I stare at Jonac, letting his words sink in.
Damn it. I can’t dismiss them—I know Shoch too well. He has no qualms about murder, and if he thought my father was some sort of threat to me, he’d do his damnedest to eliminate the man.
But my father hasn’t threatened me directly. Arresting me for burying those deserters—that doesn’t count. That’s a long way from sending me to the block.
How does Shoch see it, though? He knows that my father despises priests. He knows my father means to execute four of them. And he knows that me burying those poor bastards against my father’s orders—that could be construed as treason, especially if my father is now in the business of strong-arming judges.
“Aric?” Jonac’s eyes snap with impatience. “Have you heard a word I’ve said?”
“Yes, I heard.” I stand there, rooted to the spot, but somehow manage to shake my head. “Look, assuming you’re not insane, how would you know what Shoch is thinking?”
“Because he’s still in my head! Or I’m in his. That demonic bond between us never dissolved.” He turns away from me to start pacing, throwing words at me as he goes. “It happens at all hours. Mostly I just feel his frustration at the fact that he can’t talk—”
And whose fault is that? I’d love to voice that question, but I keep my mouth shut.
“—and sometimes I can sense the way he practically worships you. I’m surprised he’s not licking your boots. But that devotion of his is dangerous. I’ve felt his brain turning over, trying to figure out how best to protect you. What I don’t know is why he thinks your father is a threat. I assume His Majesty doesn’t really mean to prosecute you.”
“No, I don’t think so.” Damn it, how much do I tell him?
This is Jonac. At one point in my life, I thought he was the man I’d spend the rest of my life with. And I still trust him with my life. But can I trust him with Shocha’s?
“It’s like this.” I speak slowly, so I can think about each word as I say it. “My father knew much more than we thought. He already knew that the barrier is failing. And he doesn’t think we’ll be able to repair it. He’s afraid that the people will turn to priests and blood sacrifices again as the only form of protection against the wyverns. And maybe he thinks we’ll make sorcerers too. Or import them from Rokofar.”
Jonac stops pacing for a moment, long enough to let out a low whistle. “Your father might not be wrong.”
“We’ll fix the barrier, Jonac.”
He doesn’t answer that.
I sigh. “My father won’t let us turn into Rokofar. He’s about to strike at the priesthood. He’s going to charge the four heads of the colleges with treason.”
Jonac takes a moment to digest that. He doesn’t look as disapproving as he should. “And Shocha knows this?”
“Well, that explains your pet’s fear.” He starts pacing again. “It also explains why he’s trying to break the bond between us. He’s dangerous, Aric. And he is after your father now.”
“All right, all right.” I clutch at my hair again—one handed this time, so I don’t wreck my bad shoulder. “Let’s think this through. He needs a bond, Jonac. Without a tongue, Shoch can’t control the beast inside him. He can’t command it. So he has to speak through you.”
“He has to speak through someone, you mean. Who says it has to be me? If he breaks our bond, what’s to stop him from forging a new one with someone else?”
“And how would he do that? How could he possibly explain himself to anyone here? There’s a whole ritual to go through, and it’s not as if Gael or Ruv are going to help him command the wyvern. Not without a damned good reason. And assassinating my father won’t seem like a good reason to them!”
Jonac stops pacing and turns back to me. His face has that exasperated look he wears whenever he thinks I’m too thick or naive. “His Highness and Gael are not Shocha’s only options. You saw to that.”
I blink. “Itzel. His sister.”
“His twin sister. I don’t know how this magic works, but I imagine blood ties makes it easier.”
Fuck. No wonder Shoch was so anxious to cozy up with Itzel. I should have known there were no sentimental feelings there.
I let go of my hair and study Jonac. He’s waiting for my orders. That’s a switch. It makes sense, though. His rank isn’t as powerful here as it is at Crevlock Tower. Snail Rock is my territory.
“Jonac, go to my brother with a message from me. Tell him I need Shoch right away—and only Shoch. Don’t let him send Itzel with him.”
“And what are you going to do with Shocha?”
I glare at him. “I’m not going to hurt him, if that’s what you’re asking.”
“Hurt him? He’s dangerous, Aric. You ought to—”
“I’m not putting him down!” I pause to suck in air. As much as my lungs can handle. “Listen, I know what he is. I know he’s—in some ways he’s twisted and broken, but that’s not his fault. I’m going to keep him safe. And you’re going to help me.”
“Because Shoch knows far more about the barrier than we do—he has knowledge we need.”
That seems to weigh with Jonac. He doesn’t like it, though, and he’s still looking to argue. “And what about everyone else, Aric? What about anyone he perceives as a threat to you?”
“He’s not a danger—not without a tongue and not without a new bond. And he won’t forge a bond with anyone else. We’ll send Itzel away. And I’ll keep Shoch on a tight leash. I won’t let him out of my sight again.”
“Go, Jonac. Go find my brother and bring Shoch back to me.”