First thing’s first: we have to secure the room. It’s not that I want to abandon the rest of the Tower, but protecting Ruvan is my first duty. And I’m not just thinking like an older brother.
All right. I am. But I can justify that. Ruvan is the crown prince. His safety is the most important thing—and Jonac would agree. That’s probably why he gave me his dagger.
Back to the room. There’s only one door in or out. There’s also one window that we can climb out of, if needs be. Or we can shutter it from the inside. Two of those narrow, slit windows flank it. We can block those up too.
Then there’s the fireplace—and the chimney it’s connected to. Normally, I wouldn’t consider that an opening, but this is a demon we’re talking about. If the stories are true, it can get in through there. Damn it. We have to decide, quick, whether to seal ourselves in here or . . . or leave ourselves as many outs as we can.
I turn to Shoch. He’s the only unarmed person here. I feel a twinge of guilt at that, but what am I supposed to do? I trust him enough to arm him, but he wouldn’t know how to handle a weapon. Well, the rest of us will protect him. I know I can trust Ruvan on that. Hopefully his guard as well.
My pet can still help, though. He can give us information.
“Shoch, can we wall ourselves off from a demon?”
“Mind your manners, pet, and answer me straight.”
He gives me a look that I have no problem interpreting—if this is a demon we’re dealing with, all this preparation is pointless. Then he starts pointing at the chimney, the windows and the space between the door and the floor. Even at tiny cracks in the wall.
“A demon can—can what? Contort itself so it can fit through anything?”
He shakes his head again. But just a little this time, as if I’ve almost got it.
“All right. Not contort, exactly. Then what?”
He points to the fireplace. The flames have died down now, but—oh. He doesn’t care. He’s pointing at the last wisps of smoke, not at the dying coals.
“Smoke,” Ruvan says. “It can . . . it can turn to smoke?”
This time Shoch nods.
Fuck. I shift so I can stare at my brother.
He blows air and then gives me a shrug. “There are legends about that, aren’t there? So no point in blockading ourselves in. I’ll take the big window.”
I watch as he takes up position to the right of it. He’s not legion trained, my brother, but he knows something of tactics and he’s damned good in a fight. Our father saw to that.
His guard is well-trained too, I’ll wager. He’s standing to the right of the door, watchful and alert. There’s fear in his eyes—can’t say I’m surprised, given the conversation—but determination too. Good. He’ll stand his ground.
I suck in some air and turn back to Shoch. “All right. It can . . . turn to smoke. Wait.” I remember that cloying scent from Alecnu’s cell. “Does that smoke smell like holy wood?”
“Then we’re definitely dealing with a—with a fucking demon.”
But Shoch doesn’t nod this time. He mimes drinking something, and then rolls his eyes back in his head.
I close my eyes, just for a second. “Right. The laudanum.”
“Where does laudanum fit into this?” My brother crinkles his forehead as he looks from one of us to the other.
“Tov Alecnu—the boy who was shredded and, uh, pulled all out of joint—was drugged. We’re guessing with laudanum.”
“And a demon wouldn’t drug a victim.”
“I don’t think so.” Sages, I hope not. This is one time I’m praying that the stories are true. “They’re not—they’re not intelligent that way, are they Shoch? In our stories, demons are keen predators, but like . . . I don’t know. Like cunning animals. Smart the way a jaguar is smart, not the way a human murderer would be.”
Ruvan bites his lip. “Just a moment. This—this Tov Alecnu. He was imprisoned here, wasn’t he?”
“And Jonac had him isolated?”
“So I’m guessing he was not a model prisoner.”
I cock my head at my Ruvan. “No. Guardsman Deferential told me that the boy was a handful.”
“I don’t know the man’s real name.”
Ruvan rolls his eyes. “You should learn it.”
That’s Ruvan for you. If he had been locked up here, he’d know the name of every one of his guards by now. It’s all that courtly training of his.
“Meanwhile . . . .” Ruvan hesitates. He looks like he’s puzzling something out. “Maybe—maybe it’s not the demon who gave the boy laudanum.”
“What are you saying?” I cock my head at him. “You think one of the guards drugged him, but not to hurt him?”
“Why then? Just to keep him out of trouble?”
“Would you put it past them?” Suddenly my baby brother looks every inch the cynic. “It would be an easy way to calm a prisoner down.”
All right. He has a point. I turn the implications of that over in my brain. “If that’s what happened, then this wasn’t a murder. No human killed Alecnu, I mean.” I pause to turn back to Shoch. “It was a demon.”
Shoch doesn’t mime anything, but he sure as hell looks like he agrees.