Jonac is still arguing with the guards while my brain grinds to a halt. I’m just standing there, gaping. I can’t think. I can’t feel anything either. My whole body is numb.
Breathe—that’s what I tell myself. Breathe in, breathe out. You have to do something. You have to fix this somehow.
Good thing my father’s men are so intent on Jonac. He’s playing this perfectly, shaking with righteous indignation at the fact that they doubt his word. Who knew he was such a good actor?
I’m not, though. If the guards look my way, they’ll know something is wrong. And they’ll know not to trust either of us.
All right. I have to face facts. My brother wants our father dead. And he’s willing to let Shoch and the wyvern do his dirty work.
I manage to close my mouth and swallow down the bile that’s creeping up my throat. I’m shocked. Hell, I’m terrified at what Ruvan is about to let happen. But I’m not angry. Not with him or with Shoch.
It’s easy not to be angry with Shoch. He don’t know any better. He grew up in Rokofar, so the words of the Sages mean nothing to him. And he loves me—Veshnic only knows why, but he does—so he wants to protect me. And he’s more than willing to kill my father in order to do that. That’s why I want to keep him at my side, on as tight a leash as possible.
My brother is different. Ruvan knows right from wrong. He’s a student of the Sages, same as me. We don’t commit murder. We don’t allow blood sacrifices. And we sure as hell don’t commit patricide.
But I think . . . oh fuck. I think I see his point. This isn’t just for my sake. It’s because our father has given up on fixing the barrier. It’s because he plans to murder four innocent priests.
Ruvan’s been at our father’s side all this time. He knows the man is turning into an irrational tyrant. And he’s decided to do something about it.
Maybe I shouldn’t interfere. What do I really owe my father? He’s always seen me as disposable. And if he dies, the priests will live. We’ll have a chance to fix the barrier. So maybe this is for the best. Ruvan will make a far better king—
I blink. That’s Gael’s voice—he’s running toward us.
The guards exchange glances. For the first time, they look uneasy. They know Gael, after all. They know he serves my brother directly—and they know how much Ruvan trusts him.
Now he’s skidding to a halt in front of us. “His Highness requires his brother. Immediately.”
Jonac all but snarls. “That’s what I’ve been trying to tell these men.”
Wait. I thought Jonac was lying—he is, isn’t he? If Ruvan wants Shoch to assassinate our father, the last thing he needs is for me to interfere. Jonac wants to stop Shoch, but my brother doesn’t.
Did Ruvan change his mind?
I stare at Gael. His face is impassive. Málaf, what is going on?
“I’m to take his lordship to His Highness straight away.” Gael grabs me by the arm as he talks, pulling me out of the doorway to my room. “Commander Camaria, you can accompany us.”
Even the gruff, older guard relents. Gael’s word, apparently, is good enough for him. “Shall we accompany you?”
“No. Please make certain that no one enters or exits his lordship’s quarters until His Highness himself returns with his brother.”
The guards stand at attention and nod.
As for me, I walk between Jonac and Gael, as docile a prisoner as I can make myself, and keep my head forward. No point in looking back. In fact, I wait until we’ve turned a corner before I speak up.
“Gael, what’s going on? Is Ruvan—did he actually send for me?”
He glances sidelong at me and at Jonac. “No.”
Jonac sighs. “But you know what he has planned.”
He blushes. “He confided in me. And I understand. The way things are, with the barrier and the priests . . . but I can’t let him go through with it—”
I keep my voice low. “He wants Shoch to use the wyvern against our father? Is that it?”
Gael just nods. Like he can’t bear to confirm it out loud.
There’s my answer. No, Ruv didn’t change his mind. Gael came to fetch me on his own. He knows what Ruv and Shoch are up to. And he’s decided to stop them.
He has a personal stake in this, I remind myself. Didn’t he say that his family knows one of the priests? But he’s going to do the right thing regardless.
Fuck. My face is turning red now. Gael is right.
When my father dies, I won’t be distraught. Some part of me loves the man, but he’s—he’s no good for me or for our country. But I don’t want Shoch with that kind of blood on his hands, much less my brother.
“How far have they gotten?” Jonac demands. His voice is a harsh whisper.
“I don’t know.” Gael tightens his grip on me. “But Shoch and Itzel have had enough time to drink the chicken blood and all that.”
We all shut up as we pass two guards standing watch in the hallway. They nod at us, but otherwise seem uninterested.
I wait till they’re safely in the distance. “Jonac, do you still feel a bond with Shoch? Can you tell if it’s broken?”
“No—it comes and goes, Aric. I don’t feel it all the time.”
“But you don’t feel it now?”
I sigh. “Then we better assume that he broke it with you and reforged it with Itzel.”
Jonac grunts. “And that means he can command his wyvern again, using her voice.”
“And then what?” What in hell does my brother have planned?
Gael shrugs. “I think His Highness is hoping that the mere sight of the wyvern—once it’s fully formed, I mean—will shock your father into a stroke or a heart attack.”
“Shock him? Why? My father’s battle-tested.”
“I know. But he’s not as hale and hearty as he pretends to be.” He shakes his head. “I don’t think Shoch will let it claw your father up or drink his blood. Not if he can help it. There would be too many questions.”
“So they’ll need to be alone with my father when Shoch unleashes it—Shoch and Itzel, I mean.”
“Your brother too—your father would never trust a Tainted and his sister by themselves.”
Well, that’s true enough.
“So they’ll be alone in his chambers. His Majesty’s chambers, that is.” Gael’s voice catches. “You can stop them, can’t you?”
“If he can’t, we’ll just put Shocha down.” There’s a harsh finality to Jonac’s words, damn the man.
“No we won’t.” I will never choose my father over Shoch. “Think, Jonac. If that wyvern is on the loose, we need Shocha alive. And Itzel,” I add, in case he gets any other ideas.
He glares at me, but he shuts up.
Gael squeezes my arm again. “I saw what happened before, Aric. You tamed that beast when it was thrashing around inside Shoch. You can stop it.”
Fuck, can I? I suppose we’ll find out.