The Rest is Riddles

Chapter 3: Know Thy Enemy

It was a very unpleasant two hours.

Jane tried to focus on her textbook, but again and again, her eyes drifted to Nikolay. The sorcerer radiated tightly controlled irritation, and his lips were a thin line. His eyes scanned his book with furious intensity. The gold threads woven into his green cloak shimmered, swirling in odd, dizzying patterns. She wondered how much power he had, what would happen if he got truly angry. He had used magic to push her away earlier with barely any effort.

And now, he was turning the pages of his book without touching them.

As if sensing her gaze, he met her eyes. Jane looked away, but not before she could stop a flush from creeping to her cheek. God, this was embarrassing. She supposed he was attractive, in an I’m-immensely-powerful-and-by-the-way-I-have-nice-cheekbones sort of way, but Dark and Angsty wasn’t the sort of thing Jane found particularly appealing. Her sister Sandra, on the other hand, would be all over him by now.

Jane was glad her sister hadn’t fallen through the portal. Sandra would have declared herself the Chosen One and hurried to the palace without a backward glance.

Sandra had an impulsive streak the size of Paris.

Jane did not believe in impulsive decisions. She tried to be more like their late brother, Phillip. Safe. Practical. Predictable. It was how their parents expected them to act, and Jane knew they relied on her to keep Sandra in line. When Phillip had vanished, their mom had cried for months. Their dad stayed overtime at the hospital, working himself to the bone.

Jane didn’t want to think about what would happen if they lost another child.

The sun edged toward the horizon, casting a ghostly, golden haze around the godly statues on the altar. It had been evening when Jane fell through the portal, but it was late afternoon here. Jane estimated that two hours had passed since she arrived.

There was still no sign of Uncle Bauer. The portal had not reappeared.

A temple woman came out to offer them food. She wore a red linen tunic, and red and white ribbons criss-crossed through her braids. She smiled and set a bowl down by Jane’s feet. Jane eyed the food warily. It looked like some kind of boiled grain, mixed with cabbage.

Wasn’t this how Persephone got trapped in the Underworld? By eating the food there?

“It isn’t poisoned,” said Nikolay drily, not looking up from his own bowl. “I just checked.”

He waved his fingers lazily in explanation.

Magic, again.

Jane reached for her bowl. The food was some kind of porridge substance, bland but filling. She had soon devoured all of it.

“It’s getting late,” said Nikolay. In the fading light, he looked tired. Pallor shrouded his face. Jane wondered if he was ill. “The King’s Riders should be here soon to escort you to the palace. Where is your precious savior uncle?”

There was dark amusement in his tone. Jane suspected he was enjoying every moment of her discomfort.

A thought struck her. “You have… m-magic.” It was a struggle to get that word out; a part of her—the sensible, logical part that liked physics-was still in shock at everything she had seen today. “Do you think you could help me get home?”

“I do not have that kind of power.”


“But you will.” Her head snapped up. “After you complete your avtorka’s training and pass your godstests, you will be able to bring yourself home.”

“I’ve told you already, I’m not—”

Nikolay raised an eyebrow.

Jane took a deep breath and released it, steadying herself. It could not hurt to ask. “Tell me more about this ‘Chosen One’ you’re looking for,” she said.

“The gods bring a new avtorka to Mir about every ten years.” The sorcerer’s eyes glittered. “The avtorka must complete a series of tests, set by the gods themselves. If the avtorka passes the tests, he or she is granted three Writings in the Book of Truths.”

“…Writings in the… what?

Nikolay sighed. “Anything you Write in the Book becomes truth.” She must have still looked confused, for he added impatiently, “You may think of them as ‘wishes’ if that makes it easier.”

“So… one of my wishes could be to get home? Not,” Jane added hurriedly, “that I’m actually the avtorka. I still think you have the wrong person. Just… erm. Hypothetically.”

“Correct.” He snapped his book shut. “May I call one of the temple women to dress you for the journey? The sooner we reach the palace, the sooner we can begin your training. The sooner you begin your training, the sooner you will complete your godstests, and the sooner you can go home.”

Jane glanced toward the window. “It’ll be dark soon. Shouldn’t we wait until—”

“There are still a few hours of light left. The Kanachskiy—our enemies—will be aware of your presence soon. I am certain they will seek you. We are very close to the border. It is unwise to remain here.”

Jane hugged her textbook. If she could just spend one more day in the temple, buy her uncle more time to re-open the portal and bring her home… “The monster that dragged me into this temple exploded when it got here… So this place seems pretty safe to me—”

“What monster?”

