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Her teachers say she’s wickedly smart but lazy, the kind of taiga-apprentice who gets infuriatingly high marks despite never studying. Sora has a reputation for spending her time coming up with elaborate pranks rather than “applying herself,” and it’s made her a bit of a legend among the other apprentices. Next up? Pulling off a surprise at Rose Palace, right beneath the empress’s nose.
But despite her flippant exterior, Sora does understand what an honor it is to be a taiga. She wants to be the best warrior she can be… as long as she doesn’t have to follow the rules to achieve it.
Hey, her taiga name isn’t “Spirit” for nothing.
Gemina: Daemon (a.k.a. Wolf)
Hometown: Samara Village
Favorite Weapon: Throwing stars
Favorite Food: Empress cakes
Favorite Thing to Do when on School Break: Draw up plans for her next delightfully irreverent disruption at The Citadel.
“Cloak of night. Heart of light.” – Society of Taigas motto
Taigas are the defenders of Kichona. Blessed at birth by Luna, goddess of the moon, each taiga is raised and trained in The Citadel, the Society’s headquarters in the Imperial City. During their apprenticeship, they learn everything they need to know to protect the kingdom—stealth, hand-to-hand combat, weaponry, and most importantly, spells to control their magic.
Every taiga also has a gemina, a partner with whom they share an emotional connection. Through their gemina bond, a taiga can transmit a sharp spike of panic to warn her partner of a surprise attack, or convey a warm sense of pride when his gemina successfully decapitates three enemies with one slice of her sword. The magical bond is such a strong one that taigas usually know their geminas as well as they know themselves.
At first glance, Broomstick is frightening—he’s a huge mass of solid muscle, his head is shaved, and his eyebrows are singed from a recent “experiment” with explosives.
But he also has a smile ready for anyone who crosses his path, and he knows every single taiga at The Citadel, as well as their birthday and favorite flavor of cake. For this, the other taiga-apprentices nicknamed him “the kingdom’s most lethal teddy bear.”
Favorite Weapon: Pocket-sized explosives shaped like eggs
Favorite Food: Fish curry and rice
Favorite Thing to Do when on School Break: Invent new bombs and blow things up.
Don’t underestimate this pixie-sized girl. She may look like a delicate porcelain doll, but she fights like she’s made of pure venom, especially if you hurt her friends.
She knows she’s pretty, too, and she uses it for her own entertainment. Between classes and sparring practice, Fairy’s often hiding in a towel closet or attic with a new boy on her lips. But don’t worry, gentlemen—she lets her conquests down gently once she’s tired of kissing them.
Favorite Weapon: Stiletto blade
Favorite Food: Rose apples
Favorite Thing to Do when on School Break: Forage for plants to make into poisons.
Raised by a pack of wolves (and well aware that he sounds like a ridiculous fairy tale trope), Daemon is both ferocious and self-deprecating all at once. His official taiga name is “Wolf,” but unlike the other apprentices who leave their birth names behind, Daemon still holds onto that piece of his past, since—without a family—it’s really all the history he’s got.
A mediocre student of magic, Daemon makes up for it by training hard and being the fiercest fighter in his class. Get into the arena with him, and he’ll have you flat on your back and begging for mercy in a sliver of a second.
Age: almost 18
Gemina: Sora (a.k.a. Spirit)
Hometown: Takish Gorge
Favorite Weapon: Bo
Favorite Food: Steak, as rare as possible. (You can take the boy out of the wolf pack, but you can’t take the wolf pack out of the boy).
Favorite Thing to Do when on School Break: Go back to nature where he can climb trees and see the stars.
A small island kingdom renowned for its mossy green forests, colorful textiles, and rare tiger pearls—enormous orange-and-black-striped gems found only in the underwater caves of Kichona.
Twenty-five year old Empress Aki rules the kingdom, following her late father’s philosophy of peaceful trade with Kichona’s neighbors on the mainland. Her reign has been characterized by stability and prosperity.
However, there are those who believe that Kichona could be more than it is. After all, they have an army of magical warriors—taigas—at their disposal. Why be content with mere happiness, when there is glory and gold to be had?
Kichona could be an empire. If only Empress Aki would use the taigas for the kingdom’s gain…
Red flame of hair, with a loud streak of black. Like a volcano erupting in lava and ash, Vika Andreyeva is a force to be reckoned with. She can control the elements, but her emotions—particularly her mischievous streak—often control her.
Which makes her a touch unpredictable.
And yet, there is one constant about Vika: the black stone pendant around her neck. She’s had it since the day she was born.
Hair: Red waves with a lock of black
Favorite Food: Blini with wild strawberry jam
Favorite Color: The color at sunset when the sky is on fire
Favorite Pastime: Daydreaming about getting off the forest island on which she lives
Sharp. Elegant. And a touch morose.
An orphan from the Kazakh steppe, Nikolai Karimov has taught himself everything he needs to know to be a gentleman in St. Petersburg society: his French is impeccable, his dancing, superb, and his honor, irreproachable.
Nikolai is also wickedly good at manipulating mechanical things with his magic, although this talent, he keeps mostly to himself. Ordinary people wouldn’t understand.
