Inej leaned closer to Jesper. “Is he always like this?”
“Only on days that end in ‘y’.”
Wylan tapped Jesper on the arm with his fork. “What does Kaz want to talk to you about?”
“Heck if I know.”
“Let’s hope it’s to ask your advice on his haircut,” Nina said.
Despite herself, Inej laughed. Maybe life here would be alright after all.
Kaz didn’t have to wait long before Jesper knocked on his office door.
"Come in," he called.
Jesper opened the door and leaned against the frame with his arms folded. "You wanted to speak to me."
"Yes. Close the door and sit down." He indicated to the spare chair in front of his desk.
"Why do I feel like you're going to tell me off," Jesper muttered as he sat opposite Kaz.
“I’m not,” Kaz replied. “I just wanted to ask about Specht and Rotty’s job.”
Just because he never left the castle didn't mean he couldn't still be actively involved in Ketterdam's crime scene. Some of his people operated on the outside, in particular his most loyal men Specht and Rotty. On paper they worked for a merch called Per Haskell, but in reality Kaz was the one pulling the strings.
"They just said it went alright," Jesper said with a shrug. "Didn't give any details."
"Really." Kaz played with his pen. "Did they not tell you about how they got Colm Fahey out of a little trouble with the Black Tips?"
Jesper's face went slack and he stood up suddenly, knocking his chair over in his haste. "My father was involved? Is he alright? You tell me right now, Kaz Brekker."
"He's fine, Jesper." Kaz sighed and put down his pen. "Did I not just tell you Specht and Rotty got him out of trouble?"
Standing Jesper towered over Kaz, who had remained seated with his face impassive. "Sit down, Jes."
Jesper, however, ignored this and began pacing the room. Presumably he needed to expend some of his nervous energy. Kaz let him.
"He was in Ketterdam? What sort of trouble is he in? Financial? With the farm?"
"He isn't in Ketterdam any longer. And it was a case of mistaken identity, nothing more."
"You should have told me."
"We sorted him out without anybody knowing the Dregs were involved. Could you say the same would have happened if you'd been there?"
"You still should have warned me!”
“Tell me my business again,” Kaz said, his voice low. “See what happens.”
This was enough to take the wind out of Jesper's sails and he stopped pacing, his shoulders dropping.
Kaz considered reminding Jesper that he didn't have to tell him about his father in the first place, especially since everything had been taken care of. But the truth was he didn't want Jesper to hear it from any other sources.
In the end, he settled for saying quietly, "Your father really is alright."
Suddenly he felt the air shift behind him, up in the rafters, and had the sense that Inej was watching from somewhere in the ceiling. He raised his gaze and could just make out her shadow. How long had she been there? Enough to have heard something she shouldn't, no doubt.
She must have realised he'd noticed, since she started backwards and her shadow became more obvious. Jesper followed his gaze, frowning in confusion.
"Get out!" Kaz shouted at her.
Inej backed up so quickly she almost stumbled, but caught her footing at the last second and retreated back into the hidden passageway.
She had to crouch slightly to avoid banging her head, but was able to move quickly. She dropped down onto the landing and ran past Jesper and Wylan to get down the main staircase.
The couple were seated at a table playing chess and didn't notice her until she was directly in their line of sight.
"Checkmate. Again." Jesper leaned back and folded his arms, smiling smugly.
"No," Wylan said. He examined the board closely. "You cheated again!"
As soon as they caught sight of her, they leapt to their feet.
"What are you doing?" Jesper asked, worried.
"Getting out of here," Inej called over her shoulder without slowing down. She yanked open the front door, letting in the frigid air, and raced down the steps.
"No!" Wylan shouted after her.
She knew she couldn't leave the castle grounds, but luckily they were big enough that she could still escape Kaz's wrath.
Not caring where she went, she ran through the wood that ran around the grounds and didn’t stop until she reached the smaller building behind the castle. Judging from the decoration, it was the mausoleum.
She kept running all the way inside and crouched behind one of the tombstones, out of sight of the entrance. Through the thick layer of dust, she could just make out the first name on it - Alina.
Pressing her back against the gravestone, she drew her knees up to her chest and rested her forehead on them. Her heart was still pounding, but she tried to control her breathing in the hopes that it would slow down.
Until she heard something. Wolves panting. They must be getting closer, as the padding of their feet changed into their claws clicking on the stone floor of the mausoleum.
She raised her head and could just see one out of the corner of her eye. It was on the other side of the gravestone and she could hear it sniff the air, trying to locate her.
On the ground by her feet was a small branch that must have fallen off one of the trees and blown inside. She reached for it, moving painstakingly slowly, and grasped it in her hand. But as her fingers closed around it, part of it snapped.
