There’s a long silence after that. What’s there to say? We have a real demon loose in Crevlock Tower. If it shows up in this room . . . well, I doubt any of us will survive.
It might not show. Judging by that scream, it’s already killed again. I cringe a little, remembering Alecnu’s corpse. Fuck, I hope this thing is satiated.
But it doesn’t matter. If it shows, we can put up a fight. Me, Ruvan, Ruvan’s guard—damn it. I should learn the man’s name. Not just because of courtly manners or courtly politics. No, because we’re going to be fighting together. And there won’t be a chance once the fighting’s done.
I nod at the fellow, catching his eye. “I’m Aric. His Highness’s brother, as you probably guessed.”
The guard summons up a half smile—a kind of nothing to lose smile, actually. “Gael, Sir.”
Not a Tantzi name, that. Given his dark hair and the bronze cast to his skin, he’s probably one of the Abran people.
“Gael, this is Shocha. He’s my . . . servant.” I look Shoch’s way as I make the introduction. My pet is just standing there, glowering enough to do Jonac proud. I don’t think he understands the need for these niceties.
I roll my eyes. “Shoch, at least nod your head to acknowledge Gael.”
He lets out this long suffering sigh as he obeys me.
Ruvan snorts at that and brings us back to the point. “Shocha, why don’t you tell us what this thing looks like, at least. How tall will it be? How muscular? And it has—it has claws instead of fingernails, doesn’t it?”
“Right. Describe this thing as best you can.” I give him an expectant look.
But he looks puzzled now. He points at me, and then at Ruvan, and finally at his own head. And then he raises his eyebrows.
“What do we think it looks like?” I shrug, thinking back to the stories. “A giant, monstrous human. With wings and claws and fangs and such. Horns too, probably.”
Shoch shakes his head back and forth. Slowly, like he can’t believe what he’s hearing. Then he crosses over to me, grabs my free hand, and starts tracing letters into my palm.
I stare at him. “Wyvern? The demon . . . it looks like a wyvern?”
“Shocha, you mean a dragon-like creature?” I can hear the disbelief in my brother’s voice. “That’s what we mean by wyvern: a two-legged, winged dragon.”
Shoch nods and releases my hand. He starts miming the wings—which, if I read him right, have finger-like claws on them, the way bat wings do.
I swallow. So no lumbering, horned, human giant. No, a wyvern would be sharp and vicious and lightning fast. Or so I’d imagine. But if a demon is like that—no, that doesn’t add up.
“That doesn’t make any sense.” I cock my head at Shoch. “Unless—can demons change their shape? Do they look, ah, human-ish sometimes?”
He shakes his head and shrugs. Not that he’s ever seen, I guess.
My brother and I look at each other. Then I glance over at Gael, but I can’t see his expression—he’s too busy keeping watch.
All right, we’re all wondering the same thing. Or at least Ruvan and I are. I have to ask, so I turn back to Shoch. “Listen, pet, if this thing only takes form as either smoke or a wyvern . . . well, how did demons come into your bloodline? Did they use some sort of sorcery to mate with humans?”
Shoch starts choking. Fuck! I’ve got nothing to sheathe the dagger with, so I put it down and grab hold of his shoulders. Should I hit his back?
But my idiot pet isn’t choking—he’s laughing. It’s just coming out as this strangled, wheezing sound because he has no tongue. He’s breathing fine, though, so I roll my eyes and let him go. Then I take my damn dagger back. “What’s so funny?”
He waits to catch his breath. Then he mimes the wings of a demon. Then he makes an obscene gesture for fucking—since even he knows it, I suppose it’s universal—and shakes his head. Then he points to himself and shakes his head again.
My brother is the first to work out his meaning. “Shocha, are you saying that demons don’t copulate with humans? That’s not how your people came to be?”
He nods, still grinning like he can’t believe our sheer stupidity.
I choose to ignore that. “But Shoch—you are part demon right?”
“Well?” He’s got to explain this. “How’d you get demon blood in you with no demon ancestors?”
He takes my free hand back and interlaces our fingers.
I have no idea what he’s getting at. “You—you what? Make deals with them?”
Shoch isn’t smiling now. He looks frustrated instead. He unlocks our fingers and starts tracing letters in my palm again.
“There’s a—a joining?” I stare at him. “What’s a joining?”
My brother huffs out a breath. “Something we need to learn more about. But not now—now we need to know how to fight this thing.”
Shoch just gives us another one of those helpless shrugs.
“No.” I reach out and thread my fingers through his hair. “Look at me, pet.”
He doesn’t shrink back or pull away. And he doesn’t look angry or annoyed when he meets my eyes. He looks curious.
“I know you think that we can’t beat this thing. Not without your words of power.”
“But Jonac—look, he asked me a weird question.” I sigh and let my hand drop. “But the more I turn it over in my mind, the more sense it makes. You’re the one with the sorcery. We all know that. But do you need to speak the words of power, or can anyone say them?”
For a long minute, he just stares at me, working that out. Then he points at me, grabs my free hand again and starts tracing.
“Am I—am I a real priest? Is that what you’re asking?”
That gets me another nod. But he keeps tracing.
“Do I know how to make the—” My eyebrows shoot up. “Are you asking if I know how to perform a blood sacrifice?”
‘Yes. I was trained in it ages ago. In theory, I mean. And I’ve read all the ancient texts. But I’ve never actually done one, Shoch. We don’t—no. We follow the Sages. No blood sacrifices.”
He gives me this strange look—it’s full of sympathy, affection and . . . uh, I think admiration. But then he shakes his head and goes back to tracing his letters.
I know what he’s saying, even before he finishes. If we want to have any chance against this thing, we can’t afford to be squeamish.