Chapter 3: Sidor

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Content Warning: This chapter contains allusions to sexual violence. Reader discretion is advised.


Jane knew the intruder was a god. Not because they had met before (they hadn't), nor because he exuded the aura of one accustomed to being obeyed—nor, even, because gold magic poured off him like water from a fountain. No, Jane knew this man was a god because she had spent a full morning staring at his effigy in the palace temple. His name was Sidor, the God of War and Chaos... and why he was in Jane's tent right now was anyone's guess.

Had Jane been alone, she might have backed away, closed the tent flap, and pretended she hadn't seen him. But the azdaja spoiled that plan. Before Jane could sneak away, the winged snake launched herself from her basket and coiled around Jane's shoulders, hissing.

Sidor's eyes swiveled toward them.

"Come in," he said pleasantly.

"Er—if it's all the same to you, I'd rather—"

Sidor rolled his eyes, and the next moment, Jane was inside the tent—or perhaps the tent had expanded so that it surrounded them both. Sidor rose from the pallet, eyes on her.

"So this is the avtorka that Divna has been raving about!" He looked her up and down and then sneered, as though he found her immensely disappointing. "You took your time getting here. I had almost run out of things in your tent to rummage through."

Jane squinted against the dazzle radiating off Sidor's armor. She tried to focus on Sidor's face, but that was equally unnerving. His eyes were like the ocean, ever-changing, flashing with a light that was both mesmerizing and dangerous. His body seemed tightly wound—feral. Jane forced herself to meet his gaze, though part of her wanted to cower in a corner.

She'd met gods before—or rather, she'd met goddesses: Sidor's two sisters, Divna and Avdotya. Sidor most resembled Divna in appearance—both tall, golden, and imposing—but Divna had never unsettled Jane in quite the way Sidor did now.

"Why are you here?" Jane asked. She tried to make her voice firm and aloof. But it was hard to sound dignified while unwinding a fretful azdaja from her shoulders. Jane couldn't remember ever seeing the winged snake so agitated. As Jane watched, the azdaja angled her face toward Sidor's arm—

"Whoa, there!" said Jane. The thought flashed through her mind that Nikolay would be exceptionally displeased if she returned his snake to him as a barbecued mess of godly wrath. "Settle down—"

Sidor reached forward. The azdaja lunged, and Jane cried a warning. But the azdaja's strike missed Sidor. The snake tried to pivot, but before she could swivel around to bite Sidor, the god rapped her sharply on the head.

The azdaja went limp, coils spilling across Jane's hands.

"There." Sidor sounded satisfied. "That is how you deal with a pest."

"What did you do to her?"

"I sent her to sleep."

Jane's tent had been designed with convenience in mind. It folded into a tidy square that was perfect for stuffing into a pack on a wyvern's saddle. Unfortunately, magical enhancements only got you so far, and the tent was small. Its tiny proportions made Sidor look even larger and more imposing as he advanced.

"I don't believe we've ever had so short an avtorka before," he drawled. "Then again, I could be mistaken. It has been awhile since the last avtorka came through."

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