There’s pain—fuck there’s pain. My shoulder, my back . . . .
Ruvan. That’s Ruvan speaking. He’s alive, at least.
I force my eyes open. My brother is standing there, leaning over me, blocking out the glare from the sun.
“Aric, keep still.”
I crack a smile at that. Couldn’t move even if I wanted to.
Someone clucks at me. Wait, no. That’s the wrong description. Grunts and clicks, more like. It’s Shoch—he’s holding me.
Does he still smell like holy wood? I can’t tell now. That scent is everywhere, clogging up my nostrils. Cloying at me.
Where are we? Outside, obviously. I think we’re still in the field, but Shoch must have pulled me away from the altar. And this is Shoch, not Veshnic. I can tell by the grunts. And the awkward way he’s holding me. Maybe he’s not sure if he’s allowed to touch me like this. Or maybe he’s not sure if he wants to.
Doesn’t matter. I’m leaning back against him now. I can feel his body heat. Hell, I can feel him breathing in and out. I know this is my pet. And this is real.
“Shoch.” I grope for his hand.
He grabs mine, clicking and grunting at me some more.
I smile. “Glad you’re—you’re not dead.” I look to Ruvan. “Jonac?”
“I’m here, Aric.” He comes up from behind Ruvan to loom over me. “We’re all here. And the demon is gone. You’re the only one seriously injured.”
Thank—thank Veshnic. I owe the god some gratitude, don’t I? But something’s still wrong. I can tell by the way they’re acting. If we got out of this with no deaths, they should be celebrating by now.
“Ruvan, how bad am I?”
“The wyvern’s claws cut deep, but we think you’ll live. Just don’t move.” My brother’s voice is stern as he crouches by my side. “We’re going to get you back in the tower and see to your wounds.”
“But if you think I’ll live, and the de—er, wyvern is gone . . . I don’t understand. What’s wrong?”
He looks away for a second before answering. “We understand a little more about these demons now. And this barrier. Things—well, I almost wish we didn’t know. That’s all.”
I squint at him. “We won’t need human blood again.”
Ruvan looks confused. “Aric, your blood is the reason we defeated this thing—”
“No! No more blood sacrifices. I can explain. But I need to dictate what happened.”
“Dictate?” Jonac furrows his brow. “We were all here. We all saw it with our own eyes.”
“No—not the sacrifice. Or the battle . . . I saw something. While I was knocked out. Need to write it down.”
Shoch grunts again. It’s a sort of questioning grunt, I think.
I manage a grin. He is literate—why not? “Yes, you can write it for me, pet. Ruvan, get him what he needs. Quill, ink, paper. Parchment too, maybe. This . . . I think this has to last.”
“Don’t worry, Aric.” My brother squeezes my shoulder. My good shoulder. “We’ll see to it.”
“Thank you.” I try to give him a grateful nod, but I’m too busy sliding back into unconsciousness.
The next time I wake up, there’s sunlight streaming in through the window. Enough to make me wince.
Wait, window? Oh. I’m in a room now. Jonac’s room, I think. I’m on his bed. It’s larger and more comfortable than I thought, now that I’m actually in it. I’d say this is an improvement over a mattress on the floor, but there’s a strange tightness around me.
Huh. I think they bandaged me within an inch of my life. It was only my shoulder and back that were clawed up, but they’ve got me bound up good.
Never mind that. I look around—I can just make out one of Jonac’s men standing guard in the doorway. But only Shoch is in the room with me. He’s sitting in a chair next to my bed, dozing. One of his bony hands is resting on top of mine. I smile and give it a little squeeze.
His eyes fly open. They’re a dark, swirling sort of red right now. Next thing I know, he’s feeling my face, as if he’s checking for a fever.
“It’s all right, Shoch. I’m all right. Just . . . sore.”
He feels my forehead one more time before nodding in satisfaction.
“See? I’m fine. But you—you look a little worse for wear.”
Shoch mimes rubbing his eyes.
I smile again. “You’re just tired? That’s all?”
Now he shrugs.
“Will you tell me something?”
He cocks his head at me.
I take hold of his hand again. Then I force myself to look into his eyes—deep into his eyes. “The demon made your eyes red? The wyvern, I mean. The wyvern you, ah, joined with?”
He stiffens, but manages a nod.
“What color were your eyes before that?”
Shoch grunts and shakes his head.
“I don’t understand, Shoch. What’s wrong?”
He stares at me and then shifts so that he can trace his letters into my palm.
“You weren’t—you weren’t Shocha before the joining? What? You had a different name?”
He shakes his head, thinks about it for a moment, and then tries tracing some more.
“Oh. You weren’t the same Shocha before the joining.”
This time he nods.
I chew on that. “You mean—the joining changed you. You’re different than you were back then. Like a completely different person?”
He snorts and then nods again.
I’m not sure what to say. I suppose it would change you, yes, joining with a demon. But how bound up with this demon is he? This wyvern, I mean. “Shoch, are you and this . . . this wyvern—are you like two beings sharing a body?”
Shoch shakes his head.
I swallow. “So, you’re more tightly bound than that. More entwined?”
He holds up one finger.
“You’re . . . the two of you are one?”
All right then. I think that means there’s no going back. Up until—well, ever since I learned about this joining, I’d been wondering, in the back of my head, if there was some way to undo it. Doesn’t seem likely now.
“I still want to know, pet. What color were your eyes before?”
He looks around the room, but doesn’t seem to find anything. At length, he points out the window instead. Out toward the sky.
“Blue? Like Veshnic’s?”
Shoch looks . . . uh, scandalized.
“All right, pet. No one has eyes like Lord Veshnic’s. But yours were blue?”
He nods again.
I nod back. I’m not sure how I feel about that. I don’t know if the fact that his eyes were once blue says anything about this vision of mine.
Fuck, it doesn’t matter right now. “Thank you, pet. Thank you for telling me.” I pause to breathe deep—or as deep as I can in these asinine bandages. “Listen, I know you’re tired. But I need to dictate to you now. It’s important, what happened. I can’t risk forgetting it.”
He stands up and moves to the desk. I crane my head—I think he has everything he needs there.
“Good, Shoch. Before we start, get my brother and Jonac. Gael too. I want—I want them all to witness this.”
Shoch gives me this uncertain look. No, maybe it’s more curious than uncertain. But he walks over to the guard just outside the door and gestures at him. Ah, I see. Shoch doesn’t want to leave me.
I repeat my request to the guard. He promises to return with my brother, Jonac and Gael at once. Apparently they’re not far.
Good. I try for another deep breath. Sages only know what they’ll make of my story. Hell, I don’t even know if it will prove useful. Veshnic didn’t lay out a battle plan for facing off against any more wyverns. He didn’t tell me how to stop the sacrifices in Rokofar. Or how to strengthen the barrier or banish demons without those sacrifices.
Doesn’t matter. I’m supposed to do the right thing and leave the results to Veshnic, right? Well, right now, getting this vision down on paper, before it slips away—that’s the right thing.