Ketterdam: a bustling hub of international trade where anything can be had for the right price--and no one knows that better than criminal prodigy Kaz Brekker. Kaz is offered a chance at a deadly ...(more)
Nina recognised him instantly. Every night of the past year, she had fallen asleep thinking of Matthias' face. There was no mistaking the gilded brows, the sharp cut of his cheekbones. But Kaz hadn't lied: Matthias was much changed. The boy who looked back at the crowd with fury in his eyes was a stranger.
Nina remembered the first time she'd seen Matthias in a moonlit Kaelish wood. His beauty had seemed unfair to her. In another life, she might have believed he was coming to rescue her, a shining saviour with golden hair and eyes the pale blue of northern glaciers. But she'd known the truth of him by the language he spoke, and by the disgust on his face every time his eyes lighted on her. Matthias Helvar was a dr?skelle, one of the Fjerdan witchhunters tasked with hunting down Grisha to face trial and execution, though to her he'd always resembled a warrior Saint, illuminated in gold.
Now he looked like what he truly was: a killer. His bare torso seemed hewn from steel, and though she knew it wasn't possible, he seemed bigger, as if the very structure of his body had changed. His skin had been gilded honey; now it was fish-belly white beneath the grime. And his hair - he'd had such beautiful hair, thick and golden, worn long in the way of Fjerdan soldiers. Now, like the other prisoners, his head had been shaved, probably to prevent lice. Whichever guard had done it had made a mess of the job. Even from this distance, she could see the cuts and nicks on his scalp, and little strips of blond stubble in the places the razor had missed. And yet, he was beautiful still.
He glared at the crowd and gave the wheel a hard spin that nearly knocked it off its base.
Tick tick tick tick. Snakes. Tiger. Bear. Boar. The wheel ticked merrily along, then slowed and finally stopped.
"No," Nina said when she saw where the needle was pointing.
"It could be worse," said Muzzen. "Could have landed on the desert lizard again."
She grabbed Kaz's arm through his cloak and felt his muscles tense. "You have to stop this."
"Let go of me, Nina." His gravel-rough voice was low, but she sensed real menace in it.
She dropped her hand, "Please, you don't understand. He--"
"If he survives, I'll take Matthias Helvar out of this place tonight, but this part is up to him."
Nina gave a frustrated shake of her head. "You don't get it."
The guard unbolted Matthias' shackles, and as soon as the chains dropped into the sand, he leaped onto the ladder with the announcer to be lifted to safety. The crowd screamed and stamped. But Matthias stood silent, unmoving, even when the gate opened, even when the wolves charged out of the tunnel - three of them snarling and snapping, tumbling over one another to get to him.
At the last second, Matthias dropped into a crouch, knocking the first wolf into the dirt, then rolling right to pick up the bloodied knife the previous combatant had left in the sand. He sprang to his feet, blade held out before him, but Nina could sense his reluctance. His head was cocked to one side, and the look in his blue eyes was pleading, as if he was trying to engage the two wolves circling him in some silent negotiation. Whatever the plea might have been, it went unheard. The wolf on the right lunged. Matthias crouched low and spun, lodging his knife in the wolf's belly. It gave a miserable yelp, and Matthias seemed to shudder at the sound. It cost him precious seconds. The third wolf was on him, knocking him to the sand. Its teeth sank into his shoulder. He rolled, taking the wolf with him. The wolf's jaws snapped, and Matthias caught them. He wrenched them apart, the muscles of his arms flexing, his face grim. Nina squeezed her eyes shut. There was a sickening crack. The crowd roared.
Matthias kneeled over the wolf. Its jaw was broken, and it lay on the ground twitching in pain. He reached for a rock and slammed it hard into the poor animal's skull. It went still and Matthias' shoulders slumped. The people howled, stomping their feet. Only Nina knew what this was costing him, that he'd been a dr?skelle. Wolves were sacred to his kind, bred for battle like their enormous horses. They were friends and companions, fighting side by side with their dr?skelle masters.
The first wolf had recovered and was circling. Move, Matthias, she thought desperately. He got to his feet, but his movements were slow, weary. His heart wasn't in this fight. His opponents were grey wolves, rangy and wild, but cousins to the white wolves of the Fjerdan north. Matthias had no knife, only the bloody rock in his hand, and the remaining wolf prowled the arena between him and the pile of weapons. The wolf lowered its head and bared its teeth.
Matthias dove left. The wolf lunged, sinking its teeth into his side. He grunted, and hit the ground hard. For a moment, Nina thought he might simply give in and let the wolf take his life. Then he reached out, hand scrabbling through the sand, searching for something. His fingers closed over the shackles that had bound his wrists.
He seized them, looped the chain across the wolf's throat, and pulled, the veins in his neck cording from the strain. His bloody face was pressed against the wolf's ruff, his eyes tightly shut, his lips moving. What was he saying? A dr?skelle prayer? A farewell?
The wolf's hind legs scrabbled at the sand. Its eyes rolled, frightened whites showing bright against its matted fur. A high whine rose from its chest. And then it was over. The creature's body stilled. Both fighters lay unmoving in the sand. Matthias kept his eyes closed, his face still buried in the creature's fur.
The crowd thundered its approval. The ladder was lowered, and the announcer sprang down, hauling Matthias to his feet and grabbing his wrist to raise his hand in victory. The announcer gave him a little nudge, and Matthias lifted his head. Nina caught her breath.
Tears streaked the dirt on Matthias' face. The rage was gone, and it was like some flame had gone out with it. His north sea eyes were colder than she'd ever seen them, empty of feeling, stripped of anything human at all. This was what Hellgate had done to him. And it was her fault.
The guards took hold of Matthias again, pulling the shackles from the wolf's throat and clapping them back on his wrists. As he was led away, the crowd chanted its disapproval, clamouring "More!
"Where are they taking him?" Nina asked, voice trembling.
"To a cell to sleep off the fight," Kaz said.
"Who will see to his injuries?"
"They have mediks. We'll wait to make sure he's alone."
I could heal him, she thought. But a darker voice rose in her, rich with mocking. Not even you can be that foolish, Nina. No Healer can cure that boy. You made sure of it.
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