The nearest wolf's head turned in her direction and it pounced.
Inej swung out with the branch, which the wolf caught in its jaws and broke in half. She tried to use the wolf's grip against it and wrench its head to the side, but it released the branch and snapped its jaws a hair's breadth away from her arm.
She pressed her back against the tombstone for leverage and kicked the wolf in the chest. It whimpered and fell backwards, but another two were instantly there to take its place.
Again, she lashed out with the broken branch and caught one on the nose. But that only made it angry and it growled as it clawed at her leg through her trousers, so close she could feel its warm breath. She cried out and tried to push it away.
Suddenly she saw something swing out in an arc and hit the wolf on the nose, which made it release her and slink backwards.
It was Kaz, wielding his cane like a weapon. He jabbed another wolf in the shoulder with the tip of his cane and its body went slack. He kicked the wolf and the others moved back, creating enough room for Inej to get to her feet. She climbed over the gravestone and left the mausoleum.
Kas was right behind her, but one of the wolves launched itself at him and sank its teeth into his arm. He hissed and hit the wolf with the head of his cane, hard enough to stun it into letting go.
However the action nearly made him lose his balance. Inej automatically took his arm to steady him, but he flinched away violently.
"Don't," he rasped. "I'm fine."
“You obviously aren’t,” Inej replied. “Can you walk?”
“As well as usual.” He refused her help and leaned heavily on his cane as they made it back to the castle.
The door swung open at his touch and they all but collapsed into the foyer.
Jesper and Wylan, who had been at the top of the staircase, hurried over so quickly they almost tripped.
"What happened?" Wylan asked, looking at them both in horror.
Inej supposed they must look a sight. Covered in blood and dust with torn clothes. Kaz was holding his injured arm close to his chest and Inej's left trouser leg was almost completely destroyed.
"Get Nina," Kaz ordered.
Jesper ran off in the direction of the kitchen and returned a moment later followed by Nina. She was wearing a red kefta and rolled up her sleeves as she marched into the room. Matthias followed her.
"Sit," she told Kaz, nodding in the direction of the sofa.
Much to Inej's surprise, he did as he was told and began to carefully remove his jacket while keeping his gloves on. Inej took a seat in one of the armchairs.
"How many times do I have to tell you I'm a Heartrender not a Healer," Nina said conversationally as she pulled up a stool opposite Kaz.
"If anyone else here thinks they can do a better job they're welcome to volunteer," he replied through gritted teeth. He pulled his jacket away from where the blood was sticking it to his arm and revealed a set of deep gashes.
"Saints," Nina breathed. She held her hands over the injury, careful not to make physical contact, and closed her eyes in concentration.
Kaz looked even paler than usual and the muscles in his arm strained, as if he were resisting the urge to yank it away. He had the crow tattoo as well.
"Hold still," Nina muttered.
Inej, who had never seen a Grisha work before, was fascinated. Kaz's skin slowly fused back together again and the redness around the injury faded.
When Nina was finished, she leaned back and took a deep breath. "Try not to get bitten again. You're lucky it wasn't any worse, then I might not have been able to help."
Wylan handed Kaz a damp cloth and he used it to wipe away the blood.
"What happened?" Jesper asked. He and Matthias were standing by the fireplace.
"Wolves," Kaz replied.
"Wolves are sacred animals," Matthias said.
"Well your sacred animal bit me," Kaz growled.
“Why do you have wolves here anyway?” Inej asked.
Kaz scoffed. “Ask the Drüskelle.”
Nina’s stool scraped along the floor as she moved it to opposite Inej. “You’re next.”
“No this is Kaz’s…” Inej began to protest until she noticed the blood running down her leg, staining the fabric of her trousers. “Oh.” Somehow amongst all the adrenaline and worry she had failed to notice the pain, but she was feeling it now.
Just like before, Nina held her hands above the injury and it began to heal. It was a strange sensation, not painful as such but not exactly pleasant.
When she was finished, Nina stood up. “There you go. I recommend you both get some rest and try to avoid wolves in the future.”
She left the room, followed by Matthias, Jesper and Wylan.
Inej turned her leg so she could look at it through the tears in her trousers. Aside from the blood there was no sign of her injury, not even a faint scar.
“Here.” Kaz held the cloth out to her, then braced his cane against the floor and used it to stand up.
“Thank you.” Inej wiped the blood away, then put the cloth on one of the small tables and stood.
