Chapter 10: Nikolay's Return

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Jane's heart thundered. The only sound she could hear was a distant drip, drip, drip, echoing from somewhere high above. She looked around wildly, seeking out something, anything in the blackness. Her eyes found nothing—not even the faintest glimmer of light to temper the oppressive darkness.

For a moment, Jane wondered if Sidor had decided to make her blind for her third godstest. Then her brain settled on the likelier explanation: she had been teleported into a cave.

She closed her eyes and called up her magic. Stalactites burst into view, cast into sharp relief by her magefire. Jane doubled down on the spell, threading more magic into the working, and was rewarded when the ring of light expanded to illuminate the tallest, most elaborate cavern she had ever seen.


It was like looking at one of the seven wonders of the world. All around her hung columns of limestone, fanning out in elaborate cones and curves and sheets. Farther into the cavern, her magefire glittered off nests of crystals that dotted the walls, the ceilings, and the floor.

She was definitely beneath Dalnushka. Probably quite far down.

Past the place that had caved in?


Was this her godstest? To fix the broken defensive spells on Dalnushka and protect the castle from the Kanachskiy invaders?

Not very imaginative, Jane thought. Then again, Sidor hadn't struck her as a particularly creative type.

The Pool of Dreams was also supposed to be down here, Jane remembered. Did Sidor want her to find the pool and look into it? Or did he want her to fix the spell on Dalnushka?

Perhaps both?

As she searched the labyrinth of stalagmites for a clear path through the cave, footsteps crunched behind her. Jane—already on edge with nerves and fear—jumped and whirled around. In her haste, she tripped on a stalagmite and pitched forward, dropping the ball of magefire, which landed in a pool of water and extinguished with a hiss.


Her squeak of pain echoed through the cavern. Behind her, someone cursed. Jane froze, trying to ignore the stalagmites scraping her skin. A second later, a burst of magefire illuminated the cavern to reveal none other than Nikolay, glaring down at her.

Nikolay had seen better days. Shadows lurked beneath his eyes, his hair was ragged, and one sleeve of his cloak looked as though it had gotten into a battle with a mud puddle and lost. Given how magically spotless he usually kept his clothes, this last part was telling indeed. Nonetheless, Jane reflected bitterly, he still looked more put together than she did at the moment. For one thing, he was standing upright, and for another, his clothes were not impaled on a half a dozen stalagmites.

"Avtorka," he said, and she was satisfied to hear at least a modicum of shock in his voice. "What in Hell's name are you doing in Dalnushka's Maze?"

"In Dalnushka's what?" Jane scrambled to her feet, cradling her smarting hands. "I think the more important question here is what are you doing in my Godstest?"

"This is your Godstest?" The surprise in Nikolay's eyes made Jane want to sew her mouth shut. "I suppose I should have known."

Jane backed up, trying to put as much distance between herself and Nikolay, but he seemed to have no intention of approaching her. He dimmed his magefire so it was no longer in danger of blinding them and said, with no small amount of hauteur: "I hope you have been looking after my azdaja as you promised."

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