Chapter 23: Specter of Death

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Previously on The Rest is Ruins:

"We could attempt a transfer of sorts. Oath-spells such as this one, where one person swears to obey or protect another, can sometimes be... bamboozled. The spell can be convinced to recognize a different person as the one to be protected. I've seen it done before. In this case, the trick would be to convince Nikolay's Oath-spell to recognize another person, someone who isn't the tsar—ideally someone young and not dying—by modifying that person's magical signature to match the tsar's. Nikolay's brother would have been the logical choice, since Kir is the tsar's true son and direct blood relative, but unfortunately, Kir is now a captive in Kanach, which somewhat limits our options..."

"Kir was taken captive?" Jane covered her mouth. "No..."

"Yes," Lidea said. "My mirrors showed him in one of the Kanachskiy pit cells, just last night. But that's not the point here."

Her eyes tracked Jane, and Jane had an odd feeling, like she was missing something very obvious—

And then it hit her.


"No," she said, stumbling backward. "Oh, no. No, that's a terrible idea."

"Why?" said Lidea.

Jane fought to suppress a hysterical laugh. It came out anyway, half-deranged. "Because. Nikolay wouldn't want that at all. He'd never agree. He hates me."

"Many people do things they wouldn't normally agree to when faced with the specter of death," Lidea said mildly. "You are young, and—unlike the tsar—you have a long life ahead of you. You are also an avtorka. You have king's blood, and you have power. There is a decent likelihood we could successfully transfer the tsar's magic onto you."

Jane sucked in a breath. "I don't want Nikolay's protection for the rest of my life." The thought of him trailing her, a constant sneering shadow at her back, made her shudder. "I need to find Sandra and go back to Earth! I can't stay on Mir. Also, if it were that easy, why didn't Nikolay transfer the spell onto Prince Kir years ago?"

"I never said it was easy." Lidea fixed her with a look. "I reached out to the tsar once, years back, but with the wars and political instability, the timing was never right. You see, for the spell to work, the tsar will have to transfer all his magic to you, and Nikolay's Oath-scar will have to accept you. The tsar will probably die in the process. If Nikolay's Oath-scar has not accepted you before then, he'll still die, and there's nothing we can do to stop it. Nothing is guaranteed. But since Writing in the Book of Truths is no longer open to us, it's the only option that has some hope of saving him."

Jane bit her lip.

Lidea went back to stirring her potion. "Think on it carefully," she said. "If you choose not to try the transfer, and the tsar dies, the kindest course would be to offer Nikolay the opportunity to end things. It is truly tortuous, to die of a broken Oath."

Jane wanted nothing more than to hide in her room after that, but she had promised Nikolay she'd come back. So an hour later she sat in his room again, reading.

Her throat was beyond sore. She had never wished so much for a cell phone. Preferably one with Audible installed. But there was only her, and her voice.

Nikolay seemed to drift in and out of consciousness. Despite Lidea's potions, his more lucid moments seemed to be marked by intense pain. Not that he was very outspoken about this—Jane was surprised at how stoic he was being—but his posture was hunched, his eyes glazed. He still occasionally sent her pleading looks when she paused in her reading.

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