Chapter 14: Realities of War

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Jane awoke, shivering, to the sight of Nikolay roasting a partridge.

She bolted upright—and narrowly missed braining her head on a rock. Nikolay shot her a cool look and turned his gaze back to the fire pit.

Jane looked around.

They were ensconced in a narrow cave. Judging by the angle of the sunlight that was filtering in through the front, it was close to midday. A few feet away from her, on one of the rocks that lined the mouth of the cave, the azdaja lay sunning herself, her body coiled, white wings outstretched. Nikolay sat in the sunlight just beyond the cave's opening. The smoke from his campfire was winding its way lazily upward, through the trees and out of sight. A light breeze tossed the forest, ruffling the azdaja's feathers and Nikolay's hair.

Were it not for the fact that she'd just been subject to a kidnapping, Jane might have found the scene almost idyllic. Given the present circumstances, however, she felt only rage mixed with panic. Her mouth was dry; her head ached; her body was cold and sore from sleeping on rocks. She swallowed a few times—whatever spell Nikolay had used to keep her asleep had left a bitter taste in her mouth—and said coldly:

"What have you done?"

The words came out more nervous than she'd intended.

Nikolay turned the partridge on its side. "I brought Kir to a safe location, ordered him to return to Sengilach, out of the war zone, and then I transported you here. We have a ways to go before we reach Mount Naridnya and the Book of Truths. It was too far to teleport all at once."

Jane wished he didn't sound so reasonable. Fear twisted her stomach. "Are the others at Dalnushka alive?"

"Most survived the attack. I couldn't let you rejoin them... for obvious reasons."

"Are they searching for me?" Hope sparked in Jane's mind.

"If they are, they'll never catch up. I made sure to leave no trace of where we might have gone."

The flicker of hope faded. "I'm surprised you're telling me this," she said coolly. "I'd have thought you'd want to keep me unconscious until you use the Dragon's Egg Potion to mind-control me and force me to write in the Book of Truths for you."

"Without giving you food or water? A dead Avtorka is a useless Avtorka."

He conjured a plate and handed her a leg of partridge. Jane, suddenly ravenous, snatched the plate from his hands, but she paused before she took a bite. The faster she ate, the sooner Nikolay might force her to go back to sleep.

She watched Nikolay hand the azdaja a cut of the partridge. The winged snake ate it in one greedy swallow, hissing with pleasure.

Jane twisted the meat between her fingers, fighting the urge to ball her hands up into fists. "You don't have to do this, you know. Surely we can come to an agreement... some sort of compromise. If you just want a Writing to free you from your Oath spell, I can give you that. You don't need to use the Dragon's Egg Potion to control me. I'll write exactly what you want me to write."

"Will you?"

Nikolay shot her an inscrutable look.

"Your right hand," he said. "Why do you bear the mark of a Kanachskiy god?"

Jane froze. Of all questions he might have asked her, that had to be the last one on her list.

He has Magesight, she remembered sickly. He probably saw my hand glowing from the very beginning, when he first encountered me in the cave.

"Sidor gave me that mark," she said. "I have no idea why."

"Sidor," Nikolay repeated, his voice cold.

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