No. I shake my head. Damn it, I want my tongue back! I want to scream the word out loud. I want everyone in the entire tower to hear me. But all that comes out of me is an ugly, frustrated sound that’s half a grunt and half a growl.
It doesn’t matter. This thing—this demon—is not coming out of me. Why can’t my idiot master understand that?
Aric tightens his grip on my hand. “I mean it, Shoch. I’m not losing you. If that thing is killing you, we’ve got to—we’ve got to unjoin you from it. There has to be a way.”
He’s staring straight at me, not at Itzel. I don’t think he catches the flicker in her eyes—but I do. Or perhaps I didn’t catch it. Perhaps I just know her that well. Either way, I don’t look at her. I just will her to keep quiet.
She does. Of course she does. If I attempted the unjoining—well, she knows how worthless I’d be, assuming I even survived. Better to have me alive, with all my faculties, for even a short while at the right hand of this influential Bonshev.
“Shoch?” Aric’s breaths are slow, as if he’s measuring each one. “Shoch, tell me how we do this.”
I shake my head again. Then I snatch my hand back from him so I can point at myself. Then I use both my hands to mime the wings of a wyvern.
He nods, his body stiff and apprehensive. “You and the wyvern? You and the wyvern what?”
I clasp all my fingers together first. Then I hold up just one finger.
“The joining made you one?” He swallows and then shakes his head back and forth, slowly and deliberately. “No. Fuck that. You’re not one being, you and this demon. Or wyvern or—or whatever we should call it. You’re you, Shoch. You don’t need this thing.”
My vision is starting to blur. And I’m shaking. How dare he? This stupid Bonshev doesn’t know the first thing about the joining. And he doesn’t know what it would cost me to unjoin. He doesn’t understand what he’d be left with—it wouldn’t be me. I wouldn’t be the Shocha he cares for.
“Shoch!” His voice is sharp now. “Stop snarling at me, pet.”
I stand up in response. I stand up and stalk over to the fireplace, as far away from Aric and Itzel as I can get. For a few seconds, I just stare into the coals.
Aric’s voice grates on me. How dare he? He’s nothing but an infant, this Bonshev priest. An infant with no understanding of what it costs to serve Rokto-xar. An infant with no respect for the sacrifice I made to do my part in maintaining the barrier. He’s not even thinking about the barrier now. No, he just doesn’t want to live without his favorite pet.
“Shoch, listen to me.”
He’s off the bed and walking toward me. But I don’t want him anywhere near me. I pick up an iron poker and—and I strike it against the bricks of the fireplace. Over and over and over. I can’t see anything—my eyes are too wet. My breaths are coming too hard and too fast. But it doesn’t matter. I just keep striking.
Then Aric’s hands are on my shoulders. Both his hands—the one on his good arm and the one on his bad arm. He pulls me toward him but I twist out of his grasp. I just want to slam this damn poker into the bricks until I reduce every last one of them to rubble.
But Aric grabs the poker this time. There’s a struggle—I hardly know what I’m doing—but then it’s out of my hands. I still can’t see anything, but I hear it clamor to the floor. And then Aric’s arms are around me and suddenly I don’t have enough energy to push the bastard away.
“Shhh. Shhh, pet, it’s all right. We’ll figure this out.”
There are more people in the room now. I can hear them murmuring—guards, Jonac, His Highness . . . have they all come for the show? I don’t care. None of them matter. Only Aric matters. I’m still furious with the idiot, but I slip my arms around him regardless.
His back is wet. Is he sweating? No. Fuck, fuck, fuck—that’s blood. He must have ripped his scars open again. And that’s my fault. I’m just hurting him. I’m just making things worse.
I try to push away again, but he’s not having it. And I doubt he cares that he’s bloodied up again. I’ll say this much for him: he can stand for plenty of pain.
By the time he loosens his grip on me, I’m calm again. I can see again too—my eyes are drying up. I make a frustrated gesture and point to the blood that’s soaked straight through his tunic.
Aric glances over his shoulder and smiles a little. “I know. Looks like you’ll need to redo the bandages again.”
I nod. And I need to be the one to do them. I have to make sure we boil wine for the wound first and then I have to apply it on my own—these Bonshev don’t know how to clean a wound up proper.
One of the guards walks over to us—no, it’s not a guard. Not a tower guard, I mean. It’s Gael. “Everything all right with you two?” His voice is casual, as if a servant going mad was nothing out of the ordinary. Gael is like that. He finds a way to bring a sense of normalcy to whatever is going on.
Aric doesn’t answer straight off. He hesitates long enough to give me a questioning look.
I shrug in response. No, nothing is all right—we haven’t settled anything, and we won’t until Aric faces reality and accepts the fact that this wyvern is part of me, and that I won’t live long enough to grow old and gray with him. And so what? We’ll never find a way to fix the barrier, so we’ll all end up dead before it matters.
But there’s no point in trying to mime all that. Hence my shrug.
Aric bites his lip. I suppose even he knows that we haven’t settled anything. But he nods at Gael. “Yes. We’ll, uh, sort things out.’
“All right.” Gael looks to me. “Why don’t you come with me, Shoch? We’ll boil wine or—or whatever it is you need to do for Aric.”
That’s not a terrible idea. I need to clear my head. And I need to get away from this room. I glance at Itzel to make sure I can safely leave her, but she’s not even looking at us. She’s deep in conversation with Ruvan. I should have known—she’d hardly miss an opportunity to bend the ear of the crown prince.
“Go on,” Aric says. “I’ll wait here. And your sister will be fine. You can trust us with her.”
I wasn’t even worried about that. I suppose I should have been, but I’ve spent enough time in the company of these men to trust to their decency. I wouldn’t say that about all Bonshev, no matter how high-minded their Sages were. But I trust these men to behave. Even Jonac.
So I nod at Gael and leave the room with him. Maybe I can even explain my situation to him. And maybe he can help me talk some sense into my idiot master.