Kaz held out his destroyed coat and looked at it sadly. As he did, Inej caught sight of the crow tattoo on his forearm and another on his bicep in the shape of an R. He folded up the coat and put it over his arm, covering the tattoos. Then he half-turned like he was going to leave, but stayed where he was and looked at her. “Are you alright?”
“Yes.” She gestured to his forearm, unable to control her curiosity. “What does the tattoo mean? I've noticed you all have it.”
He held his arm out so she could see it properly. “It’s for our gang, the Dregs.” He swallowed. “You can join us if you want. I’ve seen the way you move and nobody should be able to get past my security system. You could be my spider.”
Inej’s eyebrows shot up. She hadn’t been expecting a job offer. Every gang in Ketterdam had a spider - someone with a gift for climbing and spying on people for information - but she had never considered herself filling that role.
“You don’t have to do anything you don’t want to, but if you joined I would teach you the tricks of the trade. How to survive on the streets and make yourself dangerous.”
“No.” She looked up at him, her shoulders set. “I want to. The whole reason I came here was for the chance to survive on my own and not be at anyone’s mercy.”
“Deal.” He held out his gloved hand and she shook it.
His eyes slid to where her sleeve covered what remained of her Menagerie tattoo. “I usually say the crow is compulsory but you don’t have to take it. I won’t be the one to mark your skin again.”
She released his hand and looked down, not sure what to say.
“Good night, Inej.” He walked away.
She looked up and said quietly, “Good night, Kaz.”
When Kaz wasn't teaching her to crack safe or pick a pocket, Inej explored the castle. In particular she spent many hours on the roof, where she could almost pretend she wasn’t a prisoner and it felt like if she stretched her arm out she could touch the sky.
She had grown up travelling with the group of Suli acrobats that had been her family. They never stayed in one place too long, so the only constants for her were the company and the tightrope. Almost as soon as she could walk, she was balancing several feet off the ground. Being high up comforted her and reminded of her childhood, the idyllic days before she had been kidnapped by slavers.
Even though the castle was infinitely better than the Menagerie and Kaz’s training helped, there were times when captivity made her restless. Any day now she was expecting to find herself sleepwalking. But she always tried to remind herself that if she had stayed on the streets, she would be dead by now.
Until those thoughts quieted, she explored. No matter how many times she did it, somehow she always found somewhere new that she had missed before.
As she walked down this particular corridor, she could hear the sound of music and voices singing coming from the door next to her.
“All those days in the sun, what I’d give to relive just one, undo what’s done, and bring back the light."
Cautiously, she walked over and pushed the door open slightly. She could see a spacious ballroom decorated in gold, with large chandeliers hanging from the ceiling.
Wylan was sitting at the piano and Jesper was standing next to him, with a hand resting casually on his shoulder. They were both singing and Jesper turned over the sheet music at the correct interval.
"Oh I could sing, of the pain these dark days bring, the spell we’re under, still it’s the wonder of us, I sing of tonight.”
When Wylan looked up and caught sight of Inej, his hands stilled suddenly on the keys and made a clashing sound. Jesper wasn't anywhere near as embarrassed but stopped singing anyway and smiled at her.
“Please don’t stop,” Inej said as she entered the room properly, applauding. “That was beautiful.”
Wylan blushed. "Thank you."
“What song was it? I’ve never heard it before.”
“I wrote it,” Wylan said and his face got even redder, making it almost the same colour as his hair.
“The merchling has a lot of skills,” Jesper said. “He also plays a mean flute.”
“And I can sing the Fjerdan national anthem like a native speaker,” Wylan added.
Inej laughed and came over to stand next to them. “I bet Matthias likes that."
Wylan grinned at her. "Do you want to sing something else?"
"I'd like that."
Jesper picked up the pile of sheet music and began flicking through it. "Which one do you want?"
"Tale as old as time," Wylan replied.
Jesper found the right page and placed it on the stand. Wylan began playing the intro then gave a nod when it was time to start singing. Since Wylan was focussing on the music, Jesper sang by himself.
"Tale as old as time, true as it can be, barely even friends, then somebody bends, unexpectedly."
After the first verse, Inej was able to get the tune and joined in. The lyrics reminded her of something, but she was unable to put her finger on what.
“Just a little change, small to say the least, both a little scared, neither one prepared.”
But she pushed it to the back of her mind and instead enjoyed singing with her friends. It was a good way to ignore her troubles and remind herself that life in the castle had its fun moments.
Kaz began to get used to Inej’s presence over the next few weeks. She still moved as silently as the grave, but he soon discovered that he had a way of sensing when she was there.
Not something he could explain, but it almost felt like a kind of shifting in the air. He often found himself checking to see if she was there at moments throughout the day.
