The Rest is Riddles

Chapter 13: What They Want to Hear

A tense, cold feeling settled in the pit of Jane’s stomach.

Ahead of them prowled Sidor, blocking the tunnel. He was cloaked in full armor, broad and tall and menacing, gold hair spilling over his shoulders in waves like a fantasy hero. But-and Jane was sure of this-no hero in the books she’d loved since childhood had ever sported quite as dark of an expression as Sidor did now.

“You’ve done quite well. Far better than I expected.” His words cut the air like a blade. “Unfortunately, for you, little mouse, your godstest ends here.”

“W-what do you mean?”

Sidor smiled.

“It is unspeakably dull, being a god.” Lazily, Sidor hefted a pebble with the toe of his boot and tossed it high, then caught it in his hand, a practiced gesture. “I’ve had a very long time to think. Velos promised me that you would be mine, if only I did his bidding. But he is still imprisoned, and I grow tired of waiting.” He toyed with his chain mail, a faint smile playing around his lips. “I am not a person who likes waiting.”

His words made little sense to Jane, but there was no time to ponder them. Sidor sauntered toward her, catlike and feral. Jane tried to retreat, but her back hit the stone wall of the corridor. She went very still.

“You will never be a replacement for my darling Eloise,” said Sidor with languid amusement. “And yet, with a few well-placed dollops of magic, I may grow to like you, in time.”

A shiver was building in Jane’s spine. She glanced toward Nikolay, but he was no longer beside her. Had he decided to cut his losses and teleport to the center of the maze while she was distracted?

A part of her-the small, despairing part that suspected she knew exactly where Sidor was going with this-hoped that Nikolay had gone ahead. He had all the information he needed to fix the obelisk; she’d given him the runes when they were on the balcony. If there truly was no hope for her-and the look in Sidor’s eyes wasn’t promising-she would much rather that the information she’d gained from the Pool be used to save Drazan and Alexei and Kir.

But could she count on Nikolay to finish her godstest for her? Knowing him, he might escape the tunnels the same way he had come, rescue Kir, and leave the rest to rot…

As if to punctuate her worries, the scream of a sudok lanced the air, closer than before. Fear seized her. There was no time.

“Please.” It was probably hopeless, but she had to try. “My friends are above-people are relying on me-let me finish my godstest. People will die.

“Humans die all the time, little mouse. That is the fate of humanity… why should I care about them?” Lazily, Sidor toyed with a tendril of hair. “But perhaps a deal might be struck. Perhaps, if you give me what I want, I might save your friends…”

Jane opened her mouth. She didn’t honestly know what she was going to say-perhaps ask for his terms-perhaps beg him for mercy. “What-” she began.

There was a bang like a gunshot, and the air filled with smoke. The shockwaves from the blast threw Jane forward; she collided with something solid. She gasped and gagged against the smell filling the air: putrid and cloying, like the scent of rotting eggs.

Beside her Sidor clutched his face, screaming, and staggered into the wall as though drunk. As Jane tried to figure out what had happened, a hand grabbed her wrist and dragged her past the god, onward, through the passage. Tears streaming from her eyes, Jane sucked in air, struggling to keep up with Nikolay, who was setting a punishing pace down the tunnel.

“Did you… just… attack a god?” she panted.

“Same potion as the dragon cave,” said Nikolay.

“So… he’ll sleep for-”

“Let’s hope.”

They rounded the corner, flew over the maze of runes-Nikolay apparently shared her opinion that there was no time to waste-and crashed down next to the central obelisk. Nikolay shoved a stick of charcoal in Jane’s hand. “Write the runes,” he snapped.


“I’ll hold the sudok off-write!

Frantically, Jane began to scribble runes onto the obelisk, below the place where the Kanachskiy sorcerers had scratched them out.

The sudok’s cries were close, so close. And then Jane heard its feet slithering toward them, its claws clicking on the ground, its breath rasping…

“Quickly!” Nikolay snapped.

Some kind of magic was happening behind her, keeping the sudok at bay. Jane scribbled as fast as she could, charcoal flecking across her hands from the force of her strokes. The sudok was scrabbling against Nikolay’s magic; it would get through soon-all it had to do was open its terrible mouth and suck the power away-it was opening its mouth-the room was filling with the acrid scent of the sudok’s breath-

Jane scribbled the last symbol. “Done!

