Chapter 18: Descended from Tsars

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Previously on The Rest is Ruins:

Phillip met her eyes, and the look in them was so bleak, so utterly haunted, that Jane had to stop herself from flinching. When he spoke, the words seemed to freeze in the air, sending shivers down her spine.

"Casimir may not be entirely gone."


Phillip's words hung on the air like an impending storm.

"Casimir's still alive?" Jane said. "But-"

I saw him fall.

She bit her lip.

I saw him fall, she thought again. But the sudok had mangled his body beyond recognition. She remembered how the dead had looked that day, lined up upon the pyre, cloth draped across their faces to hide their mangled features. She hadn't seen Casimir's face after he fell. One of the Riders had told her he was among the corpses, and she'd accepted it as the truth.

Her eyes met Phillip's across the living room. He wasn't smiling. Surely if Casimir was alive, he would be smiling.

"'Alive' and 'not gone' are not quite the same thing," he said quietly.

She stared at him, uncomprehending.

Phillip sighed. "I was in the Kanachskiy cells a long time, and before that, I was a spy. During that time, I learned many things. Including several secrets closely guarded by Kanach. One of these secrets is that the sudok aren't just born. They're made."

The silence stretched again.

"The Kanachskiy have a way to make them," Phillip went on raggedly. "A secret spell-I don't know all the details. But it requires something very specific. It requires..." His voice cracked. "It requires a mage's essence. Their-for lack of a better word-their soul. I asked, and no one ever positively identified Casimir's body. What if... if he's..."

Jane hugged her arms to her chest. Unbidden, the memory of the sudok she'd controlled during her second godstest flooded her mind. She remembered the odd feeling of peace that had engulfed her just before the sudok died-a sense of relief, quite unlike the terrible wrongness she'd felt in the moments leading up to the sudok's death.

Then she thought of Dalnushka, and her heart sank.

The bodies.

Oh gods.

The bodies of the mages in Dalnushka, piled in the highest tower... surrounded by a constellation of unfamiliar runes...

What if they, too, had been turned into sudok?

What if that had been what the Kanachskiy had taken them for?

"B-but you can't go." Sandra, who had until this point remained silent, seemed unable to contain herself any longer. "You only just got back, and already leaving us again? It's like you don't care for any of us at all." Her hands shook. "We all thought you were dead. Mom and Dad and Uncle Bauer-"

"It wasn't his fault," said Jane. "He didn't pass his godstests. He had no way to come back."

Even as she spoke the words, she found herself hesitating. Nikolay's accusations floated once more through her mind.

Phillip could have passed his godstests.

He could have saved Dalnushka and come home.

If not for Casimir.

"Are we not... good enough?" Sandra's voice was shaking. "You'd rather find family in a different world, instead of here?"

"Of course not," said Phillip. "I always missed the two of you. Always. I thought of both of you so often, wondered how you were doing, if Jane was still acing her classes, if Sandra was killing it at sports. It's just, I knew that both of you are strong, that you would be fine without me. And the people in Mir need me more."

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