Which was how he knew she was crouching in the rafters, despite the fact that he couldn't see her, when he was alone in his office.
"Come in," he said without looking up from his desk.
She dropped silently into the room. "You wanted to see me?"
He glanced up. She was dressed the same as usual with her hair in its braid, but her body language was changing the longer she stayed there. She seemed more confident and comfortable in herself.
"Yes." Kaz clasped his hands together. "You remember our deal?"
Inej nodded and he saw her swallow. Although they had spent a lot of time training, he hadn’t mentioned anything further about her joining the Dregs. Their training sessions were more focussed on him teaching her the dirty tricks needed to survive on the streets and trying not to think about how close she was to him physically. Once his gloved hands had guided hers when showing her how to pick a lock. The contact had felt simultaneously like too much and not enough.
"I held up my end of the bargain," he continued. “Now it’s time for the next stage. I have something for you.”
He reached into the desk drawer and took out the bone-handled knife he had acquired especially for her. It was of excellent quality, he had made sure of that.
He held it out to her, hilt first. “You should be able to defend yourself.”
She took the knife and turned it over in her hands, examining it. Her facial expression was difficult to read. Then she nodded once and put it in her belt.
Kaz took a breath. “Inej….I know you came here for protection but this life is far from safe.”
She shrugged bitterly. “Tante Heleen was going to kill me.”
“You may still die here.”
She looked seriously at him. “But at least I’ll die on my feet with a knife in my hand.”
The corner of his lips quirked. "Do you even know how to use the knife?"
By way of response, she took the blade out of her belt and tested its weight in her palm, then threw it in a perfect arc. It flew across the room and embedded itself directly in the centre of the wooden ledge at the top of the fireplace.
Well, that answered his question. He stood up and walked over to fetch it, then gave it back to her. As he did, he was unable to hide his admiration. "Where did you learn to do that?"
"I taught myself.” Her expression was carefully guarded. “This wasn't the first time I escaped the Menagerie."
She didn't need to say any more. He understood. Life for Inej hadn’t been easy, but she was a survivor. He could see it in her eyes.
“In that case, I think you’re ready,” he said.
“Your first job.”
She looked up at him in surprise and he could feel the weight of her penetrating gaze.
“It’s time Ketterdam learned to fear the Wraith. That is to be your name.”
“I don’t like it,” she said. “It makes me sound like a corpse.”
“A phantom,” he corrected.
“Didn’t you say I was to be your spider? Why not stick with that?”
“Because there are plenty of spiders in the Barrell. Besides, you want your enemies to be afraid. Not think they can squash you with the toe of one boot.”
“Our enemies.” He paused. “There’s a painting I want you to help me steal. A DeKappel.”
“How are we supposed to steal it without leaving the castle?”
“Who said anything about not leaving the castle?”
Inej’s eyes widened and he could almost see the cogs turning as she processed what he’d just said. Eventually she shook her head and said, “So there’s no curse?”
“I didn’t say that,” Kaz replied quietly. He might be cursed but Inej certainly wasn’t.
“Saints...you really let me think I couldn’t leave.” Her eyes flashed and her hand moved to the knife at her belt.
She was angry, which was understandable. But the only way to keep her safe was for Tante Heleen to believe the curse affected Inej, and they could only pull that off if Inej believed it herself.
“It was for the best,” was all he said. No doubt Inej could figure out why he’d done it.
She twirled the blade in one hand expertly. “Maybe I’ll use this on you.”
“If only you were that bloodthirsty.” Kaz’s tone was almost rueful. Inej would have to be tough to survive on the streets of the Barrell, which he knew she was, but she would also have to be ruthless, which he doubted she was.
She sighed and put the knife away, then went and sat on his desk.
Kaz was grateful, his leg was beginning to throb and he wanted to sit down. He slid into his chair behind the desk. “You don’t have to do this,” he said hesitantly.
“But if I don’t I’ll never prove myself and be accepted into the Dregs. I know how gangs work, Kaz.”
He smiled tightly. “Then I’m sure you’ll do fine.”
She rolled her eyes. “So. Where’s this painting we’re stealing?”
As usual, he already had his papers prepared. He showed her the map of Ketterdam and pointed out Jan Van Eck’s house, then referred to the floorplan for where the painting was located. Finally he described what it looked like.
Inej was already muttering to herself, considering the fastest way to get in and out without being seen.
“What are the risks?” she asked.
He explained how Van Eck’s security system worked and that he kept guard dogs just inside the front door. Most of it would be tricky but not overcomplicated. Van Eck was beginning to get complacent in his old age.
Kaz and Inej spent some more time going over it and finalising the plan.