Jane told him about the creature that had dragged her through the portal. By the time she finished, Nikolay’s eyes were dark. He knelt down by the pile of ash. Silvery fire—magic—materialized in his hands, surrounding the demon’s remains. Inside the magical cocoon, the ash rose and fluttered, morphing and twisting until it resembled a smaller, incorporeal version of the monster that attacked her.

Jane swallowed.

Nikolay’s eyes narrowed. “Sudok.”


He closed his fist, and the ash vanished. “The beast that grabbed you meets the description of a sudok. They are supposed to be servants of Velos—a demon god, worshiped in Kanach. They have not been seen in Somita for… decades.” He looked unsettled. “It is lucky you materialized here in Dalnushka. This fortress is imbued with old, protective spells.”

“Then why don’t we stay here?” The thought of encountering another of those monsters made Jane’s skin crawl. “If it’s safe here…”

“The wards here protect against sudok. Not against Kanachskiy spies.”


The door at the end of the temple opened, and a woman strode in. She was older than Nikolay, though not by much, with blonde hair and stern features. Her armor was polished and shining, a lethal sword gleamed at her waist, and daggers were strapped to her belt, arms, and legs. She looked like a walking armory, a deadly force of nature. Jane immediately resolved not to get on her bad side.

The woman’s gray eyes flicked to Nikolay, dismissive, and then alighted on Jane, still in her t-shirt and sweatpants. Her eyes narrowed. She looked back at Nikolay, one eyebrow raised. It was the most judgmental look Jane had ever seen.

Nikolay met her gaze, apparently unaffected. “And here I thought I might have to teleport the avtorka all the way to Sengilach. So good of you to show up finally.”

“There were setbacks. The hills to the west are being watched, so we went the long way.” Her voice was stiff, clipped and curt. Her braids—the only part of her that held a splash of color—were threaded with ribbons of bright blues and silvers. They wound tight around her head, adding to the severity of her features. “Our position is not safe here. Every minute we stay makes it more likely that the Kanachskiy will try to cut off our return. We have to leave now. We can make it to a safe zone by nightfall if we ride hard.”

“Um,” said Jane. “Sorry, but who are you, exactly?”

The woman turned toward her. Jane thought she looked annoyed, but the expression lasted only a second before her face smoothed to a mask of polite formality. “Forgive me, avtorka.” She bowed. “I am Commander Olesya, and my Riders have arrived to escort you to the palace. We should leave as soon as possible. Are you ready?”

Jane glanced from Olesya’s polite, steely face to Nikolay, who shot her a mocking smile. “As you can see, Avtorka, your escort is here. I am sure you do not wish to keep her waiting.”

Jane took a deep breath.

She thought of danger, of spies with swords. She thought of stories she’d read, where tourists didn’t take the dangers of a new place seriously and did stupid things like try to weather hurricanes in their hotel rooms, or take selfies next to bison.

If multiple people tell you to leave because you’re in danger, there’s probably a reason for it…

And if I don’t agree, what then? They’ll probably drag me off anyway. It’s not like I’ll be much good against either of themOlesya with her sword or Nikolay with his magic.

“Is there a way to leave a message for my uncle in case he comes here?” Jane asked desperately. “Maybe with one of the temple guardians?”

Nikolay nodded. She sensed he was humoring her.

“Then,” said Jane, feeling her stomach sink down to the level of her toes, “I will come with you to the palace.”


The temple women changed her into a long robe with red trim. They handed Jane a scroll of parchment and a quill pen which took her far too much experimentation to figure out how to use, and she scribbled a quick note to her uncle. Then she rejoined Nikolay and Commander Olesya in the temple. The tension between them was palpable. The moment Jane entered, Olesya turned toward her.

“How long is the ride to the palace?” Jane asked.

“Two days, by wyvern.” Olesya pushed open the temple door.

“And what is a…”

The words died in Jane’s throat.

Each dragon—wyvern, she corrected herself—stood twice as tall as she did, with long leathery wings that ended in lethal, hooked claws. The wyverns’ heads were curved and reptilian; their eyes were a fiery yellow, and their forked tongues flicked in and out like snakes’. There were at least twelve of the beasts in the walkway, maybe more.

As the nearest wyvern spotted her, its head whipped round. The next thing Jane knew, she was being studied by eyes that were so bright and golden and glaring that Jane felt in danger of her skin catching fire.

“Ah…” said Jane.

Now would probably be a good time to bring up that she had never ridden anything before, except a small pony during a highly supervised birthday party when she was eight. But Nikolay was already sweeping toward her. He mounted the nearest wyvern, and waved a hand.

Jane was about to ask what he was doing, when she felt invisible hooks dig into her abdomen. She flew through the air, landing on the wyvern’s saddle with a surprised “Oomph!” All was hard scales in front of her, and for a moment Jane didn’t know what to grab onto.

