Jonac positions himself just outside the door and a little to the left. He’s ready to sprint back into the room if there’s any trouble. All right, I don’t blame him. I can’t expect him to trust Shoch the way I do.
Besides, he might have a point. We have more than Shoch to worry about. So I stand right across from Jonac in the hallway. If something does go wrong, I can get in there almost as fast as he can.
Two other guards remain with us. One of them is a personal guard to my brother. I don’t know him, but I can tell by his livery. I don’t know the other one either, but he’s one of Jonac’s.
Are either of them supposed to be watching me? If so, they don’t show it. I think Jonac has forgotten that I’m still a prisoner.
No, scratch that. He hasn’t forgotten. He just knows I’ll stay in line. I might have fought like hell when he first dragged me into Crevlock Tower, but that was just a matter of principle. The situation’s different now. We can’t be odds with each other.
I meet Jonac’s eyes, taking in the hard lines of his face. He’s always been like that—all chiseled and disapproving. It’s . . . it’s a good look on him, actually. And it hasn’t hurt him any.
Well, maybe a little. I don’t suppose he wanted to be placed in charge of this Tower. There’s a certain prestige to it, especially when you deal with political prisoners day in and day out, but there’s not much opportunity for advancement. So who assigned him here? My brother probably knows. He pays attention to legion politics.
“Aric?” Jonac’s voice is harsher now. He doesn’t like being made to wait.
“Sorry. I was just thinking—never mind. What is it?”
“What does the Tainted have to say about our odds against this supposed demon?”
I look from one guard to the other.
Jonac sighs. “My men can stand to know the worst. I’m sure your brother’s can as well. Come on, Aric. What odds does Shocha give us?”
“He doesn’t like them. Hell, I think he puts them at about zero.”
“And you trust him on this?”
“Any reason I shouldn’t? He’s in danger too, Jonac.”
“Yes, he’d have us believe that he’s on our side. That his kind make a habit of protecting the rest of us from demonic invasions.”
My shoulders stiffen. “Look, I don’t know if that’s true about his people or not. But it’s like you said—I’m pretty sure that he believes it.”
“Jonac, you said you believed Shoch. But suddenly he’s a liar?
“I want to believe he’s being honest with us—hell, I do believe it. But I can’t afford to trust my gut on this! Much less yours.”
“So you think—you think what, exactly?”
“Are you sure he hasn’t ensorcelled you?”
“You cut out his tongue!”
“I did, yes.” His eyes bore into mine. “You’d have done the same in my position.”
“Yes, I would have. And Shoch knows that. But that’s not the point.” I pause to slow my breath. And to deepen it. Jonac always finds a way to spark my temper, damn him. “Shoch can’t talk. So he didn’t work any magic on me. And he’s not working any magic on my brother right now.”
Jonac’s voice tightens. “That’s true. If words of power are his only means of sorcery.”
“Words of power combined with symbols and blood sacrifices, right? Have you heard of his people using anything else?”
He shakes his head. Reluctantly, but he shakes it.
“Good. Because Shoch hasn’t done any of that. Besides, if he’s—” I cut myself off. For a second I just stand there. Then I run my fingers through my hair and try again. “He wouldn’t need sorcery to manipulate me. You must have figured that out already.”
“I have.” Jonac manages a sour smile. “But I’m not sure he has. Maybe he thinks magic is his only option.”
“No. Trust me on this—Shoch knows just where he stands with me. He knows . . . he knows there’s a lot I’d do to protect him.” I sigh and let myself slump back against the wall. “He says he has no sorcery now. And without that sorcery, he can’t defeat the demon. And he doesn’t think we can defeat it either.”
“We have good fighting men here. And more available to us.”
“We could have the whole bloody legion here, Jonac—but what good would that do against a demon?”
He stares at me for a moment and then softens his voice. “Aric, if this is a demon—and remember, we don’t know that for sure yet—it can’t be indestructible. It exists in our world. It hungers after our blood. It must be something we can touch. And if we can touch it, we can kill it.”
I grunt. “I wish I believed that. But if the old stories are right, then we can’t kill it. We can only banish it. Send it back beyond the barrier. And none of us know how to do that.”
“True.” Damn it, he sounds eerily calm right now. “But, if he is telling the truth, Shocha does know how to banish it.”
I stare at him. “Shoch knows how, but he needs his tongue to do that. He has to speak his words of power. And thanks to us, he can’t.”
“Does he need to speak them, or does he just need them to be spoken?”
“What do you—”
Someone screams. It’s fucking ear shattering. Damn it! The echoes against these walls make it impossible to figure out where it’s coming from. But Jonac and I aren’t taking any chances. He pulls his sword out and together we rush back into his room, followed by the guards.
Ruvan and Shoch are fine. They must have heard the scream—they’re alert and on their feet—but they’re fine.
All right. I start breathing again. I even manage to turn back to Jonac for further orders.
He sheathes his sword, face grim. I can read his thoughts, I think. The prince is unharmed, but someone else in his charge is in danger. Or maybe already dead.
“Jonac, do you want me to—”
He cuts me off with a wave of his hand. Then he pulls his dagger out of his belt and hands it to me.
I stare at it stupidly for a second and then cock my head at him.
“You’re a soldier. You shouldn’t be unarmed.”
Right. Of course he’s right. But my brother shouldn’t be unarmed either—ah, never mind. His guard is handing him a weapon.
Jonac nods at me, Shoch, the royal guard . . . and finally Ruvan. “Highness, I won’t presume to give you orders, but you should all stay here. Dan, you’re with me.”
He doesn’t wait for Ruvan to answer. He just strides toward the door in lockstep with the Crevlock guard—Dan, I presume. Neither of them looks back.