Chapter 3: Know thy enemy

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It was a very unpleasant two hours.

Jane tried to focus on her textbook, but again and again, her eyes drifted to Nikolay. The sorcerer radiated tightly-controlled irritation, and his lips were pressed in a line. His eyes scanned his book with furious intensity. The gold threads woven into his green cloak shimmered, swirling in odd, dizzying patterns. She wondered how much power he had, what would happen if he got truly angry. He had used magic to push her away earlier with barely any effort.

And now, he was turning the pages of his book without touching them.

As if sensing her gaze, he met her eyes. Jane looked away, but not before she could stop a flush from creeping to her cheek. God, this was embarrassing. She supposed he was attractive, in an I'm-immensely-powerful-and-by-the-way-I-have-nice-cheekbones sort of way, but Dark and Angsty wasn't the sort of thing Jane found particularly appealing. Her sister Sandra, on the other hand, would be all over him by now.

Jane was glad her sister hadn't fallen through the portal. Sandra would have squealed with glee upon realizing magic was real. She would have declared herself the Chosen One on the spot and hurried to the palace without a backward glance.

Sandra had an impulsive streak the size of Paris.

Jane did not believe in impulsive decisions. Jane tried to be more like her dead brother, Phillip. Safe. Practical. Predictable. It was how their parents expected them to act, and Jane knew they relied on her to keep Sandra in line. When Phillip had vanished, their mom had cried for months. Their dad stayed overtime at the hospital, working himself to the bone.

Jane didn't want to think about what would happen if they lost another child.

The sun edged toward the horizon, casting a ghostly, golden haze around the godly statues on the altar. It had been evening when Jane fell through the portal, but it was late afternoon here. Jane estimated that two hours had passed since she arrived.

There was still no sign of Uncle Bauer. The portal had not reappeared.

A temple woman came to offer them food. She wore a red linen tunic, and her braids were interwoven with colorful ribbons of red and white. She smiled at Jane and offered her a bowl. Jane eyed the food warily. It looked like some kind of boiled grain, mixed with cabbage.

Wasn't this how Persephone got trapped in the Underworld? By eating the food there?

"It isn't poisoned," said Nikolay drily, not looking up from his own bowl. "I just checked."

He waved his fingers lazily in explanation.

Magic, again.

Jane reached for her bowl. The food was some kind of porridge substance, bland but filling. She had soon devoured all of it.

"It's getting late," said Nikolay. In the fading light, he looked tired. Pallor shrouded his face. Jane wondered if he was ill. "The King's Riders should be here soon to escort you to the palace. Where is your precious savior uncle?"

There was dark amusement in his tone. Jane suspected he was enjoying every moment of her discomfort.

A thought struck her. "You have... m-magic." It was a struggle to get that word out; a part of her – the sensible, logical part that liked physics – was still in shock at everything she had seen today. "Do you think you could help me get home?"

"I do not have that kind of power."

"Oh."

"But you will." Her head snapped up. "After you complete your avtorka's training and pass your godstests, you will be able to bring yourself home."

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