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Would be best if you broke the journey for a night, or else you might run into trouble. 

Reiziger Farm, east of the main village of Lij. Go through the woods on the other side, else you’ll be spotted. There’s a path, but it’s hard to spot from ground level.

Expect me at ten bells.

It would be preferable if the trouble ran into us, instead.

It wasn’t signed, but when was it ever? The black seal and the scratchy handwriting Inej had seen hundreds of times was signature enough, as well as the fact that Specht had received it at the docks from a Ketterdam runner with a crow and cup tattoo. 

Inej decided she ought to wonder instead how he’d known they were under threat, or indeed that The Wraith had docked just off the coast of Lij in the first place. Had Kaz’s iron grip begun to creep outside of Ketterdam? Was Lij going to be the next to fall under the permanent eclipse of the crow’s wing?

Or maybe he’s looking out for you, suggested a much more generous-- and much more irrational-- part of her brain. She could entertain it to an extent, she supposed-- Kaz was trying, in his own stunted way, the same way he’d bought out her indenture and got her a ship and ensured she had a net at Sweet Reef. But Kaz didn’t exactly coddle. And besides, never something for nothing was his motto, and this was a rather big something. He would have another reason for being here to help her tonight.   

Inej tucked the note back into her pocket and looked up at the crooked farmhouse. It was a typical Kaz hideout; some gutted, abandoned building that offered safety, warmth and relatively little damp, but otherwise was sparse on the comforts. 

Katya and Maria, her two Heartrenders, returned from scouting it looking unaffected. 

“All clear, Captain.” Katya told her. “Doesn’t look like anyone’s been here in months, maybe even years.”

Inej didn’t find herself surprised. Kaz had a knack for picking places overlooked by everyone else.

“Good,” she said, turning to the kids they’d brought onshore; largely Ketterdam natives, besides a few, most prominently the Ravkan girl and Kaelish boy who’d insisted that they wanted to start over, and named Ketterdam as their destination. Inej had tried her best to dissuade them, but they were not to be moved, and she had to admit, they were probably tough enough to survive Ketterdam a little better than most. 

But still, she was rather hoping an encounter with Kaz tonight might be enough to get them to consider a safer option.

“We’re settling here for the night.” she told them in Kerch. “We’ll move on to Belendt in the morning, when it’s safer, and then Ketterdam after that.” She turned to her crewmates. “Take the doors on shifts. Let me know if you see anyone approach.”


The farmhouse yielded some surprises. 

Firstly, while it was dusty and clearly uninhabited, it was well-maintained. There were clean, if old, bed linens in chests, the well around the back worked, the fireplaces were swept, and there was even a small supply of canned food and grain at the back of the kitchen cupboards. Secondly, it wasn’t quite as dubious as Inej had expected. Usually Kaz’s safe houses, while technically safe, bore evidence of previous Dregs’ presence, whether that was poorly scrubbed bloodstains, broken furniture, or shattered windows. This place was pristine, if spookily silent. Thirdly, there was a locked door on the third floor that no one had been able to get into, and upon closer inspection, Inej found it was fitted with a Schuyler lock.

And lastly, Kaz Brekker was standing stiffly in the kitchen at nine and a half bells, when Inej returned from tending Annaliese’s blisters.

She stopped dead in the doorway, and several of the children walked into her. Kaz didn’t look at her when he said; 

“What business, Inej?”

Inej pressed her lips together. 

“Kaz,” she said, trying to sound neutral in the presence of Dirtyhands, if only for the benefit of the Kerch children. “You’re early.”

Behind them, Finn’s mouth fell open. Katya came huffing up behind her. 

“Captain, we didn’t see him come in, I’m sorry--”

“It’s alright.” said Inej, stepping through the doorway. “I was expecting him.”

The two Heartrenders, who at least knew that they didn’t need to attack him on sight, still eyed Kaz with what could be generously called suspicion, but was probably more outright disdain. The gaggle of Kerch children backed blatantly away, eyes so wide they threatened to pop out. It seemed ridiculous that after all they’d been through, one man’s presence could get such a reaction... but at the end of the day, they were still children, and Kerch children, at that. 

And what Kerch child wouldn’t recognise the monster under their bed?

Kaz was wearing a roughspun farmer's coat and no hat, but his gloves were firmly in place and the infamous cane was leaning against the table. It was impossible to mistake him.

The twin brothers returning to Belendt both made a sign to ward off evil. Several people copied them. 

Kaz observed them silently, but he didn’t comment, mercifully. In the two previous times Inej had briefly enlisted his help, he had… generously held off on directly traumatising the children she was escorting-- though she was sure his presence alone could do most of the work, like it was now. She’d heard from Wylan what he’d said to Hanna Smeet, and hadn’t exactly trusted him to not try a reprise, but thankfully he hadn’t seemed interested in throwing his weight around with a bunch of starved and kidnapped children. She was never quite sure where Kaz’s decency started and where it ended. He liked to move the goalposts.

“Is there an entrance to this place we don’t know about?” Inej asked him. Kaz lifted a shoulder.

“Johannus Rietveld doesn’t seem to have invested in much security for his property.”

Inej sighed. She should have known. Johannus Rietveld, Colm’s farmer alias . In the mangled manner in which Kaz bestowed information, that meant that he had bought this place under a fake name, probably years ago, which in turn meant there had been a paper trail for that name long before the Geldrenner scheme. Of course there had been. Kaz never did anything by halves, did he?

Inej stared him down. Kaz looked coolly back at her.

Shaking her head, Inej turned to the rest of her crew.

“I’m going with Kaz to secure the route for tomorrow.” she said. “Making sure it’s safe.”

Maria’s eyes narrowed. 

“Wouldn’t you do better with one of us? Instead of… him?”

“He knows far more about the ambush intended for you than you do,” said Kaz coldly. 

The kids murmured nervously.

“That’s the trouble you mentioned?” said Inej. “How many are there?”

Before Kaz could answer, Katya bristled;

“Ambush?” she said sharply. “How do you know about this, Brekker? How do we know we can trust you?”

“Dirtyhands knows everything.” whispered Annaliese, one of the youngest Kerch girls. She was hastily shushed by one of the older ones, but Inej didn’t think she imagined the slight quirk of satisfaction in Kaz’s expression. 

“I don’t know how he knows, but I can trust him,” said Inej firmly. She didn’t say we. None of these people knew Kaz like she did, and that was probably for the best. “His information will be sound.”

This time, she was sure she didn’t imagine the smug curl of Kaz’s mouth. 

None of her crew looked very convinced, but Inej didn’t need their guidance on her interactions with Kaz. They knew Dirtyhands, and Inej knew the boy who had gotten her a net even when she’d insisted she didn’t need one, who’d paid off her indenture, bought her a ship, and struck a deal with Sturmhond to return her parents to her. 

“It better be,” said the Heartrender. “You’re still human like every other man, Brekker. I could crush your heart in a second.”

Kaz looked blankly at her for a moment.

“You sound so sure,” he said. He took up his cane and the bag by his feet, and made for the door. “Time to go, Captain.”

It just so happened that Kaz liked to pretend that boy didn’t exist. And that he did a very, very very good job of it.

The Kerch children practically dove out of his way as he disappeared down the corridor.

No one asked how he knew where he was going.


It was oddly familiar to do this again; to run a con and set their eyes on a mark and lay out a strategy to take them down. Inej wasn’t sure whether that feeling of familiarity was necessarily good, but it fit comfortably all the same, a routine that she would never lose the knack for.

