Chapter 18: The Second Godstest

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"Why do you need my magic?" said Jane.

Nikolay tapped his fingers against the spellbook he'd been reading and sent it sailing back into place on the bookshelf. "Fighting the Oath-spell and keeping the tsar healthy drains my powers. If you want me to cure Phillip, I need to borrow some of yours. I won't completely drain your magic stores, don't worry."

For Phillip she would give up her magic; she would give anything. And yet, alarm bells tolled in her head.

"What if we ask Casimir? He's got more magic than I do." And he's also more experienced at magic, so Nikolay won't be able to abuse his power...

"Casimir spends reams of his magic each day on the tsar and Phillip. He's almost run dry. You have more power right now. Why the hesitation?"

"Well," said Jane, nettled. "I'm pretty sure every idea you've had recently has involved using me in some way."

He raised an eyebrow. "That's not true. I've definitely had ideas that didn't involve you in the slightest."

"Like spying on the castle for the enemy?"

To her surprise, he laughed. "Good heavens — is that what they're saying now? Who started that rumor? Olesya? I always knew she hated me." He frowned at her. "The reason it's best to involve no one else is because the spellwork needed to save your brother will be dangerous... and—hmm—slightly illegal."

"Slightly?"

"Illegal enough that we shouldn't discuss it with Casimir until after the fact. Not so illegal that anyone would die."

"So you want my magic... so I'll go to jail in your place?"

"Nonsense. You are the avtorka, and I am the most powerful sorcerer in the kingdom. Neither of us will go to prison."

What arrogance, Jane thought.

She studied his face. It was pale as ever, with a gray sheen around the edges that spoke of pain and late nights and poor sleep. Nikolay probably wasn't lying about the depletion of his magic.

Still.

This was a bad idea.

Jane knew this was a bad idea.

But the problem with bad ideas was that it was easy to accept them, if the cost of not accepting them meant someone you cared about would die.

"Well?" said Nikolay.

"You can have some magic."

She didn't know what to think about the look in Nikolay's eyes as she said the words. He seemed almost... relieved. Somehow, this unsettled her more than anything.

"Come here," he said.

He summoned a glass of water, and to Jane's bemusement, dipped his fingers in it, then took her hand.

"What...?"

"Transferring power between people is not easy. When it must be done, magical transfer is most easily performed via a liquid or metal conduit."

Jane nodded.

She felt an odd sensation, a kind of tugging at her insides, which intensified, tightening, constricting, until Jane nearly gasped with pain. She tried not to move — she didn't want to mess up whatever spell Nikolay was using — but it was hard to stay still when the room spun and the floor buckled like a boat at sea. Unsteady, she swayed and might have fallen, if not for the grip on her hand.

The sensation faded. Jane felt dizzy, hollow and tired, like the spell had stripped away part of her essence.

"Sit," said Nikolay.

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