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Ash and Decay (Third Book in the Six of Crows Duology) (Fan-Made)
Part One: An Empty Cup
Rowan felt great. He had just started profiting on his small sweetshop near The West Stave and he had people begging for more of his famous honey from a small farm off the cold, harsh borders of Ravka. The trip was miserable as he was looking for potential suppliers but the farm itself was more valuable than any other of his investments. It was owned by a small and stout farmer who was weathered by the blistering winds and frostbiting cold.
Now he could sit back and enjoy the pull and the sound of kruge being slipped into his vault. Of course there was the taxpayers coming in for the rent of the building and other less pleasant things like a visits from his less friendly sister and her ravenously hungry appetite to devour his newfound self-made fortune.
A large bang knocked on his door. The taxes he owed weren’t due for another week! Rowan heaved himself out of his Grisha fabrikated chair that helped his aching back. Another crash broke the suspenseful silence as he crept towards the old, dank cottage door he stayed in when his business was on ‘break’ for renovations. In fact it was actually because he needed to certify his illegal citizen passport before his business got too big.
However that was already taken care of as one of his more wealthy friends managed to find a passport forger somewhere in the west-stave trapped beneath a illegal contract with the Razorgulls one of the lesser but still frightening gangs that prowled Ketterdam mercilessly.
Rowan crept to the door and opened it creeping his gaze to the side and finding that nothing was there. He swear he heard the distinct rapping of knuckles on his doorframe that only his taxpayer rhythmically did.
Grumbling and muttering, he dragged his overweight body towards the comfort of his seat. Halfway there the same distinct rapping of the thin, wooden door echoed throughout the cottage once more. “I swear, if that’s you Howard!” the overweight shop-owner bellowed. It was a empty threat but it still might make Howard, the tax collector, think twice about constantly interrupting and annoying the short, but huge sweet-shop owner.
He turned and stumbled toward the door angrily preparing to find the tall, lean, figure of Howard standing looking down on him as a lesser person. As he swung open the door, as he expected Rowan stood over him with a drowsy and weary expression.
Suddenly and to his horror he realised Howard had no eyes, just empty sockets that lead a trail of deep crimson blood down his cheeks. “H- Howard?” the heavy man was shivering now frightened by this horror-show on his tax collector’s face.
The Taxcollecter’s body was covered in bloody wounds that stained his buttoned vest with long, drooping, crimson splotches. The figure came forward slow at first then with more speed and control of his bloodily wounded body. Rowan tried to run away put the creaking floorboards in his damp cottage had turned upwards. He tripped and fell on his face breathing heavy in sputtering gasps to get up and run as far away as possible.
Howard or what used to be Howard came forward facing the turned over Rowan. His eyes were a empty void of pitch black. He knelt towards the shop-owner and his head turned down. Howard bite into Rowan’s leg, just below his cotton shorts and with a slurping swish, thick crimson blood burst through Rowan’s, now wounded, thigh.
Rowan was screaming in pain as the corpse-like figure bit harder and deeper into his flesh. Then suddenly, as if hearing a command the corpse drew his head up like he was hearing a melody or tune he enjoyed nostalgically. A figure covered in black, shadowed robes approached.
In his last concious moments, Rowan heard the figure speak. Only four terrifying sweet words: “I am Nina Zenik”.
Inej was enjoying a great day. She and Kaz had successfully closed the Menagerie down for good and they had brought slaver ships from all around Ketterdam to the bottom of the unforgiving sea. Kaz was happier. At least she thought. She prayed for him every day and hoped for a better future for the broken boy she had come to love.
He was still Kaz Brekker though and therefore he could only change so much. He had become the boss of the barrel but she felt sorry for him as his life was filled with gold and not friends. Jesper and Wylan lived out on the country near one of the more favourable isles near Ketterdam. Her parents were currently staying with them as well and they seemed happy but cautious of the group Inej called family.