Must you be so—”

Nikolay broke off. Jane wondered what he had been able to say. Helpless? Useless? The invasion of her personal space made her tense, but he didn’t seem to notice. “Never mind,” he said. He took the reins in his hands, and the wyvern lurched off the ground.

And they rode.

Jane would later think—after she had recovered from the discomfort of the saddle, the odd smell of sulfur, and back-and-forth rocking of beating wings—how unfortunate it was that her cell phone was out of battery, for their takeoff was an Instagrammer’s dream.

The town they had left was made up of high walls, circular, consecutive rings of them, each one surrounding a different level, a bit like a layer cake. The temple where she’d materialized was on one of the lower levels in one of the poorer areas, which explained the rank smells and shabby décor. The topmost wall encircled a castle, which was built into the side of a mountain. Mountains surrounded the town on all sides.

Commander Olesya and Nikolay had progressed from not speaking to each other to arguing heatedly. From what Jane could gather, Olesya wanted to return to the capitol by a longer, more indirect route, while Nikolay wanted to take the fastest route, which took them close to a dangerous mountain range near the enemy country, Kanach. Their words drifted in and out of Jane’s ears, Nikolay’s sarcastic and biting, Olesya’s terse and annoyed. After a time, Jane drifted off, as she always did when she traveled.

She awoke blearily a few hours later, to the feel of the wyvern landing beneath them. The light was almost gone, but many of their party seemed to be holding small flickering balls of fire in their palms.

Magic again, Jane thought. She wondered if she would ever get used to it—any of it. Her thighs chafed from rubbing against the wyvern’s scales.

They seemed to be in the middle of a small clearing near a wood. Nikolay had already dismounted and was arguing with Commander Olesya a few feet away. Jane ignored them. She swung one leg across the wyvern’s back—ow, ow, ow—and slid down off the wyvern. Her legs almost buckled as she landed. Her thighs felt chafed and raw. Jane waited until the pins-and-needles sensation in her feet had receded to bearable levels before edging toward one of the green-clad soldiers pouring water for his wyvern.

“What’s going on?” she said.

The soldier—had Olesya called them Riders?—flashed Jane a smile. He had a friendly face and bright green eyes. “We’re stopping here for the night,” he said.

She nodded. She wondered who had won the argument, and if they were taking the safer or the more dangerous route.

“I’m Drazan, Olesya’s second-in-command,” said the Rider. “We’ll set up the tents in a bit, and then get you a meal. It’s incredibly difficult eating atop a wyvern, in case you hadn’t tried yet.”

Jane eyed the giant beast beside them. “I can imagine,” she said. Food was the least of her concerns right now. A more pressing matter took root in her mind. She had to pee. Very badly.

“Erm… if I had to… where would I…” Jane waved her hands helplessly.

With a good-natured chuckle, Drazan jerked a finger toward the nearest patch of trees and went back to watering his wyvern.

Jane stumbled through the trees, searching for a spot far enough into the woods to do her business in private. The ways of life here would take getting used to. She hoped the facilities at the palace were better; she was not a fan of roughing it.

This was bad. She was starting to think as if she’d be here awhile. What would her parents say when Uncle Bauer told them she was gone? Did they already know?

Jane shivered.

She made her way back to camp and distractedly helped herself to dinner. The food was very similar to food she’d had while camping on Earth—salty, but otherwise rather tasteless. She had just bitten into something that vaguely resembled beef jerky when the Kanachskiy attacked.

One moment the encampment was quiet. The next, screams and shouts erupted around her. Jane leapt to her feet, just in time to see a blue-clad man with a flaming sword slit the nearest Rider’s throat.

Jane still hadn’t got over the fact that there was a dead man beside her when the attacker charged toward her. He was enormous, proportioned roughly like a bear, and the flames from his blade glinted off his eyes. He saw her, and a grin swept over his face. Without warning, he lunged toward her, his blade rising to meet her throat.

A/N: Oh no! Will Jane survive? (Spoiler alert: Probably, since this is only chapter 3). Tune in next week to learn how Jane fares against this giant bear-like enemy spy man!

Questions from you:

1. How does Jane understand the language in the new world?

This will be explained properly… at some point. It has to do with the capabilities of an Avtorka.

2. I’m not a fan of the trope where people in a fantasy kingdom need an outsider from the modern world to come save them. I just have kind of a weird feeling about that whole thing…

Yes it seems… imperialistic to think that a foreigner could just barge into a completely new world and fix all its problems, doesn’t it? I actually began this story with the idea of parodying this genre (while still holding characters to a high standard – i.e. not making the MC an idiot). I’m not sure how well I succeeded… but I guess you guys can let me know in the comments 🙂

Questions for you:

Still engaged? Following what’s going on? World building okay? Too much dialogue and not enough action?

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