My eyes fly open. Someone is shaking my shoulders and pelting me with ugly grunts. Shoch. I can’t see a damned thing—it’s pitch black in the room—but I know it’s him.
“It’s all right, pet. I’m all right. Just a . . . a dream, that’s all.”
Was I talking in my sleep? Panicking in my sleep? He’s acting as if I was. He’s even feeling my forehead.
I bat his hand down. “I don’t have a fever—stop that. And open the shutters. Get some starlight in here, at least.”
He takes his sweet time about obeying me. And I don’t mind. I need to figure out my dream. No, not dream. It was more than that, and I remember every second of it. I remember sitting at the fireplace with Veshnic. I remember him bringing me back to that cave temple in Rokofar.
But I’m not going to tell Shoch all that. Not yet.
At length I feel him climb out of bed. For a moment there’s no sound at all, not until he ruffles the curtains and fiddles with the shutters. He manages to open one set and—fuck! Daylight floods the room.
I squint and turn my face away. I had no idea it was morning already—late morning, by the look of it. Well, no one told the guards outside our door to wake us up at a reasonable hour.
“Never mind the other windows, Shoch. Just come back to bed.”
He obeys me right away this time, but hesitates when he reaches me.
“Just sit here, in front of me. We need to talk.”
He climbs up onto the mattress and criss-crosses his legs. There’s concern in his eyes. Hell, he’s looking me over as if he’s sure I’m going to be sick.
“I’m fine, Shoch. I promise.” I take a deep breath, giving my eyes time to adjust. Then I roll my shoulders—fuck, that hurts! I forgot about my injuries. I didn’t feel them when I was with Veshnic.
But that doesn’t matter. It’s my turn to look Shoch over. It’s a good long look. So long that he gets uncomfortable. He cocks his head at me and raises his eyebrows.
“I, um—Shoch, you told me once that the sacrifices in Rokofar . . . you had nothing to do with them. They’re all up to the priests?”
He gives me a wary look as he reaches for my hand. I ignore it and concentrate on the words he’s spelling out.
“The priests perform them. And the priests select the victims—either from volunteers or prisoners,” I repeat.
“All right.” I look him in the eye. “But there was a sacrifice at your joining, wasn’t there?”
Another nod—a slow one this time. Shoch looks half curious and half ready to bolt now.
I run my fingers through my hair. “Listen, pet. We need paper and quills and ink. There should be some here. Look by the desk—somewhere on those shelves behind it.”
He quirks one eyebrow even higher.
“Ruvan will tell you that I never made much use of that desk.” I snort. “He lies, Shoch. I had to study up for the priesthood.”
My pet smiles at that, but it’s an uncertain little smile. Didn’t he and Itzel ever tease each other when they were growing up? I’ll have to ask her.
“Go on. I’ll explain once we’re all set up.”
It takes a while, but he finds everything we need. Unfortunately, Gael interrupts us before we can get started. He leads two servants into the room—a pair of boys who look about fifteen, bright and shiny in new liveries. They’re carrying our breakfast.
“Ah, put it down anywhere. Thank you.” Damn, I ought to be more gracious to them. Ruvan would ask for their names. And he’d talk with them and find out their life histories. I don’t go that far, but I manage a smile. “Don’t mind me; I’m preoccupied. But I’m sure the food will suit.”
I don’t even bother looking at it, but hopefully they don’t notice that. Whatever it is, it will be better than our rations at Crevlock Tower.
They cast nervous glances at Shoch. News of him must have already traveled below stairs—these two look like they’re half dreading and half hoping for a glimpse of his Tainted eyes. But he’s staring down at the desk, so they bow their way out of the room looking vaguely disappointed.
Gael, meanwhile, is frowning.
I scrunch up my brow. “Is everything all right?”
“I’m not sure. Your brother’s on his way here—well, by and by. He’s with your mother and step-mother right now. I’d like to speak with you both.”
“Of course. Go to him now and tell him there’s something urgent I need to talk to him about. And try to keep our mothers away for a bit, all right?”
He snorts. “With due respect, my Lord—”
“It’s a tall order, I know. But I have faith in you. And make sure they know I want to see them—there’s just this other matter first. Make it sound like some sort of brother thing.”
Gael looks doubtful. Fuck, I don’t blame him. Our mothers are formidable. Especially both at once. But he squares his shoulders, nods and leaves the room.
Shoch grunts. It speaks volumes, that grunt. It’s not concerned this time. No, he’s losing his patience with me.
I twist toward him. “Sorry, sweet.”
He raises his eyebrows at that endearment, but he doesn’t object. Or, at least, there’s no grunt of disgust. He just folds his arms across his chest, waiting for me to explain why I had him gather up paper and quills and ink and—is that a bottle of pounce?
“Good work, Shoch.” I stand up and walk over to him, putting us face to face. “Now I need you to sit down and write out everything you remember about your joining. Where it happened, the people involved, the exact ritual . . . everything.”
His face turns pale. Paler than usual, I mean. But I put my good hand under his chin and close his mouth with a kiss before he can grunt again. By the time we break apart, he’s forgotten what he wanted to say.
“Don’t worry, pet. I already know the worst about you, remember?” I let go of his chin and give him a reassuring wink. Why not? He’s got no morals, but that ain’t his fault. No one in Rokofar taught him any better. “That’s why you’re going to write out the whole truth. And then you’re going to pour your pounce over the ink and set the paper out to dry. You’re not going to show it to me—not yet.”
He stares at me, knowing there’s more coming.
“And then I’m going to dictate something to you. You’re going to take down what I saw of your joining.”
Shoch grabs hold of my arm. His eyes are wide and panicked now.
“Veshnic showed me. It was—that was a vision I had last night. Not a dream. So when you’re done writing your account of it, I’m going to dictate mine. And then we’ll compare notes.”
He doesn’t know what to say to that. There’s not much to say. If they match at all, it will be proof enough that the vision was true.
And maybe, between us, we’ll find some useful hint. Something that can help us free Shoch from the wyvern he’s bound to, or help us rebuild the fucking barrier.