The Crown's Fate

Page 20


Yuliana scrunched her nose. “However, it also means that not only are you more powerful, but Nikolai will be as well.”
The sparks at Vika’s fingers snuffed out, the momentary thrill of all that power suffocated by Yuliana’s insight. There would likely be enough magic now that there would be no more hitches, real or dreamed. But it also meant bigger and more dangerous enchantments.
Vika crossed the study and sank into one of the pair of blue-and-gold chairs in the center of the room, angled to face the tsar’s desk.
Pasha dropped his head against the window frame with a resigned thunk. “Quel désastre.”
“Agreed, it is a disaster.” Vika leaned into the backrest of her chair. “We have to save Nikolai.”
Pasha came and sat in the chair next to her. He made a miserable attempt to smile, which said quite a lot, because Pasha could always smile. His inability to do so made something inside Vika twinge, even though she was still furious at him for both the end of the Game and the asinine command to conjure him a midnight snack.
“Save Nikolai from what?” Pasha asked.
Vika shook her head. “I don’t know. But it’s obvious the boy from last night was not the same one who sacrificed his life for me at the end of the Game. Whatever is influencing him—or whatever change has taken root because he’s a shadow—must be undone.”
Yuliana laughed caustically. “I don’t care if it’s the devil himself who’s possessing Nikolai. He made an outright threat on the tsesarevich’s life.”
Of course Yuliana knew everything. Pasha had undoubtedly shared every detail as soon as Vika had evanesced him back to the palace last night.
“That’s treason,” the grand princess continued. “There is no option to save someone like that. Nikolai must be arrested and executed.”
“But he’s done nothing wrong!” Vika said.
“You call threatening to usurp the throne ‘nothing wrong’?”
Vika squeezed the armrest of her chair and took a deep breath. “Those were words spoken out of hurt. Perhaps he can be convinced to change his mind. He hasn’t actually tried to take the crown.”
“She has a point,” Pasha said. “So far, Nikolai has committed only civil disobedience.”
Vika stared at him. Was he really supporting her argument, even though Nikolai had threatened to kill him?
“You are both far too forgiving.” Yuliana crossed her arms.
“I don’t mean we should let Nikolai roam around, free to cause more trouble.” Pasha turned to Vika. “Can you find and detain him somehow? If only I could show him how sorry I am, if he could see reason . . .”
Vika blinked, still somewhat disbelieving that he’d taken her side. Then she shook her head. “I don’t know where Nikolai is. He has a barrier around himself.”
“But you’ll still try to find him?” Pasha asked.
She sighed. “Yes, I’ll still try.” It was a compromise sloppily covering a half-truth—for now, they could pretend they would jail Nikolai and somehow find a resolution that satisfied all of them, and satisfied justice. But the other half of the truth was that compromise was impossible. Yuliana wanted to kill Nikolai. Vika wanted to save him. And Pasha didn’t actually want the same thing Vika did. He wanted the past undone and this problem to go away.
She decided to shift the conversation, at least temporarily, away from what to do about Nikolai. “The city needs calm after the statue’s rampage last night,” she said. “Perhaps we could reassure them by demonstrating to the people that my magic is good.”
Yuliana tapped a quill against one of the gold map weights on the desk. She nodded. “Not a bad idea. And we’ll show them that you and your magic are under control, that you’re Pasha’s.”
“I don’t belong to anybody!”
“But you do.” Yuliana used her quill to point at the bracelet.
Vika banged the cuff against the armrest. “I—”
Pasha exhaled loudly but said nothing, as if telling the two of them not to fight was a cause so lost, it wasn’t even worth uttering the words.
For the sake of reaching a solution, Vika swallowed her protest. It tasted of bitter herbs.
Pasha cleared his throat. “I don’t know how I feel about putting you in the line of danger, Vika. The city’s mad. There’s a bounty on your head.”
She laughed. She didn’t mean to, but it burst forth before she could stop it. I’ve survived another enchanter trying to kill me, she thought. Ordinary people are no match.
Yet Pasha’s concern thawed a touch more of Vika’s resentment toward him. Here he was, facing not only a threat to the throne from Nikolai, but also a potential riot in the capital, and Pasha still had enough humanity within him to worry over Vika’s safety. Perhaps he had not changed as much as she’d thought at the end of the Game. Perhaps he’d merely gone astray and was now finding his way back to himself.
“Thank you for your concern,” Vika said. “But I’ll be fine.”
It was only if Nikolai came after her that she would have something to worry about. No, not if. When. For if Nikolai meant to take the throne, the bracelet around Vika’s wrist ensured that he’d have to fight his way through her, too. Vika’s chest tightened, as though her heart were locking itself from hurt and throwing away the key.
“It will be harder, if not impossible, to convince the people that Peter the Great’s statue was a feat of engineering or a show,” Pasha said. “Unlike during the Game, there were too many witnesses this time. We can’t undo the people seeing the magic, can we?”
“No,” Vika said, her voice thin as she tried to recover from her own thoughts. “I can’t erase memories.” She’d tried many a time before when she was younger, in hopes that Sergei would forget she’d done this or that wrong. It never worked; it only botched things further when he realized what she’d attempted, and got her in more trouble.
Pasha balled up his hands and pressed them against his eyes. “Damn it.”
The magic swelled inside Vika. Seeing Pasha vulnerable helped her pull herself together. He needed her, his Imperial Enchanter. “What I’m suggesting,” she said, “is that if we can’t hide magic, we ought to trumpet it.”