Chapter 21: The Dragon's Egg

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It took several tries to figure out how to use Casimir's paper bird. Unfolding it was not enough; she had to toss it aloft so its wings caught the air, which was tricky with lead manacles binding her wrists. Eventually Jane managed, and the paper bird vanished.

She sat back to wait.

Minutes ticked by—anxious, nail-biting minutes. Would Casimir come at all? Did he hate her for failing her godstest after he'd spent so many hours teaching her? She had almost given up hope that he would appear, when a shimmer of magic lit the air.

"Casimir!"

Jane leaped to her feet but stopped dead as he stepped into the light.

Casimir's hands were bloody; his eyes looked exhausted, haunted and grim. Jane wondered how long it had been since he'd slept. He glanced at his hands, then flicked the blood off with a quick spell and hugged her carefully.

"It's good to see you," he said, and Jane thought he meant it. "Kir told me about your imprisonment. I'm sorry I haven't visited before this. I should have come."

"It's all right, Casimir."

Had Casimir been tending soldiers in the infirmary this whole time? No wonder he hadn't visited her. He needed every scrap of magic he could muster, and teleporting in and out of her cell was not the best use of his energy.

"What's happening outside?" said Jane.

"The sudok are near the palace gates." Casimir's mouth twisted. "Ironically, until the fighting ends, you might be safest in this cell..."

"No," said Jane. "No, I am not safer down here — I need to get out. I need to talk to the tsar. Nikolay has betrayed us, and the tsar needs to know—"

"Nikolay," said Casimir blankly.

"He set the Kanachskiy prisoner free. He told me so, half an hour ago, right here in this cell. Nikolay set the prisoner free so he could carry a message to Zakhar — a message containing the secret spell protecting Dalnushka. He's the reason the sudok got in and everyone died. He did it because the Kanachskiy agreed to give him a potion that would break his Oath-spell — flowerfire or some such—"

"Fireflower."

Jane nodded.

Casimir sucked in a breath. "The spells on Dalnushka are similar to the spells on the palace."

"He'll give those up too, if it means breaking his Oath-spell."

Casimir's face was pale. "I have to tell the tsar. Wait here."

"Set me free first."

"You're safer down here."

Jane shook her head. "Nikolay knows where I am. He already stole my magic—"

"He what?"

"—and he knows that I know what he did."

She didn't want to think about how angry Nikolay would be if he found out she'd contacted Casimir. Would he kill her? Destroy the evidence against him? He'd had no qualms about causing the deaths of thousands of innocents in Dalnushka...

"You can bring me to any other pit cell," Jane offered. "Just — don't leave me in this one — not until Nikolay's in jail..."

Casimir leaned forward. Silver magic flickered across her manacles, probing the keyholes. Jane saw Casimir's brow furrow, saw sweat bead across his temple. At last, with a 'pop!', her manacles sprang open.

Casimir grabbed her hand. When the whirling, twisting nothingness had dissipated, they were in Casimir's quarters.

"I will relay what you've told me to the tsar," he said. "Stay here. Do not leave these rooms."

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