Kaz had explained the barebones plan to her on the way over to the town, after he’d given her a change of clothes and done a bizarrely good job of pinning her hat to her head.

“Five slaver-hired mercenaries, and one actual slaver are waiting for you.” he’d told her, leaning heavily on the wooden cane he’d exchanged his usual for. “Came for the cheap kvas in the Crow Club, stayed for a round of Makkers Wheel, and told Roeder much more than they ought to have.”

This was exactly the reason Kaz kept the prices of his club’s drink so cheap, Inej knew. Besides making people more inclined to drunken over-indulgence at the card tables, it also loosened tongues, and Kaz had never lost his love for dealing in secrets and blackmail. If anything, it had increased. 

“And what did they tell him?”

Kaz’s lip curled.

“That they were on their way to Lij tomorrow, to try and eliminate a threat to their business dealings.”

Inej stared at him.

“...and how did you possibly decipher from that, that they were after us?”

Kaz was clever, possibly even a genius, but he wasn’t telepathic. But even as she had the thought, something black crawled behind Kaz’s eyes, and a sudden suspicion came to Inej.

“...how many men did you say were waiting for us?”

“Six.”

“And how many were drinking at the Crow Club, Kaz?”

Kaz drew up his collar as they approached the lights of the town. 

“Remember, if we’re questioned while we’re in the tavern, we’re a young couple passing through on the way back to Beldent after our vacation in the Wandering Isle, and we’re too infatuated to notice what’s going on around us.”

Inej stared at him. 

“Kaz.”

“We’ll go back through the guesthouse when we go to head them off-- we’ll change clothes and go through the window, there’s an outhouse with a stable roof below it--”

“Kaz--”

“There were seven.” said Kaz. He held his arm out to her. “Come, sweetheart. The hour is late.”

Saints, Inej still hated him sometimes.


“So what, you kept him back somehow, beat him for information and then threw him in the canal with a slit throat?” demanded Inej as they slipped into seats at the back of the warm, busy tavern, which was a far sight more pleasant, and less damp, than the rowdy, yowling bars in Ketterdam. She didn’t know why she was asking; that was almost definitely what had happened. 

Kaz slowly drew his gloves off-- it was far too hot in the tavern to justify keeping them on-- and Inej couldn’t help but notice evidence of new fights-- a broken finger badly set, a scar on his palm. 

“Something like that.” he said.

Inej didn’t exactly think there was anything wrong with Kaz’s actions, since eventually she would have dealt with the slavers in a similar way (though she knew full well the infamously impious Kaz would have spared no prayers for the man) but it was… odd. It wasn’t as if brutality was alien to Kaz-- it was practically his mother tongue-- but for him to directly intervene in such an extreme manner when he wasn’t directly affected seemed out of character. Usually, Kaz worked from a different angle.

Some of her internal monologue must have shown on her face, because Kaz blinked languidly. 

“You’re not doing a very convincing impression of infatuation.”

Inej sighed and tried to achieve a neutral expression, at least--

Kaz’s own expression tightened as a blare of rowdy laughter rose from a table near them, and Inej followed his gaze.

“Are those--”

“Our marks? Yes.”

Inej shot another quick glance over her shoulder, sizing them up. Typical mercenary choices; broad, muscular and heavily armed, if the hang of their coats was any indication. They would present no challenge. 

She turned to Kaz, but now he wasn’t paying attention, looking slightly to their left...

“Aunt Lieke, please, just sit over here--” 

An incredibly elderly lady was led over from the bar and deposited in the armchair near the fire. The barmaid, a hassled looking middle aged woman, barely bothered with them, beyond righting Kaz’s cane from where she knocked it sideways.

“Sorry, sir--” she cast him the briefest of glances. “...you’re a little young for a cane, aren’t you?”

“Work accident.” murmured Kaz. Inej bit back a snort. Well, technically, it was true.

But as Kaz turned back to her, there was an odd expression on his face that Inej had never seen before, almost teetering on the edge of--

But then it was gone.

“I see.” said the woman. “Pity. Well, don’t let my aunt go wandering off on her own, she’s not too steady on her feet nowadays…” 

She smiled unconvincingly and went striding back off to the bar, barking orders to the other barmaids. Kaz looked back at the old lady, but she had settled back into her chair and seemed unconcerned by their presence, gazing out at the bar.

“What’s the matter?” said Inej. Kaz shook his head, toying with his largely untouched glass of kvas. Inej wasn’t sure if it was a not now or a not ever dismissal, but before she had the chance to press him further, the topic of discussion from the group of men next to them caught her attention.

“More gang wars in Ketterdam.” said one of them, examining the day’s newspaper. “Dregs extended into Dime Lions territory again. Practically swallowed the entire thing, now. Brekker is a menace. Men beaten to death and shot in the Financial District, thugs controlling Fifth Harbour. He had someone’s hand cut off for skimming at the Crow Club last week, in front of everyone. Stood there with a completely straight face as blood spurted everywhere.”

Inej cut Kaz a quick glance. 

“Typical press hyperbole,” said Kaz. 

“So it didn’t happen?”

“It was three fingers, not the entire hand, and it didn’t happen in public.”

Inej rolled her eyes.

A gaggle of young men at the adjacent table leant forwards to with morbid interest, and, to Inej’s displeasure, even the group of slavers were listening-- 

“I should like to gamble in Ketterdam.” said the elderly lady, suddenly cutting in. “I’ve never had the opportunity to go. Always so busy. But those drunken tourists seem so easy to read. I hear the Crow Club is the finest establishment on East Stave these days.”

The men clucked at her. 

“Ms Van Zijl, while we all might want to experience Ketterdam, you heard what we just said--”

“As if I’d be stupid enough to skim from Kaz Brekker’s tables.” scoffed Ms Van Zijl, with surprising emphasis for her age. “Unlike the rest of you, I can actually play well enough not to need to.”

At the table of their targets, one man piped up;

“That may be so, ma’am, but Dirtyhands is still an affront to Ghezen. He’s a crook and a conman, not to mention a murderer. New traders and tourists coming into Ketterdam get warning pamphlets with his face on them.”

Inej looked at Kaz.

“Didn’t think I was an affront to Ghezen when they were getting drunk at my tables last night.” murmured Kaz.

Inej leaned across to him, trying to conceal his expression from those around them, since it was tipping towards arrogance. Kaz tilted his head, and Inej frowned at him. 

“Do people actually get pamphlets?” she asked quietly. 

“It doesn’t work in the way it was intended,” said Kaz drily. “It’s more like free advertising.” 

“Really.”

“I didn’t manufacture it, if that’s what you’re wondering. The good people of the Merchant Council saw it as their duty to protect the poor pigeons flocking into the city. Didn’t work, mind you.”

“How isn’t he in prison?” demanded one of the slavers, and Kaz and Inej exchanged a wry glance.

“Not currently wanted for anything, apparently,” said a farmer. 

“Really?”

“There’s insufficient proof against him.”

Grumblings rose from the tables. Kaz, sat a foot away from them, smirked. But Inej’s thoughts were elsewhere. 

It always jarred her, nowadays, to hear other people mention Kaz. She no longer dealt in Barrel secrets, and being so far from Ketterdam, it never felt as if he loomed this large until he was brought up again. Seeing the Kerch children shrink back and bless themselves had been… not surprising, but a reminder of sorts. That Inej’s Kaz and everyone else’s Kaz did not gel well in the slightest. The boy who had lowered his lips to her neck in the Geldrenner was known to no one but her. But the Dregs general who shattered legs and wrists, who killed and conned and scammed, was a much more familiar figure.