She needed to find Nina to see what she was up to. She missed her and her ravenous appetite and her bright, humorous attitude. The Crow Club’s attitude was nothing but dark and dust with only slender stacks of kruge being placed, traded, and exchanged throughout the compound. Her heart was aimed true and she knew it, so why did something feel so wrong?
She was currently perched above on a roof of a crumbling but still sturdy pleasure house that was closed for the passing season due to renovations. She peered over, looking down on a exchange between one of the lesser gangs in Ketterdam known as the Razorgulls and the Dregs themselves.
One of the main members had recently had his share of violence and dirty-work and therefore took a boat to escape his dreadful job. His named rung through Inej’s head like a siren: Geels. The old fool wasn’t very smart and often was tricked and broken by Kaz Brekker’s ruthless plans and ideas. She didn’t feel bad for him though. He would gladly kill Kaz and Inej if he could get away with it.
However, recently a new gang member showed up to replace him. The gang suddenly became a more powerful threat. Money started pouring in and people were talking about this new recruit. Kaz had immediately sent her to oversee the exchange information between him and some of the Dregs meeting the new foe and his bodyguards but Inej knew he was only there to observe and make some sense of the possible threat to his throne as barrel boss in Ketterdam.
Kaz was having a miserable day. First, the Crow Club was getting less and less busy everyday. Each pigeon felt lighter and lighter and there was profit but not a lot of it. This was partially because he had been doing renovations in the Crow Club over the past year but customers were still scarce.
Finally, Kaz had found that a upstart member joined the Razorgulls higher ranks and he and his associates were gaining, in profit, even more than him. He met the gang in the square of The Exchange, the main market for stocks and trades in all of Ketterdam. To make matters worse, the Razorgulls’s, supposedly ‘secret weapon’ was a mere boy younger than himself.
Before approaching the stark-white haired boy he took inventory of the body language, expression, mood, and clothing of the opposing members. The clear leader was the boy with white hair and he had a black, studded leather coat with some sort of fluff or fuzzy fur on the lapel of the jacket.
His eyes were a bright blue and piercing and his expression was smug and determined with no sign of fear or nervousness showing. Interesting, Kaz thought. This boy might be a actual opponent. It wasn’t for sure though he thought. He could just be acting.
He chose to bring no guards with him because he and the boy arranged to meet alone. Kaz set his weapon, a twisting grey-gold engraved flintlock that was extremely sturdy but also very light and it was easy to carry. He, of course, still brought his wicked and blunt crow-headed cane. The whispers around the Barrel told of how the cane cracked a uncountable amount bones, bruised nasty purple welts on the skin, and cut deep slices across enemies’s the using the glistening, sharp beak of the insidious black crow on it’s top.
To Kaz it was more than a weapon and a tool, it brought comfort to his limping leg but it also brought fear to his enemies and allies alike. People feared that cane and therefore that fear created obedience and ensured commitment in the Dregs. Once each person was disarmed and checked, Kaz continued to walk towards the central meeting point where him and the boy would meet.
As he got closer he realised the boy might be older than he looked from a distance. The boy no longer looked so much as a boy but a man who’s features still had a younger tint and shape across his face. He looked about Kaz’s age, maybe even older.
When they got in arm’s length of each other the young man reached out his hand in a customary gesture of greeting. Carefully observing, he took the hand and shook it, surprising finding a rough, blistered surface that could only be a result of a life in the country.
“So then…” Kaz’s voice scraped across the streets. “Do you know who I am?” He asked.
The boy smiled once, showing a strange kindness washed across his young features. Kaz looked everywhere across the face and found he could not find that the boy was insincere in his expression. Puzzled and intrigued, Kaz waited for the boy to answer.
His voice was sweet, almost melodious and it flowed Kerch as a native with a tinge of the Southern Isles.
“Yes, you are Kaz Brekker, King of the Barrel, owner of more than half of all the betting houses in Ketterdam. Do you know me?” He said reversing the same question in a strange politeness that was never usually heard from the Kerch.
“I have to say I don’t. Your Kerch aren’t you. Spoke like a native with a twinge of the Southern Isles maybe?” Kaz answered and brought another question forward to keep the pace up with the white-haired boy.
