Chapter 19: The Fallen City

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As if to add insult to injury, the mirror continued to show her the destruction of the Lanskoye villagers. Dazed, despairing, Jane could only watch as the sudok slaughtered commoners and soldiers, riders and children.

Her eyes ran with tears, and still the images came—sudok decapitated riders, devoured flesh. Their claws and tongues ran with blood, their lethal fangs were steeped in it. Any normal predator would have been satiated, but the slaughter seemed to galvanize the sudok further. They didn't slow down after eating—didn't fall into contented sleep.

They kept going.

They hurried along the path toward Dalnushka, teeth gleaming, eyes glowing, legs pounding the earth. Occasionally, one pawed at the ground, only to unleash a shriek of frustration as its claws met rock. Had Jane not been numb with horror, she might have wondered what they were trying to do.

As the fortress came into view, the sudok slowed. They prowled, forked tongues testing the air, but they seemed reluctant to touch the gray walls. One sudok—a massive beast with blood-streaked haunches—extended a snout to probe the fortress walls—

—and crumbled to dust as its snout made contact.

The sudok screamed in rage—shrill, lancing cries that sent birds scattering from the canopy. The magic mirror shivered and bucked. Jane's hands flew up to shield her ears, but still she could hear it—the sudok seemed to tear the air to pieces with their cries. They screamed and screamed, pacing the bounds of the fortress, digging their claws into the earth in agitation.


As one, the sudok stopped screaming. They turned.

A man strode from the forest. Long robes billowed around a tall, cruel figure with hair like shadows. His face caught the light, and Jane swallowed.


"You will not get in there yet," Zakhar murmured. "Patience... that is key. We won't get in without the ancient words, and that spell is still several hours away... but when it gets here, Dalnushka will be yours."

He smiled up at the fortress. Jane felt sick. She recognized the look in his eyes. It was the look of someone who believed everything in the world should belong to him.

Behind her, the door swung open.

Jane turned. Nikolay, it seemed, had found her — perhaps Kir had asked him to look for her when she never showed up to morning practice. He strode into the room, but stopped dead at the sight of the mirror.


Jane shook her head. Guilt crashed over her again, crushing her, making her gasp for breath. She couldn't deal with this now—she didn't want to speak to him—didn't want to speak to anyone. Wordlessly, she strode past him, out the door, away from the room, the mirror, the carnage—away from the scene of her failure—

But she couldn't escape. Dazed, dizzy with guilt and dread, she stumbled down the steps, trying to block out the images of blood and terror and death—but they followed her, sliding through her mind, tenacious and unrelenting as a cancer.

Worthless, the voice whispered. Useless. Extra. Your parents shouldn't have adopted you, they should have left you in the care of your drug-addled mother, you didn't deserve this life; you didn't deserve your upbringing. You thought you could be like Phillipha, ha, ha!

She crumpled to the ground, biting back sobs.

Phillip would die. Phillip would die, and all of Somita would die, and it was her fault—

The afternoon brought no respite, only grim horror. Word of her failure blazed through the castle. No doubt Nikolay had informed the tsar of what he'd found in the tower. Jane might have dreaded the others' reactions, if she hadn't felt she deserved them.

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