Inej looked at him, really looked at him. 

“What are you doing here, Kaz?” she asked quietly. 

Kaz blinked slowly. 

“I explained the plan to you, Wraith. If--”

“Don’t misunderstand me. You didn’t have to interfere so directly, you know that.”

Kaz looked at her, brow furrowed slightly. He didn’t reply.

“Why are you playing white knight, Kaz?”

“I hardly think--”

“It’s not up for discussion.”

Kaz’s mouth settled into a hard line, and Inej knew she’d pushed him too far. He hated being questioned, he hated his reasoning being challenged. He tolerated it best with her, but he’d already been acting strange tonight-- 

Inej’s thoughts were cut off by the clamour of the slavers rising and making for the door. Time to go, and not a moment too soon.

“Do you want my help with this or not?” Kaz snapped. Inej frowned at him

“Of course, but--”

“Then stop complaining.” 

He snatched up his cane, scowling, but it was a testament to his unsettlingly good skills as a conman that when he looked back up, his face was perfectly controlled, even pleasant. “Maybe we should retire,” he told her, loud enough to mean if they were overheard, it would uphold appearances. 

Inej forced a smile.

“It’s late.” she said. “I think that would be best.”


So when the teenage couple came clattering into the guesthouse, giddy and giggling, no one questioned it. Why should they? They didn’t leave again, they went quiet relatively quickly, and there were no disturbances.

Which was exactly how Kaz liked his schemes. 

Despite their brief fight in the tavern, Kaz had always been good at shoving aside his feelings to focus on the job at hand, and Inej wasn’t going to pick another fight with him when there was so much at stake. 

“There’s a butcher's shop with a gabled roof down the street.” murmured Kaz as they ditched their disguises, his clever lockpicks’ fingers removing hatpins and undoing laces at a speed that would have been impressive, had Inej not known the reasons for his haste. He’d put his gloves back on the second they left the tavern, which for anyone else, would have passed for a concession to the cold weather. But Inej knew better. “Wait on the roof. They’re going to set up their watch in the copse of trees opposite, near the schoolhouse. You can make the jump from the butcher’s roof to the tanner’s, and then to the trees next to them.”

“The schoolhouse?” asked Inej disapprovingly, shrugging off the outer gown and reclaiming the few knives she’d been unable to fit under it. “Did they think they were going to be able to clean up all the blood before the children arrived?”

“I don’t think they’re known for the detail in their schemes,” said Kaz. “Or indeed, schemes that actually work.”  

Inej dropped her braid out of the bun she’d tied it into, watching Kaz reclaim his black coat and hat from the wardrobe. 

“And where are you going?”

“There’s a vantage point from under the blacksmith’s awning, it’s shadowed well. If you attack first, the remaining men will run in my direction, it’s only businesses down that end of the road. They don’t want to be blundering into residential areas. Even they aren’t that stupid.”

“So we’re going to kill men in front of the schoolhouse, Kaz?”

“I believe it was their idea first.”

“Kaz.”

Kaz shot her a sharp look. 

“Herding them further will be a risk. There’s access to the woods and fields thirty yards down the road, and I don’t want to waste time blundering through a cow pasture after some blockheaded mercenary. Best case scenario, he’ll try to shoot at us and get trampled when he spooks an entire cow herd. Worst case, we’ll get trampled with him.”

“How do you know there’s--” Inej stopped herself and pulled up her hood. There was no point in asking Kaz how he knew what he did. He was observant to the point of obsession. “Well,” she said instead, opening the window. “Let’s hope that they get discovered before the children get there.”

“They will.” said Kaz. “Farmers always get up early, and this is a direct road taken to get to a lot of the fields.” he paused. “But we should make an effort to kill them cleanly. I suppose.”

He supposed. 

Inej shook her head and dropped silently from the windowsill onto the roof just below. 

She didn’t look behind her, but she knew Kaz had followed.


“What time are they meant to be coming through?”

“They usually move just after dawn.” Sacha clenched his teeth and stamped his feet. “Mikael said. Better not be much longer, colder than the Fjerdan permafrost down here...”

“Well, it’s nearly dawn, so stop bitching and get ready.” Osip checked the catch on his revolver. “Take out the Suli girl first, then any Grisha.”

“Shouldn’t we take out the Grisha first?”

“They need to be able to see us, and with any luck, they won’t. Can never be sure when it comes to Ghafa, though. Sees things no one else does.” he shook his head. “Get down. We--”

“Osip?” 

Osip turned to one of their hired mercenaries. 

“What?”

“What was that?”

“What was what?”

“There’s something over there. On the roof.”

“Bird?” Sacha craned his neck to follow his gaze.

“No. Too big.”

“Fox, then.”

“No.”

“Well, nothing’s there now.” said Osip, lowering the long-glass. “If--”

Except Sacha never found out what the if was, because before Osip could finish speaking, a dark blur spun from the canopy of the trees above them and embedded itself in his head.

A knife.

Sacha only had time to read the engraving-- Sankta Alina-- before Osip crumpled, stone dead.

“Wraith!” wailed the first mercenary. “It’s her, it’s--”

A second knife caught him full in the temple and knocked him sideways into the bushes. He didn’t get up again. The mercenary next to him went down, too, Sankta Lizabeta embedded in his chest. The remaining two men scrabbled for their guns, but Sacha didn’t. 

What use were guns against a ghost?

Instead, he ran, turned tail and bolted for the dark street. If he could only get into the woods, or one of the fields... 

He knew at least one of the men followed him, because he outstripped Sacha, bolting down the road--

There was the sickening crunch of an impact, and a shriek that was abruptly silenced. The sound of grinding bone, another impact, and a third… then silence.

Sacha whirled in that direction, reaching for his pistol--

Someone emerged from the shadows of the blacksmith’s awning.

“I wouldn’t try that, if I were you.”

To Sacha’s shock, he recognised him; the boy from the tavern, who’d sat with his Suli sweetheart. The boy from the tavern transformed. His roughspun work coat was gone, replaced by something finer and much better cut, and his simple wooden cane was replaced too-- now it was harder, and topped with--

A crow head, digging into his neck. 

And a pistol at his temple.

His Suli sweetheart...

Something wet and warm slid down Sacha’s legs, pooling at his boots. 

“Brekker.” he croaked.

Kaz Brekker hadn’t been at the Crow Club when they’d been there. They’d looked for him on the upper walkways, the tables, the dealers and the bartenders. He hadn’t been there!

“It doesn’t do to discuss your business in the Crow Club.” rasped Brekker. “Never know who could be listening.”

They’d barely discussed anything! How--

No. 

“You got Elmir.” realised Sacha hoarsely. 

“You thought he passed out drunk in a gutter somewhere? Thought you’d pick him up on the way back?” Brekker sneered. “Not quite.”

“You got the information you wanted and then you killed him?”

“He had an impressive gap in his skillset for a man working on a slave ship. Couldn’t swim a single stroke.”

What had the monstrous boy done? How had he known? Had he held Emir under the surface of one of the canals? Broken his legs and dumped him in the harbour? Weighed him down and thrown him off a boat? 

Sacha weighed up his options, desperately trying to keep talking. His gun was out of the question, but there was a knife in his boot, if only he could get to it...

“You were in the tavern,” he said quickly. “You heard what we said. You and the Suli bitch--”

It was the wrong thing to say. 

