Shoch is finally settled. Hell, I think he’s half asleep. No, make that all the way asleep—he’s snoring. I smile a little at that. Either he’s satisfied with my promise of faithfulness or my shoulder makes a decent pillow.
Me, I’m still wide awake. I finally got to the part of his letter that matters:
You’ve accused me of shading the truth or outright lying. If I ever have, it ends here. Yes, there is a ritual designed to separate a sorcerer from his wyvern. We developed it almost as soon as we developed the Joining itself. We sacrifice our best and brightest to these shortened lifespans—we wanted those lives back, if we could get them.
I smile a little. Best and brightest—Shoch isn’t modest. But I don’t think he’s exaggerating. They can’t just drag any poor soul off the streets and ask them to join with a monster and control it.
Now the ritual is rare—I’ve only known of one in the past ten years. For most of us, death is preferable to the risks involved.
He underlined that last sentence. Just to make sure I couldn’t skim over it.
The ritual requires two sorcerers, two soldiers, a priest and a sacrificial victim. A human victim.
The first sorcerer is the one who wants the separation. The second must banish the newly freed wyvern. You understand how this works: in order to keep that wyvern in place and hold its attention, a priest must spill human blood.
Still want to keep reading?
Yes. Málaf, I almost say that out loud. Shoch knows damn well that I’m not giving up on this. We’ll find a way to entice and hold a wyvern without human blood.
If the ritual fails, the soldiers act quickly. They kill the first sorcerer at once—he’ll be mad and uncontrollable. The second sorcerer and the priest continue as planned; with the first sorcerer dead, there will still be a wyvern to banish.
You don’t need to worry about me dying on my own—when the wyvern finally burns through me, I mean. That happens because the wyvern is in its death throes; it will die with me. You should burn my carcass immediately though, to be certain. I suppose it’s just as well that you Bonshev don’t think my people are worthy of burial.
That’s not going to happen. I won’t let it happen. Damn it, I’m crumpling the paper! I need to calm down. I suck in all the air my lungs can handle, smooth the paper out as best I can one-handed and go back to reading.
If the ritual is successful—which, from what I’ve read, happens less than half the time—then, yes, the sorcerer is free of his wyvern. But the man left—it’s not the same man, Aric. He’s usually just a shell of himself. And, more often than not, he’ll turn himself over to the priests as an offering for the altar within a few months.
What the fuck does that mean? He lets the priests take him as a sacrificial offering? I swallow, imagining Shoch bound to an altar, a razor-sharp knife at his throat. Fuck me, my stomach is churning now.
No. That can’t happen here in Tantzil. If Shoch wants to kill himself, he’ll have to find some rope or slit his wrists or hurl himself out of one of the towers of Snail Rock. And that won’t happen either, because I will never let him out of my sight.
That’s assuming he has all his faculties, of course. With a hollow ex-sorcerer, that’s not always the case.
The lantern on the bed table flickers. I turn my head to squint at it. The candle inside is burned down more than half-way. I can’t refresh it without disturbing Shoch, so I’ll have to read faster.
You keep saying I owe you my obedience—by virtue of you adopting me as your pet, I suppose. Fine. I acknowledge your authority over me. (I suppose I wanted to be adopted. And there’s something to be said for your warmth and off-hand kindness.)
Warmth and off-hand kindness? Is that the best I’ve done for him? I couldn’t even manage that much, not at first. But things are different now; otherwise he’d be back in Rokofar instead of curled up with me.
So if you order me to undergo this ritual, I’ll do it. Under protest, but I’ll do it.
We’ll have to find another sorcerer. One who will believe you when you tell him (or her) that your people won’t cut out his tongue or burn him at the stake. And you’ll have to go back on your promise to forsake human sacrifice.
In case you don’t see the folly in all this—because you Bonshev are known for your stubbornness, if not your intelligence—I have one more request.
If we go through with this ritual, and if it’s successful, let me end my life if I choose to afterward. And if I’ve lost all my faculties, then end it for me. Or, better yet, let Ruvan end it for me. He’s a harder man than you are. He’d be a better judge of whether I’d want to go on.
I crush the damn letter along with his idiotic request to my chest. Then I glance over at him—only to find those red eyes of his boring into me. Fuck. I should have known—I haven’t heard any snores for the last few minutes.
“So you’re awake, are you?”
He gives me a contemptuous nod. Good to know he still has that sass to him.
“I’m done with your letter.”
He points at it—I’m crumpling it again. Between the two of us, though, we manage to fold it. I put it on the bed table just as the candle starts to sputter.
“Listen to me, pet. We’re going to find a way to do this ritual without human sacrifice. And it will be successful. And when it’s over, I don’t care how depressed you are. I don’t care if you’re as smart and as bright and as quick and as infuriating as you are now. I don’t care if you’re half out of your mind. No one’s going to end your life—not me, not Ruvan, not you.”
He rolls his eyes and lets out an exasperated sigh. I suppose he saw this coming.
“You still want to stay with me? Ruvan will let you return to Rokofar. I’ll fight him over that, but—”
Shoch lets out a series of angry grunts and then clutches me.
All right then. He’s as annoyed as hell with me, but he’s not leaving me. Right now, I suppose that’s all I can ask for. I tug him closer and then close my eyes right as the candle finally dies.