Eventually, Inej stood up and said, “Right, I think I’m ready.”
“Not quite.” Kaz got something else out of his desk drawer - a dark jacket with a hood that would obscure her face. “You need a disguise.”
She put on the jacket and pulled up the hood. It made her look exactly like the sort of wraith that would be feared in the Barrell.
“No mourners,” he said. His raspy voice almost cracked.
“No funerals,” Inej replied.
Then Inej climbed out of the window and slid down the angled roof and Kaz watched her go, hoping he hadn’t just made a big mistake. Then he went down the stairs to meet her at the front door.
Inej could barely believe it. After so long, it felt surreal to be back on the streets again. There was a small voice in the back of her mind compelling her to check over her shoulder for Tante Heleen, but the darkness and the anonymity that her Wraith identity gave her were comforting.
As she raced along the rooftops, Kaz followed more slowly on the ground. She might be able to take the most direct route and leap from one building to the next like she had been born to do it, but he knew all the shortcuts and easiest ways to get from one place to another without being seen.
They had both spent so long memorising the route that they could follow it with their eyes closed, and had agreed on the plan down to the tiniest detail. Entering from the top floor would mean they avoided the dogs and trickier security altogether.
Inej liked the feeling of being up off the ground and since the buildings were so close together, it was easy to move from one to the next. The only problem was that sometimes her feet struggled to grip the roof tiles. She wished she had some sort of rubber slippers to help with that, and briefly wondered if Kaz would allow her to get a pair made by a Fabrikator.
She soon reached the building next to the Van Eck house and crouched out of sight in the shadows. Her new knife was pressing lightly against her leg where it lay in its sheath.
There were lights on in a few windows that meant she could see what was going on inside. Jan Van Eck was scowling and writing something in a ledger. Inej could see the family resemblance to Wylan, but his father's facial expression was so different that it made the other similarities jarring.
Van Eck's wife Alys was in the next room along, arranging a crib in a room made up for a baby. She was visibly pregnant and Inej wondered if Wylan knew.
She waited there in the chilly breeze and hoped they would leave soon. Kaz had told her there was a fancy dinner that night they would likely be attending, but if they left it much longer they would be late.
Inej's crouching position was beginning to get uncomfortable and her braid had come loose from its coil so it fell over one shoulder. She tucked it back into her hood.
Eventually Van Eck and Alys left, taking their time to get ready. Inej gave it a few more minutes to make sure it was safe, then slid her knife out of its sheath and held it up under the nearest streetlamp. She tilted it until it caught the light and flashed once, then put it back away. That was her signal for Kaz.
A second later she saw him approach the house and nod in her direction, then he tucked his cane under one arm and climbed up the drainpipe.
He balanced with one arm around the drainpipe and one leg braced against the wall while he picked the lock on the nearest top floor window. Even with his gloves on, his slender fingers were almost impossibly agile. Schuyler locks, he had told her, were one of the trickier ones but wouldn’t stop any pick worth his stones.
It gave way with a click and he pushed it open gently then climbed inside. Inej swung herself in after him. They found themselves in Van Eck’s office, which was decorated fit for a king and covered in every plush trapping you could think of. She'd seen it from outside but it was even gaudier up close.
Kaz made a small sound of disgust and Inej nodded in agreement. But they didn’t have time to stay there and judge Van Eck’s interior decorating choices, so Kaz nodded at the front door. He walked over and checked to see if it was locked, which it wasn’t. He tutted and shook his head.
The next part was up to Inej. She moved silently to the next room along, which was the gallery, and checked for a lock. Kaz hadn’t been able to find out what sort of security had been installed there. At the sight of it, Inej's stomach dropped. It was a new invention with three identical locks that all needed to be turned at the same time.
“Kaz,” she hissed as loudly as she dared.
He appeared a moment later, limping and holding his cane aloft so it wouldn’t make a sound on the floor.
Without saying anything, she nodded at the locks. He looked at them and his eyes widened. Then he tilted his head to the side and looked off into the distance with unfocused eyes. That must be the scheming face she had heard so much about.
A second later he snapped back to reality and must have come up with a solution because he pointed to her and the furthest lock, then himself and the remaining two. How was he planning to pick two locks at once?
Inej wanted to protest, but decided to trust him anyway and got her lockpicks ready.
Meanwhile Kaz crossed his arms over each other and flicked each sleeve with the opposite hand. Slender metal picks slid between his fingers and he uncrossed his arms. Working very carefully and with incredible dexterity, he managed to finesse one lock with each hand at the same time. He gave Inej the nod when it was time to turn them to one side, then the door swung open.
