Nina slashed her hand through the air, snapping both of the Druskelle's necks in one fell swoop. Their bodies hit the ground with a dull thump. There had only been two, and Nina had never been so grateful for the low number. In her current condition, she wasn't sure how many she could have taken down.

And any Druskelle left alive would have finished the job and killed her.

Instead she was leaning against the wall in a dirty alley with a knife wound in her side, courtesy of the Druskelle at her feet..

To be fair, she should have seen them coming.

She'd been trained to spot Druskelle's since she first started classes at the Little Palace. Rare was the Druskelle that knew how to hide and blend in with the crowds.

And if Nina was being honest, she wasn't that surprised at the situation. It was just her luck that the two Druskelle in Ketterdam would not only recognize her and be stupid enough to confront her, but also have enough skill to sneak up and stab her before she could react.

But the fact was, she hadn't seen them coming and now she was paying for it.

If Zoya was there, Nina knew she would have taken this opportunity to give Nina a lesson on all the ways she'd failed.

Nina apsently wondered what Zoya would choose this time. Would she choose Nina's inability to go unseen that led the Druskelle to spotting her in the first place? Or perhaps Zoya would point out that Nina should have been paying better attention to her surroundings. Nina's personal favorite was that Zoya would insult her choice in partner. Would the Druskelle have even recognized her as Nina Zenik if she wasn't infamous among their ranks for decimating an entire squadron of Druskelle on the docks after the job at the Ice Court and turning one of their loyal soldiers, Matthias Hevlar, against the Druskelle?

Nina looked down at her gut, watching the blood spill between her fingers as her vision darkened at the edges.

The alley floor was already being coated in blood, her blood.

Nina lifted her hands from the wound. Her hands shook as she tried to call her abilities to heal herself. The wound started to knit itself together. It was a slow, painful process, but it was working.

Too early, her power gave out.

The resulting wound was smaller, but blood continued to sluggishly pour from the wound.

It wasn't enough for her to consider herself healed, but she hoped it was enough that she could find help before passing out or worse.

Nina braced her hand against the alley wall and forced herself to stand. The movement almost made her black out. The pain from her wound became excruciating.

Nina paused, waiting for the world to come back into focus before continuing.

Eventually, she was able to stand. She leaned her head and shoulder against the wall, and took a breath.

She was Nina Zenik. Member of Ravka's Second Army. After everything she had survived, she wasn't going to be taken down by two Druskelle in a Barrel alley. She was a warrior.

She pushed one hand to her wound and the other to the wall, balancing herself. And she walked. One foot in front of the other.

She only had to find a member of the Dregs. They would recognize her. She just hoped she wasn't found by another gang first.

The Slat was closer than the Crow Club, but she wasn't sure she would make it there in time..

She made her way out of the alley and into a wider street. It wasn't used often. The tourists didn't venture back behind the little shops, bars and gambling halls, so at least she had a clear path.

She didn't make it ten feet from the alley before she heard a familiar voice call her name.


Nina stopped but didn't turn around. She wasn't sure she could. The darkness at the edges of her vision was getting larger, growing until it was almost all she could see.

But she didn't have to turn around. In a second, minute, hour, she couldn't tell, Kaz had come around and stood in front of her.

"Nina?" If she didn't know Kaz better she'd almost think he sounded concerned. "Can you make it to the Slat?"

Nina shook her head wordlessly. Or at least she thought she shook her head. The world was tilting beneath her feet and Kaz's voice was being replaced by a loud buzz.

"Kaz?" She said, then paused. The blood loss was muddling her thoughts. She couldn't remember what she was going to say. "I think...I think you're going to need to catch me."


Nina's knees buckled and she fell against Kaz. She felt Kaz stumble slightly and heard his cane drop before the world disappeared.

Kaz was having a good day. They were few and far between in the Barrel, but Kaz tried to embrace them when they came along.

He had a list of reasons, excuses, as to why his day was going well. He credited it to the Crow Club being full of tourists and the newest bit of information he'd acquired on a certain Mercher, but in reality, he knew it was due to a ship that would be docking later on that day. He'd heard that the Wraith had been spotted off the coast.

Inej was home.

So when Kaz walked around a corner to an alley near the Slat to find two bodies and a trail of blood, Kaz found himself annoyed.

He slowed his pace and followed the blood. He spared the bodies a glance. Both had broken necks by the look of them, and he didn't recognize either. They weren't a part of the Dregs nor any other gang.

The blood led to a small street that only a few people used. Usually it was empty except for a few rats or lost tourists.

But this time, a tall, brunette woman wearing a light colored outfit with red, abstract designs was stumbling along, one hand braced against the wall of the buildings.

Kaz frowned. As he moved closer he realized the red on the shirt wasn't a design, but blood. The woman was leaving a trail of crimson blood behind her.

Kaz tilted his head, recognizing her.

"Zenik?" Kaz said. That would explain the identical nature of the broken necks back in the alley. It took a heartwrender - and a skilled one at that - to take out more than one person in that method.

She stopped walking but didn't show any other response.

Kaz walked around, coming to a stop in front of her. It was odd seeing her so...subdued. Her normally flushed cheeks were pale and lifeless and her eyes were glassy as her gaze met onto his.

Blood dripped from her hand where she covered a wound in her side.

"Nina?" He asked, looking for some kind of response. She blinked and he wasn't sure she could understand him. He did a once over before meeting her eyes again. "Can you make it to the Slat?"

Nina closed her eyes and shook her head.

Kaz glanced over his shoulder.

They were close to the Slat. It was just around the corner. Close enough that he could hear someone playing music - if it could be called that - and a few people clapping along.

But he believed her. He considered leaving her to try and find a healer, but he doubted she would still be alive by the time he found one. He knew how blood loss worked. He was all too familiar with the process.

"Nina," he tapped the side of her face with gloved hands and she opened her eyes again. "Nina, I need you to stay awake-"

"Kaz?" She asked, and he wasn't sure she'd even heard him speaking. She blinked again, looking confused. "I think...I think you're going to need to catch me."


Before Kaz could brace himself, Nina fell. Kaz dropped his cane and caught her before she hit the ground. He stumbled slightly and lowered her as gracefully as he could.

"Anika," Kaz shouted.

He hoped she would be out back behind the Slat. It was one of her favorite hang outs. But over the noise of the Slat, he wasn't sure she would hear him.

However, soon enough, he heard the tell-tale sound of feet against the gravel. A second later, she came around the corner, spotting Kaz and Nina.

"Find a medik."

When Nina came to, she found Matthias. He stood in the corner of the room, arms crossed and head leaning back against the wall. Almost like he was dozing while standing which sounded like something he would do. Even dozing, he looked broody.

"Hey," Nina said. Her voice sounded croaky even to her own ears and her side smarted as she tried to sit up.

Matthias lifted his head, and looked over at her. His eyes widened when he realized she was awake.

"Don't move," he said, walking closer.

"There are Fjerdian's in town. You need to lay low," Nina said, ignoring his comment and she pulled herself up to sitting. He rolled his eyes and helped her situate herself.

"I know. Brekker told me. Apparently you told him while he and a few of the Dreg's were trying to save you."


"Yeah." Matthias ran his fingers through his hair. It was finally getting back to the length Nina was used to. No longer the short style of Hellgate. "Brekker is the one who found you."

Nina nodded. "Oh."

She didn't remember anything past attempting to heal herself. She hadn't succeeded.

But that was why she joined the Dregs.

They were a family. And she knew they, even Kaz, had her back.