Nikolay whirled, forcing the charcoal-scrawled symbols into the wall.

Time seemed to slow.

The newly engraved runes glowed silver, building in intensity until the light almost blinded her. Power swelled and exploded outward, wave after heady wave, sending her to her knees. She closed her eyes, and for a moment she could almost feel it, engulfing all Dalnushka in its blanket.

When she opened her eyes again, the sudok was a pile of ash on the floor of the cave. The light was receding, but the runes still shone, bathing the walls of the maze in a steady silver glow.

Without thinking, Jane reached forward to touch the glowing silver runes. They pulsed warm beneath her fingers, their light so bright it made her hands glow red.

“We did it,” she said wonderingly. “We did it… Dalnushka is protected again.”

She glanced at Nikolay, still sprawled on the ground. He looked even more exhausted than Jane felt; his forehead was damp with sweat, and a trickle of blood ran sluggishly down his hand. Jane took a step toward him, worried that the sudok had hurt him, but he waved her away. “Magical exhaustion,” he said. “I’ll be all right in a moment.”

There was a soft chime, and a golden glow filled the air. For one wild moment, Jane thought Sidor was back, come to whisk her away. A similar thought had apparently crossed Nikolay’s mind, for he scrambled to his feet, swaying against the wall.

Jane Huang.”

Jane’s shoulders relaxed marginally. She recognized that voice, just as she recognized the goddess who’d appeared next to the obelisk, a few feet away from the ashy remains of the sudok, her gold dress outshining the silvery runes.

“Divna,” she said.

She hesitated, wondering if she ought to lower her head deferentially, but the images from her last vision swam before her mind again. She didn’t bow.

“Congratulations.” Divna’s tone was bright, eager, and condescending all at once, as though giving praise to a star pupil who had just completed a particularly complicated problem set. “You have come a long way, Jane Huang! You have passed all three of your godstests, as I hoped. Now you have earned our blessing to travel to Mount Naridnya and write in the Book of Truths.”

Jane swallowed. A part of her still couldn’t believe this was real-that she had actually succeeded-that she could, at long last, go home.

“What about Sidor?” she asked.

Was it Jane’s imagination, or did a hint of discomfort cross Divna’s face? “Avdotya and I will deal with him. His actions were highly inappropriate, and he will be taken to task for his misdeeds. He will not affect your ability to write in the Book of Truths.”

Jane hoped it was true. She had a horrible suspicion about the circumstances under which Eloise might have failed her last godstest.

“Is there anything else you wish to say, before you travel to Naridnya to write in the Book of Truths?” Divna’s face was expectant.

Jane stared up at her. Her momentary relief at completing the godstest was ebbing. In its place brimmed a cold, pernicious anger.

She thought again of the vision she’d seen, of Divna smug in her temple, planning ways to challenge and test her to breaking point. This spectacle will be the best we’ve seen in years…

I’m not a spectacle, Jane thought. I’m a human being you’re torturing for your own amusement. I could have died.

The most horrible part of it was that-of the three gods she’d met-Divna had generally seemed the most reasonable. Back in the tower, at the end of Jane’s second godstest, Divna had genuinely seemed like she thought she was doing Jane some sort of favor: teaching her to overcome her weaknesses, trying to help the citizens of Mir by giving her permission to write in the Book of Truths.

But that didn’t make her good. She was as bad as all the others-if not worse.

Jane knew then, with a cold, hard certainty, that it was Divna who had planted suggestions in Kir’s mind. Divna had needed someone to set Jane’s second godstest in motion. It was her gold magic Jane had seen in Kir’s head, first with Nikolay’s Magesight on the balcony, then with Alexai’s in the temple. Divna had forced Kir into freeing the Kanachskiy soldier from the pit cell and betraying Somita; she was the reason he appeared so broken now.

And then there were the people who had died during Jane’s godstests. The people of Dalnushka who’d fallen victim to the sudok’s murderous attacks.


Casimir, who’d been slaughtered by the sudok-Casimir, who shouldn’t have been fighting to begin with-

“Well?” said Divna expectantly. Waiting.