He stayed back, leaving Inej to do this part by herself. She walked into the gallery cautiously, keeping an eye out for any traps or additional security.
She couldn’t see anything, so she scanned the walls for the painting Kaz had described. For something worth nearly one hundred thousand kruge, it was rather ugly. Moving almost imperceptibly slowly, she released the catch on the frame and eased the painting out. It smelled strongly of oil.
Then she rolled it up and slid it into the cylinder slung across her back. Once that was done she closed the frame and checked that it was straight.
Careful to make sure everything was exactly as she had found it, she left the room and gave Kaz a thumbs up. He nodded and gave her a small smile, then followed her back into the office.
The pair left the same way they had come and Kaz locked the window behind them.
Although Inej was proud of what they had pulled off together, there was no time to celebrate yet. They could do that back at the castle when there was no risk of being caught. In the meantime, she and Kaz appreciated their victory silently and went their separate ways.
Inej was perched on the sill of Kaz’s window and feeding the crows that congregated on the balcony. It was the first time he’d allowed her into his bedroom in the highest tower of the castle.
“You shouldn’t make friends with crows,” he told her. Half his attention was on his writing and the rest was trying not to stare at Inej.
He looked up from his desk to answer but whatever he’d been about to say vanished on his tongue.
The sun was out for once, and Inej turned her face to it. Her eyes were shut, her oil-black lashes fanned over her cheeks. The wind lifted her dark hair, which she was wearing loose, and for a moment Kaz was a boy again, sure that there was magic in this world.
“Why not?” she repeated, eyes still closed.
He said the first thing that popped into his head. “They don’t have any manners.”
“Neither do you, Kaz.” She laughed and if he could have bottled the sound and gotten drunk on it every night, he would have. It terrified him.
His first instinct was to say something that denied his feelings for her, but he didn't get a chance to speak because she climbed back inside.
"We're out of bread," she said as she dusted the remaining crumbs off her hands.
"We could make more." The words were out of Kaz's mouth before his brain had been consulted.
Inej smiled and raised an eyebrow, skeptical.
"In the kitchen," he clarified.
She laughed again, the most wonderful sound he had ever heard. "That wasn't the part that confused me. I can't imagine you baking."
"Well." He straightened his jacket. "There's only one thing we can do about that."
"Lead the way, chef."
Inej followed him down to the kitchen where they found Nina sitting at the small table with her feet up, reading a book. She lowered it when she heard them come in.
"What brings you two here?" she asked.
"We're going to make bread," Inej replied.
Nina sighed and stood up. "I'll leave you to it, then."
On her way out, Kaz heard her warning Matthias not to go into the kitchen.
Then Inej washed her hands and Kaz did the same, removing his gloves and leaving them on the counter. He caught Inej staring at his bare hands but she didn't say anythihg.
"So," she began. "Ingredients."
"Here." He reached past her to open the cupboard where they kept things like flour, salt and oil.
Inej immediately got what she needed and while she was measuring it out, Kaz got the bowls and pans ready.
"I'm making skillet bread," she explained as she worked. "It's a Suli staple. My mother used to make it when I was a kid. Do we have any dill?"
"I think so." Kaz checked the lower cupboards and found a small jar. "Here."
She was clearly an expert, Kaz noticed as she pinched the dough to flip it. The warm smell filled the air and Inej sighed.
“You must miss your family,” Kaz said quietly.
He knew it was a bold move, but the way her eyes were shining with tears moved him. He made a decision. “Would you like to see them?”
Inej looked up at him, a question on her lips, but he was moving before she could speak.
She left the bread cooking and quickly dried her hands on a tea towel, then followed.
Kaz led her to a small room where he kept the magic mirror. It had been made by a powerful Fabrikator and was imbued with Grisha magic. It had a gilded back with a rose design on it.
“This mirror will show you anything you desire. Anything at all.” He handed it to Inej.
She took it carefully and, with an almost reverent expression, said, "I'd like to see my parents."
At once her reflection clouded over and when the picture cleared it showed Mr and Mrs Ghafa walking along the streets of Lij - a small city near Ketterdam. It was where Kaz had grown up.
“They’re here!” she exclaimed and clutched the mirror to her chest. “They’re here in Kerch. I can’t believe it.”
“Then you must go to them.”
She faltered, lowering the mirror. "What did you say?”
“You must go to them. No time to waste.”
“But I joined the Dregs, I-”
Kaz cut her off with a wave of his hand. “Forget about that. This is more important.”
She held the mirror out to him but he refused to take it. “No," he said. "You keep it with you. Then you’ll always have a way to look back on me.”
