Chapter 20: Try

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They landed faster than Nikolay had expected—with a sickening, jolting lurch.

His Oath-scar was burning with pain again. Nikolay coughed against the lingering taste of the Dragonsleep and scrambled to his feet. Mountains met his eyes: unfamiliar snowcapped peaks that dominated the horizon. Frost laced the air, and a dusting of snow shimmered on the nearby trees.

Neither the dragon nor the avtorka's sister were in sight.

The avtorka struggled upright, coughing. "SANDRA!" She cupped her hands around her mouth, as though that would help them find her missing sister. "SANDRA! SANDRA!"

"Your sister and the dragon are not here," said Nikolay. "Keep shouting like that, and you'll attract worse monsters."

She whirled on her heel, and Nikolay was treated to the full force of her glare. They were close enough that strands of her hair whipped his face. Her eyes were still red-rimmed, and now sooty, with traces of tears; she looked a complete mess.

"Explain to me"—her voice dripped with rage—"how I ended up back on this world, in the middle of nowhere. With you."

At least her gift of tongues had returned, so he didn't have to mime things at her. Although on reflection, he almost preferred not being able to understand her.

"Believe me," he seethed, "getting attacked by that dragon was the last thing I wanted."

His words were interrupted by another fit of coughing. His vision blurred. The pain in his arm was blinding. Damn it, damn it all, his powers were still gone. He needed magic. In his old state, the Dragonsleep would never have affected him the way it was doing now.

The avtorka hugged her shoulders and then—without asking permission—wrapped Nikolay's cloak around her arms. "The scene shifted, didn't it?" Her voice was small. "The dragon and Sandra must've ended up in one place, and we ended up in another. Something similar happened when I first arrived on Mir. I think portals between my world and this one are inherently unstable. Do you know where we are?"

"I haven't the faintest idea," Nikolay said shortly. "But if we don't get off this mountain and find shelter, we won't be alive to care."

The magic that should have helped him catch his bearings was lost to him now. Nikolay reached desperately, seeking some hint, some thread of the magic that had once come to him as easily as breathing. It was like searching a desert for a drop of water. Nothingness stared back at him where once there had been power.

His stomach churned.

"How long d'you think we have until the dragon finds us again?" said the avtorka.

"She ought to sleep for another month."

Even as he said the words, he grimaced.

Another month. He wasn't sure he even had another month.

"Down there," said the avtorka, who was no longer looking at him, but scanning the area furiously. She pointed. "Smoke. There's probably a village or town."

"Or a dragon."

Her jaw tightened. "Even getting roasted by a dragon would be preferable to freezing to death out here." There was a hidden undercurrent to her voice that suggested she would very much have liked to add: Alone. With you.

She dug around in the pocket of Nikolay's cloak, pulled out a knife—his knife—and began strapping it to her arm.

Anger flared in his chest. Before she could react, he leaned forward and plucked the knife from her hand.

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