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Sergey Ivanovitch Khorkina was seeking solitude following the death of his grandfather, the last man to have been alive before the Change.
In "Ancient Ways", he encounters a young Kalmyk man named Dorzha Abakov who is being pursued by Tartars. He agrees to help Dorzha free a princess of his people who was captured by other Tartars. Along the way, Sergey learns that Dorzha is a woman trained as a warrior and the half-sister of the Princess, Bortë. Working together the two rescue Bortë, who turns out to be a scholar of chemistry and who assists in her own rescue. Bortë has no desire to return to her father's house and be married off against her will. The three decide to travel to China.