Jane took a breath, and then another.

There were a thousand things she wanted to say to the goddess, a thousand words she could have said. Rebukes, tirades, self-righteous lectures. They burned at the back of her throat like acid, demanding to be set free.

And yet…

Now was not the time to lose her head. Not now, not when she was so close. She had played this game before. She could play it again.

Give the teachers what they want to hear.

It was really so easy, when you knew what you were doing.

She shot Divna her sweetest and sincerest smile.

“I am so very honored to have passed my godstest,” she said brightly. “I want to thank you for bringing me to this world. I learned so many valuable lessons. About myself, about friendship and kindness, and-and the importance of not being self-centered. I will miss this world… and everybody here.”

Divna smiled. “Good. That was what I wanted, you know. For you to get something meaningful out of the experience. For you to learn to be the best person you could be, so that you are truly prepared to make Writings in the Book that will change the fate of this world.” She took a deep breath. “Before you write in the Book of Truths, you must know several things. You cannot write just anything in the Book. Some Writings are too powerful, too deadly to risk.”

“What’s forbidden?” Jane asked sweetly.

Divna waved a hand. “Too many things to list. You’ll find a useful guide near the Book, when you get there. I suggest you read it carefully before proceeding.”

“What about ending a war and going home?” said Jane. “Or protecting a country?”

“Oh, those things are all fine.” Divna looked relieved. “The guide will tell you what to avoid. It should be fairly obvious what constitutes an excessively powerful Writing.”

She smiled serenely. “Farewell, Jane Constance Huang. I wish you godspeed and good luck. It has been an honor having you in my godstests.”

The golden glow faded, leaving only the silvery glow of the runes once again.

Jane looked at Nikolay. He seemed to have recovered some of his strength, though he was still resting most of his weight against the wall of the maze.

“Was that your first time seeing Divna?” Jane asked.

Nikolay nodded. “It occurs to me,” he said, with a sly glance at Jane, “that goddesses are quite gullible.”

Jane put on her blankest expression. “I have no idea what you mean.”


He was still smiling. It worried her a little, that he knew her so well.

“How did you get in here?” she asked quickly. “I assume there must be some secret entrance only you know about, since all of the tunnels are blocked.”

“When I arrived here, I used a mapping spell to identify entrances into the caverns. The spell showed me an entrance on the west side of the mountain.” He grimaced. “I did find it suspicious that a passage would be left open so conveniently when all other routes were blocked, but perhaps one of our godly… friends… opened the passage in anticipation of my arrival.”

“Where’s the entrance?”

“Not far. It was very close to the cave where you first materialized.” He peeled himself off the wall, wincing slightly. “We should go.”

It seemed like no time at all before the passage sloped upward and a cool breeze began to tickle the sides of Jane’s face. A wild giddiness filled her as they cleared the cave entrance, and she almost laughed. She had done it, she had actually done it-all that was left was to travel to Mount Naridnya and write in the Book of Truths…

Dalnushka towered over them, the walls of the fortress still, miraculously standing. It was raining, but Jane thought could see lights flickering along the battlements. That was a good sign, wasn’t it? Some people must still be alive. She could fly with the Riders to Mount Naridnya and finish this journey, once and for all.

She squinted up at the ramparts through the downpour, searching for a distant wyvern, a hint of humanity, some other signs that signified the Riders still lived. She was so intent on studying the fortress, seeking out some sign of life, that she didn’t see Nikolay come up behind her-

-didn’t feel his hand brush her temple-

-didn’t notice the sleeping spell that jumped from his hand to her forehead-

-until it was too late.

“Avtorkas are quite gullible, too,” said Nikolay’s voice in her ear. “Happily for me. Good night, Jane.”


A/N: Well, it happened! Sh*t is going DOWN! In the words of Wash from Firefly, “Curse your sudden but inevitable betrayal!”

I’ve decided to revive the Q&A section. It’s been awhile since the last book was posted, and I want to clear up any questions folks have with regard to plot, and… well, pretty much anything else. Submit any questions you want to ask here! If you don’t submit questions, don’t worry-I’ll make some up in time for next week! XD

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