“As amusing as this little chat has been, I think I’m growing weary of it.” The revolver clicked, loaded. “Really, you’re very lucky that it was me who caught you. You’d have found no more mercy in the Captain.” 

He leaned in. “You know what else is an affront to Ghezen?” said Dirtyhands softly. “Slavers.”

He pulled the trigger. 


The only place other than the Barrel that random gunshots wouldn’t be questioned was farmland, Inej supposed. 

She and Kaz climbed back through the guesthouse window just before the sun broke over the horizon, and stripped off their blood-spattered coats in silence. Kaz looked tense and unsettled, and Inej couldn’t say she felt much better.

Finally, Kaz said;

“The browboat goes at eight bells, and it stops at Belendt before it goes to Ketterdam. There shouldn’t be any trouble. Most people get the one at twelve, or the one at five. Cheaper.” 

“Thank you.” Inej murmured, wiping her knives clean and returning them to their sheaths. One less thing she’d need to find out between now and when they left. 

She watched Kaz as he stooped to rifle through the bag he’d brought, and rolled her eyes when he produced a stack of papers. 

“Bringing Slat work with you?”

Kaz glanced out of the window. 

“We have a few hours. Unless there’s anything you need to do, I’ll see to these.”

Inej shook her head.  

“I’ll go and tell the crew it went well, check on the kids, and I’ll be back in time for us to pay the owner...” she paused. “Oh. There is one thing.”

“What?”

“It’s Annaliese’s birthday today.” she said. “I promised to buy her hopje.”

“Strange choice for a child.” muttered Kaz. Inej had thought the same thing, but apparently hard, coffee-flavored candy was simply what Annaliese had wanted. The only reason Inej had known what they were was because it was the only sweet she’d ever seen Kaz buy.

“I thought so, but I need to get it before we get on the boat, she’s leaving at Belendt. Is there--”

“There’s a corner shop that opens at 4, for the farmers going to the fields,” said Kaz promptly. “It stocks it.”

“Perfect.” Inej pulled her hood up and stepped over to the window. “I’ll be back in time for that, then.”

She cast a quick glance over at Kaz, but he was bent over his papers, stooped over the tiny desk in the corner. Running the numbers in his head, like he always did.

Too clever for his own good, Nina often said. Inej thought there might be something in that. 


When she returned, Kaz was back in his farmer’s clothes. 

“We’re going to be under suspicion.” he told her as he helped her back into the gown. “Outsiders in a small town are viewed dubiously as it is, let alone during a murder. We can’t afford to look like we were involved in any way.”

“People saw us return to the guesthouse.” pointed out Inej. “And now they’re going to see us pay and leave.”

“Two people,” said Kaz. “Hardly ironclad evidence.” 

They went down to pay, and made a big show of telling the owner how nice Lij was, and how they would be sure to tell their friends in Belendt about this place, and left with deliberate conspicuity. They proceeded down the street, deliberately wandering in the direction of the butcher’s, until Kaz’s eyes flicked ahead. 

“As you hoped, Wraith. They found them early.”

They stepped aside for the cart, moving with a few other people, and once it had rolled past, it unveiled the full scene. The couple next to them gasped, and a couple of men ran forwards. Kaz and Inej proceeded at a more cautious pace.

“Here we are.” murmured Kaz. “Let's hope the benevolent spirit of Nina Zenik grants us sufficient acting prowess all the way from Fjerda.”

People were running, and one woman had fainted, being fanned frantically by her companions. The bodies had been lifted onto a cart, and people were scrubbing furiously at the bloodstains in the grass and gravel.

“Oh, my.” said Inej, trying to sound shocked, as opposed to gleeful. 

“Don’t look, Miss.” said a gentleman in the crowd, turning towards them. “Rather gory.”

Inej, uncertain in her ability to fake convincing distress in the face of slavers she’d killed, looked away--

She noticed Kaz move, and caught his eye as he shifted towards her. There was a question in his expression. What did he want--?

His arm moved slightly, and Inej realised; he was asking if he could touch her. 

She gave the barest nod, and Kaz pulled her against his side, in an unsettlingly convincing impression of a gentleman protecting his girl’s delicate sensibilities.

(Or, rather, it was convincing to everyone except Inej, since Inej knew Kaz had precisely zero interest in protecting anyone’s sensibilities, and least of all hers, Barrel-seasoned as they were.)

Inej wasn’t sure if she ought to applaud him or smack him for the ridiculous charade, but either way, she was offered the opportunity to make a good show of distress, as well as concealing her expression in the crook of his neck, which was clearly the idea. 

And yet...

Inej tried her best to keep her cheek away from the exposed skin of Kaz’s neck, leaning instead against the thick wool of his coat, but it was almost impossible. She could feel the heat of his skin on her face, see the frantic thud of his pulse in his neck. There was tension rising across his shoulders. The leather of his gloves creaked on her waist.

“Ghezen protect us.” murmured one of the old women from the bar. “Who are they?”

“Slavers.” said one of the farmers in disgust, pulling down one of the men’s collars to expose the hawk tattoo. 

Several people spat, or made signs against evil. People shuffled closer to the chapel of Ghezen.

“In Lij?” said someone desperately. 

“Direct route to Ketterdam through here,” said the doctor someone had summoned, fiddling with the straps of his medical bag. “Perhaps they were wanting to lie low.”

“They couldn’t be from here, could they?”

“Monsters come from everywhere,” said Kaz. “Even Lij. Ketterdam just happens to help them... realise their potential.”

Several people chuckled weakly. Kaz did not. Inej risked a glance up, and found his bottomless black gaze was miles away. 

“But who killed them?” pressed someone.

The doctor used his foot to roll over the slavers Kaz had killed. Inej didn’t need to look to know what he’d find; a sound beating to one, and a gunshot to the side of the head.

“A gunshot wound to this man,” he said. “A beating here. And knife wounds to the others.” he shook his head. “Common weapons. Common methods. Seems likely they were assaulted by another group.”

“Horrible.” said Kaz, as if he didn’t witness, partake in, and encourage gang wars on the regular. Inej turned her snort into something slightly more distressed with moderate success, and Kaz moved his hand to her back. “I think we ought to go.”

“Stay vigilant.” the doctor told them as they began to move off. “The murderers may still be out there.”

“Of course,” said Kaz solemnly. “I never travel unarmed.”

That, at least, was true.


  Inej let go of him the second they were around the corner. 

“You didn’t need to do that.” she told him.

“Worked, didn’t it?” said Kaz gruffly, but his jaw was set tightly and he opened the cornershop door for her with far too much force. “Get what you need and then we’ll go. Stayed too long in this wretched town.”

He wasn’t exactly wrong. Lij had already presented more challenge than Inej had anticipated, if only in that it seemed to make Kaz incredibly disagreeable. Perhaps too much country air was distasteful when your mother was Ketterdam, who birthed you in the harbour. 

Jesper had never let that one go.

Inej followed Kaz into the shop and made a quick job of retrieving the hopje, eager to get to Belendt and then Ketterdam, to return the kids. Her ship was going to meet her at her berth in Fifth Harbour, and frankly, she’d be relieved to be on the sea, again. Kaz was wearing, when you hadn’t seen him for a while. Inej thought she should feel guilty for the sentiment, for wanting to be away from him so quickly, but Kaz didn’t really inspire guilt, at least not right now. He’d not seen her for months, and he was being just as surly with her as he’d been when she’d first known him. She would have blamed it on their close proximity a minute ago, had he not been like this all day...

