I pace the room while Shoch scratches away at his own account of the joining. Fuck, I wish he’d hurry up and finish. I’m pretty confident that his memory will match what I saw in the vision—but that’s not the real point of this. If the vision was real, it has to tell us something useful, right?
My brother strolls into the room just as Shoch puts his quill down. Gael is at his side.
“Aric,” Ruvan says, “we need to talk—”
I hold up a hand.
“Sorry,” I tell him. “I promise we’ll talk in a bit. And I’ll greet you with a proper bow and all that—”
“Forget the bowing and scraping.” He smiles a little and takes a seat on my bed. “Are you dictating to Shoch again?”
“I will be. He wrote down everything he remembers about his joining. Then I’m going to dictate everything I saw of it.”
Ruvan and Gael exchange glances.
“Uh, wasn’t that years ago?” Gael asks.
Ruvan nods. “Long before you knew Shocha, at any event.”
I shrug. “I had another dream—another vision, I mean—about Veshnic. He showed me the joining.”
My brother raises his eyebrows. Gael just stares at me, open-mouthed.
I look over at Shoch. He’s setting his document on the shelf to dry. I watch as he takes a fresh piece of paper, sprinkles pounce on it to smooth out the rough spots, and prepares his quill for my dictation.
Good. We’ll start soon. But first I look back at Ruvan. “If my vision was real—look, you can’t hold what you hear against Shoch.”
“Don’t worry, Aric.” Ruvan looks curious, nothing more. “I have no power to prosecute him for anything he did in Rokofar—and I wouldn’t even if I did.”
I turn to Gael.
He just shrugs. “Whatever happened before, Shoch is still the one who helped banish that monster at the tower. We’d be dead otherwise.”
“All right.” I nod, satisfied. “Let’s get started.”
* * *
I don’t hold anything back. I dictate everything I remember about that dream: the conversation I had with Veshnic at the fireplace. The way he brought me back to that cave-temple in Rokofar. How we stood up on the scaffolding, overlooking the ritual. How I jumped down and stopped the priest from completing the sacrifice. How that cloying, syrupy stench of holy wood clogged up my nostrils and told me that the wyvern was already loose.
How Shoch caught the beast’s attention and ordered it to finish off the victim. How he let it claw the poor bastard up and feast on his blood.
I have to look around when I’m done. I need to reassure myself that I’m here, back in my old quarters at Snail Rock, and not inside that damned cave.
Gael, meanwhile, looks resigned. I suppose this story is more or less what he expected from Rokofar. Ruvan just looks thoughtful. And Shoch . . . .
Shoch is expressionless. He’s determined not to show me what he’s thinking, damn it.
I walk over to him and put a hand on his shoulder. “Well, pet? Was that just some crazy dream of mine?”
For a long minute, he doesn’t say anything. Then he points at his own paper.
Ruvan gets up and takes it down from the shelf. He reads the words—Shoch’s words—out loud.
Some of the details are different. I only remember the one statue. The big one of Veshnic that dominated the space behind the altar. But Shoch describes lots of smaller statues too, of all different gods. Apparently it takes a lot of deities to make a proper temple, even if it’s formally dedicated to just one.
There are more differences like that, but we both remember the same priest, the same victim and the same wyvern. Fuck, I clutch Shoch even tighter as Ruvan reads about how the priest stopped chanting. How her arm faltered. How the wyvern was loose and how Shoch climbed up onto the altar to get its attention.
In the midst of all that, the priest tried to cut the victim’s throat, but he was panicked and thrashing by then. Shoch was only vaguely aware of that—he had to concentrate on that great white beast above us all.
There’s something that’s both gentle and awe-struck in the way he describes the wyvern. Fuck, Shoch loves those things almost as much as Veshnic does.
He has no regrets about the victim. The wyvern needed blood—and fast. It would either feast on the intended sacrifice or attack the congregation.
Shoch made sure it gorged itself on just that one man. That pacified it enough for Shoch to coax it into the joining.
And that’s the one thing Shoch doesn’t describe—what it felt like to join with that beast. To become one with it. To look out at the world with blood-red eyes afterward.
Ruvan sighs as he puts the letter down. “You have guts, Shocha.”
Shoch nods, but turns to me. He’s not expressionless anymore. Now his face is—I don’t know. Somehow questioning and defiant at the same time.
I let go of his shoulder. “I’m not angry, pet. You already know that.”
He points to himself, makes a fist, and then points at me.
“What? Oh, you’re angry at me? Is that it?”
Shoch nods. Then he puts his fist to his heart, points at me again, and then uses two fingers to point to his own eyes. Then he flicks his fingers outward.
I’m used to his fist-to-the-heart sign now. And I can work out the rest. “You’re sorry for me—sorry that I saw all that?”
Another nod. Then he takes my hand and starts tracing his letters.
“What’s he saying?” Ruvan asks.
I wait while Shoch finishes. Then I snort. “That it’s my fault that poor bastard died so bad. That if I hadn’t tried to interfere, the priest would have slit his throat fast and he wouldn’t have suffered.”
My brother folds his arms across his chest. “If things happened the way you said they did—Aric, I’m sorry. But Shoch has a point.”
“Don’t start, Ruvan. You’d have tried to stop that sacrifice too. And you’d have tried to stop Shoch from joining with that monster. That thing is killing him. Remember?”
“I know.” He’s using his soothing, diplomatic voice on me now. But I don’t want to be soothed. I want that creature separated from Shoch. And I want the barrier to do its fucking job and keep any more of these wyverns out.
Shoch tugs at my arm.
“What is it, pet?”
He traces letters into my palm again.
“Why did Lord Veshnic bring me back there? I don’t know. I don’t think it was to learn more about you.” I already knew how cold Shoch can be. And seeing that he can be so ruthless when it comes to sacrificing humans ain’t exactly a shock. “But Veshnic must have had some reason for it—so it has to be something about the barrier or something about separating you from that beast.”
Gael coughs. “Uh, are we all going to ignore the fact that the priestess actually saw you? How is that possible?”
“Right,” Ruvan agrees. “You said no one else noticed you. You were like a ghost there.”
“But not to her.” I bite my lip.
Ruvan rubs his chin. “Perhaps Itzel can contact her.”
Gael looks alarmed. “Your Highness, I don’t know if the court can handle more than two people from Rokofar in their midst.” He pauses to shake his head. “And you know how your father feels about priests.”
“No, wait. Ruvan is right.” I clutch Shoch’s shoulder again. “Maybe there is something about her—maybe she can help us.”
“Maybe.” My brother furrows his brow. “But if we do contact her, we have to handle Father just right.”
“More tiptoeing around him? What’s gotten into the man?”
Ruvan glares at me. “That man is still our king, Aric. Don’t forget that.”
“I know, Ruv. And I know he ain’t exactly pleased with the priesthood right now—”
Gael cuts me off. “It’s more than that, my Lord. That’s what I wanted to talk to you about earlier.”
I stare at him and then back at my brother. “What’s going on?”
Ruvan sighs. “Remember how I told you that father arrested those four priests? Now he wants to execute them.”