I still haven’t read Shoch’s letter when we reach Fallpoint. There was no time.
Ruv had us all up two hours—two rainy, dark, fucking miserable hours—before dawn. He was determined to make the trip back to the capital in one day. Probably didn’t want to deal with innkeepers fussing over him or, worse, some noble jockeying for favors just because the crown prince spent one night in his home. The fact that we’re all soaked, sore and bleary-eyed is a small price to pay as we stumble through the quietest of the city gates.
Still, it’s good to be back on a proper street. We don’t have to smile and wave; it’s long past sunset now, and the guards politely clear our path. I doubt the few people walking about in this part of the city even realize it’s the crown prince passing by them. With our cloaks up, protecting us from the light rain that’s still falling, we look like any other official group returning from royal business.
Our burros are even happier to be home than we are. They pick up their pace on the cobblestone road, knowing there’s food, rest and a warm stable just ahead. And they deserve all of it. They did us proud, these beasts, picking their way down the treacherous mountain road with only a few brays of complaint.
Fuck, I should never have sacrificed that one. It’s stupid to feel so guilty over an animal, but I can’t help it. If I knew how to pray, I’d ask Veshnic to look after its spirit.
Wait. Do I believe that animals or humans have immortal spirits? That burro looked like it was alive again in my vision. But I’m not sure that means anything.
We dismount in the courtyard of Snail Rock. Yes, that’s the name of the fortress that dominates Fallpoint. No idea why—it was built on a rocky hill, but there were never snails there. Not as far as anyone knows.
Gael takes the rein of my burro. “It felt strange coming down the mountain to get to Fallpoint, didn’t it?”
He’s right—Crevlock Tower is one of the few places that’s higher up than our capital. Most people have to come up the mountain to get to the city.
I nod at Shoch, who’s fiddling with his cloak, trying to keep more of the rain out. “I’m surprised his nose wasn’t bleeding for our whole stay at Crevlock. No desert rat understands real heights.”
“Oh, they have some little mountains in Rokofar,” Gael says. “But they don’t climb up them—they dig into them. Most of their homes are massive caves. At least that’s what my people say.”
Ruvan strolls over to interrupt before I can ask Shoch if that’s true. “Remember, you’re still in my custody.” He points a finger at me. “Let me deal with Father alone. Just go straight to your quarters—Gael will escort you. Bring Shoch with you. Itzel too, at least for now. I’ll introduce her to Anvis as soon as I can, and she’ll find her a suitable place to stay.”
I give my little brother a look. “You’re awfully confident that your wife will welcome a spy from Rokofar into her household.”
“She will, though.” He sounds obnoxiously sure of himself. “Especially once she understands the stakes we’re playing for.”
Well, there’s that. Now we know what demons really are, and we know that the barrier holding them back is failing. So it’s time to make nice with Rokofar. But Anvis is going to strangle Ruv when she finds out that he stayed with us at Crevlock Tower even with a demon on the loose. And she’s battle-trained, Anvis is. I give her almost even odds against him.
I don’t voice that thought out loud. I just round up Shoch and Itzel instead. The three of us follow Gael back to my old rooms on the east side of the fortress. Well, room, actually. It’s one large room with a space that serves as a sitting room and a space that serves as a bed chamber.
Fuck, it’s good to be back. I didn’t know how much I missed my quarters here at Snail Rock.
I haven’t lived here—not officially—since I joined the legion. I’ve stayed here since then, of course. I’ve always come home between campaigns, but never for long. I wasn’t allowed to stay. My father had to show the world that he, too, was risking a son whenever we were at war. That doesn’t matter now, though. The legion washed its hands of me after my arrest. Whatever happens now, my time in the military is over.
And that’s good. I feel like I could be happy here for a whole year, even if I was under house arrest the whole time.
I glance over at Shoch. He’s walking the length and breadth of the room, taking in everything. I watch him stop and stare at the tapestry over my bed—over our bed, I mean. My step-mother made it for me. It shows a white boar in the forest. The boar I hunted wasn’t white, but somehow that became my emblem anyway.
“Hope you don’t mind waking up to that every morning.” I smile at him.
He tears his eyes off of it long enough to smile back.
All right then. I suppose that means he approves of the tapestry . . . and maybe of waking up under it each day. Which means he doesn’t mind sharing a bed the way we did at Crevlock. Well, why should he mind? He doesn’t want me or anyone else. His wyvern must have killed any kind of normal desire in him. I’m going to be climbing the walls at night, but he’ll sleep just fine.
“Do you mind if I start a fire?”
Itzel’s voice hits me like a bucket of cold water. Fuck. She’s standing by the fireplace, stripping off her cloak. Shoch and I aren’t alone—I’d better remember that.
“Uh, no, I don’t mind. But don’t bother. I’ll get it started—”
There’s a sharp rap at the door. I shut up and look over at Gael. When he raises an eyebrow at me, I nod.
He walks over to the door and opens it—and drops immediately to one knee before standing up again and stepping to the side.
Fuck, fuck, fuck. My father is standing there in the hallway.