Shoch is staring into the fireplace. Jonac’s fireplace, that is. We’re guests in his chamber now—he’s not sending us back to the cell. Instead, we’ll be staying with him, surrounded by all manner of guards.
What can I say? Jonac thinks I’m worth protecting. He can’t afford to let the king’s bastard son be murdered by a demon. Not on his watch.
Good for us, I suppose. We’re in the best room Crevlock Tower has to offer. The guards even brought in a fresh straw mattress. Just one, though. I’m not sure if Jonac knew I would share, or if he expected Shoch to sleep on the floor.
Since I will share it, it doesn’t matter. I drag it closer to the fireplace and arrange the wool blankets on top. Shoch doesn’t watch or react. He just stays seated on the floor and keeps staring into the fire. His brain must be somewhere else.
The guards shoot wary looks his way, as if they’re secretly sure that he’s the source of all the trouble here. Fuck that. I take a seat next to him, ignoring their disquiet, and put an arm over his shoulder.
Shoch doesn’t shrug it off. He doesn’t seem to notice it much either.
Maybe the guards are smarter than I am. Shoch is part demon. I can’t let myself forget that. I doubt he’s really a half breed, though. He can’t have that much demon blood in his veins. But it’s in his ancestry somewhere. And here I am, sitting next to him with an arm around him.
Hell, I probably would be fucking him if he weren’t so determined to live like a monk. He’s pretty enough, in a skittish, scrawny sort of way. And I’m not afraid to touch him now. So if he were agreeable to the notion . . . well, why not? I’ve never been particular—or wise—in my choice of lovers.
All right, that’s enough. Back to the matter at hand.
“So what was the plan?” I ask.
That gets Shoch’s attention. He finally turns to look at me.
“You track down this supposed demon to somewhere near Crevlock Tower. One of Jonac’s patrols finds you. There’s a skirmish. Your partner ends up dead. You end up a prisoner without a tongue. But before that skirmish . . . Shoch, how did you intend to stop the demon?”
He points at me. Then he takes my free hand and spells out ‘believe.’ Then he points at himself.
“Do I believe you? About the demon?”
Good question. To think that there are demons who can pass the barrier—no. If there were, wouldn’t the whole world know it? They’re insatiable, aren’t they? If we can trust the stories, they are. Always hungry for more kills, more blood . . . .
“Look, I don’t know what to believe.” I tighten my hold on him, gripping his shoulder for a moment. “But you didn’t answer the question.”
He points to his tongue.
“Oh. You would have used your sorcery. Your words of power.”
I don’t get an answer this time. I guess I don’t need one. All right. That’s fine.
There’s one question Jonac and I haven’t asked yet, though. One that needs answering. But maybe we’re not sure how to ask it. Or maybe we’re afraid to. Or maybe neither of us can conceive of a real, full-blooded demon on the loose.
But Shoch thinks there is one. He might be wrong, but he’s not faking this. So . . . so I should ask him.
“Shoch, if there is a demon behind this—a real demon—how do we stop it without sorcery?”
He snorts and shakes his head.
“What are you saying? We can’t?”
This time he nods.
“There’s no stopping this thing without words of power?”
“So, what then? We’re just fucked?”
He shrugs. There’s a sort worn out look to his eyes as he turns back to the fire.
“All right. We don’t know the truth of this. Not yet. Jonac’s men are still investigating. Maybe—maybe there’s some mundane explanation for what happened to Alecnu.”
Shoch doesn’t grace that with a response.
Doesn’t matter. My mind is back on Alecnu. If this was a mundane murder—maybe dressed up to look like something more—there was no reason to burn that boy’s remains. As a priest, I gave the wrong order. But there’s no point in worrying about that now. I’m sorry for the boy, but it’s done.
I give Shoch’s shoulder a squeeze. “I know it’s daylight now, but we’re both exhausted. Let’s get some sleep.”
He shifts so he can reach one of the blankets I just carefully laid on the mattress.
“What are you doing?”
Shoch points to the floor.
“No. You don’t need to sleep there. You’ll share with me.”
I roll my eyes. “Shoch, I won’t try anything. Even if I—even if I were the sort who would do that, you think I’d attack you with guards crawling all over this room?”
He shakes his head and takes my free hand again. I watch as he traces his letters.
“Not that—oh. You know I’m not that sort?”
“Good.” I let my arm fall. “Then you don’t need to sleep on the floor.”
He stares at me, considering that. At length he crawls onto the mattress. I watch as he cocoons himself into the blanket. I don’t think he’s cold, though. I think he sees the blanket as some kind of armor.
Why does he feel like he needs that protection? He knows I won’t hurt him. He just said as much. And he shouldn’t be afraid of the guards—not while I’m here. But I don’t say anything. If he feels he needs whatever thin armor that blanket can provide, so be it.
I crawl onto the mattress next to him. As long as we both lie on our sides, there’s enough room to leave some space between us. Hopefully that’ll make him more comfortable.
The fire crackles. I close my eyes and listen to it, ignoring the daylight spilling into the room from the slit windows. I ignore the sound of the guards coming in and out as well.
I keep half an ear cocked for Jonac, though. I’m pretty sure I’ll know his tread when I hear it. But he’s elsewhere in the Tower now, overseeing the investigation.
My mind drifts back to Shoch, and the words of power he lost when Jonac cut his tongue out. A reasonable precaution on Jonac’s part—unless there is a real demon out there.
An idea flitters through my brain before I can grasp it. Something to do with the words of power and the possibility that—no, it’s gone. I’m too tired to figure out a new idea right now. Sleeping on it might help, though . . . providing we can get through the next few hours without another attack.