"Thank you," Inej said, managing to fill those two words with unimaginable gratitude.
Kaz simply nodded.
Then she raced out of the castle as quickly as possible. Kaz watched until she rounded the corner, then turned back to where the skillet bread lay on the counter.
He was confident Inej would find a way to get to her parents quickly.
Footsteps approached and Wylan came into the room. "I'm glad to see - where's Inej?"
"I let her go."
"What?!" Wylan exclaimed.
"It was important. I'm sorry I couldn't do the same for all of you."
"Why would you-" Jeper began from where he was standing in the doorway.
Nina cut him off. "Because he loves her."
Unable to stand it any longer, Kaz walked away and left them staring after him.
He went back to his room and locked the door. He gazed sadly out of the window and could just make out the silhouette of Inej running towards the main part of Ketterdam.
Since he had lost his parents at 9 years old, Kaz's life had been a series of disasters. Jordie had succumbed to the plague and left him alone in the world, penniless, traumatized and unable to touch another person without being overwhelmed by bad memories.
The only way to survive was to make himself into a monster, the boy they called Dirtyhands. He'd worked his way up the ranks, not even stopping when he broke his leg falling off the roof of a bank. But his hubris meant the bone didn't set right and he had been in pain ever since.
His only talent was conning people out of their money and he made a name for himself as someone willing to do even the dirtiest work. Why shouldn't he believe he was cursed? A monster? After all, the really bad monsters never look like monsters.
Once he had gotten enough kruge, he had bought this castle and started spreading the necessary rumours to ensure he wouldn't be disturbed. He had kept in contact with Per Haskell's gang and it was by coincidence that Jesper had come to him looking for a place to stay.
That was how the Dregs started. One by one Nina, Matthias and Wylan had joined. Then suddenly Inej had come into his world and changed everything. She was so much better than him in every way and he wanted to become a better man for her.
But now he'd let her go. It was for the best and he would never force her to do anything against her will, but it still hurt.
In a fit of rage, he picked up the nearest vase and threw it across the room. It shattered into a thousand pieces.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Nina enter then back away slightly when she saw the shards on the floor.
"I'm not cleaning that up," she said.
"I wouldn't ask you to," he growled. "What do you want?"
"You to stop moping around feeling sorry for yourself. You did what's best for Inej and now it's time to do what's best for you. Which is get back to work."
She put one hand on her hip and wiggled the fingers of her other hand. "Don't mess with the Heartrender. Matthias said he heard the Dime Lions are planning something so I suggest you look into that."
Kaz sighed and took a moment to compose himself. "Alright. Tell everyone to meet in the dining room. I'll be there in a minute."
Nina nodded and left the room.
True to his word, Kaz swept the shards into a rolled up newspaper then went downstairs.
Everyone was sitting around the dining table and Matthias began explaining what he had heard through the grapevine. The Dime Lions were planning something big and it was going to be soon.
It was tricky without much information to work with, but Kaz began considering his options.
“Scheming face,” Jesper whispered.
“Definitely,” agreed Wylan.
"Right." Kaz spread his hands on the table. "Here's what we're going to do…"
Inej returned to the castle in Ketterdam a few days later.
After a very emotional reunion with her parents, she had spent some time with them staying at an inn nearby. It had been wonderful to see them again and she was tempted to stay there forever, but her heart told her that her place was with the Dregs now.
Of course, she vowed to visit her parents frequently and in response they promised to stay in Kerch. Leaving them had been hard, but made less painful by the fact that they would always be nearby.
But when Inej got back to the castle, what she saw made her heart leap into her mouth. It looked like a war was being fought there. Through the darkness and the rain she could make out carriages with the Dime Lion crest on parked outside the gate and the crashing sound of gunfire coming from the building.
She readjusted her hood and raced to the steps. Inside, she saw Pekka Rollins's men engaged in a fight with the Dregs. She kept back out of sight while she tried to assess the situation and figure out how she could be the most help.
Jesper was crouched at the top of the staircase with a revolver in each hand and firing through the banister at the crowd of uniformed Dime Lions.
Nina was behind him, then began to walk down the steps with her hands outstretched and her red kefta fluttering behind her. Instantly the nearest Dime Lions began to collapse on the floor, some clutching at their chests or throats.
From somewhere behind her Inej heard Wylan yell, "Geronimo!" and had just enough time to close her eyes before a small explosive went off. It scattered the Dime Lions and the jacket of one of them caught fire so he had to roll around on the floor to put it out.
"Inej," Wylan hissed. She spun around and saw him hiding behind a table that had been turned on its side, poking his head out to see her. She went over to join him, ducking out of sight and crouching on the floor.