“I’ll get them.” said Kaz tersely, emerging from around the shelf. Inej didn’t protest, tired of arguing with him. 

“I’ll wait outside.” she told him, and he nodded tersely as he moved towards the counter, where the elderly woman Inej had seen in the tavern last night was sitting. She seemed to be the only member of staff around.

It was only because Inej paused to look at the weather forecasts before she left, that she heard her say; 

“Goedemorgen, Kaz. Don’t think I don’t remember those shark’s eyes of yours.”

Inej’s head snapped up. How did she--

Hastily, she stepped behind the furthest shelf, peering through the gap as Kaz looked slowly down at the old lady. Inej’s heart sank, hoping desperately she wasn’t going to have to intervene in some altercation between Kaz and a senile old woman who inexplicably identified him--

“Hello, Ms Van Zijl.” said Kaz quietly. “I didn’t think you’d recognise me, now.”

Inej stayed where she was, standing quite still, suddenly sensing she was witnessing something unprecedented. Recognise me? Then Kaz-- he knew her?

Inej remembered the look on his face as the old woman had been led to her seat last night. He’d concealed it well, but it had been recognition, she realised now. A sort of tense mixture of recognition and anticipation. Had he thought she’d confront him there and then?

“Oh, don’t be ridiculous, I recognised you the second you came into the tavern.” scoffed Ms Van Zijl, counting kruge notes briskly. She seemed supremely unconcerned. Kaz had gone so tense it looked painful. His grip on his cane was desperate. “My eyesight isn’t what it was, but you’ve always sauntered like that, even if it is thrown off now. What happened to your leg? Some nefarious gang business in Ketterdam, I don’t doubt.”

Gang business? She knew… what? Everything?

Kaz’s throat bobbed. He looked just as baffled as Inej felt.

“Something like that.” he paused, then blurted; “Ms Van Zijl, how...”

Inej leaned forward, wanting the explanation. It was delivered with crisp impatience. 

“A few years ago, a Wanted poster in the Ketterdam papers. 100,000 kruge reward for a Kaz Brekker, who was a Dregs Lieutenant, apparently. Steep fee for a gang member. Must have done something simply implausible, to garner such value.” She glanced briefly at him. “It was a very poor likeness. But I knew. It made perfect sense. Running numbers, dealing cards, overseeing gambling halls. I knew my Kaz would have been a natural. I taught you to deal, didn’t I? And then I remembered the Johannus Rietveld who’d purchased the farm. A mysterious family member, living in Ketterdam.” she tutted. “None of the rest of the soft-brained villagers seemed to make the connection, but I did.”

Inej felt as if she was too slow to process any of this. My Kaz. Who was this woman? A grandmother? An aunt? His mother? But no, Kaz had addressed her politely, like an acquaintance. Then how did he know her?

“...I see.”

“Always so reticent, Kaz.” snorted the old woman. “You needn’t worry, I don’t intend on sharing the details of your criminal career.” her expression sobered. “And I won’t ask about your brother.”

Kaz stared at the counter and said nothing, but Lieke Van Zijl didn’t seem particularly surprised by his non-answer.

“Did you bring a lady home?” she asked shrewdly. “Don’t say no, I saw her. Pretty girl. Though you do seem to get on her nerves, some. Can’t imagine many girls would dare to glower at Dirtyhands like that.” 

Inej would have laughed, but one word had stuck out to her. Home?

I should leave, she thought. This didn’t feel like something Kaz would want her to overhear. At all. As it was, she’d already lingered too long…

She slipped towards the mercifully open door, turning over the new information in her mind, not wanting to hear Kaz’s response--

But as she stepped out, she heard Ms Van Zijl again;

“Well then, you must take some flowers…”


Kaz came outside not long afterwards. He handed her the bag without comment, but his expression was taut.

“Nothing you wanted?” asked Inej, trying to make neutral conversation--

“One thing.” said Kaz, and handed over a bunch of flowers.

Inej was so surprised she nearly dropped them. She’d thought he would scoff at Ms Van Zijl’s ribbing, spin her something about work associates and assassins and cons. Not play along, even if a small part of her had wanted him to…

And they were chamomile, too.

She looked up at him, baffled and half-wondering if this was part of some sort of elaborate scheme. 

“...thank you.”

Kaz shrugged, as if he’d meant nothing by it. Perhaps that would have been convincing from anyone else, but this was Kaz, and Kaz always meant something. 

Inej looked down at the flowers. They were brand new and pristine, clearly brought in this morning. 

Was it an apology?    

Inej didn’t press him, and he said no more, but there was a distinct tension to him as they headed back to the farm. She wanted to ask who Ms Van Zijl was, how he knew her, but she knew how undemonstrative Kaz was when it came to personal things, and this seemed very personal indeed.

They got back without incident, and Inej went to find Annaliese, leaving Kaz in the main hall to weather the glares of her Heartrenders, which he did without comment…

Except when she got back from fielding the gabbled thank you thank you they’re my favourite, Inej I’m thirteen now, that’s great right?, he was gone. 

She stopped on the stairs, and the question must have been evident. 

“Got up and left, not long after you went out,” said Maria immediately. “Didn’t say where he was going. Or much of anything, really.”

“Probably left to go and conduct more nefarious business on his way back to Ketterdam.” sniffed Katya. 

Inej nodded, but to her surprise, she found herself a little disappointed. Only twenty minutes ago, she had been wishing distance between herself and Kaz, but she’d still assumed he’d make the journey back to Ketterdam with her. Apparently she’d been wrong, or perhaps her irritation had been more apparent than she’d thought. Kaz always did seem to guess her feelings better than she’d like.

Trying to act as if this was nothing more than unaffecting information to her, Inej turned and made for the kitchen.


But as it turned out, Kaz hadn’t left after all. 

Inej had thought the fields around the back of the farmhouse were empty land, but that turned out not to be the case. Not quite. 

She’d caught sight of him out of the window, while looking for a vase for the flowers.

He was standing in the furthest corner of the field with his back to the farmhouse, still in his worker’s coat. What exactly he was doing wasn’t visible; as far as Inej could see, he was just standing there, looking down at something concealed by the long, uncut grass.

She was so surprised that he was still here, that she opened the back door and went straight over, not even bothering to put her flowers down. She crossed through the long grass, burrs sticking to her skirts, and approached him, following his gaze down--

It was a grave. 

Inej stopped. 

She should have known. 

She did know, really. She’d heard it said, but amongst other things...

“You were born here,” she said. Perhaps it was foolish of her to make accusations at Kaz, but who else apart from her dared to? “You lived in Lij, growing up.”

She had always been his best spider. He’d trained her that way, taught her to pass by unseen, gather the most illicit of information, the most scandalous of secrets. If he’d expected her to bypass this particular one, perhaps he ought not to have trained her quite so well. After all, she remembered, he’d practically told her himself, in the Church of Barter when he’d confronted Pekka Rollins. Seven years ago you ran a con on two boys from the south. Farm boys too stupid to know any better. And Rollins had recalled; two boys from Lij . In her horror at the supposed fate of Pekka’s son, she’d almost completely forgotten.

She looked back over at the farmhouse. Kaz owned it. He’d known an entrance they hadn’t found. He’d pointed her there, told her alternate paths to reach it. 

Did you bring a lady home?

Not just Lij, but…

“This is your childhood home.” she realised. “You bought it back, under a fake name.”

Kaz was silent, still, but it was all the confirmation she needed. Was this why he had come, then? Out of some strange sense of duty to his past?