“No. No, not Kerch, or the southern isles…” he responded carefully with a smug smirk.
“Where then?’ Kaz snapped a harsher tone getting impatient and annoyed by the smug and arrogant nature of this white-haired boy.
“I have come farther than your map’s discern” he responded with no smile this time. “Off the coast of the Southern Isles there is a ship that is mine. It has travelled very far and it has reached the island almost by mistake” he continued. “My crew is dead, my ship’s supplies faded away. I had to sell her to travel here” he said with a twinge of recognisable regret on is face as if he rather be a Grisha in the Ice Court.
“Oh, pity you… who cares. What are you doing here then frosty? You join a lesser gang to direct my customers away. You intercept a shipment of my Jurda. What do you hope to gain? Because believe me…” Kaz’s voice went into a deeper almost primal growl-like scrape.
“You will find only pain, a bullet in your head, and a hundred, no, a thousand shattered bones. I’ll dye your snow hair red with blood and let you die alone unable to move or get help. Alone forever…” He said letting rage drip into his voice and copy the a melody-like tune.
Alone forever... the words reverberated coldly against the paved brick-laid square of The Exchange. He looked at the boy and found his expression turned to absolute fear and terror. Kaz enjoyed it gladly, taking it as if taking a sweet candy from a small helpless child and soaking in the white-haired boy’s sudden loss of arrogance and words.
This wasn’t what Kaz originally expected though. He expected a challenge, maybe even a opponent but all he got was a whining, trembling boy with frost-coloured hair and no spine to stand on. True, he had taken out a possible opponent but it seem far too easy and Kaz wanted a challenge.
Maybe not as hard as The Ice Court job but something to keep his mind from turning into useless mush like all the other Dregs and gang members had already.
He looked up towards the roof and nodded towards he knew where Inej was. He turned his back and walked away the other street’s in sudden silence. Only the tap of Kaz’s cane echoed through the night of The Exchange.
Jesper missed Ketterdam. He missed Inej. He missed Nina. He even missed Kaz. Maybe not too much though. He sat watching Wylan play the flute in front of him. A melancholy of soft whispering notes filled the air but to be honest Jesper missed the polluted air of Ketterdam and the rumbling and grumbling that took place in it’s streets.
A while ago, Wylan let Jesper play with the markets. It turned out more than good in some cases. In fact Jesper had made the Van Eck fortune blossom. However, he wanted action. His prized, pearled revolvers were put away into a uncrackable safe. Jesper made sure of that because he knew that any other safe would be cracked and opened by Kaz Brekker, the ruthless barrel boss.
Once Wylan Van Eck’s tunes whistled to a end he looked up to face Jesper and his brows curved in a arc.
“What’s up Jes?” He asked softly.
“Nothing, just thinking” Jesper responded trying to mask his surprised expression. Wylan just laughed, a high pitch squeal of delight.
“That’s dangerous” He retorted. Then his brows furrowed with a deeper concern.
“Your thinking of them?” he asked.
No point in hiding it now Jesper thought. “Yeah, I am. I wonder what or who Inej is hunting down, I wonder what Nina is devouring and I wonder what mischievous, dark schemes Kaz has cooked up.
Wylan smiled with nostalgia. He’d been thinking somewhat, the same thing. “Never bored in Ketterdam are we?” He asked rhetorically.
Even though Jesper knew it was a rhetorical question a slight nod broke his forward gaze towards the earthy state owned by the Van Eck family. Ever since they pulled off The Ice Court job everything seemed quiet and non-exciting.
Compared to the danger involved in the job however sitting and relaxing in a vast mountainous estate in the sun was no contest to escaping danger and death every second, but still...
He wondered if Kaz was prospering as always. If Inej was hidden in shadows and feared in light. If Nina still helped the Grisha cause and remembered her now deceased bulky Fjerdan partner, Matthias Helvar. He missed them. He should visit them soon to check up on the Dregs and his other less ruthless but just as cunning friends at the Barrel...