Damn it, how much time has passed? Enough for Shoch and Itzel to complete their ritual—Gael’s right about that. If they really went through with it, though, my brother must have provided them with a bowl of fresh chicken blood. I wonder how he explained that to the servants.
Should we run the rest of the way? No. My father’s guards will be just outside his doors. If we give them reason to think something is wrong, they’ll rush into his chambers. And if anything has happened—fuck, they’ll just kill Shoch. They won’t take any chances with a Tainted.
We have to stay calm. We have to look as if everything is under control. But I quicken our pace anyway. Jonac and Gael both match it.
What am I supposed to do when we get there? That wyvern inside Shoch listened to me once. It calmed down when I spoke to it. But it’s still a wild predator. How am I supposed to soothe it once it’s loose? Especially if it smells our blood—and I’m betting it can smell that even beneath our skin.
Shoch won’t let it attack my father. That’s what Gael said. And if Shoch can speak through Itzel—if their bonding ritual took—then he can give it orders. But that’s not good enough. I know Shoch. If the wyvern doesn’t cause my father’s heart to fail, as planned, Shoch will order it to claw him up and sink its teeth into his throat. And Ruvan won’t stop him.
And then what? How will Ruvan explain what happened? Will he sacrifice Shoch by blaming the whole thing on him? No, he has more loyalty than that. He does, doesn’t he? Fuck, do I know what Ruv is capable of anymore?
I half close my eyes—enough to block out the blur of the hallway, but not enough to trip over my own two feet—and muster a prayer.
Veshnic, if those visions you gave me count for anything, please answer me now. Tell me what I’m supposed to do.
Nothing. Well, what did I expect? It’s not as if he’s given me a damn bit of useful information so far. Málaf! We’re almost there now and I have no idea how to handle this.
Wait. Veshnic showed me a true vision about this wyvern. He showed me the moment when Shoch joined himself to it, in that temple in Rokofar. But so what? I remember that ritual exactly—and I remember that I couldn’t stop it. I couldn’t stop the human sacrifice. I couldn’t stop Shoch from joining himself to that beast.
So what was the point? Fuck me, why did Veshnic put me through that? Why show me something I couldn’t do anything about?
All right, all right. I have to force myself to think this through.
When I’m with Veshnic—in these visions, I mean—I never get the sense that he’s trying to screw me. Play with me, maybe. He finds me damned amusing. But he still seems to be on my side. So maybe there was something useful in that temple. Something that will help me now.
But that vision was supposed to help me free Shoch from his wyvern. Without bloodshed. Without human sacrifice. But I’m not trying to free Shoch right now. I’m just trying to keep that thing inside him from killing my father.
Please, Veshnic. I know that Ruvan and Shoch are planning murder. That can’t be the right thing to do.
But if they leave my father be, he’s going to execute four innocent priests. And if he’s fully determined to end the priesthood, who knows how many more he’ll persecute? Will he even stop at me? Or my mother?
It doesn’t matter. If there’s one thing Veshnic’s made clear, it’s that my job is to do the right thing, and leave the results to him. I can’t let Ruvan take on the guilt of patricide. And I can’t let Shoch add even more blood to his hands.
I’m going to trust you on this, Veshnic. I’ll do everything I can to save my father. So the lives of those priests depend on you now.
That’s when it happens. It’s not a vision this time—it’s just a memory of one. A memory of that temple in Rokofar, when Veshnic was still standing beside me up on the scaffolding. There was this searching look on his face, like he was measuring me up.
“Here’s the most useful information I can give you, pet,” he told me. Fuck, I still remember how blue his eyes were—a strange, unearthly blue that no human eyes can match. “I may not love you more than I love the rest of creation. But if you put your trust in me and carry out my will, then I’ll spring to life in you.”
I blink. I understand part of that—the part about regarding us all equally. Human, wyvern, burro—we’re all the same to him. No favoritism. Fuck, he probably cares about every blade of grass as much as he cares about the rest of us. There’s no comfort to be had there.
But the rest? I don’t know what he means by springing to life in me. So why can’t I get those words out of my head?
Gael’s arm shoots out in front of me, slowing me down. I blink again—oh. We’re here. The doors to my father’s chambers are just up ahead.
Jonac and I stop. Gael steps in front of us. He’s the one the guards will listen to.
“His Highness asked me to bring his brother to him and to His Majesty.” Simple words. And Gael’s tone is neutral. If you didn’t know better, you wouldn’t realize that something is wrong.
The guards exchange a brief glance and then nod. They have no reason to be suspicious of Gael, so they open the doors to let us pass.
I make sure my eyes are wide open now. And I manage one last prayer: Please, Veshnic. Let my father still be alive.