Chapter 1: Unwelcome Arrivals

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Contrary to popular belief, the gods of Mir did not create Mir, though if asked directly, each one of them would have claimed full credit for the planet's existence.

As for the planet itself, it was quite pleased by the accomplishment of pulling itself together out of gas and dust and magic, as well as evolving life, which was no mean feat. To it, the gods were more of an accessory, acquired in a fit of midlife indecision, like a chihuahua bought on impulse—and similar to a chihuahua, they were destructive, needy, and impossible to get rid of.

Sorcerer Nikolay of Somita did not know any of this.

But he did know that he loathed the gods, that his life was about to become even more inconvenient, and the gods were almost certainly to blame.

The tsar of Somita sat across from him. Between them, on the tsar's weathered oak desk, lay the note the priestly soothsayers had sent to the castle earlier that day. The soothsayers channeled the word of the gods, and the gods had declared that a new Chosen One—an Avtorka, Writer of Rules and Savior of Somita—would materialize in Somita tomorrow.

At 12:45 PM, to be precise.

"I am sending you to fetch her," the tsar said to Nikolay.

Nikolay glowered at him.

He disliked the idea of a Chosen One even more than he loathed the idea of the gods. But he also knew someone had to fetch the girl before she fell into enemy hands. The only thing worse than a Chosen One was a Chosen One working for the wrong side.

"Fine," said Nikolay.

"The journey shouldn't take more than three days. The soothsayers say she'll appear in the mountains tomorrow, near the village of Lanskoye. Until she adjusts to her magic, teleportation spells could make her ill. So you will have to fly her back to the palace with a troop of Riders."

"Lucky me."

Tsar Fyodor frowned at Nikolay. He was getting on in age, and the last year had brought many realizations, chief among them that his adopted son had some serious issues of the 'excessive sarcasm' and 'anger management' variety. But he still clung to hope—the old, feeble hope of a dying man—that someday Nikolay might find happiness.

Of course, one major barrier remained where his son's happiness was concerned...

He cleared his throat. "I've already told you why this is a good idea. If the Avtorka passes her godstests, she will be one of the few people in the world who can free you from your Oath spell. I'd hoped you might be pleased about the fact that you might not have to die this year."

Nikolay said nothing.

Tsar Fyodor closed his eyes. He had long since given up hope of connecting with his son, but he was still disappointed by Nikolay's lack of reaction. Nikolay showed no gratitude about the prospect of not dying. His expression was wintry, cynical, guarded.

"We can discuss the details later," said the tsar firmly. "But I expect you to be on your best behavior."

Nikolay's smile didn't reach his eyes. "I won't murder the girl on sight, if that's what you're worried about."

"Treat her nicely. Perhaps you'll become friends."

"Who else will I be traveling with?" said Nikolay, ignoring the tsar's ill-timed attempt at optimism.

Tsar Fyodor sighed. "Commander Olesya and a group of Riders. Try not to kill them either, please. I need them for—"

"The war—yes, yes."

"If the Avtorka succeeds in her godstests, perhaps there won't be a war anymore. And your Oath-spell—"

But Nikolay was already sweeping from the room, out the door and out of sight.

The tsar shook his head.

He hoped Nikolay wouldn't give the poor girl a nervous breakdown before she arrived at the palace.


The 'poor girl' in question was actually not that poor.

She lived in a nice house in an affluent suburb in a well-to-do part of the U.S., with kind but distant parents who were always flying off to important conferences and never around quite enough to pay her much attention. But that was all right, because she had her sister and her uncle to distract her, and she was usually too busy doing homework to interact with people anyway.

Her name was Jane.

And her life was about to change forever. 

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Thanks so much for reading! If you liked the chapter, don't forget to vote or drop a comment! If you hated it, I would love to hear why :)

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