Inej was silent for a while, sifting through this new information. She had never seriously considered what Kaz’s childhood could possibly have been like, at least not the bit before Ketterdam and Jordie’s death. It simply wasn’t something that felt like it should exist. Most people seemed to think Kaz had simply spawned a hard-eyed teenager in some alleyway and been a plague to Ketterdam’s streets ever since. One of the Razorgulls swore up and down that Brekker was born to a Hellgate prisoner and had been raised there for most of his early childhood. The more sensible theorists speculated that he was born in a particularly grim Ketterdam orphanage, or raised on the streets; anything to explain the hard-eyed, feral Dregs general who had seemingly come from nowhere.

Inej stepped forward to read the stone in front of Kaz.

LOTTE RIETVELD, 27

Mother, wife, daughter. May she rest forever in Ghezen’s sight.

 

Then, dated nine years later;

AND HER HUSBAND,

TOMAS RIETVELD, 36

May Ghezen rest their souls

And below that--

 

AND THEIR SONS,

JORDIE RIETVELD, 13

AND

KAZ RIETVELD, 9

Jordie and Kaz Rietveld.

The R on his bicep. Johannus Rietveld, the supposedly fictional Jurda farmer, the fake name Kaz had used to buy back this place.

What do you think my forgiveness looks like, Jordie?

Is Kaz Brekker your real name?

Real enough.

“Your family name is Rietveld.” said Inej quietly. She wasn’t sure why she felt the need to lower her voice, but there was something that felt tangibly fragile about this revelation, a thread about to snap. She peered at the headstone. Kaz’s mother had died young. She would guess during childbirth. Maybe even with Kaz himself. No elaboration on his father. 

But Jordie… 

Inej hoped Jesper knew. She thought Kaz owed him that, at the very least.

She looked at the last name. 

“But--”

Inej stopped. She had a sudden, sneaking suspicion that Kaz had gotten those last two names added himself, if only because of the lack of elaboration, or sentiment. 

“Kaz Rietveld is dead.” Kaz said shortly, anticipating the question.

Was he? Inej wasn’t sure. Perhaps Kaz Brekker really was someone new, built from nothing but harbour water and simmering spite, raised to conquer Ketterdam. Perhaps Kaz Brekker’s mother was Ketterdam and his father profit, in a manner of speaking. But Kaz Rietveld’s parents were here, on this headstone, and though he was listed alongside them, Inej wasn’t certain he was quite as banished as Kaz might like. 

But she knew that no matter what name he might use, there was no reality in which Kaz would want her sympathy, or her prayers. And though she raised her eyes for her saints anyway, she couldn’t help but wonder; what, then, had he come here for? Kaz was not one to face problems head on, not if he could help it. And returning to the town of his childhood, to the farm he’d grown up on, felt distinctly like something he would try to avoid. No wonder he’d been so brusque. 

Feeling slightly guilty for begrudging him for it, Inej looked down at the grave-- and something she’d said to Kaz in the tavern came back to her.

Why are you playing white knight, Kaz?

Lotte, Tomas, Jordie. She read the names one by one. 

Bring my brother back from the dead, Kaz had told Pekka Rollins. When Rollins had threatened him, his loved ones, he’d laughed in his face. The trick is not to love anything, Rollins. Had Kaz spoken true? Or was it just that he knew there was no one left to use as leverage?

...no one? Prompted some part of her. 

It seemed ridiculous that Kaz Brekker could have been moved to make such efforts out of concern for her. One of the first things he’d ever told her was that he couldn’t promise her safety. And yet she had never forgotten the promise he’d made her on Black Veil, under the willows. I would come for you.

This hadn’t been a hard job, or a particularly dangerous one. Most likely she and her crew and the children would have come out of the planned ambush alive, with the Wraith, two seasoned pirates and two Heartrenders against slaver thugs. But there was a risk, and Kaz didn’t like risks. Not when they could be eliminated. 

He hadn’t needed to do it. He certainly hadn’t needed to come all the way back to his fraught hometown for it. 

Inej looked down at their borrowed clothes, a respectable farming couple. At the bunch of flowers still in her hand. 

And at the fact that Kaz had taken his gloves off.

She could have said many things to him, but he was in a strange mood, one she’d never seen before. Perhaps it was best to leave them unsaid, at least right now. She knew, and he knew, and that was enough for the moment. 

So, instead she asked;

“Does Jesper know?” 

“Know what?” said Kaz gruffly.

“About Jordie.”

For a second, as Kaz’s expression struggled, she regretted asking. But then his face settled.

“...yes.”

“You told him?” Inej couldn’t hide her surprise, but Kaz didn’t react to it. 

“No.”

“Then he figured it out?”

“Wylan did.”

“...of course he did.” That didn’t really surprise her, she found. Wylan had the same uncanny ability to bluff and guess and ascertain as Kaz did. Perhaps he’d even learned it from him. Something Jesper had said to her, on her last visit to Ketterdam, surfaced. Something about having a heart to heart with Kaz over hutspot? She’d thought it was hyperbole, and Kaz had given that impression when she’d asked, but maybe he hadn’t exaggerated quite as much as she’d thought. 

Good, she thought. Jesper had always deserved more than casual indifference from Kaz. 

They stood for a moment longer. Then Inej said;

“Mrs Van Zijl knew you as a child?” she paused, then admitted; “I heard her say she’d recognised you.”

Kaz didn’t seem in the least bit surprised. He never stopped seeing her, did he?

“The townspeople think Mrs Van Zijl is senile.” he said blandly. He didn’t sound upset. He didn’t sound anything, much. 

“And what do you think, Kaz?”

“That she plays a very good hand of Three Man Bramble.”

“She taught you to gamble?”

“...Partially. When I was too young to go to school or the fields, she kept an eye on me.”

Not quite a mother, then, but not quite not one, either. 

No wonder he’d looked so spooked when he saw her in the tavern.

They stood in silence, for a moment.

“I think I understand, now.” Inej told him. Kaz didn’t really react, but Inej saw his gaze flick towards her, then back. She paused. “I was too harsh on you.”

Kaz shook his head. 

“No,” he said. “You weren’t.”

Then, without warning, he turned and limped away, making for a tree on the edge of the field. Inej lingered for a moment longer. 

Then she followed him, silent even over the long grass.


They sat under the tree for a while. Inej didn’t question it. She picked ladybirds from her skirts and watched magpies stab at the berries on the hedgerow nearby. Kaz didn’t say much. Inej was used to a certain amount of silence from him, but this was getting unnerving.

She looked back at the grave in the distance, then down at the flowers.

“I feel like I should leave these. For them.”

“What use do they have for flowers?” said Kaz. “They’re dead.”

Pragmatic to the point of callousness, even in such a strange situation as this. Never change, Kaz, thought Inej wryly. But all she said was;

“It’s about the sentiment.”

“I bought them for you,” said Kaz. Inej turned her gaze on him, incredulous. 

“...did Kaz Brekker just admit to buying me flowers? No excuse? No ulterior motive or scheme?”

Kaz frowned, and Inej had to admit, she was relieved some of his rancour seemed to be coming back to him. The blank, distant expression had been void of his usual calculating severity, and it had frightened her, a little. Perhaps she enjoyed Kaz’s grumpiness more than she’d thought. Maybe enjoyed was the wrong word. Tolerated, perhaps. Was accustomed to.

“I felt I ought to indulge Ms Van Zijl,” he said.