"What's going on?" she asked in a whisper.
"The Dime Lions took offense to Kaz robbing them blind."
Inej nodded. "Of course they did."
"Listen, you need to find Kaz. Pekka Rollins went after him."
Inej bit her bottom lip. Pekka was a very dangerous man and if Wylan was worried about Kaz then things had to be serious.
"Alright." She peered out from behind the table to see if her fastest route to the secret passage was clear.
As she did, she heard a whistle from outside and Matthias entered, followed by the wolves and holding a rifle. He looked every inch a Drüskelle. He stopped in the doorway then whistled again and the wolves ran past him into the foyer and began attacking.
That was exactly the distraction she needed. She ran towards the gargoyle and jumped up into the passage. Crouching, she made her way through the castle as quickly as possible and listened out for Kaz's raspy voice.
Her best bet was either his office or his bedroom. She checked the office first, but it was empty. The only way to get to his bedroom without being seen was to climb the passage vertically. She had never tried it before but she didn't have any choice. She had to do it now.
She braced one foot on each opposite wall and managed to find purchase. Then she used her hands to pull herself up and moved her feet with the momentum. It was difficult and the rough stone scraped her palms and the soles of her feet, but she managed it.
When she arrived outside Kaz's bedroom she heard a voice, but it wasn't Kaz. It was Pekka.
She inched forward for a better look and could see Kaz standing in front of his window with an impassive expression while Pekka pointed a gun at him.
He pulled the trigger, but Kaz only moved slightly and the bullet hit him in the shoulder. Inej's hand flew to her mouth, but Kaz didn't even flinch.
A second later, Pekka wrenched Kaz's cane out of his hand and swung it in a low arc so the crow's head hit Kaz's bad leg. That was cruel even for Pekka.
Kaz looked even paler than usual and his leg went out from under him, but he caught himself against the wall at the last second.
Inej bit her cheek to stop herself crying out. Why wasn't he fighting back? She couldn't just watch him die, she wouldn't. Carefully, she slid the bone-handled knife out of its holster and into her hand.
She couldn't tear her eyes away from what was happening and Kaz's gaze found hers. He'd known she was there all along. Of course he had. He always knew how to find her. He gave the barest shake of his head.
She wanted to scream. To Hell with his pride and whatever insane plan he was carrying out. His life was more important.
Then Pekka kicked him hard in the chest and he flew back through the window, smashing it as he went. His arms were spread out and his coat flapped like the wings of a crow.
Unable to take it any longer, Inej slid out of the passage and into the room. Neither noticed her.
Kaz skidded to a stop on the balcony just before he hit the railings. Pekka stepped out after him, the broken glass crunching under his boot. He held the cane aloft and was about to bring it down on Kaz's head when his hand shot up and caught it at the last second.
As he sat up, Kaz wrenched it out of Pekka's grasp and used it to take his legs out from under him. Pekka fell to the ground with a thump and Kaz immediately wrapped his hands around Pekka's throat and pushed down.
But Pekka grabbed Kaz by the shoulders and pushed back, managing to create enough distance between them that he wasn't in any danger. Kaz realised this and pulled back abruptly, then scrambled to his feet and grabbed his cane from where it lay on the floor.
Pekka got up as well and began looking for his gun, but Kaz had taken it out of his belt when they were on the floor.
"Looking for this?" Kaz flicked the safety off and aimed it directly between Pekka's eyes. With the blood running down his arm, broken glass on his coat and fury in his eyes, he looked like a true monster.
But Pekka lunged at him, knocking the gun out of the way and revealing a large shard of glass in his hand that he swung at Kaz.
"Now, Wraith!" Kaz shouted.
Inej ran silently up behind Pekka and reached around him to hold her knife to his throat, pressing down just enough to draw a thin red line of blood. "Get. Out," she hissed.
Pekka swallowed, which made her knife press even further into his throat. He dropped the shard of glass and it clattered onto the floor.
"If I let go, do you promise to tell your men to stand down, then leave and never return?" she asked in a low voice.
"Yes," he replied, strained.
Inej lowered her knife and stepped back, but Kaz kept his gun trained on him the entire time. His dark eyes tracked Pekka's every movement like a hawk as he held his hands up in surrender and walked out of the room slowly.
Then Kaz and Inej walked back into his bedroom and dropped their weapons onto the table.
Kaz straightened his tie then looked at Inej with a soft smile. "You came back."
"Of course I came back," she replied.
Both of them were soaked from the rain and Kaz had blood running down his arm, but Inej reached up to cup his cheek in her hand. She saw him begin to flinch away then relax into her touch. They were together at last.