Sometimes, being an enchanter is a very, very lonely thing.
Favorite Food: Whatever the cook is making that day
Favorite Color: Dark gray
Favorite Pastime: Tailoring clothes
Pasha Romanov is a master of disguise. One has to be, when he happens to be the Tsesarevich—the crown prince—of the entire Russian empire, who sometimes needs a break from being, well, the Tsesarevich of the entire Russian empire.
Luckily, when Pasha manages to escape from the rigidity of life in the Winter Palace, he has his best friend, Nikolai, with whom to while away the hours. That is, before Pasha’s duties began to grow more demanding. And before Nikolai started locking himself in his house, doing who knows what.
Still, there’s always time for a late night bottle of vodka at The Magpie and The Fox. There’s always time for friends… Isn’t there?
Age: Almost 17
Favorite Food: Beef stroganoff
Favorite Color: Every color in the spectrum
Favorite Pastime: Archery and reading
A servant in the house where Nikolai lives, Renata Galygina also happens to be the only person (other than his mentor) who knows that Nikolai is an enchanter. He didn’t mean to share that fact with her, but Renata quite literally stumbled upon it one day when she walked into his room.
However, Renata has a secret talent as well: she reads tea leaves.
It makes for a very interesting household.
Favorite Food: Kulich, a traditional, sweet Easter bread
Favorite Color: Peacock Green
Favorite Pastime: Learning new ways to braid her hair
While Pasha is cavalier with his role as Crown Prince, his sister, Yuliana, is unsmilingly serious about being the Grand Princess. Although she’s two years younger than Pasha, she often acts as if she’s twenty older.
There is no political machination or negotiation that goes unnoticed by Yuliana. She may not be strong, physically, but she can bring almost anyone to their knees with her intellect. Even the Tsar’s secrets are not safe from Yuliana’s prying eyes.
Favorite Food: Sturgeon soup with champagne. It was a favorite of Catherine the Great; therefore, it is a favorite of Yuliana’s.
Favorite Color: Who has time for colors?
Favorite Pastime: Studying maps
If Ludmila Fanina weren’t a baker, she’d be an opera singer. But she loves baking—she owns Cinderella Bakery, a giant, pumpkin-shaped shop on the forest island where Vika lives—and she still gets to exercise her vocal cords by greeting Vika every morning in song.
Ludmila is a chatterbox, and she also bakes the best Borodinsky bread west of the Ural Mountains. If someone in the village is hungry (for pastry or conversation), they know where to go: Ludmila and her pumpkin bakery.
Favorite Food: Leftover caramel, straight from the pan
Favorite Color: Maroon
Favorite Pastime: Singing songs from her favorite opera, Magician, Fortuneteller, and Matchmaker
Countess Galina Zakrevskaya descends from a long line of mentors, those tasked with teaching enchanters how to hone their magical skills. She herself has power of her own, although it’s miniscule compared to Nikolai’s. She uses it mostly to levitate, for she doesn’t like walking on the ground. Too pedestrian.
But just because Nikolai lives in Galina’s house and trains with her doesn’t mean she thinks of him as family. It would be a grave mistake to attribute maternal instinct to Galina. Training Nikolai is a duty and an honor; mothering him is not.
Hair: Chestnut (which is, according to Galina, quite different from ordinary brown)
Eyes: Subtle brown (again, not just ordinary brown)
Favorite Food: Blanquette de veau (Everything is better in French)
Favorite Color: Pale Yellow
Favorite Pastime: Spreading rumors about those with “new money”
Baron Sergei Andreyev is Vika’s father and mentor. Although a nobleman, Sergei eschews court life in St. Petersburg in favor of a quiet cottage isolated in the middle of the woods. He hates the pretense of the capital city. The aristocracy there all work so hard pretending to be French. What’s wrong with being Russian?
As a mentor, Sergei has some magical power, although it’s limited to a much smaller scale. But Sergei is also a scientist of medicinal herbs, and he believes that sometimes, nature is its own form of magic.
Hair: Brown speckled with gray
Favorite Food: Borodinsky bread from Ludmila’s bakery
Favorite Color: Red like Vika’s hair, for in Sergei’s eyes, there is nothing more beautiful in the world than his daughter.
Favorite Pastime: Trying to cook. Food made from scratch always tastes better than food made from magic. Or so Sergei says.
Better not to know from whence Aizhana came.
Better not to see her face beneath her cloak.
And better not to feel her wrath and pain.
Eyes: Don’t look
Favorite Food: Better not to ask…
Favorite Color: The lack thereof.
Favorite Pastime: Some say Aizhana used to love to dance.
Alexander Pavlovich Romanov: Tsar of the Russian empire. Defeater of Napoleon. Possible conspirator in the assassination of his own father, the previous tsar.
Also, father to Pasha and Yuliana.
If you are loyal to the Tsar, you will be rewarded. But if you cross him… beware.
Eyes: You dare to look the Tsar in the eye?
Favorite Food: Steak tartare
Favorite Color: Gold
Favorite Pastime: The Tsar has no time for such trivialities.