“Oh?” prodded Inej. “What did she say?” She knew full well what Ms Van Zijl had said, of course, but she wasn’t above shamelessly pretending otherwise. Any suggestion of fleeting affection from Kaz was a triumph.

Kaz shot her a look that suggested he knew full well he was being led on, but to Inej’s amazement, he indulged her.

“She suggested I buy flowers for my sweetheart.”

Inej couldn’t stop her lips curling upwards. She’d not heard that. 

“For your sweetheart.”

Kaz looked out over the field.

“I believe that was the wording, yes.”

“And what did Ms Van Zijl recommend you buy for your sweetheart?”

Kaz looked at his boots.

“She didn’t.” he said. “She asked me what... what your favourites were.”

Inej didn’t comment on the sudden choice to address her directly. She weighed the bunch of flowers in her hand.

“And did you know what your sweetheart’s favourite flower was, Kaz?”

Kaz didn’t look at her, but he also didn’t hesitate when he said;

“I said it was chamomile.” he paused. “The type with the longer petals.”

Dirtyhands knows everything, Annaliese had whispered. Inej sometimes wondered if that really was true, if Kaz simply had to know every detail about everything he encountered, or if he simply retained information ridiculously easily. But whatever the explanation, Inej didn’t know why she’d even bothered to grill him. She’d known the second he’d handed them over that the choice hadn’t been luck. Kaz could barely pick a tie without a hidden intention. He would not have done something like this so idly. 

But still…

Inej hid her smile in her hood. 

“And why’s that?” 

“Because they’re practical, not just pretty,” said Kaz instantly. “They can be used in medicine. And cooking. And they grow in most places, and people mistake them for daisies, so… so you think they’re overlooked.”

Inej wasn’t even sure if she’d ever outright told Kaz all of that, or whether he’d simply assembled the knowledge from offhand comments over the years. 

She considered telling him about her father’s test, but she didn’t think she ought to. More likely she’d just embarrass him, and he’d turn curmudgeonly to compensate. Perhaps he’d sensed it anyway, that this was some sort of trial he was expected to pass. It would explain why he was avoiding her gaze.

“Kaz,” she said. Kaz glanced very briefly at her. “Thank you. They are my favourite.”

The hard line of Kaz’s mouth relaxed, just slightly.

“I know,” he said, a touch of his classic arrogance returning, then abruptly fading. He looked across at the grave, and his brow creased. “You should keep them.” He hesitated, and then amended his statement. “...I want you to keep them.”

Well, then. Inej carefully rewound the ribbon around the stems. 

“That’s all you had to say, Kaz.”

“So I don’t get in trouble with Ms Van Zijl, of course,” said Kaz drolly.

Inej sighed, but there was no actual disappointment in it. What did it matter if Kaz made a sardonic attempt at covering his tracks? Inej had already heard it all.  

“Of course.” she said. “What other reason would there be?”

“None, I’m sure.” Kaz checked his watch, then stood gingerly, avoiding putting too much weight on his bad leg, and looked down at his wooden cane with distinct disdain, clearly missing his normal one. “We should get going.”

So he was coming back with them. Inej knew that it was just going to annoy her crew members and terrify the Kerch children… but she was still glad. 

Kaz looked down at his gloves in his pocket, but he didn’t put them back on. 

Not until after he’d offered her his bare hand to help her up, anyway.

It was something. It was all something. He’d come to help, and he’d bought her flowers. He’d bought the sweets for Annaliese, given her access to his childhood home as a safehouse, remained stoic in the street with her so close to him, let her stand at his family’s grave beside him. Why had she doubted him? She should have known better. Kaz was never to be underestimated. 

They went back to the farmhouse side by side, and just before they reached the back door, Kaz stopped, looking up at one of the windows. Inej peered after him.

“Is that the attic room? We couldn’t get in.”

“No,” said Kaz. “It wouldn’t have been useful, anyway.”

“What’s in there? There was some carving on the door, but it was shallow and we couldn’t read it very well.”

A J, an E, a K and an A, scattered in bizarre places, had been all they’d been able to decipher.

“You wouldn’t be able to,” said Kaz, carefully neutral. “My writing skills weren’t excellent as a five year old, and they weren’t made much better by attempts at engraving.”

Inej’s stomach sank. It hadn’t occurred to her to wonder why they’d only found one bedroom. 

“It wasn’t…”

“Our childhood bedroom? Yes. It was.”

The letters. Jordie and Kaz. 

Kaz took a deep breath.

“If you want--”

“It’s alright.” Inej told him, anticipating what he was about to offer. “We don’t need it. You can leave it.” She thought he’d done enough, for today. “If you want to go in, I’ll get everyone else out--”

But Kaz shook his head immediately.

“No. Maybe… maybe another day.”

Would there be another day? Inej didn’t know.  

“Fine.” she said. “It’s fine.”

They re-entered the kitchen in silence. 

“...your writing still isn’t good, now.” Inej said, in an attempt at levity. Kaz frowned at her. 

“What’s wrong with my writing?”

“It’s quite… spidery.”

“We can’t all learn copperplate.” sniffed Kaz, but he looked a little less grim. “Can read it, can’t you?” 

“Just about. Have to focus quite hard.”

“Means you’ll actually pay attention to what I write, then.”

“I always pay attention, Kaz.”

Kaz nearly smiled when he said;

“I know.”


And yet, Inej should have known leaving Kaz with the children as she went to pay the conductor was a bad idea. 

Not a bad idea, not in the sense that it was seriously distressing, but in that it was awkward at best and chaotic at worst...

Even from far away, she could see the expressions on everyone’s faces-- Kaz carefully neutral, the others ranging from baffled to wary. Muttering curses, Inej sped up, just in time to hear;

“The Saints say you shouldn’t get in fights.” 

Clearly they’d noticed the bruise from where the first mercenary had swung at him, or the increased intensity of his limp. Kaz stretched out his bad leg, and Inej wondered if he was inclined to agree with the Saints upon this occasion. Not that he would ever say so, even if that was the case. 

“I gather the Saints say not to do a lot of things.” he said.

Expressions creased in confusion. 

“Don’t you worship the Saints?” asked one of the Ravkan girls.

“No.” said Kaz shortly.

“Then you worship Ghezen?” 

Katya snorted. “I don’t think Brekker worships anything except himself.”

Kaz ignored her. But still, this didn’t seem to compute with the cluster of younger, pious Suli and Ravkan kids. They stared between Kaz and Inej, trying to understand how Inej could be connected with an impious man. The older Kerch children didn’t look particularly surprised, but they did look nervous.

“I like to keep my options open,” said Kaz. Inej recognised the lingering tone of irony, but everyone else seemed to take him completely seriously.

“As if any form of the afterlife would take you,” sniffed Maria. 

“Hell might take him back.” grumbled Katya. Kaz considered this. 

“Perhaps not. I must have done something truly terrible to have been kicked out in the first place.”

Inej sometimes wondered if Kaz would have done well on the stage. He was obsessed with playing to crowds.

But the youngest kids looked petrified, and Inej decided to intervene. 

“All fine.” she said. “We’ll stop at Belendt in about an hour.”

“Can we throw Brekker overboard before then?” sniffed Katya.

Though Inej didn’t know if he could swim, she was fairly sure Kaz would probably find some way to come crawling back anyway, even if it was out of pure spite.

Mercifully, Kaz just ignored her, and stood to go and lean on the rail at the other end of the boat. The Kerch children looked relieved. 

“Kaz.” said Inej, following him to the rail as something occurred to her. “Your pockets are jingling.” 

“Are they.” said Kaz mildly. 

