Chapter 24: Tested

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Someone was screaming, a cry so full of fury and anguish and shock, it was almost unrecognizable. It was a moment before Jane realized the scream came from her own lips. 

Olesya kicked their wyvern, urging the beast forward. The wyvern dove, plunging toward the alley where Casimir had disappeared. But it was a chaos of sudok—there were too many, and the light was too dim to make out anything meaningful. Jane saw nothing below, not even the shadow of a corpse.

A sudok leaped toward them.

Olesya shouted, and their wyvern darted up again. But the sudok was too close. Before Jane could cry out, the creature caught her wrist in its chalk-awful grasp and yanked.

She started to fall and scrabbled for purchase—but the sudok's grip was too strong—

"Jane!" Olesya cried.

She was falling.

She was falling just like Casimir. She was falling, and she didn't care; she'd failed Casimir, perhaps she deserved this—Jane squeezed her eyes shut and waited for the cruel clamp of jaws around her neck, or for her impact with the ground—whichever came first.

Claws sank into her abdomen and pain shot through her middle. Jane screamed. So I am to die by sudok, she thought wildly. I hope it snaps my neck soon, I'd rather go quick than lie on a battlefield with my guts ripped out.

Her back connected with something solid. Jane tensed, awaiting the sudok's death blow.

But it never came.

Instead, a hand grabbed her wrist, pulling her upright. Jane's eyes flew open.

"Hello," Zakhar said coolly.

Jane looked down at her still-intact tunic, then back up at him. Oh. What she'd thought were sudok claws must have been the hooks of Zakhar's magic, dragging her toward him and slowing the thrust of her fall.

She tried to push away from Zakhar, but he tightened his grip on her arm. In the distance, she heard Olesya shout her name. Jane tried to call back to her, but before she could manage more than a muffled "Frrrrgh!" Zakhar teleported them away.

It was the oddest teleportation Jane had ever experienced. Zakhar seemed to be aiming them away from the palace, but the spell was fighting him, forcing him to veer progressively more off course. He and Jane ricocheted back and forth in nauseating zigzags. Colors swam before Jane's eyes—on one side, silver, on the other side, a gold mist... As the teleportation continued, the gold light grew stronger, surrounding everything, bathing her eyes in a buttery glow.

Abruptly, the zig-zagging stopped, and they landed—blissfully, mercifully—on solid ground.

Jane leaned forward and retched. She felt better almost immediately—both from the alleviated nausea, and also because her puking had just coated Zakhar's boots in slime.

She looked up. They were in the tower where she'd done her second godstest. The room was as Jane remembered it, down to the pentagrams and the massive oak desk lined with parchment. The oval mirror on the north side of the tower now showed the battle outside the palace. She watched Olesya dip into a daring dive, a sudok in pursuit.

"This is not where I meant to take us." Zakhar's eyes narrowed. "Do you know why we landed here? Some mischief of the Somitan battle-mages, perhaps?"

Jane said nothing.

"No matter," said Zakhar. "It should be easy enough to teleport away from this place. There are no spells binding us."

He stepped forward, but before he could reach her, a soft chime echoed through the room. As Jane searched for the source of the noise, a piece of parchment materialized in her hand.

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