“You can’t just have a watch and a few coins in there.”

“Are you so sure?”

“...please don’t say you pickpocketed the people of Lij.”

Kaz shrugged idly. 

“You’d think it would pay to be vigilant even when you’re not in Ketterdam, but apparently the good people of Lij don’t agree.”

“You can’t rob the people of your hometown!” hissed Inej, aghast.

“They said they wanted to experience Ketterdam. And what’s more Ketterdam than someone picking your pocket?”

“Tell me you left Ms Van Zijl out of it.”

“I wasn’t willing to put off a future patron of my establishments,” said Kaz. Inej looked at him in surprise. 

“You invited her?”

“I suggested that if she were to visit the Crow Club, it was possible that Dirtyhands might personally deal a few hands for her table.”

“...so you promised to control the deck to win her money?”

“I believe you said it’s about the sentiment, Wraith.”

“Not with you, it’s not.” Inej told him firmly. 

Kaz grunted in vague assent. His veneer of disinterest and disdain was mostly back in place, but there was a glimmer of that strange melancholy still lurking. Inej suspected this trip had weighed heavy on him. 

“You didn’t have to come.” she told him. She knew why he had, or at least suspected she knew. But she thought she ought to tell him anyway.

Kaz gazed at the canal water beneath the boat. It was getting distinctly murkier as they approached Ketterdam. Inej couldn’t say she’d missed the persistent grime.

“Messengers are unreliable.” he said. “And I didn’t want to deprive you of the satisfaction of killing them yourself. But at the same time, why let you have all the fun?”

Of course he would think that killing slavers counted as fun.  

“Surprised you could bring yourself to do something that could be perceived as righteous.”

“I’m full of surprises, sweet Inej.”

He was being glib, but he was also right, Inej supposed. He really was. 

“And murder is murder, after all.” Kaz paused. “Also, they tried to cheat my tables. Weighted the spin of Makkers Wheel. Sorry bastards thought I wouldn’t notice.”

Inej groaned. Kaz made a noise that could almost have passed for a laugh.

“I forget how terrible you are.” she told him. 

“I’ll make it my mission to remind you, then.”

“Don’t worry, having to be around you for more than ten minutes has made me remember in vivid detail.”

“Am I such a personality?”

“I hear you’re quite infamous.”

“So do I, funnily enough.”

Inej grinned at him, and was almost embarrassed by the weight of her relief when he smirked back.


Katya and Maria disembarked at Belendt with about half of the children. They clung to her and repeated thanks over and over again, telling her she’d be blessed by every god and saint across the True Sea, promising to write and tell her about their schooling and their families, and Annaliese had ever suggested she ought to become a Saint. Inej watched them until the boat rounded a bend and she could see them no longer. 

“Sankta Inej?” repeated Kaz, as she rejoined him at the rail. Inej shook her head wryly. 

“Blasphemy, but it was well-meant.” she looked over at him. “Why? Would my canonization make the infamously impious Kaz Brekker a man of religion at last?”

She’d expected him to laugh, or at least give some flippant response about the ineffectiveness of religion, but he didn’t. Kaz just gazed at her, for a long moment. Then turned his face away. 

“I think I’d have to spend the rest of my life, and most of the next, doing penance,” he said. “I’m a busy man. I don’t have time to embark on a quest for atonement. Money to be made. Pigeons to be fleeced.”

Inej laughed, but she kept her eyes on him, even though he was facing away.

For a moment then, he’d seemed to seriously consider it. 


They arrived in Ketterdam with no incident, thankfully. Inej tipped her head back as they waited for the gangplank to be lowered, drinking in the crooked, leaning buildings of the city, the sharp tang of coalsmoke and the hiss of the sea against the quays. A line of crows were perched on a rooftop nearby, feathers ruffled by the wind of the docks.

She nudged Kaz, pointing them out. 

“Welcoming committee?”

Kaz nearly smiled. 

“Perhaps they’re glad to see their reliable food source.”

Inej, who knew full well Kaz had been feeding them so often they’d taken to following him around, just smiled. He’d claim it was a business move, extending the influence and intimidation of his gang. But she knew why he really did it.

He hovered at a distance as she gathered the remaining children and hustled them down the gangplank, organised her crew with their orders. She’d never seen so many people look so happy to be in Ketterdam. Inej was half convinced Adam was going to kiss the filthy quay cobbles. She’d escort each of them home, and she’d probably need to stay in Kerch for at least a few weeks, to dissuade any ideas that anyone might get about getting their claws into them again--

“What’s this?” said Kaz from behind her. Inej heard him lay on a lilt that implied a Kaelish accent and was immediately listening hard, wondering why he was trying to sound like an outsider--

“Just a welcome pamphlet, sir, courtesy of the Merchant Council. We distribute them to all new arrivals unfamiliar with Ketterdam. If you look, here--” there was the sound of paper being flipped-- “--see this man? We warn every tourist to stay away from him. Kaz Brekker. Notorious conman and crook. Scammer. Murderer. Everything, really.”

“Oh, I see, I see. Quite the villain, then?”

“Absolutely. Never lose track of your wallet, especially around the Crow Club.”

“I shall be sure to remain on my guard,” said Kaz earnestly. Inej turned away so no one would see her laugh, but as she did so, she caught sight of a group of teenagers looking at a map of the city.

“--Crow Club’s there, if we go down here on the way back to the boarding house we can go past the Slat--”

“This tells us to avoid Brekker, though?”

“Who cares? He’s not gonna bash our skulls in just for going to his clubs, he wants our money. And Bentje says he’s actually even better looking than the sketch.”

There was a clamour, and heads bent over the pamphlet.

“Ooh.” 

“Well, then…”

“Onwards!”

They went hustling off in a giddy group, laughing, and Inej looked over at Kaz, who had clearly been listening.

“Is this your new tactic?”

Kaz leaned nonchalantly on his cane.  

“Sometimes the rumour mill simply produces... unexpected benefits.”

Apparently, Inej thought as they went their separate ways, even Dirtyhands wasn’t without personal vanity. 


They met back up later, after Inej had seen all the children safely home. She dropped silently from the rooftops to land at his side as they made their way to the Van Eck mansion. Inej didn’t know if they were invited, or even if Jesper and Wylan knew she was back in the city, but she knew they’d be welcomed anyway, despite Kaz’s ever-constant surliness. He was back in his black coat and hat, the correct cane reclaimed. 

“All gone according to plan?” he asked. 

“They’re all back safely.” Inej told him. Kaz nodded slowly.

“Then you’re off again, soon?”

He tried to make it sound casual, but there was a strain to his voice. Inej looked nonchalantly forwards.

“Well,” she said. “Actually, I thought I might stay a little longer.”

“What, a week?”

“Try three.”

Kaz tried so hard to control his expression, he really did. Not that it worked particularly well, but he tried nonetheless. 

“Have I been missed, Kaz?” asked Inej innocently. Kaz furiously reconstructed his expression into careful neutrality. 

“Your absence has been… noted.”

“Noted in what way?”

But for once, Kaz was saved from attempting an answer, because a window on the second floor of the Van Eck mansion slammed abruptly open.

Jesper’s head popped out, looking comically surprised. 

“KAZ!” he shouted. “When I said bring me a present back from Lij, I was expecting something like a snowglobe! WHERE DID YOU FIND INEJ?”

Of course Kaz hadn’t told them. 

Inej smiled widely at Jesper, who looked beyond baffled. 

“They don’t do snowglobes.” said Kaz.